Originally this was danced during the Yuletide on Twelfth Day (January 6) at Abbots Bromley, Staffordshire, England. Now the Abbots Bromley Horn is danced on the first Monday after September 4, the date having been moved in the 18th Century. Six male dancers hold white and brown-painted (formerly red and white) genuine reindeer antlers on wooden poles.
The antlers were obtained from reindeer that were castrated,
or domesticated during the eleventh century. As reindeer
are believed to have become extinct
in the British Isles by then, and we know of no domesticated herds, the
antlers were possibly of Scandinavian origin. In 1976, a small
splinter was radiocarbon
dated to around 1065. (At Star Carr in Yorkshire,
The dancers hold the antlers to their heads as they dance.
They go round neighbouring farms before the event (a
distance of about 16 kilometres, or ten miles), which
is possibly left over from a more ancient fertility dance. At the end of
the day, the antlers are returned to the church. The
Horn Dancers comprise six ‘Deer-men’,
a Fool, Hobby Horse, Bowman (Robin Hood) and Maid Marion, performing their
dance to a traditional tune provided by a melodion player.
Reminiscent of other antler rituals
The ancient rite is held two weeks before the Vernal Equinox and no doubt has pagan origins despite its Christian associations today. Ostensibly held to commemorate the acquisition by the local people of hunting rights to the nearby Needwood Forest, the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance is similar to the Yakut dance of Russia and certain dances of Finno-Ugranian tribes, and it might have originally been a Scandinavian/Viking ritual dedicated to Frey, god of fertility and Lord of the Light Elves of Alfheim. In the Celtic world of the Iron Age, the Horned One is most commonly called Cernunnos, the Stag Lord, or the Horned God, and this custom might hark back to the pre-1st century CE times when his cult was widespread.
Source: Wilson's Almanac