Strange and ancient rituals

There was a wonderful article on the BBC website recently, about England’s strange and ancient winter rituals which pre-date the modern, American-inspired Halloween.

One in particular stood out, which is the Ottery St Mary Tar Barrel Festival in Devon, held on 5 November and believed to have started after the Gunpowder Plot.

The tradition sees competitors – who have to have been born in the town – running with burning barrels on their backs until the heat becomes too unbearable or the barrel breaks down.

“At some stage through the ages Ottery St Mary decided rolling and kicking lighted barrels through the streets was a little tame so they were picked up and carried through the streets on the shoulders of the participants,” said Andy Wade, president of the event.

However this is one tradition in danger of being snuffed out because of increasing public liability insurance costs – at last year’s event 16 people suffered minor burns.

Mr Wade is adamant that “we must not and cannot let our traditions just fade away due to the pressures of modern living and bureaucratic intervention”.

What a great quote.

It got me thinking about this in a business context. Successful businesses are full of mavericks who bend and break the rules to move forward, as well as jobs-worths who do their best to stifle any creativity with bureaucracy.

By the same token, every business has its stories, arcane rituals and a depth of history which creates the culture and sense of belonging.

There is a paradox today in which we are asked to celebrate diversity, yet do all we can to create an anodyne, conformist image from our high-streets to our Universities to our annual rituals and celebrations.

Mr. Wade is right not only from the point of view of history and tradition, but by the very nature of how human-beings come together around the camp-fire to defy the dark and create successful solutions for how we want to live.

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