Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Guy Fawkes Was a Terrorist Who Hated The Scots, But That Doesn't Mean We Should Tolerate Lanterns Made of Pumpkin

This morning, at the bus stop, I was stopped by three youths. As is the custom of the ill-mannered and the uncouth, they kept their hoods up, only revealing the full cruelty of their features when they strained forward to howk up a globule of spit. The boys - I assume they were boys, though they might easily have been infant baboons - demanded a penny for the guy, though they had no guy, and I doubt very much whether their demands would have been satisfied by a penny.
I pointed this out, and was received with astonished insolence. "Aye but," said the leader of the three, "gies a penny for the guy, but."
It was at this point that I made my mistake. I attempted to reason with the youths, telling them that collecting money for the guy traditonally involved the presence of a guy - an effigy of the fabled dandy and terrorist, Mr Guy Fawkes, who attempted to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605, in opposition to the Union of the Crowns, and the succession of James VI of Scotland to the English throne.
Ignorance of history is not uncommon these days, but there is something peculiarly topical about the story of the Gunpowder Plot. The word was not in use, but it was certainly terrorism, and the response of the state was uncompromising. On the day after his arrest, Mr Fawkes was questioned by the King, and revealed little of his motivation, except to say that he had hoped to blow the Scots back to Scotland. The King ordered that the "gentler tortours" be applied to the prisoner, "et sic per gradus ad mia tenditur, and so God speed your goode worke". [Readers without a classical education (and Mr Jack Straw) may be able to guess the meaning of this sentence: roughly it means "squeeze him until his pips squeak".]
The torture produced a confession, and Mr Fawkes was duly hung, drawn and quartered. Thereafter, a tradition was born, of a bonfire on which a "Guy" was burned.
Does it matter that the tradition continues, yet no one knows why? A little, I think. Just as it matters that Scottish children now expect a "jack o'lantern" made of pumpkin, and not the traditional turnip; and that they no longer "guise" but demand money at Halloween by means of the more brashly materialistic tradition of "trick or treat". Guising meant dressing up and performing a "turn". Trick or treat is an unlicensed form of extortion. It should not be rewarded, except, perhaps, by a dose of the "gentler tortours".

1 comment:

Learson said...

Every thinking person deplores the ignorance and bigotry of Fawkes's co-religionist ecclesiastical Inquisitors who thought they could refute the heliocentric astronomy by punishing those who admitted belief in a scientific fact that, inevitably,was soon acknowledged by everyone with even a smidgeon of education. The latter category does not, of course include the former Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Bin Baz, who maintained a resolute belief in the flatness of the earth.