Friday, May 18, 2018

The Folk Horror Podcast Episode 3: The Wicker Man (1973), pt. 3

It's all wrapped, our discussion of The Wicker Man that is, which you can find here: 

First up, how about some EXCLUSIVE pictures from Mike's trip to Puerto Varas, Chile during the Carnaval del Sur (literally Carnival of the South). Very May Day procession, even with its own wicker statue. Interesting to read that Puerto Varas was founded by German immigrants, though I don't know if that's why these costumes are reminiscent of European festivals. The pictures were taken in November, 2017 (Spring in South America.)

All these photos are copyright Michael Schwartz.

And here are those screenshots, thanks Mike! Check out that mise-en-scène.

Bright Phoebus

Have a slice.

Meow meow.

Not dead.

Dead and mostly 'armless. Hanged?

Sunny with a chance of Cher.

Ready to Punch someone.

Why so nervous, Ingrid?

This might be the band GOAT, I'm not sure.


Edward Woodward sees the Wicker Man.

Oh no.

Daniel my brother, do you still feel the pain . . .


  1. Excellent conclusion to your discussion of The Wicker Man!

    So a “pagan” to you means anybody who does not adhere to one of the major world religions? I would wonder which religions you would consider the major world religions, but no matter what there are tons and tons of religions in the world, so your list of “pagan” religions would be a group of faiths that have very little in common with each other!

    You were wondering about the “Goddess of the Orchard” which the film calls “Avellenau”. I looked into this, and pretty much discovered that the only people who have ever worshipped a goddess with this name are modern neo-Pagans. The word is actually medieval Welsh and means “Appletrees”. It was the name of a poem found in the medieval Welsh manuscript “the Black Book of Carmarthen”. The poem “Yr Avellenau (The Appletrees)” has nothing to do with a goddess but is about the character Myrddin Wyllt, who would eventually evolve into the character of “Merlin”. Legend says that Myrddin Wyllt went mad at the battle of Arfderydd in 573, and so went to live wild (“Wyllt”) in the Caledonian Forest. The poem “Yr Avellenau” is about Myrddin Wyllt speaking his prophecies to the apple trees of the Caledonian forest, and also to his pet pig. I can’t figure out why the name of this poem was turned into the name of a goddess.

    (more to come)

  2. You talked about Sword Dances and Morris Dances. You were rather impressed by the way the six sword dancers formed a six pointed star with their swords, and wondered if they were somehow “professionals”. It’s a normal part of an English sword dance for the dancers to join their swords together into a star like this. But the number of points of the star is just going to be the same as the number of swords, which is the same as the number of dancers! So when you have six dancers it’s a six point star, five dancers make a five point star, eight dancers an eight point star, and so on. Generally then they raise the star up and the audience applauds. And as far as I know, there is no such thing as “professional” folk dancing in the UK. These folk dances are performed by amateurs who generally have real jobs and practice the dances in their spare time.

    And although the dancers in the movie wear kilts, the dance they do looks more like an English Sword Dance than a Scottish one.

    These days the term “Morris Dancing” is often used loosely to refer to all types of English (or British) folk dancing. But properly it refers to a specific type of folk dancing—so a Sword Dance is technically not a Morris Dance. Nowadays it’s often the same people who perform Morris Dances and Sword Dances.

    There are records of Morris Dancing in England going back as far as the year 1448. At that time, there was a large fashion throughout Europe for things “Moorish”. There was a dance called the “Moresca”. I am not having much luck finding information about this, but it seems to usually involve exotic “Moorish” clothing, and wearing bells on the wrist. When the dance came to England, it seems to have become the “Morris” dance. Among other changes, English Morris dancers wear their bells around their ankles rather than their wrists. I think it is likely that the English dance may have also incorporated some elements of older English folk dances. And at some point there was a custom, at least in some parts of England, of Morris dancers blackening their faces. I don’t know if this came from the European Moresca, or if it was a specifically English custom. The blackface might be to make the dancers look more like “Moors”, or there may be some other explanation. There are still some Morris dance troupes in England that blacken their faces, and there is now some controversy about it.

    (more to come)

  3. Morris Dances or Sword Dances as well as other British folk dances and folk plays often have a number of interesting characters you see in the film Wicker Man, such as the fool, and the Hobby Horse. And there is often a female character played by a man. This is a complex symbol, involving what anthropologists like to call “liminality”. The word “liminal” comes from a Latin word for “threshold”. Something is “liminal” if it occupies the boundary between two states. Thus, an androgynous being isn’t quite a man nor a woman, but in some grey area between. Traditional societies all over the consider the liminal to be particularly sacred. Thus liminal times are sacred—such as dawn or dusk, or the days on which the seasons change. So liminal times are often celebrated by rituals that involve liminal beings and liminal symbols.

    Having said that, however, these traditional British folk customs are usually performed rather lightheartedly or comically. So the costume worn by Christopher Lee at the end of Wicker Man looks to me exactly the sort of thing that someone would wear during one of these traditional ceremonies!

    And a couple more notes:

    The song “Sumer Is Icumen In” dates back to the 13th century, and is in the Wessex (SW England) dialect of Medieval English. There isn’t any reason to think it is much older than that, or that it is in any way “Celtic”.

    Remember that the artist who drew the 1676 picture had never seen a real wicker man, he was just imagining what a wicker man might have looked like. We only have writings by the Romans that mention that the Celts sacrificed humans in wicker men. Some folks today are skeptical that this really happened, but there wouldn’t be any archeological evidence because the wicker men and the sacrificial victims would have been all burnt up!

    But I still think the end of The Wicker Man looks like the video to the 1983 Men Without Hats song “Safety Dance”.

  4. Thanks again for lending your encyclopedic knowledge to our podcast, TheRealKEVP! The information on Avellenau and Morris dances is particularly interesting.

    Here is a Google translation of the description of Carnaval del Sur from the Puerto Varas website: "Carnaval del Sur is the result of a formative, artistic – cultural process that seeks to enrich and disseminate the performing arts in the lake district region. This multidisciplinary event, developed by the artistic and local community, invites us to marvel at the identity of our area, through the expressive masks, costumes, music, dance and theater, staged during 4 days of Fiesta". Yes, the town was founded by German immigrants, but English immigrants moved here as well and perhaps brought some of their traditions with them.

    The songs on the soundtrack have a diverse provenance (Robert Burns poems set to music, traditional and folk tunes, nursery rhymes, and some original songs) just like Lord Summerisle (and Robin Hardy and Anthony Shaffer), cherry-picking religious rituals and traditions from The Golden Bough. However, I am curious about the original music and lyrics that Paul Giovanni originally composed for The Wicker Man, but which were never used.

    As someone who studied Anthropology, I am fascinated by the concept of liminality. This concept will crop back up again and again in folk horror (and it's important to the horror genre in general). It might even crop up in the next film we discuss on the podcast: Robin Redbreast.