Understanding The Bonfires - Lewes Bonfire Night Celebrations
July 18, 2011 at 8:47 pm by v
The following article goes some way in explaining the reasons behind an effigy or tableaux, that some Bonfire Societies create and use in their bonfire night celebrations and the origin of the bonfire night celebration. There is a lot of misunderstanding which has been highlighted due to recent events and others have now caught the Knee Jerk syndrome.
I am hoping that this article will get read and the contents digested and understood by those that doubt the societies true intentions when celebrating bonfire night.
The bonfire controversy has to date produced many pages of commentary. I am going through this with great interest. Most of it is media tangle and misrepresentation combined with a bit of KNEE JERK whitewash and face saving.
I promise a fuller analysis in the future but for now I have a few conclusions which I am confident will stand the test of time.
The history of the celebration of the discovery of the Gunpowder plot is a complex one. Present reality is only one step in a long and complex evolution.
While one would never advocate going back to the past one can isolate threads of continuity which should be preserved at all cost, We can not allow the basic fundamentals of bonfire to be destroyed by contemporary public opinion or the machinations of the FRENZIED MEDIA.
From the earliest times celebrations were reactions not to WHO a person was but WHAT they had intended to do.
It mattered nothing that Guy Fawkes and his Co Conspirators were Catholics, The king’s wife was a CATHOLIC. What was important was the terrorism of the intended deed. What was important was the carnage that it would have caused and chaos it would have created.
The Catholic aspect was secondary, Even when the Catholic aspect was noted it was noted not because of the religion or practice but because of the political intent associated with members of the religious group. The group lost any potential political trust not for their religion but for their ACTIONS and associations. This is important.
My take on the entire Cecil controversy (did he know of the plot and simply set up the catholic community) was that it was most likely a test to see if English Citizens who just happened to be Catholics would be good citizens despite their religion.
Had Garnet turned in the plotters then the community would have been well on the way to acceptance. But, his political act of referring the issue to Rome demonstrated that political trust in the community was unfounded.
In the oldest tradition effigies were not of Guy Fawkes but of the pope, the devil and the young pretender.
Bonfire has a long history of being taken over by political waves in the streets. The earliest of these was that of the Whig party and the exclusionary crisis.
The Whig processions and celebrations are now seen as street theatre counter parts of the state theatre which was controlled by the monarchy. The Green ribbon club almost got to the point of assignation. Thankfully they moved their emphasis from Nov 5 to the accession day celebration.
In the 19th century the tradition was taken over by proper Victorian society. This occurred much earlier in the Colonies of America. In perfect societies we do not need to question a perfect government and legal system. Victorian England and Early America after the Revolution had no place for those who wished to point out the failings of the legal system.
In Boston and New York revelers were bought off and in Victorian England they were swamped by do gooders in such numbers that they were absorbed. All became simply fun and games and politically correct. Reveling became codified, socialized.
Not bonfire boys or “girls” but respectable “societies” and fancy dress. Few remember that fancy dress was actually disguise. One no longer focused the attention of revelers on scofflaws and corrupt politicals who bought justice under the table or had evaded the arm of the law.
From the mid 17th century at least if not earlier the celebrations had been designed to uncover those who had DONE bad deeds yet had gotten away with it. Purchasing judgments was an established custom.
Within the bonfire tradition it was clearly understood and this from earliest times that the bonfire was given by the wealthy aristocrat along with food and drink to smooth over the lopsided relationship with the peasantry and the man in the street. We know he is guilty but he always gives us a good bonfire so we can look the other way.
In colonial America everyone knew who had evaded the law. Mob rule on November 5 was important in that it kept a lopsided society together by addressing grievances in the streets. Some were kept honest by the practice fearing that if they were too obvious in their corruption they would suffer in November.
Others who were caught by the mob either paid up with coin during the celebrations or had their windows smashed and were tarred and feathered. Again this is not because of WHO they were but WHAT they had done.
Community values have always been important in the celebrations.
To my knowledge effigy burning in Britain and in early America never had anything to do with voodoo, that is it was NEVER intended to cause harm to an individual or a soul. Any perception of this is clearly erroneous.
In colonial America bonfire organizations celebrating the 5th of November were transformed into anti stamp act protests. They already had the organizations in place and it was simple to change issues. All of the rituals of the celebration were brought to bear against the stamp act. Effigies appeared- these were of the tax collectors and officials.
They were hung, given funerals and abused- the effigies. It is important to note that the officials were never INJURED. No one was ever KILLED. Why? it is simple. Effigies were not created to harm but to point out aspects of life and government that should be REMEMBERED. The pope and the guy likewise are not tormented but are remembered.
It is very important that we work hard to get this across to the society in which we live.
Today it is considered proper to construct politically correct effigies aimed at institutions and politicians who are public figures. It should be equally permissible to target groups whose behavior has been unacceptable. This has nothing to do with Race and everything to do with BEHAVIOR.
The reaction of the MEDIA and society to recent controversies is simply a continuation of the usurpation of the tradition by proponents of a government and society which they represent as utopian.
While it is nice to think that governments function, our legal system functions and society functions and that all cultural behaviors are harmless the truth is that all are humans including those in government and those in cultural groups- ethnicities.
They all make mistakes and actions go un rewarded by the arm of the law. This happens all too frequently. Famous murderers get off free and in the case of others they evaded the law despite their ACTIONS for long enough to cause harm to the local community.
Victorian society projected itself as a utopia where peoples were governed by a fair and just law and strict moral code. We know now of the failings of that law which was often no better than the law of the mob.
I would not hold mobocracy up as a form of utopia fore it can also get out of hand and must be moderated.
I would however, hold as sacred the VOICE of the people at the bottom line in the process of finding justice. Government must always feel the breath of people power on its neck.
In colonial America the founders put in place an experiment in democracy. This experiment was designed to get rid of the arbitrary justice of absolutism.
As with the Victorians of later times the founders said tisk tisk we shall have no more need for street justice now that our utopia is formed. The leaders paid off the bonfire boys and societies. The celebrations were no more.
In addition to the redress of grievances bonfire is a strong tradition of venting. Venting is essential in any society. In the USA bonfires are few in number due to legal restrictions imposed by our Victorian society.
Venting is not occurring. Seeking opportunities to vent football revelers in Morgantown W.Va. have for the past several years vented through bonfires set in the streets. Spontaneous.
This venting is of course more dangerous than bonfires which are centrally organized.
We must stand behind the ancient tradition of venting our frustration in the human failings of government and the law. Whether it be at a political or legal mismanagement or at the closing in of the cold weather of wet winter our ability to vent and shout at the sky at our human frailty must be safeguarded at all cost.
We must be careful to focus our venting on actions and not people. When we create effigies we must focus on deeds. We must remember that our society is misguided and must be spoon fed our intentions carefully.
We must work towards reform of society so that we can be free. It is important not to back away from our intentions. Back pedaling as recent figures have is painting confusing whitewash on noble intent.
When Actions, deeds and misdeeds are highlighted we do a great service to our community. When we provide opportunities to vent our human frustrations we tone down the violence in society and we have improved the quality of life.
If we give in to political correctitude and error of public interpretation we sign on to a philosophy that government and society are utopian and perfect.
A splendid goal but we simply aren’t there yet.
Support for such views brings to mind Absolutism. It is absolutism which was defeated with the discovery of the gunpowder plot in 1605 and the later arrival of William III at Torbay.
Posted in: Lewes Bonfire History, Religion And Popery Tagged in: banner effigy tableaux, bonfire celebrations, bonfire night, bonfire society, gunpowder plot, guy fawkes, lewes bonfire, popery and religion, remembrance
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