For DAVE PEPLER, this gentle season between summer and winter is the time to harness the power of fallen leaves and re-establish the connection between humans and the source of life.
How lovely is ‘fall’, the American term for autumn. This is, I think, the season when the light is at its very best, somewhere between the shrill glare of summer and the monotone grey of winter. As a child I believed that someone had, on purpose, sifted flour and the floating powder had an effect on the light. Here in Stellenbosch autumn comes slowly and takes its time. In harsh places such as the Karoo it is announced by the sudden transformation of poplar groves into chrome-yellow patches of colour in gullies and around homesteads.
The arrival of spring is an event, with birdsong, budding leaves and suddenly longer days, but the signals of autumn are much more subtle. To me, the pivotal event of autumn is when, in the hot, breath-like wind of an approaching front, dry leaves rush down the street. And when the first woodsmoke of home fires forms a grey anvil against the evening light, trapped under a layer of cold air. Now it is time to celebrate fall.
Autumn’s process of decay is crucial for life. Leaves begin to turn and, depending on where you are, the palette changes with every landscape. The classic colours of this marvellous season are brown and yellow and if you have a swamp cypress or liquidambar in your garden you will have the added tints of red and purple. Leaves are clever structures as they provide the plant with nutrients, but also our atmosphere with crucial oxygen. In order to make these products, the chemistry of the leaf is highly complex and contains valuable compounds. It would be utterly foolish for the plant to simply drop this resource once a year, so at this time the plant starts withdrawing these compounds from the leaves and, voilà, colour!
The first time I encountered the idea of earthing was when I read the astounding book The Healing Wisdom of Africa, by Malidoma Patrice Somé. In this seminal work, he ascribes much of our current spiritual hopelessness to the sheer lack of contact with the living Earth and offers guidelines on how to restore this sacred link. In rural Africa, communities are inclined to hysteria and confusion when something unpredicted and unusual happens and women especially are most severely affected. His treatment for hysteria? The patient is taken outside the village, a sandy spot is found and he or she is asked to dig a trench. Once finished, the patient takes off all his or her clothes and, butt naked, is placed in the trench. The warm soil is then gently replaced over the prone patient. The treatment is effective immediately and all because the patient has been earthed!
Similar treatments have arisen quite independently elsewhere in the world and have shown analogous results. The happiness of Icelanders is ascribed solely to their cultural habit of bathing in the naturally occurring hot springs of their homeland. Sweat houses, especially those of the Chumash Native Americans, are another example. Similar rituals were practised by the great civilisations of Mesoamerica; the Swedes still believe religiously in the healing powers of the sauna; and in Russia, thermal mud baths are still popular.
So what are the powers and processes at play when someone is earthed? Nobody really understands the medical theory underpinning such rituals, but it is patently clear that in most cases, they are highly effective. And some may well ask, should we be indulging in what may be considered witchcraft? The field is awash with related treatments: crystal therapy, iridology, aromatherapy and, my personal pet hate, homeopathy, a pseudoscience of the highest order.
I am no advocate for any of these practices, yet one thing I know, absolutely. When my children were mere tots, I would take them to a grove of oaks near our home. I would systematically collect large heaps of autumn leaves, raking them into a huge pile, and then bury the girls in the leaves up to their necks. To my dying day I will never forget the look of sheer bliss on their faces. Instantly they would quieten down and fall into a dream-like state. Do you have a young child or grandchild? This is the time to teach them one of the Earth’s oldest rituals, of how to be truly earthed.
Do it, just once, and you will understand.