| Early scholars of folk drama, influenced by James Frazer/The Golden Bough/, tended to view these plays as debased versions of a pre-Christian fertility ritual, but this view is discredited by modern researchers.
In mummers’ plays, the central incident is the killing and restoring to life of one of the characters. The characters may be introduced in a series of short speeches (usually in rhyming couplets) in which each personage has his own introductory announcement, or they may introduce themselves in the course of the play's action. The principal characters, presented in a wide variety of manner and style, are a Hero, his chief opponent, the Fool, and a quack Doctor; the defining feature of mumming plays is the Doctor, and the main purpose of the fight is to provide him with a patient to cure. The hero sometimes kills and sometimes is killed by his opponent; in either case, the doctor comes to restore the dead man to life.
The name of the hero is most commonly Saint George, King George, or Prince George. His principal opponents are the Turkish Knight (in southern England and Turkish Champion in Ireland), or a valiant soldier named Slasher (elsewhere). Other characters include: Old Father Christmas (who introduces some plays), Beelzebub, Little Devil Doubt (who demands money from the audience), Robin Hood (an alternative hero in the Cotswolds), Galoshin (a hero in Scotland). Despite the frequent presence of Saint George , the Dragon rarely appears in these plays, though it is often mentioned; a dragon seems to have appeared in the Revesby Ploughboys' Play in 1779, along with a "wild worm" (possibly mechanical), but it had no words to say. In the few instances where the dragon appears and speaks, its words can be traced back to a Cornish script published by William Sandys in 1833.
Occasionally, the performers will wear face-obscuring hats or other kinds of headgear, which create the impression of being masked. Some mummers' faces are blackened or painted red by way of disguise. Many mummers and guisers, however, have no facial disguise at all.
Mumming, at any rate in the South of England, had its heyday at the end of the 19th Century and the earliest years of the 20th century. Most traditional mummers groups (known as "sides") stopped with the onset of the first world war. To most groups, mumming was a way of raising extra money for Christmas and the play was taken round the big houses. Most Southern English versions end with the entrance of "Little Johnny Jack his wife and family on his back". Johnny, traditionally played by the youngest mummer in the group, first asks for food and then more urgently for money. Johnny Jack's wife and family were either dolls in a model house or sometimes a picture.
Those involved with mumming groups were often unwilling to admit to it as they did not like to confess to begging. But it seems that it could be quite lucrative, it is said that three nights of mumming often raised as much as a whole month's wages for the agricultural laborers who mostly made up the groups.
Some groups continued after the first world war and even beyond the second, but most did not. The groups were normally based on a village and each village had a slightly different version of the play. In the second half of the 20th Century many groups were revived, mostly by folk music and dance enthusiasts. The revived plays are frequently taken around inns and public houses around Christmas time and the begging done for some charity rather than for the mummers themselves.
The Fayre Guisers - see us on
This group of Mummers was originally put together by Graham Wright and the original male members of local Adelaide Band Spiral Dance to celebrate Winter Solstice – they had their first appearance at the Medieval Fair in Birdwood in 1995. The team still continues today with lots of new members keeping this tradition alive.
Masks and Torches
Mask making or *guising* (a derivative of disguising) has been around for many centuries with very strong magical uses as well as the more mundane ones for simple entertainment -- from the first Shaman who dressed in animal skins and horned antlers who worked up forms of sympathetic magic to coax the Gods into helping early ancestors have a successful hunt to the child donning a costume of a beloved character from a favorite cartoon or cherished book and crying *trick or treat* - mask making and mask wearing has an integral place in all types of Craft workings and can be deeply enjoyed by people of all ages and all walks of life, not just those of *Old Craft* persuasion.
Masking is a most transformative art and your mask may be as simple or as elaborate as you desire. You may utilize the essence of Dame Nature herself in your creation using leaves, branches, flowers etc. as well as using the more industrial components with equal ease depending upon the character you choose to portray and bring to life. You set up the parameters and the guidelines as to how much effort you invest into your creation and you alone reap those benefits from the investment of those energies and efforts.
So make a mask, make a torch and come and join in our masked torch light procession.
For information on making torches contact: Trevor Curnow via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or 8388 1011