Chapter One 5
Chapter 1 – page 6
OTHER OCCURENCES of BILLY BLIN in OLD BALLADS
Of the five Child Ballads in which Billy Blin/Belly Blind/Burlow Beanie is named, his role in King Arthur and King Cornwall is by far his prime performance. One of the others, Willie’s Lady (Child 6), gives him a leading role but only one short scene. He appears, as a familiar servant, just as the household has given up hope for Willie’s lady, who lies in obstructed childbirth. He knows about the spell cast by Willie’s mother, “that vile, rank witch of the vilest kind” and he devises a cunning plan.
….. Then out and spake the Belly Blind;
Ye shape in bairn, and bairnly-like
And do you stand a little fore bye
The plan works perfectly; the vile mother-in-law can’t help herself when she views the fake baby. She helpfully lists the spells, all six of them:
….Who has loosed the nine witch knots
And who’s taen down the bush o’ woodbine
And wha has loose her left-foot shee (shoe)
Willie hurries home and breaks all the spells, allowing the baby to be born immediately.
We are left with many questions: Why was she in bed with her left-foot shoe on?
Was she wearing her right one? How did the goat under the bed go unnoticed?
In the other ballads – Young Beichan (Child 53) and The Knight and the Shepherd’s Daughter (Child 110) – Billy Blin’s role is that of helpful adviser with just a hint of the magic of which he is capable. It is quite likely that he lurks within the stories of many other ballads — there are many gate-keepers and servants of whom advice is asked — but without the clear evidence of the mention of his name, we can’t be sure.
It seems that 19th-century Billy Barlow left behind the old folk-elements that were part of his possible proto-life as Billy Blin and Blind Barlow to become completely civilized and wholly human. Actors and singers and writers of poems and songs, however, still called upon these old spirits of wilder times to tell their stories. The ghosts, the talking birds, the Shape-changers, the spirits with evil intent, and all the creatures of the Wildwood were only just below the surface in 1800. Some of them still lurk in the dark recesses of our minds even now in the 21st century. We still recognize them when we meet them in pantomime or in old folksongs. They may have become smaller, tamer, more easily dismissed from our everyday lives, but we can still find them.
IN THIS SECTION:
HEY HO RAGGEDY-O:
A Study of the Billy Barlow Phenomenon
(written by Joy Hildebrand)
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