Wednesday, October 31, 2007

All Souls' Day, Souling and Soul Cakes

Friday is the day the spirits return to their graves, according to some customs--and to my upbringing. I remember All Souls' Day as a somber follow-up to All Hallow's Eve and All Saints' Day. While All Saints' Day honors those who attained sainthood, All Souls Day was a time to remember all those departed, not just the saintly.


photo of All Saints Day in a Polish cemetery, from Wikipedia

Reading up on All Souls' Day on Wikipedia, I see that in some places it's traditional to leave food on the table in the evening for the traveling souls to take with them to wherever they're going. That gave me pause. Did people feel comfortable inviting the old souls into their homes? Did only the dead of that household stop by for provisions? What foods would be the proper kind to leave out? Food that will last a long time, sweets, or perhaps some spirits for the spirits?

In many places, the proper food was Soul Cake, with perhaps a glass of red wine. I found many recipes online for Soul Cake, but this one at NPR seemed like the easiest and their photo looks inviting. (I was intrigued by the recipe for iced pumpkin juice too.)

For more information about Halloween (or all Hallows Eve), All Saints Day and All Souls Day, Wikipedia is a great source.

In the British Isles, people often went souling on November 2. Some scholars believe this to be the precursor to trick-or-treat as people went door to door begging for soul cakes in exchange for prayers for the households' dead.

You may recall the Peter, Paul & Mary song "A-Soaling." Here is an interesting article about the custom, as well as traditional lyrics for the song. I remember my mother singing parts of this little song. She wasn't interested in folklore, but as child in England she followed many of the old traditions without realizing their ancient roots. As I recall, she sang it around Thanksgiving and Christmas, but the "proper" day for it is November 2nd.

The Souling Song
Soul, soul for a souling cake
I pray you, missis, for a souling cake
Apple or pear, plum or cherry
Anything good to make us merry
Up with your kettles and down with your pans
Give us an answer and we'll be gone
Little Jack, Jack sat on his gate
Crying for butter to butter his cake
One for St. Peter, two for St. Paul
Three for the man that made us all

Here is an astounding bibliography of folklore titles on this topic.

As always, seeking a little information has led me deeper and deeper into the maze.

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