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The Mystery of Ivy and her Owl - nhpeacenik
The Mystery of Ivy and her Owl

In the process of singing and thinking about  "The Holly and the Ivy", the Christianized pagan ballad to two evergreens, which pronounces the male Holly victor over the barely-mentioned Ivy, I ran across this Solstice ballad, complete with the information that Ivy was a girl who danced in adoration before Dionysus until she fell dead at his feet. Dionysus rewarded her by giving her immortality in the form of a plant that remains green year-round. In this song, the lively Holly (Dionysus) triumphs over the sad, shivering  Ivy in a pæan to patriarchy. It occurred to me that it was just meant to be  sung to the tune of another old ballad "The Two Magicians", in which the male and female are more-or-less evenly matched. Maybe "The Two Magicians" was originally a solstice song, and that maybe the original of both ballads was a Solstice song that put the two genders on a more even footing in their battle. In "The Two Magicians", the male magician more closely resembles Hephaestus or Wayland the Smith than Dionysus, and the female magician seems ready to counter all his spells indefinitely. In some versions, she wins and remains a virgin.

Of course, the superimposition of the Christmas story on top of these legends just does not make sense, unless you identify Jesus with the patriarchal pagan god. Jesus as a mythological figure is not patriarchal, but partakes of both the masculine and feminine. Jesus as a baby is a somewhat more malleable figure whose environment and destiny can be compared to the paradoxical qualities of the holly, but where is Ivy in any of these verses? Maybe Mary is Ivy. Is she the weeping sufferer? Is she the powerful virgin female magician? What about the Owl, who is Ivy's companion and supporter but who also consumes her. Whoever put together "The Holly and the Ivy" from the shards of ancient traditions was working with powerful images that still reach us today.

Holly stands in the hall, fair to behold:
Ivy stands without the door, she is full sore a cold.

Nay, ivy, nay, it shall not be I wis;
Let holly have the mastery, as the manner is.

Holly and his merry men, they dance and they sing,
Ivy and her maidens, they weep and they wring.

Ivy hath chapped fingers, she caught them from the cold,
So might they all have, aye, that with ivy hold.

Holly hath berries red as any rose,
The forester, the hunter, keep them from the does.

Ivy hath berries black as any sloe;
There come the owl and eat him as she go.

Holly hath birds a fair full flock,
The nightingale, the popinjay, the gentle laverock.

Good ivy, what birds hast thou?
None but the owlet that cries how, how.

O She look'd out of the window
White as any milk;
But He look'd into the window
As black as any silk.

Hulloa, hulloa, hulloa, hulloa,
You coal black smith!
You have done me no harm
You never shall have me maidenhead
That I have kept so long;
I'd rather die a maid.
Yes, but then she said,
And be buried all in my grave
Than I'd have such a
nasty, husky, dusky, musty, fusky
coal black smith
A maiden I will die.

Then she became a duck,
A duck all on the stream;
And he became a water dog
And fetch'd her back again.

Then she became a hare,
A hare upon the plain;
And he became a greyhound dog
And fetch'd her back again.

Then she became a fly;
A fly all in the air;
And he became a spider
And fetch'd her to his lair.

Picture credits (all from Wikimedia Commons or Wikispecies)
By Lip Kee from Singapore, Republic of Singapore (Spotted Owlet (Athene brama)) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
{Bildbeschreibung|Europäische Stechpalme, oder Gemeine Stechpalme, (Ilex aquifolium) |selbst erstelltes Foto | Jürgen Howaldt |27.10.2005 |- }} {{Bild-CC-by-sa/2.0/de}}
by Uwe H. Friese, Bremerhaven 2005

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