Archivi categoria: MUSICA CELTICA/ Celtic music

Jack In The Green: Chimney Sweeps’ Day

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Green Jack ” (the Green Man) was a popular mask of the English May, from the Middle Ages and until the Victorian era, fallen into disuse at the end of the nineteenth century, it returned to show itself and spread to starting from the 1970s in May Day parades.

In the nineteenth century the first of May was the feast of the chimney sweeps and so the nursery rhyme “The first of May” says
Chimney Sweeps’ Day, Blackbird is gay,
Here he is singing, you see, in the “May”.
He has feathers as black as a chimney sweep’s coat.
So on Chimney Sweeps’ Day he must pipe a glad note.
Jack-in-the-Green from door to door
capers along with the followers four.
As May Day mummers are seldom seen,
let us all give a copper to Jack-in-the-Green.
(from here)

A chimney sweep maskered himself as “Jack in the Green”  slipping inside a pyramid-shaped wicker structure, covered with ivy and foliage, surmounted by a wreath of flowers. He went out into the streets with his other friends to dance and collect offers in money: they are a King and Queen (or a Lord and Lady), jesters, clowns, chimney sweeps and musicians.


First recorded in London in the 700, Jack-in-the-Greens were soon appearing across the country. The documentation collected by Keith Chandler is instead related to the publication in newspapers in the years 1820 and up to 1890 (see more)
A series of anecdotes on how the disguise was born (see more)



Some scholars connect this disguise to the Green Man carved in the stones of medieval churches in Europe that is usually depicted only in the face, a human face metamorphosed in foliage.
“In the tenth century they begin to appear as illustrations on the manuscripts, especially in France, such as Bibles, books of Psalms and Ordals, books of hours, even works by famous theologians such as the” Moralia “of St. Gregory the Great, a exegesis of the book of Job, where they often merge with the intertwined motifs typical of Saxon and Celtic art: they are reminiscent of snakes that bite their tails, decorative motifs of evident stylistic practicality, and can be interpreted as pitfalls and obstacles of the earthly life.Afterwards they appear as architectural elements in the churches of Germanic style.They soon spread everywhere in churches, cathedrals and abbeys, but also in other buildings, ecclesiastical and not, both as architectural friezes, both in wooden furniture (like the benches), and also in the funeral art (on the tombs, in short) Their popularity grows between the eleventh and twelfth centuries.
In the simplest form, the faces are generally masculine, from whose orifices, eyes, nose, mouth and ears, foliage appears, often branches or leaves of vines, or which have leaves and bushes instead of beard and hair; these last ones seem almost versions of the Medusa to the masculine, which they resemble in a disturbing way. But there are also more abstract, where vegetation is predominant and the human features are only hinted at, barely distinguishable: heads made of leaves that would have pleased Arcimboldo. In spite of the name, it is not always human faces: often they are demons, masks (or stereotypes), even animals, in preference felines. Sometimes they are provided with teeth and seem to bite the branches. If in some cases their association with the evil one is evident, in others they seem decorative motives without particular meaning, more than anything else a demonstration of the taste for the absurd and the bizarre typical of the Middle Ages. “(translateb from here)

Dunblane Cathedral, Scotland XV secolo

The green men are not a product of Christianity (or they have been clothed with a new theological role) because we have a lot of sculptural decorations, and paintings dating back to the age of Imperial Rome ( Domus Aurea of Nero). Masquerones with plant decorations also recall sylvan gods like Pan, Bacchus, Dionysus, and so on, thus some scholars see in the symbol of the green man of early Christianity the intent to incorporate myths and practices of the most widespread mystery religions in the countryside. (see more)

Other characters connected to the Green Man are also the Wild Man, Puck and Robin Hood, the Green Knight opponent of Sir Galvano, but also the Christian Saint George. In psychology it is said to be an archetypal figure connected to the arboreal myths, or an example of the divinization of nature. (see first part)

Brian Froud: Green Man


Magpie Lane from “Jack in the Green”  1998: Jack in the green (composeb by Martin Graebe in 1972 ) and Jack’s Alive a traditional and popular dancing tune in England and Scotland.

Martin Graebe notes: “”This song was written when Cherri and I were living to the east of Exeter in the area that is marked on the Ordnance Survey map as “Jack in the Green.” We were also drinking fairly often in the pub of the same name and the connection led to the above bit of fantasy based on traditional themes. A number of people have told me at different times that they have heard “Jack in the Green” described as a traditional song. It was the first of my songs to turn up on the Internet, where it was described on the Digital Tradition database as a traditional song. Most recently, someone told me about an American CD of pagan music that includes Jack as an example of a traditional pagan song from the British Isles.”
in the video  “Hastings Jack in the Green Festival”

by Martin Graebe 1972
Now winter is over,
I’m happy to say,
And we’re all met again
in our ribbons so gay.
And we’re all met again
on the first day of Spring
To go about dancing
with Jack in the Green(1).
Jack in the Green, Jack in the Green
And we’ll all dance each springtime
with Jack in the Green

Now Jack in the Green
is a very strange man,
Tho’ he dies every Autumn,
he is born every Spring.
And each year on our birthday,
we will dance through the street,
And in return Jack
he will ripen our wheat.
Now all you young maidens
I’d have you beware
Of touching young Jack,
for there’s strange powers there.
For if you but touch him,
there is many will tell
Like the wheat in our fields
so your belly will swell.
With his mantle
he’ll cover the trees that are bare.
Our gardens he’ll trim
with his jacket so fair.
And our fields he will sow
with the hair of his head.
And our grain it will ripen
‘til Old Jack is dead(3)!
Now the sun is half up
and betokens the hour
That the children arrive
with their garlands of flowers.
So now let the music
and the dancing begin,
And touch the good heart
of young Jack in the Green!

1) Jack is the diminutive of two different names James and John, but more than a name right here is to indicate the Green Man
2) Magpie Lane have skipped this stanza
3) it is the myth of the Spirit of the Wheat: the spirit of the Wheat-Barley never dies because it is reborn the following year with the new harvest, its strength and its ardor are contained in the whiskey that is obtained from the distillation of barley malt!


Two dance tunes which I’d been playing for years, before I realised that they are in fact the same tune played in different time signatures. The first, in 6/8, is from Wilson’s Ballroom Companion, via one of Bert Simon’s Kentish Hops pamphlets. I first heard it played by the Oyster Ceilidh Band. Curiously their first LP was called Jack’s Alive, but this tune was not on it; they finally recorded it on their 20 Golden Tie-Slackeners album. I originally knew the 4/4 tune as an unnamed morris tune from Badby in Northamptonshire. Oyster Morris from Canterbury used it for a dance called ‘The Panic’ – originally ‘Pogle’s Panic’ – which had been written in the early 1980s by Pete Collinson. It was some years later that I found the tune in The Yetties’ The Musical Heritage of Thomas Hardy as ‘Jack’s Alive’.” (from here)

Aly Bain & Tom Anderson 
English country dance

Morris Dance

“The Green Man”  Richard Hayman
“Images of Lust: Sexual carvings on medieval churches”  Anthony Weir and James Jerman.


Rattlin’ Bog: The Everlasting Circle

Leggi in italiano

Like the  hopscotch known by children of all continents, even the “song of the eternal cycle” is a drop of ancient wisdom that survived our day: as well as a mnemonic game it is also a tongue twister that becomes increasingly difficult with increasing speed .

Some say it’s Irish, some it’s an Irish melody about a Scottish text, (or vice versa), others say it’s from the South of England or Wales, or from Breton origins, doesn’ t matter, more likely it is a collective nursery rhyme and archetypal of those that are found in the various European countries, coming from an ancient prayer-song, perhaps from the spring ritual celebrations , or how much it has survived of the ancient teaching, for metaphors, of the cycle life-death-life.

albero celtaTREE OF LIFE

One can not but think of the cosmic tree as an universal symbol, that is, the absolute starting point of life. In symbolic language, this point is the navel of the world, the beginning and end of all things, but it is often imagined as a vertical axis that, located at the center of the universe, crosses the sky, the earth and the underworld.

Greta Fogliani in her “Alla radice dell’albero cosmico” writes “In itself, the tree is not really a cosmological theme, because it is first and foremost a natural element that, by its attributes, has assumed a symbolic function. The tree always regenerates with the passing of the seasons: it loses its leaves, it is dry, it seems to die, but then each time it is reborn and recovers its splendor.
Because of these characteristics, it becomes not only a sacred element, but also a microcosm, because in its process of evolution it represents and repeats the creation of the universe. Moreover, because of its extension both downwards and upwards, this element inevitably ended up assuming a cosmological value, becoming the pivot of the universe that crosses the sky, the earth and the afterlife and acts as a link between the cosmic areas.

Gustav Klimt: Tree of life, 1905

From the many variations while maintaining the same structure, the melodies vary depending on the origin, a polka in Ireland, a strathspey in Scotland and a morris dance in England .. The Irish could not transform it into a drinking song as a game-pretext for abundant drink (whoever mistakes drinks).
In short, everyone has added us of his.


“STANDARD” MELODY: it is the Irish one that is a more or less fast polka.

The Corries (very communicative with the public).

Irish Descendants

The Fenians

Rula Bula

Oh ho the rattlin'(1) bog,
the bog down in the valley-o;
Rare bog, the rattlin’ bog,
the bog down in the valley-o.
Well, in the bog there was a hole,
a rare hole, a rattlin’ hole,
Hole in the bog,
and the bog down in the valley-o.
Well, in the hole there was a tree,
a rare tree, a rattlin’ tree,
Tree in the hole, and the hole in the bog/and the bog down in the valley-o.
On the tree … a branch,
On that branch… a twig (2)
On that twig… a nest
In that nest… an egg
In that egg… a bird
On that bird… a feather
On that feather… a worm!(3)
On the worm … a hair
On the hair … a louse
On the louse … a tick
On the tick … a rash

1) rattling = “fine”
2)  Irish Descendants  say “limb”
3) in the version circulating in Dublin (although not unique, for example it is also found in Cornwall) it becomes a flea


The Welsh version has two associative paths with the tree, one is the cosmic tree, the tree of life: the tree that stands on the hill that is in the valley next to the sea. So says the refrain, while the second chain starts from the tree and goes to the branch, the nest, the egg, the bird with feathers, and the bed. And here it stops sometimes adding a flea and then going back to the tree.

The less childish versions of the song once arrived at the bed continue with much more carnal conclusion (the woman and the man and then the child who grows and becomes an adult and from the arm to his hand plants the seed, from which grows the tree) . A funny way to teach the words of things to children, but also a message that everything is interconnected and we are part of the whole.

Heather Jones ♪

Ar y bryn roedd pren,
o bren braf
Y pren ar y bryn a’r bryn
A’r bryn ar y ddaear
A’r ddaear ar ddim
Ffeind a braf oedd y bryn
Lle tyfodd y pren.
Ar y pren daeth cainc,
o gainc braf
Ar y gainc daeth nyth
o nyth braf
Yn y nyth daeth wy
o  wy  braf
Yn yr wy daeth cyw
o cyw braf
Ar y cyw daeth plu
o plu braf
O’r plu daeth gwely
o gwely braf
I’r gwely daeth chwannen…
English translation
What a grand old tree,
Oh fine tree.
The tree on the hill,
the hill in the valley,
The valley by the sea.
Fine and fair was the hill
where the old tree grew.
From the tree came a bough,
Oh fine bough !
On the bough came a nest,
Oh fine nest !
From the nest came an egg,
Oh fine egg !
From the egg came a bird,
Oh fine bird !
On the bird came feathers,
Oh fine feathers !
From the feathers came a bed,
Oh fine bed !
From the bed came a flea ..


Paul Giovanni in Wicker Man

In the woods there grew a tree
And a fine fine tree was he
And on that tree there was a limb
And on that limb there was a branch
And on that branch there was a nest
And in that nest there was an egg
And in that egg there was a bird
And from that bird a feather came
And of that feather was
A bed
And on that bed there was a girl
And on that girl there was a man
And from that man there was a seed
And from that seed there was a boy
And from that boy there was a man
And for that man there was a grave
From that grave there grew
A tree
In the Summerisle(1),
Summerisle, Summerisle, Summerisle wood
Summerisle wood.

1) Summerisle is the imaginary island where the film takes place


It is the Italian regional version also collected by Alan Lomax in his tour of Italy in 1954. Of Italian origin Lomax are the Lomazzi emigrated to America in the nineteenth century.
In July 1954 Alan arrives in Italy with the intent of fixing on magnetic tape the extraordinary variety of music of the Italian popular tradition. A journey of discovery, from the north to the south of the peninsula, alongside the great Italian colleague Diego Carpitella who produced over two thousand records in about six months of field work.

240px-Amselnest_lokilechIn this version from the tree we pass from the branches to the nest and the egg and then to the little bird. The context is fresh, very springly.. to explain the origin of life and respond to the first curiosity of children about sex ..
The song ended up in the repertoire of the scouts and in the songs of the oratory and young Catholic gatherings, but also among the songs of the summer-centers and kindergartens.

In mes al prà induina cusa ghʼera
ghʼera lʼalbero, lʼalbero in  mes al prà,
il prà intorno a lʼalbero
e lʼalbero piantato in mes al prà
A tac a lʼalbero induina cusa ghʼera,
ghʼera i broc(1),  i broc a tac a lʼalbero
e lʼalbero  piantato in mes al prà
A tac ai broc induina cusa ghʼera,
ghʼera i ram, i ram a tac ai broc,
i broc a tac a lʼalbero e lʼalbero piantato in mes al prà.
A tac ai ram induina cusa ghʼera,
ghʼera le   foie, le foie a tac ai ram,
i ram a tac ai broc, i broc a tac a lʼalbero e lʼalbero   piantato in mes al prà.
In mes a le foie induina cusa ghʼera,
ghʼeraʼl gnal, il   gnal in mes a le foie,
le foie a tac ai ram, i ram a tac ai broc,
i broc a tac a lʼalbero e lʼalbero   piantato in mes al prà.
Dentrʼindal gnal induina cusa ghʼera,
ghʼera gli   uvin, gli uvin dentrʼindal gnal,
il gnal in mes a le foie, le foie a tac ai ram,
i ram a tac ai broc, i broc a tac a lʼalbero e lʼalbero   piantato in mes al prà.
Dentrʼagli uvin induina cusa ghʼera,
ghʼera gli   uslin, gli uslin dentrʼagli uvin,
gli uvin dentrʼindal gnal,
il gnal in mes a le foie,
e foie a tac ai ram,
i ram a tac ai broc,
i broc a tac a lʼalbero
e lʼalbero piantato  in mes al prà.
English translation Cattia Salto
In the middle of the lawn, guess what was there, there was the tree, the tree in the middle of the lawn, the lawn around the tree and the tree planted in the middle of the lawn.
Attached to the tree guess what was there,  there were the branches, the branches attached to the tree, and the tree planted in the middle of the lawn
Attached to the branches guess what was there, there were the twigs, the twigs attached to the branches, the branches attached to the tree
and the tree planted in the middle of the lawn.
Attached to the twigs, guess what was there, there were the leaves, the leaves attached to the twigs, the twigs attached to the branches,
the branches attached to the tree
and the tree planted in the middle of the lawn.
In the middle of the leaves, guess what was there, there was the nest, the nest in the middle of the leaves,
the leaves attached to the twigs, the twigs attached to the branches, the branches attached to the tree, and the tree planted in the middle of the lawn.
Inside the nest, guess what it was,
there were the eggs, the eggs inside the nest,
the nest in the middle of the leaves, the leaves attached to the twigs, the twigs attached to the branches, the branches attached to the tree
and the tree planted in the middle of the lawn.
In the eggs, guess what was there
there were the little birds, the little birds inside the little eggs, the little eggs inside the nest,
the nest in the middle of the leaves,
the leaves attached to the twigs,
the twigs attached to the branches,
the branches attached to the tree
and the tree planted in the middle of the lawn

1) “brocco” is an archaic term for the large branches dividing from the central trunk of the tree!


“The tree in the wood”, there is a womb, a resting place in that “and the green grass grows all around” ..

Luis Jordan

a children version

There was a tree
All in the woods
The prettiest tree
That you ever did see
And the tree in the ground
And the green grass grows all around, all around
The green grass grows all around.
And on that tree
There was a branch
The prettiest branch
That you ever did see
And the branch on the tree
And the tree in the ground
And the green grass grows all around, all around
The green grass grows all around.
And on that branch
There was a nest
The prettiest nest
That you ever did see
And the nest on the branch
And the branch on the tree
And the tree in the ground
And the green grass grows all around, all around
The green grass grows all around.
And in that nest
There was an egg
The prettiest egg
That you ever did see
And the egg in the nest
And the nest on the branch
And the branch on the tree
And the tree in the ground
And the green grass grows all around, all around
The green grass grows all around.
And in that egg
There was a bird
The prettiest bird
That you ever did see
And the bird in the egg
And the egg in the nest
And the nest on the branch
And the branch on the tree
And the tree in the ground
And the green grass grows all around, all around
The green grass grows all around.
And on that bird
There was a wing
The prettiest wing
That you ever did see
And the wing on the bird
And the bird in the egg
And the egg in the nest
And the nest on the branch
And the branch on the tree
And the tree in the ground
And the green grass grows all around, all around
The green grass grows all around.


Beltane Chase: Fith Fath song

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The text was written by Paul Huson in his “Mastering Witchcraft” – 1970 inspired by the Scottish ballad “The Twa  Magicians“: Fith Fath is a enchantment of concealment or transmutation, in this lyrics it is the seasonal cycle of transmutations. Caitlin Matthews added a melody in 1978. Today the song is considered a traditional one.

The ritual of the Love chase was to be typical in Beltane when the Queen of May or the Goddess Maiden and the King of May, the Green Man was united to renew the life and fertility of the Earth: still in the Middle Age the boys dressed in green like forest elves ventured into the greenwood (the sacred wood), playing a horn so the girls could find them. Or they turned into hunters and followed magical transmutations with their prey.

Beltane Fire Festival: Green Man and the May Queen

Caitlin Matthews 
Damh The Bard from Herne’s Apprentice – 2003

Pixi Morgan

I shall go as a wren(1) in Spring
With sorrow and sighing on silent wing(2)
I shall go in our Lady’s name
Aye till I come home again
Then we shall follow as falcons grey
And hunt thee cruelly for our prey
And we shall go in our Horned God’s name(3)
Aye to fetch thee home again
Then I shall go as a mouse in May
Through fields by night and in cellars by day.
Then we shall follow as black tom cats
And hunt thee through the fields and the vats.
Then I shall go as an Autumn hare
With sorrow and sighing and mickle care. (4)
Then we shall follow as swift greyhounds/ And dog thy steps with leaps and bounds
Then I shall go as a Winter trout
With sorrow and sighing and mickle doubt.
Then we shall follow as otters swift
And bind thee fast so thou cans’t shift

1) The Gaelic name “Druidh dhubh” translates as “bird druid” also called “Bran’s sparrow” (the god of prophecy). Sacred animal whose killing was considered taboo and a bearer of misfortune, but not during the time of Yule. In his book “The White Goddess”, Robert Graves explains that in the Celtic tradition, the struggle between the two parts of the year is represented by the struggle between the king holly (or mistletoe), -the nascent year- and the king oak -the dying year. At the winter solstice the king holly wins over the king oak, and vice-versa for the summer solstice. In oral tradition, a variant of this fight is represented by the robin and the wren, hidden between the leaves of the two respective trees. The wren represents the waning year, the robin the new year and the death of the wren is a passage of death-rebirth. see more 
2) the mystery can not be revealed in words: the initiatory path is accomplished and once understood it is not possible to express.
3) the Horned God is a syncretic sum of ancient deities represented with horns and symbols of fertility and abundance (Celtic Cernunnos and Greek-Roman divinities Pan and Dionysus). According to some scholars, this deity was the pagan alternative of the Christian God, to whom those who remained anchored to the old traditions continued to pay veneration, in short, the ideal candidate for the figure of the Devil! But in my opinion it was been the Christian fanaticism to flatten and standardize all the other cults in a single devilish cult.
The idea of ​​the Horned God developed in the occult circles of France and England in the nineteenth century and his first modern depiction is that of Eliphas Levi of 1855, but it was Margaret Murray in “The Witch-cult in Western Europe”, 1921 to build the thesis of a unique pagan cult that survived the advent of Christianity. This theory, however, is not supported by rigorous documentation and certainly we can find the persistence up to the modern age of cults or beliefs present in various parts of Europe attributable to religion towards the Ancient Gods. Many of these beliefs were absorbed into Christianity and finally fought as diabolical when it was not possible to incorporate them into the new cult.
According to the Wicca tradition, the God is born at the Winter solstice, marries the Goddess to Beltane and dies at the Summer Solstice being the masculine principle equivalent to the triple lunar Goddess that governs life and death.


4) Similarly Isobel Gowdie, tried for witchcraft in 1662 in Scotland reveals to his torturers the formula of a Fith Fath
I sall gae intil a haire,
Wi’ sorrow and sych and meikle care;
And I sall gae in the Devillis name,
Ay quhill I com hom againe.
Much has been written about witches, especially on the great witch-hunt that took place on the two sides of the Christian religion one step away from the “Century of Enlightenment” and not in the dark Middle Ages. Symptom of a cultural change that will shake the “certainties” of the Western religion. Witches or sorcerers have always existed, they are those who use magic, who can see beyond the material accidents and undertake a journey of research and ancient knowledge. Obscene it was been what Catholics and Protestants did in their “struggle” for power, to annihilate those who were seen as a threat to the True Faith: a bloody struggle of religion that has exacerbated the boundaries of tolerance.


Fith Fath is a spell of concealment or transmutation. It is reported and described in the book “Carmina Gadelica” by Alexander Carmicheal (vol II, 1900)
“They are applied to the occult power which rendered a person invisible to mortal eyes and which transformed one object into another. Men and women were made invisible, or men were transformed into horses, bulls, or stags, while women were transformed into cats, hares, or hinds. These transmutations were sometimes voluntary, sometimes involuntary. The ‘fīth-fāth’ was especially serviceable to hunters, warriors, and travellers, rendering them invisible or unrecognisable to enemies and to animals.” (from here)

English translation*
FATH fith(1)
Will I make on thee,
By Mary(2) of the augury,
By Bride(3) of the corslet,
From sheep, from ram,
From goat, from buck,
From fox, from wolf,
From sow, from boar,
From dog, from cat,
From hipped-bear,
From wilderness-dog,
From watchful ‘scan,'(4)
From cow, from horse,
From bull, from heifer,
From daughter, from son,
From the birds of the air, (5)
From the creeping things of the earth,
From the fishes of the sea,
From the imps of the storm.

FATH fith

Ni mi ort,
Le Muire na frithe,
Le Bride na brot,
Bho chire, bho ruta,
Bho mhise, bho bhoc,
Bho shionn, ‘s bho mhac-tire,
Bho chrain, ‘s bho thorc,
Bho chu, ‘s bho chat,
Bho mhaghan masaich,
Bho chu fasaich,
Bho scan (4) foirir,
Bho bho, bho mharc,
Bho tharbh, bho earc,
Bho mhurn, bho mhac,
Bho iantaidh an adhar,
Bho shnagaidh na talmha,
Bho iasgaidh na mara,
‘S bho shiantaidh na gailbhe

* translated by Alexander Carmicheal
1) “deer aspect”; in reality with the spell it is possible to change into any animal form.
The red deer is the animal par excellence of the woods, the coveted prey of hunting, but also mythological animal lord of the Wood and of the Rebirth. For the Celts of the Gauls Cernunnos was the god of fertility with antlers on his head, the animal equivalent of the spirit of wheat. Magic guide, messenger of the fairies, the deer (especially if white) is associated with the Great Mother (and the lunar goddesses) but also with Lug (the Celtic equivalent of a solar deity). As Lugh’s animal it represents the rising sun (with the horns equivalent to the rays) and so in Christianity it is the representation of Christ (or of the soul that yearns to God): it is the king Deer cyclically sacrificed to the Mother Goddess to ensure fertility of the earth. “I am the seven-stage stag” sings the bard Amergin and so the druid-shaman should be dressed during the rituals with horns and deer skins see more
2) Danu (or Anu) mother goddess of the waters. It was the time of primordial chaos: dry deserts and boiling volcanoes, it was the time of the great emptiness. Then from the dark sky a trickle of water fell on the earth and life began to blossom: from the ground grew the sacred tree and Danu (the goddess Mother), the water that descended from the sky, nourished it. From their union the Gods were born ..
Hypogeic waters, labyrinthine caves, spring waters but also river running waters were the sites of prehistoric and protohistoric worship throughout Europe. In particular for the Keltoi Danu was the Danube near whose springs their civilization was born. see more
3) The name derives from the root “breo” (fire): the fire of the blacksmith’s forge combined with that of artistic inspiration and the healing energy. Also known as Brighid, Brigit or Brigantia, she is the goddess of the triple fire, patron saint of blacksmiths, poets and healers. He bore the nickname Belisama, the “Shining” and was a Solar Goddess (near the Celts and the Germans the Sun was female). It was dedicated to her the End of Winter Festival which was celebrated in Celtic Europe at the Calends of February. It was the party of IMBOLC, the festival of the purification of the fields and of the house to mark the slow awakening of Nature.
4) nobody knows that animal is a vigilant explorer, surely a mistake of transcription of Carmicheal
5) follows an invocation of the three kingdoms, Nem (sky), Talam (Earth) Muir (sea) and or if we want world above, middle and below


With the invocation a magical fog it is materialized, that is the mist of Avalon (or Manannan), which acts as a means of transport to the Otherworld. The fog has a dual nature, of concealment and of passage. Another word for “fog”, in Irish origins, is féth fiadha which means “the art of resembling”. Both gods and druids can evoke magical fog as a means of communication between the two worlds. The divination was therefore the féth fiadha.
The prayer “Fath Fith” seems to be the invocation of the hunter to hide from his prey, but it was also used as a form of divination in a “threshold place” for the magical experience of space such as the river bank or the coast of the sea, the compartment of an access door to the building or a bridge. But also time like dawn and sunset which are neither day nor night nor the holy days that are on the border between the seasons.
In doing so you find yourself in a place that is a non-place that some call the opaque world.

The Tale of Ossian and the Fawn

Still Alexander Carmicheal always in the chapter of Fith Fath tells the meeting of the boy Oisin (Ossian) with his mother: Ossian is a legendary bard of ancient Scotland or Ireland, compared to Homer and Shakespeare, thanks to the alleged discovery of his poems in Scotland . His legends chase in Ireland, Isle of Man and Scotland, but his popularity only grew in the mid-1700s when James MacPherson wrote “The Songs of Ossian” claiming to have found his manuscripts and fragments in the Scottish Highlands, among them a epic poem about Fingal, the father, who said he had “simply” translated, actually inventing: the ossianic fashion flared up throughout Europe giving life to Romanticism. continua

According to this Scottish version, Oisin borned by Finn Mac Coll (Fionn Mac Cumhaill) and a mortal woman, but previously Finn had been the lover of a fairy that he had abandoned to marry the daughter of men; so the fairy for revenge made the spell of the “Fath Fith” on the human bride turning her into a hind that went away and shortly thereafter gave birth to Oisin (the little fawn) on the island of Sandray (Outer Hebrides) in the Loch-nan-ceall in Arasaig.
Now we must make a leap of time and resume the story at the time of Ossian’s childhood when he returned to live with his father and the rest of the Fianna. One fine day, as usual, the are a-chasing a majestic deer on the mountain, when a magical mist descended over them, causing them to separate and disperse.
So Ossian wandered without knowing where he was and found himself in a deep green valley surrounded by high blue mountains, when he saw a fawn so beautiful and graceful that he remained admired to look at her. But when the spirit of the hunt took over in him and he was about to hurl the spear, she turned to look him straight in his eye and said “Do not hurt me, Ossian,I am thy mother under the “fīth-fāth,” in the form of a hind abroad and in the form of a woman at home. Thou art hungry and thirsty and weary. Come thou home with me, thou fawn of my heart “And Ossian followed her and passed a door in the rock and as soon as they crossed the threshold, the door disappeared and while the hind changed into a beautiful woman dressed in green and with golden hair.
After feasting on his fill, refreshed by drinks and music and having rested for three days, Ossian wanted to return to his Fianna, so he discovered that the three days in the mound under the hill, was equivalent to three years on earth. Ossian then wrote his first song to warn the mother-hind to stay away from the hunting grounds of the Fianna: ‘Sanas Oisein D’a Mhathair (Ossian’s To-To-His-Mother) of which Carmicheal reports a dozen stanzas

Stanilaus Soutten Longley (1894-1966)-Autumn

third part 

“I misteri del druidismo” di Brenda Cathbad Myers

Hares on the Mountain with Sally the dear

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Cecil Sharp has collected nine different versions of the ballad “Hares on the Mountain”, a love hunt perhaps derived from “The Two Magicians
amorinoSome believe that the text was written by Samuel Lover (1797-1865) because he appears in his novel “Rory o ‘More”. But the theme of this love-hunting is antecedent and recalls an ancient initiation ritual if not a true enchantment of transformation (or concealment) fith fath.

Still popular in England, we find it more sporadically in Ireland, the United States and Canada, but in the 60s and 70s it was very popular in folk clubs, less widespread, however, the version from the male point of view.

Steeleye Span from Parcel of Rogues 1973: a sweet lullaby

Young women they’ll run
Like hares(1) on the mountains,
Young women they’ll run
Like hares on the mountains
If I were but a young man
I’d soon go a hunting,
To my right fol diddle de ro,
To my right fol diddle dee.
Young women they’ll sing
Like birds in the bushes,
If I were but a young man,
I’d go and bang those bushes.
Young women they’ll swim
Like ducks in the water,
If I were but a young man,
I’d go and swim after

1) hare, birds and duck are animals associated with the three kingdoms, the middle world (Earth), above (Heaven) and below (Sea)


The same pattern is taken up in a ballad called with the same title or “Oh Sally my dear” of which we know mainly two melodies. Here the textual part is rendered as a blow and a response between the two lovers.

Shirley Collins & Davey Graham .  Fine arrangement of Davey on guitar

Jonny Kearney & Lucy Farrell slower melody, very magical

Alt-J in Bright: The Album 2017,  indie-rock version (I, III, IV, VI)

“Oh Sally, my dear,
it’s you I’d be kissing,
Oh Sally, my dear,
it’s you I’d be kissing,”
She smiled and replied,
“you don’t know what you’re missing”.
“Oh Sally, my dear,
I wish I could wed you,
Oh Sally my dear,
I wish I could bed you”
She smiled and replied,
“then you’d say I’d misled you”.
“If all you young men
were hares on the mountain,
How many young girls
would take guns and go hunting?
If the young men could sing like blackbirds and thrushes,
How many young girls
would go beating the bushes?
If all you young men
were fish in the water,
How many young girls
would undress and dive after?”
“But the young men
are given to frisking and fooling (1),
Oh, the young men are given to frisking and fooling,
So I’ll leave them alone
and attend to my schooling”

1) to take relationships with the girls lightly, without serious intentions. In this version the ballad has become a warning song on the old adage that man is a hunter


Same ballad handed down with another title
Niamh Parsons from “Blackbirds & Thrushes” 1999

Catherine Merrigan & Marion Camastral from “Wings O’er The Wind

Seamus Ennis

If all the young ladies
were blackbirds (1) & thrushes
If all the young ladies
were blackbirds & thrushes
Then all the young men
would go beating the bushes
Rye fol de dol diddle lol iddle lye ay
If all the young ladies
were ducks on the water..
Then all the young men
would go swimming in after
If all the young ladies
were rushes a-growing..
Then all the young men would get scythes and go mowing
If the ladies were all
trout and salmon so lively
Then divil the men
would go fishing on Friday(2)
If all the young ladies
were hares on the mountain
Then men with their hounds
would be out without counting

1) In the Celtic tradition: The blackbird (druid dhubh) is associated with the goddess Rhiannon. Legend has it that the birds of Rhiannon are three blackbirds, which are perched and sing on the tree of life on the edge of the otherworldly worlds. Their song, puts the listener in a state of trance, which allows him to go to the parallel worlds. (from here) see more
2) the expression perhaps refers to the fact that in the weekend you go fishing or that on Friday you eat fish


Beltane Love Chase: The Two Magicians

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63_rackham_siegfried_grimhildeLove Chase is a typical theme of popular songs, according to the proper ways of the courting song it is the contrast between two lovers, in whice he tries to conquer her and she rejects him or banters in a comic or coarse situation
So the ballad “The Twa Magicians” is a Love Hunt in which the natural prudery of the maid teases the man, because her denial is an invitation to conquer.


The ballad originates from the north of Scotland and the first written source is in Peter Buchan’s “Ancient Ballads and Song of the North of Scotland” – 1828, later also in Child # 44 (The English and Scottish Popular Ballads by Francis James Child ). It is believed to come from the Norse tradition. The versions are numerous, as generally happens for popular ballads spread in the oral tradition, and even with different endings. In its “basic” form it is the story of a blacksmith who intends to conquer a virgin; but the girl flees, turning into various animals and even objects or elements of Nature; the man pursues her by changing form himself.
There is a written trace of the theme already in 1630 in a ballad entitled “The two kind and Lovers” – in which however the woman is to chase the man.
The ballad begins with the woman who says

if thou wilt goe, Love,
let me goe with thee
Because I cannot live,
without thy company
Be thou the Sunne,
Ile be the beames so bright,
Be thou the Moone.
Ile be the lightest night:
Be thou Aurora,
the usher of the day,
I will be the pearly dew,
upon the flowers gay.
Be thou the Rose,
thy smell I will assume,
And yeeld a sweet
odoriferous perfume

It is therefore a matter of complementary and non-opposing couples, a sort of total surrender to love on the part of the woman who declares her fidelity to man. Let us not forget that ancient ballads were also a form of moral teaching.
And yet we find buried in the text traces of initiation rituals, pearls of wisdom or druidic teachings, so the two wizards are transformed into animals associated with the three kingdoms, Nem (sky), Talam (Earth) Muir (sea) or world above, middle and below and the mystery is that of spiritual rebirth.
Other similarities are found with the ballad “Hares on the Mountain


In general, the Love Chase ends with the consensual coupling.
Today’s version of “The Two Magicians” is based on the rewriting of the text and the musical arrangement of Albert Lancaster Lloyd (1908-1982) for the album “The Bird in the Bush” (1966);

(all the verses except XV and XVI)

Celtic stone from Celtic Stone, 1983: (American folk-rock group active in the 80s and 90s), an ironic vocal interpretation, a spirited musical arrangement that happily combines acoustic guitar with the dulcimer hammer (verses from I to VII, XI, IX, XIV, X, XV, XVI, XVII)

Damh the Bard from Tales from the Crow Man, 2009. Another minstrel of the magical world in a more rock version (verses from I to VII, XI, IX, XII, X, XIV, XV, XVI,XVII, XVIII)

Jean-Luc Lenoir from “Old Celtic & Nordic Ballads” 2013 (voice Joanne McIver) 
– a lively and captivating arrangement taken from a traditional (it’s a mixer between the two melodies)
Owl Service from Wake The Vaulted Echo (2006)
Empty Hats from The Hat Came Back, 2000 the choice of speech is very effective

The lady stood at her own front door
As straight as a willow wand
And along come a lusty smith (1)
With his hammer in his hand
Saying “bide lady bide
there’s a nowhere you can hide
the lusty smith will be your love
And he will lay your pride”.
“Well may you dress, you lady fair,
All in your robes of red  (2)
Before tomorrow at this same time
I’ll have your maidenhead.”
“Away away you coal blacksmith
Would you do me this wrong?
To have me maidenhead
That I have kept so long”
I’d rather I was dead and cold
And me body in the grave
Than a lusty, dusty, coal black smith
Me maide head should have”
Then the lady she held up her hand
And swore upon the spul
She never would be the blacksmith’s love
For all of a box of gold  (3)
And the blacksmith he held up his hand/And he swore upon the mass,
“I’ll have you for my love, my girl,
For the half of that or less.”
Then she became a turtle dove
And flew up in the air
But he became an old cock pigeon
And they flew pair and pair
And she became a little duck,
A-floating in the pond,
And he became a pink-necked drake
And chased her round and round.
She turned herself into a hare  (4)
And ran all upon the plain
But he became a greyhound dog
And fetched her back again
And she became a little ewe sheep
and lay upon the common
But he became a shaggy old ram
And swiftly fell upon her.
She changed herself to a swift young mare, As dark as the night was black,
And he became a golden saddle
And clung unto her back.
And she became a little green fly,
A-flew up in the air,
And he became a hairy spider
And fetched her in his lair.
Then she became a hot griddle (5)
And he became a cake,
And every change that poor girl made
The blacksmith was her mate.
So she turned into a full-dressed ship
A-sailing on the sea
But he became a captain bold
And aboard of her went he
So the lady she turned into a cloud
Floating in the air
But he became a lightning flash
And zipped right into her
So she turned into a mulberry tree
A mulberry tree in the wood
But he came forth as the morning dew
And sprinkled her where she stood.
So the lady ran in her own bedroom
And changed into a bed,
But he became a green coverlet
And he gained her maidenhead
And was she woke, he held her so,
And still he bad her bide,
And the husky smith became her love
And that pulled down her pride.

1) in popular songs the blacksmith is considered a synonym of virility, a very gifted lover with a portentose force. Here he is also a magician armed with a hammer while the girl is a antagonist (or complementary) holds a willow wand.
One thinks of a sort of duel or challenge between two practicing wizards
2) in ancient ballads some words are codes that make the alarm bells ring out in the listener: red is the color of fairies or creatures with Magic powers. Red was also the color of the bride in antiquity and is a favorable color for fertility
3) also written as “pot of gold” and immediately it come to mind the leprechaun
4) the hare-hound couple is the first of the transformations in the Welsh myth of Taliesin’s birth. Gwion is the pursued that turns into a lunar animal, takes in itself the female principle symbol of abundance-fertility, but also creativity-intuition, becomes pure instinct, frenzy.
The dog is not only predator, but also guardian and psychopomp ‘The dog plays with many populations the function of guardian of the sacred places, guide of the man on the night of death, defender of the kingdom of the dead, overseer in all cases of the kingdom spiritual.
In particular among the Celts it was associated with the world of the Warriors. In fact, the dog was present in the Warrior initiations. Hunting, like war, was a sacred act that could be accomplished only after an initiation and a ritual preparation of divine protection. (Riccardo Taraglio from Il Vischio e la Quercia) 
see more
5) scottish pancake: a special tool to cook the Beltane bannock.The two iron griddle could be smooth or variously decorated honeycomb or floral carvings, written or geometric designs, were hinged on one side and equipped with a long handle: placed on the fire it was turned over for cooking on the other side. In the Middle Ages they had become masterpieces of forging made by master wares or refined silversmiths, and they were a traditional engagement gift. see more

Ferro da cialde, Umbria, sec. XVI


The song is reported by Cecil Sharp in One Hundred English Folksongs (1916) in the notes he says he heard it from Mr. Sparks (a blacksmith), Minehead, Somerset, in 1904.

Steeleye Span from “Now we are six”, 1974 – a funny video animation

She looked out of the window
as white as any milk
And he looked in at  the window
as black as any silk
Hello, hello, hello, hello,
you coal blacksmith

You have done me no harm
You never shall  have my maidenhead
That I have kept so long
I’d rather die a maid
Ah, but then she said
and be buried all in my grave

Than to have such a nasty,
husky, dusky, fusky, musky

Coal blacksmith,
a maiden, I will die

She became a duck,
a duck all on the stream
And he became a water dog (1)
and fetched her back again.
She became a star,
a star all in the night
And he became a thundercloud
And muffled her out of sight.
She became a rose,
a rose all in the wood
And he became a bumble bee  (2)
And kissed her where she stood.
She became a nun,
a nun all dressed in white
And he became a canting priest
And prayed for her by night.
She became a trout,
a trout all in the brook
And he became a feathered fly
And caught her with his hook.
She became a corpse,
a corpse all in the ground
And he became the cold clay
and smothered her all around (3)

1) water dog is a large swimmer retriever dog or a dog trained for swamp hunting,
2) the bumblebee is related to the bees, but does not produce honey and is much larger and stocky than the bee
3) “Which part of the word NO do not you understand?” that is, the categorical and virginal refusal of the woman to the sexual act repeatedly attempted by an ugly, dark and even stinking blacksmith. In escaping the man’ s longing she turns into duck, star, rose, nun and trout (and he in marsh dog, cloud, bumblebee, priest, fishing hook); apparently the girl prefers her death rather than undergoing a rape: this is a distorted way of interpreting the story, it is the “macho” mentality convinced that woman is not a victim but always in complicit with the violence and therefore to be condemned.
In my opinion, instead, it is the return to the earth with the fusion of the feminine principle with the male one; the two, now lost in the vortex of transformations, merge into a single embrace of dust and their death is a death-rebirth.

Beltane Fire Festival


The hunter man here is a “supernatural” figure, the blacksmith was considered in ancient times a creature endowed with magical powers, the first blacksmiths were in fact the dwarves (the black or dark elves) able to create weapons and enchanted jewels. The art of forge was an ancient knowledge that was handed down among initiates.
So in the Middle Ages the figure of the blacksmith took on negative connotations, just think of the many “forges of the devil” or “the pagan” that gave the name to a place once a forge.

Vulcan Roman God, Andrea Mantegna

By virtue of his craft, the smith is a mighty man with well-developed muscles, yet precisely because of his knowledge and power the smith is often lame or deformed: if he is a mortal his impairment is a sign that he has seen some divine secret, that is, it has seen a hidden aspect of the divinity thus it is punished forever; it is the knowledge of the secret of fire and of metals, which turn from solid to liquid and blend into alloys. In many mythologies the same gods are blacksmiths (Varuna, Odin), they are wizards and they have paid a price for their magic.
The lameness also hides another metaphor: that of the overcame test that underlies the research, be it a spiritual conquest or a healing or revenge act (a fundamental theme in the Grail cycle).

But the magicians of the ballad are two so the girl is also a shapeshifter or perhaps a shaman.


Cerridwen_EmpowermentThe theme of transformation is in Ovid’s Metamorphoses: a succession of Olympian gods who, through their lust, transform themselves into animals (but also in golden rain) and seduce beautiful mortals or nymphs.
The pursuit through the mutation of the forms recalls the chase between Cerridwen and his apprentice in the Welsh history of the the bard Taliesin birth (534-599) . A boy is escaping, having drunk the magic potion from the cauldron he was watching over; he escapes the wrath of the goddess by becoming various animals (hare, fish, bird). At the end he is a wheat grain to hide like a classic needle in a haystack, but the goddess changed into a hen eating it. From this unusual coupling is born Taliesin alias Merlin

I am a stag: of seven tines,
I am a flood: across a plain,
I am a wind: on a deep lake,
I am a tear: the Sun lets fall,
I am a hawk: above the cliff,
I am a thorn: beneath the nail,
I am a wonder: among flowers,
I am a wizard: who but I
Sets the cool head aflame with smoke?

That is, in order to become Wisdom, to Understand, one must experience the elements …

This poem by Taliesin could condense the mystery of the initiatory journey, in which Wisdom is conquered with the knowledge of the elements, which is profound experience, identification, through the penetration of their own essence, becoming the same traveler the essence of the elements.
Changing shape means experiencing everything, experiencing oneself in everything in continuous change and experiencing the encounter between the self and the other, prey and predator, not separated but inseparably linked, as in a dance.from here)


The main characteristic of the shaman is to “travel” in conditions of ecstasy in the spirit world. The techniques for doing this are essentially the ecstatic sleep (mystical trance) and the transformation of one’s spirit into an animal. As a magical practice it involves a transformation of a part of the soul into the spirit of an animal to leave the body and travel in both the sensitive and the supersensible world. Another technique is to leave your body and take possession of the body of a living animal.

In this way the shaman “rides”, that is, takes as a means to move, the bodies of animals that are also his driving spirits. In some rituals, psychoactive plants are used, or the drum beat, or the skins or the mask of the animal that you want to “ride” are worn. This practice is not free from risks: it may happen that the shaman can no longer return to his body because he forgets himself, his human being, or travels too far from the body and falls into a coma or the physical body dies because too weakened by separation.
The spirit can be captured in the afterlife or the animal can be wounded or killed on the ground level and therefore, as the soul of the shaman is captured or wounded or killed, so does his body report its consequences.

second part 


Don’t You Go A Rushing

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The “enigmas” or “riddles” are part of some popular songs in dealing with the supernatural, be it a magical or diabolical creature, and more generally they represent a weapon of defense to avert a danger or obtain a benefit, so in the fairy tales, young people of humble origins obtain advantageous marriages or kingdoms for having been able to solve the enigmas or to have accomplished impossible tasks. However, the risk was very high, even if sometimes they were helped by creatures or magical beings, because the counterpart in case of failure was death (often by beheading). In the ancient courtship ballads the riddles become the surrogate of impossible enterprises, or they are obstacles to overcome to get the bride’s hand, but in the Celtic world there are also many examples of the opposite, it is the girl who has to prove to be a good wife, above all in terms of unquestioned loyalty.

The echo of these ancient forms of courtship, turn into a romantic words to make a declaration of love.


The first text dates back to around 1430 (British Museum – Sloane MS 2593, “I have a yong suster”) and is antecedent or at least contemporary to “The Devil’s Nine Questions” found always transcribed in a manuscript of about 1450.

The ballad is also found in many nineteenth-century Nursery Songs with the titles: “Perrie, Merrie, Dixie, Dominie”, “I have four sisters beyond the sea”, “I had Four Brothers Over the Sea”, “My true love lives far from me “, where the overseas sweetheart who sends” enigmatic” gifts is trasformed into the four sisters, the four brothers or the four cousins. In fact, the song lends itself to being a children song, both as a lullaby and as a game – riddle in which the children sing the answers together with their mother.

John Fleagle from Worlds Bliss – Medieval Songs of Love and Death, 2004 

I have a yong suster
Fer biyonde the see;
Peri meri dictum domine
Manye be the druries (1)
That she sente me.
Partum quartum pare dicentem,
Peri meri dictum domine (2)

She sente me the cherye
Withouten any stoon,
And so she dide the dove
Withouten any boon.
She sente me the brere
Withouten any rinde;
She bad me love my lemman (3)
Withoute longinge.
How sholde any cherye
Ben withoute stoon?
And how sholde any dove
Ben withoute boon?
How sholde any brere
Ben withoute rinde?
How sholde I love my lemman
Withoute longinge?
Whan the cherye was a flowr,
Thanne hadde it non stoon;
Whan the dove was an ey,
Thanne hadde it non boon.
Whan the brere was unbred,(4)
Thanne hadde it non rinde;
Whan the maiden has that she loveth,
She’s withoute longinge.

1) Druries: love-gifts
2) latin words non-sense like perry merry dixie or Pitrum, partrum, paradisi tempore or Piri-miri-dictum Domini
3) Leman: sweetheart
4) Unbred: unborn. in the nursery rhyme “I had four brothers over the sea” they carry: a goose without a bone, a cherry without a stone, a blanket without a thread, a book that no man could read, that is an egg, a cherry tree, a sheep to shear and a typographic matrix to be printed.


The most widespread version in the United States and Canada is a “modernization” of the medieval ballad “I have a yong suster” a romantic turn of words to make a declaration of love!

as a sweet lullady

Doc Watson 1966 (magical voice and amazing guitar)

I gave my love a cherry
that had no stone;
I gave my love a chicken
that had no bone;
I gave my love a baby
with no crying,
And told my love a story
that had no end.
How can there be a cherry
that has no stone?
How can there be a chicken
that has no bone?
How can there be a baby
with no crying?
How can you tell a story
that has no end?
A cherry when it’s blooming,
it has no stone(1);
A chicken when it’s pipping,
there is no bone(2);
A baby when it’s sleeping,
there’s no crying(3),
And when I say I love you,
it has no end(4).
1) the cherry blossom is not yet a fruit
2) a freshly fertilized hen’s egg is a hen’s embryo
3) a child who is not yet born is sleeping and therefore can not cry
4) the most beautiful declaration of love ..


This song is contained in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book (called Queen Elizabeth’s Virginal Book, although in reality Queen Elizabeth never owned the manuscript) a collection of dance music dating back to the early 1600s. It is also found in the Brimington Mummers’ Play script. [Derbyshire, 1862] that the Mummers represented during the Christmas celebrations (see).
With the title “Go no More a-Rushing” the melody was probably already popular at the time of Queen Elizabeth I (composed or arranged by William Byrd) and it is found in various versions in some manuscripts of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
The “Riddle song” is superimposed with a prelude (as a warning song) in which young girls are discouraged to go alone in the woods to collect rushes / ferns because they could lose their virginity.
Once ago the rushes were spread on the floors of the houses, they made roofs, beds, chairs, pots and fishing nets, cheese-sieves and much more, even today with the rushes they intertwine baskets, hats are made and Bride’s cross for Imbolc.

Reg Hall Archives Jim Wilson of Sussex 

Go no more a-rushing,
maids, in May
Go no more a-rushing,
maids, I pray
Go no more a-rushing,
or you’ll fall a-blushing(1)
Bundle up your rushes
and haste away.
You promised me a cherry
without any stone,
You promised me a chicken
without any bone,
You promised me ring
that has no rim at all,
And you promised me a bird
without a gall.
How can there be a cherry
without a stone?
How can there be a chicken
without a bone?
How can there be a ring
without a rim at all?
How can there be a bird
that hasn’t got a gall?
When the cherry’s in the flower
it has no stone;
When the chicken’s in the egg
it hasn’t any bone;
When the ring it is a making
it has no rim at all;
And the dove it is a bird
without a gall(2)
1) or “to get a brushing” going on the moor or in the woods to collect stalks and grasses could be very dangerous for the girls because they risked encounters with little recommendable elves see more
2) the dove symbol of peace and love was considered a very pure animal. When we speak of a good person we say that it is “without gall as the dove” because this animal is without a gall bladder.

Lisa Knapp from Till April Is Dead ≈ A Garland of May 2017
Conserved through the oral transmission up to the version collected by Cecil Sharp by Mrs. Eliza Ware in Over Stowey, Somerset on January 23, 1907

Don’t You Go A Rushing Maids In May
Don’t you go a-rushing, maids in May
Don’t you go a-rushing, maids I say
For if you go a-rushing
They’re sure to get you blushing
They’ll steal your rushes away
I went a-rushing it was in May
I went a-rushing maids I say
I went a-rushing
They caught me a-blushing
They stole my rushes away
He promised me a chicken without any bone
Promised me a cherry without any stone
He promised me a ring without any rim
He promised me a babe with no squalling
How can there be a chicken without any bone?
How can there be a cherry without any stone?
How can there be a ring without any rim?
How can there be a babe with no squalling?
When the chicken’s in the egg it has no bone
When the cherry’s blooming it has no stone
When the ring is melting
It has no rim
When the babe is in the making
There’s no squalling


The Pleasant Month of May

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“The haymaker’s song” aka “The Pleasany Month of May”, ‘”Twas in the Pleasant Month of May” or ” The Merry Haymakers” is in the Family Copper’s collection of traditional songs from Sussex (see): in the season of haymaking, starting in May, the farmers went to make hay, cutting the tall grass, with the scythe, putting it aside as fodder for livestock and courtyard’s animals . While hay cutting was a mostly masculine task, women and children used the rake to collect grass in large piles, which were then loaded onto the cart through the use of pitchforks.

George Stubbs - Haymakers 1785 (Wikimedia)
George Stubbs – Haymakers 1785 (Wikimedia)

Mr A. L. Lloyd (“Folk Song in England”, p 234/5) traces a possible source to a broadside of 1695; collected versions seem more in the style of the 18th century and presumably stem from the late broadsides, of which there were one or two. Found in tradition mainly in the South and South East of England, the exception being Huntington, Sam Henry’s Songs of the People(1990) which has an unprovenanced set, Tumbling Through the Hay, presumably noted in Ulster.” (from here)

After the hard work, however, it’s time to have fun and so all the workers are dancing in the middle of the haystacks on the melodies of a piper !!

William Pint & Felicia Dale
from Hartwell Horn 1999 
Jackie Oates from Hyperboreans 2009 
Lisa Knapp from Till April Is Dead ≈ A Garland of May 2017

‘Twas in the pleasant month of May,
In the springtime of the year,
And down in yonder meadow
There runs a river clear.
See how the little fishes,
How they do sport and play;
Causes many a lad and many a lass
To go there a-making hay.
Then in comes the scythesman,
That meadow to mow down,
With his old leathered bottle
And the ale that runs so brown.
There’s many a stout and a laboring man
Goes there his skill to try;
He works, he mows, he sweats, he blows,
And the grass cuts very dry.
Then in comes both Tom and Dick
With their pitchforks and their rakes,
And likewise black-eyed Susan
The hay all for to make.
There’s a sweet, sweet, sweet and a jug, jug, jug(1)
How the harmless birds do sing
From the morning to the evening
As we were a-haymaking.
It was just at one evening
As the sun was a-going down,
We saw the jolly piper
Come a-strolling through the town.
There he pulled out his tabor and pipes(2)
And he made the valleys ring;
So we all put down our rakes and forks
And we left off haymaking.
We called for a dance
And we tripped it along;
We danced all round the haycocks
Till the rising of the sun.
When the sun did shine such a glorious light,
How the harmless birds did sing;
Each lad he took his lass in hand
And went back to his haymaking.

1) sounds that recall the trill of birds: they are the verses that imitate birds singing
2) pipe and drum, in a combination called tabor-pipe: the three-hole flute allows the musician to play the instrument with one hand, while with the other he strikes the tambourine with a shoulder strap. If the combination was very versatile and well suited to street performances of the jester, it was also perfect for the performance of the dances and then in the ancient iconography convivial images are often frequent in the presence of dancers. ((see more)

L’allodola e il cavallante nel mese di Maggio


Lark in the Morning

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The irish song “The Lark in the Morning” is mainly found in the county of Fermanagh (Northern Ireland): the image is rural, portrayed by an idyllic vision of healthy and simple country life; a young farmer who plows the fields to prepare them for spring sowing, is the paradigm of youthful exaltation, its exuberance and joie de vivre, is compared to the lark as it sails flying high in the sky in the morning. Like many songs from Northern Ireland it is equally popular also in Scotland.
The point of view is masculine, with a final toast to the health of all the “plowmen” (or of the horsebacks, a task that in a large farm more generally indicated those who took care of the horses) that they have fun rolling around in the hay with some beautiful girls, and so they demonstrate their virility with the ability to reproduce.

The Plougman – Rowland Wheelwright (1870-1955)

The Dubliners

Alex Beaton with a lovely Scottish accent

The Quilty (Swedes with an Irish heart)

The lark in the morning, she rises off her nest(1)
She goes home in the evening, with the dew all on her breast
And like the jolly ploughboy, she whistles and she sings
She goes home in the evening, with the dew all on her wings
Oh, Roger the ploughboy, he is a dashing blade (2)
He goes whistling and singing, over yonder leafy shade
He met with pretty Susan,, she’s handsome I declare
She is far more enticing, then the birds all in the air
One evening coming home, from the rakes of the town
The meadows been all green, and the grass had been cut down
As I should chance to tumble, all in the new-mown hay (3)
“Oh, it’s kiss me now or never love”,  this bonnie lass did say
When twenty long weeks, they were over and were past
Her mommy chanced to notice, how she thickened round the waist
“It was the handsome ploughboy,-the maiden she did say-
For he caused for to tumble, all in the new-mown hay”
Here’s a health to y’all ploughboys wherever you may be
That likes to have a bonnie lass a sitting on his knee
With a jug of good strong porter you’ll whistle and you’ll sing
For a ploughboy is as happy as a prince or a king
1) The lark is a melodious sparrow that sings from the first days of spring and already at the first light of dawn; it is a terrestrial bird which, however, once safely in flight, rises almost vertically into the sky, launching a cascade of sounds similar to a musical crescendo.
Then, closed the wings, he lets himself fall like a dead body until he touches the ground and immediately rises again, starting to sing again . see more
2) blade= boy, term used in ancient ballads to indicate a skilled swordsman
3) The story’s backgroung is that of the season of haymaking, starting in May, when farmers went to make hay, that is to cut the tall grass, with the scythe, putting it aside as fodder for livestock and courtyard’s animals . While hay cutting was a mostly masculine task, women and children used the rake to collect grass in large piles, which were then loaded onto the cart through the use of pitchforks.. see more

George Stubbs – Haymakers 1785 (Wikimedia)

Lisa Knapp from Till April Is Dead ≈ A Garland of May 2017, from Paddy Tunney (only I, II) (Paddy Tunney The Lark in the Morning 1995  ♪), the most extensive version comes from the Sussex Copper family, but Lisa further changes some verses.

The lark in the morning she rises off her nest
And goes whistling and singing, with the dew all on her breast
Like a jolly ploughboy she whistles and she sings
she comes home in the evening with the dew all on her wings
Roger the ploughboy he is a bonny blade.
He goes whistling and singing down by yon green glade.
He met with dark-eyed Susan, she’s handsome I declare,
she’s far more enticing than the birds on the air.
This eve he was coming home, from the rakes in town
with meadows been all green and the grass just cut down
she is chanced to tumble all in the new-mown hay
“It’s loving me now or never”, this bonnie lass did say
So good luck to the ploughboys wherever they may be,
They will take a sweet maiden to sit along their knee,
Of all the gay callings
There’s no life like the ploughboy in the merry month of may



This version was collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams in 1904 as heard by Ms. Harriet Verrall of Monk’s Gate, Horsham in Sussex, but already circulated in the nineteenth-century broadsides and then reported in Roy Palmer’s book “Folk Songs collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams”. Became into the English folk music circuit in the 60s the song was recorded in 1971 by the English folk rock group Steeleye Span with the voice of Maddy Prior.

The refrain is similar to that of the previous irish version, but here the situation is even more pastoral and almost Shakespearean with the shepherdess and the plowman who are surprised by the morning song of the lark, but with the reversed parts: he who tells her to stay in his arms, because there is still the evening dew, but she who replies that the sun is now shining and even the lark has risen in flight. The name of the peasant is Floro and derives from the Latin Fiore.

Steeleye Span from Please to See the King – 1971

Maddy Prior  from Arthur The King – 2001

“Lay still my fond shepherd and don’t you rise yet
It’s a fine dewy morning and besides, my love, it is wet.”
“Oh let it be wet my love and ever so cold
I will rise my fond Floro and away to my fold.
Oh no, my bright Floro, it is no such thing
It’s a bright sun a-shining and the lark is on the wing.”
Oh the lark in the morning she rises from her nest
And she mounts in the air with the dew on her breast
And like the pretty ploughboy she’ll whistle and sing
And at night she will return to her own nest again
When the ploughboy has done all he’s got for to do
He trips down to the meadows where the grass is all cut down.

1)plow the field but also plow a complacent girl


“Lark in the morning” is a jig mostly performed with banjo or bouzouki or mandolin or guitar, but also with pipes, whistles or flutes, fiddles ..
An anecdote reported by Peter Cooper says that two violinists had challenged one evening to see who was the best, only at dawn when they heard the song of the lark, they agreed that the sweetest music was that of the morning lark. Same story told by the piper Seamus Ennis but with the The Lark’s March tune

Moving Hearts The Lark in the Morning (Trad. Arr. Spillane, Lunny, O’Neill)

Cillian Vallely uilleann pipes with Alan Murray guitar

Peter Browne uilleann pipes in Lark’s march


Helston Flora Day (Cornwall)

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In Helston, Cornwall it takes place every year on 8 May the Furry Dance (Flora or Floral dance) in the Feast of St. Michael. The meaning of Furry is found in the root of the gaelic  fer = fair. Inside the program of the tipical dance there is a sacred representation with historical and mythical theme, which unfolds in a procession that starts from the church: the characters are Robin Hood and his brigade, Saint George and Saint Michael, which announce the arrival of Spring.



The dance is a very long promenade of young couples (and not really young) parading behind the band: they are for the most part walking (or hopping step) alternating a couple of turns with their partner. There are two shows, one in the morning and the second in the midday with more formal dresses (long dress and elaborate hat for ladies, tight and top hat for gentlemen: of British origin, the tight or taitè also called morning dress because worn during the day, it is the male dress in public ceremonies and for all occasions concerning the English royal family.)


In the late Middle Ages the “Robin Hood Games” were practiced during the May Day. It began with a parade of the various characters of the legendary Robin Hood, the masks of the horse and the dragon and the May pole brought by the oxen. The May pole was then raised and a dance took place around it. After the buffoon performances of the horse and dragon masks the competition began: the challenge of archery.
At the end people dancing around the May pole until late. Tradition has lasted until the end of the nineteenth century




More commonly known under the title “Hal an tow” is the main song in the representation of mummers at Flora Day in Helston.
The Watersons live (I, II, VII)

Shirley Collins & The Albion Country Band from ‘No Roses’ 1971( (III, IV IV, V)
Oysterband from Trawler 1994 (II, III, IV, VII) arranged in rock version has become very popular among the groups of the genre celtic-rock


Hal-an-Tow(1), jolly rumble-O
We were up long before the day-o
To welcome in the summertime
To welcome in the May-o
For summer is coming in
And winter’s gone away
Since man was first created
His works have been debated
We have celebrated
The coming of the Spring
Take the scorn and wear the horns(2)
It was the crest when you were born
Your father’s father wore it
And your father wore it too
Robin Hood and Little John
Have both gone to the fair-o
We shall to the merry green wood
To hunt the buck and hare-o (3)
What happened to the Spaniards(4)
That made so great a boast-o?
They shall eat the feathered goose
And we shall eat the roast-o (5)V
As for Saint George(6), O!
Saint George he was a knight, O!
Of all the knights in Christendom,
Saint George is the right, O!
In every land, O!
The land where’er we go.
But for a greater than St. George
Our Helston has the right-O
St. Michael with his wings outspread
The archangel so bright-O
Who fought the fiend-O
Of all mankind the foe
God bless Aunt Mary Moses(7)
With all her power and might-o
Send us peace in England
Send us peace by day and night-o

1)  The translation of Hal an tow could be “May day garland” (halan = calende) and the same name was attributed to the groups of youths who, early in the morning, went into the woods to cut the branches of the May and brought them to the village dancing and singing for the arrival of Spring.
But many scholars tend to refer to the meaning of “heel and toe,” referring to the dance step of the Morris dancing.
Another interpretation translates it as “pulling the rope” (from the Dutch “Haal aan het Touw” derived from the Saxon) referred to the work of the sailors on the ships but also to the game of tug of war, one of the few survivors from the May Games by Robin Hood. Some interpret all the stanzas in a seafaring key, as if the song were a sea-shanty and explain the term “rumbelow” as the rum in the vessel at the time of the pirates!
What shall he have that kill’d the deer? His leather skin and horns to wear. Then sing him home; 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.How do you deny the reference to the deer god and, more generally, to the symbolism of the deer as a sacred animal, the bearer of fertility? see more
3) Shirley Collins:
To see what they do there-O
And for to chase-O
To chase the buck and doe
4) What happened to the Spaniards: the image is ironic about the Spaniards who eat goose feathers by english arrows to whom the roast goose is mockingly due as the winners
5)  Shirley Collins:
And we shall eat the roast-O
In every land-O
The land where’er we go
6) St George day in many populations of the Mediterranean rural world, represents the rebirth of nature and the arrival of Spring, the Saint has inherited the functions of a more ancient pagan deity associated with solar cults: St. George defeating the Dragon became the solar god who defeats the darkness. see more
7) Aunt Mary Moses: Our Lady  Originally, therefore, the invocation was a prayer referring to the goddess of spring. In other versions the sentence becomes”The Lord and Lady bless you” 

Lisa Knapp from Till April Is Dead ≈ A Garland of May 2017


Obby Oss Festival

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On May 1, in Padstow, a characteristic event called “Obby Oss Festival” is celebrated, centered on the Hobby Horse dance; Padstow is a small fishing port of North Cornwall on the mouth of the river Camel, now a tourist destination.

padstow oss
Oss and his teazer

The Oss are two, one of the Red group(the old horse) and the other of the Blue group (a more recent addition of the Victorian era): the masks are identical, looking fierce and black dressed , which emerge from a characteristic round shape (a circle of 2 meters) edged to the ground by the black fabric: the horses are led by their “teazers” a jugglers with a characteristic stick followed by a cortege of dancers and musicians (mostly drums and accordions): the dominant color in the parade is the white with red or blue depending on the group.

The Oss during his dance – revolving on himself and kicking – seems to war with the teazer or he is courting the young women, who if dragged under the mantle of the oss will become pregnant within the year (or they will get married by the year if they are still young maids)!

Alan Lomax and Peter Kennedy and filmmaker George Pickow collected footage at Padstow in 1951


It is not easy to find the origins of the ritual that is celebrated in Padstow, some indications come from the history of the village: the first settlement was the monastery built by St. Petroc in his mission of evangelization (VI century), but it was destroyed by a Viking raid in 981. Thus the monks moved further inside to Bodmin. Some hypothesize that the ceremony took place on that occasion as an extreme attempt at defense.
obby_oss_sHistorical references of the Oss date back to the late Middle Ages (early 1500) with traces still in the Victorian era: in 1803 is documented the presence of a horse made with the skin of a stallion with a man inside who sprinkled water on the crowd.

Some scholars trace the ritual to pre-Christian celebrations, connected with the Celtic festival of Beltane. Donald R. Rawe compare the oss to thehobby  horses of the Morris dances that are associated with the May fertility rites. (see also the Robin Hood games for the May day). The branches of the May brought into the village, the symbolic coupling with the young women kidnapped under the skirts by the oss, the death and rebirth of the same oss are clear references to fertility that are part of the May Celtic celebrations. However little else can be affirmed with certainty and the verses of the “daytime” singing are rather obscure.
Equally numerous are the references to the winter rituals of Samain that began at the end of October and ended after about twelve days. During the Christmas period the disturbing mask of a horse (hodden or hooden horse), is led through the streets of the village by a “tamer” who held it by the bridle: the children tried to mount the horse and people throw sweets or coins into the mouth of the animal as propitiatory offers. see more


In the singing the Padstow May Song (mostly they repeats the first verse) at some point the music stops the Oss collapses to the ground, the teaser caresses him with his characteristic bat and they sing a kind of dirge funeral
Oh where is Saint George? Oh where is he-O?
He’s out in his longboat, all on the salt sea-O.
Up flies the kite, down falls the lark-O.
Aunt Ursula Birdhood, she had an old ewe,
And she died in her own park-O.
The oss dies then the “teaser” screams “Oss Oss” and the crowd answers “We Oss” thus the Oss comes back to life and gets up again to resume the dances..

Death-Resurrection of the Oss

Once between the two Oss was engaged a dance-fight, now the two parades march through the streets without ever meeting until late in the evening around the May Pole, before returning to their respective stables.



The parade lasts all day from the morning around 11 am until evening and obviously several men alternate to play the Oss. At the end of the festival the Farewell to the Oss is sung with the phrase:
Farewell farewell my own true love
Farewell farewell my own true love

How can I bear to leave you
One parting kiss I’ll give you
I’ll go what ‘ere befalls me
I’ll go where duty calls me
No more will I behold thee
Nor in my arms enfold thee
With spear and pennant glancing
I see the foe advancing
I think of thee with longing
Think though while tears are thronging
That with my last faint sighing
I whispered soft whilst dying

NIGHT SONG : Drink To The Old ‘Oss

The ritual of the oss begins, however, the night of May 1, at the stroke of midnight and until about two o’clock, with the Night Song, a clear song of begging, in which the youngsters are alerted to go into the woods to cut the branches of May: whoever sings asks in exchange for good phrases (prosperity, health, happiness) a little beer!

Unite and unite and let us all unite,
For summer is a-come unto day,
And whither we are going we will all unite,
In the merry morning of May.
I warn you young men everyone
For summer is a-come unto day,
To go to the green-wood and fetch your May home
In the merry morning of May.
Arise up Mr. —- and joy you betide
For summer is a-come unto day,
And bright is your bride that lies by your side,
In the merry morning of May.
Arise up Mrs. —- and gold be your ring,
For summer is a-come unto day,
And give to us a cup of ale the merrier we shall sing,
In the merry morning of May.
Arise up Miss —- all in your gown of green
For summer is a-come unto day,
You are as fine a lady as wait upon the Queen,
In the merry morning of May.
Now fare you well, and we bid you all good cheer,
For summer is a-come unto day,
We call once more unto your house before another year,
In the merry morning of May

Steeleye Span live (they have recorded the song several times)

Unite and unite, and let us all unite
For summer is a-comin’ today.
And whither we are going we all will unite,
In the merry morning of May.
The young men of Padstow, they might if they would,
For summer is a-comin’ today.
They might have built a ship and gilded it with gold
In the merry morning of May.
The young women of Padstow, they might if they would,
For summer is a-comin’ today.
They might have built a garland with the white rose and the red
In the merry morning of May.
Oh where are the young men that now do advance
For summer is a-comin’ today.
Some they are in England and some they are in France
In the merry morning of May.
Oh where is King George? Oh where is he-O?
He’s out in his longboat, all on the salt sea-O.
Up flies the kite, down falls the lark-O.
Aunt Ursula Birdhood, she had an old ewe,
And she died in her own park-O.
With the merry ring and with the joyful spring,
For summer is a-comin’ today.
How happy are the little birds and the merrier we shall sing
In the merry morning of May.

Lisa Knapp from Till April Is Dead ≈ A Garland of May 2017

Unite and unite
For summer is a-come unto day,
Unite and unite,
In the merry morning of May.
With the marry ring
For summer is a-come unto day
Adieu the marry spring
In the merry morning of May
Arise up Mr. …
In the merry morning of May.
Unite and unite and let us all unite,
For summer is a-come unto day,
And whither we are going we will all unite,
In the merry morning of May.
Oh where is King George?
Oh where is he-O?
He’s out in his longboat,
all on the salt sea-O.
Up flies the kite,
down falls the lark-O.
Aunt Ursula Birdhood,
she had an old ewe,
And she died in her own park-O.


The May branches brought into the village, the symbolic coupling with the young women kidnapped under the skirts from the oss, the death and rebirth of the same oss are clear references to fertility that are part of the May Celtic celebrations. However little else can be affirmed with certainty and the verses of the “daytime” singing are rather obscure.
The young people who build a ship and cover it with gold, could symbolize the solar ship, and the theme of rebirth in a new afterlife it is the journey of purification of the soul of the deceased to the Hereafter.
The garland of red and white roses of young women (the colors of Beltane) symbolizes the union of the masculine principle with the feminine one and takes up again the theme of fertility propitiation. Even the last stanza is a clear reference to the lark, a messenger between the human and the divine, representation of youthful exaltation, a sacred and solar bird, symbol of good luck.
The interpretation of the verse already mentioned on the occasion of the funeral dirge in which the apparent death of the Oss is represented is very problematic!
Oh where is King George? Oh where is he-O?

The reference to the Hanover dynasty would start any historical dating to 1700, but on closer inspection the king is actually Saint George: it is precisely at this point when the Oss is about to die killed by the jester, that is Saint George who defeats the dragon, he is the solar god, who defeats the darkness, the Spring that defeats Winter.
But the most enigmatic of all is Aunt Ursula Birdhood with her old sheep! And here is the fantasy gallops and a local legend recalls an old woman who brought together the women of Padstow to drive away the Viking raiders (in another version become French) while the men were all out to sea to fish: disguised with the Obby Oss and guiding the women in a dancing procession to the beach Orsola has managed to get rid of the marauders convinced to see a monster!!
Some scholars see Birdwood as a mispronunciation of Birdwood and then link it to the figure of Robin Hood extensively connected to the celebration of May since the Middle Ages. Others recall the pagan myth concerning the goddess Freyja (or Sant’Orsola) who, with the name of Horsel or Ursel, welcomed the dead girls into the aftermath.

 second part