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.
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
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
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
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!
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!