“Our hats are standard bowlers, painted white and decorated with flowers and jewellery. Six strands of navy blue ribbon, about three feet long, are attached to the hatband at the back – and can make a nuisance of themselves when we dance in strong winds, as they wrap themselves around arms, garlands and faces.
We wear white collarless shirts, with a gold sash that goes twice around the waist in the style of a cummerbund and is tied and pinned at the inside hip.
We also wear a red sash that goes over the inside shoulder and is pinned at the outside hip. This asymmetric arrangement of the sashes means that you are dancing in either the left hand or the right hand file – but not both, at least not in any one ‘spot’. (Unless you’ve tried it, you would not believe how long it takes to put those sashes on!)
Our breeches are navy blue corduroy, with three gilt (brass) buttons on the outside of each leg just above the hem.
Our footwear is the traditional black clogs that are one of the trademarks of the North West Morris dance …”.
After a long, dark, wet, mild winter, punctuated by horrible flooding that left a tangle of human and environmental challenges in its wake, the return of spring has been eagerly awaited in the valley. A fine gathering of morris teams lifted our spirits recently. They were all good, but I particularly liked the floral hats worn by Rumworth Morris from Bolton. (the above comes from their website.)
We’re just back from another trip to Wharfedale, where the woodland floors were jewelled with violets, primroses, and wood anemones. There’s something special about the colour of primroses. The name apparently derives from the Old French Primerose, or the medieval Latin, prima rosa, first rose. It comes as no surprise to find them associated with love, protection, and faery lore. In North Yorkshire spring garlands of green leaves, primroses, and buttercups, were made to welcome spring, and confer good fortune.(1)
Robert Graves declared that ‘the lotus crowned goddess in the Corinthian Mysteries … must be worshipped in her ancient quintuple person, whether by counting the petals of lotus or primrose, as Birth, Initiation, Consummation, Repose, and Death’.(2) Fiveness is said to be about ‘the creation of order out of chaos, bringing together things that are naturally separate into a formal relationship with one another’ (3). In alchemy the quintessence is present in the four elements, not as a separate substance, but as the pre-exisiting spirit which all possess in common, and by which they are united. (4)
But Spring is also a site of struggle. Other-than-human-persons don’t spend all their time ‘respecting’ each other. We watched female bee-flies, hovering, their long proboscises dangling ahead of them, depositing eggs, with a sudden darting movement, into the nest holes of solitary bees. The larval stage of bombyliidae parasitises bees, wasps, or beetles -but (I find myself speaking as the anthropocentrically judgemental liberal here) some varieties redeem themselves as important pollinators.
We also came upon a contented looking Stinking Helleborine, that, like the primrose, embodies fiveness in its petal-like sepals. The stinking helleborine’s flowers are, however, tinged with maroon, and it sometimes smells of wet dog, alerting us, hopefully, to the disconcerting fact that the plant contains toxins that can induce nausea, vomiting, diahorrea, headaches, mental confusion, numbness of extremities, hypotension, muscular spasms, cardiorespiratory failure, and finally death. Some of the poisons can be absorbed through the skin. see here.
I was not in any mood to dwell upon katabatic powers, however. Pulled on by April sunshine, I embarked upon what turned out to be the longest walk that my rather challenged body has managed in many a year with no small help from the invigorating powers and presences of the Wharfedale landscape. Birks Fell, a beautiful hill with an elongated ‘snout’ resembling the prow of an upturned boat, or perhaps the tail of a limestone whale, formed by, and marking, the confluence of the Wharfe and Skirfare, pulled my heart strings from across the finely sculpted valley, and put a spring in my step.
(1) Margaret Baker Discovering the Folklore of Plants, Shire.
(2) Robert Graves, The White Goddess.
(3) David Hamblin, Harmonic Charts, A New Dimension in Astrology.
(4) Paul F. Cowlan An Alchemical Countdown; The Quintessence, Four Elements, Tria Prima, etc, Alembic, 2010.