~ THE TURNING OF THE WHEEL ~
FEAST OF BREAD 2007
“You tear apart my body-
Though the corn king dies
he dies has died
and dying still.
He shall rise again
and sink back into earth.
And who shall die at the death of the corn?
And who shall cry at the death of the corn?
Rise! Rise! Rise!…”
The Death of the Corn ~ by Current 93
Where will the spirit of the grain reside after the fields have been harvested? This question was, and is still, addressed in late summer every year by the various folk traditions practiced by our people. The answer, like most traditions, varies by country, region, even from village to village. But the query itself points to the ancient understanding of the seasonal cycles as inextricably linked to our spirituality.
The soul of the scythed ‘corn’ (corn references any of the cereal crops, not maize specifically, which originally comes from the Americas) was believed to be transferred into an idol, such as a corn dolly made from the newly cut stalks, or a living human. This new form took the blessing (or sacrificial weight) bestowed upon the harvested god. Often, the one to cut the last sheaf was symbolically named ‘The Old Man’ or ‘The Old Woman’ for the rest of the day, or even the entirety of the year. At the harvest feast, the person who had become this literal personification may even receive double the food portion.
Or, an obviously less desirable fate, they may be beaten and/or teased mercilessly while they held this noble title. Does this treatment imply there is truth behind the rumors of the harvest-related human sacrifices of old? Is this also reminiscent in the ploughing of corn dollies from the previous crop into Spring’s new fields?
On a lighter note, Lughnasad (named for the Celtic grain god Lugh) or Lammas (from the Saxon word Hlaf-mass, or ‘loaf feast’) is a popular time for pledging one’s heart for one year and a day in the hand-fasting rite. Again, our folk clearly understand that the beginning is the end is the beginning.
“…For the true love knot is found
at the death of the corn!”
*See end of this e-zine for instructions on how to weave your own corn dolly.
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NOW THE WOLVES ARE RUNNING
“And now these peoples were pressed by urgent necessity to settle down in one place forever and to eat their bread from a tilled earth! Long they resisted. For it was one of their most fundamental beliefs that free, uncontrolled nature was more than man; and that it was sinful to impose great changes upon the earth. Yet large scale farming—plowing and sowing—was that not the greatest compulsion, the most dire control, men could exert over nature?…When the new nations tilled the soil, they did so with a bad conscience. The thousand customs that surrounded every act of plowing, sowing, harvesting, and baking were spells calculated to ward off the vengeance of the offended spirits of the earth.
“…the Germans considered the tempest the creator and changer of the world. They would have shaken their heads at the civilized, rationalistic explanation of Hippocrates (460-359 B.C.) : ‘Anemos rheuma kai scheuma aeros [wind is a flowing and pouring of air].’ The power that broke forest and rocks; the force that heaved the waves of the North Sea—this could not merely be ‘air’!
“It was necessary to pay close attention to the figures the wind stirred up in the waving fields of grain. The spirits of vegetation, foreseeing that their death was near, were bent on mischief.
“The yellow fields of waving grain—to modern man a symbol of peace—in those times concealed terrors. In the waving of the ears, in the low hissing of the tufts, dwelt offended spirits.…The northern peoples heard ‘riders hunting thru the corn’ or ‘a witch twisting.’ But above all animals seemed to be at home in the grainfield, animals with a cap of invisibility. The effect of their motion could always be felt.…When the wind descended a sharp curve, people said ‘the hares have run thru there.’ And when the ears, pack upon pack, with yellow hind quarters and flanks, pressed panting against the ground, it was said; ‘Now the wolves are running.’
“These grain fields had come from Asia and Africa. Only two or three hundred years before sacred forest had stood in this place, cool and richly watered. The murmur of the twigs had been familiar, not uncanny like this silence of the grain. The forest had always been been the friend of the Teutons; it had been hostile only for the Romans when the Germans slaughtered them in the Teutoburger Forest. The brightness of the noonday sun upon the fields was again the ’corn mother,’ going about her field and searing the Germans’ hearts with her fiery breath.
“Shouting, he ran amid the grain, cutting and slaughtering the ears. He had no feeling of this as peaceful work; it was an act of war that he performed when the tufted stalks of rye sank before his blade. Thinner and thinner grew the ranks of his foe, and finally the entire strength of the field fled into the ‘last sheaf.’ The last sheaf was the subject of many rituals—rituals that were a compound of fear and triumph. Among some tribes it was not cut, but ‘taken prisoner,’ placed upon a wagon, dressed in clothes, and the women danced around it, mocking it. Among other tribes it was honored: it was brought to a barn, but not threshed like the others. A traveling stranger must be given it to take along—perhaps this wanderer was odin?—or the sheaf was untied and then strewn over the field to placate the earth.”
~ exerpted from Six Thousand Years of Bread; Its Holy and Unholy History by H.E. Jacob
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PUTTING THE SOUL BACK INTO YOUR BREAD:
Making Your Own Sourdough Starter
Traditional sourdoughs have been all but eliminated from our modern, mass-produced breads. With efficiency and uniformity so highly prized in the industrial age, natural leaven has been traded for brewer’s yeast and preservatives at the expense of taste and digestibility. Not only do the micro-organisms in sourdough cause the loaf to rise, but they also help our bodies absorb the grain’s nutrients by beginning to break them down before we take our first bite. Yeast, in contrast, causes harm to our bread’s nutritional value. Although naturally occurring yeast is present in sourdough, it will not overwhelm the ‘good’ (lactic-acid producing) bacteria with unwanted proliferation unless honey or another form of sweetener is added.
Be sure to use rye flour, not wheat, for a superior starter. And remember, once the protective hulls of grains have been opened, they rapidly turn rancid. So when available, fresh ground flour is also preferred.
Makes approx. 3 quarts
2 gallon sized bowls
2 cups rye flour
2 cups cold filtered water
Lg rubber band
6 cups rye flour
cold filtered water
In a large bowl, mix 2 cups water and 2 cups rye. Cover with a double layer of cheese cloth and secure with rubber band. This will keep out critters and dust. If you live in an unpolluted area and the weather is still warm, you may set the bowl outside in the shade. Otherwise, a warm spot in your home will do.
Each day, for the next 7 days, change the starter to the clean bowl and add 1 cup flour and enough water to keep the mixture soupy. Re-cover until the next day’s flour ritual. It will go through a period of being frothy/bubbly. (This will eventually subside.) Around that time, you will also begin to smell the fermentation process. After the 7 days, your starter will be ready to make bread!
Use about 2 quarts (8 cups) of starter per 13 cups flour. This will generally make about 3 lg. loaves. Remember to save out 1 quart for your next batch of starter. To begin this new batch, just repeat the 7 day flour & water cycle. Any starter that you will not be using immediately for bread or more starter should be stored in the refrigerator or freezer in airtight containers.
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• JERA •
(Harvest) is the hope of men,
when god lets,
holy king of heaven,
the earth give her bright fruits
to the noble ones and the needy.
~ Old English Rune Poem
As the summer and agricultural year begin to wane, it’s time to take stock. What does this harvest say about how you lived the last year?
Nature does not judge us by a moral code, but by the indisputable laws she herself has set in motion. We harvest what we have sown and our fruits reflect our luck (wyrd), intention, will, and labor. If you feel unsatisfied with what you are reaping, don’t think the outcome punitive. Instead, understand that we are all subject to the organic cyclical process and learn the lessons being given now—for a greater harvest next season. We all, “the noble ones and the needy” have access to the abundance given by the sky father and earth mother. These “bright fruits” are manifestations of right action in its right time.
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There were three King’s came from the east,
Their victory to try;
And they have taken a solemn oath
John Barleycorn must die.
They took a plow and ploughed him in,
Laid clods all on his head;
And they have taken a solemn oath
John Barleycorn was dead.
There he lay sleeping in the ground
Till the dew on him did fall;
Then Barleycorn sprung up his head
And so amazed them all.
There he remained till Mid-summer
And looked both pale and wan;
Then Barleycorn he got a beard
And so became a man.
Then they sent men with scythes so sharp,
To cut him off at the knee.
Alas, poor Johnny Barleycorn!
They served him barbarously.
Then they sent men with pitchforks strong,
To pierce him through the heart;
And like a dreadful tragedy
They bound him to a cart.
Then they sent men with holly clubs
To beat the flesh from bones;
The miller he served him worse than that,
He ground him betwixt two stones.
O, Barleycorn is the choicest grain
That’s ever grown on land.
It will do more than any grain
To the turning of your hand.
It will put sack into a glass
And claret in a can;
And it will cause a man to drink
Till he neither go nor stand.
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MAKING HARVEST CORN DOLLIES
The first step to making a corn dolly is choosing the wheat you’ll use, and there are some basic rules to follow. You should select long wheat stalks that stand erect and straight (stalks should measure more than 18 inches from the base of the head to the first joint on the stalk), and the stem of your stalk should be slender and golden. The stalks in the prime of ripeness are those that are most golden; avoid any stocks with green, which will never ripen to golden.
Just before you start your project, temper the stalks by soaking them for 20 to 40 minutes in cool to lukewarm water. Don’t use hot water, which will remove the natural shine and gloss of the wheat. After soaking, wrap the stalks in a wet bath towel and let them set for about 15 minutes or so. The stalks are then ready for weaving, and you can use the wrapped straw all day long (or at least until it gets soggy).
There are a few different techniques used in wheat-weaving. The one that you will be using is called “weaving around a base.” This creates a thick spiral of wheat with a hollow center — the hollow core’s size depends upon the size of the dowel used. The design is made by working the wheat around a removable dowel core (or a core of “waste” wheat stems). You should probably start with a pencil-size dowel; then, as your fingers get better at weaving, you can move on to a larger size.
Now you’re ready to begin. Take five pieces of straw with heads, and 20 to 30 more stalk stems. Tie the five pieces (with heads) around your dowel, making the tie as close to the wheat heads as possible with the clove hitch knot. Bend each stem in a 90 degree angle, so that one head points in each direction. (Think of the north, south, east, and west points on the compass.) This arrangement will leave one extra straw that you’ll aim just to your left, assuming you are sitting south of the compass.
Start with the extra “beginner” straw pointed toward you (the one just to the left of the south stem) and bend it up parallel to the dowel. Then bend it to the right over two wheat stems. If you’re thinking compass: your first bend will be over the south and east stems.
Now, turn the dowel 90 degrees (a 1/4 turn) clockwise. The east stem will now become the south stem. Take your new south stem and bend it over two more stems. Again, turn the dowel 90 degrees, and repeat the process. It will take five bends to complete the circle, and you’ll continue building up circles one on top of the other. It won’t be long before you’ll reach the end of a stem and run out of straw. Simply join another straw stem into the “run-out” one. To do so, cut the small end of a stem (the end nearest the top) at an angle and then slip this end into the larger, hollow end of the used-up stem. Try to use only one of these for each round around the dowel or it will weaken the spiral.
When you’ve made the size dolly you want, simply tie off the ends with a brightly colored ribbon or another piece of straw. Add the finishing touch by joining heads into the weave, which will leave you with straw heads at both the top and bottom of your weave.
Taken from an article by Randy Kidd on www.motherearthnews.com
To view the article in its entirety see: http://www.motherearthnews.com/Livestock-and-Farming/1992-08-01/Making-Harvest-Corn-Dollies.aspx
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Until the Autumnal Equinox, may you and your
household be blessed and kept. Hail!
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