A Peonian peasant festival


Peasant culture on Hârn varies widely even from region to region within a kingdom; yet there are also many shared ideas and practices which exist in some form from Rethem to Melderyn. This is due for the most part to two related factors: the common racial and cultural heritage of these Jarind/Pharic people, and the existence of the Peonian Church, which pays little heed to political boundaries.

Both of these factors have no doubt accounted for the widespread celebration of the Angyla festival by peasants in all of Hârn's civilised areas - including both Rethem and Tharda, though the variant of the custom in the Republic is very different from those elsewhere. Although there is no one "true" way to celebrate the festival, there are a number of elements which appear in some form or another in most if not all villages. These elements are described below; any given festival will include much that is not mentioned here, and omit some of what is. In order to give some idea of this variation, two examples are then presented from villages in Kanday and Tharda.

The name Angyla is of uncertain origin, though it might have some connection with the word for "exchange" or "swap". There is also a Peonian saint by the name of Angryl, though any relationship between the two is unlikely, the saint being local to Chybisa, and largely unknown outside that kingdom.


When the festival is held

Angyla always occurs in the summer, typically in the month of Nolus (Agrazhar in Tharda, almost without exception). The particular day seems unimportant, with equal numbers occuring at or near the full moon and the new. Frequently the festival is connected with a saint, and is held on that saint's day, though this may be a custom of convenience.

Bathing and ablution

Angyla formally begins with the villagers lining up before the village well to be ceremonially washed by the priest of the area. Where a river is convenient, this is used in preference to a well; in such circumstances it is common for everyone to stand or swim about together, while the priest moves from person to person, reciting the appropriate prayers. It has even been noted that when a priest is not present, individuals will take the matter into their own hands. In any event, there is much cavorting in the river, particularly after the cleansing.


A sermon from the priest is not an uncommon event in village life, and the one on Angyla seems to be little different from any other throughout the year. There does not seem to be a special theme for the day, though fables illustrating Peonian virtues are naturally common.

Good works

Though sometimes following the game (see below, Burning the flag), it is more usual that after delivering the sermon, the priest leads the villagers to their labour of the day. This might be anything from fixing the church roof to digging a garden. The task is decided upon by the priest, and is performed by all capable villagers; this labour is seen as a pious act, and also a highly practical endeavour, since the work is generally something which would need to be done in any case.

Needless to say, with so many people at the priest's disposal, a great number of things might be achieved; the festival nature of the day is generally not forgotten, however, and people are not made to work for too long.

Burning the flag

The main event of Angyla is undoubtedly the game simply called "burning the flag". In it all of the villagers, including children, split roughly into two (or, in some cases, more than two) teams. The only requirement of the make-up of these teams is that husbands and wives go on different sides.

Each side has its own "flag", a banner of coloured cloth, either made in the weeks before the festival, or held over from the previous year's event. The range of colours used varies widely, depending on materials and dyes available; red and blue are the most common.

The flag is attached to a pole, and at first each is carried by the head man and woman of the village (who, as noted, are on different sides). The aim of the game is for the flag of the opposing team to be taken to the bonfire that is lit somewhere in the village, and burned. Though there are no real rules governing the means by which this is accomplished, it is acknowledged that the use of objects to aid in the general melee that ensues is cheating, and that there is no need either to seriously injure or be injured. What tends to happen is that the majority of villagers play whole-heartedly for some minutes, and then break off from the dedicated players and settle down to enjoy themselves in whatever amusement seems best - this might consist in games of tag, cooking over the bonfire, or sitting and talking.

When a flag is finally wrestled away from a team, and taken to the fire, it is placed upright in the centre. The village gathers around to watch as the flames consume first the pole and then the banner; often this event marks the beginning of the next round of feasting and drinking.

Angyla Festival, Duine, Kanday, 720 TR

As recounted by Daryl of Mesen, ten year old son of the woodward, Jeryn of Mesen, on the seventeenth of Nolus.

It was a full moon the night before, and everyone was excited about the day ahead, and the game. When it was dark we all went outside, and everyone else was there too, except Adella [the priestess]. I think she was praying in the shrine; she does that every month to make sure that Peoni still loves us all.

So we watched the moon, and even the little ones were allowed out, though I heard Namelia say that her Raida might catch a chill. But it was warm, and all the men were saying how they'd get the flag. Not my dad, 'cos of his leg, but he was laughing with the rest of 'em. It was hard to get to sleep.

When I got up, mum had already gone down to the river, but dad made me help him with carting the wood over to the meeting field for the fire. It took ages, and I could see everyone else down in the water, splashing about. Dad just said that the water would be refreshing but not cold after we were done, but I still think we should get some of the others to help. I'll tell them to, when I'm woodward.

At last I got to go down and play in the river with my friends, but then Adella came so we had to stop. Most of us weren't wearing anything, but she had some of her robes on, and a long blue scarf about her neck. She quietly moved from one to another of us, scooping up some of the river water with her left hand and dabbing it on our foreheads with the right. She spoke very quietly, and didn't look anyone in the eyes, but she said the same thing she normally says: "Peoni bless you and keep you in holiness, pure in the sight of God." Then she waded out of the river, and we got to play a bit more before some of the parents started calling us out to have breakfast.

The bonfire hadn't been lit yet, so someone must have done the cooking at home. We all sat around in the field to eat, and soon Adella stood up and started her sermon. She said how we'd had a good year, and that we were blessed to live so close to such a holy place as Korri, what with all the priests of Larani there. And she told the story of the old man who went on a pilgrimage to a far-off place, and met an otter who gave him a gold ring, a bear who gave him a bowl of polished wood and a wolf who slept with him at night. The old man was travelling alone, you see, and then he filled the bowl with water from the well at this sacred site, and went back home. And when he was nearly home again, a beggar on the road asked him for some food. But the old man had none, so he gave the beggar the ring, which was precious enough to buy lots of food. And when he got to his house, a dog was lying at his door, with foam on his mouth. So the man gave it the water in the bowl to drink from, and it got better. Then the old man went to sleep, and when he woke up he was in Valon, and there he was given a place of great honour.

Then Adella said that we all were going to repair the wall that divides Wright's Field from Ester's Wood, so we did. By the time we were done we were so hot we could have had another go in the river, but instead we had lunch and tried to find some shade.

Finally it was time for my dad to set alight the bonfire before the game. We had put a lot of dry wood on the pile, and it was soon roaring like anything. Then Maegyd brought out last year's winning flag, the red one, and fixed it to its pole. Then Troda brought out the new flag, which was blue, and the two of them stood on opposite sides of the fire. Everyone stood up and started going to one side or another. It took a long time for everyone to be sorted, because people kept changing sides and then finding that there were too many here, or their husband was already there, and so on. I was with the blues.

When everything was set, Maegyd and Troda raised their flags, and the game began! I tried to stick close to my dad, but he was too slow, so I tried to find some of the other people my size. Little Gwen tried to catch me, but I wasn't going to fight a girl, and I ended up in a scuffle with Deran. I got him to the ground, but then he kicked me and got away, so I went after him again. We were both very dusty when we heard lots of cheering. Someone had grabbed the blue flag! I saw him running towards the fire with it, but there were some of us in the way, including my dad. He tried to tackle the man, but got pushed away, but Daffyd and Rogan got him between them, and ripped the flag back.

By now most people had stopped playing properly. Most of the women were sitting about on the grass with the children, talking, and some of the men were playing other games. I saw Gwen playing hoops with Horab, so I joined them. I won almost every game.

Suddenly everyone stopped, 'cos Troda had got the red flag and had made it to the fire. He managed to get it standing upright, though only 'cos Charan didn't push him at the last. If he had, Troda would've gotten burnt, so it's a good thing he didn't. When the flag started to burn, Maegyd untied the blue flag and wrapped it around her husband, and then he led her to his house, with all of us close behind, to store the flag til next year.

Then we all went back to what we were doing, and had lots to drink. Adella came out again when the sun was going down, and sacrificed a pig for the feast. I was so full afterwards that I couldn't move. I just lay down with my friends on the ground, counting the stars and listening to Rogan telling stories, and joining in with the singing as best we could., till it was time to go inside to sleep.

Angyla Festival, Lak-Amnar, Thardic Republic, 720 TR

As recounted by Olmar, priest of Peoni, on the sixth of Agrazhar.

The Festival of Angyla begins for myself and my helper Telea at dawn on the day following the first Lesser Sapelah of the month of Agrazhar. This year it seemed even before the sun rose that it would be a day unmarred by wet weather, as occured last year. Telea and I walked out in the pre-dawn light to Caerin Mound, from the top of which we greet the rising sun. Telea has another year or two before she earns her staff, and so she crouched down at my side while I raised the wood in honour of the light.

When all of that great orb had risen above the land, we turned away westward, to look down upon our village and renew our acquaintaince with our fields and homes. Already some of our fellows were stirring; it was time to get everything ready for the ritual ablutions. Telea I sent to collect the roses, while I performed the final step in preparing the ointment, adding just enough sanctified water to the sticky sludge that I had ground up the night before. We then both of us made our way down to the river.

Once there, we had to wait for all the village to assemble along the bank, crowding together to fit on the low sandy stretch. No one wore anything upon their feet, which saved Telea from reminding them, and at her signal they stepped forward into the cold water, the sunlight now slanting down on their backs. We two, who had been standing in the flow of the stream all this time, then proceeded along the line of villagers. Telea, from her bowl, handed each a single rose petal, while I, from my bowl, and using the forefinger of my right hand, daubed some of the unguent on each face, in a line straight down the brow and nose.

After blessing each one appropriately, they leant forward and set their rose petal upon the water, often whispering prayers as they did so, until there were many purple flecks floating and swirling in the stream. Some splashed water on their clothes, however carefully so as not to accidentally wash off any of the ointment on their faces.

It was now time for the first meal of the day to be taken, a communal affair as befits a holy celebration. And following it came my sermon, which I gave standing upon a small platform that was put up for the purpose. I of course began by mentioning the connection of this day with Yselde the Trothmaker, and recounted the story of the shepherd who was separated from his love first by his concern for his flock, and secondly by death, but who was given his wish in Valon when the woman died in her old age and joined him at last.

The main thrust of my talk, however, concerned the obligations of each one unto those nearest to him, for which purpose I told the unusual story of two wives brewing the first beer together, after poisoning each other's husbands with their individual concoctions. I hope that my message was well recieved by those for whom it was primarily intended.

Finally, Telea led everyone in a mass for the dead; her voice is certainly the purest in the village, and more than makes up for the inadequacies among others; in particular I count myself as one of the worst in the congregation - all the worse that I cannot sing softer than those I must set an example for!

The service over, it was time to attend to the chores that could not be put aside even for such a day as this, though joyous hearts make light work of daily toil. Throughout the village the work songs competed with each other, creating a happy racket.

At last, with the sun high in the sky, it came time for the dance of the flags. Everyone gathered round while I tried, in vain as always, to have some control over who was grouped with whom. In some matters even the children will not be gainsayed by their priest. But all was orderly enough when Telea signalled the dance to begin.

This year I thought to allow Telea to take the priestly role, and so I got to take part in the actual dance itself, which was a real treat after only watching for so many years. I was almost as one of the children, still unfamiliar with the simple but ordered steps and actions, and fumbling now and then, and looking to others for guidance. Gerta and Flavel had the flags this year, and led their team excellently well; they were experienced, and encouraged their fellows to exert themselves to the fullest. For while the basic motions are clearly laid down, there is plenty of scope allowed for individuals to display their skill in front of others, and there was plenty of that here. I also caught Telea mouthing the words to the chant that goes with the dance, for which I can easily forgive her.

When it seemed to my aging body that we had been dancing for hours, the flag bearers advanced away from their respective groups, until they stood only a feet feet from each other. Then the rest of us were treated to a breathtaking display of dance, with husband and wife moving madly around each other, the coloured flags swirling about them as if whipped by a chaotic wind. It seemed as if surely one must tangle with the other, a foot catch in the dirt, or arms to clash, but no! For minutes they kept it up, now slowing, now becoming frenetic once more, leaping over and ducking under the other's flag, as if any touch meant death; until at last, they backed away, sweat pouring from their faces and bodies, stained dark brown from my ointment. Laying the banners on the ground, they stood gasping for breath, waiting for Telea.

Now that it was her chance to participate, Telea came eagerly forward, holding in one hand a torch lit from the bonfire we had built up earlier, and in the other a blindfold. This Flavel tied about her eyes, before both he and his wife took hold the torch in their hands, holding it directly before Telea. The banners were picked up and brought to Telea, who was unable to determine which was which. Holding one in each hand, she proceeded, with great encouragement from everyone around her, to alternately pass them through the flame of the torch. The cheering grew louder and louder as she went on, until suddenly one flag caught fire, and all about shouted out "Blue!", that being the colour of the burning flag.

Immediately Telea dropped both flags, and Gerta quickly reached out and caught her red flag before it touched the ground. The blindfold was removed, and it only remained for Flavel to wrap the singed red flag around Girta head, and the most exciting part of the day was complete. From then until the day ended was feasting and revelry, brought to a close at dusk when, facing the setting sun, all stood once more in the river, to have the unguent with which they had been anointed removed, and to cast white petals into the river.

Angyla : a Peonian peasant festival
Document created: 18 April 1997
Last updated: 27 June 1997