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The Cornish traditions in The Serpent Dance

  • Submitted: 15th May 2024

The Serpent Dance of Cornwall – Sofia Slater

A novel that is stepped in the traditions of Cornwall. The tagline is “The River will have its Due.”

“On the Feast of St John the Cornish villagers of Trevennick dance around midsummer bonfires and make offerings to the river.”

Map of locations in The Serpent Dance

The Serpent Dance set in Cornwall

Map of locations in The Serpent Dance

There are lots of lovely, chilling descriptions of the traditions and culture. One is the straw animals that people make, as offerings to the river gods:

“It’s a very old tradition, a kind of propitiations of local gods We build them every year at the Feats of St John, or Golowan, what’s called Midsommar. Then there are offerings to the river and a bonfire on the village green – protecting ourselves from flood and fire and dragons and pestilience, you know.”

Map of locations in The Serpent Dance

The number and range of festivals in Cornwall is quite impressive! (and just a little bit scary)

Part of Cornish mythology comes from the fact that there were many smugglers and pirates who thrived in and around the many coves and caves.

Many stories from Cornwall come from the landscape itself.  St Michael’s Mount is said to be the work of Giants. The legend of the lost land of Lyonesse, is said to come from the stories that came from the time there was flooding of the Isles of Scilly and Mount’s Bay near Penzance.

Lavandières (c) Wikipedia

Lavandières (c) Wikipedia

Map of locations in The Serpent Dance

Les Lavandières or the Midnight Washerwomen  is a particularly chilling legend – this is the story of  three old laundresses. You have to avoid being seen by the washerwomen. If you do get seen, however, you will have to help the women wring out the sheets. If you do it in the same direction as the women,   your arms will be wrenched from their sockets and you will die. Turn them in the opposite way, and you get three wishes so, every silver cloud…..

“Animals  have always been a repository for our fears and an expression o four powers. Especially dragons and snakes. Think of the ancient carving of the river goddess Verbeia at Ilkley, holding her two serpents.”

Verbeia

Map of locations in The Serpent Dance

Despite the creepy woods and the Cornish legends and  ancient midsummer rituals, this is not a novel set in the landscape akin to that of the Wicker man – it’s a novel with snippets of festivals and traditions, with tension and romance thrown in.

 

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