Blow away the morning dew

Leggi in italiano

In the older version of the ballad known as The Baffled Knight, a young and inexperienced knight meets a girl in the fields and asks her to have sex, but the lady makes fun of her love inexperience and tricks him into a ploy.


Child ballad #112 D

This ballad is reported in many text versions both in the eighteenth-century collections and in the Broadsides, as well as transmitted orally in Great Britain and America with the titles of “Blow (Clear) (Stroll) Away The Morning Dew”; the male protagonist from time to time is a gentleman, or a shepherd boy / peasant. The novelty compared to the versions A and B already seen (here and here) is the refrain that, declined in a couple of variations, recalls an allusive morning breeze that sweeps away the night’s dew.
The Renaissance courtly ballad of the “Baffled Knight” is now transposed into a popular setting, linking it to an ancient Celtic auspicious and healthy ritual, still practiced by the peasants, that of the Bath in the dew of Beltane.(see more).


Geoff Woolfewrites “Cecil Sharp noted several versions of this song in his travels around Somerset in the early 1900s, and in 1916 published what became the ‘standard’ version later sung by many schoolchildren and choirs. Vaughan Williams used the tune for his folk song suite for military band in the 1920s. The text in Mrs Nation [Elisabeth Nation of Bathpool, Somerset]’s version is similar to most others; its meaning may have been lost on collectors and schoolchildren in more innocent times” (from here)

Oscar Brand & Joni Mitchell 1965: a still unknown Joni Anderson, but already refulgent. This video is part of the television series “Let’s Sing Out” conducted by Oscar Brand, which was recorded on various Canadian university campuses and aired on Canadian television from 1963 to 1966. The textual version of the ballad has been slightly retouched and reduced in the form of humorous song.

There was a young farmer(1)
Kept sheep all on the hill;
And he walk’d out one May morning(2)
To see what he could kill.(3)
And sing blow away the morning dew
The dew, and the dew.
Blow away the morning dew,
How sweet the birds they sing(4)
He looked high, he looked low,
He cast an under look;
And there he saw a pretty maid
that swimming in a brook.
“If you take to my father’s castle(6)
Which is walled all around,
And, you may have a kiss from me
And twenty thousand pound”(7).
When they got to her father’s gate,
quicly she ride in:
There is a fool without
And here’s a maid within.
There is a flower in the garden,
they call it Marigold(8):
And if you do not
when you’re young(9),
then you may not when you’re olde.

1) or “shepherd boy” in  Phyllis Marshall (which collected 26 popular songs between 1916 and 1917 from Bathpool and West Monkton, Somerset). In the Somerset Scrapbook, Bob and Jackie Patten write: “in 1916 and 1917 Miss Phyllis Marshall was collecting songs around West Monkton. Although only a small collection, her note books contain some choice material. This collection only came to light in the 1970s when it was found in a second-hand book shop and bought for a few pence“. Both the Oscar Brand and Phyllis Marshall versions are attributable to the “standard” one published by Cecil Sharp in 1916.
2) the verse is significant and clarifies the refrain: it is the May Day, when the sun of Beltane gives more power to the dew (vedi).
3) here the young man goes hunting for necessity, but initially he was a gentleman hunting for pleasure: it is evident the allusion to the woman as prey
4)the verse has been changed to make it more “winking”, The refrain reported by Cecil Sharp says:
And sing blow away the morning dew,
The dew, and the dew.
Blow away the morning dew,
How sweet the winds do blow.
5)in this version are missing a couple of verses as reported by Phyllis Marshall
“The dew’s all on the grass, it’ll spoil my wedding gown
Which cost my father out of his purse as many pounds as crowns”
“I’ll take off my riding coat and wrap it round and round
There is a wind come from the west which soon will blow it down”
The woman tries to dissuade the man with a pretext (and who sings does not seem to have doubts about the incongruity of the two just out of the stream where they were supposedly naked swimming), that of the dress that is rubbing (it is here is even a wedding dress , a Bride of May?) is a staple of the story that already in its seventeenth-century versions warned the inexperienced (in love) young men  “Spare not for her gay clothing, But lay her body flat on the ground”
6) normally it is a gate, I assume that Oscar Brand used the word “castle” to confirm the “ancient” origin of the ballad, (making a little effort to make it stand in the metric)
7) the girl boasts a rich dowry that could tempt the man not to go immediately to rape, but to aim at obtaining the consent of the parents (he can have money only in exchange for the marriage of course) the stanza collected by Phyllis Marshall, that it could be misunderstood if not included in the context, it says “And you shall see what I can do for fifty thousand pounds”
8) flower that already in the second half of 1600 was brought to America by the first settlers. The flower takes up the solar symbolism and was considered a protective plant. In this context it symbolizes the virtue of the girl
9) the maximum is softened

Eliza Carthy – Blow the winds from Red Rice 1998 (following The Game of Draughts)

There was a shepherd’s son,
He kept sheep on the hill.
He laid his pipe and his crook aside
And there he slept his fill.
And blow the winds high-o, high-o
Sing blow the winds high-o
Well he looked east and he looked west,
He took another look
And there he saw a lady gay
Was dipping in a brook.
She said: “Sir, don’t touch my mantle,
Come let my clothes alone.
I will give you as much bright money
As you can carry home.”
“I will not touch your mantle,
I’ll let your clothes alone,
But I’ll take you out of the water clear
My dear to be my own.”
He mounted her on a milk white steed,
Himself upon another,
And there they rode along the road
Like sister and like brother.
And as they rode along the road
He spied some cocks of hay,
“Oh look!” he says, “there’s a lovely place
For men and maids to play (1).”
And when they came to her father’s house
They rang long at the ring,
And who is there but her brother
To let the young girl in.
When the gates were opened
This young girl she jumped in,
“Oh, look!” she says, “you’re a fool without
And I’m a maid within!
IX (2)
“There is a horse in my father’s stable,
He stands behind the thorn,
He shakes himself above the trough
But dares not pry the corn.
“There is cock in my father’s yard,
A double comb (3) he wears,
He shakes his wings and he crows full loud
But a capon’s crest he bears.
“And there is a flower in my father’s garden,
It’s called the marigold,
The fool that will not when he can,
He shall not when he would.”
Says the shepherd’s son as he doffed his shoes,
“My feet they shall run bare
And if I ever meet another girl
I’ll have that girl, beware.”

1) curious inversion of roles now it is the girl to tease the boy that does not react
2) the two strophes are “veiled” insults, the girl insinuates that the boy is a powerless
3) review of cock’s crests (see more)

Clear Away the Morning Dew

Ian Robb from “Ian Robb and hang the Piper” 1979
In the notes Ian writes ” the bulk of the text and the tune coming from ‘This Singing Island’, MacColl and Seeger

As I walked out one morning fair,
To see what I could shoot,
I there espied a pretty fair maid
Come a-tripping by the road.
And sing, Hail the dewy morning’
Blow all the winds high-O.
Clear away the morning dew,
How sweet the winds do blow.
We both jogged on together
‘Till we came to some pooks of hay.
She said’ “Young man, there is a place,
Where you and I can lay”.
I put me arms around her waist
And I tried to throw her down.
She said “Young man, the dewy grass
Will rumple my silk gown. (1) “
“But if you come to me father ‘s house
There you can lay me down.
You can take away me maidenhead,
Likewise a thousand pounds.”
So I took her to her father’s house,
But there she locked me out.
She said’ “Young man, I’m a maid within,
And you’re a fool without! ”
So it’s if you come to a pretty maid,
A mile outside of town,
Don’t you take no heed
of the dewy grass
Or the rumpling of her gown.

1) very curious the attitude of the girl who first teases him by proposing to lie down between the hay (with an obvious double meaning) and then complains when he hugs her

Dew Is on the Grass

From the field recording of Ralph Vaughan Williams in 1907 from the testimony of Jake Willisof Hadleigh, Suffolk, in Folk Songs Collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams (Roy Palmer 1983 )
Lisa Knapp from Wild & Undaunted 2007

As I walked out one midsummer’s morn
All in in the month of May, sir,
O there I beheld a fair pretty maid
Making of the hay, sir.
Fol de lie de lay
I boldly stepped up to her
Asked her to lay down, sir.
The answer that she gave to me
Was, “The dew is on the ground, sir.”
“O but if you come to my father’s house
You may lay in my bed, sir;
You can have my maidenhead
All on a bed of down, sir.”
But when we got to her father’s house,
It was walled in all around, sir.
And she ran in and shut the gate,
Shut the young man out, sir.

“O when you met with me at first
You did not meet a fool, sir;
Take your Bible under your arm,
Go a little more to school, sir.
“And if you meet a pretty girl
A little below the town, sir;
You must not mind her squalling
Or the rumpling of your gown, sir.
“There is a cock in my father’s garden
Will not tread the hen (1), sir;
And I do think in my very heart
That you are one of them, sir.
“There is a flower in my father’s garden
Called a marigold, sir,
And if you will not when you may
You shall not when you would, sir.”
1) now the insult is explicit: the boy is an impotent, in the Irish versions the most recurring phrase is:” when they got to bed upstairs, sure the bay he wasn’t able
TITLES: The Baffled Lover (knight),  Yonder comes a courteous knight, The Lady’s Policy, The Dew is on the grass, The Disappointed Lover, The (Bonny) Shepherd Lad (laddie), Blow away the morning dew, Blow Ye Winds in the Morning, Blow Ye Winds High-O, Clear Away the Morning Dew
Child #112 A (Tudor Ballad): yonder comes a courteous knight
Child #112 B
Child #112 D ( Cecil Sharp)
Child #112 D (Sheperd Lad)
Blow Away The Morning Dew (sea shanty)


Jack in the Green festival

Leggi in italiano
man-natureThe Green Man is an archetypal figure connected with the cycle of nature, it is the immanent green force of Nature. The myth tells of a Goddess, the Mother, who generates her child, but this child is not immortal, and because the cycle of life is renewed, he must die.
His death and rebirth are the regeneration of the Spring and with it the regeneration of the community that celebrates the rite for propitiate fertility.

The Green Man  is the guardian spirit of the woods, perhaps an ancient god of vegetation and fertility transversal to many cultures that takes the name of Pan, Cernunnos, Dionysus ..

Heart of Faerie Oracle tarot, Brian & Wendy Froud

It is depicted as a human face among the green foliage or rather its skin is of foliage: in the illustration (Heart of Faerie Oracle tarot, Brian & Wendy Froud) they are artistically reproduced oak leaves, holly, ivy and the palmate leaf of the Maple. Two branches look like horns, the eyes are reddish like those of the fairies of Avalon, among the branches a sprig of mistletoe grows with its berry, the sacred plant of the Druids.
From the mouth of the Green Man sprouts the rowan twigs with the characteristic red berries. The rowan of the birds, as it is commonly called, represents in the Druidic tradition the rebirth of light after the winter and was therefore considered the tree par excellence of the awakening of Nature.

And yet all this veneration of the past was lost in the Middle Ages when the old gods died and the Green Man became a sort of decorative mask to be understood sometimes as benign but more often as a depiction of the evil one.

British Library, Add MS 18850, the ‘Bedford Hours’ , Paris XV century



Notre Dame la Grande, Politiers : X century

The deep bond between man and nature is all in the archetype of the green man, the man metamorphosed into a tree, the indissoluble bond between man and nature and its laws. A bond that instills fear but also peace and tranquility hence the ambivalence of the benign or malicious symbol depending on the context: the images smile benevolently or are mocking and fierce. But there is a third type of Green Man: one in which the faces seem scared and suffering.

If some Green Man, instead of joyous, look scary, we find others that, on the contrary, seem scared. These are certainly not demons, but we can not even associate them with images that celebrate the relationship between man and nature. We are faced with another value that this image can take on, that of suffering. In the late Middle Ages, especially after the terrifying experience of the pestilence known as the Black Death, there are rarely joyful and peaceful Green Men. Often branches and leaves stick out of the eyes, in an image that can be terrifying; sometimes the teeth are protruding or very pronounced, as if trying to bite the plant that protrudes from the mouth, to cut it and thus free itself from its suffocating grip. Finally, sometimes we find deformed faces and this too is a very strong signal for the medieval mentality: at that time, in fact, the deformities were a phenomenon much more frequent and known than in the present day, due to insecurity on the places of work, malnutrition and poor care for poor people, and not too advanced medicine. Such incidents in a man’s life were always associated with some divine punishment for his sins. A suffering face that turns into a plant, therefore, puts the accent on the boundary between natural and supernatural, and can sound like a warning against sin and temptations. Another typical representation that can be found is that of Green Man that show the language, probably inspired by the classic Gorgon masks, where it was supposed that this gesture had the sense to drive away evil. It is certain, however, that the people of the Middle Ages did not look at this image in the same way: beyond, in fact, the passages of the Bible that speak of the language as an “unseemly organ”, something that if shown could give rise to scandal, a face with the tongue outside also remembered the image of the hanged man, so certainly not pleasant. (translate from here)


Trisha Fountain Design

In the English folk tradition The Green Man is reborn in a popular May mask of medieval origins (and presumably even more ancient). “Green Jack” 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.

William Hone in his “The every day book” of 1878 describes the mask of Jack-o’-the-Green “Formerly a pleasant character dressed out with ribands and flowers, figured in village May-games under the name of The Jack-o’-the-Green would sometimes come into the suburbs of London and amuse the residents by rustic dancing.. A Jack-o’-the-Green always carried a long walking stick with floral wreaths; he whisked it about the dance, and afterwards walked with it in high estate like a lord mayor’s footman”

Jack’s mask is further spectacularized by the guild of chimney sweeps, with a boy inside a pyramid-shaped wicker structure, covered with ivy and foliage, surmounted by a kind of wreath of flowers. He went out into the streets with his other friends to dance and collect offers in money. see more


As well as the other parts of England, the custom was lost in the early twentieth century, but in Hastings  (East Sussex, England) the local group of Morris dance, “Mad Jacks” has had the brilliant idea to resume the tradition, mainly organizing a noisy and green festival that lasts a long weekend from Friday to Monday! Songs and dances, drum races, folk music sessions, concerts, follow each other to culminate the last day in the costume parade with the Morris dancers, musicians, chimney sweeps, queens of May, wild men, and green men, to greet the return of Jack, so a long procession is formed behind him, from 10 in the morning until noon where they converges in the stage on the West Hill where among foods, drinks, performances of participants, crafts fair we spend the afternoon for arrive at 4 when Jack is symbolically killed and stripped of his leaves which are thrown to the crowd as a good luck charm.
Ewan Golder & Daniel Penfold movie (The Child Wren’s music),  they write in the video notes “Since 1983 folk-lore revivalists have organised the annual Jack In The Green Festival held over the May Day weekend in Hastings. The ‘Jack’, covered head to foot in garlands of flowers and leaves, is paraded through the streets before being ‘ sacrificed’. His death marks the end of winter and the birth of summer. Beltane is the Gaelic name of this festival. The film follows Jack’s journey through the streets of Hastings, to his inevitable demise upon the hilltop.

Jethro Tull,  from “Songs from the wood“, 1977

Have you seen Jack(1)-In-The-Green?
With his long tail hanging down.
He sits quietly under every tree –
in the folds of his velvet gown.
He drinks from the empty acorn cup
the dew that dawn sweetly bestows.
And taps his cane upon the ground –
signals the snowdrops it’s time to grow.
It’s no fun being Jack-In-The-Green –
no place to dance, no time for song.(2)
He wears the colours of the summer soldier –
carries the green flag all the winter long.
Jack, do you never sleep –
does the green still run deep in your heart?
Or will these changing times,
motorways, powerlines,
keep us apart?
Well, I don’t think so –
I saw some grass growing through the pavements today.
The rowan(3), the oak and the holly tree(4)
are the charges left for you to groom.
Each blade of grass whispers Jack-In-The-Green.
Oh Jack, please help me through my winter’s night.
And we are the berries on the holly tree.
Oh, the mistlethrush is coming(5).
Jack, put out the light.

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) the first of May was the feast of Green Jack, with the masks that went around singing and dancing for begging
3)  The druids considered the rowan the tree of the Down of the year and it was the symbol of the return of light for its spring rebirth. But they consider most sacred the fruits that they thought were the food of the gods, able to rejuvenate, to prolong life, to satiate and to treat serious wounds. The tree was often planted near houses and stalls to protect them, because it was believed to turn away lightning; if it grew spontaneously close to the houses, it was a bearer of good luck. (translated from here)
4) Holly is a tree with masculine symbology, linked to fraternal love and paternity, the winter counterpart of the Quercia. Sir James George Frazer, in his book “The Golden Bough” and Robert Graves, in “The White Goddess” and “The Greek Myths”, they describe a ritual ceremony that was, according to them, practiced in Ancient Rome and in other more ancient European cultures: the ritual fight between King Holly and King Quercia, a struggle that guaranteed the alternation of winter and summer seasons.  (see more)
5) The thrushes and the blackbirds are insensitive to the toxicity of the holly berries and consume large quantities of them becoming the disseminators. The male holly starts to flower when it is about 20 years old and produces small, fragrant white-rosy flowers from May to June. The berries (on the female holly) are green and in autumn they become a shiny red similar to coral: they remain on the tree for the whole winter constituting an important source of food for the birds (be careful because the berries are instead toxic for the man)

second part


Beltane Love Chase: The Two Magicians

Leggi in italiano

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 


Bedfordshire May Day carols

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The Lord and the Lady and the Moggers
On 1st May several customs were observed. Children would go garlanding, a garland being, typically, a wooden hoop over which a white cloth was stretched. A looser piece of cloth was fastened at the top which was used to cover the finished garland. Two dolls were fastened in the middle, one large and one small. Ribbons were sewn around the front edge and the rest of the space was filled with flowers. The dolls were supposed to represent the Virgin Mary and the Christ child. The children would stop at each house and ask for money to view the garland.

Another custom, prevalent throughout the county if not the country, was maying. It was done regularly until the outbreak of the First World War and, sporadically, afterwards. Young men would go around at night with may bushes singing May carols. In the morning a may bush was attached to the school flag pole, another would decorate the inn sign at the Crown and others rested against doors, designed to fall in when they were opened. Those maying included a Lord and a Lady, the latter the smallest of the young men with a veil and bonnet. The party also included Moggers or Moggies, a man and a woman with black faces, ragged clothes and carrying besom brushes. (from here)

VIDEO Here is a very significant testimony of Margery “Mum” Johnstone from  Bedforshide collected by Pete Caslte, with two May songs

Maypole dancers dance during May Day celebrations in the village of Elstow, Bedfordshire, in 1952 (Edward Malindine/Getty)

From the testimony of Mrs Margery Johnstone this May Garland or “This Morning Is The 1st of May” was transcribed by Fred Hamer in his “Gay Garners”

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

This morning is the first of May,
The prime time of the year:
and If I live and tarry here
I’ll call another year
The fields and meadows
are so green
so green as any leek
Our Heavenly Father waters them
With His Heavenly dew so sweet
A man a man his life’s a span
he flourishes like a flower,
he’s here today and gone tomorrow
he’s gone all in an hour
The clock strikes one, I must be gone,
I can no longer stay;
to come and — my pretty May doll
and look at my brunch of May
I have a purse in my pocket
That’s stroll with a silken string;
And all that it lacks
is a little of your money
To line it well within.

* una trascrizione ancora parziale per l’incomprensione della pronuncia di alcune parole


The carol is known as “The May Day Carol” or “Bedford May Carol” but also “The Kentucky May Carol” (as preserved in the May tradition in the Appalachian Mountains) and was collected in Bedfordshire.
A first version comes from  Hinwick as collected by Lucy Broadwood  (1858 – 1929) and transcribed into “English Traditional Songs and Carols” (London: Boosey & Co., 1908).

Lisa Knapp & Mary Hampton from “Till April Is Dead – A Garland of May”, 2017

I’ve been rambling all the night,
And the best part of the day;
And now I am returning back again,
I have brought you a branch of May.
A branch of May, my dear, I say,
Before your door I stand,
It’s nothing but a sprout, but it’s well budded out,
By the work of our Lord’s hand (1).
Go down in your dairy and fetch me a cup, A cup of your sweet cream, (2)
And, if I should live to tarry in the town,/I will call on you next year.
The hedges and the fields they are so green,/As green as any leaf,
Our Heavenly Father waters them
With His Heavenly dew so sweet (3).
When I am dead and in my grave,
And covered with cold clay,
The nightingale will sit and sing,
And pass the time away.
Take a Bible in your hand,
And read a chapter through,
And, when the day of Judgment comes,
The Lord will think on you.
I have a bag on my right arm,
Draws up with a silken string,
Nothing does it want but a little silver
To line it well within.
And now my song is almost done,
I can no longer stay,
God bless you all both great and small,
I wish you a joyful May.

1) the hands become those of God and no more than Our Lady, as in Cambridgshire, the contaminations with the creed of the dominant religion are inevitable
2) this sweet and fresh cream in a glass is a typically Elizabethan vintage-style drink-dessert still popular in the Victorian era, the Syllabub. The Mayers once offered “a syllabub of hot milk directly from the cow, sweet cakes and wine” (The James Frazer Gold Branch). And so I went to browse to find the historical recipe: it is a milk shake, wine (or cider or beer) sweetened and perfumed with lemon juice. The lemon juice served to curdle the milk so that it would form a cream on the surface, over time the recipe has become more solid, ie a cream with the whipped cream flavored with liqueur or sweet wine (see recipes) 

Philip Mercier (1680-1760) – The Sense of Taste: in the background a tray full of syllabus glasses

3) the reference to the dew is not accidental, the tradition of May provides a bath in the dew and in the wild waters full of rain. The night is the magic of April 30 and the dew was collected by the girls and kept as a panacea able to awaken the beauty of women!! (see Beltane)

Shirley Collins  live 2002, same tune of Cambridgeshire May Carol (not completely transcribed)

A branch of may, so fine and gay
And before your door it stands.
It’s but a sprout, it’s well-budded out, for the work of our Lord’s hand(1).
Arise, arise, you pretty fair maid
And take the May Bush in,
For if it is gone before morning come
You’ll say we have never been.
I have a little bird(?)
If not a cup of your cold cream (2)
A jug of your stout ale
And if we live to tarry in the town
We’ll call on you another year.
For the life of a man it is but a span
he’s cut down like the flower
We’re here today, tomorrow we’re gone,
We’re dead all in one hour.
The moon shine bright,
the stars give a light
A little before this day
so please to remember ….
And send you a joyful May.

1) the hands become those of God and no more than Our Lady..
2) Syllabub (see above)
3) the stanza derives from “The Moon Shine Bright” version published by William Sandys in Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern (1833) see


Magpie Lane from “Jack-in-the-Green” 1998 ( I, II, III e IX) with The Cuckoo’s Nest hornpipe (vedi)  
The song is reproposed in the Blog “A Folk song a Week”   edited by Andy Turner himself in which Andy tells us he had learned the song from the collection of Fred Hamer “Garners Gay”
Fred collected it from “Chris Marsom and others” – Mr Marsom had by that time emigrated to Canada, but Fred met him on a visit to his native Northill, Bedfordshire. Fred’s notes say “The Day Song is much too long for inclusion here and the Night Song has the same tune. It was used by Vaughan Williams as the tune for No. 638 of the English Hymnal, but he gave it the name of “Southill” because it was sent to him by a Southill man. Chris Marsom who sang this to me had many tales to tell of the reception the Mayers had from some of the ladies who were strangers to the village and became apprehensive at the approach of a body of men to their cottage after midnight on May Eve.”

Martin Carthy & Dave Swarbrick from “Because It’s There” 1995, ♪ (track 2 May Song)
Martin Carthy writes in the sleeve notes “May Song came from a Cynthia Gooding record which I lost 16 years ago, words stuck in my head.” (from II to VIII)

Arise, arise, my pretty fair maids,
And take our May bush in,
For if it is gone by tomorrow morrow morn,
You’ll say we have brought you none.
We have been rambling all of the night,
The best(and most) part of this day;
And we are returning here back again
And we’ve brought you a garland gay (brunch of May).
A brunch of May we bear about(it does looked gay)
Before the (your) door it stands;
It is but a sprout and it’s all budded out
And it’s the work of God’s own hand.
Oh wake up you, wake up pretty maid,
To take the May bush in.
For it will be gone and tomorrow morn
And you will have none within.
The heavenly gates are open wide
To let escape the dew(1).
It makes no delay it is here today
And it falls on me and you.
For the life of a man is but a span,
He’s cut down like the flower;
He makes no delay he is here today
And he’s vanished all in an hour.
And when you are dead and you’re in your grave
You’re covered in the cold cold clay.
The worms they will eat your flesh good man
And your bones they will waste away.
My song is done and I must be gone,
I can no longer stay.
God bless us all both great and small
And wish us a gladsome May.
The clock strikes one, it’s time to be gone,
We can no longer stay.
God bless you all both great and small
And send you a joyful May.

1) according to the previous religion, water received more power from the Beltane sun. Celts made pilgrimages to the sacred springs and with the spring water they sprinkled the fields to favor the rain.

Kerfuffle from “To the Ground”, 2008

ARISE, ARISE (Northill May Song)
Arise, arise, you pretty fair maid
And bring your May Bush in,
For if it is gone by tomorrow, morrow morn,
You’ll say we have brought you none.
We have been wandering all this night
And almost all of the day
And now we’re returning back again;
We’ve brought you a branch of May.
A branch of May we have brought you,
And at your door it stands;
It’s nothing but a sprout but it’s well budded out
By the work of our Lord’s hand.
The clock strikes one, it’s time to be gone,
We can no longer stay.
God bless you all both great and small
And send you a joyful May.



Amhrán Na Craoibhe

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Amhrán Na Craoibhe (in englishThe Garland Song)  is the processional song in Irish Gaelic of the women who carry the May branch (May garland) in the ritual celebrations for the festival of Beltane, still widespread at the beginning of the twentieth century in Northern Ireland (Oriel region).

The song comes from Mrs. Sarah Humphreys who lived in the county of Armagh and was collected in the early twentieth century, erroneously called ‘Lá Fhéile Blinne‘ (The Feast of St Blinne) because it was singed in Killeavy for the Feast of St Moninne, affectionately called “Blinne“, a clear graft of pre-Christian traditions in the Catholic rituals.
The song is unique to the south-east Ulster area and was collected from Sarah Humphreys who lived in Lislea in the vacinity of Mullaghban in Co. Armagh. The air of the song from Cooley in Co. Louth survived in the oral tradition from my father Pádraig. It was mistakenly called ‘Lá Fhéile Blinne’ (The Feast of St Blinne) by one collector. Though it was sung as part of the celebrations of Killeavy Pattern it had no connection with Blinne or Moninne, a native saint of South Armagh, but rather the old surviving pre-Christian traditions had been incorporated into Christian celebrations. The district of ‘Bealtaine’ is to be found within a few miles of Killeavy where this song was traditionally sung, though the placename has been forgotten since Irish ceased to be the vernacular of the community within this last century. Other place names nearby associated with May festivities are: Gróbh na Carraibhe; The Grove of the Branch/Garland (now Carrive Grove) Cnoc a’ Damhsa; The Hill of Dancing (now Crockadownsa).” (Pádraigín Ní Uallacháin, 2002, A Hidden Ulster)
St Moninna of Killeavy died in 517-518, follower of St Brigid of Kildare, her names “Blinne” or “Moblinne” mean “little” or “sister” (“Mo-ninne” could be a version of Niniane, the “Lady of the Lake” of the Arthurian cycle); according to scholars her name was Darerca and her (alleged) tomb is located in the cemetery of Killeavy on the slopes of Slieve Gullion where it was originally located her monastery of nuns, become a place of pilgrimage throughout the Middle Ages along with her sacred well, St Bline’s Well.


It seems that the name of Baptism of this virgin, commemorated in the Irish martyrologists on July 6th, was Darerca, and that Moninna is instead a term of endearment of obscure origin. We have her Acta, but her life was confused with the English saint Modwenna, venerated at Burton-on-Trent. Darerca was the foundress and first abbess of one of Ireland’s oldest and most important female monasteries, built in Killeavy (county of Armagh), where the ruins of a church dedicated to her are still visible. He died in 517. Killeavy remained an important center of religious life, until it was destroyed by the Scandinavian marauders in 923; Darerca continued to be widely revered especially in the northern region of Ireland (translated from  here)


The Slieve Gullion Cairns

Slieve Gullion ( Sliabh gCuillinn ) is a place of worship in prehistoric times on the top of which a chamber tomb was built with the sunlit entrance at the winter solstice. (see).
According to legend, the “Old Witch” lives on its top, the Cailleach Biorar (‘Old woman of the waters’) and the ‘South Cairn’ is her home also called ‘Cailleach Beara’s House‘.
the site with virtual reality
On the top of the mountain a small lake and the second smaller burial mound built in the Bronze Age. In the lake, according to local evidence, lives a kelpie or a sea monster and it’s hid the passage to the King’s Stables. (Navan, Co. Armagh)

Cailleach Beara by Cheryl Rose-Hall

The Hunt of Slieve Cuilinn

The goddess, a Great Mother of Ireland, Cailleach Biorar (Bhearra) -the Veiled is called Milucradh / Miluchradh, described as the sister of the goddess Aine in the story of “Fionn mac Cumhaill and the Old Witch“, we discover that the nickname of Fionn (Finn MacColl) “the blond”, “the white” comes from a tale of the cycle of the Fianna: everything begins with a bet between two sisters Aine (the goddess of love) and Moninne (the old goddess), Aine boasted that he would never have slept with a gray-haired man, so the first sister brought Fionn to the Slieve Gullion (in the form of a gray fawn she made Fionn pursue her in the heat of hunting by separating himself from the rest of his warriors), then turned into a beautiful girl in tears sitting by the lake to convince Fionn to dive and retrieve her ring. But the waters of the lake had been enchanted by the goddess to bring old age to those who immersed themselves (working in reverse of the sacred wells), so Fionn came out of the lake old and decrepit,and obviously with white hair. His companions, after having reached and recognized him, succeed in getting Cailleach to give him a magic potion that restores vigor to Fionn but leaves him with white hair! (see)

The Cailleach and Bride are probably the same goddess or the different manifestations of the same goddess, the old woman of the Winter and the Spring Maid in the cycle of death-rebirth-life of the ancient religion.

The ancient path to St Bline’s Well.

On the occasion of the patronal feast (pattern celebrations) of the Holy Moninna (July 6) a procession was held in Killeavy that started from St Blinne grave, headed to the sacred well along an ancient path, and then returned to the cemetery. A competition was held between teams of young people from various villages to make the most beautiful effigy of the Goddess, a faded memory of Beltane’s festivities to elect their own May Queen. During the procession the young people sang Amhrán Na Craoibhe accompanied by a dance, whose choreography was lost, each sentence is sung by the soloist to whom the choir responds. The melody is a variant of Cuacha Lán de Bhuí on the structure of an ancient carola (see)

One of the most spectacular high-level views in Ireland.
On a clear day, it’s possible to see from the peak (573 mt) as far as Lough Neagh, west of Belfast, and the Wicklow Mountains, south of Dublin.

Páidraigín Ní Uallacháin from“An Dealg  Óir” 2010

Pádraigín Ní Uallacháin & Sylvia Crawford live 2016 


English translation P.Ní Uallacháin*
My branch is the branch
of the fairy women,
Hey to him who takes her home,
hey to her;

The branch of the lasses
and the branch of the lads;
Hey to him who takes her home,
hey to her;

The branch of the maidens
made with pride;
Hey, young girls,
where will we get her a spouse?
We will get a lad
in the town for the bride (1),
A dauntless, swift, strong lad,
Who will bring this branch (2)
through the three nations,
From town to town
and back home to this place?
Two hundred horses
with gold bridles on their foreheads,
And two hundred cattle
on the side of each mountain,
And an equal amount
of sheep and of herds (3),
O, young girls, silver
and dowry for her,
We will carry her with us,
up to the roadway,
Where we will meet
two hundred young men,
They will meet us with their
caps in their fists,
Where we will have pleasure,
drink and sport (4),
Your branch is like
a pig in her sack (5),
Or like an old broken ship
would come into Carlingford (6),
We can return now
and the branch with us,
We can return since
we have joyfully won the day,
We won it last year
and we won it this year,
And as far as I hear
we have always won it.
Irish gaelic
‘S í mo chraobhsa
craobh na mban uasal
(Haigh dó a bheir i’ bhaile í
‘s a haigh di)

Craobh na gcailín is
craobh na mbuachaill;
(Haigh dó a bheir i’ bhaile í
‘s a haigh di).

Craobh na ngirseach
a rinneadh le huabhar,
Maise hóigh, a chaillíní,
cá bhfaigh’ muinn di nuachar?
Gheobh’ muinn buachaill
sa mbaile don bhanóig;
Buachaill urrúnta , lúdasach, láidir
A bhéarfas a ‘ghéag
seo di na trí náisiún,
Ó bhaile go baile è ar
ais go dtí an áit seo
Dhá chéad eachaí
è sriantaí óir ‘na n-éadan,
Is dhá chéad eallaigh
ar thaobh gach sléibhe,
È un oiread sin eile
de mholtaí de thréadtaí,
Óró, a chailíní, airgead
is spré di,
Tógfa ‘muinn linn í suas’
un a ‘bhóthair,
An áit a gcasfaidh
dúinn dhá chéad ógfhear,
Casfa ‘siad orainn’ sa gcuid
hataí ‘na ndorn leo,
An áit a mbeidh aiteas,
ól is spóirse,
È cosúil mbur gcraobh-na
le muc ina mála,
Nó le seanlong bhriste thiocfadh ‘steach i mBaile Chairlinn,
Féada ‘muinn tilleadh anois
è un’ chraobh linn,
Féada ‘muinn tilleadh,
tá an lá bainte go haoibhinn,
Bhain muinn anuraidh é
è bhain muinn i mbliana é,
è mar chluinimse bhain
muinn ariamh é.
May Garland

1) it is the May doll, but also the Queen of May personification of the female principle of fertility
2) the may garland made by women
3) heads of cattle in dowry that is the animals of the village that will be smashed by the fires of Beltane
4) after the procession the feast ended with a dance
5) derogatory sentences against other garlands carried by rival teams “a pig in a poke” is a careless purchase, instead of a pig in the bag could be a cat!
6) Lough Carlingford The name is derived from the Old Norse and in irsih is “Lough Cailleach”

7005638-albero-di-biancospino-sulla-strada-rurale-contro-il-cielo-bluThe hawthorn is the tree of Beltane, beloved to Belisama, grows as a shrub or as a tree of small size (only reaches 7 meters in height) widening the branches in all the directions, in search of the light upwards.
The branch of hawthorn and its flowers were used in the Celtic wedding rituals and in the ancient Greece and also for the ancient Romans it was the flower of marriage, a wish for happiness and prosperity.
The healing virtues of hawthorn were known since the Middle Ages: it is called the “valerian of the heart” because it acts on the blood flow improving its circulation and it is also used to counteract insomnia and states of anguish. see


The flowers are small, white and with delicate pinkish hues, sweetly scented. In areas with late blooms for Beltane the “mayers” use the branch of blackthorn,same family as the Rosaceae but with flowering already in March-April.


Amhrad Na Beltaine


Irish May Day (Beltane)

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May day is called in Ireland the “na Beal tina” or “the day of the fire of Beal” consecrated to Bel or Belenos. On the eve large fires are lit and the cattle are passed between them – as was the ancient custom of the Celts – custom still conserved in the Irish countryside with the belief that this preserves cows from diseases and from Good People (wee folk).

All hearths were extinguished at sunset and rekindled with the embers of the collective bonfire only the next day (and still today in Ballymenone county of Fermanagh).
The cattle were then taken to the summer pastures, where they remained until Samahin, watching by a buachaill.


Fee74aBeltane is a crucial day in the season (Winter ends and Summer begins) and fairie can more easily make contact with the world of humans. The eve is a day in which you have to pay the most attention, because the fairy people (Good People for the Irish) can be very spiteful and even the malefics are more effective. So no Irish woman would ever taking her newborn for a walk outside so as not to risk finding a challenger in return. In particular, youth and beauty can arouse the envy of fairies and therefore even the beautiful girls are indoors.
In general it is popular belief that illnesses or injuries occurring on the May Eve are the most difficult to cure. So it is a good idea to always leave the house with an iron amulet around your neck or in your pocket and leave an offer of food to the fairies!


Mummers were typical beggars during the nineteenth century, masked figures equivalent to the English Morris dance. Thomas Crofton Croker in “The Fairy Legends and Traditions of the South of Ireland” (published in 1825) reports many Irish traditions of May and describes precisely the May Mummers; in short, Croker tells us that during his trip to the south of Ireland he witnessed the May festival, which is the favorite of the Mummers: a group of girls and boys from the village or neighborhood who march in procession in a row for two, the men are dressed in white with brightly colored jackets or waistcoats and carry colored ribbons on their hats and on their sleeves and even the women are dressed in white or in light colors. A pair of girls carries a holly bush for each, decorated with many colored ribbons with hanging many new hurling balls (a popular sport that begins in May), a May gift for young people in the village. The procession is preceded by musicians, bagpipes or pipes and drums. There is a clown wearing a scary mask and bearing a long pole with scraps of fabric on top (like a broom) that plunges into the water and shakes it around the crowd to keep the little ones entertained.
The masks parade through the villages or go from house to house dancing to receive money and spend the evening with a cheerful and colossal drink.

The Procession of the May Queen Herbert Wilson Foster (1846–1929)


May Pole and the dances around the pole are quite common in Ireland, Holywood town in Northern Ireland is famous for its May tree erected in the middle of a crossroads: according to local tradition it dates back to 1700 (taken from the mast of a ship) and is still a place for dances to the annual May festival.

Holywood Pole

But the most typical custom is to cut a branch of hawthorn (or rowan) and plant it next to the door or put it on outside the door, making a garland with yellow flowers (primroses, marigolds and buttercups) and colored ribbons.
From this tradition was born the May basket crafted by the childrenand and filled with fresh flowers, to be left – secretly – next to the door of the neighbors or beloved one. With this auspicious token, the inhabitants are protected from fairies, because fairies cannot overcome these flowered barriers.


The herbs harvested before sunrise in May Day have better healing properties especially to treat warts. When butter production was a homemade churning process, the first butter produced with milk from May Day was considered the best to prepare ointments.

Another custom of the eve was a good whipping with nettles and the children went around running with a bunch of nettles to hit the comrades or the unfortunate bystanders; their task was to collect the shoots of nettles to bring home to the kitchen pantry. Known as a purifying and detoxifying herb since ancient times, nettle was in fact used in the preparation of soups and the Irish rural tradition recommended eating nettles in May to treat or prevent rheumatism. Even in ancient Rome it was recommended to those who suffered from rheumatism or rheumatoid arthritis to roll in the nettle. see more

Nettles once rivaled linen and hemp as weaving fiber, for sails, clothes and household linen.


Beltane Fire Festival of Edinburgh

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In the small park of Calton Hill in the middle of Edinburgh is held the most spectacular Beltane festival in Europe, the Beltane Fire Festival organized by the Beltane Fire Society, a community of artists founded in 1988.
On the night of 30 April the Beltane fire feast is re-acting according to ancient customs, but with a hint of theatricality and modern spectacularization that make it unique: obviously the fire is the dominant element and yet it is the contour of a ritual narration, the awakening of the Green Man, with a succession of acrobatic dance performances and choreographies full of costumed characters: hundreds of figures embody divinities and spirits of Nature that inhabit Gaelic mythology.

The particularity of this festival is that you can attend the feast as spectator but also participate as performer, after registration and attendance of some open meetings that are held a few months before the event; you can choose from a series of groups predefined by the organization (see)
The event is an happening in progress, the starting point is the National Monument of Scotland, built in the first half of the nineteenth century, known as Acropolis because inspired by the Parthenon of Athens.
Over the centuries on the hill overlooking Edinburgh, Greek-themed monuments have been erected, with the will to create a sort of a timeless space that emphasizes the sense of distance from the city. Entire Calton Hill is a succession of folly architecture buildings that are an exercise in style, such as a fake ruin or a classical temple.

From the Acropolis the parade proceeds along a pre-established path to the rhythm of the drums. At the head, the May Queen and the Green Man with their court; in parallel to the main procession there are a series of counter-performances and traveling groups that have evolved to balance the strong turnout of visitors and revive even the most dark corners of the park. As the procession approaches, the groups come to life and continue to play a part throughout the evening; the hill comes alive, reflecting the awakening of the earth at the passage of spring.

Dancers and acrobats, fires, sounds of horns and drums, men (and women) painted by blue, green, red and white, to represent the 4 natural elements (air, water, earth and fire): the heart of the spark are the White Bride and the Green Man, the feminine and male principle that with their sacred union light the Beltane fire.
And then…. dances, songs, and dances will follow throughout the night.


Beltane Fire Festival di Edimburgo

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Nel piccolo parco di Calton Hill al centro di Edimburgo si tiene la festa di Beltane più spettacolare d’Europa, il  Beltane Fire Festival organizzato dalla  Beltane Fire Society, una comunità di artisti fondata nel 1988.
Nella notte del 30 aprile viene rievocata la festa del fuoco di Beltane secondo le antiche consuetudini, ma con un pizzico di teatralità e di moderna spettacolarizzazione che la rendono unica: ovviamente il fuoco è l’elemento dominante eppure è di contorno alla narrazione di un rito,  il risveglio dell’Uomo Verde,  con un susseguirsi danze tavolta acrobatiche e coreografie ricche di personaggi in costume : centinaia di figuranti incarnano divinità e spiriti della Natura che popolano la mitologia gaelica.

Il bello di questo festival è che si può assistere alla festa come spettatori ma anche parteciparvi come performers, previa iscrizione e frequentazione di serie di open meeting che si tengono qualche mese prima dell’evento; si possono scegliere tra una serie di gruppi predefiniti dall’organizzazione (vedi)
L’evento è un happening in progress, il luogo di partenza è il National Monument of Scotland, costruito nella prima metà dell’Ottocento, noto come Acropoli  perchè ispirato al Partenone di Atene.
Nel corso dei secoli  sulla collinetta che domina Edimburgo sono stati eretti monumenti a tema greco, con la volontà di creare una sorta di sorta di spazio atemporale che enfatizzasse il senso di lontananza rispetto alla città. Tutta Calton Hill è un susseguirsi di folly architecture  edifici che sono un esercizio di stile, come una finta rovina o un tempio classico.

Dall’Acropoli il corteo procede in senso antiorario lungo un percorso prestabilito a ritmo di tamburo. Alla testa, la Regina di Maggio (May Queen) e l’Uomo Verde (Green Man) e la loro corte, parallelamente al corteo principale si svolgono tutta una serie di  contro-esibizioni e gruppi itineranti che si sono evoluti per bilanciare la forte affluenza dei visitatori e ravvivare anche gli angoli più in ombra del parco. Man mano che la processione si avvicina  i gruppi prendono vita e continuando a recitare una parte per tutta la sera; la collina si anima, rispecchiando il risveglio della terra al passaggio della primavera.

Ballerini e acrobati, fuochi, suoni di corni e di tamburi, uomini dipinti di blu, verde, rosso e bianco, per rappresentare i 4 elementi naturali (aria, acqua, terra e fuoco), e il cuore della scintilla sono la bianca dea della Primavera e l’Uomo Verde, il principio femminile e quello maschile che con la loro unione sacra accendono il fuoco di Beltane.
E poi…. danze, canti, e balli seguiranno per tutta la notte.




I festeggiamenti intorno al fuoco di Beltane avevano caratteristiche rituali comunitarie a sfondo orgiastico e il parallelo corre ai riti dionisiaci cadenzati da aulos doppi e tamburi. vedigreci

ASCOLTA Synaulia

ASCOLTA Wardruna  (per il versante germano-scandinavo)



Dal film-cult The Wicker man (1973): il canto-danza è una sorta di lezione-studio di partenogenesi in cui delle giovani fanciulle per essere rese fertili dal Fuoco, saltano sulla fiamma .

dal film The Wicker Man Lezione di partenogenesi

Lord Summerisle: Well I’m confident your suspicions are wrong, Sergeant. We don’t commit murder here. We’re a deeply religious people.
Sergeant Howie: Religious? With ruined churches, no ministers, no priests… and children dancing naked!
Lord Summerisle: They do love their divinity lessons.
Sergeant Howie: [outraged] But they are… are *naked*!
Lord Summerisle: Naturally! It’s much too dangerous to jump through the fire with your clothes on!
Sergeant Howie: What religion can they possibly be learning jumping over bonfires?
Lord Summerisle: Parthenogenesis.
Sergeant Howie: What?
Lord Summerisle: Literally, as Miss Rose would doubtless say in her assiduous way, reproduction without sexual union.
Sergeant Howie: Oh, what is all this? I mean, you’ve got fake biology, fake religion… Sir, have these children never heard of Jesus?
Lord Summerisle: Himself the son of a virgin, impregnated, I believe, by a ghost…
Sergeant Howie: And what of the TRUE God? Whose glory, churches and monasteries have been built on these islands for generations past? Now sir, what of him?
Lord Summerisle: He’s dead. Can’t complain, had his chance and in modern parlance, blew it.

ASCOLTA Per “Fire Leap” ovvero “Take the flame within you” Paul Giovanni ha composto una melodia medioevale, di flauti e zufoli, cadenzata ma non frenetica, non proprio una musica dionisiaca.
Secondo la versione ufficiale la maggior parte dei testi scritti per l’occasione provengono dalle raccolte di musica tradizionale di Cecil Sharpe, e riscritti dallo sceneggiatore Anthony Shaffer (ma al momento per questo canto in particolare non ho ancora trovato riscontro)

Take the flame inside you
Burn and burn below
Fire seed and fire feed
To make the baby grow
Take the flame inside you
Burn and burn belay(1)
Fire seed and fire feed
To make the baby stay
Take the flame inside you
Burn and burn belong
Fire seed and fire feed
And make the baby strong
Take the flame inside you
Burn and burn belie(2)
Fire seed and fire feed
To make the baby cry(3)
Take the flame inside you
Burn and burn begin
Fire seed and fire feed
To make the baby King
Prendi la fiamma dentro di te
brucia e brucia da sotto
il fuoco è seme e nutrimento
per far nascere il bambino
Prendi la fiamma dentro di te
brucia e brucia il legame
il fuoco è seme e nutrimento
per accogliere il bambino
Prendi la fiamma dentro di te
brucia e brucia da tanto
il fuoco è seme e nutrimento
per far diventare il bambino forte
Prendi la fiamma dentro di te
brucia e brucia le impurità
il fuoco è seme e nutrimento
per far piangere il bambino
Prendi la fiamma dentro di te
brucia e brucia dall’inizio
il fuoco è seme e nutrimento
per fare il bambino Re

1) nelle strofe si ripetono parole assonanti composte con il verdo be: below, belay, belong, belie, begin che creano un’allitterazione
2) belie è una contrazione di belied, belying, io l’ho tradotto un po’ liberamente
3) credo si riferisca al vagito del bambino al momento della nascita


L’uomo verde

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man-natureL’Uomo Verde è una figura archetipa connessa con il ciclo della natura, è la forza verde immanente della Natura. Il mito narra di una Dea, la Madre, che genera (autogenera) il figlio, ma questo figlio non è immortale, e perchè il ciclo della vita si rinnovi, egli deve morire.
La sua morte e rinascita sono la rigenerazione della Primavera e con essa la rigenerazione della comunità che celebra il rito per propiziare la fertilità.
Il Green Man è lo spirito-guardiano dei boschi, forse un antichissimo dio della vegetazione e della fertilità trasversale a molte culture che prende il nome di Pan, Cernunno, Dioniso..

Heart of Faerie Oracle tarot, Brian & Wendy Froud

Viene raffigurato come un volto umano tra il fogliame verde o meglio la sua pelle è di fogliame: nell’illustrazione (Heart of Faerie Oracle tarot, Brian & Wendy Froud) sono artisticamente riprodotte le foglie di quercia, agrifoglio, edera e la foglia palmata dell’acero. Due rami si biforcano simmetricamente come corna, gli occhi sono rossastri come quelli delle fate di Avalon, tra i rami spunta un rametto di vischio con la sua bacca, pianta sacra dei Druidi.
Dalla bocca del Green Man germogliano rametti di sorbo con le caratteristiche bacche rosse. Il sorbo degli uccellatori, come viene comunemente chiamato, rappresenta nella tradizione druidica la rinascita della luce dopo l’inverno ed era quindi considerato l’albero per eccellenza del risveglio della Natura.

E tuttavia tutta questa venerazione del passato si è perduta nel Medioevo quando i vecchi dei sono morti e il Green Man è diventato una sorta di maschera decorativa da intendersi a volte come benigna ma più spesso come raffigurazione del maligno.

British Library, Add MS 18850, the ‘Bedford Hours’ , libro delle ore Parigi, XV sec


Notre Dame la Grande, Politiers : X sec

Il legame profondo tra uomo-natura è tutto nell’archetipo del green man, l’uomo metamorfizzato in albero, il legame indissolubile dell’uomo con la natura e le sue leggi. Un legame che infonde timore ma anche pace e tranquillità da qui l’ambivalenza del simbolo benigno o maligno a seconda del contesto: le immagini sorridono benevole o sono beffarde e feroci. Ma c’è una terza tipologia del Green Man: quella in cui i volti sembrano spaventati e sofferenti.

Se alcuni Green Man, invece che gioiosi, appaiono spaventosi, se ne trovano altri che, al contrario, sembrano spaventati. Non si tratta certamente di demoni, ma nemmeno li possiamo associare alle immagini che celebrano il rapporto dell’uomo con la Natura. Ci troviamo di fronte ad un’altra valenza che questa immagine può assumere, quella della sofferenza. Nel tardo Medioevo, soprattutto dopo la terrificante esperienza della pestilenza nota come la Morte Nera, raramente si trovano Green Men gioiosi e pacifici. Spesso rami e foglie spuntano fuori dagli occhi, in un’immagine che può risultare terrificante; a volte i denti sono sporgenti o molto pronunciati, quasi a voler cercare di mordere la pianta che spunta dalla bocca, per tagliarla e liberarsi così dalla sua stretta soffocante. Talvolta, infine, troviamo dei volti deformi ed anche questo è un segnale molto forte per la mentalità medievale: a quell’epoca, infatti, le deformità erano un fenomeno molto più frequente e conosciuto che non ai giorni nostri, dovute all’insicurezza sui luoghi di lavoro, alla malnutrizione ed alla scarsa cura verso la gente povera, ed alla medicina non troppo avanzata. Tali incidenti nella vita di un uomo venivano sempre associati a qualche punizione divina per i suoi peccati. Un volto sofferente che si trasforma in pianta, quindi, pone l’accento sul confine tra naturale e soprannaturale, e può suonare come un monito contro il peccato e le tentazioni. Un’altra tipica rappresentazione che si può trovare è quella di Green Man che mostrano la lingua, probabilmente ispirata alle classiche maschere della Gorgone, dove si supponeva che questo gesto avesse il senso di scacciare il male. È certo, invece, che la gente del Medioevo non guardasse la questa immagine nello stesso modo: oltre, infatti, ai passi della Bibbia che parlano della lingua come di un “organo sconveniente”, qualcosa che se mostrato poteva dare adito a scandalo, un volto con la lingua di fuori ricordava anche l’immagine dell’impiccato, quindi non certo piacevole. (tratto da qui)


Trisha Fountain Design

Nella tradizione popolare inglese The Green Man rinasce in una popolare maschera del Maggio di origini medievali (e presumibilmente ancora più remote). “Il verde Jack ” (the Green Man, in italiano l’Uomo Verde) è stata una popolare maschera del Maggio inglese, dal medioevo e fino in epoca vittoriana, caduta in disuso alla fine dell’Ottocento, è ritornata a mostrarsi  e a diffondersi a partire dagli anni 1970 nelle sfilate per le feste del Maggio.

William Hone nel suo “The every day book” del 1878 descrive così la maschera di Jack-o’-the-Green “Un tempo un simpatico personaggio vestito con nastri e fiori, rappresentato nei giochi di maggio del villaggio con il nome di The Jack-o’-the-Green, veniva a volte nei sobborghi di Londra e divertiva i residenti con danze rustiche.  Jack-o’-the-Green portava sempre un lungo bastone da passeggio guarnito di fiori e foglie; lo dimenava durantre la danza e poi camminava con il bastone tenuto in alto come il maggiordomo del Sindaco”

La maschera di Jack viene ulteriormente spettacolarizzata dalla corporazione degli spazzacamini, con un ragazzo dentro a una struttura di vimini a forma piramidale, ricoperta di edera e fogliame, sormontata da una specie di corona di fiori. Se ne andava per le strade con altri suoi compari per ballare e a raccogliere offerte in danaro. continua


Come anche dalle altre parti d’Inghilterra l’usanza si era persa agli inizi del Novecento, ma a Hastings  (East Sussex, Inghilterra) il gruppo locale di Morris dance, i “Mad Jacks” hanno avuto la brillante idea di riprendere la tradizione, organizzando principalmente una festa chiassosa e verdissima che dura un lungo finesettimana dal venerdì al lunedì! Canti e danze, gare di tamburi, session di musica folk, concerti, si susseguono per culminare l’ultimo giorno nella parata in costume con i Morris dancers, musicisti, spazzacamini, regine del Maggio, uomini selvatici, e uomini verdi,  per dare il salutare il ritorno di Jack , così una lunga processione si forma dietro di lui , dalle 10 del mattino fino a mezzogiorno dove si confluisce nell’area palco sulla West Hill dove tra rinfreschi, esibizioni dei partecipanti, fiera dell’artigianato si passa il pomeriggio per arrivare alle 4 quando Jack viene simbolicamente ucciso e spogliato delle sue foglie gettate alla folla come portafortuna.

Filmato di Ewan Golder & Daniel Penfold (musica dei The Child Wren) così scrivono nelle note del video “Dal 1983 sulla scia del revival folkloristico si organizza a Hastings l’annuale Jack In The Green Festival durante il weekend del primo maggio. Il “Jack”, coperto da capo a piedi da ghirlande di fiori e foglie, sfila per le strade prima di essere “sacrificato”. La sua morte segna la fine dell’inverno e la nascita dell’estate. Beltane è il nome gaelico di questo festival. Il filmato segue il viaggio di Jack per le strade di Hastings, alla sua inevitabile dipartita sulla collina.

Jethro Tull, Jack in the Green in “Songs from the wood“, 1977

Have you seen Jack(1)-In-The-Green?
With his long tail hanging down.
He sits quietly under every tree –
in the folds of his velvet gown.
He drinks from the empty acorn cup
the dew that dawn sweetly bestows.
And taps his cane upon the ground –
signals the snowdrops it’s time to grow.
It’s no fun being Jack-In-The-Green –
no place to dance, no time for song.(2)
He wears the colours of the summer soldier –
carries the green flag all the winter long.
Jack, do you never sleep –
does the green still run deep in your heart?
Or will these changing times,
motorways, powerlines,
keep us apart?
Well, I don’t think so –
I saw some grass growing through the pavements today.
The rowan(3), the oak and the holly tree(4)
are the charges left for you to groom.
Each blade of grass whispers Jack-In-The-Green.
Oh Jack, please help me through my winter’s night.
And we are the berries on the holly tree.
Oh, the mistlethrush is coming(5).
Jack, put out the light.
Traduzione italiana Cattia Salto
Hai visto l’Uomo Verde(1)?
Con la sua lunga coda penzoloni
si siede tranquillamente sotto ogni albero-avvolto nel suo abito di velluto.
Beve dalla ghianda cava come una tazza, la rugiada che l’alba dolcemente dona e batte il bastone a terra-
per avvisare i bucaneve che è il momento di spuntare.
Non è divertente essere l’Uomo Verde -nessun posto per ballare, né tempo per cantare.(2)
soldato che indossa i colori dell’estate-
e porta la bandiera del verde oltre l’inverno.
Uomo, non dormi mai-
il verde ancora scorre nel profondo del tuo cuore?
O questi tempi mutati,
autostrade, linee elettriche,
ci separeranno?
Beh, io non la penso così-
ho visto dell’erba crescere attraverso il marciapiede oggi.
Il sorbo(3), la quercia e l’albero di agrifoglio(4)
sono i doveri di cui farti carico.
Ogni filo d’erba sussurra” Uomo Verde”.
Oh, Uomo, aiutami attraverso la notte del mio inverno
che noi siamo bacche sull’albero di agrifoglio.
Oh, il tordo sta arrivando(5).
Uomo, spegni la luce.

1) Jack è il diminutivo di due diversi nomi James (Giacomo) e John (Giovanni, Gianni), ma più che un  nome proprio qui sta a indicare l’Uomo Verde
2) il primo maggio era la festa del Verde Jack, con le maschere che andavano in giro a cantare e a ballare in una sorta di questua continua
3)  I druidi consideravano il sorbo l’albero dell’Aurora dell’anno ed era il simbolo del ritorno della luce per la sua rinascita primaverile. Ma quel che più era sacro erano i frutti che ritenevano fossero il cibo degli dei, in grado di ringiovanire,di allungare la vita, di saziare e di curare ferite gravi . L’albero, veniva spesso piantato nelle vicinanze di case e stalle a loro protezione, perché si riteneva che allontanasse i fulmini; se cresceva spontaneamente vicino alle abitazioni, era portatore di buona sorte, fortuna. (tratto da qui)
4) L’agrifoglio è un albero dalla simbologia maschile, legato all’amore fraterno e alla paternità, la controparte invernale della Quercia. Sir James George Frazer, nel suo libro “Il Ramo d’Oro” e Robert Graves, in “La Dea Bianca” e “I Miti Greci”, hanno descritto una cerimonia rituale che veniva, secondo loro, praticata nell’Antica Roma e in altre culture europee più antiche: la lotta rituale tra il Re Agrifoglio e il Re Quercia, lotta che garantiva l’alternarsi delle stagioni invernale e estiva. (continua)
5) I tordi ed i merli sono insensibili alla tossicità delle bacche dell’agrifoglio e ne consumano grandi quantità diventandone i disseminatori. L’agrifoglio maschio inizia a fiorire “da grande”, quando ha circa 20 anni e produce dei fiori piccoli e bianco-rosato profumati da maggio a giungo. Le bacche (sull’agrifoglio femmina) sono verdi e d’autunno diventano di un rosso lucido simile a corallo: restano sull’albero per tutto l’inverno costituendo una importante fonte di cibo per gli uccelli (attenzione perché le bacche sono invece tossiche per l’uomo)

seconda parte