The Marie Lwyd
Picture by R.Fiend, Wikimedia Commons
Midnight. Midnight. Midnight. Midnight.
Hark at the hands of the clock.
For She knows all from the birth of the Flood
To this moment where we stand
In a terrible frost that binds the blood
In a cramp that claws the hand.
Give us rhyme for rhyme through the wood of the door
Then open the door if you fail.
The above is a an extract from the poem The Ballad of the Mari Lwyd by Vernon Watkins.
The Mari Lwyd or Grey Mare is one of the strangest midwinter customs in these islands. It takes place in South Wales any time from early December up to the end of January. The tradition is believed to be ancient. Some elements may date to pagan times.
In the past a horse’s skull was skinned, boiled and decorated. The jaws were hinged so that they snapped.
A party of poets, singers and others in costume accompanied the horse. The party included a Leader or Sergeant and Punch and Judy. They knocked on the doors of houses and pubs and challenged those inside to joust in verse. The competition continued until the Mari Lwyd party gained entry. Once indoors they were given food and drink. The singing and rhyming continued as the Mari Lwyd rushed about snapping its jaws. The entourage dashed through the house chasing out all the evil spirits.
The tradition almost died out in the last century but has been revived in recent years.