Shetland Style Bannocks

For me, I can be weel content,

To eat my bannock on the bent,

And kitchen’t wi’ fresh air;

O’ lang kail I can mak’ a feast,

And cantily baud up my crest

And laugh at dishes rare.

 

– Allan Ramsay, 1686 – 1758,  Scottish Makar (poet).

 

In Scotland a bannock is a type of bread or cake, which can sometimes resemble a scone, a tea cake or an oatcake. The recipes differ in each region. It is essentially a type of round flat bread cut into wedges.

Historically, specially made bannocks were used in rituals to mark the changing gaelic seasons.  As F. Marian McNeill states in The Scots Kitchen:

Oatcakes, prepared in a special way were used from time immemorial, in the rites of Beltane (May 1st, O.S.). Pennant (1769) writes: “Everyone takes a cake of oatmeal, upon which are raised nine square knobs, each dedicated to some particular being, the supposed preserver of their flocks and herds, or to some particular animal, the real destroyer of them. Each person turns his face to the fire, breaks off a knob, and flinging it over his shoulder, says: “This I give to thee, preserve thou my horses; this to thee, preserve thou my sheep,” and so on. After that, they use the same ceremony to the noxious animals: “This I give to thee, O Fox, spare thou my lambs; this to thee, O Hooded Crow, this to thee O Eagle!”

 

The Beltane bannock appears to be the last survivor of the old Highland Quarter Cakes; the bonnach Bride, St. Bride’s bannock, baked for the first day of spring; the bonnach Bealltain, Beltane bannock, baked for the first day of summer; the bonnach Lunastain, Lammas bannock, baked for the first day of Autumn; and the bonnach Samhthain, Hallowmas bannock, baked for the first day of winter.

– F. Marian McNeill, The Scot’s Kitchen.

 

I decided to try my hand at making Shetland style bannocks which is made using flour, buttermilk, cream of tartar and baking powder. This little video is a good guide to making them: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=It2CNB61Vng

 

I made quite a few as some were to be used as a food offering to my ancestors, a couple to the wee folk and then some for me 🙂 I don’t have a girdle (griddle) to cook them on so I just used a dry frying pan on a low heat. They turned out quite well 🙂

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Most bannocks are to be eaten as a savoury food, but I’m a heretic and slathered mine in strawberry jam 😀

 

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Witchcraft, wine and the spirit of Mandragora

The day had arrived, and I took a ritual bath to prepare myself. My home was cleansed with florida water and a burning stick of palo santo.

Some folks say that before taking any sort of entheogen you need to sort out any issues with ego and the subconscious first as you may be shown things you’ve been trying to avoid dealing with. My psyche was preparing itself throughout the week, bringing me dreams of previous issues I had not properly dealt with, and after such dreams I felt more at peace with myself.

We witches gathered at my home in preparation for the mandrake ritual using the ointment I purchased from Sarah Anne Lawless  http://sarahannelawless.com/.

The atmosphere was jovial and exciting, as friends laughed with each other.

The space was sained with blessed water and palo santo incense, and Wardruna played softly in the background (excellent music for ritual). We discussed expectations from the ointment. Three of us were going to try it, the other two to witness (and luckily, one of them is a nurse, so we knew we’d be in safe hands). Those two witches decided to imbibe some red wine instead.

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We three applied a pea sized amount of the mandrake ointment to begin with. We spent some time meditating and grounding, then each witch was sained with blessed water and palo santo. Incense and a candle were lit in offering to the spirit of the mandrake ointment. Then a thorny hedge circle was cast…

“Above and below. Around and about, good keep in, evil keep out”

 

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Palo santo, blessed water and my scrying mirror

 

The ancestors and guardian spirits were called in to the beat of the drum. I felt a mild effect from the mandrake, like a slight shift in perception, it felt a bit surreal. J commented it was like he was watching everything as though he weren’t fully present.

We drummed and chanted for a little while We are the flow and we are the ebb, we are the weavers, we are the web.” and I felt my energy levels rise. I noticed the difference in the other two, they were starting to loosen up more, whilst the two wine witches were jovial. We three decided to be brave and try another pea sized amount of mandrake ointment.

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We sent some healing to a friend, and got out the cards and scrying mirrors for divination. The visions seemed to come with very little effort and more than once a few of us picked up on the same answers as each other. We were all very much in tune, and we wanted to do more with the ritual than we had planned. We certainly had the energy for more! We decided to work on some of the fears holding us back. We used the drum to break up the fear energy within us, and we used laughter to help expel it’s hold on us. We gave our fears a voice. A very silly voice. A voice that’s funny and can’t be taken seriously. Each of us used that voice to air our fears and fell into fits of laughter.

It was time to wind the ritual down, and farewell and thanks were given to our ancestors and guardian spirits, then the thorny circle was dismantled and we were free to eat and drink! I prepared some non fatty snacks of oatcakes, ham and red onion chutney, some blueberries and strawberries and angel slice cakes (kinda non fatty…) and we fell on them, devouring like wolves. Rituals usually get folk hungry, but I had ate very little that day in preparation for using the ointment.

The wine flowed and so did some of the best conversation I’ve ever been part of. It seems that witches, wine and mandrake ointment create the perfect atmosphere for discussing philosophy, physics, religion and theosophy. In between jokes and bouts of laughter of course 😉 I wish I had recorded that conversation! No doubt there will be many more in future.

Sadly I had to say goodbye to my friends as it was getting late. I could have happily stayed up all night with them. We were all rather tipsy and merry and I’m glad the ritual was a success.

I washed the ointment off and drank a lot of water before bed. But I couldn’t sleep. The mandrake was giving me the energy to do stuff whilst my drunk wine-fuelled self wanted sleep. Sarah Anne Lawless mentions that one of the side effects of mandrake is blurred vision. My left eye blurred for a while, and my other eye was seeing everything more vividly. My sense of smell and hearing was heightened too. It took a few hours for body and mind to settle down and I managed some sleep.

It was a restless sleep filled with dreams, throwing up more things I need to deal with and purge from my psyche. Mandrake has taught me a lot in a short space of time.

I would also like to add that I am not using an entheogen as a shortcut. I agree it’s better to do the work yourself to get to an altered state of consciousness. I wanted to try the ointment to see how it would affect me and my practice. It is something I will try again in future, but the majority of the time I will be doing the hard work myself without an aid and I recommend the same to anyone reading this.

Slàinte mhòr agus a h-uile beannachd duibh!

 

 

Beltane Revelry: Mirth and Magick at the Beltane Fires

            Oh, do not tell the priest our plight, 
               Or he would call it a sin; 
            But--we have been out in the woods all night, 
                A-conjuring Summer in! 
            And we bring you good news by word of mouth -- 
                Good news for cattle and corn -- 
            Now is the Sun come up from the south, 
                With Oak, and Ash, and Thorn! 

- From A Tree Song by Rudyard Kipling

 

I travelled to Edinburgh on May’s Eve with two fellow witches to celebrate Beltane at the Beltane Fire Festival on Calton Hill. I was last there in 2009, and I couldn’t wait to be there again.

The Beltane Fire Festival of today is inspired by the ancient Gaelic festival marking the start of summer. The festival has been running since 1988 and now thousands of people attend it each year. The Beltane Fire Society also run a Samhuinn Fire Festival and I plan to attend that one later in the year.

Before the festival we stopped off at a nice little gothic pub called Jekyll & Hyde for dinner and drinks.

 

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It was raining heavily outside, not the ideal weather for an outdoor festival lasting over 3 hours. So we put our witchy minds together and using a simple pub table candle and our intent we spent a few moments focusing on dry weather. The bar maid was standing nearby and must have noticed what we were doing, but she didn’t bat an eyelid. Well, she was wearing a t-shirt that said “Book of Spells” on it, so who knows? We got the giggles afterwards and joked about being the power of three, and both me and J joked how the bar maid could be our fourth. Yeah, I think we can quote The Craft word for word 😉

We walked a little tipsily to the Beltane Fires, and lo and behold the rain had stopped. As we queued to get in I could feel the excitement building up in me. All sorts of people were here, old and young, of all races and genders and walks of life. We followed a line of petrol fueled flames and animal masks onto the hill.

We walked to the acropolis which was already surrounded by hundreds of people, so there was no way of getting close to the front. However we managed to position ourselves so we could at least see some of what was going on. The hunting horn sounded, and the neid fire was lit, then came the beat of the drums and I felt the hairs on my arms stand up and the feeling of joy and excitement wash over me.

 

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The May Queen’s procession had begun followed by dozens of blazing torches and we all scrambled to see her, and follow her procession line. The three of us linked arms so as to not lose each other in the crowd. We followed the torches and the drumbeats to a fiery archway guarded by a huge fearsome red dragon, who gave way to the May Queen. The lusty red spirits represent the embodiment of desire and they performed as the rest of the procession moved on ahead.

 

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We watched some of the dancers perform, some using fire poi and lots of drumming. Some of the dancers represented elementals and others resembled animalistic earth spirits. The May Queen had her white painted shieldmaidens to protect her on her procession. The red spirits seemed to be everywhere, performing, dancing, playing with the fire, building up the desires of the crowd. The story line goes that the Green Man is kidnapped by the reds before he can be wed to the May Queen.

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We caught up with the procession as the white shieldmaidens free the Green Man. But he must die first as he sheds the last of his winter self. The May Queen revives him, with the heart’s beat of the drums and the warmth of the flames, one, twice, third time is the charm. He springs up as his youthful self. He dances and rejoices with his new found vitality, and then he see’s her once more. His saviour. Then they dance together and she crowns him. They are reunited with a kiss.

 

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They both lead the procession to the lighting of the Beltane Bonfire to herald in the summer.

 

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We decided to leave after that as we were frozen and the rain had come back on again. It was such a perfect night, and I can still feel the beat of the drums. My photos aren’t so great but here is a link to the photos taken by the Beltane Fire Society.

I hope you all had a lovely Beltane,

 

Slàinte mhòr agus a h-uile beannachd duibh!

 

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Links:

https://www.facebook.com/beltanefiresociety

http://beltanefiresociety.wordpress.com/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calton_Hill

 

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