Sunday, 3 August 2014

Happy Harvest Home

The first of August is the festival of Lammas, a survival of the Celtic festival of Lughnasadh, the mid point between the summer solstice and the autumn equinox. It marks the height of the harvest, the culmination of the yearly cycle for both man and all the natural world.

Lughnasadh is the feast of Lugh, the Celtic version of the Year God or Dying-and-Rising God, the deification of all life which rises and falls in eternal flux. Lughnasadh is the time of his death, the time when plants and all other life dies back in order for their seeds to set, ready for the next cycle to begin: Lugh must die in order to be reborn.

It is linked to a tradition dating far back into English history: that of the Corn Spirit. This is the life force of the crop which  is gradually condensed as harvest progresses. The last sheaf to be reaped, now containing the entirety of the Corn Spirit, was always preserved, never threshed. It was scattered back onto the field in spring, symbolically returning the spirit to the land and opening the way for the God's rebirth. Interestingly, an almost identical custom was followed by the peasants of South Russia, known as 'pleating the beard of Veles,' Veles being the local name for this ancient and universal God.

The Corn Spirit or Dying-and-Rising God appears again as John Barleycorn, the subject of a traditional song which sums up the meaning of Lammas entirely.

There were three men came from the east
Their fortunes there to find
These three men made a solemn vow
John Barleycorn should die

They buried him in the earth so deep
With clods upon his head
And these three men they did conclude
That Barleycorn was dead

There he lay sleeping beneath the ground
Until rain from the sky did fall
And then John Barleycorn sprung a green leaf
And proved liars of them all

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