In the past, Halloween was preceded by an earlier tradition, which was known as Souling.
A visiting custom carried out in the 19th and 20th centuries mainly by children, but previously by adults, in the Shropshire, north Staffordshire, Cheshire, and Lancashire area, on All Saints Day (1 November) and All Souls Day (2 November).
The Soulers visited houses, sang a song, and collected money, food, drink, or whatever was given to them. The songs vary somewhat from place to place, but they all follow the same basic pattern:
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
Shropshire: By-Gones Relating to Wales & the Border Country (1889-1890, 25.3)
You can hear a longer version of this song below, which was recorded in 1965 by The Watersons.
I don't know what you think, but I'd welcome a return of this celebration instead of the highly commercialised Halloween of today.
I'm also pleased to report that there is still an example of the tradition kept alive at The Antrobus Arms, Cheshire.
The old English custom of souling or soulcaking dates back to the 10th Century.
A traditional Cheshire Souling play performed on All Soul’s Eve and the following 2 weekends.
The Antrobus Gang are well established with continuity a distinguishing feature. They are thought to have performed continuously for hundreds of years.
Soulcakers would go from house to house singing a begging song or a plea for prayers for the dead. They would put on a play for residents.
The plays were performed out of necessity when farm work was in short supply. Plays usually consist of a fight between St George and his adversaries resulting in one of the characters being killed and brought back to life by a ‘quack’ doctor. The Hooden Horse accompanies the soulcakers with its groom and a whip.
The Hooden Horse is a man covered with a blanket holding a horses head.
Soulcakes were small spiced fruit cakes similar to Hot Cross Buns and were given to performers as well as drink or money, helping to keep their families fed during lean times. It could be quite lucrative as 3 nights of mumming (acting out the play) often raised as much as month’s wages.
The tradition continues at the Antrobus Arms where money raised now goes to charity.
Are there any local Pubs prepared to consider starting a Formby equivalent event?.