The Long Dance: Ten Thousand Years of Gardening Ceremony

|By Steven Martyn|
As another amazing growing season comes to a close, I am struck yet again by the realization that hidden within gardening, this most common of practices, is an ancient ceremony of the highest order.

All the elements of the most elaborate grand rituals are present when we garden. It all starts with a natural setting, often a place of inherent brightness, richness and splendor, a place of moisture and life. Then, in an honourable way, we work with the land. We cultivate Her using ancient techniques passed down through the ages from the first marriage agreement we made. These deep understandings of plants were gleaned thousands of years ago when we eloped with our wild plant ‘bride’ taking her from her home.

As we garden in a sacred space, we create planting beds, rich level altars, as thrones for the Holy. We magically amend Her, feeding the Gods of decay. And after feeding our altar and feeding the Holies, we seed our manifest vision into the ground, physically and metaphysically. The dream of life lives in the seeds that we place in the Earth. We offer the children of the plant families, whom our ancestors partnered with.

I first heard about these miraculous stories of domestic food’s ‘creation myths’ from Mayan teachers. At first I took them as symbolic. I never would have believed that over many decades of living with the Earth and the Plants, these unbelievable stories would be confirmed as factual. Our food plants were created through magical co-creative relationships with wild plants and deities of the land. I have seen and read about similar ‘myths’ from agrarian people world-wide and their own domestic plants. When we open up to it, we realize the truth is that from this forgotten marriage came everything. Food bearing plants and animals make up the many marriages with Wild beings that constitute the very foundation of every civilization. Without the help of these wild beings, who became the domesticated plants and animals that sustain us, humans would still number in the thousands, not the billions.

In a dance with these partners that has lasted for thousands of years; we are born, we grow, we love and die. We give ourselves to the plants and they are born, grow, love and die and give themselves to us. Every spring we reconsumate our vows when we bury our beloved’s seeds. We offer them to the Earth as we do our own bodies at the end of our time. These seeds we offer are the most valuable thing we have, they are what sustains our life here on Earth. As we give of them, we give of our own flesh. Then, the real magic happens, in the womb of the Earth, dancing between the Gods of Rain, Decay and the Sun, our bride’s ancestors awaken into a new form, and a sprout is born. With the Earth’s blessings, this miraculous annual ceremony happens billions of times every growing season.

At this point the ‘seed’ of the ceremony has come alive. But elation is paired with vulnerability. The small soft green head, erect in prayer, reaching out to Grandfather sun can be killed so easily; eaten, frosted, dried up or crushed. So, we who set the ceremonial birth in motion are responsible for the plant’s well being. Our role now in the long dance is to be guardian and steward to our young plants. And as with our own children, all our prayers are for the young plant’s safety and healthy growth. If our offerings are received and our prayers are heard, we may be blessed with our children growing into healthy strong adults. When this happens the ceremony is now building towards the second miraculous movement. The adults flower, and produce fruits that contain seed. The next generation is now cued up for incarnation.

The peak of the gardening ceremony happens for most of us when we reverently harvest the first ripe fruits, vegetables or grain. But this beautiful taking is also painful, after caring and fostering the plants we must then take their life to sustain ours. They give themselves to us at the right time, knowing we will care for their young. We love each other so much they become us and we become them.

I’ve met fruitarians that believe fruit is freely given by the plant, and because of that they are free from the karma of killing. While there is truth in this, we mustn’t let ignorance be the pulpit for righteousness. In taking the fruits, we are taking the plant’s children. So the ancestral line of that tree is then dependent on us to continue. When we take fruit or nuts we are just as obligated to honour and take care of that plant’s family as we would be if we had harvested the adult plant, as when we harvest vegetables. The truth is if we eat something, plant or animal, we are married to it. We are obligated to always care for the seeds from our agrarian union, like we would our own children, like we would the most sacred medicine bundle.

After harvest, there is a resting point in the ceremonial cycle. To get to this point there has been what could only be called a miraculous confluence of events and beings. The seeding, the growth, ripening and the harvest all must happen at just the right time and in the right way. And these things don’t just happen on their own. Each day, each week, each month, the Sun, the Moon, the Gods of Rain, Lightning, Wind, Soil, Animals and Insects must all purposefully dance the seedlings to maturity.

Our plant partners have danced with these deities of life here on Earth for a long time. But there is a deeper mystery, these ancient healers came to the Earth from the stars, born into the Earth’s first animate forms of fungi and plants. Different families of star beings were housed within different plant lineages to work within specific ecologies, in a progenerative capacity with the Earth. They came to create, balance and heal with the Earth. Some of these star-plant beings were the ones who entered into co-creative contracts with our ancestors. These plant healers have came to us when we most needed them, at a time when humans were struggling for survival. She has come to us through them and saved us countless times, nurturing and healing our ancestors.

As with all contracts, there were many conditions to our partnership. When we took our plant ‘brides’ from their wild home, we agreed to take care of their family (of wild unruly cousins) as part of the contract. That meant we were supposed to honour both parts of the family. But now we only hold one plant in high esteem, breed her and care for her, and we have forgotten about and even feel contempt for her cousins the ‘weeds’. Fortunately, the weeds can take care of themselves. I say fortunately, because the day we eliminate these wild cousins will be the day we end our marriage and our civilization will starve.

Long ago we knew the wild cousins (herbs) were magical, that they had power to heal and balance the land and Her animals. We knew their job was to work as intermediaries between the Earth and ourselves. If we can once again come to understand the purpose and the importance of the wild plants around us, and honour them as we do our “crops”, then balance will come to the land once again.

Like children with their parents, sometimes we just need to get out of Her way, for the Earth and Her healers to clean up our mess. But easier said then done. People from western culture generally aren’t encouraged to get out of the way of anything, we’re the ones everyone and everything else is trying to get away from. So we need to learn first how to slowdown and watch so we can see and feel when we are in Her way. Then, in time, we can learn how to facilitate the Earth and Her beings to help in the healing. We have very few living examples of this type of “land use”. One book I read that is such an example is Masanobu Fukuoka’s One Straw Revolution. Because there are so few books to illustrate how to work with the Earth in a co-creative capacity that I’m aware of, I have written two books with this as the central theme “The Madawaska Forest Garden” and “The Sacred Gardener”, the first of which will be out in January 2016.

Our marriage contract with the wild entails everything we must do to make our plant relations happy; spiritually and physically. All of the traditional gardening knowledge we take for granted came from these sacred agreements. Over time the magical growing knowledge has been, christianized and then secularized, removed from the big story and an understanding of the Earth’s alchemy.

Yet anyone with a green thumb is working with the Earth’s divic beings, however unconsciously. When we garden in a sacred way, with Her, even a small garden can contain the full spectrum of life. One of the best parts of our contract is that while we have the role of host and we also can partake in this extravaganza of life that is the garden.

I know this will sound like blasphemy to many but it comes from my direct experience of living in the Wild for thirty-five years. When we are awake and living in a good way with the Earth there is little need for spiritual texts or religious dogma. This is because every day, every year we get to re-experience and relearn how life works directly from all the Gods and other beings that animate life on Earth! And, in this multi-dimensional classroom of ‘nature’ She reveals, (which is to say, we see) exactly what we are ready to see and understand! When we are sacred gardeners, each new day reveals teachings, like turning a page in a sacred text, each season a new chapter. And each year you read the book it grows like rings on a tree getting bigger and deeper. As we learn more from Her, our capacity to understand and receive more simultaneously grows.

To know ourselves, to know our garden we must come to know the stories of the seeds and land, and feel the inner alchemy of our practices.

This year when we celebrate our harvest let’s not just be thankful for our food, family and friends, but for our ancestors and their knowledge that made our miraculous food production possible; and to the wild plant families we married that saved our ancestors and enabled civilization. Thank the Gods and Goddesses of the Earth, the Stars, the Moon, the Sun, the Rain, and to all of our kin, the Crawlers, Swimmers, Flyers and Walking beings. Thank you.