The Golden Bough A study of magic and religion
4. The Corn-spirit as a Hare
ANOTHER common embodiment of the corn-spirit is the hare. In Galloway the reaping of the last standing corn is called “cutting the Hare.” The mode of cutting it is as follows. When the rest of the corn has been reaped, a handful is left standing to form the Hare. It is divided into three parts and plaited, and the ears are tied in a knot. The reapers then retire a few yards and each throws his or her sickle in turn at the Hare to cut it down. It must be cut below the knot, and the reapers continue to throw their sickles at it, one after the other, until one of them succeeds in severing the stalks below the knot. The Hare is then carried home and given to a maidservant in the kitchen, who places it over the kitchen-door on the inside. Sometimes the Hare used to be thus kept till the next harvest. In the parish of Minnigaff, when the Hare was cut, the unmarried reapers ran home with all speed, and the one who arrived first was the first to be married. In Germany also one of the names for the last sheaf is the Hare. Thus in some parts of Anhalt, when the corn has been reaped and only a few stalks are left standing, they say, “The Hare will soon come,” or the reapers cry to each other, “Look how the Hare comes jumping out.” In East Prussia they say that the Hare sits in the last patch of standing corn, and must be chased out by the last reaper. The reapers hurry with their work, each being anxious not to have “to chase out the Hare”; for the man who does so, that is, who cuts the last corn, is much laughed at. At Aurich, as we have seen, an expression for cutting the last corn is “to cut off the Hare’s tail.” “He is killing the Hare” is commonly said of the man who cuts the last corn in Germany, Sweden, Holland, France, and Italy. In Norway the man who is thus said to “kill the Hare” must give “hare’s blood,” in the form of brandy, to his fellows to drink. In Lesbos, when the reapers are at work in two neighbouring fields, each party tries to finish first in order to drive the Hare into their neighbour’s field; the reapers who succeed in doing so believe that next year the crop will be better. A small sheaf of corn is made up and kept beside the holy picture till next harvest.
5. The Corn-spirit as a Cat
AGAIN, the corn-spirit sometimes takes the form of a cat. Near Kiel children are warned not to go into the corn-fields because “the Cat sits there.” In the Eisenach Oberland they are told “the Corn-cat will come and fetch you,” “the Corn-cat goes in the corn.” In some parts of Silesia at mowing the last corn they say, “The Cat is caught”; and at threshing, the man who gives the last stroke is called the Cat. In the neighbourhood of Lyons the last sheaf and the harvest-supper are both called the Cat. About Vesoul when they cut the last corn they say, “We have the Cat by the tail.” At Briançon, in Dauphiné, at the beginning of reaping, a cat is decked out with ribbons, flowers, and ears of corn. It is called the Cat of the ball-skin (le chat de peau de balle). If a reaper is wounded at his work, they make the cat lick the wound. At the close of the reaping the cat is again decked out with ribbons and ears of corn; then they dance and make merry. When the dance is over the girls solemnly strip the cat of its finery. At Grüneberg, in Silesia, the reaper who cuts the last corn goes by the name of the Tom-cat. He is enveloped in rye-stalks and green withes, and is furnished with a long plaited tail. Sometimes as a companion he has a man similarly dressed, who is called the (female) Cat. Their duty is to run after people whom they see and to beat them with a long stick. Near Amiens the expression for finishing the harvest is, “They are going to kill the Cat”; and when the last corn is cut they kill a cat in the farmyard. At threshing, in some parts of France, a live cat is placed under the last bundle of corn to be threshed, and is struck dead with the flails. Then on Sunday it is roasted and eaten as a holiday dish. In the Vosges Mountains the close of haymaking or harvest is called “catching the cat,” “killing the dog,” or more rarely “catching the hare.” The cat, the dog, or the hare is said to be fat or lean according as the crop is good or bad. The man who cuts the last handful of hay or of wheat is said to catch the cat or the hare or to kill the dog.