So I was planning on writing this last night, but I got distracted reading Thorn Mooney’s blog over at Thorn the Witch and ended up going to bed half an hour later than I should have. Oops. Thing is I’ve only just started reading Ms. Mooney’s work, having devoured her book Traditional Wicca: A Seeker’s Guide while I was away, and there’s a lot to catch up on.
Now that I’m back from Sidmouth and have access to my lappy again, I can show you another bit of the folk scene that’s Pagan-relevant. One of the styles of traditional English dance is rapper sword dancing, or just rapper. It’s one of the few traditions we can actually date, as it requires sprung steel to do which was only invented in the 19th century, but the original purpose of the rapper swords is still a matter of some debate. It’s danced in teams of five, although occasionally the Tommy joins in for some of the figures and I once saw two teams (I think it was Gaorsach and Newcastle Kingsmen) join to make a ten-person side. As with most trad. dances, no one’s quite sure why it’s five people instead of anything else, but five is the minimum number of people you can have and still get the lock on the swords – interlace them over and under so that one person can hold the locked swords up and not have it fall apart. Which with five people makes a pentagram. Thing is, it’s still quite hard to lock the swords – even professional teams have had the lock disintergrate during performances, so when it’s done and held up everyone in the audience whoops and cheers and applauds. Granted, it’s an inverted one, but that’s because you have to hold it that way round – partly because of the timing of the dance, when the change from one figure to another is quick so you need to be able to grab the handles again fast to unlock, and partly because you have to hold it that way round to keep the swords locked, unless you want to use two hands which doesn’t look as good.
Here’s a short video I got from just after the start of one of their performances, which gives you an idea of what rapper dancing looks like. It would have been longer, but my phone ran out of memory space. Black Swan Rapper are one of the best teams in the UK, and they do a lot of tumbles in their dances – there’s figures where two of the team are somersaulting backwards over the swords at the same time, and others where two of the team do a run-up and roll forwards over the swords, almost without needing to use their teammates for support. But the part where they’re standing in a rough horseshoe shape and stepping with the swords interlaced in the middle – when their hands go down then up again and they move to the next figure – that’s the same movement at the same speed that the lock goes on and is taken off. The swords have already been laid in the over-and-under pattern in the dance, so the team is standing in a tight circle, but there’s still only maybe a second to fully lock the swords together before everyone lets go and you find out whether you’ve done it successfully or not.
And here’s Lady Maisery’s version of ‘Digger’s Song’ that I mentioned in my last post. This is one of the loosely-based-on-Christianity folk songs, in that it refers to a radical Protestant sect called the Diggers (oringinally the True Levellers), as they believed in agrarian social reform and wished to be able to dig up common land and use it for farming. It falls much more into the category of protest songs, and as ever, many of the lyrics are as relevant today as they were in the mid-1600s. Sigh…