Do any of you find it fascinating, as I do, that many of the christmas traditions we know and love often cross that thin veil that separates the scary from the beloved? Have you ever heard of Mari Lwyd? I have many posts in my blog that try to point out such things. This year I ran across one that really gave me the chills. Horse skulls have been used in illustrations, art and in books to represent spirits or demons. When I discovered a welsh tradition that is focused around christmas and the winter holidays I had to start reading up on it.
What I am sharing with you is the Mari Lwyd, pronounced “Mary Loyd”. Although performed over the Christmas period, the Mari Lwyd is thought to be a pre-Christian tradition believed to bring good luck involving the display of a puppeted, dancing horse skull on a pole. Mari Lwyd means grey mare, and she takes the form of a decorated horse-skull on a pole operated by a man in a white sheet. This rather frighting visage would be paraded around town and poked into homes and at bystanders in return for refreshments and libations. This custom also includes, if you can believe it, a singing battle between the visiting party and householders or standers-by. Nowadays the action takes place at the Corner House pub and the singing is still a feature of this event.
The earliest published account of the Mari Lwyd appeared in 1800 in J. Evans’ A Tour through Part of North Wales, in the year 1798, and at Other Times. The tradition declined over the years and was outright outlawed due to its supposed pagan origins and child-frightening tendencies. It is now experiencing somewhat of a revival likely due to the strong feelings of cultural connection and the tendency towards returning to ones roots. It is also thought by some historians that the wassailing such as that mentioned in the song Here-we-come-a-wassailing got its origins from the Mari Lwyd tradition.
So there you have it. I know I will never be able to think of christmas without a horse skull any more. Happy Holidays!
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