Saturday 27 October 2012

in sextus novembris

Reflecting on the upcoming and rather secularized celebrations of Guy Fawkes Night, commemorating the foiled Gunpowder Plot of the Fifth of November where the triggerman Guy Fawkes is burned in effigy, it is curious how in some four centuries of historical memory documenting revelry, sentiment and celebration, we witness perhaps the process of transposition and myth-making. The many hypotheses regarding Christianity supplanting pagan feasts with their own holidays in order to ease the tradition, like All Saints’ Day and Halloween for Nordic and Celtic Samhain or Christmas for Roman Saturnalia, cannot be tested and accounts are only implicit and worked backwards.

From the evolution of children making and parading straw men (guys—the word entered the English language because of Guy Fawkes) to burn, the excuses for partying, the waxing and waning of traditions to the modern day trappings and personae of anonymity and disestablish- mentarianism. A roundly reviled character has been elevated and romanced as a folk-hero, but as a charitable abstract of their original motives, to return the monarchy to a Catholic throne and stop the persecution and punitive taxation of recalcitrant Catholics. Such movements, I think, would not like to swap one dominating authority for another, nor order for chaos neither. The celebratory mood may have been co-opted or evolved convergent with the close lying customs of Halloween and poses a strange puzzle to unravel, despite being faithfully recorded. This year there is quite a bit of healthy competition, with the election, as to what day might be the scariest. The choice of symbols is often a bit ironic, I think, like the Alamo where the Texan freedom fighters lost and their ranks decimated or the sign of the Cross. This year, on the eve of the presidential elections of the United States, there are some vague and unclaimed threats to kidnap and ransom the executive and legislative branches until the government is returned to the people. I only fear that the plotters’ ambitions will be forgot and the aftermath celebrated as another reason to brag and to continue girding ourselves against all threats--real, imagined and opportunely rebuffed.