Category Archives: Customs

Mead and the Honeymoon

In ancient times honey was revered for its healing properties. It was the only natural sweetener readily available and has the distinction of being the only foodstuff that doesn’t go off.

This was also a time when water wasn’t necessarily safe to drink due water borne diseases and parasites, so the sterilising properties of alcohol made weak beers and wines the drink of choice.

Although often referred to as “honey wine” true mead is brewed from honey, water and yeast without other ingredients such as grapes or other fruits. (The earliest recorded recipe for mead dates to 60AD)

The combination of the safe to drink alcohol and the healing properties of the honey lead to mead being revered (especially since it was often brewed by druids, and later, monks)

As part of the wedding ceremony, the bride’s father was expected to provide the newly wed couple with enough mead to last the couple for the first month of their marriage, hence the term Honeymoon, and this was said to encourage fertility and vitality (rather than brewer’s droop) and ensure that the marriage would “bear fruit” and a child would be born within a year.

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Congratulations to Lee and Jennifer (9th September 2016)

Kanu y Med (Song of Mead)

I WILL adore the Ruler, chief of every place,
Him, that supports the heaven: Lord of everything.
Him, that made the water for every one good,
Him, that made every gift, and prospers it.
May Maelgwn of Mona be affected with mead, and affect us,
From the foaming mead-horns, with the choicest pure liquor,
Which the bees collect, and do not enjoy.
Mead distilled sparkling, its praise is everywhere.
The multitude of creatures which the earth nourishes,
God made for man to enrich him.
Some fierce, some mute, he enjoys them.
Some wild, some tame, the Lord makes them.
Their coverings become clothing.
For food, for drink, till doom they will continue.
I will implore the Ruler, sovereign of the country of peace,
To liberate Elphin from banishment.
The man who gave me wine and ale and mead.
And the great princely steeds, beautiful their appearance,
May he yet give me bounty to the end.
By the will of God, he will give in honour,
Five five-hundred festivals in the way of peace.
Elphinian knight of mead, late be thy time of rest.

From the Book of Taliesin XIX

Tree Lore – Blackthorn

The Blackthorn, which is widespread and abundant in woods and hedgerows throughout the British Isles, has the most sinister reputation within Celtic folklore, in ancient Ireland it was known as Straif, thought to be the origin of the word strife.

Although associated with trouble and bad luck, it is also associated with the overcoming of these negative aspects and the transformation that this struggle can bring.

 

Cailleach the Celtic goddess of winter is depicted as a blue veiled old woman with a raven on one shoulder and a blackthorn staff which she uses to summon storms. She emerges at Samain and takes over the year from the summer goddess Brigid.

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Bowd Slasher

For hundreds of years the Peace Egg or Pace Egg play was a common part of the Easter festivities in Lancashire with bands of disguised mummers going from house to house presenting their play.

Gradually what was once an adult tradition became one enacted by children often gaining more in donations than their parents could earn in the wool and cotton industries.

Below is an contemporary observation of one of these performances by the Lancashire dialect writer John Trafford Clegg (Th’ Owd Weighver)

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The Britannia Coconut Dancers

From the town of Bacup with blackened faces and unusual costumes comes a unique folk dance troup. The team dances several garland dances once common as part of rushbearing festivals around the area, but also a “nut dance” of which they now seem to be the sole surviving example.

The Britannia Coco-nut Dancers, a folk dance troupe from Bacup in Lancashire, England.

Photo by Kezka Dantza Taldea Eibar

Whilst the clogs shirt and britches are traditional Lancashire, the white and red hooped skirt and white hat/turban seem more exotic in origin.

While Morris Dancing is rumoured to have been derived from the dances of the Moors, the African tribe that conquered large parts of Spain, Portugal and Southern France. The tradition danced by the Britannia dancers seems to have a more definite link. It is rumoured to have been taught to Cornish tin miners by Moors who came to this country and found employment in the mines. When the work in Cornwall became scarce during the 18th & 19th centuries some of the Cornish miners came to the North-West to work in the mines and quarries and brought the tradition with them.

Tunstead Mill Nutters 1907

Tunstead Mill Nutters 1907

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The Pace Egg Play

Children”Pace Egging” in Hebden Bridge.

The Pace Egg Plays are traditional village plays, with a rebirth theme, in which St George smites all challengers and the fool, Toss Pot, rejoices. The drama takes the form of a combat between the hero and villain, in which the hero is killed and brought to life, often by a quack doctor.

The plays take place in England during Easter; indeed, the word ‘Pace’ comes from the old English word ‘pasch’ literally meaning ‘Easter’, but have also been known to have been performed at other religious celebrations such as Christmas.

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