This ancient outdoor dancing game dates from Druidical times, when it was played at the May festivals in Ireland and Scotland. The winding scroll or “serpent” was usually danced around an oak tree (the oak was the sacred tree of the Druids) or around one of the May-feast bonfires.
The dance begins to slow music, the partners marching in a straight line, two by two, to a given point, when they re-form into single file, the boys or men carrying green branches. The leader, holding his branch high, so that all may see it, then moves around a tree or other fixed object, but at a considerable distance, so as to make a wide circle.
All the others march after him, keeping step to the music. When he has made the round of one circle he begins again, this time approaching the tree in a smaller circle. When this is rounded the next circle is narrower, and so on until at last he reaches the tree and all the other players are wound around in a spiral or scroll.
With each round the music should be played more rapidly, until, when the scroll is nearing completion, the dance is in gallop-time. Then the leader calls, “Unwinding!” and the end player, facing about, becomes leader, marching off, followed by the others, in constantly widening circles, each danced to slower music, until the large ring is reformed, when all partners join hands as at first, and march in processional dance.