An Interview with
Bronwen Forbes, Author of Make
Merry in Step and Song
Your new book, Make Merry in Step and Song, is a
compendium of historic music, dances, and mummer’s plays. Why
do such things elicit joy in people?
The easy answer is: because
they’re fun! All of us have an inner kid who likes to put on
a costume and pretend to be Robin Hood or some other hero of
On a deeper level, these
folk activities touch something very deep, very necessary in all of us,
especially in America. Our country is relatively new, and our ancestors
have only been here for a short time. The old songs, dances, and
mummer’s plays remind us of where we came from, and that can
be a source of joy, too.
Do you feel music and dancing are integral to pagan celebration? Why?
say music and dance are integral to any
celebration, even if it’s just singing “Happy
Birthday.” Our ancestors came up with these dances and songs
as a way to express their relationship with the seasons and with each
other. The sabbats were when the community or village would come
together and celebrate with feasting, song, dance, games.
I’ve never known a Pagan who didn’t appreciate the
post-ritual feast, but a holiday celebration can be so much more than
that—and that’s when the music and dancing come in.
Did you grow up with such lore and celebration?
Yes, I did. I grew up on the
campus of Berea College in Berea, Kentucky. In the 1930s a professor
from England brought the plays, songs, and dances featured in my book
to Berea, and taught them to the students and the community. That
tradition has continued ever since. My dad was a music professor when
we lived there in the 1970s, and was “recruited” to
be a musician at the dances and classes. My mother and I started to tag
along, and a lifelong family hobby was born!
Each sabbat of the wheel of the year is associated with a different
emotion, whether it be solemnity, revelry, or reflection. How do you
think the seasons affect the emotions of sabbats and esbats?
In a word: profoundly.
It’s hard to imagine a “party hearty”
Samhain or a solemn, depressing Beltane. Those are the most obvious,
but it’s not uncommon for me, at least, to seriously take
stock of my life at Lammas. Imbolc, the first hint of spring, is very
joyful in my house, but that could be because it’s also my
I’ve never had any major emotional shifts at esbats, although
the Harvest Moon (September) is usually more of a reflective Full Moon
ritual than usual, at least to me.
The songs, dances, and plays in your book are from the English folk
tradition. How does this tradition differ from the other songs and
dances (such as those of a Celtic or African tradition) employed by
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the full interview.
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