Morris or Not?

But is it Morris?

The Polshaw Picture

Around the beginning of February, 1995, Dave Polshaw of Manchester, England, (dave.polshaw@kemira.com) came across a picture in a magazine and inquired of the Morris Dance Discussion List whether it was a depiction of Morris Dancing. I foolishly volunteered to put it on the net for identification, so it was sent Air Mail across the Atlantic for eventual perusal by all and sundry.

Description

The picture sent is of a painting or drawing of five young men, each holding a long staff engaged in what appears to be a ritual melee on a featureless landscape. The sticks are about one and a half times the height of the men, about the thickness of an arm and bearing sparse green leaves. The men are clothed in cotehardies (or short tunics) and hose stereotypical of certain classes in the period from 1200 to 1400 AD, which includes the time of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. The shoes are not sufficiently detailed to be identifiable. At the top is a hand-written Roman Numeral five.

The Picture in Question

Identification

The picture is the 5 of Wands (the suit is known by some as Rods) from the Rider-Waite Tarot Deck. It was designed by Arthur Edward Waite of London (England - not to be confused with a city of the same name in Ontario) and executed by Pamela Coleman Smith, an American, for publication by the Rider Card Co. in 1910. Waite was an investigator of the Occult, and debunked the myth that the Tarot was traditionally derived from Egypt (the country in Mediterranean Africa, not the town in Maine). The squiggle at the bottom right is the signature of the artist - very stylized initials PCS reading up.

Symbolism

A variety of writers on the Tarot hold that the Five of Wands is symbolic of struggle, strife, conflict and frustration. In an older French deck the cinq des batons appears as five stout cudgels brandished by five disembodied forearms.

Interpretation

This illustration seems appropriate to the state of the MDDL in January and early February 1995. There has been much flaming, anger and controversy about what constitutes the Morris tradition, the role of women, whether Morris can be done by non-English, etc. ad nauseum. This has been accompanied by public announcements of persons un-subscribing to the MDDL. Coincidence? or Warning?

Disclaimer

I am not a practitioner of the Tarot, and am in no way qualified to interpret the significance of this card. Nor am I a knowledgeable amateur on the subject of Medieval costume. I am not even a Morris Dancer (these days, much), merely a fiddler for an American approximation of Morris and other traditional dances. You get what you pay for. No warranties expressed or implied.

Up to Morris
Original February 1995
Last modified: Oct 6 08:24 1995 / ijs@eddie.mit.edu