01 August 2013 a post by Simon Marshall

The Seed: Symbol and Mystery

A seed is a mystery. It is both beginning and end, life and death, nothing and everything. A seed sits easily in the palm of the hand, and yet grows into a living structure which can be twice the size of house. It is a single grain, yet it is the source of a thousand grains. It can be stored for many years, and then be stirred into life in days. A seed is the whole universe in a grain of sand.

And so a seed is a rich symbol of the process of living and dying. It is no surprise that the seed is often used in faith traditions to illustrate the spiritual journey, and the moving from one season to another. In the Christian tradition, Jesus often used the imagery of agriculture, the language of the land. He spoke about crops and weeds, good and bad soil, sowing and harvesting. Jesus wisely rooted his teaching in the things people could understand, and he used the symbol of the seed to illustrate a profound message about what it means to be human, and to live a life of the Spirit.

Very truly, I tell you, said Jesus, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

This image reminds us of a truth written into the whole of creation: that life can only come by death. The grain of wheat is ineffective and unproductive as long as it is kept away from the soil. But when it is cast into the ground – into the cold tomb of the earth – then from within comes life. If the species of a plant is to continue, then its seed must change, must be transformed, must lose its identity, so that the new plant may grow. If the seed is kept in safety and security, it will not bring forth anything new. 

At the harvest, which is celebrated in the Christian festival of Lammas, the crop is gathered in and enjoyed, but the seed from which it came is nowhere to be seen. The seed does its work secretly, and through its death others are given a life-giving gift.

The Pagan season of Lughnasadh also centres around the mysterious and wonderful work of the seed. It is a time for the celebration of the grain harvest when thanks are given to the Harvest Mother - she who is the Seed, the Womb and the Soil. The harvested grain represents both food to sustain us through the coming winter months, and also the promise of hope contained in the seed to be sown in Spring.

The season of Lammas and Lughnasadh give us the opportunity to ponder the meaning of the seed in our lives and to relefct on the harvest we are gathering in. We may ask ourselves questions such as these:

What new growth do I harvest and celebrate in my own life?
What will sustain me through the darker months ahead?
What seeds do I hold in store ready to plant when light and warmth returns?

the winnower painting

Poets sometimes speak of the ‘seed’ of an idea, which grows into the finished poem. This poem reflects on the mystery of the seed and its ability to symbolise for us our waking, growing and dying in the cycle of life.


Casting off the cares of this life,
and wearing lightly its high-born crown,
the seed sets its face to the sun
and tests the weight of winter on its shoulders.

It lets fall
into the ocean of the earth,
finding a furrowed freedom
in plough-fathomed waves.
Death lends a friendly shroud
to wrap the summer in.

And now, in a cold clay-cast chrysalis
the seed beds down
to rehearse the spring’s script
and to dream the drama of harvest.

Simon Marshall. Lammas 2013

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Your comments:

Thank you for this thoughtful and contemplative post.

#1. By Tiffany on June 21, 2017

what are the 17 seeds biblically?

#2. By ndagire jedidah on July 17, 2018

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