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.
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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
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 –
Now was the time for the whole raison d’être of the Dark Gathering – the meeting of the Welsh Mari Lwyds with Cornwall’s Penkevyll the Oss. This year we were going to try to introduce the Mari Lwyds into the proceedings in a different way – we were going to have a procession. However, there was one thing that we hadn’t factored in – that this year the clocks hadn’t gone back yet – so it was still light by 5 pm, the advertised time of the Lantern Procession. The Mari Lwyds traditionally don’t appear until at least dusk, and there was lots of debate about when to start the tribal drumming (the signal for the Procession to start) – and also when to light torches etc. You can just imagine the dialogue!
To add to the confusion there is no mobile signal in Boscastle so we couldn’t communicate with the processional group who were congregating in the car park the other end of the village – eventually we sent a runner and the Procession started.
What I didn’t realise until much later is how popular the procession turned out to be. It certainly attracted hordes of people who came out especially to see the Mari Lwyds and to join in the fun.
Here is some drone footage of the procession compiled by Dougie Latham and Paul Sumner:
Not only did we have music in the procession but at the Museum there was a troupe of drummers drawn from all sides and the general public, lead by Dave from Beltane Border Morris, who started a tribal rhythm. This was enough to entice Penkevyll from her temporary stable in the back of the Museum and she emerged to join her Teazers in raising the energy.
Laetitia as Teazer shot out of the Museum like a bat out of hell, whilst I followed at a more leisurely pace making sure I guided Penkevyll out safely to her waiting audience. At our emergence, a huge cheer went up and we began to dance up the energy. Laetitia was brilliant in her role as Teazer. She was really fired up and danced like one possessed – which is just what is required with this role in my opinion. By fortunate happenstance her transformation was captured on film, as can be seen here:
This sort of ‘overlooking’ of a person can also happen to the Oss Rider – in fact, it is encouraged. You allow the spirit of the role/Oss to ‘ride you’ but you have to be aware enough of where you are going and what you are doing at the same time. This can happen with other types of theatrical performance including dancing. Indeed I have personally witnessed this with some of the dancers from Beltane Border Morris as they fly around the space – every now and then they can shapeshift momentarily. It quite magical and intensely fascinating!
The role of Teazer is complex but in essence is to be a bridge betwixt the Oss and the crowd – to be able to travel and dance between those worlds. Just because I’m not as spry as I used to be doesn’t mean I can’t function in this way anymore. Sometimes moving very slowly can have just as much effect. I like having two Teazers. It makes sure that the needs of Penkevyll are being well attended to as well as dramatic energy raising dance being performed – and every now and then, the two forces meet – and there is a ‘frisson’.
After some frolicking around and general mischief-making with Penkevyll we caught sight of the torches of the Procession approaching and it was time for Penkevyll to meet her bone sisters who she hadn’t seen for nine long months!
It was a joyful reunion! The crowd marvelled at all the different Osses and Mari Lwyds and after the initial welcome, Penkevyll and Teazers disappeared into the Museum to make ready for the traditional pwnco ceremony which went with it’s usual idiosyncratic craziness. No matter how well we try and arrange this part, to date it has always been chaotic – ah well maybe next year…! 😉
Here’s the only bit of footage that I have found thus far of this year’s pwnco. Apologies to anyone of a nervous disposition as my singing is truly appalling and my Cornish not much better. Oh, and try ignore the very rude remark made by a member of the crowd at the beginning!
At last the Maris gained entrance to the Museum and they blessed it in their usual ways ending with the traditional libations of soul cakes and beer. On return to the outside world we found that we were just in time for the now iconic Fire Dance by Beltane Border Morris. This year I can share with you some unique drone footage compiled by those two IT wizards, Paul Sumner & Dougie Latham:
Although the small organising team work over the year to bring about the All Hallows Gathering, it seems to go so quickly on the day. There was just enough time left to mingle with the crowd and performers in the torchlight and savour the atmospheric and heady mix of exuberant, wild dancing and feeling the old ancestral spirits of Halloween draw ever closer.
Time to stable the Osses and Maris, and certainly time for all of our intrepid performers to make their way to the Welly (Wellington Hotel) where their well-deserved dinner was waiting for them along with foaming pints of ale – aka Party Time! 😀
Although we were treated to a high standard of singing again from many talented people including the Boscastle Buoys the local male voice choir; to me the stand-out song was from young Jake Sonny Rowlinson who sang a heartfelt rendition of ‘What’s the Use of Wings’. I’m fairly certain that there wasn’t a dry eye in the house…
At the Welly we had a great time and there were many things to be thankful for and to celebrate – but the main thing was that although there were a considerable amount of last minute obstacles and challenges, they were all successfully overcome.
Time for the accolades:
Many thanks and appreciation again to Angie Latham for all her hard work and commitment. Angie remains as our Morris co-ordinator and PR/Publicity person – take a bow Angie! 🙂
Another person who has tackled all sorts of queries and followed up ideas and suggestions on behalf of the All Hallows Gathering is Judith Hewitt, who is also the hard-working, seemingly tireless Manager of the Museum of Witchcraft & Magic. A huge thank you Judith for a job well done quietly and with grace. 🙂
Whilst mentioning the Museum we need to also thank Simon Costin for his continued support and enthusiasm for the event. Loved your costume on the night Simon! 😀
Our faithful MC, Steve Podger once again rose to the challenge and delivered an accomplished repertoire of information combined with tradition and folklore with great aplomb. Cheers Steve! 😀
With grateful thanks to our sponsors:
The Museum of Witchcraft & Magic
The Boscastle Chamber of Commerce
Finally a very special mention to the Hero of the Hour, Kevin Godley. This quiet, unassuming man truly saved the day when he stepped up to the challenge of taking on the role of Oss Rider of Penkevyll with no prior knowledge or experience of the role. He has supported the All Hallows Gathering from day one and was present at our very first attempt at a happening in 2014. When he heard that we had been let down at the last moment and that Penkevyll would be unable to appear without a Rider, he didn’t hesitate in volunteering. By doing so he averted what could have been a major upset, which would have made a nonsense of everything we had arranged with the Mari Lwyds.
On the day he performed to the best of his ability and really put his heart into riding Penkevyll – I was very touched by his reverence and respect in his dealings with the Oss. Afterwards he was so inspired by it that he wants to continue being one of Penkevyll’s Riders. So, although one rider fell by the wayside, we immediately acquired a new and enthusiastic new Rider – result! Congratulations Kevin – we are very proud of you! 😀
I’ll just leave this post here with one last jewel in the crown – an amazing video commissioned by us and edited by a very talented young man, called Kieran. It’s taken of the whole event and lasts almost an hour, so make yourself comfortable with your favourite tipple and enjoy the fruits of all our labours… Ladies & Gentlemen, I give you the All Hallows Gathering 2016!
It’s hard to know where to start on describing the events of the All Hallows Gathering 2016. From a small, seemingly inconsequential idea birthed in 2014, it has grown exponentially to become a remarkable happening that has attracted worldwide interest. Since Simon Costin, director of the Museum of Witchcraft & Magic, put out this video from the weekend, it has attracted well over a million hits!
It was estimated that over 300 people attended the Gathering and all accommodation in Boscastle was fully booked. In fact, it was stated by a member of the local Chamber of Commerce that the hotels and B&Bs could have booked their rooms four times over – so, phenomenal indeed! However, as a result of this remarkable interest in the Dark Gathering it has been agreed by all concerned that it cannot afford to get any bigger because the infrastructure of Boscastle cannot support this. Therefore all Morris sides and other performers, including Osses and Maris will have to be by invitation only.
However, I’m getting ahead of myself. This blog is about what the weekend was like and to try and share what the atmosphere was like with others who were not present. Quite a few of us, particularly the organisers met up at the Cobweb Inn on the Friday evening to relax, catch up, sort out last minute details and generally socialise.
It was during this general ambience that I was informed by my Oss Rider that he had decided for reasons best known to himself to withdraw from performing with Penkevyll. This could have had a very detrimental effect on the whole event’s proceedings but fortunately within minutes the situation was resolved by someone who heard what had happened and immediately stepped up to the challenge. A crash course in Oss riding and associated lore was then embarked upon and the possible calamity was averted. It appeared that the gods were definitely on our side that weekend as although there were quite a few potentially upsetting problems that presented themselves over the weekend, all of them got resolved in surprising and unexpectedly positive ways. There were definitely a lot of ‘silver-linings’ around! 🙂
Saturday morning dawned bright and clear and it was obvious that the weather gods had been kindly once again., although it has to be said that there were quite a few people specifically petitioning them! I personally had to be at the Museum early in order to put my new volunteer Rider through his paces as he became accustomed to the energies and logistics of Penkevyll.
Given that Penkevyll’s new Rider had only about 15 minutes of physical instruction, he did fantastically well. Then it was time to prepare Penkevyll for the evening’s performance as we knew we wouldn’t get time later to do this. She had a new headdress handmade by Laetitia with LED lights and it was rather fiddly to secure. Once done I then had to zip off to undertake a TV interview in the Museum pointing out and explaining various artefacts. Here’s a brief excerpt:
This was followed rather swiftly by a photoshoot for all the performers, Osses included, in the Museum Library where a temporary studio had been set up. Then, thankfully, it was time to get lunch of a grabbed sandwich and a cup of tea.
Me and Laetitia had decided some time ago that she would join me in teazing Penkevyll from now on. Nobody knows exactly what the future will hold and I wanted to be sure that Laetitia was ready to take over the Teazer role whenever that became a necessity. Given that I’m now nearer to 70 years of age rather than 60, it made sense to me to be prepared for this.
Also, in the folklore tradition and in the Morris world in particular, there has been an recent backlash towards the practice of ‘blacking-up’. Some of the comments directed towards sides and traditions that we respect have been particularly virulent and upsetting accusing them of racial incitement – which is a nonsense. As a sign of solidarity, both myself and Laetitia thought we would try this practice of blacking-up. We were both amazed at how much it altered our appearance and how effective it was as a disguise. Moreover we subsequently found out from our Welsh visitors from the Mari Lwyd party, that this was used in the past in their traditions. We have now decided that we will keep this look for any Midwinter excursions with Penkevyll.
The crowds who came to watch the afternoon’s entertainment came from near and far, and gathered well in advance of 3 pm the advertised start time. Subsequently, the dancing kicked off a full half an hour earlier. The action started with Wytchwood Morris from Worcester, and I got to play drum with them this year which was huge fun!
Wytchwood looked fantastic in the afternoon autumn sunlight which was a beautiful match to their autumnal coloured tatters. I particularly like Wytchwood’s energy and versatility and it was a brilliant start to the afternoon’s proceedings.
Next up was the fantastic Beltane Border Morris who delighted the crowd with their wild but highly skilled performance. Their dark, edgy dancing always thrills the crowd and I get mesmerised by their innovative music and drumming.
Finally it was the turn of Catseye Morris who looked particularly colourful this year and their dancing and music created an interesting contrast to the previous sides’ performances.
During the well deserved break at 4 pm I managed to get Angie Latham and John Isaac together and get a photo taken with them. I quickly ran into the Museum and ‘borrowed’ a copy of my book as Angie (Illustrations) and John (Photographs) were both excellent contributors to Village Witch.
Before we knew it we were participating in with the last dance of the day – the now traditional Rochester Thistle, performed by Wytchwood in which every side now joins in with.
Then it was time to bring out Penkevyll the Oss to send the Call to the Mari Lwyds.
It’s that time of year again when folks of pagan persuasion start to bang on about the Worlds Seen and Unseen and inform us that ‘the Veil is thin’ at this time of year. Well, I don’t feel that ‘the Veil’ is particularly threadbare at this time – unless of course you think that as there are a lot of Festivals of the Dead around now that somehow this is causing the Veil to be eroded in someway. I think the Veil is made of much sterner stuff than that! Remembering the Ancestors can be done at any time and in my opinion there needs to be more acknowledgement of them all year round. Otherwise we end up just paying ritual lip-service to the Old Ones. It’s a bit like honouring the veterans on Remembrance Day and then ignoring them for the rest of the year – see my post on this: Will We Remember Them?
Now let’s look at the Worlds Seen and Unseen. Usually this term is blithely trotted out by many but what does it actually mean, apart from sounding slightly spooky and darkly romantic? Well bad luck if you thought otherwise, but I’m not going to deliver some sort of esoteric and erudite lecture on this subject. There are plenty of books and articles out there, beautifully presented in quaint archaic language for you to indulge yourselves in… at a price I may add. My thoughts will be presented in the way I know best – pragmatically!
There is a familiar saying which goes, “Seeing is believing”. Well, do you believe that is the case? There are all sorts of things that go on right in front of us and yet we don’t see them. It’s called being ‘In Plain Sight’. As humans we rely pretty heavily on the visual to inform us about our environment, to the detriment a lot of the time of our other senses. This over-reliance on the visual can however leave us pretty vulnerable, especially to those who take advantage of this trait and use illusion, allusion, subliminal messages and glamour to achieve their ends – and it doesn’t stop there. The mind can play tricks too.
We’ve all heard of brainwashing and indoctrination and many fundamentalist religions and cults utilise this with horrifying effectiveness. However, we can also do this to ourselves unwittingly if we form prejudices against anything/anyone that reminds us of what/who has harmed us in the past. When we experience trauma in anyway it’s very difficult but oh so necessary to keep things in perspective. Not everything/person who triggers that response is going to be equally distrustful but it’s hard not to think that at the time it’s happening. Alas however if we do not, then we start to develop a kind of knee-jerk tunnel vision about the whole situation. If you look for something hard enough then you will start to see it manifesting itself in front of your very eyes. In a sense you have invoked it and if you have a strong magical mind it will be even easier to perform this illusion – for that is what it is. It’s a kind of thought form – and that’s where the danger lies – when we assume things, and then act on those assumptions and reach what we see as the inevitable conclusion. We are believing what we are seeing.
It’s all a bit of a minefield isn’t it? So how do we avoid these kind of pitfalls? It’s said in the occult world, ‘Test the spirits to see if they are real’. I’d say have your powers of observation fully turned on.
When I was young in my craft I was taught how to fine tune my focus by concentrating fully on a candle flame. I was then taught how to gradually extend that focus to include the sides and then my peripheral vision. Eventually after considerable practice I was able to extend this focus to include behind me as well but that took a long time. The point being was to be fully aware of what was going on all around me. In the same way we need to have full information of any given situation and to sift that information with an unbiased, flexible mind. Evidence is of no value if it is assessed by a mind that is programmed to see things in a fixed, pre-determined way. What I’m referring to here is the magical Will – the ability to let go yet be fully aware. If you don’t have your Will in a healthy state then the effectiveness of your magic, not to mention your day-to-day life, will be adversely affected.
There are other more prosaic methods that stand in good stead to develop good powers of observation and at the same time, a fine appreciation of those around us. Notice what people do.
We often use the metaphor of the swan apparently effortlessly and gracefully gliding across the surface of the water, whilst underneath the flippers are exerting a lot of energy to maintain that. This sums up neatly what often happens for a lot of people. They work quietly in the background getting necessary organisational and logistical tasks completed whilst the person or project that is more visible gets the majority of attention and praise. Even though every now and then these folk are mentioned in dispatches and referred to as unsung heroes, these backroom boys are usually consigned to an afterthought. Take time to acknowledge and thank people for their input and hard work. Show appreciation to the tea ladies, cleaners, and shop assistants. Take a moment to pass the time of day with someone who generally doesn’t get that sort of attention – you’d be surprised at the difference it can make.
Whilst I’m on the subject I want to make my own contribution to this. Being a published author and having worked with the media over the years I have become visible for the sort of work I do and my lifestyle as a village wisewoman. For 13 years I ran my own business making just enough to get by on. I then retired from full-time employment and handed the business on to my partner Laetitia. I have to say that since that time she has been simply brilliant as an organiser and promoter of the business. After years of ‘just getting by’ she has worked steadfastly to create a profit margin and the work has blossomed accordingly. We’ll never be rich in the financial sense but we do alright and the books are in a much healthier state than when I was at the helm! I have also seen this diligence in action with other background roles she has taken on board, particularly connected with publicity and promotion. Laetitia runs websites and maintains Facebook groups as well as keeping her blog up to date. Every time our Morris side or Penkevyll (our Obby Oss) goes on a gig she takes the camera with her and records the action. Often if she gets home early enough she’s on the computer updating the websites/groups with the latest photos and videos – if not, it’s the very next day. Quite frankly, I wouldn’t manage even a quarter of that! I just wanted to publically acknowledge my gratitude for her hard work and how much it is appreciated. 🙂
So, rather than just fixating on what is seen and blanking out the rest, remember the unseen that is actually right there in front of you – if you only had eyes to see it.
The time approaches rapidly for the All Hallows Gathering – or the Dark Gathering as it is affectionately known now. This year it falls on Saturday 29th October and starts at the slightly later time of 3 pm. Attending Morris sides this year will be:
Both businesses have given us generous sponsorship for which we gratefully thank them.
We have decided that we will welcome the Welsh Mari Lwyds with a Lantern Procession which will start at the main car park at around 5 pm and process accompanying the Maris down to the Museum. Bring your own lantern and dress up if you feel in the All Hallows mood!
In the meantime back at the Museum, Penkevyll the Cornish Oss will be raising the energies to send a Call out to the Mari Lwyds to come and join our celebrations. This will involve lots of tribal drumming. If you wish to join us with your own drum at this point please do so.
Finally, as an appetiser here is some footage put together by Dougie & Angie Latham of last year’s festivities:
There have been a number of occasions in my life when I’ve found myself in conflict with someone who had considerably more power than me. That power has come from a variety of sources – it could be the power of an employer. People in leadership roles tend to have more power and influence than those who follow them. There’s a power that comes from being charismatic and socially capable. Financial power, access to resources, an able body versus a limited body – all of these things and more can create massive power imbalances between people.
Fall out with a person who has power, and the odds are it will ripple more widely than your immediate quarrel. People are reluctant to take sides for all kinds of reasons, but throw in a person of significant power, and going up against them to support someone they’ve wronged puts the supporter in…