Is the onion a thaumaturgical ingredient?
Cooking and witchcraft go hand in hand throughout the centuries. We can find many common ingredients. In this article, though, we are focusing on the onion. We can witness an excessive use of all kinds of onions in Greek cuisine. References of it can be, also, found in Homer, Herodotus, Theophrastus and Dioscorides.
In the Olympic Games in ancient Greece, athletes ate big proportions of onion before the competition to boost their strength and cleanse their blood. In Rome, Gladiators used similar techniques to strengthen their muscles before they got into the arena for the fight.
In Egypt onion was a sacred root. It is depicted on mural paintings in the pyramids and on Egyptian tombs. For the Egyptians, the concentric circles and the multiple layers of the onion symbolised the Universe and eternal life.
When the archeologists found the Mummy of Ramesses IV they discovered remnants of onion in his eyes and nose. In this way, Egyptians believed that would give a breath to their Pharaoh in the afterlife. Its strong essence had the power to give «new breath» to the decedent.
A folk Christian myth says that when the devil fell from Heaven and on his way to Hell, onion and garlic grew wherever he stepped. Another folklore tale, which actually comes from Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov, describes the story of an old woman who died with no good deeds in her life, but one, that included an onion which she picked up and gave it to a beggar. When her angel tried to save her using that, by pulling her from the lake of fire, the onion cracked in half and she fell back in again. She refused to help the other poor souls who tried to escape as well by holding on to her, so her onion couldn’t save her. In Greece, there was this belief that as many layers an onion has, that cold the imminent winter would be.
Onion helps with common flu. It has anti-inflammatory properties and anticoagulant and decongestant action. People used it for helping with hair loss, by rubbing the head with a piece of onion. Onion’s use in medicine is invaluable. In contemporary medicine, there are innumerable onion-based drugs.
Witches believed that the root had good and bad properties. They used it to break up a couple or to cause damage among relatives or to bring sorrow to their enemies. They also believed that it could tell them the name of a prospective husband or wife.
Double onions were perfect to cause breaking up, by curving on each part with a magic dagger, the names of the couple or the people who wanted to separate and then forced them apart.
In some of their spells, they were causing their tears with the help of an onion, they collected them and used them as a spell ingredient, usually for spells with a negative impact on their enemies.
When a young witch had many prospective husbands, and she couldn’t decide who to choose, she curved their names on onions and left them in a dark room. Whichever onion sprout first, that would be the one with the name most suitable for her.
In England, hedge witches believed that the dry leaves covering the onion root could bring money into the household. They burnt them in the fireplace and cense with the smoke any debt papers they had to help the solution of the money problems.
In general, the onion was used in a variety of enchantments like protection charms, fertility and healing spells, spirit work, etc. It would be very interesting in a future article to explore customs related to onion in different parts of the world like Hindu, Chinese cultures and the rest of the Asian world. I am also interested in studying relevant customs from the African and Arabian world as much as Native American customs. So, if you have any stories or folklore tales please feel free to message me or to leave a comment under this article!