Blog Post 18 – Planting by the Signs, an Introduction
What makes the cornfields glad; beneath what star it befits to upturn the ground…and clasp the vine to her elm; the tending of oxen and the charge of the keeper of a flock; and all the skill of thrifty bees; of this will I begin to sing.
-Virgil, Georgics, Book I
Spring is just around the corner, and so my mind naturally turns to gardening. I love the process of gardening—planting, harvesting, & canning and freezing everything from my vegetable and fruit garden; seeing my herbs grow from seed and sprout into gorgeous greenery; and seeing and smelling flowers as they bloom through the warm days and nights of the year.
There’s a long-standing relationship between magic and gardening. One need only look to texts like Culpepper’s Herbal or the Anglo-Saxon poem of the nine sacred herbs to see that. I think it’s something about the alchemy of turning seeds and dirt into food and flowers that seems like the simplest and purest kind of magic.
At any rate, I’m waxing poetic here, and I’m sure you’re wondering just what I’m getting at. Well, today (and this week) I’m going to be exploring the phenomenon of “planting by the signs.” This astro-agricultural practice is not unique to the New World, true. Even the great Roman poet, Virgil, devoted an entire text to it, the Georgics, quoted at the beginning of this post. But it was a tremendously important way of life for people from the Appalachians to the Mississippi, and really throughout most of North America.
The basic process of this practice involves calculating planetary hours and moon phases, and then using those as guidelines regarding which plants to put in the ground and at what time and day. Each day of the month is ruled by a specific zodiac sign, and falls within a waxing, waning, new, full, or old moon. Some signs are considered “fruitful” and others “barren.” There’s an excellent overview of these characteristics and their daily correspondences at http://www.thealmanack.com/moonsign.htm. The first book in the Foxfire series has a great article on this topic, as well as a great chart for understanding planting signs.
Some of the rules governing sign-based planting are as follows:
- Planting is best done in the fruitful signs of Scorpio, Pisces, Taurus, or Cancer
- Plow, till, and cultivate in Aries
- Never plant anything in one of the barren signs. They are good only for trimming, deadening, and destroying.
- Gather root crops in the last quarter of the moon
- Harvest most crops when the moon is growing old.
- Dig root crops for seed in the third quarter of the moon
(Examples taken from Foxfire 1)
There are other astrological correspondences as well, governing things like weaning children, hatching eggs, slaughtering livestock, etc. But for the time being, I’m just going to focus on the vegetative side of this phenomenon.
The one tool (other than a plow, shovel, etc.) that a witch planting by the signs would need is a good almanac. The one linked above (and also here) is a good one, though many prefer to get an almanac they can hold in their hands. Some of the recommended almanacs are:
Grier’s Almanac – Continuously published since 1807, this one is very useful for Southerners.
The Old Farmer’s Almanac – A little harder to read and stuffed with ads, but it has some good info and it’s easy to find.
The Waterman & Hill-Traveler’s Companion, a Natural Almanac – Anything with a title this long is going to be full of interesting tidbits. Sadly, it seems to have ceased production in 2007 due to the death of its founder, but it’s possible it may yet come back someday.
Another great resource for this is your local co-op. A lot of times they will have local almanacs, or at least fliers and leaflets about regional planting practices, often related to sign-based planting. Check out your area feed store or co-op for more information.
If you want to refine your planting even further, you can determine the correct hour for planting by determining the ruling sign of that part of the day or night. I’m borrowing from my friend Oraia here and recommending the Renaissance Astrology Page for determining that information.
I’ll try to put together a nice, detailed walkthrough example of this type of planting for later in the week, but for now this should give you a good starting point. If you have any stories of planting by the signs, I’d love to hear them!
Be well, and thanks for reading!