Mudcat Café message #217654 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #20699   Message #217654
Posted By: GUEST,Okiemockbird
25-Apr-00 - 11:36 AM
Thread Name: The Pagan Alternative. What's the music?
Subject: RE: The Pagan Alternative. What's the music?
Jacob B, Dancing as a part of seasonal merrymaking is certainly very old and widespread. If people who say that morris "derives from pagan ritual dances" mean only that the impulse to dance as part of holiday-making is ancient, or that the impulse among young folk (especially males) to take advantage of a day off work to impress their friends, neighbors, and especially the opposite sex --and possibly earn some extra money--with feats of dexterity or endurance, is an ancient one, then they are doing no more than clumsily (they should call it "human", not "pagan") to state the obvious.

I don't think that's what they always mean, though. When Violet Alford stated that the hilt-and-point sword dance originated in ancient times among blacksmiths, she was (as I interpret) making an assertion about the content of ancient religion, about the choreography of ancient festival dances, and claiming that the performance of this dance has been continuous since that time. Though there is evidence that blacksmiths have in the past been credited with arcane power, that fact alone does nothing to establish the place of this attitude in the formal religious system of any ancient people. It doesn't tell us that blacksmiths worshipped gods peculiar to their trade (though they may have) or that they performed dances on the festival days of those gods (though, again, they may have.) Nor does it establish a chain of transmission for the details of any specific religious practice from antiquity to the present.

Like Violet Alford's assertions about sword dancing, so statements about morris dancing can sometimes contain hidden assumptions about the intellectual and practical content of ancient religion. But unless these assumptions are supported with evidence, they are no more than guesses.