Search This Blog

Mari Lwyd The Mysterious Welsh Tradition

Mari Lwyd is a horse-figure that belongs to Welsh tradition and it has its own ritual that takes place during the Christmas season and New Year. Although performed over the Christmas period, the Mari Lwyd is thought to be a pre-Christian tradition believed to bring good luck. The strange and frightening horse-figure, that in the past was often made from a horses skull, but now mostly artificial, was mounted upon a pole.

The Mari Lwyd using a horse's skull which had been buried in fresh lime – This was usually the same skull used as the Mari Lwyd a year earlier. In some cases, a wooden block was used instead of a horse's skull. A pole was inserted into skull or wooden block and a white sheet draped over it. Coloured ribbons were used to decorate the skull with glass used to represent the eyes. Pieces of black cloth were then attached to serve as ears. 

Image Source:

The Mari Lwyd party consisted of a Leader, Sergeant, Merryman and Punch and Judy. The Merryman brought his fiddle, Punch and Judy were dressed in tattered clothes with blackened faces with the rest of the party decorated with ribbons and sashes. 

The gentleman who was chosen to carry the Mari Lwyd stood under the sheet holding the pole, reigns and bells were then attached. The gentleman was then able to operate the jaw of the skull to create the illusion that the horse was alive. As the Mari Lwyd approached the house it was intending to visit, the leader would tap on the door while the rest of the party including the Mari sang traditional rhymes. If the Mari and her gang get entry, the household is said to have good luck for the year. The Mari is well-known to be mischievous – trying to steal things and chase people she likes – as she goes about her bidding.

Image Source:

The origins of Mari’s name are very mysterious, this custom is said to date back into Celtic times. One Welsh translation of it, Grey Mare, linked to a great horse cult that strongly existed in pagan times with a Celtic horse Goddess named Rhiannon of the Mabinogion, whom also parallels with the Gaul-Roman Goddess Epona.

There was a great bond between Celts and their horses. They believed that the care that they took of them was reciprocated, with the horse acting as a protector. This religious importance is witnessed by the many ancient images of the horse carved in stone and onto landscapes. They hold a significant place in stories of the Celtic gods and mythological tales. The horse has featured in symbolism and Celtic art and design throughout the centuries.

The first written record of the Mari Lwyd is in J. Evans' book from 1800, A Tour through Part of North Wales, although the tradition is best known for its practice in Glamorgan and Gwent. It has similarities to other hooded animal customs in Britain, like the Hoodening in Kent, the Broad in the Cotswolds and The Old Tup in Derbyshire, which involved a group of poor people trying to find food and money in the harsh depths of the winter. Entertainment was their method, with a side portion of menace: that dead horse's skull appearing in shadow at your door.


Post a Comment

* Please Don't Spam Here. All the Comments are Reviewed by Admin.

Below Post Ads