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Sunday, 17 January 2016

Old Twelfth Night and The Burning of the Ashen Faggot

Old Twelfth Night’ occurs on 17th January and is the traditional date to ‘Wassail Apple Orchards’. The word ‘wassail’ is derived from the Anglo Saxon ‘wes hál’ meaning ‘be whole’ or ‘be of good health’. ‘Apple Wassailing’ or ‘Apple Howling’ as it is sometimes called is an ancient ceremony performed to ensure a healthy and plentiful crop of fruit in the coming year.

The Ashen Faggot (sometimes called ashton fagot) is an old English Christmas tradition from in Devonshire and Somersetshire, similar to that of the Yule log and related to the wassail tradition. The wassail party passes around a bundle of ash sticks, twigs or branches—the ashen faggot—bound with green ash withies, which is then placed onto the fire. As each binding bursts, the watchers toast it with a drink. Some traditions had the unmarried women each choosing a withy, and the first one whose tie snapped would be married the next year.  While women at the Squirrel Inn, Laymore, hoping to become pregnant would jump over a burning faggot.  When the bindings have all burst and the bundle has fallen loose, each person who plans to host the festivities next year takes one of the half-burned ash sticks and saves it until the following Christmas, when it will go in the center of their own ashen faggot. The tradition endures (or has been resurrected) in many places; according to an article in the Winter 2005 issue of Devon Talk, the Harbour Inn in Axmouth annually builds an ashen faggot six feet high and three feet wide for their huge pub fireplace.

Some traditions held that not burning the ashen faggot in your house brought bad luck, or that having an ashen faggot in the house kept the Devil and evil spirits away. Ash was likely chosen because the ash tree has a long pedigree of magical associations: perhaps the most important is the Yggdrasil of Norse mythology, also known as the World Ash Tree.

Below: The Burning the Ashen Faggot on Old Twelfth Night (17th January 2007) at the The Shave Cross Inn.

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