History Witch: Uncovering Magical Antiquity

Want to know about real magic from history? This is the place. Here we explore primary texts and historical accounts from the past.

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Plough Monday Play

The liturgical calendar was essential in the medieval age but a lot of the older agricultural time markers found their place within it: Plough Monday was the Monday following the Epiphany (AKA The Twelfth Day of Christmas). One of the tradition associated with the day was another type of folk play. The existing plays are all from the northeast of England, but the tradition may have been more widely practised. Chambers tells us that the performers called themselves, 'Plough Jacks, Plough Jags...Plough Witchers and Morris Dancers' and woe betide the churl who turned them from his door, for they would plough up the ground before his door.

Like Mumming for the New Year, there was usually a mock battle and a healing, but there was an additional elements: sometimes the recruiting sergeant but most often, the Fool's Wooing. It was the last chance for a party as Plough Monday meant a return to work after the yuletide holidays. The Fool's Wooing gave an opportunity for fun and his wedding an excuse to ask for food and drink.

Good master and good mistress
As you sit round your fire
Remember us poor plough boys
Who plough the muck and mire. 

Of course the Lady is not going to be easy to woo. In one version of the comic play, she sets the would-be suitor down with alacrity:

To gain my love it will not do 
You speak too Clownish for to woo;
Therefore out of my sight be gone,
A witty man or I'll have none.

After a few more wooings (depending on the size of the group of players) the lovers are bound and demand a wedding feast including fiddle playing such dishes as porridge, barley pudding, good salt herring and copious ale. 

One last hurrah before the agricultural season takes off. 

[Image from 14th century copy of Piers Plowman via Trinity College, Cambridge University]

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K. A. Laity is an all-purpose writer, medievalist, journalist, Fulbrighter, social media maven for Broad Universe, and author of ROOK CHANT: COLLECTED WRITINGS ON WITCHCRAFT & PAGANISM, DREAM BOOK, UNQUIET DREAMS, OWL STRETCHING, CHASTITY FLAME, PELZMANTEL, UNIKIRJA, and many more stories, essays, plays and short humour. Find out more at www.kalaity.com and find her on Facebook or Twitter.


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