Around the world, and throughout history, communal meals have played an invaluable role in religious and spiritual life. From the Jewish Passover, to the Christian Eucharist, to the offering of food to various shrines and idols, to the "cakes & ale" of modern Wicca. Food is a gift from the divine, in earthly form, a picture of death and rebirth, and a proof to the faithful of the protection and provision they receive as their reward. And the ideal way to have a good time together with your spiritual family.
The last example I gave, modern Wicca, is fascinatingly multicultural in its version of this, and it cuts across class divides.
In place of the bread and wine, the traditional Wiccan will refer to their feast as "Cakes & Ale"; this, like a surprising number of modern magical terms, is actually taken from Shakespeare - from the surprisingly philosophical cross-dressing comedy, Twelfth Night. Sir Toby Belch, a hedonistic drinker, accosts Malvolio, a puritanical butler, for trying to curb his excesses. "Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?"
Thus, whether due wholly to Shakespeare, or whether Shakespeare simply wrote down an already popular phrase, "Cakes & Ale" became a byword for "fun that the puritans and prudes won't approve of" - the ideal way to name a witches' feast!
Both the cakes and the ale are given by one representing the Goddess, who most people will recognise as a kind of "Mother Nature", to the circle of witches, and she is blessed and praised for providing for everyone to share in the feast.
A big chunk of modern Wicca, in words and deeds, is taken from a 19th century book by C. G. Leland, Aradia: the Gospel of the Witches - especially one early chapter, The Witches' Supper, laying out a recipe for provisions and for prayer. It claims to be a translation of a classical Italian manuscript, proving that the pre-Christian witchcraft tradition survived alongside the Catholic Church, quietly, until medieval times. Let's not go into that now, this is a food blog and not a history blog; let's skip to the important bit - the feasting!
Flour, salt, wine and honey are all blessed and made sacred to the Goddess of the Moon, Diana, and her daughter, the sort-of-female-Messiah of the tradition, Aradia. Details are only really given for the flour and the salt, as the Italian original is incomplete. The flour is blessed at the moment that it is still in the form of grain, being threshed at the harvest - as it flies in the air around the farmer's head while being threshed, it glints in the Sun like fireflies, and for that moment, from the point of view of the watching Witch, the farmer seems to be briefly surrounded by flitting fairies, whose Queen is Diana, o whom a prayer of praise and petition is said. The salt is held in the hand, and the arm is stretched out over water. What flies away is carried by the water as an offering of thanks, and what remains in the hand is taken home, in a red cloth pouch hung around the neck like a lucky charm. The vineyard where the wine comes from is blessed by pouring some of last year's wine back onto the roots and branches, in a circle-of-life kind of way, and Diana makes the vines grow strong and sweet, and their wine is sacred to her and her feast.
We don't really know much about the honey - as I said, the manuscript is incomplete - but we do know it's used as a glaze for the cakes that are made from the flour and salt (and presumably other ingredients, though they don't seem to require a blessing), and that in praise of Diana and her daughter they are baked in the shape of crescent moons.
This recipe and its technique is said to have come down to us from the elves and dwarves, pre-human beings made by Diana before we humans took charge and forgot all the magical things that used to fill our world. But on the nights of the Full Moon, the lights and shadows fall in such a way that we can still see them if we look, and know they're still there, sharing our cakes and ale - or, in this case, crescent moon biscuits with honey and salt, washed down with wine.
Anyone born as a result of that night of full moon feasting, is special and is sent as a gift to their parents. Born "as a result" of the Full Moon feast, did you read that right? Yes, you did; because, you see, after you've blessed the food and drink, and after you're fed and drunk, you all undress, blow out the candles, and "do Diana's dance" together... at least, that's what a 19th century white American man said the old Italian witches got up to...
Nowadays, a symbolic action takes the place of such goings-on. An athame (a ceremonial knife or wand) is placed in a chalice, with the words "as the athame is the male, so the chalice is the female; so, conjoined, they bring blessedness". The wine, water, milk, or ale, in the chalice is then tasted by the Goddess' representative and shared with the whole circle. Likewise the plate of cakes or fruit gets the blessing: "Queen most secret, bless this food unto our bodies, bestowing health and happiness"; before being shared with all present.
And there the formal, ceremonial atmosphere dissolves, and, as is the whole point of a communal meal, everyone enjoys the time of sharing with, and caring for, each other.
So many paths of faith seek to deny the body its pleasures and pastimes, but there's nothing like some cakes and ale to break down barriers and bring about the mood of celebration that we will surely feel if we really believe we're surrounded by bountiful and beneficent deities, of any kind, Christian or Pagan.