Harvest Songs

Viewing 10 posts - 1 through 10 (of 10 total)
  • Author
  • #12190

      With the Autumnal Equinox and harvest festivals coming up, I thought it would be interesting to create a thread with some traditional materials, songs, rituals and traditions from Celtic traditions.

      The Carmina Gadelica has the Beannachadh Buana or Reaping Blessing:

      Dhe beannaich fein mo bhuain,
      Gach imir, cluan, agus raon,
      Gach corran cama, cuimir, cruaidh,
      Gach dias is dual a theid ’s an raoid,
      Gach dias is dual a theid ’s an raoid.

      Beannaich gach murn agus mac,
      Gach mnaoi agus miuchainn maoth,
      Tiuir iad fo sgiath do neairt,
      Is tearmaid ann an teach nan naomh,
      Tearmaid ann an teach nan naomh.

      Cuimrich gach mins, ciob, is uan,
      Gach ni, agus mearc, is maon,
      Cuartaich fein an treuid ’s am buar,
      Is cuallaich a chon buailidh chaon,
      Cuallaich a chon buailidh chaon.

      Air sgath Mhicheil mhil nam feachd,
      Mhoire chneas-ghil leac nam buadh,
      Bhride mhin-ghil ciabh nan cleachd,
      Chaluim-chille nam feart ’s nan tuam,
      Chaluim-chille nam feart ’s nan tuam.

      English translation:

      God, bless Thou Thyself my reaping,
      Each ridge, and plain, and field,
      Each sickle curved, shapely, hard,
      Each ear and handful in the sheaf,
      Each ear and handful in the sheaf.

      Bless each maiden and youth,
      Each woman and tender youngling,
      Safeguard them beneath Thy shield of strength,
      And guard them in the house of the saints,
      Guard them in the house of the saints.

      Encompass each goat, sheep and lamb,
      Each cow and horse, and store,
      Surround Thou the Rocks and herds,
      And tend them to a kindly fold,
      Tend them to a kindly fold.

      For the sake of Michael head of hosts,
      Of Mary fair-skinned branch of grace,
      Of Bride smooth-white of ringleted locks,
      Of Columba of the graves and tombs,
      Columba of the graves and tombs.

      These can be found online at Carmina Gadelica, Volume I, by Alexander Carmicheal, (1900).

      Dave TheDruid-3X3
        Dave TheDruid-3X3

          Double Post! Please Erase!


            Hi Dave,

            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).


            david poole

              John Barleycorn 1885 the longest version I can find, contains some verses not in the more common version:

              There came three men out of the West,
              Their victory to try;
              And they have taken a solemn oath,
              Poor Barleycorn should die.

              They took a plough and ploughed him in,
              And harrowed clods on his head;
              And then they took a solemn oath,
              Poor Barleycorn was dead.

              There he lay sleeping in the ground,
              Till rain from the sky did fall :
              Then Barleycorn sprung up his head,
              And so amazed them all.

              There he remained till Midsummer,
              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 knee ;
              And then poor little 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.

              And then they brought him to a barn,
              A prisoner to endure;
              And so they fetched him out again,
              And laid him on the floor.

              Then they set men with holly clubs,
              To beat the flesh from his bones ;
              But the miller he served him worse than that,
              For he ground him betwixt two stones.

              O ! Barleycorn is the choicest grain
              That ever was sown on land ;
              It will do more than any grain,
              By the turning of your hand.

              It will make a boy into a man,
              And a man into an ass;
              It will change your gold into silver,
              And your silver into brass.

              It will make the huntsman hunt the fox,
              That never wound his horn;
              It will bring the tinker to the stocks,
              That people may him scorn.

              It will put sack into a glass,
              And claret in the can;
              And it will cause a man to drink
              Till he neither can go nor stand.


                It seems like the folklore figures of Maggie/Madgy Figgy, Figgy Dowdy and Margery Daw are all connected. I found a picture of her holy well, not far from Redruth, on the Megalithic.portal





                  Thank you David, some of those verses are quite “brutal”, aren’t they? I wonder who the three men of the West were? I’m sure I’ve also heard it sung with “three men from Kent” somewhere or other, but then they’d be from the East in British terms.



                    John barley corn is really old, and lots of versions of it, John is the awen,

                    david poole

                      Some versions are much longer than others, the version which I posted was the longest which I could find and contains verses which are not in any other version.

                      Mault gave the Miller such a blow,
                      That from [h]is horse he fell full low,
                      He taught him his master Mault for to know
                      you neuer saw the like sir.

                      This particular verse details Barleycorn’s revenge against the miller who grinds him into flour. Until recently I had never read it before.


                        “Mault gave the Miller such a blow,
                        That from [h]is horse he fell full low,
                        He taught him his master Mault for to know
                        you neuer saw the like sir.”

                        That’s interesting. It’s similar to the idea in the Cornish riddle. I’m reading this as the malt (beer) that got the miller drunk! Humorous as it is, it’s also a way of recognising that nature demands respect and balance – for whatever you take, there is a price and you could come a cropper if you’re not careful. In the Middle Ages, I believe that millers were objects of suspicion as they were known to have a fair number of tricks up their sleeve in order to cheat their clients, so a figure of fun and the miller falling off his horse drunk would also have appealed to the humour of the people of the time.


                      Viewing 10 posts - 1 through 10 (of 10 total)
                      • You must be logged in to reply to this topic.