Dragon Hill, near Uffington, Oxfordshire. The chalk shows where grass cannot grow. There, George slayed the Dragon.
“And on my breast, a red,red rose, The flower of old England wherever she grows”
– John Kirkpatrick “Saint George”
Today is Saint George’s Day. As I’ve mentioned in my St Patrick’s day post, I’m not a Christian, so as such, I don’t celebrate this as a religious festival, but as a recognition of my English heritage. There are some Christians that would prefer England’s patron saint be an Englishman, perhaps St Edmund or St Alban, however I’m resolved that IF we should maintain a presence of this foreign faith in England, that St George be it’s representative.
“Whet the bright steel, Sons of the White Dragon! Kindle the torch, Daughter of Hengist!”
– Sir Walter Scott
We have a wonderful history of thin veneers of Christendom over the still beating heart of native faith in our isles. Eire’s St Brigid is a perfect example, but for us, the legends of dragon slaying is strong. From the continent, our Germanic ancestors brought tales of the Volsungs, and among our hills we had the tale of Beowulf penned, and by a monk no less! So powerful are our stories that they cannot be denied! England knew dragons…Monks feared they might burn their abbey’s, golden dragons were raised in battle, red and white dragons fought in mystical dreams for the souls of a nation, yes, we know dragons…
The Cunning Rustic and the Rose of England
So today, as per the tradition, I wear the red rose on my lapel. close to my heart. The Rose is the united Tudor rose, masterful propaganda from the turn of the Renaissance, the rose is Lancaster and York. The rose is beauty personified, fed by English rain and English soil, and deep scarlet, the colour of blood. The rose is the island, and the thorns the water that protects it. It is the English nation, haughty, hardy, beautiful, and prickly. The rose is the blood of the dragon spilled, or the heart of Fafnir when Sigeweard devoured it, or the wounds of Beowulf left by the defeated wyrm.
I don’t care much for crosses, but I love to see St George’s cross fly today as an act of defiance and celebration. Lo, may we see it replaced by the flag of the white wyrm! Keep the spirit of dragon slayers in your heart always, and today, on your breast, the red, red rose. May we gain the wisdom of our ancient forebears and may we all slay the dragons that stand before us. May there forever be an England.
St Patrick’s day brings a moment of consternation for the Pagan soul. Weren’t those ‘snakes’ an analogy for the druids? How much knowledge did we lose in the fifth century due to the missions and conversions of Patricius? Would we have an unbroken living tradition of Celtic polytheism were it not for that man?
It’s true that the lack of snakes in the Emerald Isle has less to do with St Padraic and more to do with the ice age, but as with many legends, they grow around a person who had uncanny influence. One such legend is that he spoke to mythic heroes of the Fianna, a warrior band of the mythic age, to convince them that real heroism lies in piety!
Despite the rancor that this raises among the modern Pagan and Heathen communities, i have found that this day more than any other raises an odd sort of self-righteousness. Declarations against celebrating this particular day abound. Indeed, if one would rather stay at home and engage in a day of prayer and worship to ancient forbears, I’m certain that the soul of St Patrick would ‘tut’ loudly, wherever he resides.
Here in the new world, where religion and irreligiousness are celebrated with equal zeal, this day is like no other. As I wander the streets of my adopted American town, I see a wash of green. From stores and passing cars, the musical strains of The Chieftans or Dropkick Murphys can be heard. Festivals, not celebrating St Patrick (or even mere Irish heritage) but rather Celtic heritage spring up everywhere. Bagpipes squeal and young lassies skip high in velvet dresses, never moving an arm. I see this outpouring of connection to Celtic heritage from all the sons and daughters of Europe. I see knotwork and green men on t-shirts. Corned beef and cabbage, sausage rolls and Irish soda bread abound! I see people drinking, laughing, kissing and occasionally brawling. I can not for one second think that these folks are all Catholic. Feasting and community are fundamental to our folkways, and I’m sure the pubs are fuller than the churches. While they may not be Pagans of any stripe, at least they are celebrating a culture of music, poetry, art and wit, without even give a passing thought to old St Paddy, and after writing this, nor will I.
So play me some Pogues and pour me a glass for the Emerald Isle, to raise to Celtic folk and snake handlers everywhere, just don’t paint a green shamrock in it. Every man has to have standards.
‘The Discovery of the Gunpowder Plot and the Taking of Guy Fawkes’ by Henry Perronet Briggs 1832
Guido ‘Guy’ Fawkes was not a hero from a comic, not a face to be worn by the anonymous. He was a Papist. In 1605 along with 13 conspirators he attempted to blow up King James I at his state opening at the Houses of Parliament. Fawkes aimed to return England to the governance of Rome and the King of Spain. Just 50 years earlier, 300 protestants had been burned to the death for heresy against the pope, during Queen Mary’s purge. No doubt the scourge of ‘Bloody’ Mary was still strong in the minds of the English.
Bloody Mary lit a few bonfires of her own.
England had been thrown into conflict between Papists and Protestants since Henry VIII, but the fact remains, the Purges of Bloody Mary, against layman and commoners, deserved a heavy handed response. The protestant reformation, as harsh as it was, placed the British Isles under British control and away from Europe. The judgement against those who would have seen Britain bow to foreign masters sent a strong message.
Foiled in his plot, Fawkes was tortured, hanged and quartered, his parts being sent to the four corners of the land.
Penny for the Guy
Now every fifth of November, the British mark the occasion with ‘Bonfire night’. Although the tradition of ‘A Penny For The Guy’ is waning, children still create a grotesque likeness of Fawkes and wheel him about the town, collecting money from those who would give it, before burning him atop the bonfire that evening.
As per tradition, folk will be lighting fireworks, eating and drinking, playing music and enjoying what would seem to all outside viewers to be a perfectly nice Pagan celebration. Deep in our primordial souls, I believe we are happiest when celebrating around a fire with friends, and need little reason for it. If one has to have a reason though, this is a good one.
Tonight, across Albion, bonfires will be lit and effigies of Guy Fawkes burned. Let the story of Britain’s traitor be told, not in whispers, but with pride. While children warm themselves in the glow, let there be a chill in the spines of those who plot still.
The fifth of November,
The Gunpowder treason and plot;
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!
Guy Fawkes and his companions
Did the scheme contrive,
To blow the King and Parliament
All up alive.
Threescore barrels, laid below,
To prove old England’s overthrow.
But, by God’s providence, him they catch,
With a dark lantern, lighting a match!
A stick and a stake
For King James’s sake!
If you won’t give me one,
I’ll take two,
The better for me,
And the worse for you.
A rope, a rope, to hang the Pope,
A penn’orth of cheese to choke him,
A pint of beer to wash it down,
And a jolly good fire to burn him.
Holloa, boys! holloa, boys! make the bells ring!
Holloa, boys! holloa boys! God save the King!
Hip, hip, hooor-r-r-ray!
THE FROST will bite us soon;
His tooth is on the leaves:
Beneath the golden moon
We bear the golden sheaves:
We care not for the winter’s spite,
We keep our Harvest-home to-night.
Hurrah for the English yeoman!
Fill full, fill the cup!
Hurrah! he yields to no man!
Drink deep; drink it up!
The pleasure of a king
Is tasteless to the mirth
Of peasants when they bring
The harvest of the earth.
With pipe and tabor hither roam
All ye who love our Harvest-home.
The thresher with his flail,
The shepherd with his crook,
The milkmaid with her pail,
The reaper with his hook—
To-night the dullest blooded clods
Are kings and queens, are demigods.
Hurrah for the English yeoman!
Fill full; fill the cup!
Hurrah! he yields to no man!
Drink deep; drink it up!
John Davidson (1857–1909)
Today is the Harvest Moon, dear friends. Give a moment to the earth as we reap our rewards and plan for the winter. Make merry, enjoy ciders and ales, pour a little to John Barleycorn and the spirit of autumn.
Perhaps you will make Corn Dollies this weekend. Of course, our modern wheat, a short, pithy type, easily devoured by combine harvesters, is not the same as the long great staple that my ancestors enjoyed. The type which made a tall figure on a cart when shaped and bundled, and brought into the town. The type that made for a thick thatched roof to stave off the winter chill. I am left to wonder if the sudden distaste for bread in our modern society, and many of the ills claimed by the ‘anti-glutenites’ (begging the pardon of the true Celiac sufferer) isn’t rather a case of poisoning by modern crop and processing. Once one has enjoyed the warm fulfillment of a true traditional loaf, it can scarcely be compared to the soggy brick we call ‘bread’ today.
Harvest home follows the festival ‘Lammas’ from the Anglo-Saxon ‘Hlaf-Mass’, literally translated as ‘Loaf Mass’. Indeed, bread was so important to the Saxon, that our very words ‘Lord’ and ‘Lady’ are derived from the Old English hlāfweard (Loaf-Ward) and hlǣfdige (Loaf-Maker). It’s a shame to see moderns disparage the venerable old loaf, but I have seen a return to the old ways recently with a rise of ‘artisanal Breads’ and farm to table bakeries making a name for themselves. For more on this, watch Michael Pollan’s ‘Cooked’ episode on Bread.
Waggons decorated for the Harvest Home parade on September 14th 1864. The Order of Proceedings required men to have a bouquet of three ears of wheat on their left breast. The procession was headed by the oldest labourers and the “musical band”. Credit: www.communityarchives.org.uk
In various parts of Europe, the last sheaf of wheat or corn (for we use the terms interchangeably in England, what my American brethren call ‘Corn’ we call ‘Maize’) is a matter for reverence. In parts of Germany, it was left uncut as fodder for Wotan’s horse. In Devon, England, it was festooned with ribbons and held aloft before the reapers scythes to the cry of ‘THE NECK’! It was then carried to the farmer’s house to replace the previous year’s neck, which was then offered to the farmer’s finest beast. Many a wagon carried the golden corn-maid to the village and town, perhaps an echo of the ritual belonging to the ancient earth-Goddess, Nerthus. The Roman historian, Tacitus wrote of Nerthus in his work ‘Germania’
“There is a sacred grove on an island in the Ocean, in which there is a consecrated chariot, draped with cloth, where the priest alone may touch. He perceives the presence of the goddess in the innermost shrine and with great reverence escorts her in her chariot, which is drawn by female cattle. There are days of rejoicing then and the countryside celebrates the festival, wherever she designs to visit and to accept hospitality. No one goes to war, no one takes up arms, all objects of iron are locked away, then and only then do they experience peace and quiet, only then do they prize them, until the goddess has had her fill of human society and the priest brings her back to her temple.”
Whether you celebrate with your kinfolk or alone this weekend as the Autumnal Equinox approaches, this is the perfect time to reflect on the past year. Was your harvest a good one? Have you sown deeds and reaped rewards? Were the Gods beneficent or were you faced with trial? Have you given a gift for your gifts received?
Sunna is in her descent and the leaves will turn reds and golds in her honour. This evening, celebrate and honour the earth and to the wights of the land. We will have a partial eclipse tonight as Hati the Mooncatcher throws a wolfish shadow across Mani. For tonight, rest and raise a jug of ale, as we know that we have much work to do before the fated day, when that warg devours its prey.