AP: Boston

Was the common American children's song She'll Be Comin' Round the Mountain originally a hymn to the Moon Goddess of the Witches?

A new study by historian and ethnomusicologist Stefano Pozzo, current chair of ethnomusicology at Massachusetts' prestigious Miskatonic University, suggests that this may indeed be the case.

“It's one of the great mysteries of American paidomusicology [the study of children's music],” says Pozzo. “Who is this mysterious and powerful female driving six white horses? I think that we can now say confidently that we know exactly who she is.”

In the current issue of Ethnomusicology Today, Pozzo examines the earliest surviving texts of the song to present his case.

She'll be coming' round the mountain when she comes,” he writes, “Could one ask for a clearer image of moonrise?”

According to Pozzo, when 17th century British witches fled to the New World to escape religious persecution, they brought their immemorial devotion to the Moon along with them.

“Who else drives six white horses?” he asks. “The white horse is one of the Moon's most ancient symbols, and of course in Classical art the moon-goddess Luna-Selene is commonly portrayed as a charioteer.”

Pozzo sees the song as a community's hymn in anticipation of moonrise and the subsequent full Moon sabbat.

The line And we'll all go out to meet her when she comes, clearly indicates a community-wide celebration,” he says, adding that the verses We'll kill the old red rooster and We'll all have chicken and dumplings "reference the traditional moonrise sacrifices and sabbat feasting.”

The song's call-and-response format resembles that of other early 18th and 19th century American hymns, and probably formed the basis for impromptu improvisation.

For this reason, Pozzo writes, it's not altogether certain which lines are original to the hymn and which have been added later.

It's possible that the line She'll be carrying six white puppies refers to the well-known ancient association between the Moon and canines. But it may also be a later addition, intended humorously. At the moment, we're unable to say for certain.”

According to Pozzo, even the song's cyclic nature—it generally ends with a repetition of the first stanza—demonstrates its lunar nature. “Form fitting function,” he says.

Similarly, the song derives its "subtextual" nature from its cultural context.

“Witchcraft was a capital offense in Colonial America,” observes Pozzo, “so you had to be discreet about what you said in public. Most early American witch songs are characterized by this 'hiding in plain sight' nature, which turns one, outer, face to non-witches and another, secret, face to those already in the know.”

While one mystery may have been solved, others still remain.

“The song would seem to have originated among the witch-communities of the Appalachians,” Pozzo writes, “but is the mountain in question a specific peak, or is this a mythological mountain, perhaps the legendary Sabbat Mount?”

Clearly, questions remain.

 

She'll Be Comin' Round the Mountain

(American Folk)

 

She'll be comin' round the mountain when she comes,

She'll be comin' round the mountain when she comes,

She'll be comin' round the mountain,

She'll be comin' round the mountain,

She'll be comin' round the mountain when she comes.

 

She'll be driving six white horses...

 

She'll be carrying six white puppies...

 

And we'll all go out to meet her...

 

And we'll kill the old red rooster...

 

And we'll all have chicken and dumplings...

 

She'll be comin' round the mountain when she comes...