Posts Tagged ‘Protestant’

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 From 1553, under the reign of Henry’s Roman Catholic daughter, Mary I, Henry’s Reformation legislation was repealed and Mary sought to achieve the reunion with Rome.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.

 

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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 ~

On Wicca and the Christian Heritage: Ritual, sex and magic.


Five Star Book Review;
Joanne Overend’s
Wicca and the Christian Heritage: Ritual, sex and magic.

Warning, this is a very academic work steeped in a breathtaking complexity of reference and cross reference that launches the reader into an unexpected examination of the conflicts between the Christian Churches..
However, quickly (in an academic sort of way) the text becomes imbued with the intrigue and mystery of the ‘episcopanes vagantes’ or wandering Bishops, as in a ripping-yarn-like-account they set about creating offshoots and unauthorized new lines of religious movements and churches.

The ensuing revealed history is fascinating as it presents the developments of their heterodox churches with increasingly less attachment to either the Protestant or the Catholic churches, the former regarding the latter as practitioners in witchery via their priest-craft of mass and transubstantiation etc, the Anglican church’s endeavors to assert an apostasy direct from ancient Jerusalem via Joseph of Arimathea’s mission to Glastonbury thus sidestepping the subsequent Papal Creed and Catholic church of Rome in favor of a more natural form of Christianity….

The author then examines in some detail the definition of Ritual and its meanings within the old Catholic tradition, the new Anglican church (with its claim to older traditions than the Catholic), the Catholic v Protestant dichotomy between Ritual as The Spiritual Experience which transforms lives v Protestant prioritization of Understanding as the primary factor of a spiritual life.
Against this background, the new Wiccan claims to be ”The” ‘Old’ Religion, their founders Christian associations, that for example Crowley was brought up among Brethren, that Gardeners involvement with Spiritualist churches, the interest in The Golden Dawn and the Rosicrucians, as well as claimed descent from the even older ones of Egyptian mystery religions, sets the pathway to consider Wicca in terms of its defining aspects of ritual and practice.
Ritual is revealingly portrayed across the diversity of traditions in addition to a thoughtful, non salacious handling of the aspect of sexual control, rebellion and practice across the diverse traditions.

Specifically the comparison of the Catholic medieval condemnation of witchcraft (comprised of unorthodox and elderly single women, herbalists, Jewish and other culturally excluded people and groups) the later comparison by Protestants of Catholics themselves with this same group based on their magical rituals, and the subsequent development of Wiccans and others who practice various forms of ritual, along with the lines of inception by which the latter have come to create their new/old traditions is fascinating.

Strongly Recommended for any who wish to ‘Understand’ the origins of the new/old traditions of Wicca and Paganism, but not essential for those who prioritize experiential spirituality over cognitive reconciliation.

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