While most charms and spells have little to do with food, there are a few that touch on the subject of aphrodisia. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Oberon said,
Fetch me that flower, the herb I show’d thee once;
The juice of it on sleeping eyelids laid
Will make man or woman madly dote
Upon the next live creature that it sees.
The flower in question was “heartsease”, otherwise known as the pansy viola. Pansies are edible; similar charms of the Renaissance were often more risky. For example, nightshade and foxglove, a pair of poisonous plants, might be combined and applied to a sleeping man’s eyelids to make him propose upon awakening. All manner of toxic or noxious ingredients have been used to try to woo a lover throughout the years. That few of them were ingested (though commonly sprinkled on, trailed around or hidden near the intended) probably increased their effectiveness, as an incapacitated lover was rarely the goal. Arsenic, beetles, sulphur, monkey dung, bat blood, fingernails, blood, sweat and tears were all fair game for the maker of love philters.
And then there were the really strange ingredients.
Consider this scandalous practice, begun in the 12th century by certain German wives: Laying down, with buttocks exposed, they had bread prepared upon themselves. Once baked, such bread would supposedly ensure a husband’s continued interest. Gives “bunwarmers” a whole new meaning, no?
At about this time the Church became unwittingly involved with this affair. A wife might kiss her husband while holding a consecrated host in her mouth and thus ensure his affection. People have written psalms on parchment and placed it where their beloved was sure to step, sprinkled holy water on wax images of the intended, touched their lover with fingers smeared with holy oil, and sprinkled dust from a chapel on the slow to love. The latter continued in northern France almost to the present day.
Some went the other way with this notion. A certain old spell was performed thus:
“Write on an apple: Raguell, Lucifer, Sathanus, and say, ‘I conjure thee apple by these three names written on thee, that whosoever shall eat thee may burn in my love.'”
I don’t know about you, but I doubt I’d eat an apple with that inscription on it.
In the 17th century was noted a curious custom called “cockle bread” as performed by unmarried girls in England. (The Germans were still getting a rise out of their dough at this point, by the way.) Some dough, once kneaded, would be pressed to her vulva, then made into a loaf and baked. It was then given to the object of the young woman’s affection who then would presumably fall hopelessly in love with her.
There are numerous other examples of strange things done with or to food in the interests of desire, but… well, some things are best eased into. We’ll go into it in a later article.