John Barleycorn Lammas Rite

Reprinted from "Dark Moon Rising" (Buy at

This is a sacrificial ordeal rite honoring the Corn King, who is the embodiment of all that is cut down that we may live. He is Frey, Ing, Lugh, Tammuz, Dumuzi, Adonis, and many other names; John Barleycorn is found everywhere that people grow and cut grain for their survival. The ritual is designed to fall at or around Lammas, although the date may be shifted to allow for climate; it should be done during the grain harvest, whenever that is for your area. Like the Inanna ritual, this ritual has a profound effect on whoever plays the main character and offers themselves up for sacrifice for the greater good. We are not speaking of a psychological effect, either, although that too is certainly likely. We are speaking of the effect that it will have on the life and the Wyrd of your John Barleycorn. Old karmic debts will catch up, unnecessary things will fall by the wayside, and great changes will be wrought. For the next year, sacrifices will be asked, in order that he might more fully live his path. In many ways, this is a death and rebirth. He should be aware of the dangers before he signs up for the task.

Ritual Roles

You will need a staff of people for the rite. First, there should be one who can be priest or priestess, and speak the main invocations. Second, there should be several folk with wooden bowls bearing different sorts of grains. Third, there should be a man in black who bears a scythe, and a woman in black who bears a sickle. They will be the ones who bring Death to John Barleycorn. The woman should also bear a pricker of some kind (a diabetic sticker would do) and a glove with which to smear blood.

Fourth, there should be three men who are dressed as farmers, either ancient or traditional or modern. What they do will depend on how the ritual will be run; this is discussed below when it comes to their parts. Fifth, there should be a few folk - a minimum of five, for this was the traditional number - whom John Barleycorn trusts to inflict pain upon him. They can be men or women, and dress as they will, although ancient or traditional peasant garb is best. They should each carry a whip. The whips should be as follows: A long wooden handle, about two feet, with a swivel joint at the end, and then broad leather tails the same length as the handle. The idea is to make a cat which mimics a threshing flail.

Obviously, many of these parts may overlap and be played by more than one person.

Lastly, all the staff and as many of those watching as possible should know the song "John Barleycorn", and there should be drummers who can keep a beat throughout much of the ritual. An altar should be set up, with the wooden bowls of grain, a jug and cup of beer, and a bowl of the red petals of the corn poppy. Straw corn dollies should decorate the altar, as many as possible. Two pitchforks stand beside it. On the center of the altar, in the place of honor, should be a beautifully braided handmade loaf of bread, golden and perfect, a baker's masterpiece.


John Barleycorn, for this rite, should be prepared in the following manner:

1) He must be male, and potent. Ideally, he should have long hair, although this is not as necessary.

2) He must be chosen by lot from a group of men who have all agreed to the possibility of taking this role. The choosing by lot is important; it is the way that the Gods chose their sacred kings in the long-ago past, and the Gods wish to have such choice again.

3) A wreath of wheatstalks and red poppies should be crafted, and placed on his head, and attached in such a manner that it will not come off. We suggest tying it in place with his hair.

4) Bunches of wheat should be bound to his arms and legs, and placed in his hands. One bunch should be tied over his genitals, and attached to it should be a large phallus crafted of straw, which should be bound to his waist to point upwards. An ejaculatory spray of grain should protrude from the end. In one playing of the rite, the phallus was bound around the man's actual penis, but thrust out many inches beyond it.

5) A cloth bag should be placed in his mouth. It should be just large enough to fill his mouth and cheeks wholly when filled with grains, yet not suffocate him. The open end, lightly tied with string, should hang out of his mouth. Test the size of the bag beforehand, to make sure that it is well-sized, by placing it empty in the man's mouth empty and then filling it slowly with grain, working it into his cheeks, until he can bear no more without suffocating.

The Grain Blessing

As he is being prepared for the rite, again place the empty bag into his mouth as he kneels or lies supine, and each of the preparers shall come forth and pour a small amount of whole grain into the bag. The grains should be chosen with care for their meanings, and set about in wooden bowls. There should be enough of them to fill his mouth with some of each and still have plenty to scatter about on the ground afterwards.

As each comes forward with a different grain and places it into his mouth, they should say the following:

For maize: "Feed us with words of life."
For barley: "Feed us with words of sacrifice."
For amaranth: "Feed us with words of the Sun."
For quinoa: "Feed us with words of the mountain."
For rice: "Feed us with words of wealth."
For millet: "Feed us with words of survival."
For rye: "Feed us with words of endurance."
For buckwheat: "Feed us with words of love."
For wheat: "Feed us with the words of the Gods."

Each places a small amount of grain in the bag in his mouth, and then the remainder is added from the bag of wheat until it is full, and the neck of the bag tied up. John Barleycorn is then lain facedown in the middle of the field and covered with a brown cloth. If possible, it should be a grainfield, or at least a patch of grain; for those who have no access to this, pots of grain can be grown beforehand and set about his feet in imitation of a grainfield. Indeed, this is a good way to tell when the proper time has come to do this rite.

The one who is acting as priest/ess stands forth and says:

Our ancestors got up at dawn,
Slaved in the dirt,
Sweated in the sun,
Chilled in the cold,
Numbed in the snow,
Scattering each seed with a prayer:
Pray that there be enough,
That no one starve this winter.
Pray that no bird nor beast
Steal the food I have struggled for.
And most of all,
Pray that each seed I save
Of this harvest
Shall next year
Bring forth a hundred more.

We live today
Because they worked
Because they sowed
Because they harvested
Because they prayed.

Each of the participants with bowls of grain stands forth and scatters the grain on the ground, until there is a great circle of grain around everyone. As they do so, they each speak one of the following verses:

I sing the praises of Wheat,
First grain of the wagon people of Europe,
You who make the bread rise high,
You who make the soft white dough,
You who are sweet
And can last a thousand years
And still blossom forth in the Earth.
I sing the praises of Wheat.

I sing the praises of Rye,
Grain of the cold north,
Grain who needs little to prosper,
Grain who feeds those with the worst land,
Tallest of the waving heads,
Dark flour of nourishment,
I sing the praises of Rye.

I sing the praises of Barley,
Growing in the footsteps of Frey
Cut down in the body of Ing
Brewed to make the drink
That makes hearts high
And warms the family circle
Grain of companionship,
Grain of Rune of Sacrifice,
I sing the praises of Barley.

I sing the praises of Buckwheat,
Grain of high Tibet,
Field of leaves like hearts
And delicate white flowers,
Grain shaped like the pyramids,
Beloved of bees,
I sing the praises of Buckwheat.

I sing the praises of Rice.
Great grain of Asia,
Fruit of a million paddies,
Life of a billion people,
Grain of the rat god Daikoku,
Giver of prosperity,
I sing the praises of Rice.

I sing the praises of Millet,
Great grain of Africa,
Planted in the hot fields
Among the yams and melons
Grain of the warmest sun
Yin to buckwheat’s yang
I sing the praises of Millet.

I sing the praises of Maize,
Great corn of the North Continent,
Yellow, white, red, blue, and black,
Colors of the four directions
And the center of spirit,
Whose name means “Life” -
I sing the praises of Maize.

I sing the praises of Amaranth,
Great grain of the Mexican desert,
Sacred grain growing taller than a man
Yet with the smallest seed of all,
Abundance in the dry time
Savior in a drought,
I sing the praises of Amaranth.

I sing the praises of Quinoa,
Great grain of the high mountains,
Nourishment of the south continent,
Reaching closest to the sky,
Porridge and cleanser,
Ground under the gleam of gold,
I sing the praises of Quinoa.

The high priest/ess steps forward again and says:

I sing the praises of grain,
That which sustained our foremothers
That which strengthened our foremothers
That which fed all children's hungry mouths
That which multiplies from the earth,
Giving back more than we give in turn.
I sing the praises of the sacrifice
That is cut down
That we may live.


The drum begins to beat the rhythm of the song "John Barleycorn". They way it is sung is thus: A verse is sung, and then five verses worth of song is hummed or sung in an "aaahhh", to give the action time to occur, then another verse is sung. If it is clear that the action needs to go further, the high priest/ess should signal for the onlookers to keep humming. S/he is who they look to for cues, so this is a very important role and should be given out carefully to one with good presence and their wits about them. When other participants need to speak, the high priestess should signal the onlookers to hum very quietly.

The onlookers sing the first verse of "John Barleycorn":

There were three men come out of the West
Their fortunes for to try
And these three men made a solemn vow
John Barleycorn must die.
They ploughed, they sowed, they harrowed him in
Threw clods all on his head
And these three men made a solemn vow
John Barleycorn was Dead.

During the hummed part of this song, the three farmers come forth. What they do will depend on how the group wishes to run the ritual, and what John Barleycorn is comfortable with. For an ideal ritual sacrifice, the three men should each uncover his buttocks and plow his rear hole, the "earth hole", with their own members, and give him their seed. We realize that in this day and age, ideals may not be able to be achieved. It has been done the following ways, however:

1) Three men pull back the cloth from his buttocks and plow his rear hole, wearing condoms. (If one is the man's lover and body fluid exchange is acceptable, that one can be done bareback, otherwise condoms are necessary for safety.) The men empty their condoms onto the earth beside him and cover their seed with dirt. For this option, and the next one, it would be well for him to be well-greased beforehand, and perhaps loosened up some by a lover before the ritual.

2) Three men plow his rear hole with a carved wooden phallus that has been dedicated to this purpose. This means that one of the men can be a woman dressed in men's clothing, or a transgendered man without a phallus, with no problems of anatomy.

3) For an entirely nonpenetrative plowing, the wooden phallus can merely be thrust between his buttocks and thighs. However, if he can bear to be actually plowed, he should endure it. Afterwards, seed of any kind is sprinkled upon him.

John Barleycorn is then harrowed. For this, the farmers use a tool made to look like a small harrow, a handle with many curved tines. We use a sawed-off "garden claw". It is drawn down his back, scratching him in rows. He is then covered again with the brown cloth and clods of (not too wet) earth are thrown upon it by the three farmers.

The Cutting

The onlookers sing the second verse of "John Barleycorn":

They've left him in the ground for a very long time
Till the rains from heaven did fall
Then little Sir John's sprung up his head
And so amazed them all.
They've left him in the ground till Midsummer
Till he's grown both pale and wan
Then little Sir John's grown a long, long beard
And so become a man.

As this verse is sung, John Barleycorn slowly rises to his feet and casts off the brown cloth with the clods. He lifts his arms to the sky, holding the grain. During the hummed verses, the man with the scythe and the woman with the sickle come forth.

The man with the scythe steps forward and says:

I sing the song of the scythe,
Swinging through the air,
Sharpness and keenness its breath,
Rhythm its walk,
The tooth of the Moon,
The razor of the Sun.
For sharpness means that we shall eat this winter,
For keenness means that there shall be enough.
May those of us who find ourselves to be blades
Recall that our cutting edge
Is best used for the nourishment of all.

The woman with the sickle steps forward and says:

I sing the song of the sickle,
Curved as the crescent moon,
Shining as the reflection on the water,
Sharp as the winter winds
That threaten our well-fed sleep.
I am the shedder of blood,
The harbinger of Dire Necessity,
The one who holds the bowl
As the life force from all the sacrificed beasts
Soaks into the Earth. I am She who accepts
All that you have to give, and more.
Will you give yourself to me,
Willingly, joyously, like a bridegroom
Going to the bed of his lover?

She steps before John Barleycorn and opens her dress to expose her breasts to him. He accepts her offer by nodding and then lowering his head. She dons her glove, pricks his flesh, and smears the rune Ing on his forehead with his own blood, marking him. She kisses him, over the heart. Then she begins to cut off his bunches of grain with her sickle. First the ones in his hands - he can drop the chaff as soon as the grain is threshed. (While she cuts, the man gathers the cut grain and places it in a basket.) Then the bunches bound to his arms and legs, and the chaff is pulled out of the ropes and scattered. Then she says:

Today, sweet golden king,
My hand belongs to Her
As does your body.
I thank you for your gift of life
And I promise you rebirth next year
With this my very same hand.
And in your turn
Since someday my body will be Hers as well
Promise me
The same hope;
Rebirth me in joy everlasting.

Finally, she cuts the bunch at his groin, pulling off the phallus with the same stroke. At this point, the man should be standing behind John Barleycorn, scythe again in hand, and he makes a great sweeping swing that touches but does not harm John Barleycorn's neck. (This should be practiced beforehand with a blunt scythe, for safety.) John Barleycorn falls to the ground, face down again.

The Binding

The onlookers sing the third verse of "John Barleycorn":

They hired men with their scythes so sharp
To cut him off at the knee.
They've bound him and tied him around the waist
Serving him most barb'rously.
They hired men with their sharp pitchforks
To prick him to the heart
But the drover he served him worse than that
For he's bound him to the cart.

The man and woman take long ropes and quickly bind the fallen with criss-crosses - Ing-runes, like a sheaf - from shoulders to ankles. They each take a pitchfork from beside the altar and mime jabbing him in the heart.

The Threshing

The onlookers sing the fourth verse of "John Barleycorn":

They've rolled him around and around the field
Till they came unto a barn
And there they made a solemn mow
Of Little John Barleycorn
They've hired men with their crab-tree sticks
To strip him skin from bone
But the miller, he served him worse than that,
For he's ground him between two stones.

The people with whip-flails come forth. During the next few verses, they whip him in time to the music, all together, thus: First, a light stroke (not enough to damage) with the butt end of the flail, and then they reverse it and give a hard stroke with the whip, and back and forth. They should grunt or make a gutteral noise with each strike. These should all be well-trained whip tops who know where it is safe to hit and where not to.

When they come to the last hummed verse, they should lift the butt-ends of their whips and touch them, forming a wheel. Then they walk around the fallen figure, miming pushing the mill-wheel hard.

The Final Sacrifice

The onlookers go ahead and sing the last verse:

Here's Little Sir John in the nut-brown bowl
And brandy in the glass
But Little Sir John in the nut-brown bowl's
Proved the stronger man at last
For the huntsman he can't hunt the fox
Nor so loudly blow his horn
And the tinker can't mend his kettles nor pots
Without a little of the Barleycorn.
Without a little of the Barleycorn.
Without a little of the Barleycorn.

During this verse, some staff folk fetch the bread and beer from the altar and place them on his prone body, blessing them. Then they walk among the people, offering the bread and beer, and saying, "Taste sacrifice, that we may live."

While they do this, one or more of the people with whips lift John Barleycorn's head and turn him over, unties the knot in the bag in his mouth, and shake his head, sending grain spraying everywhere. Those who wish to be blessed come forth and hold their hands under his face, catching the grain, until he is emptied of it. Ideally, if it is possible and he has agreed, at this point, another one takes his member and works it until it gives forth seed, while the other seed comes forth from his mouth. If it is not appropriate for this audience, it can be skipped, but the seed should pour forth only upon the earth, and be covered immediately with dirt.

The high priest/ess steps forward and says:

It is the nature of sacrifice
To be difficult.
If it was easy to throw away,
It was no sacrifice.
If it was did not miss it
It was no sacrifice.
If it was not the best you could give
It was no sacrifice.
If it was not agonizing to choose,
It was no sacrifice.
If it did not make you waver at least once in your choice,
It was no sacrifice.
If it did not make you weep,
It was no sacrifice.

As s/he says this, the last piece of bread is placed in the basket of cut grain and left out as a sacrifice. The jug of beer is poured out upon the earth as a libation by the priest/ess. One handful is caught from the libation, and the sacrifice is allowed to drink it from the hand that caught it. John Barleycorn is covered again with the brown cloth and all process away, except for one set to stay with him as a vigil. He stays, bound and covered, to meditate for a while on what has become of his life. Then, when he feels that he must arise, the watcher cuts his bonds, wraps him in a cloak of brown or grey, and brings him to the feast-table where others have been celebrating. He is hailed and toasted, and the feast goes on.

All food that he is fed of the feast, though, should come directly from the fingers of the feasters, and they should hold cups to his lips when he wishes it. He should touch no food or drink with his hands; as he has fed them, so they shall feed him in turn, and this is the magic of feeding the fallow earth that it might be fertile again next year.

He shall wear his title for one year, Lammas to Lammas, and during that time he shall be John Barleycorn for the entire community, and if his life be difficult, they shall be there to aid him, for he takes this too upon him that they may be spared. Unless he go from among them and take his leave of them, they are honor-bound to care for him in times of extremity, until the following Lammas when another shall take on the mantle of gold, and he shall bring the first sheaf of wheat to them for the binding, and the passing-on.