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What Paladins and Pilgrims Can Teach Us as We Give Thanks Today

I don’t know why you are reading this article, you should be eating. It’s Thanksgiving, after all. Surrounded by turkey, mashed taters, and pumpkin pie – a spread inspired by our forefathers, the Pilgrims – let’s eat. Then watch football. Then eat again.

Pilgrims, and their Puritan cousins, are now seen as caricatures, thought to be a repressed and judgmental bunch. “Puritanical,” if you will, especially regarding sex and anything regarded as fun.

But they knew how to eat, even if we nowadays get a little loose on the historical particulars of that first Thanksgiving feast of 1621. The Pilgrims weren’t crazy about corn, regarding it as animal feed. They believed sweet potatoes to be an aphrodisiac, despite their reputation for being puritanical. They loved beer and considered swan a delicacy.

Come to think of it, us modern day suburbanites are pretty puritanical too. We gobble down turkey…as long as it is free-range. And we give cranberries a boost because of their essential vitamins and antioxidants. Praise Ocean Spray. Yet we look down our nose at gravy and immediately launch into boorish diet talk immediately after dinner.

So, why the menu lesson from the Pilgrims, if the title clearly mentions paladins? Well, it’s just one tiny historical step from the food eaten by the pious Pilgrims to the food eaten by pious paladins. In fact, there is even a “cook book.”

First, let’s get this out of the way: A paladin’s diet was lawful good. But unlike the Pilgrims, they were buzzkills.

Contrary to most modern portrayals, Templar Knights lived genuinely humble lives in service to God. For example, Knights were not permitted even to speak to women, as such would go against their formal vows of chastity. And even though the Templar Knights grew rich from donations and by safeguarding traveling pilgrims’ money, historians have ample evidence that the money was handled carefully, fitting the formal vow of poverty the knights took.

Befitting their Lawful Good alignment, there were more rules. The knights were to protect orphans and widows, of course. In addition, they were to reject the company of rowdy, unscrupulous men. In fact, even their diet reflected their pious vows.

Drawing from the teachings of Saint Augustine, French abbot Bérnard de Clairvaux assembled the Primitive Rule of the Templars, a cookbook rulebook designed to structure the lives of the knights. A large portion of the rules were on dietary practices.

First, Knights were to eat together, but to do so silently. And a sort of buddy system existed to enforce their efforts. Knights sat in pairs to make sure that neither was scarfing more than his share, an attitude entirely anathema to our modern traditions of over-indulgence before and after football watching.

Scraps of bread were collected and given to the poor, and whole loaves set aside for future meals. Modern day Thanksgiving meals are interrupted only by shopping.

These knights lived active, military lives and you can’t crusade on an empty stomach. So they were allowed to occasionally eat meat. It was eaten no more than three times a week, often pork or dried fish. But on Sundays, everyone ate meat, some kind of roast animal, often beef with salt for seasoning.

On Fridays, the knights observed a Lenten fast of no eggs, milk, or other animal products. Yet, there was a concession. The wounded or sick were granted a pardon from the fast and were fed in order to return them to fighting shape as quickly as possible.

On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays, paladins ate only vegetable-filled meals with occasional almond milk, eggs, and cheese. Otherwise, they might eat potage, made with oats or fiber-rich vegetable stews. 

And where did paladins get their food? In their gardens. Knights grew fruits and vegetables, especially Mediterranean produce such as figs, almonds, pomegranates, and olives.

Knights drank wine but you better bet that this too was restricted and heavily regulated. Every paladin received the same small-cup ration of wine, which was diluted, and they were advised that because Solomon said that “wine corrupts the wise” alcohol should “not be taken to excess, but in moderation.” Although, they allegedly mixed a potent cocktail of antiseptic aloe vera, hemp, and palm wine, which was known as the Elixir of Jerusalem and may have helped accelerate healing from injuries, although that is a story for its own article.

After eating, everyone sat in silence around the table and gave thanks.

Sure, Paladins are buzzkills. They don’t even gorge themselves on gravy. Aligned as lawful good, Paladins are sanctimonious goodie two-shoes, so it’s understandable that you might want to align yourself as chaotic neutral, particularly on a holiday with pie and football games.

Diets and traditions sure look different today. But spare a thought for rules and regulations of a Templar Knight next time your party needs a well-placed Laying on of Hands spell to avoid a TPK. And think too of the Pilgrims as you gobble down your free range turkey.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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