Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

The Maiden, The Neck & The Mare

An exhibition The Maiden, The Neck & The Mare – Harvest Traditions and Beliefs in England, curated by the Museum of British Folklore, continues at the Weald & Downland Living Museum, Singleton, West Sussex, until 20 January 2020.

Although the exhibition tells us very little about other harvest traditions, it displays a fine collection of corn dollies with a commentary which seems to accept the theories of James Frazer, author of The Golden Bough (1906-15), and his followers.  Thus the caption to the dolly ‘Northamptonshire Horns’ bears the caption:

‘Northamptonshire people used a pair of horns decorated with wheat [Triticum aestivum] ears for their traditional corn dolly.   This dolly’s origins go back to when animals were sacrificed and their horns decorated.  Then, in more civilized times, corn was used and plaited to resemble horns.  Horns are one of the earliest designs used partly because they are the symbol of the gods but also because horns were in general use in the home for drinking vessels and calling cattle.’

How much of this can be believed is debatable, but visitors can enjoy the skilled work of corn-dolly makers.

Images:  upper, reproduction of a harvest home ‘Kern Baby’, photographed at Whalton, Northumberland, in 1902, by Benjamin Stone; lower ‘Northamptonshire Horns’.

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