John Barleycorn, Death's scythe, an alehouse broom

Asheville's 17th Annual

Free Public Witch Ritual
on Samhain (Halloween)

Flash Rite Pub Moot
with Mummers Play

Saturday, Oct. 29, 8-10 PM Asheville, N.C.

Celebrate the sacredness of the season in a family-friendly "flash-rite" in downtown Asheville. We've adapted a favorite traditional European ritual, thousands of years old, to 21st-century Asheville.

Medieval masked mummers

The mumming tradition in Europe goes back thousands of years but is as lively and popular as ever. Beneath their odd costumes and broad humor, the plays are seasonal magic rituals meant to ensure that light and warmth will rise again after being slain by dark and cold, and that health and prosperity will win out over death and dearth. From one town or village to the next, they adapt universal themes and characters to local traditions and concerns — as Lady Passion has done in creating Asheville's first mummers play.

Our "flash-rite" (a ritual flash mob) is not a religious excuse to get "cupshotten" (a Witch word meaning "drunk"). It appeals to many because it perpetuates Pagan magic, bonds Crafters in Sabbat fun, and supports our local economy.

"Mummers Play" is from the German word "Mummerspiel", meaning "masked play". (Wear makeup or masks to ensure good luck in the New Year!) Mummers plays are pantomimed and rhymed, and involve traditional characters, jokes, and audience quips. They are also an ancient ritual to bring the Gods' blessings of fertility and prosperity to a community, believed to have been brought to Britain by the Anglo-Saxons and blended with Celtic traditions.

Choose which one of four featured pubs along our route — see map or directions — that you want to start out in, and imbibe, chat, and await our arrival. (Teetotalers and kids can drink water or Shirley Temples if they prefer.)

The Mummers will begin at The Thirsty Monk at 8 sharp and perform a quick, funny, poignant play (see below) enacting the annual harvest-death of John Barleycorn, the personification of reaped hops and grains that make ale.

Players will then down a half-pint and leave with Craft audience members, and process to the next pub in turn — Jack of the Wood; then Hannah Flanagan's; and finally, Pack's Tavern — repeating the play and gathering more audience members in their train at each. The rite will culminate in a Spiral Dance around the Magnolia trees beside Pack's.

Read The Mummers Play Script and Hear the Ol' Charmer Chant

Witch leads flash rite, storms into pub with staff and sweeps it 'round to create a small sacred space for the players to perform, rhyme-singing:

In comes I ...
to cast a space —
I am the Witch
in this Mummer's play.
You'll love our tale
Of life and loss —
Pray if you do
A coin you'll toss!

John Barleycorn enters the scene, swaggering/bombastic, sporting a cloak pulled back behind his shoulders and corn shucks/wheat sheaves, etc. poking from his pockets, collar, belt, shoes/boots, etc., bragging about his prowess, rhyme-singing:

In comes I ...
my might to wield —
I'm John Barleycorn
of the summer fields.
You brew my ale
and down my drinks —
then wonder why
your costume shrinks!

The Players and the Audience say in unison:

It does tend to shrink a lit-tle each year!

Death dressed in black robe with a scythe, and opposes Barleycorn's claims, rhyme-singing:

In comes I ...
to reap this corn —
I'm Death who causes
all to mourn.
You all fear me —
With this I'm fine.
I'll cut him down
While in his prime!

John Barleycorn puts up a dramatic resistance to elicit crowd sympathy, rhyme singing:

I am the grain
that lifts your care,
but of my pain
you're unaware.
You watch me die —
But seed I plant.
I'd love to live
but know I can't.

Death taps his foot, unimpressed, then turns his back on the audience and "slays" John Barleycorn with his scythe.

John Barleycorn plays out a comically exaggerated death scene, eventually turning his back to the audience during his throes, and pulls out red strips of cloth pinned inside his front shirt pocket, representing spilled blood. He finally wilts "dead" semi-erect against the wall, clutching his "heart" melodramatically.

Healer costume of 6,666 knotsThe completed version of the Healer's rope costume has 6,666 hand-tied knots.

The Healer enters, dressed in rope costume as here. [Lady Passion has made this for use by volunteer — see at right.] Healer brags in rhyme-song about their curing ability:

In comes I ...
to cure all woes —
the bite, the bleed,
the hot death throes.
You all trust me
to fix your gout —
Got six devils?
I'll cast sev'n out!

Healer's pantomimed ministrations yield minimal results.

Death steps forward.

Your stock prescriptions
can't save him —
Nor preaching on
cesspools of sin!
If you would raise him,
you must find
A spirit of
the wilder kind.

Our ghost horse Ol' Charmer enters with jaws snapping. He takes pity on John Barleycorn, and nudges him alive.

Audience and participants cheer, then sing/snap fingers/clap the Ol' Charmer-Barleycorn chant:

Snap, snap!
Ol' Charmer is here —
To bring us a boon
And give us good cheer.
Clap, clap!
John Barleycorn dies
Our spirits to lift
But then he'll arise.

Witch closes the play rhyme-singing as Players link arms:

Barley's cut
your glass to fill —
but grows again
on summer hill.
We hope you've learned
That nothing dies —
Toss us some coin
We bid you 'bye!

Players bow arm-in-arm.

The Witch goes 'round the audience with her Witch hat after she and Players cajole donations in rhyme-song, in unison:

If you haven't got a penny,
a half penny will do.
If you haven't got a half penny
Then what are you doing spending all your money in a pub?

The Fool (costumed brightly, masked, and carrying a frying pan in one hand, and a club in the other) ushers Players to their half pints, and taunts the audience to reveal his or her identity — but never admits it.

Players down their half pints, and they and Craft audience depart to the next pub on the route, repeating the flash-rite play at each site.

Mummer Players & Helpers:

  • Witch — our leader & mistress of ceremonies
  • John Barleycorn — our beery & bombastic spirit of prosperity & fertility
  • Death — our cold, impersonal harvester of life
  • The Healer — our self-proclaimed expert, who has all the answers but none of the solutions
  • Ol' Charmer — our ghost horse, a spirit of Nature
  • The Priestesses — our silent guides to Ol' Charmer
  • The Fool — our honored filler of cups
  • The Audience — You,
    foregathered at one of these four Asheville pubs
    and choosing, if you will, to follow us,
    adding your energy to this magic rite
    as noisily or silently as you might,
    seeing its symbols through eyes, not just yours,
    but those of a thousand generations before,
    raising your spirits (alcoholic or non-)
    in a toast to the Spirit that lives ever on,
    though the sun may go dark and the body be gone!

Route Map:

View Samhain 2011 Pub Moot route in a larger map

Flash-rite Route:

(Keep to sidewalks and obey traffic signals. Do not take your drink with you when you leave a pub! It's illegal to carry an open container of alcohol on the streets.)
  1. Begin at Thirsty Monk, 92 Patton Avenue (corner of Coxe).
  2. Cross Patton Ave. to Jack of the Wood, 95 Patton Avenue.
  3. Walk east on Patton Ave., bearing to right of Pritchard Park; turn right at Biltmore Ave. (across street you will see Vance Monument), and continue to Hannah Flanagan's Irish Pub, 27 Biltmore Avenue.
  4. Continue short distance down Biltmore to Eagle St. intersection; cross Biltmore and walk east along Eagle; turn left at Spruce St. and continue to Packs Tavern, 20 South Spruce Street.
  5. Exit Pack's and turn right, go around corner to the Magnolia trees between Pack's and City Hall, next to the Pack Square Park stage.

Coven Oldenwilde is a 501(c)(3) non-profit. Your donations are tax-deductible.

See a gallery of photos of our first dress rehearsal taken by Samhain photographer Jack Hedden!
Join us for our final dress rehearsal Friday, Oct. 21, about 8 pm, at Tolliver's Crossing Pub, 733 Haywood Rd. (corner Brevard Rd.), West Asheville.
  • Audience participants are encouraged to:
    • Network on Coven Oldenwilde's Facebook page with other audience participants who plan to await the Mummers' arrival at your chosen pub location (note also that carpooling will help you avoid downtown Asheville's notorious parking demons!)
    • Tweet and follow our progress using hashtag #flashrite
    • Wear makeup or mask; warm Witchy black clothes/cape, or costume
    • Bring I.D. & cash for drinks or donation, parking or taxicab, and bring musical instruments/noisemakers if desired (for when the Mummers arrive at each pub)
    • Park in one of these locations:
      • Wall Street parking garage, close to beginning of the route
      • Buncombe County parking garage, close to end of the route
      • Asheville city lot behind Pack's Tavern
    • Or take a taxicab. Cab company phone numbers (all 828 area code): 258-8331, 253-3311, 252-1913, 232-1112.
  • Needed:
    • Donations to help cover expenses.
  • Please, no pets or familiars.

For More Information

Spiral dancers (and an orb) by the Mast Beast at Asheville's Free Public Witch Ritual
At left, participants in spiral dance at Samhain 16 in 2010 circle Ol' Charmer at his debut.