In Come All Ye: The Vancouver Folk Song Society Journal,
Vol.3., No. 11: November 1974., John Bartlett wrote:
Children's songs are an underground river running through
the centuries, and (together with scatologia) form the only area of unconscious folklore
that we have left in western industrial society...The secret world of children - of
ritual, game, and language - has not always been such. Indeed the very concept of
childhood is a fairly modern one. It is the thesis of Philippe Aries that until about the
seventeenth century, the only significant social division was between what we now call
"babies" (who have always needed special attention) and everyone else. Games
such as hide-and-seek and leap-frog were not restricted to children (see, for example the
paintings of Breughel), and the great festivals and celebrations of the year were not
limited solely to adults.
John's point that the concept of childhood is a relatively
modern one is supported by a reference in Maria Gimbutas' The Goddesses and Gods of
Old Europe, describing the festival of Dionysus.
On the second day of the festival, the Day of Cups, Choes,
wine was taken from the jars and brought to the sanctuary of Dionysus where it was
silently distributed in small jugs among all citizens "over the age of four".
Evidently the rites of the ancient Goddess, especially with
her symbolic, shape-shifting capacity to turn into bee, dog, hare (a lunar animal in many
widespread cultures, fish, bird, etc., survived into early Celtic Christian times, and
flourished to the extent that 9,000,000 women were burnt to death during the extermination
of the old practices, remnants of which were what became condemned as
"witchcraft". The dramatic reconstruction by Robert Graves of the seasonal
changes as personified by the Goddess' changing forms, and her Lord's ever hot pursuit is
based on an old ballad, "The Twa Magicians". Folklore indeed is a river that
As conservative as folklore, if not more so, is
iconography, especially the iconography of Celtic art. On top of the Christ monogram
page of the book of Kells there is the head of the Virgin. On the same page we find
cat and mouse, trout and otter, and two butterflies courting. A few folios on we find the
hound and the hare.
I hope that the two articles in this issue provide some
useful insights into the significance of these particular images, as well as inspiration
to Celtic artists. We hope to hear from you, your comments and reflections on this
valuable material, so please feel free to
write, c/o the editor of the Coracle, Aidan Meehan.