Planting Garlic

We are thrilled to announce the publication of our twenty-fourth book, available now from our online shop. This special all-colour issue, 'Eight Fires', is a dramaturgical exploration of the eight ceremonial fires of the year. This week we are showcasing two of the practices from the book that range from a city rooftop dance notation to listening to stones. At our recent launch, Anisa George performed a star turn with her ancestral practice Planting Garlic.  Here is the text for you to read – with artwork by Dan Porter and Candace Jensen, Happy Samhain everyone!
is a writer, performer, forest therapy guide, and aspiring farmer based in Philadelphia. Her written work can be found in the American Poetry Review, Iowa Review, Emergence Magazine, Grid Magazine and the Hopper. Her plays have been seen at The Public Theater, Ice Factory Festival, Philadelphia International Festival,

Just after Samhain, or as the leaves are falling and the light is fading.

You’ll need a spade, a bulb of garlic and something to smash with – two stones perhaps, or a pestle from the kitchen. Go get them now. Oh, and it’s best if someone reads this while you work. Can you grab someone? I’ll wait.

Hello reader.

Ready? Find a patch of earth and kneel down. It should be somewhere with plenty of light, but where the mowers don’t come, or the boots. An out of the way, loamy place. Don’t try to make it perfect. Garlic isn’t interested in that. Have you found it?

Good. Now take your bulb in both hands. Humans have been planting garlic for over 8,000 years. Garlic knows things, she’s seen things. If you plant her right, she may even reveal one or two things to you. Not answers exactly. But in time, somehow, the bitter bulb in you becomes a blossom.

First things first – dig a hole. Not yet! Not any hole. Just listen. It needs to be as deep as your thumb, and wide as a penis, ideally the erect penis that supplied the sperm at the moment of your conception, but if you don’t have that information, just approximate as best you can.

Also. Just wait. You can’t plant anything without digging something up. You have to understand this or there’s no point in going on. Can you name the things growing here around you? Can you say their names one by one out loud?

And the soil: just a teaspoon of it has more living organisms in it than there are people on Earth. So, I don’t want to use the word murder, necessarily, but yes, death will follow your actions here, as it has across the world through the ages. As it did for the moa and the mammoth and the dusky seaside sparrow who will never sing again. Do you understand?

You can’t nurture anything in this world without taking something out of it. We eat plants. They eat sunlight. Gerbils eat their young. Often, yes… that’s necessary when you have six nipples and there are seven or eight little ones that come out begging. Nobody can bring anything into this world without taking something out. And anyone who says they can is a liar.

OK, hold your spade to your heart. A moment of silence before we dig – for all who eat and are eaten.

OK, hold your spade to your heart. A moment of silence before we dig – for all who eat and are eaten.

Now go. Dig your hole. Deep as your thumb. Wide as a penis.

Once you’ve got it, take your bulb apart and line up the cloves in order from biggest to smallest. Biggest being on your right and then smaller and smaller, until you get to the smallest on your left. Hold that tiny one tight in your hand.

(Keep reading while they line up their cloves)

They found ancient, preserved garlic in Tutankhamun’s tomb.

And the ancient Greeks left it at the crossroads for Hecate to eat. She was the goddess of boundaries and borders, of night and light, witchcraft and sorcery. Loved garlic!

And then there was this Korean Bear who wanted to become a human, and so the bear pleaded with the Son of Heaven, and the Son of Heaven said, ‘Go and eat twenty cloves of garlic for one hundred days and your prayers will be answered.’ And the bear went into a cave with heaps and heaps of garlic, and on the twenty-first day the most beautiful woman with the most heinous breath walked out of that bear, and it was she who gave birth to the people of Korea.

Now you should have a line of cloves ranging from largest to smallest. This is your lineage. The biggest one on your right, that’s you. The next smallest one is the body that bore you. The next one over, the body that bore them, and so on and so forth. Say their names.

The first one that you come to without a name, smash them with your stone.

We awaken their spirit this way. We bring them a little closer, back from oblivion.

Smell. Smell her like a bear.

Now take the smallest clove, the one I told you to keep in your hand, and put her under your tongue.

Garlic has developed these powerful phytochemicals that burn in your mouth because she does not want to be eaten. The mole will not eat her. The vole will not eat her. The rabbit will not eat her, and yet she finds herself here in your mouth. You hold her silent scream. I would like you to tell her, separated from her family as she is, that you too understand that one day you will be eaten. Do this with your mouth closed.

(They must try before you continue)

Again. From the heart.

(Allowing space for another attempt)

Garlic likes to grow in rich organic matter. Otherwise known as shit. What shit have you got to offer her? Close your eyes. Think about it. The shit you’ve had to live with your entire life. The judgements, the failures, the broken dreams. The ones who died. The ones who were lost.

Remember something truly and deeply shitty. Call it to mind. And when it’s there, bite down hard on your garlic and spit her into the hole. Now breathe into that hole, all that fiery breath. Breathe, breathe! Breathe out like a dragon until you’ve got no fire left.

Now take the big one, the first one in the line, the one that I said was you, and put her in the hole, eye facing the centre of the Earth, tip facing the heavens, and cover her with earth.

Good. You’ve done it.

One of the cloves that’s left wants to go with you. I can’t tell you why and I can’t tell you which one she is. The others, leave in a halo, for protection, around the one you’ve buried. Now leave and don’t come back here until six months have passed. Go! Go!


Note: This ritual was developed for Josephine Decker and Pig Iron Theater’s production of The Path of Pins or the Path of Needles.

‘Honouring the Ancestors: Samhain’ by Candace Jensen


IMAGES:  (TOP) Seed and Leaf by Dan Porter
Silver gelatin print
Photograms made without a camera or negative by placing a leaf vein skeleton and sycamore seed between a light source and light sensitive paper in the darkroom.

Dan Porter is a British artist and photographer. He graduated with an MA in Ancient History & Society from Cardiff University in 1998. Dan lives and works in England.


(BOTTOM) Honouring the Ancestors (Samhain section title from set of 11) by Candace Jensen
Watercolour, hand-made floral inks and galls, mushroom spores, gouache, ink, graphite and freshly gathered charcoal on torn arches and Fabriano papers.
The design of the cover and section titles are directly inspired by letterforms and inks found in the Book of Kells and an edition of the Carmina Gadelica. Their making is rooted in the tradition of illuminated manuscripts, in which gilded, intricately-painted letters made by hand, honour the sum of their implied sounds and meanings as sacred. These are an intentionally wild calligraphy made with carefully rendered organic shapes of charred wood, stone circles, ash heaps scribed by the wind, and embedded seeds or hairs in the paper. There are languages spoken on the page between the inks, the pigments, and the paper fibres themselves.

Candace Jensen is a visual artist, writer, calligrapher and organiser. Her ‘Gaia Illuminations’ are visual essays which expand calligraphy’s traditional cultural reliquary beyond the limits of anthropocentrism. Jensen is co-founder and Programming Director of In Situ Polyculture Commons, an arts residency and regenerative culture catalyst, and lives on the unceded lands of the Elnu Abenaki in southern Vermont.


Dark Mountain: Issue 24 – Eight Fires

Our Autumn 2023 full colour edition is an ensemble exploration of the eight ceremonial fires of the year, celebrated in practices, stories, poetry and artwork.

Read more

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