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  Orkney's Harvest Lore

Straw Figures and Last Man Capers

Harvest HomeOn the island of Rousay there was a tradition recorded in which a straw man took the place of the bikko and was left at the house of the last person to "cut off" or finish harvesting.

In all these cases where the "last man" is given - unwillingly in most cases - a straw effigy, I have speculated that the trophy may have once been thought to either represent or contain the "spirit of the crop".

As such, its receipt marked the receiver for some special purpose.

The last man traditions are dealt with further in the next section.

Harvest Knots

The manufacture of straw figures at harvest time is by no means restricted to Orkney but is widespread across Britain and Europe.

However, there is one major difference. Elsewhere to receive the straw likeness generally brought good luck and health whereas in Orkney it was intended as an insult and greatly resented.

In a similar vein, in Orkney, at harvest time, little emblems, known as "harvest knots" and made from straw were once exchanged. It was thought that if one of these "hairst roses" were placed on the toe of the master's boot, he would be compelled to give the harvesters a bottle of whisky.

According to Orcadian antiquarian Ernest Marwick, the harvest knot was regarded in some places as a fertility symbol but unfortunately he was unaware of the significance of these.

The Harvest Bannock

Section Contents
Casting the Heuks
The Last Sheaf
The Straw Dog - "The Bikko"
Straw Figures and "Last Man" Capers
The Harvest Bannock
The "Ritual Bannock" Connection
Offerings to Nature
Harvest Home and Muckle Supper

See Also
The Significance of the Harvest Dog

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