Thanks for the links. John Barleycorn is an interesting old song …”And these three men made a solemn vow: John Barleycorn should die.” The idea of some sacrifice and “killing” the corn seems very ancient and some of the traditions do have a slightly “brutal” edginess to them.
An old riddle in Cornish goes:
Flô vye gennes en Miz-Merh,
A child was born in the month of March,
Ni trehes e bigel en Miz-East;
We cut his navel in the month of August;
E a roz tow –
He gave a fall –
Dho Proanter Powle,
To the Parson of Paul,
Miz-Du ken Nadelik.
The black month (December) before the Nativity.
The answer to the riddle is the barley that is sown in March and cut in August, when turned to beer it makes you drunk and fall in December! There’s also a “triad” in there too – sowing, reaping and consuming.
In the Celtic countries of the British Isles, not so much England, there are/were various “last sheaf ceremonies”; in Cornwall this was Crying the Neck (after cutting the last sheaf) and in some parts of Wales the neck was the “mare”, y gaseg fedi or in some places the “witch”, y wrach. All sorts of customs, games and rituals surrounded these traditions. Interestingly, the last sheaf is ambiguous, as is nature, in the sense of being a blessing in terms of the harvest, but also marking the end of the harvest and the onset of winter – a time when food became scarce.
A Cornish folklore figure, usually a witch in the droll tales, Maggie Figgie may be a vague memory of some divinity connected to the harvest as the name could contain a corruption of the Cornish word for “reap” (myji).