Tag Archives: Folk

The Ten Grandmothers; Epic of the Kiowas by Alice Marriot – Book Review

The Ten Grandmothers covers the history of the transition of Kiowa culture during roughly a 100 year period between 1847 and 1944 in an epic linear narrative.  As a work of history and anthropology, this book reads as compellingly as good fiction, with the profound depth of meaning as mythology.




The chapter Going Away was the most compelling to me.  This chapter takes place in 1883 with Grass Stem, the son of Hunting Horse and Spear Woman.  Once Grass Stem emerged from the school house in his blue trousers and white shirt, with his hair cut, his earrings removed and with the new name Stanley Hunt, it was clear that Kiowa life had changed permanently.  Nothing else up to this point in the book had quite the same impact regarding the changes to Kiowa life, not the coming of the first white traders, not the near extinction of the buffalo, not even the ending of the Sundance.  At the point Grass Stem is renamed, we get a glimpse not only of what has been lost in Kiowa culture, but the future of it.

The Ten Grandmothers is written in a literary style that reminds me of one of my favorite books, Seven Arrows by Hyemeyohsts Storm.  It similarly follows the interactions of the Cheyenne, Crow and Sioux in a mythologized fashion over a period of several generations from before the arrival of the white man.  It progresses into the modern era using the old stories and the symbolism of the Sundance in order to convey the teachings of the Medicine Wheel.




Being written from a multi-generational perspective within the same families is what makes The Ten Grandmothers so effective in capturing the sense of change and adaptation from the freedom of life on the prairie to the 20th century.

The story ends with a strong sense of melancholy nostalgia as Spear Woman recounts all the events of the past to her granddaughter while they make their way to the buffalo park.  The buffalo have returned, only this time they are raised behind the fence, like the Kiowa.  And their appearance at the end of the book serves as a beacon that there is an as of yet unwritten future for both the buffalo and the Kiowa.



Here We Come A-Wassailing; The Roots of a Christmas Tradition

It’s not Christmas without Christmas carols.  Many of our most traditional carols are filled with lyrics and lines that leave the modern caroler bewildered.  One of my favorite holiday tunes is “Here We Come A-Wassailing,” also commonly known as “Here We Come A-Caroling.”  Just what is wassailing?  Is it just an archaic word for Christmas caroling?  Actually no, it isn’t.  While the two terms have become generally accepted as interchangeable, caroling is just one aspect of a much deeper and more profound tradition of wassailing.

wassail

Wassail is also a common name for a variety of mulled or spiced beverages such as apple cider, served hot and traditional during the winter months, especially at Christmastime.  In medieval England wassail was a common fermented drink, a type of ale, or mead, served with bread or toast and consumed ceremonially and socially like beer or wine in modern society.  Typical ingredients of wassail included sweetened apple cider, spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger.  Modern popular varieties may use a fruit juice, ale, or wine as a base, sometimes spiked with liquor.  Originating in England, wassail was traditionally used as a beverage for making important ceremonial toasts, a ritual closely related to the sumble.  The word itself is derived from the Middle English term waes hael, which means “good health to you.”  Similarly it corresponds to the Old English “wes hal,” and the Old Norse “ves heill.”

wassail-herveygoat2

In ancient Europe, wassailing was an important element in the highly tree oriented Anglo-Saxon religious complex.  The Yuletide rite consisted of a parade of revelers singing hymns and playing their drums and other musical instruments, roving between the orchards, leaving offerings and pouring libations.  The ceremony was intended to awaken the apple trees and chase away malevolent spirits in order that the trees should be healthy and produce an abundant crop the following year.  Hot mulled cider, prepared from the recent harvest was the traditional and symbolic drink consumed and offered at these ceremonies.

During the medieval period, under feudalism the wassail developed into a midwinter ritual in which the wealthy Lord would distribute goods from his storehouses to the peasants who worked his lands.  In exchange for gifts of his best foods, beers, ales, and wines, the Lord could be assured his people’s allegiance and fealty for the next year.  During the late sixteenth century, bands of young men would travel from orchard to orchard on Twelfth Night, performing the wassailing rite.  They would take their wassail bowl with them and leave offerings of bread or toast on the roots or branches of trees.  Libations of cider were poured on the roots in order that the trees would produce an abundant harvest the following year.  Wassailing cups and bowls were important communal ceremonial items used within all levels or society.  Wassail vessels came in many varieties from the large and intricately decorated silver goblet used by the Worshipful Company of Grocers guild, to the simple white maple bowls used by commoners.

santa-Wassail

During the later historical era wassailing became associated with roving bands of the poor who would descend upon their wealthy neighbors’ homes at Christmastime.  Singing and dancing, they wassailers would demand entrance into the house, and shares of the residents’ best liquors and deserts.  This rite is forever enshrined in the words to the popular carol We Wish You a Merry Christmas; “Now give us some figgy pudding,” and “we won’t go until we get some!”  The estate’s owner was fully expected to play along and contribute to the “good cheer.”  If he didn’t, he could expect his reputation to plummet and possibly his property vandalized.  The old Yuletide holiday was celebrated in a fashion more similar to Halloween and trick-or-treat than to our modern Christmas. This drunken disorderliness is one of the reasons used to outlaw Christmas celebrations by the newly empowered puritans in the Commonwealth of England during the mid seventeenth century.  Over the past few centuries, the roving gangs of wassailers have become tamed into the serene image of the Christmas caroler singing from door to door in the white winter weather, sipping on hot apple-cider.  The hooligan shaking down the neighborhood for treats has been reserved for Halloween.

Wassailing in the old way however, is still practiced especially in the cider-producing western counties of England.   In Carhamptona and Whimple, Wassails are held on Twelfth Night, January 17th*, as a means of asking God to bless the community with a healthy orchard and a plentiful apple harvest.  A Wassail king and, queen are selected to lead a procession from orchard to orchard as the participants sing and play music.  During this rite, the wassailers drink large droughts of cider until they are quite full of good cheer. Upon entering an orchard the participants form a circle around the largest apple tree.  The Wassail queen is lifted into the branches where she leaves a piece of toast dipped in wassail as an offering to the “tree faeries,” or the “good spirits,” commonly represented by the local robins.  A blessing to the tree is recited and near the conclusion of the ceremony a man fires a shotgun in the air to frighten away the evil spirits.  Then the revelers begin beating drums, some using pots and pans while singing a traditional invocation for a rich harvest before proceeding to the next orchard.  A popular wassailing song from nineteenth century Somerset County, England went as follows;

 

“Apple tree, apple tree, we all come to wassail thee,

Bear this year and next year to bloom and to blow,

Hat fulls, cap fulls, three cornered sack fills,

Hip, Hip, Hip, hurrah, Holler biys, holler hurrah.”[5]

 

Another old lyric from England says;

 

“Wassaile the trees, that they may beare

You many a Plum and many a Peare,

For more or lesse fruits they will bring,

As you do give them Wassailing.”

 

Our modern tradition of wassailing has taken an intriguing path on its way to us.   Now we can make a little more sense out of the opening lines of that old favorite at Christmastime.  “Here we come a-wassailing among the leaves so green,” is reminiscent of the old ritual of visiting the orchards, singing to the health of the apple trees to ensure the following year’s harvest.

“Love and Joy come to you,

and to you your wassail too,

And God bless you and send you a happy new year.”

* The date of Twelfth Night is in dispute in certain parts of Britain.  The date on the Gregorian calendar corresponds to January 6th, or the eve of January 5th.  The pre-Gregorian, Julian date which is followed by the old traditionalists falls on January 17th.

Eight Christmas Characters Most Americans Don’t Know

To most Americans Santa Claus is the face of the Christmas season popularized most heavily by the poem T’was the Night before Christmas which essentially codified the Santa tradition in the United States.  Based heavily off of the earlier European models like Sinterklaas, Father Christmas, Old Man Winter, and of course St. Nicolas, the poem took these old world variations and developed the jolly old elf we know and love today, complete with his sleigh and eight tiny reindeer.  Rudolf would have to wait until much later to be introduced into the mythology.  But throughout Europe there is a broad range of Christmas characters less familiar to Americans, who reveal the richness of this holiday tradition.  Here are eight Christmas characters most Americans don’t know.

 

1) Yule Lads

In Iceland, 13 mischievous Yule Lads start coming to town one a day beginning thirteen days before Christmas, each one staying for two weeks.  They appear to be quite troublesome spirits, partaking in all sorts of impish behavior, robbing, pulling pranks on, and generally harassing the townspeople.  Each of the thirteen Yule Lads or Yulemen have rather unique names that express the character of their misdeeds such as Meat-Hook, Window-Peeper, and Sausage-Swiper.

the-icelandic-yule-lads

 

2) Christkind

Christkind is the Christ child, or the baby Jesus.  While Christmas is commonly celebrated as the birth of Christ, He is typically not thought of as the Christmas gift-giver in the United States.  In several Eastern European and Latin American countries this little Jesus comes secretly and leaves presents for the children set up around the Christmas tree. Christkind was popularized by Martin Luther during the Protestant Reformation as a reaction against the overly Catholic symbol of St. Nicolas.  He is usually depicted as an angelic child complete with wings.  The name Christkind has been suggested as the origin of Kris Cringle, one of Santa Claus’ many names.

3) Knecht Ruprecht

In German folklore the Servant Rupert, is a companion of Sinterklaas.  He is depicted as a man with a long beard, dressed in fur, covered in soot, carrying a walking staff and a sack of ashes with jingle-bells hanging from his clothes.  He is sometimes in the company of fairies and men with blackened skin dressed as old women.  When he arrives, he asks the children if they know how to pray.  Those children who can are rewarded with fruits, nuts and cookies.  Those children who cannot pray, he beats with his sack of ashes.  In the shoes of naughty children he places lumps of coal, rocks, or switches for their parents to use in spanking them.

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4) Befana

To Americans witches are associated with Halloween and are the furthest things from our minds during the season of cheer and good will.  That’s not the case in Italy where the Befana is the popular symbol of the Christmas season.  Befana is an old woman who brings presents to the good Italian children on January 5, the Eve of the Epiphany.  Instead of a jolly old elf, she is known as a raucous and shameless Witch.  Instead of a sleigh, Befana flies through the air on that most traditional instrument of witchy aeronautics, her broom.  For the good children she leaves presents and candies in their socks. For the bad children she leaves a lump of coal.

 

5) Krampus

Krampus is a popular Christmas spirit especially around Austria and Hungary.  A traveling companion of St. Nicolas, he is charged with punishing the naughty children.  He appears as a fearsome beast like a goat dressed in black rags, carrying old heavy chains.    Some traditions tell that Krampus is the devil and the chains are representative of his servitude in Hell.  At the beginning of December, especially on the night of December 5, men don regalia made from goat-hair, hideously detailed masks with red horns, long tongues and chains.  They get drunk and wander the city streets with switches to threaten and frighten the children.  Late at night, when St. Nicolas is preparing to visit a house and leave his presents, the children are warned that they must go to sleep and not try to peak out and catch a glimpse of St. Nicolas, otherwise the Krampus might snatch them up and carry them away in his sack.

Krampus27

6) Zwarte Piet

Zwarte Piet (Black Peter) is an elfin figure with blackened skin stained from the soot of all the chimneys down which he descends on Christmas.  A popular character in Belgium and the Netherlands, Zwarte Piet is a companion of Sinterklaas and shows up during the weeks preceding the Feast of St. Nicolas.  The Zwarte Pieten entertain children and toss out cookies and candies.  The origin of Zwarte Piet is mysterious.  One tradition says that Sinterklaas defeated Satan and pressed him into service but, in the 19th century Zwarte Piet was remade to resemble a Moor.  Some traditions say that he was a slave named Peter, rescued and liberated by the Sinterklaas, becoming his regular companion.  In modern festivals Zwarte Piet is depicted with black skin, red lips, dressed in bright, colorful Renaissance attire.  To the good children Zwarte Piet brings presents and candy.  For the bad children he carries a bundle of birch branches for their parents to use in punishing them.  Especially naughty children face the prospect of Zwarte Piet throwing them in a giant sack and spiriting them away to Spain.

 

7) Tió de Nadal

The tradition of Tió de Nadal comes out certain regions of Spain such as Catalonia and Aragon.  In some ways it bears a striking resemblance to the Yule Log, common in Anglo and Germanic countries.  The iconic Tió is a hollowed out log, roughly one foot in length, often with one end painted with a smiling face, set up as a decoration in certain households.  Beginning on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8, and throughout the Christmas season the Log is cared for like an idol.  He is treated with offerings of food every night from the Feast until Christmas.  At night someone in the house will cover the Log with a quilt to keep him warm.  Although similar in theme to the Germanic Yule Log, the Tió differs in a quite profound and rather unique manner.  Another name for the Tió de Nadal is Caga tió, or the “pooping log.”  On either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day the household sings traditional Christmas songs associated with the Tió while beating him with sticks, encouraging him to poop.  When the Tió opens up he “poops” candy, dried fruit, and nuts which everyone share together.

tio

8) Yule Goat

The Scandinavian Santa Claus and is often referred to as the Yule Goat, a tradition native to Northern Europe.  Yule is the old Germanic name for the Midwinter festival that became associated with Christmas, on which day the Yule Goat was slaughtered and eaten.  Scholars connect this tradition with Thor, the Nordic god of thunder who rode his chariot through the night sky at Yule drawn by two goats named Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjóstr.  In countries such as Finland the Yule Goat was a horrid beast that terrified children and could only be pacified with gifts rather than delivering them.  In other parts of Scandinavia the Yule Goat was a benevolent spirit who monitored the Yule festivities to assure that the rituals were performed properly.  One tradition has a man dressing in the furry costume of the Yule Goat, complete with long horns which was theatrically sacrificed and resurrected to the tune of a traditional Yule song.  Modern Yule Goats however, are often ornaments fashioned from straw into the shape of a goat and adorned with red ribbons used to decorate for the Christmas season.  Larger than life sized Yule Goats, also made from straw are set up around town and are often the unfortunate targets of hooligans who set them on fire on the days leading up to Christmas.

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A Scandinavian Yule Goat

The Tavern: Bedrock of Western Civilization

The tavern is an intrinsic feature of Western society. Contrary to the reputation commonly associated with drinking establishments as dens of debauchery, locations inappropriate to delve into subjects of religion or politics, the whole of Western civilization in fact owes much of it existence to the local pub. The roots of this tradition run back through the centuries and helped bring Europe out of the dark ages toward the Age of Enlightenment.

irish pub
The Temple Bar

Ancient Roots

The historic progenitor of the bar or nightclub in the West is the Germanic and Nordic mead hall, popular especially during the European Dark Ages. Originating in the Germanic and European longhouses, from around the fifth century onward the mead hall was the primary residence of the king or chief and his theigns or other retainers. Often the most well fortified structure in the Anglo-Saxon village, the mead hall served a similar purpose as did the keep in later medieval cities. As the preeminent building of the Dark Age kingdom, the mead hall hosted the stately ceremonies and celebrations of the community.

 

The mead hall played such an important part in the religious and mythological system of Western Europe that even the gods lived in halls much resembling those of the people. In Norse mythology Valhalla is Odin’s hall and home of half of the valiant dead while the other half resided in Freyja’s hall Sessrúmnir. Much of the epic poem Beowulf takes place in the mead hall named Heorot where a lot of ceremony and merry making goes on. Such examples are the basis of the Sumbel, multiple rounds of ceremonial toasting still performed today by those whom practice indigenous Germanic religions.

viking longhouse
A Viking era styled longhouse/mead hall

The Medieval Era

As Western Europe became steadily more Christianized, amongst the aristocratic classes the Germanic mead hall along with its social and ceremonial focus was transformed into the banquet hall. But amongst the working classes and the poor, the social and ceremonial significance of the mead hall was transferred to the taverns and workhouses. In fact the word tavern is derived from the Latin taberna which was a workhouse or retail center for craftsmen as well as an apartment style lodging, housing freedmen and travelers. This is the origin of the public house or pub that is so common in Western Europe and her colonial nations.

Throughout the medieval period the public houses or taverns became centers for lodging travelers and merchants. They became the central gathering points of craftsmen seeking safety from bandits and highwaymen and thereby became the focus of trade meetings. It was within these taverns that the medieval guilds were established whereby craftsmen and artisans could share and protect the secrets of their trade such as architecture, glassmaking and other crafts. For this reason taverns and lodges became the few places in the intellectually oppressive medieval European society where freedom of speech, especially of a religious, philosophical and political nature could be exercised and protected, if only clandestinely.

 

The Enlightenment

There should be no wonder that during the Enlightenment era of European society that the tavern or lodge is where Freemasonry and other secretive societies emerged from the shadows. Freemasonry is the inheritor of the European architectural guilds transformed into a philosophical society complete with ancient rituals and respect for religious and political diversity. The four primary lodges upon which modern Freemasonry is established originally met at four respective taverns; the Goose and Gridiron Alehouse in London in St. Paul’s Churchyard, the Apple Tree Tavern, the Crown Alehouse, and the Rummer and Grapes Tavern.

 

In 1716 these four lodges gathered at London’s Apple-Tree Tavern where the first pro Tempore Grand Lodge was established, the eldest Master Mason was instituted as Grandmaster and an agreement was made to hold annual meetings amongst themselves to formalize and regularize the Craft. The following year; June 24, 1717 the four lodges met at London’s Goose and Gridiron Alehouse where the Grand Master was elected and the founding of the first regular Grand Lodge of Freemasonry was finalized.

 

Like Freemasonry briefly before it representatives from all over England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales and Brittany met at the Apple Tree Tavern on September 22, 1717 to form the Revivalist Druid order An Druidh Uileach Braithreachas (The British Circle of the Universal Bond).

Colonial America

The ancient tradition of the Tavern acting as meeting house for gathering warriors, the discussion of philosophy and politics continued in the American colonies. In the absence of a national media the Tavern was the primary place where early Americans heard the news and discussed their political opinions. The Tun Tavern in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, like the Apple Tree Tavern before it was used by multiple groups and organizations. The St. Georges Society, a charitable organization devoted to assisting newly arriving poor Englishmen to the colonies was established here in 1720.

 

Hailed as the birthplace of American Freemasonry, in 1732 St. John’s Lodge No. 1 of the Grand Lodge of the Masonic Temple was established in the Tun Tavern. And like the St. George Society before, in 1747 the St. Andrew’s Society was founded here as another charitable organization, this time assisting newly arriving Scottish immigrants.

 

In 1756 Benjamin Franklin used the Tun Tavern as a recruiting station for the Pennsylvania Militia. In 1768 the New York Chamber of Commerce was founded in the Tun Tavern’s Long Room where its officers continued to meet until 1770. This same Tun Tavern Long Room was also used by George Washington and Thomas Jefferson for the meeting house of the Continental Congress and as the recruiting station for the Continental Marines, now known as the United States Marine Corps.

 

Fraunces Tavern in New York played a central role in the organizing of the American Revolutionary War. The Son’s of Liberty used this tavern as a meeting place to discuss their revolutionary activities. In 1774 Fraunces Tavern hosted a tea party much like the Boston Tea Party before it, in which the patriots dressed as Indians and dumped British tea into New York harbor. And in 1776 the New York Provincial Congress met at Fraunces Tavern.

 

According to the Memoirs of Colonel Benjamin Tallmadge; at the end of the Revolutionary War on December 4, 1783, Fraunces Tavern hosted George Washington’s victory banquet in the Long Room where this iconic general said farewell to his officers as he resigned his post in order to insure that the newly established United States did not become a military dictatorship. After the ratification of the United States Constitution, Fraunces Tavern was used to house the departments of the Treasury, War and Foreign Affairs.

 

Bars, pubs and taverns are the traditional establishments where the freedom to speak one’s mind and offer challenging and revolutionary ideas has been protected. Concepts like liberty, republicanism, democracy and rebellion emerged from these establishments throughout the centuries. The United States’ First Amendment freedoms owe their existence to freethinkers exercising their philosophical muscles over a pint of beer or a glass of wine. From its roots as a tribal ceremonial house to its later adaptations as a place of revolutionary thought and activism, the tavern has been the lifeblood of Western civilization.

Alexander McGillivray, Emperor of the Creek Nation

Alexander McGillvray, Emperor of the Creek Nation

Alexander McGillivray (1750-1793)

Many great historical chiefs are celebrated in Native American popular culture. The most commonly remembered names include Crazy Horse, Geronimo, Red Cloud, Tecumseh and Chief Joseph. Along with these belongs the 18th century Muscogee Creek chief Alexander McGillivray, a great man who is not as commonly spoken about, but is just as significant to both Native American and United State history as those formerly mentioned.

Alexander McGillivray was the principle chief of the Creek Nation near the end of the 18th century. He was the son of Sehoy Marchand, a French-Creek woman from the powerful Wind Clan. His father was the prominent Scottish trader Lachlan McGillivray who immigrated to Creek country in 1736 from Dunmaglass, Scotland, and spent the majority of his time in Little Tallassee and Otciabofa which was also called Hickory Ground [1] on the Coosa River. This is where Lachlan met Sehoy.

Lachlan secured lands amongst the Creek people near the ruins of the French Fort Toulouse close by Little Tallassee. There, he planted a garden and built a plantation house, naming it the “Apple Grove.” In time Lachlan became a wealthy trader, entrenched and well respected among the Indians.

When Alexander was a young man his father sent him to Charleston, S.C. to be educated in the British tradition. After returning to his home on the Coosa River, Alexander was honored as a chief on the Creek National Council and given the name Hopue-hethlee-Mekko or “Good-Child King.” Shortly thereafter he was commissioned a colonel in the British army and installed as the English Agent to the Indians. He donned the uniform of a British officer, with the headdress of a Creek chief, complete with the white feathers of his rank and led a faction of Creek warriors in the Battle of Pensacola.

Before long, Alexander rose to prominence, becoming the principle chief of the Creek Nation. Being a fan of European history, he preferred to use the term emperor, though his actual power in the nation was severely limited and somewhat tenuous. He was a frequent visitor to and property-owner in Pensacola, FL, negotiating treaties with the Spanish who were the dominant European power in the region. He led Spanish funded attacks on American frontier settlements in Georgia. After the American Revolution, McGillivray was invited to Virginia where he received a paid Generalship from George Washington in the United States army.

An eager capitalist, Alexander McGillivray was also an investor and silent partner in Panton, Leslie and Company who opened a trading post on McGillivray’s property, the first brick and mortar building established in Pensacola, FL. His first wife was Vicey Cornells who bore him two daughters: Peggy and Lizzie. His second wife was Elise Moniac, the sister of the Choctaw chief Red Shoes and they had three children: Margaret, Alleck and Elizabeth.

As a native statesman, McGillivray worked tirelessly throughout his career to create a Creek Nation recognizable and respected by European nations, but still distinctly Creek, distinctly “Indian.” Much like his Cherokee neighbors he succeeded, at least until 1830, when the Indian Removal Act was signed into law by Andrew Jackson, robbing the people of their lands.

In January 1793 McGillivray traveled to Pensacola for a business meeting with William Panton. On the trip he developed a fever and never recovered. On February 17, 1793 at eleven o’clock at night, in the home of William Panton, Alexander McGillivray died. He was buried in the garden of Panton’s house in Pensacola, laid to rest with full Masonic honors [2]. Alexander McGillivray was such a loved and respected leader that he was mourned throughout the lands. His obituary ran in London in the Gentleman’s Magazine.

Feb. 17. At Pensacola, Mr. McGillivray, a Creek chief, very much lamented by those who knew him best. There happened to be that time at Pensacola a numerous band of Creeks, who watched his illness with the most marked anxiety, and when his death was announced to them, and while they followed him to the grave, it is impossible for words to describe the loud screams of real woe which they vented in their unaffected grief. He was, by his father’s side a Scotchman, of the respectable family of Drummaglass, in Invernesshire. The vigor of his mind overcame the disadvantages of an education had in the wilds of America, and he was well acquainted with all the most useful European sciences. In the latter part of his life he composed, with great care, the history of several classes of the original inhabitants of America; and this he intended to present to Professor Robertson, for publication in the next edition of his History. The European and the American writer are no more; and the MMS of the latter, it is feared, have perished, for the Indians adhere to their custom of destroying whatever inanimate objects a dead friend most delighted in. It is only since Mr. McGillivray had influence amongst them, that they have suffered the slaves of a deceased master to live.”[3]

[1] Hickory Ground; a very special town and meeting place within upper Creek Country. Creek; Ocē vpofv, also called Little Tallassee.

[2] It is believed that Alexander McGillivray was the first Mason in the State of Alabama. Some researchers claim that A.M.’s remains were shipped to Scotland and buried on his father Lachlan’s land.

[3] Gentleman’s Magazine, Printed under the caption: Marriages and Deaths of considerable Persons,” August, 1793, Vol. LXIII, London, p. 767

Lojah in Celtic-Folk-Punk

I was covered in Celtic-Folk-Punk at blogspot recently.

Lojah is a Native American-Irish folksinger from Pensacola, Florida. He describes his eclectic sound as Creolized Roots Music, influenced by Caribbean rhythms, Celtic melodies, and Southern American blues. His music is immersed in social realism, and arcane insight woven together with tongue-in-cheek witticism and a festive vibe. He is currently performing acoustic sets along the Gulf Coast.

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Pub Songs on Palafox” is a four song, lo-fi, EP recorded in the raw as a live-air production that captures the energy and sound of a Lojah solo performance as executed while busking downtown in competition with the various sounds of a bustling city street.

 Lojah begins with a rowdy Irish pub tune, “Dicey Reilly“, about a lush of a woman who spends her life crawling from pub to pub; a sailor’s favorite. “The Black Velvet Band” is another classic Irish ballad about infatuation, deceit and injustice which takes us out of the pub and away from the Emerald Isle to a penal colony in Australia. Following up is “Looks Like Jesus“, a rockabilly-blues styled piece and a Lojah original that tells the story illustrating the conflict between despair and ambition, shroud with esoteric imagery, set in the Southern atmosphere he calls home. “Miss Constance” concludes the record, a naughty Caribbean-styled tune about the perils of younger women.


Released 21 June 2013

Jay Moody (Lojah) – guitar, vocals
Recorded at Jinks Music Universe, Pensacola, FL

Sumble: The Origin of Toasting

Toasting is a peculiar custom in Western society.  Nearly everyone who has a drink makes toasts, but few realize that they are taking part in an ancient custom with roots in the old pre-Christian religions of Northern and Western Europe: the Sumble.




The Sumble is an ancient communion rite that was historically practiced by Germanic and Celtic peoples.  This rite is portrayed in the epic poem Beowulf and other sources of Germanic and Nordic folklore.  Sumble is closely related to the English tradition of Wassailing, popular especially as part of the Yuletide.

The majority of those whom actively participate in Sumble today are religious Heathens, practitioners of the old Germanic and Celtic religions.  They base their rite directly off of the 11th and 12th century Nordic customs as recorded in their respective texts.  In its most basic elements it consists of a gathering into a drinking hall, or a circle, a blessing or consecration is recited over the drink, a libation, and a sharing of the sacrament by the participants from the same vessel.

The sacrament is usually ale or mead, and historically it was served with toast.  This is where the term toast originates, as in drinking a toast.  A series of rounds of toasting take place.  In rites in which the Sumble is the central or sole focus there are typically a minimum of three rounds.  In traditional Heathenry it is standard for the first round to be dedicated to gods, the second round is dedicated to heroes and the third round is dedicated to ancestors.

The leader of the ceremony typically makes the first toast to a patron deity, takes a drink from his drinking horn.  Then, the next person in order makes his toast.  This continues in order until all have had a chance to toast.  Then that round is ended and the second round begins.  After the third round the rite may come to an end or it may continue.

If the Sumble continues any number of themes may be proposed.  Common themes are boasts in which the participants are allowed a chance to tell a tale of their own great successes.  Oaths may be sworn, goals may be professed, and gifts may be exchanged.  Open rounds may also be called in which anything of value may be offered to the community: stories, songs, poems, or prayers.  This may continue to a specified number of rounds, until the sacrament is completely consumed or until the participants have nothing more to contribute.

Read Next: The Tavern: Bedrock of Western Civilization

JJ Smith, the Balladeer

I naturally met JJ Smith at McGuire’s Irish Pub in Pensacola a couple years back.  Kilted in the tartan of the Lamont clan, JJ runs a show that is not just a folk music performance but a bit comedic shtick as well.  His crowd-interactions make for some of the evening’s high points.

JJ’s style stands out from the majority of the singers I’ve met on the Irish pub tour in several ways.  To begin with, his personalized renditions of the classics reveal significant blues, and American country music influences, which bring the Celtic style home to the American South.  Live, JJ makes use of a lot of bass runs on his guitar which often helps to add a subtlety and a sense of motion outside of the songs’ basic chord structures.

JJ_Smith

JJ hails from Stonehaven, near Aberdeen, Scotland, but has resided in St. Petersburg, Florida for the past several years.  While in the States, he has steadily toured the southeast and managed to produce two album releases: Druid Roots Going Home, and his solo album JJ The Balladeer.  They’re both great and very distinct from each other.

Druid Roots was a trio JJ was a part of, a rather eclectic mix of folksy styles.  The album projects a heavy Celtic theme with very noticeable elements of East-Indian drumming, country-western music, and a hint of rock and roll.   My favorite track is Stonehaven Waltz, a traditional sounding Celtic ballad, but the whole album is worth the listen.

The Balladeer contains 15 tracks of excellently produced Celtic ballads.  JJ’s resounding baritone voice coupled with the full and sometimes booming open strings of his guitar create layers of richness within each song.  The songs are mostly mellow, somewhat nostalgic pieces.  The highlights include Galway Shawl (my personal favorite); a cover of the classic U2 hit I Still Haven’t Found what I’m looking For; and Whiskey on a Sunday.

Larry Kernagis: Nashville’s Chief Leprechaun

Larry Kernagis is distinguished as the Chief Leprechaun of the Nashville based Celtic band cleverly named Def Leprechaun.  With a full repertoire of classic Irish folk and drinking songs, Larry also tours as a solo act.  I was fortunate enough to meet Larry at McGuire’s Irish Pub in Pensacola, Florida during this summer.

As a skilled performer, Larry’s rich personality shines through his stage show.  He’s friendly and personable, and interacts with the crowd brilliantly, accepting requests or limericks from the audience, bringing them into the show rather than keeping them as simple observers. I’ve even been fortunate enough to sit in with him on a couple different occasions.

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Moody View author Lojah with Larry Kernagis at McGuire’s Irish Pub

Since many newcomers to the Irish music scene may not be familiar with the well known or regionally adapted responses to the classic ballads, Larry often takes a moment to bring them up to speed, making the evening a truly interactive experience. He also brings with him a set of “The Viking Pirate Captain’s DL Songbooks,” with the lyrics to over 100 of the world’s favorite Irish pub songs for use by the audience.

Larry is fluent on both banjo and guitar, switching between the two instruments frequently throughout the night, adding to the diversity of his style.  He plays to his crowd, and as the night progresses Larry might incorporate other well known American classics in the spirit of Jimmy Buffet and Elvis Presley, but he otherwise keeps the set tight with Irish tunes.

Larry Kernagis is originally from Chicago, but relocated to Nashville, Tennessee where he formed his band Def Leprechaun.  His performances make for an evening of ruckus and revelry.  Over the past few weeks, I’ve come to think of him not only as a great performer, but as a friend.

Don’t miss Larry Kernagis, whether he is in Pensacola, Nashville, or Las Vegas.  If you’re a little Irish or even just a fan, you’ll love Larry’s show.

Check out Larry’s band Def Leprechaun at their website here!

Rich McDuff: Pioneer of the McGuire’s Music Scene

Rich McDuff is Northwest Florida’s most popular Irish folk music performer.  With a loyal and regular fan base, Rich helped build and define the music scene at McGuire’s Irish Pub while performing there for more than twenty years.


Although the moose-kissing tradition at McGuire’s predates Rich’s arrival on scene, he is responsible for writing the accompanying, and now entrenched “Kiss the Moose” song.  He explains “When I began playing here, asking a first-time patron of McGuire’s to kiss the moose might be met with a bit of confusion and resistance.  The traditional aspect was lost on them.  I figured if there was a song to go along with it, it would give the tradition a bit more validity for first-time visitors to the pub.  And it has worked out pretty well.”  Now every act that performs at McGuire’s plays this song, and the moose-kissing tradition has expanded to include not only the moose but a couple other McGuire’s fixtures as well.

Rich is also known or pushing the bounds of the debauchery which is naturally as part of McGuire’s slogan.  His “Dirty Limerick” song, played to the classic mariachi tune of “Cielito Lindo” contains rhymes that could even surprise a hip-hop fan.  Many of Rich’s regulars eagerly look forward to this point in the evening, awaiting their opportunity to share the stage with him and recite their own limerick specially prepared just for this song.  The best and most classic limericks are written on a scroll and tucked away in the secret archives, only to be taken out upon the performance of this tune.

Even more entertaining, energetic, and amusing is Rich’s version of “Seven Drunken Nights,” with extended responses – a wee bit too naughty to be written down here.  This point of the night is when you are likely to see the most crowd participation.  This rendition of the classic Irish song is memorable, if not for the increasingly lengthy responses, but the reactions and looks on the faces of new comers to the McGuire’s scene.

Crowd interaction is a major part of Rich’s act.  You never know just where the night will lead or how ridiculous the antics are likely to become.

Rich’s set also contains a set of American country, and acoustically played classic rock songs familiar to everyone.  As a classically trained guitarist, Rich McDuff’s musical talent becomes most apparent when he plays a traditional jig or reel or the occasional classical guitar piece.

Rich’s revolving schedule alternates between the pubs in both Pensacola and Destin, Florida.  While he is away, his regulars in Pensacola always look forward to his return.  Some will even make the drive to Destin to see him when he is performing there.

For more information on Rich McDuff, and dates visit his website here.