July 13th – The Day of Waurst Mowings

The number thirteen has always been associated with the Grenin Waurst, and so it is no surprise that today is closely associated with that mythological figure. All around the City, in several fields where wheat, oats, corn and other such cereals are grown there will have appeared overnight several swirling patterns, where the cereals have been mown down to stubble. They tend to be located in places that are easily observable from local hillsides or church roofs, and that is where many folk will congregate today to view the infernal artistry; it is damned unlucky to get too close, at least for today. Everyone knows they are made by the Grenin Waurst and his entourage.

Whilst there are no documents that point to a precise beginning to these strange, concentric circles and many-armed spirals that litter the countryside, they probably began at some point in the early 14th century. A handbill from 1426 seems to suggest that these ‘WAURST PATERYNS’ left on farmer’s fields had been occurring for ‘menye yeres,’ and it warned folk from getting too close to them, ‘leste theye be swypte awey’ by a ‘waurst wynde.’ This latter detail might point to a natural origin of the patterns; at this time of year the heatwave makes whirlwinds (or as they are known in Buentoille, waurstwinds) more likely, and those short-lived columns of spinning air could have torn spiral shapes into fields of cereal.

The modern shapes we see today are far too neat and symmetrical to be natural in origin, and appear to turn clockwise more than is statistically likely for a waurstwind in the northern hemisphere (nor is it particularly likely that so many would occur over one specific night, when things tend to be cooler anyway). Rather disappointingly, the most likely explanation is that the ‘waurst mowings’ are placed there by human hands, but this doesn’t stop most folk ascribing their appearance to the Grenin Waurst itself (or, as in more recent days, to celestial beings). It is either through fear of meeting the mythical trickster whilst it is at work mowing, or because they simply don’t want to spoil the illusion, that nobody ever patrols the fields at night, to catch the culprits in the act.

The attachment of the mowings to this particular day of the year is, as has already been noted, primarily for the reason that today is the 13th day of the month, and because the heatwave that causes waurstwinds is always at the start of July, but primarily because the most popular folk tale on the subject, The Mowing Waurst, is set. The first printing of the tale appeared in 1547, long after the handbill which refers to the ‘PATERYNS’ was published, and most historians agree that this written version was based on an oral tale, itself inspired by the events suggested by that handbill.

The tale begins with a landowner admonishing his workers for being lazy on the 13th of June, and shouting that he could mow the field faster than any of them. The workers had been playing cards on their lunch break with a shadowy man, a wanderer who had taken the opportunity to take up some casual work. This stranger stepped forwards, and said to the landowner, ‘I will take you up on that bet: I shall mow a circle here bigger than you can there by the end of the day.’ At this point the workers realised who they had been playing cards with, and shouted at the landowner not to take up the bet, but they were quickly silenced on threat of their jobs, and the landowner shook hands with the Grenin Waurst.

The landowner then set to work, and the Grenin Waurst walked off to the pub, so assured was he. As it turned out, the landowner had never done any mowing before, but had assumed himself intelligent and capable enough to pick it up quickly. The workers all sniggered at his first few failed attempts and he sent them away. When they returned shortly after to stake metal rods in the ground on the Grenin Waurst’s patch, to slow the creature and save their master (they did not like him much, but felt he didn’t deserve to have such a terrible master in return), he told them to stop. He wanted to win, fair and square, and thought that they were mocking him.

At dusk, the sun hovering by the horizon, the landowner had managed a circle about twenty foot across; a pitiful effort. The Grenin Waurst appeared, and then laughed, ‘is that all? Let me show you how it’s done. He then turned into a waurstwind, mowing a large circle, far larger than the landowner’s efforts, into which the boastful man was sucked, and carried away to the Grenin Waurst’s home, as the sun finally set. In the modern version of the story, the workers then assume control of the farm, setting up a cooperative there.

There are those who say that the strange markings that appear across the fields could not have been created by human hands, that they are too uncannily symmetrical, too large to have all been mowed in one night without machinery or a large gang, both of which would leave tracks to and from the patterns, which are suspiciously absent. The cuts are too regular, too smooth to have been cut by more than one person, they say. A recent microscopic study of the stubble found that in three out of the five waurst mowings that they looked into, the cells at the top of the stubble, where it had been severed were oddly shaped, perhaps even mutated. Nicholai Baseol, from the Society of Waurst Defence, commented on the findings: ‘To hide your work amongst that of fakers and hobbyists, to make people think that the real article has been hoaxed; that sounds exactly like something the Grenin Waurst would do.’

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of the Accidental Wall
  • The Left Step Festival
  • The Day of Backhanded Compliments