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Thursday, 6 February 2014

Dorset Folklore 1- The Ooser

The original Ooser

One of the biggest mysteries in Dorset these days is why the Sainsbury's delivery van's sat nav persists in sending it to the wrong end of my lane; yet before the war, remnants of more pagan mysteries still lingered on.
In Dorchester was to be found a grotesque wooden mask with a moveable jaw named the Dorset Ooser. As the photo shows it wasn't a pretty sight. 
The Ooser was most probably a processional mask whose actual function was lost in the distant past. 

Way back in the seventh century masks such as these were already being condemned by the Church with the words...
The modern Ooser
" whoever at the kalends of January goes about as a stag or bull; that is, making himself into a wild animal and dressing in the skin of a herd animal, and putting on the heads of beast, those who in such wise transform themselves into the appearance of a wild animal, penance for three years because this is devilish" 
Masks such as these, though, were once common throughout the
county and theories for Ooser's symbolism vary. Some claim it is a representation of the Devil, while others say it is the representation of a horned deity with its basis in witchcraft or Wicca. 
Either way the original Ooser disappeared in 1897. A modern copy, dating from 1975, still makes an appearance each year as part of a procession of Morris dancers above the Cerne Abbas Giant on May Day and St Georges Day. No doubt followed by a lost Sainsbury's van.

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