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The Golden Bough A study of magic and religion

Page: 324

haven, we haven, we haven.’ They went home, accompanied by women and children carrying boughs of flowers, shouting and singing. The manservant who attended Mrs. Bray said ‘it was only the people making their games, as they always did, to the spirit of harvest.’” Here, as Miss Burne remarks, “‘arnack, we haven!’ is obviously in the Devon dialect, ‘a neck (or nack)! we have un!’”

Another account of this old custom, written at Truro in 1839, runs thus: “Now, when all the corn was cut at Heligan, the farming men and maidens come in front of the house, and bring with them a small sheaf of corn, the last that has been cut, and this is adorned with ribbons and flowers, and one part is tied quite tight, so as to look like a neck. Then they cry out ‘Our (my) side, my side,’ as loud as they can; then the dairymaid gives the neck to the head farming-man. He takes it, and says, very loudly three times, ‘I have him, I have him, I have him.’ Then another farming-man shouts very loudly, ‘What have ye? what have ye? what have ye?’ Then the first says, ‘A neck, a neck, a neck.’ And when he has said this, all the people make a very great shouting. This they do three times, and after one famous shout go away and eat supper, and dance, and sing songs.” According to another account, “all went out to the field when the last corn was cut, the ‘neck’ was tied with ribbons and plaited, and they danced round it, and carried it to the great kitchen, where by-and-by the supper was. The words were as given in the previous account, and ‘Hip, hip, hack, heck, I have ’ee, I have ’ee, I have ‘ee.’ It was hung up in the hall.” Another account relates that one of the men rushed from the field with the last sheaf, while the rest pursued him with vessels of water, which they tried to throw over the sheaf before it could be brought into the barn.

In the foregoing customs a particular bunch of ears, generally the last left standing, is conceived as the neck of the corn-spirit, who is consequently beheaded when the bunch is cut down. Similarly in Shropshire the name “neck,” or “the gander’s neck,” used to be commonly given to the last handful of ears left standing in the middle of the field when all the rest of the corn was cut. It was plaited together, and the reapers, standing ten or twenty paces off, threw their sickles at it. Whoever cut it through was said to have cut off the gander’s neck. The “neck” was taken to the farmer’s wife, who was supposed to keep it in the house for good luck till the next harvest came round. Near Trèves, the man who reaps the last standing corn “cuts the goat’s neck off.” At Faslane, on the Gareloch (Dumbartonshire), the last handful of standing corn was sometimes called the “head.” At Aurich, in East Friesland, the man who reaps the last corn “cuts the hare’s tail off.” In mowing down the last corner of a field French reapers sometimes call out, “We have the cat by the tail.” In Bresse (Bourgogne) the last sheaf represented the fox. Beside it a score of ears were left standing to form the tail, and each reaper, going back some paces, threw his sickle at it. He who succeeded in severing it “cut off the fox’s tail,” and a cry of “You cou cou!” was raised in his honour. These examples leave no room to doubt the meaning of the Devonshire and Cornish expression “the neck,” as applied to the last sheaf. The corn-spirit is conceived in human or animal form, and the last standing corn is part of its body—its neck, its head, or its tail. Sometimes, as we have seen, the last corn is regarded as the navel-string. Lastly, the Devonshire custom of drenching with water the person who brings in “the neck” is a raincharm, such as we have had many examples of. Its parallel in the mysteries of Osiris was the custom of pouring water on the image of Osiris or on the person who represented him.


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