Thursday, May 18, 2017

Maybe it`s just me but you would think that I would have more `important` things on my mind.  But ever since I posted some stuff about the May Day celebrations in Padstow, the music - as it invariably does - has been playing on my mind, to the extent that I just can`t seem to shift it.  

Now I`m not talking about the hauntingly repetitive song that insistently declares that `summer is acome unto day.`  Instead, I`ve become almost obsessed with the Dirge.  You see, throughout the whole event, the Evening Song and the Day Song are accompanied by massed accordions and pulsating drumbeats and all the while, the Obby Oss twists, turns and cavorts to the beckoning of the Teaser.  

But there comes a point - a lull in proceedings - when the Oss falls to the ground, either out of exhaustion or as a determined reference to the dying of winter.  The accordions and the drums fall silent and the Dirge is taken up, unaccompanied, by the assembled throng.  It seems to consist of a stanza full of unconnected lines, random phrases and oblique references to St. George and `Aunt Ursula Birdwood.`   So you can see why the Dirge puzzles and intrigues me.   It goes like this:-

O where is Saint George
O where is he now?
He`s out in his longboat
All on the salt sea O.

Up flies the kite.
Down falls the lark O.
Aunt Ursula Birdhood
She had an old ewe.
And she lies in her own parc O.

And at about 6 minutes into this video, you can hear it as it was sung in Padstow in 2016........

At the end of the Dirge, the Oss leaps up with renewed vigour to signify that summer has indeed acome, the accordions strike up and with the drums beating again the procession through the town resumes. 

Now I`ve done a bit of digging around and it seems possible that the reference to St. George implies a strong connection with the Solar Deity, whose Saints Day is around 1st May.  "He`s out in his longboat....." might well refer to a funeral ship, thus referring to the death and rebirth of St. George through the choreographed fall and rise of the Oss.  It was often the custom in the distant past to place an important body, along with all his or her worldly goods, in a ship; put it to sea and even set it ablaze.

As for Aunt Ursula Birdhood, her appearance in the Dirge might allude to the Saxon Bear-Goddess, Ursel.  The constellation of the Big Dipper, Ursa Major, is often called the Great Bear.  Ursel is another Deity, this time the Moon Goddess, who was canonised and made Saint Ursula by early Christians.

But, these speculations aside, the mystery of the true origins of the Dirge remain and so when I am next in Padstow, in October, I will pay a visit to the local museum so that my inquisitive mind might be satisfied, at least until next May.

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