The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #167755   Message #4049883
Posted By: Joe Offer
02-May-20 - 12:07 AM
Thread Name: ADD: Singing in the May / Padstow May Day Song
Subject: RE: ADD: Singing in the May / Padstow May Day Song

B-G Version A ‘Taken down from the singing of the man who dances the Hobby Horse’
Version B ‘Taken down from the man who dances before the hobbyhorse’, n.d. Chorus (‘For to fetch. . .‘) repeated after each stanza

These two songs, corrupt and confused as they are, are part of the May celebrations at Padstow in Cornwall. Written and pictorial records do not go back very far, but students of comparative anthropology have established that the Padstow celebrations are one manifestation of a fertility ritual which goes back to pre-Christian times, survivals and revivals of which are found in many parts of the world. They are perhaps the most purely Dionysian survival to be found in Britain, incorporating a dance-mime of undisguised sexual significance. It was these rites which the first Christian missionaries discovered all over Britain, and which the Roman Church attempted to come to terms with, either by suppression or by conversion to Christian uses. It was indeed the success of the pre-Reformation church in adapting pagan practices to the Christian calendar which later drew down upon these practices the furious denunciations of reformers who believed them to be of popish origin.

The central figure in the Padstow rites, as in other similar survivals, is the wild horse, the black, demonic vegetation-spirit and embodiment of male fertility, known in various parts of Britain as the Hobby Horse. This is not in origin the same as the hobby horse of the morris dance, but the two became confused. Tracing the connections between the several British manifestations of the ritual horse at Padstow and elsewhere, Violet Alford says:The Padstow rites, like the words of the songs that accompany them, have become corrupt; bits of them have been curtailed, suppressed, or forgotten; revived in other forms or replaced by new interpolations. In essence, however, May Day was a general holiday, a rejoicing for the defeat of winter by summer, a Saturnalia as Baring-Gould called it, to be enjoyed by all classes alike.

At the time when he wrote, the Maypole had disappeared, though it was lat revived. This had been supplied on May Eve by the local shipwrights, by whom it was erected in the middle of the town. It was then decorated with gulls’ eggs, garlands, and ribbons. At night the eight men (the ‘pairs’ or ‘peers’) whose duty it was to attend the hobby would gather at the principal inn and, after a hearty supper, would go round the outlying farms singing what is variously called the ‘Night song’ and the ‘Morning song’. The ‘Day song’ was sung on the morning of May Day. The horse itself was led from its stable on May morning by the ‘pairs’, to the music of a drum and fife band and the noise of pistol-shots. The leader of the hobby men was the club-man who danced in front of the horse, sometimes in woman’s attire, luring it on to prance and curvet, to snap its jaws and give a mimic display of exultant virility. It was led to a place outside the town known as the Treator Pool, where it was made to drink. This subjection of the creature to a rain charm still further ensured its efficacy as a bringer of fertility. It was then led triumphantly back through the town, accompanied by singing and shouting people, and ran wild among the onlookers, chasing the women and girls. During the day song it was at one point made to lie down as if dead, and was revived by the caresses of the girls, who endeavoured to attract it to them. At times during the long history of the ritual, the hobby was daubed with tar or soot; and the marking of a woman with black was powerful fertility magic.

The significance of the two May songs which belong to the Padstow rites is obvious enough in general, though details are obscure. In the morning song the omitted names of Master and Mistress So-and-so were supplied according to the householder who was being serenaded. In Baring-Gould’s time the gathering of flowers and garlands with which houses, and sometimes heads, were bedecked took place during the days preceding May 1st. Flowers were freely ‘stolen’ from near-by gardens, and such ritual theft was regarded as lucky. In earlier times the gathering of flowers and garlands would no doubt have taken place during the small hours of May morning.

The mention of the ship of gold refers, locally, to the ship-building trade, and traditionally to the ship of plenty associated with Ceres or Demeter, the Earth Goddess in whose honour the May rites were originally performed.

In the day song the reference to the French dogs is doubtless a patriotic interpolation due to local pride in associating Cornishmen with the repulsion of invaders. The enemy, originally winter, was thought by the singers to be the national foe of the time.

Faced with the stanza about ‘aunt Ursula Birdwood’, the commentator choose one of three courses: either he can regard it as a nonsensical corruption of something now lost; or he can follow Lucy Broadwood into the intricacies of German mythology and regard it as a reference to St Ursula, whose cult was substituted by the Church for that of the Earth Mother in parts of Europe (see FSJ 20, 1916); or he may suspect a more or less ribald allusion to some local personage long forgotten. With respect for Lucy Broadwood’s profound scholarship and her knowledge of Teutonic anthropology, I am nevertheless inclined to adopt the third interpretation. See note on ‘Aunt Mary Moses’ in The Hal-an-Tow (p. 547).

Source: The Everlasting Circle: English Traditional Verse from the MSS of S. Baring-Gould, H.E.D. Hammond, & George B. Gardiner, edited by James Reeves (© James Reeves, 1960 - published by Heinemann) - pp 206-207

God, I love this book....