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The Lyke Wake Club



John Hillaby's Yorkshire: The moors and dales (1989) provides some fascinating insights into Yorkshire life. This sometimes wild and inhospitable landscape seems to have evoked a whole world of 'other lore' which would suggest an almost pagan connection with the earth intermingled with a confused amalgamation of Christianity's multiplicities and contradictions. The air is thick with mystery and superstition. This part of the country also supplies us with a literary source on which to discuss funeral paths or corpse ways. To wit, the Lyke Wake Dirge, a poem often remembered by the older generation, but all but forgotten now. A transcription is provided below. returning to Hillaby's book he tarries on the subject of death in these solitary communities; how the body was dressed and eventually carried by the 'dirgers' to its final resting place. He states - "The belief is that tracks where unhallowed bodies have been carried sanctify and render the last gangway unfit for any purpose except the passage of the dead. the custom might well go back to Neolithic times. There are many of these so-called corpse roads in the North Riding."

Once again we have here a testimony that this act 'sanctifies' the ground. This is not simply a prosaic and practical act, it is a symbolic one! Also I believe that this is the first reference which connects it to the prehistoric. Could a tradition continue through so many millennia? It may be attractive to think so but this could hardly be possible. However it does strengthen the connection between the cursus monument (possibly our earliest linear monuments) and spirit paths/ways.


A LYKE WAKE DIRGE

(From the New Oxford Book of English Verse)


This ae nighte, this ae nighte,

- every nighte and alle

Fire and fleet and candle lighte,

_ And Christe receive thy saule


When thou from hence away art past,

- Every nighte and alle

To Whinney-muir thou com'st at last

- And Christe receive thy saule


If ever thou gav’st hosen and shoon

- Every nighte and alle

Sit thee down and put them on

- And Christe receive thy saule


If hosen and shoon thou ne'er gav'st nane

- Every nighte and alle

The whinnies sall prick thee to the bare bane,

- And Christe receive thy saule


From Whinney-muir when thou mayst pass,

- Every nighte and alle

To Brig o' Dread thou com'st at last

- And Christe receive thy saule


From Brig o' Dread when thou mayst pass,

- Every nighte and alle

To Purgatory fire thou com'st at last

- And Christe receive thy saule


If ever thou gav’st meat or drink

- Every night and alle

The fire sall never make thee shrink

- And Christe receive thy saule


If meat or drink thou ne'er gav'st nane

- Every nighte and alle

The fire will burn thee to the bare bane

- And Christe receive thy saule


This ae nighte, this ae nighte

- Every nighte and alle

Fire and fleet and candle lighte

- And Christe receive thy saule


(Thanks to Lancashire lass Sue Campbell for finding the poem)


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