Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Holy Voodoo, Batman!

Last Friday I got an email from a farm I've been interested in. They were having a one-day workshop the next day. It was an introduction to Biodynamics, the method that the farm uses. I was unfamiliar with Biodynamics, but figured it was another approach to organic farming. I'd wanted to see this farm for awhile (it had been famous in the 70s and had been the largest CSA farm in the country at one point), and this seemed like a great opportunity.

So I signed up and the next day drove 2 hours to Caledonia, Illinois hearing Louis Jordan singing the song by the same name every time I saw a sign. By the time I found Caledonia Road ("Caledonia! Calendonia! What makes your big head so hard?!?") I was in farm country, and it was a gorgeous day. Of course, there were the inevitable developments on former farmland. I entertained myself by shouting "NOBODY NEEDS HOUSES THAT BIG!" out the window as I passed.

I was late but I found the center and sat down on a folding chair amongst other attendees; we were about 12 in all. The speaker was a man who works on the farm, and he was discussing the precepts of Rudolph Steiner, the Austrian who founded the Biodynamic method (I'd read a blurb they'd emailed me).

It was lots of talk about the farm as an organism, recognizing the balance of natural powers at play in the soil, the animal, the vegetable. OK, so far, so good; understanding the holistic nature of life, and implementing that in your farming. Cool; I was down with that. A cat that had been sleeping in a window wandered through the group and jumped into my lap. I was feeling very much part of the farm organism.

We took a tour of the farm; it was a perfect Midwestern day; bright sun, blue, blue sky, fluffy clouds, gorgeous trees. And the smell - everything smelled vital and rich. I was happy. We trekked through fields, looked at the Oak savannah, and back to the main compound, where we saw the goats they use for goats-milk soap. I scratched some bony heads and we went over to review "Biodynamic preparations," the heart of this approach.

We sat on some hay bales by a large windrow of cow-manure compost. As people were getting settled, I looked at my handout. There was a section on the preparations, so I checked them out. I read,

"Put the yarrow in a stag's bladder and bury it for a year."


OK, maybe that one was just a fluke. I read on:

"Chop the dandelion and put it in the skull cavity of a ruminant (Preferably a cow's skull) and keep under a running water source for a year."

The following recipe involved the mesentery of a cow.

I sat very still and slowly looked around at the group. I suddenly felt like Lena Horn at a Klan convention: I very much did not belong here, but nobody could tell.

One of the presenters, a woman who was a rambling, imprecise speaker, brought out jars of finished preparations, and began with the yarrow/stag's bladder preparation.

"We combine all of the kingdoms in our preparations," she began. "Animal, Vegetable, and Earth.Yarrow relates to the bladder, which ties into the stag's bladder, and the leaves of the yarrow resemble the horns of a stag. Steiner saw all of this interconnectedness."

I watched the others. They were enrapt. Holy crap.

She passed around the jar with the preparation. I noticed it came from an outfit in Wisconsin. It was dry and earthy-smelling, not at all unpleasant. Not at all bladder-y.

"The stag is a very outward-focused creature," the woman told us. "It tends to always be watchful, always looking around."

"Yeah," I said to the woman next to me. "Because you never know when someone's going to go for your bladder."

I saw by the expression that I had not found a receptive audience.

So it goes like this: they take a plant that has particular properties, and they combine it with an animal that has matching properties, and then they bury it for a year to capture the energy that the earth accumulates over the winter. They dig it up in the spring, and they use small amounts of the preparation, burying plugs of it in the ground. The stored elemental energy then emanates from the preparation throughout the land. How does Steiner prove that this elemental energy exists and moves?

He sees it clairvoyantly. Of course.

At one point, I said very casually, "Have any tests been done making preparations without an animal component?"

Both speakers were emphatic. "Oh, yes - they came out terrible; they stank and were awful."

So there we had it.

They put some preparation plugs into the compost (well, some of the attendees did - I stood back and tried to hide my horror; horror at this farm Muti, and horror that people will go to such energy to believe anything).

Next, we had to learn about observation, so we were instructed to look at a plant and describe and draw it. I did a quick investigative piece on chives, and then headed to the goats to say hello. I'd noticed that they had no horns, and had assumed they were a hornless breed. Then a kid came over and I noticed a stump on his skull and some old dried blood.

De-horning. Nice. My repugnance grew. I'd come to this apparent Eden only to find it a chamber of horrors. Cow skulls, stag bladder, de-horned goats. Good Lord.

Next we talked about planting by the moon, and making a preparation using manure and cow horns. After the requisite burial and digging up, one takes a piece and stirs it in water. For an hour. This is so that your energy can transfer through the stirring.

"I have people ask whether the stirring can be done by machine; I tell people yes, but you have to be connected to it in some way. You really should do the stirring, because it transfers your ego energy into the preparation, so you do need to stay connected to it in some way."

And here's where my bullshit meter went off the scale. OK. I can accept the idea of a farm as an organism; I agree with that concept, actually. I don't even dispute the concept of elemental energy, nor do I dispute anyone's ability to see it clairvoyantly; whatever works for you. But why is it critical to stir a preparation yourself or somehow stay connected to it because the ego energy is vital, but when it comes to playing with cow skulls and mesenteries and stag's bladders, one can conveniently purchase these preparations from Wisconsin? Why aren't you required to kill the stag, gut it, take the bladder, and do everything yourself? Isn't that the way to stay connected?

And if the animal component is to capture the animal energy, don't you capture a lot more energy by working with a LIVE animal (one that manures your land and grazes it) than you do with a dead organ?

We were about to be led out to stuff green manure into cows' horns when I claimed a headache (actually, I did have one), and left.

Turning onto the main local route from Caledonia Road ("Caledonia! Caledonia! What makes your big head so hard?!?"), I felt like I'd escaped from a Stephen King scenario.

To fully shake the experience off, I went to a Starbucks and got a Frappucino and a cookie. As I downed them both, I felt my own elemental energy blissfully reviving.

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