Traditional Cornish wassailing on Penryn Campus

Jory Mundy

University students and staff were invited to Penryn Campus’ walled orchard on Wednesday evening for a traditional session of Cornish wassailing.

The event was hosted by multifaith Pagan Chaplin Zoe Young, who encouraged people to attend regardless of religion to spread cheer and enjoy an unknown Cornish tradition, with local groups such as Pensans Morris dancers and band Raffidy Dumitz.

The term “wassail” comes from the Middle English “waes hael”, which roughly translates to “be healthy”. It dates back to the 16th century but is suggested to be much older — possibly Anglo-Saxon or Pagan. Wassailing brings together different iterations of traditional folk culture today, with the revival of different traditions across the country.

Jory Mundy

The event started around 4.30pm, with Penzance-based Raffidy Dumitz greeting guests and Nina Fenner helping people make headdresses from leaves and greenery to wear during the procession. The headdress is an item seen in several Cornish traditions, as well as the mock formal (rich looking poor and poor looking rich), which the Raffidy Dumitz often wear. Pensans Morris performed in the orchard before the first procession.

Jory Mundy

The wassailing ceremony involves making a blessing to apple trees for a good harvest. Led by Tony Leamon, a local member of the Pagan community, participants banged pots and pans to wake up the trees from their winter slumber and offered them juice and toast — the noise also scares away any unwanted devil spirits.

The main bonfire at Cob Shed could not go ahead due to weather, so a second procession occurred around the orchard while Zoe set up a small firepit. A version of the serpent dance was set up by Raffidy Dumitz, which is often seen at Mazey Day — participants all joined hands and danced in a line before more drinking occurred. Other songs were sung into the night, such as Nine Brave Boys and the Cornish March.

Jory Mundy

The event concluded around the firepit as Tony told tales of wassailing, its history, and examples seen across Cornwall in St Ives, Redruth, and Bodmin. Tony said that “maybe this wassailing ritual was to cheer everyone up”, referring to the difficulty of the past few years.

After all the cider was drank, Zoe ended the event by thanking everyone and discussing ideas for future Cornish/Pagan events on campus.