Paganistan: Notes from the Secret Commonwealth

In Which One Midwest Man-in-Black Confers, Converses & Otherwise Hob-Nobs with his Fellow Hob-Men (& -Women) Concerning the Sundry Ways of the Famed but Ill-Starred Tribe of Witches.

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Make Your Own Bealtaine Bannock

Bealtaine's coming up, and with it the annual problem: how do we decide who to sacrifice this year?

Well, I don't know how they go about it where you live, but one tried-and-true method is the Bealtaine Bannock.

You cook a barley-cake over an open fire and break it up into pieces. One piece you mark black with charcoal from the fire. Then everyone draws a piece and eats it. Whoever gets the black piece wins. Or loses. Whatever.

It's a old method of Choosing. The stomachs of several bog bodies have been found to contain remnants of charred bannock. Hey, if it was good enough for Lindow Man, it's good enough for me.

The name is old, too. Back in Anglo-Saxon times the Tribe of Witches called it a bannuc, which derives (at some remove or other) from Scots Gaelic bannach, and (ultimately) from Latin panicium  (< panis, “bread”).


It's interesting to note that the Bealtaine Bannock is traditionally made from barley, not wheat, flour. Barley is one of the very oldest cultivated grains. In Northwestern Europe, they've been eating it for the last 7000 years or so. If the Tribe of Witches has a sacred grain, barley is probably it: “whitest of grains,” it's long been sacred (probably because of its whiteness) to the Moon, Mother of Witches. “Barley Mother” is one of her titles, of course, and to this day you know you're at a witch wedding if they throw barley instead of that newfangled stuff, rice (or whatever they call it).

Here's my recipe for Bealtaine Bannock: nutty, moist, sweet, cakey. If you had to pick a last meal, you could do worse.

So then, I'm off to cut willow withies.

A Wicker Man isn't built in a day, you know.

Bealtaine Bannock


24 hours before you plan to make the bannock, mix:


2 cups barley flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 heaping teaspoon yeast

a goodly dollop of honey

1 cup buttermilk


The dough will be moist and sticky. Turn it out into a lightly-oiled bowl. Cover and seal with plastic wrap. Raise in a warm, dry place (I usually use the oven) 24 hours.

Next day, flour your hands well. Pat the dough into a round about 9 inches in diameter and 1/3 inch thick.

Bake on an ungreased griddle over medium heat 7-10 minutes, or until set and golden brown. Flip and cook other side.


Serves 13.

Of course.




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Poet, scholar and storyteller Steven Posch was raised in the hardwood forests of western Pennsylvania by white-tailed deer. (That's the story, anyway.) He emigrated to Paganistan in 1979 and by sheer dint of personality has become one of Lake Country's foremost men-in-black. He is current keeper of the Minnesota Ooser.


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