The only thing we love more than a farmers market is, you know, the whole human project of agriculture. Hallie Casey and Catherine Arjet from One to Grow On introduce us to some of their favorite gods and goddesses of agriculture! In this house we stan Demeter, gardens, hospitality, and community-oriented storytelling. And remember, #agricultureispraxis.
This week, Amanda recommends Make New Mistakes from Mischief Media (and her episode, #5: The Bro Mistake!).
Content Warning: This episode contains conversations about food creation and consumption, climate change, human sacrifice, and closeted queer experiences.
- Away, whose suitcases are our new go-to for travel of all kinds. Get $20 off a suitcase by using promo code SPIRITS at checkout.
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Amanda: Welcome to Spirits Podcast, a boozy dive into mythology, legends, and folklore. Every week we pour a drink and learn about a new story from around the world. I'm Amanda.
Eric: And I'm Eric. I'm doing intros again.
Amanda: All the time. Julia's getting married. There's just so much going on, but this is still episode 144, Gods and Goddesses of Agriculture, with Hallie Casey and Catherine Arjet.
Eric: This is a great episode. I enjoyed it so much. I cannot wait for listeners to get to the part about the ant ranch, and it delighted me to no end. There's a good content in there as well other than ant ranch. Ant ranch is very good, but it's less related than the rest of the serious topics that are discussed. But, man, it's a good episode. I like this one.
Amanda: Yeah. I got to get a little bit beer-drunk and just gush about agriculture, which happens frequently in my life, and I'm glad to bring it to Spirits. Speaking of which, Eric, I know you didn't get to enjoy any, but we were drinking a spontaneous fermentation ale in this episode. We talk a little bit more about what that means and what it tastes like, but it was delicious, and I can't wait for folks to go out and try one of their own if they never have before.
Eric: And I was editing, I was drinking a White Claw.
Amanda: Ooh, dang, I have no problem with White Claws, none at all.
Eric: They're good. That's it. End of story.
Amanda: My first one was at your birthday party at Podcast Movement, where we put Chopped on in the background and then had a party, and it was great.
Eric: It was quite good. And you know who I would give a spontaneously fermented beer or a White Claw to?
Amanda: Would it be our new patrons?
Eric: It sure would.
Amanda: [M.C., Audra, and Veronica 00:01:33], welcome. You've joined the likes of such patrons as our supporting producer level supporters, [Audra, Jack, Marie, Cody, Mark, Mr. Folk, Sandra, and Sarah 00:01:38]. And our legend level patrons. These legends are [Phillip, Eeyore, Jessica, Josie, Marissa, Megan, Mercedes, Neil, Fofesh, Samantha, Sammy, and Skyla 00:01:45].
Eric: All excellent people. Hopefully next year they can make it to my birthday party.
Amanda: I bet they would not complain about our choice of Chopped.
Eric: Probably not.
Amanda: And, Eric, just as I would recommend that people try new things, such as White Claw, if that works for you, I also want to recommend a new podcast that I'm enjoying this week.
Eric: Tell me about it.
Amanda: It is called Make New Mistakes from our friends at Mischief Media. They are the powerhouses behind such wonderful conventions as PodX last year and LeakyCon and GeekyCon and BroadwayCon, Con of Thrones, so many ways to use the word "con" in a title. But this podcast, Make New Mistakes, their CEO Melissa and their COO Taekia talking about the mistakes you make in business about being women in business, about running a creative company, about working with your friends, all the things that we think and talk and write about a lot, discussed from two hilarious and really smart and experienced ladies. And I was actually on an episode, so I'm not really promoting my own thing here, because it's their wonderful show. Listen to my episode or not, I don't really care, but the show is great, and anyone interested in the sort of realities of running a creative business should definitely check it out. Make New Mistakes.
Eric: It sounds very good. I will have to check that out.
It is back-to-school season, as I am told by the youths these days, and I think a great thing to do, once you've packed up your backpack, once you've bought all your school supplies, once you've found your seat in your classroom, you go over to the kid sitting next to you, and you tell them about all the great multitude shows you listened to this summer. Tell them about Spirits. Tell them about Podulist. Tell them about [Horse 00:03:29]. Tell them that Join the Party is back.
Amanda: Baby, episode 50, what up?
Eric: Telling people that you know about the shows that you love and know are good and enjoyable is the best way to help all of the shows grow, and it is much appreciated to spread the good work about what you love. Enough people don't tell people about what they love. They keep it inside, and it's so, so good to tell people what they've all been up to over the summer and what they've been enjoying.
Amanda: It's also a great way to make a friend, like that person in your math class who was wearing a feminist t-shirt or who wears all black or who has a cool button on their backpack. You can be like, "Hey, it seems like you think about death and also want to dismantle the patriarchy. Listen to Spirits. It's wonderful."
Eric: Maybe they already are a conspirator, and you'll just make an instant friend that way.
Amanda: Ooh, that's true! Absolutely wonderful. We hope that all of you are having a great back-to-work/school/continuing on with your life season here, and we hope that more than anything, you enjoy episode 144, Gods and Goddesses of Agriculture.
We are so delighted to welcome on the co-producers of One to Grow On, one of my very favorite podcasts all about agriculture, Hallie Casey and Catherine Arjet.
Hallie: Hi, yeah!
Catherine: It's great to be here.
Amanda: It's delightful to have you. Thank you so much for being on. I don't know anything about agricultural besides the god and goddess associated with it, so I'm very, very excited to have you all on.
Hallie: Awesome. We are so excited.
Catherine: So excited to be here.
Amanda: Tell us what you're going to be teaching us and the conspirators today.
Hallie: Yeah, so we wanted to kind of talk about some of the different ways that agriculture's associated with religion throughout time and yeah, how that kind of works.
Catherine: Yeah, I think this is the perfect time for us to interrupt real quick with our drink of the week. Amanda?
Amanda: Ooh, yes.
Catherine: So Amanda actually turned me on to this one because I am a big fan of the occasional wheat beer, like the farmhouse style. I like a good sour, anything like that. Amanda, you taught me about the incredible process of spontaneous fermentation, which is basically when the hops in the field ferment, and then they make beer out of it?
Amanda: Yeah, or they make a giant, big vat of beer, and then when you would normally kind of seal them away into a barrel to either ferment or to get age, you just kind of leave it open to the world, and then all of the very, very specific microbes and yeasts in your area give it a flavor that no one else can get. It's so localized that it's to the individual farm or even field. So it's really incredible.
Catherine: I really, really love that.
Hallie: Yeah, get them wild yeast in there.
Amanda: Ooh, hell, yeah. So we are drinking Coolship by Allagash Brewing Company. It's one of their limited run series. It's very, very good. It's got kind of like an apricot and lemon zest flavor with like a hint of ... you know those candied fruits you get during the holidays? That kind of thing.
Catherine: From the Italian market, I sure do.
Amanda: Oh, yep. You know it. So beer in hand, let's now turn to learn about something that I am such an enthusiastic amateur fan of, agriculture. Please, hell, yeah.
Hallie: Yeah, so agriculture came about a long time ago and at different points in different civilizations, but throughout pretty much all of human history, it was really, really important to every person, and today, everyone might not think about agriculture every day or be connected to it. In a very specific way, we all are, of course, affected by our food supply and how food is grown, but for pretty much all of human history, this was something that statistically, basically everyone was involved in in some way, whether they were a farmer or they had to seasonally go out and reap the fields or plant or something like that, it's such a huge part of so many civilizations, and it's really become tied into a lot of myths and religions and creation stories that we kind of wanted to talk about today.
Amanda: I love that. I miss the days where every other person was a farmer.
Hallie: Do you? I live in-
Catherine: You miss them? From 1892?
Amanda: Yeah, just, man, I wish I was living that life. I like the occasional hard labor.
Hallie: I will point out there were no podcasters in those days for pretty specific reasons.
Catherine: That's true.
Amanda: I would have been a poet. It's fine.
Catherine: That's very true, but anthropologically, I remember learning in world history classes about the development of religion, worship, and storytelling, even art, and that makes total sense to me that something you're so kind of dependent on the natural world to provide to you as whether or not crops are around you, whether you harvest them or you go and forage for them, will flourish. That's an incredibly kind of important kind of variable, and it makes complete sense to me why people would try to kind of exert some control or wish or hope or pray for some control over that kind of thing.
Hallie: So that is kind of the perfect segue into the next thing we wanted to talk about, which was we kind of polled some high-profile gods and goddesses, which most, if not all of them, you'll have already covered, but we really like them, so we wanted to highlight them real quick.
Catherine: Oh, yeah.
Hallie: So the first one we polled was Demeter, or Ceres, as she is the Roman tradition because she's like kind of the main girl for agriculture in that part of the world, and she was such an important god in the Greek and Roman pantheon as one of the original six children of Kronos and as an Olympian. And one thing that we also thought was super interesting is that she's also associated with death and sacred law, and kind of that underscores how important agriculture was to these communities that they took this very incredible goddess and let her be in charge of agriculture as well as something as important as death and law and kind of the cyclical nature of the universe and the hard and fasts of the world.
Amanda: Yeah, I always kind of forget the sacred law aspect, and you see it a lot in the mythology. It's not as blatantly kind of laid out in certain myths like her, agricultural, and also by extension, death, because of her association with Persephone and just lack of agriculture equals death. But the sacred law aspect is so, so interesting to me.
Hallie: One of the other ones we looked at was Xipe Topec, who was an Aztec god of rain and super interesting. He's associated with renewal. His human sacrifices, or the ones that were done in his honor, were pretty intense. They involved the flaying of the sacrificed person which would then be used ... the skin would then be used to adorn the statues of the priests. Obviously, we're not exactly sure because there's a lot in Aztec history that was lost due to conquest.
Catherine: Kind of erased it. Thanks, white people.
Hallie: Yes, so that skin would symbolize renewal, and the blood from the sacrifice was supposed to bring about rain as the kind of symbolic blood draining from the body, rain draining from the sky. And I find that actually all three of these kind of have a connection to death in agriculture, which is super interesting, and they also were these gods that were very, very important to the cultures and the religions that worshiped them, and something I found really interesting was kind of how this all played into agricultural and renewal.
Amanda: Yeah, and I mean, that absolutely makes sense, because when you think about it, agriculture is a life or death situation. If we don't have the crops for the year to feed everyone, you're to see death there. So I'm not condoning human sacrifice by any means of the imagination, but at the same time, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few in a lot of these kind of situations.
Catherine: Yeah, and I think from kind of our current moment, a lot of the nuance and nobility and agency of the person being sacrificed is often erased, and I'm not a scholar in this, but I know that the sort of general narrative, sort of Hunger Games style, is often really reductive. But coming together to give something real in order to get a really real benefit is something that we still do today, and all major religions have some element of sacrifice and kind of personal loss in favor of a higher purpose or fulfillment.
Amanda: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Hallie: For sure. The last god we kind of wanted to go over real quickly was Osiris, who again, is a G, my main man.
Amanda: Truly the GOAT.
Hallie: Truly, truly. So how we actually found a Greek scholar who chronicled Osiris bringing civilized art, including agriculture, to the people of Egypt, and of course, he's also associated with that kind of death and renewal cycle of the Nile flooding.
Catherine: Seeing a pattern.
Hallie: Him dying and coming back to life. And so it's again, these very prominent gods that are associated with both death and with agriculture.
Amanda: Yeah, absolutely. I love a good pattern in religious studies. It's one of my favorite things.
Hallie: It is truly my fave.
Catherine: It's like if I can sit down and write at least a six-page paper on this, something good is happening here.
Hallie: Yeah, so another thing that we found super interesting is that there are a lot of creation myths that have to do with agriculture in some aspect. And one of the ones we wanted to highlight is the Zoroastrian tradition. So originally, the first man was created, and he kind of had some adventures.
Catherine: Like you do.
Hallie: Went around with some evil spirits, but eventually, he dies, and at this point, he is the only living human. So when he dies, seeds are borne from his body, and they spread into rhubarb, and the rhubarb plant grows into a man and a woman. And then the other seeds in his body grow into different people, and so the world is populated through these seeds from the first man.
Catherine: Oh, I love that so much.
Hallie: I really love it.
Amanda: That is so wonderful. Oh, my God. I love that so much. When I first learned that fruit are kind of just the wrapping around which seeds are propagated, my A.P. bio teacher was like, "Yeah, all fruit are just overripe ovaries. Like, whatever. It's fine. It's the world." And I was like, "Mrs. L., please don't color fruit for me this way!"
I think it is so fucking awesome, like the idea of a body as a vehicle toward which agricultural propagation happens is such a rich metaphor that I'm going to sit in for the rest of the day. Oh, my goodness.
Catherine: Oh, God. I'm imagining Baby Amanda being like, "I'm too gay to think about ovaries as fruit. I'm so sorry."
Amanda: Listen, anytime anyone mentioned the word "boober" on me, I thought for sure they knew, but I just didn't make eye contact like, "Don't mention boobs in my presence. Oh, my God."
Hallie: Yeah, as someone who is not as familiar with poetry and English and literature and kind of the theories behind it, I've always thought that the cycle of the movement of carbon and how death is so intrinsically wrapped up in your ability to grow and to create, if you don't have things dying, then your soil will die, and you won't be able to grow anything, and things will no longer be able to live. I've always thought that that was just such a powerful idea in the world.
Catherine: But that's poetry itself, what you just said. Poetry. You don't need to know the Chaucer and stuff like that. Those are [crosstalk 00:14:52]. Sure.
Amanda: Yeah. And truly, this might be more of a discussion from the end, but truly, our current focus on cooking as a form of self-fulfillment and self-expression, really real, that I feel like by the time the food is harvested and brought to your table or your kitchen or your supermarket, so many people have no conception of the entire process that happens before that, and to me, that is where the poetry lies. That is where the meaning is found.
Catherine: Yeah, seriously.
Hallie: I very much agree, yeah.
Hallie: The other creation story I wanted to talk about was in the book of Genesis.
Amanda: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Hallie: Because this one is actually kind of different from most other discussions of agriculture in mythology, because we have Genesis 1:29 through 30, we have God creating the fruits and "beasts of the earth and all the birds in sky for humans," which that is something we see a lot with this kind of God creating for humans, but what's interesting is that in this, it's not agriculture that's being created. It's almost hunter-gatherer style, and we don't actually see agriculture until later in the story, once Adam and Eve have eaten from the forbidden tree of knowledge and are being kicked out of the garden of Eden, Adam specifically is cursed to toil for his food, and that's when we get the "from dust you are and to dust you will return" when God is basically punishing Adam and Eve with agriculture, which is very different from anything we see in other traditions where agriculture is a gift, but in this one. We have it more being a "You messed up. You don't get to just grab things from the trees anymore. You have to plow," and I felt like that was a very interesting variance.
Amanda: Yeah, if you'll let me wax poetic for a moment.
Hallie: Of course.
Amanda: Just because one of my theses that I wrote for college was on the apocalyptic movements in Christianity from the '80s, and one of the biggest movements that came out of that was environmental apocalypticism that stemmed from Christianity, and they used that exact one that you talk about, about being stewards of the earth as a reason that Christians are supposed to fight against environmental apocalypticism, and so it encourages Christians to embrace a greener movement and stuff like that. So I think it's really, really interesting to point that out because it's very much trying to be like, "Hey, we need to take care of our planet so the planet can take care of us, and God told us from the beginning that we should be doing this."
Hallie: Yeah, I found that super interesting. I was doing this research, and I was like, oh, because I hadn't even thought about the book of Genesis, even though with the tradition I was raised in, and that's the one that I'm arguably most familiar with, and I was like, oh, there's a garden. That probably is it. And it wasn't until I was going back and actually reading through this book that I realized that we have this kind of relationship with agriculture where instead of being something that we were granted and we should be grateful for, we as humans should be grateful for, it's this thing that we have to do because of something that our ancestors have done badly.
Amanda: I like it as an addition to original sin. That's really, really cool.
Hallie: Yeah. Yeah.
Hallie: And also coming with the knowledge from the tree of knowledge is agriculture. So it is divinely given but not on purpose.
Amanda: Yeah. Ooh, I love that. That's such a good interpretation.
Hallie: We already touched on this a little bit, but we wanted to talk about myths that specifically deal with the invention of agriculture or how agriculture was brought to humans, because in most cases, it wasn't a human, which is something interesting that we will talk about later.
Hallie: So I found this really call Sumerian myth actually when I was doing research for another episode on grains. So the tablet is fractured because it's an ancient Sumerian myth, so-
Catherine: I feel like that sometimes.
Hallie: Can't exactly know. But so basically this myth, it's titled as How Grain Came to Sumer. The idea was that before grain came to Sumer, people grazed on the ground like animals. And Enlil and An had stored barley away from people in a mountain.
Catherine: Those are the two main gods and ...
Hallie: Sorry, sorry, yeah.
Catherine: No, you're good.
Hallie: Those are two very important gods that had stored the grain away from people, and their son, Ninazu, I think ... Their son, Ninazu-
Catherine: Honestly, that's our brand, is kind of mispronunciation, so [crosstalk 00:19:44].
Amanda: Also, it's ancient Sumerian.
Hallie: It's ancient Sumerian. We can't go ask an ancient Sumerian person.
Catherine: How many people are speaking ancient Sumerian nowadays? Probably none.
Amanda: It's true.
Hallie: But so Ninazu convinced his brother, Ninmada, to disobey their father and to get grain for the people of Sumer so they no longer had to graze on the ground like animals and that they could have grain for themselves, which I love for five different reasons, one of them being this kind of idea that it's something that was almost stolen from the gods and that it's this humanizing thing. I just really love it.
Catherine: I really like this, too, because it's very similar to the Prometheus myth, but Prometheus brought fire instead of grain, and fire, super important, not gonna disassociate fire with importance. But grain is so much more life-giving, and when I think about civilization, I think about irrigation. I think about crops. I think about herding animals, that kind of thing. So I think that's really interesting and really valid for the Sumerians to be like, oh, yes, the gods had to defy their father in order to bring us grain because that's how important it is.
Amanda: Yeah, and in a lot of ways, it also sort of takes authority away from the gods or takes power away from them, or their power over humans, at least, because fire and grain I think are really similar in that way, where grain is like, I'm not just going to get food wherever it is for me, but I'm going to try to make it myself. I'm not going to just take warmth where warmth is provided to me, but I'm going to try to make it myself. And I don't know, to me, that is super human, that urge to do something on our own, to have some control of our destiny is just the most relatable impulse. And I see those two as being super hand-in-hand.
Catherine: I really like that.
Hallie: I also really like it because in the Prometheus myth, in the Greco-Roman stories, Prometheus gets punished in the end for bringing fire to the people.
Hallie: And, I mean, this is a fractured ancient Sumerian tablet, so we might be missing part of the story they told, but I really like to think that these kids rebelled against their parents and then gave grain to these people, and there was no punishment for the gods because the gods were able to see that this was something that really elevated these people that supposedly they created or had a hand in, I don't know, supervising, I guess. What's that called?
Catherine: That sounds right.
Hallie: Like when gods have power over people, yeah, I like that idea of this being something that maybe people in power overlook as something that can be really powerful for the people without power, and when that is given to them, there's just celebrating and were so excited that you can now not just kill mastodons and you can sit around and grow some grain, yeah.
Catherine: There you go.
Amanda: I super like that. You mentioned earlier that this has a kind of different origin from the actual agricultural origins of the Sumerian people. Can you talk a little bit about that for me?
Hallie: Yeah, so we don't have a lot of historical written evidence particularly for the Sumerian people, and for a lot of different cultures, agriculture develops in a lot of different ways depending on where you are. Generally, it kind of followed the same pattern of people were hunters and gatherers and eventually they were able to take wild plants and then breed them in a way where they were able to reliably plant seeds, and the seeds would grow, and they were able to usually enlarge the final fruits.
So a good example of that is in central and the southern part of North America, we went from something called teosinte to a modern-day maize. And basically, if you look at pictures of teosinte, it looks like a grass. It looks very, very small. And corn is a grass. Maize is a grass, but basically, these Native American people, over hundreds of years, took this grass grain that was very, very small, and through breeding techniques, made that grain bigger and bigger so that they were able to get more nutrition from one plant. So that kind of happened all around the world at different times and in different ways, but that's kind of the pathway that everyone took.
Catherine: Everyone's complaining about GMOs, but those were the original GMOs.
Hallie: I'm saying.
Amanda: Listen to One to Grown On. They'll each you all about it.
Catherine: There you go.
Amanda: Eric, as you know, here in the Northern Hemisphere, the days are getting shorter, and while I love fall, it is definitely a little bit sad to know that the longest and warmest days of the year are behind us. But something that I always am glad about, even when I turn in to sleep, whether it's gotten dark at 5:00 or 9:00, is that I can fall asleep to a sweet story from Calm. And this is absolutely true. Calm helps me with my insomnia. It helps me fall asleep. I have the wonderful, imagery-filled, poetic, very well-produced audio stories to fall asleep to at night.
Eric: You know what I love about Calm?
Amanda: What's that?
Eric: Is that it works all four seasons.
Amanda: That's true. Absolutely true.
Eric: It works in fall. It works in winter. It works in spring and summer.
Amanda: Listen, it's true that when your kind of circadian rhythms get messed up, that has a real impact on when your body thinks it is time to fall asleep. So whether you are traveling, whether you are just stressed and have a lot on your mind, or whether your environment has changed and you need something to build into your routines that you're not just kind of struggling to fall asleep whenever you think you want to or try to, Calm is there for you.
And right now Calm is offering 25% off a premium subscription, which gives you access to all of their Sleep Stories, all of their content, their meditations, their soundscapes, all the stuff they have to offer at calm.com/spirits. That is for everybody not from Long Island c-a-l-m.c-o-m/spirits.
Eric: Again, that's calm.com/spirits.
Amanda: And, Eric, that actually reminds me. I'm thinking about my travel checklist for this week because I'm going to Julia's wedding, and we're going to see you there. Are you excited?
Eric: I am very excited. Me and [Kelsie 00:25:47] are packing up our bags, and we're taking a short week. We took yesterday off for the holiday, and we're taking Friday off to fly out to Long island.
Amanda: And speaking of packing your bags, how's that experience going for you?
Eric: It goes great because of Away. Away is a luggage company from Modern Travel, and they have the carry-on, which is a lightweight and durable shell that will last for a lifetime of travel. And it's great for people like us with multimedia because it has an ejectable battery to keep your phone charged, and it has a laundry bag and a compressor pack to easily put all of your clothes in so they're nice and organized when you arrive at your destination.
Amanda: It's awesome, and honestly, one of my favorite parts is the 360-degree spinner wheels at the bottom. It's like those suitcases you see where you don't have to drag it. You just kind of glide it along the airport floor, and there's no better feeling than seeing our suitcase with almost no effort on your part, just kind of glide in front of you. It's absolutely wonderful.
Eric: My last bag just had the two wheels, and the spinner wheels are just simply the way to go.
Amanda: So if you want to try an Away suitcase, it is a great time to do that. You can actually try it by yourself on the road in the 100-day trial and return it if you don't like it, which is always a wonderful thing when you're making a new purchase, and you can get $20 a suitcase at awaytravel.com/spirits, and use promo code "spirits" during checkout.
Eric: So again, that's $20 off a suitcase if you visit awaytravel.com/spirits and use the promo code "spirits" during checkout.
Amanda: And finally, Eric, we are sponsored by someone that I always bring to any party out of town. It's Shaker & Spoon. Because Shaker & Spoon is a subscription cocktail box. That means that they send you every single ingredient that you need to make 12 awesome drinks. That's three custom recipes and four drinks of each recipe using just one bottle of liquor. So they send you everything except the liquor, and it's between $40 and $50 a month. You can skip or cancel anytime. So for just that much money, you have someone bring the liquor. You bring your Shaker & Spoon box, and then together, you can make enough drinks for a whole weekend of fun with your friends.
Eric: It's simply the best way to throw a party and make everyone feel a bit fancier than they would otherwise instead of just having some basic things out of the can. You can be like, "Here's a fancy, elaborate drink I've made for everyone."
Amanda: It is absolutely delicious, again whether it's for a party, whether it's for a special occasion out on the road, or for just your wonderful routine at home with your friends, roommates, partner. It's absolutely wonderful. And at shakerandspoon.com/spirits, you can get $20 off your first box. That's between and 35% and 50% your first box at shakerandspoon.com/spirits.
And now let's get back to the show.
Hallie: So we also wanted to talk about Demeter again, because she is my main girl, and I love her.
Catherine: Badass bitch.
Hallie: She is a badass bitch. I keep on forgetting we can swear on this podcast, because we can't swear on ours.
Catherine: Oh, so much.
Amanda: Bring it.
Catherine: So much cursing. Drop those F-bombs.
Hallie: So we found this account from Isocrates, who was an ancient Greek writer. I think he called himself a historian, but really, who was a historian back then?
Catherine: Philosophers do.
Amanda: Everyone. Everyone was.
Hallie: Everyone was.
Catherine: If you can write, you are a historian.
Amanda: Or if you can speak or if you can transmit stories.
Catherine: All history was fake back then.
Hallie: So his account of this was that after Persephone was taken by Hades, Demeter, who is her mother, was in a really bad head space as one would expect if your daughter's kidnapped, and so she was just kind of wandering Greece being sad, and she observed the actions of humans who were kind to each other, or to her, actually, this is interesting. Isocrates says that he doesn't want to say exactly what kindness moved Demeter because he doesn't want to give up the sacred rights of her worshipers, and so he kind of considered that something that one should not write about if one was not writing exclusively for worshipers of Demeter. [crosstalk 00:29:46]
Catherine: Yeah, mystery code. Super valid.
Hallie: Yeah, yeah. And super respectful of an ancient Greek historian to do that.
Catherine: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Hallie: I was not expecting that level of respect. So she was moved by this kindness, and she gave agriculture to people, and the quote that he has is that, the fruits of the earth, as he calls it, "has enabled us to rise above the life of the beast and the holy rite, which inspires in those who partake of it sweeter hopes regarding both the end of life and all eternity."
Catherine: Oh, my God. Listen, so I've had a very emotional night so far. My officiant for my wedding sent over the plan, and I sobbed through the entire thing reading it.
Catherine: So Demeter giving agriculture to humans because she saw acts of kindness between them, I'm literally going to cry here. There are tears in my eyes.
Amanda: And I love the idea of hospitality, acts of kindness, and more specifically, feeding as divine worship and as worshiping one another and transmitting something really holy. Again, my tradition that I grew up in is Catholicism. I know this is true in Judaism and others, but acts of service being really central to enacting and transmitting the belief and the values of your God on earth, like i was really moved in high school to learn about the Catholic radical hospitality movement, Dorothy Day and others who really took to the word of what they believed was meant to be, which was to give you have to others in service, and I don't know, that just like, making someone a meal, we talked about it a few weeks ago with Julia Turshen. There is no better way of showing somebody you love them than nourishing them, whether that's spiritually, intellectually, physically. And to see that reflected in such a foundational myth makes me feel like we're on the right track somehow believing and spending time on that kind of thing.
Hallie: Yeah. No, 100%. The part of this myth that I found especially moving, I mean, on top of the whole observing kindness and giving people agriculture based on that was that agriculture's one of her main things, and she just gave that away to humans, and if we, like you mentioned, Prometheus earlier, if we look in other instances of Greco-Roman mythology, giving stuff to humans is not really done, and if it's done, it's not really something that the gods are happy about, and she's sharing the secrets of her big dominion, her thing with people out of the kindness of her heart because she witnessed kindness from them when she was in this super vulnerable place.
Catherine: Yeah, and the fact that she does it while she's in the middle of grieving her daughter, who was kidnapped, and that's her response to her own growth, it's a lot, you guys.
Amanda: It is, it is.
Catherine: It's so great. Very emotional right now.
Hallie: Why she is my main girl, right here.
Amanda: Damn right, and she's the least angry of all the Greek gods and goddesses, which I appreciate. That's not true. Hades is kind of not angry at anyone any point. Demeter only gets angry when you really wrong her, and I appreciate that as a woman who is only angry when people really wrong me.
Hallie: I feel like she is, with the exception of maybe Hestia, she is the most chill. Most of them had negative chill, but she at least had a little bit of chill, which is saying if your brother is Zeus, and you still manage to have any chill, that's saying a lot.
Amanda: Not at war. Never murdered anyone as far as I can remember. Someone will tell me on Twitter that I'm wrong about that, I'm sure. In general, didn't make people do dumb quests just for her own vanity. Sorry, Aphrodite, no shade. But, yeah, in general, pretty chill. Can't complain. Just out there doing the work.
Hallie: So we wanted to talk about Shen Nong who was a mythical emperor/god of agriculture in China. He might be based on a real person who lived around 2800 BCE, or if he's not based on a real person, then this mythological figure lived around 2800 BCE, and he's credited with inventing most of agriculture technology, so that includes the ax, irrigation, the plow, one of my favorites, storing seeds in horse urine.
Catherine: I don't know anything about this.
Amanda: Like you do.
Amanda: Hallie's like, "I, an agricultural professional, do not endorse this method."
Hallie: Absolutely. I mean, I would not say go out and get yourself boiled horse urine. Maybe find a different method to store your seeds.
Catherine: I mean, obviously, you have to go get the horse urine and then boil it yourself, please.
Amanda: So listen, there's something about the minerals and chemicals and the situation that was true.
Catherine: Yeah, probably.
Hallie: Yeah, I'm sure, yeah, yeah.
Catherine: I don't think that they would write it down if a bunch of people tried it and it didn't work.
Hallie: That's true.
Amanda: They used to drill holes into people's heads and then wrote that down, been like, "This helped."
Hallie: That's true. [crosstalk 00:34:50] But you can very easily tell if a seed story method doesn't work.
Catherine: Okay, that's fair.
Hallie: If you plant all these seeds and nothing happens, I feel like that's [crosstalk 00:34:59].
Amanda: I think I trust agriculturalists more than I trusted doctors from the early time periods.
Hallie: Oh, 100%.
Catherine: Same. Very same.
Amanda: Yeah, and you can tell if things work or not. You can just put a bunch of leeches on someone and be like, I don't know, they died kind of later, I guess. But agriculture is real. There is real results for your actions and verifiable results to your experiments, which I really appreciate. [crosstalk 00:35:25] Also, all of agriculture's technology. I'm sure standard agriculture, listen, everyone thinks I'm so pro librarian. I'm pro agriculture.
Hallie: Hell, yeah.
Amanda: I'm pro. I'm pro. I'm here for it.
Catherine: Hell, yes.
Amanda: Tweet me pictures of your gardens.
Catherine: Oh, yes!
Hallie: Yes! This is like the real mission of the show, is to convert everybody into being fans of agriculture. That is my life goal, absolutely.
Catherine: Amanda, if you're going to tell people to tweet pictures of our gardens, we need to hashtag, just like #heckpupper, so that we can follow it.
Hallie: Yes, yes.
Amanda: Ooh, damn. What do we think?
Catherine: Mm, Demeter's garden.
Catherine: Agriculture is praxis.
Amanda: Agriculture is praxis? Is that what we're going with?
Hallie: I love that.
Amanda: I love it.
Catherine: I love that so much. Absolutely.
Amanda: #demetersgarden, #agricultureispraxis
Catherine: I love both of them.
Amanda: You're welcome.
Hallie: Shen Nong is also credited with inventing the weekly farmer's market. Damn it!
Hallie: I was an avid farmer's market ...
Amanda: Did he also invent cute puppies?
Hallie: Basically, we are not at the end of what he invented. He basically invented it all.
Catherine: All of it. It is great.
Amanda: Hold your applause until the end of the graduation ceremony. I will do my best.
Hallie: Basically. He's also credit with testing medicinal herbs on himself, collecting the data and writing it down. And according to legend, he died because he tested the wrong herb and it killed him.
Catherine: It'll do that sometimes. [crosstalk 00:36:49] The wrong herb, it'll do that.
Hallie: But as a deity, way to show up ...
Hallie: ... for people who worship you.
Catherine: I like that he was just like, "I am going to invent all of these things, and also a thing that white women love to go to on weekends on Sundays?" Like, ah, yes, thank you, sir.
Amanda: Yeah, and also way to have your cred. You are a god with real experience.
Amanda: It's not like Zeus who's like, "Oh, no, I'm just born here. I guess I just have sex with anyone I want." This god has done the work, and I really appreciate that.
Hallie: Did the work, yeah.
Catherine: Did the work.
Hallie: I appreciate him putting his life on the line, testing all those medicinal herbs. He really put his money where his mouth was and proved that he was not afraid to get shit done.
Catherine: I do appreciate that. I feel like I listen to enough episodes of Sawbones, where they're like, "The guy injected himself with cholera so he could figure out how to solve cholera." It's like, ah, that seems like a bad idea, and I wouldn't personally do that because I'm a Slytherin, and self-preservation's important.
Amanda: But ...
Catherine: Hey, good on that dude.
Hallie: As a Gryffindor, somebody's got to do it.
Catherine: Good on you people. I'm not going to.
Amanda: And such a good reminder why modern standards are not the arbiters, like the yardstick of human intelligence and achievement. 5,000 years ago, somebody was figuring out from hands-on, first person experimentation, what actually worked and transmitting that knowledge to others such that either he was so good at it IRL that he was deified or this is something that was so respected by the culture that it became something that you tell one unified story about, and just human beings are amazing.
Catherine: And either of those options is really, really good when you think about it.
Amanda: Yeah. Yeah. Yes.
Hallie: Either one is great. I am here for either one.
Amanda: It's the little girl being like, "Soft tacos or hard tacos? Why not both?"
Hallie: Why not both tacos?
Amanda: [Spanish 00:38:48]
Hallie: The only thing I had left to say about Shen Non is he taught all of this to humans, which is great on him, so that was just the little bullet point I wanted to share.
Amanda: No, I feel like that's kind of a recurring theme with our agricultural spirits and deities, is be like, "Ah, yes, I know all these things. They will help you in the long run. I'm going to teach them to you." I'm like, "Thank you, sir or madame. I appreciate it."
Hallie: I feel like that is so different from so many other things that are either invented by humans or stolen by humans or something that humans get them through trickery or some kind of non-consensual giving.
Amanda: Mm-hmm (affirmative). [crosstalk 00:39:35]
Catherine: But often when we see agriculture, it is just about there is some god somewhere who wants to make humans better, and so they are gifted agriculture.
Amanda: Yeah, and we appreciate them. Zeus isn't out there teaching me how to throw thunderbolts. That's not cool.
Hallie: Yeah, that's true.
Amanda: Screw you, Zeus.
Hallie: Yeah, and it's so interesting that agriculture is something that evolved from many, many people's hard work, but it's still something that so many traditions see as beyond humans and so large because it's so necessary to your own life, but even when we think about how it started, we still want to credit that with someone else. There is no way that we could do something this great and this important and this huge that that creation is outside of the human race.
Amanda: Yeah, and I think whether it's sort of the hero's journey pervading what we think of as a story. When you think of a story, you often think about individual desire, individual achievement, like somebody who defies rules and kind of goes on to do whatever other people can't do. I think that's very imperialist. That's very capitalist. That's very post-industrial. But thinking about agriculture, and I'm sure part of this is being romanticized as somebody who did not grow up farming. Probably some of the kids who grew up on a farm are just like, "Get away from me. I want to go to a grocery store. Leave me alone." But the fact that agriculture is a human achievement that is wrought over generations lots and lots of incremental changes that builds to something that fundamentally changed the bodies, minds, evolutionary path of our species, our planet, for better and for worse. That is so incredible to me, and those are the stories that I am really interested in.
I'm interested in knowledge that is gained and transmitted over generations in "unofficial channels" because whatever, fuck history books, fuck knowledge, fuck Wikipedia articles. It is the lived, real reality and wisdom that you get from those that you talk to every day and the food you eat every day and the water you drink and the paths you walk. That understood bodily knowledge is, to me, the most profound.
Hallie: I definitely agree, and to kind of get on a soapbox that I've stood upon many times beroe ...
Hallie: So the U.S. government and many other governments throughout the world, I am most familiar with the U.S. government, has a system called cooperative extension where the U.S. Congress basically understood that relationship within agriculture in the 1800s, and they set up this prerogative for universities to work with farmers to test new technology, because they knew that an industry, like a company couldn't just come out and create new farm technology by itself. You have to have farmers testing it and improving it and making it better and figuring out what is and isn't working, generation to generation. And that's how you really create change in a food supply and create change in the agricultural industry.
And I just think, people often talk about how radical public libraries are. I think cooperative extension is equally as radical, because you're really thinking about the people's ability and the farmer's ability to change the food system and to create innovation on just like a farm level, and how important that is, and it's really at the center of this whole branch of the federal government that has millions and millions and millions of dollars that runs through it because of just this farmer's ability to create innovation and to pass it on to his kids and that interperson translation of knowledge.
Amanda: 100%. They really do sound like equal partners in that endeavor, not like somebody who's an "expert" and someone else who's a "practitioner." Those things are synonymous.
Hallie: Absolutely, yeah. Yeah.
So to wrap up, one of the things I wanted to hit was there's a couple of things. We saw these both in the Sumerian myth and in the Greco-Roman myth about agriculture separating humans from other animals. And I just found that fascinating as this idea that it is our ability to cultivate stuff from the ground that sets us apart, although we aren't actually the only animals who do that.
Amanda: Please tell me the other animals that do that.
Amanda: Let's hear them, please.
Catherine: Ants ranch.
Amanda: That's so cool. Tell me, what they do?
Catherine: They ranch aphids. So they like-
Amanda: Yes, I've heard of this.
Hallie: I didn't know that!
Catherine: Yeah, so they basically get some aphids and then they build their little aphid corral and breathe the aphids so they get more aphids and then eat the aphids.
Amanda: Oh, my goodness.
Hallie: I'm so delighted!
Amanda: I had no idea.
Catherine: Yeah. Rancher ants.
Hallie: That's so cool.
Catherine: It's very good.
Amanda: I can't believe it. That's so cool. [crosstalk 00:44:29]
Hallie: I love the idea of a little ant in a little ant cowboy hat going around in a little aphid corral, counting its aphids and maybe playing a banjo.
Catherine: They have little goats because they're too small for the ants to ride, so they just kind of cultivate them like goats.
Catherine: I appreciate that. [crosstalk 00:44:47] Amanda, you can be a ant farmer.
Amanda: I'm really trying hard to make a farmer in the [inaudible 00:44:52] reference, but I can't get there. I'm sorry.
Catherine: Yeah, yeah, I actually mentioned when we were doing research for this, I was like, I'm going to to try bring Oklahoma into this somehow.
Amanda: Someone has to, because it's not always Amanda.
Hallie: Yeah, there's some evidence that other apes also, like chimps, sometimes will plant seeds from things they ate and then eat them later when they grow. But I think ant ranching is definitely the highlight story.
Catherine: It's so good. It's so delightful.
Amanda: Fucking delightful.
Hallie: Yeah, that is ... I mean, that ... Yeah.
Amanda: I wonder if we can just close on kind of a more micro scale. Is there a way in which agriculture has come to influence or define your personal mythologies. Obviously, with both of you in the podcast and, Hallie, with your profession, this is meaningful to you. So could you say a little bit about either when you realized this was something you want to pursue or an experience you've had recently that kind of reminded you, yes, this resonates on some kind of deep level.
Hallie: I grew up Quaker, and I'm still a practicing Quaker. And so most Quakers worship in silence, and there's a lot of ... It's very meditative. When I went to boarding school ... I went to a Quaker boarding school, and we had our meeting for worship with attention to goats right after the baby goats were born.
Catherine: You just broke Amanda's heart there. Go on.
Hallie: And so we all sat on the farm, and the baby goats came up, and I don't know if there was that much Commuting with the Spirit, capital C, capital S, but it felt really good to just kind of sit there in silence with a bunch of baby goats and think about divinity, and then on the first, because this was in Ohio, so winters in Ohio, not super fun, and on the first really nice Wednesday, which is when we had school-wide worship, we just had meaningful worship outside, and they brought out a bunch of poetry books. So we read poetry and enjoyed the spring for the first time in months, and I think both of those really helped me realize that how divinity and the kind of renewal cycle and the growth and agriculture are so connected, and I know like even when I'm watering my plants or tending to them, I kind of like to take that as a time to commune with nature almost.
And personally, I see divinity in nature all the time because it's here and it's incredible and it's great, and I love it. And so for me, communing with nature and spending time around nature helps me strengthen that connection to divinity.
Amanda: That's beautiful. Thank you for sharing that.
Catherine: For me, I'm not terribly religious. I think a lot of other people my age, I'm not terribly religious. I was raised in a religion, and it's not something that I practice every day. And for me, going into agriculture, I found that agriculture is a very beautiful space in a lot of ways, and a lot of what agriculture can do, I think can be kind of reminiscent of churches, particularly around college campuses and around ... I mean, that's been a lot of my experiences, around college campuses, but also around local food systems, small towns. There's always some kind of harvest potluck where if people are gardening or if there are small-scale farmers, you'll see a lot of potlucks and people coming together who are lots of different ages and lots of different backgrounds, and they'll sit together and talk together. And I've always found that very powerful.
Most recently for me, I was living and working on the Navajo Nation actually at an extension, and I found that very thrilling, because I was basically brought up there through this federal program to work with people who wanted to get back to their religion, and that religion was directly tied to agriculture. And so I was doing a lot of talking with folks who had often moved back to the reservation and wanted to get back into the planting cycle because that was really key to how they prayed and how they worshiped. So I mean, part of that for me was directly that religious link, but part of it was just also seeing how these different agricultural activities brought everyone together, even if they didn't really have an occasion to be together in another time or space, and it was just, yeah, I think the church does that very well, where people of different ages and backgrounds all come together, and I think that agriculture is a really great vehicle for that as well.
Amanda: Awesome. That's really cool. From China in almost 3000 BCE to today on the Navajo Nation, I am so glad that we got to talk about and think about and commune with for an hour or so the role that nature and agriculture have played in all of our lives as a species and as individuals. So thank you both so much for coming on, and please, let our conspirators know where they can find each of you and One to Grow On.
Hallie: Thank you so much. We are so excited to have been on. Thank you for the invite. You can find One to Grow On at @onetogrowonpod at pretty much every social media. I am @hallie_casey, h-a-l-l-i-e, underscore casey, c-a-s-e-y.
Catherine: And I am at @catherinearjet, c-a-t-h-e-r-i-n-e-a-r-j-e-t, because you have to spell both of them, on Twitter and I think that's my only public social media, so on Twitter.
Amanda: Yes, smart. Beautiful. Conspirators, no matter what you are growing or eating today, remember, stay creepy. Stay cool.