The Abbots Bromley Horn Dance is one of the strangest and most ancient of all English folk customs. It was first recorded as being performed at the Barthelmy Fair in August 1226, but carbon dating of the antlers in current use puts them 200 years earlier than that – and they are probably replacements for earlier sets. The dance could thus date back to prehistory, perhaps being a unique survival of an ancient hunting ritual.
Today the Horn Dance, which takes place annually on Wakes Monday, offers a fascinating day out attracting visitors from all over the world.
After collecting the horns from the church at eight o’clock this morning, the Horn Dancers comprising six Deer-men, a Fool, Hobby Horse, Bowman and Maid Marian, will perform their dance to music provided by a melodian player at locations throughout the village and its surrounding farms and pubs. A walk of about 10 miles.
At the end of a long and exhausting day, the horns are returned to the church in the evening.
Attractions during the day include exhibitions, craft stalls and, of course, the local pubs.
A truly ancient case of antler dance comes from the Trois Frères Cave in Ariège, France and dates back to 14,000 BCE. The star of this cave is an image popularly known as the “Sorcerer” and is generally taken to be a dancing man wearing antlers on his head. While exactly what is represented in the image is subject to interpretation, it would not be surprising if it is in fact a remnant of a bygone stag dance. The appearance of the same elements across time and space indicates the abiding significance they have.
If you can’t get to Abbots Bromley this year, don’t worry, you can always go next year (provided Hillary Clinton doesn’t become President of the USA and get us all incinerated!) Come what may, see it while you can!