Fiery cross (historical)

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See also Fiery cross (disambiguation)

The Fiery cross is the English language term for a piece of wood, such as a baton, that North Europeans, e.g. Scotsmen and Scandinavians, used to send to rally people for things (assemblies) for defence or rebellion (if beacons were not appropriate).


In Scotland the "fiery cross", known as the Crann Tara was used as a declaration of war, which required all clan members to rally to the defence of the area. The practice is described in the novels and poetry of Sir Walter Scott. A small burning cross or charred piece of wood would be carried from town to town. The most recent known use there was in 1745, during the Jacobite Rising. Crann Tàra – “The gathering beam, a signal formally used on occasion of insult or impending danger, to summon a clan to arms. It was a piece of wood, half burnt and dipped in blood, in token of the revenge by fire and sword awaiting those clansmen who did not immediately answer the summons. It was passed from one permanently appointed messenger to another, and in this manner the alarm was spread across the largest districts in an incredibly short time. In 1745 the crann tàra traversed the wide district of Breadalbane, upwards of 30 miles in three hours.” (Dwelly, E. 1973: 264). [1], the best part of a century before the foundation of the KKK. Although many of the members of the KKK were descended from immigrants from Scotland, there is no evidence to suggest that their ancestors brought this tradition with them to America. The name Crann Tara was used for a Scottish Gaelic current affairs programme on Grampian Television (ITV).[citation needed]

A similar practice existed in the Isle of Man.[citation needed]

The most recent use of the Fiery Cross in Scotland was not during the Forty-Five. In 1820 over 800 fighting men of Clan Grant was gathered, by the passing of the Fiery Cross, to come to the aid of their Clan Lord and his sister in the village of Elgin. See


When an enemy had arrived, fiery crosses (Old Swedish: buþkafle (sg.)) were sent in all directions. In Sweden, they consisted of clubs, or just wooden chunks, and they were charred on one end and had a string attached to the other end, as a sign. In Norway, it was an arrow. Olaus Magnus (1555) relates that the one who did not bring the cross to the next village would be hanged and his homestead burnt down.

When the people were assembled to a thing, the object was in the shape of an axe, or if the meeting concerned blasphemy, it was a cross.

The objects were signed with runes or other marks in order to indicate the reason for the assembly (e.g. election of king at the Stone of Mora), and who had sent them. During the Middle Ages, using buþkaflar was the official method of assembling people, and they were only allowed to be carved by certain officials, e.g. governors and sheriffs.

They were especially efficient, however, when they were used to levy people against royal oppression and high taxes. After the great Dance of Dalarna uprising, there were strong checks placed on the use of fiery crosses.

In Sweden, the fiery crosses were standardized during the village reorganizations in 1742, and it was at the village level that they were frequently used. During the 19th and 20th centuries, more specific messages were attached to the clubs or inserted into a hollow space. Still in the early 20th century, there was a paragraph in Swedish law that stated that the fiery cross would be sent between the villages if there was a forest fire.[citation needed]


  • Nationalencyklopedin
  • Dwelly, E., (1973), “The Illustrated Gaelic English Dictionary” 8th Edition, Gairm Publications, Glasgow.
  • Wade, Wyn Craig. The Fiery Cross: The Ku Klux Klan in America. New York: Simon and Schuster (1987).