Surely, that would only work once, wouldn't it?
The Halloween tradition of placing a candle into a hollowed-out pumpkin and using them as lanterns seems to be a relatively modern tradition in England that I associate with the United States, yet it seems that here in England we do have a similar tradition.
On the last Thursday in October in the Somerset village of Hinton St George, the local children carry lanterns that they call Punkies, these lanterns are carved from mangel-wurzles. These root vegetables are decorated by cutting the skin to make patterns for the light to shine through, it seems that a crucial part of this task is that the cutting does not make an actual hole.
As with most traditions, Punkie Night in Somerset can be traced back a few hundred years when lanterns were made by the women of the village who were left at home whilst their husbands spent the whole day drinking at the annual fair in the neighbouring village of Chiselborough. As dusk arrived, the women with the candlelit mangle-wuzles, made their way to the fair. Seeing the pale faced ghostly spectres hovering in the air so frightened the menfolk they couldn't wait to get home.
Surely, that would only work once, wouldn't it?
The summer solstice or Litha, meaning a stopping or standing still of the sun, by tradition has been attracting people to monuments such as Stonehenge and Avebury for thousands of years.
Once gathered people are able to witness the sun rising and setting on the longest day of the year.
The origins of the Cornish Obby Oss dates back to the Beltane festival which celebrates the coming of summer or the Celtic worship of horse deities. It has been suggested that it may be related to the tradition of the Grey Mare in South Wales.
The Obby Oss is one of many ritual beasts and monsters found in English folk traditions, in addition to Padstow’s Obby Oss there was a tradition in West Penwith of a similar creature called Pengwyn and another named Penglas, meaning grey/blue head, which was probably a horse’s skull that is usually associated with other festive occasions such as the midsummer fire festival Golowan, celebrated in Penzance, which has quite recently been revived.
There is mention of a Oss in the Cornish language play Beunans Meriasek, about the life of a saint from the Cornish town of Camborne and the Oss is a companion or follower.
Two lovely little Cornish Tales.
The two images below were taken on the Cornish side of the River Tamar at Cotehele in Cornwall, across the river is the County of Devon.
There is a lovely little traditional story associated with this beautiful river. The first time I heard it was as very little girl from my Cornish uncle, who adapted the tale to suit himself.
He used to say that the reason he never left Cornwall was because
"There be devils over the Tamar"
Actually the origins of this story can be found in Cornish folklore where is says the devil was on his way to Cornwall and only got as far as Torpoint where he noticed that across the river there were many pies being made, overcome with fear, he would never dare to cross the Tamar into Cornwall for fear of ending up baked in a pasty. This tale features in a Cornish folk song called Fish, Tin and Copper, a version of which can be found in Richard Carew's Survey of Cornwall in 1607.
Old Nick, as he was wont to do
Was wand'ring up and down
To see what mischief he could brew,
And made for Launceston-town.
For 'tis fish and tin and copper, boys,
And Tre and Pol and Pen,
And one and all we may rejoice
That we are Cornishmen.
Across the Tamar he had come,
Though you might think it strange,
And having left his Devon home
Tried Cornwall for a change.
Now when to Launceston he grew near,
A-skipping o'er the sod,
He spied a rustic cottage there
With windows all abroad.
And in the kitchen might be seen
A dame with knife in hand,
Who cut and slashed and chopped, I ween
To make a pasty grand.
"Good Mornin', Missus, what is that?"
"Of all sorts, is a daub.
'Tis beef and mutton, pork and fat,
Potatoes, leeks, and squab."
"A Cornish pasty, sure", says she,
"And if thou doesn't mind,
I soon shall start to cut up thee
And put ye in, you'll find!"
In fear he turned and straight did flee
Across the Tamar green
And since that day in Cornwall
He has never more been seen!
I am sure that this story is is true because if you look very very closely, among the rushes, you can see a little set of red horns!
Another interesting story, is about the Cornish/Devon cream tea.
Cream teas can be found up and down the length of England eagerly wolfed down by thousands of tourists during their summer holidays or on a day out in the country, but the bone of contention in the West Country is whether the jam should be placed before the cream.
Firstly, the way they do things in Devon is to serve the cream topped by the jam on a scone and in Cornwall its the jam topped by the cream served on a Cornish Split a traditional sweet bread roll where, thank goodness, there are no horrid currants.
Now, it has been noted that clotted cream is a delicacy that is made throughout the Middle East, Southern Europe and as far as India and Turkey. Well I don't care about that or the fact that its earliest historical roots are with the monks of Tavistock Abby (that's in Devon I have to point out) were munching their way through cream teas in the 11th century and even way before William the Conqueror was packing his bags!
Well, I'm not going to beat around the bush here because well, I am from Cornwall and therefore I say that its jam first then the cream, there's no doubt about that and even if I do appear to be childish I've just got to repeat what I've heard recently:
"The Devon stuffs a bit gritty and anyway we've got better cows" So there!!!
Many of the tales read to us in our childhood begin with "Once upon a time" and interestingly this phrase has been used in storytelling since the late fourteenth century. This statement leads us into the narrative of the fairy tale, a tale that has passed down verbally from generation to generation, each story a little different but generally they contain the same set of characters, the handsome prince, the charming heroine, and the evil enchantress.
We now see in the modern interpretation of these fairy tales that the characters of both the heroine and the stepmother are nothing like the ones we all knew as children. The other evening I watched Snow White and the Huntsman, I was struck how the image of the heroine has changed over the years. The ever lovely Snow White, is no longer the rosy cheeked innocent of my day, but a self confident, sword carrying, feisty teenager, and by the end of the film I realised that the character of the step mother had actually changed too. She is no longer two characters, gone is the horrid hooked nosed, cackling, hand ringing gorgon that frightened the little eight year old girl that was me. She has morphed into one character and is in no need of a ugly disguise. The modern wicked queen and evil step mother are now beautiful in their ugliness, they are stunning medieval enchantresses, a temptress and femme fatales, a metaphorical evil step parent who's main objective is to ruin the lives of their new husbands children just to boost their own or a vengeful and powerful queen who is a cross between beauty and age, either way they are both maleficent.
Incidentally the word step is derived from the old English word Steop meaning related by marriage rather than blood and interestingly this word describes much of what the fairy tale step mother represents.....second best, a woman stepping into someone else's shoes.
Maleficent, is the latest wicked queen to arrive to our screens, she appears in the retelling of the fairy tale Sleeping Beauty. She is not unlike Disney's animated character, she is still dramatic, a Gothic, horn headed wicked queen with a difference. In this new film we learn of the events in her past that has made her the villainess she has become, and if we know this will we know not be frightened of her...don't let your guard down just yet?
Just the other evening I watched yet another film telling the story of Snow White. The ever-lovely Snow White has changed over the years, no longer is she the rosy-cheeked innocent of my day, but a self-confident, sword-carrying, feisty teenager. Snow White’s father’s new bedfellow hasn't changed much either, her disguise is still a stunning medieval beauty, but like Snow White, her alter ego has changed. Now she is beautiful in her ugliness, no longer the horrible hag with the wart on the end of her hooked nose, or a cackling, hand-ringing gorgon, that frightened the little eight-year-old girl that was me.
A hunchbacked hag is how most of us imagine a witch. She is always ugly, a woman with a bent walking stick and a black cat using sorcery or casting spells on anyone who gets in her way. In my home county of Lincolnshire, we have no witches today, or if we do I’ve never seen one! But in days gone by there were those who are said to have ridden on broomsticks, flying around causing havoc among the fenland-living folk. Of course, the aforementioned Lincolnshire folk told tall tales of such women, these stories and songs have passed into popular culture. Ethel Rudkin of Willoughton in Lincolnshire was a dedicated collector of folklore ephemera which she was collecting in the mid-1920s and 1930’s she was an expert in this field. Her book Lincolnshire Folklore was self-published in 1936, the information in it was taken directly from the people in the villages of Lincolnshire. Of witches, she writes
“In the presence of a witch, so she shall be powerless against you, clench both your fists with the thumbs inside and under fingers”
“If you pluck straw from the thatch of a witches house and hold it in your hand she cannot harm you”
Maybe this is where the saying clutching at straws originates?
On a sunny day out two summers ago, my husband and I stopped at a lovely little cafe for a cup of tea at the village of Byard’s Leap and found, to my amazement, that it was the site of the origins of a local legend about a wicked witch and a horse. Byard’s Leap is a civil parish in North Kesteven on the B6403 on the north side of the A17 and one of seven districts in the County of Lincolnshire. Within this tiny hamlet, there are a number of different legends one is the story of a horse named Byard.
Living in a small area of trees and bushes, in times gone by called a spinney, was a witch called Old Meg. Meg lived in her home on Ermine Street at a place called High Dyke. Her evilness caused all the crops to wither and the local farm animals to die. Fortunately, living in the same area was a soldier and a hero who was willing to come to the villager's aid by telling everyone he would kill her with his sword by plunging it into her wicked heart. Not having a horse of his own he went in search of a suitable mount and passing by a pond he saw a few horses drinking, throwing a stone into the water he picked the horse who had the quickest reaction. The said horse was known as Blind Byard. Soon our hero and Byard were off in search of the wicked witch. Eventually, they found Meg, she was summoned to leave her home by our hero but she refused on the grounds that she was eating her dinner, “Come back another day” she croaked! The soldier duly waited unknowing that Meg had snuck out the back door and was creeping up behind, she sank her long yellow nails into the rump of poor Byard who was so shocked he ran and leaped over sixty feet in distance.
Meg chased Byard, but the soldier soon gained control of his horse by the time they reached the village pond, turning, and with one swipe he thrust his sword right into her heart where she fell into the pond and drowned.
Today, we can still see the spot where Blind Byard landed after Meg sunk her talons into him. The site is marked by four horseshoes and a commemorative stone.
What a wonderful story! Of course, a story is all it is, an embellished tale of a poor old lady that no one liked very much, who was a scapegoat for the villager's problems and who was probably banished by the Lord of the Manor from the saddle of his brown bay! However, as with most stories, there is no smoke without fire.
Bayard is in general folklore a ‘magic horse’ usually a Bay which is renowned for its spirit and has the ability to adjust its size according to the size of its rider. Bayard appears in many medieval romances and first appeared as belonging to one Renaud de Montauban in a twelfth century tale. This horse was able to carry Renaud and his three brothers and hold a decent conversation in French at the same time! Later in the story, Bayard is punished for some misdemeanour by having a large stone tied around his neck, but Bayard is strong enough to smash the stone and escapes to live in a mystical wood.
Bayard can also be found in Geoffrey Chaucer's work Troilus and Criseyde as a talking dancing horse, and in 1286 he appears again in The Canterbury Tales and then again as a blind foolish horse in the Yeoman’s Tale, where it states
"Though you search afar, you shall never find it; Be you as bold as Bayard the blind, that blunders forth and perceives no peril.”
Sounds a bit like Byard from Lincolnshire, doesn't it?
By the time of the thirteenth century, Bayard had come to represent the exploits and daring do’s of any remarkable horse and no longer is associated with magic, in fact from the end of the thirteenth century Bayard is now often found as a fool of a horse in English literature.
After ten years in the workplace I became a mother to three very beautiful daughters, I was fortunate enough to have been able to stay at home and spend my time with them as they grew into the young women they are now. I am still in the position of being able to be at home and pursue all the interests I have previously mentioned. We live in a beautiful Victorian spa town with wooded walks for the dog, lovely shops and a host of lovely people, what more could I ask for.
All works © Andrea Povey 2014. Please do not reproduce without the expressed written consent of Andrea Povey.