When going down the rabbit hole of long-lost Celtic traditions, it didn’t take long at all to find the perfect thing to follow the bit on the Isle of Man and Hunt the Wren tradition!
Today we’ll head to Wales and learn about the Mari Lwyd. This translates to “Gray Mare”, and is thought to be connected to Celtic mythology, and the idea that pale horses could travel between the living and the underworld. Centuries ago, the Welsh would decorate a horse’s skull, with ribbons, beads, and baubles. The skull was then affixed to a pole, and a sheet cloth draped around. Someone would hold the pole under the cloth, (something kind of like an early hobbyhorse). A large group would escort the Mari Lwyd around the town, going from door to door.
If your home was visited by the roaming group, you were challenged to a “pwnco”; a rhyming battle typically laced with fun jabs at the opposing poet, something akin to a rap battle nowadays. This could go on for several rounds, and usually ended with the undead mare winning the rhyme-off, and being invited into the conquered poet’s home for drink and food. It is said that if the Mari Lwyd won the right to come inside, your home was blessed with good luck for the coming year. That luck, however, wasn’t without a little exasperation, as the Mari Lwyd is known to run amuck once inside, maybe even snapping her jaws, scaring children, and wreaking a little havoc with her escorts feigning attempts to restrain her, all in good fun, of course.
Here is a link to a more modern version of the ceremony, from 1964.