Merry Christmas, Poor Wren of Irish Lore

wrenBy Lisa Alber

Last week, Christina’s post about Krampus, St. Nick’s demon companion, filled me with a strange kind of glee. I love a little scary, and let’s be honest, if we’re talking the holiday season and harkening back to the Old Testament — talk about some scary shite! Those stories aren’t for sissies.

Since I’m of Irish descent rather than Czech, I decided to check out whether the Celts had a nice holiday demon in its pantheon of mythological creatures. Alas, I couldn’t find one. Maybe this just means the Celts had more obedient kids?

In any case, I had fun reading up on creatures such as the vampire called Dearg Due, which means “red blood sucker” and is a female demon who seduces men and then drains them of their blood. (I hadn’t realized that Bram Stoker, Dracula’s creator, was Irish — makes sense.) And, Leanan Sidhe, the beautiful and evil fairy-muse who was said to give inspiration to poets and musicians before killing them.

I'm not the only one who thinks this is creepy, right?

I’m not the only one who thinks this is creepy, right?

The creepiest holiday-related thing I found is called the “wren boy procession.” To the ancient Celts, the wren was a powerful positive symbol — the king of the birds. Wrens were believed to be a link between this world and the next. When I read between the lines of the various websites I perused, the wren only turned evil — “the devil bird” — about the time that Christianity took over the “pagan” Celts (no surprise — always seemed to happen that way, eh?).

Still part of the popular culture.

Still part of the popular culture.

After that, the poor wren was said to have betrayed Irish soldiers who were fighting Norsemen by beating their wings on the Norse shields. The wren was also blamed for betraying St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr. As a result, the wren was hunted and then nailed to a pole at the head of St. Stephens Day (wren boy) processions every December 26th.

wrenboysNice one, that — the ritualistic slaughter of wrens. There were parades and much merriment while the poor birds where basically tortured. Thank god killing wrens has died out as a tradition, but there are still some areas of Ireland where you’ll see the processions and hear this poem:

The wren the wren the kings of all birds,
On St. Stephen’s Day it was caught in the furze
Up with the kettle and down with the pan
Give me a penny to bury the wren.

I love the holiday season, and I also loves me some cool symbolism — but man — I guess I asked for it when I decided to drill down into dark holiday themes. On a sweeter note, I found this tale written by the former National Poet of Wales.

wren-cover-300x456Happy Holidays from all of us at ShadowSpinners!

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