“Witchcraft Farming”

I like the look of this book by Katherine Cole about biodynamic wine production;

Voodoo Vintners: Oregon’s Astonishing Biodynamic Winegrowers


I haven’t read it, but there is a review here, and it sounds worth reading; one of the editorial reviews online says it is “really funny” and recommends savouring it slowly.

When biodynamics is mentioned, people locally have often heard of it, but they don’t know what it is. We have some enthusiasts here in Stroud sharing their expertise. You can also buy the vegetables and eat biodynamic cakes in a café.

As Gregoire Perra mentions, biodynamics is promoted by emphasising its similarity to the organic movement, because pesticides are not used, but it is much more than that. The more bizarre rituals which biodynamic agriculture requires are often not mentioned to those uninitiated into anthroposophy, since they don’t really present an attractive image when looked at in detail;

Here is a helpful summary from the civileats website;

“It’s über-organic. It’s witchcraft farming. It’s voodoo in the vineyard. It’s all of these things, and none of these things.” The challenge in defining the term is that biodynamic represents a way of thinking more than any single practice.”

Witchcraft? Well, yes, I am afraid it does rather resemble that. Strictly there is no cauldron, although images of participants ritually stirring a large pot of cow dung and water to create a “vortex” before spreading on the soil does immediately smack of witchcraft.

Then there is the “astrality” emphasized by Steiner, and which practitioners consider important. According to the review;

“…Steiner’s legacy can be as much an obstacle to a wider acceptance of biodynamic farming as it is an inspiration to advocates, in part because his lectures sometimes sound, well, insane: “In a horn you have something that can radiate life, and even astrality…If you could crawl inside the body of a cow…you would be able to smell how living astrality streams inwards from the horns.” Still for believers, biodynamic certification is offered through Oregon’s Demeter USA”

An irony of this is that Steiner did not drink alcohol, and nor do many anthroposophists – except the wine producers, presumably.

Another ritual which is part of biodynamic growing is the stuffing of deer bladders;

For another preparation (number 502), growers are instructed to stuff deer bladders with yarrow flowers and then hang them amid the vines.”

I found a picture of the deer bladders and two of the buried horns


There is another ritual of burning skinned fieldmice and spreading the ashes on the soil. Many participants are vegetarians, so I don’t know how  the use of all these parts from dead animals is considered acceptable.

The author comes to this conclusion;

“…what motivates many biodynamic growers is harder to put a finger on: it’s spiritual.”

One last comment from a reviewer; “If you want a wine guide, this is not it.”



  1. Helen

    Gregoire perra has blogged recently about a French biodynamic farmer, Emmanuel Giboulot, who has refused to obey the law and spray his crops to protect them from leaf-cutters. He has been hailed a hero of alternative agriculture by environmentalists for sticking to his principles, but faces prosecution.
    Under examination is whether these principles may be considered a legitimate reason for disobeying the law.
    Mr Giboulot says he is not an anthroposophist, but as Gregoire Perra points out, no-one but an anthroposophist would stick so rigidly to biodynamic farming methods, and it is not unusual for adherents to deny their creed or their devotion to Steiner, as he found out during his trial.

  2. Jim

    I rarely drink wine from the US. Most of it is dreadful industrial stuff and the good wines are ridiculously expensive ( £100+ ). I suppose the witchcraft wines are a sort of reaction against the industrial ones. But what is surprising is that biodynamic viticulture is also widespread in parts of France. It seems to be mainly in the south, parts of the Rhone valley have long been a bit hippy. But despite the mumbo jumbo the wines are often good and not absurdly priced.
    Maybe French gnomes have better palates than US ones…….

  3. Jim

    It can be…… Some winemakers are getting such poor prices they have to resort to magic to make ends meet. Some gnomes aren’t even on minimum wage!

  4. Helen

    Somehow I don’t feel sorry for the gnomes.
    I could buy fair trade wine – but that would only apply to countries where no effective employment laws are in place.

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