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Dialogue - Issue #6

Between the Dog and the Wolf

Words and artwork by Alastair and Fleur Mackie

The artists reflect on remnants of ancient ways of thinking, cautionary tales and the recognition of consequences.

There was a point in time when humans ceased their nomadic existence as hunter-gatherers and settled down to cultivate the earth to produce food. With that came the belief that the success or failure of our labour was entirely dependent on the whims of divine beings.

Where we live, in Britain, it was thought that a spirit lived in the corn. In The Golden Bough, James Frazer’s study in comparative religion, he describes how onlookers would pay homage to the waving of the crop in the wind. Believing that it was the spirit moving through the field, they would warn their children to stay away. Corn spirits were revered. They were, after all, capable of delivering both good and bad fortunes.

At harvest time, the spirit was thought to retreat from the coming reapers, taking refuge in the very last of the still-standing grain. When the final sheaf was cut, it was personified, held in awe, and its fall marked in a formal ceremony. The sheaf was then fashioned into an effigy, a talisman believed to contain the spirit, and taken inside the farmer’s home to be kept safe over the winter. It would be returned to the earth with the coming of the new season. Giving the spirit a refuge during the dark and cold winter months was seen as a way to ensure good luck for the new crop. Sometimes it would be burnt at the onset of spring as a way of releasing the spirit. Comparable beliefs could be found around the world.

The earliest domesticated crops in human history, grains of cultivated grasses like wheat, continue to be among the most important food sources today. With a predicted world population of 9 billion by 2050, demand is expected to increase. But the vulnerability of such crops to climate change leaves us precariously exposed.

Cast, 2019 | Bronze, steel, copper | 58 x 5 x 5cm

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