The wheel turns onwards from Solstice until we reach Lammas, with its traditional themes of first harvest (grain) & sacrifice. At this time we also cast our attention to the somewhat neglected theme of the ‘Sea Harvest’.
An appropriate time to contemplate the produce of the sea is St James’ Day, the 25th July. Recalling St James’ Day 2013, as one of us is privileged to live on an estuary famous for its Oysters and seafood, we embarked upon a Pilgrimage to a nearby Island to celebrate the bounty of the ocean, acknowledge the labours of our fishermen and to partake of a seafood communion.
St. James the apostle, along with his brother John & father Zebedee were fishermen on the Sea of Galilee, tradition has it that his bones came to rest in ‘Santiago de Compostella’ in northwestern Spain. During the medieval period the shrine of St James became an important centre of pilgrimage, a practice which continues today. The scallop shell has long been associated with St James & the pilgrimage itself, the grooves in the shell all converge at one point as do the pilgrims, who begin their journey either carrying or wearing the shell as an emblem. Historically the practical value would be that the shell would have served as a drinking vessel & plate.
Locally in the British Isles feasts would take place to honour St James, and the ritual construction of shell Grottos was undertaken by those who could not spare the time or afford to take the ‘Road to Compostella’. This tradition was widespread until the 1960’s & not confined to coastal areas, this being illustrated by the following rhyme recited by children in the 1930’s –
“Please remember the grotto; it’s only once a year, please give me a ha’penny to spend at Mitcham fair, father’s gone to sea; mother’s gone to fetch him back, so please remember me”.
Our honouring of the sea harvest concluded with a sea offering ritual, to give thanks & gratitude. A local peninsula, surrounding us with water on 3 sides provided the perfect setting to call forth the Sea Priestess by reciting a passage from ‘Dion Fortune’, offering a libation of ale & bread, tossing in some grain heads from our 2012 Lammas ritual.
We on the land enjoyed the harvest of the sea, so in return to the Sea Priestess we offered the harvest of the land. An unplanned event, one provided by nature herself, brought an apt conclusion to our ‘Sea Harvest’ celebrations. Walking back the tide was coming in and approaching us from both sides, each stream following its own course – ‘The meeting of the waters’. Waiting & watching, the two streams converged and became a tidal basin submerging and enveloping the sandy peninsula, a meeting of land and sea.
As we moved to higher ground our thoughts & contemplations turned to matters on the land.
At Lammas (Lughnasadh) the Goddess manifests her aspects of Earth Mother, Grain Mother & Harvest Queen.
It is through the sacrifice of the god (her son/consort) the survival of her other children is ensured. With Joy and Sorrow the Goddess makes the first cut, as we harvest it is with her hand that we cut. The God nourished by her, must now be relinquished by her to fulfil his destiny as John Barleycorn, Spirit of the Field, Corn King, Jack o’ the Grain. ‘He who is cut down, so that we may live’. Barleycorn suffers a brutal death, note the similarities to the ‘Stations of the Cross’ but Queen must sacrifice King for the good of all people.
Loaf-Mass, where men cut the sheaf with phallic blades, the prepared grain taken into the house & women perform the alchymical ritual of preparing the ‘First Loaf’. Here we see the elements of masculine seed into feminine womb/tomb (House), the wonder of transformation, culminating in the sharing of bread, the ‘Harvest Communion’.
The wheel will turn & the cycle re-occur, it must be remembered that the crop of one year is not same as the next; spirit passes from harvest to harvest, each time clothed in new flesh.
We at SRTB see this as reincarnation rather than resurrection, the spirit remains in the last sheaf, the corn dolly and in the seed yet to be sown.
The Ballad Of John Barleycorn
There was three men come out of the West
Their fortunes for to try
And these three men made a solemn vow
John Barleycorn must die.
They ploughed, they sowed, they harrowed him in
Throwing clods all on his head
And these three men made a solemn vow
John Barleycorn was Dead.
They’ve left him in the ground for a very long time
Till the rains from heaven did fall
Then little Sir John’s sprung up his head
And so amazed them all
They’ve left him in the ground till the Midsummer
Till he’s grown both pale and wan
Then little Sir John’s grown a long, long beard
And so become a man.
They hire’d men with their scythes so sharp
To cut him off at the knee.
They’ve bound him and tied him around the waist
Serving him most barb’rously.
They hire’d men with their sharp pitch-forks
To prick him to the heart
But the drover he served him worse than that
For he’s bound him to the cart.
They’ve rolled him around and around the field
Till they came unto a barn
And there they made a solemn mow
Of Little Sir John Barleycorn
They’ve hire’d men with their crab-tree sticks
To strip him skin from bone
But the miller, he served him worse than that,
For he’s ground him between two stones.
Here’s Little Sir John in the nut-brown bowl
And brandy in the glass
But Little Sir John in the nut-brown bowl’s
Proved the stronger man at last
For the hunts man he can’t hunt the fox
Nor so loudly blow his horn
And the tinker, he can’t mend kettles or pots
Without a little of Sir John Barleycorn.
The sacrifice of John Barleycorn may be the survival of a neolithic pagan rite or a 15th century creation, however its themes have been part of the human psyche throughout the ages.
In Robert Burns’ version masonic symbolism comes to the fore, Burns became a Freemason in 1781 & penned the poem is 1782. Parallels have been drawn with the ‘Legend of Hiram Abiff ‘ – An intriguing aspect of this masonic initiation rite is that of the grips (handshakes) delivered to the corpse of Hiram. For those interested and despite being a christian critique, the linked article contains pearls of wisdom for those with ears to hear & eyes to see.
Another treatment of this motif is the Aleister Crowley play, ‘The Ship’ circa early 1900’s
So as we begin to gather in our crops, both mundane and metaphysical we hope that our followers, readers and visitors enjoy a bountiful harvest on all levels.