All Things Green Man & The Traditional Jack-in-the-Green

Archive for Dec, 2010

Wassailing the Apple Trees

Apple Tree Man © Andy Paciorek

I have reproduced COTGM member Bruce Eaton’s brilliant post on Wassailing the Apple Trees from January 2009 below. For those interested in attending an event Wassailing the Apple Trees will take place in many locations throughout the UK in January 2011. I would like to thank Andy Paciorek for the fantastic Apple Tree Man picture above. You can see more of Andy’s work at: http://www.batcow.co.uk/strangelands

In Carhampton, Somerset Wassailing will take place on Saturday 15th January 2011 (The Saturday nearest to the Old Twelfth Night 17th January). Wassailing will also take place in Brent Knoll at West Croft Cider on the same day.

At Carhampton the wassail celebration takes place in the old orchard behind the Butcher’s Arms, the villagers form a circle around the largest apple tree, hang pieces of toast soaked in cider in the branches for the robins, who represent the ‘good spirits’ of the tree. A shotgun is fired overhead to scare away evil spirits (seen by some as worms and maggots) Four wassailing veterans then line up near the apple trees and launch into a series of wonderful folk songs about cider, some adapted from traditional songs with the lyrics adapted to give them a cider theme! Then brandishing their traditional cider crocks, they sing the Carhampton Wassailing Song:

Old apple tree, we wassail thee,
And hoping thou wilt bear
For the Lord doth know where we shall be
Till apples come another year.
For to bear well, and to bloom well
So merry let us be,
Let every man take off his hat,
And shout to the old apple tree!
Old apple tree, we wassail thee,
And hoping thou wilt bear
Hatfuls, capfuls and three bushel bagsful
And a little heap under the stairs,
Hip, Hip, Hooray!

The last three lines are repeated and the whole crowd join in the chant. When the singing is over and cups empty, people retire inside to listen to a local folkband.

Feel free to add to this post if you have your own Wassailing event for 2011.

So here is Bruce’s article, after which I have reproduced a few more wassailing songs:

The ancient tradition of ‘Wassailing’ the apple trees on the 17th January (Old Twelfth Night) is particularly associated with Somerset and the South West of England, and is one of a number of folk customs termed ‘Wassailing’.  In this instance the aim of the wassail is threefold, to drive evil spirits out of the orchard, to invite the good spirits in and to wake the apple trees up from their winter slumber.  It is also a time to drink copious amounts of scrumpy cider and have a pig roast and a bonfire.

The evil spirits are dealt with easily enough by banging on pots and pans, blowing whistles and maybe firing off a shotgun or two.  This accomplished the wassilers now sing to the apple trees to wake them up.  There are many traditional wassailing songs and different localities have there own versions.  The song below is sung each year at the Butchers Arms pub in Carhampton, Somerset, where they claim to have the oldest continuous apple tree wassail in the country, and is a fairly typical example.

Old apple tree, we wassail thee
And hope that you wilt bear
For the Gods doth know where we shall be
Come apples another year

To bloom well and to bear well
So merry let us be
Let every man take off his hat
And shout out to the old apple tree

Old apple tree, we wassail thee
And hope that you will bear
Hatfuls, capfuls, three bushel bagfuls
And a little heap under the stair

Three cheers for the old apple tree:
Hip, hip, hooray
Hip, hip, hooray
Hip, hip, hooray

Obviously the ‘little heap under the stair’ is more cider brewing.  In some ceremonies the trunk of the tree is knocked on hard with a stick to help wake the tree.  This may also have the beneficial effect of dislodging harmful insects.  Finally the good spirit of the orchard is invited in.  The good spirit is not, however, represented by our old friend the Green Man, but rather by the robin.  Toast soaked in cider is hung amongst the branches of the trees as an offering to the birds.  The robins are also very good at hoovering up any parasitic insects that were dislodged the previous night.

Wassailing the apple trees as a custom very nearly died out in the late 20th century, but clung on in Carhampton and a handful of orchards across Somerset.  In recent years, however, there has been something of a Renaissance in these folk customs and wassails have been cropping up right across the West Country and even further a field.  But what is the antiquity of this custom?  The term wassail is derived from two Old English components, namely ‘waes’ and ‘hael’, meaning literally ‘good health’.  The traditional reply to this ancient toast was supposed to be ‘drinc hael!’ and is first recorded in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain written c.1140.  Some authors dispute this and see ‘waes hael – drinc hael’ as a 12th century confection rather than a genuine Anglo-Saxon toast. In The English Year (2006) Steve Roud looks at the linguistic evidence.

‘Wassail as a general salutation existed in Old Norse as well as in Old English, but the use of the word as a drinking toast is not found in any of the Teutonic languages, and appears to be a peculiarly English formation from the Eleventh or Twelfth century… Later use of the word, in the thirteenth to fifteenth centuries, show that it had undergone a considerable extension of meaning, with wassail meaning a party, or the drink that was enjoyed there, or the words said when drinking, or even the songs that were sung.’

(Roud p.556)

This is no doubt the reason that we have a plethora of folk customs all termed ‘Wassailing’ and is why we cannot trace the antiquity of wassailing the apple trees through etymology.  My personal feeling is that the ceremony pre-dates the name given to it and I strongly suspect pre-Christian and possibly pre-English roots.* And where is my evidence to support this claim?  Well that, like the origin of the Green Man, is proving rather elusive.

[1][*] The expansion of the English kingdom of Wessex into the territory of Dumnonia, a British kingdom which encompassed south Somerset, Devon and Dorset, only happened late in the 7th century, by which time Wessex had officially converted to Christianity.

And here are another two Wassailing songs:

Gloucestershire Wassail (Traditional)

Wassail, wassail all over the town
Our toast it is white and our ale it is brown
Our bowl it is made of the white maple tree
With the wassailing bowl, we’ll drink to thee

So here is to Cherry and to his right cheek
Pray God send our master a good piece of beef
And a good piece of beef that may we all see
With the wassailing bowl, we’ll drink to thee

And here is to Dobbin and to his right eye
Pray God send our master a good Christmas pie
A good Christmas pie that may we all see
With the wassailing bowl, we’ll drink to thee

So here is to Broad Mary and to her broad horn
May God send our master a good crop of corn
And a good crop of corn that may we all see
With the wassailing bowl, we’ll drink to thee

And here is to Fillpail and to her left ear
Pray God send our master a happy New Year
And a happy New Year as e’er he did see
With the wassailing bowl, we’ll drink to thee

And here is to Colly and to her long tail
Pray God send our master he never may fail
A bowl of strong beer! I pray you draw near
And our jolly wassail it’s then you shall hear

Come butler, come fill us a bowl of the best
Then we hope that your soul in heaven may rest
But if you do draw us a bowl of the small
Then down shall go butler, bowl and all

Then here’s to the maid in the lily white smock
Who tripped to the door and slipped back the lock
Who tripped to the door and pulled back the pin
For to let these jolly wassailers in.

 

Gower Wassail (Traditional / Phil Tanner)

A-wassail, a-wassail, throughout all this town.
Our cup it is white and our ale it is brown.
Our wassail is made of the good ale and cake,.
Some nutmeg and ginger, the best we could get.

Al di dal – al di dal di dal
Al di dal di dal – al di dal di dee
Al de deral – al de derry
Sing too rel I do

Our wassail is made of an elderberry bough.
Although my good neighbour, we’ll drink unto thou..
Besides all on earth, we’ll have apples in store,
Pray let us come in for it’s cold by the door.

We know by the moon that we are not too soon,.
And we know by the sky that we are not too high,.
We know by the star that we are not too far,.
And we know by the ground that we are within sound.

Now master and mistress if you are within
Pray send out your maid with her lily-white skin
For to open the door without more delay
Our time it is precious and we cannot stay

Here’s a health to our Colley and her croo’ed horn
May God send her Master a good crop of corn
Of barley and wheat and all sorts of grain
May God send her Mistress a long life to reign

Now master and mistress – thanks to you we’ll give
And for our jolly wassail as long as we live
And if we should live til another new year
Perhaps we may call and see who do live here


The Green Man (A Carol)

I recently discovered Clive Andersons wonderful poem “The Green Man” has been put to music by Lynn Noel and is now sung as a Yuletide Carol by the Paperbag Mummers of Waltham Massachusetts. It seems a perfect way for the poem to evolve and hopefully wind its way into future generations.

A Merry Yuletide and Happy Christmas to all members of The Company of the Green Man

THE GREEN MAN

William Anderson arr. L. Noel 1990

Like antlers, like veins of the brain the birches
Mark patterns of mind on the red winter sky;
I am thought of all plants, says the Green Man
I am thought of all plants, says he. (REFRAIN)

The hungry birds harry the last berries of rowan
But white is her bark in the darkness of rain
I rise with the sap…

The ashes are clashing their boughs like sword-dancers
Their black buds do trace a wild face in the clouds
I come with the wind….

The alders are rattling as though ready for battle
Guarding the grove where she waits for her lover
I burn with desire….

In and out of the yellowing wands of the willow
The pollen-bright bees are plundering the catkins
I am honey of love….

The hedges of quick are thick with May blossom
As the dancers advance on the leaf-covered King
It’s off with my head….

Green Man becomes grown man in flames of the oak
As its crown forms his mask and its leafage his features
I speak through the oak….

The holly is flowering as hayfields are rolling
Their gleaming long grasses like waves of the sea
I shine with the sun….

The hazels are rocking the cups of their nuts
As the harvesters shout when the last sheaf is cut
I swim with the salmon…

The globes of the grapes are robing with bloom
Like the hazes of autumn, like the Milky Way’s stardust
I am crushed for your drink….

The aspen drops silver of leaves on earth’s salver
And the poplars shed gold on the young ivy heads
I have paid for your pleasure….

The reed beds are flanking in silence the islands
Where meditates Wisdom as she waits and waits
I have kept her secret….

The bark of the elder makes whistles for children
To call to the deer as they rove over the snow
I am born in the dark….


The Apple Tree Man

A Carol arranged by Lynn Noel (From a traditional Somerset tale)

In Somerset there lived two sons of a farmer who passed away
The elder son was vain and mean, the younger merry and gay
The elder son was left the farm, to his brother naught gave he
Save a tiny plot with a feeble ox, a donkey and apple tree.

(chorus) Old apple tree, we’ll wassail thee and hoping thou wilt bear
The Lord doth know where we shall be to be merry another year
To blow well and to bear well and so merry let us be
Let everyone drink up a cup, here’s health to the old apple tree.

Good husbandman was the younger son, he tended the ox and ass
He patched their stable walls and roof and he led them to sweet grass
And he poured the cider round about and a wassail song sang he
To the spirit guard of the orchard wood, the Man of the Apple Tree.

(insert chorus after every first, second or third verse as audience & time permit)

On Christmas Eve the rent from him his brother did demand
And at midnight the elder should summon him to where treasure lay on the land
To the farmer spoke the Apple Tree Man in a voice so rich and rare
“Go dig beneath the apple tree, the treasure awaits you there.”

The younger son went to the tree and he dug as he was told
And there beneath the roots he found a wooden chest heavy with gold.
Hide it away, it now is yours,” said the voice from out the tree
“And your brother call to the stable door as he bids you, merrily.”

The elder son came silently, to the stable door did creep
And the ox and ass, as was foretold, of the treasure they did speak.
“He thinks to learn, the greedy fool, where the treasure lies from me,”
Said the ox and then the ass replied, “Twas taken long since from the tree.”

The Apple Tree Man spoke not a word as he stood in the orchard good
But shook with mirth and an apple rolled to his feet where the farmer stood.
So the greedy son he went without while the wise one prospered free
And each Christmastide for all his days he wassailed the Apple Tree. (chorus)

Merry Yuletide to all members of  The Company of the Green Man

WASSAIL!


New Company Artwork

I am extremely grateful to COTGM member Rob Stephens for creating this fantastic fan art for The Company of the Green Man.  I am  proud to adopt this as our new logo. Watch this space for the official COTGM T-Shirt incorporating Rob’s design coming soon.

You can find out more about Rob and his work at http://mildinthecountry.tumblr.com/ or www.satansbrand.co.uk.

Thanks Rob!


Green Man Encounter

Sean Breadin drew my attention to a letter in the July 2010 edition of Fortean Times written by Nick Skerten from London:
One summer afternoon in 2007, I was returning from central London and my train had spent a few too many minutes idling at the platform in New Malden station. Lost in thought, I had been looking out of the window at nothing in particular when I suddenly saw something that made me gasp out loud. At the far end of the London-bound platform is a thick bank of trees and shrubs behind a fence. I was astonished to see what appeared to be an enormous face made up of the surrounding foliage looming out at the opposite platform and looking very similar to the typical appearance of the ‘Green Man’, as seen in church carvings. The face was about 5ft (1.5m) in diameter and about 7ft (2m) or so from the ground.
I was amazed how perfect the face seemed to be-though at the same time I knew it was just my brain demonstrating its knack for face recognition in random patterns. I probably gazed in wonder for 20-odd seconds before the most shocking thing happened.
Suddenly, and with tremendous velocity, the entire face withdrew backwards into the vegetation, which caused the surrounding bushes and trees to sway violently. Most strikingly of all, a branch that must have been under the ‘face’ swung upwards with immense force-as if a huge weight had been lifted from it-before smacking into the surrounding greenery and, I suppose, reassuming its original position. This whole motion took about a second and the face had completely disappeared! I could accept that a fox or even a human might have been sitting on the branches and had jumped off, causing them to bounce back into position, but this would not easily account for the very distinct retraction of the face, as if it was wrenched backwards into a tunnel.
The face in no way looked constructed or man-made and seemed to consist of a natural, though utterly remarkable, arrangement. The features of the thing were clear to see and I was particularly struck by the grinning mouth and staring eyes. Quite how the verdant visage was sucked backwards I have no idea. I have often wondered how, or indeed why, anyone would have achieved this bizarre effect for bored South West Trains passengers. The train drew away and I sat back in my chair feeling strangely unnerved. On all my subsequent journeys through the station I have never seen anything like this again.

I managed to get in contact with Nick to ask his permission to reproduce the letter and to see if there was anything else he would add. Nick commented that: “There was no-one near me when I saw this weird thing, which is slightly frustrating! I was travelling back from town after doing some shopping. It was a very sunny day and I suppose the train had been waiting for a good two minutes before I noticed the face in the leaves. I hadn’t been staring out of the window all of that time and it was, as I recall, the moment I looked at the bushes that I saw the face. I’ve always had a good look at that bank of trees whenever I pass through New Malden station on the train, but it’s always looked like a rather standard bush and nothing else. It was, though, the terrific suction that seemed to be exerted on the face as it was wrenched back into the shrubbery that I found so inexplicable. The violence of the exit and the massive swaying of branches and foliage was quite spectacular and just left me feeling really surprised and shocked. I only wish now that I had got out of the train and gone to investigate the opposite platform, but, alas, I didn’t, so I’m left with the mystery.”
Nick was also kind enough to sketch the drawing which is included on this post. Nick’s description is fascinating and I must admit that I can offer no rational explanation for his experience. This is the only record that I can find of a sighting of this kind, ghostly figures dressed in green and the children of woolpit don’t even come close, and the only image that I have seen that partially resembles this is of a brilliant piece of topiary in a garden in Wiltshire. If anyone else has heard of a sighting of this kind either present day or historical we would love to hear from you.