Saturday, 22 December 2012

THE REDISCOVERY OF SHAKESPEARE

The Three Weird Sisters from the 1948 film ‘MacBeth’ directed by Orson Welles


It is arguable that William Shakespeare holds that unassailable position of being regarded as the greatest English language dramatist of all time. Other greats such as Wilde, Shaw, Pinter, Potter and numerous others are regarded as being ‘a lesser genius’ although still very much a genius.

From the perspective of the Craft, Paganism and the Occult there are two books that deal with the folklore and supernatural themes found within the works of the Bard that may be of interest to contemporary practitioners and folklorists.

One is ‘Shakespeare and the Supernatural: A Brief Study of Folklore, Superstition, and Witchcraft in Macbeth, Midsummer Night's Dream and the Tempest’ by Margaret Lucy and William Jaggard. Another is ‘Folk-Lore of Shakespeare’ by T. F. Thiselton Dyer. Both works are now quite old as the latter work is a Victorian one for example. Both are however still available, as budget price reprints via Amazon and other sources.

Robert Cochrane was of the opinion that Shakespeare was ‘of the Craft’ as the wealth of folklore and symbolism contained in his work, betrayed in Cochrane’s opinion, inside knowledge. This is of course un-provable but that possibility, together with the contents of the plays, opens up a vista for speculative study.

Recently Michael Howard produced an excellent article for Pagan Dawn (issue 182 Imbolc – Spring Equinox 2012 pp42-44) simply entitled ‘Witchcraft in Shakespeare.’ In his article Howard has reminded us that the Bard depicts Witchcraft or makes reference to sorcery, in several plays and not only the famous Scottish play. He further reminds us that these references reflect the common held belief and perceptions of Elizabethan culture. In that respect Shakespeare is doing what all playwrights do, holding up a mirror and reflecting the trends and beliefs current within society at the time of writing. Shakespeare provides us with a window into the psychology of his own times.

Shakespeare however, does more than simply chronicle the Elizabethan and later Stuart perspective on Witchcraft and sorcery as his plays also contain other references of interest. These include folklore, country medicine and ghosts, together with the exploration of several other supernatural themes. Hence my mention of the two books above.

In late 2012 I had the great delight of attending a performance of the ‘Scottish Play’ in Derby, presented magnificently by the Derby Shakespeare Theatre Company. Chris Scott in the lead role built upon his previous outstanding performances which have included Hamlet; to give an exceptionally sensitive interpretation of the usurper King of Scotland, which was a true pleasure to experience.

The play as per the norm opened with the Three Weird Sisters upon the heath. The opening words however were not those of the Bard. Rather we had an interpolation in the form of a paraphrased closing of the quarters taken from the Alexandrian Book of Shadows and provided in this instance, by the director’s assistant Miss Elke-Loiuse Crump. The supernatural theme and the question of the role of Fate were therefore, emphasised from the beginning in this interpretation of the story and the choice of words, in that now well known mock ‘old world English’ fitted perfectly with the traditional cauldron scene that followed.

The three unusually young women that played The Weird Sisters all wore similar apparel and obviously used similar mannerisms, this together with the Shakespearian dialogue emphasised their own ‘continuity’ throughout the play. This ‘triplicity’ was itself later emphasised with the appearance of Hecate, played by three women of more mature years in a clever juxtaposition to the perceived youth of The Weird Sisters. The Three Hecate like The Sisters appeared in near identical costume with leafy crowns, no Wiccanesque Maiden, Mother, Crone but a traditional neo-Classical interpretation of The Queen.

Does Shakespeare still have relevance today? Without a doubt and seeing a live performance is very much to experience a putting of flesh upon the bones. The plays of Shakespeare like his Sonnets and the stories of our ancestors, were never meant to be read but were instead, meant to be seen, performed and heard.

Supporting theatre companies such as the Derby Shakespeare Theatre Company is one way of seeing the words of the Bard and the themes he is expressing take on a new life and speak to us through the voices of our ancestors.

As stated the ‘Scottish Play’ is just one example of the work of the Bard that explores the themes of Fate, the supernatural and folk-tradition. One famous Shakespearian example of what may be an archaic hunting custom is found in "As You Like It" Act IV Scene 2:

"What shall he have that kill'd the deer?
His leather skin and horns to wear.
Then sing him home:
(The rest shall bear this burden).
Take thou no scorn to wear the horn,
It was a crest ere thou wast born.
Thy father's father wore it,
And thy father bore it;
The horn, the horn, the lusty horn,
Is not a thing to laugh to scorn."

What is the origin and meaning of this custom? That we may never know for certain but the significance of the symbolism will speak to us via our subconscious. There finding a deep resonance within and calling to us on a primeval level, to recognise the Hunted as one with the Hunter, a manifestation of one facet of the Divine Masculine as the Antlered God and a philosophical concept of great complexity that many, including myself, will struggle continually to fully understand. That is the nature of the Mysteries.

The title of this piece, ‘The Rediscovery of Shakespeare’ is in truth an anomaly. Shakespeare does not need to be rediscovered as he was never truly lost.

“This above all; to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.”

Speech of Polonius fromHamlet” Act 1, scene 3.

The Derby Shakespeare Theatre Company
More details on this highly talented theatrical company can be found here:
http://www.derbyshakespeare.org.uk/

Monday, 12 November 2012

ARMISTICE 2012



Recently across the web, the dreaded Facebook and even in the more important real world, there has been much discussion over the meaning of Remembrance Sunday and the wearing of poppies, red and white. One possible reason for this focus has been the falling of Armistice Day (the eleventh day of the eleventh month) on Remembrance Sunday (the nearest Sunday to Armistice Day).

The First World War is quite possibly the greatest waste of human life on record, a description I use with qualification. Although more people died in the Second World War (including large numbers of civilians), the First World War had confused origins and reasons.

It is likely that the majority who fought in the First World War had no real idea of what they actually fought for. Whereas in the Second World War the Allies at least recognised the evil of Hitler, whilst many of those that fought for the Axis genuinely believed that they were defending Europe from outside invaders. Such is the confusion of war and there are always two sides to every argument.

The unfinished business that was left over following the so called ‘Great War’ and the inequalities of the Armistice that followed were even at the time, regarded as a danger to peace in the future. Both ultimately formed an important cause behind the ‘march to war’ in the thirties and some historians have described the wars as round one and round two, of a European civil war that accidentally went global. Without the First World War there could never have been a Second.

In two years time it will be the centenary of the start of the ‘Great War’ and I wonder how we will observe that anniversary. The next time Armistice Day will fall once again on Remembrance Sunday will be the 11th of November 2018, precisely marking the centenary of the ending of the 'Great War' itself. How will that be commemorated?

The responsibility for unjustifiable conflicts, fought on the basis of lies and greed, belongs with the political elites. We should remember the dead of both sides. We should remember that the average solder in both World Wars and in conflicts before (we always forget those wars) and since, including current wars that have certainly not ended, is just doing his or her job.

The eleventh of November is as many will know, All Hallows Eve under the Julian (the pre-Gregorian) calendar. So for many Pagans and Craft folk, this is a time for honouring the ancestors. This beggars the question, what exactly are we remembering so long after these two earth shaking historical periods? Events that highlighted both the best and the worst of human nature; bravery, self-sacrifice and community spirit countered by untold atrocities, war-crimes (committed by both sides) and mass murder, that even today is almost beyond our understanding.

When we honour our ancestors, when we remember them, are we remembering only those of our blood or are we perhaps more wide-ranging in our perspectives? Do we remember our spiritual and our cultural ancestors, together with those of our clans? Do we remember both the hero and the criminal created by war? Perhaps some only wish to remember the winner or the ‘good guy;’ because to spare a thought for the murderer and the criminal, would remind us too much of our own darkness. It would remind us of our own failings and our own weaknesses

Yet standing as we are and facing the dark half of the year; should we not face our own human darkness, our frailties and our strengths that make us what we are? When we remember and honour our ancestors of blood and clan, we should remember and honour for good or ill, that part of us that is of them.

© Chattering Magpie 2012

Monday, 5 November 2012

Hallowtide

“We stand between the quick and the dead.
We honour our ancestors, known and unknown.”

Griffith 2011


“Lo, there do I see my Father.
Lo, there do I see my Mother.
And my Sisters and my Brothers.
Lo, there do I see the line of my people back to the beginning.
They do bid me to take my place among them.”

Crichton M. (1976) Eaters of the dead. Knopf.

Monday, 22 October 2012

“Riders on the Storm” The Doors


 Luis Ricardo Falero 1880

Riders on the storm.
Riders on the storm.
Into this house were born.
Into this world were thrown.
Like a dog without a bone,
An actor out on loan.
Riders on the storm.

Theres a killer on the road,
His brain is squirmin like a toad.
Take a long holiday,
Let your children play.
If ya give this man a ride,
Sweet family will die.
Killer on the road, yeah.

Girl ya gotta love your man.
Girl ya gotta love your man.
Take him by the hand,
Make him understand.
The world on you depends,
Our life will never end.
Gotta love your man, yeah.

Wow!

Riders on the storm.
Riders on the storm.
Into this house were born.
Into this world were thrown.
Like a dog without a bone,
An actor out alone.
Riders on the storm.

Riders on the storm.
Riders on the storm.
Riders on the storm.
Riders on the storm.
Riders on the storm.

"Ghost Riders in the Sky" by Stan Jones ©1948

The Wildhunt by P.N. Arbo 1872

An old cowboy went riding out one dark and windy day,
Upon a ridge he rested as he went along his way.
When all at once a mighty herd of red eyed cows he saw,
A-plowing through the ragged sky and up the cloudy draw.

Their brands were still on fire and their hooves were made of steel.
Their horns were black and shiny and their hot breath he could feel.
A bolt of fear went through him as they thundered through the sky.
For he saw the Riders coming hard and he heard their mournful cry.

Yippie yi Ohhhhh.
Yippie yi yaaaaay.
Ghost Riders in the sky.

Their faces gaunt, their eyes were blurred, their shirts all soaked with sweat.
He's riding hard to catch that herd but he ain't caught 'em yet.
'Cause they've got to ride forever, on that range up in the sky.
On horses snorting fire, as they ride on hear their cry.

Yippie yi Ohhhhh.
Yippie yi yaaaaay.
Ghost Riders in the sky.

As the riders loped on by him, he heard one call his name;
“If you want to save your soul from Hell, a-riding on our range.
Then cowboy change your ways today or with us you will ride.
Trying to catch the Devil's herd, across these endless skies.”

Yippie yi Ohhhhh.
Yippie yi yaaaaay.
Ghost Riders in the sky.
Ghost Riders in the sky.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mynzbmrtp9I

Sunday, 21 October 2012

A Little Humour for Halloween


This is a true story and it took place only a couple of years ago.

It was a weekend and I was at home preparing my house for our Hallowtide gathering. One of my fellow members of the Hearth of the Turning Wheel was staying the weekend with me and helping to sort out our ritual equipment.

We had amongst this equipment the Hearth totems and one of these is a “haremask,” which is the facial skin of a hare complete with fur and ears. This "mask" was tied to a rabbit skin by leather thronging and looked rather like a glove puppet.

While we were chatting we heard a knock at the door and I, expecting other Hearth members; swung back the front door while remaining hidden behind it, extended my arm with the hare puppet on it and shouted; “Happy Halloween!”

There was complete silence. I stepped out from behind the door expecting to see our other Hearth members but no. Instead I found a Jehovah’s Witness, as white as a sheet.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

William Shakespeare "As You Like It" Act IV Scene 2


Herne the Hunter by George Cruikshank

"What shall he have that kill'd the deer?
His leather skin and horns to wear.
Then sing him home:
(The rest shall bear this burden.)
Take thou no scorn to wear the horn,
It was a crest ere thou wast born.
Thy father's father wore it,
And thy father bore it;
The horn, the horn, the lusty horn,
Is not a thing to laugh to scorn."

Friday, 14 September 2012

Summer is Iccumin in (modern English)


Summer has arrived,
Loudly sing, Cuckoo!
The seed grows and the meadow
blooms

And the wood springs anew,
Sing, Cuckoo!

The ewe bleats after the lamb,
The cow lows after the calf.
The bullock stirs, the stag farts,

Merrily sing, Cuckoo!
Cuckoo! Cuckoo!

Well you sing, Cuckoo!
Don't ever you stop now.


Sing Cuckoo now. Sing, Cuckoo!
Sing Cuckoo! Sing Cuckoo now!





Summer is Iccumin in (Middle English)

Sumer is icumen in,
Lhude sing cuccu!
Groweþ sed and bloweþ med

And springþ þe wde nu,
Sing cuccu!
Awe bleteþ after lomb,
Lhouþ after calue cu.
Bulluc sterteþ, bucke uerteþ,
Murie sing cuccu!
Cuccu, cuccu, wel singes þu cuccu;
Ne swik þu nauer nu.
Pes:
Sing cuccu nu. Sing cuccu.
Sing cuccu. Sing cuccu nu!


Saturday, 8 September 2012

The Cuckoo's Nest (the other version) Traditional English Folksong - Jolly Rogers arrangement













There's a corner in the meadow where the lads and lasses meet
Oh they do here what they couldn't do in the open street
They play all kinds of games there, but the one I like the best
Is where every laddie rumples up the cuckoo's nest.



Chorus:
It's high the cuckoo, low the cuckoo, high the cuckoo's nest
It's high the cuckoo, low the cuckoo, high the cuckoo's nest
I'll give any maid a shilling and a bottle of the best
Just to rumple up the feathers of her cuckoo's nest



I wooed her in the morning and I had her in the night
She was my very first one so I tried to do it right
I searched around and wandered and I never would have guessed
If she hadn't showed me where to find her cuckoo's nest


Chorus:

It's high the cuckoo, low the cuckoo, high the cuckoo's nest
It's high the cuckoo, low the cuckoo, high the cuckoo's nest
I'll give any maid a shilling and a bottle of the best
Just to rumple up the feathers of her cuckoo's nest



When she showed me where to find it I knew just where to go
Through the underbrush and brambles where the little cuckoos grow
From the moment that I found it, she would never let me rest
From rumpling up the feathers of her cuckoo's nest.


Chorus:

It's high the cuckoo, low the cuckoo, high the cuckoo's nest
It's high the cuckoo, low the cuckoo, high the cuckoo's nest
I'll give any maid a shilling and a bottle of the best
Just to rumple up the feathers of her cuckoo's nest



It was bushy, it was prickled, it was feathered all around
It was tucked away so neatly and it wasn't easy found
She said young man you're blundering, but I knew it wasn't true
For I left her with the makings of a young cuckoo


Chorus:

It's high the cuckoo, low the cuckoo, high the cuckoo's nest
It's high the cuckoo, low the cuckoo, high the cuckoo's nest
I'll give any maid a shilling and a bottle of the best
Just to rumple up the feathers of her cuckoo's nest



It's high the cuckoo, low the cuckoo, high the cuckoo's nest
It's high the cuckoo, low the cuckoo, high the cuckoo's nest
I'll give any maid a shilling and a bottle of the best
Just to rumple up the feathers of her cuckoo's nest

The Cuckoo's Nest (English Traditional Folksong)

 

Picture copyright L. Jackson 2009

Barry Dransfield arrangement from the album Morris On

As I was a-walking one morning in May
I met a pretty fair maid and unto her did say:
“For love I am inclined and I'll tell you my mind
That my inclination lies in your cuckoo's nest.”


“My darling,” said she, “I am innocent and young,
And I scarcely can believe your false deluding tongue.
Yet I see it in your eyes and it fills me with surprise
That your inclination lies in my cuckoo's nest.”

Chorus:
Some like a girl who is pretty in the face,
And some like a girl who is slender in the waist.
But give me a girl that will wriggle and will twist:
At the bottom of the belly lies the cuckoo's nest.
“Then my darling,” says he, “if you see it in my eyes,
Then think of it as fondness and do not be surprised.
For I love you, my dear, and I'll marry you, I swear,
If you let me clap my hand on your cuckoo's nest.”


“My darling,” said she, “I can do no such thing,
For my mother often told me it was committing sin
My maidenhead to lose and my sense to be abused.
So have no more to do with my cuckoo's nest.”


Chorus:
Some like a girl who is pretty in the face,
And some like a girl who is slender in the waist.
But give me a girl that will wriggle and will twist:
At the bottom of the belly lies the cuckoo's nest.

“My darling,” says he, “it is not committing sin.
But common sense should tell you it is a pleasing thing,
For you were brought into this world to increase and do your best
And to help a man to heaven in your cuckoo's nest.”


“Then my darling,” says she, “I cannot you deny,
For you've surely won my heart by the roving of your eye.
Yet I see it in your eyes that your courage is surprised,
So gently lift your hand in my cuckoo's nest.”


Chorus:
Some like a girl who is pretty in the face,
And some like a girl who is slender in the waist.
But give me a girl that will wriggle and will twist:
At the bottom of the belly lies the cuckoo's nest.


So this couple they got married and soon they went to bed
And now this pretty fair maid has lost her maidenhead.
In a small country cottage they increase and do their best
And he often claps his hand on her cuckoo's nest.


Chorus:
Some like a girl who is pretty in the face,
And some like a girl who is slender in the waist.
But give me a girl that will wriggle and will twist:
At the bottom of the belly lies the cuckoo's nest.

Tubal and Jubal by Rudyard Kipling




Jubal sang of the wrath of God and the curse of thistle and thorn,
But Tubal got him a pointed rod and scrabbled in the earth for corn.
Old, old is that early mold, young as the sprouting grain,
Yearly greed is the strife between,
Jubal and Tubal Cain!

Jubal sang of the new found sea and the love that it's waves divide,
But Tubal hollowed a fallen tree and passed to the further side.
Black, black as the hurricane rack, salt as the undermain, 
Bitter and cold is the hate they hold,
Between Jubal and Tubal Cain!

Jubal sang of the golden years when wars and wounds shall cease,
But Tubal fashioned the hand flung spears and showed his neighbours peace.
New, new as the nine point two, older than Lamak slain,
Roaring and loud is the feud avowed,
Twix Jubal and Tubal Cain!

Jubal sang of the cliffs that bar and the peaks that none may crown,
But Tubal clamored by junk and scar and there he built him a town.
High, high as the snow sheds lie, low as the cold rich drain,
Wherever they be, they can never agree,
Jubal and Tubal Cain!


Hal An Tow (English Traditional Folksong)



Hal-an-tow
Jolly-rum-ba-low
We were up
long before the day-o
To welcome in the summer
To welcome in the May-O
Summer is a cummin in
and winther's gone away-O

Take no scorn to wear the horn
it was the crest when you were born
Your father's father wore it
Your father wore it, too

Hal-an-tow
Jolly-rum-ba-low
We were up
long before the day-o
To welcome in the summer
To welcome in the May-O
Summer is a cummin in
and winther's gone away-O

Robin Hood and Little John
Have both gone to the Fair-O
and we will to the Merry Green-Wood
to hunt the Buck and Hare-O

Hal-an-tow
Jolly-rum-ba-low
We were up
long before the day-o
To welcome in the summer
To welcome in the May-O
Summer is a cummin in
and winther's gone away-O

Bless aunt Mary Moses
who raised a mighty storm-O
It blew away the Spanish fleet
between the dusk and Morn-O

Hal-an-tow
Jolly-rum-ba-low
We were up
long before the day-o
To welcome in the summer
To welcome in the May-O
Summer is a cummin in
and winther's gone away-O

We have brought the budding branch
to blest each hearth and bed-O
For none should lie alone today
But to the woods, instead-O!

Hal-an-tow
Jolly-rum-ba-low
We were up
long before the day-o
To welcome in the summer
To welcome in the May-O
Summer is a cummin in
and winther's gone away-O

Bless the Lord and Lady
and all who dwell in here-O
and bless the little children born
and turning of the year-O

Hal-an-tow
Jolly-rum-ba-low
We were up
long before the day-o
To welcome in the summer
To welcome in the May-O
Summer is a cummin in
and winther's gone away-O



Monday, 3 September 2012

The Abbots Bromley Horn Dance of Staffordshire


Preamble
Situated some half way between Uttoxeter and Rugeley, due west of Burton on Trent is an attractive village that by many is held to be the home of possibly the most important and most ancient folk tradition found in England.  Once a year, in early September this village plays host to the Horn Dance, a folk custom whose earliest records date from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries but whose origins are undoubtedly far older.


Historical background
It was once thought that the earliest confirmed record of the Horn Dance dated from the seventeenth century but this date has now been revised. The existence of the Horn Dance can now be dated to the first half of the sixteenth century (Hutton 1996), by which time it would have been an all ready well established custom, in existence long enough to get noticed.


However, this description of the event does not mention the horns but focuses on the Hobby Horse, this omission does not necessarily mean that they were not present but it is an anomaly. It has been suggested that the horns are a later addition (Hutton 1996) and that originally the other characters such as the Hobby Horse, had greater prominence in what was possibly a local mummers play.


It is however, the presence of the horns that make this dance and its’ performance unique. The actual dance features a locking of the horns in mimicry of the rut. This unique element suggests to me that the primary importance of the dance is and possibly all ways has been the horns.


It was once fashionable to claim that folk customs of this nature were a Pagan relic or survival and many now feel that this concept has been discredited. However, in dismissing this theory completely we may inadvertently overlook some actual survivals.


Here I depart from the accepted academic opinion held by Hutton and others, as it is the symbolism of the dance that speaks to me here. The use of horns, the rutting dance and our knowledge that the performance used to take place later in the year (Hutton 1996) suggests to me a link with the rut itself, the winter solstice and possibly hunting or Gods of the hunt.


The processional route through the village to historically the furthest reaches of the parish suggests a method of beating the bounds and a driving away of evil.




Further symbolic overtones are suggested by the presence of the Hobby Horse as a representative of Sleipnir (Oates 2007) the mount of the Saxon God Woden. Traditional associations with Woden (the Norse Odin) as a horned deity and leader of the wild hunt merely reinforces a suggested ritualistic origin.


It has been suggested that as a mummers play the dance had no religious or ritualistic function (Hutton 1996) and was primarily an entertainment. I however, find myself quite unconvinced by this argument, when I take into consideration the symbolism present in this rite. I postulate that the origins of the dance are most likely Saxon and that the dance is a genuine pre-Christian survival, although it goes almost without saying, that I cannot prove it.


As an aside it may be worth exploring that at this point, the reader may be of the impression that I am or have taken an anti-Hutton stance. This is perhaps an understandable but erroneous assumption. When reading the work of Professor Hutton I am generally in agreement with some ninety percent of his opinion but there is often a ten percent where I am not. This does not mean I am anti-Hutton, I have a great deal of respect for his work and opinion.


However, I do at times hold a degree of doubt and I reserve the right to hold opinions of my own. My interpretation of the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance and I might add, the Castleton Garland Ceremony, belong to that ten percent where my opinion is contrary to his.


The Horns as trivia




There are six pairs of horns mounted on poles with carved heads. They are all from reindeer and they have been dated as being an estimated nine hundred to one thousand years old (Buckland 1980). Ladell (1932) describes them as follows:


Horn #1 weighing 16 ½ pounds is 31 inches across and painted white.
Horn #2 weighing 19 pounds is 29 inches across and painted white.
Horn #3 weighing 16 ¼ pounds is 35 inches across and painted brown.
Horn #4 weighing 23 ¼ pounds is 33 inches across and is painted brown.
Horn #5 weighing 20 pounds is 38 inches across and painted brown.
Horn #6 weighing 25 ¼ pounds is 39 inches across and is painted white.


The horns are known to have been painted several times throughout their existence and under the present coats of paint are traces of red, blue and cream. Plot writing in 1686 states that the heraldic arms of the local gentry were once painted on the carved heads.


The current colours although cream (white) and brown, are still known by the old colours of red and blue by the dancers themselves. However, depending on how much of a leg pull they wish to give the unsuspecting tourist, will depend on which team, the brown or white, is called blue or red. Sometimes to the amusement of the teams, the same dancer will give a different answer to different enquirer.



The Horn Dance Today
Today the Horn Dance as an annual custom takes place on a Monday and only on a Monday. The formula for calculation is “the Monday following the first Sunday after the fourth of September.” If the fourth of September is a Monday, the dance is held a week later.


The teams consists of six dancers, three in each team, together with a Maid Marion, a Hobby Horse, a jester, a boy or girl with a bow, another boy or girl playing a triangle and a musician. The full compliment is thirteen but with younger members present being taught the dance and the extra musicians, there is often more in attendance.  The dancers are in attractive uniforms of Victorian origin while the remaining characters dress appropriate to their role.


Leaflets giving information regarding the itinerary of the dance together with a brief history of the village and the dance itself, are available from various local shops and the Post Office. This helpful leaflet is published by the Abbots Bromley Parish Council (2001) and quotes Shipman extensively.


It is an early start with a church service at approximately 7 am with all the Horn Dancers, many locals and an increasingly large number of Pagans, tourists and television cameras in attendance. It has been observed that the vicar and church staff are sometimes a little uneasy with the presence of so many Pagans (Howard 1995) however, as Pagans we should be glad of the church patronage as without it, this wonderful rite would not have survived to the present day.


The Horns are placed in front of the altar prior to the service commencing, to be blessed by the vicar before they leave the building. At approximately 7.45 am, the Horns are taken from the church and the first dance of the day takes place outside the porch.


The dancers then make their way to the village green dancing there sometime after 8 am and then proceed through the village, often deviating from the traditional route to visit elderly relatives, retired dancers and other local residents before reaching the top of Goose Lane, where they take a well earned break. This is often the stop where members of the public get a chance to join the dancers in an impromptu performance.




When the procession restarts the dancers and their many followers make their way back down Goose Lane in the direction of the reservoir, often crossing the bridge with the aid of a transit van although, in the old days they walked all day.


The dances and the procession recommence on the other side of the reservoir and by 11 am if running to time, they should be at Admaston Village, where more impromptu performances can take place.




By noon the dancers should be at Blithfield Hall (pronounced Bliffield), home of the local aristocracy, the Dowager Baroness Lady Nancy Bagot and her family. This family have given their name to a particular breed of goat and their coat of arms bears a goats head with goat supporters. The first “Bagot Goats” are said to have been presented to the family by Richard II and may have been brought to England during the Crusades (Bagot 1979).


Here, while the crowds stay on the outside of the dry moat, the dancers perform in front of the hall before being presented to Lady Bagot. There is then a break while a lunch is provided for the dancers by the Bagot family.


Post lunch the dancers begin to make their way back to the village, taking in Little Dunstal Farm and other outlying points to reach the Bagot arms by approximately 3.30 pm. The procession and dance performances continue through the village and past the Village Green to reach the Coach and Horses after 7 pm, here they turn and return for the third visit to the Village Green. The Horns are finally returned to the church of Saint Nicholas sometime after 8 pm.




The Village of Abbots Bromley today
The village itself is very attractive and although there has been expansion since the Sixties, the outlying modern housing estates do not detract from the older village centre.  Many of the older houses date from Georgian times with a few older buildings spread throughout the village.


The village has four public houses of note and all are buildings of some age, these are the Bagot Arms, the Goats Head, the Crown and the Coach and Horses. All four of these serve food and can boast of a polite and friendly service. My personal favourite is the Bagot Arms but don’t let that put you off the others. They are all equally good.


Many of the pubs have rooms to let and a weekend break in this area is worth taking. There are several B&B’s in the area and the Staffordshire Tourist Information can assist in finding the most suitable. It can be cheaper to stay outside the village and I once stayed at Lea Hall Farm just over the reservoir beyond Admaston, a place to stay that I do recommend.


The surrounding area is a fine if easy walking country and there are many other attractive villages, ruins, churches and castles within reach by foot or car. Tutbury Castle is quite near as is Cannock Chase.


References
Abbots Bromley Parish Council (2001) Abbots Bromley free map. ABPC.
Bagot N. (1979) Blithfield the Staffordshire home of Lady Bagot. English Life Publications Ltd. Derby.
Buckland T. (1980) Lore and language magazine. January 1980 Cited in Shipman E.R. (1996) A history of Abbots Bromley. Abbots Bromley Parish Council and Benhill Press Ltd.
Hutton  R. (1996) The stations of the Sun: a history of the ritual year in Britain. Oxford University Press.
Howard M. (1995) The sacred ring: the Pagan origins of British Folk festivals and customs. Capall Bann.
Ladell A.R. (1932) The Abbots Bromley Horn Dance. Cited in Shipman E.R. (1996) A history of Abbots Bromley. Abbots Bromley Parish Council and Benhill Press Ltd.
Oates S (2007) Abbots Bromley the Wild Hunt and Saint Nick. In The Hedge Wytch. Issue 39 Lammas/August 2007 pp14-19.
Plot R. (1686) The natural history of Staffordshire. Cited in Hutton R. (1996) The stations of the Sun: a history of the ritual year in Britain. Oxford University Press.


This article was first published as The Chattering Magpie (Griffith D.B.) 2010 A Grand Day Out – The Abbots Bromley Horn Dance of Staffordshire. The Hedgewytch: issue 51 August/Lammas 2010 pp 3-7.


Text copyright D.B. Griffith 2010.
Photography copyright D.B. Griffith 2009.
Reproduction without permission of the author prohibited.
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