Wales is often known for having a rich and interesting history, full of iconic folklore and strange traditions.
However, one the weirdest part of the regional tradition involves a creepy horse figure and some rhyming battles. Yes, it’s almost time for the so-called Mari Lwyd, also know as Gray Mary in English or Y Fari Lwyd in Welsh, a pre-Christian tradition believed to bring good luck.
Mari Lwyd is basically a Zombie Horse that visits people’s homes during the Christmas season. Many Welsh believe that horse brings good luck in the new year, and traditional let the skeletal spirit into their homes….
The week between Christmas and New Years is the time when Mari Lwyd comes to visit, usually at night.
It involves a horse’s skull, which is decorated with colourful reins, bells and ribbons. The resulting creature is then wrapped in a white sheet and placed on a pole. Someone then crawls underneath the sheet to carry it flanked by a procession of usually six people who are often dressed in traditional costume. The group then travel around the village singing, ultimately challenging families to a battle of rhyming verses and insults in Welsh, known as pwnco.
The homeowners then respond with their own rhymes, in a fake battle to outwit the creature and prevent her from entering the house.
The battle can continue for as long as the two parties wish, but once it’s over, the creature is let inside, as this brings the household good luck for the future year.
The Mari and her procession are then given refreshments as the celebration continues inside before moving on to the next house.
Like many of the creatures of popular folklore, Mari Lwyd’s origins are lost, though there’s a long history of white horses in British history, with horses themselves representing power and fertility.
The origin of this custom is said to date back even into Celtic times, and It seems to be linked to a great horse cult that strongly existed in pagan times with a Celtic horse Goddess named Rhiannon of the Mabinogion, whom also parallels with the Gaul-Roman Goddess Epona. The legend behind this custom is that Mari Lwyd was cast out of the Bethlehem stable into the cold night in order to make room for the pregnant Virgin Mary, who needed a place to give birth to his child. Ever since, Mari Lwyd has been roaming around the world searching for a place to give birth to her colt.
According to some points of views, Mari Lwyd is believed to be ritual of ancient times to celebrate the festival of light, which means rebirth and hope in time of darkness. Mari Lwyd is in fact the rebirth of a dead horse who, accompanied with wassailers, might represent the dead who have risen to remind the living of their existence.