Saturday, 14 July 2007

Mari Lwyd - Discussion

Ettlinger, E. 1944. The Occasion and Purpose of the Mari Lwyd. Man, 44; 89-93.

Peate, I. C. 1943. Mari Lwyd: a suggested explanation. Man, 43; 53-58.

Peate, I. C 1939. Mari Lwyd: a further note. Man, 39; 32.

Peate, I. C. 1935. A Welsh Wassail-Bowl: With a Note on the Mari Lwyd. Man, 35; 81-82.

I have managed to get hold of these four essays from an online source with a view to looking at the academic opinion of the Mari Lwyd tradition. The tradition as we know it is fairly straight forward, however I am interested in it's origins and what it's early significance might have been. Of particular interest are the alternative names for the Mari Lwyd; the 'Grey Mare' and the "Aderyn Pig Llwyd", or the 'Bird with the Grey Beak'. These two certainly hint at a tradition older than that of the connection with the virgin mary. The horse and bird association strikes a chord with me with regards to a particular hippomorphic sovereignty goddess, though whether this is justified or not remains to be seen.

Peate's first piece (1935) is an overview of an occurrence of a wassailing cup. He makes mention of the fact that wassailing generally accompanied the Mari Lwyd procession. He also mentions the widespread appearance of the Mari Lwyd, even up until 1934 in Swansea outside a chemist.

Peate's 1939 short communication he tells of further research which back sup his assertation from 1934 that the Mari Lwyd was originally widespread even though the remnants are much more limited. He talks of a piece from 1798 which talks of the Mari Lwyd in use in north Wales as a Christmas/New Year custom. The final mention he gives is to a communication with a colleague regarding the name Mari Lwyd itself. In the earlier piece he said that it had become associated with the virgin mary in the medieval period in a nice piece of syncretism. However, he mentions communication with friends who tell him that the form 'Mari' is unknown in welsh literature prior to the protestant reformation. That of course is not the case as the name 'Mari' appears in the Black Book of Carmarthen which is approximately 300 years older than the reformation. Anyway, the long and short of the matter is that he concludes that until shown otherwise, the name 'Mari Lwyd' means 'Holy Mary'. If that is the case, then I would be interested to know how the horse skull became associated with her, I have an inkling on the matter.

Peate's 1943 discussion is a much fuller account and investigation into the origin of the name Mari Lwyd and what actually occurred as part of the Mari Lwyd processions. Included in the essay is this passage of note:

It has been suggested (by my wife, to whom
I am grateful for drawing my attention to the
possibility) that Mari may be nothing more than
a borrowal of the English mare, which was (as in
nightmare) a female monster supposed to settle
upon people to pound them to suffocation.
Professor W. J. Gruffydd informs me that down to
about 1400, mare in English would be regularly
pronounced mari. The form could have been
borrowed unchanged into Welsh, the adjective
lwyd, in such a case, having its ordinary meaning
of ' grey.'
There is much to be said for this suggestion.
The consistent feature of the Mari Lwyd, as of
associated customs farther afield, was that it was
meant to frighten and to horrify (cf. ' night '-
mare), and at least one case of death from fright
is known from Wales (see below). It may be
noted further that the horse is referred to in the
traditional verses as Y Fari and even Y Feri, i.e.
always in the feminine and without the adjective.
Mari Lwyd, therefore, may,& nothing more than
the ' Grey Mare.'

It is interesting to note that there was an element of encouraging the spring to return in some of the rhymes and songs sung as this stanza from one song suggests:

Roedd yn ddefod mynd a gwirod
Gwyl fair forwyn ddechre gwanwyn.

It was a custom to bear drink at the Feast of the
Virgin Mary at the beginning of spring.

This element has been used as a suggestion that the pre-Christian aspect of this custom was all about welcoming back or encouraging the spring.

The final essay I have read was Ettlinger's 1944 offering. This is an in depth and involved piece which i cannot really summaries here and do it justice. Suffice to say that she makes an excellent case for the Mari Lwyd originally being the 'Grey mare', the Nightmare and a figure associated with death, the dead and the otherworld. She makes the case that Calan Gaeaf/Halloween would have been the original time when this spectral horse would have wandered the land of the living. I find this last essay to be the most intriguing, particularly when taken alongside some of the work put forward by Peate in his last 1943 essay, notably the italicized paragraph above.

My own personal digestions of these works will have to come soon.

1 comment:

Bo said...

Lee, do you know Vernon Watkins' marvellous 'Ballad of the Mari Lwyd'?