Paganistan: Notes from the Secret Commonwealth

In Which One Midwest Man-in-Black Confers, Converses & Otherwise Hob-Nobs with his Fellow Hob-Men (& -Women) Concerning the Sundry Ways of the Famed but Ill-Starred Tribe of Witches.

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A 14th Century French Witches' Dance

I can't remember who first told me that not only was this song sung and played at the witches' sabbat Back When, but that, in fact, it actually describes the uncanny goings-on there.

The reason for the song's witchy reputation is unclear. The sheer unreality of the scenario? The implied masquerade? The tune's leering allusion to the plainchant Dies Irae?

Well, whether witches capered to this tune in the old days or not, we certainly do now. In fact, we'll be singing and dancing it at the upcoming Midwest Grand Sabbat this year. With luck, the Devil's Piper himself will be there to play.

Of the many different versions of this song that exist, what follows is the oldest known to me, given in Medieval French, English translation, and singable English lyrics.

Grab your bagpipe and play along.

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h2iXnyanhzI

 

J'ai Vu le Loup

J'ai vû le loup, le r'nard. le lièvre,

j'ai vû le loup, le r'nard cheuler.

C'est moi-mêne que les ai r'beuillés.

 

J'ai ouï le loup, le r'nard. le lièvre,

j'ai ouï le loup, le r'nard chanter.

C'est moi-mêne que les ai r'chignés.

 

J'ai vû le loup, le r'nard. le lièvre,

j'ai vû le loup, le r'nard danser.

C'est moi-mêne que les ai r'virés.

 

I saw the wolf, the fox, the hare,

I saw the wolf and the fox get drunk.

I yelled at them myself.

 

I heard the wolf, the fox, the hare,

I heard the wolf and the fox sing.

I scowled at them myself.

 

I saw the wolf, the fox, the hare,

I saw the wolf, the fox dance.

I spun them around myself. 

 

I Saw the Wolf

(Singable English)

 

I saw the wolf, the fox, the rabbit,

I saw the wolf and the rabbit dance,

I myself, when I got the chance.

I saw the wolf, the fox, the rabbit,

I myself, when I got the chance,

I saw the wolf and the rabbit dance.

 

I heard the wolf, the fox, the rabbit,

I heard the wolf's and the rabbit's song,

on my bagpipe, I played along.

I heard the wolf, the fox, the rabbit,

on my bagpipe, I played along,

I heard the wolf's and the rabbit's song.

 

I saw the wolf, the fox, the rabbit,

I saw the wolf and the rabbit play,

making merry till break of day.

I saw the wolf, the fox, the rabbit,

 making merry till break of day,

I saw the wolf and the rabbit play.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h2iXnyanhzI

 

Last modified on
Poet, scholar and storyteller Steven Posch was raised in the hardwood forests of western Pennsylvania by white-tailed deer. (That's the story, anyway.) He emigrated to Paganistan in 1979 and by sheer dint of personality has become one of Lake Country's foremost men-in-black. He is current keeper of the Minnesota Ooser.

Comments

  • Caroline
    Caroline Wednesday, 18 March 2015

    This song is still know and sung here in Quebec.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0FiVmEuQvZs

    We add a mare eating all the grain into the lot and a count down of the years left before the singer leave.

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Thursday, 19 March 2015

    600 years and still going strong. Now that's a song.
    Joie de printemps,
    Steven

  • Deborah Frankel
    Deborah Frankel Sunday, 22 March 2015

    Hello, Steven. When you gave a ritual workshop a few years ago in California (on the day before PantheaCon), I shared another French song said to have been sung by witches at the sabbat. Margaret Murray quotes it in The Witch Cult in Western Europe and in The God of the Witches. Apologies for lack of italics and accent marks below. Murray attributes the first version to Inquisitor Jean Bodin in Fleau des Demons et Sorciers, p. 187, ed. 1616 and the second to an unspecified page in the Guernsey Greffe, trial records from about fifty years later.

    'The name of the god in Guemsey was Hou. This is cleady indicated by the version of the witch song or hymn quoted by Bodin in 1616, where his 'diable' is the equivalent of the Guernsey Hou. Bodin's version is, "Har, har, diable, diable, saute ici, saute la, joue ici, joue la; the Guernsey version runs, "Har, har, Hou, Hou, danse ici, danse la,
    joue ici, joue la".'

    In The Discoverie of Witchcraft, Booke III, Chapter II, Reginald Scot writes, "And here some of Monsieur Bodins lies may be inserted, who saith that at these magicall assemblies, the witches never faile to danse; and in their danse they sing these words: Har, har, divell divell, danse here, danse here [should be "there" db], plaie here, plaie here, Sabbath, sabbath. And whiles they sing and danse, everie one hath a broom in hir hand, and holdeth it up aloft. Item he saith, that these night-walking or rather night-dansing witches, brought out of Italie into France, that danse, which is called La volta."

    I've set the French lyrics to an old-sounding but original tune and simple bransle steps, and in this form it has been sung and danced at several contemporary witches' sabbats. Tune and words have the great virtue of singing well either slowly or quickly. I would be happy to record the Har Hou if someone in the San Francisco area who can play the melody and understands You Tube recording would help me. It sounds especially good on the hurdy-gurdy.

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Monday, 23 March 2015

    I'm deeply convinced that there's nothing more important than rebuilding for ourselves a corpus of sacred dance. Please do drop a line when you've got the needed technical assist (may it be soon) so we can all learn it. And thanks for doing important work.

    The Scot passage is new to me. Dancing with broom in hand sounds much more feasible than dancing astride. It reminds me of the stave dances of various Morris traditions. Hmmm. Potential, potential.

    Reading the Bodin passage the other day, it occurred to me for the first time that in Modern French Har Hou would be pronounced without the aitches. Whether or not that would have been true for 17th century French, I don't know. If so, the Name becomes Oo: a primal, constitutive sound. Curiouser and curiouser.

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Monday, 23 March 2015

    On further reflection, Deborah: is the dance is simple enough that it could be communicated verbally to those who haven't seen it? If so, once the music is up on Youtube (Goddess speed it), might you be willing to guest-blog it? I'd really like to learn this one!

  • Deborah Frankel
    Deborah Frankel Monday, 23 March 2015

    I agree with you about the importance of sacred dance. The dance is a ring dance using grapevine step and a variant of a Faroe Island bransle step. I've taught song and dance to Canadian pagans, for whom French lyrics are no obstacle, and they picked it up quickly.

    Using an approximation of modern French pronunciation, the opening of my version is Aahhh Oo-oo-ooh, which can be construed as sounds of lovemaking, "Hurray for (the god) Hou" or (Goddess name, God name).

    I'm Deborah Bender and Aline O'Brien or the host of this blog site can give you my email address. My addy isn't secret but I don't want it harvested by robots. It would save time if I just reviewed the song and dance with you directly. I could teach it via one or two Skype calls (one to teach and record, one to play back to me and refine details) and a PDF. I can email you lyrics, dance instructions and a notation of the melody which needs a tweak. We can discuss the most appropriate way to propagate it. If this appeals to you, please contact me.

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