Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
Whether summer clothe the general earth
With greeness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple-tree, while the nigh thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw; whether the eave-drops fall
Heard only in the trances of the blast,
Or if the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.



Monday, August 01, 2016

Lughnasadh - The Wheel Turns Again


                                   Month of August...blithesome the bee,
                                   Full the hive; better the work of the sickle
                                                         Than the bow.

                                   Welsh 15th century


Lughnasadh is one of the great festivals of the Celtic year, it's the midpoint of the summer halfway between May (Beltaine) and November (Samhain) and from now on the days will begin to shorten noticeably as we move towards autumn and winter. The all important grain harvest begins at this time and in the past it was also a time of revelry, feasting and the great Lammas Fairs where the general idea was to have a jolly good time:)


An old tradition connected with Lughnasadh is the making of the Corn Dolly. It was believed that the Corn Spirit retreated before the oncoming reapers and eventually took refuge in the last of the standing corn. This was cut and fashioned into a Corn Dolly where the Corn Spirit could rest through the winter months. In the Spring the Corn Dolly would be returned to the fields when the new crop was sown in the hope that as a reward for keeping the Corn Spirit safe through the cold, dark days of winter she would bring a good harvest in the coming year. Making a Corn Dolly is something I'd like to try and I've located instructions for a simple one and a supplier of straw though if I can get some wheat while I'm in Suffolk during August that would be even more authentic. My son's house is surrounded by arable farmland and wheat is one of the crops that is grown in them. Whether my craft skills are up to this challenge remains to be seen!


One of the important harvests crops of course was barley - essential for the making of beer! The old traditional folk song about John Barleycorn belongs to this time of the year. These are the first few lines:

There were three men came out of the west,
Their fortunes for to try,
And these three men made a solemn vow,
John Barleycorn must die.
They've ploughed, they've sowed, they've harrowed him in,
Throwed clods upon his head,
And these three men made a solemn vow,
John Barleycorn is dead.

If you'd like to listen to it all here is a rather good version by Traffic. Happy Lughnasadh!!

10 comments:

Granny Sue said...

What an interesting post, Rowan. now I want to try making a corn dolly too, but I have no access to wheat. How sad.

I wonder what the correct pronunciation if Lughnasadh is? Is it Loo-Nah-Sah? Or something close to that?

Louise said...

Lovely photos!

Rosie said...

I love to see barley in the fields it is so pretty but we have to avoid anything with Barley in it as my husband is alergic to it, I hope you can make a corn dolly whilst you are away. Have a lovely time:)

Mac n' Janet said...

I've bought a few corn dollies through the years, but like you I'd like to try and make one. Great photos.

Bovey Belle said...

Enjoy your Corn Dolly making. Very 1970s!!! Not much corn grown in these parts of course, as it is far too wet. We'd have to go into Pembs, or back towards the English/Welsh border for cornfields.

I can see I shall be going to bed singing John Barleycorn tonight!!

Mary said...

Love this post and your photos Rowan. Barley is a beautiful grain.
Your words fit in so well with the fabulous book I'm reading, MEADOWLAND - The Private Life of an English Field by John Lewis-Stempel. If you haven't read it I think you, and anyone who loves the British countryside, would enjoy it immensely.

I listened to Traffic's version of that old song, very nice, thank you.
Happy days - Mary

Patricia Ellingford said...

Lovely post Rowan. I always end up learning something from them. Good luck with the Corn Dolly making look forward to seeing your results. Enjoy your time with the family.

The wheel has turned again - and so has the weather.

Take care dear friend.

Pattypan x

The History Anorak said...

Good luck with the corn dolly making. I've been doing them for years. As I write, my new ones for this year are sitting in front of me ready to be put in place tonight. I've also got some bread men proving in kitchen to serve with dinner.

If you'd like some further instructions on dolly making you can take a look here. And if you really aren't sure what to do, just gather up some stems, tie them together at the 'neck', and plait them. Then curl it round into a loop and secure the ends close to where your original tie is. (See the last photo on the link I gave you and that will all make much more sense!)

Above all have a Blessed Lughnasadh!

Roy Norris said...

Love the Harvest painting D.
Hope you get to make some corn dollies as harvesting is in full swing already around here.

Gretel said...

I always liked the Steeleye Span version of John Barleycorn, it's a fantastic song. I also remember making paper straw corn dollies when I was about 8, in the 1970s, and I think it was fairly simple - good luck!