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Posted: 23-Dec-2003, 02:30 PM
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I first read of the Mari Lwyd in the Susan Cooper The Dark is Rising series and it caught my imagination. Does anyone have any stories of participating in this celebration?

Mari Lwyd

... The skull-carrying ritual is part of an ancient Celtic tradition called Mari Lwyd. The Mari Lwyd is not a Hobby-Horse (a product of the Age of Chivalry). It is not ridden upon and the stick involved helps to carry the skull and enables the wearer to manipulate the hinged jaw. It is a figure of ritual significance for a pagan fertility celebration of Celtic origin. It was used to celebrate the passing of the Old to the New Year, i.e. the end of the Autumn/Winter period and the return of the growing and harvesting period of Spring/Summer. Similar customs are known from other former Celtic parts of Europe, such as Switzerland, Austria, Bavaria, Slovenia. The carrying horse of Kent is probably a remnant of the pre-Anglo-Saxon Celtic custom amongst the Cantiaci, the Celtic tribe which inhabited this part of Britain before/during the Roman occupation.
published by Cadw Swn, POBox 17, Maesteg CF34 OXN ( 1.50)

One of the most ancient & mythical customs practised in Glamorgan & Gwent to mark the passing of the darkest days of midwinter was a tradition involving the horse. The occasion around Christmas time was celebrated before the time of the Romans. These long, cold nights were a time of fire festivals in Wales and across the Celtic World. They reflected man's awe at nature's annual miracle of death and rebirth...and in the Mari Lwyd why a horse [probably of the greatest importance to people at the time] mysteriously comes back to life. In its purest form the tradition involves the arrival of the horse, represented by a horse's skull mounted on a pole which is carried by a man, draped and hidden within a white sheet, the skull being decorated with flowing, coloured ribbons and bells. The horse is lead by dancers and singers wearing red or white and carrying lanterns.The tradition involves the arrival of the horse and its party at the door of the house or a pub, where they sing several introductory verses. Then there ensues a battle of wits (known as the pwnco) in which the people inside the door and the Mari party outside exchange challenges and insults in rhyme. At the end of the discourse, which can be as long as the creativity of the two parties lasts out, the Mari Lwyd enters with another song.These festivals were not always popular [especially during the Methodist Revival], festivities gained a bad reputation for drunkeness and vandalism as they roamed the villages. Many a sermon in the Chapels was preached against the then thought of pagan practice.There are only two or three places in South Wales where the Mari Lwyd has survived to this day, the most traditional one is to be seen at Llantrisant during the Christmas & New Year festivities.


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Posted: 23-Dec-2003, 03:38 PM
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Thank you Sis E.

Always interesting to learn something new, or as in this case old.

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Posted: 01-Jul-2004, 03:18 PM
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wow, never heard of it. But that's why it's good to learn about it!


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Posted: 02-Jul-2004, 01:45 PM
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Interesting smile.gif Although until it mentioned being closer to the Winter Solstice, I was figuring it would pbly be something as part of Imbolic. Always good to learn something new! Thanks E!

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