Taking Stock with St Michael: Bannock, Blackberries and More

The aroma of baked goods filled our house for most of last week. It wasn’t quite planned that way, but we all enjoyed it, and it wasn’t entirely out of keeping with St Michael’s feast on 29 September.

We’ve just had the vernal equinox, here in the southern hemisphere, and it’s beginning to show. The grass is greener, the trees are putting forth shoots, and wild flowers are popping up along the seafront.

It’s quite the wrong time of year for harvest festivals, but that’s what the feast of St Michael the Archangel, also known as Michaelmas, really is – a harvest festival. It’s a feast that’s important to me, and this year, I decided to explore some of its mysteries, themes, and customs more deeply than I’ve done before.

With the help of a health shop and the frozen foods section in a supermarket, I was able to make and enjoy some of the fare traditionally associated with the festival. The food was definitely seasonal, and definitely unseasonal.

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Apple and Blackberry Crumble

Before the Michaelmas cooking, however, South Africa had celebrated Heritage Day, and so I baked les Madeleines de Commercy. A couple of days later, mom made a big batch of lemon muffins for a colleague and kept a few for us, and that evening, granddad opened up the gingerbread mom bought at Frankfurt airport.

There really was no escaping baked goods in this house. I suspect I’m done with baking for the time being – at least until All Hallows.

St Michael the Archangel

“War arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they were defeated and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world – he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.”  – Revelation 12…

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St Michael and the Dragon. Pic: Little Flowers Family Press

Celebrated for millennia, the northern hemisphere’s Autumnal Equinox (ca. 22 September) is attended by the myths, legends, and religious celebrations of many cultures. Light and darkness are in perfect balance; day and night are of equal length, before the days grow shorter, the nights grow longer, and autumn turns to winter.

The feast of St Michael the Archangel, also known as Michaelmas (29 September), was fixed in the fourth or sixth century CE, when, according to Dom Prosper Gueranger’s Liturgical Year, “the dedication of the churches of St. Michael on Monte Gargano and in the Roman Circus increased the celebrity of this day, which had however been long before consecrated by Rome to the memory of all the heavenly Virtues.”

The feast comes at a time when the church’s liturgy begins to focus on the four last things: death, judgement, heaven, and hell. Both the Epistle of Jude (1:9) and the Book of Revelation (12:7-9) make mention of the archangel’s struggles with the devil, and the archangel that announces the Parousia, referred to in the First Epistle to the Thessalonians, is understood by some to be Michael.

This is in keeping with Michael’s appearances in the book of Daniel (10:13-21; 12:1), where he is named as Israel’s protector, and as the angel who will arise during the Apocalypse. His name in Hebrew means, “Who is like God?”

The archangel was assimilated into Christian tradition, and was brought to Europe via the Church, which he defended as the “new Israel”. It is the New Testament references that supply the images of Michael so popular in works of art over the centuries.

The archangel is shown either with trumpet or with scales of judgement in hand, presiding over the resurrection of the dead, or with the devil at his feet, moments before he is cast out of heaven, and sent falling to earth.

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St Michael trampling Satan, after Maarten de Vos. Pic: Britishmuseum.org

The Golden Legend (AD 1275) states that he “received the souls of the saints and brought them into the paradise of exultation and joy”.

His role as psychopomp is given poetic expression in the Offertory of the old Requiem Mass:

“O Lord Jesus Christ, King of glory, deliver the souls of all the faithful departed from the pains of hell and from the deep pit: deliver them from the lion’s mouth, that hell may not swallow them up, and may they not fall into darkness; but may the holy standard-bearer, Michael, lead them into the holy Light…”

The Golden Legend also states that it was through St Michael’s agency that God brought about Egypt’s 10 plagues, parted the Red Sea, and led the children of Israel through the wilderness and into the land of promise. St Michael will also slay the antichrist, and it is at the sound of his voice that the dead shall arise unto the Judgement, where the archangel will display the cross, the spear, the nails, and the thorny crown.

Several of his roles and attributes are named in the traditional prayer to St Michael:

“St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle; be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the Devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do Thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host, by the power of God, cast into Hell, Satan and all the other evil spirits, who wander throughout the world, seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.”

The fall of Satan and his angels was believed to have happened on Michaelmas Day, gave rise to a charming legend linked to a taboo on eating blackberries after the feast.

Knights, policemen, soldiers, paramedics, ambulance drivers, those in danger at sea, and the sick all fall under St Michael’s patronage, as does a holy death.

Before St Michael

Bearing in mind that a Christian layer was placed upon important dates and celebrations, and the concepts and mysteries contained within them, of various cultures, and were grafted onto and into the existing calendar and rites of the church (see Cain: An Agricultural Myth? in Shani Oates’ The Star Crossed Serpent II), it’s worth looking at autumn equinox observances prior to the establishment of St Michael’s feast.

Inanna and Dumuzi

Diane Wolkstein and Samuel Kramer point out in Inanna: Queen of Heaven and Earth that, following her marriage to Dumuzi the sherpherd at the spring equinox (ca. 22 March), Inanna descended into the domain of her sister Ereshkigal, Queen of the Underworld, where she underwent death.

In her absence, Dumuzi ascended his throne and became preoccupied with power and glory. After Inanna was restored to life and made her way back to earth, she was angered and sorrowed at Dumuzi’s lack of compassion for her, and she condemned him to die and to descend into the underworld (autumn equinox).

“As Inanna ascended from the underworld,

The galla, the demons of the underworld, clung to her side…

In Uruk, by the big apple tree,

Dumuzi, the husband of Inanna, was dressed in his shining me-garments.

He sat on his magnificent throne; (he did not move).

The galla seized him by his thighs.

They poured milk out of his seven churns.

They broke the reed pipe which the shepherd was playing.

Inanna fastened on Dumuzi the eye of death.

She spoke against him the word of wrath.

She uttered against him the cry of guilt:

‘Take him! Take Dumuzi away!’”

Inanna then met a weeping Geshtinanna, Dumuzi’s sister, whose grief for and love of her brother prompted her to offer herself in his place.

Moved by Geshtinanna’s words of warmth and compassion, Inanna modified Dumuzi’s sentence. The shepherd king will be able to return to earth for part of the year, during which time Geshtinanna will take his place in Ereshkigal’s domain.

Nanna Returns to Ur

Gateways to Babylon’s article on Ur’s Akitu festivals offers other insights into the mystery of Michaelmas. While Sumer reflected upon Dumuzi’s underworld descent at the Autumnal Equinox, Ur focussed on the moon god Nanna, Lord of the Passage of Time and the Land’s Fertility. A central theme was Nanna’s departure and return to the city as its tutelary deity.

Agriculturally, the equinox meant different things for fallow land and for cultivated land. Fallow land would have seen the beginning of the harvest, while cultivated land saw the beginning of the fallowing season.

The Autumnal Equinox also marked the time when seeds would be sown, that the harvest might be reaped at the time of the Vernal Equinox. For this reason, the festival was known as the Akitu of the Seeding Season.

The festival began at the New Moon, and continued for almost two weeks. This means Nanna’s return to his city would have occurred around the time of the Full Moon.

The Way to Eleusis

In ancient Greece, this time of year saw the celebration of the Greater Mysteries of Eleusis. The Greater Mysteries of Demeter, goddess of agriculture, were attended only by those who had been initiated into the Lesser Mysteries.

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Phryne in Eleusis by Henryk Siemiradzki 1889. Pic: Wikipedia

According to Wikipedia, the Greater Mysteries consisted in various rites over several days that culminated in the “bringing of the sacred objects from Eleusis to the Eleusinion, a temple at the base of the Acropolis of Athens”.

The first three days of the Mysteries involved sacrifices, ritual bathing in the sea, and a festive procession to the Eleusinion, followed by sacrificing and feasting in honour of the healing god Asklepios and his daughter Hygieia.

On 19 Boedromion, the fourth day of the festival, great procession began at the Athenian cemetery, and followed the Sacred Way. At a certain place, the initiates shouted obscenities in honour of Baubo, the old woman who tried to cheer Demeter with dirty jokes while the goddess searched for her missing daughter, Kore.

Those in the procession also called out the ritual cry of “Iakch’, O Iakhe!” An all-night vigil was held at Eleusis, during which the sacred drink kykeon was imbibed.

Sometimes associated with Dionysus, Iakkhos was the personification of “iakhe”.

Shown as a young man holding twin torches, he was one of Demeter’s attendants and the leader of the mysteries. The deities in whose company he was portrayed included Demeter, Kore/Persephone, and Hekate.

Hekate and Iacchus, State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, Russia theoi
Hekate and Iacchus, State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, Russia. Pic: Theoi

In his Georgics, Virgil assigns to Iakkhos the winnowing fan, used to separate grain from chaff, and to remove weevils and other undesirables from grain that has been stored. The fan was known as the liknon, a word that also means “cradle”.

In some traditions, the female counterpart of Iakkhos was Misa, and, together, the two were understood to be Phanes, the two-gendered creator. In other traditions, Iakkhos was the son of Demeter and Zeus, making him the brother of Kore/Persephone.

In yet other traditions, Iakkhos was associated with Baubo, the bawdy old woman who did her best to bring cheer to Demeter’s heart during her arduous search for her missing daughter.

During the great procession, the statue of the torch-bearing deity was crowned with myrtle and carried from Demeter’s temple to Eleusis. The initiates carried baskets and sang and danced to trumpets and cymbals.

The most sacred part of the rites took place on 20 and 21 Boedromion, when the initiates entered the Telesterion, and possibly were shown various sacred objects. The initiates took the vow of secrecy and silence so seriously, nothing about this aspect of the mysteries is known.

Whatever happened in that great hall, it was followed by an all-night feast with dancing, and the sacrifice of a bull. On 22 Boedromion, libations were poured in honour of the dead. The Mysteries were brought to a close the following day.

Later Customs

The harvest, contracts of employment, colleges, and the courts all had links to Michaelmas. In the agricultural year, the feast falls between the first harvest feast (see Bread for the Queen of Heaven) and All Hallows/All Souls, when livestock was slaughtered in preparation for the long winter ahead.

Harvest and Hiring Fairs

A holy day of obligation from the Middle Ages until the 18th Century, the feast of St Michael was the beginning and the end of the farmer’s year.

The harvest more or less complete, accounts would be made out by the manor’s reeve or the bailiff. It was also the time at which a reeve would be elected, and hiring fairs would start being held.

In her book Folklore and Customs of Rural England, Margaret Baker said about hiring fairs that:

“For country servants seeking new jobs… the hiring fair, often at Martinmas or Michaelmas, was a critical day of the year, for a ‘good place’ was the ambition of all.”

The hiring contract, even in the 1930s, was sealed with the earnest or yarnisht shilling.

The importance of the feast of St Michael and its associations with human activity on the land possibly gave rise to the use of the term Michaelmas as a near-synonym for autumn.

Michaelmas is also the name given to the first term of the academic year, to one of the English Bar and Honourable Society of King’s Inns’ dining terms, and to the first of the English and Welsh courts’ legal year’s four terms. In some places in England, judges and barristers are blessed at a mass on the Sunday that falls nearest to the feast of St Michael.

Piercing the Mystery

Michaelmas, the feast of St Michael the Archangel, gathers up the themes of those ancient autumn equinox celebrations, and invites to enter more deeply into the mystery of sacred kingship. It affords us an opportunity to reflect specifically on themes of struggle and toil, stock-taking and harvest, and initiation and renewal.

Wolkstein and Kramer’s insightful commentary on the myth of Dumuzi’s descent states that:

“Dumuzi, king of Sumer, is to live in a perpetual state of initiation. The spiritual awakening of man, according to Inanna’s proclamation, is to be required of the king.

“Inanna’s establishing of the annual ritual of descent and ascent offers a model of parity to the female-male relationship. Acknowledging the duality of life dying into death and death leading into life gives the participants in the ritual the opportunity of annually renewing their relationships to the cosmos, to each other, and to their goddess.

“But none must forget that the wisdom of Inanna’s decree and its manifold ramifications have been attained for all of Sumer by Inanna’s response to, journey toward, and encounter with the fierce, forbidding, and terrifying queen, Ereshkigal – Inanna’s other self. ‘For whosever has not known himself has known nothing, but whosever has known himself has simultaneously achieved knowledge about the depths of all things.’  – Diane Wolkstein, Inanna (bold quote from Elaine Pagels’ The Gnostic Gospels)

In his Sons of God – The Ideology of Assyrian Kingship, as quoted on the Clan of Tubal Cain blog, Prof Simo Parpola explains that referring to the king as ‘sacred’ was really referring to the divine spirit within the king; the spirit in accord with which he had to rule. Any sins committed by the king would disturb that accord, and invite chaos into the kingdom.

The spirit was believed to take the form of Ninurta, whose mythology shares similarities with that of the god Marduk, who fought the great dragon Tiamat for the Tablets of Destiny.

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“In Mesopotamian mythology, this divine spirit takes the form of a celestial saviour figure, Ninurta, whose myth, in its essence is a story of the victory of light over the forces of darkness and death… The figure of Ninurta also recalls that of the archangel Michael, the “Great Prince,” the slayer of the Dragon and the holder of the celestial keys, in Jewish apocalyptic and apocryphal traditions.

“A perfect king, filled with the divine spirit, would be able to exercise a just rule and maintain the cosmic harmony, thus guaranteeing his people divine blessings, prosperity and peace. By contrast, a king failing to achieve the required perfection and thus ruling without the divine spirit, trusting in himself alone, would rule unjustly, disrupt the cosmic harmony, draw upon himself the divine wrath and cause his people endless miseries, calamities and war. The purity and perfection of the king thus had to be maintained at all cost, and it was achieved with the help of god and through the exertions of the king and his closest advisers…

“Every sin or error committed by the king, however small or inadvertent, was a blemish tainting the purity of his soul. Sometimes it was possible to soothe the divine anger by performing an apotropaic ritual. In other cases, however, the king had committed a sin so grave that it could be atoned for only with his death. This required enthroning a substitute king, who would take upon himself the sins of the true king and die in his stead, thus enabling his spiritual rebirth.

“This rite is not to be misunderstood simplistically as a cheap way of “tricking fate.” Its rationale lies in the doctrine of salvation through redemption outlined in the myth of the descent of Ishtar into the netherworld, according to which even a spiritually dead soul (in this case, the king) could be restored to life through repentance, confession of sins and divine grace. The relevant ritual put a heavy strain on the king, who had to live an ascetic life and undergo a long and complicated series of ritual purifications during the “reign” of the substitute, which often lasted as long as a hundred days.” – Prof Simo Parpola, Sons of God – The Ideology of Assyrian Kingship

Guided by his advisors, the king made his ‘initiatory descent into the underworld’ where he was forced to confront the darker aspects of his inner life, manifested as various sins, and, in glimpsing in them the Queen of the Underworld, seek at-one-ment.

Once purified, and when harmony had been restored between himself and the divine spirit within, with the gods, and with the kingdom, the king returned to his throne and resumed his reign. I’m tempted to see in this a reflection of the departure and return of the city’s tutelary deity, as with Nanna in Ur.

“Sokrates: But now, since the soul is seen to be immortal, it cannot escape from evil or be saved in any other way than by becoming as good and wise as possible. For the soul takes with it to the other world nothing but its education and nurture, and these are said to benefit or injure the departed greatly from the very beginning of his journey thither. And so it is said that after death, the tutelary genius (daimon) of each person, to whom he had been allotted in life, leads him to a place where the dead are gathered together [i.e. the daimon guide is Plato’s equivalent of Hermes, Guide of the Dead]; then they are judged and depart to the other world with the guide whose task it is to conduct thither those who come from this world [probably Iakkhos (Iacchus)]; and when they have there received their due and remained through the time appointed, another guide [probably Dionysos] brings them back after many long periods of time [i.e. they are reincarnated].” – Phaedo, Plato, quoted on Theoi

The winnowing fan associated with Iakkhos and Dionysus (also a mystery cult psychopomp deity of inspiration) is a symbol of purification and judgement, the separation of wheat and chaff, good and evil. It is echoed by the winnowing fork in the teachings of St John the Baptist:

“The axe is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. I baptise you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the bar and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” – Matthew 3:10-12

The appearance of Iakkhos with his winnowing fan and torches, and St Michael with his scales and trumpet invite us to participate in the harvest festival. They oversee us as we sort the wheat from the chaff; as we wrestle with the ancient serpent. The goal to which they point is nothing less than wisdom and renewal.

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Judgement from the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot.

Harvest Time: Death and Taxes

Themes of harvest, sorting, and judgement underpinned my Michaelmas reflections this year, with the hope that I could gain some measure of wisdom from my own struggle with the dragon.

One of the ways in which I did that was to make a good, old-fashioned examination of conscience. I took my New Year’s resolutions for a starting point, and then considered the traditional seven vices and seven virtues.

I asked myself if I had kept the resolutions I made at the beginning of the year, and if not, why not. Easy enough to answer (I haven’t. I haven’t, I haven’t, I haven’t).

Before I explain how I reflected on the seven vices and virtues, I’m going to use other people’s words to give you an idea of my understanding of sin, which goes far beyond the Sunday School definition of “doing something bad, something that God doesn’t like”.

“[In an ancient esoteric view of the universe], the earth was seen as its centre; surrounding it were the spheres of the seven planets as they were then known: the moon, Mercury, Venus, the sun, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn.

“Esoteric philosophers believed that the spirit, as it took incarnation, passed through the spheres of each of these planets in turn, each of which in turn imbued it with its own negative characteristics – Venus with lust, Mars with anger, Jupiter with gluttony, and so on… By the time the soul reached earth, it was fettered by the very qualities that determined its nature.

“For the Gnostics, the bondage of the world consisted not of external political and social control, or even the natural limits of physicality, but the nature of the mind as it has been molded by the planets. These influences were personified as the archons, the rulers of the seven planetary spheres, who were not servants of the true, good God but inimical celestial gatekeepers. To be liberated was to vanquish their dominion, not in the outside world, but in oneself.

“Although expressed in mythic terms, the Gnostic view was extremely sophisticated. It recognised one of the most essential truths of spiritual life: that the things in ourselves with which we most identify – the personality with its likes and dislikes, loves and hatreds – are not ourselves in the deepest sense, but encrustations that fetter and impede the true essence of the self. Only spiritual illumination can free this self…

“[We] are no longer at the level of carnal or animal urges. Animals do not build ‘kingdoms of the world.’ And humans cannot build such kingdoms unless they have mastery over their immediate physical impulses. To build a civilisation requires a great deal of work as well as forethought. One has to face many obstacles, physical and internal, and overcome them with patience and insight. These are essentially human virtues…

“[Our] emotions and desires too are something that are inflicted from outside the true Self. The old texts make countless references to temptations by the Devil. This may seem a quaint manner of speaking, but in essence the Devil is the personification of the attractive power of the world. The Hindus refer to something similar in speaking of maya, or ‘illusion’. This force generates the emotions that pull consciousness away from its centre.

“The passions take on manifold forms. The classic list of the Seven Deadly Sins provides a catalogue: pride, gluttony, anger, lust, sloth, envy, covetousness. Note that these are not external offences like murder or theft; they are all internal states.

“Mastering – or, if you prefer, integrating – the psyche is the work of a lifetime… [It is not] holding the psyche in rigid subjugation (which is impossible in any case), nor is it a matter of having a maniacally religious ego lording it over the emotions and the body. Rather, it is being centred in the still, small voice that is the true ‘I’ of the spirit. Here the silent consciousness looks out over its terrain, internal and external, lovingly and inclusively, governing mildly though sometimes firmly, as a good ruler should. Ironically, this bestows far more power than holding sway over the ‘kingdoms of the world’.” – Richard Smoley, Inner Christianity

***

“[We are invited and challenged to] become, to embrace fully the Mysteries of life and death, the agony and the ecstasy of union and separation, which is the knowledge and horror of Truth and the awesome Beauty of being…

“The sufferer within is that Divine being, the redeemer waiting to be redeemed, the protecting ‘Father’ and we are one – the ‘hunter and the hunted are but one’ (Robert Cochrane). The enemy, the challenger, the guardian at the gate is both God and Satan, bound within Fate…

“Both paradise and hell co-exist upon this plane; we create and live with either, dependent on our actions. This is Karma, the law of cause and effect, in the here and now, not some nebulous or speculative future…

“Sin does not mean that which is wrong or evil, it simply represents those ‘things’ that keep us from God, in other words, ‘things’ that distract us, bar our way, shift our focus from a higher purpose…

“Spiritual elevation/enlightenment is… attainable only via transformation through ‘Hell’ precipitated by encounters with the ‘Devil’ himself, the catalyst for evolutionary change and empowerment. Painful, rigorous trials facilitate a breach beyond the abyss towards salvation.” – Shani Oates, Green Knight – Dark God of Light, Tubelo’s Green Fire

In reflecting on the struggle between St Michael the Archangel and the Dragon within myself, I found it helpful to write up a list of the seven vices and the seven virtues. I then placed myself mentally between each of them, and considered how that struggle has played itself out in every sphere of my life this year.

Dragon

St Michael

Vices

Virtues

Lust Chastity
Gluttony Temperance
Greed Charity
Sloth Diligence
Wrath Patience
Envy Kindness
Pride Humility

I considered how I had responded to the vices and virtues (and the constant interplay or struggle between them), and how they had manifested in thought, word, and deed. I took note of negatives and positives, failures and triumphs, and found the experience brought with it a few truths about myself, about life in this world, and about God.

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St Michael the Archangel. Pic: Fisheaters.com

The harvest has been a good one. Not a perfect one, but a good one, and for that, I gave thanks.

I also considered how I might pay my dues; how I could share what I have received, and how I could make right where I went wrong. It has been a time of resolve, of refocussing my will on those resolutions I made all those months ago.

The Clan of Tubal Cain’s Michaelmas blog post offers an insightful interpretation of the archangel’s combat with the Devil, as seen through the lens of archaic Germanic myth:

“As a healer, warrior and peace-maker, St Michael is the Archangel honoured as the guardian and guide of the individual in his/her battle for the self. In historic Germanic tradition, Michaelmas was the time of strength, of exercising one’s will, pitted against those things that challenge and threaten to overwhelm the spirit.

“This retains at some cultural level the virtue of Wotan (Odhin) whose own resilience fought and conquered all, leading him to self -victory and triumph. In that historic culture, such challenge was manifest in the ‘worm’ and in the most aged of depictions, the dragon beneath the spear of St Michael, is more akin to a writhing worm than any dragon or later demonic ‘devil.’ This spear inherited according to theology as that very same attributed to Wotan as the harbinger of destiny, and is thus the arrow of truth and the dispeller of all falsehoods, including self-deceit.”

Bread, Berries, and Goose for St Michael

Among the seasonal foods upon which the people feasted were St Michael’s Bannock, stubble-goose, and blackberries.

The bannock, a bread made with enriched dough and cooked in a frying pan, was shared with seen and unseen, and the goose would have been fattened specially for the feast.

While preparing the bannock without the use of metal implements, the eldest daughter of the family would accompany certain actions with prayers of blessing for her family. A piece of the cooked bannock would be broken off, burnt on the embers, and flung over the left shoulder as an offering to the Rascal, that he might leave the family in peace.

Baker’s book also sheds light on the blackberry legend associated with the day:

“Blackberries are picked before Michaelmas Day, when ‘the devil spits on them’; Miss Trump remembers that Broad Clyst children passed blackberry bushes on the way to school; each chose a bush then taboo to the others, but all bushes were without restriction after 29 September.”

Folklore has it that, when St Michael threw the Devil out of heaven, he landed on a prickly blackberry bush. Indignant at the injury added to insult, the Devil cursed the blackberry bush, and returns every year to do the same at Michaelmas.

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The Fall of Lucifer by Gustav Dore. Illustration from Paradise Lost.

Roasting a goose, stubble or otherwise, wasn’t an option, but bannock and crumble were. I must confess that I didn’t say any prayers or blessings while making the bannock, and I did use a few metal implements. I haven’t been struck by lightning yet, so it shouldn’t be a problem if you do the same.

The St Michael’s Bannock recipe is from one of my favourite websites, Fisheaters. I’ve changed some of the spelling and terminology to that with which I’m more familiar.

The apple and blackberry crumble recipe is based on one of Raymond Blanc’s, published on the BBC Good Food website (I love watching Raymond work with food, and I cannot tell you how many times the BBC GF site has helped me out).

I say the crumble recipe was based on Blanc’s because I used tinned pie apple slices. There’s no such thing as fresh cooking apples round these here parts at this time of the year – and just you try find Braeburn apples at any time of the year. Just you try.

Mind you, if I had found Pink Lady apples, I’d have used those. They’re my favourite, and so popular, they’re off the shelves before I’m in the shop.

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St Michael’s Bannock

1 ⅓ cups barley flour

1 ⅓ cups oat meal

1 ⅓ cups rye meal

1 cup flour

½ teaspoon salt

2 scant teaspoons baking soda

2 ½ – 3 cups buttermilk

3 tablespoons honey or brown sugar

2 eggs

1 cup cream

4 tablespoons melted butter

 

Mix the barley flour, oat meal, and rye meal. Add flour and salt.

Mix the soda and buttermilk (start with the 2 ½ cups) and then add to the dry mixture. Stir in honey. Turn out onto floured board and knead (as with all breads, don’t over-knead), adding more buttermilk if too dry, or more flour if too sticky.

Divide dough in half, and roll each, on a floured board, into a circle 20cm in diameter (about 1.5 – 2cm thick).

While heating a lightly greased skillet, mix the eggs, cream, and melted butter. Spread onto one of the bannocks and place the bannock, egg-side down, in the skillet and cook until the egg-side is browned.

Put the egg mixture on the top side, flip the bannock and cook ’til the second side is golden.

Repeat this application of the egg wash and flipping and cooking until each side has been cooked three times. Do the same with the second bannock. Serve warm with butter and honey.

***

Apple and Blackberry Crumble

For the crumble topping

120g plain flour

60g caster sugar

60g unsalted butter at room temperature, cut into pieces

For the fruit compote

385g pie apple slices

40g unsalted butter

40g demerara sugar

165g blackberries

¼ – ½ tsp ground cinnamon

Whipped cream, to serve

 

Preheat oven to 180˚C.

Tip the flour and caster sugar into a large bowl, and add the butter. Rub it to make a light breadcrumb mixture – don’t overwork it. Spread the light, crumbly mixture evenly on a baking sheet, and bake for about 10 minutes – keep an eye on it, because it browns, blackens, and burns quickly (I had to make a second batch…). Leave the oven on when you take the crumble out.

While the crumble mixture is baking, cut the apple slices into something like 2cm dice. Put the butter and the Demerara sugar into a medium saucepan and melt them together over a medium heat.

Cook for about three minutes or so, until it turns a light caramel in colour. Stir in the apple pieces, and cook for a further three minutes.

Add the blackberries and cinnamon, and cook for another three minutes, then put the lid on the saucepan, remove it from the heat, and leave it to continue cooking gently in the pot for another two to three minutes.

Spoon the cooked fruit into an oven-proof dish, sprinkled the crumble mix on top, and pop it into the oven for five to 10 minutes. Serve warm with whipped cream, or follow Raymond’s advice, and serve it with vanilla ice-cream.

 

References and Further Reading

Baker, Margaret; Folklore and Customs of Rural England; David and Charles, 1974

Eleusinian Mysteries; Wikipedia

Lishtar; The Akitu Festival at Ur; Gateways to Babylon

Feast of St. Michael (Michaelmas); Fisheaters

Festival Bannocks and Caudle; Tairis

Gueranger, Prosper; The Liturgical Year: Time After Pentecost Book IV; translated by the Benedictines of Stanbrook Abbey

Iakkhos; Theoi

Michaelmas; the Clan of Tubal Cain

Oates, Shani; The Star-Crossed Serpent Volume II; Mandrake of Oxford, 2012

Oates, Shani; Tubelo’s Green Fire; Mandrake of Oxford, 2010

Parpola, Simo; Sons of God – The Ideology of Assyrian Kingship; quoted in Michaelmas on the Clan of Tubal Cain blog

Smoley, Richard; Inner Christianity; Shambala, 2002

Wolkstein, Diane, and Kramer, Samuel; Inanna: Queen of Heaven and Earth; Harper & Row, 1983

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