Amber Waves of Grain by Debra and Dave Van der Laan

Gluten sensitivity is rampant these days, in case you didn’t notice. Like a gut bomb out of left field, it has stricken the land of amber waves of grain, cruelly cursing that daily bread that once lent sustenance and domestic connecting comfort.

This curse is a conundrum, certainly, for it’s a relatively new phenomenon. Before that, gluten was troubling in the form of celiac disease, a relatively rare problem, apparently genetic. The immune system recognizes proteins as possible disease entities, and in an effort to get rid of the supposed dangerous invader, will push the security alert buttons: inflammation. The common security tack of inflammation response is primarily a way to get more blood flow to an area that needs to “fight”. Increased blood flow helps the immune system for a number of reasons. In the gut, inflammation itself can be useful, never mind the more complex reasons to increase blood flow, as in when repairing an injury to the body. The result of gut inflammation is an inability to conduct the usual, sometimes complicated, digestive processes. The body just zooms the GI tract contents on down the chute and so, if there were any dangerous invaders and their darned toxins, they are outta here.

A little Venn diagram of basic complexities around IBD or irritable bowel syndrome. Dysbiosis is disrupted microbiome, the bacteria and other microbes living in the gut. I do not know what the tagged “NOD…” confluence is, but I assume it’s a gene. Enterotype refers to a classification of the gut biome, according to the dominant bacterium in the gut. Currently there are 3 known enterotypes, as defined in 2011 by Peer Bork et al. Diet, not surprisingly, affects the bacteria.

Of course IBD is not the only way that gluten sensitivity shows up. I offer this little portrait of the immune response because I’m going to look at rampant gluten sensitivity from the non-physical level of energetics, of consciousness. The nonphysical can get complicated, as is the physical, but I’m going to do my best to stick to a couple main points. First one; in our excitement at producing food on a large scale with machinery and selling it mechanically precooked, prepackaged, and often mixed with more or less unnatural or toxic elements, Westernized culture has often lost any sense of connection with the grain itself as life-giving substance. We are no more connected to our food in the sense of a more or less conscious loving relationship, than a car is to gasoline. We are unconscious consumers.

Of course this general disconnection is a pretty new kettle of fish, historically speaking. Less and less, I assume, is a love of the land an intrinsic part of the farmer’s trade, for industrial farming is an impersonal sort of task, with fields too large to walk. More and more, planes dump chemicals and large equipment roams the fields, the farmer riding high over those amber waves, traversing hundreds of acres of monocrop. More and more are chemical fertilizers relied upon, and genetics tinkered with, and herbicides and pesticides applied. Glyphosate is used for preharvesting wheat, oats, sunflower seeds, and other crops, poisoning the land and the food for the sake of convenience.

These above shortcut agricultural methods are akin to the pill-popping that humans currently apply to their own health concerns. More natural methods of maintaining health are often ignored in my society, for the same reasons we rely on chemicals for growing our food now; they take time and energy. Energy for fueling machines and manufacturing chemicals mostly comes from artificial means; energy is manufactured as well, though of course there is no energy source that is not ultimately natural. The human body does not run on house electricity or gasoline, though; it’s not as much of a machine as some of us would like. And neither, I posit, is the giving, magical being we call Earth.

Horse drawn farming- an anachronism

Less and less are grains processed at home, or locally. Less and less do folks prepare baked goods at home, or purchase them from local bakers. And more and more do we experience some sort of disconnection from the grain in the form of discomfort and disease. Which came first, the damaged relationship with the plant world, or the “intolerance”, a good word to describe warring relationship with Gaia, with Nature? Who started this war, anyway?

large scale commercial hydroponics relies on chemical fertilizers, though nobody would grow grain that way

Second point; before this age of mechanized farming, it was often the sacred powers that be which were leaned upon for support, not the bankers and mechanical firepower. The divine powers were honored and called upon to assist the farmer in his or her endeavors.

Blessing of the Wheat Fields in Artois, Jules Breton, 1857

Back in the day, of course, there were lots more opportunities for blessings and prayers. Deities were assigned to all areas of life that mattered to human welfare, in order to facilitate relations. So, if you had a desired outcome, you could put your 2 cents in with the assigned deity, as it were. You set up rituals that honored the ethereal essence of the grain, such as blessing the fields and the bread, for example. Time and resources were set aside for connection, ideally for loving relationship. Deities have been used to this purpose through the ages because it’s a lot easier for humans to connect with the unseen through something that’s human in form, and in other qualities.

Navajo sand painting of Pollen Boy on the Sun

Goddesses and saints, etc. mediate the ethereal for us, so we’re not just flapping our arms at the air. I mean we are, but in our minds, we have our efforts directed and focused, thanks to the energetic beings we call deities. Whether or not such deities are “real”, is a moot point, since they are in any case made real by humans. Our choice. As the Velveteen Rabbit became “real” through love, just so do humans create, morph, and maintain divine helping entities. The purpose, again; to enter into loving relationship with aspects of our human experience.

Medieval woodcut illustration of Ceres

So in Greco-Roman days, for example, we had grain goddesses Ceres and Demeter. ‘Demeter’ means “mother”. Our word ‘cereal’ comes from the name of the Roman goddess (Ceres), who was imported from Asia Minor somewhere I think. At any rate the Romans were busy importing deities right and left, often from conquered lands. It seems they couldn’t get enough of them. Famously the culture relied heavily on a constant round of religious activity, one deity, offering, procession, type of baked good, or some other form of ritual after another. I’m not idealizing classical culture or anything; their activities seemingly were often as fear-based as our frantic mechanization of the grain. Like I always say, it’s not what you do, it’s who you are when you do it. Fear is the opposite of loving connection.

Demeter with her grain, poppies, and snakes; she is also an initiation goddess and the snakes and poppies represent this

In my wonderful book on the classical holidays, Classical Living by Francis Bernstein, PhD, she notes the festival of Ceres as April 19, a time for praying for peace (an essential to loving connection), and for offering spelt to the goddess. Another of my favorite resources, the Carmina Gadelica, includes some blessings collected from Gaelic speakers in Scotland (I think most of them were actually from the Hebrides, since that was assumedly a more “backward” part of the country).

grinding the domestic grain with a quern

The blessings feature mostly Christian deities, with a reference here and there to the much beloved goddess/saint of the Isles, Bride or Brighid. However, the ancient Gaelic essence of the prayer is not really changed with the addition of Christian saints, angels, and other deities. They stand in service to humans in the same basic way as the older gods and goddesses. There are blessings for the table, the seed, the harvest, and the grinding of grain, which was done on site there not too long ago, in querns. That’s some fresh flour! At the time of Carmichael’s collecting (late 19th C. I think), querns were being outlawed, to force citizens to use mills. I guess the government was getting some revenues from the mills. Find the Carmina Gadelica here.

a modern day field blessing service in Iowa

This one, for reaping, includes St. Columba, 6th C. Irish missionary to Scotland;


GOD, bless Thou Thyself my reaping,
Each ridge, and plain, and field,
Each sickle curved, shapely, hard,
Each ear and handful in the sheaf,
     Each ear and handful in the sheaf.

Bless each maiden and youth,
Each woman and tender youngling,
Safeguard them beneath Thy shield of strength,
And guard them in the house of the saints,
     Guard them in the house of the saints.

Encompass each goat, sheep and lamb,
Each cow and horse, and store,
Surround Thou the Rocks and herds,
And tend them to a kindly fold,
     Tend them to a kindly fold.

For the sake of Michael head of hosts,
Of Mary fair-skinned branch of grace,
Of Bride smooth-white of ringleted locks,
Of Columba of the graves and tombs,
     Columba of the graves and tombs.

Tibetan field blessing

Of course there are still folks blessing the grain in all its stages of growth and preparation, somewhere in the world. There are still folks grinding their grain on the ground with querns and metates and other stone hand mills. My point is, that by a wide margin of comparison, contemporary Americans are slipping out of close relationship with their food. It’s possible that the grain is going its way while we go ours, blithely unheeding of the fact that you can’t fool Mother Nature. Grain, which once partnered lovingly with humans, the proverbial bread of life, is now so removed from our hearts and spirits as to be a foreigner, to be unwelcome in our bodies and our kitchens.

Rogation Sunday blessing originated with Roman Robigalia. A dog was sacrificed to Robigus, the god that protected the fields from rust

Interestingly, from the alchemical standpoint, proteins, immune response, and inflammation are masculine. Using my energetics metaphor, that might signify the ways in which the aggressive masculine suffers when there is disconnection from the peace-loving grain goddess. This loss of loving connection results in too much defensiveness, to much fire, when it’s not balanced with calming earth and water elements. And mechanized, chemical-laden forcing of the land’s production is masculine, too. In our human guts, we host(or hostess) this disconnect, this struggle, this imbalance, absorbing it in the energetics and some of the physical attributes of our food. Theoretically folks who already have issues with connection, those who have too much fire element already, would be more prone to this trouble.

My favorite time for blessing bread is when I am kneading it. Unfortunately bread making machines eliminate this possibility…

I’m not advocating religion here; I don’t think it’s necessary for folks to have any religion whatsoever to bless the grain. What I am advocating is connection, love; a hug, a kiss, a smile, a nod, a feeling of gratitude, of respect, a moment of honoring. All prayers, rituals, and blessings are founded on the spirit of connection, and grain, being a feminine entity in European culture, is very much a conveyor of loving connection. Bread, the grain, is in the Western European culture the very essence of connection, of family in the broadest sense, of sharing on levels beyond the physical. This quality is obvious in the sharing of the Christian Eucharist, though there is no more female divinity acknowledged there. She kinda turned into a white dove or something, the price of monotheism.

Hebrew blessing for bread. The masculine god is credited with the gift, since it’s monotheistic but who cares…

To close, my bread making blessing:

Grain of Ceres, sacred seed/Fill our bellies, heal our greed

Banish thoughts of lack and dearth/Close the ring ‘tween Heav’n and Earth.

Seed that dies beneath the stone/Be transformed to skin and bone

Earth and water, salt and rain/Keeper of Sun’s joy refrain.

Fashioning bread for fire bright/Through these hands bring love and light.

Bless the clay, the sea, the flame/Bless the soul so far from home.