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Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in childrens games

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Ghost in the Cellar

As kids in early 60s Steeltown, we had a whole repertory of backyard games. My favorite was Ghost in the Cellar.

Children's games often have a soupçon of ritual to them—most are circular, the game's intent being to regenerate itself by starting over again—Ghost in the Cellar being the most ritualized of them all. It had all the elements of good ritual: a story, archetypal characters, catharsis, a felicitous combination of the scripted and the spontaneous, and, best of all, a ritualized dialogue that had to be repeated with absolute precision every time.

Dramatis Personae: The Mother. The Children. The Ghost.

Story: In the course of play, the Children get dirty. (Here there was lots of room for fun improvisation. As we got older, the "dirt" became less physical and more behavioral.) The Mother calls the Children in for supper, but is dismayed to see how dirty they've gotten.

Mother: Go down to the cellar and wash your hands!

The Children go down into the (imaginary) cellar—it never occurred to us to play the game using a real one—but there they encounter the Ghost.

Ghost: [Shrieks]

The Children run back to the Mother, screaming.

Children: There's a ghost! A ghost in the cellar!

The Mother assures them that there is no ghost—here she would improvise creatively about laundry hanging up to dry—and sends them back down to the cellar. Three times—the ritual number—this happens. The third time, the Mother agrees to accompany the Children to the cellar. There, sure enough, they encounter the Ghost.

You've got to hand it to the Mother. Does she run away screaming? No. Instead, she confronts the Ghost (which, I'm told, is exactly what one should do in such situations).

Mother: What do you want?

Ghost: A match.

Mother: What for?

Ghost: To light my pipe.

Mother: What for?

Ghost: To kill you!

Last modified on
Paganistani Children's Games (Winter): Wheel-Tag

It's Deep Winter, and we're well into the holiday thirtnight known variously as Yeaning, Ewesmilk, and February Eve*. If where you live is anything like where I do, the snows lie piled deep.

Ergo, it's the perfect time to play Wheel Tag.

Wheel Tag is just like regular tag—non-binary “It” and all—but you play it on a track in the snow.

Here's how you play.

Lay out a Wheel in the snow and tromp it down well (or, if you're ambitious, shovel it out). If your track is relatively small, make a Wheel with four spokes. If you've got room to spread out—the snow on top of a frozen lake is ideal for this—go with eight spokes.

Then pick an It, and away you go. Remember: you have to stay on the Wheel. Anything that happens off-Wheel doesn't count.

Like most traditional kids' games with a grounding in ritual, the purpose of the game is to play itself through and start over again, around and around: like the year, like Life. Like a Wheel.

In Witch Country, even games are profound.

Last modified on

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Leaf Man Rise Up

This autumn children's game, a variant of "tag," comes from the old Hwicce tribal territories in England's southwest Midlands. Like many traditional children's games, it is circular, self-replicating, and orally transmitted. The game's ritual structure and deeply mythic resonances will hardly be lost on anyone likely to be reading this post.

Players gather in a circle, hand-in-hand, around a mound of leaves. (In some versions, they circle.) They chant:

 Leaf Man Rise Up Leaf Man Rise Up Leaf Man Rise Up

Last modified on

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