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"Soul Cake" and Our November Rituals

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  • Joseph Proskauer
    A couple of Sundays ago (which was Halloween), folks gathered to sing before Friends Meeting, and my wife taught some of us a round. Its tune feels familiar,
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 11 8:37 PM
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      A couple of Sundays ago (which was Halloween), folks gathered to sing before Friends Meeting, and my wife taught some of us a round.  Its tune feels familiar, similar to “Hey, Ho, Nobody Home,” or “Rose, Rose, Rose, Rose / Shall I ever see thee red?”  (Indeed, you can sing these three together, along with “Ah, poor bird / Take thy flight.”). 


                                          Soul, soul, soul cake,

                                          Please good Missus a soul cake.

                                          Apple, plum, peach, or cherry,

                                          Something quite good to make us all merry. 

                                          One for Peter, two for Paul,

                                          Three for Him who made us all. *


      That morning, looking into the history of Halloween on the internet, we had come across a likely origin of the song.  Though the beginnings of Halloween and All Souls are misty, one element seems to be the feeling that the veil between this world and the world of soul and spirit is more permeable at this time of year.  Some sources recount a tradition of setting aside a portion of the harvest feast for those in the spiritual world.  Another tradition associated with this time was ‘souling’:  people (some say children, fools, or the poor) would go from house to house asking for food, perhaps as representatives of the departed souls, perhaps offering to pray for them in return for some “soul cake.” 


      Contemplating this song during Meeting, another meaning of “soul cake” occurred to me:  simply, that which nourishes the soul. 


      It also occurred to me that in our nation, we have one truly national ritual activity:  elections.  Would it be inappropriate to consider our need for soul nourishment at this time?  Perhaps, in the midst of a polarized polity, I could turn my attention to souls:  first, of the one I vote for;  perhaps also, of the one I don’t.  This might extend to those with whom I agree, and those I don’t, and to all the varieties of souls in the nation and the world – incarnate, departed, and on the way.  And would we be misguided, as we participate in forming the nation’s future, to turn our thoughts to the Source of all forming – however we may try to conceive this?  


      I also wondered who we might be invoking if we followed the song in addressing our request to the ‘good Missus’ (or Mistress):  Lady Liberty, perhaps?  Or Mary?  Or Goethe’s ‘Eternal Feminine -- leading us onward’ at the close of Faust?  Or a more ancient figure, Sophia – Divine Wisdom, “revered as the Wise Bride of Solomon by Jews, as the Queen of Wisdom and War (Athena) by Greeks, and as the Holy Spirit of Wisdom by Christians”? **  


      Wherever we might turn with our request, we might seek the deepest and widest nourishment possible for the soul of our nation and for all souls.  Please. 


                                                 Joseph Proskauer


       * Various versions of the words, music, and story to this song are available on line, for example at www.owlsdottir.com/wind/gaoirfide/asoulin.htm .  Various recipes are on line as well, for example at www.hwatson.force9.co.uk/cookbook/recipes/baking/soulcakes.htm . 


        *** From “Sophia:  Goddess of Wisdom & God's Bride” by Mark Raines ( http://northernway.org/sophia.html ).  

      One might consider divinities from other traditions, such as the Babylonian Ishtar and Egyptian Isis, in their relation to Sophia.  Are Liberty or Mary related to her as well?  Some say it is she pictured in the Book of Revelations Chapter 12:  “And there appeared a great wonder in heaven;  a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars.” 

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