Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Beating the Bounds

Photo courtesy: Sylvia Kent
The expression, "Beating the Bounds," rolls off our tongues so easily, yet how many of us know the origin? Following is an excerpt from Sylvia Kent’s fabulous book, Folklore of Essex. ISBN 0-7524-3677 5. The book also contains interesting facts on Boy Bishops, witches, maiden's garlands, dragons and warriors...and many, many more fascinating stories.
Beating the bounds at Rogationtide, a customs believed to date back to Saxon times, is enjoying a revival in many villages across the country. Covering the three days preceding Ascension Day, Rogationtide usually galls about forty days after Easter. In the days when people illiterate and maps were rate among the ordinary folk, parish boundaries were usually marked by steams, trees, hedges or large stones and Rogationtide was the time for children to learn where the markers were – with the help of a little beating. Traditionally, parishioners set off to walk round the boundaries in large groups of ‘gangs’ led by the parish priest, who carried the cross. The walkers stripped wands of willow from the trees, garlanded them with milkwort – still known as gang or rogation flowers – and used them to beat the boundary markers. The children in the gang were lightly beaten too, and were also ducked in the boundary ponds or streams – thus ensuring that their patch was imprinted on their memories.