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stag hunt


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A form of social disapproval custom noted only in Devon, but akin to the more widespread rough music ceremony. In the known instances, the hunt was prompted by some form of sexual misconduct or deviancy in the community, usually adultery or homosexuality. It involved one man dressing up as a stag, complete with horns, another dressed as a huntsman, and others as dogs. The huntsman and dogs chased the stag through the streets of the town or village, with much yelping, barking, hallooing, and other noise, finally cornering him on the doorstep of the offender. A very realistic kill was enacted, including the bursting of a bladder full of blood, carried by the stag. It was assumed that the offending parties would leave the area after such a public shaming. In one reported version the custom also included the noisy ‘band’ of pots and kettles commonly found in rough music ceremonies, and there are also reports that in former times it was the offender himself who was chased and thrown into the local pond or river. Most of the accounts refer to the period from the 1860s to 1880s, but the last known occurrences were just before the First World War. Sabine Baring-Gould's popular novel The Red Spider (1887) includes the stag hunt as a motif.

Theo Brown, Folk-Lore 63 (1952), 104–9;Theo Brown, Folk-lore 90:1 (1979), 18–21.


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