Plants Have Memories: The Spiritual Case Against Agricultural Manipulation

The Lakota of North America have many stories about seeds and how to know when each plant is in its sacredness. One seed flowers during a spiritual window called the Timpsila Ttkahca Wi, or when the Moon of Timpsila (turnip) is ripe. If you were to prematurely dig for the plant, it will not grow into a full nutrient. If you're too late in collecting the flower top, it breaks aboveground, and fierce winds blow the top away, leaving no trace where the underground root is located. During the short spring-summer months the Timpsila flower is in its calling — to let one know the time for collecting and abundance.

It's during this moon the Lakota are preparing for great ceremonies to be held throughout the coming spring and summer months. It's essential to have the respectfully harvested spiritual foods to nourish those participating in ceremonies with the same generosity as the Timpsila had given. Once the people are nourished, the growth of appreciation and gratitude is the base of all the ceremonies performed.

There is a certain balance and awareness created by all seeds which gives humans the opportunity to ponder, to wait, to think, to prepare, to be thankful, to cooperate, to be respectful and to be mindful, not just of human needs but that of the Mitakuye Oyasin (all the relations), which includes all life-forms, animate or inanimate.

I recently heard of a "spiritual food" from a leading activist who related a story about the ancient Pawnee Eagle Corn, named for the pattern of wings on the kernels. Archaeologists and anthropologists were digging in fields when they found several intact round clay orbs or artifacts of a culture in the throes of extinction.

One of the anthropologists happened to shake an orb and heard rattling, then in other orbs as well. An orb was cracked, and inside were kernels of Eagle Corn thought to be nearly 1,200 years old. Some were sent to a seed bank, some sent to be tested and some were to be planted. The planted seeds never sprouted or grew, even when given the most favorable scientific conditions. None grew.

One woman of Pawnee descent heard of the story and eventually was given a few of the Eagle Corn seeds. She planted the seeds while singing a Corn Planting Song. A few months later she was able to harvest 20-foot stalks of Eagle Corn. Simple enough.

Well, this is not one of those it-all-goes-to-show-you declarations, but one of understanding a Native way of being with a tried and true culture of remembering. The Pawnee remember the songs and the Eagle Corn remembered the song enough to respond in generosity. Plants have a memory, or, if you will, a spiritual memory. And with that memory comes a multitude of connection not often understood by those who wish to domesticate and manipulate memory of Mother Earth's seeds — the Nasula of nourishing her memory.

In the Lakota language, Nasula is where the head-brain-mind is a seed of the heart, where all thought originates as the pure, the original and conscious application of mystery, to all life behind life that moves life. The seed never forgets its purpose, and responds to all spiritual watering, singing, ingesting and fertilizing. This is one circular ceremony without end.

Many attempts in taming the seed have failed and will fail through genetic modification, which, broadly, means there is no seed at all, but a mutant manipulation. So, Nasula is with spirit, it is wild, and it cannot be dominated by exegetic science.

So it is with the Lakota people. A seed is not just a seed in the physical form or an idea planted — it's a way of life, unfettered and beyond the capacity of the word generous. They look from within Nasula and "when the Moon of Timpsila is ripe;" they become aware of the spiritual memory of all life singing Lakota songs that nourish Mother Earth, creating "spiritual food."

Seeding, rooting, and harvesting plants also have important spiritual relationships in creation stories around the world, intricately balancing and evolving consciousness of all life.

The Timpsila was involved with a Lakota legend of Fallen Star. A young Lakota woman was living among the stars. She fell in love with Star in the Sky World, and eventually was with child. One day she was digging for turnips, and through the hole she saw the earth, her family, and her memory.

She then braided a Timpsila rope and climbed down as far as she could, but the rope was short, and she fell from the sky to earth. The story goes that her baby was born half Star and half Lakota, thus the word Wicasa — gift from the stars, roughly meaning human being, although there is no word in Lakota for "human."

If we look at the Fallen Star story, we see that memory plays an integral role in Lakota stories, and other Native People's creation stories for the "seeding of" or the "nourishing of" Mother Earth. So, Fallen Star grew up speaking Lakota, taught by Meadowlark, and would travel among the seven Lakota bands teaching and learning to help in many ways. Meadowlark, or the Bird Nations, play a role as a "seeders," not only by carrying seeds from landscape to landscape, but also through the remembering of Mother Earth's language.

I mentioned earlier the Timpsila flower tops that dry and break aboveground are eventually swept away by strong winds. The dried and seeded flower tops then transform their being into Tumbleweed. Now the Seed brings another cycle of life by Tumbleweed through scattering its seeds as stars among life.

All parts of Timpsila bring a respectful, honorable, and contemplative way of consciousness and knowledge to the people. And within the short few months when Timpsila is in its calling … we also remember.

Tiokasin Ghosthorse recently contributed a chapter on this subject to the new book Sacred Seed: A Collection of Essays.

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