Grey Mary Visits

Who is that at the door?  A horse skull for a face, with green bottle-glass eyes, covered in a sheet, draped with motley ribbons.  Is there a man beneath? You almost recognize the shoes, the only human thing about him, as your neighbor’s, but not really.  And now, singing.  The spring hinged jaw opens and shuts.  The company he keeps is familiar, you know them from the village, they carry his jingling reins.  They had started out at dusk, you heard them farther out by the church, singing through the night, door-to-door. asking permission. And now it is midnight, and they are here.

In many UK folk traditions, the festival of Christmas carried on for 12 days after, and in Welsh tradition this is when Mari Lwyd, Grey Mary, Grey Mare or simply the Mare went wassailing.  Though today it may be seen as some kind of artifactual party-bringer, it is not hard to see in this strange being a skeletal, ghostly remnant of the “Great Mare” Epona, the ancient Roman-Celtic horse goddess once widely worshiped on this island.

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