Witches Butter and Crowded Parchment

Fungus growing on dead wood
Fungus growing on dead wood

At a recent walk through around Fyne Court, a National Trust woodland in Somerset, I came across some peculiar looking fungi, which have even more peculiar names. This is Tremella mesenterica, or yellow brain fungus for short. It goes by many names, including witches butter, yellow trembler and the golden jelly fungus, and you can certainly see why.

Tremella mesenterica, common names include yellow brain, golden jelly fungus, yellow trembler, and witches' butter
Yellow Brain Fungus and Crowded Parchment Fungus

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Green Grow The Rushes, Ho! An English Folksong

I wanted to share a fantastic English folk song common in Somerset and the Westcountry which I recently learned. It’s really difficult to get out of your head once started and its great for making long car journey’s fly by!

It’s called Green Grow The Rush, O! though is sometimes referred to as The Twelve Prophets or The Ten Commandments. The lyrics of the song are in quite obscure, with an unusual mixture of Christian, astronomical and pagan symbols, all wrapped up in a mnemonic to remember them by.

I’ll sing you one, Ho
Green grow the rushes, Ho
What is your one, Ho?
One is one and all alone
And evermore shall be so.

I’ll sing you two, Ho
Green grow the rushes, Ho
What are your two, Ho?
Two, two, the lily white boys clothéd all in green-o.
One is one and all alone
And evermore shall be so.

The format is followed, building up verse by verse by adding twelve stanzas so that the final song looks like this:

I’ll sing you twelve, Ho
Green grow the rushes, Ho
What are your twelve, Ho?
Twelve for the twelve apostles.
Eleven for the eleven that went to heaven.
Ten for the Ten Commandments.
Nine for the nine bright shiners.
Eight for the April rainers.
Seven for the seven stars in the sky.
Six of the six proud walkers.
Five for the symbols at your door.
Four for the gospel makers.
Three, three, the rivals.
Two, two, the lily white boys clothéd all in green-o.
One is one and all alone
And evermore shall be so.

If you want to hear it being sung, there’s some videos on YouTube of people performing it.

So what do all those obscure lines really mean?

Twelve for the twelve apostles.

This refers to the twelve Apostles of Jesus, although the number has other meanings; it may originally have referred to the months of the year.

Eleven for the eleven that went to heaven.

These are the eleven Apostles who remained faithful (minus Judas Iscariot).

Ten for the Ten Commandments.

This refers to the Ten Commandments given to Moses.

Nine for the nine bright shiners.

The nine may be an astronomical reference: the Sun, Moon and five planets known before 1781 yields seven and to this may be added the sphere of the fixed stars and the Empyrean, or it may refer to the nine orders of angels.

Eight for the April rainers.

The April rainers refer to the Hyades star cluster, called the “rainy Hyades” in classical times, and rising with the sun in April; the Greeks thought of the Hyades as inaugurating the April rains.

Seven for the seven stars in the sky.

The seven are probably the Seven Sisters, the Pleiades star cluster. Other options include Ursa Major, the seven traditional planets or the seven stars of Revelation chapter 1, verse 16.

Six of the six proud walkers.

This may be a corruption of ‘six proud waters’, a reference to the six jars of water that Jesus turned into wine at the wedding feast at Cana of Galilee, (John 2:6).

Five for the symbols at your door.

This could be a reference to the marks of blood that god commanded the Israelites to put upon their doorways at the Exodus (Exodus 12:7). It could also allude to the practice of putting a pentagram at the door of a house to ward off witches and evil spirits in the late Middle Ages. Other suggestions are that it refers to five symbols displayed above the doorways of houses that would shelter Catholic priests.

Four for the gospel makers.

This refers to the four Evangelists; Mathew, Mark, Luke and John.

Three, three, the rivals.

‘Rivals’ may be a corruption of “Riders”, “Arrivals”, or “Wisers”, referring to the three Magi of the Nativity. Another possibility is the trio of Peter, James and John, often mentioned together in the Gospels, who had a dispute.

Two, two, the lily white boys clothéd all in green-o.

This may refer to the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus where Moses and Elijah appear with Jesus in clothes of ‘dazzling white’. The “dressed in green” would then refer to St Peter’s suggestion that the disciples build shelters of branches for Moses, Elijah and Jesus. Another explanation is that the statues of St John and Our Lady which, in Christian Churches, flank the Crucifix on the Altar reredos or the Rood screen were, during Holy Week, bound with rushes to cover them.

One is one and all alone, And evermore shall be so.

This appears to refer to God.

Further reading

Sculpture by Anna Gillespie

Sculpture by Anna Gillespie

The Weekly Photo Challenge this week is Inside, and I’ve chosen this enigmatic sculpture made of masking tape from the museum stores of the Somerset Heritage Service. It was created by Anna Gillespie, a contemporary British figurative sculptor based in Bath.

When I look at it, it makes me wondering whether they’re hiding or trapped inside the box.

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The Shapwick Hoard: Britain’s Largest Hoard of Roman Silver Denarii

The Shapwick Hoard can now be seen in the Museum of Somerset in Taunton.
The Shapwick Hoard can now be seen in the Museum of Somerset in Taunton

Take a look at this rather attractive pile of coins; who doesn’t like a bit of treasure? It’s actually a photo of the Shapwick Hoard, a collection of 9,262 Roman silver denarii coins found at Shapwick on the Somerset Levels in 1998.

Where was it found?

The hoard was discovered by amateur metal detectorists in a field at Shapwick. They excavated it before reporting it to the Portable Antiquities Scheme. During later archaeological investigations it was shown to have been buried in the corner of a room of a previously unknown Roman courtyard villa.

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