Myth Bustiers: The Costumes of Britain's Pagan Festivals

Author: 
Rich Kirby
The Burry Man

The folkore of the United Kingdom is an indelible and colorful part of its cultural DNA, with roots stretching back several thousand years into pagan Celtic, Germanic and early Christian beliefs. A robust calendar of outdoor festivals celebrate this heritage, and these are marked most notably by the amazing and diverse display of costumes worn by the revelers.

Now photographer Henry Bourne and folklore expert Simon Costin have just published Arcadia Britannica, a product of their repeated visits to many of these events. They've captured on film Jack-in-the-Green at the annual festival held in the pagan god's honor in Hastings each May; the Burry Man (above), whose South Queensferry festival finds him walking around around all day in a suit made of thistle burrs (while sipping whisky); and the "straw bear," a man covered entirely in straw at the Whittlesea Straw Bear Festival, whose character would traditionally appear on the first day of the agricultural year; among others.

Bourne is perhaps best known as for his portraits, architecture, landscape, and still-life work. His work may be seen regularly in Vogue, Vanity Fair,  Condé Nast Traveller, Harper’s Bazaar, and The New York Times Style Magazine.

Man Costumed in Elaborate Britush Folklore GarbThe Green Man Costume

Man and Man dressed as livestockGreen Lady

Straw Man Costume