The Soulful Art of Sorting Seeds

I have been sorting a lot over here lately; trying to evaluate, release and upgrade. During this process I have been shifting through this little blog of mine, a chronicle of the past ten years of my life as Seeds & Stones. I have come across some gems in these archives and this essay about sorting seeds is perfect for today, as, like every year in late winter, I am doing the same sacred act of sorting my seeds. This week we also did our seed blessing ceremony, because not only does every garden start with a seed, but first a prayer.

Seed Blessing Ceremony for the Seeds of 2021

The Soulful Art of Sorting Seeds- By Erin O’Neill of Seeds & Stones

The seeds were saved in September. The edible parts had been harvested and the flowers left to dry on their stalks in the garden, forgotten completely since mid summer. When they dried up into seed heads by autumn, they were cut off at the stem and put into brown paper sacks and hung to dry in the shade and abandoned again. Between saucing and canning, homeschooling, cooking and cleaning and everything else that requires my attention in a day, the seed hung forgotten for a long, long time, gathering dust and fading from my mind.

Home Saved Carrot Seeds

Until today that is, a sunny quiet February day.  I took all those sacks down dusted them off, and starting sorting my seeds.  It would have been great job for a fall day in the garden, a lot less mess and any strays would have gone right into the ground, but alas…I have time and mental space to clean seed in February and from now on I am sticking to it. 

Lettuce Seeds

As is often true when we follow our own natural rhythms & internal guidance, turns out February is the perfect time for sorting seed.  We are all doing it right now,  whether metaphorically or actually, we are taking stock, going through, preserving the viable releasing the no longer useful.  As my face was soaking up the greenhouse sun, my hands rubbed and windowed, separating the seed from the chaff, it all felt so right, so deep, so old.  I thought of all the human hands that have carefully, meticulously, consciously saved seed for well over 10,000 years.  Without that attention & care we would not being eating any of the food we do today, as all of our crops are domesticated, stewarded, & cherished by our ancestors.  Seeds were sown into the hems of shirts and carried across seas in migrations.  Seeds were stashed and stored like gold, and in many cultures, seeds were never sold, only given.  As the task of sorting, shifting and selecting the sacred seeds took over my hands, my mind wandered to the work the seed was doing on me.  The practice, the focus, the attention, the patience.  As I was working the seed, the seed was working on me.   I am not the first one to have been worked on in this way.  Every farmer, gardener, grower of any sort has each been through this mill, nature forming us into our true selves.  The work and rhythm of forces beyond our comprehension, creating us, every human through every breath.  

These mysteries may be lost on our conscious minds, but they are still hard at work on our souls.  It may have begun with Psyche, the Greek word of course for soul.  Psyche was a mortal woman who became a goddess in her quest for true love.  In her attempt to prove her love to her husband, her mother-in-law Aphrodite (the beauty), gave her four seemingly impossible tasks, the first of which was to sort a huge pile of mixed up seeds by the next morning.  To overcome her fear of the impossible and trust in her own capacity the ants come to help her sort.  In wanting to share this symbolic soul story with you I found  Whitney Johnson & her blog Dare to Dream who speaks so beautifully about the potent symbols of sorting seeds.

“Sifting through possibilities and establishing personal priorities in the face of conflicting feelings and competing loyalties requires a sorting of the seeds. Sometimes we need to sleep on the problem letting the industrious collective of ants – our subconscious – work things out. As we learn to trust our intuition, clarity will emerge.

Psyche goes on to attain the golden fleece from the rams of the sun, a dangerous and wild breed….it is the reeds in the water that help her this time, guiding her to collect the golden strands that have caught in them, after the rams have fallen asleep.  “Psyche’s ability to acquire the golden fleece without being crushed is a metaphor for a every woman’s task of gaining power without losing her innate sense of connectedness and compassion.

She attains water from a treacherous stream aided by the eagle. “Psyche’s ability to fill the crystal flask is symbolic of her learning how to set a goal, avoid the pitfalls that will inevitably come, and to then achieve her goal.

Her last task is to go the underworld and retrieve beauty ointment from Persephone, being told she will have to say no to people in need along the way.

To set a goal and pursue it in the face of requests for help from others is especially difficult for women whose lives are focused on care giving. In completing the task of saying no, three times, Psyche exercises choice. Many women allow themselves to be imposed on and diverted as they set about their goals. They cannot accomplish what they set out to do, or to determine their life course until they learn to say no.

Psyche succeeds in all her tasks, she marries her true love Cupid, and is made a goddess by Aphrodite, but the most exciting part of this tale to me is that she cultivates her intuition, her trust, her power…she is transformed by her heroic quest while holding steadfast to her feminine nature.

Seeds and Stones: Apache Red Corn, Garnet, Carnelian, Red Pearl Hopi Watermelon, Papago Tepary Bean

There are so many layers and lessons in this story but for me it reminds me that seed sorting, selecting and saving has been the work of women across cultures and time.  This tiny repetitive work, much like knitting, weaving, beading, sewing.. has been the work of women; done with children in their laps, others to talk to, and often alone to process the busyness of our minds and ease into the pace of our hearts. These calming, repetitive practices ground us into our bodies and gets us out of our heads, as any woman knows, a much needed reprieve.  Rapunzel did her spinning, Cinderella did her scrubbing, Psyche did her sorting… most princesses have to do it sooner or later, and so must we.

My third child gathering wild flower seeds in winter

The decisions were made. The dust, sticks and pebbles were removed by the winnowing of my patient hands and given back to the garden from where they came. The most viable seed was placed neatly into jars, labeled, and tucked away for warmer days. The intentions were set, the course charted. I decided in February what I would plant in June. All I have to do now is take those jars down and follow through, placing every tender seed into the dark earth like a dew drop, revisiting Psyche’s journey into consciousness with each seed I sow.

2 thoughts on “The Soulful Art of Sorting Seeds

  1. I’ve never read such an elegant view of sorting seeds! This is a great idea to meditate on when sorting seeds or getting cuttings ready.
    Are there any seeds that take a special amount of focus to prepare just right?

    • Hey Scott- thank you for your words! As for seed saving – there are two categories- dry seed saving and wet seed saving. Dry is pretty straight forward and what I focused on in this post. Wet seed saving, done with fruits like tomatoes & cucumbers requires more attention and care. There is an amazing book by Suzanne Ashworth called Seed to Seed that taught me all I know. Check it out!

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