Honouring the Sacrifice of John Barleycorn
On the Spring Equinox of 2000 seven friends made their way up the hill to the flat mound at the base of the Long Man of Wilmington in Sussex to hold a ceremony. It was the first ceremony of the Anderida Gorsedd. The intent was there, to provide a space for regular open rituals in Sussex. By Beltane of the same year numbers had increased to 40 people, and the journey had began.
Lughnasash 2013, over 13 years later and the Gorsedd is still thriving. It’s now a wonderful community of people who travel from all over the South of England to stand in that space to mark the turning of the seasons. Rain, shine, wind, snow, the Gorsedd has been there. We are proud to be able to say that we haven’t missed a ceremony in 13 years, in 106 rituals. Certainly now one of the oldest and longest running Gorseddau in the UK. Hengwah to that!
Yesterday was a glorious day to hold a Lughnasadh ceremony. Although not in full flow the grain harvest has begun, and John Barleycorn is falling in the fields. I started the ceremony by asking if there were any News of the World reporters at the ceremony, and then remembered that there were no such things any more… So changing that to The Daily Mail I pointed out that this ceremony might reinforce the odd stereotype, with its theme of sacrifice. A falling Corn King, sickles and scythes, all good sensationaistic fodder for the ignorant. But this is a festival of thanksgiving, a spiritual honouring that within its very language understands that for some things to continue to live, other things have to die. It’s all around on our supermarket shelves, we just don’t have to see the blood any more, but that doesn’t mean that we cannot honour the life that has been given, and this thanksgiving also includes the grain harvest, and the falling of the Corn King.
So here is the text we used as the central part of our ceremony. I’ve left out the opening and closing bits, it’s just the central ceremony.
The words were written by my wife Cerri.
Bee: I speak for the bees, we stand for community, communication and for the fruitful union of the crops you have sown across the year. We dance the path of the Sun and the paths to sweet nectar, we dance our joys, we dance to tell our story. If you have news “tell it to the bees” they say and there will be honey, “whisper to the bees” they say and the bees will stay and not fly away. Sweetness and light we offer from our years labours, all we need is a bright flower or two and you shall have crops a plenty, light in the dark times and the sweetness of honey.
Corn King: I stand before you as the Corn King and today I will give up my life for you.
We are all born of this great Goddess the Earth, we eat of Her bounty, we drink of Her waters and we breathe of Her air, and, when we die our bodies will be returned to Her.
This is the whole truth of life and each one of us, from the tiniest bacteria to the greatest living creature, has a part to play in this intricate and fragile web.
My time is now, I have grown in the fields through the seasons, blessed by the rain, wind, Sun and held firmly in the Earth.
My life, like yours, is bound to the Goddess and in Her arms I will find my fulfilment.
Let the blade will strike me down, the seed will be torn from the husk, and I will feed you bearing no malice for I will return as the cycle continues ever and anon.
Earth Mother: I come to you as the Earth Mother and I say to you this day;
As you walk upon my back, tread gently,
As you eat of my fruits, share them with others,
As you breathe of my air, speak softly my name,
And I will nurture you.
As you drink of my waters, feel me inside you,
As you gaze upon my beauty, know you are part of me,
As you listen to the wind in my trees, hear me calling,
And I will comfort you.
As you rest against my body, I will support you,
As you walk my many paths, I am with you,
As you are my child, I will raise you,
And I bless you through all the days of your lives.
Corn King: (steps forward to the centre, holding corn in his hands) Let us be glad of the Mother’s gifts. She gives us life, She nurtures the wheat in the field and the fruit on the trees. Remember also, that as you begin to gather the harvest of the land, you gather the fruits and seed of your soul’s harvest.
At this time of harvest, take a pause, reflect a moment and ask yourselves, what has been my sacrifice to the great Mother? How have I helped to sustain Her in this past year? And what have been my rewards?
As a once and future King I offer myself as sacrifice to the Earth Mother. (kneels down at the centre)
(Earth Mother walks toward the Corn King with the sickle in her hand)
Earth Mother: You are full and ripe my King, fed by the elements you have grown tall and you are as golden as the shining Sun above us.
We honour you for the sacrifice you make today, when we eat of your flesh we will remember your long golden days, in the seeds we retain you will be empowered, so, in the right passage of time, you will be reborn.
Hear the Crows call to herald the blade, let them sing out with raucous song, “John Barley Corn the King is Dead, Long live the King”.
(symbolically pulls the sickle across his throat and raises the corn sheaf dropped from his hands)
And there we are. John Barleycorn falls, and we shall have our bread and beer. I love this time of year, but it is tinged with a little sadness too.
So blessings of Lughnasadh to you! And if you are in the Southern Hemisphere, enjoy the returning Spring!