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Thursday, 23 April 2015

Cry ‘God for Harry, England, and St. George! - The Customs of St. George's Day

St. George
St. George's Day - The 23rd April is the day when England celebrates its gallant Patron Saint, - Saint George.

George was a forth century Christian soldier from the province of Cappadocia in Asia Minor. He is most famous for rescuing Princess Sabra from the clutches of a blood thirsty dragon which was terrorising the city of Silene in Libya. George killed the dragon and in doing so converted all the heathens of Silene to the Christian faith.

George’s adventures eventually led him to Lydda in Palestine where he destroyed the shrine of the Roman god Bacchus. For this George was cast into prison and tortured, but because he would not renounce the Christian faith he was martyred by decapitation.

His body was later buried near Joppa in the Holy Land, and when the First Crusade took Jerusalem from the Saracens a chapel to St. George was built over the tomb, which had been preserved through the years as a holy spot by the Christian Greeks who lived there. In the tomb rested the body of St George. But not his heart.  This was brought to England by the Emperor Sigismond of Germany and given to King Henry V.

In England, the Order of the Knights of St George was founded at Windsor Castle, and St George became the Patron Saint of England.  The Knights of St George have the garter as their emblem. This dates from a party on this day in 1348. The host, Edward III, intervened when he found that the guests were giggling at Joan, Duchess of Salisbury, whose blue ribbon garter had dropped off. He picked it up, tied it round his own knee and cried the now famous 'Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense' - which, roughly translated, implies shame on anyone who thought ill of the garter-dropping incident -a phrase so eternally resonant that it now adorns many coins, court-rooms and family crests.
Edward III instantly abandoned his plans to form a new Round Table, and instigated instead the Order of the Garter. The blue ribbon became its badge of honour, first awarded one year later on St. George's Day. The order still exists, and Knight of the Garter is among the highest honours doled out by the monarch each year.

Joan's blue garter is explained by the fact that blue was said to be the saint's colour, and it remains customary to wear something blue on St George's Day. This justifies the wearing of bluebells today, as opposed to the otherwise-to-be-expected roses - England's national flower - which are not yet in bloom.
Stone tympanum over the south door of St. George's Church at Fordington
The St. George Tympanum
St. George's Church at Fordington

It is claimed that St. George miraclous apperance lead crusaders into battle in the Holy Lands, is recorded in the stone tympanum (left) over the south door of St. George's Church at Fordington near Dorchester. This still exists, and is often thought to be one of the earliest images to depict the saint.

Saint George survives today as the central hero character of the traditional mummers play. Death and resurrection are the main themes of Mummers Plays which are traditionally performed at Christmas, New Year and Saint George’s Day. Mumming Plays usually begin with an introductory prologue by the character, Old Father Christmas.

Following Father Christmas comes the entrance of Saint George who proceeds to slay his enemies, which might include a Dragon, Turkish Knight or even a currently unpopular person like the Prime Minster. Following this a Doctor is called to restore the fallen to life. This is the major scene of the play with its rich symbolism of death and resurrection. The play usually draws to a close with a seasonal song.

Every year since 1978 the ‘Frome Valley Morris Mummers’ have performed an action-packed mummers play, which up until 1936 was originally performed by the ‘Thomas Hardy Players’ at Broadwey near Weymouth. Their bright costumes with colourful streamers hanging down over the faces for disguise are based on the actual costumes worn at the time. Thomas Hardy was well aware of the romance of mummers plays and describes one in his novel; 'The Return of the Native'.




Dorset Dragons

One of the oldest mythical creatures that have appeared in every culture around the world occurring in oral and written folk traditions are dragons. The popular image of the dragon as a large fire breathing winged lizards has been so deeply ingrained on our psyche that it is hard to think that these fabulous animals never existed at all, although traveller’s tales, and misunderstandings about the habits of real animals, may have played a major part in the zoology of the dragon.

In English folk tradition the dragon appeared either as a marauding creature that would feast upon livestock or lay waste to villages.  More often than not it was the case that a maiden would be sacrificed to the creature to appease it and a gallant knight or local squire would slay the beast with either cunning or magical means.

As most English counties have a dragon legend it is surprising that Dorset is devoid of any stories relating to them, which is strange considering that fossils of long forgotten sea monsters of prehistoric times have been found along the Dorset coast for centuries


The Christchurch Dragon

However in a chronicle, written in 1146 by one Hermann of Tournai. In "De Miraculis S. Marie Laudunensis" ("On the Miracles of Our Lady of Laon." ) Hermann writes about the year 1113 in which French monks visiting England, witnessed a dragon with five-heads emerge from the channel attacking and burning Christchurch (formerly in the county of Hampshire) to the ground.

Hermann writes:
XI. God’s vengeance is shown in a wonder

On the same Sunday when we had dined, we left the town. The people there, who were touched with gratitude for the benefits we had brought them, asked us to return to them later and we accepted the invitation. But, meanwhile, the just Judge of Heaven did not delay revenge for the slight given to his Mother. We were only about half a league out of town when suddenly two horsemen rode up behind us, shouting out and calling us to come and help the city, which was on fire. We looked back: the whole town had caught fire and was in a blaze. We asked them how it had come to burn and were told that a dragon had come out of the sea and, while we were making our departure, had flown to the city, breathing fire out of its nostrils.

First, it had set the church afire, and then had kindled some houses in the town. We heard this and, wanted to take a look at the wonder. Leaving the shrine with its own attendants, we raced our horses back to Christchurch and there we saw the dragon. It was incredibly long and had five heads.
We made our way back there as far as the church, which we found burnt to the ground, totally – it was not just the timbers which were consumed but the walls themselves, even the biggest blocks of stone. The altars had been reduced to dust and ashes. Everyone who saw what had happened was dumbfounded with dread at the miracle.
When the Dean had seen his house and his church on fire, he had hastily collected his clothing and furniture and strapped them onto a ship which was beached in the harbour nearby. Then he had the ship launched and hoped that on it they would be safe from the fire. The dragon was nearby and (as if fulfilling the purpose for which it had come) found the ship and flew over it and burnt all that was on board. Then, wonderful as it is to tell, it set fire to the whole ship in an instant! We were anxious about our host of the night before and moved on towards his home: there we found him glad in the safety of his house and all within it, thinking how good a quest the Queen of Heaven had been in preserving him. It was not just the house where we had stayed that had survived intact: the preservation extended to the outbuildings, which, as I said, housed his livestock, so that nothing out of all his goods had been lost. The traders who had earlier shown so much kindness to us now received the favour of Heaven, for little if any of their wares were lost. The fair in the town only lasted a day, so after eating at midday they had all gathered up their packs and had them already strapped up and stowed away when the dragon came. They were all utterly terrified by the dragon’s appearance and we saw them running about wildly in all directions. Now the Dean – the man who had the shrine of Our Lady thrown out of his church – was moved to a late repentance. He came forward, barefoot, and prostrated himself before the shrine, acknowledging that the judgement of the Lord had been just, and praying to be forgiven for all that he had done wrong.

Wyverns of Wessex

Where there is a lack of stories and folklore related to Dragons in Dorset there is no shortage of usage in symbolism represented in stone ornaments and grotesques on churches and houses and also heraldic crests.

Stone Tympanum, Wynford Eagle
From Rev. John Hutchins
'History and Antiquities of Dorset' 1741

The wyvern is a legendary winged serpent with a dragon's head, two legs, a barbed tail and poisonous breath. These creatures are depicted fighting on the stone tympanum, the remaining part of the original Norman chapel at Wynford Eagle. It also bears two inscriptions, Malhad l'Egle meaning Matilda l' Eagle this is though to refer to the patron of the piece. The village is named after the Normal Aqulia (Eagle) family. There is a further enscription Alvi me feci meaning Alvi made me. 

Modern depictions can be found on the county coat of arms. Two golden dragons (Sometimes incorrectly referred to as Wyverns) represented the ancient kingdom of Wessex were later granted as supporters to the arms of Dorset County Council in 1950. Two Wyvern supporters also appear in the West Dorset District Council granted in 1990.

Who's Afear'd: County Arms of Dorset
There has been much debate on the origins of the wyvern or dragon used as an emblem of Wessex.  The invading Saxons may have brought dragon-emblems with them, but from the Romano-British the ancient chronicles indicate that Cerdic, and perhaps all the Saxon monarchs not only in Wessex but in other parts of Britain, adopted the dragon-standard, and possibly this is what did actually happen. However, dragon standards were in fairly wide use in Europe at the time, being derived from the ensign of the Roman legions. The phrase, ‘the dragon of Wessex,’ does not appear to be of great antiquity.


It has been suggested that a golden dragon standard was raised at the Battle of Burford in AD 752 by the West Saxons.

The historian William Camden (1551–1623) wrote
"...in Saxon Beorgford [i.e. Burford], where Cuthred, king of the West Saxons, then tributary to the Mercians, not being able to endure any longer the cruelty and base exactions of King Æthelbald, met him in the open field with an army and beat him, taking his standard, which was a portraiture of a golden dragon."
While others have suggested the origin of the golden dragon standard, is attributed to that of Uther Pendragon, the father of King Arthur of whom Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote:
[Uther Pendragon] "...ordered two dragons to be fashioned in gold, in the likeness of the one which he had seen in the ray which shone from that star. As soon as the Dragons had been completed this with the most marvellous craftsmanship — he made a present of one of them to the congregation of the cathedral church of the see of Winchester. The second one he kept for himself, so that he could carry it around to his wars."
'Yellow Devils' Badge of the 43rd Wessex Division
The golden wyvern of Wessex continued to be used as a symbol for battle.  The British Army have used this ancient emblem to represent The 43rd (Wessex)Infantry Division.  Who adopted a formation sign consisting of a gold wyvern on a black background, and both the Wessex Brigade and Wessex Regiments used a cap badge featuring the heraldic beast. During the Second World War, the Germans certainly respected the 43rd (Wessex) Infantry Division, nicknaming them "Yellow Devils" on account of their tenacity (and, of course, the "Wessex Wyvern" badge), especially at the battles on the R Odon and for Hill 112 in Normandy.

Dragon Reading.....

Dragons - More than a Myth?
by Richard Freeman

Click Here
For further reading about Dragons look no further than this excellent publication 'Dragons - More than a Myth?' by Richard Freeman, cryptozoologist, author, explorer, adventurer, and Zoological Director of the world’s largest mystery animal research organisation 'The Centre for Fortean Zoology'. Richard follows this mysteries creature right across the globe, from prehistory to the present day. He tracks it from the steamy jungles of the Congo, to the desolate lakes of eastern Siberia. The dragon rears its scaly head in every culture on Earth; from the Indians to the Australian Aborigines, and from the Vikings to the Pygmies.

The inescapable conclusion is that there are very real beasts at the core of these fantastic stories. The dragon has its teeth and claws deep into the collective psyche of mankind, and it’s not about to let go. Our most ancient fear still stalks the earth today. Beware. This is no fairytale! When your parents told you that there were no such things as dragons, they lied! With illustrations by Mark North, (co-author of Dark Dorset Tales of Mystery Wonder and Terror) - this is truly a fascinating insight into the world of Dragons.

 ***************
The Portland Sea Dragon
by Carol Hunt
Click Here
Published by Roving Press 'The Portland Sea Dragon' by Carol Hunt. This is the first in a series of children’s books set on Portland written by local author Carol Hunt. The Portland Chronicles draw on local history, exploring a seventeenth century world of smuggling, witchcraft, piracy and local intrigue. The Chronicles aim to capture children’s imagination with stories based on real folklore and places.

For more information about the book visit www.rovingpress.co.uk










Extract taken from the Chambers Book of Days April 23rd 1864, details the traditions of St George's Day.
"ST. GEORGE



If Gibbon's sketch of St. George's career be correct, that martial hero owes his position in the Christian calendar to no merit of his own. Born in a fuller's shop in Epiphania, Cilicia, he contrived to ingratiate himself with those above him by servilely flattering them, and so gradually rose from his original obscurity. A lucrative contract for supplying the army with bacon, proved, under his unscrupulous management, a mine of wealth; but as soon as he had made his fortune, he was compelled to fly the country, to escape the consequences of the discovery of his dishonest practices. He afterwards became a zealous convert to Arianism, and made himself so conspicuous in his new vocation, that he was sent by Constantius to supersede Athanasius in the archbishopric of Alexandria. To satisfy his avarice, the pagan temples were plundered, and the pagan and Christian inhabitants taxed, till the oppression became unendurable. The people rose and expelled the ex-contractor, but he was quickly reinstated by the army of Constantius. The accession of Julian was the signal for retribution.


St. George
George and two of his most obnoxious adherents were dragged to prison by the exultant Alexandrians, where they lay for twenty-four days, when the impatience of the people refused to wait longer for revenge. The prison doors were broken open, the archbishop and his friends murdered, and their bodies, after being carried through the city in triumph, thrown into the sea. This death at the hands of the pagans made the tyrant a martyr in the eyes of the Arians, and canonization followed as a matter of course. When the Arians re-entered the church, they brought back their saint with them; and although he was at first received with distrust, the sixth century saw him firmly established as one of the first order. The Crusades added to his renown. He was said to have fought for Godfrey of Bouillon at the battle of Antioch, and appeared to Coeur-de-Lion before Acre as the precursor of victory, and from that time the Cappadocian adventurer became the chosen patron of arms and chivalry. Romance cast its halo around him, transforming the symbolical dragon into a real monster slain in Lybia to save a beautiful maiden from a dreadful death.

Butler, the historian of the Romish calendar, repudiates George of Cappadocia, and will have it that the famous saint was born of noble Christian parents, that he entered the army, and rose to a high grade in its ranks, until the persecution of his co-religionists by Diocletian compelled him to throw up his commission, and upbraid the emperor for his cruelty, by which bold conduct he lost his head and won his saintship. Whatever the real character of St. George might have been, he was held in great honour in England from a very early period. While in the calendars of the Greek and Latin churches he shared the twenty-third of April with other saints, a Saxon Martyrology declares the day dedicated to him alone; and after the Conquest his festival was celebrated after the approved fashion of Englishmen.
In 1344, this feast was made memorable by the creation of the noble Order of St. George, or the Blue Garter, the institution being inaugurated by a grand joust, in which forty of England's best and bravest knights held the lists against the foreign chivalry attracted by the proclamation of the challenge through France, Burgundy, Hainault, Brabant, Flanders, and Germany. In the first year of the reign of Henry V, a council held at London decreed, at the instance of the king himself, that henceforth the feast of St. George should be observed by a double service; and for many years the festival was kept with great splendour at Windsor and other towns. Shakspeare, in Henry VI, makes the Regent Bedford say, on receiving the news of disasters in France:

Bonfires in France I am forthwith to make
To keep our great St. George's feast withal!'
Edward VI promulgated certain statutes severing the connection between the 'noble order' and the saint; but on his death, Mary at once abrogated them as 'impertinent, and tending to novelty.' The festival continued to be observed until 1567, when, the ceremonies being thought incompatible with the reformed religion, Elizabeth ordered its discontinuance. James I, however, kept the 23rd of April to some extent, and the revival of the feast in all its glories was only prevented by the Civil War. So late as 1614, it was the custom for fashionable gentlemen to wear blue coats on St. George's day, probably in imitation of the blue mantle worn by the Knights of the Garter.

In olden times, the standard of St. George was borne before our English kings in battle, and his name was the rallying cry of English warriors. According to Shakspeare, Henry V led the attack on Harfleur to the battle-cry of 'God for Harry! England! and St. George!' and 'God and St. George' was Talbot's slogan on the fatal field of Patay. Edward of Wales exhorts his peace-loving parents to

'Cheer these noble lords,
And hearten those that fight in your defence;

Unsheath your sword, good father, cry St. George!'The fiery Richard invokes the same saint, and his rival can think of no better name to excite the ardour of his aherents:

'Advance our standards, set upon our foes,
Our ancient word of courage, fair St. George, Inspire us with the spleen of fiery dragons.'

England was not the only nation that fought under the banner of St. George, nor was the Order of the Garter the only chivalric institution in his honour. Sicily, Arragon, Valencia, Genoa, Malta, Barcelona, looked up to him as their guardian saint; and as to knightly orders bearing his name, a Venetian Order of St. George was created in 1200, a Spanish in 1317, an Austrian in 1470, a Genoese in 1472, and a Roman in 1492, to say nothing of the more modern ones of Bavaria (1729), Russia (1767), and Hanover (1839).

DRAGON LEGENDS
 



In all the wide domain of the mythical and marvellous, no legends occur so frequently, or in so many various forms, as those which describe a monstrous winged serpent, or dragon, devouring men, women, and children, till arrested by the miraculous valour or saintly piety of some hero. In nearly all of these legends, a maiden, as the special victim of the monster, and a well, cave, or river, as its dwelling-place, are mixed up with the accessory objects of the main story. The Grecian mythology abounds with such narrations, apparently emblematical of the victory gained by spring over winter, of light over darkness, of good over evil. Nor was this pagan myth antagonistic to the language or spirit of Christianity. Consequently we find a dragon—as the emblem of sin in general, and paganism in particular—vanquished by a saint, a perpetually recurring myth running through all the ancient Christian legends. At first the monster was used in its figurative sense alone; but in the darker ages, the idea being understood literally, the symbol was translated into an acknowledged fact.


A Knight slaying a Dragon
In many instances the ravages caused by inundations have been emblematized as the malevolent deeds of dragons. In the seventh century, St. Romanus is said to have delivered the city of Rouen from one of those monsters. The feat was accomplished in this very simple manner. On Ascension day, Romanus, taking a condemned criminal out of prison, ordered him to go and fetch the dragon. The criminal obeyed, and the dragon following him into the city, walked into a blazing fire that had previously been prepared, and was burned to death. To commemorate the event, King Dagobert gave the clergy of Rouen the annual privilege of pardoning a condemned criminal on Ascension day; a right exercised with many ceremonies, till the period of the first Revolution. This dragon, named Gargouille (a water-spout), lived in the river Seine; and as Romanus is said to have constructed embankments to defend Rouen from the overflowing of that river, the story seems to explain itself.
The legends of Tarasque, the dragon of the Rhone, destroyed by St. Martha, and the dragon of the Garonne, killed by St. Martial at Bordeaux, admit of a similar explanation. The winding rivers resembling the convolutions of a serpent, are frequently found to take the name of that animal in common language, as well as in poetical metaphor. The river Draco, in Bithynia, is so called from its numerous windings, and in Italy and Germany there are rivers deriving their names from the same cause. In Switzerland the word drach has been frequently given to impetuous mountain torrents, which, suddenly breaking out, descend like avalanches on the lower country. Thus we can easily account for such local names as Drachenlok, the dragon's hole; Drackenreid, the dragon's march; and the legends of Struth, of Winkelreid, and other Swiss dragon-slayers.

But the inundation theory will not explain all dragon legends. Indeed, it would be as easy for a supernaturally endowed power to arrest the overflowing of a river as to destroy a dragon, admitting there were animals of that description. But such a comparison cannot be applied to the limited power of an ordinary man, and we find not only saints, but sinners of all kinds, knights, convicts, deserters, and outlaws, figuring as dragon-killers. And this may readily be accounted for. In almost every strange object the ignorant man fancies he discovers corroboration of the myths learned in his childhood; and, as different periods and places exhibit different phenomena, legends in course of time are varied by being mixed up with other myths and facts originally unconnected with them. The mediaeval naturalists, too, by recognizing the dragon as a genuine existing animal known to science and travellers, laid a foundation for innumerable varieties of the legend. Thus, at Aix, the fossilized head of an extinct Saurian reptile is shewn as the veritable head of the dragon slain by St. Martha.
In churches at Marseilles, Lyons, Ragusa, and Cimiers, skins of stuffed alligators are exhibited as the remains of dragons. The best authenticated of all the dragon stories is that of the one said to have been killed by Dieudonne, of Gozo, a knight of Rhodes, and afterwards Grand Master of the Order, in the fourteenth century. The head of this dragon was carefully preserved as a trophy at Rhodes, till the knights were driven out of the island. The Turks, respecting bravery even in a Christian enemy, preserved the head with equal care, so that it was seen by Thevenot as late as the middle of the seventeenth century; and from his account it appears to have been no other than the head of a hippopotamus.
Real persons have, in some instances, been made the heroes of legends as wild as that of Perseus. The ignorant, unable to appreciate or even to comprehend the mere idea of literary fame, have ever given a mythical reputation to men of letters. In Italy, Virgil is still spoken of as a potent necromancer; and a sculptured representation of St. George and the dragon on the portal of a church at Avignon has conferred on Petrarch the renown of a dragon-killer. According to the tale, as Petrarch and Laura were one day hunting, they chanced to pass the den of a dragon. The hideous monster, less ravenous than amorous, attacked Laura; but the poet rushing to her assistance, killed the beast with his dagger. If the story be doubted, the narrator triumphantly points to the sculpture as a proof of its correctness; just as the painted representation of a dragon, on the wall of Mordiford church, in Herefordshire, has been innumerable times pointed out as the exact resemblance and memorial of a reptile killed by a condemned criminal in the neighbouring river Lug. To vulgar minds such evidence appears incontrovertible. As a local poet sings

'Who has not heard, of Herefordian birth,
Who has not heard, as winter evenings lag on,
That tale of awe to some—to some of mirth
Of Mordiford's most famous huge green dragon?
Who has not seen the figure on its church,
At western end outspread to all beholders,
Where leaned the beggar pilgrim on his crutch
And asked its meaning—body, head, and shoulders?
There still we see the place, and hear the tale,
Where man and monster fought for life and glory;
No one can righteously the facts assail,
For even the church itself puts it before ye.'

A fertile source of mythical narrations is found in the ancient names of places; legends being invented to account for the names, and then we are gravely informed that the names were derived from the alleged facts of the legends. Near Dundee, in Forfarshire, there is a well called The Nine Maidens' Well, and adjoining are places named respectively Pittempton, Baldragon, Strathmartin, and Martinstane. From these simple circumstances we have a dragon story, which may be thus abridged. A dragon devoured nine maidens at the well near Pittempton. Martin, the lover of one of the maidens, finding life a burden, determined to kill the reptile, or perish in the attempt. Accordingly, he attacked it with a club, striking the first blow at Strath—pronounced by the country people Strike — martin. The venomous beast was scotched, not killed, by this blow; but as it dragged — Scottice, draiglet — 'its slow length along 'through a morass, the hero of the adventure followed up the attack, and finally killed the monster at Martinstane. The dragon, like other great criminals of the olden time, made a 'last speech, confession, and dying declaration,' in the following words:
I was tempit (tempted) at Pittempton,
Draiglit (draggled) at Baldragon,
Stricken at Strikemartin,
And killed at Martinstane.'

The festival of the Rogations, anciently held on the three days preceding Ascension Day, were the prime source of dragon legends. During these days the clergy, accompanied by the church officers and people, walked round the boundaries of their respective parishes; and at certain pre-scribed spots offered up prayers, beseeching blessings on the fruits of the earth, and protection from the malevolent spirit of all evil. To a certain extent, the custom is still observed in many English parishes. In the ancient processions, there was always carried the image of a dragon, the emblem of the infernal spirit, whose overthrow was solicited from heaven, and whose final defeat was attributed to the saint more particularly revered by the people of the diocese or parish. On the third day of the processions, the dragon was stoned, kicked, buffeted, and treated in a very ignominious, if not indecent manner. Thus every parish had its dragon as well as its saint, with a number of dragon localities—the dragon's rock, the dragon's well, &c., so named from being the spots where the dragon was deposited, when the processions stopped for refreshment or prayer.

The processional dragon has descended down even to our own day. Previous to the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835, Snap, the famous Norwich dragon, annually went in procession with the mayor and corporation on the Tuesday preceding the eve of St. John the Baptist. Snap was a magnificent reptile, all glittering in green and gold. He was witty, too, bandying jokes on men and things in general, with his admiring friends in the crowd. Guarded by four whifflers, armed with drawn swords, Snap seemed to be quite at home among the bands and banners of the procession. But, true to his ancient traditionary instincts, though on that important anniversary the cathedral was strewn with rushes to receive the civic dignitaries in the olden manner, Snap never presumed to enter the sacred edifice, but sat upon a stone—the dragon's stone—till the service was concluded, and the procession resumed its onward march. But the act previously referred to has ruthlessly swept away Snap, with all the grand corporate doings and feastings for which the East Anglian city was once so famous. Yet the rabble, affectionately clinging to their time-honored friend the dragon, have more than once attempted to get up a mock Snap, to be speedily put to flight by the 'Move on there!' of a blue-coated policeman. Such are the inevitable changes of time."


Sunday, 5 April 2015

Eggs, Easter Bunnies and Totery Cows - Easter Customs, Traditions and Superstitions

Easter Day can fall anywhere between March 22nd and April 25th. The name 'Easter' originates from pagan Spring goddess Eostre, a Germanic version of the Scandinavian fertility queen Frigga. Spring and rebirth are invariably the pivotal themes in pagan religions, and the death and resurrection of Christ had all the key ingredients to keep the newly-converted quite happy.

Extract taken from the Chambers Book of Days March 27th1864, details the traditions of Easter.
Easter

Easter, the anniversary of our Lord's resurrection from the dead, is one of the three great festivals of the Christian year,—the other two being Christmas and Whitsuntide. From the earliest period of Christianity down to the pre-sent day, it has always been celebrated by believers with the greatest joy, and accounted the Queen of Festivals. In primitive times it was usual for Christians to salute each other on the morning of this day by exclaiming, 'Christ is risen;' to which the person saluted replied, ' Christ is risen indeed,' or else, ' And hath appeared unto Simon;'—a custom still retained in the Greek Church.

The common name of this festival in the East was the Paschal Feast, because kept at the same time as the Pascha, or Jewish passover, and in some measure succeeding to it. In the sixth of the Ancyran Canons it is called the Great Day. Our own name Easter is derived, as some suppose, from Eostre, the name of a Saxon deity, whose feast was celebrated every year in the spring, about the same time as the Christian festival—the name being retained when the character of the feast was changed; or, as others suppose, from Oster, which signifies rising. If the latter supposition be correct, Easter is in name, as well as reality, the feast of the resurrection.

Though there has never been any difference of opinion in the Christian church as to why Easter is kept, there has been a good deal as to when it ought to be kept. It is one of the moveable feasts; that is, it is not fixed to one particular day—like Christmas Day, e. g., which is always kept on the 25th of December—but moves backwards or forwards according as the full moon next after the vernal equinox falls nearer or further from the equinox. The rule given at the beginning of the Prayer-book to find Easter is this: 'Easter-day is always the first Sunday after the full moon which happens upon or next after the twenty-first day of March; and if the full moon happens upon a Sunday, Easter-day is the Sunday after.'

The paschal controversy, which for a time divided Christendom, grew out of a diversity of custom. The churches of Asia Minor, among whom were many Judaizing Christians, kept their paschal feast on the same day as the Jews kept their passover; i. e. on the 14th of Nisan, the Jewish month corresponding to our March or April. But the churches of the West, remembering that our Lord's resurrection took place on the Sunday, kept their festival on the Sunday following the 14th of Nisan. By this means they hoped not only to commemorate the resurrection on the day on which it actually occurred, but also to distinguish themselves more effectually from the Jews. For a time this difference was borne with. mutual forbearance and charity. And when disputes began to arise, we find that Polycarp, the venerable bishop of Smyrna, when on a visit to Rome, took the opportunity of conferring with Anicetas, bishop of that city, upon the question. Polycarp pleaded the practice of St. Philip and St. John, with the latter of whom he had lived, conversed, and joined in its celebration; while Anicetas adduced the practice of St. Peter and St. Paul. Concession came from neither side, and so the matter dropped; but the two bishops continued in Christian friendship and concord. This was about A.D. 158.

Towards the end of the century, however, Victor, bishop of Rome, resolved on compelling the Eastern churches to conform to the Western practice, and wrote an imperious letter to the prelates of Asia, commanding them to keep the festival of Easter at the time observed by the Western churches. They very naturally resented such an interference, and declared their resolution to keep Easter at the time they had been accustomed to do. The dispute hence-forward gathered strength, and was the source of much bitterness during the next century. The East was divided from the West, and all who, after the example of the Asiatics, kept Easter-day on the 14th, whether that day were Sunday or not, were styled Qiccertodecimans by those who adopted the Roman custom.

One cause of this strife was the imperfection of the Jewish calendar. The ordinary year of the Jews consisted of 12 lunar months of 292 days each, or of 29 and 30 days alternately; that is, of 354 days. To make up the 11 days' deficiency, they intercalated a thirteenth month of 30 days every third year. But even then they would be in advance of the true time without other intercalations; so that they often kept their passover before the vernal equinox. But the Western Christians considered the vernal equinox the commencement of the natural year, and objected to a mode of reckoning which might sometimes cause them to bold their paschal feast twice in one year and omit it altogether the next. To obviate this, the fifth of the apostolic canons decreed that, ' If any bishop, priest, or deacon, celebrated the Holy Feast of Easter before the vernal equinox, as the Jews do, let him be deposed.'

At the beginning of the fourth century, matters had gone to such a length, that the Emperor Constantine thought it his duty to take steps to allay the controversy, and to insure uniformity of practice for the future. For this purpose, he got a canon passed in the great (Ecumenical Council of Nice (A.D. 325), That everywhere the great feast of Easter should be observed upon one and the same day; and that not the day of the Jewish passover, but, as had been generally observed, upon the Sunday afterwards.' And to prevent all future disputes as to the time, the following rules were also laid down:

1. 'That the twenty-first day of March shall be accounted the vernal equinox.'

2. 'That the full moon happening upon or next after the twenty-first of March, shall be taken for the full moon of Nisan.'

3. 'That the Lord's-day next following that full moon be Easter-day.'

4. 'But if the full moon happen upon a Sunday, Easter-day shall be the Sunday after.'

As the Egyptians at that time excelled in astronomy, the Bishop of Alexandria was appointed to give notice of Easter-day to the Pope and other patriarchs. But it was evident that this arrangement could not last long; it was too inconvenient and liable to interruptions. The fathers of the next age began, therefore, to adopt the golden numbers of the Metonic cycle, and to place them in the calendar against those days in each month on which the new moons should fall during that year of the cycle. The Metonie cycle was a period of nineteen years. It had been observed by Meton, an Athenian philosopher, that the moon returns to have her changes on the same month and day of the month in the solar year after a lapse of nineteen years, and so, as it were, to run in a circle. He published his discovery at the Olympic Games, B.C. 433, and the cycle has ever since borne his name. The fathers hoped by this cycle to be able always to know the moon's age; and as the vernal equinox was now fixed to the 21st of March, to find Easter for ever. But though the new moon really happened on the same day of the year after a space of nineteen years as it did before, it fell an hour earlier on that day, which, in the course of time, created a serious error in their calculations.

A cycle was then framed at Rome for 84 years, and generally received by the Western church, for it was then thought that in this space of time the moon's changes would return not only to the same day of the month, but of the week also. Wheatley tells us that, 'During the time that Easter was kept according to this cycle, Britain was separated from the Roman empire, and the British churches for some time after that separation continued to keep Easter according to this table of 84 years. But soon after that separation, the Church of Rome and several others discovered great deficiencies in this account, and therefore left it for another which was more perfect.'— Book on the Common Prayer, p. 40. This was the Victorian period of 532 years. But he is clearly in error here. The Victorian period was only drawn up about the year 457, and was not adopted by the Church till the fourth. Council of Orleans, A.D. 541.

Now from the time the Romans finally left Britain (A.D. 426), when he supposes both churches to be using the cycle of 84 years, till the arrival of St. Augustine (A.D. 596), the error can hardly have amounted to a difference worth disputing about. And yet the time the Britons kept Easter must have varied considerably from that of the Roman missionaries to have given rise to the statement that they were Quartodecimans, which they certainly were not; for it is a well-known fact that British bishops were at the Council of Nice, and doubtless adopted and brought home with them the rule laid down by that assembly. Dr, Hooke's account is far more probable, that the British and Irish churches adhered to the Alexandrian rule, according to which. the Easter festival could not begin before the 8th of March; while according to the rule adopted at Rome and generally in the West, it began as early as the fifth. 'They (the Celts) were manifestly in error,' he says; 'but owing to the haughtiness with which the Italians had demanded an alteration in their calendar, they doggedly determined not to change.'—Lives of the Archbishops of Canterbury, vol. i. p. 14.

After a good deal of disputation had taken place, with more in prospect, Oswy, King of Northumbria, determined to take the matter in hand. He summoned the leaders of the contending parties to a conference at Whitby, A.D. 664, at which he himself presided. Colman, bishop of Lindisfarne, represented the British church. The Romish party were headed by Agilbert, bishop of Dorchester, and Wilfrid, a young Saxon. Wilfrid was spokesman. The arguments were characteristic of the age; but the manner in which the king decided irresistibly provokes a smile, and makes one doubt whether he were in jest or earnest. Colman spoke first, and urged that the custom of the Celtic church ought not to be changed, because it had been inherited from their forefathers, men beloved of God, &c. Wilfrid followed:

'The Easter which we observe I saw celebrated by all at Rome: there, where the blessed apostles, Peter and Paul, lived, taught, suffered, and were buried.' And concluded a really powerful speech with these words: 'And if, after all, that Columba of yours were, which I will not deny, a holy man, gifted with the power of working miracles, is he, I ask, to be preferred before the most blessed Prince of the Apostles, to whom our Lord said, "Thou art Peter, and upon this rock will I build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it; and to thee will I give the keys of the kingdom of heaven" ?'

The King, turning to Colman, asked him, 'Is it true or not, Colman, that these words were spoken to Peter by our Lord?' Colman, who seems to have been completely cowed, could not deny it. 'It is true, 0 King.' 'Then,' said the King, 'can you shew me any such power given to your Columba?' Colman answered, ' No.' You are both, then, agreed,' continued the King, are you not, thatthese words were addressed principally to Peter, and that to him were given the keys of heaven by our Lord?' Both assented. 'Then,' said the King, 'I tell you plainly, I shall not stand opposed to the door-keeper of the kingdom of heaven; I desire, as far as in me lies, to adhere to his precepts and obey his commands, lest by offending him who keepeth the keys, I should, when I present myself at the gate, find no one to open to me.'

This settled the controversy, though poor honest Colman resigned his see rather than submit to such a decision.

On Easter-day depend all the moveable feasts and fasts throughout the year. The nine Sundays before, and the eight following after, are all de-pendent upon it, and form, as it were, a body-guard to this Queen of Festivals. The nine preceding are the six Sundays in Lent, Quinquagesima, Sexagesima, and Septuagesima; the eight following are the five Sundays after Easter, the Sunday after Ascension Day, Whit Sunday, and Trinity Sunday.


EASTER CUSTOMS


The old Easter customs which still linger among us vary considerably in form in different parts of the kingdom. The custom of distributing the 'pace' or 'pasche ege,' which was once almost universal among Christians, is still observed by children, and by the peasantry in Lancashire. Even in Scotland, where the great festivals have for centuries been suppressed, the young people still get their hard-boiled dyed eggs, which they roll about, or throw, and finally eat. In Lancashire, and in Cheshire, Staffordshire, and Warwickshire, and perhaps in other counties, the ridiculous custom of' lifting' or ' heaving' is practised.

On Easter Monday the men lift the women, and on Easter Tuesday the women lift or heave the men. The process is performed by two lusty men or women joining their hands across each other's wrists; then, making the person to be heaved sit down on their arms, they lift him up aloft two or three times, and often carry him several yards along a street. A grave clergyman who happened to be passing through a town in Lancashire on an Easter Tuesday, and having to stay an hour or two at an inn, was astonished by three or four lusty women rushing into his room, exclaiming they had come 'to lift him.' 'To lift me!' repeated the amazed divine; 'what can you mean?' 'Why, your reverence, we're come to lift you, 'cause it's Easter Tuesday.' 'Lift me because it's Easter Tuesday? I don't understand. Is there any such custom here?' 'Yes, to be sure; why, don't you know? all us women was lifted yesterday; and us lifts the men today in turn. And in course it's our reights and duties to lift 'em.'

After a little further parley, the reverend traveller compromised with his fair visitors for half-a-crown, and thus escaped the dreaded compliment. In Durham, on Easter Monday, the men claim the privilege to take off the women's shoes, and the next day the women retaliate. Anciently, both ecclesiastics and laics used to play at ball in the churches for tansy-cakes on Eastertide; and, though the profane part of this custom is happily everywhere discontinued, tansy-cakes and tansy-puddings are still favourite dishes at Easter in many parts. In some parishes in the counties of Dorset and Devon, the clerk carries round to every house a few white cakes as an Easter offering; these cakes, which are about the eighth of an inch thick, and of two sizes,—the larger being seven or eight inches, the smaller about five in diameter,—have a mingled bitter and sweet taste. In return for these cakes, which are always distributed after Divine service on Good Friday, the clerk receives a gratuity- according to the circumstances or generosity of the householder.
Dorset Folklorist, John Symonds Udal wrote in his book 'Dorsetshire Folklore' published in 1922 about Easter Cakes:

"Of the many ceremonies and customs that formerly existed at this time the distribution of Easter cakes was probably as common in Dorsetshire as in other counties.  A Dorchester correspondent of the ‘The Dorset County Chronicle, writing in April 1858, after referring to the old nursery rhyme of “Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake, baker’s man” (which he calls “Batty Cake”), says: -

“Hot cross buns have their own holy mark which requires no further observation than that the ecclesiologist has pronounced it to be Grecian and not a Latin cross.  Easter cakes however, have not any ecclesiastical distinction, although intimately connected with church officials.  The parish clerk, time out of mind, has had the privilege of calling at each house at Easter to treat the inmates with ‘figgy’ cakes at remunerative cost.  (When were currants and raisins first termed ‘figgy’?)

“The Church wardens and sidesmen (Synodsmen) are also great patrons of Easter customs, holding a special meeting for their celebration when inaugurated into office.

“Moreover in this county, at Easter, ‘furmity’, a diet composed of wheat and milk, - was sold by the plate or cup full, especially at the Easter sessions, at Sherborne…And in the country places ‘skimmer cake’ (dough cake boiled in a skimmer’, used commonly by dairy folk in Dorsetshire on festival occasions) was formerly much given to rustics as a treat instead of household loaf…But the School-Children’s treat of Easter cakes, from Lady Bountiful of the parish, was always customary in Dorset as in other parts of England.”
The Easter Bunny in tradition and folklore

Have you ever wondered how the symbol of the rabbit became associated with the Easter Festival?

The origin of the Easter Bunny probably goes back to the festival's connection with the pagan goddess Eostre. Eostre (sometimes spelt Oestre) was a fertility goddess from whom we derive the word "oestrogen" and she is closely associated with fertility symbols such as eggs. The rabbit is known as a highly fertile creature and hence an obvious choice for Easter symbolism.

In fact the use of the rabbit is probably a mistake - the Easter "bunny" is more likely to have been a hare, since it is the hare that is usually considered the sacred creature of Eostre.

Pagan fertility festivals at the time of the Spring equinox were common. It was believed that at this time, when day and night were of equal length, male and female energies were also in balance. The hare is often associated with moon goddesses; the egg and the hare together represent the god and the goddess respectively.

The earliest known reference to our modern Easter Bunny tradition appears to be from 16th century Germany. In the 18th century, German settlers to America brought the tradition with them. The Bunny was known by them as Oschter Haws (a corruption of the German Osterhase ) and brought gifts of chocolate, sweets and Easter Eggs to good children. Often children would make up nests for Oschter Haws, sometimes using their Easter bonnets, and the Bunny would leave his treats there.

Witch Hares

It is because of this strong connection with pagan traditions that Hares were strongly associated with witches and witchcraft in Christian times. People claimed that a witch could shape shift her form at night and become a hare. These solitary creatures, rarely seen, sometimes standing on their hind legs like a person, aroused suspicion.

When in distress they uttered a strange, almost human-like cry, which gave the animal a supernatural quality. For its behaviour would mimic that of a supposed witch. In this form she stole milk or food, or destroyed crops. Others insisted that hares were only witches' familiars.

Folk musician Seth Lakeman song The White Hare tells the folklore tale of a witch who can transform into a white hare. See music video below.



In Dorset there are many stories associated with Witch Hares. In the Purbecks, the gateway at West Lulworth, known as 'Daggers Gate', is believed to mark a grave of a supposed witch who could transfer herself into a hare. It acquired its unusual name in 1789, after farmer Sam Varnell was stabbed and killed at the spot by the daughter of the supposed witch. The witches ghost is still said to haunt the area often taking the form of a hare.

Rabbits, the Portland taboo word

These associations caused many people to believe hares were bad luck and best avoided. A hare crossing one's path, particularly when the person was riding a horse, could cause disaster.

Many people on Portland believe that even the rabbit is bad luck! Even to say the word could send Portlanders into a stupor, fearing what might happen (see previous blog entry Wallace and Gromit spook island). The fear of rabbits is based on the fact that quarry men would often see rabbits emerging from their burrows immediately before a rock fall. Such rock falls often injured and even killed quarry workers; therefore, it is understandable that rabbits became associated with bad luck.

Whoops a Daisy

It was believed in Dorset that over Easter calves were particularly prone to falling into ditches. Once they had plunged in, they could not get out and often died. The farmers' solution to this seasonal problem was to slit the calves' ears. By the time they had healed up, Easter was over and the threat was thought to be past.


Friday, 3 April 2015

'Hot Cross Buns! One A penny! Two A Penny! Hot Cross Buns! - The Customs and Traditions of Good Friday

Traditional Hot Cross Bun
Good Friday is the first day after Lent, and hot cross buns have long been a favourite way to break the fast today. The buns are older than Christianity - pagan celebrants ate wheat cakes at their spring festivals, and the Greeks, Romans and Ancient Egyptians all had buns with a cross etched on the top. The round bun represented the full moon, and the cross divides the bun into the four lunar quarters. Traditional buns have the cross cut into the dough or pricked out with a pin: the brash pastry bands are a more recent thing. Not all Good Friday buns featured a cross, and in some areas they were triangular, like a samosa.

The well-known jingle 'Hot cross buns, one a penny, two a penny' is a street-seller's cry. The buns were traditionally eaten at breakfast, and the town vendors had to be on the streets before dawn to make the most of their once-a-year wares. The buns have been munched in England today for hundreds of years, but it was only in the last century that the tradition caught on across the rest of Britain.

The Widow’s Son Sign
In Bow in the East End of London there is a Victorian pub in Devons Road whose name – The Widow’s Son - evokes a sad story commemorated every Good Friday in what has become a little piece of naval tradition.

The pub was built in 1848 on the site formerly occupied by a poor widow’s cottage. Her only son was a sailor for whom she baked some hot cross buns, expecting him to return at or soon after Easter. When the son failed to return she hung the buns from her ceiling, and repeated the action the next year and the next, continuing until her death.

Given the fame locally of the story, the pub built where her cottage had stood took the name The Widow’s Son, and to some locals it is also known as The Bun House.

Every Good Friday a Royal Navy sailor presents a new bun to the pub for inclusion in the net, though naval involvement is relatively recent. The custom has developed somewhat over the last few years, with sailors visiting on the bun day to pay their respects, sing a song or two, and drink to the lost mariner. A sailor’s hat is now presented to the pub as well as the bun.

Dorset Folklorist, John Symonds Udal wrote about the traditions of Good Friday in Dorset in his book 'Dorsetshire Folklore' published in 1922:- 
"Good Friday Bread. —It is generally believed that the bread baked on Good Firday never gets mouldy; an in some parts it  is used as a charm or talisman in order to make other bread " keep ".
The late Rev. Canon C. W. Bingham, a well-known writer upon Dorset antiquities, and who rendered most useful work to the Continuators of the third and last edition of Hutchins' 'History of Dorset', stated in Notes and Queries (Ser. III, viii, 146. 1865) that he had recently seen in a cottage a very small toy-loaf hanging over the  chimneypiece, and on inquiry was told that it had been baked on Good Friday, and that if it were carefully preserved it would prevent the good wife's bread from being " reamy ", that is, stringy, during the whole year.
The same preservative effect,that is, to prevent mouldiness or heaviness in bread,—is said to be obtained if a cross is pricked with a fork on the loaves before they are baked. In Dorsetshire the cross generally consists of five pricks or points, thus ..

The practice also obtained of making a cross in the flour before baking, and on the malt before mashing up before brewing, to keep it from being bewitched.(Conf. Shropshire Folk-Lore. p, 167)

I think it was this form of pricked cross that usually figured on the " hot-cross-buns " so generally consumed on this day.

A correspondent in the Somerset and Dorset Notes and Queries (1904), vol. ix, p. 113, speaking of " Good Friday Bread ", says that this was a large plain bread cake made at the same time as the buns for Good Friday, and marked with a cross. It was stored for the year and used as a remedy for sick cattle. It was supposed to be especially good for calves suffering from quarter-evil. When required for use a portion of the bread was crumbled, mixed with cider, and given as a drench. The correspondent adds that another peculiar use of the sign of the cross was that in the weekly making of bread for the household, and when the " leaven was laid " overnight (i.e. the yeast mixed with a part of the flour and left to ferment) a cross was marked in it to prevent the witches from dancing over it.

The Dorset editor of this periodical (Rev. Canon C. H. Mayo) added a footnote that a lady parishioner of his at Holnest, who died in 1895, was a firm believer in the virtues of Good Friday Bread. When grated it was taken as a remedy for diarrhoea. In some parts it is believed that it will cure any ailment.

Doles of loaves of bread, large and small for adults and children, were formerly distributed in the parish churchyard at Corfe Castle; but as that custom seems to have partaken more of a local character I have reserved any further account of it for my chapter on Local Customs.

Plants.—The late Rev. Canon Bingham mentions (Notes and Queries, Ser. II, vii, 451.) that a very fine Brompton stock was recently presented to him from a cottage garden in Dorsetshire, with the assurance that its flourishing condition was due to the fact of the seed from which it grew having been planted on Good Friday.

This testimony as to the efficacy of stock seed being sown on Good Friday is confirmed by the belief in some parts of the county that the flowers will in that case be double.

Bees.—Many people, I am told, make a practice of examining their hives on Good Friday, and salting the floor of the hives.

Nails.—It is believed in Portland that finger-nails must not be cut on Good Friday or you will suffer from toothache throughout the year.

Soapy water.—Another writer in the Somerset and Dorset Notes and Queries (1911), vol. xii, p. 232, states that an old Dorset woman, aged about 86, told him that she had been taught by her grandmother never to throw away soapy water on Good Friday. No reason was assigned for this except that it was said to have " something to do with our Saviour ".

An editorial footnote confirmed the existence of this belief, and added that it was also said that soapy water thrown away at this time turns to blood.

Several of these customs and superstitions referable to Good Friday have been noted by the late Mr. R. Bosworth Smith, of Bingham's Melcombe, in his Bird Life and Bird Lore (1909), p. 363 ; and it is not difficult, I think, to believe that he gathered much of his information from the same source that I have, namely, from the late Canon C. W. Bingham of that parish. He says:—

" Good Friday is one of the most important days of the year, from a secular as well as a religious point of view; the secular, doubtless, owing to the religious. Many of the villagers still make a point of baking a batch of bread on that day, and of setting apart a miniature loaf to be carefully kept, hung up by the fireside, throughout the year. It will prevent the bread of other bakings from turning ' vinny ' (Mouldy) or sour. A few crumbs of it, soaked in milk, are a sovereign specific for most of the ailments to which children's flesh is heir.

" In like manner they sow gilly flower seed at precisely 12 o'clock on Good Friday, in the belief that the flowers will come up double. Potatoes ' set' on that day, irrespective of the question—rather an important one, it will be admitted — whether Easter be early or late in the year, will have an important influence on all the other c settings ' of the season.

" The weather, indeed, of Good Friday and Easter Day is as important a factor in the growth of the hay crops, as is that of St. Swithin elsewhere :—

' Rain Good Friday or Easter Day, 

Much good grass, but little good hay'

Another Dorset writer, Mr. Wilkinson Sherren, in his Wessex of Romance (1908), p. 17, mentions the fact that in Moreton Church sprigs of English willow and pieces of yew-tree are placed at the end of every seat on Palm Sunday and Good Friday, arid that no one in the village remembers the time when this custom was not observed."
Extract taken from the Chambers Book of Days March 25th 1864, details the traditions of Good Friday.
GOOD FRIDAY
The day of the Passion has been held as a festival by the Church from the earliest times. In England, the day is one of two (Christmas being the other) on which all business is suspended. In the churches, which are generally well attended, the service is marked by an unusual solemnity.
Before the change of religion, Good Friday was of course celebrated in England with the same religious ceremonies as in other Catholic countries. A dressed figure of Christ being mounted on a crucifix, two priests bore it round the altar, with doleful chants; then, laying it on the ground with great tenderness, they fell beside it, kissed its hands and feet with piteous sighs and tears, the other priests doing the like in succession. Afterwards came the people to worship the assumedly dead Saviour, each bringing some little gift, such as corn and eggs. There was finally a most ceremonious burial of the image, along with the 'singing bread,' amidst the light of torches and the burning of incense, and with flowers to strew over the grave.
The king went through the ceremony of blessing certain rings, to be distributed among the people, who accepted them as infallible cures for cramp. Coming in state into his chapel, he found a crucifix laid upon a cushion, and a carpet spread on the ground before it. The monarch crept along the carpet to the crucifix, as a token of his humility, and there blessed the rings in a silver basin, kneeling all the time, with his almoner likewise kneeling by his side. After this was done, the queen and her ladies came in, and likewise crept to the cross. The blessing of cramp-rings is believed to have taken its rise in the efficacy for that disease supposed to reside in a ring of Edward the Confessor, which used to be kept in Westminster Abbey. There can be no doubt that a belief in the medical power of the cramp-ring was once as faithfully held as any medical maxim whatever. Lord Berners, the accomplished translator of Froissart, while ambassador in Spain, wrote to Cardinal Wolsey, June 21, 1518, entreating him to reserve a few cramprings for him, adding that he hoped, with God's grace, to bestow them well.
A superstition regarding bread baked on Good Friday appears to have existed from an early period. Bread so baked was kept by a family all through the ensuing year, under a belief that a few gratings of it in water would prove a specific for any ailment, but particularly for diarrhea. We see a memorial of this ancient superstition in the use of what are called hot cross-buns, which may now be said to be the most prominent popular observance connected with the day.

In London, and all over England (not, however, in Scotland), the morning of Good Friday is ushered in with a universal cry of Hot Cross-Buns! A parcel of them appears on every break-fast table. It is a rather small bun, more than usually spiced, and having its brown sugary surface marked with a cross. Thousands of poor children and old frail people take up for this day the business of disseminating these quasi-religious cakes, only intermitting the duty during church hours; and if the eagerness with which young and old eat them could be held as expressive of an appropriate sentiment within their hearts, the English might be deemed a pious people. The ear of every person who has ever dwelt in England is familiar with the cry of the street bun-vendors:
One a penny, buns,
Two a penny, buns,
One a penny, two a penny,
Hot cross-buns!
Whether it be from failing appetite, the chilling effects of age, or any other fault in ourselves, we cannot say; but it strikes us that neither in the bakers' shops, nor from the baskets of the street-vendors, can one now get hot cross-buns comparable to those of past times. They want the spice, the crispness, the everything they once had. Older people than we speak also with mournful affection of the two noted bun-houses of Chelsea. Nay, they were Royal bun-houses, if their signs could be believed, the popular legend always insinuating that the King himself had stopped there, bought, and eaten. of the buns. Early in the present century, families of the middle classes walked a considerable way to taste the delicacies of the Chelsea bun-houses, on the seats beneath the shed which screened the pavement in front. An insane rivalry, of course, existed between the two houses, one pretending to be The Chelsea Bun-house, and the other the Real Old Original Chelsea Bun-house. Heaven knows where the truth lay, but one thing was certain and assured to the innocent public, that the buns of both were so very good that it was utterly impossible to give an exclusive verdict in favour of either.
A writer, signing himself H. C. B., gives in the Athenaeum for April 4, 1857, an account of an ancient sculpture in the Museo Borbonico at Rome, representing the miracle of the five barley loaves. The loaves are marked each with a cross on the surface, and the circumstance is the more remarkable, as the hot cross-bun is not a part of the observance of the day on the Continent. H. C. B. quotes the late Rev. G. S. Faber for a train of speculation, having for its conclusion that our eating of the hot cross-buns is to be traced back to a pagan custom of worshipping the Queen of Heaven with cakes—a custom to be found alike in China and in ancient Mexico, as well as many other countries. In Egypt, the cakes were horned to resemble the sacred heifer, and thence called boas, which in one of its oblique cases is boun—in short, bun! So people eating these hot cross-bunslittle know what, in reality, they are about.

Friday, 20 March 2015

"Mad as a March Hare": The Customs and Traditons of Spring

The ‘Spring’ or ‘Vernal Equinox’, which was once called ‘Ostara’, occurs on either 20th, 21st or 22nd March when the sun enters ‘Aries’ according to the Earth’s orbit and the insertion of leap years. The Spring Equinox marks the time when the sun crosses the celestial equator northwards or the ‘half way point’ resulting in equal twelve hours of day and twelve hours of night. At the equinox the sun rises exactly in the east and sets exactly in the west after which the daylight hours grow increasingly longer until the sun reaches its highest point in the sky at the ‘Summer Solstice’, which occurs in June. 

The Oestra Hare in folklore and tradition
 
Have you ever wondered how the symbol of the rabbit became associated with the Easter Festival? The origin of the Easter Bunny probably goes back to the festival's connection with the pagan goddess Eostre. 

Eostre (sometimes spelt Oestre) was a fertility goddess from whom we derive the word "oestrogen" and she is closely associated with fertility symbols such as eggs. The rabbit is known as a highly fertile creature and hence an obvious choice for Easter symbolism.

In fact the use of the rabbit is probably a mistake - the Easter "bunny" is more likely to have been a hare, since it is the hare that is usually considered the sacred creature of Eostre.

Pagan fertility festivals at the time of the Spring equinox were common. It was believed that at this time, when day and night were of equal length, male and female energies were also in balance.

The hare is often associated with moon goddesses; the egg and the hare together represent the god and the goddess respectively.  The earliest known reference to our modern Easter Bunny tradition appears to be from 16th century Germany. In the 18th century, German settlers to America brought the tradition with them. The Bunny was known by them as Oschter Haws (a corruption of the German Osterhase ) and brought gifts of chocolate, sweets and Easter Eggs to good children. Often children would make up nests for Oschter Haws, sometimes using their Easter bonnets, and the Bunny would leave his treats there. 

Witch Hares

It is because of this strong connection with pagan traditions that Hares were strongly associated with witches and witchcraft in Christian times. People claimed that a witch could shape shift her form at night and become a hare. These solitary creatures, rarely seen, sometimes standing on their hind legs like a person, aroused suspicion.

When in distress they uttered a strange, almost human-like cry, which gave the animal a supernatural quality. For its behaviour would mimic that of a supposed witch. In this form she stole milk or food, or destroyed crops. Others insisted that hares were only witches' familiars.

Folk musician Seth Lakeman song 'The White Hare' tells the folklore tale of a witch who can transform into a white hare. See music video.

In Dorset there are many stories associated with  Witch Hares. In the Purbecks, the gateway at West Lulworth, known as 'Daggers Gate', is believed to mark a grave of a supposed witch who could transfer herself into a hare. It acquired its unusual name in 1789, after farmer Sam Varnell was stabbed and killed at the spot by the daughter of the supposed witch. The witches ghost is still said to haunt the area often taking the form of a hare

Rabbits, the Portland taboo word

These associations caused many people to believe hares were bad luck and best avoided. A hare crossing ones path, particularly when the person was riding a horse, could cause disaster.

Many people on Portland believe that even the rabbit is bad luck! Even to say the word could send Portlanders into a stupor, fearing what might happen (see previous blog entry Wallace and Gromit spook island). The fear of rabbits is based on the fact that quarry men would often see rabbits emerging from their burrows immediately before a rock fall. Such rock falls often injured and even killed quarry workers; therefore, it is understandable that rabbits became associated with bad luck.
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