This is designed to be performed within the standard ADF format, with the changes given. As part of the ritual briefing it must be determined how many people will be taking part in the bannock rite, so the number of pieces the bannock must be cut into will be known.
A sense of foreboding fills the Celtic world at Beltane, then. There is the disappearance of Rhiannon's son and the great claw through the window in The Mabinogion. There is divination to see if the summer's weather will be good. And there are the purifying fires which give the feast its name.
Beltane is a time of crisis. In a pastoral community it is the time when animals are moved from their winter holdings to the summer pastures. This means a crossing from areas close to settlements into essentially wild areas. In an agricultural community, the crops are beginning to grow. No longer protected beneath the ground, and not yet fully grown, they are in a vulnerable liminal state.
The danger comes from the spirits of the land that are Outsiders. Not having been brought into the human community (through their choice or ours), they can be expected to be at cross purposes with us. We make our gains at their expense. We therefore propitiate them, making peace with chaos before we can build our cosmos.
The main purpose of this ritual is to appease the Outsiders, and to win their consent in our forming civilization in their midst. Once this is done, we may confidently ask our household deities to protect our homes.
The rite of choosing the marked bannock piece may originally have been performed to choose a sacrificial victim. In historic times the chosen one was purified by fire, a representative of the community. In his purification we are all purified of the baneful influences of winter.
He must first perform the community's work. He is sent into the unknown, bringing an offering to the Outsiders. Although the workings of the gods have chosen him, there is still some uncertainty as to the acceptance of the offering. Even if he returns successfully he must be purified before he is readmitted -- he has become sacred, and by going so closely to the Outsiders may have acquired some of their influence.
The elaborate turning and covering rite has the practical purpose of confusing
everyone as to which piece has been marked. Ritual, it solemnizes the moment
and incorporates all present
The people put part of their own bannock pieces into the chosen one's bowl
as an acknowledgement of his service. Practically, this provides him with
the means for his own
Finally, at the end, each attendee is purified individually by the smoke of the fires, a rite found both in Celtica and Rome.
The Opening Prayer
D2: Ta muid anseo leis na dheithe a adhradh!
D1: We are here to honor the gods!
D2: We come together on this sacred day
Appeasing the Outsiders
D1: The time of resting has ended,
D2: We will make an offering, then,
D2 holds the bannock up and presents it to the others. She puts it back down and makes a mark on the underside. She holds it up, to show the mark to the others. She puts it down on its plate and cuts it, making sure that the mark falls on only one piece. She turns it three times, deosil, saying the following, one line with each turn:
The Diviner chooses a non-grove member, and the two of them go to the bannock. The Diviner holds a cloth about six inches over the bannock, and the non-grove member turns it three times, deosil, and then returns to her place. The cloth is lowered onto the bannock, and one of the grove children comes forward and turns the bannock three times, deosil. The child returns to his place. D2 then brings the covered bannock about the circle, deosil, and each adult takes a piece from under the cover. When all have taken one, the one who has the marked piece holds it up. The chant ceases. D1 motions the marked person to him. D1 and D2 hold their hands in blessings over him and say:
D2: As you go beyond the nemeton's borders,
D1: As you go beyond the nemeton's borders,
D2: As you go beyond the nemeton's borders,
All hold their hands up in blessing and say: As you go beyond the nemeton's
The marked one goes to the gate and says:
He goes out through the gate and makes offering of his bannock piece. When he returns, he is met at the gate by the diviner, who asperges him, saying:
Div: We purify you from the Outsider's influence.
The Diviner conducts him to the fire, where he is met by D1
D1: Offer to the holy ones,
After he offers the barley to the fire, D2 says:
D2: People of the tribe, encircle the nemeton,
They circle deosil once. The marked person then rejoins the circle to the right of D1, who hands him an offering bowl.
The Diviner says:
Div: With the Outsiders appeased we may make our offerings.
Starting with D1 and going deosil, each person goes to the marked one and gives him a piece of their bannock piece, before going to the fire and placing the rest in it. As the offering is made, each person prays to his or her patron deity or deities to protect their household in the coming season, saying something like:
When the turn comes for the marked one, he uses the pieces the others have given him as his offering. After his offering, D2 says:
All: Let blessings fall.
The Cauldrons of Purification
D2 lights a fire in two cauldrons which have been placed near the gates, transferring flame to them from the main fire. As she does so, she says: The fires of Beltane are fires of purification.
D2: As we leave the nemeton, we pass between two fires.
Danaher, Kevin. The Year in Ireland. St. Paul, MN: Irish Books and Media, 1972.
Leach, Maria (ed.) Funk and Wagnall's Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology, and Legend. San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1972.
The Mabinogion. tr. Jeffrey Gantz. New York, NY: Penguin Books, 1976.
Ovid. Fasti. tr. James Frazer. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1976.