An observer of England today might be forgiven for thinking the entire race had been effectively despunked, so mega-regulated, be-nannied and EUropinized has the country become. It is a land obsessed with imposing healthnsafety on its citizens with the awesome bludgeon of state bureaucracy.
This writer was, therefore, delighted to discover a hard knot of dangerous pagan nastiness alive and thriving, South and East of the capitol.
You’ve heard of Bonfire Night, I’m sure, when Britons everywhere celebrate a four hundred year old thwarted plot by incinerating a Catholic in effigy (can these charming people hold a
grudge, I ask you?). The tradition is older, darker and larger along the Southeast coast. November 5th isn’t big enough to hold it, so they spread the burnings out over several weekends.
It’s like Mardi Gras for goths. All the little towns around have Bonfire Societies (like the krewes of Mardi Gras) who spend the year making costumes and collecting monies for their own town’s celebration, and march in the parades of the others.
The first of the season is in Hastings, and we were there. For two and a half hours, the procession marched through the town, each Society under its own banner, banging drums and waving torches. And I’m talking good old-fashioned torches, like mama used to make — oily rags wrapped around sticks — with flaming bits flying off and landing on people in the crowd. There was much vigorous slapping of smoldering heads. Very festive.
There were the assembled town criers from the whole county (yes, really), with their hoses and weskitses and tricornered hats and silver buckled shoes. Lots of people in whiteface or blackface or skullface and robes. There were kings and queens. Cowboys and indians. South Americans. South Americans? Well!
And then everybody marched to the sea front, burned a gigantic pile of wooden pallets, set off a load of elaborate fireworks, went home and got roaring drunk.
At least, I hope everyone did that last bit. It was the best part.
Addendum: Also, it was the 940th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings. Battle (the little town formally known as Senlac) hosted a gigantic recreation. Which was like a Star Trek convention, but with fewer pointy ears and more codpieces.
Addedaddendum: Still away, still on borrowed technology.