This past weekend we went to the Oxford Castle to watch Morris Dancers. They were performing as part of the Sixth Annual Oxford Folk Festival. We went on Saturday for a few hours, and then returned on Sunday with the kids to for a few more hours of dancing and the big finale when all of the “sides” (dance troupes) took the stage at the same time. It was a mavelous experience. I was surprised at the diversity in the costumes and the dances.
My favourite group were the dancers with the blue faces, who reminded me of sort of goth-morris dancers, or something out of a dream. Not only were their costume incredible, but their dancing was great as well. I looked them up and found out that they are called Bogart’s Breakfast.
There were two groups that, together, followed Bogart’s Breakfast, they reminded me of a fight between the Holly King and the Oak King, Winter and Summer in their eternal cycle of triumph and change.
The feathers in their hats made me think of the Visconti Sforza tarot card, dated to around 1450:
When I was reviewing the images afterwards, I was additionally amused to notice that one of the dancers had The Fool card tucked into his hat, this one from the Thoth tarot from the mid 1900s.
Supposedly, there is no historic connection between Morris Dancers and “old pagan religions of the British Isles”, although it is quite common to think so. I can see why; looking at them I can’t help but wonder if their traditions don’t connect back to something long ago and forgotten. Either way, I find them wonderfully fascinating, and it was a real treat to get to see such a wide variety.
Here is the complete gallery:
and here is the Wikipedia page on Morris Dancers in case you’d like to learn more about the tradition.