Walk past the bakery full of fresh loaves of cardamom bread, walk past the rooms of hand woven rugs, felted mittens, and birch bark birds, and then walk out the back door into the cold winter afternoon, and there lies the legend.
Laskiainen is an old Finnish celebration that is held at the beginning of February each year in Palo, Minnesota. Behind the cleverly repurposed school is a steep, icy sliding hill. The legend goes that the family that slides the furthest will be blessed with the most bountiful crop of flax that year. One can also holler a short poem on the way down to ensure a good harvest of turnips or potatoes or whatever you feel needs the blessing that particular year. Personally, I was too scared to recite anything besides a long, high-pitched scream, but thankfully my livelihood doesn’t depend on the generosity of the Earth.
Every twice in a while, when I come up for air from my typical nose-to-the-grindstone lifestyle, I realize how separated from the Earth I allow myself to get. I might grumble about it being too hot in the summer to sit on the patio, or I might dread going out to start my car on a frigid January morning. But I don’t consider the effects of the weather on my food supply. Even if our garden fails, I trust that I will be surrounded by fresh, abundant food.
But when I think about it further, even a few livelihoods removed, I do indeed depend on the fickleness of Mother Earth for food.
History and mythology are laden with spring rituals that seem like a desperate plea for food the following season. Some are bloody and sacrificial, creating a fearsome relationship with the food cultivation gods, while others seem more gracious, forming a gentle partnership with the forces of growth.
While coaxing food out of the earth has gotten scientific and practical, with even the organic farmers analyzing soils and practicing crop rotation, I am enamored with the esoteric; the preparatory blessing of the elements that help this growing season happen.
One of the sweeter rituals I came across is an old Germanic/Scandinavian ritual called Charming of the Plough. As many ancient stories go, there are many renditions of this, but they involve blessing the implements of farming with songs, poems, sometimes oils and herbs. Some versions include cakes being placed in the first furrows as a possible offering or expression of gratitude.
Although I don’t own a plough, I can still partake in my own preparatory blessing. With a gracious eye to the ancients, here is my adapted ritual:
- Clear a space in the yard or on the driveway.
- Gather my implements. I have a small garden, so my implements are mostly hand tools: my trowel, my hand rake, and my trusty asparagus fork, along with my spade and hoe.
- Clean the implements if needed, then apply oil with a clean rag. Linseed (flaxseed) oil is a favorite of gardeners. Be sure to let the tools dry completely before using them in the garden.
- When finished, lay them all out on the grass or even in the garden and consider their relationship with the upcoming growing season. Include the gardening space in a short blessing to conclude the ritual:
Whole may you be Earth, mother of all
May you be growing in God’s embrace
With food filled for the needs of all
I don’t know to whom the poems cried out of the sliding hills are intended, and I don’t know who smiles on the plough, but I do like to think she listens and appreciates our recognition of her benevolence.