Wednesday, 30 April 2014

May Day and Hal an Tow

Today is May Day! a very important day in the English calendar. It was three years ago that I wrote an article about the threat posed to May Day by squabbling political groups. Well May day hasn't been lost yet! Whatever Cameron and the Communists might be doing, sensible folk should be joyfully celebrating the coming of Spring.

As well as the famous Maypole, based on pagan fertility cults, there are many other folk traditions in England which welcome in the May. One such tradition is found in the ancient Cornish song "Hal an Tow" It has been sung on May Day as a part of the May celebration in Helston, Cornwall for centuries. The Watersons sang Hal-an-Tow in 1965 on a BBC TV documentary called Travelling for a Living. See the video below.

 The video below shows how the song is integrated into the May Day celebrations in Helston.

The lyrics vary and are sung differently by various groups. Here are the lyrics to the Waterson's version sung in the video.

 Since man was first created
 His works have been debated
 We have celebrated
The coming of the Spring  


Hal-an-tow, jolly rumbalow
We were up long before the day-O
To welcome in the summer,
 To welcome in the May-O
The summer is a-coming in And winter's gone away-O

What happened to the Spaniards
That made so great a boast-O?
 Why they shall eat the feathered goose
And we shall eat the roast-O

Take no scorn to wear the horn
It was the crest when you was born
 Your father's father wore it
And your father wore it too

 Robin Hood and Little John
 Have both gone to the fair-O
And we will to the merry green wood
To hunt the buck and hare-O

God bless Aunt Mary Moyses
 And all her power and might-O
And send us peace to England
Send peace by day and night-O

Folk use of Betony – The Healing Herb with Purple Flowers

 In early medieval England, plants and flowers were used as ingredients in folk remedies and magic spells. The main sources for spells from the Anglo-Saxon era are Lacnunga and Bald’s leechbook. These two “leechbooks” are books of spells and medicinal recipes which were used by medieval doctors. They were compiled in the ninth and tenth centuries. The most famous Anglo-Saxon charm is called “The 9 herbs charm”; it includes a spell invoking the pagan god called Woden. The charm makes mention of 9 different plants, all of which can easily be found in the English countryside. One of these plants, betony, has remained popular in folk medicine and magic for centuries.

Betony (stachys betonica) is also known as heal-all, self-heal and woundwort (due to widespread belief in its healing qualities). Betony grows in sunny meadows and shady woodlands where it brings forth beautiful purple flowers in July and August. It is easily grown and adds a splash of colour to a wild bouquet or herb garden. Not only was it regarded as a healer, it was also thought to have magical properties.

Macer’s herbal is a Medieval Latin poem which was translated into English in the early 12th century, it describes betony as powerful against “wykked sperytis” which means wicked spirits.

There are many extraordinary superstitions regarding betony; a very old one says that if you put two snakes in a circle of betony, they will kill each other. Another says that beasts of the wild knew how well it healed and would therefore seek it out and eat it when wounded. Even as recently as 1666, the Medicina Britannica says:
 'I have known the most obstinate headaches cured by daily breakfasting for a month or six weeks on a decoction of Betony made with new milk and strained.'
Over the years, betony related folklore has endured to the point where it is still recognised as a nervine and a tonic. It is also alleged to be an astringent, and is used in alternative medicines to treat rheumatism, scrofula and impurities of the blood. Even if you’re not interested in the magical stuff, the flowers are beautiful and the herb itself makes a lovely cup of tea.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Documentary: Pugin - God's Own Architect

The Godfather of Gothic, the man who made medieval mainstream. A great architect. This documentary explores his life and works.