george_mason_-_the_harvest_moon_-_google_art_project

The Harvest Moon by George Mason

 Harvest-Home Song

THE FROST will bite us soon;
His tooth is on the leaves:
Beneath the golden moon
We bear the golden sheaves:
We care not for the winter’s spite,
We keep our Harvest-home to-night.
Hurrah for the English yeoman!
Fill full, fill the cup!
Hurrah! he yields to no man!
Drink deep; drink it up!

The pleasure of a king
Is tasteless to the mirth
Of peasants when they bring
The harvest of the earth.
With pipe and tabor hither roam
All ye who love our Harvest-home.

The thresher with his flail,
The shepherd with his crook,
The milkmaid with her pail,
The reaper with his hook—
To-night the dullest blooded clods
Are kings and queens, are demigods.
Hurrah for the English yeoman!
Fill full; fill the cup!
Hurrah! he yields to no man!
Drink deep; drink it up!

John Davidson (1857–1909)

Today is the Harvest Moon, dear friends. Give a moment to the earth as we reap our rewards and plan for the winter.  Make merry, enjoy ciders and ales, pour a little to John Barleycorn and the spirit of autumn.

Perhaps you will make Corn Dollies this weekend.  Of course, our modern wheat, a short, pithy type, easily devoured by combine harvesters, is not the same as the long great staple that my ancestors enjoyed.  The type which made a tall figure on a cart when shaped and bundled, and brought into the town.  The type that made for a thick thatched roof to stave off the winter chill.  I am left to wonder if the sudden distaste for bread in our modern society, and many of the ills claimed by the ‘anti-glutenites’ (begging the pardon of the true Celiac sufferer) isn’t rather a case of poisoning by modern crop and processing.  Once one has enjoyed the warm fulfillment of a true traditional loaf,  it can scarcely be compared to the soggy brick we call ‘bread’ today.

Harvest home  follows the festival ‘Lammas’ from the Anglo-Saxon ‘Hlaf-Mass’, literally translated as ‘Loaf Mass’.    Indeed, bread was so important to the Saxon, that our very words ‘Lord’ and ‘Lady’ are derived from the Old English hlāfweard (Loaf-Ward) and hlǣfdige (Loaf-Maker).   It’s a shame to see moderns disparage the venerable old loaf, but I have seen a return to the old ways recently with a rise of ‘artisanal Breads’ and farm to table bakeries making a name for themselves.  For more on this,  watch Michael Pollan’s ‘Cooked’ episode on Bread.

Waggons decorated for the Harvest Home parade on September 14th 1864. The Order of Proceedings required men to have a bouquet of three ears of wheat on their left breast. The procession was headed by the oldest labourers and the "musical band".

Waggons decorated for the Harvest Home parade on September 14th 1864. The Order of Proceedings required men to have a bouquet of three ears of wheat on their left breast. The procession was headed by the oldest labourers and the “musical band”.   Credit: www.communityarchives.org.uk

In various parts of Europe, the last sheaf of wheat or corn (for we use the terms interchangeably in England, what my American brethren call ‘Corn’ we call ‘Maize’) is a matter for reverence.  In parts of Germany, it was left  uncut as fodder for Wotan’s horse.  In Devon, England, it was festooned with ribbons and held aloft before the reapers scythes to the cry of ‘THE NECK’!   It was then carried to the farmer’s house to replace the previous year’s neck, which was then offered to the farmer’s finest beast.  Many a wagon carried the golden corn-maid to the village and town, perhaps an echo of the ritual belonging to the ancient earth-Goddess, Nerthus.  The Roman historian, Tacitus wrote of Nerthus in his work ‘Germania’

“There is a sacred grove on an island in the Ocean, in which there is a consecrated chariot, draped with cloth, where the priest alone may touch. He perceives the presence of the goddess in the innermost shrine and with great reverence escorts her in her chariot, which is drawn by female cattle. There are days of rejoicing then and the countryside celebrates the festival, wherever she designs to visit and to accept hospitality. No one goes to war, no one takes up arms, all objects of iron are locked away, then and only then do they experience peace and quiet, only then do they prize them, until the goddess has had her fill of human society and the priest brings her back to her temple.”

the-wolves-pursuing-sol-and-maniWhether you celebrate with your kinfolk or alone this weekend as the Autumnal Equinox approaches, this is the perfect time to reflect on the past year.  Was your harvest a good one?  Have you sown deeds and reaped rewards?  Were the Gods beneficent or were you faced with trial? Have you given a gift for your gifts received?

Sunna is in her descent and the leaves will turn reds and golds in her honour.  This evening, celebrate and honour the earth and to the wights of the land. We will have a partial eclipse tonight as Hati the Mooncatcher throws a wolfish shadow across Mani.  For tonight, rest and raise a jug of ale, as we know that we have much work to do before the fated day, when that warg devours its prey.

 

 

 

 

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