Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman's Good Omens is set in England, and one of the characters is Madame Tracy, who makes her living by doing "occult" seances, either by using a crystal ball or a Tarot deck (which doesn't contain any Major Arcana because their sight was upsetting the clients). The following detail caught my attention:

And she made sure that she had always put sprouts on to boil just before a seance. Nothing is more reassuring, nothing is more true to the comfortable spirit of English occultism, than the smell of Brussels sprouts cooking in the next room.

Is this some sort of British humour? From an Internet search I can see that Brussels sprouts seem to be an (in)famous popular Christmas dish in Britain - is that it? The novel isn't set during Christmas, though; the Annotated Pratchett File and this reference file by Tor.com don't mention this scene.


1 Answer 1


Brussels sprouts release sulphur when cooked. Sulphur, of course, is very strongly associated with hell in the Christian tradition.

Madame Tracy is using this gimmick to (subtly) suggest to her clients she has some sort of a connection with the underworld.

We could, however, also interpret the smell of sulphur as a direct reference to Revelation 21:8, and the eventual fate that awaits all who "practice magic arts":

But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”

Source: Revelation 21:8, New International Version.

There is, of course, nothing reassuring or comfortable about that. Except perhaps in the sarcastic manner of British humour.

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    :D I knew Brussels sprouts were sent by the Devil! But how does that work with "comfortable spirit of English occultism"? Jun 28, 2017 at 20:33
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    I think you make a fair point in your answer, yannis, but I also think that @Gallifreyan makes a fair objection. Invoking Hell and the underworld is hardly "reassuring" or "comfortable."
    – Shokhet
    Jun 28, 2017 at 20:47
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    I never thought of the quote being a reference to sulphurous fumes, but it makes perfect sense. I'd always read it as a very 'safe' smell, a smell you encounter in the homes of inoffensive old ladies who'd never do worse to you than feed you overlooked veg. Over-cooking veg is a proud tradition in these isles of course, and tradition is never bad... It's all a little WI and more-tea-vicar. So with the two notions, it's a hellish whiff in a very proper, unthreatening, English package.
    – Spagirl
    Jun 28, 2017 at 21:49
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    @Spagirl I think the "smell you encounter in the homes of inoffensive old ladies" interpretation is worthy of its own answer. Please post it so I can upvote it properly.
    – user8
    Jun 28, 2017 at 21:51
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    Also... belated thought... perhaps the cutting of crosses into the base, effectively upside down crosses, plays into it as well. Or perhaps the real reason people cut the crosses isn't to help them cook but to sanctify the hellish globes.
    – Spagirl
    Jul 23, 2017 at 13:24

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