This poem is based on the tradition of the corn dolly and the idea that the corn has a spirit which should be preserved through the winter to be returned to the earth in the spring to ensure fertility.
The poem draws from the image contained within an Anglo-Saxon Psalter which shows a corn field being reduced to a single ‘clump’ known as ‘the neck’. In the foreground a peasant is shown holding a ‘corn dolly’ in the shape of a cross with five blades for each hand and the head.
The method of cutting the ‘neck’ is based on surviving traditions which were common until modern times.
References to Nerthus a fertility goddess replaced largely by Frigg in late Saxon times and Wuldorfador ‘glory father’ representing the Solar Logos, are taken from the writings of St Bede and are mentioned in his ‘On the computation of time’
The idea of the ‘sol cakes’ are again taken from Bede, where he refers to the second month of the year called Solmonath (February). Which is said to mean Mud Month. (compare sol with soil and think of ground conditions at this time of year). The cakes were planted into the ground as an offering to both Nerthus and Wuldorfador.
We have no surviving recipe for the sol cakes, but given that the tradition of ploughing the corn dolly into the ground at the start of ploughing and sowing season was widely observed until modern times it seems possible that the dolly would have been broken up and added to a mixture of some kind, perhaps of flour of various grains, and returned to the ground uncooked to preserve its fertility.
The harvest feast is recorded in Saxon law as a reward for the harvest work done on the lord’s field.
The drinking feast after ploughing starts in Solmonth, is again recorded in Saxon law as a reward for work.
The Corn Dolly
Goddess Nerthus, out of her womb born,
Goddess Frigg became, the Queen of the Corn.
Cared for and nurtured, by Wuldorfador,
Plentiful abundance, for winter’s store.
Standing tall and straight, we do thee adore,
Sudden end with sharp blade, as if to war.
Thine neck wilt be cut, with greatest of care,
Thine spirit set free, by he who doth dare.
With his flying scythe, falling to the ground,
Into three sheaves, to be twisted and bound.
Preserving the spirit, of summers corn,
To be reborn again, we shalt not mourn.
The Corn Queen’s spirit, now safely preserved,
First loaf of bread, in the rigs to be served.
The first day of harvest, feast and wassail,
To the Harvest Queen, let us now drink hail.
Revered through the long, winter months of gloom,
Looking and guarding, over spinning loom.
In the New Year’s soil, thee wilt be reborn,
Our offering to, a new crop of corn.
We fashion thee into, a small Sol Cake,
To keep thine life whole, we wilt not thee bake.
Into the mud, we return thee to Earth,
Dolly a symbol, of goddess rebirth.
The dollies power, to be now released,
After so much ploughing, the drinking feast.
Much ale to be drunk, this Sol Monath day,
Tomorrow we plough, but tonight we play.
Hail to thee Nerthus, Earth Mother of men,
Five blades for thine head, and thine fingerers ten.
Filled with ample rations, to bring us grace,
Be fruitful in, Wuldorfador’s embrace.
Copyright Andrew Rea 2009