Last night, I saw Midsommar, a film I’ve had my eye on for a while. It’s received very mixed reviews in the press, but I loved it. I felt it was pretty much what you’d get if you got Alexander Jodorowsky to direct the Wicker Man. Lots of gruesome human sacrifice and folk dancing, if you like that kind of thing. Plus the music of Haxan Cloak, which is always enjoyable.
The production design was also very reminiscent of Kinfolk magazine, a glossy lifestyle magazine I’ve always found a little unsettling. Lots of extremely wholesome people wearing pale clothes, and sitting at big sun dappled wooden tables of communal meals. The owners are Mormon, but the magazine is not explicitly aimed at Mormons.
I grew up in Kent, which is pretty much Wicker Man central, despite being right next to London. My home town is about 45 minutes on the train from London and is pretty industrial with the usual economic woes of a town with a huge closed-down shipyard, yet every Mayday it has a three day long pagan fertility festival with morris dancers (the rough kind in rags with sticks), maypoles, and the ritual waking and slaughter of a Jack in the Green. (And a very large number of real ale stalls in the street). I have some photos from last year’s festival that I still haven’t sorted out.
Growing up this all seemed very normal, especially as I lived on the edge of town near the Neolithic tomb where the ritual of waking Jack in the Green happened. It’s quite an eerie site even in the rest of the year. I realised how weird this all was when watching the Wicker Man at university with two friends who grew up in other parts of the country, and it got to the scene where the school kids are doing maypole dancing, and I mentioned something about also doing it for school PE, and my friends looked at me in astonishment, like I might also have had human sacrifice as an after school activity. (New age stuff was also big in the local area with multiple shops catering for the need for tarot cards, crystals, etc).
If you want to read about the slaughter of ritual kings and symbolic marriages to trees and the like, the classic anthropology and mythology book the Golden Bough is now out of copyright and available to read for free online here as a website, and as a pdf or ebook download here. (And remember as my university tutor often reminded us- the Romans loved to accuse their enemies of human sacrifice, because it was one of the few bad things they didn’t do themselves). The Golden Bough also forms one of the major underpinnings of probably my all-time favourite book: Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones. It’s an eerie coming of age tale set in 70s and 80s England, using the folk tale Tam Lin, TS Eliot’s Four Quartets, and The Golden Bough as inspiration.