Dorset Ooser

The Dorset Ooser is a wooden head that featured in the 19th-century folk culture of Melbury Osmond, a village in the southwestern English county of Dorset. The head was hollow, thus perhaps serving as a mask, and included a humanoid face with horns, a beard, and a hinged jaw which allowed the mouth to open and close. It is unclear if the head itself was the Ousher, or whether it instead was designed as a depiction of an entity called Ooser.

About Dorset Ooser in brief

Summary Dorset OoserThe Dorset Ooser is a wooden head that featured in the 19th-century folk culture of Melbury Osmond, a village in the southwestern English county of Dorset. The head was hollow, thus perhaps serving as a mask, and included a humanoid face with horns, a beard, and a hinged jaw which allowed the mouth to open and close. Although sometimes used to scare people during practical jokes, its main recorded purpose was as part of a local variant of the charivari custom known as “skimity riding” or “rough music”, in which it was used to humiliate those who were deemed to have behaved in an immoral manner. In 1975 a replica of the original Ooser was produced by John Byfleet, which has since been on display at Dorset County Museum in Dorchester. This mask retains a place in Dorset folk culture, being removed from the museum for use in local Morris dancing processions held by the Wessex Morris Men on both St. George’s Day and May Day. The design of the Ooser has also inspired the production of copies which have been used as representations of the Horned God in the modern Pagan religion of Wicca in both the United Kingdom and United States. It is unclear if the head itself was the Ousher, or whether it instead was designed as a depiction of an entity called Ooser. The etymology of Ooser, with various possibilities available, is also disputed, with several possibilities available.

The term Osser was pronounced with a short, quick s by villagers as Osser. The first mention of the first Ooser head was in an 1891 edition of Somerset and Dorset Queries and Queries, where it was the subject of an article by the journal’s editor, Charles Herbert Mayo. This Wooset was recorded having been paraded by youths in the Marlborough district until the 1830. Similar traditions have been recorded in Wiltshire and Somerset, where the horns can be traced back to at least the early 17th century, where they were used to mock neighbours whose partners were suspected of cuckoldry, the horns being a traditional sign of marital infidelity. The Ooser had been in the possession of Thomas Cave, the editor of the journal, in the time they had been at the time of the publication of this article, and had been on his farm in Holt Farm, Dorset, until 1897. After travelling with Edward Cave to Somerset, the head went missing around 1897. The folklorists Frederick Thomas Elworthy and H. L. Dewar believed that the head was a representation of the Devil and thus was designed to intimidate people into behaving according to the local community’s moral system.