Oak Apple Day

The mounted Garland King, Castelton, Derbyshire (source-- wikipedia commons)
The mounted Garland King, Castelton, Derbyshire (source– wikipedia commons)

Yesterday was that abolished holiday, Oak Apple Day, celebrating the restoration of the English monarchy in 1660.  Charles II, before he regained power, hid himself in an oak tree, or so the story goes. For the last 400+ years, Britain has used this as a way to worship a tree king.  Ancestral memory dies hard in these parts.

Before the holiday was abolished in the mid 19th century, shops and churches, horses and railway engines were adorned with oak boughs. Anyone who failed to wear a sprig of oak on the day risked being pelted with eggs or scourged with nettle.

Some customs from the holiday survive in recent memory, taking on aspects of the pagan green man in their celebrations.  In Castleton in Derbyshire, the Garland King procession continues.  A man, mounted on a horse, is completely covered in a cone of flowers– the topmost posey is called “The Queen” and crowns him.  The village follows him (along with a good number of day-trippers) from pub to pub, brass band in tow. At the end of the day’s journey, the floral cone is hoisted by a rope from the church tower, looking very much like the head of a vanquished foe on display. All across the isle, from the Burryman in Queensferry to the Jack in the Green in Hastings, the leafy king sacrifices himself so that we may have a few summer days. If you’ve lived through one wet Yorkshire summer, you know why this is worth a blood sacrifice, even by proxy!

The Oak King's Bride in copper plate by Feral Strumpet
The Oak King’s Bride in copper plate by Feral Strumpet

Here is my Oak King’s Bride. It’s a design I made three years ago. It was one of the first in my shop and it has since become a best seller as well as a signature design.  I make it in copper plate, brass and sterling silver plate (the Oak King’s Bride in Winter).  For more Oak King inspired designs, go here.

Chasing Sparks

Today marks the new year in the old Julian calendar and in a small fishing village in Scotland this occasion is marked by an old fire ritual called the Burning of the Clavie.  A tar barrel is set alight and carried through the old boundaries of the village– the construction of the clavie is guided by strict tradition– no “stranger” may touch it; nothing must be purchased to make it.  No modern matches are used; the peat for ignition must already be alight. Tar is then poured over the blaze before it is carried by the initial bearers.  As the procession winds through the town, the barrel must change hands, as no one could stand the heat for too long.  Were the bearer to stumble or fall it would be a bad omen.  Once the procession arrives at Doorie Hill, the flaming Clavie is put into a stone pillar, where more tar is poured over it. The fire spreads and grows tall. Onlookers chase after the flaming fragments flying out from the blaze, as streams of flaming tar pour down the hill.  If one is lucky enough to catch a piece of the blaze, and risk burnt fingers for a charred relic– it’s put up the chimney to ward off meddling spirits.

Little Embers, earrings by Feral Strumpet on Etsy.