Thursday, 30 October 2014

Rochester Sweeps

Back when, in less egalitarian days, when a corrupt copper and a bent squire could make the life of a working man not only miserable but deadly, there were few outlets for anonymous social protest that would allow dissenters to reveal wrongs or highlight hypocrisy and corruption without making themselves targets for retribution.

In Parts of southern Austria the safety valve was (and is) Perchtennacht; men dress as anonymous goat-headed demons and leap and roar at bystanders and smash oak staves loudly on the paving. Sometimes a watcher is hit hard by an oak stave. Or three. Or kicked in the balls. The 'accidental' victim is always either unpopular or guilty of some infraction against village ethics and the anonymous injuries are a message to either change behaviour or leave town. Not being present on the processional route (unless you're one of the Perchten) is an admission of guilt and of cowardice. It's rough, but effective. 

In England the favoured disguise for anonymous action was always a top hat or head-dress to distort height, a fractured costume to disguise body shape and of course soot to blacken the face. Then like the Perchten the Blacks could leap, roar and smash their Morris staves on the cobbles frighteningly strongly. As an exhibition of raw, furious, testosterone driven male aggression it is startlingly effective - and an unambiguous warning to those in authority that they rule only by popular consent.

The Rochester Sweeps are the modern bowdlerised incarnation of the Blacks. I'm only astonished that some dim-witted, ignorant, naive or stupid hack hasn't yet interpreted Rochester's historic tradition as 'racist'; but no doubt they would also condemn the Austrian Perchten as 'goatist'. 

Rochester Sweeps try not to be scary
Althofen Perchten - terrifying the kids and the guilty


mikebravo said...

It would work well in the "Westminster village" though not many would be left standing.

Simon Fawthrop said...

Or you could always burn down parliament to register your anger:

Anonymous said...

None of these stinking folk traditions will exist soon, Inshalla, so enjoy them while you still can.

n.b. The above message is fully supported by the LibLabCon with additional approval from Common Purpose (North Atlantic Islands)


DtP said...

As you may have suspected, the Graun has beaten you:

f said...

This reminds me of the annual Boxing Day Sweeps and Bakers (who are whitened with flour) football match ion Waltham Abbey - wonder if it's still going?

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G. Tingey said...

Too late!
About 8-10 years back, that is exactly what happened to Rochester Sweeps.
They carried on anyway.
Incidentally, "RS" is always on the May Day weekend, & usually on proper May Day, not the plastic "nearest Monday nonsense.
Which is why I'm never there, as I have other things to do (like dance) on May Day.

The other principal festival involving "Guising" through blacking is Plough Monday.

G. Tingey said...

No blacking or whiting @ Waltham Abbey, but .... the local Morris side (Us) dance on Boxing Day & perform our Mummers play, in which St George slays the Turkish Knight ("Bold Slasher") who then has to be revived by the Quack Doctor.
This year, outside "The Angel" Sun St, 12.00hrs, 26/12/2014.

G. Tingey said...

Go to the 6th picture -of "old Glory" ....

FrankS said...

G.Tingey - they end up, as far as I remember, covered in soot and flour, so blackened and whitened I suppose!.