Láir Bhán and the Mast Beast

Samhain is a Gaelic festival that occurs at about the same time as Halloween, celebrated October 31 to November 1. Samhain marks the end of the harvest, and lies approximately halfway between the fall equinox and the winter solstice (in the northern hemisphere).

One feature of Samhain in some parts of the world, is the traveling of disguised people from home to home, asking for food. This procession would be led by a person holding aloft a decorated horse skull on a mast, and covered by a sheet.

This is the mast beast – Láir Bhán – of Samhain.

A Mari Lwyd, the Welsh equivalent of the Láir Bhán. Credit: R. fiend CC 3.0 SA

Oftentimes there was a frame that held the sheet out, to form the rough outline of a horse’s body. Such a structure could also be called a hobby-horse.

A hobby-horse. Credit:Turlough Park House

Láir Bhán would lead the procession door to door to collect the offerings needed to satisfy Muck Olla, an unhappy deity, and maintain peace for the coming year.

I started thinking about Láir Bhán the first time I started writing my entry for the Trick or Treat With Agents competition. I decided that my story’s main character, Trey of Herongarde, would want to costume up as Láir Bhán.

Here is my response to that part of the entry:

In your MCs voice, what costumed character do you relate to most 
and why?

Láir Bhán

The frivolity of Samhain troubles me. Why must we waste our energies
on such nonsense when there are crops to reap and store? Winter 
will be upon us before we are even aware. Alas, it is expected that 
I, as your future King, should encourage these celebrations - to 
keep everyone ‘happy.’ As such, I find that the only fitting costume 
for me is that of Láir Bhán, for as I must lead my people one day as 
King, I shall lead them this night as they revel in this madness. I 
shall hoist the skull of my lost beloved’s mare, above my head upon 
a steady pole. Over this, I shall bear a white shroud, so none will 
know that it is me. Aye, but they will respect Láir Bhán as my 
followers and I embark upon our journey from home to home demanding 
lively fare in return for peace. Oh, that I could ride to Falgarth 
and demand peace in such a way! I will raise the head of Láir Bhán 
high, that the revelers might follow through the villages and then 
safely beyond, away the clutches of that dreaded Muck Olla.

Anyway, it occurs to me that I could make myself a Láir Bhán costume. I have this just sitting in a cabinet at work.

A burro skull that I just happen to have sitting around.

A burro skull that I just happen to have sitting around.

It’s a burro, not a full-sized horse. But I have it. And I’m pretty handy with a needle and thread. And I’m pretty sure I could make a nice, wear-able hobby-horse frame.

Now I just have to do it!

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