Sicily 2018, I spent a winter on a hill near the modern town of Aidone, close to the ancient site of Morgantina. The story of Morgantina is that of an old indigenous, SIkel, village, that later became a Greek settlement, through integration between the native and colonial communities. The local belief centered on the cult of Demeter and Persephone, which, under Greek influence spread widely and served to explain the changing of the seasons. Persephone, the daughter of Demeter was abducted by Hades, the god of the underworld. Demeter, goddess of harvest and agriculture, giver of food and grain, who presides over life and death, who after learning about Persephone’s fate, plunges the world into metaphorical darkness where nothing can grow. After mediation by Zeus, Persephone is allowed to return to her mother, but Hades has one more trick up his sleeve, allowing her only to return part of each year to Earth while during winter she returns to Hades’ underworld. 

Lake Pergusa, located in the center of Sicily is still considered a site where this scene happened and explains for us the cycle of seasons. Every year we are reminded of Demeter’s anger over the disappearance of her beloved daughter, the personification of vegetation. From my hill location near Aidone, I have view of Enna and the nearby Lake Pergusa. I am amazed how strong the presence of this history is still felt in this land, not just collectively, but also personally. It ties people to their land.


view toward Enna, Sicily winter 2018

I have a scientific background, so yes I know why we have seasons, but knowing something does not necessarily make you understand the complexity of the relationships that frames such knowledge bits. A belief system underpins our behavior, whether it is organized religion, esoteric cults or science. The advantage of science it that it includes a method to systematically test our beliefs, it doesn’t necessarily devalue the role of myth and stories in our collective behavior. On the contrary, myths can guide us when we are challenged by a lack of understanding of the complexities of life, but neither does it mean we should follow blindly. 

Demeter. Since the early twentieth century Demeter also serves as the trade name of the first organic cooperative and quality control for organic, biodynamic farming. To be Demeter certified requires biodiversity and ecosystem preservation, soil husbandry, livestock integration, prohibition of genetically engineered organisms and viewing the farm as a living “holistic organism.” It is based on strict standards, such as the requirement that the farm produces its own fertility  as much as possible and that 50% of the livestock feed be grown on the farm. All good stuff. Still, there are other requirements that have been criticized because the efficacy cannot be scientifically demonstrated. For instance the preparations that are used to nurture the fields, such as the fieldspray made from fermented cow dung, known as preparation BD #500. 

If you have ever been involved in the making and application of these preparations, you probably know that even if these methods are not helpful, they are probably not harmful either, while the act of preparation can serve another function, namely, collective attention and consideration of the importance of the soil for producing a healthy crop. Collective awareness as an important tool in generating change. 

Demeter 2020, a long way from Demeter 550 BC to BD 500. I am a participant in biodynamic production. While traditional biodynamic requirements are strictly followed, I am surprised that others are introduced less critically and selectively. A century has almost passed since Demeter became our modern – biodynamic – guide and along the way industrial practices have changed our values.

For instance the tractor; It is hard to imagine agriculture without the tractor and biodynamic farms have adapted to include machinery in their daily practice. It is inevitable, but somehow it surprises me that the focus on sustainable agricultural machinery is only a recent one, even though the horse or other kinds of tract animals have long disappeared from our modern landscapes.

Demeter, she of the Grain, doesn’t live in northern Germany. The general history of the this region reads like a series of war and conquests of feuding tribes. This is however also land of the Vikings and good harvest, peace, and prosperity is assigned to the Norse god Freyr. His reputation does not actively live on in modern society like that of Demeter elsewhere, although numerous place names refer to his presence in the land in northern Europe. In Schleswig-Holstein, considered part of Southern Jutland, there is a place called Frøs Herred (“Freyr’s Shire”). Freyr is also known to have been associated with the horse cult. Horsepower; Freyr, give us something sustainable.