One traditional activity on Beltane is offering bannock to the critters, both helpful and unhelpful. Bannock, in short, is simple country-style bread, which I make with oatmeal, wheat flour, honey, butter and buttermilk, as well as a few other ingredients. Being a cinnamon lover, I always put a helping of the fragrant spice in the dough.
I make bannock for other Druidic festivals too — always Imbolc, since it’s sacred to Brighid as a hearth goddess, and often Lughnasadh, because it’s such an easy bread product to make by hand. At Beltane, it’s also traditional to make caudle, a heated concoction of milk, spices, eggs and mead, to pour out on the land in offering. Caudle is also used as a tasty glaze for bannock, although I don’t use it that way; glazing the bannock would make the offering process a lot stickier.
For Beltane, the bannock is made with nine “knobs,” which are torn off and crumbled in offering to the Nature Spirits — the spirits of animals, plants, trees, stones and all that live in the Green World, as well as the unseen Spirits of Place and other tribes of non-corporal spirits, known collectively as the Sidhe. While I pour the caudle in the forest, I crumble the bannock in my garden, since it can use the extra blessing.
During the bannock offering, it’s traditional to offer to both helpful and non-helpful creatures. Why the non-helpful type? The notion is: “Take this offering so you don’t need to chew on my house, eat my chickens, etc.” In days of yore, the non-helpful animals who would have received offerings included fox, wolves, weasels — your usual predators, which found farm animals a tasty repast.
Interestingly, I find myself making offerings to the predators as beneficial animals. The coyote drives off the deer that eat my garden and shrubs. The fox, bobcat and weasel eat the squirrels and chipmunks that chew on the house and carry Lyme. I honor the bat, who blessedly eats the insects — a creature in desperate need of a good PR firm, as well as prayers to recover from the white-nose fungus decimating its population.
My less-helpful critters: ants, carpenter bees, mosquitoes, ticks, the aforementioned squirrels, chipmunks and deer. That’s way more than nine knobs in total, but I double up on some.
I find it interesting how the concept of beneficial animals has changed over time. But then, it’s all contingent on circumstances. If I were a hunter, I’d include the deer as a beneficial animal and not as a take-this-bread-offering-and-scram animal. If I had cows and chickens, they’d be included as helpful critters, and the predators would not.