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Thursday, June 2, 2011

Rogation to Ascension: The beat goes on

Parish Marker (Photo: Derek Harper)
Although love knows no bounds, “beating the bounds” has been a religious ritual for centuries.  This ceremony has annually taken place at some time during the three minor Rogation days that directly precede Ascension Day - or on Ascension Day itself.

The Latin root of the word “Rogation” is rogare, which means “to ask.”   Traditionally, farmers have asked for their crops to be blessed.  According to, adherents have also more generally prayed for blessings upon their community-oriented work.  Rogation Sunday (the Sunday before Ascension Day) Gospel readings often include John 16:24 (“Ask and ye shall receive…”).  Many also fast during these Rogation days in order to spiritually prepare for Ascension Day.

Strange Britain reports that “beating the bounds” (aka “riding the marshes, riding the fringes, or common riding”) used to regularly take place in most English parishes.  The practice still continues in Britain and elsewhere – although not nearly as much as before.  It has involved a group of old and young community members traveling together along parish boundaries in order to confirm where they lie - and in order to pray for protection within them.

Traditionally, the group would walk the boundaries and beat them with sticks or willow wands (stripped willow branches).  Since the willow is a sacred Druid tree, this use of willow wands might have been originally derived from Druid practices.  “Beating the bounds” would also take place by “bumping” young boys within the group.  These boys would sometimes be held upside down so that their heads could be bumped onto stones and other such markers along the way.  At other times, boys would be held by their arms and legs and swung into trees. 

These practices were allegedly carried out so that the younger generation would be sure to remember exactly
where those boundaries were.  Unfortunately, ethical boundaries were being ignored in favor of parish ones.
Modern-day versions of “beating the bounds” rely upon maps and survey instruments instead.     

Copyright June 2, 2011 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

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