Soror Brigantia and I took my Mari Lwyd for a canter at the Chepstow Wassail and Mari Lwyd Festival. If you have no idea about the growing Welsh revival of custom of cavorting in public with a horse’s skull here’s a very good outline of the Mari Lwyd tradition. Santa Muerte without the druggie gangsters.
Bearing a Mari Lwyd is more like wearing a mask than operating a puppet. To me that makes it Invocation rather than Evocation in the usual chaos magic senses. Invocation may be identified by the extent to which another presence seems to displace your own at the controls and exhibit behaviours out of character for yourself. And what do you call the person under the horse? I can’t even use the common Voodoo term ‘the horse,’ because, well, you see? So I’m going with ‘bearer’ for now.
One or two Mari bearers had confirmed to me that they could feel an overshadowing presence of a properly woken Mari. I had all day to check this out, and yes. My Ostler for the day, Soror Brigantia, spoke afterwards of feeling like I’d been away all day and she’d been left with the Mari. I found it confusing and difficult to carry on a human conversation while under the horse, and managed only the briefest social interactions.
However Ffynone Mari turned out to be quite in demand with the littluns and made herself available for having her muzzle patted and stroked. It all sounds very cutesy until you realise you’ve been normalising contact with death and the Otherworld in a society in screaming denial about both.
The high point of the Festival is a meeting at Chepstow bridge, where three paradigms come together. First was the massed cavalry of Mari Lwyds, 34 on this outing: a record set earlier in the day during the Mari Lwyd Pageant, a beauty contest for horse skulls in sheets. Picture it. Next were the Border Morris and various Morris platoons, faces blackened (eat it, social justice warriors: it’s a traditional way to preserve anonymity in these parts, and nothing to do with American racism); and the Wassailers, whose big moment earlier had been waking up the apple trees in order to ensure a good harvest this year with the Old English greeting Was hál! — ‘Be Well!’ which we toasted with mulled cider, welcome in the damp cold of the day.
The night-time clash at the bridge was a noisy, rival supporters sort of affair, and then, as they always report, ‘peace broke out,’ and we all headed back into town together to drink and make merry.
It should be no surprise to a chaos magician to see such a cluster of paradigms playing nicely together. The mutual appreciation was obvious. Lessons to be learned there. But enough of the worthy and meaningful stuff: suffice to say a good time was had by all, especially by Ffynone Mari. If you’d like a fuller account of her adventures, see here.
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