Longtime readers will know I've had a fascination with the Mari Lwyd for a few years now, even going so far as to write a poem about her (which Strange Horizons were good enough to publish). Well, I've actually met my obsession at last!
Last Saturday cybermule took me down to the Chepstow Wassail and Mari Lwyd. She picked me up from Longbridge. It was foggy and cold in the Midlands but the sky seemed to open up with each mile: a farmhouse picked out by misted sun looked like a watercolour of itself. Nick Cave's "And No More Shall We Part" was on the stereo. Getting into Monmouthshire the hills were still albino with frost where the sunlight hadn't had a chance to reach. I accidentally dissed Tintern Abbey by saying "That's a bit small, isn't it?" For which I got mocked a bit. We parked in Chepstow then followed a Morris dancer down to the Three Tuns pub.
There were many many Morris people there, and I'm pretty sure it was a 50/50 gender divide among the dancers, which pleased me. Half a dozen sides there, one of them from near my hometown. All the top hats ever: glittered, enbadged, pheasant feathers and ivy. Strips of coloured rags; fiddles, accordions, drums. (Sovay, one of the Morriswomen was the spitting image of you, long sable hair under a wide-brimmed hat decked with fruit - is there something I need to know?) There was a huge silly grin on my face as I joined the audience, but then I'd just stepped behind a woman holding a Mari-head bedecked with flowers. This was one of the smaller ones - there were perhaps ten there. I don't know what the collective term is. Some of them were old school with leather harnesses and bells, some were glittered and ragged. Eyes of metal and glass and lighted eyes in the bone beaks. I'll tell you about my favorite Mari shortly. H (who took several pictures, which I'll include in a separate post) watched the dancing and capers for half an hour before following the crowd down to the wassail in the dell under the gaze of Chepstow Castle.
We were too far off to catch all the words of the wassailing song, but they were hanging holed slices of toast from the branches of an apple tree. Another Mari stood alongside us. Scarlet-and-green tatter-mane, eyes of blank green plastic, tight Celtic spirals painted on the bone. Unearthly as hell. I made some compliment to the woman who led her and then the Mari laid her head on my chest in thanks. I stroked her. I got to PET A FUCKING MARI LWYD. I can't tell you how happy that made me. A few of them did a little nodding jig as a woman played some small variant of the bagpipes.
It was bloody cold in that dell. An administering angel passed us cups of mulled cider, but it was getting too cold for us. We went for a pint at The Bell-Hanger and decided against staying for the meeting of the English and Welsh meeting "on the Old Iron Bridge". Next year, hopefully! We drove home and watched The Wicker Man over cheesecake and booze. The end of a perfect day.
I'm back in Brum now, but I carried on the "folk horror" vein of the weekend by reading Andrew Michael Hurley's first novel The Loney, which is extraordinary, atmospheric, slippery and lyrically told. The rites and beliefs of a desperate Catholic family are every bit as strange as any local pagan magic. Recommended.
Writing: currently making a (sketchy!) start to "Where Youth And Laughter Go", the story that would have been "The Concrete Child".