My friend James Shelley has just recently posted on how community gardening has given him an appreciation of the role played by fertility dieties in agriculural societies. Though anthropology is not exactly my area of expertise, and though I am wary of drawing conclusions from anthropological generalizations in any case, I think that there is something significant in the relation that he is recognizing between the physical labour of farming and spiritual practice of religion. In fact, I am inclined to extend this relation to other aspects of the home as well, to cooking, to building, to eating, to storytelling, to sewing, to all the activities that should form a spiritual practise for us but often do not. It seems to me that as we engage in these things more fully, as we participate in them more intimately, we begin to understand the spiritual significance that these things once had.
As James recognizes, it is only in our affluent society that we can afford to be separated from these things, by technology, by the labour of others, by space and by time, only in this kind of society that we can seriously believe that the activities of the home and garden are not in fact spiritual in nature. It is only because of this affluence that we become subject to the illusion that these things are merely physical and mundane.
To use the language of classical mythology, there can be no dryads so long as trees are merely for shading our patio sets, no nyads so long as rivers are merely for feeding ducks. There can be no Pomona when the garden is just one more way to impress the neighbours, no Lares or Penates when the house is just the place where I sleep between work and amusement.
The local gods and godesses only appear when we become concerned with them, when we begin to love the trees and the rivers, the garden and the home. When I grow the tree from seed or from cutting, when I nurse the tree from a sapling, when I eat of its fruit and sleep in its shade, when I watch it grow year by year, then I discover that a spirit inhabits the dance of its branches. When I wade in the water of the river, when I clean garbage from it with my own hands, when I watch the tadpoles and the minnows increase as the water grows cleaner, then I discover that a god stirs its waters. When I plant what feeds me, build what shelters me, cook what nourishes me, sew what clothes me, then, and perhaps only then, I discover the gods of home and garden, the little deities that make the work of the home and the garden into a spiritual practise.