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The Golden Bough A study of magic and religion

Page: 335

We have seen that sometimes the young corn-spirit, whose task it is to quicken the corn of the coming year, is believed to be born as a Corn-baby on the harvest-field. Similarly in Berry the young corn-spirit is sometimes supposed to be born on the field in calf form; for when a binder has not rope enough to bind all the corn in sheaves, he puts aside the wheat that remains over and imitates the lowing of a cow. The meaning is that “the sheaf has given birth to a calf.” In Puy-de-Dôme when a binder cannot keep up with the reaper whom he or she follows, they say “He (or she) is giving birth to the Calf.” In some parts of Prussia, in similar circumstances, they call out to the woman, “The Bull is coming,” and imitate the bellowing of a bull. In these cases the woman is conceived as the Corn-cow or old corn-spirit, while the supposed calf is the Corn-calf or young corn-spirit. In some parts of Austria a mythical calf (Muhkälbchen) is believed to be seen amongst the sprouting corn in spring and to push the children; when the corn waves in the wind they say, “The Calf is going about.” Clearly, as Mannhardt observes, this calf of the spring-time is the same animal which is afterwards believed to be killed at reaping.

8. The Corn-spirit as a Horse or Mare

SOMETIMES the corn-spirit appears in the shape of a horse or mare. Between Kalw and Stuttgart, when the corn bends before the wind, they say, “There runs the Horse.” At Bohlingen, near Radolfzell in Baden, the last sheaf of oats is called the Oats-stallion. In Hertfordshire, at the end of the reaping, there is or used to be observed a ceremony called “crying the Mare.” The last blades of corn left standing on the field are tied together and called the Mare. The reapers stand at a distance and throw their sickles at it; he who cuts it through “has the prize, with acclamations and good cheer.” After it is cut the reapers cry thrice with a loud voice, “I have her!” Others answer thrice, “What have you?”— “A Mare! a Mare! a Mare!”— “Whose is she?” is next asked thrice. “A. B.’s,” naming the owner thrice. “Whither will you send her?”— “To C. D.,” naming some neighbour who has not reaped all his corn. In this custom the corn-spirit in the form of a mare is passed on from a farm where the corn is all cut to another farm where it is still standing, and where therefore the corn-spirit may be supposed naturally to take refuge. In Shropshire the custom is similar. The farmer who finishes his harvest last, and who therefore cannot send the Mare to any one else, is said “to keep her all winter.” The mocking offer of the Mare to a laggard neighbour was sometimes responded to by a mocking acceptance of her help. Thus an old man told an inquirer, “While we wun at supper, a mon cumm’d wi’ a autar [halter] to fatch her away.” At one place a real mare used to be sent, but the man who rode her was subjected to some rough treatment at the farmhouse to which he paid his unwelcome visit.


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