MAXIMUM F X
FESTIVALS OF LIGHT.
In the United Kingdom November 5th is
associated with Guy Fawkes, and the conspiracy to blow up the Houses of Parliament in
1605. In fact it is really a new format for a much more ancient tradition: one with its
roots in the old pagen year which started on November 1st, a date that also marked the
first day of winter. Bonfires were lit, torches carried in procession and sacrifices made
to drive away evil influences and uphold the fertility of the world.
ALL SAINT'S DAY
From pre - history to Stuart times, country folk have carried on an old tradition with bonfires. With the arrival of Christianity it was re - named " All Saint Day " in much the same way that many other pagan festivities and sites were taken over and had a religious significance imposed upon them.
The burning of effigies is only a recent
innovation harking back to near voodoo religious practices of centuries ago. For example
in Thomas Hardy's " The Return of the Native " written 200 years after Guy
Fawkes, there is a description of November bonfires without any reference to effigies.
From the mid 13th century onwards the word " Guy " was used to mean a dummy or
effigy. " Guy " in turn was derived from the Anglo - Norman word "
Guyser " describing the stooge in medieval comedies, hence our well known word "
CHINESE, FIRST TO MAKE FIREWORKS
Chinese crackers were probably the first
fireworks to be made, about 2000 years ago. They are still used in China, and throughout
the East, to celebrate Weddings, Births and religious festivals, and to scare away evil
spirits. It is probable that gunpowder developed in China because of the ready
availability of Potassium Nitrate ( Saltpeter) one of the essential ingredients, and used
domestically in the curing of meat.
INTRODUCTION OF FIREWORKS TO EUROPE
The earliest recorded use of gunpowder in
England, and probably the western world, is by the Franciscan monk Roger Bacon. He was
born in Ilminster in Somerset in 1214 and lived, as a master of languages, maths, optics
and alchemy to 1294. He recorded his experiments with a mixture which was very inadequate
by today's standards but was recognisable as gunpowder. His formula was very low in
Saltpeter because there was no natural source available, but it contained the other two
essential ingredients: Charcoal and Sulphur. In 1242 he wrote.... "if you light it
you will get thunder and lightning if you know the trick"