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Ian Caldicott sticks@wolston.com

History of Shepherd's Crooks

Walking sticks, ceremonial staffs and shepherd's crooks have been an integral part of human history dating as far back as their are records. Tantamount had over 100 sticks and canes in his tomb, some of them were intricately carved and would not seem out of place today. Moses is hardly ever pictured without a long staff resembling a shepherd's crook, an item that was ubiquitous to sheep and goat herders of the time.

The crook as a symbol of power, guardianship or prestige appears in both ancient and modern art and emblems. The crook and the flail were two symbols associated with the ancient Egyptian god, Osiris. Political and religious leaders from Pharaohs to Jesus to Kings and Popes have carried them to symbolize that they shepherded or led their people.

Even today high ranking clergy of many denominations carry a crook or similar staff to show their responsibility for their flocks. Legend has it that the candy cane, shaped like a simple crook, got it's start as long ago as 1670 when the choirmaster at the Cologne Cathedral handed out sugar sticks, in the shape of a shepherds crook, among his young singers to keep them quiet during the long Living Creche ceremony.

Despite all it's historical and current symbolism the shepherds crook was first and foremost an essential tool of the shepherd. Its curved head designed to help catch a sheep by the neck or leg, its upturned nose a place to hang a lantern, its sturdy shank a support and aid to the shepherd as he walked the many miles tending his flock over often uneven ground.

The walking sticks that we know so well today are a more modern creation. Coming into prominence in the 17th century. It is believed that as Europe became more civilized and having a sword with you at all times became socially unacceptable a strong stick of about the same length came to serve some of the self defence role of the sword.

While the materials and carving on a walking stick came to be symbols of the status of a gentleman few shepherds could afford to buy a crook and thus learned, perhaps with the help of an older shepherd skilled in the art of stick dressing, to make their own.

People being people it is not hard to see how shepherds would compare their sticks to each other and striving to make theirs better than those of their friends and neighbors. As competition grew and interest in owning a fine shepherds crook grew among the wealth land owners the secrets of stick dressing started to be more closely guarded.

Then in 1951 the Border Stick Dressers Association came into being from a meeting held at the home of Mr. J. McGuffie in the College Burn valley on the English side of the Scottish Border. The organizations goals were to promote the art of stick dressing, to hold competitions and to encourage the dissemination of information on the making of sticks. Since that time a number of other organizations with similar goals have formed, books have been written and classes taught on the art of stick dressing. Well there are still a limited number of practitioners of this ancient art, particularly in the US, interest is growing and the fine craftsmanship is in no danger of disappearing any time soon.