DESCRIPTION: "A soul, a soul, a soul-cake, Please good mistress a soul-cake, One for Peter and one for Paul And one for the Lord that made us all. An apple, a pear, a plum or a cherry, Any good thing to make us merry." Once a year, singers beg for food, clothes, money
EARLIEST DATE: 1886 (Holland, as quoted by Palmer)
KEYWORDS: food begging religious
FOUND IN: Britain(England)
REFERENCES (8 citations):
Broadwood/Maitland-EnglishCountySongs, pp. 30-31, "The Souling Song" (1 text, 1 tune)
Palmer-EnglishCountrySongbook, #139, "Souling Song" (1 text, 1 tune)
Baring-Gould-AnnotatedMotherGoose #408, p. 194, "(A soul-cake, a soul-cake)"
Wells-TheBalladTree, p. 278, "The Souling Song" (1 short text, 1 tune)
Ritson-AncientSongsBalladsFromHenrySecondToTheRevolution, p. 354, "A Christmas Carol" (1 short text, which could be any of the "God bless the master of this house" songs)
DT, SOULCAKE* SOULCAK2*
ADDITIONAL: Jon Raven, _The Urban and Industrial Songs of the Black Country and Birmingham_, Broadside, 1977, pp. 23-25, "(no title)" (3 short texts, which could be souling or wassailing songs or something else)
Jacqueline Simpson, _The Folklore of Sussex_, B. T. Batsford, 1973, p. 134, "(Soul! Soul! For a soul-cake!)" (1 short text); also p. 141, "(Cattern and Clemen be here, here, here)" (1 short text, which appears to be based on this although it is said to be associated with St. Catherine's Day/November 25)
NOTES [252 words]: A song for All Souls Eve and Day (November 2 and the night preceding), when it was customary to give out food and alms on behalf of the dead.
According to Simpson/Roud, entry on All Souls Day, Abbot Odilo of Cluny created the festival in the eleventh century to pray for the souls of those who had died. (Hence the Souling custom: In Catholic belief, prayer would get you out of purgatory, so travellers would pray in return for food -- almost a return to the professional mourners of Roman times). The original date was in February, but it was moved to November to align with All Saints Day.
The 1686 reference is to Aubrey's account of customs in Shropshire, when it was still customary to put out cakes for all passers-by on this day. These were called "soul cakes" or, according to Hazlitt's entry, "soul-mass cakes."
Opie/Tatem, p. 367, entry "Soul Cake," report that G. Young's 1817 History of Whitby tells that "The custom of making soulr mass loaves, on the day of all-souls, Nov. 2, is kept up to a certain extent: they are small round loaves, sold by the bakers at a farthing each, chiefly for presents to children. In former times it was usual to keep one or two of them for good luck: a lady in Whitby has a soul mass loaf about 100 yars old." Opie/Tatem also cite an 1851 mention from Denham.
I haven't seen anyone comment on the mentions of Peter and Paul in this song, but it may (or may not) be significant that Peter was the chief apostle to Jews, Paul to Gentiles (Galatians 2:8, etc.) - RBW
Last updated in version 5.0
- Hazlitt: W. C. Hazlitt, Dictionary of Faiths & Folklore, Reeves & Turner, 1905 (I use the 1995 Studio Editions paperback)
- Opie/Tatem: Iona Opie and Moira Tatem, editors, A Dictionary of Superstitions, 1989 (I use the 1999 Barnes & Noble edition)
- Simpson/Roud: Jacqueline Simpson and Steve Roud, A Dictionary of English Folklore, Oxford, 2000
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