Crying The Neck
Crying The Neck is a harvest festival tradition practiced in Cornwall and Devon.
The tradition seems to have died out in Devon but was in revived Cornwall in the early twentieth century by the Old Cornwall Society.
In his book The Story of Cornwall, Kenneth Hamilton Jenkin, writes the the following:-
“In those days the whole of the reaping had to be done either with the hook or scythe. The harvest, in consequence, often lasted for many weeks. When the time came to cut the last handful of standing corn, one of the reapers would lift up the bunch high above his head and call out in a loud voice…..
“I ‘ave ‘un! I ‘ave ‘un! I ‘ave ‘un!”
The rest would then shout,
“What ‘ave ‘ee? What ‘ave ‘ee? What ‘ave ‘ee?”
and the reply would be:
“A neck! A neck! A neck!”
Everyone then joined in shouting:
“Hurrah! Hurrah for the neck! Hurrah for – (calling the farmer by name.)”
In a time when survival of the community depended upon the harvest it seems obvious that some kind of celebration about the abundance of the crops be given a ‘spiritual’ edge by tipping a nod to the Goddesses and the Gods.
It is suggest that Briton & Saxon Farmers developed and extended what may have been a much older tradition.
There was the offering the first cut sheaf of corn to one of their Gods/Goddesses of fertility, in order to safeguard a good harvest the following year.
The last sheaf was thought to contain ‘The Spirit of the Corn’ and its cutting would usually be accompanied by the ritual sacrifice of an animal, often a hare or rabbit caught hiding in the crop.
A later custom of using a model hare or rabbit made of straw representing the continuity of the Spirit evolved and it is perhaps from this Corn Dollies, symbolizing the goddess of the grain developed. These would have been hung from the rafters in the Farmhouse until the next year.
It is clear that even though this custom, revived as it has been with Christian glosses, existed in pre-Christian (Pagan) traditons.
And it was with this focus at The Crying of The Neck was part of the opening to the Pagan Federation (Devon and Cornwall) Lammas Picnic at the Hurlers today (14th August 2016).
Here the honouring of the many-skilled Lugh, a ritual wake for his passing at the Summer Solstice (if you follow a tradition within the Pagan/Wiccan Story of the Year) and his sacrifice so the land would bring forth fruits. According to Irish myth it is also the celebration of Talitu, Lughs Step-Mother who not only taught humans the secrets of agriculture but in clearing the lands in readiness for the plough, sacrificed her life. In her honour Lugh instituted a series of games to be held at what came to be known as Lughnasadh.
Whilst we could argue about the merging of folk-loric themes and the actual extent of this pagan festival (in terms of geography) we can all recognise the symbolism.
The Picnic was superbly organised by Harvey and Michelle and was well attended. The sun was out making the venue, the Hurlers, especially magical.
There were games which sought to test the ‘skills of the warriors’ – welly throwing; frisbee target throwing; qouits and a tie breaker game of bowels (which on un-even moorland was a real challenge).
The arts were celebrated in poetry, drama and music – all wonderfully ‘craft-focused’ where intent was more important than polish and heart was revealed through art.
It was a picnic which aimed to include all; young and old and re-turning-to-youth, all rounded off with a celebratory ritual of reverence, libation (may you never thirst, may you never hunger). Harvey’s own recipe Lammas Loaf worthy of a celebration in itself.
Old Cornish Societies Celebrations 2016
The annual ceremony of ‘Crying The Neck’ will take place on
6-30 Friday 19TH. August 2016 to be held in fields of Nance Farm Illogan by Farmer David Nicholls and after at Bridge Chapel,where a pasty supper will be served after the short service.
The fields are situated at the top of Bridge Hill between Bridge and Illogan and will as usual be well signposted.
Redruth Old Cornwall society give a cordial welcome to all, please come and help us welcome in the harvest in true Cornish fashion
Enquiries :– 01209 211469. Oll an Gwella Vanessa firstname.lastname@example.org
6.30pm Fri 2 Sep 2016, at Bolitho Farm, Maudlin, Liskeard courtesy of Mr James Moon, with
Rev Roger Bush, Dean of Truro Cathedral officiating and musical accompaniment by the mixed choir of :Levow Kesson.
Sponsored by the Liskeard Old Cornwall Society.
Corn Dollies, may be obtained from : Christina Best, Sunnyside, Criggan, bugle, Nr St Austell, Cornwall PL26 8QX
E Mail : corndollywork @tiscally.co.uk
Contact : Duncan Paul Matthews (Tele : 01579-20891)
And here’s a video of the Crying the Neck ceremony arranged by the Old Cornwall Society and the Vicar and the Parishioners of Madron, West Penwith,Cornwall,UK. Filmed Friday, 6th. of September,1991 – from youtube.