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FOOD AND YOU


Vitamin Supplements et. al. / Blue Green Algae /
Page 2 - Spiritual Considerations-Leafy Greens- Seasalt

THE SEVEN PLANETARY GRAINS.

(Note: This is an essay by Bruce Donehower, and we produced a quarterly newsletter together, "News Of The River", 1982-1989, in which it was originally published [vol.6 #4].)


In ancient times it was known that the seven grains most favored for human use were associated with the seven planetary spheres: Sun, Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus and Saturn. For the most part, we do not remember this classification today; nevertheless, this older system contains many insights which are useful for our macrobiotic practice.
Of course, the best way to get in touch with the character of an individual grain is to do a "grain fast", that is, to eat the grain exclusively and see what happens. Quite often, it is not even necessary to eliminate other foods; as long as one's diet is macrobiotic, the grain will express its particular character. I remember when I made the transition to brown rice as a staple food after a diet based largely on meat and dairy. I felt calm and quietly centered, strong, yet not aggressive, supple and flexible in my body and thought.
I urge each person to experiment with the grains and to familiarise themselves with each grain's individual character. As a guide and a reference for that study, here is a synopsis of the qualities long associated with the planetary spheres. One can see for oneself whether those qualities make sense with the various grains. Perhaps your own experience will differ. If so, we would be glad to hear from you and publish your thoughts in this newsletter.

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SUN/ SUNDAY.

WHEAT is the grain associated with the sun. Today we think of wheat as growing everywhere throughout the world, but in ancient times wheat was grown primarily in warmer climates such as Egypt where the sun is hot and prominent in the sky. Of course, when we think of the sun we think of its qualities of light and warmth. Wheat, too, shares these characteristics. Imagine coming in from a hard day's work in the fields at a late hour of the day when the air is starting to cool. The smell of a hot, freshly baked loaf of bread greets one at the door. Immediately one senses the warming, convivial quality of the grain. What gesture is more natural among friends than to sit down and "break bread" together? This ritual of sharing bread has also many religious connotations. Christ, the solar Logos, associated himself with bread many times - and the sharing of the mass (a ritualised breaking of bread) is not only sacramental, but has been the foundation of the Christian community for the past two thousand years. The sun warms and enlivens, so likewise, wheat is the grain associated with the enlivening of human thought. Michio Kushi has mentioned that the eating of refined wheat made possible the the development of analytical consciousness in western man. There is truth here, although certainly wheat was eaten long before analytical consciousness made its appearance. Wheat is not only milled, it is, most frequently, leavened with yeast. That is, living organisms are introduced to it so that their life may quicken and transform the inert dough. The introduction of the leaven into the wheat is similar to the influence of the sun upon our souls. The milling of the wheat may have contributed to the development of our divise, analytical consciousness - but at the same time, bread and wheat exhibit qualities of a heartwarming nature which make wheat a grain that fosters community. The making of bread, as well as the eating of it, is a social affair. Someone must plough the land and plant the seed, someone must harvest, another must mill, another must knead and prepare. The bread so made is offered freely to all who partake, just as the sun shines freely on all people. We come to a common table to share in this meal, and there, our divise tendencies are harmonised.

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MOON/MONDAY

RICE is the grain long associated with the moon. We need only to think of the way rice is grown to sense the connection here. The moon is intimately associated with the fluctuation of the tides upon the earth, and with the changes of weather and seasons. Rice requires much water in order to grow. Just as wheat is associated with western peoples, rice finds its home in the east, in the region of those more ancient cultures where the intuitive sensibilities of the human being were traditionally prized more highly than our more rational, analytical abilities. Intuition is a contemplative faculty. It is reflective, as the moon is reflective of other light. When the material world is perceived too clearly, in too harsh a glare, the intuitive senses wither or shrink away. A person who is highly intuitive does not care so much for the exact shapes or contours of a thing - in fact, a highly discriminative consciousness actually impedes the intuition. In the light of the full moon, imagination can play into a landscape, eliciting a degree of poetic richness which is impossible in the full light of noon. The moon is indirect, always changing, and in those eastern countries where rice is the principal grain, great value is placed on non-verbal communication. In the moonlight, one cannot see very far, yet one looks more deeply inward to find the silvery thread of truth. Rice, unlike wheat, is for the most part eaten whole, and is seldom leavened. In cultures where rice is the principal grain, we see that the human being is not so firmly fixed as an individual being in opposition to the sensible and supersensible worlds - rather, the individual finds himself more immersed in the tides of the inherited culture, and in the vast, stately rhythms of the cosmos. Of course, this description is a generalisation, and much is changing throughout the world as our scientific, technological civilisation spreads to the farthest corners of the planet. Rice, as it is eaten in those countries where it was traditionally the staple food, is no longer the unrefined grain of antiquity, but is in its own way as highly processed as the refined white bread many Westerners munch on. Then, too, those of us in the west who have taken to eating rice as our staple grain, will perhaps find that our intuitive nature is nurtured in concert with our already developed analytical, discriminative minds. This is, I believe, a felicitous marriage, for these two modes of perceiving and knowing need one another just as the left hand needs the right. Let us hope that rice and wheat, in there wholesome, unadulterated forms, become constant companions on our tables, just as the sun and moon are our constant companions by day and night.

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MARS/TUESDAY.

We have all heard the expression: "He must be feeling his oats." It means, someone is behaving in a headstrong and fiery manner. Ancient people realised that OATS were the grain associated with Mars, the red planet, the planet of aggressiveness, passion and war. Not that eating oats will make one belligerent - compared to the amount of red meat gobbled every year by the average American, oats are a rather tame, pacifistic affair! However, it is a truth still practiced at many breakfast tables that oats are a grain of choice to warm one up on a cold and blustery winter day. Anyone who has travelled to England or Scotland knows that oats play an important part in the standard diet of those cold, damp lands - and why? Because oats give that extra zing to the metabolism that warms the toes and fingers. Horsemen, too, know to be careful not to overfeed their mounts with oats, since too many will make their steeds rambunctious. How interesting it is that so many people these days seek out oat bran as an antidote to high cholesterol levels in their blood, when these high levels of cholesterol were caused by excessive eating of meat and eggs! They ate those yang foods in order to fuel themselves for the rigors of a competitive society, and then, when they grow ill, they take the eviscerated hull of the oat as their medicine, and spurn the nourishing powerhouse of the grain within! If they had eaten the grain in its wholesome form and moderated their consumption of excessively yang fats, they'd have spared themselves much expense and aggravation, and high bills for their insurance companies to pay off! Want to put yourself in the mood of elder times? Try making some oat bread, then put on a tape of Celtic music ( "Chieftains 2" is highly recommended - Kaare.). Try this on a cold blustery day, when it is raining, and when the temperature has nearly turned the rain to snow. Dim the electric lamps and light a candle - if you have a fireplace, set it to blaze - you'll soon enough become aware of the warming, inwardly strengthening power of oats.

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MERCURY/WEDNESDAY.

In Greece, Mercury, or Hermes, was the god associated with healing. He was also known as the messenger who sped from heaven to earth, bearing news and communication from the realm of gods to men, and vice-versa. In Egypt, Hermes was known as Thoth and was honored as a culture hero, one who brought the art of writing and mathematics to mankind. Mercury, the planet, revolves closest to the sun, and so is quickened by the fiery illumination of that star. In astrology, Mercury is associated with the mind. A nimble-witted person is thought to be under the influence of mercury, as is also someone who is very fickle or changeable in his thoughts or point of view. Mercury, in its quickness, allows such a person to view a subject from a multitude of angles, often shifting perspective with bewildering rapidity.
What grain do we find associated with this sanguine planet of sudden changes? It is MILLET. Millet is a grain which is not so familiar to people of the west, although in China millet was known as the poor man's rice. Those who could not afford the precious grain of the moon, ate mercury's fickle substitute instead. Millet is a smallish, roundish grain, bright sun yellow in color, and if you have ever spilled a bag of it you will readily realise how like unto quicksilver it is! The little beads of millet scatter everywhere, and are next to impossible to stop. In ancient Greece, Mercury, the healer, worked to establish balance in a body that was plagued by disease (dis-ease, after all, is simply another word for disharmony), and millet, the mercurial grain, is the only grain which is alkaline. Because of this alkalinity, millet is especially beneficial for those people whose condition has become too acidic. As we know from our macrobiotic studies, a highly acidic blood condition is an invitation to all manner of physical woes. Just as ancient Mercury flitted from above to below, and back again, seeking always to promote balance between these two poles, so, too, millet is the grain of moderation and equipoise. It is perhaps no coincidence that Taoism, that philosophy of calm equanimity and utter practicality in regards to things seen and unseen, originated in China among poor mountain recluses who no doubt fed upon millet as their staple fare, being too eccentric and outcast to affored the highly honored bowl of rice. "If we take care of small things, the large things will take care of themselves." This popular saying expresses something of the humble certitude of millet, the grain of the golden mean.

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JUPITER/THURSDAY.

Thursday is the day reserved for Jupiter, and RYE is the Jovian grain. What wage slave doesn't appreciate a Thursday? On Thursday afternoon, one can draw a deep breath, sigh with relief, and look back over a week of nearly completed labour. Sure, there's still one day of drudgery to go, yet don't we all know that on Friday very little gets done? - everyone is too busy anticipating their escape from the 9 to 5 cell! Thursday is, for all practical purposes, the day that caps the effort of our week, a day when we take stock and look ahead, and if any details need addressing, we note them down. This mood of benevolent overview is typical of Jupiter, the largest planet of our solar system, and in its own way, a king. Jupiter is kingly not in the manner of the sun, who rules by inherent virtue of his splendid estate, rather, the Jovian monarch is the benevolent senior potentate who administers a tract of the far flung solar empire. Jupiter likes to gather its subjects unto itself, jolly them up, regale them, and inspire them to deeds of courage and bonhomie. Rye shares in this encouraging power of Jupiter. Anyone who has tasted a loaf of rye bread made according to the traditional methods of old world bakers knows well what a heartening repast this meal can be. Rye bread has that little extra nip which wheat is lacking, a touch of levity not found in the more constant daily fare of solar wheat. It is not coincidence that the rye is the sandwich bread of choice for deli noshers. Whole wheat is brave and nutritious, sour dough is welcome change from plain old white, but rye is adventuresome. Like Jupiter, it abounds with self-confidence and a zest for life, feeling certain it is up to any challenge. As with millet, rye bread was eaten by the plain folk of ancient europe, while wheat was reserved for the rich. Cast your eye upon one of those well known paintings by Peter Brueghel, the ones that picture peasant life in medieval times. Those roundish, earthy faces are fed upon rye. The jolly rites those portraits celebrate are under the sign of Jupiter, planet of benevolence, abundance and joy.

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VENUS/FRIDAY.

Ah, Venus, planet of love! What do you have in common with BARLEY, that roundish grain which is so ungainly to chew? Let's face it, there are few hardy souls, even within the macrobiotic movement, who would gladly sit down to a bowl of plain cooked barley. If you haven't tried it, do. Like rye, barley is most unpalatable when served alone. Perhaps because it is too much of a good thing. Although it will offend some people to say this, barley is an excellent grain to mix with meaty stews. ( After all, we know that macrobiotics is a principle, not a diet - don't we? ) Barley and lamb are a particularly delightful and savory dish which has long been appreciated by our ancestors. What are we to make of this conjoining of grain and meat? Does it not offend those puritan sentiments which some of us so sherish in our hearts, which secretly gratify us as we munch our rice balls and slurp our miso soup? Well, friends, love is a thing outlaw and wild, which scorns convention, makes mockery of mores and morals, and generally plays us for the fools we mortals are - and Venus is the planet of love. Love makes bedmates of often disparate and unlikely couples, and in this case, we see an example of such commingling in the use of the Venusian grain, barley. Of course, we need not add this delightful pearly grain to meaty stews alone, it complements equally well our vegetarian soups, and is an excellent addition to pressure cooked brown rice. A recently available variety of barley, called Job's Tears, is especially useful for encouraging the discharge of old animal protein. There is instinctive wisdom in this culinary wedding of barley and meat, for the barley helps balance the overly yang animal flesh and bring balance and harmony to a meal. Barley is particularly easy to digest, and is a favorite for milling into bread and cakes. A loaf of barley bread lacks the zing of rye, but it is none the less a felicitous and welcome addition to any table.

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SATURN/SATURDAY.

At week's end, we come to Saturn, the planet associated with age and remembrance, and in its more baleful manifestations, limitations of all sorts. What indeed does this old gray bogey have to do with our sunny CORN of the Americas? Well, we will have to look rather closely to discern the connection here, for Saturn is the planet of deep and ponderous thoughts. It was believed in ancient times that certain peoples or races were charged with special missions that they needed to fulfil for the benefit of the entire earth. Within this occult scheme of things, the people who inhabited the Americas were said to be under the guardianship and tutelage of Saturn. Whether you subscribe to this hypothesis or not, it is a curious fact that the peoples of the Americas were largely sequestered from the eventful history of the world for thousands of years. Now of course we know that intrepid explorers crossed the seas from time to time and established landfalls on these American continents, but these visits were anomalies - the "New World" (which was actually, in terms of its indigenous cultures, the eldest world of all!) was for all practical purposes not discovered until the great age of exploration in the 1500 and 1600s. That is when western man collided head on with tribal, reverential, earth centered cultures the likes of which were astounding to those rational and straightlaced souls. How soon we forget! The "superior" Europeans who came to colonise this continent were not so many centuries removed from the lifestyles of the "savages" they exploited - yet what did they remember of this shared tribal past? - practically nil. Now, in the Twentieth century, the descendants of those often brutal and bigoted colonists begin to feel that there was here a great wisdom cherished by the native peoples of this land, and those descendants of the colonists seek it out. Many of us now understand that the first people of the Americas preserved in their traditions and lifestyles a deeply profound spiritual teaching, a reverential way of life that allows the human being to live in harmony with the created world and the world of spirit. This tradition was guarded and passed on, not by books, but by word of mouth from those that were eldest to those who were younger - a truly Saturnian thread of memory by which the individual was able to guide himself through the labyrinth of earthly existence and trials. Such a life, so oriented to earth and family and tribe, must have been sweet and nourishing for the soul - with little of the divisiveness and alienation which characterise modern times. In this sense, let us remember that corn is the sweetest of grains. In the lore of eastern medicine, corn is said to be nourishing for the heart. How can the heart be said to be warmed by the cold Saturnian temperament? - here is a riddle which bears much thought. Although the planet Saturn is said to be the representative of memory, it is yet a fact that the human being becomes only free and healthy when he or she stands in a clear, well-ordered and harmonious relationship to the past. What is not consciously remembered, remains to haunt us like uneasy ghosts. They demand the attention of the living, for they have important stories they wish to tell. The ancient Saturnian people revered the ancestors, and recognised that the dead do not perish into non-existence, but remain in intimate connection with the living world. In fact, these ancients wish to guide and help. And when the correct attitude is established to memory and to the ancestors, the heart is enlivened in a marvellous way. Then, a greater strength and guidance flows into our lives, for we have help from the unseen world. Perhaps it is going too far to append these thoughts to the consideration of a simple grain such as corn, but imagine, if you can, the reverence which the native peoples of this continent held for that grain, and how they viewed it as the sustenance by means of which the golden chain of memory might unite the ancestors with those presently living upon the earth. The plump abundance of the golden ear of summer corn reminds us of the abundant treasures of many lifetimes with which we are graced when we enter this world new born. In thankfulness and remembrance, our hearts are strengthened and we pass from week's end of Saturday to the dawn of a Sunday morn.

 

Bruce Donehower. ©1989


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