What Might Georgical Jubilism Be?

The word georgical derives from the same origin as other geo-prefixed words as well as agriculture: the Greek root γῆ (yeor, earth) and γεωργός  (yeorgos, earth-work / farming).  The Georgics of Virgil—a four-volume Latin poem published in the first years of the reign of Augustus Caesar (~29 B.C.E.) did not invent the poetic genre of this name, but it certainly defined and exemplified it through Western history.  It is a book dense with unfamiliar references, and unfortunately (in English) stripped of the cadence of its Latin verse—but if one can move beyond these barriers, then what one finds is a curious and delightful combination of genres, tied into one composition.  At times it is a how-to book and technical manual for various agricultural enterprises; at times a moral homily worthy of the pulpit; at times a book of praise of the landscape and natural history of Italy; at times a mythological quilt and a theurgical gesture to the gods (and to Caesar); perhaps most often it is a sustained physical and metaphysical evocation of various different natural systems and beings as they relate to the human body/soul through cultivation and husbandry.

The word jubilism has a dual root: from the Latin term jubilo (as in jubilate deo), meaning joy/rejoice; and from the Hebrew yovel (יובל), whose meaning is more elusive and multiplicitous.  Yovel refers perhaps principally to the horn of the male ram, which is carved into a sound-making instrument (like a shofar).  But it is also related to the roots for “produce/crop” (yevul, יבול) and “bring along/carry/flow” (hovil, הוביל), and it becomes metonymically linked to the fiftieth year of the land cycle in Israel (yovel, jubilee), marked by the blowing of this very horn, which is considered to be the culmination of seven “weeks” of seven years, each of which is punctuated by a sabbatical shmitah (שמיטה, from l’hashmit, to release/relinquish), in which all land is left fallow, all debts are released, all commerce in food is ceased, and all perennial growths on private farms are available to be harvested equally for personal use by all citizens of the nation.  This radical periodical relinquishment and reorientation is meant to reflect the seven days of the week, and the seven days of Creation—and therefore the divine plan for right relation to this world.  And the yovel (jubilee) year is the completion of the shmita system, bringing a second continuous year of relinquishment (after the 49th year), and an added dimension of 1) release of all human bondage, and 2) return to ancestral terrains.  The idea is a powerfully redemptive, even messianic one, especially when it is translated into the context of perennial / regenerative agriculture, which indeed does give rise to different forms of social/economic relation, which could perhaps some day withstand such a periodical release.  The “accident” of the Latin infusion of joy into the word is a felicitous one, since working in the light of this huge (but also hugely distant) aspirational frame is more healthy and productive (and convincing as a model) when married to an awareness of joyful and thankful return.

In our precarious moment, on the brink of ecological disaster, and on the edges of powerful landscape corruption, the call to re-connect to our most powerful roots in spirit and creation could not be more clear.  The medicine we need, and could potentially provide, is not only what can be concocted and prescribed from barks and roots but what could become corresponding vessels in higher symbolic domains.  This fellowship is an invitation to enter this arena, through the unique combination of forces available to us.  Just as plants endeavor to work with the modes of being and pathways of translation present in the ecological sevivah (surroundings) to arrive at strategies for dissemination, so too the history of art and science and cultivation of land and soul stand ready to be adapted and re-deployed, to enwrap redemptive seeds for our economy of attention, and for the economy of spirit at its root.

—Jorian Polis Schutz



3 thoughts on “What Might Georgical Jubilism Be?

  1. Congratulations on a fabulous project. It is fascinating that the Catholic church too is in a jubilee year – and you can see a forgiveness of sins happening in the best way this church knows how. A return to the earth, what is pure and rejuvenating, offers a chance for hope for us all. Yet too much of this results in the idealistic yeoman farmer of Jeffersonian days, an ideal which almost tore apart our country as we moved forward with the inevitable progress of industry. Also built into agriculture are inherent haves and have nots, laborer sand those who might profit from labor, though the prospect of forgiving debts every seven years would be amazing. Anyway…looking forward to more.


  2. Agriculture is the art of the land
    Art is the agriculure of the mind
    Poetry is the land of agriculture and art
    Love is the guiding light of poetry.
    Susan Polis Schutz


  3. Georgical jubilism – geo-joy. What a powerful concept we urgently need in this time of undoing. I’ve always been a fan of St George and his dragon – a metaphor also for the noble and the beastly, and the maiden with her beauty. Does the beast not also long for her friendship? Georgicalism seems to be proposing that we can find ways to recruit all 3 forces, transmuting the beast within ourselves and earning the maiden/earth’s love. Thank you Jorian for a very moving lecture.


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