Ritual to Romance
THE SWORD DANCE
The subject we are now about to consider is one which of late years
has attracted considerable attention, and much acute criticism has been expended on the
question of its origin and significance. Valuable material has been collected, but the
studies, so far, have been individual, and independent, the much needed travail
d'ensemble has not yet appeared.
One definite result has, however, been obtained; it is now generally
admitted that the so-called Sword Dances, with the closely related Morris Dances, and
Mumming Plays, are not mere survivals of martial exercises, an inherited tradition from
our warrior ancestors, but were solemn, ceremonial (in some cases there is reason to
believe, Initiatory) dances, performed at stated seasons of the year, and directly and
intimately connected with the ritual of which we have treated in previous chapters, a
ritual designed to preserve and promote the regular and ordered sequence of the processes
of Nature. And here, again, our enquiry must begin with the very earliest records of our
race, with the traditions of our Aryan forefathers.
The earliest recorded Sword Dancers
are undoubtedly the Maruts, those swift-footed youths in gleaming armour who are the
faithful attendants on the great god, Indra. Professor von Schroeder, in Mysterium und
Mimus, describes them thus1: they
are a group of youths of equal age and identical parentage,
they are always depicted as attired in the same manner, "Sie sind reich und prächtig
geschmückt, mit Goldschmuck auf der Brust, mit Spangen an den Händen, Hirschfelle tragen
sie auf den Schultern. Vor allem aber sind sie kriegerisch gerüstet, funkelnde
Speere tragen sie in den Händen, oder auch goldene Äxte. Goldene Harnische oder Mäntel
umhüllen sie, goldene Helme schimmern auf ihren Häuptern. Nie erscheinen sie ohne Wehr
und Waffen. Es scheint dass diese ganz und gar zu ihren Wesen gehören."
The writer goes on to remark that when such a band of armed youths, all
of the same age, always closely associated with each other, are represented as Dancers,
and always as Dancers - "dann haben wir unabweislich das Bild eines Waffentanzes vor
unseren Augen" - and Professor von Schroeder is undoubtedly right.
Constantly throughout the Rig-Veda the Maruts are
referred to as Dancers, "gold-bedecked Dancers," "with songs of praise they
danced round the spring," "When ye Maruts spear-armed dance, they (i.e., the
Heavens) stream together like waves of water2."
And a special moment for the dance of these glorious youths "ever
young brothers of whom none is elder, none younger3" is that of the ceremonial
sacrifice, "sie tanzen auf ihren himmlischen Bahnen, sie springen und tanzen auch bei den
Opferfesten der Menschen4."
The Maruts, as said above, were conceived
of as the companions of Indra, and helpers in his fight against his monstrous adversaries;
thus they were included in the sacrifices offered in honour of that Deity.
One of the most striking of the ritual Dramas reconstructed by
Professor von Schroeder is that which represents Indra as indignantly rejecting the
claim of the Maruts to share in such a sacrifice; they had failed to support him in his
conflict with the dragon, Vritra, when by his might he loosed the waters, 'neither to-day,
nor to-morrow' will he accept a sacrifice of which they share the honour; it requires all
the tact of the Offerer, Agastya, and of the leader of the Maruts to soothe the offended
Here I would draw attention to the significant fact that the feat
celebrated is that to which I have previously referred as the most famous of all the deeds
attributed to Indra, the 'Freeing of the Waters,' and here the Maruts are associated with
But they were also the objects of independent worship. They were
specially honoured at the Câturmâsya, the feasts which heralded the commencement of the
three seasons of four months each into which the Indian year was divided,
a division corresponding respectively to the hot, the cool, and the wet,
season. The advantages to be derived from the worship of the Maruts may be deduced from
the following extracts from the Rig-Veda, which devotes more than thirty hymns to
their praise. "The adorable Maruts, armed with bright lances, and cuirassed with
golden breastplates, enjoy vigorous existence; may the cars of the quickmoving Maruts
arrive for our good." "Bringers of rain and fertility, shedding water,
augmenting food." "Givers of abundant food." "Your milchkine are never
dry." "We invoke the food-laden chariots of the Maruts6." Nothing
can be clearer than this; the Maruts are 'daimons' of fertility, the worship of whom will
secure the necessary supply of the fruits of the earth.
The close association of the Maruts with Indra, the great Nature god,
has led some scholars to regard them as personifications of a special manifestation of
Nature, as Windgods. Professor von Schroeder points out that their father was the god
Rudra, later known as Çiva, the god of departed souls, and of fruitfulness, i.e., a
Chthonian deity, and suggests that the Maruts represent the "in Wind und Sturm
dahinjagende Seelenschar7." He points out that the belief in a troop of departed souls
is an integral part of Aryan tradition, and classifies such belief under four main
1. Under the form of a spectral Hunt, the Wild Huntsman well known in
European Folk-lore. He equates this with Dionysus Zagreus, and the Hunt of
To these four main groups may be added the
belief among Germanic peoples, also among the Letts, in a troop of Child Souls.
2. That of a spectral Army, the souls of warriors slain in
fight. The Northern Einherier belong to this class, and the many traditions of
spectral combats, and ghostly battles, heard, but not seen.
3. The conception of a host of women in a conditon of ecstatic exaltation bordering on
madness, who appear girdled with snakes, or hissing like snakes, tear living animals to
pieces, and devour the flesh. The classic examples here are the Greek Maenads, and the
Indian Senas, who accompany Rudra.
4. The conception of a train of theriomorphic, phallic, demons of fertility, with their
companion group of fair women. Such are the Satyrs and Nymphs of Greek, the Gandharvas and
Apsaras of Indian, Mythology.
These four groups, in more or less modified forms, appear closely
connected with the dominant Spirit of Vegetation, by whatever name that spirit may be
According to von Schroeder there was, among the Aryan peoples
generally, a tendency to regard the dead as assuming the character of daimons of
fertility. This view the learned Professor considers to be at the root of the annual
celebrations in honour of the Departed, the 'Feast of Souls,' which characterized the
commencement of the winter season,
and is retained in the Catholic conception of November as the month of the Dead8.
In any case we may safely conclude that the Maruts, represented as armed
youths, were worshipped as deities of fruitfulness; that their dances were of a ceremonial
character; and that they were, by nature and origin, closely connected with spirits of
fertility of a lower order, such as the Gandharvas. It also appears probable that, if the
Dramas of which traces have been preserved in the Rig-Veda, were, as
scholars are now of opinion, once actually represented, the mythological conception of the
Maruts must have found its embodiment in youths, most probably of the priestly caste, who
played their role and actually danced the ceremonial Sword Dance. As von Schroeder says,
"Kein Zweifel dass sie dabei von menschlichen, resp. priesterlichen Personen
When we turn from the early Aryan to the classic Greek period we find
in the Kouretes, and in a minor degree in the Korybantes, a parallel so extraordinarily
complete, alike in action and significance, that an essential identity of origin appears
to be beyond doubt.
The Kouretes were, as their name indicates, a band of armed youths, of
semi-divine origin, "Kureten sind von Haus aus halb-göttlich dämonische Wesen nicht
nur menschliche Priester, oder deren mythische Vertreter10." Again,
they are to be considered as "elementare Urwesen," and as such of
"Göttliche Abkunft11." Preller
regards them as "Dämonen des Gebirgs12," while a
passage from Hesiod, quoted by Strabo, equates them with nymphs and satyrs, i.e., fertility
When we remember that the Gandharvas are the Indian equivalent of the
Satyrs the close parallel between the Maruts and the Kouretes, both alike bands of armed
youths, of elementary origin, and connected with beings of a lower grade, is striking.
The home of the Kouretes was in Crete, where they were closely
associated with the worship of the goddess Rhea. The traditional story held that, in order
to preserve the infant Zeus from destruction by his father Kronos, they danced their
famous Sword Dance round the babe, overpowering his cries by the clash of their weapons.
Their dance was by some writers identified with the Pyrrhic dance,
first performed by Athene, in honour of her victory over the Giants, and taught by her to
the Kouretes. It had however, as we shall see, a very distinct aim and purpose, and one in
no way connected with warlike ends.
In Miss J. E. Harrison's deeply interesting volume, Themis14,
she gives the translation of a fragmentary Hymn of the Kouretes, discovered among the ruins of a temple in Crete, a text
which places beyond all doubt the fact that, however mythical in origin, the Kouretes,
certainly, had actual human representatives, and that while in the case of the Maruts
there may be a question as to whether their dance actually took place, or not, so far as
the Kouretes are concerned there can be no such doubt.
The following is the text as preserved to us; the slabs on which it is
inscribed are broken, and there are consequent lacunae.
"Io, Kouros most great, I give thee hail,
Kronian, lord of all
that is wet and gleaming, thou art come at the head of thy Daimones. To Dikte for the
year, Oh march, and rejoice in the dance and song,
This hymn is most extraordinarily interesting; it places beyond all doubt
what was the root intention of this ceremonial dance; it was designed to stimulate the
reproductive energies of Nature, to bring into being fruitful fields, and vineyards,
plenteous increase in the flocks and herds, and to people the cities with youthful
citizens; and the god is entreated not merely to accept the worship offered, but himself
to join in the action which shall produce such fair results, to leap for full jars, and
fleecy flocks, and for youthful citizens.
"That we make to thee with harps and pipes mingled together, and sing as we come to a
stand at thy well-fenced altar.
"For here the shielded Nurturers took thee, a child immortal, from Rhea, and with
noise of beating feet hid thee away.
"And the Horai began to be fruitful year by year, and Dikè to possess mankind and
all wild living things were held about by wealth-loving Peace.
"To us also leap for full jars, and leap for fleecy flocks, and leap for fields of
fruit, and for hives to bring increase.
"Leap for our cities, and leap for our sea-borne ships, and leap for our young
citizens, and for goodly Themis."
The importance of movement, notably of what we may call group movement,
as a stimulant to natural energies, is thoroughly recognized among primitive peoples; with
them Dance holds a position equivalent to that which, in more advanced communities, is
assigned to Prayer. Professor von Schroeder comments on this, "Es ist merkwürdig
genug zu sehen wie das Tanzen nach dem Glauben primitiver Völker eine ähnliche Kraft und
Bedeutung zu haben scheint wie man sie auf höheren Kulturstufen dem inbrünstigen Gebete
cites the case of the Tarahumara Indians of Central
America; while the family as a whole are labouring in the fields it is the office of one
man to dance uninterruptedly on the dance place of the house; if he fails in his office
the labour of the others will be unsuccessful.
The one sin of which a Tarahumara Indian is conscious is that of not having danced enough.
Miss Harrison, in commenting on the dance of the Kouretes, remarks that among certain
savage tribes when a man is too old to dance he hands on his dance to another. He then
ceases to exist socially - when he dies his funeral is celebrated with scanty rites;
having 'lost his dance' he has ceased to count as a social unit16.
With regard to the connection of the Kouretes
with the infant Zeus, Miss Harrison makes the interesting suggestion that we have here a
trace of an Initiation Dance, analogous to those discussed by M. Van Gennep in his Rites
du Passage, that the original form was Titans, 'White-clay men,' which later became
Titans, 'Giants,' and she draws attention to the fact that daubing the skin with white
clay is a frequent practice in these primitive rituals. To this I would add that it is a
noteworthy fact that in our modern survivals of these dances the performers are, as a
rule, dressed in white.
The above suggestion is of extreme significance, as it brings out the
possibility that these celebrations were not only concerned with the prosperity of the
community, as a whole, but may also have borne a special, and individual, aspect, and that
the idea of Initiation into the group is closely connected with the ceremonial exercise of
To sum up, there is direct proof that the classic
Greeks, in common with their Aryan forefathers, held the conception of a
group of Beings, of mythic origin, represented under the form of
armed youths, who were noted dancers, and whose activIties were closely connected with the
processes of Nature. They recognized a relation between these beings, and others of a less
highly developed aspect, phallic demons, often of theriomorphic form. Thus the dance of
the Kouretes should be considered as a ceremonial ritual action, rather than as a warlike
exercise; it was designed to promote the fruitfulness of the earth, not to display the
skill of the dancers in the handling of weapons. When we turn to an analogous group, that
of the Korybantes, we find that, while presenting a general parallel to the Kouretes (with
whom they are often coupled in mythologies), they also possess certain distinct
characteristics, which form a connecting link with other, and later, groups.
The Korybantes were of Phrygian origin, attached to the worship of the
goddess Kybele, and Attis, the well-known Phrygian counterpart to the Phoenician Adonis,
and originally the most important embodiment of the Vegetation Spirit. Roscher considers
them to be of identical origin with the Kouretes, i.e., as elementary 'daimons,' but the
Korybantes of Classic art and tradition are undoubtedly human beings. Priests of
Kybele, they appear in surviving basreliefs in company with that goddess, and with Attis.
The dance of the Korybantes is distinguished from that of the Kouretes
by its less restrained, and more orgiastic character; it was a wild and whirling dance
resembling that of the modern Dervishes, accompanied by self-mutilation and an
unrhythmic clashing of weapons, designed, some writers think, to overpower the cries of
If this suggestion be
correct it would seem to indicate that, if the Dance of the Kouretes was originally an
Initiation Dance, that of the Korybantes was Sacrificial in character. We shall see later
that certain features in the surviving forms of the Sword Dance also point in this
The interest of the Korybantes for our investigation lies in the fact
that here again we have the Sword Dance in close and intimate connection with the worship
of the Vegetation Spirit, and there can be no doubt that here, as elsewhere, it was held
to possess a stimulating virtue.
A noticeable point in the modern survivals of these Dances is that the
Dance proper is combined with a more or less coherent dramatic action. The Sword Dance
originally did not stand alone, but formed part of a Drama, to the action of which it may
be held to have given a cumulative force.
On this point I would refer the reader to Professor von Schroeder's
book, where this aspect of the Dance is fully discussed17.
We have already spoken of the
Maruts, and their dramatic connection with Indra; the Greek Dancers offer us no direct
parallel, though the connection of the Kouretes with the infant
Zeus may quite possibly indicate the existence in the original form of the Dance, of a
more distinctly dramatic element.
We have, however, in the Roman Salii a connecting link which proves beyond all doubt that our
modern dances, and analogous representations, are in fact genuine survivals of primitive
ceremonies, and in no way a mere fortuitous combination of originally independent
The Salii formed a college of priests, twelve in number, dedicated to
the service of Mars, who, it is important to remember, was originally a god of growth and
vegetation, a Spring Deity, who bestowed his name on the vernal month of March; only by
degrees did the activities of the god become specially connected with the domain of War18.
There seem to have been two groups of
Salii, one having their college
on the Palatine, the other on the Quirinal; the first were the more important. The
Quirinal group shared in the celebrations of the latter part of the month only.
The first of March was the traditional birthday of Mars, and from that
date, during the whole of the month, the Salii offered sacrifices and performed dances in
his honour. They wore pointed caps, or helmets, on their head, were girt with swords, and
carried on the left arm shields, copied from the 'ancilia' or traditional shield of Mars,
fabled to have fallen from heaven. In their right hand they bore a small lance.
Dionysus of Halicarnassus, in a passage describing the
Salii, says, "
they carried in their right hand a spear, or staff, or something of that sort." Miss
Harrison, quoting this passage, gives a reproduction of a bas-relief representing the
Salii carrying what she says " are clearly drumsticks." (As a matter of fact
they very closely resemble the 'Wands' which in the Tarot cards sometimes represent the
Miss Harrison suggests that the original shields were made of skins,
stretched upon a frame, and beaten by these 'drumsticks.' This may quite well have been
the case, and it would bear out my contention that the original contact of weapon and
shield was designed rather as a rhythmic accompaniment to the Dance, than as a display of
skill in handling sword and lance, i.e., that these dances were not primarily warlike
At the conclusion of their songs the Salii invoked Mamurius
the smith who was fabled to have executed the copies of the original shield, while on the
14th of March, a man, dressed in skins, and supposed to represent the aforesaid smith, was
led through the streets, beaten by the Salii with rods, and thrust out of the city.
The following day, the 15th, was
the feast of Anna Perenna, fabled to be an old woman, to whom Mars had confided the tale
of his love for Nerio, and who, disguising herself as the maiden, had gone through the
ceremony of marriage with the god. This feast was held outside the gates. On the 23rd the
combined feast of Mars and Nerio was held with great rejoicing throughout the city. Modern
scholars have unanimously recognized in Mamurius Veturius and Anna Perenna the
representatives of the Old Year, the Vegetation Spirit, and his female counterpart, who,
grown old, must yield place to the young god and his correspondingly youthful bride.
Reference to Chapter 5, where the medieval and modern forms of this Nature ritual are
discussed, and instances of the carrying out of Winter, and ceremonial bringing in of
Spring, are given, will suffice to show how vital and enduring an element in Folk-lore is
this idea of driving out the Old Year, while celebrating the birth of the New. Here then,
again, we have a ritual Sword Dance closely associated with the practice of a Nature cult;
there can, I think, be no doubt that ab initio the two were connected with each
But the dance of the Salii
with its dramatic Folk-play features forms an interesting link between the classic Dance
of the Kouretes, and the modern English survivals, in which the dramatic element is
strongly marked. These English forms may be divided into three related groups, the Sword
Dance, the Morris Dance, and the Mumming Play. Of these the Morris Dance stands somewhat
apart; of identical origin, it has discarded the dramatic element, and now survives simply
as a Dance, whereas the Sword Dance is always dramatic in form, and the Mumming Play,
acted by characters appearing also in the Sword Dance, invariably contains a more or less
The Sword Dance proper appears to have been preserved mostly in the North
of England, and in Scotland. Mr Cecil Sharp has found four distinct varieties in Yorkshire
alone. At one time there existed a special variant known as the Giants' Dance, in
which the leading characters were known by the names of Wotan, and Frau Frigg; one figure
of this dance consisted in making a ring of swords round the neck of a lad, without
Mr E. K. Chambers has commented on this as the survival of a
sacrificial origin20. The remarks of this writer on the Sword Dance in its dramatic
aspect are so much to the point that I quote them here. "The Sword Dance makes its
appearance, not like heroic poetry in general, as part of the minstrel repertory, but as a
purely popular thing at the agricultural festivals. To these festivals we may therefore
suppose it to have originally belonged." Mr Chambers goes on to remark that the dance
of the Salii discussed above, was clearly agricultural, "and belongs to Mars not as
War god but in his more primitive quality of a fertilization Spirit."
In an Appendix to his most valuable book the same writer gives a full
description, with text, of the most famous surviving form of the Sword Dance, that of Papa
Stour (old Norwegian Papey in Stora), one of the Shetland Islands.
The dance was performed at Christmas (Yule-tide). The dancers, seven in
number, represented the seven champions of Christendom; the leader, Saint George, after an
introductory speech, performed a solo dance, to the music of an accompanying minstrel. He then
presented his comrades, one by one, each in turn going through the same performance.
Finally the seven together performed an elaborate dance. The complete text of the speeches
is given in the Appendix referred to21.
The close connection between the English Sword
Dance, and the Mumming Play, is indicated by the fact that the chief character in these
plays is, generally speaking, Saint George. (The title has in some cases become corrupted
into King-George.) In Professor von Schroeder's opinion this is due to Saint
George's legendary role as Dragon slayer, and he sees in the importance assigned to this
hero an argument in favour of his theory that the "Slaying of the Dragon" was
the earliest Aryan Folk-Drama.
In Folk-Lore, Vol. x., a fully illustrated description of the
Mumming Play, as performed at Newbold, a village near Rugby, is given22. Here the
characters are Father Christmas, Saint George, a Turkish Knight, Doctor, Moll Finney
(mother of the Knight), Humpty Jack, Beelzebub, and 'Big-Head-and-Little-Wit.' These last
three have no share in the action proper, but appear in a kind of Epilogue, accompanying a
collection made by Beelzebub.
The Play is always performed at
Christmas time, consequently Father Christmas appears as stage-manager, and
introduces the characters. The action consists in a challenge issued by Saint George, and
accepted by the Turkish Knight. A combat follows, in which the Turk is slain. His mother
rushes in, weeps over the body, and demands the services of a Doctor, who appears
accordingly, vaunts his skill in lines interspersed with unintelligible gibberish, and
restores the Turk to life. In the version which used to be played throughout Scotland at
Hogmanay (New-Year-tide), the characters are Bol Bendo, the King of France, the King of
Spain, Doctor Beelzebub, Golishan, and Sir Alexander23. The fight is
between Bol Bendo (who represents the Saint George of the English version), and Golishan.
The latter is killed, and, on the demand of Sir Alexander (who acts as stage-manager),
revived by the doctor, this character, as in the English version, interlarding the recital
of his feats of healing skill with unintelligible phrases24. There is a
general consensus of opinion among Folk-lore authorities that in this rough drama, which
we find played in slightly modified form all over Europe (in Scandinavia it is the
Julbock, a man dressed in skins, who, after a dramatic dance, is killed and
revived25), we have a
symbolic representation of the death and re-birth of the year; a counterpart to those
ceremonies of driving out Winter, and bringing in Spring, which we have already described.
This chapter had already been written when an important article, by Dr
Jevons, entitled Masks and the Origin of the Greek Drama appeared in Folk-Lore
(Vol. xxvii.). The author, having discussed the different forms of Greek Drama, and
the variety of masks employed, decides that "Greek Comedy originated in Harvest
Festivals, in some ceremony in which the Harvesters went about in procession wearing
masks." This ceremony he connects directly with the English Mumming Plays, suggesting
that "the characters represented on this occasion were the Vegetation Spirit, and
those who were concerned in bringing about his revivification -in fine, Greek Comedy and
the Mumming Play both sprang from the rite of revivification." At a later stage of
our enquiry we shall have occasion to return to this point, and realize its great
importance for our theory.
The Morris Dances differ somewhat from the Sword,
and Mumming Dances. The performances as a rule take place in the Spring, or early Summer,
chiefly May, and Whitsuntide. The dances retain little or no trace of dramatic action but
are dances pure and simple. The performers, generally six in number, are attired in white
elaborately- pleated shirts, decked with ribbons, white mole-skin trousers, with bells at
the knee, and beaver hats adorned with ribbons and flowers. The leader carries a sword, on
the point of which is generally impaled a cake; during the dancing slices of this cake are
distributed to the lookers on, who are supposed to make a contribution to the 'Treasury,'
a money-box carried by an individual called the Squire, or Clown, dressed in motley, and
bearing in the other hand a stick with a bladder at one end, and a cow's tail at the
In some forms of the dance there is a 'Lord' and a 'Lady,' who carry
'Maces' of office; these maces are short staves, with a transverse piece at the top, and a
hoop over it. The whole is decorated with ribbons and flowers, and bears a curious
resemblance to the Crux Ansata26.
In certain figures of the dance the performers carry
handkerchiefs, in others, wands, painted with the colours of the village to which they
belong; the dances are always more or less elaborate in form.
The costume of the 'Clown' (an animal's skin, or cap of skin with tail
pendant) and the special character assumed by the Maytide celebrations in certain parts of
England, e.g., Cornwall and Staffordshire27, would seem to indicate that, while
the English Morris Dance has dropped the dramatic action, the dancers not being designated
by name, and playing no special rôle, it has, on the other hand, retained the
theriomorphic features so closely associated with Aryan ritual, which the Sword Dance, and
Mumming Play, on their side, have lost28.
A special note of these English survivals, and one to which I would now
draw attention, is the very elaborate character of the figures, and the existence of a
distinct symbolic element. I am informed that the Sword dancers of to-day always, at the
conclusion of a series of elaborate sword-lacing figures, form the Pentangle; as they hold
up the sign they cry, triumphantly, "A Nut ! A Nut!" The word Nut = Knot (as
in the game of 'Nuts, i.e., breast-knots, nosegays, in May'). They
do this often even when performing a later form of the Mumming Play.
I have already drawn attention to the fact
that in Gawain and the Green Knight the hero's badge is the Pentangle (or
Pentacle), there explained as called by the English 'the Endless Knot29.' In the
previous chapter I have noted that the Pentangle frequently in the Tarot suits replaces
the Dish; in Mr Yeats's remarks, cited above, the two are held to be interchangeable, one
or the other always forms one of the group of symbols.
In one form of the Morris Dance, that performed in Berkshire, the
leader, or 'Squire' of the Morris carries a Chalice! At the same time he bears a Sword,
and a bull's head at the end of a long pole. This figure is illustrated in Miss Mary
Neal's Esperance Morris Book30.
Thus our English survivals of these early Vegetation ceremonies
preserve, in a more or less detached form, the four symbols discussed in the preceding
chapter, Grail, Sword, Lance, and Pentangle, or Dish. It seems to me that, in view of the
evidence thus offered, it is not a very hazardous, or far-fetched hypothesis to suggest
that these symbols, the exact value of which, as a group, we cannot
clearly determine, but of which we know the two most prominent, Cup and
Lance, to be sex symbols, were originally 'Fertility' emblems, and as such employed in a
ritual designed to promote, or restore, the activity of the reproductive energies of
As I have pointed out above an obvious dislocation has taken place in
our English survivals. Sword Dance, Mumming Play, and Morris Dance, no longer form part of
one ceremony, but have become separated, and connected, on the one hand with the Winter,
on the other with the early Summer, Nature celebrations; it is thus not surprising that
the symbols should also have become detached. The fact that the three groups manifestly
form part of an original whole is an argument in favour of the view that at one moment all
the symbols were used together, and the Grail chalice carried in a ceremony in which
Sword, Lance, and Pentangle, were also displayed.
But there is another point I would suggest. Is it not possible that, in
these armed youths, who were in some cases, notably in that of the Salii, at once warriors
and priests, we have the real origin of the Grail Knights? We know now, absolutely, and
indubitably, that these Sword Dances formed an important part of the Vegetation ritual, is
it not easily within the bounds of possibility that, as the general ceremonial became
elevated, first to the rank of a Mystery Cult, and then used as a vehicle for symbolic
Christian teaching, the figures of the attendant warrior-priests underwent
a corresponding change? From Salii to Templars is not after all so 'far a cry' as from the
glittering golden-armed Maruts, and the youthful leaping Kouretes, to the grotesque
tatterdemalion personages of the Christmas Mumming Play. We have learnt to acknowledge the
common origin of these two latter groups; may we not reasonably contemplate a possible
relation existing between the two first named?
1 Mysterium und Mimus, p.
50. This work contains a most valuable and interesting study of the Maruts, and the
kindred groups of Sword Dancers
2 Op. cit. pp. 47 et seq.
3 Rig-Veda, Vol. iii. p. 337.
4 Mysterium und Mimus, p. 48
5 0p. cit., Indra, die Maruts, und Agastya, pp. 9 1 et seq.
6 Rig-Veda, Vol. III. pp. 331, 334,
7 Mysterium und Mimus, p. 121.
8 Vollendung des
Arische Mysterium, p. 13. The introductory section of this book, containing a study of
early Aryan belief, and numerous references to modern survivals, is both interesting and
valuable. The latter part, a panegyric on the Wagnerian drama, is of little importance.
9 Mysterium und Mimus, p. 131
10 Cf. Röscher's Lexikon, under heading Kureten.
11 Op. cit.
12 Cf. Preller, Graechische Mythologie, p. 134.
13 Quoted by Preller, p. 654
14 Themis, A Study in Greek Social Origins (Cambridge, 1912), pp. 6 et seq.
15 Mysterium und Mimus, p. 23.
16 Themis p. 24.
17 Cf. Mysterium und Mimus section Indra, die Maruts, und Asastya specially
pp. 151 et seq.
18 Cf. von Schroeder, op. cit. pp.
141 et seq. for a very full account of the ceremonies; also, Themis, p. 194;
Mannhardt, Wald und Feld-Kulte, and Röscher's Lexikon. under
heading Mars, for various references.
19 Folk-Lore, Vols.
viii., x., and xvi. contain interesting and fully illustrated accounts of some of these
dances and plays.
20 The Mediaeval Stage, Vol.
iii. p. 202. It would be interesting to know the precise form of this ring; was it the
21 Cf. also Mysterium und
Mimus, pp. 110-111, for a general description of the dance, minus the text
of the speeches
22 pp. 186-194
23 Cf. Folk-Lore, Vol.
xvi. pp. 212 et seq.
24 I would draw attention to the curious name of the adversary, Golishan; it is noteworthy
that in one Arthurian romance Gawain has for adversary Golagros, in another Percival
fights against Golerotheram. Are these all reminiscences of the giant Goliath, who became
the synonym for a dangerous, preferably heathen, adversary, even as Mahomet became the
synonym for an idol?
25 Cf. Mannhardt, Wald und Feld-Kulte, Vol. ii. pp. 191 et seq. for
a very full account of the Julbock (Yule Buck).
26 Cf. Folk-Lore, Vol.
viii. 'Some Oxfordshire Seasonal Festivals,' where full illustrations of the Bampton
Morris Dancers and their equipment will be found
27 Cf. The Padstow Hobby-Horse, F.-L. Vol. xvi. p. 86; The Staffordshire
Horn-Dance, Ib. Vol. vii. p. 382, and viii. P. 70.
28 Cf. supra, pp. 53, 80, 85.
29 Cf. Legend of Sir
Perceval, Vol. ii. p. 264
30 See English Folk-Song and Dance by Frank Kidson and Mary Neal, Cambridge, 1915,
plate facing p. 104. A curious point in connection with the illustration is that the
Chalice is surmounted by a Heart, and in the Tarot suits Cups are the equivalent of our Hearts.
The combination has now become identified with the cult of the Sacred Heart, but is
undoubtedly very much older.