Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Boar's Head Carol


The boar's head in hand bear I,
Bedecked with bays and rosemary.
And I pray you, my masters, be merry
Quod estis in convivio.*

Caput apri defero
Reddens laudes Domino.

The boar's head, as I understand,
Is the rarest dish in all the land,
Which thus bedecked with a gay garland
Let us sevire cantico.***

Caput apri defero
Reddens laudes Domino.

Our steward hath provided this
In honour of the King of Bliss;
Which on this day to be served is
In Reginensi atrio.****

Caput apri defero
Reddens laudes Domino.

*All who are at the feast.
**The boar's head I offer/Giving praises to the Lord.
***Serve with a song.
****In the Queen's hall.

The Boar's Head Carol was first printed in 1521, and the celebration of the Boar's Head Feast still continues at Queen's College in Oxford (the "Queen's hall"), but the song is probably older and the tradition was definitely more widespread in Great Britain in earlier times. Some folklorists connect it (and the custom of Christmas hams) to sacrifices of wild boars to the Norse god Freyr; what is certain is that as fall ended and winter began there was always a great slaughter of pigs in preparation for the lean months ahead.

William Henry Husk, in 1868, wrote of the Boar's Head Feast: "Where an amusing tradition formerly current in Oxford concerning the boar's head custom, which represented that usage as a commemoration of an act of valour performed by a student of the college, who, while walking in the neighboring forest of Shotover and reading Aristotle, was suddenly attacked by a wild boar. The furious beast came open-mouthed upon the youth, who, however, very courageously, and with a happy presence of mind, thrust the volume he was reading down the boar's throat, crying, 'Graecum est [Compliments of the Greeks!],' and fairly choked the savage with the sage."

The boar's head was served on a gold or silver dish, garnished with bay, rosemary, and other herbs, its mouth stuffed with an apple or orange. It was carried by the cooks into the hall with great ceremony, heralded by trumpets, accompanied by torchbearers, and celebrated with a choir singing the Carol. Jacqueline Simpson and Steve Roud write in A Dictionary of English Folklore that "Bringing in the boar's head, on a huge plate, was a potent symbol of old Christmas on a grand scale, popular with Victorian illustrators to evoke a Merrie England tradition."

Monday, December 10, 2012

Out Of Our Origins

"There is only one thing in the modern world that has been face to face with Paganism; there is only one thing in the modern world which in that sense knows anything about Paganism: and that is Christianity. That fact is really the weak point in the whole of that hedonistic neo-Paganism of which I have spoken. All that genuinely remains of the ancient hymns or the ancient dances of Europe, all that has honestly come to us from the festivals of Phoebus or of Pan, is to be found in the festivals of the Christian Church. If any one wants to hold the end of a chain which really goes back to the heathen mysteries, he had better take hold of a festoon of flowers at Easter or a string of sausages at Christmas. Everything else in the modern world is of Christian origin, even everything that seems most anti-Christian....There is one thing, and one thing only, in existence in the present day which can in any sense accurately be said to be of pagan origin, and that is Christianity."

--G. K. Chesterton, Heretics.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Jack Frost Nipping At Your Nose

In honor of my nephew Elijah's appearance as Jack Frost (from the movie "Rise of the Guardians") at the Gaylord Palms Resort show ICE!, a Dreamworks character-themed holiday extravaganza, I thought I would put up a few more images I've gleaned of the winter sprite since my last post.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Norse God of Winter?

Hod, Hoder, or Hodur was a strong god, but blind, the brother of Balder the Beautiful in Norse mythology. Balder's mother Frigga had made everything in creation swear not to harm Balder, everything except the mistletoe, which was thought to be too small, young, and weak to swear. Loki, the god of mischief, in his cunning found out about this exception, and took the mistletoe to where the gods were throwing every sort of deadly thing at Balder in sport, watching them fall harmlessly away. Loki came up to blind Hoder, who stood sadly apart, unable to take part in the fun. Loki said that he would guide his hand, and giving him the mistletoe branch aimed directly at Balder. The missile flew, pierced the young god, and he fell down dead.

Because of the strict code of vengeance, Hoder had to suffer death for the slaying of Balder. Odin lay with the giantess Rindr, and they gave birth to the god Vali, who was conceived, born, grew up, and killed Hoder all in one day. Although it was considered unlucky and ill-omened to mention Hoder, he and Balder dwelt amicably in Hel's domain, and it was said that after Ragnarok Hoder, Baldur, and Vali would all live in peace on the reborn earth.

Those who subscribe to the fertility theory of mythology say that Hoder is clearly a god of winter, slaying the warmth of summer, personified by Balder, although it is never clearly stated in any surviving Norse myth what Hoder is a god "of." The above picture is by Willy Pogany from Padraic Colum's "The Children of Odin."
Willy Pogany

Friday, November 30, 2012


Spring and Fall: To A Young Child

Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah, as the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you will weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sorrow's springs are the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, or ghost guessed:
It was the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.

--Gerard Manley Hopkins

"[Sir Ector] stood gloomily for a moment, watching his two boys trying to catch the last leaves in the chase. They had not gone out with that intention, and did not really, even in those distant days, believe that every leaf you caught would mean a happy month next year. Only, as the west wind tore the golden rags away, they looked extremely fascinating and were difficult to catch. For the mere sport of catching them, of shouting and laughing and feeling giddy as they looked up, and of darting about to trap the creatures, which were certainly alive in the cunning with which they slipped away, the two boys were prancing about like young fauns in the ruin of the year." --T. H. White, The Sword in the Stone.

"Ai! laurie lantar lassi surinen,
Yeni unotime ve ramar aldaron!"
[Ah! like gold fall the leaves in the wind,
long years numberless as the wings of trees!]

--J. R. R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring.

Monday, November 12, 2012

"When The Frost Is On The Punkin"

When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock,
And you hear the keyouk and gobble of the struttin' turkey-cock,
And the clackin' of the guineys, and the cluckin' of the hens,
And the rooster's hallylooyer as he tiptoes on the fence;
O, it's then's the time a feller is a-feelin' at his best,
With the risin' sun to greet him from a night of peaceful rest,
As he leaves the house, bareheaded, and goes out to feed the stock,
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock.

They's something kind o harty-like about the atmusfere
When the heat of summer's over and the coolin' fall is here--
Of course we miss the flowers, and the blossums on the trees,
And the mumble of the hummin'-birds and buzzin' of the bees;
But the air's so appetizin'; and the landscape through the haze
Of a crisp and sunny morning of the airly autumn days
Is a pictur' that no painter has the colorin' to mock--
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock.

The husky, rusty russel of the tossels of the corn,
And the raspin' of the tangled leaves, as golden as the morn;
The stubble in the furries--kind of lonesome-like, but still
A-preachin' sermuns to us of the barns they growed to fill;
The strawstack in the medder, and the reaper in the shed;
The hosses in theyr stalls below--the clover overhead!--
O, it sets my hart a-clickin' like the tickin' of a clock,
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock!

Then your apples all is gethered, and the ones a feller keeps
Is poured around the cellar-floor in red and yeller heaps;
And your cider-makin's over, and your wimmern-folks is through
With theyr mince and apple-butter, and theyr souse and sausage, too!
I don't know how to tell it--but ef such a thing could be
As the Angels wantin' boardin', and they'd call around on me--
I'd want to 'commodate 'em--all the whole indurin' flock--
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock!

--James Whitcomb Riley. One of his 'dialect' poems.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Monday, November 5, 2012

A Penny For The Old Guy

Remember, remember,
The fifth of November,
Gunpowder, treason, and plot.
I see no reason
Why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.

Guy (or Guido) Fawkes was foiled this day in 1605 from bringing off a plan to blow up Parliament and members of the royal family (including the King) by touching off a huge cache of gunpowder stored under the House of Lords; it was hoped this would help return England to Catholicism.

In thanksgiving for deliverance from the plot, the government declared November 5 as a day of remembrance. It was celebrated with bonfires, and in time with an effigy or scarecrow of Guy Fawkes, sometimes stuffed with firecrackers, usually with a pointed hat and a lantern in hand, but always fantastically dressed. Children would carry the stuffed man around, asking for "A penny for the Guy," used to buy more fireworks or refreshments for the end of the day, when the Guy was thrown on the bonfire.

In the 19th century, any unusually dressed or raggedy person was called a "guy" after this scarecrow figure. In the United States the term lost any negative connotation. Whether you consider Guy Fawkes a villain or a hero, you memorialize him and the Fifth of November every time you call someone "guy."

Thursday, November 1, 2012

MORE Variations On A Thanksgiving Theme

In 1943 Norman Rockwell produced a series of four paintings on the Four Freedoms, a concept that Franklin Delano Roosevelt had introduced in one of his speeches. One of these paintings, Freedom From Want, has come to exemplify the old American traditional Thanksgiving, and is most often referred to as the Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving. Over the years there have been many spoofs and variations on this image; I present here several more of them.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

King of Terrors

from LAMENT FOR THE MAKERS, by William Dunbar (1469-1520?)

I that in health was and gladness
Am troubled now with great sickness
And feebled with infirmity:--
Timor Mortis conturbat me.

Our pleasance here is all vain glory,
This false world is but transitory,
The flesh is fragile, the Fiend is sly:--
Timor Mortis conturbat me.

The state of man does change and vary,
Now sound, now sick, now blithe, now sorry,
Now dancing merry, now like to die:--
Timor Mortis conturbat me.

No state in earth here stands secure;
As with the wind waves the wicker
So wanes this world's vanity:--
Timor Mortis conturbat me.

Unto the dead go all estates,
Princes, prelates, potentates,
Both rich and poor of all degree:--
Timor Mortis conturbat me.

He takes the knights in the field
Unarmed under helm and shield;
Victor he is in all melee:--
Timor Mortis conturbat me.

This strong tyrant, merciless,
Takes the babe from mother's breast,
Harmless though the child may be;--
Timor Mortis conturbat me.

He spares no lord for his puissance,
No clerk for his intelligence;
His awful stroke may no man flee;--
Timor Mortis conturbat me.

Artful magicians and astrologists,
Rhetoricians, logicians, and theologists,
Aren't helped by their conclusions sly;--
Timor Mortis conturbat me.

In medicine the most practitioned,
Leeches, surgeons, and physicians,
Themselves from death may not supply;--
Timor Mortis conturbat me.

(Slightly adapted and translated. Latin Timor Mortis conturbat me: "The Fear of Death troubles me.")