Remember, remember the fifth of November…
Guy Fawkes was by no means the only conspirator in the gunpowder plot, but he’s succeeded in being the man we most associate with it. His claim to the day was immortalised by the mask used in the graphic novel and film, ‘V for Vendetta’, where the character V is masked as Guy Fawkes throughout. Since then, demonstrators against parliaments and powers the world over have worn the Guy Fawkes mask, because it says at the end of the film: ‘V was you…and me. He was all of us.’
And I think the 5th of November keeps resonating as a festival because, while few would condone the violence the plot envisaged, it’s very human to rail against authority when you feel powerless. But for me it’s concerning that masked protest is becoming part of this global narrative, because being masked in this way is about hiding. Granted, there’s safety in anonymity for the protestor, and it makes the point that people can feel like anonymous cogs in a machine, but masks look sinister because they’re about concealment.
Instead, we celebrate the 5th of November with bonfires and fireworks, which are all about light, at a newly dark time of the year when the clocks have just changed. In the Christian Calendar we return to this theme of light again in the very depths of Winter. As the Gospel of St John that’s read on Christmas Day puts it: “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
In these turbulent times it’s easy to despair, and to feel that anonymous protest is all we have left. But watching those bonfire flames reluctantly catching, in spite of the wet wood, and those rockets defying the mist to blaze into stars, reminds me that hope may often be all that we have, and it’s also all that we need. The hope that we are still strong enough to press for what’s right, not just in national politics but also in our everyday lives. Because the great mystery of being human is that we’ve survived as a species because we’ve been able to look forward and to build a better future, and we can do so again: we just need to keep trying.
I have been delivering “Thought For The Day” pieces on BBC Radio Scotland since November 2016. By kind permission these pieces are reproduced in blog posts here on my website. To find my other pieces click here go to my Thought For The Day index page.