The 7 Lives of Bread: The Whispers of Wheat

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Dictionnaire Universel du Painby Jean-Philippe de Tonnac

translated and adapted by Diane Castiglioni

The land is covered with a lusty golden fleece. This wheat, which the wind gently combs, announces the harvest of bread. Because the land has long carried this treasure in her womb, it is also the time for confession.

In “The Woman with Hair of Gold”, one of the tales collected by Clarissa Pinkola Estés from her Magyaran aunts and analyzed in Women Who Run with the Wolves (Grasset, 1996), one sees something that has been long kept a secret. Allow me to reinterpret in my own way here.

A woman, in wanting to get rid of a country bumpkin who wants to force her to marry him, gives him some of her golden hair. Such an elegant way of putting him off. The simple man rushed to the market to sell it. And they laughed at him. The humiliation sends him back immediately to the one who played him thusly and he kills her. In storytelling, one is not burdened with the detours. To get rid of the woman with the hair of gold and his crime, he buried her in loose soil near the stream.

In the spring, where the body was laid to rest, arose in the crystalline air a lovely blade of wheat. Now the earth is blonde with these stalks, and when the wind blows you see fingers flowing into that thick head of hair, these grains rustling a murmur to which all the countryside can not help but listen. What does one hear? The story of a woman with the hair of gold, which was given to the Earth, which was hidden, which was loved until spring, and then which produced this graceful bounty to become a field of wheat.

Clarissa Pinkola Estes brings, as usual, an invigorating and challenging analysis to the tale of a woman with the golden hair: the hair symbolizes the life force of the wild woman, and even when silenced, it continues to pervade conscious knowledge. Remember the message of the sorcerer’s apprentice who so deliberately and” skillfully” offended Nature. Sooner or later, the crimes we have hidden eventually will jump into view.

This also reminds me of the golden fleece of Jason bound to return the golden fleece of the ram Chrysomallos from Colchis, in order to be able to recover the throne of his father Iolcus. The historians of antiquity have here, too, opened our eyes. For the Greeks could grow barley in the particularly poor soil of Attica, present-day Georgia, and this constituted a priceless breadbasket. And the Golden Fleece was nothing but a sea of wheat visible to Greek sailors along the shores of the Aegean and Scythian Seas.

Thus we must be careful whenever we chew a piece of bread, not to hear a woman crying.

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Table: Vincent van Gogh, Wheatfield with Crows – Auvers-sur-Oise, 1890, Van Gogh Museum
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2 Comments
  • David Downie
    February 26, 2011

    Thank you for this poetic interpretation of an eternal theme. It’s interesting to note that for untold thousands of years, grain or wheat have not only symbolized fertility and life. Wheat is also French slang — ble’ — for money. “Bread” is the equivalent in American English. Grain remains one of the globe’s great commodities: its worth or cost will determine the fate of millions of hungry people worldwide. Let us hope that those who are now speculating on wheat prices reflect on their acts, and realize the profound importance of treating wheat and other grains as essential elements in the fulfillment of what should be a basic human right: to eat.

  • Jean-Philippe de Tonnac
    February 28, 2011

    thanks David for your interesting comment. can we dream about a world where wheat, and rice and corn should be free? why not. another jasmin, or rose or carnation’s revolution.

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