Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Planting Potatoes

article by Patricia Damery

Carl Jung was said to be an earthy man. He derived pleasure in growing his own potatoes despite his intellectual interests. During the Second World War he plowed up part of his yard to do so. “Every man should have his own plot of land so that the instincts can come to life again,” he claimed. “We keep forgetting that we are primates and that we have to make allowances for these preemptive layers in our psyche. The farmer is still closer to these layers. In tilling the earth he moves around with a very narrow radius, but he moves on his own land.”(1)

Growing potatoes is a magical process, and one I suspect that also works deep on the psyche. You take a potato with “eyes” and cut it into pieces, each with its own sprouting eye. You place this “eye” underground, and in a few days you see a sprout coming up, and then a plant about two or three feet tall that finally blooms and then yellows. After about four months you dig carefully into the earth (so as not to spear any!) and find the egg-like potatoes buried in the soil. For me, it is always a miracle.

Potatoes are members of the Solanaceae or nightshade family along with several other common food crops including peppers and tomatoes, as well as several medicinal and poisonous plants, such as belladonna. The word “solanum” is derived from Sol, the sun. Even its name is paradoxical: that of the sun and in the “nightshade” family. It is also what is called a gamopetalous plant, or one (from the Greek gama) that “marries” unusual aspects, and often opposites. The eyes are underground, in the earth. The potato is not a root but a stem, and the sprout, a branch, that which usually grows above ground. If the potato is exposed to the sun, it turns green with the alkaloid solanin, a poison. Many of the members of the nightshade family are poisonous and used in medicines or in sorcery, some bringing altered states. I have used homeopathically prepared belladonna successfully both with my children when they were young and with a goat in controlling high fevers characterized by hotness radiating from the body like the sun. Anthroposophist and natural scientist Gerbert Grohmann, states, “The poison [of the nightshade] eliminates the controlling force of the human ego so that mental processes (thinking, feeling and willing) become autonomous and thereby the soul life becomes confused and disorganized.”(2) Used as a medicine, however, this can have a stimulating effect on the autoimmune system. A plant becomes poisonous, anthroposophists claim, when the astral forces “penetrate too deeply into it [the plant].”(3) Rudolf Steiner says poisonous plants always have too much astrality for a usual plant and this not only is revealed by the poisonous properties but also by unusual changes in their forms (e.g., the swollen underground stem we call a potato.)

In growing potatoes, we learn something of this, although seldom on an intellectual level. We learn the magic of cutting a potato into pieces, each with an eye, and how each then grows into a separate and complete plant, so different from planting a seed formed by an entirely different process. We learn how light turns the potato green and bitter, poisoned, and this bitterness cautions us to not to eat the skin that has developed this green tinge. We are brought into communion with the earth as we partake of this potato, which Steiner would claim is a “higher” plant due to its increased astrality, energetically somewhere between a plant and an animal, animals having astral bodies whereas plants do not. In the nightshades we are confronted with plants marrying many opposites. They not only nourish us, most having great vigor and vitality, but also provide medicine, often operating on psychological levels. Overdone, these very healing plants can poison us.

Jung directly blamed modern disease on the rootless and gardenless existence of modern life. “ ...We all need nourishment for our psyche,” he said. “It is impossible to find such nourishment in urban tenements without a patch of green or a blossoming tree. We need a relationship with nature.”(4) — in this case, perhaps, as experienced through the nature— and teachings—of the potato.


Farming Soul: A Tale of InitiationFarming Soul, a courageous offering that will help to reconnect us to our deeper selves, the often untouched realities of soul, and at the same time ground us in our physical relationship to self and Mother Earth.

In addition to being the author of Farming Soul, Patricia Damery is an analyst member of the C.G. Jung Institute of San Francisco and practices in Napa, CA. She grew up in the rural Midwest and witnessed the demise of the family farm through the aggressive practices of agribusiness. With her husband Donald, she has farmed biodynamically for ten years. Her chapter, "Shamanic States in Our Lives and in Analytic Practice" appeared in The Sacred Heritage: The Influence of Shamanism on Analytical Psychology, edited by Donald Sandner and Steven Wong, and her articles and poetry in the San Francisco Library Journal, Jung Journal: Culture and Psyche, Psychological Perspectives, and Biodynamics: Working for Social Change Through Agriculture.
Copyright © 2010 Patricia Damery - Permission to Reprint this article is granted. 

(1) William McGuire and R.F.C. Hull.C.G., ed, Jung Speaking: Interviews and Encounters. "Man and His Environment." (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1977), 203-204.
(2) Gerbert Gohmann, The Plant, Vol 2. trans., K. Castelliz and Barbara Saunders-Davies. (Bio-Dynamic Farming and Gardening Association, Inc. 1989), 155.
(3) Gerbert Gohmann,156-157.
(4) C.G. Jung Speaking, 203-204.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Loss of Farmland, Loss of Soul

Article by Patricia Damery

What is the impact on the human soul of a people losing the land they farm along with their right livelihood?

Growing up on a small farm in the Midwest, I was of the last generation to be raised in a large, predominately rural culture. When I entered first grade, almost all of my classmates’ fathers farmed. Our small farms punctuated the landscape, all at least a half mile apart, on a square mile road grid system that reached for hundreds of miles in every direction.

We were a very local people. We knew everyone in town, worshiped in our small country churches, shopped locally, patronized our country doctor and dentist. Neighboring towns’ schools were our competitors. All winter everyone followed the high school basketball games. We intimately knew our landscape, its slightest variations, which would not be noticed by non-locals, the areas that were damp, the wooded creeks lining the horizon. But get three or four miles away and the landscape was strange. Even today I can get lost in this grid system if I get out of the three or four mile radius I was raised in. 

The land we lived on was once a sea bottom and then, about 15,000 years ago, scraped flat by a glacier. Over centuries deep-rooted prairie vegetation built three to four feet of rich topsoil. In the last 150 years farmers have wiped out almost all of these native plants as they mined the riches of the soil. Perhaps one percent of the prairie survives and only along railroad rights-of-way and ditches. Prairie chickens, still abundant at the turn of the last century when my grandmother was a girl, are extinct. But the amazing thing is, the never-tilled areas, left unmowed and unsprayed, sprout big blue stem prairie grass and Indian grass, even after one hundred years.

By the time I graduated from high school, many of my classmates’ fathers had sold their farms and prematurely retired or had taken jobs in the city 15 miles away. My mother started teaching as the youngest of us entered school, so my own father could keep farming. Empty storefronts were showing up in town. We lost our grocery store. Within a few years, the high school was consolidated with our nearby competitor. High schoolers no longer “walked beans” for summer money because herbicides stopped anything growing but soybeans. We all celebrated this. I hated walking beans! It was hot and dusty, tedious work.

We all knew most of my generation could not stay in the community, although it was never discussed. We were baby-boomers, born after the Second World War, and there was no place for most of us. The future was of large farms, using chemicals for fertility and weed and pest control. Less labor was required. We were told that this was the “only way to feed the world,” an arguable assertion, as it turns out. Of course, the small towns suffered. Statistics say that for every five farms lost, a local business in town closed. So over the next 10 or 20 years, a viable way of life was dissembled, largely through the corporate interests of chemical and seed companies. Large-holding farmers became wealthy while also receiving government subsidies, while more and more small farmers were snuffed out. The Midwest is riddled by what have become almost ghost towns and bedroom communities.

I am heartbroken about what has happened to the land, the communities, the people there. Whereas before, land stewardship was paramount, requiring a sense of reverence and humility, production became the god. And although these chemical solutions worked their magic, increasing production to levels that would shock our grandfathers, many of the people have cancer and autoimmune syndromes. People eat the same amounts they ate when they worked 16 hours a day, and for the first time, obesity is rampant. Last year my cousin complained that she could no longer have a garden because “overspray” from the fields kills everything— but corn and soybeans.

As a Jungian analyst, I question the impact of this separation from the earth through the demise of the small farm without care to maintaining respectful connection to the earth. What is the subsequent soul loss? One hundred years ago 98 percent of our country was agrarian. Now less than 2 percent is. Most of our immigrant ancestors were farmers and had been for generations, so this represents a sea change. Carl Jung asserted, “...he who is rooted in the soil endures. Alienation from the unconscious and from its historical conditions spells rootlessness. That is the danger that lies in wait for the conqueror of foreign lands, and for every individual who, through one-sided allegiance to any kind of -ism, loses touch with the dark, maternal earthy ground of his being.”¹

Are our current attitudes toward the earth impacted by the lack of grieving this loss of relationship to the earth, so necessary in re-establishing a renewed, updated sense of place? As Jung intimated, could our lack of grieving a way of life be connected to the mass migrations into America in the last two hundred or so years? My own relatives never spoke of Ireland and Wales, lands they had left only decades before. In contrast our Irish relatives in Ireland did remember who left, and still do. Did the shock of such migration affect the ability to bond again with a piece of earth?

Many farmers knew the old ways of communing with non-human living beings. There was a sense of reverence that is important in any relationship to nature, our earth, and our psyche. Yet, as it came down in the Midwest, farmers also became intermediaries in transforming native prairie into chemical minefields.

We need a balanced approach to the earth, one returning to ancient spiritual sensitivities, if we are to survive. We have developed our intellect as a people: however, intellect is not a god, nor is production, an outgrowth of intellect. The over reliance on production and intellect is one-sided and unbalances both the earth and the psyche .

We need both to be able to expand into and be in relationship with nature, recognizing ourselves only one part of it, and to consciously think about the relationships we experience. No longer able to rely on old ways, we need new ways to re-establish relationship with the earth. I have come to believe our planet— and our souls —depend on it.

Farming Soul: A Tale of InitiationPatricia Damery is the author of Farming Soul, a courageous offering that will help to reconnect us to our deeper selves, the often untouched realities of soul, and at the same time ground us in our physical relationship to self and Mother Earth.

Patricia Damery is an analyst member of the C.G. Jung Institute of San Francisco and practices in Napa, CA. She grew up in the rural Midwest and witnessed the demise of the family farm through the aggressive practices of agribusiness. With her husband Donald, she has farmed biodynamically for ten years. Her chapter, "Shamanic States in Our Lives and in Analytic Practice" appeared in The Sacred Heritage: The Influence of Shamanism on Analytical Psychology, edited by Donald Sandner and Steven Wong, and her articles and poetry in the San Francisco Library Journal, Jung Journal: Culture and Psyche, Psychological Perspectives, and Biodynamics: Working for Social Change Through Agriculture.
Copyright © 2010 Patricia Damery - Permission to Reprint this article is granted. 

References:
¹C. G. Jung, Collected Works, Volume 5 ¶103