‘A place of magic’: enchanting geographies of contemporary wassailing practices

Wigley, Edward (2021). ‘A place of magic’: enchanting geographies of contemporary wassailing practices. Social & Cultural Geography, 22(6) pp. 868–889.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/14649365.2019.1645202


Orchard wassailing practices, along with other folk traditions have been overlooked by geographers. This paper considers how such practices can engineer spaces of enchantment in otherwise ‘disenchanted’ spaces. Furthermore, how this form of enchantment is never fixed but relational, unstable and contingent, or ‘borrowed’. Having nearly disappeared in the mid-20th century, wassailing has been ‘re-wakened’ for the contemporary world. A surprising feature of these contemporary wassails is that they are often performed in recently planted or restored orchards in suburban areas with little heritage of producing fruit. Spaces usually considered absent of ‘enchantment’. Drawing on interviews with organisers of contemporary and ‘reinvented’ wassails in the south and south-west of England, this research investigates contemporary wassailing practices in such otherwise ‘disenchanted’ spaces. In doing so it draws attention to the construction of ‘magical’ atmospheres that combine elements of the religious-spiritual, heritage and fiction enabling a temporary suspension of disbelief. The paper develops upon previous understandings of ‘enchantment’ in geography and introduces the notion of ‘borrowed enchantment’ that draws attention to forms of enchantment which are relational, emergent, unstable and contingent to locality.

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