Tag Archives: Scottish

The Guinness Brothers; All for the Craic

The internationally touring Irish musical duo The Guinness Brothers have been spreading the craic* from pub to pub and festival to festival over two continents for the past seven years. Consisting of Colm Kelly on vocals, guitar, and harmonica, and Roddy Carreira on vocals, mandolin, banjo, and occasional percussion, The Guinness Brothers really are the life of the party.

Based out of Albufeira, Portugal (though Colm originally hails from Kildare, Ireland), they are consistent performers at Irish Pubs, weddings and events at a nearly non-stop pace throughout Europe and the United States.

I naturally met Colm on his first trip to Pensacola as a performer at McGuire’s Irish Pub. Sometime later Roddy came along with him and brought the full Guinness Brothers experience to McGuire’s. One of the most immediately noticeable features of a Guinness Brothers show, as well as a Colm Kelly solo performance is that Colm has a natural gift for working a room and amping up a crowd. With Roddy beside him, they create a power team of sarcasm and debauchery that will have any festival ground, reception hall, or bar entertained and actively involved with all the antics they bring with them.




A Guinness Brothers show is more than a musical performance; it really is a party. The boys don’t want the audience just sitting and listening as each songs fritters by, but instead in the age-old Irish tradition they want you to be a part of the show, to interact, dance, sing, shout out responses and play along for the fun, or the “craic” as is said in Ireland.

Their sets include a wide variety of musical styles from Irish Traditionals, pop, rock, country and more, all of it delivered in the distinct high energy fashion that is a staple of a Guinness Brothers show. On top of all that, the boys are also known to boldly take requests from the audience. Even if they haven’t rehearsed the requested tune before, they’re likely to give it a shot anyway, and fake their way through it, all for the craic. It’s a bit of game to them, a challenge to which they’re eager to rise.

Speaking of games, as an audience member you might find yourself drafted into any number of games such as “left-hand drinking” during which the audience is only allowed to drink with their left hand. If someone is caught drinking with their right hand they’ll be called out, asked to stand up and down their drink all in one. This becomes a lot of fun as the audience begins to call each other out as the night goes on, and of course all for the craic.

In 2019 The Guinness Brothers released a live album appropriately titled Live Craic, a twelve song set including Irish favorites such as Whiskey in the Jar, The Wild Rover, and Rocky Road to Dublin as well as classic rock and popular covers like Folsom Prison Blues, Thunderstruck and Take On Me, with a half dozen more.

The album does a great job at capturing the spirit and the vibe the duo produces with Colm’s signature fast, percussive acoustic guitar rhythms and Roddy’s bright and lighthearted mandolin standing out ontop of the mix. Their rendition of The Wild Rover especially gives a sense of the back and forth banter the two are known for engaging in between and even during songs.

Their interpretation of the traditional reel The Moving Cloud is particularly demonstrative of Roddy’s proficiency with playing Celtic melodies. That and his dynamite mandolin lead on Whiskey in the Jar really helps to ground the disk’s versatile song selection in the Irish musical tradition from which the duo emerges.

While Live Craic is a good listen its only drawback is that you don’t get the full experience of all the antics of a Guinness Brothers live show. How could it? So, the only way to rectify this is to download this album now and make sure you catch the Guinness Brothers live at one of the various venues in which they perform throughout Europe and the United States.


* In case you haven’t figured it out by now, “craic” is a traditional Irish word for fun, joviality, or living comedy. It’s derives front the same root from which we Americans get the idea of “cracking jokes.”


I Was Featured in London Celtic Punks Web-Zine

The London Celtic Punks are an informal club based out of London, dedicated to the promotion of Celtic-Punk music.

Recently the editors of their web-zine found my Pub Songs on Palafox ep, seemed to like it and decided to write me up a little review.

Go on over there and read it!





Beltane, Fire of Life

Here we are the beginning of summer. The earth is waking up and her creatures are becoming active once more. The sun sets later in the evening. Flowers are blooming. Bees are pollinating the crops. Birds are laying their eggs. The mating season is in full swing. Life is abundant. This is the season of Beltane.

Beltane is an ancient festival traditionally celebrated in Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man. This holiday coincides with the Germanic festival of Walpurgis. It is traditionally celebrated on May 1st. Ancient Gaelic tradition, much like Jewish tradition considered the beginning of each new day to be at sunset. Therefore, May 1st on the Celtic calendar really begins at sunset on April 30th of the Gregorian calendar.

The name Beltane is thought to be derived from a Gaelic term meaning the “fire of Belenos,” referring to an obscure Celtic solar deity. This date is a celebration that officially kicks off the active summer season, fully separate from the dormant times of winter. It is the counterpart to and opposite or the season of Samhain.

Flowers and blossoms are especially symbolic of this date as the crops have set to full blossom, some even starting to fruit. For this reason, the Flower Maiden plays a central role in the theme of the season. Coming of age, the Lord in his guise as the youthful Green Man or Stag Lord regaining his antlers has arrived not only to court the Flower Maiden, but to consummate their relationship, in their symbolic roles of pistol and stamen. Here, the young maiden is transformed into a woman through the loss of her virginity.

Sexuality pervades the themes of Beltane. Ancient customs recall celebrations in which lovers met in the fields, the forests, or along the shores for sexual escapades. As the counterpart and opposite to Samhain, bonfires also characterize Beltane and many of these midnight trysts occur at the edges of the firelight. The Maypole was commonly danced at Beltane. Often times a new pole would be erected each year, while the previous year’s pole was burned as part of a bonfire. The new pole would be allowed to stand all throughout the year. In some cases a live tree would be used instead.

Amongst herders, two fires would be built close beside each other. Then they would drive their herds between them as a means of purification, protection and fertility. The people would in some cases themselves also pass between the fires. Jumping over the fires to secure good blessings was also a custom practiced in certain parts of Ireland. These festivities often continued all throughout the night and culminated with the participants observing the sunrise, and bathing or washing with water touched by the first light of the season.

The boar hunt was another traditional activity occurring this time of year, held with great ceremonial significance. Ham and other pork dishes are traditional Beltane feast items. According to Alexie Kondratiev, the mythology associated with this holiday is Maponos (the youthful male) slaying the boar that will later kill him at Samhain. The boar in this case represents the forces of winter and death which are keeping the Flower Maiden (the earth) imprisoned. The young warrior as the solar hero defeats the dominating beast, sometimes a hag or wicked parental figure, freeing the earth maiden, symbolizing the spring. The conquest of the beast frees the earth to be the bride of the sun. In some traditions the hero must conquer the boar to retrieve his tusks, or some other item to use as a weapon to defeat the beast which imprisons the maiden. Here we obsere a common theme regarding the quest for a weapon that deals both death and life. Examples of such stories occur all throughout Celtic literature such as in the Welsh Mabinog, and can be seen especially in the marriage of Blodeuwedd and Lleu.

This is the beginning of the Celtic summer.


Samhain (Halloween), Harvest of Souls

A Jack O’Lantern, an American twist on an ancient Halloween tradition.

Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays. The spookiness, the costumes, and the troops of kids and families marching through the streets, shaking down the neighborhood for candy has left an indelible imprint upon my Autumnal expectations. Like most traditional Western holidays, Halloween and the rituals associated with it are descended from ancient traditions lost on most of modern society.

The name “Halloween” is actually a contraction of the phrase All Hallows Eve, but that is the later Christianized name for the holiday that stretches back into historical obscurity. The earlier and more indigenous form of the holiday is of Celtic origin and was known as Samhain (Sow-un) in Ireland.

Samhain is a three day festival that begins sunset on October 31 and ends at sunset on November 2. Traditionally, it celebrates the last harvest of the season and is often regarded as the Gaelic (Irish and Scottish Celtic) New Year. It was the highest feast day on the old calendar. Samhain translates from Gaelic for “Summer’s End,” and it represents the end of the active season and the beginning of the dormant season.

As a harvest festival Samhain is full of deep symbolism. The warm season is over. The season of light is at its close and darkness regains its dominion of the land. The last of the season’s crops have been harvested. The fields, formerly lush and bursting with life now lay stripped of their bounty. The harsh autumn sunlight cast upon the barren fields creates an eerie atmosphere and a sense of dread as winter approaches. Amongst herding communities this is the time that traditionally concluded with the fall slaughters. This is also a time amongst many communities that kicks off the traditional hunting season.


Surrounded by dead fields, bloody slaughters, the turn toward hunting as a means of subsistence, the waning of the sun’s influence, and the impending frost which will kill off what is left of the season’s greenery makes the theme of death inescapable. These are often somber days, therefore it is important that this day is celebrated with much festivity and jubilation as things will only become darker and colder as times progress toward Yule.

The last sheaf of the harvest would be traditionally cut ceremoniously and fashioned into a corn dolly. The corn dolly is named for the corn mother and placed in a special location where she can watch over the household, hall, circle, or clan. She will serve to continue to bestow the blessings of the harvest upon the community all throughout the barren winter months.

Due to the spirit of darkness and death, Samhain is a time when the veil between this world and the Otherworld is at its thinnest. This time of year brings with it the highest potential for vision seeking and prophecy. This is a time for to meditate upon the subconscious powers of the inner cauldrons and the cauldron of Annwn.

There is much folklore associated with Samhain. Fairy mounds are abundant with the jubilance of the Shining Ones, the Fair Folk and the Sidhe. The Solar hero is slain in the boar hunt and lies dead until he is reborn at Yule. The Kernunnos archetype reigns from this time forward, leading the Wild Hunt through the skies and the countryside, herding the souls of those who died during the previous year and taken on animal forms. In Germanic tradition the Wild Hunt is lead by either Odin or Thor.

Traditional celebrations for this holiday are naturally enough centered on bonfires, torches, and lanterns. As the origin of the modern Halloween; masquerade balls and parades are also appropriate ways to celebrate Samhain. Revelers would march through the town streets from house to house singing seasonal songs. Soul cakes (little square cakes with currants) were given out to the roving bands, who would offer a prayer or song for the dead of that house. This is the origin of “trick or treat” in which young, costumed children venture from house to house collecting candy.

Harvest delicacies are abundant this time of year. Fresh fruits are traditional and symbolic. In Celtic countries apples are symbolic of the season. In America, corn and pumpkins are profound harvest symbols. In my celebration, all three are important. Corn and apples are paired as symbols of the old world and new world tradition and are the appropriate sacrifices for this day. Since Mabon is a traditional brewer’s holiday, by Samhain the beer is usually well prepared and properly aged. Ales and ciders are especially traditional at this time of year.

Halloween is a great holiday. Its roots run deep and its symbols have profound spiritual and practical significance that have been watered down by a civilization whose people largely no longer live in a seasonal and agricultural society dictated by the changing seasons, but within the preserved customs of Halloween, the real meaning of Samhain can still be observed.


Lughnasadh: Harvest of Life

The Irish Celtic Festival of Lughnasadh is traditionally celebrated on August 1st but extends throughout much of the month. It is the first genuine harvest festival of the year and it coincides directly with the Anglo-Saxon holiday of Lammas.



The holiday is named for Lugh, the Irish hero of light. His name derives from the word for lightning and illumination. Amongst Germanic peoples, this day was sacred to the god Thor: the god of thunder, storms and agriculture. Thunder and lightning are obvious signs of rain and storm which are naturally an important ecological phenomenon for agricultural societies.

Lugh is of course more than a simple agricultural deity. As a patron of light, Lugh is the embodiment of all things light represents: intelligence, knowledge, wisdom, enlightenment. Science and artistry are also considered to have been invented by Lugh. Considering his close association with the Roman god Mars, Lugh is a patron of martial prowess, which is perhaps best exemplified through his son Cuchulain. All of these attributes, whether agricultural or innovative attest to Lugh as a god of wealth, the guardian and benefactor of the tribe’s prosperity.  It is probably more than mere coincidence that this time of year in Anglos-Saxon tradition, bondsmen would pay their rent.

This holiday, along with Imbolc, Beltane and Samhain represent the four main festivals of the medieval Irish calendar.  As the first true harvest festival in the seasonal cycle, Lughnasadh has certain associations with death.  In fact, the name itself translates roughly as “the wake of Lugh.”  Whereas holidays in the earlier seasons coincide with increasing life, harvest festivals are the first signs of the summer’s demise.  With the summer day’s becoming noticeably shorter at this time, it becomes quite obvious that winter’s grip is only a short way off.  Although the theme of a wake is a significant part of the festival, the overall atmosphere is generally one of joy and revelry.

The legends tell us that Lugh established the harvest fair of Lugnasadh in honor of his foster-mother Tailtiu at the Town of Teltown in County Meath.  Tailtu’s death was a necessary component in establishing the growing of the crops and the abundant harvest that follows.  These celebrations quite often resembled today’s Scottish Highland Games. Lugnasadh often involved horse races, and martial arts displays or competitions.  Competitive games such as chess were also a part of the festivities, representing Lugh’s victory over the Fomorian King Bres who previously controlled the powers of the Harvest, establishing the Irish agricultural tradition.

                     

Lugh is the hero of Light. For this reason he is often compared with the Sun, since the Sun is the greatest source of light with which humans and earthly crops interact. As a hero of Light, Lugh is also called Samh-ildánach, “the many gifted one,” because of his multiple skills in all the arts and trades.  Just as darkness represents ignorance, Light represents knowledge, and in this case knowledge of many, if not all things. In the old legends we find that Lugh (representing the Sun) conquers the Fomorians (representing darkness, ignorance and oppression). When this is done, Lugh wrestles from the King of primitive darkness the knowledge of cultivation and the harvest.

This is a celebration of the Harvest.  On this day families gather together to give thanks for the bounty of the Harvest and to reenact the mythological event that brought the Ancestors from a life of oppression and into a life of abundance with the knowledge of agriculture. It must be remembered that it is only with this knowledge that humankind has managed to not only survive, but to thrive in even inhospitable environments. It is agriculture that has allowed human beings to settle lands, build defensive structures and over all make life safer for acquiring food. This has allowed civilization to flourish and become specialized, developing art, literature, economics, and other remarkable aspects of material culture.

Midsummer

Midsummer is a traditional holiday celebrated throughout many of the world’s cultures, with ancient origins.  It is the celebration of the summer solstice, an important astronomical date on the annual cycle.  It is celebrated on or near the 21st of June. In many Celtic communities it is commonly celebrated on June 24th.

Due to its connection with the agricultural cycle, Midsummer is most often celebrated on the 21st of June by modern Heathens and neo-pagans as one of the eight sabbats. In Revival Druidry it is called Alban Heruin and is one of the four high holidays.

The summer solstice is the longest day of the year, with the sun at its strongest, therefore Midsummer represents the triumph of light over darkness.  The solar hero born at Yule and celebrated as the child of light is now at his peak.  He overthrows the oppressive king of winter and takes his rightful place upon the throne of the earth.  Just as in our time today, in ancient days marriages often occurred at Midsummer.

                    

As an agricultural holiday, in many parts of the world this is the earliest time that a harvest can be made since the springtime sowing; therefore it is a festival of first fruits. Traditional Midsummer rites are often centered on bonfires.  New fires would be kindled and offerings of flowers were made to them.  In many communities an effigy of a person would be burned in the bonfire.  Similarly to Beltane, cattle would be driven through the smoke of the fires as a means of blessing, protecting and enhancing the livelihood of the tribe and community.  Torches were lit from central bonfires and carried home where the hearth was lit.  Participants would dance around these fires and tend them throughout the night.  This all-night affair was commonly called “the watch,” and it was an integral part of the festivities.  Near the early morning when he fires had died down some, some of the revelers would jump over the flames for good luck and to encourage the crops to grow.

Midsummer Bonfire in Freiburg im Breisgau

Similar traditions are found on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.  Native American communities such as the Creeks, Seminoles, Cherokee, Choctaws, Chickasaws, and many others of the Eastern Woodland traditions celebrate the Green Corn rite: the new fire ceremony, the New Year, the greatest fast culminating in the first feast of the year.

At this time in the environment, the wild flora is also at its peak, especially of the medicinal variety, so this holiday also has a focus on gathering and honoring medicine.  Blackberries and wild plums are also ripening, making for natural symbols of this season. On the Muskogee calendar, June is Kvco Hvse or “Blackberry Sun.”

In many Germanic countries the Maypole is celebrated at Midsummer.  In some communities the Maypole was left up from Beltane and burned at Midsummer. Midsummer is the height of the spiritual year.  Medicine is strongest at this time.  Spirits of nature and of the ancestors, both good and malevolent are very active on a Midsummer’s night which inspired one of Shakespear’s most classic works; A Midsummer Night’s Dream.


Imbas Fire

I got fire in the head!

Imbas on the inside, so red!

A cauldron of poetic frenzy brewing the content of the universe

Translating, melding it down, an inspired stew-in-verse

More than a measure of grammar, meter and rhyme

Through head, heart and gut, universal space and time

Twisting like a whirlpool spinning mastery of words

Spitting reddening satire – the kind that really burns

But it’s just prophecy in motion, the wisdom of a bard

Passing judgments with clarity till you know who you are!

(This poem was originally written in 2004 as a final exam for an undergraduate anthropology class. – I got an A. – I was looking through some old writings and it just felt relevant again.)

9 Top Irish Drinking Songs

The Irish have produced some of the best drinking songs ever written. Characterized by their catchy melodies, comical lyrics, and their tendency toward tragic endings; a good night of pub-singing is a communal activity with much crowd interaction and participation. The following is a list of my top nine Irish Drinking Songs, in no particular order. Why nine? If you must ask, perhaps you need to learn more about the Irish.

1- Beer, Beer, Beer

This is a straight forward song in praise of the fictionalized inventor of beer, Charlie Mopps. The name is meant to rhyme with barley and hops. The lyrics mostly describe how beer is made, where it is sold and how much better life is now that it has been invented. As far as creativity is concerned, lyrically this song is not the best. But it’s a great sing along tune the best thing about this song is its catchiness for group singing.

Jay_Dun_Aengus2011

2- Waxies Dargle

The singer tells us of his woman and his friend’s woman going about

trying to get money in order to go to the “Waxies Dargle,” a popular vacation spot on the bank of the River Dargle. Like so many other Irish drinking songs, the two women go about selling personal possessions, even some belonging to the singer himself in order to afford drinking money. The catchy hooks ends each round with the words “”What’ll ye have? Will ye have a pint? I’ll have a pint with you, sir. And if one of us doesn’t order soon we’ll be thrown out of the boozer.”

3- Whiskey You’re the Devil

A bit of a counterpart to “Whisky in the Jar,” this song is about the hazards of drinking heavy spirits. “Whiskey You’re the Devil” contains one of the wittiest verses in Irish drinking music; “Said the mother ‘Do not wrong me. Don’t take me daughter from me. For if you do I will torment you and after death, me ghost will haunt you.’” The chorus of this tune is the kind that just urges one to sing along.

4- Finnegan’s Wake

Tim Finnegan was a construction worker who had a bit of a drinking problem. He had a drink every morning before going to work. One day he had a bit too much and fell off a ladder and broke his skull. After everyone arrived at his wake, Finnegan’s widow served lunch followed by whisky punch. In short order some one said the wrong thing to another and a fight breaks out. Bottles of whisky are hurled through the air until the liquor platters over Tim’s corps. The whiskey magically revives him. Tim Finnegan stands up from the bed cursing the waste of good liquor and asking if they really thought he was dead.

5- All For Me Grog

Grog is a combination of liquors popular especially amongst sailors in the 18th and 19th centuries. Essentially it was a mixture of whatever was left over. The lyrics of this song tell us of what appears to be a pirate coming ashore with his plunder. He spends all his money on wild nights with gin drinking women. The poor fellow parties his way through several days until he is “sick in the head” and “full of pains and aches.” He eventually sells everything from his boots to his shirt for money to buy beer and tobacco and decides to head back out to sea in order to get away from all the trouble he has caused for himself in port.

6- Jug of Punch

Whiskey Punch is made with sugar, lemon, and water … and of course whiskey. This song begins with a man sitting peacefully in his room. Before long he is overcome with the desire to go out and have a drink. We next meet him in the pub with a “pretty wench” on his knee, but before long he finds himself in a bad way. The song traditionally ends with the singer proclaiming that upon his death; “just lay me down in my native peat with a jug of punch at my head and feet.”

7- Dicey Riley

One of the catchiest tunes in the Irish Drinking repertoire; Dicey Riley is about one hard drinking woman. She starts each day with a few drinks and continues on throughout the rest of the day. Each night she closes down the pubs, trashed and if she doesn’t have a friend to see her safely home she’ll sleep off her drink on a local park bench, only to do it all again the next day.

8- Whiskey in the Jar

Perhaps one of the most over played Irish drinking tunes, this one is a standard that has even been performed by the heavy metal band Metallica. The song is really about a robbery. The singer tells how he encounters one Captain Farrell in the mountains and demands his money at the point of pistol and rapier. He is eventually betrayed by his beloved Jenny, arrested and taken away by the very same Captain Farrell.

9- The Wild Rover

Actually a song written for the Temperance Movement, it is ironic that this song has been so lovingly embraced as a drinking tune. Simply put, the song is about a roving man who has decided to repent of his rambling and drinking ways. Along with “Whiskey in the Jar,” “The Wild Rover” is one of the most well known Irish drinking songs, so when it is played it is sure to get some crowd interaction.


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.


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