Voiding Skulls: A Wry (and Satirical) Look at the Practicalities of Biodynamics
Farming Vineyards with Horses
What makes Rudolf Steiner unusual among cosmological thinkers is the level of detail and direction he bequeathed his followers. Nietzsche left us hanging with regard to the Übermensch and the Eternal Return, but Steiner backed up his obtuseness with practical instructions and manuals. The ‘preparations’, according to his devotees - fetid cornucopia through to chamomile-stuffed stomachs - are agents through which celestial motion is made immanent to agriculture. In modern day viniculture, where every scintilla of difference is mined for significance and (added) value, biodynamics has sunk deep roots.
Unglamorous, Repetitive Work
For more mindful consumers and trade members, biodynamics has become a summary audit. Wine producers don’t want the grubbiness of production to sully the aesthetic hankering of a well-heeled customer base, and biodynamism’s invocation of the eternal and the infinite brings a mystical veneer to what is, in truth, unglamorous and repetitive work. The equinox becomes the clock and nature the forge in the ritualised burial and unearthing of manure filled cow horns, the latter reveal along with horse ploughing having become the money shots of biodynamic committedness.
Getting Your Hands Dirty
Inevitably, people do get their hands dirty in this process, but just how filthy only became apparent when I joined the local biodynamic association for a day of making preps from scratch.
The venue was a small dairy farm. My co-workers were from the cosmetic industry, fellow purveyors of depth and purity. Saying something is ‘skin deep’ used to be a slur, but the beauty industry has successfully turned this metaphor on its head.
The morning’s work was light and bucolic. Benches were set up in the shade, and we stuffed dried chamomile into already primed cow intestines, that came folded like tights, and were smooth and soft as powdered latex.
Pork Pies and Righteousness
Lunch was a sharing of picnic lunches. Except there were no takers for my pork pie, even though we were only an hour’s donkey ride from the abattoirs of Melton Mowbray, and the food miles therefore negligible.
I was quizzed about wine, but only in as much as it allowed my hosts to school me on the truth and greatness of Nicolas Joly whose righteous Clos de la Coulée de Serrant doesn’t always make a compelling case for biodynamic secessionism among wine professionals. I tried to broaden the argument out to include other properties, but as with the grey meat pie, no one was interested.
After lunch, things turned medieval. Only men were invited into the yard to ‘void the skulls.’
Preparation BD 505 is based on oak bark, which is stuffed into a sheep skull and submerged in a sump for six months, all of which got me thinking that proponents of animal rights need to include some clause about afterlife funeral planning.
An outbreak of scrapie prevented the use of sheep skulls, but needs must and horse heads were the available alternative.
(This is the point in the account when you check for children reading over your shoulder.)
The guts for the chamomile had been primed but the heads were fresh. Still warm.
I turned out the head I was given from a plastic sack and it fell heavily onto the ground, one eye on me the other fixed against the cement of the yard. I was handed a jet washer wand with the instruction to blast through the cervical vertebrae, which I did. The pressure of the hose returned a gelatinous slurry of brain and water, like a jellyfish caught in a propellor, or worse.
“Keep going till it runs clear,” I was instructed.
There was a knack to this, that meant you didn’t become caked in the splashback; but it wasn’t a skill I needed to acquire. As others set about their second and third heads, I turned and left. No goodbyes.
The Rearview Mirror
I walked straight to the car, turned round and drove to the farm gate.
As I left, I looked in the rearview mirror. The stuffed guts were being hoisted into a tree.
Middle-Europe was in a strange place before the start of World War I, with countries and people mythologizing themselves in bronze god origin stories. Steiner’s flirtations with fascism are well documented. Driving away from the farm with the raised stomachs still visible, it felt like those stories might well have been true.
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