We are entering the astrological sign of Virgo, the sign of Our Lady of the Harvest. The Harvest Goddess is an important deity for everyone. Whether we live in the centre of a city or in the countryside, we are dependent on the crop cycle for food and life. Here in Brittany, the Celtic north-west of rural France, the grain in the fields around us has been reaped and threshed. The ears are ready to be transformed into flour and then bread; the stalks will provide animal food and bedding. The reality of humankind’s dependence on the natural world is all around us.
The end of the grain harvest is a natural time for us to celebrate and to honor the harvest Goddess. It was a time when people could take a brief break from back-breaking work. Knowing that the grain was safely harvested, our ancestors could celebrate that there was food for the winter to come. The Harvest Goddess is the dark-skinned Goddess, who survived into the Christian era as the Black Madonna. She is the Goddess of those who farm and garden, who spend long hours outdoors and are burned by the sun. She is the Goddess of the ripened corn, Lady of the golden sun-kissed fields. She reminds us that life in the body and the natural world are as important as the world of spirit. The image of the Queen of Pentacles in the tarot is a good one for the Harvest Goddess, who is Lady of the Land, Guardian of the rich fertile earth, the Virgo Goddess of all those who work for their living.
Demeter, Harvest Goddess
We can find the Harvest Goddess in the Greek Goddess Demeter, the patron Goddess of the wheat harvest, and one of the major deities of the Eleusinian initiatory mysteries of ancient Greece that showed the initiate the secret of life beyond death.
If we want to contact the Harvest Goddess and to learn the mystery of Demeter, we can simply hold an ear of wheat or barley in our hands and meditate upon it. How does it feel? What does it tell us? The ripened ear of wheat has not the smoothness of youth, but the ripeness of age. It is dry, but has the promise of transformation. New life can spring from it; for within it is the seed. Within the seed is the promise of reincarnation and rebirth. This was the secret revealed to the initiate: we are born, we live, we die, and we live again.
Demeter is the giver of grain, but also the creator of order. Agricultural societies depend on orderly marking out of field boundaries, systems of legal ownership and inheritance of land, contracts between suppliers and consumers, between growers and food processors such as millers, between growers and those with storage facilities. It is easy to see how a simple ear of wheat could create a whole social and economic infrastructure.
Wheat still creates economic infrastructure. Huge agri-corporations own the seeds for grain, the fertilizer and pesticides that are involved in large-scale production. The Goddess Demeter finds herself presiding over strange new forms of social order.
Many in the Pagan community are active in denouncing the activities of GM producers such as Monsanto. Others see the exploding world population and come reluctantly to the view that there is no option but to go down the road of new forms of food production, risky though they may be. How should we react as Pagans to the different sides of the debate? The most important thing is to find out what the arguments are and to make decisions where we can.
Finding inner harmony
That we are what we eat is an obvious physical truism, in the sense that food is what our bodies process to keep us alive; but we are also what we eat in another sense. Eating involves choices with consequences that may or may not meet our personal code of ethics. If we live in a way that is not in accord with our inner values and does not follow what we believe to be right and true, we will experience incongruence between what we think and what we do, and we will not feel deeply at ease with ourselves. This sense of ‘dis-ease’ is akin to what Buddhists call dukkha. Dukkha is often translated as ‘suffering’ but ‘de-centeredness’ often works better as a translation, and conveys the feeling we have when we are living a life that is not in accord with our inner values.
To live happily as Pagans, we need to live in accord with our Pagan values. Thinking deeply about values may take Pagans in different directions. Some will reject GM food; others may accept it, perhaps with reservations. It is important for how we live our Paganism that we make the best choices that we can. Even if we make choices, there may be compromises. Unless we live sustainably on our own land, we cannot necessarily choose everything that we eat. We cannot always know if the ingredients within pre-prepared food include GM crops; but we avoid some of this if we buy less pre-prepared food. Over time, we may find that our original choices were wrong, or not as good as we thought; but we will know that we have chosen and used with integrity the free will that the Gods have given us. We have aimed for our ideal and ‘strived ever towards it’.
Virgo is a sign of choice and discrimination, and the essence of Virgo is using the intellect in a harmonious way to discriminate between one thing and another. The season of Virgo is a good time to exercise those qualities. To GM or not to GM; to eat meat or not: to eat organic or not? As Pagans we can, with mindful awareness, make our choices and live as best we can to honor the earth.
Prayer to the Earth
Hail to the Lady of Earth and Harvests,
the Power of all green and growing things.
Old, steadfast and wise –-
deep is your thought and slow your dreaming;
but all things that you conceive, they come to pass.
You are the fresh, rain-washed soil of spring –
nectar to the nostrils, in which all seeds flourish.
You are the sun-drenched fields of summer –-
warm to the touch, the bed of lovers.
You are the forest floor in fall –-
carpeted with leaves, to protect what lies beneath.
You are the frozen land in winter –-
barren you seem, but in you is life.
Enduring beyond endurance;
strong when the strongest perish;
nourishment to the hungry;
comfort to the dying;
home to all your creation.
The great trees and the wise beasts do you homage;
the mountains know your secret names;
gold and silver, grain and fruit,
wealth you bring, and fertility.
Source of our being, Earth Mother,
we honor thee.
–Vivianne Crowley, July 1993