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In pictures: A journey through the English ritual year

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image captionEver since encountering Deptford Jack welcoming in the summer in London, photographer Sara Hannant has gone on a journey around England to capture rituals which mark the changing seasons. The Hollyman in this photo wassails (toasts) the people of London and River Thames on Twelfth Night - the end of Christmas festivities - to encourage a fertile year ahead.
image captionTo the casual observer these rituals may seem eccentric, if not completely bizarre - from the man concealed inside a 10ft tall Straw Jack (pictured) in Carshalton, south London, to mark the last corn crop of the year in August, to the orange-robed men on their Imbolc torch procession in Marsden, West Yorkshire, which marks the arrival of spring.
image captionTo the local people such events help reinforce their communal identity, Ms Hannant claimed. "It brings so much enjoyment," she said, "it's a wonderful collective celebration and it gives people a wonderful sense of belonging." In this photo the Allendale Guisers - men in disguise - see in the new year around a bonfire after parading through Allendale, Northumberland, carrying flaming whisky barrels on their heads.
image captionWhile some of these customs claim centuries-old origins - such as the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance in Staffordshire (pictured), which is reported to date back to the 13th Century - others are recent revivals. Deptford Jack, for example, was revived by the Blackheath Morris Men in London in the early 1980s.
image captionOther more recent revivals include Jack-in-the-Green in Hastings, East Sussex, which was reinstated by Mad Jack’s Morris Dancers in the 1980s. The Imbolc torch procession in Marsden featuring a tree of fire (pictured) was revived in 1993. It was originally dedicated to Brigid, the Pagan goddess associated with holy wells, sacred flames and healing. By lighting candles the people hoped magically to ensure the sun’s warmth for the lambing season, Ms Hannant said.
image captionIn 1992 ancient Mazey Day festivities were revived to coincide with Golowan, the midsummer feast of St John in Penzance, Cornwall. Penglaz, a tall 'Obby ’Oss (dialect for hobby horse) bearing a horse’s skull appears at midnight accompanied by Bucca Gwidden, a spirit of light, who goads the ’Oss with a decorated club in a serpentine dance along the quayside.
image captionMs Hannant observed many of these customs have a distinct Pagan element. "That is what fascinated me particularly," the photographer said, "the desire to connect to a potential Pagan past." These customs also often attract a huge turnout, such as the Jack-in-the-Green in Hastings in May (pictured), which attracts thousands of people and has a parade including giants, Morris dancers and fire-eaters. They lead Jack to the top of the castle hill, where he is ceremonially slain.
image captionLondon-based Ms Hannant, who has been a photographer for more than 20 years, said she had grown accustomed to the idiosyncrasies of these quintessentially British events, such as a Lammas ritual in Eastbourne which was started there in 2001. The word Lammas derives from ‘loaf mass’, the name of an ancient celebration traditionally held at sunset on 1 August with the cutting of the first corn.
image captionMs Hannant's exhibition, called Mummers, Maypoles and Milkmaids: A Journey Through the English Ritual Year, is on tour and is at the Oxfordshire Museum in Woodstock until 28 July. Lorraine Horne from the museum said the images displayed "a side of quintessential English life that is steeped in tradition and mystery". Flora Day (pictured) in Helston, Cornwall, marks the arrival of spring by decorating the streets with greenery and performing a ritual drama, the Hal-an-tow.
image captionFor Ms Hannant experiencing these customs will stay with her for a long time, such as the Britannia Coconutters of Bacup performing their Spring ritual dance in Lancashire (pictured). "I feel much more in tune with the rhythms of the year," she said. "I'm aware of changes in nature and how that is reflected in some of the dramatisations that people do and the costumes that they make." She added: "It's never going to leave me now, it's got under my skin."

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