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The Harvest Bannock

Once harvested, it was common for the meal from the last sheaf to be used in a bannock - a tradition that lasted in the small island of Gairsay until the 1920s.

On Gairsay, the harvest bannock and the "last man" traditions seem to have merged. As a result the man who brought in the final load was seized by his colleagues and held while his bared buttocks were scoured with the rough end of a sheaf. At the same time a bannock was brought out from the farmhouse and the man was forcefully grabbed and marched twenty-five paces away from his co-workers.

The master of the farm would then hand the man the bannock and tell him to run. As soon as the order was issued, his co-workers launched themselves at the hapless bannock-holder, who had to run to escape their clutches.

If he was fortunate and managed to get away from the crowd, he was permitted to sit down and eat the bannock, but if caught the bannock was wrenched from his grasp and devoured by the triumphant pursuers.

A variation of the Gairsay pursuit took place in Westray. In this case the "last man" was the man who brought in the final load. Upon arriving in the stackyard he had to run to the highest stack and climb to the top while his workmates tried to catch him and prevent his successful ascent.

As in the Gairsay tradition, if caught, the Westray man's buttocks were bared but in this case smeared with treacle or molasses. If, on the other hand, he managed to evade capture, he was presented with a harvest bannock and sometimes a bottle of ale.

Not only was the last sheaf used to prepare a human meal - in addition to the bannock, the last sheaf was sometimes given to prized livestock - usually the best of the farmer's beasts.

Here, once again, we can see the idea that the vitality of the crop spirit passed into the consumer of the last sheaf.

The Ritual Bannock Connection