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REWILDING

Updated: Nov 13, 2023

WITH THE SEASONS ROUND

All images in this article have been provided by Liam Hopkins

 

How is paganism developing with the radical Northern folkies? I had a chat with Liam from The Seasons Round. He's an aspiring anthropologist and folklorist, with a flair for reenchantment and rewilding. Here's what he had to say:


I think what I like about the term pagan is that, obviously it’s eclectic somewhat inherently, because it just means worshiping nature, or worshiping the land. I’d say we were never fully Christianised as a country. No where was fully Christianised; there’s so many remnants of older beliefs, that cling, that hang on and get carried over. Because the definition of pagan to me is so broad, so open to interpretation, that’s what I love about it. People say, to be pagan it has to be pre-Christian, Celtic or Norse in origin, but I don’t think it does at all. I think there’s still pagan practises going on today that have been going on for hundreds of years. I think I’m quite lenient with my use of the word pagan, or my definition of what is pagan, for example; one of my specialities in folklore is animal costume, so hobby horses, that sort of thing. To me that is blatantly pagan, because it’s in reverence to the creature of nature. You’re adopting this animal persona. Not in a furry way; most of the costumes I look at are the primitive style of an animal costume, as in just a horse skull mounted on a pole with a cloak. I think it’s stuff like that that really stand out as being pagan survivals, to me. It doesn’t have to be referred to as pagan, it doesn’t have to be an animal deity, it’s just that kind of reference to nature.


Mister Fox dance for the full Hunter's Moon


I really like the idea of pagan not necessarily being a religion, but just a descriptor to identify certain aspects of folklore or culture with. It’s all subjective, at the end of the day, but to me one of the most blatantly pagan folk customs is wassailing. It’s singing to the trees to scare away evil spirits from the branches, and then pouring libations of cider into the roots of the tree to ensure a fruitful harvest for the coming season. It’s done through December/January time traditionally done on 12th night, so 6th January. It’s been associated with New Year as well.


The Wassail is a drink as well; it’s a hot toddy style, roasted apples, honey, ginger - it’s really yummy. I think that is a very blatant survival of nature worship. People have hit the trees with sticks and shot at them before to try and scare the spirits away to ensure that the trees bear fruit in the season to come.


The Halton Soulers in Frodsham


The really interesting thing about English folklore is how hidden a lot of the pagan or ritualistic stuff is. In Ireland and Wales, it has survived better because they are the Celtic nations, England basically colonised itself out of a lot of it’s original nature worshiping beliefs. In Ireland there’s faeries, and a whole mythology of gods and goddesses, but England doesn’t have that. It’s really interesting to me to try to find the esoteric, the strange, the occult elements in English folk customs, because some of them have survived but only in very small pockets. It’s just the most random places – you’ve just got to get a random bus for 5 hours in Cornwall to go to Padstow, for example. Why has it survived in this tiny little place and no where else? It’s, really, a result of industrialisation and homogenisation of British identity, in my mind anyway, to be tea and crumpets and the Queen.  It’s not the green man, it's red buses and corgis, that sort of stuff.


The totemic Whitworth Rushcart 


I think British folk culture, and specifically English stuff – and I say English because that is the part that has the most questionable traditions. You don’t find black face customs in Ireland, you don’t find minstrel songs in Ireland. It is the English stuff that is the most problematic.


I think when it comes to native cultures they have the right to their indigeneity. They don’t have to conflate it with toher traditions, but at the end of the day, it is just human, is dance. It’s human culture. Folk culture is just the culture of the working class, of the people, and it’s all part of the same world view and the same narrative. I think that is the way British stuff is specifically being portrayed in the media. I think once you start seeing it as ‘other’, it is a kind of colonial narrative. It has to just include everything. At first, I suppose, getting into it I just wanted to go travel around the UK, but you have to look at the bigger picture to understand all the festivals, because so much of it share commonalities. All religions and cultures have very similar traditions when you look at it; forms of water worship, forms of sun worship, singing to the trees, it’s all carried around and I love that commonality. It feels really, from a human perspective, grounding to realise that people have always done this across the sea and thousands of miles away.


The ragged-taggle rushcart of Littleborough


To me what I, and my fellow calendar folklorists are doing, feels like a radical act against modernity, against industrialisation, against homogenisation. I think to reconnect with nature and the natural world, is a completely radical act. After the past couple hundred years we’ve been forcibly separated from nature by industrialisation and capitalism and all that shit. To reconnect in whatever way you choose to is a radical act in my mind.


The Garland King of Castleton


I think any kind of rewilding, be it ecologically, a lot of it gets unseen as radical but I think it can be if you want it to be. Most people in the past couple hundred years, that have documented English folklore and seasonal customs haven’t really applied a particularly punk or leftist worldview to it. That’s what I want me and my comrades to do.


At the end of the day it shows that paganism can be whatever you want it to be, and that’s kind of the beauty of it. It should be the same with all religion, you should be able to do whatever you want, as long as it’s not cultural appropriation, because at the end of the day it’s just magick.


Boss Morris are an all female morris dancing group from Stroud who performed on the Brits with Wet Leg. That had loads of people tuning in and watching, and that’s going to change people’s perception of morris dancing completely. I think it does have a bad rep, because people associate it with fat, white, old men with beer bellies. It’s having a resurgence into a more positive and inclusive limelight.


Hailing the Green Man in Bradford on Avon


People are already introducing new customs. It doesn’t have to be traditional to be magickal at all. My friend Lucy Wright, she specialises on reconnecting the female presence in English folklore, which has obviously kind of been ruled out historically because of the patriarchy. She has invented a new custom called dusking. Traditionally, on May Day, or Beltane, every year morris dancers dance the sun up at dawn, which is about 5.30 am. That custom itself is about a hundred years old, but it is possible people would have done it before then to celebrate the sunrise. She has invented the Winter version where six months down the line, people dance the sun down to say goodbye to summer, and that started this year! You have Samhain, and in both neopagan and traditional Celtic culture, they are talked about as sister festivals; the dark half of the year; the light half of the year. I think that’s brilliant. I think people I know, more elitist folkies, do kind of get bogged down with things having to be traditional or they have to come from a pre-revival “organic” source. I think things that are invented nowadays are just as important.


It is an elitist standpoint to think that only traditional or ancient stuff matters. For me there does kind of feel a difference in celebrating something that has been going on for hundreds of years versus doing my own thing, or doing something with friends, or something only being going for 10 years. There is this difference because the traditional festivals or customs were conceived in such a different frame of mind now.


Bristol's Jack in the Green


In many ways we are so similar to ancient people from hundreds, thousand, years ago. We are just humans at the end of the day. On the other side of the coin, life was so radically, drastically different that these forms of entertainment and rituals are conceived under such a different perspective its impossible to replicate that. To try and think like a medieval morris dancer, in one way, we have the same way of thinking because we are humans. And that’s never changed; we have our favourite foods, we laugh at things; on the other hand, in a sort of spooky, haunting way, we have a completely different understanding and concept of life.


'Old Ned' the crow and the Penzance May Hornes


In my mind, I lean more to the familiarity aspect, and the fact that we are connected to and are very similar to our ancestors. I love that trend that was going around on tiktok of people doing stuff 3 thousand years ago, like combing their hair, and then 3000 years later, we’re still doing the same. I love that, but we have to consider that things were also considerably different. Unfathomably different. The way that rituals and traditions were treated and observed, what was considered funny or entertainment, or what was considered scary could have been so completely different to our conception of reality now. I think I quite like that because it does make them more strange, the folk customs, especially things like hobby horses. Where does that come from? At the end of it, what matters is that new traditions are as important as old traditions. All traditions are invented at some point.


St. Michael defeats the fiend in the Helston Hal-An-Tow


It is also important, from a very non-elitist perspective to acknowledge pre Wiccan celebrations that would have come organically instead of being forced. For the majority of customs they would have come out of human nature and instinct. It was a pure desire for sympathetic magick, a good harvest, or entertainment. They most likely weren’t considering it’s place in folklore. Most people didn’t think like that. There is a certain feeling of ancient-ness when you witness older customs with an unbroken lineage.


Padstow's Obby Oss on May Day


To talk about myself being pagan, I don’t align myself with Wicca – it’s eclectic at the end of the day, do what you want with it. There’s not really any rules. I wouldn’t consider myself a neo pagan, but I’m not a trad[itional] pagan as well. I don’t rely exclusively on tradition. It’s an amalgamation. I’ve had periods where I’ve been really interested in Christian stuff and gone to church loads. I was very into Gnosticism for a while; just anything esoteric appeals to me, really. I’m not doing any work with crystals or anything, but I suppose my practise is going for a wild swim on the winter solstice. Anything can be a folk or pagan practise; for me it’s about marking the season. Whatever you do, whether you light a candle and remember someone, or you go to a massive festival, there’s always ways to mark the season. I suppose I’m a seasonal witch, or whatever you wanna call it.


I think all religion is magick. Because that’s what it is, it’s supernatural forces at it’s core. You see someone praying in the street or conducting a ritual, it is just magick at the end of it. I think that’s what I love about it, and I think as long as the religion is not harmful it’s just wonderful. The fact that it’s a very human thing. But a lot of religion is harmful, especially the church of England, so it’s about taking that into account. I think becoming aware of the magick in folklore and religion, that surrounds us, it’s re-enchantment, I suppose. A lot of people take for granted walking past a church, or walking past someone wearing traditional worship clothes, but to me that’s beyond amazing. It is exciting to me, this pan religious thing, because it all comes from very old beliefs in humanity.


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