watervole: (books)
This book really annoyed me. Like the writer, I believe that many nursery rhymes have older origins, but Iles goes way too far into conjecture. His 'research' never goes back to original sources; his reconstructions are mostly conjecture and his only real aim appears to make a book that will sell well.

Knowing the habits of modern day filkers, and having rewritten many songs myself, I know that songs can be altered dramatically with no intent to suppress the original version. I also know that songs that start clean can acquire extra verses that are decidedly unclean.

As Iles's entire approach is based on the premise that the songs were all originally sexual/pagan in content and that this was edited out and changed by clergy or song collectors, I have to disagree with most of his book.

I could easily believe that many traditional songs started clean, acquired extra smutty verses that were sung in the apropriate places and that these verses (sadly) were often not passed onto collectors. This does not, however, invalidate the collected song.

(Iles's approach is a bit like assuming that "While shepherds washed their socks by night" must be the original version because the church would clearly want to suppress it.)

The whole book is even more frustrating because now and then he makes a case that does stand up to inspection. It's just that you have to wade through too much supposition and conjecture to get to the useful bits.

Rarely do I shout out loud in protest while reading a book - this one had my family getting inundated by irate comments.

I had to go away and read some Ronald Hutton to remind myself what research into folk traditions really means.

If anyone wants this book, just ask (but you'll have to remove Hutton from my cold, dead hands)...
watervole: (Cerne Abbas giant)
While at Milton Abbas yesterday, I bought a small booklet on the Chalk Figures of Wessex.  I must admit that I was seduced into buying it by the writer having the same theory as myself, namely that the 'Frying pan' (a roughly rectangular earthwork encloure) just above the giant is named for Bealzebub's frying pan in mumming plays.

You can see the Trendle aka the Frying Pan clearly in this photo. (Trendle is an old word that means 'ring') and the hill is called Trendle Hill.

However, the writer also mentioned something else about the giant that  I hadn't previously come across.  Namely that he might have been carved by the Dorset Clubmen.  Who?, I hear you ask.

They were a third force in the English Civil War, almost totally forgotten now. They were bands of farmers who came together to try and stop both Royalist and Parliamentarian forces looting their way through the county.  There were a couple of thousand of them, mostly armed with clubs and pitchforks, and they were known to have mustered at Badbury Rings (a very impressive Dorset hill fort) before the battle of Hambledon Hill, but they left very little historical record.

The Trendle is not an impressive hill fort.  It was probably an old village enclosure or army encampment - I can't find enough information to gain a good idea. Can't even tell how high the earthworks are.  However, it does seem at least possible that the Clubmen might have gathered at the Trendle on some occasion.

I can just imagine a group of Clubmen waiting to be called to a fight (this is how the Fovant badges that I mentioned recently came to be carved) and also wanting to make a clear statement that they were willing to defend their land against all comers.  What better symbol for them to carve into the chalk than the god Hercules with his club? What better way to say "Fuck, Cromwell and the King" than to carve that giant erect phallus?

It also helps explain why no one remembers who carved the giant (in spite of him being carefully maintained...).   The Clubmen were defeated by Cromwell.  I can just imagine villagers saying to the writer of the 1751 guide: "Who carved it? No idea. Been here hundreds of years.  Why, they do say it be a image of the old abbot of the monastery who annoyed the villagers.  Then again, stories do tell of a giant who fell asleep and was killed by villagers on that very spot.  Or it might be the old god Helis (note similarity of name to Hercules - try saying 'Hercules' with a Dorset accent and you're not far off...), but definitely nothing to do with my great grandfather back in 1644."

In fact, it was probably 'forgotten' almost as soon as it was made (probably a very bad idea to be remembered as having fought against both sides in the Civil War) - except by those who cleaned it regularly.  If a chalk carving isn't scoured at least every 7 years, it will vanish totally.  Many chalk carvings have vanished because they weren't maintained.  There were clearly people who wanted that giant to remain - it meant something to them.

watervole: (Cerne Abbas giant)
While pondering over the questions of the Cerne Abbas Giant, Beelezbub and frying pans, a phrase came into my mind: "the devil's frying pan"
The probable origin of the frying pan. )</td> </tr> <tr> <td> </td> </tr> </tbody></table>

And the final example of the model maker's craftsmanship is Beelzebub who is a dirty lookin clart.

"Here comes I Beelzebub,
And in my hand I carry a club,
And over my shoulder, a frying pan,
A'm'nt I a horrible old man,
And if you don't believe in what I say
Enter in the bold slasher
And he'll soon clear the way"

So, there we have what I've got so far.  The frying pan is for torturing the damned souls (and must have been used for commedy value to claim to fry other things on occasion).  'the Devils Frying pan' was a phrase with familiarity in some areas at least. The club (rather than pitchfork) is speculatively there because it rhymes with Beelzebub.

As you can see from the similarity of phrasing between the different mumming plays, they likely started from one original source and changed as they moved onwards.  The characters change and develop as they move (beelzebub isn't that common a character, I just happen to be focusing on him) and the script changes too, but the common elements of a fight between two warriors, a death and a cure by a quack doctor (and often an appeal for money) all remain as core elements of the play.

Where does that leave me with regard to the Cerne Abbas Giant?

It now seems likely to me that people at one time regarded the figure as representing the devil.  Probably at a time long enough after it was carved for it's origins to have been forgotten, and a time when all pagan-looking figures were associated with the devil.  If he was the devil, then the earthwork (also ancient and generally a bad thing, espcially with all those dodgy May Day revels) was obviously his frying pan.


Jan. 16th, 2009 11:03 am
watervole: (mummers)
The trouble with starting to investigate mumming traditions is that it's very addictive!

The more you find out, the more you want to know, and between 'Stations of the Sun' and the web, there's an awful lot of material out there.What connection is there between mumming and a chalk hill carving? )
watervole: (Default)
One of the unusual features of molly dancing is that one of more of the men always dressed in drag.  We talked about this a little during the second workshop today.  One of our instructors mentioned an occasion (annoyingly, I cannot remember where or when or if it was historical or relatively recent) where the women dancers put on fake beards and then added fake padded breasts! Women dancing dressed as men dressed as women!  (I think it was historical, but I can't swear to that)
Lots more interesting stuff on molly and folk traditions )


watervole: (Default)
Judith Proctor


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