Posts Tagged ‘Sacred’

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 From 1553, under the reign of Henry’s Roman Catholic daughter, Mary I, Henry’s Reformation legislation was repealed and Mary sought to achieve the reunion with Rome.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

 

Faery Folk Envisioned, Britain’s Numinous Mystics Restored.

My Review of Cunning Folk And Familiar Spirits: Shamanistic Visionary Traditions In Early Modern British Witchcraft And Magic by Emma Wilby.

This book is a remarkable and in-depth academic study of early modern English cunning-folk and witches involvement with Familiar Spirits such as Tewhit, Greedigut, Vinegar Tom, Jack Robin and Wag At The Wa, with boggles and puckles, hob gobblins, hell waines and firedrakes. Wilby proposes that early-modern witches and cunning-folk had relationships with spiritual beings similar to those of shaman in other traditional societies, such as finding stolen items, curing illnesses or causing it and providing all sorts of advice as needed.
Whilst ”Most people today would consider themselves to have little or no knowledge about early modern familiars.  In reality, however, the basic dynamics of the relationship between a cunning woman or witch, and her spirit ally, is easily recognizable to all of us, being encapsulated in narrative themes running through traditional folk tales and myths from throughout the world. Classics such as Rumpelstiltskin, Puss in Boots, the Frog Prince and so on, are representative…These fairy stories and myths originate from the same reservoir of folk belief as the descriptions of familiar-encounters given by the cunning folk and witches in early modern Britain.”

 Written in three main sections, the first summarizes the animistic popular world view of early modern Britain. Presenting the illiterate or semi-literate common people as uneducated in the Christian orthodoxy and regarding the earlier ‘unintelligible’ Latin Catholic rituals and later Christian religious practices as ancillary to their folk beliefs, living cheek to jowl beside and within a world populated with very real spirits of various origin, influence and intent. Drawing on Christian heresy trial accounts as well as popular folk accounts Wilby then describes these spirit-allies and their differences between those identified with ‘witches – the demon familiars, and those who assisted ‘cunning folk’- the fairy familiars.

The quality of faery nature is well expressed in this popular rhyme which recorded in 19thC is likely to be much older;
”Gin ye ca’ me imp or elf, I rede ye look weel to yourself;
Gin ye ca’ me fairy, I’ll work ye muckle tarrie;
Gin guid neibour ye ca’ me; Then guid neibor I will be;
But gin ye ca’ me seelie wicht, I’ll be you freend baith day and nicht.”
The rhyme implies that the definition of the faery was dependent upon the actions of their human allies. In other words, the human could choose to employ the same fairy to good or evil ends, and it was the moral position of the spirit’s user rather than that of the spirit itself which determined the latter’s moral status at any given time.” Many comments recorded in Emma’s study of the confessions of cunning folk convicted of witchcraft suggest that this ambiguous amorality of the familiar spirit may have been standard. The familiars remained cooperative provided their ‘contract’ was honored – that their human partner would provide respect, or food and shelter, or in some cases promise of the soul…

In the second part of the book the argument is presented that most previous studies of cunning folk and witchcraft in Britain have tended to prioritize the social role, of healing, divination etc, over any thorough examination of the relationship between the practitioner and their fairy familiar or spirit guide.
Here the author draws compelling parallels between traditional shamanism as practiced in North America, Central Asia and Siberia, with the British practitioners experience as revealed through the evidence of both witch-trials and folk accounts. ”The relationship between shamans and their spirits is like the relationship between cunning folk or witches and their familiars…”  although they could indeed represent themselves as a man or woman, or an animal such as a dog, stereotypical cat, raven or toad, they also could be entirely immaterial and perceived only in the ‘flight’ to the other and inner realms of trance states.
The ambiguity remains consistent however wherever the spirits may be based as the author quotes Ronald Hutton historian’s notes that ”among traditional Siberian cultures some spirits were regarded with ‘respect, affection, solicitude’ while others were seen as ‘groups of efficient but untrustworthy thugs….and would punish with death any human master or mistress who shirked the duties of the shamanic vocation”. That witches generally first encountered a familiar or demon spirit during a pivotal moment of extreme stress, they may have for example family members may have fallen seriously sick – which happened often in earlier times, or they may have lost a farm animal to illness – which could lead to ruin or even death in a poor agricultural farming society. Wilby compares these pressures and threats to the sort of preparation to encounter a guiding spirit that shaman in traditional societies undertake – fasting, depriving themselves of sleep, and creating other physical extremes.
Wilby also argues that the concept of traveling to a sabbat is often seen to be the Christian interrogating authorities interpretation of the witch accompanying a fairy into fairyland, where they may learn magical such as how to use medicinal plants to heal, however this interpretation of the evidence as biased by elite intervention may not necessarily be correct due to the peoples own obfuscation of any clear boundaries between the folk faith and Christian church orthodoxy as it was(n’t) understood.

In the final section of the book Wilby considers whether the evidence suggests that peoples encounter experiences were primarily visionary and trance derived via a number of diverse methods, or alternately more paraphsyical than psycho-spiritual in nature and presents Paracelsus claim for the latter that ”Everyone may educate and regulate his imagination so as to come thereby into contact with spirits, and be taught by them”….This view in no way negates the reality of Familiar and Faery spirits, but rather places their existence in the shamanic realm of trance and ecstasy, the trance is not necessarily of the ”all fall down…”variety.
That similar beliefs may have also existed on a popular level are suggested by Robert Kirk’s claim ( author of The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns and Fairies) that perception of a spirit will continue so long as the seer can keep their eye steady without twinkling. Thus relatively ordinary activities could mask powerful contemplative techniques which developed a sustained ‘monotonous focus’ in which state the hidden realms all around us may be perceived. Employing ‘monotonous focus’ and ‘psychic destabilization’ like the shaman, the common and unlettered folk – women, children and poor men, were capable then of skills as intimated by the sixteenth century German magician Cornellius Agrippa. In support of such views and highlighting the similarities between early modern cunning folk and witches and the encounter experiences of Siberian and Native American shamans, she references Mircea Eliade’s claim (author Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy and much more) that shamanism is at root a psychological tendency rather than a religious belief…”we see no reason for regarding is as the result of a specific historical movement…as produced by a certain form of civilization. Rather, we would consider it fundamental in the human condition”. Despite the Victorian, early twentieth century and even relatively recent historiographical tendency to ‘pathologize’ and thereby dismiss as unimportant the visionary dimension of the familiar encounter, as boastings and ravings of the half crazy, and strange, mad outpourings, nightmares and collective fantasies, of mental illness and schizophrenia, Wilby points out that since the 1950’s advances in psychology, ethnography and comparative religion have rendered such simplistic diagnosis untenable. That ”magical cures of cunning folk were effective on many levels…that charms prayers and ritual were effective in curing psychosomatic aspects…divinitary techniques may have led the client to subconsciously reveal their wishes or suspicions…” Earlier and reductionist views such as those of Sir James Frazer who held that tribal magico-religious belief systems were (merely) an amalgamation of cause and effect magical technologies designed to meet basic survival needs, have been eloquently dismissed by subsequent academics such as the prominent scholar of religion Ninia Smart ”Frazer’s theory neglects the perception of the numinous…” It has become clear that the range of potentially healthy states of consciousness is considerably broader than previously imagined, that there is more to the experience of spirits and faeries than self delusion and misrepresentation, here we discover genuine spiritual experiences of envisioned guides and sacred beings.
To conclude her study ”because there has been little attempt to analyze the ‘fantasies’ of cunning folk and witches in relation to visionary experience as it is found in magical belief systems and religions throughout the world including Christianity…” Wilby examines a variety of comparative religious perspectives and their similarities with the narrative encounters of early modern cunning folk and witches. Despite their acknowledged moral ambiguity – they are not characterized by any Christian anti worldly ‘moral purity’ of action or intent but display the full range of human motivations, their widespread theatricality such as dressing in dark gowns or carrying ominous stave’s ”carved with heads like those of satyrs” and their use of deception, the cunning folk and witch visionaries are portrayed as Britain’s ‘unrecognized mystics’ who experienced spiritual revelations of a higher dimension. In this context Wilby’s assessment of Christianity and other religions suppression of unorthodox spiritual perception and practice (outside of their own orthodox canon of wise men, miracles, healing powers and prophecies ) is seen to be about the Church and State avoiding loss of authority and of maintaining a monopoly over all things psychic and spiritual – at any cost. This position was contrary to the common folk belief that magical practitioners skills sprung from a divine origin ”It is a gift which God hath given her…(by virtue of this gift, she) doth more good in one yeere then all these Scripture men will doe so long as they live.” Indeed, after the Reformation, cunning folk even took on the role previously played by the Catholic Saints and had been compared to Christ himself. The author also portrays the similarities between Christian (and Old Testament) mystics and their visionary relationships with Angels and Christ, and the cunning folk and shaman envisioned encounters, that essentially derive from the same numinous origins and are clothed in the imaginal furnishings of the ‘seer’ and their psycho-spiritual and cultural environment. In our modern world with the decline of Christianity and contrasting rise of interest in many ancient traditions and folk beliefs, it is indeed fascinating to see how ”a mysticism unsupported by societal organizations and which was upheld by no sacred buildings, no visible iconography, no sacred books, no formalized doctrine or cosmology and no institutionalized ritual…how such formless and invisible constructs could have challenged the Christian Church for the hearts and minds of ordinary people”, yet they have done so and the invisible faery spirits of folk legends, faery tales and the cunning folk-witch encounter narratives, are revealed to be within reach once again.

Wilby’s hypothesis then is that the fairy encounter narratives of cunning folk and witches recorded in the early modern witch trials evidence a surviving trend of folk beliefs extending unbroken from a pre christian shamanic world view. Shortlisted for the Katharine Briggs Folklore Award, 2006, the author makes an overwhelming case for the long term existence of an ancient British-Shamanic tradition. She also re-configures our understanding of witches and cunning folk as animist shamans embedded in local communities. This is an iconoclastic reversal of modern academic opinion that witches experience of spirits and their attested narratives were either the product of mental illness or more likely perhaps an enforced or contrived collusion between the often illiterate prisoner and their elite and educated religious inquisitor. That magical practitioners across the length and breadth of Britain had stood up in courtrooms and ” ‘persisted in telling long and involved stories about faries’ despite the fact that in doing so they often knowingly condemned themselves to death” demonstrates in a definite way as could be possible the conviction, integrity and respect with which the cunning folk regarded their familiar spirits.

Emma Wilby’s book is a remarkable, timely and novel way of looking at them (Cunning Folk And Familiar Spirits ), and one of the most courageous yet attempted. (Ronald Hutton, University of Bristol)
Fascinating and well researched … a genuine contribution to what is known about cunning folk and lays very solid foundations for future work on the subject. (Brian Hoggard, White Dragon)
Emma Wilby s conclusions and her explanation of how she drew them, laid down here in the commendable modern academic tendency towards plain English that has moved away from the previous generations overly complex sentence structure, is worth its weight in gold. (Ian Read, Runa).

Anyone with a genuine interest in Faeries and Spirits, Cunning Folk and Witches, Shamanism and Native British Spirituality both early-modern and contemporary, should turn off their electricity for a while, take a long tiring walk in the forests, hills and glades – or a series of them,
and then by candle bright some magic night
should read this book with deep delight,
the end.
(Celestial Elf).
If Faerie spirit thou wouldst see, look inside the air and be, 
beyond the realm of earthly need, 
the magic of divinity ~

Narration Of The Gnome

 

This is the tale of the Wizard Gnome,

Much misunderstood in the whispering gloam,

He tends to the Earth, where we make our home,

Seldom seen for he wanders alone.

This is a glimpse into sights Unknown….


Invisible is not a lack of sight, but lack of some perception,

Thus by dreaming-gaze and see, ethereal ethers conception,

Conjured beyond the boundaries of consciousness reception,

A vision, of infinite inter connection….


I request the people to come forth –

The people of the Wave and Earth and Air –

In a right-ways motion opening,

Apotheosis spirit fair –


To the creatures called the minerals, shining clear and glowing bright,

I gather Cosmic Energies to weave into this night –

To the creatures called the plant forms, growing green into the dance,

I gather for the learning, none more to the point- advance –


Gentle be and beautiful see,

In Hollows, Hills and Flowers,

In Stones and Springs and Lakes and Rain,

We will discover Powers….


Long mankind assigned to Gnome dark treasure hording plight,

Plundered Earth to seize it all to own and keep with might,

Long mankind has split them both, the kin of light and life,

Forsook fair ways of kindness for a secret trove of strife.


With sorcery and skill of Wizard,

A Convocation gathers –

In mystery and wonder thee,

Heart wisdom all that matters.


Gnome’s message for the telling, twilight time is here,

The Universe sends Blessing, Vibrations, Energy, Sheer…

The Wisdom of the Universe through gift of Second Sight,

The treasure of Earth’s crystals, to amplify your hearing, right.


Beneath the Sun and Moon and Stars,

Beyond the woods and mountains climbing –

Within the circles of the Earth,

A Mystic power is rising –


From moonbeams woven magics, and starlight of the skies,

electro-magnetic-missives, consecrated, wise,

From allies of your Ancient times the message here implies,

The treasures that you’r seeking are right before your eyes.


Sacred springs sing a song,

And travelling clouds do bring it,

Across the speckled gateway,

The pathway to within It.


A caution here to Earth-dwellers from dreamers of the Moon,

To the diggers of the deepness for resources reckless tune,

To the farmers of each other for some imaginary boon…

A reminder of the Harmony, lest end come all to soon.


I sorcerize the land and stones,

and lifekind all about –

With pece and joy, eternity –

With never any doubt.


To the Tree-eaters, Bee-beaters and genetically contrived,

Oil seekers, Earth reapers and otherwise deprived,

To the Old faith and the New faith that seekers have applied,

Portals of perception are here for you, Arrived.


By the blessing of both far tides,

And the nearness of the Now –

Set aside all such missguides,

Let the light shine from your brow –


Such were the words of the Wizard Gnome,

The mysterious truth – a stepping stone.

To enter into their magickal places.

Look beyond sight to your inner spaces –


Deep Peace of Wave and Earth and Air,

Your Blessing found is everywhere –

 

 

 A Guide for The Perplexed

 The Wizard Gnome here sets forth both a guide for people to access the higher frequencies, to open to an awareness of the other realms coexisting with us on the Earth, along with a timely caution against the consequences of an unrestrained and predatory commercial materialism for the individual spirit concerned and Earths Ecosphere as a whole.

Of particular relevance to any modern perceiver of Gnome wisdom, the caution of the Gnome’s narration is about neglecting care and kindness to the Earth at our own peril, of energy imbalances and overloading of magnetic fields causing ill health to the Earth and its ecosphere, which in turn closes down our portals of perception and understanding, further reducing our capability to change. Such factors as the desecration of the unique biological diversity of Earth species, as is the case for many Trees, Bees and Butterflies for example, both a crucial signifier of how far mankind has strayed from a cooperative concord with our Earth-Nature, the source of our physical selves and has further consequences such as the eventual collapse of the life sustaining systems which relied on these co-residents to oxygenate, pollinate and in countless other ways generate the world as we know it. Should some among human kind hope to follow them, the pathways to the higher realms are not paved with asphalt and ashes like some modern Mordoor of doom, nor sold by the meter, liter or beaker only to those who can afford, but are to be found within the organic-spiritual harmony of lifekind freely shared, the communal birth right of all who dwell upon the Earth. The pathways to the higher realms are congruent upon and found within the synergistic symphony of Cosmic energy as united in one great song of celebration, which is the vibration of life and delight.

The call itself is simple, seek within – find your spiritual center and look forth from this vantage point with new eyes already equipt to see the blessings that Universe and Eternity have bathed us in, become the change and once you have understood it – share the message.

 

About The Gnome;

A Gnome is an Elemental being or spirit of energy and as such they are commonly invisible to the average person, only those that utilize second sight can see them clearly, thus they symbolize the magical realms they inhabit of the world outside the boundaries of human consciousness; although they cherish the Earth, they are already beyond the threshold of the physical. Many believe the various forms of the Elementals come from a different realm, traveling between our realm and theirs at their leisure through energy portals where there is an overlaping of realms (possibly located at ley line junctions or electro magnetic focus points such as ancient stone circles) and were once more prevalent upon the physical Earth, thus the origins of myth and legends. Accordingly, Quantum Physics theories now propose that there are an infinity of parallel universes much like our own and the conjecture is that in some of these universes creatures who are merely fable and mythology here, still exist there. The name ‘Gnome’ itself comes from the Latin word ‘gnoma’ which means ‘Knowledge’ as in ‘gnomic poetry’ which is comprised of aphoristic verses that contain short, memorable statements of traditional wisdom and morality. Some say that this name was given to them by the medieval scholar Paracelsus who deduced of their existence in his alchemical and metaphysical extrapolations.

Known as guardians of treasure hidden deep within the Earth, Gnomes are guardians not only of the Earth and Earth minerals such as crystals, but also of the plant forms, specifically they tend to the roots of the plants.

Plant forms receive direct transmissions of ethereal energy from the Cosmos and through their roots they feed these powers into the Earth where Gnomes collect them as spiritual information to store in crystals for further distribution to heal Energy field imbalances and so help Earth-kind to develop along the higher evolutionary pathways.  

Thus the Gnomes are actually the bearers of the ideas of the universe and  the crystals with which they are associated are merely amplifiers to aid others such as human beings to receive these ideas and energies.

Such Cosmic energy or knowledge is subtle, powerful and direct, when Gnomes receive this information they obtain immediate understanding and wisdom. Having gathered countless numbers of such energy transmissions over the millenia, Gnomes are therefore very compassionate creatures and may aid simpler creatures, including human beings, if they are kind of heart, honest in manner and considerate of nature. If you have been aided by a Gnome you will probably receive a crystal or gemstone, although because Gnomes exist outside of our usual perceptive parameters, the gift will likely be expressed through a human friend. Alternately they may arrange for you to find the crystal by serendipitous means.

Some whispered legends claim that the predecessors of the Earth-Gnomes are the Moon-Gnomes, who in times beyond measure gathered together their Moon-dream-experiences and fashioned the Earth from them, but whether this is meant allegorically or upon a different level of reality, I cannot be sure. Gnomes are however nocturnal beings and sensitive to the influences of the moon.

If you wish to invoke a Gnome or seek its aid, you might go to an ancient wooded area where the energies have had decades to gather – naturally a full moon on a clear night is best for such procedures, and meditationally call to it as the Elemental guardian of the ages. Without prejudice or partisan particularities then present the cause which brought you thither and then wait with patience and an opened heart until the time of telling has peacefully passed. Do not expect any immediate or sudden materialization of your answer however, as the solution needed or new path to follow may take some time for a willing Gnome to arrange within the confines of our Earth bound existence.

Enter The Portals of Perception, See The Truth And Blessed Be ~

 

The Faery Faith: Book Review ~

The Faery Faith: An Integration of Science with Spirit; 
A book about the worldview of people who experience faery reality.

After a brief outline of her scientific outlook into the pineal gland and its psi capabilities, Serena Roney-Dougal who has a PhD in Parapsychology(the exploration of psychic phenomena; telepathy, clairvoyance and psychokinesis etc) , demonstrates her parameters in this book to be of intuition rather than slavish adherence to facts alone, that ”Seeing the Other-world is dependent on being able to see with one’s mind’s eye…not bound by the senses, but sensitive to vision, to dream…”. In this sense the book was a delight because Serena fears not to tread where others pause to proselytize about the different names given or inflections of pronunciation applied for example to the widespread existence of goddess or horned gods in ancient cultures and thus appear to refute their self evident similarities of spiritual identity.
I found her method at times to be both entertaining and pushing at the bounds of credibility, her employment of extended conjectures, stepping lithely from one circumstance to extrapolate that this means another thing and was likely therefore to support her thesis that a third or further outcome was probable. But as noted, this work follows paths of intuition rather than a rigorous fact based liturgy and as such her method is redolent of her subject, the paranormal worlds of Fae and elven enchantment do indeed push at the bounds of a possibly humdrum credibility. If you are not open to the limitless range of possibilities in a remarkable universe, then you might never see them after all – and if you do by some chance you will rationalize them out of all meaningfulness…

Whilst Serena is a qualified researcher in parapsychology and does by the way provide relevant references in the extensive index of her book, she also succinctly and simply portrays an enlightening insight into how the myths and legends of yore present an insight into other levels and realms of existence coexisting with our own reality. The book goes on to provide many inspiring accounts of how the same Fae and elven energies of earth and beyond are now resurgent in more modern myths and experiences of fairy and elven visitations, ghostly presences and Ufo abductions.
I particularly liked this quote that she included which describes a ‘place’ outside of physical space ‘Faeryland exists as a super-normal state of consciousness into which people may enter in dreams, trance, ecstatic condition or for an indefinite period at death…it can have no other limits than that of the universe itself’ (Lady Gregory 1979).
Incorporating her accounts of the latest views of quantum science, which identifies that our own cognition is a causative effect influencing the outcome of physical events, with the earlier magickal traditions which by various means sought to interact and cooperate with these energies at an elemental level and beyond, drawing on her scientific work with the pineal gland sometimes called the third eye, and the body’s natural cycles and other possible brain states that make us receptive to signals and vibrations of unseen or parallel worlds, Serena provides some scientific validation of the basis for these psychic phenomena and much food for thought.

In my opinion Serena successfully portrays the result that the many ancient mythological and modern accounts as well as the scientifically studied psychic phenomena do demonstrate when considered together, that each of us is potentially aware at some level of the natural magic and interconnectedness of ourselves with the earth and infinite universe. ”I feel the faery faith today to be a resurgence in animism, a love of the earth, of nature, aware of spirit immanent in all matter, aware that my body is the temple of my soul, that I am spirit made manifest, that everything I do reverberates throughout the whole universe, that I am a part of the whole and contain the whole within me…. (&) the deities are understood in their abstract mythical form…”
Clearly and coherently joining the spiritual, metaphysical and psychological dots with their manifestations in the physical realms, presenting the faery faith as an awareness of and cooperation with the subliminal and super natural forces of which we are also made and that are virulent in nature and across the universe,

I recommend this accessible book to everyone who has ever wondered, 
and who is able to follow Fae reasoning as it skips 
into the new vistas of the para-normal.
Enchanted We Are
& Blessed Be

A Christmas Carol

.

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 ~

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