A pint of the local cider please I asked the man with green face paint behind the bar, the drum beat upon the castle hill in Hastings increased steadily to an all encompassing crescendo,something rather sinister seemed imminent but clearly only the locals seemed to be in on the secret.My drink arrived,the third today of this local beverage and the man bearing a vague resemblance to a tomato plant and something from childhood memories involving the Dr Who tv series and a half plant cactus man, leaned forward with my change wishing me a “happy Jack in the green day!” Turning around and heading back into the crowd I was confronted by another man in bizarre plant like leafery with the words RADIATOR emblazoned across his chest who stepped forward brandishing a green dripping sponge,”are you with us?” “errrr yes of course!” I muttered smiling inanely,oh good he said splattering my nose with green dye,oh well at least I looked like every one else now. I was a stranger in a strange land and yet I lived here.Rumour spread quickly,the drum beat increased constantly and a kind of concentrated frenzy and sense of purpose started to overcome the crowds ,it was time to kill Jack soon and quite who this Jack was remained quite a mystery.I was starting to feel like Edward Woodward in the wickerman and glanced around to see if there were any looming wooden effigy figures in the immediate proximity of a few cans of petrol !!!
Soon however all was revealed as a green effigy bearing a face of a plant like mans face was transported into the center of the crowd and ceremonially executed in a flurry of sticks and leaves to the roar and cheers of the crowd.The frenzy dissipated and was replaced by merriment and an air of happiness.Everybody was good natured and headed back to town to enjoy the rest of the day, green noses held prominent and shown off proudly ,that was it for another year ,the spring had been welcomed,the ritual complete,bring on the summer.
What we had just witnessed was the culmination of several days of merriment and celebration that has become a yearly event lasting from April 30th to the 3rd of May in Hastings on the southern coast of England ,a small fishing town most famous for its famous history changing battle in 1066.
It is a ritual with largely pagan roots that predate christianity and is centered around the nature spirits and the “old ways” of ancient Britain that still surge alive and well below the tapestry of everyday British life occasionally surfacing on days such as this and in the rituals and dances of the may pole and morris dancing .A tradition frequently seen as the leafy face adorning sboards hanging over green man pubs it is an ancient way of welcoming the summer and spring time.Indeed the Green man legend has also been linked to other myths including the Arthurian tale of Gawain and the Green Knight and even Robin Hood.The christian church despite trying to stamp out paganism eventually adopted the legend into its dogma and the green mans face is frequently seen adorning church buildings.The the Arthurian writings in particular Gawain and the Green Knight appear full of symbolism and seem to portray a faith battle between Gawain (symbolic of Christian values) and the Green Knight(The old Pagan Ways).
The current manifestation of the jack-in-the-green festival in Hastings is largely based on a tradition from the 1830s which was snuffed out at the start of the 20th century and then revived again in 1979 by a morris dancers group.It is a very entertaining weekend of morris dancers and other Performance Groups from all over Europe and is very much a family event.
The jack in the green character , the manifestation of the spirits of the forest leads a procession from the fishermans museum area of the old town and up to the castle perched overlooking the area.
Jack is accompanied by green clad locals known as Bogies that symbolise the incarnation of spirits along with a following of giants and appointed radiators who accompany the group splodging passers by on the nose with green dye to bring them into the fold.Its all very light humoured and a great day out.
At the culmination of the ceremony Jack is slain and the sticks that form the effigy are thrown into the crowds to be kept as a ward against spirits until the next winter solstice.
Pictures :Copyright Kerry Davies Strictly no Reproduction allowed.