Sunday, December 5, 2021

Dumb Cakes: A Tradition of Baking on Halloween to Reveal Your Future Spouse

While most traditions are interlinked and often are branching out from common practice, there are some traditions that are very specific with certain rituals. One such tradition is that of making “dumb cakes” during Halloween.

When you hear about a cake that reveals your future spouse’s name, you might think that you are about to hear some fictitious story. But there is a tradition prevalent from the 18th century where maidens baked dumb cakes on certain days to discover their fate. Sound witchy? Not exactly.

The history of dumb cakes

During Halloween, many traditionalists will be turning to the tradition of baking dumb cakes after dragging the old recipe out of its safe place. While the association with Halloween might make it sound like the cake has some spooky history, the story associated with this cake is anything but spooky.

The name “dumb” cake can be traced back to the time of Regency — around the 18th century — and the language at that time might mean “doom” cake. But the translation might have changed the meaning. This divination cake baking started in Lewis, a region located in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. The custom then traveled all the way to the southern part of the British Isles. The cake was baked with the hope that when a maiden baked this cake, she would be able to know the name of her spouse.

cake
The core ingredients though remain the same — barley, salt, wheat meal, and water. (Image: Nikkytok via Dreamstime)

Dumb cakes recipes

With a tradition that has so many variations, the recipe is bound to have the same. In some regions, the cake is more like a loaf of bread while in others, it is baked like a cake. The region that follows this tradition and the availability of ingredients also played a major role in determining the recipe. The core ingredients though remain the same — barley, salt, wheat meal, and water.

The rituals involved

Like all traditions that were orally passed down the generation, the actual ritual did change over time. Many variations can be found when an Internet search is done, but there are a few aspects of this cake baking ritual that remain the same.

The main aspect of this ritual is that, when dumb cakes are being made, the girls baking them have to keep in mind the hope for knowing the name of their future spouse and they must do so in complete silence. If any word or sound was made, then it was believed that the spell was rendered ineffective and the magic of the moment was broken. Some variations also state that besides these, certain calamities would befall those baking the cake. This need for complete silence also gave rise to the name “dumb cake.”

The main aspect of this ritual is that, when dumb cakes are being made, the girls baking them have to keep in mind the hope for knowing the name of their future spouse and there must do so in complete silence.
The main aspect of this ritual is that, when dumb cakes are being made, the girls baking them have to keep in mind the hope for knowing the name of their future spouse and they must do so in complete silence. (Image: Lightfieldstudiosprod via Dreamstime)

With the variations speaking of calamities that would befall the girls, certain folklore experts believe that this might have been a way to make excited and talkative young girls observe complete silence for at least once a year by the elders of the family. Many older variations also mentioned that girls should prepare the cake in solitude. While this might have been mentioned to help the girl or maiden to maintain the need for silence with ease, there are versions that require a group of girls to bake a single cake or several cakes, but in absolute silence.

Another requirement was the need to follow the lucky odd number rule. Britain has been a huge believer that odd numbers are lucky and hence, girls would gather in groups of threes and fives to follow the ritual. The upside of girls gathering together to bake a cake meant that the task would be done faster, while the downside was that each girl was required to put in an equal amount of effort.

If any girl was not doing her bit, she would not receive any tiniest amount of hint about her future husband. This was another incentive to ensure that all the girls worked in silence and worked in harmony. While the tradition might have been of a romantic origin and had many side effects attached to it, the core principle of teamwork could be found in it.

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Jack Roberts
Jack Roberts is an author who specializes in World Events and Global geopolitics.
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