Effigies, What Exactly Are They?
|Written by magickspells.co.uk|
An effigy is a kind of mock dummy of a person; they have been used since ancient times for all kinds of rituals, and they are still used today when people become angry with some figure of state, for instance an angry group burn an effigy of their president, prime minister, king or queen – more recently effigies of George W Bush have been burnt as a public protest against his policies on Iraq and Afghanistan. In some cases, like on November 5th in the UK, effigy burning is part of a long-standing tradition.
In the UK on what is popularly known as Guy Fawke’s Night or Bonfire Night (5th November), large firework displays can be seen in pretty much every city, town and village, often with an accompanying bonfire with an effigy of Guy Fawkes thrown on the top and burnt. Frequently the effigy of Guy Fawkes is made a few days before the event and, more in the past now, sometimes children will transport the ‘Guy’ around their local area in a wheelbarrow and ask, ‘a penny for the guy?’, which would of course translate into more money than a penny in modern times, but may often be collected for charity.
The event of Bonfire Night is light-hearted and, although most children learn of the tradition's origins to a degree, all of its sinister connotations are long forgotten. The idea of burning an effigy of Guy Fawkes first came about around 400 years ago when James I was king. A group of Catholics, along with Guido Fawkes the gunpowder expert, schemed to blow up parliament during its state opening in what was to be known the ‘Gunpowder Plot’. The planned act of terrorism failed when they were caught in the act before anything disastrous happened. Guy Fawkes Night then became a celebration of violent anti-Catholic sentiment; children today still learn the rhyme, ‘Remember, remember, the 5th of November,’ which was originally a blatant verbal attack on all Catholics, but is now no more than a bunch of words that remind children of the date Bonfire Night takes place – in the early days effigies of the pope were known to be tossed on the fire.
As already stated, Bonfire Night has lost most of its sinister connotation and political meaning, though the town of Lewes (pronounced like the boys’ name, Lewis) in East Sussex in southern England makes a much bigger deal of the event than most parts of the country. People come from miles around by train and car, in fact extra trains are scheduled to get everyone to this old town with its castle, to see the fireworks, bonfire and street parades of men and women in 400 year-old style costumes, wielding burning torches like a medieval angry mob and playing traditional marching tunes such as the British Grenadier. At the Lewes event they will often burn effigies of this year's current most hated person in the town, a couple of years ago Osama Bin Laden was the lucky guest to be thrown on the fire.
Still, going back long before the days of Guy Fawkes, effigy burning was a lot more gruesome. Some of the earliest records of effigy burning were written down by the Romans who observed the pagan rituals of Midsummer upheld by the Britons, a time of either agricultural abundance or miserable crop failure – the flames of the fires were to ward off any evil spirits that might affect the crops. Human effigies were burnt as offerings to the gods and as a symbol of killing off the old to allow the birth of the new, or rebirth of the land. The gruesome part, according to the Roman texts, is the offering of real human sacrifices – people being locked inside a wicker man and burned alive, as portrayed in the 1970s movie starring Edward Woodward, The Wicker Man.
Then of course in a wholly different part of the world we have voodoo and its associated dolls, though they aren’t always as sinister as Hollywood would have us believe. In real voodoo the dolls are hardly used at all, even in Haiti where the traditions are commonly practiced. When a doll is used for magical purposes it can be used for good reasons as well as malevolent. The doll is fashioned after the person it is meant to represent and a lock of their hair, or something they own, is attached to it. The practitioner of voodoo then concentrates intensely on the object of their will and sticks pins in the doll to emphasise the way they wish to affect the person.
One of the main reasons dolls are used in this way in Africa is for fertility rituals, where dolls are usually carved from wood and it is believed they bring good luck and decrease the chance of complications during birth. It used to be common practice for a priest to create the doll then give it to the expectant mother who would then treat it like her child, then pass it on to her real child to play with after she or he was born.
Back to the UK again, there are many effigies of men and animals carved into chalk hillsides that are thought to be fertility symbols – the Long Man of Wilmington, the White Horse of Uffington, the Cerne Abbas Giant in Dorset have all been there for centuries. The traditions of fertility connected with the Cerne Abbas Giant are so deeply ingrained that many today still believe in his power, couples are still going up on the hill to make love on the tip of the Cerne Abbas Giants’s 8ft-long penis to increase the chances of pregnancy.