At The Renaissance Faire

 

Ren Faire Mask (2)

“Are you going to Scarborough Faire?
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.
Remember me to one who lived there.
She once was a true love of mine.” — Traditional English Ballad

My favorite thing to do in summer is go to the Renaissance Faire!  As a matter of fact, the Ren Faire is sort of my idea of heaven on earth.  Luckily, we have one every year in Bristol, Wisconsin, which is only about a two hour drive from Chicago, so I get to go quite often.

A lot of people have never had the pleasure of attending one of these galas.  If you have never been, I suggest you find one, get your groove on and go! The Ren Faire has something for everyone and is a guaranteed good time for all.

Just ask these guys!

Ren Faire Lords (2)

In addition to the normal Renaissance festivities, each week the Bristol Faire features a different theme. These include cool things like pirates & swashbucklers, monsters & magic, heroes & villains, comic-con and steam punk! What’s not to like?

It usually starts out with a parade. These gypsy girls stole the show with their colorful costumes and bodhráns.

“If music be the food of love, play on!” — William Shakespeare

Ren Faire Gypsy (2)

But what exactly is the Renaissance, and why have a faire about it?

The word “renaissance” means “rebirth”. It generally refers to a period in European history spanning from the 14th to 17th centuries — although some folk claim that the 10th and 12th centuries qualify as well.  The Renaissance was a part of the Middle Ages that bridged culture into the Age of Enlightenment. Most historians consider it the beginning of the Early Modern Era.  It was a great time of innovation, open-mindedness and scientific discoveries. The invention of the printing press led to a flourishing of literature and the arts. This was Shakespeare’s time, and although the theater was still considered bawdy, it gained wide acceptance and was favored by Queen Elizabeth.

The Renaissance era is closely associated with the Elizabethan era. As a matter of fact, Queen Bess herself is often seen riding though the streets of Bristol!

ren faire queen close up

With a few courtiers on hand.

ren faire dudley close up

Of course, a Ren Faire is nothing without a bit of dancing and music. One of their catch phrases is “Party like it’s 1599!” 🙂

ren faire drum close up

Drums are especially popular!

Ren Faire Drums

And flutes!

Ren Faire flute

And my personal favorite, the harp.

The Ren Faire is a shopaholic’s dream, with all kinds of merchants eager to sell their wares.  You can purchase jewelry, clothing, nick-nacks, books, and all the necessities like drinking horns, blown glass, tarot cards and tapestries.

It is a great time to explore your inner Elizabethan persona, or add a wench outfit to the wardrobe.

Gandalf the Wizard takes time away from ring quests and journeys into Mordor to preside over festivities.

Ren Faire Gandalf 1

And then there is the joust!

Jousting was a martial game that originated in the Middle Ages. It was played between two horsemen wielding lances. The two opponents rode towards each other at high speed, with the goal of breaking each others shields and in some cases, de-horsing each other.  Medieval jousting was a fierce and bloody sport. It was banned in France in 1559 after King Henry II died of wounds inflicted in a tournament.  Nonetheless, jousting remained popular in many countries.

In England King Henry VIII was a big fan.  Unfortunately, he had a huge jousting accident which nearly killed him. The accident occurred at a tournament at Greenwich Palace on January  24, 1536 when Henry was 44 years old. Henry, in full armor, was thrown from his horse. The horse, also in full armor, then fell on top of Henry!  The King was unconscious for two hours and it was probably a miracle that he survived.  The accident left him with a terrible ulcer in his leg that distressed him for the rest of his life. Some historians think it was this incident that contributed to Henry’s tyrannical ways and all the beheadings he ordered in his later life.  Needless to say, the King’s jousting days were over after that, but the sport remained popular throughout the Renaissance period.

The modern day Ren Faire has a much tamer version of the joust. However, they still use real horses and real shields, and it is very exciting! Here, the Order of the Sun vs. the Order of the Moon. The tournament is presided over by Lady Cordelia.

Ren Faire Joust 1.jpg

The Ren Faire is something of a freak show, full of jesters, jugglers, stilt walkers, sword swallowers and mud eaters. You never know who you’ll meet.  This guy was eager to shake hands 🙂

Ren Faire joker 1

What would a country faire be without livestock? If you are thinking of bringing your children, please do!  Bristol has a petting zoo, complete with sheep, goats, llamas and Shetland ponies.

Ren Faire Goats

They even have rides! However, you won’t find any roller coasters or Ferris wheels.  All Ren Faire rides are powered by wind alone, along with some human elbow grease.  My nephew decided to give the bungee challenge a try, with the help of a friendly pirate. AARRGGHH!

Stevie Bungee 1

“My soul is in the sky.” — William Shakespeare 

Stevie Bungee coming down

Falling backwards over the trees!

Stevie Bungee flipping over

Upside-down 🙂

Stevie Bungee flip 2

Several more flips are involved.

Stevie Bungee descent

Descending…

Stevie Bungee 2

And back on land with our friendly pirate.

Stevie Bungee Grounded

Speaking of pirates, seafaring women are greatly underestimated! This gal was modeled after Grace O’Malley, a real-life female swashbuckler who led many raids along the coast of Ireland.

Ren Faire Me

Grace  O’Malley was captured by British forces and ended up in prison for eighteen months. However, after appealing directly to Queen Elizabeth, she garnered some sympathy.  The Queen allowed that Grace be given back her fleet and continue on to sail the high seas! Maybe Queen Bess took pity on Grace, another woman who sought to rule in a male dominated profession 🙂

Before closing time at the Faire, all gather for the big dance.  Marauders, invaders, Vikings, Saxons, Goths and pillagers of all stripes are welcome!

Ren Faire Weird 1

Finally, our revels are ended and the ladies of the court bid us good-bye.

ren faire parade lady close

An excellent time was had by all. I highly recommend the Renaissance Faire for historical fun. It is a blast from the fabulous past that somehow seems not so distant, but oddly reminiscent of our current time…

“Come now, what masques, what dances shall we have, to wear away this long age of hours?” — William Shakespeare

Ren Faire Dancing

 

 

 

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Halloween Countdown: Soul Cakes

 

costumes 2

“A soul! a soul! a soul-cake!
Please good Mistress, a soul-cake!
An apple, a pear, a plum, or a cherry,
Any good thing to make us merry.”  — Soul Cake Song

 
Long before trick-or-treaters donned masks and Halloween became an international franchise, our Medieval ancestors had a different (and much more solemn) way of celebrating.  During these festivities, poor children went door to door, begging for cakes or bread in a tradition called ‘Souling’.

The basic idea was, you give the kid a cake and he or she says a prayer for one of your dead relatives. It was a win/win situation: a charitable donation for accumulated prayers.

Although Halloween/Samhain was originally a Pagan festival, when the Roman Church grew to power in the 4th century, it (like so many other Pagan celebrations) was hijacked and morphed to fit church traditions.

Hallowtide festivities in the Middle Ages took place over a period of three days, beginning on October 31 and ending on November 2. Three different holidays were  celebrated during this time.

All Hallows Eve (October 31st) was a day to honor deceased relatives.  It was customary to go to the graveyard, bring offerings of ‘soul cakes’ and wine, and commune with the dead, as veils to the otherworld were lifted. Visitors would light candles or bonfires and ring bells to help attract surreal  entities.

Joža Uprka

All Saints Day (November 1st) was a day to honor saints, while All Souls Day (November 2nd) paid tribute to ALL the souls of the departed.  On All Souls day, children would go door to door hoping to receive soul cakes.  Whenever you gave a child a cake, he or she then had an obligation to say a prayer or sing a song for one of your deceased relatives — who just might be doing time in Purgatory, waiting to enter heaven.

By giving out soul cakes, you could get extra prayers for your loved ones, thus keeping them from the clutches of Satan.

devil

First recorded in the 5th century, the tradition of giving soul cakes continued on in some parts of England as late as the 1890’s.

So, what exactly was a soul cake?

Soul cakes took many different shapes and sizes. In some areas, they were simple shortbread, and in others they were baked as fruit-filled tarts. Some were an early form of French toast, making use of stale or day old bread to be given to the poor.  Ingredients, of course, were used according to what was most available in the community.

If you’d like to try your own hand a whipping up some soul cakes for Halloween, here are a few recipes.

This one dates all the way back to 1350!

TRADITIONAL SOUL BREAD

6 large dinner rolls
2 eggs, beaten
4 tbsp. butter, melted
1/4 cup currants
1 tsp. ground ginger and cinnamon combined
1/4 tsp. salt
Pinch of saffron

Grind saffron, mix with butter and set aside. Cut centers out of rolls to make a little bowl, reserving removed breadcrumbs. Mix eggs, currants, butter mixture, ginger, cinnamon and salt. Pour over breadcrumbs (which preferably has been dried out first) and stir carefully until all bread is evenly coated. Stuff rolls with mixture. Put about an inch of water in the bottom of a large pan and bring it to boil. Then put in the rolls, reduce heat, and simmer for 15 minutes with the pan tightly covered. Remove immediately from water with a slotted spoon and serve hot.

Source: Curye on Inglish. Middle English recipes
Oxford University Press.

medieval baker pd

If you’d like a more modern recipe, try these:

PIE CRUST SOUL CAKES

You’ll need:

  • A refrigerated roll-out pie crust
  • 2 Tbs. melted butter
  • 1 C mixed dried fruit
  • 2 Tbs honey

Roll out the pie crust and cut it into circles. Use the circles to line a tin of muffin cups. Mix the butter, fruit and honey together. Scoop the fruit mixture into the pastry shells, and then bake for 15 minutes at 375 degrees. Allow to cool for about ten minutes before eating.

Source: Recipes for Halloween

Your trick or treaters will no doubt be delighted!

costumes

On the other hand, parents will be suspicious of anything hand made and not wrapped… so you may want to keep your soul treats all to yourself 🙂

And finally! For your listening pleasure, here is a lovely version of the Soul Cake Song, performed in Medieval ballad style by Kristen Lawrence. Hope you enjoy it!

Happy Souling!

 

 

 

 

 

Let Them Be Scared: Häxan and The Witch

 

salem7

Hollywood can never get enough of witches! This Friday Feb. 19th marks the opening of Robert Eggers’ new horror flick, The Witch.  Judging from the trailers, this movie will apparently be another  ‘thriller’ about those evil  women who terrorized New England towns.

 Watch The Witch trailer here:

As I have stated in other blogs, the origin of the scary-old-ugly –baby-eating-cauldron-boiling-genital mutilating-witch  (yes, all that!)  was first promoted in books like  Malleus Malificarim (The Witches’ Hammer) and Daemonology.

Lancashire Witches 1612 Public Domain

 The former –  Malleus Malificarum – was  written as a witch hunting manual by (you guessed it!)  church people.   Namely, two monks;  Heinrich Kramer and Jacob Sprenger.   Kramer and Sprenger were monks of the Catholic Dominican Order. (Apparently they never took the vow of poverty, as their book became a best seller, hot off the Gutenberg press.)   These two also happened to be Inquisitors for the Pope.  We know of course that NO ONE expects the Spanish Inquisition  🙂 but neither  did anyone expect the German Inquisition, which, in the 15th century was just as bad. The Burning Times of the 15th – 17th centuries were indeed akin to Nazi death camps.

The second most popular anti-witch promo book was written by King James I of England.  Daemonology  was a detailed study of the dangerous practices of witches. Apparently the king was an expert on this.  For more information on James and his book, please see my blog ‘Shakespeare and the Witches’.

And then of course there were the good old Salem Witch Trials, a devastating scar on America’s back which ended in the hanging deaths of nineteen innocent people and the jailing of hundreds.  Not to mention Giles Corey, a stubborn man who, upon never declaring his guilt, was crushed to death with boulders.

But back to Hollywood.   After all these centuries, they apparently still  cannot shake this image of the evil  witch.  Ah, quite alluring, isn’t it?  Not only the scary old hag casting a hex, but also the young beautiful vixen who may invade a man’s bed at night, forcing herself upon him.   Against his will of course.   Don’t laugh.  Bridget Bishop of Salem proper was actually accused of this.

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Maybe some of the medieval witches actually WERE a bit evil.  I’d be evil if they came after me with a stick and a stake.  I’d be evil if they jailed me, took away my land and then made ME pay for my own room and board. This was, of course, in the luxurious rat infested cell, where women enjoyed sumptuous meals of brack-water and moldy bread, while they awaited an unfair trial.  Yes.  That was Colonial law in 1692.  Prisoners paid their own room and board.

Also, an interesting interview with The Witch film director  Robert Eggers can be found here.

If you are in the mood for some good campy (and free!) entertainment, be sure to check out ‘Häxan: Witchcraft Through The Ages’.  This is a silent film made in 1922.  You can decide for yourself the film’s intent, although I suspect it was to suggest the ridiculousness of witch persecutions.  Watch the entire movie here:

 

To further embrace your dark side: