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The Cornish Festival of Guldize

A published folklorist, Pollyanna enjoys writing about the hidden histories and folk customs of the British Isles.

Cornish Festivals

On the most south-westerly point of the British mainland, you can find the Duchy or the Kingdom of Cornwall. Rugged and beautiful, it is steeped in myth and legend, with strong traditions tied to the landscapes of land and sea.

The Cornish culture is complete with festivals. Many of these are unique to this part of the British Isles, and we will be exploring the harvest festival known as Guldize (also spelled Guldhise).

Where is Cornwell?

Like Brittany in France, Cornwall retains and promotes its identity as a Celtic Nation. It boasts its own Brythonic language; called Kernowek (Kernewek in Unified Cornish and Modern Cornish) in the native tongue. The Cornish language nearly became extinct, but thankfully was preserved and restored now being spoken by many inhabitants of the region.

Stooks of Barley in West Somerset

Stooks of Barley in West Somerset

Different Grain Festivals

As you would expect from a nation with so many cultural influences, Britain has many different ways of celebrating the grain harvest.

These festivals usually take place in August or September. Traditionally the earlier festivals are attached to grains and soft fruit, whilst the later festivals are associated with hard fruits such as apples.

Lughnasadh

Most of you will be familiar with the festival of Lughnasadh. Named after the god Lugh, the month of August is honoured with this name in the Gaelic tongue and was celebrated in Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man on the 1st of August. Games were held in parts of Ireland, with feasts to enable clans to discuss matters and show off their wealth.

Lammas

Lammas, too, is celebrated during this time of the year, giving thanks for the grain harvest. From the Old-English "hlaf-mas," meaning "loaf mass," this celebration is Anglo-Saxon in origin. During Christian times, the bread was taken into a church to be blessed before being split into four and put back in the field, one piece in each quarter. Some customs see this loaf being used in a feast to bless the community, and there is also a custom of making the loaf as fancy as possible, often made in the shape of a sheaf of wheat. We also see Lammas as one of the Scottish Quarter Days, used to divide the year up for the historical legal year.

Guldize

The Cornish festival of Guldize takes place a little later, towards the end of September. It is unknown whether this is a traditional date. Still, the Old Cornwall Society and other revivalist groups have adopted it as a harvest festival to give thanks for the grain harvest when the last head of wheat is cut.

A Cornish "Neck" Corn Dolly. This design is from Ruan Minor, near The Lizard.

A Cornish "Neck" Corn Dolly. This design is from Ruan Minor, near The Lizard.

What is Guldize?

Guldize is sometimes called "Gooldize" or "Goel Dheys," which translates as the "Feast of Ricks." A rick is a structure of hay, corn, or straw, similar to a haystack. The festival is sometimes also called Dicklydize or Nickly Thize [1].

2008 marked the first festival to be held in Penzance, and the festival has spread through the region from 2010 onwards. It should be noted that the festival died out by the 19th Century and was replaced by the wider Harvest Festival. This "new" festival was held in churches around the region at the end of August and the start of September.

Guldize appears to be part of the revival of Cornish folk culture. It seems to have been promoted by the Reverend Robert Stephen Hawker in the latter part of the 19th Century. These festivals are significant in helping maintain and promote an individual culture and identity and care. Lots of research has been done to help bring back this festival in a sensitive and authentic manner.

The festival takes place when the wheat festival ends, and the last head of corn is cut. During the grand ceremony, the last sheaf is treated with honour and is made into a "shock" or corn dolly to preserve the spirit of the wheat crop. Each town has its own design, but unlike the Anglo-Saxon tradition of burying the dolly back into the field at the start of plowing season in February, the Cornish burn their corn dolly at Christmas or feed it to their best cattle to bring good luck.

Crying the Neck

Crying the Neck

Crying of the Neck History

Hamilton Jenkin also recorded the words spoken at the cutting of the neck in his 1933 book “Cornwall and the Cornish”:

“In those days, the whole of the reaping had to be done either with the hook or scythe. The harvest, in consequence, often lasted for many weeks. When the time came to cut the last handful of standing corn, one of the reapers would lift up the bunch high above his head and call out in a loud voice,

“We have it! We have it! We have it!

The rest would then shout,

“What ‘ave ‘ee? What ‘ave ‘ee? What ‘ave ‘ee?”

and the reply would be,

“A neck! A neck! A neck!”

Everyone then joined in shouting,

“Hurrah! Hurrah for the neck! Hurrah for Mr. So-and-So” [3]“

Like many festivals around the British Isles, the Christian Church adopted many rituals and practices and re-invented to hide their Pagan Roots.

Old gods and deities either became saints or devils or simply became nameless. We see this in Cornwall with the lore around Piskies, who were described as Old Gods that had shrunk because they were not worshipped anymore. As Christianity spread, they would shrink until they disappeared completely. It is unknown who “Mr. So-and-So” is, but he likely represents a deity associated with the harvest or fertility or the spirit of the crop itself.

The harvest feast on the farm would go on well into the night. Members of the community would play music and sing songs such as “Here’s a health to the barley mow,” “Harvest Home,” and “Green Brooms.”

With the revival of Guldize, this practice continues, and festival attendees hold a night of singing and story-telling. The use of Kernowek is encouraged by attendees to strengthen the bond with the Cornish culture.

A beautiful harvest loaf from Alfriston Church, Sussex, England.

A beautiful harvest loaf from Alfriston Church, Sussex, England.

Crying the Neck Traditions

Guldize was first recorded by Richard Carew in 1602 in his “Survey of Cornwall” [2]. It is also mentioned by A. K. Hamilton Jenkin in 1933 in his book “Cornish Homes and Customs, who wrote:

“On the evening of the day on which the neck was cut the harvesters would repair to the farmhouse kitchen. Here numerous company in addition to farmers own family would sit down to a substantial meal of broiled pork and potatoes, the second course consisted of Apple pie, cream and ‘fuggans’ the whole being washed down with cider and spirits” [3].

A fuggan is a type of pastry cake made with lard.

Guldize Neck Procession, Penzance, 2008

Guldize Neck Procession, Penzance, 2008

Stealing Kisses

Simon Reed, in his 2009 publication, “The Cornish Traditional Year,” mentions another custom;

“A number of customs were associated with the feast, a man would have been chosen to rush to the site of the feast with the corn neck and enter the building by stealth, avoiding an appointed lady who would have soaked the carrier of the neck if discovered. If this game was successful then the carrier of the neck would have been entitled to take a kiss from the female “guard” of the property” [4].

We see that Guldize is part of the Cornish ritual year, breaking it into key points around the calendar.

Like many rural cultures, these festivals are set around an event to do with the harvest. Rural communities were dependent on the success of their crops.

When wheat was cut by hand, one could not simply pop off to a supermarket if you ran out of flour for baking your bread with. Starvation was a genuine threat, so the crop was honoured and rightfully given thanks. Something that, sadly, we as a modern society seem have forgotten.

These old festivals help us to remember that we must not take our good fortune for granted.

Sources

With thanks to Simon Reed, and Gillian Nott for their assistance.

[1] Cornish Culture Online

[2] Richard Carew, Survey of Cornwall: Epistle Concerning the Excellencies of the English Tongue - ISBN - 978-1484146170

[3] A. K. Hamilton Jenkin, Cornwall and Its People (Incorporating Cornish Seafarers, Cornwall and the Cornish, & Cornish Homes and Customs) - ISBN - 978-0715391266

[4] Simon Reed, The Cornish Traditional Year - ISBN - 978-0956104397 (Available from Troy Books)

© 2015 Pollyanna Jones

Comments

Pollyanna Jones (author) from United Kingdom on December 31, 2015:

I agree Elsie, so many customs have their origins with practical important tasks to remember through the year. We take a lot for granted in this age when we can pick up things in a supermarket, and keep it preserved in our freezers too, not realising the hard work that has gone into making that item. Thanks for reading, and Happy New Year!

Elsie Hagley from New Zealand on December 31, 2015:

Interesting article. Like reading about customs like this, it's a very rewarding way of learning about the past and what the future holds, maybe we should all start to and be thankful for what we have today that our past ancestors have achieved in days gone by.

Pollyanna Jones (author) from United Kingdom on October 01, 2015:

I think you're quite right, SpiritRune. Pretty much everything is wrapped in plastic these days, so we don't even think about or appreciate what we are consuming. Small practices and rituals such as this affirm our connection to the cycles that govern our lives, and affirm the importance of not taking things for granted. We literally reap what we sow, and must ensure the harvest of next year is protected. Lots to contemplate on many levels!

SpiritRune on October 01, 2015:

I enjoyed this article (which I got to from another of yours). The corn neck doll is neat looking, hadn't seen that particular kind before though some similar things. I am now very curious about what name "so and so" was originally too.

Making a doll from the primary food grain type thing at harvest time is another one of those customs that you'll find almost anywhere, a basic human thing, its meaning must be a deep one. Retaining the spirit of the crop is an interesting thought. I think loss of these kinds of ritual respecting the animals and plants we eat is part of how our "consumer" side has gotten so out of hand. I don't think it's the sort of lore we could really afford to lose.

Hagathorne on September 14, 2015:

Seems cornwall has all the fun. Im in East Anglia and cant say we have any festivals. We have a custom of picking 12 eaves from the wheat, keep it all year to ensure you have plenty food.

Nell Rose from England on August 30, 2015:

Hi Pollyanna, this was fascinating, I love all the Cornish traditions and Festivals as I had a friend who came from Cornwall and was always telling me bits and pieces, so it was nice to read it in full, nice one!

monkeyofstick on August 09, 2015:

Great work!

Thank you.

Pollyanna Jones (author) from United Kingdom on August 09, 2015:

That's a good point, Merv! I will re-word that sentence. Thank you for pointing out the dance for me, I have included the video that you have shown. It reminds me a lot of a broom dance that we have in Worcestershire. I am not sure of its name though.

Merv DAvey on August 09, 2015:

Meur Ras Pollyanna for a wonderful collation of all the traditions around the Guldhize. There is a dance which goes with this traditions called "The Weedin' Paddle" or "Cock in Britches" (Visit http://www.an-daras.com/cornish-dance/Cock-In-Brit... ) Hawker did not so much revive the tradition as introduce into (arguably back into ) the Church Calendar as the Harvest Festival. Just one point I would like to add - one of our over riding traditions in Cornwall is that we are Celtic and not English so introducing the article by placing us at the south west tip of England can be a bit alienating ...........but 20 out of 10 for recognising the Duchy . Oll an Gwella

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on August 08, 2015:

I love learning about the old nature festivals. Thanks for sharing the information, Pollyanna.

Chantelle Porter from Ann Arbor on August 08, 2015:

Very interesting. I really enjoyed this article.

Colin Garrow from Inverbervie, Scotland on August 07, 2015:

Fascinating stuff, Pollyanna - old traditions like these give an interesting slant on how people lived and thought in the past. Great Hub.

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