Secret Recipe: Dragon's Blood Punch — The Wondersmith (2024)

Dragon’s Blood Punch: Drinking on the Threshold.

For thousands of years, humans have used animals for symbolic or ritualistic purposes. Every animal carries their own associations and meanings, and some were even elevated to god-like status in ancient cultures (think of the ancient Egyptians and their cats or the ancient Greeks and their bulls.) In fact, some of the earliest artwork painted onto cave walls with powdered pigments depicted the animals that fed early humans. Soon these animal designs permeated other kinds of artwork as well, such as the rhyta of the ancient world.

A rhyton (plural rhyta) is a long, horn-shaped cup with an animal head at the bottom. Many ancient examples have a small hole in the mouth of the animal; one could scoop up liquid with the large end, then hold it above their head and move their finger to un-stop the smaller hole to release the liquid into their mouth. These forms were popular throughout a large area of ancient Eurasia, particularly from Persia to the Balkans. Rhyta played an important role in many rituals and ceremonies of the time and were often used in conjunction with the animal they represented. Sometimes they held wine, sometimes blood, and other times a mixture of the two. These were not a vessel for everyday consumption; instead, they marked significant occasions and blood sacrifices.

Centuries later, this tradition of sacrificial liquid served in an animal cup took on a new name: the “stirrup cup.” In the 18th and 19th century, it became the custom to offer a rider on horseback a little cup of alcohol when they were departing or arriving home from the hunt. With their feet in the stirrups, riders would hold animal-head cups and take a gulp of spiced wine or cherry brandy to warm themselves on the cold hunting days of fall or winter. This was intended to be a quick drink, as the shape of the cups prevented them from setting them down. In fact, servants had to hand the cups to the riders from a special tray designed to hold them upright! Though the days of drinking blood in a ritual setting were long gone, the symbolism of drinking in honor of the animals being hunted remained; these cups were most often in the form of the heads of animals related to the hunt (such as foxes.) Though the tradition of stirrup cups continues today in certain equestrian communities, the libations are more often served in small disposable paper cups than the animal-inspired vessels of olden days. It is typically considered a dose of “liquid courage,” particularly if one is riding an unfamiliar or slightly wild horse.

When crossing the threshold to adventure, how many of us have imbibed in our own liquid courage? This brings to mind the aquavit shots before cross country ski races, or a flask of peppermint schnapps stashed in one’s jacket and sipped before a run down the terrain park. I can only imagine how much “courage” was needed when a knight of old set out on a journey into the unknown to face his dragons (literal or metaphorical.)

Indeed, in our Western culture, dragons represented the epitome of something to be conquered. Gigantic and fearsome, slaying a dragon was the ultimate sign of bravery and strength. Though some fantasy and science fiction writings have tamed them into fascinating sidekicks or wily advisers, the ancient archetype of the dragon represents fear itself. Artifacts from our pre-human lives remain in our blood, and one of them is a deep fear of scaly predators. Today, the chances of being swallowed whole by a giant snake are slim, but our ancient ancestors had to evade that threat to survive. A dragon is the embodiment of that primal fear; a large, unknown, cunning, and scaly monster. And if that wasn’t scary enough on its own, they also breathe fire! As Doug Niles in his book Dragons: The Myths, Legends, and Lore says:

Since primordial times, the brute forces of nature have presented a threat, generally inexplicable, to humankind. In an attempt to personify these threats, many of the traits of nature have been incorporated into draconic form, which may have made them more understandable —though certainly no less terrifying— to our ancestors.”

Dragons were a suitable explanation for the horrors of volcanic eruptions, forest fires, lightning storms, sudden bursts of wind, and many other overwhelming forces. They were pieced together from better-known lethal beasts such as venomous snakes, predatorily lizards, or mysterious deep sea creatures. It’s no wonder that the mere mention of a dragon was enough to strike fear into the heart of many a knight in shining armor setting out to slay the beast.

It’s only fitting, then, that dragon’s blood would be a suitable potion for an adventurer setting out across his threshold, filling his belly with a warming libation to spur himself forwards in a time of doubt or fear. And whether you’re setting out to slay a dragon or just shred some powder, this fortifying liquid will warm your spirit along the way. (Though it bears mentioning that moderation is key; too much of a good thing will fuel more catastrophes than adventure.) Take a few sips to revitalize your sense of adventure on your way out the door, or warm your body upon return from an outdoor winter quest. Either way, this ruby liquid quaffed in a ceremonial setting tastes like the thrill of a hunt and the victory of a glorious return.

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Secret Recipe: Dragon's Blood Punch — The Wondersmith (2024)


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