#SuperstitionSat Highlights: Lammas & Lughnasadh

Hi folks, welcome back to another pick of Highlights from our #SuperstitionSat Sessions! Yesterday (30/07/22), our theme was Summer festivities such as LAMMAS & LUGHNASADH – two customs celebrated at the height of this season on August 1st, to mark the starting point of the agricultural gathering of crops.

Let’s begin by having a little look at each of them. According to British Folk Customs by late folklorist Christina Hole (b. 1896, d. 1985), the word “Lammas” is said to derive from the Anglo-Saxon expression hlafmaesse meaning “loaf-mass”. In her book, Hole added that “this [was] a revival of an ancient custom, long obsolete and forgotten, whereby the first new corn of the year, or bread made from it, used to be offered on the altar as thanksgiving for the first-fruits of the harvest.”

Meanwhile, Lughnasadh (which falls on the same day) is said to have been the primeval counterpart of the Christian Lammas – celebrated in Britain as well as Ireland as the feast of the ancient god Lugh – and now adopted by contemporary Druids and Wiccans as one of the festivities of their Wheel of the Year, alongside Yule (December), Imbolc (February), Ostara (March), Beltane (May), Litha (June), Mabon (September), and finally, Samhain (October). A good harvest was (and is) a time of joy, when folks rejoice in the fruits of their labours, no doubt observed all throughout the world – so let’s find out how that joy manifests in Britain, through the Highlights we picked for you today.

Our first Highlight was from Cornwall, as shared by Rachel Deering – co-host of our pals at Bookworm Saturday, alongside Signe Maene. As Rachel told us, there was once a custom in Cornwall and Devon of “Crying the Neck” – the act of cutting the last sheaf of corn (wheat straw), followed by the person who retrieved it announcing it to their companions with great cheer. The tradition took place at variable times in the region, from late August to mid-September. Today, the ritual can be observed at select locations again, after having been revived by the Federation of Old Cornwall Societies or Kernow Goth – like this bilingual event in St Ives last year, spoken in both English and Cornish. For more resources, check out the small booklet put together by Kernow Goth available here, or the Cornwall Forever website here – plus, their free book here, in which you can read about other Cornish traditions, or jump straight to page 202 to find out about this curious “Crying the Neck” ceremony.

Tweet says:

"The spirit of the corn can be trapped in the last cut sheaf. There's a tradition of 'Crying The Neck' - where a bunch of the last sheaf is raised with the words 'I have'em, I have'em, I have'em'. Everyone responds..."

Includes image of three farmers in a field carrying scythes and rakes.
Tweet by Rachel Deering. Photo credits in original tweet.
Tweet says:

"'What have'ee, what have'ee, what have'ee?" Then the cutter replies: "A neck, a neck, a neck!" The neck is tied with ribbons and kept for the rest of the year. There are a number of regional variations."

Includes photo of man raising a sheaf tied with ribbons.
Tweet by Rachel Deering. Photo credits in original tweet.

Speaking of curious traditions, our next Highlight was from SamanthaSL, who told the tale of how a pig was once put on top of a wall by rowdy revellers, so that their ‘little’ pet could join in on the fun of watching the local marching bands in procession. As these stories go, there are a number of villages that claim to have been the first precursors of this practice, from Staffordshire to Lancashire – and there is even a pub in Droylsden, near Manchester called “Pig On The Wall”! For more about these funny musicophile pigs, check out this free article we found for you.

Tweet says:

"Our local (Lancashire) town legend of the pig on the wall started when a group of drunken men put a pet pig on the wall so it could join in the fun and see the summer procession. This then became a tradition for many pig owners."

Includes photo of a huge pig standing with his front feet on top of a wall.
Tweet by SamanthaSL. Photo credit unknown.

And speaking of music! Chalkhorsemusic shared with us a clip of a beguiling song about the folk figure John Barleycorn – as recorded by Hunters Moon Morris for Lammas 2017, and available to listen and watch here. The song tells of the embodiment of the harvest: a character called John Barleycorn and how he lives on in the folk who cut him down as they drink the ale made from his barley remains. It is a very popular folk ballad, recorded in the Roud Folk Song Index, and it has been adapted by several musicians. For more about John Barleycorn, check out English Heritage’s series Songs of England available here; or the 1782 piece by Scottish poet Robert Burns available here.

Tweet says:

"Put your wine into glasses
Put your cider in an old tin can
Put John Barleycorn in a nut brown bowl, for he is the strongest man."

Includes photo of a person disguised as John Barleycorn, wearing a white sheet and a headpiece made of barley.
Tweet by chalkhorsemusic. Photo credit in original tweet.

Next week (06/08/22), we will be starting a whole new month of superstitions dedicated to CRAFTS and historical jobs, starting with


And to celebrate this Superstition Saturday Special, we will be picking four objects – one per week – and talk a little bit about them on our Blog on Saturdays, alongside our Sessions! In the event, we have one more Highlight for you, as shared by Chrys Charteris, about such a folk object from the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic’s collection called “Corn Dolly”. This item, also known as “Kern Baby” is another seasonal tradition from Britain, handmade to represent the spirit of the harvest, and kept until such a time when it could be burnt to have its ashes scattered in fields – in order to ensure a good crop for the following year. To see the Catalogue entry for the Corn Dolly, check out this link here.

Tweet says:

"Lammas lore on #SuperstitionSat: 'They would be carried in procession or sat at the head of the table to represent the spirit of the harvest. At the end of the year, they would be burnt and their ashed scattered over the fields..."

Includes imagine of corn dolly in the Museum of Witchcraft's cabinets.
Tweet by Chrys Charteris. Photo credit in original tweet.

That is all for today! I hope you enjoyed this selection. As always, thank you so much for joining us. Whether you’re old, new or just passing through, your presence is very much appreciated and I am glad to see you stop by. See you next Saturday!

Your lucky cat pal,
– Superstition Sam 🐾