Lammas is the season of first fruits and bringing in the wheat and grain crop. A ritual harvest loaf was made from the new wheat. It was one of the ancient quarter days the others being Candlemas, Whitsuntide and Martinmas. The quarter days were later changed to Lady day, Midsummer, Michaelmas and Christmas. Lammas was the day that people had their accounts made up and some think the origin of its name as it was known as 'Later Lammas,' meaning 'last day of accounts.' Another explanation for the name Lammas is that the 1st August was when priests gathered 'tithe lambs' or that it comes from the Saxon word 'Leffemesse' or the old English Hlafmaesse meaning Loaf-mass day. Whatever the origin of it became a time when a mix of pagan and Christian ways mixed together in a celebration of bringing in the first harvest. Marking an important part of the year when the 'lean' summer months were left behind.
Lughnasdh is another name for this time of the year which is a Gaelic festival marking the beginning of the harvest season where handfasting, fairs, feasting took place and communities came together.
The hedgerow is full of thistles, grasses, teasles, yet to ripen blackberries.
And orchids and everlasting sweet peas . All is abundant.
The scarecrow hangs in harvested fields with not so scared crows finding easy pickings.
‘You sunburned sicklemen of August early, Come hither from the furrow and be merry’.
Lammas is the time of John Barleycorn, a personification of the barley harvest and the alcoholic drinks made from it such as beer and whisky. We hear how John lays down his life at the hands of the harvesters but that he doesn’t die but lives on in the drinks made from him and of course his rebirth as the seasonal agricultural cycle continues.
The first song to personify Barley was called Allan-a-Maut ('Alan of the malt'), a Scottish song written prior to 1568
The first mention of "John Barleycorn" as the character was in a 1624 London broadside entitled introduced as "A Pleasant New Ballad to sing Evening and morn, / Of the Bloody murder of Sir John Barley-corn". In the second verse of the 1624 version we are introduced to an array of characters. ‘Whose names was Sir John Barleycorn, he dwelt down in a dale, Who had a kinsman lived nearby, they called him Thomas Good Ale, Another named Richard Beer, was ready at that time, Another worthy knight was there, called Sir William White Wine’
The final two verses of this 1624 version show Barleycorn as vengeful as he intoxicates those who have ‘killed’ him.
‘When Sir John Goodale he came with mickle might Then he took their tongues away, their legs or else their sight And thus Sir John in each respect, so paid them all their hire That some lay sleeping by the way, some tumbling in the mire Some lay groaning by the walls, some in the streets downright, The best of them did scarcely know, what they had done oernight All you good wives that brew good ale, God turn from you all teen But is you put too much liquor in, the Devil put out your een.’
Robert Burns (1782) published his own version of John Barleycorn which became the model for most subsequent versions of the ballad. Burns's version begins:
There was three kings unto the east, Three kings both great and high, They took a plough and plough'd him down, Put clods upon his head, And they hae sworn a solemn oath John Barleycorn was dead.
Unlike other versions, Robert Burns makes John Barleycorn into a saviour:
And they hae taen his very heart's blood, And drank it round and round; And still the more and more they drank, Their joy did more abound. John Barleycorn was a hero bold, Of noble enterprise; For if you do but taste his blood, 'Twill make your courage rise. 'Twill make a man forget his woe; 'Twill heighten all his joy; 'Twill make the widow's heart to sing, Tho' the tear were in her eye. Then let us toast John Barleycorn, Each man a glass in hand; And may his great posterity Ne'er fail in old Scotland!
Below is a link to a most beautiful rendition of the John Barleycorn song by Stevie Winwood.
We are delighted that our 2024 Country Wisdom & Folklore Diary has arrived from our wonderful local printers WPG bang on time for Lammas which could not be more fitting. We have spent the year gathering folklore snippets from around the British Isles, creating images, researching, writing and publishing the diary in our endeavour to keep alive the old ways and celebrate the year which has culminated in the 2024 diary which is now ripe and ready for picking and available to buy from our webpage shop www.talkingtreesbooks.co.uk, Etsy, Folksy and Amazon.
The wheel of the year has turned once more and we celebrate the cycles Mother Nature brings us . Give thanks for the fruition of the things in your life that you have planted and are now ready to be harvested. At Talking Trees with are very thankful of all of you who support our endeavour to keep alive the old ways and celebrate the year with us. We hope you like our 2024 diary & calendar. Lammastide blessings to you all. X