This Cauldron Season includes the anniversary of the Battle of Marathon in 490 BCE, where the Greeks, outnumbered two to one by the Persians, defeated the Persians with the loss of only 192 men. It was the long run of Pheidippides, the messenger who conveyed news of the victory to Athens that was the inspiration for the modern marathon race. It also includes the anniversary of the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BCE, in which three hundred Spartans held off the Persian army and Leonidas, challenged by the Persians under Darius to surrender their arms, said “Come and get them!” It is the anniversary of the Battle of Stamford Bridge in 1066, at which the Saxon King Harold Godwinson defeated the Norwegians under King Harald Hardrade. It is the anniversary of the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297, in which the Scottish forces of Andrew De Moray and William Wallace defeated the English forces of John de Warenne, 7th Earl of Surrey, and Hugh de Cressingham. One of my favorite poems to recite at this time of year is one that is related to my warrior name. It is about the Red Branch Warriors of Emain Macha by Morgan Llewellyn:
Greengold blaze of Pagan
timbered halls emerge from their
For twenty generations, a royal
guarded by heroes
Listen! Oaken gates scream open
on iron hinges
Feathered chariots racing toward
us, horses leaping
out of antiquity, galloping
Here they come!
Once again a dark lad leads them,
Brilliant eyes and tender mouth
He can break your bones
or break your heart
The Hound of Ulster!
All of this inspires the Squires, who are experiencing growing excitement as they prepare themselves for their upcoming Arming initiation. They are learning about the power of initiations and how the ritual of initiations works. In keeping with the Cauldron Season, they are learning how initiation can be a rebirth. The squires are now engaging in psychic exercises both at the Armory within Caer Paladin and without on the astral plane to find their Magickal Weapon and learn about it. They are exploring different types of divination to find the ones most suited to their path. They are meditating and preparing themselves to answer the challenges of the Seneschal when they face her at the beginning of the Arming ritual. How will they express their desire? How will they describe what their intentions are? What name will they give to their Magickal Weapon for its consecration at the Arming?
One of the traditions that we’ve incorporated into our Mabon celebrations is called Crying the Neck. Crying The Neck is a harvest festival tradition that originated in the West Country of England, specifically Cornwall and Devonshire. In this Crying the Neck or Harvest Home celebration, an older member of the community would go around to the sheaves in the fields during the harvest and pick out a bundle of all the best ears. This he ties up and/or plaits to create a “neck” of wheat. This was often (but not always) dressed up in women’s clothing and decked in ribbons to make a Corn Dolly. Often this neck or Corn Dolly was carried in from the fields on the last wagon load of rye, beans, barley or wheat or held high on a pole by a chosen harvester. Often a shot was fired to signal the end of the harvest. This last wagon and often the people who accompanied it were decked with ribbons, flowers and green boughs. This last load was often pelted with apples as it arrived in the farmyard. The people accompanying the “neck” and the wagon would sing:
“Harvest home, harvest home!
We’ve plowed, we’ve sowed
We’ve reaped, we’ve mowed
And brought safe home
Another version goes:
“Harvest Home! Harvest Home!
We’ve ploughed, we’ve sown,
We’ve reaped, we’ve mown,
Harvest Home! Harvest Home!
We want water and kain’t get none!”
This second version is related to the custom of dousing the Harvest Queen and/or the harvester escorting the harvest in from the fields with water as they arrive from the fields. In others, a young man takes the “neck” and runs to the farmhouse, where a young woman armed with a bucket of water awaits. If the young man with the neck manages to get into the house without getting doused with water he may kiss this woman.
When everyone gathers at the end of the harvest, the man carrying the “neck” or Corn Dolly stands in the middle of the assembly, holding the neck with both hands. He then stoops and holds it near the ground at his feet. The men all take off their hats and mimic this gesture, stooping and holding their hats near the ground and begin chanting: “The neck! The neck!” As they do this they slowly return to an upright posture, the man holding the neck holding it up high. This procedure is repeated three times. They then repeated this procedure one more time, this time changing the chant to:
Well aplowed! Well asowed!
We’ve reaped! And we’ve a-mowed
Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah!
Well-a-cut – well abound!
Well-a-zot upon the ground!
Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah!”
They then burst into laughter and fling their hats into the air.
The neck was prominently displayed at the Harvest, Mell or Kern feast. This traditionally consisted of roast beef, plum puddings, and apple pies. Apple cider was the preferred beverage. Some displayed the Neck or Corn Dolly in the farm house kitchen throughout the following year. Last year’s Neck was burnt after it was replaced or, in some cases, fed to one of the farmer’s beasts. Some traditions had the Neck returned to the fields after Yule and ploughed into the first furrow.