Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain

By Ronald Hutton | Go to book overview

9
MISRULE

THE theme of festive disguise and of similar suspensions or reversals of normality at Christmastide has been sounded with increasing strength in the last few chapters. It is time now to deal with it directly in its remaining manifestations. From one end of nineteenth-century Britain to another there were districts in which young people, and sometimes adults, used fancy dress as a means both to personal enjoyment and to profit. In the Shetland Isles the 'skeklers' or 'gulicks' were abroad during the evenings of the Twelve Days; youths dressed in straw costumes with conical hats, handkerchiefs covering their faces. They would fire a gun on approaching a farm, and if the proprietor wished to make them welcome an answering shot would be fired. Once admitted to a home, the skeklers would dance and be rewarded with refreshments and a little money. 1 'Guisers' were out at New Year across most of eastern Scotland from the Sutherland coast to the Lothians and the Tweed valley, including Edinburgh. Their disguises included straw heads, ribbons, and blackened faces. Doors were often left unlocked for them, and if they entered a household of their own social rank they sometimes claimed the right to kiss every woman in the room. 2 At Goispie in Sutherland the youngsters 'guised' at Christmas, the girls in the clothes of adult women and black muslin masks, and the boys daubed with charcoal or flour and wearing long overcoats, large hats, and false whiskers. They went from house to house singing comic songs and dancing for pennies. New Year's Eve was reserved for misbehaviour, such as playing practical jokes and beating noisily on pails. 3 In the Border district of Roxburghshire, the Christmas dancers were adult, and their performances real displays of agility; comedy was provided by 'a person called Bessie the besom, dressed in petticoats and disguised as an old woman; and another called the Fool, in a grotesque costume. These two collected donations from the bystanders. 4

Similar pastimes were recorded in nineteenth-century England. 'Guising' of some sort went on in Hertfordshire. 5 The same term was used in the Uttoxeter area of Staffordshire, where the information is more detailed; working men went round pubs with blackened or reddened faces, performing a rhyme and passing round a hat for pennies. The patter was loosely based on a Mummers' Play, ending in the offer of a nip of drink to a man lying on the floor with the words, 'Take a little of my nick-nack, get up Jack and walk'. Other lines

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Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface vii
  • Acknowledgements and Note xiii
  • Contents xv
  • List of Plates xvii
  • List of Maps xx
  • 1 - The Origins of Christmas 1
  • 2 - The Twelve Days 9
  • 3 - The Trials of Christmas 25
  • 4 - Rites of Celebration and Reassurance 34
  • 5 - Rites of Purification and Blessing 42
  • 6 - Rites of Hospitality and Charity 54
  • 7 - Mummers' Play and Sword Dance 70
  • 8 - Hobby-Horse and Horn Dance 81
  • 9 - Misrule 95
  • 10 - The Reinvention of Christmas 112
  • 11 - Speeding the Plough 124
  • 12 - Brigid's Night 134
  • 13 - Candlemas 139
  • 14 - Valentines 146
  • 15 - Shrovetide 151
  • 16 - Lent 169
  • 17 - The Origins of Easter 179
  • 18 - Holy Weekz 182
  • 19 - An Egg at Easter 198
  • 20 - The Easter Holidays 204
  • 21 - England and St George 214
  • 22 - Beltane 218
  • 23 - The May 226
  • 24 - May Games and Whitsun Ales 244
  • 25 - Morris and Marian 262
  • 26 - Rogationtide and Pentecost 277
  • 27 - Royal Oak 288
  • 28 - A Merrie May 295
  • 29 - Corpus Christi 304
  • 30 - The Midsummer Fires 311
  • 31 - Sheep, Hay, and Rushes 322
  • 32 - First Fruits 327
  • 33 - Harvest Home 332
  • 34 - Wakes, Revels, and Hoppings 348
  • 35 - Samhain 360
  • 36 - Saints and Souls 371
  • 37 - The Modern Hallowe'En 379
  • 38 - Blood Month and Virgin Queen 386
  • 39 - Gunpowder Treason 393
  • 40 - Conclusions 408
  • Notes 428
  • Index 519
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