S Mummers

Mummers' or mumming plays are seasonal folk plays often associated with Christmas and Hogmannay, in which the disguised performers, like guisers, visit people in their homes. There are many versions, however, the form of the plays almost always includes a fight leading the the death of the archetypal good or bad character, this character is then brought back to life by a doctor.

The underlying themes of the plays are duality and resurrection. The mumming plays are linked to the celtic Wrenboys and Strawboys.

Christmas, Yule-Boys mumming play from Galloway - 1824


{Enter Beelzebub, and proceeds:}


Here come I, auld Beelzebub,
And over my shoulder I carry a club;
And in my hand a frying-pan,
Sae don't ye think I'm a jolly auld man.
Christmas comes but ance in the year,
And when it comes it brings good cheer,
For here are two just going to fight,
Whether I say 'tis wrong or right.
My master loves such merry fun,
And I the same do never shun;
Their yarking splore with the quarter-staff,
I almost swear will make me laugh.

{The Knights enter now, dressed in white robes, with sticks in their hands, and so they have a set-to at sparring, while one of them accompanies the strokes of the sticks with this rhyme:}

First Knight

Strike, then, strike my boy,
For I will strike if you are coy,
I'm lately come frae out the west,
Where I've made many a spirit rest;
I've fought in my bloody wars,
Beyond the sun, among the stars,
With restless ghosts, and what you know
Flock there when ere the cock doth crow;
I've elbow'd thousands into hell,
My ears delight to hear them yell.
I've broke the backs of millions more
Upon that grim infernal shore;
So strike if you're a valiant knight,
Or I shall knock ye down with might.
Your proud insults I'll never bear,
To inches I'll your body tear;
If you, my love, can keep, can keep,
You first must make me sleep, sleep, sleep.

{The second Knight now speaks, and the sparring becomes keener.}

Second Knight

Lash, dash - your staff to crash,
My fool, have you the water brash?
If you have not, I soon shall know,
I soon shall cause you tumble low;
So thump away, and I shall fling
Some blows on you, and make ye ring
Like ye sounding belly buts,
To start the music of thy guts;
Or clinkers on thy hairy scull,
To fell thee like a horned bull.
Reel away, who first shall fall
Must pardon from the other call;
Tho' you have fought beyond the sun,
I find we'll have some goodly fun;
For I have boxed in the East,
To solar furnace toss'd the beast.

{First Knight fails and sings out -}

First Knight

A doctor! doctor, or I die -


"A doctor, doctor, here am I."

{Wounded Knight sayeth -}

Second Knight

"What can you cure?"

{Beelzebub answereth:}


"All disorders to be sure,
"The gravel and the gout,
"The rotting of the snout;
"If the devil be in you,
"I can blow him out
"Cut off legs and arms,
"Join then too again
"By the virtue of my club,
"Up Jack, and fight a main," &c., &c.
{Thus a fellow is struck out of five senses into fifteen.}

MacTaggart's Notes:

"YULE-BOYS - Boys who ramble the country during the Christmas holidays. They are dressed in white, all but one in each gang, the Beelzebub of the corps. They have a foolish kind of rhyme they go through before people with, and so receive bawbees and pieces. This rhyme is now a-days so sadly mutilated, that I can make little of it as to what it means, but it evidently seems to have an ancient origin: and in old Scottish books I see some notice taken of Quhite boys of Zule. The plot of the rhyme seems to be, two knights disputing about a female, and fight; the one falls, and Beelzebub appears and cures him. I may give here a sketch of something like the scene, with the attending rhymes."