Ram Roasting

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Every Whitsun, a live and suitably decorated ram was driven in a cart in procession around Kingsteignton, Devon, and then publicly roasted. Nowadays, the ram is already dead before being paraded, and the custom has moved to the nearest bank holiday, but the principle is the same. While the ram is being roasted, there are games and other celebrations, and everyone present should have a piece of the ram's meat, but there are now so many visitors that only those with special programmes get a piece of the animal itself. Animal-roasting customs were relatively common in the past, but Kingsteignton is the only one to survive in this area, and even this one was radically altered around 1885. Phyllis Crawford records that, about 1937, an aged woman had explained that her husband, the vicar, had started the procession, eradicated the drunkenness, and transformed the custom into a ‘fine old ceremony’. This is an excellent example of how calendar customs can change, on Merrie England lines, virtually overnight. The accompanying origin legend is noteworthy in that, uniquely among calendar customs, it approximates the pagan-origins view of the early folklorists, and it would not be at all surprising to learn that a wandering amateur folklorist had planted it. The story is that, long long ago, the Fairwater stream, on which the village relied for water, unaccountably dried up. The people sacrificed a ram in the dry river bed and that started it flowing again, and it has continued to flow ever since, because the custom has been kept up.

Crawford, 1938: 131–3;Wright and Lones, 1936: i. 169–70;Kightly, 1986: 193;N&Q 6s:7 (1883), 345.

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