Posts Tagged ‘Community’

Merry England before the Modern Age.

The Rise and Fall of Merry England: The Ritual Year 1400-1700

by Ronald Hutton, My Review;

 

 

Charting the progress from the communal year and it’s festivals both sacred and secular towards a more centralised control and ensuing decline of festival times, holy days, rituals and revels.

The Protestant Reformation and its austere Puritanism is clearly the largest single cause which drew to a close earlier ‘Papist’ traditions of the Catholic imbued culture that had supported spiritual ritual and secular pagentry for hundreds of years.

 

 

To set the context, the English Reformation under Henry VIII had broken the Church of England from the authority of the Pope and Roman Catholic Church. From 1553, under the reign of Henry’s Roman Catholic daughter, Mary I, Henry’s Reformation legislation was repealed and Mary sought to achieve the reunion with Rome. Following Mary’s childless death, her half-sister Elizabeth inherited the throne. As Elizabeth could not be Catholic, that church considered her illegitimate, communion with the Catholic Church was again severed by Elizabeth.

Elizabeth’s reign saw the emergence of Puritanism, which encompassed those Protestants who felt that the church had been but insuficciently reformed. Puritanism ranged from hostility to the content of the Prayer Book and “popish” ceremony, to a desire for church governance and inded for society at large to be radically reformed.

The Civil War broke out less than fifty years after the death of Elizabeth I of England in 1603.

The English civil war was far from just a conflict between two religious faiths, it had much more to do with divisions within the one Protestant religion. The austere, fundamentalist Puritanism on the one side was opposed to what it saw as the crypto-Catholic decadence of the Anglican church on the other. Divisions also formed along the lines of the common people and the gentry, and between the country and city dwellers.

In this politically charged and religiously swaying environment, alternately pushing an oppresive new religious austerity or inclusively reinstalling the traditional milieu of sacred and secular traditions of British life, the festive, communal culture and its traditions waned and dwindled. Each fresh onslaught of punitive policy and legal measures gradually depleted the social enthusiasm which had bound the culture together in earlier times.

 

 Charles Landseer – The Eve of the Battle of Edge Hill, 1642

 

Among the church rituals and communal activities considered innapropriate by the changing authorities, was the ornamentation of churches with garlands at festival times such as holy and ivy at christmas, the lighting of candles below icons, boy bishops and their processions, church ales which collected money for the church rituals, rogation or blessing of fields at spring, appointment of lords of misrule to preside over festivities, morris dancers, musicians and dancing at may poles.

 

The time afforded such holy days and communal activities had also afforded an ocassion to gather in dissorder and this sometimes developed into protests against government restrictions and taxations.

 

Village fair by Flemish artist Gillis Mostaert 1590

The earlier potent mixture of rituals and revels, pagentry, music and costumes, wholesome earthy fun and good humour which had been accepted as such by the long interwoven traditions of populace with Catholic church, was uprooted and destroyed by the ardent and extreemly keen Protestants to such an extent that various of the ensuing Crowns sought to ammeliorate on behalf of the people and their traditions but with little success.

The decline continued under the fervant Protestant condemnation of such frivolities and lewdness as dancing, singing and even laughing – quelle horror! Protestant authors and clergy persued their ‘souless’ and mirtless New World Order replacing a sacral Catholic yearly cycle with secular and anti Catholic new Protestant celebrations such as of Nov 5th (Guy Fawkes night), and Royal birthdays/Accessions etc. The dissolution continued under the rising agrarian capitalism and nascent industrialism.

 

 

Highly recommended reading for any who are interested in the cultural connections between the ‘old religion’ (which actually meant the all embracing ‘magical Catholicism’ of early medieval England – and amongst these traditions were many pre Christian survivors ) and the Protestant modified puritanical exegesis and transformation of a formerly Merry England into a more dour, serious, self effacing, God fearing nation, under the varying vagaries of the Parlaiment and it’s often relentless officers.

 

 

It may be hard for us now to imagine the full extent of a medieval and earlier pagentry imbued Britain, alternately revelling and worshiping its way through the sacred year, with churches drawing on hundreds of years of iconography decoration to embellish and add impact to the many sacred days and rituals which were widely observed, town and merchant guilds hosting processions of costumed and robed actors, with giants, dragons and unicorns represented in huge models animated by their wearers, individuals taking part in group as well as singular traditions from the milk maids dances and green men in spring (the chimney sweeps as it happens) to finding (or capturing) a maypole for dancing, to say nothing of seasonal feasts provided by local landowners and gentry for their tenants and neighbours. I offer for comparison the more widely known religious traditions of Tibet as they until recently held communal religious and social activities which comprised thousands at a gathering, with elaborate ritualised dramas and with embroderies as large as hills, with weeks long events of one sort or another. Similar in commitment if not form were many among the earlier traditions of Merry England.

 

 

nb book priced at ₤50 pprbk is doubtless worth it for the extensive research alone, but I got my copy well thumbed from a second hand book dealer.

 

A Christmas Carol

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To share a slightly different outlook on the Christmas Festival I wrote a short song modeled after Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol but inspired by the earlier Pagan traditions of the Season.

According to historian Ronald Hutton, the current state of observance of Christmas is largely the result of a mid-Victorian revival of the holiday spearheaded by Dickens’ Christmas Carol. Hutton argues that Dickens reconstructed Christmas as a family-centered festival… in contrast to the earlier community (and church)-based observations which had dwindled during the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
Most of our actual British Christmas customs the tree, the turkey, the stocking, the cards and Santa Claus have only appeared since 1840.

This season was always however a time for community, charity and sharing, as the poorest, oldest and feeblest members of a community would become physically vulnerable to hunger and cold. Their morale would take a further dent if they saw their neighbors making merry all round them and were unable to share in any of it. If they then died, this would not be good for the consciences of their survivors; if they lived, they could bear nasty grudges. Hence, from the time that evidence survives, midwinter was a great time for the giving of food, drink or money to the less fortunate. In the Middle Ages people known as Hogglers or Hognels would often volunteer to collect and distribute them. In addition, poor women and children would go from door to door asking for such gifts, a custom known, according to your region, as Thomasing, Gooding or Mumping. The fitter men from the poorer families would visit their wealthier neighbours with plays, dances or songs, and earn the goodies in return; that is why customs such as mummers’ plays, sword dances and carols are so important at this time. So when your doorbell rings and you find a choir yelling ‘Good King Wenceslas’ outside while a collector holds out a tin for a good cause, you are sharing in (a tradition)… thousands of years old.
(Ronald Hutton, Stations Of The Sun)

Whilst the trappings of the modern Christmas are relatively recent, this festive season has been celebrated since history began.
In Ancient Northern Europe the mid-winter Solstice (between 20th/23rd of December) was called ‘Modranicht’ or ‘Earth Mother’s Night’ and as the shortest day of the year it effectively represents the turning point of the season.
In Northern Europe the winter festival was called the Yule (Juul). As the people thought the Sun stood still for twelve days in the midwinter, plunging Mother Earth and all her growing things into the dark, coldness of death, it was thought that spring could not come without their celebration of midwinter.
More on the Yuletide here.

Of Father Christmas, mythologist Helene Adeline Guerber suggests the Northern traditions indicate Santa as the Norse god Thor. Contrastingly from Iceland the Poetic Edda and Prose Edda poems
describe Odin as riding an eight-legged horse named Sleipnir (Santa originally had eight reindeer, Rudolph was nine) .
More on the origins of Santa Claus here.

Further, that the three greatest Neolithic monuments of Ireland, Scotland and England the massive tombs of Newgrange and Maes Howe, and Stonehenge itself are all aligned on the midwinter sunrise or sunset, shows how important this festival was even in the Stone Age.

With an eye to current world affairs and the rise of Global Corporatism, I have included a protestors scene, with a call to Occupy Christmas as an opportunity to reconsider what the festival may mean now.


✻ ✼ ❄ ❅ ❆ ❇ ❈ ❉ Occupy Christmas ✻ ✼ ❄ ❅ ❆ ❇ ❈ ❉
to learn about the causes of Occupy I recommend Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine
.
I replaced Dickens’ Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future with a mischievous Jack Skellington as Sandy Claws who finally gets his Christmas mission right, after a fashion), and instead of the more usual three visits through time in the life of Ebeneezer Scrooge, my character ‘Scourge’ is given 3 visions instead, to the Three Realms of Celtic mythology;

The Celtic view of the Otherworld consisted of three distinct realms, these being Sea, Land and Sky, their counterparts being Underworld, Earth and Otherworld.

Tir Andomain, Realm of The Underworld and the Sea.
This is the realm of the Ancestors and Gods and Goddesses responsible for the cycle of life, death and rebirth, the realm of the past.

The Meath, Realm of the Land (Earth) represents the present and the physical. We are beings of this realm that we share with the animals and the nature spirits.
Here we see the poverty of Dickens’ London as families live in sheds and children carol sing not for pocket money or treats but for essential foods.

The Magh Mor, Realm of Sky and the Otherworld.
This is where most of the Gods and Goddesses dwell, the realm of the future and the place that grants inspiration, creativity and wisdom. The realm of sky is the pathway of the Sun, Moon and constellations, as well as the wind and weather. Many Gods and Goddesses have influence in all three realms, just as the Land has it’s influence on the other two realms; caves, burial mounds, wells and springs are entrances to the underworld, while trees which exist in our realm are viewed as linking all three together. Represented here as a Celtic Afterlife peopled by Four Elemental Spirits of Air, Fire, Earth and Water.

As Air; Dian Cecht, Psychic Guardian and Healer of the Tuatha Dé Danann ~ The Hawthorn was a symbol of psychic protection due to its sharp thorns. Spirits were believed to dwell in Hawthorn hedges, which were planted as protective shrubs around fields, houses and churchyards. The Goddess Brighid was also associated with the Hawthorn, which is one tree which has managed to breach the divide between Paganism and Christianity and Dian Cecht was Brigid’s male counterpart.Hawthorn individuals are represented by a Masculine polarity and the color purple.

As Fire; Aibheaog is an Irish deity who represented fire, and yet she had a magical well which promoted healing. She is associated with wells and the number 5. Rules Over: Healing, Midsummer well rituals.

As Earth; Cernunnos. Although Cernunnos is a Gaulish horned god, his worship was widespread in the Celtic era, and he was venerated over the channel in Britain in various similar forms.
In appearance he had stag antlers sprouting from his head, wore a torc around his neck, and was depicted with a ram headed serpent. He may have been seen as lord of the animals, and the spirit of the woods, a powerful archetypal nature spirit and male partner of the earth mother. Later, in Christian times his image was transposed on to that of the Devil, who also appeared with horns.

As Water; Coventina, a Celtic river goddess known for healing, also associated with renewal, abundance, new beginnings, life cycles, inspiration, childbirth, wishes and prophecy. In worship to her coins and other objects were tossed into the wells as offerings for sympathetic magick. These wells represent the earth womb, where the Celts felt her power could be most strongly felt. Her symbols are the cauldron, cup, water, coins, broaches and wells. From Scotland comes her association with the underworld, where she was the Goddess of featherless flying creatures which could pass to the Otherworld. Being a river goddess she is connected the ebb and flow of time.

With a hope that this film may remind us to think of more than just family gatherings and presents, that it may be a magical time to think with our hearts and consider the wider picture.
To focus upon the whole rather than any portion, to live more meaningful lives, we may honor these the Three Realms and each-other throughout our daily lives.

A Yuletide Carol by celestialelff

Tis the Modranhit of Midwinter,
To the Three Realms we will go,
Through the portal to Tir Andomain,
Through the Silence beneath the Snow.

Deep within the center,
With the Ancestors in the past,
See the Joy of their Yuletide,
Beyond Time’s Oceans Vast.

The Rising of the Sun,
The Running of the Year,
The Setting of the Sacred Moon,
And the Circle is ever clear.

And look now upon the Earth Realm,
To the Meath beneath the Sky,
See the people in their families,
From their community awry.

Hear the Thomasing and the Gooding,
And the Mumping of the Children,
Both Ignorance and Want do Cry Out,
No more Cup Of Memory here….

The Rising of the Sun,
The Running of the Year,
The Setting of the Sacred Moon,
And the Circle now Draws Near….

Come beyond now to the Magh Mor,
Beyond the graveyard in the Sky,
To the Afterlife of the Otherworld,
Once again the Joy does fly…

Be Blessed then by this Vision,
Of the Three Realms you have made,
Join the Circle of your past life,
To your Future, Present saved…..

The Rising of the Sun,
The Running of the Year,
The Setting of the Sacred Moon,
And the Circle has come Here.

c Celestial Elf 2011.

Merry Christmas!

The Song Of Amergin, A Samhain Story


King Arthur having recovered Bran The Blessed’s  talking Head, will bring this head to a Samhain gathering where Bran will recite The Song of Amergin to the assembled gathering.

On The Song of Amergin, 
The Song of Amergin is an ancient Celtic poem
which speaks of the origin of the Universe, the nature of the Gods and the path to Wisdom.
Taken from The Irish Book of Invasions first written down in the early medieval period, this poem is attributed to Amergin (Irish;Amhairghin) chief Bard and Druid of the Milesians.


Long after the magical Tuatha Dé Danann, the Faerie Clan who were considered as Gods, had established their kingdom in ancient Ireland or Éire, a new
invasion took place and the first
Gaelic people arrived.
The Tuatha Dé Danann’s High King, The Dagda, invoked his powers to repel the strangers, he sank their ships and prayed to the winds to keep them out.
They landed however and Amergin sang a poem of thanks, aligning himself with the powers of the Land. Through his Awen (poetic inspiration) he became the elements and the Cosmos, charging them with his flowing spirit and limitless understanding, he overcame all obstacles and his people took guardianship of the Land.

& How Graves Reveals A Dolmen Stone Alphabet;
Robert Graves has said that ‘English poetic education should really begin not with Canterbury Tales, not with the Odyssey, not even with Genesis, but with the Song of Amergin
By answering a series of  riddles in an ancient Welsh ‘Book of Taliesin‘, Robert Graves first uncovered ‘The Battle of the Trees’. This was a poetic ‘battle’ apparently charged with the purpose of preserving the hidden Druidic knowledge of a secret tree alphabet or Ogham, from the uninitiated during a time of cultural upheaval as the newly arrived Christianity sought to replace the earlier pagan and Druid traditions.
Then considering its Irish poetic counterpart ‘The Song of Amergin’, Graves discovered the use of a similar alphabet that also operated as an ancient Celtic calendar.  

By strictly adhering to the poem’s structure, Graves worked out the proper sequence of the Irish alphabet, which was then comprised of 13 consonants and five vowels. (It is only later that it grew to 15 consonants).
The clue to the arrangement of this alphabet is found in Amergin’s reference to the dolmen,’ says Graves. “It is an alphabet that bests explains itself when built up as a dolmen of consonants with a threshold of vowels.

Dec 24-Jan. 20 B
I am a stag of the seven tines, (Birch/Beth) 

Jan. 21—Feb. 17 L
I am a wide flood on a plain, (Rowan/Luis)

Feb. 18—Mar. 17 N
I am a wind on the deep waters, (Ash/Nion)

Mar. 18-Apr. 14 F
I am a shining tear of the sun, (Alder/Fearn)


Apr. 15-May 12 S sun,
I am a hawk on a cliff, (Willow/Saille)

May 13-Jun. 9 H
I am fair among flowers, (Hawthorn/Uath)

Jun. 10-July 7 D
I am a god who sets the head afire with smoke, (Oak/Duir)

July 8-Aug. 4 T
I am a battle-waging spear, (Holly/Tinne)

Aug. 5-Sept 1 C
I am a salmon in the pool, (Hazel/Coll)

Sept. 2-Sept. 29 M
I am a hill of poetry, (Vine/Muin)

Sept. 30-Oct. 27 G
I am a ruthless boar, (Ivy/Gort)

Oct. 28-Nov. 24 NG
I am a threatening noise of the sea, (Reed/Ngetal)

Nov. 25-Dec. 22 R
I am a wave of the sea, (Elder/Ruis)

Dec. 23
Who but I knows the secrets of the unhewn dolmen?

Poem by Amergin, Translation From The White Goddess, by Robert Graves.

http://player.soundcloud.com/player.swf?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F24924435  The Song Of Amergin by celestialelff

Graves maintains that the architectural structure of the Dolmen with its horizontal capstone resting above two upright stone pillars, served as teaching tool for Druid priests on which the Irish alphabet was superimposed in sequential form on three separate slabs.
So for example starting upwards from the bottom left of the first stone are the letters B, L, N, and F. On the capstone from left to rights are the letters S, H, D, T and C. Descending downwards on the right pillar are the remaining consonants, M, G, NG, and R. Hidden below this stone formation thus reflecting the Celtic belief, ‘As above, so below,’ are placed the threshold of vowels, A, O, U, E and I.

Thus this alphabet Dolmen may serve as a calendar, with one post for Spring, another for Autumn, the lintel for Summer, the threshold for New Year’s Day.    
                                           

                                                                                   

                                     

                                                                             

                                                                                 

Of Graves Dolmen Ogham, Merlin and Stonehenge;
Graves’ revelation of the dolmen being used as teaching model for the Irish alphabet makes the myth of Merlin transporting the stones of Stonehenge from Ireland to Salisbury enormously intriguing.
Perhaps the stones he ferried were more of a stone alphabet like runes. If so, there is a strong possibility of a similar alphabet in use at Stonehenge and this might also explain the legend of Merlin’s alleged role in its construction..

William Blake. Jersualem.

                                                                                                        
Taking Grave’s analysis of the Song of Amergin a step further, the final riddle, ‘Who but I knows the secrets of the unhewn dolmen?’ raises questions about whether Stonehenge could be ‘read’ like a book.
Graves suggests that much like Braille, the dolmen’s dimples, indented grooves and angles are an essential part of reading the alphabet and hence the stone.

example 1. Ogham stone.

example 2. Ogham text.

                                                                    
”If one Dolmen can be used as a teaching tool on which the Irish alphabet was placed, could not an entire circle of stones tell a tale?
If it were possible, we can surmise that it could be a revelatory, almighty epic”. ( Munya Andrews )

                                                                     

                                                                         
Of Bran The Blessed;
Brân the Blessed (Bendigeidfran, the ‘Blessed Raven’) was a central figure in The Mabinogion, counted as Britain’s greatest champion before King Arthur and one of the ‘Three Blessed Kings of Britain’ according to the ancient Triads.
He was also Guardian of a magical Cauldron of Knowledge and Rebirth from the Goddess Cerridwen.
There is an ancient Celtic tradition about Cauldrons of rebirth, into which wounded, dead or dying soldiers were plunged, and came out healed and reborn.

Several scholars have also noted similarities between Brân and the Arthurian character of the Fisher King, keeper of the Holy Grail which also bestowed health, healing of wounds and disease upon its bearers. Further conjecture suggests that Cerridwen’s cauldron is in in fact the Holy Grail for which King Arthur spent his life searching as noted in Taliesin’ poem, the ‘Spoils of the Annwfn
                                                                               
                              
Following a conflict over Bran’s sister Branwen,(the White Raven) after her wedding to the Irish King Matholwch (the Bear), Bran offers him reconciliation in the form of his Cauldron. However Matholwch mistreats Branwen in Ireland and she sends word for Bran to rescue her. On their arrival the Irish offer peace but actually plot treachery and a vicious battle breaks out.

The result of the battle was very catastrophic, every Irish citizen but five pregnant women lay dead, and of the mighty armies of Bran, only seven men survived.

                                                                            
These men were instructed by the mortally wounded Bran to decapitate him and bear his head to Caer-Lundein (London) to bury it at Gwynfryn, the ‘White Mount’ (where the Tower of London now stands) to protect the Isle.
On their return voyage the men chanced to enter the Otherworld and for seven years the seven survivors (symbolic of the seven planets that regularly descend into the Underworld and then rise from it) stayed in Harlech, entertained by Bran’s head which taught them everything he had learned from the Goddess’ Cauldron, passing on his wisdom for all future generations.
That Bran, the Raven’s severed head was also capable of prophecy connects him with the ancient Celtic practice of augury, divination through bird flight.

The group set off again and land to spend a further 80 years outside of time, in a castle on Ynys Gwales, Grassholm Island off Dyfed, where they feasted in blissful forgetfulness and joy.
Eventually they take the head to the Gwynfryn, the ‘White Mount’ thought to be the location where the Tower of London now stands, and buried it facing France to ward off invasion.

According to the Welsh Triads, as long as Bran’s head remained in The White Tower facing France to ward off Saxon invasion, Britain would be safe from invasion, which it was for many generations before it was dug up by the pious King Arthur. ‘Arthur disclosed the head of Bran the Blessed from the White Hill since he did not desire that this island should be guarded by anyone’s strength but his own’ – Welsh Triads.

King Arthur had declared that he needed no talisman to protect his own country and dug up Bran’s head as proof that he could perform the requirements himself.
Sadly, he did not succeed and internal political conflict led to his death and to the increase of Saxon settlements in Britain.

King Arthur Pendragon. 2011.

More recently and following the ancient prophecies and the Celtic belief in reincarnation, the returned King Arthur has reburied a symbolic Ravens skull at The White Mount, Tower Of London, in an effort to resurrect the protective power of Bran in these troubled times.

                                                                               

                                                                          

A footnote upon Samhain;
The night of Samhain (pr; SOW-in, SAH-vin, or SAM-hayne) marks one of the two great gates of the year; Beltane and
Samhain being the doorways that divide the year into Light and Dark.
Samhain  itself is a Gaelic word signifying the end of summer and begins at sunset October 31.
This is believed by many to be a magical time when the boundaries between the worlds of the living and dead become thinner, allowing spirits and other supernatural entities to pass between them.

Traditionally, Samhain was a time to take stock of the herds and grain
supplies, to decide which animals would be slaughtered
for the people and livestock to survive the winter. Bonfires played a large part in the festivities celebrated down
through the last several centuries, and villagers were said to have cast the bones of the slaughtered cattle on the flames hence the name ‘bone fires’, some say these bones should then be ‘read’ for their prophetic powers.
With the community bonfire ablaze, the villagers extinguished all other fires.
Each family then solemnly lit its hearth from the common flame, thus
bonding the families of the village together.
The pagan Romans also identified Samhain with their own feast of the
dead, the Lemuria,(observed in the days leading up to May 13).With Christianization, the festival in November (not the Roman
festival in May) became All Hallows’ Day on November 1 followed by All
Souls’ Day, on November 2.
Over time, the night of October 31
came to be called All Hallow’s Eve, and the remnants festival dedicated
to the dead eventually morphed into the secular holiday known as
Halloween.

                                                                                  
However, historian and author Ronald Hutton points out that while medieval Irish authors do attribute a historical pagan significance to the Beltane
festival, they are silent in this respect in regard to Samhain,
apparently because no evidence of pagan ritual as a Northern European festival of the dead had survived into the
Christian period. According to Hutton, most of the popular myths about the origins of Halloween can be traced
back to two nineteenth century British authors: Sir John Rhys and Sir James Frazer (The Golden Bough) who speculated about connections between Halloween and
pagan Celtic rituals, but provided no valid evidence to back up their
claims. At the time they were writing, modern folk customs were
typically seen as remnants of prehistoric religious rituals which
survived among the common, uneducated country folk long after their
original purpose had died out.

Whilst historian Nicholas Rogers notes
that ‘some folklorists have detected its origins in the Roman
feast of Pomona, the goddess of fruits and seeds, or in the festival of the dead called Parentalia, by contrast Mr. Hutton claims it is more typically linked to and derived from the Catholic holidays of All Saints and All Souls Day. This festival began on All Hallows Eve (hallow is an archaic English word for
‘saint’) the last night of October, included a Church mass for the dead, torchlight processions and bonfires.
Objectively, Mr. Hutton does include the evidence for both of these latter in the earlier festivals.
Ronald Hutton, The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britian, Oxford University Press, 1996 (See the following
chapters: 35. Samhain, 36. Saints and Souls, 37. The Modern
Hallowe’en)


The ‘Surviving’ Samhain and Halloween Tradition;
Conjecture over other aspects of this festival and following extrapolations from Beltane, the other great turning point in the Celtic world, supports many peoples views that a commemoration of the deceased could indeed have been an ancient tradition as the people saw nature fall to decay so thoughts naturally turned to loved ones also passed away. Many customs were also established, such as the approaching time of darkness being regarded with suspicion and a need for protection by bonefires and charms. Gatherings were held and still are, feasts and gifts were shared, blessings were given and invoked and the presence of spirits traveling between worlds is felt, these traditions inform our belief and practice today.

In such a view, offerings may be made to welcome specific ancestors and a community’s beloved dead home, songs, poetry and dances can performed to entertain them.

The opening of door or window to the west lit with a candle or lamp is thought to aid their passage home and conversely candle lanterns carved with fearsome faces are placed in windows to ward off any unwelcome evil spirits abroad on this otherworldly night.

The custom of wearing costumes and masks, fancy dress or disguise has developed at this time and been considered an attempt to copy the spirits or to placate them. Such ‘Guising’ has been a part of Christmas and New Years Eve customs in Britain and
other parts of Europe since medieval times. By the nineteenth century
the practice had also become a feature of Halloween in Scotland and Ireland.
The practice of Trick-or-treating apparently originates in the late medieval practice of ‘Souling‘, when poor folk would go door to door on Hallowmas (November 1), receiving food in return for prayers for the dead on All Souls’ Day.

Sacred Samhain and Happy Hallowmas,
By Stone and Star
Celestial Elf ~

From Community To Individual and Back Again; On The Seasonal Festival ~

Ronald Hutton’s The Stations of The Sun, A Review;

                                                                        
At the outset I had hoped for a more ‘traditionally’ pagan account of the ancient seasonal festivals, their origins and meanings.
I was initially surprised and eventually delighted to find however that although this work is more of an Academic compote of facts and dates and included ongoing assessment of earlier authors often unfounded but sometimes inspirational conjecture than I had anticipated (of Sir James Frazer et al) nevertheless this is a very enjoyable, remarkably researched and admirably objective book-collection of essays.

That much of this morass concerns the developments and impacts of constantly changing traditions due to Christian Reformation and Counter Reformation (certainly comedic at this distance in time), the ongoing process a seminal crucible (reminding me of both grail and cauldron) proved revealing, as the general view of folk traditions and their origins seems to usually favor the more arcane sources, this book by contrast documents only definite evidence, largely that of written records, of church, kirk and council across the land.

Toasting The Yule Log

With a nod to the Scandinavian Yuil, as well as the Roman Kalendae, we embark on an exploration of the traditions of Christmastide, the Twelve Days, the Rites of Celebration, Purification and of Charity which included the remarkable Clementing, Elementing and Souling, even Thomasing, Gooding, Mumping and Corning (as well as more) regional begging customs, by which means the poor would recant rhymes for contribution of food for a feast of their own.
 

A Heaving

Similar appeals for reward included the Hocktide ‘heaving’ at Easter, in which gangs of men assaulted women for favor and groups of women also pursued and caught men for same, at its best a raising up on a lifted chair as proxy ‘Lord’ to commemorate the ascent of Easter, the surrogate released upon a reward of money or a kiss, at its worst a mere grasping by hands and throwing upwards as an occasion for assault and robbery.
The ongoing exposition of numerous social customs of this kind, both dazzle the mind with their quantity, as well as provides a clear insight into how poverty was communally accepted, dealt with by innovative appeals to the community at large and that these were often ‘sanctioned’ by inclusion of some short Christian phrase in the introductory verse or chant.

Medieval Carolers Singing

The author traces the development of such customs and portrays their eventual descent into more high spirited, reckless and even angry demands for assistance that could be met with threats and violence if not accepted.
Once national schools were established and later a more centralized protection for the poor was introduced, such earlier community traditions dissipated further, demonstrating the authors argument throughout this book of the movement from a community sharing seasonal rituals and traditions including those aspects of display that were geared to earn rewards, to the de-socialization of such community into a society characterized by its more insular and private approach to seasons and their festivals or traditions.

A Solitary Witch

The Christianization of earlier traditions also has its place in this book, as for example the feast marking the end of winter and start of the summer months ahead at February 1st, Imbolc (the etymology of its name relating to ewes milk and thus new life) initially dedicated to the Irish goddess Brigid, but who was later morphed into the Christian St Bride.
This is an important theme of both this book and of the mythological psycho-social developments of these Isles. Most surprisingly the often claimed genesis or inception of many Christian traditions in the pre Christian, infact seems to have increasingly worked in reverse. As religious conflicts in the land over changing orthodoxies developed, the Catholic tradition with its wealth of near magical rituals was vigorously being uprooted from the public and community sphere of practice by the ascent of the puritan Protestant, the ensuing personal spiritual void resulted in many cases in the earlier magical Catholic rituals being carried on privately at home and eventually (d)evolving into allegedly ancient ‘survivalist’ ‘folk-traditions’. Conversely, some of the Christianized traditions do appear to have had earlier sources such as the Rogationtide and Pentecost processions, at which time the people marched en mass around the crop fields, singing hymns at chosen stop points as the church ministers blessed the crops.

Beating The Bounds

The book does feature ancient  tradition where evidence has supported this, such as for example the affirmation of the Beltane as an accepted fire festival in certain regions of Northern Europe and the outlaying regions of the British Isles (unlike the later Samhain, for which evidence of a major ‘Celtic’ fire festival is less apparent). With greater detail due to the weight of evidence available however, Hutton explores the cultural progress towards our more modern current perspectives, for example plotting the development of the ‘May‘ (which unsurprisingly did have ancient antecedents in the delight of Spring returned) as people initially adorned self and home with garlands and greenery, which in time became a tradition of young women selling garlands, later children took over this role, and in their turn both to manage the unruly and the revenue these were eventually taken over by schools and local institutions. By contrast, the Mummers Plays with their essentially Christian derived themes of battle, death and resurrection, were more officially sanctioned groups from the outset and had less to do with earlier pre Christian traditions.

Group of Mummers

                                                                     

Raising The May Pole

Despite growing religious and institutional involvement in previously communal activities and traditions, the populace applied themselves with great enthusiasm to any occasion of social bonding, often at some cost to the societies they lived in (other than merely of money or means) such as the many community Maypoles stolen by rival villages and towns resulting in pitched battles between the two, the anarchic Saturnalia of Misrule as witnessed at the Shrovetide street ‘foot-ball’ games played across whole towns which could involve thousands of people and provided an occasion for licensed misrule resulting in damage to property and individual (although less violent than the serious riot and rebellion which was reserved for the Summer games as a time more suited for battle on the streets or field).

 The Church Ales or festivals also developed their Abbots of Unreason and a myriad practices of inversion and nonsense (Samuel Butler now we know where your inspiration came from).
 Charting how an apparently arcane ‘folk tradition’ once also considered a surviving pagan fertility rite had originated in high social circles of the Royal Courts and devolved into the rural communities, Hutton’s’ research into the Morris dancers is fascinating for its explanation of how we may create ‘new’ ancient traditions.

Modern Jack in The Green, Hastings

Perhaps my favorite exposition in this work is that of the origins and evolution of The Jack in the Green, identified as a ‘survival’ of an ancient pagan fertility rite by the Frazerite Lady Raglan of the Folklore society in 1939, established on her view linking the dancing Green-Man in May day processions with the foliage faces on church walls. This was a lineage unresolved till 1979 Roy Judges study revealed the true origins to be somewhat less arcane, and linked them to a more traditional social ritual evolved as so many traditional customs of display were, to celebrate the new season with a display deigned to garner reward.
To explain, during the17thC, London milkmaids danced the streets on May Day with their pails covered in flowers which symbolized the Springs new growth and so presented the promise of new grass for the cattle thus promising fresh milk, cream and butter. These displays earned them money as reward and therefore can be seen to serve a double purpose, of advertising their wares, as well a gathering much needed financial support after a lengthy winter without much income. They later left the pails for lighter wooden frames similarly covered in flowers and greenery, and later still were imitated in their greenery attired frames and street dancing display by the London Chimney sweeps whose claim for sympathy at this time was based on the end of winter cold meaning no more fires or work for them till next fall.

May Day Jack In The Green

Hutton surmises this work with a number of provocative and insightful observations, for example that the notion of a distinctive ‘Celtic’ ritual year with four festivals at the quarter days and an opening at Samhain, is a scholastic construction of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries which should now be considerably revised or even abandoned altogether.
Whilst the debt to a medieval, magical Catholicism seems to be growing apparent in my reading of serious studies of the origin of neo-pagan traditions, Hutton’s final words over the changing Christian influence upon the traditional festivals of the year are revelatory.
He establishes that soon as the system of salvation through ritual was scrapped at the Reformation, the merry making began to be regarded as a liability by the social and religious elites….thus the
evolution of a religious ideology …(had) produced a society imbued with a general taste for ceremony and acted as a means to endorsement of secular festivity.
In other words, Merry England was inspired by the fires of hell

Finally that ‘the rhythms of the British year are timeless and impose certain patterns on the calendar customs’, to celebrate spring, to make merry in summer and draw close at fall, despite government and mass media atomization of community, seems a fair conclusion.
Overall this book suggests to me that whilst certain traditions may not have an established ancient provenance, nevertheless because people are increasingly applying such meanings to the seasons cycles as an inherent pagan response to nature itself, we may now be seeing a further reversal of the community oriented neglect of seasonal festivals and a resurgence of a more nature based community oriented society at large.

Not a book for the exclusively poetic or mythologically minded, but if read in the objective manner with which it is presented, this book provides a wealth of insight and understanding into the seasonal festivities as they have evolved in these British Isles and the influence they bear on modern pagan perspectives, Recommended.


Happy Reading,  
Celestial Elf ~

the bee myth

An Environmental Machinima film based on Willi Paul’s modern myth, The Bee Cave Spirits; ( http://www.planetshifter.com/node/1638 )
Set in a post Distopian society of a not too distant future, this film introduces the cause of bees and their integral value to the eco-sphere.

Bees in Traditional Culture;
Throughout history in many world cultures a mystical relationship to honeybees can be found.
In the Ancient world the Great Mother was known as the Queen Bee and her priestesses were called Melissae.
They served the Bee Goddesses and functioned as Oracles carrying the golden wisdom of the Goddess to her people.
The honeycomb was even considered by the Greek Pythagoreans to be a symbol of the Goddess’ qualities of love and harmony, because of its hexagonal shape which in being composed of two triangles, one pointing upwards (Fire) and the other downwards, (Water) symbolized the perfect union between the opposites.
The Druids of Northern Europe reverenced the bees for their ability to pollinate flowers and crops, which was regarded as a sacred charge because honey was seen as a precious gift from the Mother Goddess herself.
Many Native American Indian tribes also used honey and other bee by-products, including the early Maya and Aztec Indians who kept bees and collected honey from the wild bees.
However the bee population of North America and Europe is now in serious decline, which threatens disaster to our food crops as they are dependent upon the bees to pollinate them.
The increase of commercial agriculture with its use of pesticides and destruction of wild plants and flowers upon which the bees forage upon contributed to this problem.
As bees are then an indicator of cross species health on ‘Mother Earth’, they are interestingly also an allegory for mankind’s psychological and spiritual well-being…

Introducing Permaulture;
Permaculture, based on ecological and biological principles, is a holistic approach to designing human settlements and agricultural systems that are modeled on the relationships found in natural ecologies, harmoniously integrating the land with all of its inhabitants.
Whilst it is understood that earlier peoples did farm in cooperation with the Earth and her seasonal cycles, that for example the Druids in the North and other social leaders did much to manage and advise their communities on how and when to sow and tend crops and animals, following ‘modern’ Industrialization these techniques had been abandoned in favor of faster turn around of product for the market.
In our time however, Bill Mollison, who could be called the instigator of a Quiet Revolution, launched with his book Permaculture One (1978) an international resurgence of land-use structured on cooperation with nature.
( http://www.scottlondon.com/interviews/mollison.html )
Within this Permaculture system, the ecological processes of plants, animals, their nutrient cycles, climatic factors and weather cycles are all included, work is minimised, “wastes” become resources, productivity and yields increase, and environments are restored.
The fundamental ‘core values’ of Permaculture are often summarized as;
1. Earthcare – recognising that the Earth is the source of all life (is possibly itself a living entity — see the Gaia theory) and that we are a part of Earth, not apart from it.

2. Fairshare – in which animals are treated as co-habitators and co-workers of the Earth, eating foods normally unpalatable to people such as pests ie slugs and termites, and supplying valuable mineral rich fertilizer through their droppings.

3. Natural Energy use: e.g. employing a cave for preservation due to its ideally dry, dark and warm conditions, using the integration of co-operative crops rather than weeding as the growth of field flowers among corn allows the bees to better pollinate, and employing some ‘weeds’ to keep others at bay due to the nature of their chemical interaction with the soil, thus avoiding pesticides and chemicals which undermine the Earths ability to host its cycle of growths, in contrast to more usually practiced Industrial Agriculture which intensively exploits the soil, plants and animals.

For more information on Permaculture please follow these links;
( http://www.permaculture.org.uk/ )
( http://www.permacultureusa.org/ )

Blessed Bee !

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