Mari Llwyd

In rural Wales there used to be a midwinter, specifically New Year, custom of Mari Llywd.  A group of men would visit the houses of the local village, with a Mari Llywd;  a horse’s skull with articulated mandible, often mounted on a pole, and draped in cloth.  The householder would be challenged, in verse or song, and would reply either humorously or by insult.  If the householder lost, the group had to be invited in and supplied with drink while the Mari Llwyd champed its jaws.  If he won he was rewarded with pies and sweetmeats.

While most Mari Llwyds were simple as described above,  some were quite elaborate.  This set of stamps shows some of the more remarkable ones.  Remarkable because they introduced words into the English language, or inspired some well known names.

In the village of Horeb Chapel a young lad wore a costume with the horse’s body on a frame around his waist in the style of those used by mummers.  The Horeb Horse, over time became the hobby horse.

The mining village of Pantymwyn in Flintshire had a tradition of a two man Mari Llwyd suit.  Dating back to 1310, this became so popular than it became incorporated into theatre, when the Pantymwyn Horse became anglicised into pantomime horse.

The village of Gadafau in Carmarthenshire gets its name from the caves nearby.  Their Mari Llwyd was four-legged version, ridden by a maiden of the village.  Rumour has it that, 1200 years ago or more, she would ride naked as a distraction in the verbal challenges.  Further rumours have suggested that news of this came to the ears of the wife of Earl Leofric in Coventry, and Gadafau became Godiva.

In Denbighshire in the hamlet of Cysgod Ffachs the Mari Llwyd was manned by a man with a long grey beard and dressed as a wizard.  Middle Earth aficionados will know Tolkein took inspiration from real places.  Would it surprise you to know that Cysgod is Welsh for ‘shadow’?

Cwm yr Sabrau is reputed to be where legendary Ceidwad and faithful companion Gwyllt defeated an army of Saxons.  The Mari Llwyd in this village was draped in silver cloth, whilst his operator wore a black mask.  Did emigrants to places like Pittsburgh take this story across with them to be incorporated into a TV cultural icon? No-one knows.  Hi Ho!

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Mari Llwyd

SK No.TypeDescription
3873022nd class Horeb Horse green
3883031st class Pantymwyn Horse orange
388dAs above Unicorn diabolo
3893043rd class Gadafau Horse purple
3903051st class Cysgod Ffachs teal
3913062nd class Cwm y Sabrau red

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