The Untethered Mari Llwyd Conjures a Dark Dream of the Sea – Paul Woodford

I hate people coming to my front door…but it’s usually the Avon lady or some form of religious group, all of who hand me leaflets or books which I either need to dispose of or give back, and that is annoying in itself. If however someone turned up at my door, for the soul purpose of a battle of wits, I think I would be quite excited.

Woodford presents us with a wonderful image of what Mari Lwyd is, known as the grey mare in legend, the audience is shown a skeletal ghost like horse, decorated in seaweed, shells, ribbons and a mermaids purse, travelling down the road under moonlight. The ghostly train of its cloak, creating its own path through the landscape. The skull looks merry, despite its zombiesque features, it almost looks friendly. I love the colours and tones of this piece, giving an eerie and mystical feel to the subject.

This is another Christmas time legend, this time from Wales. It is very slightly unclear if this is something that happens around the Christmas festivities or the new year ones, but none the less, it is a winter solstice celebration, and one with some mirth and merriment to it.

The tradition was first recorded in the 1800s, and has somewhat remained in to the 21st century. Groups of men, dress as a hobby horse, the horses skull on a pole, and a cloak covering the man holding it. The skull is decorated with ribbons sometimes with glass in the eye sockets, and the carrier is accompanied by a band of men, some dressed as stock characters, a bit like Punch and Judy.

The band of men then go from door to door, performing a battle of wits and insults with the home owner, starting with a song to let them in the house, which the home owner should decline. Should the Mari Lwyd win, then the men should be invited in to the home for refreshments.

This tradition seems to stem from the the feast of the ass. A celebration of Mary and Joseph’s travel to Egypt to avoid Herod’s wrath and orders to kill all first born sons. This celebration was to honour the donkeys of the bible who delivered the holy family to their destinations.

To battle wits and sing with the Mari Lwyd is to invite good luck on the house hold and through out the new year.

If we now look back at the picture, I think Woodford captures the essence of this tradition wonderfully. The cheeky horse skull, brightly decorated with items from the sea, hunting towards the home of this legend as still being alive and well in villages in the south of Wales.

If you want to see some of the merriment (Although I have to say no one looks that merry in the video) you can see the Mari Lwyd in action here.

Think I’ve missed something? Why not tell me in the comments?

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