The Gifting Moon
Giving from the Seed Jar
I had a dream some years ago that foretold the spiritual journey I was to make, after a significant trauma. Shapeshifting several times in the dream, my form eventually entered into a small corn plant seedling that grew and grew until she was a robust, queenly size. On her sturdy girth, she was crowned with elaborate pollen-bearing tassels and each ear was crowned with golden silk.
I was gifted with blue flint corn from New Mexico and I planted these handsome seeds this past summer. As the plants grew, I noticed that they had strikingly human qualities; they were clearly alive and responsive. It is hard to explain, but anyone who saw them had a sense that they were beings in their own right. They sang regularly – rustling, whispering and clattering. To honor the Corn Mother’s beauty and to please her, I played my new Indigenous flute. While I can barely qualify as a flute player, she stood still and so did all the trees and shrubs. They were clearly listening to my very modest music-making and taking in my gift of encouragement.
Living things these days have fallen on hard times as their Liveliness is not seen. I was saying, “I see you; I know your vitality is really important as one thread in the cosmic tapestry of all living beings”. If we do not see Life around us, it is unlikely we can help revitalize the life-givingness that is core to a vibrant, sustainable society. And really, living things do not need our “help” as much as they need to be seen and recognized as alive, with a space protected and respected for their lives to unfold.
As Cherokee Marilou Awiakta (1993) describes it, my dream was a seeking of Selu, the Corn-Mother’s wisdom. The term “Grandmother” conveys “Mother of Us All,” a very old spirit being who is eternally wise. For tribal people who cultivate corn, seed is indivisible from spirit. Corn is a gift from the All-Mystery, the Creator, the Provider. Knowing the stories that surround Selu and living into their meaning, teaches us, often taking years to understand. This is how education occurred in oral societies, for children and adults. In the past few years, I have been learning from within the womb of corn-growing societies, through the way of oralcy.
Our societies have separated seed and spirit. We take and take from the natural world, a society of extraction and extortion. We have become fabulously successful by seeing the natural world around us, all our tools, and even each other as resources, with little or no life of their own, as raw fodder for money-making, an industrial technological society, and comfortable modern living. Agriculture has become industrialized and plants have become our slaves in homogenized and sanitized fields that have eliminated as much of the Wild as possible. We even treat each other as tools to get our tasks done quickly so we can “get on with life”. We cooperate daily in the search for ease, speed, efficiency and convenience. I have struggled for years to decolonize my mind of this notion. But to make an income, we often need to close our eyes to this overwhelming crass reality and hope our souls will not notice the deadening and flattening of life.
But the cost is that we have become dis-membered…sundered from all the communal rituals and ways of living that are in harmonious relationship with the living world. As Gustavo Esteva and Madhu Suri Prakash (1998) explain, we are exiled from our food, from soil, from plants, from animals as well as from communal bonds and memory. Wendell Berry (1990) agrees that our senses have become numbed as everything around us is ‘processed, dyed, breaded, sauced, gravied, pulped, ground, strained, blended, prettified and sanitized beyond resemblance to any part of any creature that ever lived.’ And that is just our food.
One of the losses has been what Esteva and Prakash call comida. Regenerating our human society means that we need to escape the prison of industrial eating and ‘ethnic’ foods toward remembering the growing, cooking, eating and celebrating of food. Food is not something we should grab on the run or another tool of calories to keep us moving. When we eat "ethnic", it is really the conviviality of culture with which we hope to connect.
In a comida way of life, we sense the sacredness of soil, plants, and animals. We celebrate the gift of life given to us daily. We handle plants and undertake food-making processes with great care and respect. We surround our daily activities with ritual as a constant remembering of Origins (where things come from) and of Life-givingness (how things are sustained in the present for the future). The act of eating becomes sacred…surrounded by affection, togetherness and mutual hospitality. Eating together is most often the backbone of a family and a community where a sense of solidarity is born. It is not the art of a foodie or chef wars, but a giving to each other, to remake each of us daily. While we prayed over each meal in the family of my childhood, we did not understand that the food plants were giving their lives for us and we did not understand the labour of the cooks as intermediaries in this relationship of honouring and enlivening. But we did give thanks…an important first step that has largely been lost these days…
My host in New Mexico, Martín Pretchel, (2012) tells the story of a hidden jar of wealth. There were legends related to six generations of grandmothers who were revered in their New Mexican family. Each in turn taught the youngest granddaughter all of her knowledge. When the granddaughter inherited the family home, her job was to keep the family’s cultural identity and the land from which they sprung, intact and rooted, while the others pursued their dreams in the cities. Falling on hard times, this farm was sold. But it was repurchased by the youngest grandson, Martín’s friend. Yet, the house and land were very broken by then.
One of the legends was that the first grandmother had hidden a jar of gold somewhere on the property, which many treasure-seekers had tried to find. One day in the renovations, his friend found the jar of “gold” cemented in between the thick adobe walls. It was filled with layers and layers of seeds prized by each generation of grandmothers. These were both domesticated and undomesticated seeds; everything they knew their families would need to replant and regrow their lives after any disaster, whether political, natural or personal. These ancient seeds were the gold, the wealth of their family! The seeds would help them to remember who they were and how to be a people again on the land of their ancestry. It was the gift of seeds that helped Martín’s friend to revive the memory and traditions of his grandmothers, alongside tending the old varieties of food and medicinal plants. We need to pull now from such a seed jar, as we are in a time of calamity, a time of great loss.
The corn plant in my dream releases all her kernels onto the ground, where they are pushed into the soil by birds. Grandmother Corn wishes to be generous with us if only we would hear, see, listen and cooperate with her. How can we each become a seed that can renew the vitality of the world?
To Think About:
What seed is it we can plant as a gift to future generations? In this celebratory season of gift-giving as well as food traditions, we can begin to rethink gifting in this way. In the seed jar you have inherited, what was given to you that is vital wisdom for coming generations? How can you give a gift of your talents, skills and ways of being to seed a respectful and honouring culture?