Beating the Bounds

Image from our Land Art 2016 wall calendar featuring artwork by Dietmar Voorwold. Click image for more info.

Image from our Land Art 2016 wall calendar featuring artwork by Dietmar Voorwold. Click image for more info.

The days directly before and including Ascension Day (May 5 this year) have long been celebrated by processions around the boundaries of a property. This ancient ritual was approved by the Council of Orleans in 511. Sometimes it is called the Rogation Days.

In Belgium, the priest carries a cross and leads a procession around the fields, blessing the crops and praying for rain and abundant harvests. The litany of all saints is chanted, presumably invoking their assistance and protection.

Ethel Urlin in Festivals, Holy Days and Saints’ Days, describes a Beating the Bounds ceremony from Lichfield in England that took place on Ascension Day: All the houses in the cathedral close were decorated with elm boughs, and after morning service everyone walked around the boundaries of the close, carrying elm boughs and beating the eight places where wells had once been or were still situated. At each place, they listened to a reading and sang a verse of a hymn. At the end of the ceremony, they piled all the elm boughs on the steps of the church and pronounced a benediction (blessing).

During this week, consider spending some time thinking about the boundaries of your world (whether real or metaphorical) and marking them in some way.

Waverly FitzgeraldWaverly Fitzgerald is a writer, teacher, and calendar priestess who has studied the lore of holidays and the secrets of time for decades. She shares her research and her thoughts on her Living in Season website and in her book, Slow Time. She is currently working on a series of essays about looking for nature in the city and blogs for the Seattle PI as the “Urban Naturalist.”



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