• Michael Martin

Farming and the Holy Grail: Blood and Water

The following is an excerpt from my forthcoming book, Sophia in Exile.

Biodynamic farming reinforces the very Christian, very Catholic notion of the sacredness of the year. The agricultural cycle and the liturgical cycle are (or used to be) beautifully intertwined. Much like Celtic knotwork, to remove one of these strands from life is to destroy life’s integral unity and beauty. Unfortunately, that is precisely what happened over the course of the centuries until now we find Christianity and agriculture estranged from each other, to the detriment of both. What we have instead are utilitarian liturgical and agricultural models that have even succeeded in making human being strangers to the food they eat, the foundations of religion, the cosmos, and each other.

This has not always been the case, and a belief in the sacred coalescence of religion and agriculture it is not even particular to Christianity. In Virgil’s Georgics, for example, the great Augustan poet reminds the reader of the proper disposition to the land and the gods:

Mark the months and signs of heaven; whither Saturn’s cold star withdraws itself into what circles of the sky strays the Cyllenian fire. Above all, worship the gods, and pay great Ceres her yearly rites, sacrificing on the glad sward, with the setting of winter’s last days, when clear springtime is now come. Then are lambs fat and wine is most mellow; then sweet is sleep, and thick are the shadows on the hills. Then let all your country folk worship Ceres; for her wash the honeycomb with milk and soft wine, and three times let the luck-bringing victim pass round the young crops, while the whole crowd of your comrades follow exulting, and loudly call Ceres into their homes; nor let any put his sickle to the ripe corn, ere for Ceres he crown his brows with oaken wreath, dance artless measures, and chant her hymns.” [1]

Examples of how Christianity was once entwined with agricultural are often dismissed with charges of “paganism,” the go-to libel for lazy Puritans, whether Protestant, Catholic, or secularist. But even a cursory knowledge of how the liturgical cycle when imbued with folk customs enriched human life clearly indicates how impoverished we are. A world without the blessing of the fields, St. John’s fires, and Lammas bread is a shadow world, indeed. H. J. Massingham describes this tragedy as one demarcated by “the dividing line when Christendom began to depart from Christianity.” Can it be described any other way? His diagnosis is irrefutable: “Nor can the Christian Faith (seeing that there is no alternative to it) itself be rejuvenated unless it be equally shown that its own division from nature has pauperized it as an all-sufficient gospel for modern, grown-up, Western man, wrecked in the bitter sea of his own self-will.” [2]

What is easy to miss in (re)connecting the liturgical with the agricultural is that what we are really talking about is a regeneration of Creation. Liturgical acts, sacramental acts, and agricultural acts should be (and rarely are, unfortunately) deeds reconsecrating Creation. So much the less when they are estranged from each other. The marriage of folk and liturgical customs found in the practices of the medieval peasantry maintained this understanding in the agricultural setting, but even earlier practices maintained it with Creation in its wilder forms. The Celtic churches, so difficult to perceive clearly through the mists of history, moved in such an awareness. The legends of the Celtic saints—Patrick, Brendan, Brigit, and Columba for example—are rich with a natural world barely touched by agriculture. Indeed, it is interesting to note that Celtic monasticism with its extraordinary emphasis on asceticism and learning arose in a geographical area almost complete devoid of urban centers. It may be precisely because of this that Celtic monks participated in the wildness of Creation in a manner almost entirely unknown in other contexts. The exquisite Welsh “Litany of the Creation” (c. 7th century) voices this beautifully:

I beseech the people of heaven with bright-armed Michael; I beseech you by the triad of wind, sun, and moon.
I beseech you by water and the cruel air; I beseech you by fire, I beseech you by earth. [3]

It is no accident, I think, that the alternate title for St. Patrick’s extraordinary Breastplate is “The Deer’s Cry.”

My own path into farming—and deeper into Christianity—was accompanied by the intuition (that is the only word for it) of the inner (and real) meaning of the Creation. In my twenties I had heard from a friend that Rudolf Steiner once said that there were three meetings people have with the Trinity over their lives. In the daily rhythm of sleeping and waking, he said, we meet the Holy Spirit via our guardian angel in the deepest part of sleep. Over the course of our lives, he continued, we meet “the Father Principle” but not before the twenty-ninth year (the cycle of Saturn). But over the course of a year, by paying attention to the subtle changes in Nature day by day and as mirroring the liturgical year, we meet the Son. For Steiner, Christ united himself with the earth through his incarnation, baptism, and, especially, crucifixion and resurrection, so it would make sense that we could learn to know Christ through attending to the rhythms of the year, both liturgical and cosmic. “When the year’s course is again felt by humanity as an inner connection with the Mystery of Golgotha, then, by attuning the feelings of the soul with both the course of the year and the secret of the Mystery of Golgotha, a true social feeling will be the true solution, or at any rate the true continuation of what is today so foolishly called...the social question.” [4] I didn’t know whether or not this was true, but I figured it was at least worth exploring. Over thirty years later, I still haven’t stopped this exploration. If we can meet Christ through Nature, he is available to anyone paying attention to the Creation. This is the real takeover from inside.

Farming, then, working with the earth and its rhythms, is in its ideal form to also work with Christ, a truly sacred vocation. Unfortunately, so much of what goes by the name of farming these days, even, alas, in much allegedly “organic” farming, is oblivious if not antithetical to such an ethos. But the reality of the Crucifixion enlivened a dying earth with spiritual forces: it’s as simple as that. Sergei Bulgakov explains the phenomenon with luminous power:

The spear wound, not the breaking of His bones, is the conclusion of Christ’s salvific sacrifice for the redemption of humankind. This blood and water wash human sin and create the New Testament Church, with its grace-bestowing mysterious gifts: baptismal water and eucharistic blood. Out of the side of the old Adam was created woman, who tempted him to fall. But the wound delivered to humankind from Adam’s side is healed by the spear wound in Jesus’s side. The blood and water that flowed into the world abide in the world. They sanctify this world as the pledge of its future transfiguration. Through the precious streams of Christ’s blood and water that flowed out of His side, all creation was sanctified—heaven and earth, our earthly world, and all the stellar worlds. The image of the Holy Grail, in which the holy blood of Christ is kept, expresses precisely the idea that, even though the Lord ascended in His honorable flesh to heaven, the world received His holy relic in the blood and water that flowed out of His side; and the chalice of the Grail is the ciborium and repository of this relic. And the whole world is the chalice of the Holy Grail.”[5]

Given this reality, the methods of conventional farming, with its reliance on chemical fertilizers, insecticides, and herbicides—a true culture of death—and its promotion of GMOs and the spreading prohibitions against saving seed amount to sacrilege. To engage in it is to trample on the image of Christ.

Michael’s latest books are an edition of The Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutzand Transfiguration: Notes toward a Radical Catholic Reimagination of Everything. He can be reached at director@thecenterforsophiologicalstudies.com See also The Center for Sophiological Studies' available courses. Also check out the latest volume of Jesus the Imagination: The Garden.

1. Virgil, Georgics 1.335-50. In Virgil, Eclogues, Georgics, Aeneid I-IV, trans. H. Rushton Fairclough, rev. ed. (Cambridge, MA: Loeb Classical Library, 1956), 105.

2. H. J. Massingham, The Tree of Life (London: Chapman & Hall, 1943), 17.

3. Oliver Davies, trans. with Thomas O’Loughlin, Celtic Spirituality New York: Paulist Press, 1999), 298.

4. Rudolf Steiner, Cosmic and Human Metamorphoses, translated (Blauvelt, NY: Garber Communications, 1989), 67.

5. Sergius Bulgakov, The Holy Grail and the Eucharist, trans. and ed. Boris Jakim (Hudson, NY: Lindisfarne Books, 1997), 33. My emphasis.

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