Discussion: Progressive sentiment behind the Hag tune set?

Discussion: Progressive sentiment behind the Hag tune set?

I’ve heard worry from some quarters about the title of this and related tunes and wonder if anyone knows anything about it?

As far as I understand in Europe we had these witches, hexen, or hags, who were basically people who practiced traditional forms of medicine and healing etc and who were persecuted heavily during the height of the Christian era.

Thankfully the witch hunts were not very strong in Ireland and from what I would understand of the Irish people I have no doubt they would have often been sympathetic to the plight of the hags.

But still these tunes are passed down to us with these titles. Are they making light of the difficulties of the hags, are they corruptions of tunes of neutral or positive sentiment, veiled support for the hags?

We see "Old Hag You Have Killed Me," "Cheer Up Old Hag," "The Hag at The Churn/Church," "The Hag with No/All the Money" and hags of various other physical description, place of origin, or social standing; we even know of a "Protestant Hag."

Very curious to hear what others might think about the provenance of this little pocket of history.

Re: Discussion: Progressive sentiment behind the Hag tune set?

The English word "hag" was in earlier times commonly used to translate the Irish word "cailleach", which on its own normally just means "old woman". So I doubt whether the word "hag" in tune titles necessarily means "witch", especially since I suspect that many of the tunes were composed long after the witch craze.

Re: Discussion: Progressive sentiment behind the Hag tune set?

Age-ism rears its ugly head. The word is a translation from Cailleach…which derives from Old Gaelic, Caillech, ´The veiled One´, sometimes called ´The Goddess of Winter´. In rural societies prejudice sometimes assigns supernatural aspects to the elderly. I am old…NOT super-natural! A more felicitous translation might be ´crone´ or even ´granny´.

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Re: Discussion: Progressive sentiment behind the Hag tune set?

So those tune-names are translations of originally Gaelic names for those tunes? Just trying to clarify.

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Re: Discussion: Progressive sentiment behind the Hag tune set?

@meself
Undoubtedly. So: An Cailleach an Airgead = The Hag with the Money
and so on.

Re: Discussion: Progressive sentiment behind the Hag tune set?

The hag question has come up many times in the discussions (see .e.g., https://thesession.org/discussions/11244
https://thesession.org/discussions/3577). I have seen no real evidence to suggest any association of the word ‘Hag’ with witches. The tune names certainly don’t infer that. Perhaps the word would have originally been intended with no more or less ‘offense’ than the word ‘spinster’ (‘Spinster’ used to be a perfectly respectful term when I was a kid, but I wouldn’t dare call any woman that now).

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Re: Discussion: Progressive sentiment behind the Hag tune set?

@Borderder: thanks!

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Re: Discussion: Progressive sentiment behind the Hag tune set?

A little evidence to support the witch theory…

https://tunearch.org/wiki/Annotation:Hag_at_the_Churn_(The)

"Caoimhin Mac Aoidh says a correct translation of the Irish title would be "Hag in the churn." This refers, he maintains, to the folk superstition that witches would inhabit a churn to steal butter. They could not abide this particular tune, however, so it would be played as a ward when the chore of churning butter was done. It was a terrible and telling mark if a woman left the house during this ritual.’"

Re: Discussion: Progressive sentiment behind the Hag tune set?

And yet CMO once proposed another hypothesis for ‘Hag IN the Churn’, pointing out that a hag is also another name for a rosehip (well I think it was a rosehip… where are you CMO?). I’d also like to point out that back in the day, men too could be considered witches. But then I suppose if men were called Hags, then women would be Haggis’s. Yes, it all make sense!

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Re: Discussion: Progressive sentiment behind the Hag tune set?

I wrote a tune in honour of our local concertina player in Canberra. I called it "The hag with the buttons". She was luke-warm in her appreciation….

Re: Discussion: Progressive sentiment behind the Hag tune set?

Cailleach ‘sa Mhaistrim is in the genitive case and doesn’t translate 1-1 with English but you can think of it as something like "the old woman of/from the churn", or "the churn’s old woman". The genitive can denote ownership, or origin, or literal creation.

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Re: Discussion: Progressive sentiment behind the Hag tune set?

Interesting notes about the translation aspect of it. Might there be some appetite for updating these titles in our canon?

I’m reminded for example of the post colonial efforts to recodify Romanisation norms in China, a kind of reclaiming of the presentation of the people.

On one hand I could see some contentiousness about it but I’m also frequently impressed by the advance of conservativeness or slavishness to tradition in this musical culture.

And in the other hand we have the benefit of moving away from unintentional sexist/ageist language which creates needless barriers to some people joining our community and feeling welcomed.

Re: Discussion: Progressive sentiment behind the Hag tune set?

Different "hag" tunes might have different associations for "hag".
E.g. in "The Hag with the Money" it’s obvious from the lyrics that it’s just an old woman (who happens to be rich and some young guy might marry her for her money). "Sí do mhaimeo í, cailleach an airgid" = "She is your granny, the hag with the money"

In the case of "The Hag at the Churn" it might be a witch, as Caoimhin Mac Aoidh says.

Other "hag" tune titles are not so clear.

Re: Discussion: Progressive sentiment behind the Hag tune set?

So call it "The Witch at the Churn" then?

Re: Discussion: Progressive sentiment behind the Hag tune set?

Regressive sentiment as humour: The Hag is Hecate (her capital letters), the hateful female, the personification of the old woman of the pagan triple goddess, the source of life who denies it and seeks power in evil and the destruction of life to her own glory/fame/self satisfaction, complete with no need of anyone; a female gestalt of three personalities that is the Fairy Queen of the Tuatha De Daanan.
No room there for upstanding mutually supportive human sentiment, this is pagan paranormal Ireland in the raw; poltergeist activity at housing estates built over demolished fairy raths; the source of the goltrai, geantrai and suantrai.
Real, real humour and good ease: the young boyo and his missus (not us, we’re old) awake at the crack of dawn, ‘Get up old woman and shake yirself’. Slan go foill.

Re: Discussion: Progressive sentiment behind the Hag tune set?

It seems to me that if "Hag’ is a derogatory, and by implication, a sexist term, then we just shouldn’t use it. I doubt however that it was originally so intended.

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Re: Discussion: Progressive sentiment behind the Hag tune set?

Thank you all for your consisted and balanced feedback!

@Gobby I agree. I doubt there was a significant ill intent, if any, when naming/translating these songs, but still it’s definitely worth considering a move away from the term.

@David50 I think "The Old Woman at The Churn" would be the more accurate and less charged translation.

Re: Discussion: Progressive sentiment behind the Hag tune set?

Do you want to rewrite most of European folklore as well?

Re: Discussion: Progressive sentiment behind the Hag tune set?

I think that’s a bit of a leap, if I may say so.

But firstly I will answer your question: I like to consider my heritage as a living tradition, and so yes, I certainly would adapt the stories that were passed onto me to reflect the morals, social manner and reflexive nature that I would hope to elicit or engender in whoever was listening, my children etc.

Do remember that the tales of folklore were passed around orally for a very long time and over a very wide spatial plane. We know that stories across Eurasia can often be shown to come in families with regional variations just like language, that they often have common roots and then diverge as the cultures who use them need them to change.

It was only when we began to write and disseminate these stories down, when we codified them, that any idea of "right," "wrong" or (perhaps worst of all in my opinion) "standard" came about.

If I were to speak boldly then I might describe loyalty to the standard as Victorian.

But, to get back to the hags!

What’s being re-written here? It’s simply changing a translation choice, recommending a more suitable word for our modern ears, in the hope that it makes our culture more accessible and palatable to newcomers.

I’m certainly not suggesting that we whitewash our history or that we forget it, only that we own it, that we forge it for our own needs, and not the needs of an ideal, imagined ancestor who may frown at our indiscretion.

Re: Discussion: Progressive sentiment behind the Hag tune set?

There’s no harm in choosing a related term for translations, such as substituting "old woman" for "hag" or "bundle of sticks" for "faggots" where modern meanings have changed. Some thought to adjusting verses may be necessary. For example, some old tunes basically advocated/threatened rape in at least one verse, albeit originally sometimes intended to be bawdy or humourous. The focus in some old songs on virginity, warnings of deflowering, threatened violence if refused, etc. gets tiresome from the perspective of the female listening population! A slight rewording (or leave out a particularly offensive verse) would retain the humour but not the outdated and harmful messaging. These old songs evolved over time, to suit their purpose and audience, so it doesn’t hurt to evolve them still a bit further, without losing their essential story and enjoyment.

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@john hill. I think you are saying that you would edit the folk superstition referred to above (witch inhabiting the churn to steal the butter) out of your heritage as you would wish to pass it on. I think that is up to you, and fair enough for you to suggest others might wish to. Would you also edit the witches out of Shakespeares’ Macbeth ?

I would argue that if the sense of the word ‘hag’ to whoever used the word in a tune name was, as in the page Cheeky Elf linked, " a wizened old woman, and in Scottish and Irish mythology the cailleach was goddess concerned with creation, harvest, the weather and sovereignty" https://tunearch.org/wiki/Annotation:Hag_at_the_Churn_(The **add a right bracket** then leaving it that way helps preserve the richness of language rather than fostering ignorance.

In the case of samson3’s example it would be giving another countries use of language precedence of that of the author of the name - and all the more confusing of it was spicy meatballs that the author had in mind.

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I’m a leftie pinko liberal who hates the thought of needlessly upsetting anyone, but I think it’s nonsensical to change the names or lyrics of tunes or songs to suit modern opinion. It’s fair enough not to call a new composition by a name which might be offensive, but to go back and try and alter past meanings is a fool’s errand and one that just gives ammunition to the thick as pigshit "You-can’t-say-anything-these-days"-brigade.

Clearly "hag" has perjorative connotations, but its history, as described above, is an ancient one. It’s an archaic term and I really don’t think it’s necessary to hide it. Education is better than brushing things under the carpet.
As a matter of fact, "hag" and "faggot" are interchangable insults where I’m from (the English Midlands). "Faggot" being abusive slang for a nasty old woman, long before its modern use.

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Very true what you say, Jimi Limpert, about the importance of not seeming tyrannical in the name of inclusivity.

A nice thing to do might be to keep things as they are but occasionally draw attention to the history and discussion around these terms. That would allow us to express both sympathy for the witches as well as sympathy for the sensible steering of the tradition. I also think it could only lend itself to a deeper appreciation of the thing, both tune and history, in any audience listening.

I would still say though, that even if the line we draw doesn’t encompass the hags, a line almost certainly should be drawn somewhere, and I think the examples @samson3 mentioned above, as well as similar cases where a verse here and there might normalise behaviours which would today be considered assault, are still worth considering as they appear.

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@David50 I’m sorry but you’ve misread me, and most likely I misrepresented myself.

In speaking of folk tales I was speaking much more broadly than the song titles; I spoke in terms of full stories, of tropes and archetypes that we share as a deep common culture.

In these cases—and I guess let’s stick to the witch—I would still pass on the same tales but I would re-shape them to suit my needs. A witch represents a person interested in essentially counter cultural (heretical) practices at least in the times of Christian Europe and, still, in the post-enlightenment Europe of Science.

I would tell the stories that involve them but I would give voice to, and sometimes narrative precedence to, those innocent people who were judged and persecuted, and in doing so strive to pass on a message of diversity and inclusivity.

Shakespeare is a different case as his works are the work of an individual voice and the cultural milieu which gave rise to them would have seen them that way. I understand his morality in the same way that I understand his language: in the context of its time.

These tunes are in contrast to that, in the they spring forth from a culture of pooling heritage and shaping it through mutual exchange.

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OK then, how about "The Person at the Churn"? Nothing unintentionally ageist/sexist about that is there? As opposed to "The Old Woman at the Churn" which is has a deliberate reference to age and gender.

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@John Hill:
I understand what you’re saying, but I think that more can be achieved by education and explanation than by changing or banning certain lyrics and themes. Much of it is probably more obvious than we think: even 40 years ago, when I learnt the song, I realised that it probably wasn’t the done thing to actually shoot Captain Farell with both barrels! ;)

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I think there is a danger that framing something from the perspective of a particular time and place may foster ignorance, cause offence to those with a different perspective, or disrespect an original meaning.

For example there are cultures in the world where not to show anything other than respect for older people is a major social faux pas. In those places ‘ageism’ in the sense used above is meaningless. Calling a tune "The Old Woman at the Churn" could be nothing other than respectful, perhaps conjuring an image of some domestic idyll.

And I would warn both samson3 and Jimi Limpet that there a places where sniggering about these https://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/the_great_british_faggot_22530 would would earn nothing but disdain such as would be directed to one showing an ignorant and childish sense of humour.

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@David50
I agree that is a potential danger, which is why there should always be context available, if required.
It’s the same as the (belated) realisation that certain cities were built on the backs of slaves. No-one should be suggesting demolishing Glasgow’s wonderful Merchant City, but people need to be made aware of where the wealth and power came from. This is very difficult to achieve, especially in a time where nationalism - even imperialism - is rising, but I think it has to be tried… Anyway, I think folkies in general tend not to be sucked into such small-minded beliefs!
I love faggots, by the way!

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"I doubt there was a significant ill intent, if any, when naming/translating these songs, but still it’s definitely worth considering a move away from the term."…..
I disagree with this. I am totally against whitewashing history, or changing it fit our present standards. We shouldn’t be trying to change history but to understand it AS IT WAS. This will obviously seem contradictory to my previous statement that, ….. "It seems to me that if "Hag’ is a derogatory, and by implication, a sexist term, then we just shouldn’t use it." I didn’t intend that to come out as literally as it did, because what I finally believe is that in its original context a ‘Hag’ was not a derogatory word. I think it just referred to a haggard old woman. Perhaps it even referred to a haggard old ‘person’ in general, just like how, in England, as recent as the 1930’s, a ‘Bird’ was not just a woman, but a term for a person generally (everybody has forgotten this, but it’s clear in literature, such as P.J Woodhouse). Okay, sure, we shouldn’t nowadays be going about calling old women ‘Hags’ or calling young women ‘Birds’, but if we want to do the best we can at understanding history, it is always important that we try and see and understand it from the eyes of the time. I hope you all have a gay day.

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Re: Discussion: Progressive sentiment behind the Hag tune set?

I think this is akin to purchasing a house in the country and expecting the local farmers to not spread manure on his fields as is the tradition or complaining that there are no sidewalks. If we play traditional music it is in it’s nature, traditional, and may not reflect the modern condition which itself may not reflect future conditions. Moralities and sensibilities change over time which will be reflected in new tune titles and themes but to try to change what was the current values in the past to modern norms is like denying the past. I don’t condone sexism, racism, violence but I cannot change what was the past norms and language, only what will be the future. If you play traditional music this was the tradition. Has has anyone listened to modern rap and not got upset with the explicit sexism, racism, violence and foul language incorporated in much of this music?….This too may come into the realm of traditional music.

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"How about The Person at the Churn?"

Reminds me (as someone who used to do mainly church gigs) of the gender-neutral Bibles and Hymnals, with laudable motivations but in practice often silly-sounding.

None as I recall re-named Hymns as Thems, at least.

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Changing "The hag at the churn" to something else will do as much to end problems for women as changing the name "I buried my wife and danced on her grave" will reduce violence against women - it will do nothing to address the extremely concrete and profound challenges that women face in our world.

One of the beauty of feminist approaches to ethics is that they focus on the embodied concrete was that issues really affect people - instead of protracted conversation on the best implementation of absurd abstract rules that have no bearing in the lives of physical people (an often harmful characteristic of patriarchal and male centred ethics).

Women face extremely prescient challenges in society from employment discrimination to violence. This discussion not only distracts from the practical problems the women face - but may even make people feel satisfied that something is being done to address actual embodied problems that women are facing (though well intentioned as this suggestion as it clearly is).

The English translation may well include pejorative connotations, but understanding that a tune name is pejorative is based purely on the notion that hag can be an insult in English - and that women are to be respected. Just as any tune with "tinker" in it is not causing real problems for itinerants; so also hag tunes are not creating problems for women. Whats more - the understanding within the tradition, that hag is a translation of a word that holds great reverence for women & the old, is even a case that suggests the abstract connotations of hag are more positive than "old woman"…. (if you want to spend time on that!)

Regardless - as fruitful as this discussion is - tweaking abstract rules about the word hag will not help women, and could even lead to a false belief in progress.

As far as I see it anyways!

😀

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Re: Discussion: Progressive sentiment behind the Hag tune set?

Glorifying a handout criminal on a street name appears a very different issue too…

It’s a mark of respect to have a street named after you…

A tune name means lots of things!

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Re: Discussion: Progressive sentiment behind the Hag tune set?

"but may even make people feel satisfied that something is being done to address actual embodied problems" (Choons) Yes, just as hearing "we can’t say that any more" often suggests to me that not much has been achieved by not saying it.

(which isn’t to say that saying it is good idea)

Re: Discussion: Progressive sentiment behind the Hag tune set?

If we want to correct injustices originating in a bygone age then we need to understand the past. However, there seems to be a trend among some people to want to portray the past as they think it should have been, rather than the way it really was. For example, in recent months UK television has shown several dramas set in Georgian and Victorian England. These have shown children of the middle class in Dickens’ time as Asian, while there are black members of the aristocracy, and even Queen Charlotte (wife of King George III) is portrayed as black. The last case is explained on the rather tenuous grounds that one of her distant ancestors belonged to a Portuguese family which itself had African ancestry. All this has been done in the name of "colour-blind casting", but it gives the impression that everything was sweetness and light at this period in history when there were really fairly rigid hierarchies based on ethnicity and class. Far more people gain their impressions of the past from films and television than from history books, and I doubt whether understanding is served by this.

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There has continually been a lack middle class in England since Roman times- though such history was actively eroded as the racial paradigm was canonised (with black people portrayed as intrinsically mentally inferior and in need of white rule). It’s the idea that people with different skin colours are fundamentally different or alien to these islands which is probably more significant than colour-blind casting. I would not be too surprised if there were middle class Asians in the U.K. perhaps….

I think this is going off topic - but worth discussing in the context of ITM - hag seems a good translation when looking at the links to the mystical elements - but will it cause actual suffering or harm to actual women?

If so - we shouldn’t call it that - but I’m not convinced it will.

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Re: Discussion: Progressive sentiment behind the Hag tune set?

Choons, just as a sidebar regarding a woman suffering from being referred to as a witch (or changeling…)
there is a band listed in the database who take their name from one in particular; Bridget Cleary.
The band is named Burning Bridget Cleary (died March 15, 1895; Co. Tipperary).

https://thesession.org/recordings/5083

"The band is named in honor of Bridget Cleary, who is remembered as the last witch burned in Ireland.
She was a vivacious and fashionable young woman who lived during the late 19th century. Believing that her
flu symptoms were caused by evil faeries, her deranged husband and family members burned Bridget to death.
They were later convicted and sent to prison."

https://www.nationalarchives.ie/article/behind-scenes-bridget-cleary/

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Re: Discussion: Progressive sentiment behind the Hag tune set?

Yes Ben!

A tune title is not glorification etc.

The impact should be the focus - censorship is useful in as much as it helps people -

If the tune names are harmful - let’s stop using them - but that’s just not too likely as far as I can see!

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Re: Discussion: Progressive sentiment behind the Hag tune set?

Tunes names are relatively benign. It’s more when song lyrics come into the mix that feelings can get diced up passing through the fan blades.

I’m not considering absolutely censoring certain words from tune titles. Neither am I convinced that no one is hurt by a particular use of those terms. In this thread the words include hag, witch, and old. These appear
in various tune titles. Tunes tend to have several names. If you get rid of one name for a tune you’ll not
stop more from coming. Song names usually are more integral to the song.

In a nutshell, we *don’t need no freakin’ songs* which might trigger past trauma with their specificity. Let’s play tunes & heal our self-incurred wounds by reclaiming the wise, old, wisdom of our witches and summon them to join us as we play music in unison. The hag is revered. The witch is welcome. Old is experienced.

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