Permaculture and spirituality lay closer together than most people think. They are often so inherently entwined that Japanese permaculturalist Masanobu Fukuoka considered the healing of the land and the purification of the human spirit to be one process. Permaculture provides us with a way of life in which this process can take place. Since permaculture is all about cooperating with Nature and living in harmony with her, the most obvious spiritual counterpiece would be some sort of animistic nature-based spirituality.
Many primitive tribes (especially in the New World) – who all practice some form of animism – do some form of horticulture, too. Examples are the Ayoreo in Paraguay, the Yanomami in Venezuela, the Matsés in Peru, the Zo’é in Brazil, and the Achuar in Ecuador, but also the Baka in Congo and the Gebusi in Papua New Guinea.
Among the Achuar, where only the women do gardening, the act of planting vegetables is a sacred ritual where the gardener sings to the spirits (“nunkui“) who watch over the garden. Those magical songs are a form of communicating with the plants and promote their growth.
A 2007 paper from scientists at South Korea’s National Institute of Agricultural Biotechnology proposed that two genes involved in a plant’s response to light—known as rbcS and Ald—are turned on by music played at 70 decibels. “This is about the level of a normal conversation,” says Marini. The Korean researchers found differing responses depending on the frequency of the sound. The higher the frequency, the more active was the gene response.
Doesn’t that mean that singing could actually help the plants to grow?
In her phenomenal essay “We call it tradition”, published in “The Handbook of Contemporary Animism”, native American Linda Hogan writes about the Tohono O’odham (“Desert people”) of southern Arizona and northwestern Mexico. They have so-called corn-growing songs, one is offered for every stage of the plant’s splendid development (book: “Singing for Power”, Ruth Underhill, 1938). Each night a man walks through the corn singing to it:
The corn comes up
It comes up green
Here upon our field
White tassels unfold
In the many pueblos in the Southwest, throughout the time of planting to the end of harvest, corn dances and songs are performed weekly for the growth of the corn; these are serious dances, the energy of humans given to the earth.
As of now, we not yet sing to our plants, but we do talk to them, since it won’t to any harm and it gives you a good feeling of a deeper connection to the plants around you.
Permaculture is a very efficient way to (re-)connect with Nature, since you help creating an ecosystem and see Nature as a partner.
Watching the plants grow and accompanying and assisting them while they do so makes you realize what incredible beings they are and appreciate their beauty and the abundance that Nature creates; watching the clouds and experiencing the growth cycles and the cycle of the seasons shows you the magnificence and sophistication of the never-ending circles of life, death and rebirth happening simultaneously on our travels through space-time on this big organic spaceship that we call Earth.
Over the time most people develop some kind of animistic relationship to different plant- and animal species in their gardens, since you watch them grow, experience the cycles of growth and see them every day. You learn that they like some places more than others, that they can have “moods”, and that they have specific characteristics and attributes that make them an individual unlike any other, a realizing that eventually makes you acknowledge them as being a ‘person’ – an individual with individual needs, wants and wishes, just like yourself.