My most recent deviation is an acrylic painting called Mari/Mari Lwyd. Odd title, right? I thought I'd shed some light on the research I did on Mari and the Mari Lwyd, both from Welsh lore.
Mari is, perhaps, a mysterious figure in mythology. There is a lot of lore about Mari in Basque culture, the culture of the indigenous people who live in the Pyrenees mountains of France and Spain. That Mari is said to live in various caves in the mountains, sitting and combing her beautiful hair. When she rides her goat to move from cave to cave, it storms. I painted a scene of the Basque Mari about a year ago:
But Mari seems to have been worshiped by the Celts as well, though little research exists to support that. What does remain is the memory of Mari in names of places, folkloric names, and rituals.
One ritual that may bear Mari's name is the Welsh Mari Lwyd. the Mari Lwyd is a contraption made of a horse's skull, sackcloth, ribbons and flowers. A person fits inside the Mari Lwyd, and a procession follows the horse from home to home at Christmastide, singing wassailing carols.
What is odd about the Mari Lwyd is its etymology. No one seems to have a literal translation. One researcher claimed it means 'holy Mary,' but it was pointed out to him that Mari for the religious figure Mary was not used in early Welsh. Another theory is that it means 'grey mare,' but again, finding uses of Mari for Mare is challenging, and no scholarly research backs it up.
However, if you postulate that Mari was a Goddess worshiped by Welsh Celts before the Roman era, and that Mari was associated with horses, the term begins to make a lot more sense. Horses were a very common icon in Celtic myth, and represent sovereignty. The Irish kings would, at their coronation, have sex with a white mare, which would then be slaughtered and cooked, and it's flesh eaten by the assembled crowds: this represented the king's right to rule as given by the Goddess, in the form of the horse. (I know. Ick). A symbolic horse was also created out of wood by sailors on British ships, and thrown into the sea after thirty days as a sign that the sailors were free of the land (and that it was pay day). This ritual was accompanied by a song, heard here:
Now we see that the Mari lwyd ritual may be named 'Mari's Grey' (Mari's Grey Mare), and represent the return of life to the land signaled by the winter solstice. Similar rituals are found in British Morris Dance, using the hobby horse, also made of the head of a horse with a dancer inside.
The brilliant poet/musician/storyteller/harper/demigod/hippie musician/folklorist Robin Williamson (of the Incredible String Band, NOT of Mork fame) hypothesizes that many names and terms in British mythology come from the lore of Mari. He believes that the Morris Dance, a very old Welsh and English ritual folk dance, may come from 'Mari's dance,' and that in the Robin Hood legend the 'Merry Men' are actually 'Mari's Men' (as well as Maid Marion being derived from Mari). He also suggests that May is the merry month because it is 'Mari's month.' Indeed, May is named for the Roman Goddess Maia, whose name may be etymologically linked to Mari.
So I painted Mari the Goddess dancing with the Mari Lwyd, bedecked in ribbons and flowers; I also shaped the flower-decked reigns to suggest another Morris Dance ritual, the Garland Dance, the traditional Morris Dance done by women.