Tuesday, June 2, 2015

The English Ale 2015 – and how to make Dobbin more social and worldly

As some of my readers (I doubt some of you are regulars, just surfers) may know from my previous post, my hobby horse Dobbin has now attended a few folk festivals and morris dancing events. He’s been to Lavandula Harvest Festival twice, Newstead Music Festival twice, probably others I cannot think of from the top of my head, and in April he went to the National Folk Festival in Canberra, where he was seen riding a unicycle. Now he’s been to South Australia to the Adelaide Hills. And with luck he will come with me to Tasmania in a couple of months.

Firstly, I’m here to talk about going to The English Ale, an event run in the Adelaide Hills in Mylor, a small place South West of the famous township of Hahndorf. 

Run by South Australian pagans and the band Spiral Dance, the Ale runs for one day every May, usually in the middle of the month. I don’t know much about how the festival has evolved over the years, because this English Ale was my first one and all I want to do here, is talk about what I saw and experienced.

Weeks before the event, I spoke to one of the organisers Adrienne from Spiral Dance, someone I’ve known for about 15 years now, and asked her if I could bring my hobby horse Dobbin to walk in the procession that precedes the Wicker Man burning and ritual. She said yes, that he would be very welcome. I also decided to bring my homemade horse mask – the ‘Nightmare’ or ‘Kelpie’ (water horse) – to represent Winter. I would wear the Kelpie mask while riding the colourful Dobbin, who represented Summer. As Winter is on its way, the Kelpie has control of the summery Tourney Horse. I thought this highly appropriate.

Me riding Dobbin with a horse mask.
 My travelling companions and I arrived before 11am and while they put up tents, I attended the Druids of Oz talks – two about sacred temples and one about plants of Australia that are similar to European ones. I missed one of the sacred temples talks, but made it to the second one – very interesting talks.

After that I went and had lunch and got ready to do some morris dancing. I had decided to wear, not my Red Raven morris side kit, but my Thieving Magpie morris kit – my UK side. Since there were no other Red Raven’s there, I thought going as a Magpie was better. Kind of exciting wearing my UK tatters in Australia!!!

This was when I got to finally meet the South Australian sides – Adelaide Morris Men, Hedgemonkey, Lancashire Witches, and Hot for Joe - and even a Melbourne side I know well – the Britannia Morris men – had come along. Rob, Jacka and George were there, so they let me dance Bampton’s ‘Chook Chasing’ with them, just so I get a chance to dance something! 

I got a ticket for the concert that night, then chilled out by the tent, rugging up a bit before getting ready to gather by the oval to begin the procession.

Three items: Black tatter dress, Kelpie horse head, hobby horse. 

With help from my friends I dressed up and was ready to go! The procession went around the oval, while the oval itself was covered in people watching and taking pictures. We were accompanied by musicians and melodian players, morris dancing and lit the way by fiery torches…

In the parade were a few giants – ‘Petal’ was one of them, there was a devil, two Jacks-In-The-Green, morris dancers, people in tatters carrying torches and 3 of us as hobby horses. I did not see much else because I was in the parade and had limited visibility as the Kelpie mask has a veil that hides my face. I’ve not ridden Dobbin for years because the made the hole small enough to fit a thinner rider, but have now made it larger for other riders like me, so it was quite a pleasure to ride him for the first time in years, if not ever!

The procession went slowly enough around the oval for all the people to see, before the procession turned off into a small field to surround the patient Wicker Man. 

The ritual was conducted, the Wicker Man set alight, and everyone held hands to spiral around the burning man and I rode around between the bonfire and the line of people. Eventually the bonfire burned down and I went to the campsite to get changed and have some dinner.

Towards 10pm we went up to the town hall and got ourselves a drink (Jacka bought me a cider!) and we warmed up inside, before going into the hall to watch the bands. When Spiral Dance started I often danced with Cathy and Gabby and we had a grand time letting loose on the dance floor before packing up the chairs in the hall, and heading back to camp. After sitting by the campfire, noticing how cold it was getting, and going to bed at 3am, I found it hard to sleep because of the cold. I did sleep at some point, but boy, it was a cold night and hurt my throat to breathe the cold, damp air! I woke early to say goodbye to Frances and her partner, who were camping next to us, and then tried to sleep again. The sun on the tent made it begin to warm up just as I was ready to get up. The sun itself was wonderfully warm during the day, but the nights bitter. We sat around and relaxed, but I wandered down Mylor’s main road to find Gabby’s B+B and visit her and two other good Victorian friends of mine who just happened to pop in to visit her. We had a good gossip and laugh. 

On my return to the campsite, we had decided to pack up and return to Cathy’s place in Adelaide, so did just that, had a great pasta bolognaise for tea and played a long round of Cards against Humanity before crashing.

On the Monday we went to Hahndorf, where I bought some awesome souvenirs and had a buffet lunch at one of the pubs. Then we hit the road to Victoria before 3pm. 

Had a great time in South Australia, where I have not been since about 1987, catching up with old friends, meeting new ones, and ones I have worked on projects with that I was yet to meet, and attend a pretty brilliant event that I will attend again and again, probably with Dobbin. It’s good to see him out and about socialising and getting around in all sort of pagan and morris dancing events these days. 

The English Ale is definitely worth attending if you can…

Hot for Joe

Lancashire Witches

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Hobby Horse renovation - Dobbin gets bell pads

It’s not often that you find a hobby horse like Dobbin in Australia. There are hobby horses out there, but I’m yet to see one like my Dobbin. I recall greatly desiring to own a homemade hobby horse, especially after watching ‘The Wicker Man’ (1973). A short time later in 2005, I was given a wicker basket horse head without asking for one. That year Dobbin was created using a heavy metal ring for a body which resulted in being a bad choice for a hobby horse. To read a detailed account of creating Dobbin in the early days, visit this very blog on this page here.

Dobbin is what you’d call a Tourney Hobby Horse, although Dobbin has no fake legs, nor does the rider. His body sits at waist length and he has straps to hold up the rider, (these days that is usually my fellow morris dancing friend Martin). Some similarities come from the Wicker Man film.

With the help of friends, I used scrap material to create a skirt and some flags with bells, very much like the one used in the Wicker Man film. My wicker basket horse head’s mouth could not move. I’ve not been bothered about that, but often get comments from people about how it should snap open and shut. I’d have to destroy the wicker head a little to achieve that. I focused on decorating the head and bridle, and getting friends to contribute to the hobby horse, by painting some sort of pagan-style design onto the flags I cut to shape. 

Version 1.0 (2005)

Version 1.0 of Dobbin lasted only one festival. He was used in a 2005 Beltane ritual (late October for Australia) and afterward, the metal ring was discarded due to it being too heavy and hard to handle. My blacksmith friend made the ring for me, and I feel bad that it was not good to use. As far as I knew, the ring was abandoned at our friends house – not sure what happened to it after that. Even the pictures of that Beltane ritual were too blurry to show here on this blog post. 

Version 2.0 (2006)

Version 2.0 in October 2006 ready to use
After living in the UK for a few months (April – August 2006), I returned with new ideas for Dobbin. A lighter bamboo frame was designed and made by a friend – it was fish-shaped, and I simply re-gathered the skirt to fit, abandoned some of the flags (because this horse was smaller) and made some better straps for him. 
This version of Dobbin lasted until 2015. Gradually becoming a bit battered and faded, losing a few bells, some mirror squares off his red bridle, his gilded eyelids getting a bit tarnished, and his bamboo frame beginning to weaken at the joints, Dobbin only really went to the same Beltane festival once a year – other than that, he sat at home in an old mattress bag, or leaning against a wall in a storage shed. In dire need of a ‘make-over’, Dobbin began to suddenly get out more.

Dobbin version 2.0 in January
2015 in dire need of renovation
In the last 9 years that this version of Dobbin has existed, I lived in England for 10 and a half months. While over there, as some of you know, I was a member of a Morris side and attended over a dozen folk festivals in the 9 months that I was in the side. On my return (Sept 2012), I, naturally, joined a morris side here, something I’d been meaning to do for years, but did not until I’d been in one somewhere else in the world. Now that I am attending folk festivals and morris dance-outs, Dobbin gets brought to events, once I’d told the morris side I was in that I had a hobby horse – not something a 30-something girl would usually admit to owning. I was even more eager to fix Dobbin up now, as his frame needed seeing to and other things mended. 

 He was also becoming a bit dated for me. Some of the flags I had made had no meaning for me anymore and I chose to do something else for him, make him more folk dancing related rather than pagan-esque. Then Dobbin got invited to the 2015 National Folk Festival in Canberra on Easter weekend. Time to get him fixed up – this gives me a time limit.

 Version 2.1 (2015)

Version 2.1
March 2015 in Ballan all
new and ready for play
Initially I was calling this new Dobbin Version 3.0 but he isn’t really – nothing on him has changed except adding more colour to his skirt, and making new flags for him – his frame is the same. 

I sat down one night a few weeks ago and pulled him apart, bits of glue and leather and wire falling off his frame, I looked with disgust at the way I had secured his frame – it was not greatly done, but I knew what to do this time (being an artist and crafty person, you grow with knowledge). Cable Ties! The magical wonder of Cable Ties! And duct tape! Huzzah!
I was told that I had to make Dobbin ready for the weekend of 22nd March, so two weeks before then, I pulled him apart and made plans to get him prettier. 

I’d cut some squares from all my scrap material ages ago, to make patchwork cushions, but decided to use them for Dobbin instead. Sewing like a Trojan for a few days, I made a few sections of diamond-shaped patchwork and added it to the green patchwork skirt. I fixed the frame with cable ties (win!) and lots of duct tape, and the frame was wonderfully straight and secure now. 

Then I made new larger and wider flags and painted all 6 styles of English Folk dancing on them – Welsh Border, Cotswold, North West, Rapper, Long Sword and Molly. Here is 4 of the 6 dance styles. And then he had to have bell pads like all the other morris dancers...

I even made him his own bell pads
And I painted a White Dragon English flag too, replacing a St George flag. Screw St George, I’d rather the Dragon. 

The English White Dragon
I had to get Dobbin finished on Friday the 20th March, since I was working all weekend and going out for dinner on the Saturday, so Friday was my last chance before handing him over at 10.30am on Sunday the 22nd at the Ballan Autumn Festival in time for the parade. I succeeded in getting him done – all put together, hand sewn and back to normal – this time, a bit prettier. Also he was covered with more bells than before.

Note the Cotswold flag
Dobbin jingled away down the streets of Ballan when I passed him over to Martin and Marie, and later they took him home to fix his straps to suit their needs for the National Folk Festival two weeks later. This folkie has just finished now, although I did not see any images of him online, I am hoping Dobbin had a great weekend in Canberra (he should have – he got invited but I didn’t!) I was told that Dobbin might ride a unicycle. I requested video footage if that were ever to happen!

What would be awesome is if Dobbin and I could tour the UK. I’d take him to Banbury Hobby Horse Festival and other folkie events with my Morris side the Thieving Magpies.

Final note: On writing this blog post, I found this eerily similar hobby horse from England...

Colin Whirly-Gig of Hoxne Hundred
Morris dancers - photo by Mark Bullimore

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Sumbel for the New Year

The only time I've done sumbel, was at my friends feasts - and usually at Yule. Since these feasts ended (since the host moved away) I've been focusing on a mini sumbel ceremony for New Year's Eve. I did some research on sumbel to write this post so people - instead of using New Year's Eve as a 'piss-up' - can use the evening as a tool for reflection (boasts) and future manageable plans (oaths).

Heathenry is a growing practice, a fellowship that is increasing in knowledge and numbers. Ásatrú and Odinism are a part of a growing community, descendents of Scandinavian countries are bring back the worship and reverence of the Norse Gods. One thing about being Heathen and being in Victoria, you actually have the pleasure of living in a landscape that feels the colder temperatures similar to Northern Europe. That’s alright when you have the right clothes to wear, a woollen tunic, dress and cloak. That's what I did with my friends feasts- being a medieval re-enactor and a pagan certainly got me used to being dressed appropriately for rituals and blots.

Yule is celebrated in the Northern Hemisphere just before Christmas, and for some Heathens, sumbel will be celebrated then. But this post is for New Years Eve (today!) - hope it's not too late to post this up - anyone reading this blog before their midnight tonight, wherever they are in the world - might have time to do this ceremony!

   Sumbel (also symbel, or sumbal) is a holy ritual conducted during a blót, a feast or meal conducted by the Norse people in days of old. Sumbel is toasting with a drinking horn – often carried out at the end of a ritual or feast. A drinking horn filled with alcohol – usually mead, but whatever you want, is passed around the room clockwise. Each person choosing to be involved in sumbel will drink and toast in three rounds (passing the horn around the room to each attendee). These rounds can vary per gathering, desires, and needs. Headed by the Gothi (goði - priest) or Gythia (gyðja - priestess) or the host of the party, the horn is passed around three times each with a different toast. 
      Often the rounds consist of:  
  •  Round 1: To the Gods and/or the Goddesses 
  • Round 2: To the ancestors and/or a personal hero
  • Round 3: For an Oath, Boast, or Toast

1: To toast to the Gods and Goddesses, or the Æsir, you will be raising the horn to whichever God or Goddess sits in your favour at that time. Perhaps you have felt their presence in your life, or you feel an affiliation with then, and wish to thank them. Give your reasons within your speech as to why you speak of them. If you do not like the alcohol, simply pour some onto the ground, the fire, a blessing bowl or anoint your forehead. Finish your speech with ‘Hail’ and all those in the room will echo you. 

2: Toasting to your ancestors or personal heroes – you must give reasons why you toast to them, why they are your heroes at the time. Make sure your individuals are deceased, it is believed to be ill luck to toast an ancestor not yet dead. You may even want to tell a short tale about that hero, a tale that inspires and instills motivation within you, something that might make sense or imitate your life at that moment. Again, finish you speech with a ‘Hail.’

3: In this final round, you will raise the horn in an Oath, Boast or Toast. You may choose one, two or all of these three toasts:

Oath: You may make an oath to do something or improve on something, but be prepared for it to be taken very seriously. Never oath anything you do not expect to be able to complete, the Gods would not want you to be hard on yourself.*

Boast: You may boast about something you have achieved recently, something that you are proud of yourself for.

Toast: You may toast anything or anyone that has brought you happiness in whatever form and has improved your life or well-being, or toast the hosts of the feast and ritual or the attendees.

Don’t forget to say ‘Hail!’

The people present at the feast will listen to your oath and take note of it, as sumbel is a powerful and emotional ritual, you will want to be honest and true to yourself, as this oath will be a powerful sacrament – words are very strong, the Æsir are present, and your loved ones and ancestors are there listening. You must be honourable to yourself, so make sure your oath has meaning to you, and you are capable of implementation.

       *Attending sumbel can be quite revealing, as you will hear a lot of personal feelings being expressed, have respect for what they say. You may feel the compulsion to reveal much yourself during your toasts, so be prepared to be conveying personal moods and emotions. It is a time of honesty and you should be in a space where people trust each other. If you don't feel safe, don't participate - if you can't reveal what you really need to, maybe it is not a good time to participate. Or read the next bit.

You can choose not to do all of these three things – when you receive the horn, you may simply raise the horn to the Gods, take a drink and pass it on. You are not under any obligation to push yourself to say anything at all, if you are not comfortable. Some people may not have a God or ancestor to toast to, but they may have an oath or a boast to say. If the horn begins to get quite empty when it reaches you, inform the host, goðar, or gyðja of it and it will be refilled and be blessed by the remaining liquid. Sumbel may end at any time those conducting it are ready - when the horn is finally drained, all things are said, or the ritual feels, by all those in it, to be ending. Sumbel is an open ritual, all people are able to come and go as they please, although the ritual does have a beginning and an end.

Make sure the tip of the horn points down ‘Point down and you won’t drown.’  If the point of the horn is pointing towards the ceiling as you drink, you might find yourself wet with drink, which can be quite embarrassing. If you can, when you know sumbel is going to be conducted, have a think about what you will say. There is nothing like feeling bad if you have forgotten to say something, even though you should not stress. Often other people’s toasts will remind you to say something when it is your turn. Also do not get too upset if you spill your drink or choke and think it is a bad omen. It will not be, have faith, and you will be satisfied with the sumbel.

Sumbel at Yule
I have attended Sumbel during Yule time, but there is no specific time of the year where it must be done. Our Sumbel was different to the plan above – it consisted of three rounds, but they were only the final round as mentioned above – 

  •  our first round was a boast to the 12 months past,
  • the second round was an oath made for the 12 months ahead, 
  • and our third round was a toast to whatever we wanted. 
With the dozen or so people in the room, the three rounds went for long enough, you would not want to do any more than that, people often got restless or left early. The final round mentioned in the above list, suggests that you do the oath, or the boast, or the toast, or all three in the same round, saving time.

If you do sumbel once a year at Yule for example, your boast the next time can be a result of the oath you took the previous year, and whether you have honestly fulfilled that oath. An oath in turn becomes a boast the following year. It can be a cycle, if you tend to this ritual annually, and be very satisfactory.

One person doing a boast said they had not much to boast about, when another member spoke up about how that person just became grandparent, and should not be so modest. If you are modest, people may pull you up for it and request that you be proud of what you have achieved. 

Sumbel in non-Heathen rites
You may not be Heathen, you may not have a drinking horn, but you can still invent your own sumbel ritual. You can use a goblet, toast to your preferred Gods, do three rounds or only one. You could conduct it at dawn, during a rite on midsummer, or during the Celtic New Year at Samhain if you choose. You can do anything! To conduct a small sumbel during New Year’s Eve instead of getting drunk and wildly partying is my idea of a good time these days - to have a relaxing night, and use the midnight celebration to reflect on my past year and plan for the coming one. 

You can involve the kids in your sumbel, it can be kid friendly (no alcohol, for example). Kids have boasts and goals as well, you can teach them to set goals this way, and be proud of what they have done.

Sumbel can be become quite a poignant occasion for some people, especially when they make it an annual event. However you chose to conduct it is your own choice, but do not be afraid to make a ritual of it and understand that the Gods and Ancestors will hear you.

Me at an Ásatrú Yule ritual with a drinking horn