My guy was stuffed with straw
But I never knew what he was really for.
We burnt him on a happy pyre
To watch him disintegrate in fire.
As a kid he was a source of cash
We’d tout him round to increase our stash.
‘Hey mister, penny for the Guy’
Was our most plaintive cry.
He represented something from the past
But I never thought to really ask,
So I never knew exactly why,
As we watched those flames lick the sky.
Were we celebrating that someone tried
To blast those politicians far and wide?
Or were we rejoicing that they failed
To blow to bits the views they held?
At least my Guy did not feel
The flames that heated up his heels,
Unlike the Catholics of yore
For whom the flames were exceeding sore.
Those were the days of brutality
When crowds would gather to dance in glee
As persecution was applied with zeal
And peoples’ flesh was seared for real!
Opher – 5.11.2019
Religious persecution has a long history.
The persecution of Catholics goes back to the time of Henry VIII in the 16th Century. He declared himself Head of the Church and divorced from the Pope. It all became political as France and Spain plotted to invade Britain and restore Catholicism. The armada was repelled by Elizabeth 1st but many Catholics were accused of plotting. What did not help was that Catholics were persecuted and felt much aggrieved – with a lot of justification.
Torture and executions were rife. Burning at the stake was a popular event to which you took your kids along to enjoy the spectacle and be entertained. They had a stake in the square by Smithfield Market where burnings took place with the Catholics having a view of the church.
The horrific deaths could be prolonged by piling less fuel up around them or setting it up so that the prevailing wind blew the flames away. It was a time of hideous cruelty which seemed to be enjoyed by the public in some mass hysteria – similar to that at lynchings.
In 1605 a Catholic plot was conceived to blow up the Houses of Parliament at a State opening where both houses would be sitting along with the King. It was discovered on the 4th of November and Guy Fawkes arrested. He and a number of others were viciously hung drawn and quartered.
The celebrations of the prevention of this plot being successful took place on November 5th.
The celebrations persisted down the centuries though the theme of religious persecution, intolerance and subjugation has lessened (except in Ireland and Scotland where there is still a lot of sectarianism mixed up with politics and nationalism).
So my Guy being ceremonially burnt was really a gleeful sectarian celebration steeped in hatred, cruelty and subjugation.
It morphed into Bonfire Night and Firework Night.
Now it seems that Guy Fawkes Day is rapidly being usurped by the commercial import of Halloween from the USA (once imported to the USA from Ireland). Halloween has its roots in paganism – strange for such a religiously conservative country that there is this obsession with witches, ghouls and demons.
I’m not sure I like any of it.