This is the season of John Barleycorn, the European God of the grain. Grain is a staple of life in many cultures, and their religions reflect this reality. Rites that celebrate the transformations of the grain, from planting to harvest, are at the heart of many festival cycles. One recurring theme in such rites portrays the essence of the God being absorbed into the grain. He is then cut down, a harvest sacrifice for the good of the tribe. In His rebirth each spring, we see the continuity of the cycle and the renewal of life.
The heat hangs heavy in the air as you enter into the clearing. It is accented by the loud humming of June beetles and the buzz of bees. There is hardly any breeze. A brook is beside you. The flowing waters of the brook look appealing. You think about removing your clothes and jumping in, but then you hear the sound of pipes in the fields on the other side of the brook. You're curious about what's happening, and go to find out.
You cross the brook using stepping-stones and make your way up the gentle slope. There is a fence around the pasture. You find the gate, open it, and enter the field. The hay smells sweet and strong. The crickets are chirping. They hop out of your way as you walk through the tall grass. The grass tickles your hands and rubs against your legs as you make your way through it. A hare scampers and hides, camouflaged among the browns and greens.
You reach the garden that was planted last spring. You remember the planting rites and notice that the vegetables are full and lush. You reach out and part the large, rough leaves of a zucchini plant to see the shiny green fruit hidden beneath them. The cornstalks are tall-almost as tall as you. Nubs of young ears line their surface. The tomatoes are not quite ripe, but the peas and beans can be picked. You snap off one of the pea pods and break it in half. The fresh green scent is released. You place the peas in your mouth and savor their sweet taste.
You walk through the garden admiring the growth. The musical sound that beckoned to you is coming from the other side of the hill. With the excitement of discovery, you walk on.
As you reach the top of the hill and look down, you see stretched out before you an ocean of yellow grain. A gentle breeze comes through. The shafts sway lightly in the wind, creating a wave of wheat. Below you is a couple sitting by a hedgerow. They both appear to be of early middle age. She has the wide hips and breasts of motherhood; He, a thick yellow growth of beard on His chin. He is playing His pipes for Her, a wistful, plaintive lament. You watch as He finishes His song. They stand and embrace. It does not appear to be a sad scene, yet you feel a sense of sweet parting.
They release their lovers' embrace. She gently smiles, touching His fuzzy cheek. You hear Her call Him "John." He throws His head back and laughs at some private joke shared between them. The sound echoes through the field. He then kisses Her good-bye and walks into the field of grain. His fingers lightly play along the tops of the sheaves as He makes His way deeper and deeper into the tall growth. He wades until He stands in the center of the field. He is completely surrounded by grain. His outstretched palms lie lightly on the heads of the seeds. He looks over to where the Lady stands. As She waves to Him, he smiles and slowly starts to expand, become translucent, and fade from sight. His essence is pouring into the grain all around Him until all that is left is the grain. A breeze ripples the wheat, reflecting the sun in a wave of golden hues. When you look back to the Lady, She too has gone.
The silence is soon replaced with excited, happy voices. People-men, women, and children-are coming over the hill, carrying baskets and harvesting equipment. They begin the harvest, singing joyful songs. You can smell the fresh hay as it lands on the ground to be raked into mounds. You are handed a tool, a rake, or a scythe. The wooden surface is smooth from years of use. You take it and help with the harvest.
(Pause long enough for the task.)
It takes time for all the sheaves to be cut and bound, but finally, you stand up and stretch. Your muscles may be sore, but you feel satisfied with the work you've accomplished. You look around the field. It appears that the grain has all been cut. Then you notice one spot. One small sheaf still stands, waving in the wind. A young girl emerges from the crowd, carrying a small sickle. Calls of encouragement follow her into the field. She approaches the sheaf and shyly cuts it. A cheer rings out. She gathers the fallen grain and returns to her mother. Together, they quickly fashion a small doll from it, holding it up to the crowd, which responds with more cheers and song.
While the merriment continues, the young girl uncovers a basket filled with freshly baked bread. Its rich scent makes your mouth water. A keg of cold ale is brought up from the stream and opened. Each person walks past the mother and daughter, taking a piece of cut bread from the basket and a glass of cold brewed and fermented grain. Both are symbols of the Earth's and John Barleycorn's sacrifice for the good of the people.
The young girl smiles up at you as she hands you your piece of bread. It feels warm in your hands. You realize the bread contains the essence of the Earth and sun and of the God. You give thanks as you bite into it, tasting the love that it holds. Enjoy your glass of ale and your bread, the fruits of your work and gifts from the Gods.
The sun is beginning to set. The harvesters are getting ready to leave for the day. They wave good-bye to you as they, and you, begin to make your way home. You walk up the slope, through the green garden, and back into the pasture. Find the gate and close it tight behind you. Before you is the stream with its crossing stones. You lightly jump from one to the other, back into the clearing, and return to your inner home.
BY: Laura Wildman
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