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