Horse and Pellatis, Ho Ho!
This may be a familiar chant to many Wiccans and Witches commonly used in ritual, but many of us are clueless as to the meaning behind this chant and where it comes from. This chant is probably most familiar to Gardnerians and those in BTW traditions and it is included in the questionable online Gardnerian Book of Shadows. Where it comes from is easy to answer; the simpler phrase "Horse and Hattock" originates from Scotland as does the first mention of the chant in its entirety. The meaning however gets more complex. The following is not fact; it is simply what I have come across in study.
First let us take a look at folklore. In Scottish folklore, the fairies say the phrase "Horse and Hattock" when they leave a place to go back to their own realm and also when they prepare to go off for their nightly escapades. It is said people have heard the fairies shouting it out and in turn these people shouted "Horse and Hattock!" and thus they were transported away with the fairies. There is also a story of a child that cried "Horse and Hattock with my top! " and had his toy whisked away on the winds (1).
In another piece of folklore, the Laird of Duffus when walking in his fields was said to hear the cry "Horse and Hattock!" When the Laird repeated the cry, he was whisked away with the fairies to cellar of the King of France. He was found by the butler with a fairy cup in hand. When brought before the king to explain his intrusion, the Laird was pardoned thanks to the tale of his adventures and he returned home with the cup (2).
I also found reference to "Horse and Hattock" in a fiction novel, "The Black Dwarf", by 18th century Scottish writer Sir Walter Scott, as well as in a 19th century Camelot ballad, "The Doom-Well of St. Madron" by Hawker. Both examples are used in reference to mounting and riding horses:
"Now horse, and hattock, cried the laird,
Now horse and hattock speedilie; They that winna ride for Telfer's kye, Let them never look in the face o' me.
'Horse! horse! and spear!' exclaimed Hobbie to his kinsmen. Many a ready foot was in the stirrup; and, while Elliot hastily collected arms and accoutrements (no easy matter in such a confusion), the glen resounded with the approbation of his younger friends." (3)
"'Now horse and hattock, both but and ben, '
Was the cry at Lauds, with Dundagel men;
And forth they pricked upon Routorr side,
As goodly a raid as a king could ride.
Hare, hare, God send thee care.
I am in a hare's likeness now,
But I shall be in a woman's likeness even now. (4)
Thanks to various 18th-20th century novels and writings, my unscholarly conclusion is that "Horse and Hattock" is Scottish patois for mounting a horse. It came to be so because of its use in folklore relating to the fairies. As before said, any time the fairies were to go anywhere, they would shout the phrase "Horse and Hattock". 'Hattock' is referred to in the "Dictionary of the Scots Language" as "the elfin signal for mounting and riding off... Horse and hattock, the well-known cry of the fairies at mounting for a moonlight expedition, came to be familiarly adopted on any occasion of mounting." (5)
In my opinion, "Horse and Hattock" became associated with witches via Isobel Gowdie, a Scottish witch who was on trial for witchcraft in 1662. In her detailed voluntary confessions, she spoke of how she used the phrases "Horse and Hattock in the Devil's Name" and "Horse and Hattock, Horse and go, Horse and Pellatis, Ho Ho!" in order to fly by mounting a broomstick: "Then they would put a strae between their legs, cry -- 'Horse and hattock in the Devil's name!' and flee awa owre the muirs and fells." (6) Gowdie is also commonly associated with the shape shifting song:
"I shall go into a hare,
With sorrow and sych and meickle care;
And I shall go in the Devil's name,
Ay while I come home again."
Gowdie can be compared to the modern hedge riders - sending her spirit forth with the cry of the fairies and the shape shifting can easily be compared to the fetch. Perhaps Gowdie learned the chant from her meetings with the fairies or as a less mystical view; she may have created it herself based on fairy folklore. She stands out from other witches on trial because while her confessions of her Craft are consistent with folklore, her accounts are much more detailed and the information she gave (flying, shape-shifting & witches' meetings) was not typical in other witchcraft confessions of the time. (7) The commission for her trial was told not to use any forms of torture, most likely because she confessed of her own volition. She claims to have been a member of a coven, to have been entertained by the Queen of Elfhame (the underworld), and to have had sex with the Devil himself. There is no record of her being executed for witchcraft. (6) (8)
I looked up "Pellatis" as well, but did not find the word as is. What I found was "Pellax" meaning 'seduction' in Latin. Some Latin words commonly end in '"tis"'. So perhaps it is a Scottish corruption of Latin. "Pellatis" might also come from the Scottish word "Pelat" taken from the French "paillet" meaning a bundle of straw - perhaps even referring to a broom or besom. The latter is the most likely definition as in 1538 King James V of Scotland married a French noblewoman and years later their daughter well known as Mary Queen of Scots married the Dauphin of France. (9) During the time of Isobel Gowdie French would have been integrated into the Scottish patois. This would fit in perfectly with "Horse and Hattock" because in Gowdie's chant, you place a broomstick (bundle of straw) between your legs and then shout the chant in order to fly.
Thanks to Isobel Gowdie and Scottish folklore, "Horse and Hattock" will forever be associated with Witchcraft and fairy lore. Even though to most the chant has no meaning, I hope that I have opened a door to understanding. In my eyes, by using this chant in ritual we are opening a door to the spirit world and leaving the material world behind for the duration of the circle or working. Used in Gowdie's terms, it would be a cry to shout when preparing to cross over to the spirit world perhaps with the aid of trance, gnosis or entheogens.
Overall, what first seemed senseless goes very deep indeed.
1. Sir George Douglas. "Scottish Fairy and Folk Tales", A. L. Burt Company 1901 (p.126).
2. Briggs, Katherine Mary. "British Folk Tales and Legends" (1898-1980).
3. Sir Walter Scott. "The Black Dwarf", 1816 (Chapter 8).
4. Robert Steven Hawker. "The Doom-Well of St. Madron".
5. "Dictionary of the Scots Language" - "Hattock".
6. Margaret Alice Murray. "God of the Witches", 1933.
7. Issobel Gowdie Case - "Survey of Scottish Witchcraft Database".
8.Isobel Gowdie - Wikipedia.
9. "Religion, Marriage and Power in Scotland, 1503-1603" - "The National Archives".
Also try this free pdf e-books:Michael Magee - Robin Hood And The Witches
Anonymous - The Laws For Witches
Margaret Alice Murray - The God Of The Witches
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