Alchemical Gardening

One of this month’s themes is gardening … it’s nearly the end of the month but I’m getting there with it :-).

For me, this month has very much been about alchemy. I’ve got a workshop coming up at the middle of June on the alchemical wedding so it’s not really surprising Otherworld is whispering in my ear, nudging me, pointing things out. Now they’ve suggested a whole load of alchemical stuff on gardening.

Some of you already know I garden biodynamically but … that’s one helluva long word with a fog-index of at least 9000 J, so what the hell does it mean? And what on earth has it got to do with alchemy?

Hmm! Well I managed to get in the Lowerworld (hell) and the Middleworld (earth) there, now I’ve got to get Upperworld in … and I can feel a lot of hot breath on the back of my neck as various of the Celtic Powers lean over my shoulder to see what I’m writing and make I sure I get it right. All very well, but I do wish they’d give me a bit of space!

Alchemical gardening … biodynamics … yes, same sort of thing different names.

Biodynamics is the oldest organised form of organic gardening. It was concern about the worrying trends developing in agriculture that led farmers to ask Rudolf Steiner to give his ‘Agriculture Lectures” in 1924, on which the biodynamic agricultural movement is founded. The farmers’ concerns were …

  • increasing mechanisation of agriculture
  • a sense that nature is becoming degraded and losing its vitality
  • pollution of the environment
  • signs of illness in trees and
  • violent changes in the weather

It seems nothing is new.

The farmers’ concerns resulted in the series of eight lectures that Steiner gave at the house of his friend Count Keiserling. The lectures began a movement which now spans the world. Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India, Europe, Ireland, the UK and the USA all have very strong biodynamic movements and I’ve even had enquiries from Japan. It seems Poland has now chosen to make its government-supported agriculture biodynamic. Biodynamics wine-making is all the rage and experts like Oz Clarke say biodynamic wine is the best wine they have ever tasted.

Biodynamics can appear very strange to outsiders – full of practices that almost sound like black magic, eg putting oak bark into a horse’s skull, in running water, for a year to make one of the preparations, or cow dung into a cow’s horn and burying from autumn to spring … and then seeing how the dung is completely different. Umm! Those could almost be shamanic practices 🙂 … and maybe they are.

But my goodness! The difference they make to the garden is phenomenal. I’ve been working this way for the best part of 20 years now and attest to its efficacy.

It’s true that we may not be able to explain everything about it as fully as we can, say, bread-making or steel production but … have you ever tried to say “why” (not how) electricity works? And physics comes up with wonderful apparent paradoxes like “is light waves or particles?” We seem quite able to cope with not having a complete knowledge of these things in science. Perhaps experiencing the pleasures of biodynamics, seeing the beautiful plants, eating the good food, drinking the excellent wine, will help us overcome our doubts and fears of this well established form of growing.

And alchemy? There’s lots of things we do in biodynamic gardening that have alchemical connections, perhaps one of the most obvious is the Cow.

Apart from being the totem of the goddess Brighid – Lady of the three faces, Smith, Healer and Poet – the cow is found throughout the world as a sacred beast. Cattle have been “wealth” in so many societies, including Celtic ones. The cow is a mother-figure in many traditions. But cows are also very special and have a particular alchemical property … they have 4 stomachs, 4 chambers, 4 vessels, through which matter passes as they process it to gain energy for themselves and to give goodness to the Earth.

Ruminants' Stomachs

All ruminants have 4 stomachs – that’s animals like sheep, goats, deer and cows. The word ruminant means

any even-toed, hoofed mammal of the suborder Ruminantia, being comprised of cloven-hoofed, cud-chewing quadrupeds, and including, besides domestic cattle, bison, buffalo, deer, antelopes, giraffes, camels.

The ruminant digestive system is fascinating – as I said, it’s comprised of 4 stomachs. If you’d like to become a “ruminant anorak” follow the link, it’s technical and interesting, if mind boggling! A less mind-blowing version can be found at Wiki, with a good diagram of the stomachs.

These 4 stomachs are like the 4 processes of alchemy – as Rudolf Steiner also said – the Nigredo, followed by the Albedo, followed by the Citrinato and culminating in the Rubado. Steiner said that the four stomachs did the four alchemical process to the food as the cow processes it through her body … resulting in the alchemical gold of her dung which we can compost and use on our land.

I find making these links fascinating … but I also garden very practically, to put food into my and my husband’s bellies. So, while my mind may be luxuriating in staggering cosmic connections my hands are deep in the earth, the soil, getting grubby and doing the business J.

I’ll talk some more about biodynamics, alchemical gardening, gardening by the moon as some folk call it in a little while … when I’ve finished weeding the bed I’m on at present, in between diving indoors to do a blog !!!

And I’m just on the final edit of a “how-to” book on biodynamics for gardeners and people who don’t know much about it. I hope to have it in the shops for Midsummer, so not long now.

And … Scarlett has been suggesting to various people about having a daily column. I just might do one on gardening by the moon, to help people get to grips with it. It is magic, it is alchemy, and it is easy … anyone can do it, and it doesn’t cost the earth nor take up all your time either :-).

Elen Sentier
… behind every gifted woman there’s usually a rather talented cat …
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