Wind winnowing is an agricultural method developed by ancient cultures for separating grain from chaff. It is also used to remove weevils or other pests from stored grain. Threshing, the separation of grain or seeds from the husks and straw, is the step in the chaff-removal process that comes before winnowing. "Winnowing the chaff" is a common expression.
In its simplest form it involves throwing the mixture into the air so that the wind blows away the lighter chaff, while the heavier grains fall back down for recovery. Techniques included using a winnowing fan (a shaped basket shaken to raise the chaff) or using a tool (a winnowing fork or shovel) on a pile of harvested grain.
In Greek culture
The winnowing-fan (λίκνον [líknon], also meaning a "cradle") featured in the rites accorded Dionysus and in the Eleusinian Mysteries: "it was a simple agricultural implement taken over and mysticised by the religion of Dionysus," Jane Ellen Harrison remarked. Dionysus Liknites ("Dionysus of the winnowing fan") was wakened by the Dionysian women, in this instance called Thyiades, in a cave on Parnassus high above Delphi; the winnowing-fan links the god connected with the mystery religions to the agricultural cycle, but mortal Greek babies too were laid in a winnowing-fan. In Callimachus' Hymn to Zeus, Adrasteia lays the infant Zeus in a golden líknon, her goat suckles him and he is given honey.
In the Odyssey, the dead oracle Teiresias tells Odysseus to walk away from Ithaca with an oar until a wayfarer tells him it is a winnowing fan, and there to build a shrine to Poseidon.
In Ancient China the method was improved by mechanisation with the development of the rotary winnowing fan, which used a cranked fan to produce the airstream. This was featured in Wang Zhen's book the Nong Shu of 1313 AD.
In the New Testament
In the Gospel according to Matthew 3,12, a sentence introduces the separation of wheat and chaff (good and bad) by "His winnowing fan is in his hand" (American Standard Bible translation). The New International Version translates the term as "winnowing fork".
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