Cheese rolling for Pagans

Jun 7th, 2017 | By | Category: Articles

turningCheese rolling is one of the longstanding folk traditions of Gloucestershire, UK. Here’s a description of the event taken from Kevan Manwaring’s Turning The Wheel:

“Every year in late May a group of (mostly) strangers throw themselves down a steep hill in pursuit of a round of cheese. The now famous cheese rolling that takes place at Cooper’s Hill on
the edge of the Cotswolds overlooking the Severn vale – now on Whitsun bank holiday Monday – started in 1884 and has continued, even through the War Years and rationing (when a symbolic cheese was used, stuffed with paper and a symbolic piece of Double Gloucester) with only three official cancellations (1998, due to concerns over casualties the previous year; 2001,
due to Foot-and-Mouth; and 2003, when the Mountain Rescue Team weren’t available, having been called to the Algerian earthquake). It has to be one of the most eccentric and loved events in
the British seasonal calendar.”

There are of course theories about ancient Pagan origins – there always are for eccentric traditions, if we can’t explain something, we assume it to be religious. Perhaps the cheese was once a flaming wheel, with a human sacrifice inside it. It’s suitably lurid to fit in with what many people want ancient Paganism to have been. The cheese, as a big golden round, obviously represents the sun if you’re inclined to see things that way! The art of cheese rolling certainly does contain an element of human sacrifice – the hill is incredibly steep. Broken bones are not unusual, and there is always a sacrifice of dignity as participants fall and bounce awkwardly down the slope. Here’s what Kevan has to say on the subject:

“This is the heart of any authentic folk custom – the participants do it for themselves. It is an almost unconscious urge. To feel valued and accepted – however hilarious the reason – is also why these traditions perpetuate. To be part of such a custom fosters a sense of belonging, of community, of continuity. You are ‘making (local) history’ and helping the wheel to turn. You are no longer just a consumer – passively experiencing festive time – but a participant.”

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