At Lammas the Goddess is in Her aspect as Grain Mother, Harvest Mother, Harvest Queen, Earth Mother, Ceres and Demeter. Demeter, as Corn Mother, represents the ripe corn of this year’s harvest and her daughter Persephone represents the grain – the seed which drops back deep into the dark earth, hidden throughout the winter, and re-appears in the spring as new growth. This is the deep core meaning of Lammas and comes in different guises: it is about the fullness and fulfillment of the present harvest holding at its heart the seed of all future harvest. So as the grain harvest is gathered in, there is food to feed the community through the winter and within that harvest is the seed of next year’s rebirth, regeneration and harvest. The Grain Mother is ripe and full, heavily pregnant she carries the seed of the new year’s Sun God within her. There is tension here, for the Sun God, the God of the Harvest surrenders his life with the cutting of the corn.
There are many customs throughout Europe around the cutting of the grain or corn and they applied to all cereal crops including wheat, barley, rye and oats. Both the cutting of the first gain and the last grain are significant.
The first sheaf would often be ceremonially cut at dawn, winnowed, ground and baked into the Harvest Bread which was then shared by the community in thanks. The first barley stalks would be made into the first beer of the season. The first sheaf guarantees the seed and thus continuity.
The last sheaf was also ceremonially cut, often made into a ‘corn dolly’, carried to the village with festivity and was central to the Harvest Supper. The corn dolly was made into a Corn Maiden (after a good harvest) or a Cailleach, , hag or cone (after a bad harvest). She could be dressed with ribbons, even clothed.
This last sheaf would live in the home, often above the fireplace or hearth of the home, until the next harvest. Or it might be placed in the branches of a tree or mixed with the seed for the next year’s sowing. In some way it eventually needed to return to the earth from whence it came so that the fertilizing spirit of the Harvest God, could pass from harvest to harvest. It could be ploughed back, returned to decay and rot, or burnt and the ashes scattered.
In some parts of Europe the tradition was to weave the last sheaf into a large Corn Mother with a smaller ‘baby’ inside it, representing the harvest to come the following year. Once the harvest was completed, safely gathered in, the festivities would begin. Bread was made from the new grain and thanks given to the Sun’s life-giving energy reborn as life-giving bread.
A way to honor the Grain Goddess is to make a corn doll. This is a fun project to do with kids. Take dried-out corn husks and tie them together in the shape of a woman. She’s your visual representation of the harvest. As you work on her, think about what you harvested this year. Give your corn dolly a name, perhaps one of the names of the Grain Goddess or one that symbolizes your personal harvest. Dress her in a skirt, apron and bonnet and give her a special place in your house. She is all yours till the spring when you will plant her with the new corn, returning to the Earth that which She has given to you.