Earth to Earth
In the hospital where my mother in law nursed in the fifties the gardener would request of the staff that they save the placentas from the births; he wanted to dig them into his garden.
Placentas. In the earth.
The thought leaves me a bit squeamish. On a purely practical level, however, I could see what the gardener was up to: a placenta would give life to his roses as it once did to a fetus. I would have been content with this explanation until I came upon another story of placentas returned to the earth.
There is a practice in the highlands of Peru in which parents return the placenta of their newborn to the earth, to mother earth, Pachamama, in order that the child may live.
Pachamama signifies one of the primary deities worshipped by the early Incas. Even to this day Pachamama remains identified by some Peruvian Christians with the Virgin Mary. Earth as mama. Mother earth.
Pachamama bore us and her arms await our return. It is to Pachamama that the Peruvians make their offering of the placenta, the same mother earth to whom the gardener returned placentas to insure that his flowers grew.
Quaint little stories. Folklore. Pagan belief to some. Yes. But why am I attracted? Why this stirring within, like a homesickness for that which has been lost.Why do I keep returning to such stories as if there is something there I need to hear. Take the story of corn dollies.
A number of years back Norma, my wife, learned the art of straw weaving. In the process she came upon the history of "corn", a term that includes maize and all kinds of grain. The story stretches back thousands of years. For the early Egyptians corn was of such vital significance that it became part of religious practice.
Similar mythology can be found in many parts of the world.
In later centuries in England harvesters believed the corn spirit hid in the grain. Because she was very shy care had to be taken lest she flee the field taking the fertility of the fields with her. To guard against her flight the harvesters left the last row of corn standing. An old and respected worker would fashion a "dolly" from the remaining stalks, capturing the spirit and ensuring her presence for another year. The dolly could take many forms, depending on the tradition. Some could be an actual doll figure. Others were simply a coil of braided stalks with heads of grain extending from one end. The ones Norma makes remind me of an infant wrapped in its blanket.
Whatever the shape, the dolly was given to the farmer’s wife for safe keeping. In the spring it was broken up and planted with the seed. In some instances, folklore and fertilizer joined forces: the dolly was fed to the horses that were used to plow the field.
Corn dollies. Placentas for a garden. Flesh returned to mother earth, to Pachamama. You can explain it all. Even try to stamp it out.
And yet... .
When you have been washed too clean, your language bleached too white, when you have allowed for everyone’s opinion and apologized for all your sins, when every mystery has been explained, when even death itself has been reduced to nothing more than a celebration of life, you get too longing for a story with a little earth. Something grounded. A place for the body to rest and the spirit to hang out.
Occasional Theoligical Reflections. Ron Evans is a Diplomate in the College of Pastoral Supervision & Psychotherapy and is the author of Coming Home: Saskatchewan Remembered.
Monday, January 31, 2005
Earth to Earth