Wereham Sign Gary Trouton

Passionate About Plants

November 2009

More gardening folk lore from Paul

"Let the sky rain potatoes"

For some years now I have often wondered why my Grandfather always planted his potatoes on Good Friday and after much research I have found out the following theories and beliefs.

There are many vegetables and herbs to which the Good Friday planting ritual applies; the Christian veneer is deceptive for the crowded influences bearing on this choice of date are entirely pagan in origin. Moon planting (Easter is a moon festival when moon beliefs are to the fore) ordains that root crops are planted in the wane for best results. This usually applies to Good Friday for more often than not the moon is waning, but occasionally a full moon occurs on Good Friday itself so it is necessary to plant on a full moon day or the day preceding the full moon. Riding alongside and providing a further rationale for potato planting on full moon or coming to full is the broader belief that the moon's increase stimulates all plant growth, root or leaf. So from earliest times the moons waxing and waning has controlled the planting and seed sowing of mans food.

Pagan planting beliefs concerning the cosmic mystery of winter and spring were taken under the cloak of Christianity and became heavily veiled with Christian symbolism. The process cannot have been rapid, but gradually the transition took hold and today's Christian imagery dominates Easter potato planting. Seemingly dead tubers are laid in the ground in the confident expectation of their resurrection in imitation of Christ.

It is probable that the day of preparation for Eostre's feast under the old religion (marked by sacrifice) became Good Friday. It is probable that the pagans with due ceremony, had ritually curbed the authority of their God of the underworld (Satan) to permit seed sowing under the White Goddesses protection. In the Christian context Satan was rendered impotent through the ritual of crucifixion, doubtless the old Gods impotence was no less effectively contrived through pagan mechanisms. The White Goddess or Earth Mother, the essential feminine principle (of whom Eostre is one manifestation) can be found in the various primitive people's religion. How easily then the potato would have fitted into Earth Mothers ageless cult of dark earth and rebirth, lately glossed by Christianity! No wonder potatoes were so enthusiastically received when they reached England in the sixteenth century. They were a wholesome easily cultivated staple food, and a vegetable who's planting gave free rein to old emotions, ritual practices and homage to the old Gods. Elizabethan gardeners were much attracted to astrology and receptive to magical ideas, took the new exotic vegetable to their hearts.

Sex and the Potato

Potatoes have a further association of the true pagan character of Easter, the Elizabethans were familiar with the sweet potato imported from Spain and Portugal, with its high aphrodisiac reputation depending on its phallic shape. It was to this potato that Shakespeare referred: "let the sky rain potatoes," said Falstaff. However the newly introduced potato (solanum tuberosum), the familiar potato of today's vegetable garden, was also of a sexual shape. Looking more like testicles than a penis it quickly took over some of the old aphrodisiac lore of its predecessor. As Easter derives from a festival of spring fertility, so the strong links between it and the potato could well (at least in part) be aphrodisiac. Whatever its beginnings Good Friday potato planting, hold firm in the minds (if not in the actions) of modern gardeners.

Old allegiances to Sol the Sun God must surely underlie the remarkable instructions of an 85 year old farm worker in South Norfolk, who said the potato should be sown on Good Friday with the sprouts facing the rising sun. Another old Norfolk belief proclaims that potatoes planted on Good Friday will be ready to eat on Whit-Sunday.

I hope you have found as I have the folklore that surround gardening stimulating, there is still lots more for me to discover. It has made me determined to try many of the old garden folklores in my own vegetable plot.

Happy Gardening

Paul Markwell

Quaymout Nurseries

The Row


01366 500691.

Paul Markwell

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