What ever happened to the gods? The Romans had their annual local sowing-time holidays, the Sementivae, to honour Ceres, the goddess of agriculture, and Tellus, the goddess who we (in the English language) now call Mother Earth. Some of us at the time of sowing pray to the Yahweh god for a good harvest. But he’s responsible for everything (at least everything he doesn’t delegate to the devil). It’s a lot of responsibility, even for a god. If you want something done, ask a busy god. But the everything god doesn’t really take up selected attributes or responsibilities. We don’t think of him as being, like the Green Man, covered in leaves all over and with flowers and fruits in his beard. We don’t see him in the first growth emerging from a cabbage seed. He’s not the god of seeds, nor do we have a god of seeds. And we don’t see him in the carrots we pull in October. He’s not the god of harvests, nor do we have a god of harvests, or a god of carrots. We westerners used to have a harvest god, her name was Demeter.

The Green Man, neo-folkloric demi-god, might do for a mid-summer festival here at Edgewood. No risk of accusations of cultural appropriation–he’s a recent creation, and a wonderful one who should be kept alive. We’ll let him represent growth, life, greenness, productivity, vitality, happiness, solitude. A sort of Pan for the 19th and 20th and now 21st Century. Visitors on the summer solstice might find me dressed all in leaves with a twig hat and flowers in my beard–not a very convincing Green Man, who shouldn’t be so thin. Or visitors might entirely miss the Green Man, who is after all, a god of solitude. He’s a bit shy and introverted.

But who will stand in for the Green Man when it’s only mid-May, sowing season? The Green Man is not responsible for sowing, soil, or harvests, only green growth. We all do well to honour someone divine when sowing, just to be on the safe side, to protect us from the devils’ untimely frosts, droughts, aphids, spider mites, damping disease, hail storms, weeds, floods, high winds, and other destructive elements. So who should I/we honour in our Sementivae in 2024 in the mountains of western Canada? I don’t know.

I looked up a list of soil gods in Wikipedia. Earth gods from around the world. That wasn’t satisfying. It seems that throughout religious history, the responsibilities and attributes of soil gods are not all they have on their job descriptions. They are also burdened with unrelated matters such as human fertility, snakes, war, death rites, truth, owls, earthquakes and all other matters of the terrestrial Earth, and even the moon or the entire sky. Even Tellus, Mother Earth, isn’t exactly the doyenne of dirt.

While tilling our soil to prepare the vegetable beds for sowing, I’ve thought a lot about the qualities of soil. There are great differences in the garden beds: there are patches of horrible cottonwood-root-bound cobbles in the grain bed next to rich sandy loam. We’re spared the curse of clay in most of the garden, but we do have some lenses of it, tinted with rust-coloured iron oxides. The main upper and lower vegetable gardens have their depleted, mineralized soil where I grew the potatoes in 2023–amazing how well-grown potatoes will starve the soil. That patch will need extra compost this year. The parsnip bed’s virtuoso soil grows roots of magnificent size and rich sweetness…now that’s soil!

So who are the gods of good soil? Soil that enthusiastically grows great crops? Soil like what our parsnips sink their long, long roots into? I find it strange that among the world’s agrarian societies, there are few gods who stand prominently for, specifically, agricultural soil. There are gods whose responsibility is for harvests and little or nothing else, and gods who, like the modern-day Green Man, are all about growth. But it seems that no god wants to be known only for good dirt. I guess soil is too humiliating for a god. Too homely.

So be it. No gods to choose from. And anyway, you don’t just order a god from a catalog. So I honour the dirt itself, godlessly. Now and then a sniff of the good scent that indicates soil health. The effort of the day’s shovel thrusts into the ground to turn in compost. The welcome (or at least accepted) feeling of deep fatigue at sunset after I’ve put my strength into the garden all day. A love of the soft sinking of my steps across a freshly tilled bed as I sow my seeds in their rows. A libation of my evening beer and a wordless look at the garden before sowing: admiration, worry, and hope for the growth and harvest of the crops.


2 thoughts on “Seeds

  1. Thank you for the post! I love the scenr of healthy soil too, as I dig into it to add some new plant treasure!

    • Thanks for reading! One thing I love about gardening in the north is the abundance of good, rich soil. The cool climate helps reduce the loss of nitrogen and carbon, so soil fertility lasts without the rapid mineralization in warmer climates. Cheers to good dirt!

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