Letter: Strike up the Devil's Daunce, belles jyngling

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The Independent Online
Sir: Well done, Matthew Alexander (Letters, 1 January), you have managed to upset pagans, morris dancers (many of whom would be dismayed at an alleged connection with Christianity) and more enlightened Christians.

In several years' association with the morris movement, I have met no one who claims to know for sure the origins of morris dancing. The earliest documented accounts seem to be in the 15th century, but it is generally accepted that the tradition itself started long before this. The church's reaction to the practice at this time was sufficiently unfavourable to suggest that the morris has its roots in earlier, pre-Christian times.

Indeed, Philip Stubbes in Anatomie of Abuses (1583) says:

They strike up the Devil's Daunce withall: then martch this heathen company towards the church and churchyards, their pypers pyping, their drummers thundering, their stumpes dauncing, their belles jyngling, their handkercheefes fluttering about their heads like madde men . . . in the church like devils incarnate.

I would suggest that any link with 'celebrations at Christian festivals', as alleged by Mr Alexander, was an example of the church attempting to cleanse the tradition of its pagan origins by its usual process of assimilation.

Yours sincerely,


London, W11

3 January

(Photograph omitted)