Dark Gathering 2019 – Part One

There is an ancient Chinese curse which goes: “May you live in interesting times.”  There have been times this past year when I have wondered whether I had unknowingly offended someone of oriental persuasion when it came to the Dark Gathering!  There has also been the odd occasion when I wondered whether it was actually going to happen or not, especially when it came to wrangling with the dead hand of bureaucracy.  Indeed as the date of this year’s Dark Gathering approached there was a last minute flurry of obstacles, cancellations and complications – not to mention wet weather that seemed to take on biblical proportions!

Undaunted we soldiered on…

On the day, we had to put out a disclaimer on the website and social media that there was a police warning of a yellow flood alert on some of the roads approaching Boscastle and for folks to be aware of this.

Despite the heavy rain there was full attendance to both storytelling sessions run by Lisa Schneidau.  By all accounts everyone loved the experience – well done Lisa!  I wished I could have been there.  🙂

Then 40 minutes before we were due to start the afternoon’s proceedings, the torrential rain stopped – for the next 36 hours!  😀

Now, I could fall back on the cliched ‘As if by magic’ but that’s a bit hackneyed now – this was bordering on the miraculous.  Well Done to all those witches who were spinning their weather magic for the Dark Gathering!  Given the sheer amount of rainfall over the last 6 weeks, I still can’t quite believe we got away with yet another dry Gathering.

So the sixth Dark Gathering began with gusto with Steve Podger, our enduring MC, introducing the wonderful Beltane Border Morris, who have over the years become the backbone to the Dark Gathering.

Next were the fun-loving and ever ebullient Wreckers Morris from North Cornwall.

What came next was a bit of a gamble as far as I was concerned.  Earlier in the summer I learnt that regrettably Wild Hunt Bedlam Morris were unable to attend after all, and I was left to search for a replacement.  Quite by chance I happened upon Huginn & Muninn.  They were certainly different, which was what I was after as I do like to inject a little of the unknown and edgy into the proceedings.  So it came to pass that the wild and wacky Huginn & Muninn made their eccentric debut at the Dark Gathering.

 

Here is a prime example of how bizarre Huginn & Muninn can be:

Whilst all this frivolity was happening down at the harbour, way, way up the hill at the Napoleon Inn an ancient custom was being enacted by Cwmni Gwerin Pontypwl and Bagas Werin Mari Lwyd.  A Welsh/English pwnco was performed plus a dance performance with songs for the delight of the onlookers.

Following this in response to a special request, Mari Afon Lwyd (or Fflosi as she is affectionately known) bestowed blessings upon the household of Ivy Cottage.  In return the Mari Lwyd party received thanks and copious libations.  🙂

Then it was off down the hill to the wondrously warm welcome from the Wellington Hotel who laid on lavish libations for our merry band of revellers.  Cwmni Gwerin had to perform outside the Museum at 4 pm, so as they left Bagas Werin were joined by a new Mari Lwyd called Mari Sol.

Everyone continued to entertain wherever they visited including the Cobweb Inn.  Meanwhile Cwmni Gwerin Pontypwl were bringing Welsh dancing to the audience at the harbour.

Following their break, all the Morris sides completed their afternoon’s entertainment with pizazz and vigour – in fact, it was quite difficult to persuade them to stop!

However, the light was fading fast and it was time to prepare for the Lantern Procession – and for whatever the evening had in store for us all…

Besides which Penkevyll was getting very restless in her stable and was eager to met her bone sisters, the Mari Lwyds!

 

 

 

 

Line Up for Dark Gathering 2019

 

The sixth annual Dark Gathering has yet again an exciting line-up with something, hopefully, for everyone.  So it’s time to give a bit more detail and introduce the performers to you.

The day will kick off with spooky tales from  Lisa Schneidau who is an experienced storyteller and environmentalist from Dartmoor.  She will bring together her love of nature and the Land with a magical flair that I’m sure will enchant all who attend the session.

Lisa Schneidau

Here are the details:

Wise Women and Witches
Stories from the Isles of Britain

The venue will be the library at the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic.  Given the rarity of some of the books, there is an absolute ban on any food and drink being brought into the library with no browsing of books permitted on this occasion.

There will be two shows, starting at 12 noon (running time 45 minutes).  Suitable for ages 7+.  All children should be accompanied and supervised by an adult.  Places are limited, booking is advised – contact  Museum of Witchcraft and Magic.  Adults £5.00, Children £3.00

50% of the proceeds are being donated to the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic, and the Dark Gathering.

Incidentally, later in the day you will also see Lisa again in a slightly different guise – as a Beltane Morris dancer!

Everyone will be delighted to hear that Beltane Border Morris will once again be headlining our afternoon’s entertainment.  They are such a vital and powerful component to our Dark Gathering, and we are always eager to see them again.  There’s always more than a whiff of wild Dartmoor and the eldritch about the Beltane tribe…

Beltane Border Morris

This year we have the welcome return of Wrecker’s Border Morris.  They are our fun-loving local Cornish side who inject a little bit of benign crazy (or mazey if you’re Cornish) energy into the proceedings.

Wreckers Border Morris

Finally our Guest Side this year is the dark and mysterious Wild Hunt Bedlam Morris  that haunt the wilds of Surrey.  This is an experienced masked Border side that have been performing for 28 years.  I am confident that Wild Hunt will bring their very own brand of the Otherworld with them to the Dark Gathering.

Wild Hunt Bedlam Morris

During the afternoon break in dancing this year there is to be, Devonbird.  This Devon based folk band are very much connected to the Land, together with it’s folklore and magic – this is reflected in their music.

Devonbird

Finally there will be an unforgettable experience when we have the performance of Plymouth’s one and only Stone Soup.  This is a duo of theatrical storyteller poets but this is not your average brace of bards as you will see!  😉

Stone Soup

Here’s a Stop Press statement from Stone Soup just received:

The Dashing Dynamic Duo that is Nik (Londoner) & David (Dubliner), combined collectively in the guise of their Stone Soup alter-ego, shall be bringing their Magniloquent Mayhemic Mix of Storytelling & Music to this fantastic event. Expect the Unexpected!!!

As well as our new performers all the usual suspects will be gathering to keep alive this community event at Hallowtide.  Also the all-singing, all-dancing Cwmni Gwerin Pontypool are returning again this year.  Who would have thought that such a quaint looking dance troupe could end up being so naughty!  They have promised to keep their Mari Fflosi in check this time and not let her gallop off and cause mayhem!  🙂

 

So,  we will once again have an action packed and exciting line-up this year, with some new faces which I’m sure will receive the customary warm Cornish welcome.  I will announce any updates as and when they occur on this website. Remember to book accommodation early to avoid disappointment.

Have a great summer and I’ll see you all at Summer’s End when we celebrate the All Hallows Gathering in Boscastle. 🙂

Reminder: Each year we have a Guest Side visiting the All Hallows Gathering. We choose from a list of Morris teams who have applied to come. If your side is interested in performing at Boscastle to help us celebrate this special festival at the Darkening of the year, then contact the event organiser via this website.

I have to inform you that I have just received an announcement to the effect that, a denizen from the Otherworld will be making a visitation to the Dark Gathering. So keep your eyes and ears open for a surprise visit. All will be revealed at the appropriate time and place…

Dark Gathering 2018 – Part Three

This year saw a brief, unexpected and not-to-be-repeated Boscastle Derby which involved the Mari Lwyds in a race down to the harbour!

Even the most well ordered event can suffer from blips, miscommunication and things getting lost in translation. Our Lantern Procession this year managed to include all of these! Fortunately, we were well able to absorb all this and managed to carry on, according to most onlookers, seamlessly(!) – the worst that happened was that timings got mangled.

The Dark Gathering, which has been recently described as Cornwall’s Annual Halloween event, has almost outgrown itself in popularity.  Sometimes I think that folk forget that Boscastle is a small fishing village and treat it like a town in some ways.  The locals do their level best to accommodate most people’s requirements and I feel that this needs to be remembered when visiting, whether as a performer or an audience member.  In a town which holds Morris events for instance, the teams are able to spread out more and there is a relaxed atmosphere regarding timings.  At the Dark Gathering however we have to stick to timings as we don’t have the necessary permissions to block the highway for too long.  The marshals are local volunteers and are trying their level best to help everyone safely across the road when it comes to the Procession.  There are literally hundreds of people who follow the Mari Lwyds down to the Museum each year and it takes some management.

Normally what happens is that there is a small group of performers leading the way with flaming torches.  This makes sure that the Procession moves at a, well… processional pace, suitable for everyone to appreciate the Mari Lwyds and the music.  These torches also are a visual aide to us folk waiting at the Museum to start the tribal drumming.  Due to a miscommunication/misunderstanding this year, the torch bearers were absent at the crucial time and the Procession left without them.

At the head was the redoubtable Cwmni Gwerin Pontypwl sweeping and practically galloping down to the harbour with everyone valiantly trying to keep up!

So the final result of the impromptu Boscastle Derby was:

Mari Pontypwl won by 10 lengths,

Mari Celeste a brave second,

followed by Mari Trecopr

and bringing up the rear, Mari Arianrhod.

If I’d had been forewarned I could have got Steve Podger our MC to do an animated commentary to accompany them.

In fact, we could have taken bets…  No!  It’s not going to happen again because we have had our heads together in the Stewards Enquiry and come up with a Cunning Plan!

Watch this space!

Prior to this Penkevyll the Land’s End Oss had heard the mesmerising and irresistible tribal drums which heralded her appearance – but this year she sent out her apprentice Teazers first to surprise the onlookers – I don’t think anyone was expecting that!

Penkevyll had no sooner emerged when we were startled to see the Mari Lwyds had already arrived on the bridge.

Thanks to our trusty Gatekeepers who kept them at bay,  Penkevyll was able to claim the performance space and danced and frolicked with her Teazers for a while.

Then it was time to greet her guests who had travelled all the way from Wales to see her.

 

Then it was time for the Pwnco ceremony.

Now the torchbearers arrive!

The Pwnco is sung.

The Welsh contingent were in good voice for the Pwnco, and Laetitia responded wonderfully in West Cornwall dialect until eventually the Mari Lwyds gained entry to the Museum of Witchcraft & Magic to give their annual blessing.

Looks like they’re having fun!  🙂

Meanwhile outside a dramatic visitation was occurring.  Suddenly the sound of war drums was heard in the still night air and, surrounded by flaming torches  Tre War Venydh marched down the hill in style!

The local warband were led by the redoubtable Chieftain Sigewulf.  Well, I wouldn’t want to fall foul of her – would you?

She went on to introduce her warband by name and character with an edgy humour.

The crowd were then encouraged to support their favourite warrior as they were pitted together in mortal combat.  This was rather alarming at times because these were real swords and axes – not a rubber or resin sword in sight!

The fights were very exciting and there was a lot of cheering as each blow thudded on the combatants’ shields.  Finally one of them was vanquished by the other warrior and fell to the ground.  The wisewoman and magical healer performed remarkable feats by restoring the warriors to health following their demise.  The re-enactment ended with a demonstration of a shield wall in action.

During all the excitement, the Osses and Mari Lwyds had re-emerged into the night.  This included the young Oss, Morvargh, who was up way past her bedtime!

It was at this time that the atmosphere of the Dark Gathering shifted.

We sensed the Ancestors were drawing near… the dark. quickening time approached.

At this point Sarah Emery appeared to sing the now traditional lament at Summer’s End.  This year she sang the haunting Traveller’s Prayer.

The Traveller’s Prayer

Praise to the moon, bright queen of the skies,
Jewel of the black night, the light of our eyes,
Brighter than starlight, whiter than snow,
Look down on us in the darkness below.

If well you should find us then well let us stay,
Be it seven times better when you make your way,
Be it seven times better when we greet the dawn,
So light up our way and keep us from all harm.

Give strength to the weary, give alms to the poor,
To the tainted and needy five senses restore,
Give song to our voices, give sight to our eyes,
To see the sun bow as the new moon shall rise.

Cast your eyes downwards to our dwelling place,
Three times for favour and three times for grace,
Over the dark clouds your face for to see,
To banish misfortune and keep Trinity.

In the name of the waters that spring from the earth,
In the name of the rivers to whom they give birth,
In the name of the oceans, the seven deep seas,
All praise to the moon, for eternity.

I then stepped into the space to give the Ancestor Blessing.  This was a role that Will Fox usually performs but sadly he was unable to be with us this Gathering and so it fell to me to fill the gap.  I was wise enough to not even attempt to emulate Will’s unique style but simply went with the energy of that night and talked about the ancestors and what we can learn from them.  I don’t have much recollection of what I said, but apparently I did alright judging by the feedback later.

I ended with calling Sarah back to lead the singing of an Ancestor Chant, accompanied by Chris Neno on the drum.

What followed was an utterly amazing experience that folks  talked about for weeks afterwards.  Here are some excerpts so that you can get a feel for the power of this chant that resonated around the valley on that Dark Gathering night.

 

It was thrilling to hear so many people singing and harmonising together with swaying and stamping their feet to the rhythm.  So powerful.  So evocative.

Laetitia found the Ancestor chant online for me as I was searching for something that everyone could join in with that was universal and of no particular persuasion.  She certainly fulfilled the remit when she found this.

Ancestor Chant

In my blood
In my bones
I hear your voice
I hear your call
Ancestors dance with me
Ancestors chant with me
I hear your voice
I hear your call

 Lila Lily

Lila Lily’s website

By popular demand, this is something that we will repeat each year from now on.  😀

There was only one thing that could possibly follow an experience like this – and that was the Beltane Fire Dance!  This year there was a birthday amongst the performers so Mary Harber of Cwmni Gwerin Pontypwl was chosen to be the central torch bearer – she loved it!  🙂

It was time to give thanks to:

Museum of Witchcraft and Magic

Boscastle Chamber of Commerce

National Trust

Beltane Border Morris

Domesday Border Morris

Wolf’s Head and Vixen Morris

All Osses and Mari Lwyds

Cwmni Gwerin Pontypwl

Tre War Venydh

Sarah Emery and Paul Sumner

Steve Podger

All musicians, marshals and volunteers

The community of Boscastle

It was time to announce next year’s Guest Side which is to be…. <drum roll>

Wild Hunt Bedlam Morris!

Wild Hunt Bedlam Morris

There was only one thing left to do on this 5th Dark Gathering and that was to

‘Haccombe to Death!’

That was it.  All over for another year.  The performers trailed off to get some food, ale and have a knees-up and I would imagine the audience made a bee-line for somewhere warm and sustenance also.

The next All Hallows Dark Gathering will be held on Saturday 26th October 2019.  We’ll see you all there!