Beltane Cake - Food and Drink

The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005

Beltane Cake
Food and Drink

Special cakes are traditionally part of Beltane rituals, usually featured at the conclusion of the celebration. Rituals and the style of cake depend on region and tradition. Sometimes one large cake is made and shared, sometimes smaller individual cakes are distributed.

The tradition emanates from the Scottish Highlands and the actual recipe for the cake, also known as a bannock, derives from Scottish cuisine. Usually made from oat and/or barley flour, milk, and eggs, cakes traditionally have a scalloped edge and are decorated with knobs, frequently nine knobs or multiples of nine. A thin batter made of beaten eggs, milk or cream, and a little oatmeal was often brushed over the top of the cake before baking. As Beltane is a solar feast, those Neo-Pagans who incorporate this ritual add spices associated with the sun to the cakes, for instance cinnamon, cloves, and saffron.

Various rituals and traditions involving these cakes exist:

At the close of Beltane festivities, the Master of Ceremonies or ritual officiant presided over the distribution of one single cake, large enough for a piece for every participant. One bit was previously marked, usually with charcoal (hence its name—“the blackened bit”). The cake was sliced and distributed; whoever received the blackened bit became the Beltane Carline. (See HAG: Beltane Carline.)

In a ritual traditionally combined with the creation and consumption of the Beltane Caudle (see next section) each participant was given an individual oat and/or barley cake decorated with nine raised square knobs. Each person faced the central fire, so that they stand in a circle. Together they break off knobs, one by one, throwing them over their shoulder without looking back. The throwing of each knob is accompanied by a different invocation.

The first invocations are dedicated to protective spirits; then propitiatory offerings are made to predatory ones. Descriptions of offerings to protective spirits are somewhat vague: written reports skirt exactly who is being thanked. However, offerings of propitiation are made directly to the presiding spirits of predatory animals. Thus:

Image “This I dedicate to you, preserve my horses.”

Image “This I dedicate to you, preserve my sheep.”

Image “This I give to you, Fox, spare my sheep!”

Image “This I give to you, Hooded Crow, spare my chicks!”

Following these offerings, each individual consumed the remainder of their cake and shared the Beltane Caudle.

This tradition originally derives from the Scottish Highlands where participants were primarily concerned about agriculture and livestock. By adjusting the invocations, however, it is easily adapted to suit participants with other concerns.

Sometimes Beltane cakes were intended for divination, not consumption. Participants rolled their individual cakes down a hill. Anthropologists suggest that this action mimics the sun’s motion and/or recalls the ancient Druid tradition of rolling burning wicker wheels down hills. If the cake arrives at the bottom of the hill unbroken, the person to whom it belonged could anticipate a happy, fortunate year. If the cake broke en route, misfortune was predicted.

See CALENDAR: Beltane.