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A Man of Yet a Few More Words - by Swan Morrison

The Festival of Arvernus

‘It looks like crop yields will be down again this year,’ said Archy, looking out across the expanse of farmland that surrounded the picturesque English village of Great Gurning in the Morris.

‘I blame EEC regulations,’ replied George. ‘If we could still use the old agrochemicals, we’d be back to the production we had in the fifties.’

‘That’s not the real problem,’ concluded Walter. He scanned the fields thoughtfully for several seconds before speaking again. ‘… Arvernus is no longer with us.’

There was silence as they all reflected sadly upon this self-evident truth.

‘The Health and Safety Executive banned our ancient Celtic festival of Arvernus,’ recalled Archy. ‘Villagers had called upon that god for three millennia to protect them, their families and their farms.’

‘They said the “rock hurling” ceremony was dangerous,’ scoffed Walter, disparagingly. He pointed to the church. ‘Since I was a boy, I’d climbed the tower of St Mark’s at dawn on every Arvernus Day.’ Walter paused to recall his coveted, ceremonial role before continuing nostalgically. ‘In accordance with the ancient ritual, I’d then randomly toss bricks into the village square until nightfall. I never came to any harm.’

‘That was the Arvernian tradition to ward-off evil spirits and ensure prosperity for the village,’ said Archy.

‘Admittedly it damaged cars and buildings, and some people were injured,’ conceded Walter, ‘but everyone just accepted that in the spirit of the festival.’

‘Villagers still speak with pride of those killed by “the Rocks of Arvernus”’, George added.

‘Then there was the night-time procession,’ continued Walter. ‘We’d each wrap one end of a stout staff with underwear, stolen from washing lines in the next village, Little Gurning in the Morris. Then we’d soak the cloth in petrol and light it. Finally we’d walk through Little Gurning, burning staff in one hand; open petrol can in the other.

George took up the story: 'We'd process past their thatched cottages, across their garage forecourt and around their haystacks to eventually reach Arvernus’ field.’

‘Some would hurl their staves and petrol cans into the air along the way in joyous tribute to Arvernus,’ recalled Archy, dramatically raising his arms in re-enactment.

‘In Arvernus’ field, blazed the great bonfire.’ Walter continued to reminisce, reliving the spectacle in his mind. ‘All would chant the oath of allegiance to Arvernus. Then, one by one,’ his voice rose to an ecstatic crescendo, ‘we’d hurl the virgins kidnapped from Little Gurning into the flames.’

‘It was lucky that the Grand Master of the Arvernus Society was also Chief Constable,’ reflected Archy. ‘That last bit was getting a bit “politically incorrect” by the mid-seventies.’

‘The final gathering was in 1975,’ George reminded them. ‘That damned Health and Safety Executive saw to that.’

‘I think those bastards in Little Gurning had a hand in it too,’ speculated Archy. ‘They’d always objected to our festival.’

‘Of course, we didn’t notice any immediate effect on our farming economy when Arvernus was cast out,’ noted Archy.

‘Why would we?’ questioned George. ‘The use of tons of agrochemicals solved any problems with the crops. Help wasn’t needed from any god. Now that we’re forced to be “organic”,’ he complained, ‘we have to work in harmony with Nature again. No GM either. That’s why yields are plummeting.’

‘We need Arvernus to return,’ concluded Walter.

BBC News: 21st June 2010:

Three pensioners from the quiet English country village of Great Gurning in the Morris were today arrested on suspicion of criminal damage, grievous bodily harm, arson, theft, kidnap and attempted murder.
A spokesman for the village council accused the police of colluding with a politically correct, heath and safety driven fascism that was destroying the historic culture and traditions that had underpinned for centuries the way of life in English country villages.