Over a year we discussed which Goddesses and their myths we associate with each festival. From these we selected stories which lent themselves to ritual drama and created a “script” for that festival’s ritual, with one or more women being honoured to carry (literally, to be possessed by) the Goddess. We were also inspired by the wealth of ancient sites in West Cornwall in which to enact our sacred dramas.
Here in the sixth of our eight-part series we publish our LAMMAS ritual, dedicated to Demeter, Goddess of the Harvest. We offer these scripts as our contribution to the myriad creative ways to celebrate the Goddess at the seasonal festivals.
The ritual started with Demeter wearing the red shirt of Sovereignty (from Midsummer) and a skirt in earthier autumn/harvest colours. She was crowned with the horned moon copper crown which Sovereignty had worn at Midsummer. The women then decorated the crown with corn, montbretia, poppies and late summer grasses and flowers, as they invoked Demeter – the Mother of All, the Queen on the Fertile Land, Goddess of the Fruitful Harvest. Demeter turned away and removed her red shirt, turning back to reveal her bare breasts painted with spirals and stars. She was greeted and honoured.
Demeter then walked bare-breasted into the summer maze which had been marked out in the field. At the centre, she displayed her abundance and fertility, producing and blessing fruit, vegetables, grapes, tomatoes, wine, strawberries, nuts etc, and in an expression of delightful abundance and sensuality poured mead over her naked breasts. The women appreciated the generous fertility of the Goddess and the food which means life for the coming winter.
While Demeter sat in the centre of the maze, sipping mead and singing happily to herself about the fruitfulness of the earth and all that she had grown, one woman walked off and returned as the Hag. Suddenly Demeter’s reverie was cut short by the shocking sound of the sickle cutting through the air and the grasses. Demeter froze in horror, then she remembered what must inevitably follow the fullness of late summer.
Visibly she gathered her courage and turned to face the Hag.
The Hag cut right across the maze to the centre, where there was a meeting of the two Goddesses. Demeter looked the Hag in the eyes, and then found she was looking at her own reflection in a dark mirror. Demeter then held out the corn for the Hag to cut – a voluntary and necessary sacrifice. Demeter cried out in the pain as the corn was cut. The Hag handed the cut corn back to Demeter and disappeared, while Demeter fell to the ground, in grief for the coming end of summer, warmth and growth. Her crown also fell to the ground; and although she replaced it when she got up, her power was already beginning to wane.
The woman who carried the Hag returned to witness the mystery of the corn, the seed and the bread, which Demeter then revealed. First she held up the sheaf of cut corn, then she stripped it into a basket and winnowed (shook) it to remove the husks.
She then placed the basket under her skirt and went into labour over it, at the end of which she gave birth to the sun bread (a round loaf with ears of corn sticking out all around it like the sun). Demeter held out the bread to the women, who entered the maze, treading the spiral to the centre where they received bread and blessings. Then Demeter and the women made a Corn Mother out of the cut corn, decorating her with flowers and ribbons. Demeter breathed her life and spirit into the Corn Mother, then walked out of the maze and put down aspect.
The women celebrated with dancing and singing, and then held an abundant Lammas feast with all of Demeter’s gifts. Finally they all processed ceremonially, carrying the Corn Mother to the Beehive Hut, where she was left to preside over the season and then gradually return her body to the earth.