Sir James George Frazer > The Golden Bough > Page 445
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Sir James George Frazer (1854–1941).  The Golden Bough.  1922.

Page 445
 
the wayfarer were within hearing of them, he could not so easily have picked out the words.
  Down to recent times Devonshire reapers uttered cries of the same sort, and performed on the field a ceremony exactly analogous to that in which, if I am not mistaken, the rites of Osiris originated. The cry and the ceremony are thus described by an observer who wrote in the first half of the nineteenth century. “After the wheat is all cut, on most farms in the north of Devon, the harvest people have a custom of ‘crying the neck.’ I believe that this practice is seldom omitted on any large farm in that part of the country. It is done in this way. An old man, or some one else well acquainted with the ceremonies used on the occasion (when the labourers are reaping the last field of wheat), goes round to the shocks and sheaves, and picks out a little bundle of all the best ears he can find; this bundle he ties up very neat and trim, and plats and arranges the straws very tastefully. This is called ‘the neck’ of wheat, or wheaten-ears. After the field is cut out, and the pitcher once more circulated, the reapers, binders, and the women stand round in a circle. The person with ‘the neck’ stands in the centre, grasping it with both hands. He first stoops and holds it near the ground, and all the men forming the ring take off their hats, stooping and holding them with both hands towards the ground. They then all begin at once in a very prolonged and harmonious tone to cry ‘The neck!’ at the same time slowly raising themselves upright, and elevating their arms and hats above their heads; the person with ‘the neck’ also raising it on high. This is done three times. They then change their cry to ‘Wee yen!’—‘Way yen!’—which they sound in the same prolonged and slow manner as before, with singular harmony and effect, three times. This last cry is accompanied by the same movements of the body and arms as in crying ‘the neck.’ … After having thus repeated ‘the neck’ three times, and ‘wee yen,’ or ‘way yen’ as often, they all burst out into a kind of loud and joyous laugh, flinging up their hats and caps into the air, capering about and perhaps kissing the girls. One of them then gets ‘the neck’ and runs as hard as he can down to the farmhouse, where the dairymaid, or one of the young female domestics, stands at the door prepared with a pail of water. If he who holds ‘the neck’ can manage to get into the house, in any way unseen, or openly, by any other way than the door at which the girl stands with the pail of water, then he may lawfully kiss her; but, if otherwise, he is regularly soused with the contents of the bucket. On a fine still autumn evening the ‘crying of the neck’ has a wonderful effect at a distance, far finer than that of the Turkish muezzin, which Lord Byron eulogises so much, and which he says is preferable to all the bells of Christendom. I have once or twice heard upwards of twenty men cry it, and sometimes joined by an equal number of female voices. About three years back, on some high grounds, where our people were harvesting, I heard six or seven ‘necks’ cried in one night, although I know that some of them were four miles off. They are heard through the quiet evening air at a

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