2 December 2020 | By Brecon Beacons National Park Authority
Image | Ystrad Mari Troupe with Mari Aberhonddu (Glyntawe and Brecon) - A Welsh Folk Custom
Welsh Intangible Cultural Heritage
Mari Lwyd: A Welsh Folk Custom
Country of Origin: Wales
Intangible Cultural Heritage type: Social practices, rituals and festive events / Performing Arts
Over Christmas and New Year a strange sight can be seen in south and mid Wales. A horse’s skull, mounted on a pole, decorated with bells and ribbons and whose ‘rider’ is hidden under a sheet, goes with a band of revellers from pub to pub, trying to gain entry with verse (pwnco) and song. It is the Mari Lwyd (the grey mare) scaring off bad luck and ushering in good for the new year.
The origins of the Mari Lwyd are lost in the mists of time, but as far back as Celtic times horses were important due to the status they gave people and their use in agriculture and transport. The Celtic horse goddess Epona conferred fertility and abundance.
In the Welsh medieval stories of the Mabinogion, animals and people who were freely able to travel from the Otherworld into ours, were either white or grey. Is she an animal of the Otherworld come to visit us at this dark time of the year?
By the 1970s the tradition of the Mari Lwyd had dwindled in South Wales, hanging on in only a few places. From the early 2000’s there has been a resurgence in this tradition happening across south and mid Wales. The Chepstow Wassail and Mari Lwyd celebration, held to mark the old New Year on the 14th January 2019 saw over 30 Mari Lwyds attending, making this a world record.
We may not see the Mari in pubs this year due to the pandemic, but she will be out in the dark streets of Wales over the festive season bringing a bit of mystery and otherworldliness to our communities.
Written by Mari Arianrhod (Upper Swansea Valley, Wales)