When Alice takes her tumble down the rabbit hole, she lands in a liminal hallway, lined with doors she can’t open or fit through. She is trapped between the real world and the world of Wonderland. “‘Oh,’ said Alice, ‘how I wish I could shut up like a telescope! I think I could, if I only knew how to begin.’” As luck would have it, there appear before her a small bottle labelled “DRINK ME” and a small cake with the words “EAT ME” spelled out in currants. Alice eats the EAT ME cake and drinks the DRINK ME drink. When she has, she discovers she understands now how to “shut up like a telescope.” Alice is able to fit through the doors into Wonderland and enters, beginning her adventures in that other world.
I use this example when I try to explain to non-specialists what it is this book discusses. For people without familiarity with 4 Ezra, Joseph and Aseneth, the Passion of Perpetua and Felicitas, and the other ancient texts I go through in my book, Alice is an accessible example that conveniently points out what happens when a person consumes food belonging to another world. Because she has eaten and drunk, Alice’s physical appearance changes; she gains access to Wonderland in a way that she could not before she ingested the items provided by the liminal room. In Alice’s case, as in the examples from antiquity, it isn’t explained exactly why it would be that food works this way. The text takes for granted that we readers can follow along. And once you recognize what’s happening, you begin to catch glimpses of hierophagy in a range of texts. Continue reading