Sunday, 31 October 2010

Gimme Candy - Contemporary Souling

What a great holiday on which to begin a folklore blog - Halloween. No doubt that today many of you will be answering the door to groups of skeletons, ghosts, zombies and pop culture icons, all holding bags or tubs in their hands. But Halloween is more than feeding hyperactive scamps diabetes inducing amounts of chocolate and sweets - it's a holiday with brilliant folklore roots.

In a nutshell, Halloween stems from the Celtic festival of Samhain, a celebration to signal the end of the harvest and the 'lighter half' of the year and the beginning of the year's 'darker half'. The Gaels believed that, because of the death of plants and animals at this time of the year, the line between this world and the 'otherworld' of the dead grew thin and enabled spirits to pass into our world. To ward away these spirits, who could be malicious as well as passive, people would dress in masks to blend in with their spirit visitors. They would also carve turnips to make lanterns to fend off these spooks.

So where does the tradition of kids going around houses and stuffing their faces with sugary goodness come from? Well, it all stems from souling, which was when children and the poor (known as soulers) would go door-to-door singing prayers for the dead. In exchange for this the homeowner would give out soul cakes (usually reffered to as souls). Each soul cake that was eaten represented a spirit released from purgatory.

If you fancy having a go at making your own soul cakes check out this recipe.

Have a happy Samhain all!