Poor old horse: winter hoodening

Leggi in italiano
Samhain (the New Year of the Celts) ended on 11 November with a pagan festival still practiced in the early Middle Ages, to which the Church superimposed the feast of Saint Martin. (see first part)

THE CULT OF HORSE

For the Celts the horse was a sacred animal, a symbol of royalty and attribute of various deities.
Symbol of wealth and buried together with his master (or worthy of a ritual burial if he fell in battle) the white one was raised by the Druids and used for prophecies and sacrificial rites.
Totemic animal for many Celtic tribes that take its name, its flesh was taboo except in particular ritual times. 

THE WINTER TRADITION

The soulers and the wassailers or more generally the gangs of young people who went around the farms as beggars during the winter festivals were once (and still today) accompanied by the hobby horse.
The spirits of the Earth who govern fertility were depicted as a horse and associated with the young women not yet married (fertility carriers). An even more Celtic connotation is the identification of the “hobby horse” with the Goddess Mare (the Earth Goddess): we find it in the myth of the Welsh goddess Rhiannon and the northern Italian goddess Epona.

MARTINMASS & HOODENING

obby_oss_sHistorical references to the hobby horse date back to the late Middle Ages (early 1500s) with traces still in the Victorian era: in 1803 the presence of a horse made with the skin of a stallion with a man spraying water on the crowd is documented.
In the Middle Ages the “cavallino” was a character of the cheerful brigade of Robin Hood and was connected with the fertility rituals of the spring festival and the May dances, but also with the Christmas celebrations.
Some scholars trace the ritual back to pre-Christian celebrations connected with the Beltane Celtic festival. But equally numerous are the references to the winter rituals of Samhain.
In the ritual of hoodening a man wears a blanket or a white sheet that covers him entirely and carries a horse’s head on a stick, most commonly a wooden head with jaws with hinges so that it can be maneuvered to open and close ( once a real horse skull). Sometimes a burning candle is placed in the skull with very disturbing effects.

LÁIR BHÁN

At Samhain in Ireland, appalling parades took place in the countryside and in medieval villages, led by Láir Bhán (the white mare) followed by a band of young men waving horns and asking for offers for Muck Olla.
William Hackett  wrote (1853): ‘It is not many years since on Samhain’s eve, 31st October, a rustic procession perambulated the district between Ballycotton and Trabolgan, along the coast. The parties represented themselves as messengers of Muck Olla, in whose name they levied contributions on farmers; as usual they were accompanied by sundry youths, sounding lustily on cows’ horns; at the head of the procession was a figure enveloped in a white robe or sheet, having, as it were, the head of a mare, this personage was called the Láir Bhán, “the white mare,” he was a sort of president or master of ceremonies. A long string of verses was recited at each house. (from here)

by Niamh Ní Ruairc

MARI LWYD

Mari Lwyd, or “Y Fari Lwyd” (in English Gray Mare) is the Welsh version of the hooden horse. Tradition still practiced in central and southern Wales, in particular at Llantrisant and Pontyclun at New Year. The mask consists of a horse’s head (a real skull) with a movable jaw and disquieting eyes made from two pieces of green bottle, decorated with colored ribbons and carried on a pole by a person hidden under a large white cloak. The beggars stop to sing in front of the doors of the houses and call the mistress and challenge her in a pwnco (a challenge in verse). The victory of the singing challenge allows the beggars to enter the house to eat sweets and drink beer.
As can be seen in the illustration by Paul Bommer, the landlady is holding a broom and does not want the group to enter because it is a bringer of disorder. In fact, once the company was entered, the mare would go around the room chasing the women; the mare is clearly a monstrous and otherworldly creature that must be appeased with some offerings and sometimes a small child could calm the beast with a treat.

English translation
I
Here we come
Dear friends
To ask permissions to sing
II
If we don’t have permission,
Let us know in song
How we should go away tonight
III
I have no dinner
Or money to spend
To give you welcome tonight
Welsh gaelic
I
Wel dyma ni’n dwad
Gyfeillion diniwad
I ofyn am gennod i ganu
II
Os na chawn ni gennad
Rhowch wybod ar ganiad
Pa fodd mae’r ‘madawiad, nos heno
III
‘Does genni ddim cinio
Nac arian iw gwario
I wneud i chwi roeso, nos heno

NOTE
1) if the people were defeated in the poetic battle, Mari Lwyd claimed the right to stay at dinner with all her followers. Alternatively they offered a glennig (a small tip), a glass of glaster (water and milk) or beer.

HOODEN HORSE

In Kent the Heningening groups have returned (in the villages of San Nicola-a-Wade, Nether Hale, Sarre), in particular the tradition is very rooted in San Nicola-a-Wade where the hooden horse is called Dobbin, an old man poor horse exhausted by the labor of work: a sort of “sacred representation” is staged with various characters and songs; once the teams of hoodening went from house to house with musicians and the clatter of bells: the horse was accompanied by a group of peasants, one who holds the reins (the tamer), the other who carries a basket of fruit an another on the back, there is also “Mollie” or the “old lady” who carries a broom. Here the master knocks and as soon as the door is opened the horse kicks and scares, opening his mouth wide, while Mollie fucks the feet of one who has opened the door.. (see more)

The Horse regularly appeared through the year at, especially in Midwinter (Hallowtide, the Twelve Days of Christmas, et al). The Horse was a man dressed as an animal, covered in blanket and carrying a horse’s head, with reins, on a pole. The head was sometimes wooden but usually a real horse skull – hinged jaws allowed the mouth to snap open and shut. Along with other young men the horse ‘galloped’ and visited houses as a ‘lick-bringer’. This was not always successful and in 1839 at Broadstairs a woman was so terrified coming face-to-face with the ‘horse’ she died of fright. The custom was subsequently forbidden by local magistrates.
In East Kent Hoodening took place at Christmas. The Horse had a wooden head and sometimes a lighted candle was placed in the mouth. Farmworkers walked with the horse, one leading it by the reins or a rope and carrying a whip, and another worker light enough to ride on the horse’s back. A third known as Mollie or Old Woman was in female attire and carried a broom or besom.
In Reculver, only men who had worked with horses during the year were allowed to partake.  (in “A Dictionary of British Folk Customs” di Christina Hole, 1995 from here)

POOR OLD HORSE

There are many versions of the song, which was a part of the Mummers play, who staged the death and resurrection of the horse

Shirley Collins from “False True Lovers” 1959

I
My clothing was once of a linsey-woolsey fine,
My mane it was sleek
and my body it did shine.
But now I’m getting old
and I’m going to decay,
Me master frowns upon me
and thus they all do say, “Poor old horse.”
II
My living was once to the best of corn and hay
As ever grew in England,
and that they all did say.
But now there’s no such comfort
as I can find at all.
I’m forced to nab the short grass
that grows against the wall,
“Poor old horse.”
NOYE
This version is only a fragment and the initial part is missing in which the mummers / soulers ask to be welcomed at home

Kate Rusby from Sweet Bells 2008


I
We’ve got a poor old horse,
He’s standing at your door,
And if you’ll only let him in,
He’ll please you all (1) I’m sure (x2)
II
Now that he’s grown old
And nature doth decay,
My master frowns upon him now,
These words I’ve heard him say (x2)
III
Now that he’s grown old
And scarcely can he crawl,
He’s forced to eat the coarsest grass
That grows against the wall (x2)
IV
This poor horse was once young,
And in his youthful prime
My master used to ride on him,
He thought him very fine (x2)
NOTE
1) in the verse the song is highlighted as a begging song with propitiatory ritual

Paying off the dead horse: sea shanty version

THE SUMMER TRADITION

oldossOSS
On the streets of Padstow, a small fishing port in North Cornwall on the mouth of the Camel River, now a tourist destination, each May Day is celebrated with the Obby Oss Festival (continua)

LINK
http://ontanomagico.altervista.org/epona.html
http://paleopix.com/blog/2013/10/31/lair-bhan-and-the-mast-beast/
https://thefadingyear.wordpress.com/2016/10/26/origins-of-trick-or-treating/
https://www.omniglot.com/songs/bcc/marilwyd.php
http://www.folkwales.org.uk/arctd9a.html
http://hoodening.org.uk/hooden-horses.html
http://www.hoodening.org.uk/hoodening-history1.html http://paulbommer.blogspot.it/2010/12/advent-calendar-22nd-mari-lwyd.html http://www.museumwales.ac.uk/cy/279/
http://mainlynorfolk.info/shirley.collins/songs/pooroldhorse.html

Poor old horse: il rituale dell’hoodening

Read the post in English

La festa di Samain (il Capodanno dei Celti) si concludeva l’11 novembre con una festa pagana ancora molto sentita nell’Alto Medioevo, a cui la Chiesa sovrappose la festa di San Martino. (vedi prima parte)

IL CULTO DEL CAVALLO

Per i Celti il cavallo era un animale sacro, simbolo della regalità e attributo di varie divinità in particolare delle dee-giumente.
Simbolo di ricchezza e seppellito insieme al suo padrone (o degno di una sepoltura rituale se caduto in battaglia) era allevato se di manto bianco dai druidi e utilizzato per i vaticini  e i riti propiziatori (animale sacrificale).
Animale totemico per molte tribù celtiche che ne riprendono il nome, la sua carne era tabù tranne che in particolari momenti rituali. continua

LA TRADIZIONE D’INVERNO

I soulers e i wassailers o più in generale le bande di giovani che giravano per le fattorie come questuanti nelle feste dell’inverno erano un tempo (e ancora oggi) accompagnati dall’hobby horse.
Gli spiriti della Terra che governano la fertilità erano raffigurati in guisa di cavallo e associati con le portatrici della fertilità, le giovani donne non ancora sposate. Una connotazione ancor più prettamente celtica è l’identificazione del “cavallino” con la Dea Giumenta (la Dea Terra): la ritroviamo nel mito della dea gallese Rhiannon e della dea nord italica Epona.

HOODENING A SAN MARTINO

obby_oss_sRiferimenti storici all’hobby horse risalgono al tardo Medioevo (inizi del 1500) con tracce ancora in epoca vittoriana: nel 1803 è documentata la presenza di un cavallo fabbricato con la pelle di uno stallone con un uomo all’interno che spruzzava acqua sulla folla.
Nel Medioevo il “cavallino” era un personaggio  dell’allegra brigata di Robin Hood ed era connesso con i rituali della fertilità propri della festa di primavera e le danze del Maggio, ma anche con i festeggiamenti del Natale.
Alcuni studiosi fanno risalire il rituale a celebrazioni precristiane, connesse con la festa celtica di Beltane. Ma altrettanto numerosi sono i riferimenti ai rituali invernali di Samain che iniziavano alla fine di ottobre e si concludevano dopo circa dodici giorni.
Nel rituale dell’hoodening un uomo indossa una coperta o un lenzuolo bianco che lo ricopre interamente e porta una testa di cavallo su un bastone, più comunemente una testa di legno munita di mascelle con cardini in modo che possa essere manovrata per aprire e chiudersi (un tempo un vero teschio di cavallo). A volte nel cranio è collocata una candela accesa con effetti molto inquietanti.

LÁIR BHÁN

A Samain in Irlanda delle parate spaventose avevano luogo nelle campagne e nei villaggi medievali,  capitanate da Láir Bhán (la cavalla bianca)  seguita da una banda di giovinastri che agitavano delle corna e chiedevano delle offerte per Muck Olla.
Così riporta William Hackett (1853) ‘It is not many years since on Samhain’s eve, 31st October, a rustic procession perambulated the district between Ballycotton and Trabolgan, along the coast. The parties represented themselves as messengers of Muck Olla, in whose name they levied contributions on farmers; as usual they were accompanied by sundry youths, sounding lustily on cows’ horns; at the head of the procession was a figure enveloped in a white robe or sheet, having, as it were, the head of a mare, this personage was called the Láir Bhán, “the white mare,” he was a sort of president or master of ceremonies. A long string of verses was recited at each house. (continua)
[Non sono trascorsi molti anni da quando alla vigilia di Samain, il 31 ottobre, una processione campestre ha vagato per il distretto tra Ballycotton e Trabolgan, lungo la costa. I partecipanti si rappresentavano come messaggeri di Muck Olla, a nome del quale riscuotevano i contributi dagli agricoltori; come al solito erano accompagnati da vari giovani, che suonavano vigorosamente sulle corna delle mucche; a capo della processione c’era una figura avvolta in una veste o un lenzuolo bianco, avente, per così dire, la testa di una giumenta, questo personaggio era chiamato Láir Bhán, “la giumenta bianca”, era una specie di presidente o maestro della cerimonia. Una lunga serie di versi veniva recitata in ogni casa]

by Niamh Ní Ruairc

MARI LWYD

Mari Lwyd, o anche “Y Fari Lwyd” (in inglese “Grey Mare“= cavalla grigia) è la versione gallese dell’hooden horse. Tradizione ancora praticata nel Galles centrale e meridionale, in particolare a Llantrisant e Pontyclun a Capodanno. La maschera consiste in una testa di cavallo (un teschio vero) con la mascella movibile e degli inquietanti occhi ricavati da due pezzi di bottiglia verde, addobbata con nastri colorati e portata su un palo da una persona celata sotto un ampio mantello bianco. I questuanti si fermano a cantare davanti all’uscio delle case e chiamano la padrona e la sfidano in un pwnco una sorta di botta e risposta in versi spesso insolente. La vittoria della sfida canora consente ai questuanti di entrare in casa per mangiare i dolci e bere birra.
Come si vede nell’illustrazione di Paul Bommer la padrona di casa tiene in mano una scopa e non vuole far entrare il gruppo perchè portatore di disordine. Infatti non appena entrata la cavalla girerà per la stanza cercando di prendere le donne, è chiaramente una creatura mostruosa e ultraterrena che deve essere rabbonita con offerte. Talvolta un bambino piccolo si frappone con un dolcetto e riesce a calmare la bestia.



Gaelico gallese
I
Wel dyma ni’n dwad
Gyfeillion diniwad
I ofyn am gennod i ganu
II
Os na chawn ni gennad
Rhowch wybod ar ganiad
Pa fodd mae’r ‘madawiad, nos heno
III
‘Does genni ddim cinio
Nac arian iw gwario
I wneud i chwi roeso, nos heno


I
Here we come
Dear friends
To ask permissions to sing
II
If we don’t have permission,
Let us know in song
How we should go away tonight
III
I have no dinner
Or money to spend
To give you welcome tonight
Traduzione italiano di Cattia Salto
I
Siamo qui
cari amici
a chiedervi il permesso di cantare
II
Se non abbiamo il permesso
ditecelo con il canto
che dobbiamo andarcene stasera
III
Non ho cena (1)
o soldi da spendere
per darvi il benvenuto stasera

NOTE
1) se la gente della casa restava sconfitta nella tenzone poetica, la Mari Lwyd rivendicava il diritto di restare a cena con tutto il suo seguito. In alternativa era offerto un glennig, (una piccola mancia), un bicchiere di glaster, (acqua e latte) o di birra.

HOODEN HORSE

Nel Kent sono ritornati i gruppi dell’Hoodening (nei paesi di San Nicola-a-Wade, Nether Hale, Sarre) in particolare la tradizione è molto radicata a San Nicola-a-Wade dove l’hooden horse si chiama Dobbin, un vecchio povero cavallo stremato dalla fatica del lavoro: è messa in scena una sorta di “sacra rappresentazione” con vari personaggi e canzoni; un tempo i gruppi dell’hoodening andavano di casa in casa con tanto di musici e fracasso di campanelli: il cavallo era accompagnato da un gruppo di contadini, chi tiene le redini (il domatore), chi porta un cesto di frutta, chi lo cavalca sulla schiena, c’è anche “Mollie” o la “vecchia dama” che porta una scopa di saggina. Ecco che il capo bussa e appena la porta si apre il cavallo scalcia e spaventa, spalancando la bocca, mentre Mollie scopa i piedi di chi ha aperto. (vedi)
The Horse regularly appeared through the year at, especially in Midwinter (Hallowtide, the Twelve Days of Christmas, et al). The Horse was a man dressed as an animal, covered in blanket and carrying a horse’s head, with reins, on a pole. The head was sometimes wooden but usually a real horse skull – hinged jaws allowed the mouth to snap open and shut. Along with other young men the horse ‘galloped’ and visited houses as a ‘lick-bringer’. This was not always successful and in 1839 at Broadstairs a woman was so terrified coming face-to-face with the ‘horse’ she died of fright. The custom was subsequently forbidden by local magistrates.
In East Kent Hoodening took place at Christmas. The Horse had a wooden head and sometimes a lighted candle was placed in the mouth. Farmworkers walked with the horse, one leading it by the reins or a rope and carrying a whip, and another worker light enough to ride on the horse’s back. A third known as Mollie or Old Woman was in female attire and carried a broom or besom.
In Reculver, only men who had worked with horses during the year were allowed to partake.  (in “A Dictionary of British Folk Customs” di Christina Hole, 1995 tratto da qui)
[The Horse appariva  regolarmente durante tutto l’anno, in particolare alla festa di Mezzo inverno  (Hallowtide, i dodici giorni di Natale, ecc.). Il cavallo era un uomo vestito da animale, coperto da una coperta che porta una testa di cavallo, con redini su di un palo. La testa a volte era di legno ma di solito era un vero teschio di cavallo – le mascelle incernierate permettevano alla bocca di aprirsi e chiudersi. Insieme ad altri giovani il cavallo “galoppava” e visitava le case come “dispensatore di botte”. Questo non ebbe sempre successo e nel 1839 a Broadstairs una donna fu così terrorizzata di trovarsi faccia a faccia con il “cavallo” che morì di paura. L’usanza è stata successivamente vietata dai magistrati locali.
A East Kent Hoodening si svolgeva a Natale. Il cavallo aveva una testa di legno e talvolta veniva messa in bocca una candela accesa . I contadini camminavano con il cavallo, uno lo conduceva per le redini o una corda e portava una frusta, e un altro abbastanza leggero lo cavalcava sulla schiena. Un terzo noto come Mollie o la Vecchia indossava abiti femminili e portava una scopa o una ramazza.
A Reculver potevano partecipare solo gli uomini che avevano lavorato con i cavalli durante l’anno .
Probabilmente un tempo solo le gilde dei cavallanti potevano partecipare all’hoodening, nel Cheshire il teschio del cavallo era seppellito con uno scherzoso servizio funebre.
Oggi l’Hoodening o Souling play è messo in scena nei pub, vedasi questa spassosa  Souling Play di Comberbach]

POOR OLD HORSE

Esistono molte versioni della canzone, la quale era una parte della rappresentazione dei Mummers, che mettevano in scena la morte e resurrezione del cavallo 

Shirley Collins in “False True Lovers” 1959

la versione è solo un frammento e manca la parte iniziale in cui i mummers/soulers chiedono di essere accolti in casa


I
My clothing was once of a linsey-woolsey fine,
My mane it was sleek
and my body it did shine.
But now I’m getting old
and I’m going to decay,
Me master frowns upon me
and thus they all do say, “Poor old horse.”
II
My living was once to the best of corn and hay
As ever grew in England,
and that they all did say.
But now there’s no such comfort
as I can find at all.
I’m forced to nab the short grass
that grows against the wall,
“Poor old horse.”
Traduzione italiano di Cattia Salto
I
I miei drappi erano un tempo di fine lino,
la mia criniera era lucida
e il mio corpo era uno splendore,
ma ora mi sono fatto vecchio
e discendo la china,
il mio padrone mi guarda male
e così tutti dicono “Povero vecchio cavallo”.
II
Vivevo un tempo del miglior grano e fieno
che mai crescesse in Inghilterra
così tutti dicevano.
Ma ora non riesco a trovare
un simile conforto.
Sono costretto ad afferrare l’erba corta
che cresce contro il muro
“Povero vecchio cavallo”

Kate Rusby in Sweet Bells 2008


I
We’ve got a poor old horse,
He’s standing at your door,
And if you’ll only let him in,
He’ll please you all (1) I’m sure (x2)
II
Now that he’s grown old
And nature doth decay,
My master frowns upon him now,
These words I’ve heard him say (x2)
III
Now that he’s grown old
And scarcely can he crawl,
He’s forced to eat the coarsest grass
That grows against the wall (x2)
IV
This poor horse was once young,
And in his youthful prime
My master used to ride on him,
He thought him very fine (x2)
Traduzione italiano di Cattia Salto
I
Abbiamo un povero vecchio cavallo
che sta alla vostra porta,
e se soltanto lo lascerete entrare,
vi ricompenserà di certo (1).
II
Adesso che è diventato vecchio,
nel suo naturale decadimento,
il mio padrone lo guarda male
e questo gli ho sentito dire:
III
“Ora che lui è invecchiato,
e a malapena si regge in piedi,
dovrà mangiare l’erba più ruvida
che cresce contro il muro”
IV
Questo povero cavallo una volta era giovane,
e nel fulgore della sua giovinezza
il mio padrone lo usava per cavalcare
e pensava molto bene di lui

NOTE
1) nel verso si evidenzia il canto come canto di questua con rituale propiziatorio

La versione sea shanty  “Paying off the dead horse.

LA TRADIZIONE D’ESTATE

oldossOSS
Per le strade di Padstow, un piccolo porto di pescatori della Cornovaglia settentrionale sulla foce del fiume Camel ora a vocazione turistica ogni Calendimaggio è festeggiato con l’Obby Oss Festival (continua)

FONTI
http://ontanomagico.altervista.org/epona.html
http://paleopix.com/blog/2013/10/31/lair-bhan-and-the-mast-beast/
https://thefadingyear.wordpress.com/2016/10/26/origins-of-trick-or-treating/
https://www.omniglot.com/songs/bcc/marilwyd.php
http://www.folkwales.org.uk/arctd9a.html
http://hoodening.org.uk/hooden-horses.html
http://www.hoodening.org.uk/hoodening-history1.html http://paulbommer.blogspot.it/2010/12/advent-calendar-22nd-mari-lwyd.html http://www.museumwales.ac.uk/cy/279/
http://mainlynorfolk.info/shirley.collins/songs/pooroldhorse.html