What To Read: Jennifer Billock is making magic in the kitchen

This week, we interviewed Jennifer Billock, a travel writer and practicing witch who writes Kitchen Witch, a newsletter about food and witchcraft. This interview has been lightly edited for length.

What's your Substack about in one sentence?

Kitchen Witch covers the intersection of food and witchcraft, including how they're used together and how they inform each other.

Which came first for you: cooking or witchcraft?

Definitely witchcraft! I was a budding witch from early childhood, but I couldn't really ever cook anything other than mac and cheese and ramen until college. I loved baking and got a job as a pastry-chef-in-training when I was in undergrad, and I've been hooked ever since. My internship in grad school was for a food and tourism magazine in Chicago (I'm a travel journalist for my day job), so I started hanging out with a lot of chefs and got more interested in cooking from there.

I still love to bake (I just got this amazing cake decorating kit for Christmas), but cooking actual meals is a growing passion of mine. The witchcraft aspect has always been there, though. I think I cast my very first spell when I was 8 or 9, and my mom and I used to go to the bookstore and stay there for hours, sitting on the floor in the New Age section paging through occult books. She taught me to read tarot when I was in high school. Witchcraft has always been a huge part of my life.

Food is often associated with healing or comfort. What are some less-expected effects that we can create with food?

Using food as an aphrodisiac is another big one, but every food has its own correspondence for how it can be used in spells or witchcraft. For example, cayenne pepper can be sprinkled into a spell to keep someone away from you (the spiciness acts as a repellent). Bay leaves are good for wishes – you write what you want down on them and either burn them to activate the spell, or use food-based ink and cook with them. Garlic absorbs negative energy. Salt is used for protection and anything green can help bring money your way.

I always tell people, though, that your spells or the effects of the food are what you make them – you're not beholden to "typical" knowledge of a food's correspondence. So if you're making a prosperity soup, for instance, and an ingredient in your kitchen is really calling out to you, that's the energy of the food trying to send you a message that it's right for the soup. Follow your gut.

What do you think people frequently misunderstand about witchcraft?

Oh, so many things. First, and the most egregious, is that witchcraft is evil. It's so far from evil that that's laughable. We just tend to believe in justice rather than sitting back and being the polite person that brushes everything off. We also don't sacrifice animals or people, and we're not going to cast a spell on you for no reason. Witches aren't godless, either – some practices worship entire pantheons. There's actually an anti-witch movement right now that's pretty scary. It stems from a fear of the unknown, or a fear of difference from their own beliefs. Everyone has an innate power, and as witches, we have learned to harness that – which can be scary for people who rely on things outside themselves for power and strength.

Another thing is that people outside the witchcraft world tend to think every witch is Wiccan. There are so many paths and so many different types of witches that don't get mainstream recognition. For example, I'm a witch but I'm not Wiccan. But that doesn't make my beliefs (or Wiccan beliefs) any less valid. It just makes us different, and that difference is something that should be celebrated. How boring would it be if everyone had the exact same set of beliefs?

What role does witchcraft have to play in our modern lives?

Especially right now, I think witchcraft gives us the ability to feel like we have some control over lives. One of the things I love about witchcraft is that it embraces and encourages your own innate power, and shows how intention and personal power can make things happen for you. During the pandemic, it eases some of that helplessness we're all feeling because you're taking the upper hand for certain aspects of your life. In non-COVID times, it's a confidence booster, a way to explore what we're capable of, a self-care tactic (for me, spellwork and yoga are a big part of my practice and they're both a stabilizing routine), and a fun way to learn about different aspects of the world (like crystal meanings, herbal correspondences, ancient runic languages, sound therapy, and more).

Your writing is infused with history and lore. What's one of your favorite kitchen witch stories to share?

My favorite has got to be the story of the Benandanti. They were a group of witches in 16th-century Italy who protected wine from so-called bad witches. Essentially, winemakers relied on the Benandanti to keep their wine from spoiling due to the bad witches, who would allegedly sneak into wineries and homes and use wine barrels as their personal toilets. Four times a year, the Benandanti and the bad witches would all shapeshift into animal forms and go have a battle in nearby fields. If the Benandanti won, the wine (and local crops) would be protected until the next fight. If the bad witches won, wine would be spoiled and crops would die.

I also particularly love these two stories written for the newsletter: Amber Gibson wrote about an orchard owner in Ohio who recites a spell to his apple trees every season, and the one year he forgot, most of the crop died. And Archita Mittra wrote about her house spirits, the offerings her family leaves for them, and what happens if they don't appease the spirits with food.

Who's another Substack writer you'd recommend?

I'm really feeling Cast Iron lately. Each issue has a tarot pull for current events and a workout routine tailored to the card pull. It's a lot of fun! I also really enjoy Books on GIF (book reviews told through gifs), Stained Page News (everything cookbooks), and Smart Mouth (quirky food news and history). And because I'm full-Midwestern, the Midwesterner (food culture in the Midwest) is another good one.

Subscribe to Jennifer’s newsletter, Kitchen Witch, or check out her website or podcast, Macabre Traveler.