Saturday, 24 August 2019

Derby Sound Community Radio - The Derby Ram Special

"Amongst the earliest recollections of my childhood is the performance of the ‘Derby Ram’, or, as we used to call it, The Old Tup. With the eye of memory I can see a number of young men standing one winter’s evening in the deep porch of an old country house, and singing the ballad of The Old Tup. In the midst of the company was a young man with a sheep’s skin, horns and all, on his back, and standing on all fours. What it all meant I could not make out, and the thing that most impressed me was the roar of the voices in that vault-like porch. The sheep and the men were evidently too harmless to frighten any child, and a play in which the only act was the pretended slaughter of an old tup was not in itself attractive."

Quotation from the 1895 work 'Household Tales with Other Traditional Remains: collected in the Counties of York, Derby and Nottingham' by Sidney Oldall Addy.

Back in May of this year (2019) I was contacted by an old friend who I had not seen for quite some time. The lady in question was now working as a volunteer with an Internet Radio Service, called Derby Sound Community Radio. The station was seeking to cover several points of local interest, including aspects of local history and folklore. Alex Mills-Bell contacted me knowing of my interest in local folklore with a specific enquiry, "What do you know about the Derby Ram?" Now there hangs a tale.

I have as an esoteric folklorist been studying the Derby Ram or the Old Tup, for several years now. Not as in depth as I should have been or would have liked. We all have commitments and often our energies are focused elsewhere. Work, career and our personal lives, they all make demands upon our time.

The enquiry put to me by Alex was therefore, most fortuitous for us both. Not only did I have my notes in preparation for a lecture planned at the end of the year, Alex was able to call upon me as a researcher with that research partially at hand. This saved time from the point of view of Alex, as the work was partly ready but equally important for me, I now had the added motivation to begin to write up my research notes.

So allowing me only four weeks to write up my material, Alex visited me at my home in July to record the interview. I had sent off drafts prior to the visit but I had only finished my third and final draft that morning. Like all writers, I was unhappy with the drafts sent and wished to make improvements. No writer is ever entirely happy with their finished work, we always find fault within ourselves.

The interview was recorded in one single take and despite errors caused by my nerves, Alex seemed pleased with the result. My request to record sections where I had stumbled over words was denied, despite my great and continued embarrassment. Alex felt that such elements added to the informality, allowed for a feeling of friendly spontaneity and most importantly, avoided a staid perhaps dull atmosphere.

The tradition of the Derby Ram exists as two interwoven threads. The Derby Ram is the Folksong yet T'Owd Tup is the Mummers Play. To even attempt to understand the Derby Ram rather than us start at the beginning and work towards the present, it is better to start with the present and work backwards. This is how I began my exploration and it is important to understand; the public in their perception of the Derby Ram, are often ignorant of the history and folklore.


Rather than repeat the text of my paper in full here, Alex has kindly allowed me access to her own excellent finished edits. They are both crisp and clear, with an enhanced sound and all extraneous background noise removed.  It is these recordings that now I include. 


The first broadcast was on Sunday the 11th of August 2019 at 9pm as part of a sixty minute slot. I am pleased to say that there has been genuine interest in the programme and the content. Many have contacted me privately to enquire regards repeats, 'catch-up' availability and potential downloads. These interested parties were pleased to learn that the show would be repeated on Wednesday the 14th of August at 2pm.

The threads that form our skein; tangled and knotted as it is, are our woolly tale. All are part of the rich tradition that is the Derby Ram today. Clearly there is much more to the Derby Ram and T'Owd Tup, than can be shown by any superficial examination. Under the surface we have a rich history and an equally rich folklore.

"Then the ballad went on to tell how and for what purpose people begged for his bones, eyes, teeth, hide, etc., but I cannot remember more of it. However, in a version printed by Jewitt (The Ballads & Songs of Derbyshire, 1867) they beg for his horns to make milking pails, and for his eyes to make footballs. And a tanner begs for his hide, which is big enough ‘to cover all Sinfin Moor’. Here we have a ballad describing the slaughter of a being of monstrous size, and the uses to which his body was put. Now when I first read the Edda, and came to the passage which tells how the sons of Bor slew the giant Ymir, and how, when he fell, so much blood ran out of his wounds that all the race of frost-giants was drowned in it, I said to myself, ‘Why, that’s The Old Tup’ and when I read further on and found how they made the sea from his blood, the earth from his flesh, the rocks from his teeth, the heaven from his skull, it seemed to me that I had guessed rightly. The Old Tup was the giant Ymir, and the mummers of my childhood were acting the drama of the Creation."

Quotation taken from the 1895 work 'Household Tales with Other Traditional Remains: collected in the Counties of York, Derby and Nottingham' by Sidney Oldall Addy.

Derby Sound Community Radio

Friday, 19 July 2019

Shani Oates at Pagan Pride 2018

On Sunday the 5th of August 2018 I attended what was to be the last Pagan Pride in Nottingham, of course none of us knew that at the time. I attended purposely as people I know in real life were speaking and conveniently they presented their talks in the same gazebo tent consecutively. One of these speakers was Shani Oates the Maid of the Clan of Tubal Cain. I have been following the career of Shani Oates for several years now, often travelling some distance to hear her speak. My attendance has become so regular that I am in danger being described as a stalker.

This particular talk was seasonally appropriate in being titled 'Sacred Folk - Sacred Food' and began with the observation that folk traditions once bound communities together but today, society as a whole suffers from a severe loss of connection. Connection within the community and of course, with our landscape. There has been a loss of Sacred Kinship. Historically and obviously, the harvest has been variable and dependent upon the weather. Today we are cushioned by imports and a bad harvest in one part of the country, although economically disastrous, does not result in localised starvation. Historically the people were a land dependent collective.

Lammas is the celebration of the first loaf from the first wheat harvest. The name cereal being derived from the Roman Goddess Ceres, who with her daughter Proserpina are the patrons of agriculture. Their Greek equivalents being Demeter and her daughter Persephone, sometimes known as Kore. In explaining these associations Shani Oates made allusions to the concepts of the Sacred King, the Divine Blessing of a good harvest and the deposition of a king if he does not provide for his people. Bread is the great provider of our welfare and our wellbeing. Today we still talk of our daily bread, putting bread on the table and of course, earning our bread. In a general reference to the harvest and recognising its importance, it is noted that many country charms exist to protect the harvest from the chaos of bad weather. In some traditions today the country word for the harvest; the potentially Saxon Herfest, is used for the season of Autumn (Fall in the USA).

In looking back at the history of agriculture; spanning some 14,000 years, we learnt that perhaps unsurprisingly ancient cereals had less gluten. Is there a significance to this? What does this mean for us today when dietary allergies are on the increase? The controlled utilisation of nature by mankind marks in the words of Jacob Bronowski in his book the Assent of Man, the beginning of civilisation. It is a book I recommend and Shani Oates observations reminded me of his own.

Peat has been used as fuel, bracken has been used for fuel and as a building material, from herbs to hazels, society has benefitted from the produce of nature in uncountable ways. Wheat, barley and other cereals are the foundation of this utilisation, marking the change from hunter gatherer to settled agriculture and the creation of civilisation. Returning once more to Jacob Bronowski, I observe that modern bread wheat cannot propagate without the aid of man, the grains can no longer be blown by the wind. Man cannot live by bread alone but we cannot live without it. Our dependence upon wheat is symbiotic, representing a connection to the land sadly lost.

Lammas is in a sense the first of three harvests, being primarily cereal it is followed by fruit and slaughter. The head scythe or head reaper of the harvest being a pertinent reminder that for anything to live, something must die. Each worker traditionally hired at harvest time and starting work with the dawn would it is said, be allocated eight pints of cider per day. Sadly modern health and safety regulations no longer permit this generous perk.

Times change, at the turn of the 19th into 20th century, there were 200,000 apple presses operating in Somerset. Most have gone today. August is the month of abundance, the primary harvest month and up until the middle of the last century, almost everything would shut down for the harvest. This is the origin of our summer break, when schools and factories would close releasing labour to work on the land. Workers from London and the Midlands would travel as far as Kent to pick hops for the brewing industry, a cultural practice that was still common in the 1950s.

The harvest moon rises late and coupled with an early dawn, made a longer working day. The meeting of the itinerant urban worker with the country dweller, is perhaps one of the last examples of a shared experience within a community. Historically of course and across the country, harvest traditions were manifestations of this shared experience and include the election of the Harvest King or Harvest Queen, decorated carts and farm equipment.

Many of these traditions ranging from the election of a Harvest Lord and Lady, perhaps a throwback to the time of the Sacred King, were traditions designed to propitiate the spirits of the land. To garner a good harvest and to protect it. These would include cross dressing to confuse malevolent spirits and the use of plants. The arum lily kept the scythe sharp but did it also prevent landwights from blunting the edge? The harvest practices of the past have left a mark upon us and has influenced our language, we still talk of making hay while the sun shines.

In running through the wide range of harvest customs, Shani Oates obviously made mention of those well known customs such as Crying the Neck. In some areas this was Crying the Mare, the corn spirit being perceived as a Horse Goddess and figures made from the wheat; the famous corn dolly, are sometimes made in the shape of a horse. These figures, whether a maiden, a mare or referred to by a name such as John Barleycorn, all would later be returned to the earth. They would be ploughed into the first furrow, the crooked furrow on Plough Monday to ensure (it was hoped) a good harvest to come.

Customs less well known included that of the Lameworker, an indication of the rivalry existing between work gangs prior to the introduction of machinery. The fastest gang could be rewarded for their efforts but the slowest would be ridiculed. The slowest worker in the slowest gang, the lameworker is our lameduck and on occasion a lame duck or even a lame ram would have been thrown at him.

Many ceremonies marking the end of the harvest would continue until quite late in the year. Wakes Week a variable festival in England if not necessarily a movable feast; usually falling in August or September depending upon the region, has today all but disappeared. This is primarily due to the standardisation of school holidays.

Despite the many changes within society and country life brought about in part by the gradual introduction of machinery in the late Victorian Period, first with the horse drawn reaper and later steam power, traditions do live on. Late summer still remains the season for gatherings and celebrations of an agricultural nature. In England these include our county shows, church fetes and carnivals, complete with their own Carnival Queen of course and traditional dances such as the Broomstick Dance. In this context Pagan Pride taking place in early August is a continuation of that tradition. In the calendar of the Roman Catholic Church the Feast of the Assumption of Mary; held on the 15th of August, is a religious adjunct to the ancient customs of the harvest.

In closing the talk Shani Oates wished us peace and a good harvest, by sharing food and drink with all gathered to hear her words. The breaking of bread together is a shared blessing, recognising the work involved in its creation and that we share a bond. Whether that bond is faith, blood or friendship is dependent upon circumstance but it is an action repeated in churches, temples and by covens universally.

"By the breaking of this bread you are blessed - Bara Frith."

As I was about to leave I found a decorated stone placed quite deliberately on the corner of the groundsheet of the tent. This leaving of decorated stones and rocks to be found by strangers, is of course a modern folk custom. There are many websites and Facebook groups of a regional focus; such as Derbyshire Rocks and Nottinghamshire Rocks, which promote this activity and feature reports on finds. I took away this particular example and kept in until September. I left it in the grounds of the Church of Saint Nicholas in Abbots Bromley Staffordshire when visiting the village to watch the famous Horn Dance. I wonder if it was ever found?

Paean to Hekate – 6th October 2017




Monday, 15 July 2019

Pagan Pride Farewell (2017 & 2018)

Sadly in May of 2019 it was announced that the ninth Pagan Pride had been the last. This is a sad but understandable move. The organisational work and expense involved in the creation of such an initiative, had increased every year. Both had reached levels beyond the comprehension of most of us.

I read this announcement with both understanding and disappointment. Pagan Pride Nottingham has been a huge influence upon the Pagan Community within the Midlands and nationally, raising the awareness of Paganism within sociality as a whole. I would have like to have seen just one more event, a tenth and final Pagan Pride. With my own small projects and initiatives; including ten years as a Pagan Federation Officer, I felt that the number ten was a suitably complete number to end with.

I attended the first Pagan Pride in 2009, the penultimate Pagan Pride in 2017, the last Pagan Pride in 2018 and the majority in-between. I have been at the front of the parade dressed as a jester and when I was a Pagan Federation Interfaith representative, I delivered a talk on that subject. I have been a stall holder and I have attended as an ordinary member of the public for shopping and socialising.

In both 2017 and 2018 Pagan Pride took place without the preliminary parade from the city centre of Nottingham to the Arboretum. There were several reasons for this, not least of which being the expense required to organise such a venture. Certain fees are required to be paid by the organisers of Pagan Pride Nottingham to the Nottingham City Council. These are to cover insurance and the necessary policing. Costs of a similar nature are naturally required in regards to the main event at the park. It is important to note that the parade had in those last year's numbered several hundred people and the event itself, often attracted in excess of two thousand people to the Arboretum. These figures alone are a measure of the success that was Pagan Pride Nottingham.

The Pagan Pride main event hosted music in the bandstand, dance displays, various talks and workshops, a market and other entertainments, spread across most of the park. There was always something to see or do. Many would attend in costume or ritual garb, which added to the colour of the event.

That last Pagan Pride, although none of us knew that would be the last at the time, took place on Sunday the 5th of August. It was a truly beautiful summer day and I attended purposely as two people I know in real life were speaking. Reviews of their talks will be published separately. It was also the last time I saw a young woman whose passing is I am sure, felt deeply by all who were involved in Pagan Pride.

Rather than dwell unnecessarily on the loss of this event however, I prefer to remember the positive impression it has left upon the community at large. I remember the high quality of many of the presentations, some by very well known names; including Diane Narraway, Ashley Mortimer, Tony Rotherham, Sean Woodward and Shani Oates to name just a few.

In looking back over the nine years and whatever happens now to Esme Knight, other founders and the subsequent organisers of Pagan Pride; we should all wish them well. We should most importantly recognise the great achievement they have made. An achievement that they can all regard with genuine Pagan Pride.

Pagan Pride 2012 A Community Asserts Its Identity



Paean to Hekate – 6th October 2017



Sean Woodward at Pagan Pride 2018

Sarah Louise Kay 9th April 1992 - 5th January 2019 In Memoriam

Sean Woodward at Pagan Pride 2018

Sunday the 5th of August 2018 was the last Pagan Pride in Nottingham, although of course none of us knew that at the time. I attended purposely as two people I know in real life were speaking. Conveniently they presented their talks in the same tent consecutively.

Sean Woodward is a writer and artist known in occult circles for his Gnostic works. He is the author of Keys to the Hoodoo Kingdom (a book launched in July of 2018) and the British Grand Master of Ordo Templi Orientis Antiqua and La Couleuvre Noire. I had only recently been introduced to Mr Woodward. I met him in London when I was attending the 'Art in the Crypt' event and his book launch (see link below).

Sean began promptly at 4pm, vainly attempting to find shade in the gazebo tent erected for the talks. His talk 'the Witch Queen' began with an introduction to Hesiod and references to the Goddess of Sky, Earth and Sea. Moving on and exploring the three faces of change, it became clear that the number three was to be at the heart of this presentation.

After briefly discussing the open and wild places of the Trivium; the three formed crossroads being a common location for the statues of the deities Hecate and Hermes. Sean quickly moved onto the subject of household spirits, Triadytis, the three places, the three eyes and prophetic vision. The Key of Life was alluded to with reference to the two pillars plus a third within the Typhonian tradition.

Discussing the Gnosis of the Dreaming Sabbat and the vision of the Skull, Temple, Shrine and the Holed Stone, we were introduced to the Chaldean origins of his subject matter, the Greek development and cautioned with the observance that many interpretations are relatively modern.

Continuing with a very brief discussion of Fairy Lore, Mr Woodward made references to Queen Mab, the writers Spencer and Blake, Artemis and Morgan Le Fey. Returning once more to the signficance of the number three, we were introduced to the three headed goddess, snake symbolism and the four virtues. One of which being wisdom formed a very clever link to Sophia and the study of Gnostic philospophy.

Mr Woodward's presentation was to be a short one, it was delivered at speed but gave the audience a taste of what is to be found in his writings of an obvious greater depth. His explorations of Gnosticism, the Templars, the Rota Wheel, the Square of Tanat, the Serpent Lady and the mass, were brief samples designed to awaken the appetite of the listener.

Drawing his talk to a close Mr Woodward touched upon the symbolism of the frog, a controversial and disputed area in regards to Hecate. Associations with a Frog Headed Goddess of Egypt being rather more appropriate and credible. This did however, serve as a link to Hekate's Fountain. A fountain not of water but of blood. His final and pertinent observation being that the Witch Queen lies hidden in the Square of Tanat. A key that is worth the searching for.

Art in the Crypt