Fiery Cross

Finnish boy with summoning stick 1876

Fiery cross, bidding stick, summoning stick, budstikke, stembod, and war arrow is a wooden object such as a club or baton carried by messengers in Northern Europe, Scotland, and Scandinavia to rally men for rebellion and defense.

In places such as Sweden and Norway, the object was often repurposed arrows or chunks of wood. If the meeting were assembled because of war, the object was in the shape of an axe, and if the meeting concerned blasphemy then the object would be a cross. Often times runes would be carved in it to indicate the reason for assembly. It was vitally important to carry the object from village to village and those who did not would be hanged and their homesteads burnt.

In Scotland, it was called the crois-taraidh which translates to ‘the fiery cross’ or ‘cross of shame’ or ‘gathering beam’ and was used to rally clan members to arms. It was often two charred pieces of wood lashed together to form a cross, or a single charred piece of wood often dipped in goat or lamb’s blood on one end and carried from town to town at the chieftain’s insistence. It’s said that in the Jacobite Rising of 1745, the crois-taraidh  passed through every hamlet in Breadlabane in an impressive three hours.  The most recent use came during the War of 1812 among Scottish settlers in Canada, and in 1820 when Clan Grant gathered to assist their lord in the village of Elgin.

‘What light is this, Innisfail?

From the gathering beam of terror?

Unfix your sails, ply your oars.

Make haste to the beach and may victory be yours!’

-Celtic bard

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