Mythago History

HISTORY OF THE SIDE

In 1997 an invitation was circulated throughout the local folk music and dance scene to see what interest there was in forming “a new, radically different, ritual dance team for West Sussex”. At a meeting on 3rd September that year it was agreed that the team would be a recognisably Border/Bedlam Morris style team, differentiating ourselves with a mystical element whilst maintaining the exuberance and energy of the style. And thus Mythago was born.

group masked

The first incarnation of Mythago, 1997

The name Mythago was taken from the Mythago Wood fantasies by the late Robert Holdstock, where a Mythago is the material form taken by a figure from myth and legend, which are shaped into form through human memory and belief.

We now describe ourselves as a masked dance team that seeks to illustrate the old tales of Britain through music, song and dance, bringing to life the myths and legends of our remote pagan past and our early Celtic and Saxon saints. Amongst the tales we tell are those of:

  • The Green Man – The cycle of seasons and the spirit of the Wildwood.
  • The Knuckerhole Dragon – A traditional story from around Lyminster (Sussex).
  • Herne the Hunter – A folkloric figure whose ghost haunts the greenwood.
  • The Kings Men – The story of the Rollright stones near Oxford.
  • Cerridwen’s Cauldron – The story of the birth of the great bard Taliesin.
  • John Barleycorn – A tale of the spirit of the corn.

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OUR STYLE OF DANCE

Our dances are in the Border style of Morris dancing, which originates from around the Welsh/English borders (Shropshire, Herefordshire, and Worcestershire), and involves a lot of noise, stick clashing and energy. As with all Morris, its origins are lost in the mists of time. There are very few recorded, traditional, Border Morris dances, so like those who have gone before us, we continue to create dances in the vein of this vibrant and living tradition.

OUR TATTER-JACKETS AND MASKS

Our outfits are a development of the Border Morris tradition, and contain a number of symbols relating to the beliefs of ancient Britain, including the Tree of Life, Sun and Moon. The Sun represents the warm light of day and the invigorating powers of growth and movement, whilst the Moon represents the cold darkness of night and the restorative powers of rest. Between them is the Tree of Life, which enduring arbor has its roots buried deep in the earth, its branches in the sky, and its trunk in the middle-world of man.

The tatter jackets recall the ribbons and strips of fabric that Border Morris dancers once sewed to their jackets as a form of decoration, and to help to disguise the dancer’s frame. Like many Border sides, our tatter jackets are predominantly black, but they also include elements representing the mythic archetypes of the Sun God and Moon Goddess.

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Our masks are black, evoking the old tradition of darkening the face with soot or charcoal. Indeed, the word ‘mask’ itself derives from the Old Frenchmascurer meaning ‘to disguise by blackening the face’, and is related to the Medieval Latin mascameaning ‘mask, spectre, nightmare’ and the Old Occitan masco, meaning ‘witch’

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And so, through our masked dances, we bring to life the tales of Albion’s mythical past and the many legendary characters inhabiting it, such as the Sun, the Moon, the Earth Mother, the Green Man, the four elements of creation (Earth, Air, Fire and Water), Herne the Hunter, the Spirit of the Corn, the Witch, the King, and the Dragon. In so doing we tap into the old British tradition of masking, wherein those donning the mask blur the line between their own persona and the archetype represented in the mask – the two becoming as one.

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