Traditions as a Coping Mechanism: Recipes in Sassafrass, Cypress, and Indigo

Having now personally reenacted the Moon Journey written by Indigo, I know these traditions to be capable of inciting a powerful emotional response. This realization pushed me to reexamine the purposeful placement of the recipes throughout the novel in order to achieve a better understanding of the three sisters and the text generally. The recipes in the novel function as coping mechanisms, and although distinct, comfort each sister and allow them a sense of control and community. These traditions do not exist in a vacuum, but rather in a cycle that perpetuates their usage. For each sister this cycle is unique, but all rely principally on tradition as a means of comfort and control.

Indigo’s recipes are spiritual, hinging on the themes of nature and the universe. Despite their variance, Indigo’s recipes always provide her with comfort, through a means of connectedness and spirituality, regardless of the nature of the prompting event. In “Marvelous Menstruating Moments,” Indigo’s spirituality is palpable due to her word choice: “…for you are about to have an intense union with your magic. … Sleep with a laurel leaf under your head. Take baths in wild hyssop, white water lilies. Listen for the voices of your visions; they are nearby” (16). The use of words such as magic and visions allude to the spirituality and sacredness of these acts, while the recipe’s dependence on the fruits of the earth emphasize the transcendentalism present in these rituals.

While the last example was a ritual in the spirit of celebrating and honoring the universe (and by extension ourselves), there are also many examples of rituals brought upon by tragedy. In “To Rid Oneself of The Scent of Evil,” the reverence for the traditions and the universe remain, despite the tragic preceding events: “Then, waving your arms & hands all about you, so your atmosphere may again be clean,…Each time blowing your own breath into the world that we may all benefit from your renewal” (25). This tradition, like the last, also relies on the elements of nature: “Bring to your bath a tall clear glass of spring water wherein floats one closed white rose” (25).

We can propose that Indigo’s recipes function as messages to the universe, either in the form of reverence and awe or in times of need and desperation. Regardless, Indigo’s traditions provide her with an inner sense of calm, as they reconnect her to her roots.

I see Indigo’s cycle of tradition to be motivated principally by a feeling of powerlessness. This feeling of powerlessness is brought about through multiple ways in the text; Indigo is made to feel powerless through tragedy (like the rape scene), but also through reminders of the world’s powerfulness (correlations, superstitions, etc). This feeling of powerlessness motivates Indigo to practice her recipes, which ground her and allow her a sense of control. It also seems, due to the consistent transcendentalist imagery, that she finds a sense of support and community in the universe through these practices. This sense of calm however, derived from the universe, is itself a reminder of the universe’s power (and Indigo’s respective powerlessness in comparison), sending her back again into the cycle of tradition as a coping mechanism.

Do Sassafrass and Cypress’ recipes similarly cement themselves cyclically? Why or why not? Where do the differences between the sisters lie?

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