The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #120379   Message #2618396
Posted By: Jim Carroll
25-Apr-09 - 05:57 AM
Thread Name: Riddle Songs??
Subject: RE: Riddle Songs??
What on earth are you trying to prove SS - maybe compiling your own folklore as well as re-writing the dictionary?
Jim Carroll

From Bronson, Volume one – note to 'Riddles Wisely Expounded

"Verbally, it derives from the broadside text through tradition, or from the tradition upon which that text was modeled; but substitutes a refrain with a different plant motif. Lucy Broad-wood has argued interestingly that such "plant-burdens" are especially proper to riddling-ballads like the present, where they may be "the survival of an incantation used against the demon-suitor." (Cf. JEFSS, III, p. 14.) The bent and the broom are said to be potent against witchcraft; and juniper, gentle (i.e., hawthorne), and rosemary are similarly endowed with beneficent powers."

And then from Lucy 'the folkie' Broadwood

"In this tune the leading note is absent. See Child's Ballads " Riddles wisely ex¬pounded," and " The Elfin Knight," for exhaustive history and variants of similar ballads. In the last volume of his great work Professor Child mentions a very important copy " from a book acquired by Walter Pollard, of Plymouth, in the 23rd year of Henry VI, 1444-5." The handwriting authorizes the conclusion that the verses were copied into the book not long after. The parties in the dialogue are the fiend and a maid. The fiend asks hard riddles, and says " But thou now, answery me, Thu schalt for sothe my leman be.'r The maiden answers the riddles, and escapes. Early broadsides, {see Pepys and Donee Collections, etc.), some British traditional* versions, and a negro Cante-fable, (see Jamaican Story and Song. Walter Jekyll, Folk Lore Society, 1907), preserve traces of the suitor, often a Knight, being the Devil in disguise. The Jamaican story " The Three Sisters," which deals of a monster outwitted by a maiden, contains the question and answer
" What is roguer than a womankind ? " " The Devil is roguer than a womankind." Compare this with Motherwell's MS. versions, quoted in Child's Ballads, " And what is worse than woman was ? " answered by " And the Devil's worse than e'er woman was."
In ancient Oriental versions of this riddle-story the suitor is, of course, a " rakshas" or demon. There are parallels in Greek tales, and one form of the story is in Gesta Romanorum, but that copy, as it stands, is to be interpreted only by the English ballad, according to Child.
Motherwell's MS. and an American traditional version have the same oddly-corrupted burden as Bridget Geary's song. More often the burden is " Parsley, (or ' Savory ') sage, rosemary and thyme;" " Juniper, rosemary," etc.; " Gennifer, (i.e., ' juniper ') gentle (i.e., hawthorn) and rosemary ; " " Lay the bent (i.e., ' rush') to (or 'with') the bonny broom;" "Sing holly, go whistle, and ivy;" or "Sing ivy O ! " On studying this type of riddle-ballads one cannot fail to be struck by the extraordinary frequency with which "plant-burdens" occur in them. Both abroad and in the British Isles one meets still with so many instances of plants being used as charms against demons, that I venture to suggest that these " plant-burdens," otherwise so nonsensical, are the survival of an incantation* used against the demon-suitor. That he should have disappeared from many versions of the riddle-story (where the dialogue only survives), is most natural, seeing that to mention an evil spirit's name is to summon him, in the opinion of the superstitioust of all countries. Every one of the plants mentioned in the burdens above quoted is, as a matter of fact, known to folk-lorists and students of the mythology of plants, as " magical." That is to say, from earliest times they have been used both as spells by magicians, and as counter-spells against the evil powers who employ them. The following notes are of such interest that I make no apology for inserting them. Those who wish to go more fully into the matter should refer to Flowers and Flower-lore by H. Friend, who has compiled his work from all the most important European books on the subject. It is perhaps hardly neccessary to remind our readers that, from earliest times, the herbs or symbols efficacious against the evil eye, and spirits, are also invariably used on the graves of the dead, or during the lay¬ing of the dead to rest.

PARSLEY.— Was used by the ancient Greeks at funerals, and on graves. It was so much associated with death that a Greek army fled in a panic on meeting asses laden with it. It is used magically in Germany, and is in the British Isles and Europe generally ominous of something bad, especially if transplanted.
SAGE.—Pepys mentions its use on graves near Southampton. It is used in Eng¬land still for magical purposes on Midsummer's Eve, and is used against the evil eye in Spain, Portugal, etc.
ROSEMARY.—Is called in Spain and Portugal " Alicrum " or " Elfin Plant."* It is there worn against the evil eye. It is hung up still, and burnt against witches, in Devonshire.    It is everywhere also associated with funerals and death.
THYME.—Is also magical. It forms, mixed with the " marygold," the chief ingred¬ient in a recipe (circa 1600) for an eye-salve or " unguent " for beholding " without danger the most potent fairy or spirit you may encounter." Wild thyme is con¬sidered in England to bring death into the house with it. Thyme, rosemary and gilliflowers, are the favourite plants on Glamorganshire graves, where only strong-smelling herbs and plants are permitted.
JUNIPER.—Is sacred to the Virgin in Italy, France, etc., and has especial power to put to flight the spirits of evil, and charms of the magician.
THE GENTLE.—(Gentle-thorn or bush) is the name used all over Ireland for the large hawthorns considered so holy. They are sacred to the "gentry"—"gentle people," or fairies who inhabit them.
HOLLY AND IVY.—Have been used magically since the earliest heathen times. Holly is " especially abhorrent to witches" in England and other countries of Europe.
BROOM.—Twelfth-night broom is held on the Continent, and elsewhere, to be most potent against witches and spirits. It is per contra, much used by witches in their charms. In Sussex and other parts it " brings death into a house with it " (as does hawthorn).
THE BENT (or Rush).—Is widely used in charms against the evil eye. Combined with the broom it would be doubly powerful, therefore.
Since forming this theory concerning the plant-burdens I have fortunately met with the following note by Sir Walter Scott, which seems to strengthen it very much. He writes, on the subject of " The Demon Lover " (a ballad absolutely distinct from " The Elfin Knight," of course), in Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border: " I remember to have heard a ballad, in which a fiend is introduced paying his addresses to a " beautiful maiden, but, disconcerted by the holy herbs which she wore in her bosom, " makes the following lines the burden of his courtship :
" Gin ye wish to be leman mine,
" Lay aside the St. John's-wort and the vervain."
" The heroine of the following tale (the " Demon-Lover ") was unfortunately with-" out any similar protection." Both St. John's-wort and vervain* are famous through¬out Europe as magical plants.
Child shows how exceedingly ancient and universal the subject of the " Elfin Knight" ballad is. Kristensen has collected a Danish traditional version. The Danish tune has no likeness to any English air yet noted to the " Elfin Knight" or kindred ballads, as far as I can ascertain ; but it has a most remarkable likeness to the tune of " The Knight's Dream " noted in Scarborough (see Folk Song Journal, Vol. ii, No. 9, p. 273).
In its modern traditional forms it is very popular with country-singers. See " There was a Lady in the West," and " Scarborough Fair," {English County Songs and Traditional Tunes), " Whittingham Fair," {Songs of Northern England) and " An Acre of Land," with many other references appended, in Folk Song Journal, Vol. ii, No. 8, p. 212. See also " The Three Sisters " in Davies Gilbert's Ancient Christmas Carols (Second Edition).
Bridget Geary's tune is a variant of another Co. Waterford tune with the title " Druim-Fhionn Donn Dilis " noted by Mrs. Clandillon, {see the " Introduction " to my Waterford Collection).—L. E. B.

* See " There was a Lady in the West" (Mason's Nursery Rhymes).

* In one form of this riddle-song we get burdens which seem to be a corruption of a Latin exorcism (see " My true love lives far from me " in Halliwell's Nursery Rhymes.) " He sent me a goose, without a bone; Perrie, Merrie, Dixie, Domine; He sent me a cherry, without a stone, Peirum, Partrum, Paradise, Temporie, Perrie, Merrie," etc. For other examples see "I had four brothers over the sea," etc., in various collections of traditional songs.
t Curiously enough, Mr. Michael Geary himself gave me a proof of this, last summer, when discussing the virtues of wormwood smoked in Midsummer Eve fires and hung up in cottages till the next year, as is done still in the neighbourhood of Camphire.

* Interesting, as occurring in the burden of this " Elfin Knight" ballad.

* See also Chambers' Popular Rhymes of Scotland on " The virtues of vervain."
Since the foregoing was written a most interesting and suggestive lecture has been delivered in London by the learned musician and folk-lorist, Monsieur Combarieu, on "La Musique et la Magie." M. Combarieu traced instrumental and vocal music to its most primitive uses, viz., magical, and, later, religious. He gave striking proofs to support his theory, drawn not only from the customs of primitive and savage peoples, but of the civilised, from the earliest times till the present. The study of " burdens," considered as possible "in¬cantations," might prove most valuable.—L. E. B."