Tag Archives: Walpurgisnacht

A Patch-work May Day Entertainment: 1904

May Day 1903

At a May Day entertainment given last year a popular hostess noted the fact that there was repeated controversy among her guests concerning May Day traditions and ancient customs among various nations, which gave her an Idea for this year’s novel May party. She has chosen for her guests all the members of her literary club, and other friends who are fond of literary research and competition. To a certain number she has assigned the task of searching out and describing quaint May Day celebrations whose origins have been lost in the mists of remote antiquity. Others have been requested to describe the customs that have been handed down from our Gothic ancestors. Still others will describe quaint celebrations that have their origin in the Floralia of the Romans. The strange May festivals of the ancient Druids, and the May games which Christianity finally adopted from these, will also be brought up for consideration, with prizes awarded (of course) for the best papers on the various subjects. But the most interesting feature of the entertainment will be the acting out of many curious customs.

As the entertainment will be given on the eve of May Day, the festivities will be continued until the “Meeting of the Dew” may be celebrated in the early hours of May Day morning. When the people of ancient Edinburgh used to assemble at Arthur’s Seat to “meet the dew” May dew was thought to possess all kinds of virtues. Even the English girls went into the field to wash their faces in it at dawn, in order to procure a good complexion. Samuel Pepys records in his delightful diary that his wife has gone to Woolwich for a little change of air “and to gather the May dew.” This form of celebration would have to be omitted when the entertainment is given in a city home, but as our hostess has spacious grounds surrounding her suburban house, the “meeting of the dew” will be a novel feature of the celebration.

Another quaint festivity that can be carried out on the lawn if desired, but which might also be celebrated as a parlor dance for a city home, is the German Walpurglsnacht, and although the witches may not “ride up the Brocken on magpies’ tails,” their weird dance may be celebrated—the witches who dance on the Brocken until they have danced away the winter’s snow.

The “Parade of Sweeps” will be an interesting feature of the entertainment. It is said that the parade of sweeps in bowers of greenery lingered on rather longer in England than May poles. It is supposed to have originated in this way—and this story will be told by one of those to whom the searching for English festivities has been assigned. Edward Wortley Montagu (born about 1714) who later was destined to win celebrity by still stranger freaks, escaped when a boy from Westmont School, and borrowed the cloths of a chimney sweep, in whose trade he became an adept. A long search led to his discovery and restoration to his parents on May 1, in recollection of which event Mrs. Elizabeth Montagu is said to have instituted the May Day feast given by her for many years to the London chimney sweepers. A few of the guests who are humorously inclined will don costumes of the old-time chimney sweeps, and after their mirth-provoking “dance of the sweeps,” will retain the costume while acting the clown during the remainder of the entertainment.

The final celebration before the May Day breakfast—which will be served shortly after midnight, in the earliest hours of May Day morning—will be patterned after a quaint custom in Lorraine, in which jokes on individual guests will play an important part. In Lorraine, girls dressed in white go from village to village stringing off couplets in which the inhabitants are turned into somewhat unmerciful ridicule. The girls of this place enlighten the people of that as to their small failings, and vice versa. The village poets harvest the jokes made by one community at the expense of another, in order to shape them into a consecutive whole for recital on May Day. The girls are rewarded for their part in the business by small coin, cakes and fruit.

Although the idea of reward and of going from village to village for adaptable jokes will not be carried out, this can be made a charming feature of the festivity. To a number of practical jokers has been assigned the task of forming into laughable couplets all the faults and failings or peculiarities of the various guests, and while the unpleasant sting of personality will be avoided, by omitting mention of any particular guest in connection with the various accusations, there will be continual sport In choosing the guest to whom the joke seems most applicable.

Caldecott, Randolph, 1846-1886; May Day

Caldecott, Randolph; May Day; Manchester Art Gallery; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/may-day-204629

Several quaint old-time dances will be Introduced during the evening; but as no May Day party can be quite complete without the English dance around the May pole, a flower-decked pole will be a feature of the parlor decorations. And after the final May dance in good old English style about this pole, each guest will receive as a souvenir one of its gay silk streamers and a floral wreath or garland. Phebe Westcott Humphreys.

The Country Gentleman, Volume 69, 1904: p. 378

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil finds the whole thing a contrived, patch-work sort of entertainment. What sane hostess would try to cram academic papers, dew, dancing witches, and the May Pole into a single party?  One might even call it a “crazy quilt.” Witches and May Poles and Sweeps, oh my!

To be Relentlessly Informative, Mrs. Elizabeth Montague, who died in 1800, gave for many years a May-day entertainment to the chimney-sweeps of London at her house in Portman Square. These sooty guests were regaled with roast beef and plum-pudding, and a dance succeeded, while each of them received a shilling on his departure.

Mrs Daffodil has written before on the Ideal and the Real May Day, as well as some other over-elaborate May Day pageants and a parody of Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s bumpity-thumpity poem, The May Queen, adapted for inclement weather, as is Britain’s wont on that day.

 

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

 

Nanny the Witch: 1820s

That bewitching person over at Haunted Ohio suggested to Mrs Daffodil that a Walpurgisnacht post might be amusing and instructive.

A CUMBERLAND WITCH

By Mrs. J. Allsopp

I have been asked by some friends interested in occult subjects to record some information which came to me in my youth, as likely to prove interesting to others. The facts narrated were told to me by my grandmother, who had personally known the author of the proceedings.

About a hundred years ago near the small town of Brampton, in Cumberland, lived a woman who went by the name of Nanny. She was supposed by the country-folk to be a witch, and to have the power to ill-wish and overlook. The people stood in great awe of her and treated her with a fearful respect. Some envied her powers, others conciliated her as much as possible. She was the usual referendum when things were lost, and could always tell where they were. It chanced that my grandfather, who kept a large dairy farm, had for some time been annoyed by the loss of his butter firkins. This became more and more frequent, and as he could not catch the thief, he decided to seek Nanny’s aid in the matter. A neighbour offered to accompany him, as he was rather nervous. As they approached her dwelling she came out and called to my grandfather before he had the chance to speak, “Don’t come any farther, the man who has your firkins is with you.” And it turned out to be true. The man had the firkins.

She was of a rather peculiar appearance, and a less terrible person than she would have been subjected to ridicule. It happened one day that she was going past a farm where the maidens were washing in the open air. As she passed they laughed at her. She stopped, came back and said: “Ye may laugh and dance till I choose ye to stop.” And they began to laugh and dance, and nothing would make them cease. At last in desperation their master went to the old woman and prayed her on bended knees to forgive the girls. This she did, but they had danced twenty-four hours.

It is said that she once entered a house and all the doors both upstairs and down flew violently open. She is supposed to have uttered many prophecies. Her most famous one is that regarding an important local family. This was that when the church bell should toll without hands in L__ church and the hare litter on the hearth-stone great misfortune would happen to them. This did actually come to pass. The church, fallen into ruins almost, gave free ingress to the cattle, and a cow got in and caught her horns in the bell rope, causing the bell to ring. At N__, their ancestral home, a hare got into a disused room and littered on the hearth. Strange as it may seem, a long period of misfortune ensued.

I have said that her power was envied by some. A girl who had watched her very closely for some time, greatly desired to be as clever as she was. She met her one day and plucked up courage to tell her so. “All right, lass,” said the old dame, “come to my cottage to-night at midnight and see thou tell no one, and thou shalt be as clever as I am.” Greatly elated, the girl determined to do as she was bidden, and at midnight sought the lonely cottage of Nanny. She entered shrinkingly, but Nanny assured her there was nothing to fear. Then she asked her if she really meant what she had said that afternoon. Nanny was assured that she did. “Well then,” said Nanny, “put thy hand on thy head and the other under thy foot and say ‘All’s the Devil’s,’ and thou must really mean it.” There was a terrific burst of thunder, and the girl fled in terror from the cottage. This story about the girl had a very weird effect on me. When I retired that night, it seemed that some one stood by the bed and urged me to repeat Nanny’s words. It became a terrible strife of wills and lasted all night. I insisted on saying “All’s the Lord’s.” It passed with the day, but in the morning the bed was saturated with perspiration, and for many years after I dared not sleep alone. How can these things be accounted for?

Many are the tales still current in the country-side about Nanny. The day she died there was the most awful thunderstorm ever known in those parts. The lightning ran along the ground and the thunder was terrific. She is buried in the tiny churchyard of the old Saxon church of Denton, near Carlisle.

The Occult Review December 1921: p. 341-3

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:   Nanny seems to have followed the traditional “cunning-woman” career path of “overlooking” (with the Evil Eye), telling the future, finding lost or stolen objects, and dealing out retribution to those who crossed her. The young ladies were fortunate that they weren’t forced to dance until their feet were worn off, as in the old tale.

When “The Queen of Scottish Witches,” Isobel Gowdie, confessed her witchery in 1662, she declared that she “did put the on of my handis to the crowne of my head and the uther to the sole of my foot, and then renuncet all betuixt my two handis, ower to the Divell.” This hands-on method of dedicating oneself to His Satanic Majesty’s service is found in a number of witch testimonials.

Mrs Daffodil fails to understand why a simple job interview or visit to a hiring fair was not sufficient, but H.S.M. does seem to have a flair for the dramatic: fiery whiz-bang entrances, sulphurous exits, pacts signed in blood, etc. etc. It has often been said that “the Devil walks as a gentleman,” but no gentleman would be caught dead outside of a fancy-dress ball in those red tights.

There are quite a few fascinating posts about witches and witchcraft on the Haunted Ohio site.  Bagging a Witch in Ohio gives a look at New World beliefs, while The Witch Wreath at the Museum tells of sinister feather crowns found in the pillows of the dying, and The Poear Dear and the Wicked Woman: A Suffolk Witch Story. shares the vernacular story of a “spite” accidentally laid on a wife instead of the husband for whom it was meant.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.