Last night we held a Harvest Home ritual and supper at a beautiful place. We made bear meat and rice and stuffed it into a small, round pumpkin. We made peach cakes and brownies, roasted whole chickens and had ham and bean soup. There was fresh, crusty bread and spicy sour kraut, and of course hard ciders and beers. It was truly a feast to behold.
In planning and writing the ritual with my beloved and oldest witch friend, the pretty Saro, we merrily went over notes from past fall equinoxes and searched for new information, trying to expand our historical understanding and get inspired. As we were reading and laughing and talking about death, I remembered something I had read about a long time ago when taking an Early Middle Ages History class in college. I remembered something about King Killing and the Vernal Equinox.
In the wheel of the year, this is the time when the God begins to loose strength, just as the plants begin to draw their energy into their roots to reawaken in Spring, so too does the great Sun. The leaves flame with reds and golds, imitating the setting Sun as it sinks into the horizons of the dark Earth, the Crone's waiting Cauldron of death and rebirth.
This is the time we witness the harvest all around us and within us, and judge what seeds we have sown that led us to this moment. This is the time we mourn the dying God, for we will celebrate his death and welcome home our loved ones in the spirit world at Samhain.
Looking more deeply into the bowels of our mysterious and often speculated about pagan past, we can see that this death of the great Sun, the bringer or the harvest, may have been a much more literal belief in ancient Ireland, Germany and other parts of Olde Europe.
Kings had such a great responsibility over their people, and that responsibility extended into the realms of ensuring good harvests, weather and freedom from plagues and diseases. Magically and physically, he had to provide. He was, in fact, married to the Goddess of the land, and if he displeased her, all would suffer. It was nothing less than a sacrifice of his own body that would quell her anger if he upset her.
Similar beliefs are held to have been known worldwide, where a shaman-like king was held as sacral, as the preordained sacrifice at the end of a specific term, or in a time of crisis. He was the mediator of the divine, but not always the theocratic leader of this people. His very position was of a sacred, if not ephemeral nature.
Sir James George Frazer introduced the idea of the sacred king in his book, "The Golden Bough", which in my opinion is a must read for any studious Witch. He saw the king as a sort of living representation of the vegetal "dying and reviving god" similar to the stories of many god's lives in our human history (Osiris, Dionysus, Attis to name a few). While people may agree or disagree with Frazer's thoughts on anthropology and magic, his conjectures strike a chord with me as I watch the seasons turn and see the story of life, death and rebirth play out over and over again.
As we set up our altar with pumpkins, deer bones, our animal effigy made of hay and stones I also came across a beautiful little dead bird that had apparently hit the window of our kind host's house. It was a common yellow throat female. I picked her up and placed her on our altar in the scrying bowl on a bed of worm wood. Despite her not being a wren, she made me wonder as I thought about the tradition of wren killing boys in Ireland and the old song Saro and I like to sing around Winter Solstice, "Please to See the King".
"The king was the wren. The wren was the king of the birds. In ancient religions the king was sacrificed every seven years for the fertility and good of the tribe. In some places (Ireland) the queen was royal and married new consorts to be sacrificed. The consort was treated well for seven years (or one year) and then sacrificed by the new consort. A wren was killed and dressed up in ribbons, etc. and carried around the village. This is from Pembrokeshire in South Wales, commemorating the wren-killing on St Stephen's Day, December 26. “Old Christmas”, still celebrated rather than December 25, is Twelfth Night.
The wren traditionally symbolized winter and the robin summer. On [St Stephen's Day] in Pembrokeshire, where the song was collected, a wren was hunted and killed to symbolize the death of winter and then placed in a garlanded box and taken from door to door. At each house this song was sung and the occupants asked to pay to see the dead wren with the words “Please to see the King.” - Mainly Norfolk
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