The Burned Bannock

One of my highlights of our Samhain rite was honouring An Cailleach. Our Cailleach, for there are many cailleachan, is associated with the Oak Ridges Moraine, where one of Her stone houses is. Every Samhain, at the start of Winter, willing Grove members draw lots from a bannock with a blackened spot to see who will take An Cailleach home. They will craft a dolly out of corn grown for this purpose, and propitiate Her with regular offerings throughout the winter on behalf of the tribe. Our honour of her culminates at the Vernal Equinox, which we call Latha na Cailleach, where the Winter turns to Spring in the midst of the rite. Her corn dolly is buried in our garden to grow again, and we keep a stone cairn for Her spirit to reside in through the hot summer. Pouring water over this house brings on rainstorms.

In preparation for Her welcome at Samhain, Lugaid and I visited Her house to take her initial offerings before we called to Her at our rite. While Lugaid stood guard, I crawled underneath the guardian tree, leaving offerings of coffee and a wild turkey feather, asking Her favour on us for the Winter. When we left the place, some metres away was a pristine blue jay feather, not there on our way in. A very clear omen, a gift for a gift.

For the Samhain rite itself, Lugaid made the bannock onto which we would burn a spot, and I wrote this piece of which I am rather proud (and will also be included in my Liturgical Writing 1 course).

When corn did come to Dancing Lights,
A gift from Mother Bone,
‘T revealed the magic of our Land,
And secrets we were shown.

Her name we sang in Winter’s wind,
Then trod the ancient mill,
Her spirit rent from kernels gold,
Returned to towering hill.

Asleep, She waits till time is right,
Where hawthorn guards the door,
And when the corn is fully grown,
She comes to ride once more.

With deer-kin gathered in Her name,
And ancient spirits bade,
She walks with staff and wrapped in plaid,
Across the Land She made.

So hail the Winter! Fast She comes
With ice and storm and stone.
Our teind of bread and drink we pay,
Our gifts to Beira crone.

[Presentation of home-baked dark bread and ale, with dark chocolate.]

An Cailleach, accept our offering!
[All] An Cailleach, accept our offering!

[Praise offerings for An Cailleach brought by the folk.]

[When all have presented their offerings:
A drumbeat begins, while a bannock is brought to the altar, and a dark spot is burned onto it. It is held up for all to see, while the Celebrant says:]

Our fortunes we shall draw tonight,
With burned and blackened scone,
So who among us heeds the call
To take An Cailleach home?

[Those Members who wish to draw from the bannock step forward, and the bannock is cut into the right number of pieces. The drumbeat is faster as they draw. The person with the blackened spot holds it up – and the drumbeat stops. The Celebrant presents An Cailleach’s corn to the chosen person.]

So hail the Winter! Fast She comes
With ice and storm and stone.
Hold tight the corn and craft it well,
And take An Cailleach home.

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