It was the first time I’d ever received an email wishing me “darkest hare blessings”. It hinted at secret things by moonlight, old traditions, whispers of our tenebrous pasts.

And it was exactly the right first impression, because to encounter the women of Wild Moon Morris is to brush with all those things. With darkly elaborate make-up, swirling dark attire, black fishnets and DMs, this (mostly) female Morris side is the dancing embodiment of Somerset’s enigmatic prehistory, its ancient, mist-enveloped myths.

Mandy Eldred-Tyler is one of the three founding women: ‘the power of three!’ she laughs. ‘We see ourselves as a sub-genre of traditional Border Morris, which originates from the English counties along the Welsh Border. Dark Border Morris such as ours is danced to dark folk music. We are influenced and inspired by Morris sides such as Wolfshead and Vixen Morris, who were amongst the first Dark Border sides to appear in the mid-1990s. Our dark outfits add to the aesthetic and the dance style is wilder, chaotic and very energetic with the clashing of sticks.’

Great British Life: The Screaming - it's a Border thing! Featuring Abbi and Mandy Eldred-Tyler.The Screaming - it's a Border thing! Featuring Abbi and Mandy Eldred-Tyler. (Image: Amelia Carvell Photography)

The side was founded by Mandy, Abbi and Lexxi, who met one another while dancing with other sides. Feeling drawn to the Dark Border Morris tradition they decided to form their own side, founding it at Beltane (May 1) last year.

‘With the founder members all being female, Wild Moon Morris seemed an appropriate name because our ethos is to give a dark, fierce performance and the Moon has long been a symbol of feminine energy,” says Mandy. “Many ancient cultures saw the Moon as a Goddess symbol, associated with life, birth, growth and renewal. We are renewed each time we dance!’

The side comprises 21 dancers ranging in age from 16 to 62, although now three of these are men. The leader of the side, known as the Squire, is Lexxi. She and Simon, the Foreperson, both teach the dances. Abbi is the Bagperson, a term redolent of the era when money collected at events was carried around in a capacious bag, and this role combines that of secretary and ‘collector’. Mandy is the Ragperson, in charge of the wonderful, moonlight-splashed costumes. She explains some of their rich symbolism: ‘Our tatter jackets are mainly black – which represents our dark vibe – and the moon has a dark side too!’ she laughs. The silver is for the Moon and the green leaves represent our love of Nature and the wheel of the year. Our tatters are long for dramatic effect when twirling, and we wear plain black underneath. Our black boots are comfy and practical for dancing and the tights allow us to show our unique personalities with our choices. Our hat band was devised by our Squire and is an integral part of our look,’ she continues. ‘It’s a triple-aspect moon, which has long represented not only the phases of the moon, but also the three stages of a woman’s life: the Maiden – youth and innocence, the Mother – the nurturing side of a woman’s nature, and the Crone – the wise woman we all grow into and respect. All three of these are in every woman, everywhere, it’s deciding which one to let out to play that causes the fun! We wear top hats and personalise them. Pheasant feathers are very traditional and popular, and alongside these I have hares and ivy on mine.’

Great British Life: Andastre, Wild Moon's Golden Hare 'Familiar'Andastre, Wild Moon's Golden Hare 'Familiar' (Image: Mike Jeffries Photography)

Mandy tells me that the musicians also wear tatters to create a unified look and, rather than traditional Morris ‘Beasts’, Wild Moon Morris is accompanied by ‘Familiars’.‘ There is no real difference between our Familiars and traditional Morris Beasts,’ explains Mandy, ‘but we sometimes joke that we’re like the three witches from Macbeth, so Familiars seemed an appropriate name and a unique twist on the tradition. Our main familiar is ‘Andastre’ the Hare. Named after a Dark Goddess from the time of the Iceni, she was seen as a Goddess of victory, ravens and battles, and is very similar to the Irish warrior Goddess the Morrigan. It’s said that Boudicca would release a hare from her cloak before a battle. When I’m not dancing, I personify Andastre. She wears a very different set of harvest-coloured tatters, very colourful and created in the folksy cottage-core style. After all,’ Mandy adds, ‘if a witch were to shape-shift into a hare it would be a lovely golden hare, not a silver and black one! Andastre flits around the edge of the dancers when they are performing and interacts with the crowd.’

Wild Moon’s other familiar is Avalon the Owl, personified by Lexxi's daughter, whose beautiful name, Aeris, meaning Earth full of flowers, sings straight from the soul of myth and legend. Mandy tells me she combines her Rag role with that of treasurer and she is fondly known as ‘RagDragon, as I not only do the costumes but I hoard our treasure as well!’ Performances are captivating. Primal shrieks and visceral screams melding with the music. Sticks clash wildly, and even these are symbolically significant, made from hazel harvested from local woods on a New Moon. The sticks are seasoned for a year and then cut to size. ‘Each has a pyrography design created by Rosie, one of our talented members,’ says Mandy. ‘The symbols are personal to each of us. I have ivy, a pentacle and a moon-gazing hare; others have oak leaves, henges, crows, ammonites and even hedgehogs.’

Great British Life: The Group Shot: Wild Moon Morris and our Barn Owl 'familiar' Avalon, personified by our Squire Lexxi's daughter, Aeris The Group Shot: Wild Moon Morris and our Barn Owl 'familiar' Avalon, personified by our Squire Lexxi's daughter, Aeris (Image: Amelia Carvell Photography)

And how do they decide on the repertoire of dances? Mandy tells me that any member who has an idea for a dance suggests it to the Foreperson. A few dancers then ‘workshop’ the dance, fine tune it and see how it fits with the Wild Moon ethos. ‘We base our dances on the folklore, myths and legends of Somerset and surrounding counties, so any dances written and performed will need to have this at their heart,’ she says, explaining that some of their dances, such as Labyrinth, Annwyn and Ebb and Flow, have been created by Wild Moon, while others are borrowed, with permission, as ‘Morris etiquette is very important’, from other Border sides. ‘We have several new dances in creation and our musicians are busy writing music to go with them,” Mandy continues. ‘Our Green Man announces our dances and engages with the audience to inform them about the dance and its provenance.’

People are drawn to watch Morris and the enthusiasm of the dance is infectious. Mandy describes the appeal. ‘We do it because it keeps us fit and builds stamina. It’s a great stress relief, bashing sticks, and it's ‘me-time’ away from the kids, for the mothers amongst us. Remembering all the moves keeps the brain active and the music is fantastic. We really, really enjoy performing! Having this side is invaluable to us. We’ve become a close-knit community who are all supportive of each other and many friendships have been made in the short space of time we have been together.’ The enigma of Morris tradition is wreathed in mystery. It’s uncertain what exactly early dances were like, but they may have been copied from courtly dances that evolved into peasant dances. Alternatively, it may have stemmed from North African dancing, ‘Morris’ possibly being derived from ‘Moorish’. There are now Morris sides all over the world with the first British records dating back to 1448. Whatever its foundations, the heritage is kept very much alive and kicking with sides such as Wild Moon. All power to Andastre.

Wild Moon Morris practices on Tuesday evenings in Street, near Glastonbury. They practice October-April and then dance out in the summer months. People are welcome to join during practice season but please contact them first:

Great British Life: A candid shot after a dance - we smile too! L-R Mo, Danni, Kyleigh, Jo, Amelia, Mandy K and Mandy ET A candid shot after a dance - we smile too! L-R Mo, Danni, Kyleigh, Jo, Amelia, Mandy K and Mandy ET (Image: Amelia Carvell Photography)