All Hallows Gathering 2017 – A Little Night Magic

If I were a member of the audience at the Dark Gathering I would be in a bit of a dilemma when it comes to deciding where to be at dusk.  Join the Torchlight Procession and escort the Mari Lwyds to the Museum – or wait at the Museum and witness the mighty Penkevyll call up the Maris with tribal drumming?  I personally don’t get a choice because as organiser I have to stay at Base Camp so to speak!  This has proved to be somewhat problematic in the past not knowing what was happening from one end of Boscastle to another – however we’ve solved that problem now by using walkie-talkies.  These were carried by a small team of locals who took on the role of marshalling for the Gathering.  They all did a simply splendid job and I thank you all and hope you will be available to repeat the experience next year.  🙂  Anyway, whichever choice folks make they all seem to enjoy whatever experience they go for, as they both have their own attendant magic.  Here’s some photos and footage to get a flavour of each atmosphere.

 

 

 

After the joyous reunion of Cornish Penkevyll with her Welsh bone sisters, the Mari Lwyds, it was time for the traditional pwnco ceremony.  This year, you’ll be delighted to know, I decided that it would be better not to inflict upon anyone else having to hear my voice mangling the pwnco verses!  So instead Tia and Sue sang alone the riddles to each other first in Welsh with the responses in Cornish.  They were brilliant, and judging by the cheers that went up following this performance it was well received by all, and the Mari Lwyds were successful in their endeavours to gain entry to the Museum of Witchcraft & Magic.  Then it was time for some very strange creatures of the night to make their appearance…

A little bit of back story is required here.  Back in the summer whilst I was searching around for a Dark Morris side to replace the now sadly defunct Wytchwood I was contacted via my website by the Artistic Director of Mr Fox who are based at Barnsley, Yorkshire.  They described themselves as a Street Theatre & Dance Company who worked with fire and stage effects.  Initially I wasn’t sure whether this would be suitable for the Dark Gathering but decided to invite them following discussion and perusing their videos.  However this meant that there would only be two Morris sides for the afternoon as Mr Fox essentially could only perform in the dark.  I was confident that Wreckers and Beltane were more than capable of fulfilling their brief of ‘Morris entertainment’ for two hours as they are both competent sides with many performers amongst them.  When I asked for a bio from Mr Fox I received some prose in reply and the opening stanzas of this gave me a great idea of how the enigmatic Mr Fox could make their entrance (or prowl-up as they describe it) at their appointed hour.  These were the verses concerned:

When eyes do see the naked flame
and ears do hear the brazen beat of drum
When two worlds meet
then twilight’s winding walk is begun…

Down from on high they come
skirting the undergrowth
and into the square…

Above the Museum is a green lane that runs the full length of the village and I thought Mr Fox could start off from there and make their spooky way down to the square in front of the Museum.  It actually turned out even better than I had anticipated!  The first the onlookers heard was the skirling of pipes which were joined by vibrant and pounding drums as slowly the performers holding torches made their way down the hill and into the performance space.  It was truly magical and very atmospheric.

There then followed a bewitching performance with characters appearing and disappearing at will accompanied by special effects.  What added to the haunting quality of this performance was there was no spoken word at any point.  There was dance, gesture and movement all orchestrated and directed by the music(ians).  Mr Fox were like a tribe as there were small children taking on roles as well and it was impossible to tell what gender anyone was because of how they were kitted out in their smocks and masks.  All in all it was an eerie and deeply atmospheric experience – folks loved it!  😀

As the performance came to a close Mr Fox disappeared into the night as mysteriously as they arrived.  Time for a change of pace and an acknowledgement of the Samhain energies and spirits that were abroad that night.  Sarah and Paul took the stage and sang a beautiful, poignant and evocative song which was composed by Paul.  In case you didn’t catch the words on the night, here they are now:

The Gather

Gather the sticks and gather the stones
The part of the wind that whistles and moans.
Gather the water from out of the stream
And out of the wells where witches have been.

Gather the wheat, the barley and corn
The bones of the things that are yet to be born.
Gather the birds, the raven and rook
I will decide where they shall be took

Bring me the heather, the view from the bluff
The moss on the moors and the fragile stuff
The mid day of winter, the sun where it shone
Find for me this before it is gone.
(softly: before… it is…… gone. )

Gather the clouds from out of the sky
It will not be easy but please you must try
Gather the future and gather the past
And all of those moments that just did not last

Gather the words that no one has spoken
The well meaning thoughts, the promises broken.
Gather the many and gather the few
If they are unwilling, then gather them too

All that are present and all that are here
Stand and be silent, stand and draw near
When all this is done. When all this shall be
Set them before me. Then set them all free

Paul Sumner

It was now nearly time for Will Fox’s now traditional Samhain Blessing, but just to set the scene we decided to honour the genius loci (spirits of place) by utilising bullroarers.  So three wisewomen were employed to achieve this; myself, Tia and Michelle (aka Selkie).

The time for the Ancestors was upon us and Will Fox took us on a journey to them honouring the darkness and the outcasts on his way.  He can truly weave magic with his words and cast a spell upon the audience.  🙂

The Dark Gathering calls all sorts of people to itself.  It attracts folks from not only all over Britain, but also from other countries.  This year we had people from the Netherlands, Germany and even had a couple who travelled all the way from Maine, USA just to attend the Gathering!  It was lovely to see this couple, Ken and Mary, in particular as we had handfasted them earlier in the year at the Men an Tol.  🙂

I had a word with our MC Steve who then had a chat with Ant from Beltane, and as a consequence, Ken was given the place of honour holding the centre torch in the now famous Beltane Fire Dance.

Normally proceedings would have come to a reluctant halt at this point but there was still something important to do.  The much deserved thanks to all who helped so much to make this Gathering so successful.

Steve read out the list of people concerned:

Our Sponsors
The Museum of Witchcraft & Magic
which includes;
Simon Costin – Owner
Judith & Peter Hewitt – Managers
and
Boscastle Chamber of Commerce

Also thanks to:
The National Trust

The people of Boscastle

All volunteers including: Nathan, Daniel, Claire and Dreads

John Isaac – Photographer
Kieran Sweederz – Videographer

Performers
Beltane Border Morris
Wreckers Morris
Boscastle Buoys
Mr Fox

Special thanks to:
Sarah Emery & Paul Sumner
Michelle Elliot
Will Fox
Steve Podger
Kylie Reynolds

All Mari Lwyds
Penkevyll the Lands End Oss

Also I would like to mention donations we received from Beltane Border Morris and Woody’s Pizza which we’re very grateful for and will put to good use in next year’s Gathering.  So much of what the All Hallows Gathering is nowadays is reliant on goodwill and volunteers who give of their time and energy for free.  I would love to be able to offer everyone something towards their costs but our funds are quite limited at present.  We are always open to offers of help and donations towards this unique event though.

Kieran who has filmed and crafted our archive footage for the last few years is a case in point.  At present he is a University student and he would love to be sponsored in some way for his superb work each year.  So if anyone out there is willing to offer patronage to him then please get in touch – camera and editing equipment does not come cheap.

I feel it is crucial to any event like this to make sure there is adequate acknowledgement to the volunteers’ endeavours.  I have in the past been part of various voluntary organisations where occasionally the volunteers have not been treated very well or have been taken for granted.  I personally cannot understand this attitude as, quite frankly, without them you’d be stuffed!  So much goes on behind the scenes that others are blissfully unaware of.  Just to snatch an example out of the air – torches.  They look great don’t they?  However, someone has to bear the responsibility of creating them, carrying them, keeping them primed and so on and so forth.  I know for a fact that Paul Sumner made the magnificent tall torches that light up the parade and performance space so well and his partner Sarah Emery helps with the management of them.  Ant Veal I believe sorts out the torches for Beltane Border Morris.  Let’s hear it for all the folks behind the scenes who help create the wonderful spectacle that is the Dark Gathering!  🙂

Before we knew it, it was all over and everyone wended their weary way to the welcome hospitality of the Wellington Hotel.

I end this post on a definite high knowing that this year’s Dark Gathering brought so much to so many people in spite of many setbacks.  There was fabulous feedback from the many folk who came, and others who could not who watched the live footage.  It was a great boost to the local economy as it was estimated that 1,200 people attended, and the Museum said they had their best day’s takings ever!

Now it’s time to settle back, make yourself comfortable and enjoy the next 2 hrs 40 mins of Kieran’s archive footage of the All Hallows Gathering 2017.

See you all next year on October 27th 2018!  🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

All Hallows Gathering 2017 – The Daytime Hours

I think it is fair to say that 2017 has been my most demanding year yet as organiser of the Dark Gathering.  Speaking now from the other side of the event I can safely say that this year has also been ultimately the most satisfying for all sorts of reasons.  There’s nothing like striving in the face of adversity and despite that, succeeding to give you a real buzz!  However, this most definitely could not have happened without the goodwill and co-operation of many good-hearted folks who seemed to go out of their way to help when unexpected problems occurred.  Peter, one of the Museum’s managers, said that it was a real pleasure to work with people on the Dark Gathering because there were no egos inferring with the work in hand.  Certainly it was refreshing for me to work with folk who worked well using their own initiative and flair for whatever role that they were performing.  Thank you guys and gals!  😀

The day kicked off to a fascinating start with the talented David Pitt holding a Mari Lwyd Workshop in Boscastle Village Hall.  Everyone who showed up during the day thoroughly enjoyed the experience and there was evidence of many Mari Lwyd rattles in the crowd later on!  🙂

David is a multi-talented artisan and a gifted storyteller.  Here is his website: David Pitt

Once again we were fortunate with the weather and it didn’t seem too long before people started to gather outside the Museum of Witchcraft & Magic, eager to get a good view of the afternoon’s performances.  The Salt Sisters, a duet who sang a cappella was a lovely warm-up act to listen to whilst waiting.

The air was full of the buzz of anticipation as performers and audience began to arrive.  There was even a raven called Branwen who had turned up for the occasion!  🙂

Plus a little owl who flew in for the experience!

Ravenswell

Finally it was time for our irrepressible MC Steve Podger to start off the proceedings and the All Hallows Gathering 2017 was under way!

Our local side this year was Wreckers, resplendent in Cornish gold and black who delighted the crowd with their light-hearted and fun entertainment.  It was very enjoyable playing in the band with them and I learnt very quickly to expect the unexpected!  😉

Wreckers Morris

Beltane Border Morris who are part of the backbone of the Dark Gathering were magnificent once again with some new faces spotted amongst them.  They never fail to thrill the audience with their theatrical dancing skills and raw vigour.

Beltane Border Morris

As a surprise component there was a visitation seawards of a young Sea Oss, Morvargh and a Mari Lwyd, Seren who moved amongst the watching crowd during the afternoon.  Young Morvargh was particularly entranced by the music and needed no further encouragement when ask by Wreckers to dance along to their music!  🙂

During the break in the afternoon’s Morris dancing we had the local male voice choir, The Boscastle Buoys giving us all lively renditions of many popular Cornish songs and shanties.  Rather wonderfully they raised a total of £160 for the Cornwall Hospice by passing a bucket around to the crowd.  😀

Meanwhile, making their way down the old part of Boscastle was another Mari Lwyd contingent complete with a set of talented musicians who had travelled from Penzance to play with the Maris.  This Mari Party was calling upon some of the inhabitants of Boscastle where they, once they had gained admittance, duly blessed their houses.  Needless to say following some generous hospitality, they were well fed and watered by the time they made their slightly unsteady way to the bottom of the hill – where they had a well-earned rest…in the Cobweb Inn!  😉

By this time the light was fading rapidly and it was time for the creatures of the night to emerge from the shadows!  Which I will relate to you in my next blog.  😉

And so the anticipation built…

Further Dark Gathering information

Only a few weeks to go now and all sorts of exciting things are afoot…!

Responding to a need for more retail outlets to be available to folks after the festivities, many of the local establishments in Boscastle will be open later in the day.  Also we have secured the presence of Woody’s Pizza Van who are well known locally for delicious wood-fired pizzas.  They will be stationed outside the Spar shop from 5pm – 8 pm.  They come highly recommended!

Woody’s Pizza

I now have details of how those who can’t attend the Gathering for whatever reason can watch online or as good as.  You have the choice of two options on the day:

Option One – you can follow the proceedings via the Museum of Witchcraft & Magic’s YouTube channel here:

Museum of Witchcraft & Magic

There will be a slight delay on this option whilst the filming is uploaded to YouTube.

Option Two – follow live footage on our All Hallows Gathering Facebook group here:

All Hallows Gathering Boscastle

Both options require membership – there is no charge.  Of course if you’re an avid fan you could watch both!  😉

It’s startling to consider how our original spontaneous creation has now reached a global audience in just a few years.  Well done everyone!  😀

Lastly for now, on this night of the powerful Harvest Moon I send the call out to all of goodwill and merriment.  Come join with us at the All Hallows Gathering on Saturday 28th October 2017 to honour our ancestors and celebrate Summer’s end in the ancient village of Boscastle.  Help us a-conjure in the eldritch time of Halloween!

 

 

 

Nine and a Half Weeks … until All Hallows Gathering 2017

To say that organising the Dark Gathering this year has been challenging would be an understatement!  All sorts of spanners have been thrown into the works, but amazingly where a person or a side have departed, there have been folks who are only too eager to step into the breech and fill the void.  I thank you all!  🙂

As you can see from the poster, we have a very full line-up of activities and performers this year.  Whilst on the subject of the poster I want to personally thank Chris White who designed it at very short notice.  Even more amazing is the fact, and I hope he doesn’t mind me mentioning this, that Chris is disabled and is more or less housebound being a full time carer for his beloved wife.  Chris sadly will never be able to attend the Dark Gathering, but has given his full support to the event from it’s inception.  Chris is a unassuming, generous and talented guy who has a passion and curiosity for the absurdities of life  – who definitely has a soft spot for Osses, Maris and other assorted beasties.  Take a bow Chris White!  😀

This seems a good moment to state that provision will be made this year for a live recording of the Dark Gathering.  This means that the housebound and people abroad will be able to share in the atmosphere of the event as it happens.  So performers and audience be aware – you will be on camera most of the time!

The day will start early this year with a Mari Lwyd Workshop led by David Pitt.  In the workshop you can make and decorate your own mini Mari Lwyd shaker to join in with the festivities – and meet some Maris too.  It is open to all ages and I really hope I get the time and opportunity to attend myself.  If not, can someone make one for me please?  😉  There is no charge for this workshop, although donations are welcome to cover costs.  Here’s more information on David: The Crowman – Storyteller

Joining Beltane and Wreckers this year was going to be a new Dark Morris side, Emanon.  This happened through a chance remark at Teignmouth Folk festival and as a result, a new Dark Morris side was born.   Emanon were to be giving their debut performance at this year’s Gathering – I’m sure everyone would have welcomed their input with interest as they came with a great CV.  So new are they that they didn’t even have a photo I could have shown you yet!

I know that taking on a new untried and untested side who I haven’t even seen in action was a bit of a risk – but hey, it keeps things vital and interesting.  So much of the organising and arranging of the Dark Gathering is a risk, a gamble, but in a sense you have to accept that it’s all in the lap of the gods how well (or not) plans turn out.  So many times now there have been instances of realising that there are gods who care what happens at the Gathering and the community of Boscastle because of amazing interventions, just at the right time.  It is said that Fortune favours the brave – however, it doesn’t pay to be too blasé either!  All we can do is prepare for the worst and anticipate the best.  🙂

Risks

To laugh is to risk appearing the fool
To weep is to risk being called sentimental
To reach out to another is to risk involvement
To expose feelings is to risk showing your true self
To place your ideas and your dreams before the crowd is to risk being called naïve
To love is to risk not being loved in return
To live is to risk dying
To hope is to risk despair
To try is to risk failure
But risks must be taken, because the greatest risk in life is to risk nothing
The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing, is nothing, and becomes nothing
He may avoid suffering and sorrow, but he simply cannot learn, feel, change, grow or love
Chained by his certitude, he is a slave; he has forfeited his freedom
Only the person who risks is truly free

Janet Rand

Ironically, and just to prove my point about the unpredictability of this year  I have been informed by Emanon that sadly, due to the ill health of one of their key members, they are unable to perform this year.  😦

We all hope that the person concerned recovers swiftly and we look forward to Emanon making their appearance another year.

Moving on, I am delighted to announce that we will have a local choir singing in the afternoon at the break (around 4 pm) – the Boscastle Buoys.  They collect for charity and this time it will be for Cornwall Hospice Care so make sure you have your change ready when the bucket comes round!

You may have heard that Wytchwood Morris have taken a sabbatical, but some individual members of Wytchwood will be attending the event in a supporting role – and given the collective talents of that side, it will be well worth looking forward to any input from them!  🙂

Finally regarding performers, we have the enigmatic Mr Fox.  When asked for a bio I was sent this – make of it what you will:

When eyes do see the naked flame
and ears do hear the brazen beat of drum
When two worlds meet
then twilight’s winding walk is begun…

Down from on high they come
skirting the undergrowth
and into the square…

The dancing ground is old as time
But before that time was bound
The black morass of earth was lit
And the shining star was found…

With smoking clouds and tendrils flare
Amid eternities brilliant glare
the hooded shadows flit…

They crouch and prowl, they run and fight,
They tend the braziers’ fiery heart
With flames that flash as bursts of light
And this is but the start…

As giant, feathered footsteps bound,
Seek to rule the dancing ground
Beneath a moonlit sky…

A blaze of flame, a fire flower
Wrought with magic for the task
Is summoned with unearthly power
By a silent, Silver mask….

Darkness and tears are cast aside
Shadows banished far to hide
Beyond the dancing glow…

A timeless story is evoked
Written in flame upon the night,
Blazing colour, curling  smoke…

A battle danced twixt dark and bright.
Hear the drums and seek the flame
The nameless ones who share a name…
The inimitable Mister Fox.

This year the Mari Lwyds will be visiting establishments and households throughout the village during late afternoon, culminating with some steeds joining the procession; and others making their own slow but steady progress to attend the ancient pwnco ceremony at the threshold of the Museum of Witchcraft & Magic.  There are a couple of new additions to our equine friends who may make an appearance – so keep alert as they may appear where you least expect them!

Given the growing popularity of the Dark Gathering it has become necessary to make some logistical decisions regarding crowd control and the like.  There will be volunteers who will act as marshals, moving folk around when necessary to avoid bottle-necks and to ensure that everyone has a fair chance of viewing the day’s activities.  Please try and co-operate with these necessary measures which have to be brought in for health and safety purposes.  Also parking became an issue last year so you need to know that there is also a car park at the top of Boscastle near the Napoleon Inn – see map for details.

That’s all for now folks and I look forward, as I hope you do, to this year’s All Hallow’s Gathering.  See you all there – here’s last year’s footage just to remind you of how brilliant it all is!

 

 

To Whom It May Concern

The following article appeared in the New Statesman 17 – 23 February 2017.  It was handed to me the other day by friends who thought I might draw insight from what it said.  It had previous to that been displayed in their shop as a timely reminder about human nature and all it’s idiosyncrasies.  I was impressed by the clear and pragmatic presentation of what can be a complex situation and was for me very enlightening; and so I thought I’d share it with you.  Words within […] are my comments  🙂

I am special and I am worthless: inside the mind of a narcissist

Since the rise of Donald Trump, the term ‘narcissistic’ has been cropping up with great regularity in certain sections of the media, including the pages of this journal.  I wouldn’t want to comment about an individual I’ve never met, but I thought it would be interesting to look at the troubling psychological health problem of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD).

People with NPD (which is estimated to affect about 1% of the population) have a characteristic set of personality traits.  First, they have a deeply held sense of specialness and entitlement.  Male NPD sufferers frequently present as highly egotistical, with an unshakeable sense of their superiority and importance; female sufferers commonly present as eternal victims on whom the world repeatedly inflicts terrible injustices.  [One would imagine a transgender person to have a blend of both]  In both cases, the affected person believes he or she is deserving of privileged treatment, and expects it as a right from those around them.

Second, NPD sufferers have little or no capacity for empathy, and usually relate to other people as objects (as opposed to thinking, feeling beings) whose sole function is to meet the narcissist’s need for special treatment and admiration – known as ‘supply’.  In order to recruit supply, NPD sufferers become highly skilled at manipulating people’s perceptions of them, acting out what is called a ‘false self’ – the glittering high achiever, the indefatigable do-gooder, the pitiable victim.  [To use magical parlance – glamour]

The third characteristic is termed ‘splitting’, where the world is experienced in terms of two rigid categories – either Good or Bad – with no areas of grey.  As long as others are meeting the narcissist’s need for supply, they are Good, and they find themselves idealised and showered with reciprocal positive affirmation – a process called ‘love-bombing’.  However, if someone criticises or questions the narcissist’s false self, that person becomes Bad, and is subjected to implacable hostility.

It is not known for certain what triggers the disorder.  There is likely to be a genetic component, but in many cases early life experiences are the primary cause.  Narcissism is a natural phase of child development (as the parents of many teenagers will testify) and its persistence as adult NPD frequently reflects chronic trauma during childhood.  Paradoxically for a condition that manifests as apparent egotism, all NPD sufferers have virtually non-existent self-esteem.  This may arise from ongoing emotional neglect on the part of parents or caregivers, or from sustained psychological or sexual abuse.  

The common factor is a failure in the development of a healthy sense of self-worth.  It is likely that narcissism becomes entrenched as a defence against the deep-seated shame associated with these experiences of being unworthy and valueless.

When surrounded by supply, the NPD sufferer can anaesthetise this horrible sense of shame with the waves of positive regard washing over them.  Equally, when another person destabilises that supply (by criticising or questioning the narcissist’s false self) this highly threatening, and the NPD sufferer will go to practically any lengths to prevent a destabiliser adversely influencing other people’s perceptions of the narcissist.

One of the many tragic aspects of NPD is the invariable lack of insight.  A narcissist’s experience of the world is essentially: “I am special; some people love me for this, and are Good; some people hate me for it, and are Bad.”  If people with NPD do present to health services, it is usually because of the negative impacts Bad people are having on their life, rather than because they are able to recognise that they have a psychological health problem.

Far more commonly, health professionals end up helping those who have had the misfortune to enter into a supply relationship with an NPD sufferer.  Narcissism is one of the most frequent factors in intimate partner and child abuse, as well as workplace bullying.  The narcissist depends on the positive affirmation of others to neutralise their own sense of unworthiness.  They use others to shore themselves up, and lash out at those who threaten this precarious balance.  And they leave a trail of damaged people in their wake.”

Dr Phil Whitaker

For the last 5 years (almost to the day) I have been targeted by a narcissist and it has been no surprise to find out that, according to the above article, I would be referred to by them as Bad.  However, this is part of my craft and nature, to point out glamour and falseness when it presents itself.

Articles like this are very handy to get things into their proper perspective and to have clarification of the roles folk play within these melodramas.

 

Lafrowda Impressions

Today has been an intensely charged day.  If you didn’t know better, you would have thought that there was a storm brewing.  It wasn’t until the local headlines via Facebook arrived that our community down here realised that one of their number, had quite suddenly departed.  Lafrowda is a community festival held in St Just which has grown from strength to strength over the years.  I didn’t personally know Paul, the landlord of a well known hostelry in St Just, but judging by the outpouring of shock and sadness that flooded my FB timeline, he was a well loved and respected member of his community.

For some reason it kept coming into my mind today how awful this morning must have been for Paul’s widow.  No husband to wake up with who was there just hours before…

When we reached St Just today to perform in the Golowan Band, it was overcast and misty –  typical West Cornwall weather most would think, but not typical of Lafrowda apparently, as I found when I talked with others I met there.  Then I noticed that the St Pirans flag was flying at half-mast from the church.  What a touching tribute to the man – and also his pub was ‘open for business’ as he would have wanted.  How poignant…

The day also seemed to be cursed by tiresome, melodramatic attention-seekers but, when put into context, was simply just irksome and annoying – not really of any importance or significance.

When finally we returned to our village I went to the village shop for supplies and found out that the proprietor was cousin to the previously mentioned widow.  She related to me details of a shocking tragedy that this woman had to endure earlier in her life.  How desperate she must be feeling right now, it doesn’t bear thinking about.  😦

I’m glad that the community has declared it’s respect and love for her husband so eloquently.  He was obviously someone of character and stature in his town.  In time, with this sort of quiet recognition, the family will heal and life will go on.  For tonight, even though I didn’t know you, I salute you Paul – you lived a life that mattered.

A Life That Matters

Ready or not, someday it will all come to an end.
There will be no more sunrises, no minutes, hours, days.
All the things you collected, whether treasured or forgotten, will pass to someone else.
Your wealth, fame and temporal power will shrivel to irrelevance.
It will not matter what you owned or what you were owed.
Your grudges, resentments, frustrations and jealousies will finally disappear.
So too, your hopes, ambitions, plans and to-do lists will expire.
The wins and losses that once seemed so important will fade away.
It won’t matter where you came from, or on what side of the tracks you lived.
At the end, whether you were beautiful or brilliant, male or female, even your skin colour won’t matter.

So what will matter? How will the value of your days be measured?
What will matter is not what you bought, but what you built; not what you got, but what you gave.
What will matter is not your success, but your significance.
What will matter is not what you learned, but what you taught.
What will matter is every act of integrity, compassion, courage or sacrifice that enriched, empowered or encouraged others.
What will matter is not your competence, but your character.
What will matter is not how many people you knew, but how many will feel a lasting loss when you’re gone.
What will matter is not your memories, but the memories that live in those who loved you.
Living a life that matters doesn’t happen by accident.
It’s not a matter of circumstance but of choice.
Choose to live a life that matters.

Michael Josephson

 

Evil Flourishes When Good Men Do Nothing

I have been a whistle-blower for most of my life.  It’s something I feel compelled to do when I come across injustices and needless to say it has got me into hot water!  Whistle-blowing can be awfully lonely because often the very people who you believed would support you, either turn against you or keep their heads down and act embarrassed with the hope that you will go away or cease such behaviour.  Whether this happens within a private or a public situation, there is almost always retaliation and/or reprisals from the bully or abuser (whether system, company or person).  Often ‘gas lighting’ is aimed at the whistle-blower, not only to attempt to distract or silence the instigator, but also as a salutary lesson to other workers, team members or acquaintances not to do the same or support them in any way.  It makes one wonder why on earth people like myself risk such circumstances?  Well, I can let you know why I do it.

As a village wisewoman I strive to be honourable and altruistic in my dealings with folks, bearing in mind that I am human and can make mistakes. This however, is not just a role I play within my community – it is a lifestyle.  I have a conscience that is not at peace unless I do my best to try to aid others who I feel are being bullied, abused or otherwise treated unfairly.  I really do try to be diplomatic in my handling of this but sometimes even then, my plain speaking triggers an anger response from the person I’m confronting about their behaviour.  Most of the time I try to deal with this stoically as I recognise that, to an extent I am drawing their fire away from the object of their persecution or bullying and instead become their target.

However, this trait can also create enemies and even what I call ‘frenemies’ (enemies who used to be friends).  Occasionally you get a banding together of these types of individuals into a cabal of plotters who get fixated on revenge – and sadly that is what appears to have happened to me – and by association, my partner.

The last time I took someone to task about what I perceived to be unfair and dictatorial behaviour, it ended in both myself and my partner being ejected from the Morris side that we were members of.  There was a heated exchange when I realised that this person had contacted people known to be part of the previously mentioned ‘cabal’ behind our backs and was parroting their lies.  The meeting ended with me calling him “A silly little man” and that was the end of that…or so I thought.

Never underestimate the vindictiveness of a overblown, and therefore fragile, ego!  There then followed a series of attempts to sabotage the event that I organise that he and his team had been part of and had subsequently left.  These I dealt with as they happened and did my best to rise above these obstacles and annoyances.  My partner and myself anticipated that there would probably be gossip and rumour to deal with, as there often is when people fall out for whatever reason, but then it got really serious.  At the weekend it was brought to our attention that extremely offensive and malicious lies had been fabricated in order to blacken our names and characters.  So vile have these accusations been that I am considering taking legal advice on this matter.

Why am I airing all this on my blog when normally I would keep a dignified silence?  The answer lies in the title of this post.  There are times when it is more appropriate not to feed negativity and refrain from trying to justify yourselves or reason with the unreasonable.  However, a line must be drawn in the sand when boundaries of decency and integrity are breached and this is one such time.

The Morris community on the whole is a merry bunch of revellers and pranksters of varying abilities who like nothing better than to dance, play music and party.  Of course they have their differences and their fallouts but I would hate to see this community riven by this level of attempted victimisation.  It has to cease immediately.

The perpetrators of this slander know who they are, and so do I.  I choose not to name names at present and hope that this post will be warning enough.  If they do the honourable thing and desist for the sake of the Morris community I will say no more about this.

 

A Tale of Two Osses.

At Beltane this year we completed Penkevyll’s final makeover or maybe it would be more accurate to say, emergence.  We celebrated that with a photoshoot taken by the talented John Isaac.

 

Penkevyll’s journey from there to here has been dynamic, dramatic, poignant and at times a little spooky.  Just for clarification I need to say that the title of this post does not refer to her life, and then her afterlife as an Oss, but of how she used to be a Penglaz and then transitioned into Penkevyll.  I do see the need for a little background so, time to settle down and hear the story.  Ladies and gentlemen, I give you, A Tale of Two Osses!  😀

The year was 2008 and I had received a startling phone call that was to have ongoing repercussions for years to come had I but known it.  I had been Teazer to Penglaz the Penzance Oss for many years.  This was a role that had slowly evolved over the years, building on it’s tradition as it went.  That previous winter we celebrated the very first Montol festival and Penglaz was to play a crucial role within the festivities.  This turned out to be the one and only time that this particular Penglaz appeared at Montol.  In April I received the aforementioned unexpected phone call from the chap responsible for creating and riding Penglaz, to the effect that he would be retiring from Golowan and Montol and that he was taking his Oss with him.  Bombshell was an understatement!  :O

 

It was only 6 weeks to Mazey Day, when Penglaz traditionally made her appearance, and I had to make some quick decisions.  Once I had permission that I could recreate another Oss modelled on the previous style, I gathered through networking a small, select team of people with the appropriate skills to do just that.  Despite having to work my way through a lot of obstructions and petty politics as a result of a rival Penglaz being made hurriedly, our Oss eventually made her debut at Montol 2008.

Sadly although a few traditions can survive despite conflict and rivalry this was not the case in Penzance.  Although our Oss team was completely open to sharing and co-operating, the rival team were not and wanted to be ‘the only Penglaz in the town’.  After a couple of years of this during which I’m sure everyone got thoroughly fed up with the wrangling, it all came to a head.  The outcome was that our Oss was asked to withdraw, along with the rival Oss, and the original Penglaz and Rider returned.

 

If you’re thinking that I’m missing out a lot of detail here, you would be correct.  However, I really don’t think it would be helpful to the community in general to open up old wounds – especially as things have moved on so much since.  So, I will content myself with this briefest of outlines about our Oss’s previous life as a Penglaz.  (So those who were relishing a melodrama about it all can put away their popcorn and depart back to the sidelines!)

So, there we were with an Oss with no name or a function.  Over the years I had researched Osses and associated beasties in the West Country and knew there was, albeit sparse, documented evidence of a Lands End Oss who stalked the outer margins of West Penwith.  Since we were based in nearby St Buryan that seemed an ideal role to revive and recreate.  I also came across an archaic Cornish name for ‘horse’s head’ which was Penkivell or Penkevyll which we then adopted for her during a naming ceremony performed in March on my birthday 2011. It was at this time that I took the crucial decision to buy Penkevyll from the co-creators for a mutually agreed price which we shook hands on.  She has been happily stabled with us, definitely part of the household, and rather wonderfully the community, ever since.  😀

We worked on Penkevyll’s appearance giving her some new improved ears and mane.  The kit started off with black, midnight blue and blood red tatters and ribbons.  Our Oss had been created primarily as a processional, dancing Oss and thanks to the skills of a brilliant local engineer she is extremely versatile in her movements – however, the downside is that Penkevyll is also extremely heavy and can only be operated by a male of appropriate strength.  This is because of her weighty mechanism plus the fact that she was obviously a big horse of German descent with heavy bones.  However, we have always had Riders for Penkevyll and at that time we had a very lively and enthusiastic Rider in Laetitia’s son, Rhys.  We brought Penkevyll out for her very first appearance in the community at the Penwith Pagan Moot, which we were hosting that Spring Equinox, where she was received with warmth and delight.  🙂

The following few years were full of action and drama as I entered the Morris world for the first time and we introduced Penkevyll the Lands End Oss to Morris festivals up and down the country.  We created a dance team called Boekka (Cornish for scarecrow) to accompany Penkevyll, and special Oss and Teazer dances were devised by Laetitia in which we both danced and teased the Oss in a choreographed manner – very unlike the improvised madness that I had been used to on the streets of Penzance with Penglaz!  However these dances were quite spooky and atmospheric!  It was great to meet so many different Morris sides and performers and it definitely opened up a new world to me.  I truly never anticipated learning how to Morris dance in my sixties!  😀

Time moved on, and so did people.  There was an amendment to the kit colours as we were finding that all sorts of different shades of red were creeping in, including pink (!).  So it was decided to change this in favour of dark purple and it stayed that way until quite recently.  One thing that became more and more noticeable as the years passed was that it was quite difficult to get Morris dancing off the ground in Cornwall.  Ironic when you think that there is a school of thought that has referred to the bench ends of St Columb Church, Cornwall as the earliest evidence of Morris dancing in the country!  Some declare that Morris is too English for the Cornish and there certainly is a focus on Cornish dancing instead being more popular.  The outcome was it was getting increasingly more difficult to find members for our team who were willing to travel and perform elsewhere.  Add to this the pure logistics of travelling to venues outside of Cornwall and it became inevitable that the dance team would finally subside which it did in 2015.

However, all was not lost – far from it!  This meant we could concentrate more on the Oss and Teazers only and this is when it became really interesting…

I had always wanted to meet the famous Welsh Mari Lwyds and finally at long last it happened in 2014 – a year that was to prove quite a breakthrough for Penkevyll the Lands End Oss & Boekka.  I write in detail here about that initial meeting of a Cornish Oss with the Mari Lwyd:

Cornish Penkevyll makes history by meeting the Welsh Mari Lwyd

Something magical happened when that meeting occurred, because from that first contact,  wonderfully creative and exciting events have developed.  I have written extensively about this marvellous journey here:

All Hallows Gathering 2014

here:

All Hallows Gathering 2015 – Part One

All Hallows Gathering 2015 – Part Two

and here:

All Hallows Gathering 2016 – Part One

All Hallows Gathering 2016 – Part Two

Penkevyll has travelled widely within Britain including Scotland and Wales, but not Ireland as yet.  I would personally love to take Penkevyll to Brittany to complete her tour of the Celtic Nations!

Recently, and the reason for this blog post, we changed Penkevyll’s kit for the final time.  It was shortly before St Piran’s Day this year and I was admiring the lovely Cornish banners we had around our nearest town, Penzance.  It was then I had the idea of since our Oss is a sort of ambassador for Cornwall when she visits other towns and countries, and that Lands End is so iconic, it made sense that Penk (as she is affectionately known) would wear Cornish colours for her kit.  So, I leave you with Penkevyll the Lands End Oss, accompanied by her Teazers, resplendent in black, gold and white.

https://boekka.wordpress.com/picture-diary/

Kernow Bys Vyken!  (Cornwall For Ever!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Update on the Dark Gathering 2017

Our 4th All Hallows Gathering will contain a few changes.  A fortnight ago I received an email from Angie Latham that said that she was stepping down from a few roles she held due to health reasons, and that this would include being Morris organiser for the Dark Gathering.  Although I was saddened to hear of her health issues, I understood the need for her to cut down on her responsibilities.  I want to take this opportunity of publicly acknowledging Angie’s hard work and commitment to the Gathering, and I personally thank her for her support and enthusiasm for this event from its small beginnings to the hugely popular happening we enjoy now.  Take a bow Angie!  😀

Moving on… Catseye Morris are unable to perform at the All Hallows Gathering for what appears to be the foreseeable future.  I am sure I am not alone in thanking the Catseye team for their unique contribution to the Gathering in the last couple of years.  In their place this year will be another Cornish side, Wreckers Border Morris.  Wreckers are an inclusive and energetic Morris side who are a lot of fun and we look forward to their performance alongside Beltane Border Morris and Wytchwood.

Wreckers Border Morris

Finally, it has been decided that it would be a good idea to have, if possible, a Guest Side each year.  So, the following invitation is going out to any side that would like to perform at our All Hallows Gathering:

We are sending an open invitation to any sides that consider themselves to be dark and edgy and preferably of Pagan persuasion (although not essential) to perform alongside Beltane Border Morris and Wytchwood Morris at the annual All Hallows Gathering at the Museum of Witchcraft & Magic.  If you are interested please apply to Event Organiser

At the end of each Gathering we will make an announcement about which side has been chosen as Guest Side for the following year.  Make sure you submit any offers early as we already have had interest shown from some Dark Morris sides.

There are several things planned for this year’s event but I will fill you in on those details nearer the time.  In the meantime, enjoy a taste of Wreckers performing Evesham Wheel at Restomel Castle.

 

 

The Winter Mare – Mysteries of the Mari Lwyd

 Anyone that knows me is aware of my deep and abiding fascination with Obby Osses and lately in the last few decades with the Welsh Mari Lwyd.  Last year I came across this inspired article by a young man called Kristoffer Hughes who I met at this year’s Chepstow Wassail with his Mari Lwyd.  He is an author and a Druid and his Bardship is strong and vibrant.  Curl up in front of the fire with a warming drink and enjoy his excursion into the spooky realms of…
The Winter Mare – Mysteries of the Mari Lwyd
By Kristoffer Hughes
mari-lwyd
Midnight. Midnight. Midnight. Hark at the hands of the clock. Now dead men rise in the frost of the stars. And fists on the coffins knock.
Bright Yuletide lights may lull us into a false sense of security that the dying time is over. It is not. As the year took to its deathbed at the Calends of Winter/Halloween the cycle did not restart immediately, oh no, for the season of darkness is long and biting, the descent into the tomb deep and silent. Dying takes time. Fists on the coffins knock.
As the great wheel of the year comes to a standstill, under the harsh bite of winter, the sun stalls in its progression across the skies of dawn, and nature holds its breath. The promise of spring is held within the magic of the Midwinter Solstice, lights shine brightly to warm the dark nights, and revelry and feasting bring families, friends and communities together in the hope that somehow – that warmth, that joy – will push back the edges of darkness. A mere 3 days later Christmas echoes this ancient magic of hope, new birth, promise and life. And yet this promise is still not tangible, we barely sense it, will we survive? Winter will not release its grip willingly. Will we make it through the dark days to come, will we survive the tempest?
Near the warmth of our hearths we tell ghost stories, by candlelight we share tales of our ancestors, each alluding to the fact that the time of greatest hope is tainted by the anxiety that winter instils. As the engine of the New Year is ignited, we are not yet out of the woods. Dark spectres lurk in corners, disembodied whispers reach out from the shadows, and the thin veils between the worlds of the living and the dead herald the arrival of another spirit – the Mari Lwyd (The Grey Mare) As the feasting of Solstice and Christmas move into full swing, the Mari Lwyd appears in darkened streets. Her troupe, who themselves represent the dead, guide her to the enticing lights of celebration. They lead a stark white skull of a horse, adorned in ribbons, a flowing white gown about her form, with jaws that snap at those whose poetic prowess fail to gain her admiration. She comes from the land of the dead, from the Otherworld, a reminder of the function of winter and the mysteries of life, death and rebirth.
Midnight. Midnight. Midnight. Hark at the hands of the clock. What shudders free from the shroud so white stretched by the hands of the clock?
She is shrouded in mystery, her origins are unknown. Some claim that the tradition reaches back to Pagan times. Others claim an unbroken tradition of bringing out the Mari. The truth of her history may never be revealed to us, and to an extent this matters not. What does matter is that she lives, she is a living tradition, and one that is enjoying a revival in Wales and further afield. A living tradition changes with time and with the people that imbibe life into the remnants of ancient practise.
The Grey Mare probably evokes a memory of the function and sacredness of Horses. The horse was revered in Celtica as a symbol of power and fertility and long associated with the Goddesses Epona and Rhiannon. White animals in particular had the ability to cross from the Otherworld to our world, and one wonders if the stark whiteness of the Mari is indicative of this belief. Horse deities were representative of the sovereignty within the land, and even in winter she appears albeit as a dead horse, animated if only for one night to express mystery.
O white is the starlight, white on the gate and white on the bar of the door. Our breath is white in the frost, our fate falls in the dull wave’s roar. O rhyme with us now through the keyhole’s slit, and open the door if you fail. The sea-frost, brothers, has spurred our wit, ay, and the killing hail.
Whilst we may have lost the actual meaning of the Mari Lwyd tradition, to be near her is to sense the mystery that she expresses. There is an undeniable magic to her presence that seems to tease at long lost memories hid in the depths of our cultural memory. The folk traditions of Wales have embraced the Mari, for to be in her presence is to be lost in the magic of song and poetry. Battles of bardic wit take place between the Mari party and those who occupy the homes and taverns that she visits. Lose the battle and she gains entry into the warmth of company where chaos ensues. She reminds us of misrule that social norms are suspended and that within the joyousness of celebration there lurks a human desire to suppress the anxiety that winter instils.
Her jaws snap at the living, and yet laughter and music fills the air. But perhaps her snapping is indicative of a deeper mystery, where the Mari attempts to maintain her hold on the wheel of the year. Snapping at genitals could well be an attack on fertility, the threat that spring and its new life will not come and that winter and the Mari will rule forever!
Out in the night the nightmares ride; and the nightmares’ hooves draw near.
She is the Night Mare, the queen of winter, and at her altar we leave offerings of song, poetry, coins and beer in the hope that she will be appeased. But she is a hard mistress, the songs must be worthy of her admiration, the beer good and accompanied with perfect poetry. To lose is to face consumption into the jaws of the Goddess.
As the hooves draw near, and when the dreaded knock cracks on wooden doors a song must be prepared –
Wel dyma ni’n diwad (Well here we come)
Gy-feillion di-niwad (Innocent friends)
I ofyn am gennad (To ask leave)
I ofyn am gennad (To ask leave)
I ofyn am gennad i ganu (To ask leave to sing)
Mae Mari Lwyd yma, (Mari Lwyd is here)
A sêr a ribanau, (In stars and ribbons)
Yn werth I rhoi goleu, (Worthy of giving light)
Yn werth I rhoi goleu, (Worthy of giving light)
Yn werth I rhoi goley nos heno. (Worthy of giving light tonight)
Mae Mari Lwyd lawen, (Merry Mari Lwyd)
Yn dod yn y dafarn, (Is coming to your tavern)
I ofyn am arian, (To ask for money)
I ofyn am arian, (To ask for money)
I ofyn am arian a chwrw (To ask for money and beer)
Mari Lwyd, Lwyd Mari: A sacred thing through the night they carry.
A sure sign of the power within the sacred is when it easily transfers itself into the celebratory practises of secular communities. And this is happening here in Wales, ‘Trac’ the folk development organisation for Wales’, have created an information package and a flat pack Mari with full instructions on how to use her. Several Mari Troupes have arisen over the years and combine Winter Solstice, Christmas, New Year and Wassail traditions throughout Wales and the borders of England. The Mari is very much alive. Other groups perceive the sacred within this practise and that the Mari expresses more than a celebratory function, and that hid beneath her flowing white robes is the seat of mystery. To this group the Mari is an expression of the Goddess, the divine feminine principle. What both parties share is a common love of tradition and of making those traditions relevant to the 21st Century. The Goddess, the Mari cannot be silenced, she is more powerful than the wont of man to destroy her, and attempts have been made to silence her.
In the 19th Century a Baptist minister called William Roberts attempted to bring an end to what he perceived as a pagan practise. He authored a book called ‘Crefydd yr Oes Dywyll’ (Religion of the Dark Age), and in it gave a detailed account of the Mari and over 20 verses of the songs (Pwnco) associated with her. He hoped that this would enable his congregation to identify the Mari tradition and put a stop to it. It had the opposite effect. The Welsh seized the material and devoured it hungrily, the Mari was revived rather than suppressed. The poor man must be spinning in his grave!
Midnight. Midnight. Midnight. Hark at the hands of the clock. O crouch and cringe by the bounding flame and close your eyelids fast. Out of the breath of the year we came. The breath of the year has passed. The wits of a skull are far too great being out of the hands of the clock. When Mari Lwyd knocks on the door, in charity answer that knock.
She is bridled with shadows and saddled with song, and now she has come knocking at your door. Will you heed that knocking? Will you help to bring back the Mare Queen of winter, to sing her songs of Bardic wit, to oblate her with offerings, to invite mystery into the warmth of good company? One of the most powerful reasons for reviving these old traditions is because they work. They do something to the internal constitution of a community, they allow expressions of music, song and poetry, they bring people together in a manner that may be too subtle to adequately articulate. They cause us to remember something of our deep past.
We cannot prove if the Mari is a direct link to the ancient Celtic past, or that she is a remnant of an actual pre-Christian tradition. But this does not matter, what matters is the manner in which we make her relevant to today. She brings another level of magic and wonder, awe and joy to the glorious celebrations at the heart of winter.
O white is the frost on the breath-bleared panes and the starlike fire within, and our Mari is white in her starry reins starved through flesh and skin. It is a skull we carry in the ribbons of a bride. Bones of the Nightfrost parry, bones of the Fire inside.
(Paragraphs in Italics taken from the ‘Ballad of the Mari Lwyd’, Vernon Watkins 1906 – 1967.)
Follow this link for a video history of the Mari Lwyd –
Follow these links to listen to the Mari Lwyd song –

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