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Songs for All Hallows Eve, October 31


Soulcake

    • Cooking a soulcake (from a medieval manuscript)

All Hallows Eve

From the website http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/civilization/cc0070.html.

It was in the eighth century that the Church appointed a special date for the feast of All Saints, followed by a day in honor of her soon-to-be saints, the feast of All Souls. She chose this time of year, it is supposed, because in her part of the world it was the time of barrenness on the earth. The harvest was in, the summer done, the world brown and drab and mindful of death. Snow had not yet descended to comfort and hide the bony trees or blackened fields; so with little effort man could look about and see a meditation on death and life hereafter.

Apparently how you spent the vigil of All Saints depended on where you lived in Christendom. In Brittany the night was solemn and without a trace of merriment. On their “night of the dead” and for forty-eight hours thereafter, the Bretons believed the poor souls were liberated from Purgatory and were free to visit their old homes. The vigil for the souls, as well as the saints, had to be kept on this night because of course the two days were consecutive feasts — and a vigil is never kept on a feast.

Breton families prayed by their beloveds’ graves during the day, attended church for “black vespers” in the evening and in some parishes proceeded thence to the charnel house in the cemetery to pray by the bones of those not yet buried or for whom no room could be found in the cemetery. Here they sang hymns to call on all Christians to pray for the dead and, speaking for the dead, they asked prayers and more prayers.

Late in the evening in the country parishes, after supper was over, the housewives would spread a clean cloth on the table, set out pancakes, curds, and cider. And after the fire was banked and chairs set round the table for the returning loved ones, the family would recite the De Profundis (Psalm 129) again and go to bed. During the night a townsman would go about the streets ringing a bell to warn them that it was unwise to roam abroad at the time of returning souls.

It was in Ireland and Scotland and England that All Hallows’ Eve became a combination of prayer and merriment. Following the break with the Holy See, Queen Elizabeth forbade all observances connected with All Souls’ Day. In spite of her laws, however, customs survived; even Shakespeare in his Two Gentlemen of Verona has Speed tell Valentine that he knows he is in love because he has learned to speak “puling like a beggar at Hallowmas.” This line must have escaped the Queen.

Tricks or treats — old style

Begging at the door grew from an ancient English custom of knocking at doors to beg for a “soul cake” in return for which the beggars promised to pray for the dead of the household. Soul cakes, a form of shortbread — and sometimes quite fancy, with currants for eyes — became more important for the beggars than prayers for the dead, it is said. Florence Berger tells in herCooking for Christ a legend of a zealous cook who vowed she would invent soul cakes to remind them of eternity at every bite. So she cut a hole in the middle and dropped it in hot fat, and lo — a doughnut. Circle that it is, it suggests the never-ending of eternity. Truth or legend, it serves a good purpose at Halloween.

The refrains sung at the door varied from “a soul cake, a soul cake, have mercy on all Christian souls for a soul cake,” to the later:

A soul, soul, an apple or two,
If you haven’t an apple, a pear will do,
One for Peter, two for Paul,
Three for the Man Who made us all.

Here they had either run out of soul cakes or plain didn’t care. Charades, pantomimes, and little dramas, popular remnants of the miracle and morality plays of the Middle Ages, commonly rehearsed the folk in the reality of life after death and the means to attain it. It is probably from these that the custom of masquerading on Halloween had its beginning. The folly of a life of selfishness would be the message pantomimed by the damned; the torment of waiting, the message of the souls from Purgatory; the delights of the beatific vision, the message of the Heaven-sent. Together they warned the living to heed the means of salvation before it was too late. Doubtless the presence of goblins and witches with cats (ancient symbols of the devil) were remnants of pagan times bespeaking to Christians of spirits loosed from hell to keep track of their own and herd them back at cockcrow. Saint- Saens’ Danse Macabre with death fiddling his eerie spell over the graveyard fascinated us all the years of growing up. Waiting for the sound of cockcrow, which would send the souls scuttling back to their graves, was almost too much suspense to bear. Little did we know that it was inspired by old French customs and superstitions on All Hallows’ Eve.

The familiar harvest fruits, cornstalks, and pumpkins were seasonal. Although there is an old Irish legend about a miser named Jack who was too stingy to go to Heaven and too clever to go to hell, so that he had to spend eternity roaming the earth with a lighted pumpkin for a lantern, the appearance of jack-o’-lanterns has always seemed much more reasonable than that. These were ages when death was a serious and acceptable meditation. Christian art shows skulls and bones as a commonplace of interior decoration, at least in the cells of the convents and monasteries. Vigils were kept by the graves, and lights and bread left for the dead, all for the twofold purpose of recalling those dead and remembering that one day you would be dead. Surely it was some bright boy, stumbling over a pile of pumpkins by his father’s barn, who hit on the notion of carving a grinning death’s-head to carry, lighted by a candle, under his arm. If you know small boys, this is the most reasonable of all explanations.

Song: On All Hallows Even

(A Hallowe’en ritual)


On All Hallows Even I lay down and wept
– Death, old friend, I’ll be seeing you soon;
For the loom of life, the warp and the weft.
– And he gathers us in by a sickle moon.

It’s not for the old whose time has come
– Death, old friend, I’ll be seeing you soon;
But the young untimely laid in the tomb.
– And he gathers us in by a sickle moon.

It’s not for the sick who are given release
– Death, old friend, I’ll be seeing you soon;
But the whole cut down by their decease.
– And he gathers us in by a sickle moon.

The grave is a warm and welcoming place
– Death, old friend, I’ll be seeing you soon;
And all my old comrades I’ll there embrace.
– And he gathers us in by a sickle moon.

I saw my old comrades the other night
– Death, old friend, I’ll be seeing you soon;
They were standing in glory, surrounded by light.
– And he gathers us in by a sickle moon.

Don’t burn my body, but let it lie
– Death, old friend, I’ll be seeing you soon;
Where I can hear the cock’s Resurrection cry.
– And he gathers us in by a sickle moon.

Go dig my grave with a silver spade
– Death, old friend, I’ll be seeing you soon;
Lower me down with a golden chain.
– And he gathers us in by a sickle moon.

Old comrades and friends, don’t weep or mourn
– Death, old friend, I’ll be seeing you soon;
The old world is dying, so help it on.
– And he gathers us in by a sickle moon.

I want to go gentle into that goodnight
– Death, old friend, I’ll be seeing you soon;
I want to go singing into the light.
– And he gathers us in by a sickle moon.

I want to go singing into the night
– Death, old friend, I’ll be seeing you soon;
But I fear I won’t go without a fight.
– And he gathers us in by a sickle moon.

The Angel of God has ebony wings
– Death, old friend, I’ll be seeing you soon;
And sweet is the chorus the angel choir sings.
– And he gathers us in by a sickle moon.

The river of death is deep and wide
– Death, old friend, I’ll be seeing you soon;
Please ferry me over to the other side.
– And he gathers us in by a sickle moon.

The pain of our going is sharp as a knife
– Death, old friend, I’ll be seeing you soon;
In the midst of our dying we’ve Eternal Life.
– And he gathers us in by a sickle moon.

On All Hallows Even I lay down and slept
– Death, old friend, I’ll be seeing you soon;
At sunrise and dawning my mourning heart leapt.
– And he gathers us in by a sickle moon.

Lie still and lie peaceful, all my old loves
– Death, old friend, I’ll be seeing you soon;
For the eagle is flying, surrounded by doves
– And he gathers us in by a sickle moon.

Don’t worry your head about which way you’ll go
– Death, old friend, I’ll be seeing you soon;
Your account has been settled, the debt paid in full.
– And he gathers us in by a sickle moon.

© Copyright Karl Dallas/EMI Music October 17, 1998

I’ve now added a recording of Gloria and me singing the All Hallows Even song..
Meanwhile . . . sleep tight, and don’t let the bedbugs bite!

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One thought on “Songs for All Hallows Eve, October 31

  1. Pingback: My 2 cents on the Blue Moon End of the year party

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