Saturday, 29 October 2011

Guy Fawkes Is Dead, My Dear

Remember, remember
The Fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason why gunpowder, treason and plot
Should ever be forgot...
Anon, approx 17th Century 
(click to enlarge images)
Halloween is a relatively new festival in England. By that I mean that, although it has been around for yonks, it has only recently been promoted heavily as an "event", as something to be celebrated.

Trick and Treat is commonplace now but even only 10 or 15 years ago I don't think that was the case. It was definitely frowned upon as an activity when I was young and shops certainly did not sell "Trick and Treat Fun Packs"! 
Instead of Halloween, the equivalent festival I was brought up with was "Guy Fawkes Night".

Nowadays, only small traditional English villages tend to celebrate Guy Fawkes Night and, even then, the name of the festival is usually sanitised to "Bonfire Night".
The history of Guy Fawkes is fascinating because, in some respects, it is like a cautionary tale of the history of England itself.

And as much as I am proud to be English, it has to be said that our history is somewhat jaded, to say the least.

In fact, it is downright psychopathic.
Whereas Halloween is essentially a Celtic religious festival, Guy Fawkes Night essentially commemorates a *political* event, albeit with strong religious overtones.

On 5th November 1605 a catholic political activist, Guy Fawkes, was caught red handed placing explosive gunpowder under the House of Lords.

He had intended to blow up the then Protestant king, James I - but failed miserably.

Fawkes was tortured until he made a full confession and named his co-conspirators; a conviction of High Treason quickly followed which carried a mandatory sentence of being hung, drawn and quartered.

Although he actually escaped from the hangman's noose by jumping off the gallows scaffolding, he broke his neck doing so. Nonetheless, justice has to be *seen* to be done, so they drew and quartered him anyway, broken neck and all.

Sadly, as a result of his injuries, he died of natural causes.
Lest any other fool should take it into their head to try and blow up the House of Lords again, legislation was passed to make 5th November a "free day" - which actually amounted to an *enforced* celebration of Fawkes' failure every year.

That celebration took the form of burning an effigy of Guy Fawkes on a bonfire.

Every year, up and down the country, massive bonfires were built by the whole community...and on top sat a raggedly effigy of a man wearing a mask - "Guy Fawkes" (usually simply known as "a guy" or "the guy").

On the 5th November, it was set alight.

Now, make no mistake...although these events originally took place over 400 years ago, the commemoration of Guy Fawkes Night still takes place today!

Every year, all over England, numerous country villages still burn an effigy of a 17th century catholic activist on 5th November!

In fairness, the number of places doing this lessens every year as Guy Fawkes Night is steadily and irreversibly replaced by Halloween. But children are still taught the "Remember, remember" nursery rhyme mnemonic quoted at the head of this blog-post.

Although it is Halloween that is associated with ghouls and ghosts and monsters and the like, it is Guy Fawkes Night that is the true horror. Halloween is and has always been tame compared against the actual historical facts of Guy Fawkes Night.

And now, some 8 or 9 years later, I finally understand my father's reply after I asked him if we could "make a guy for Bonfire Night".

"No," he said, "Guy Fawkes is dead, my dear."

Hugz and thanks to Sharni Azalee (of 'Looking Glass' fame) for the wonderful Halloween 'Crashed Witch' sculpture gift used in the pictures above; to Cienega Soon for the drum gift from Burn2 and to DomDaddy Genesis for the outfit gift.

Happy Halloween Everyone!

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