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dumb cake


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One of the specialist forms of love divination, named after its central elements—the making of a special cake while maintaining absolute silence. Precise details vary, but the overall pattern is remarkably similar across the country and over the two or three hundred years since its first recorded mention in the 1680s. An unvarying characteristic is that the process to be undergone is complex and difficult to achieve successfully. In most cases, the making of the cake must be a joint effort by several people, usually young women but not exclusively so. Other recurring motifs are the use of a high proportion of salt, the scratching of initials on the pieces, and sometimes the placing of the cake under the pillow. Earlier recipes for the cake itself are generally more testing to the participants' resolve, including, apart from the salt, soot and even urine. Some mention the measuring of the ingredients in thimbles or egg-shells, presumably to make the cakes easier to eat. The times when this ceremony are usually reported are those traditional to love divination: midsummer, St Agnes's Eve, and Halloween, and Christmas Eve. Opie and Tatem identify the first two references in 1685: Mother Bunch's Closet (where it is called ‘Dutch Cake’), and G. Sinclair, Satans Invisible World Discovered (referring to the Scottish Highlands), and, from available references, the custom does not much seem to have survived the end of the 19th century. Henderson (1879: 90–1) gives a detailed description.

Opie and Tatem, 1989: 127–8.


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