Buying the Wind

I’m so pleased to be writing for this collaboration with the composer Sarah Angliss, a new work for voice, string quartet and live electronics. Through music and words, we’ll be exploring the UK’s deep connection with wind and tide – elemental forces that make up the UK’s defiantly porous border.  We’ll excavate partial archives, half-memories, extant folklore, combining music and poetry to conjure all that’s been carried to our shores.

A Persistent Myth: Buying the Wind

The title of this project refers to the ancient sailors’ superstition of throwing a coin into water to assuage the spirits and bring a fair wind – a ritual that’s persisted for centuries. Sarah was inspired by some notes in Edward Lovett’s Magic in Modern London (1925). In his book, the folklorist and city explorer records sailors in Billingsgate nailing coins to the mast to bring a good passage.  The former home of London’s fish market, Billingsgate was built on a Viking settlement. Lovett also writes about women on the East coast of Britain selling sailors ‘magical’ knotted string. The string could be untied, knot by knot, to vie for better sailing winds. Knotted string was also sold in Newfoundland, itself a Viking settlement. Arguably the ritual of ‘buying wind’ persists to this day, in disassociated form, every time we throw a coin into a fountain.

We are looking for other instances of ‘buying wind’ in books, poems folk tales or local folklore. If you know of an instance, we’d love to hear from you.

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