The Goddess in the Fields – renewing an old harvest custom
by Shirley Molesworth
As the wheel of the year turned towards Lughnasad, and the abundance of the Great Mother was clearly visible, I felt the need to connect with Her more deeply than usual. I found details of a Cornish harvest ritual, concerning the last strand of wheat which was cut and held aloft in triumph and presented to the four directions with special calls, this then being followed by feasting and celebration. This was the Crying of the Neck. This rite is still performed in some places in Cornwall, the foundation of the Old Cornish Movement in 1920 stimulating its revival. Having a special relationship with Demeter or Ker, Goddess of the Grain, or She of so many names, I felt I wanted to express my gratitude and go into the Dark, having been crowned a Crone at Glastonbury, and take that energy directly back into the earth and Her goddesses. To reclaim and renew it, in fact, in my own area.
The background to this Lammas celebration is very ancient. Sir James Frazer in The Golden Bough refers, in his chapter “The Corn-Mother in many lands” to connections with Osiris in ancient Egypt, to the myth of Demeter and Persephone, to the Corn Mother and Harvest Maidens of Northern Europe, the Rice-Bride of Malaya, and many others. In Lithuania the Old Rye-Woman lives in the last stalks of corn and if she is damaged much trouble comes. If Europe has its Wheat-Mother and its Barley-Mother, America its Maize-Mother, the East their Rice-Mother, this all speaks to a deep primordial instinct which should be honoured still.
So I took advantage of some open-minded farmer friends and put together a simple ceremony, then found that they even wanted to take an active part! Our participants stood in the fields close to the last patch of wheat to be harvested, with one person at each compass point.The land was high and overlooked the beautiful mid-Devon landscape for miles, and despite the threatening rain clouds we began, taking a silent moment to centre ourselves and leave the working world behind. Then John, my husband, and his scythe were blessed and sprinkled with holy Chalice Well water, and the scythe began to swing.
I started with an old poem celebrating Earth’s abundance, mentioning the outgoing and incoming spiral, and how every ending is a beginning and the unbroken ring of rebirth. Then we turned to each direction, where the reaper presented his bunch of wheat taken from the patch now reaped, and the words for each direction were called aloud. Then we turned to the Goddess, to the Great Spirit at the centre of all things, and I poured holy water and crumbled bread onto the reaped patch, returning our blessings to Her and asking Her, with flowers, for a healthy crop next year. Finally, we sang the “Hoof and Horn, Corn and Grain” song, and with a final Blessed Be, the rain began!
We had revived an ancient custom, strengthening our connection to the land and aligning our lives to the seasons, and we had brought into being another small strand on the web which focusses a perception of the earth as an organic, alive and sacred whole.