British Harvest Rituals: Thanking The Sun And The Rains
Harvest rituals have been practiced in Britan for millennia, I took part in them when I was growing up on Exmoor. Today, Pagans meet annually at events like the Merican Gathering to carry on the practises.
Our ancestors would dress the last sheaf of corn to be harvested in fine clothes preparatory to burning it as part of the harvest feast. The sun spirit (Llew Llaw Gyffes) and the corn spirit were set free from the ears and the ashes spread on the fields. This was still done in my village when I was a child 50 years ago. It’s something I’d like to bring back to where I now live but haven’t got a-round-tooit as yet … you probably all realise that round tooits are regularly in very short supply :-).
The old song, John Barleycorn, is another telling of the ritual of harvest; here the corn (barley) is made into ale and drunk. We used to sing and celebrate this when I was a child too; it was one of the few times in the year we children were given beer as part of the ritual feasting. We also got cider for the week we were let off school to help with the harvest.
These feasts and festivals help us to know where our food comes from; to thank both sun and rain for producing the crop … food cannot grow without both of these, the current obsession with wall-to-wall sunshine is ridiculous but comes about largely because most folk haven’t any idea how food grows. Than the gods for the increase in people wanting allotments, that is certainly bringing back some sense and balance and grown-up attitudes, as well as understanding of the intimate connection of weather and food.
Spreading the ashes of the corn god dolly on the fields tells you things about your food and how it’s grown too. Ash, potash, is vital for plant growth; even the modern culture of reducing everything to NPK recognises this, even if it’s stuck in a box that is far too small for proper agriculture. Potash is the “K” of the trilogy. Potassium promotes flower and fruit production and is vital for maintaining growth and helping plants resist disease. It's used in the process of building starches and sugars so is needed in vegetables and fruits. Potassium is naturally found in wood ash which is where it its name potash is derived from; our ancestors knew this, hence the harvest burning and spreading on the land.
The amount of ash from the harvest bonfire was not enough for even one field but the spirit of the action was there, and that spirit, intent, means a great deal to the Earth. Most of us know about, and may have experienced, homeopathy; less-is-more is the principle here, with the highest potencies of a substance modern science can detect none of the original substance in the homeopathic remedy … but it still works. There are all sorts of daft mutterings about it must be a placebo effect but how, please tell me, does a placebo effect work on an animal or a plant? Yet homeopathy works well on both to the extent that several farmers round here regularly use homeopathy on their beasts and some on their fields too. It often works even better on them than on humans; I wonder if this is because the humans can turn on scepticism (animals and plants just don’t have this quality) and this anti-spirit-intent turns off the homeopathy? Ummm!!! So we regularly cut our own noses off to spite our faces, eh?
So, when we spread the ashes of the corn-dolly-god on the fields as a token of our agreement to work with the land we did a homeopathic-like thing, for want of a better modern term to use. I think so. And our ancestors had been doing it in that village for 4000+ years and likely back to the Neolithic.
Because we didn’t use writing (nor revere it) in the way we do now people tend to denigrate the ancients. However it’s worth realising that our Neolithic and Bronze Age ancestors only had to work for about 15 hours a week to get a very good living. If that sounds nuts to you go and look at the Rillaton Cup from the Bronze Age or the Sandwich Cup in the British Museum. The people who could do this sort of work were not savages; it would cost millions of pounds to have something like these made nowadays. And they had the time and leisure to think of them, invent them. Go back to the intricate cave paintings of the Neolithic; Picasso thought very well of them and the way they worked with colour was at least as good as anything the “Old Masters” could do. Most people nowadays with their multiple jobs, children, mortgages, holidays, cars, etc, don’t have any leisure to think at all. It seems to me we’ve gone backwards since then.
And we no longer thank the Earth for the bounty of food she gives us; we expect it as a right, think we can force the Earth to provide for us, believe we can improve on her … Ummm again!
I would like to bring back the old festivals here where I now live, maybe I will. It would be good to celebrate as a people, a village, a community, and to mean it, not “do it for the kids” but do it for ourselves, have the ability to thank and honour the Earth for her bounty.
About the author
Author & awenydd, Elen Sentier, is a spirit keeper from a long family lineage who walks between the worlds.
Elen’s mother’s mother was a witch from the Isle of Mann. The family included two uncles as well as her father who all worked magically with nature. Amongst the skills her father showed her were out-of-body experiences and what is now called Far-Seeing. One of her uncles was a gardener who taught her biodynamic-like things and to ask and speak with plants. Another uncle was a farmer who asked and spoke with his beasts, crops and the wild the wild creatures and trees; many times he took Elen out to sit under a tree all night to watch and play with the night denizens of the woods. She has seen him call a wild falcon down to his fist with an adder twined about his wrist. As a child she learned the ways of the dead from the village woman who did the laying out; this lady was also the midwife … birthing people into and out of this world. The next-door-neighbour was the village healer.
Later, Elen worked with C Maxwell Cade on biofeedback; Tom Graves and Hamish Miller improved her dowsing skills; Colin Bloy and Michael Poynder took her much further with far-seeing and the energy lines in the Earth; she worked on the Dragon Project with Paul Devereux and others already mentioned, particularly at Rollright stone circle.
In the 1980s Elen met Caitlin and John Matthews through Michael Green and work on crop circles. She immediately found Caitlin’s way close to her own heart; working with both Caitlin and John through the 1990s and early 2000s.
Elen’s shaman’s handbook – DREAMWEAVER – was first published in 2001, it is now in its 5th edition. She went on to write NUMEROLOGY: THE SPIRAL PATH, published by Capal Bann and to be republished in 2011. Her magical romance novels OWL WOMAN and MOON SONG have been very well received, and she is currently working on OAK MAN which is set in the countryside and legends of the Welsh marches where she lives.
Elen has formed this lore into workshops so that others can rediscover it. She is an awenydd (spirit keeper) from a long British family tradition and began this work many years ago with Caitlin Matthews. It has become a major project which she now teaches in Rainbow Warriors, the British shamanic training she facilitates, and with fellow awenydd, Fiona Dove, in Bright Darkness. This experiential workshop uses song, story and journey to explore our ancient chakra system with Arianrhod's Spinning Towers and Elen's Ways.
If you would like to know more and experience the Celtic chakras of the goddess for yourself, Bright Darkness is facilitating a workshop at the Goddess Hall on Friday, 14 Oct 2011. Check The Oracle for more details of contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 07758 229043; or look under “workshops” at http://www.brightdarkness.co.uk