24 May 2022

Drinking the Evil Spirits away

Earlier this week, I showed how the 747 Anglo-Saxon Council of Cloveshoe attempted to purify the Rogations from Vanitatibus and maioribus epulis. But a reading of Duffy [Stripping; hereinunder plundered by this post] makes one wonder whether the English peasantry ever  ... er ... quite internalised Cloveshoe canon 16! 

Some quotations: "and then they had there some ale or drinkings". "they [went] about the bounds of the town in Rogation Week, on the Monday one way; on the Tuesday another way, on the Wednesday another way, praying for rain or fair weather as the time required; having a drinking and a dinner there upon Monday, being fast day: and Tuesday being a fish day they had a breakfast with butter and cheese, &c, at the parsonage, and a drinking at Mr Clopton's  ...". " ... [funds] to fynde a drinkenge upon Ascention Even everlastinge ...". "[They had] good chere after".

The Rogation processions were designed to drive out of the community the evil spirits who created division and sickness. They were to bring good weather and blessing and fertility to the fields. But, like the old Lustrations, they also reinforced the boundaries (if the Procession from one community accidentally met its neighbour, there could be fisticuffs; not least, because each might suspect the other of driving its demons across the common boundary). Again, like the old Lustrations, they reformalised and resolemnised the distinction between the purified space within and the profane space beyond the bounds.

In order to sanctify as well as to mark the 'bounds' of the community, the chest of the relics was carried; and the community's banners. The litanies of the Saints were sung and bells were rung in order to put to flight the spirits "that flye above in the eyer as thyke as motes in the sonne". The Cross was carried because "wher soo ever the devyll ... doo see the syne of the crosse, he flees, he byddes  not, he strykys not, he cannot hurte". At Stations marked by crosses, Gospels were read: William Tyndale ridiculed this "saying of the gospels to the corn in the field in the procession week, that it should the better grow". 

One last query, stimulated by the admirable Ceremonies of the Sarum Missal by the admirable R J Urquhart (T and T Clark; a most invaluable volume). Among the banners carried were ... the Dragon and the Lion.


But was the draconis vexillum just a banner? "[T]he woodcuts [in the Processional] suggest something more three-dimensional. In some places the Draco was made of leather and was inflatable or filled with chaff". 

Sounds very jolly, yes? My initial instinct was to wonder whether Draco and his friend Leo had an apotropaic function. Duffy, per contra, tells us the the Dragon had a long cloth tail as he went before the procession on Monday and Tuesday, but was carried shorn of his tail on the third day, "as a symbol of the Devil's overthrow".



Banshee said...

The Vatican's and the local synods' support groups for farmers have documents encouraging local celebrations of Rogation Days. In the US, where the bounds are very big out west, some parish priests use pickup trucks or trailer trucks to lead the procession, with Father and all the stuff basically riding along at a slow pace, like a parade float. It can take all three days to cover the bounds once.

The official diocesan exorcists in the US apparently really find these ceremonies helpful and efficacious. Which makes sense, of course. It is actually doing what Adam and Eve were supposed to do - taming the earth to extend the garden for God. We have let our parishes get spiritually overgrown and feral, I guess.

Fr Edward said...

"Again, like the old Lustrations, they[Rogation processions] reformalised and resolemnised the distinction between the purified space within and the profane space beyond the bounds."

I wonder what the rectors of the neighbouring parishes thought about that distinction!

uberto said...

A dragon was carried in front of the processions in Italy (at least in our part of the world), with a sheaf of flowers and other herbs in his jaws; the first day the tail was erect, the second day the tail was lowered, the third the tail was drooping. A XVII c. dragon in painted tole can be seen in the sacristy of the basilica of St. Julius on the omonimous isle in the lake of Orta. A photograph of this processional dragon can be seen at the following address:


The wax crosses from the Paschal candle have been recenty been redone in the Val d'Ossola