We need provisions!
Our relationships with food has become more intense these last few months. Possibly my most meaningful emotional connection is now with my fridge, and my small but perfectly stocked food cupboard is the pinnacle of this modern-day hunter-gatherer’s achievements.
So baking has become a thing, banana loaf, lemon drizzle cake and bread have all been successfully attempted and offered to my immortal soul directly through my open mouth and willing stomach.
This is an offering table, originally installed outside the entrance to the deceased’s tomb. Why? Well, the ancient Egyptian dead had need of provisions in the afterlife, which the living could supply.
The upper surface is carved in low relief with those necessities: lotus flowers, representing the sun and rebirth, coil across a pile of various breads. Some are like plump rolls, others are flat, and in the centre rises-up a loaf whose form is mimicked by the very shape of the table itself: at one edge is a spout or runnel which, with rectangular form of the table, forms the hieroglyph for offering: a loaf on a reed mat.
The bread is flanked by ‘hes’ vases, for ritual water, as well as other foodstuff to sustain the deceased in the afterlife: a trussed antelope, a duck and a long-legged waterfowl. But it wasn’t enough just for the table to exist, it had to be animated and used. Water would be poured over the flat surface of the table and, through a magical process, imbibe the goodness of the carved offering scene, before running out of the spout into the soil at the foot, feeding the deceased for eternity.
Today it takes more than a jar of spilt water to keep us replete, nobody pours water outside my sealed door. It takes a socially-distanced shop in a half deserted supermarket, or a hard-won delivery slot, followed by the dusting-off of cookery books. Let the sacred process of mixing, stirring and baking begin.
As the Detroit Emeralds (never) sang - feel the knead in me.
Egyptian relief fragment of hand and offering table
New Kingdom, 18th Dynasty, c.1351-1334 BC