Adam Lay Ybounden

British Library’s manuscript Sloane 2593, ff.10v-11, c. 1400

Adam lay i-bowndyn,
bowndyn in a bond,
Fowre thowsand wynter
thowt he not to long

And al was for an appil,
an appil that he tok.
As clerkes fyndyn wretyn
in here book.

Ne hadde the appil take ben,
the appil taken ben,
Ne hadde never our lady
a ben hevene quen.

Blyssid be the tyme
that appil take was!
Therefore we mown syngyn
Deo gratias!

This Middle English carol is from the British Library’s manuscript Sloane 2593, ff.10v-11, c. 1400, so the carol is roughly contemporaneous with Chaucer, though it’s not in Chaucer’s London dialect of Middle English. The thematic core of the carol is the idea that if Adam hadn’t taken the apple, the fruit from the tree of knowledge, then Mary would never have been the mother of Christ. That is, in other words, the fortunate fall, in a nutshell. The large hold in the MS. photo at the top marks the text of Adam Lay Ybounden.

Tam Lin: Love, Sacrifice, and Halloween

Image of a carved turnip from Ireland

Image credit: Carsten Tolkmit — Laenulfean

I can’t really think about Halloween, or Samain, if you prefer, without thinking of the ballad of “Tam Lin,” especially this part:

 

And ance it fell upon a day
A cauld day and a snell,
When we were frae the hunting come,
That frae my horse I fell,
The Queen o’ Fairies she caught me,
In yon green hill to dwell.

And pleasant is the fairy land,
But, an eerie tale to tell,
Ay at the end of seven years
We pay a teind to hell;
I am sae fair and fu o flesh,
I’m feard it be mysel.

But the night is Halloween, lady,
The morn is Hallowday;
Then win me, win me, an ye will,
For weel I wat ye may.

Just at the mirk and midnight hour
The fairy folk will ride,
And they that wad their true-love win,
At Miles Cross they maun bide.

— “Tam Lin” Child Ballad 39A.24

“Tam Lin” is one of the Child Ballads, a collection of several hundred early English and Scottish popular ballads collected by Francis James Child. Most of the Child ballads are from the sixteenth century. Some few are older. You can find a list of the Child ballads by number here. A few of the ballads are older than the earliest printed sources; “Tam Lin” is one of those. It’s also one of the best known of the Child Ballads; there are lots of covers by folk rock bands, as well as more traditional singers.1)Probably the best known cover of Tam Lin is this 1969 performance by British folk rock band Fairport Convention, from their lovely Liege and Leaf album. You can find the entire text of the ballad in multiple versions at Abigail Akland’s site TamLin.org. You may be familiar with the story of Tam Lin from one of the novels inspired by the ballad2)A fair number of writers have used all or parts of the ballad of Tam Lin in their books. Pamela Dean’s Tam Lin and Elizabeth Marie Pope’s YA The Perilous Gard are two of my favorites. Other writers, principally Patricia McKillip in Winter Rose and Elizabeth Bear in Blood and Iron and Whiskey and Water use the ballad in interesting and compelling ways..

The basic story line of “Tam Lin” tells how Tam Lin was kidnapped or “taken” by the queen of the fairies when he falls off a horse while hunting. He is destined to be sacrificed by the fairies on Halloween, as a teind or tithe to Hell, unless his mortal (and pregnant) lover Janet rescues him.

One of the reasons I find Tam Lin’s tale compelling is that it’s very much tied to the idea of seasons, and to the medieval Celtic idea that at Samain (or the modern related holiday Halloween) the Otherworld is closer to this world, and thus allows more ready passage between the two. Halloween is a liminal time. Samain was at its heart a harvest festival, a time when animals and crops were taken and consumed.

When Janet rescues her lover, it is at midnight, a time between day and night, a time that is thus, because of its liminal nature, outside of time, much the way Samain lies outside of time, between seasons.

The rescue takes place at Miles cross, that is, at a crossroads, a place between places, a place that is liminal in that it partakes of two or more places at once. Crossroads, places where two roads, or two tracks meet, represent decision points; you must choose which road to follow. Crossroads are liminal in that if you stand in the center, you are not really “at” any of the four roads; you are in a special place that is “between”; between roads, between choices. It is at once “some place,” and “no place.” Consequently, crossroads are rich with potential in folklore. They are, for instance, a logical place for a deal with the devil.

In the ballad of Tam Lin, Tam Lin, about to be offered as a tithe to Hell by the fairies, tells his mortal lover Janet that she must meet him and pull him from his horse when he rides with the fairies:

Just at the mirk and midnight hour
The fairy folk will ride,
And they that wad their true-love win,
At Miles Cross they maun bide.

Janet can rescue Tam Lin from the fairies at at midnight because it is between night and day, and at Miles Cross because it’s a crossroad, a place that is neither fairy nor mortal turf but that is “between” territories, and hence, neutral territory. Crossroads are places where journeys are shaped, because the traveler must make a choice about which path to take.

Although Samain was principally a harvest festival, a time for feasting and giving thanks for the harvest as you consume what won’t keep, there are several references to a tax due at Samain; for instance, in the Lebor Gabala Eirenn, during the reign of Nemed, we are told that the descendants of Nemed were taxed by the Fomoire:

§44. Two thirds of the progeny, the wheat, and the milk of the people of Ireland (had to be brought) every Samain to Mag Cetne. Wrath and sadness seized on the men of Ireland for the burden of the tax. They all went to fight against the Fomoraig.3)(Lebor Gabala Eirinn. Ed. Trans. R. A. S. MacAlister. Irish Text Society 1832.

Here Samain is associated with tax-gathering, paying a tithe, an appropriate thing to do at the end of the harvest. It might in fact be considered a kind of sacrifice, since the Formoire were certainly supernatural.

In the ballad, Tam Lin says that

Ay at the end of seven years
We pay a teind to hell;
I am sae fair and fu o flesh,
I’m feard it be mysel.

The idea of the teind, an old Northern word for a tithe, is particularly intriguing in light of the timing of Samain in the late autumn. The Medieval English Thomas Of Erceldoune (closely related to Child Ballad # Thomas the Rhymer) makes a similar reference to “þe foulle fende” fetching his fee in the form of a human sacrifice.  The fairy queen who absconded with Thomas when she found him sleeping under the Eldone Tree, tells him she must return him to the mortal world lest he be sacrificed:

“To Morne of helle þe foulle fende
Amange this folke will feche his fee;
And þou arts mekill mane and hende,—
I trowe full wele he wolde chose the.
ffor alle þe gold þat euer may bee,
þou bese neuer be trayede for mee;
þere fore with me I rede thou wende” (ll. 289–94).4)Thomas of Erceldoune is a 15h century medieval romance. The best text is that of the 15th century Lincoln Cathedral MS. 91. The Thornton Ms. Nixon, Ingeborg. Ed. Thomas of Erceldoune. Publications of the Department of English University of Copenhagen. Volume 9 Part 1 Thomas of Erceldoune. Volume 9 Part 2 Introductions, Commentary and Glossary. Copenhagen: University of Copenhagen, 1980.

One of the more interesting aspects of the liminality of Halloween (and the earlier Samain) is that the ease of passage between the mortal world (or Middle Earth as Thomas of Erceldoune has it) and the fairy otherworld on Halloween, as on May Day (or Beltaine) marks the way the otherworld is dependent on this world, even if it’s only for occasional sacrificial victims. Another interesting facet is that in both the story of Tam Lin, saved by the love of his mortal sweetheart Janet, and in the case of Thomas the Rhymer, saved by the love of his immortal sweetheart the fairy Queen, love wins the day.

References   [ + ]

1. Probably the best known cover of Tam Lin is this 1969 performance by British folk rock band Fairport Convention, from their lovely Liege and Leaf album.
2. A fair number of writers have used all or parts of the ballad of Tam Lin in their books. Pamela Dean’s Tam Lin and Elizabeth Marie Pope’s YA The Perilous Gard are two of my favorites. Other writers, principally Patricia McKillip in Winter Rose and Elizabeth Bear in Blood and Iron and Whiskey and Water use the ballad in interesting and compelling ways.
3. (Lebor Gabala Eirinn. Ed. Trans. R. A. S. MacAlister. Irish Text Society 1832.
4. Thomas of Erceldoune is a 15h century medieval romance. The best text is that of the 15th century Lincoln Cathedral MS. 91. The Thornton Ms. Nixon, Ingeborg. Ed. Thomas of Erceldoune. Publications of the Department of English University of Copenhagen. Volume 9 Part 1 Thomas of Erceldoune. Volume 9 Part 2 Introductions, Commentary and Glossary. Copenhagen: University of Copenhagen, 1980.

O Magnum Mysterium

The origins of the Medieval Latin responsorial chant known as “O Magnum Mysterium” are not really clear any more. It’s early; before the tenth century.

“O Magnum Mysterium” was part of the matins service for Christmas. For much of the Middle Ages, matins took place roughly at midnight. The Latin text describes the nativity scene in which Christ was born and laid in a manger, and animals were witnesses to the sacrament of his birth:

O magnum mysterium,
et admirabile sacramentum,
ut animalia viderent Dominum natum,
jacentem in praesepio!
Beata Virgo, cujus viscera
meruerunt portare
Dominum Christum.
Alleluia.

In English:

O great mystery,
and wonderful sacrament,
that animals should see the new-born Lord,
lying in a manger!
Blessed is the Virgin whose womb
was worthy to bear
Christ the Lord.
Alleluia!

The text was inspired by two verses of the New Testament, first Luke 2:7 (quoted here from the Wycliffe Bible) :

And sche bare hir first borun sone, and wrappide hym in clothis, and leide hym in a cratche, for ther was no place to hym in no chaumbir.

Or in Modern English:

And she bore her first born son, and wrapped him in cloths, and laid him in a cratche, for there was no place to him in no chamber.

The second part is derived from Isaiah 1.3 which refers to animals present at the birth of Christ:

An oxe knew his lord, and an asse knew the cratche of his lord; but Israel knewe not me, and my puple vndurstood not.

An ox knew his lord, and an ass knew the cratche of his lord; but Israel knew not me, and my people understood not.

The juxtaposition of the two verses in the minds of medieval illuminators and many poets led to the familiar scene of the nativity in a stable with the manger, with the resident animals looking on, and, in the words of Isaiah, they “knew” the baby as Christ.

It’s the reference to the manger, or cratche in Middle English, that led illuminators and others to set the scene in a stable. It isn’t strictly speaking accurate in terms of what the Greek text says, and what we know of the times. The Greek (Koine) word translated as “inn” is perhaps better thought of as the “guest room.”

Detail showing the Nativity

For me, as a child hearing carols and seeing Medieval and Renaissance depictions of the nativity in my parents’ books, the part that caught my imagination was the folklore around animals talking at midnight on Christmas Eve. This has been captured in the Christmas Carol known today as “The Friendly Beasts.” This was one of my favorite carols as a child.1)The Friendly Beasts” began life as a 12th century Latin song from France known as “Orientis Partibus,” translated and made popular in a version attributed to Robert Davis (1881-1950) in the 1920s.

There are a number of “settings” of the original Latin  of “O Magnum Mysterium”; I’m partial to Palestrina’s (c. 1525 – February 1594) six-part motet, but there are many others including settings by William Byrd, Gabrielli, and for modern composers, the incredibly beautiful version by Morten Laridsen, which, as the composer explains, was also inspired by Francisco de Zurbarán’s 1733 “Still Life With Lemons, Oranges and a Rose.”

For more modern versions, see Chanticleer’s; for Palestrina’s setting, see The Sixteen & Harry Christophers “O Magnum Mysterium.”

You can hear Morten Laridsen’s stunning “O Magnum Mysterium on YouTube.” O Magnum Mysterium is also part of Britten’s Ceremony of Carols.

References   [ + ]

1. The Friendly Beasts” began life as a 12th century Latin song from France known as “Orientis Partibus,” translated and made popular in a version attributed to Robert Davis (1881-1950) in the 1920s.

Angelus ad virginem

“Angelus ad virginem” is a Medieval Latin carol celebrating the Annunciation by the angel Gabriel telling the Virgin that she would conceive and bear the Christ child. The Latin lyrics are (here’s a rough translation):

1. Angelus ad virginem
Subintrans in conclave.
Virginis formidinum
Demulcens inquit “Ave.”
Ave regina virginum,
Coeliteraeque dominum
Concipies
Et paries
Intacta,
Salutem hominum.
Tu porta coeli facta
Medella criminum.

2. Quomodo conciperem,
quae virum non cognovi?
Qualiter infringerem,
quae firma mente vovi?
‘Spiritus sancti gratia
Perficiet haec omnia;
Ne timaes,
sed gaudeas,
secura,
quod castimonia
Manebit in te pura
Dei potentia.’

3. Ad haec virgo nobilis
Respondens inquit ei;
Ancilla sum humilis
Omnipotentis Dei.
Tibi coelesti nuntio,
Tanta secreti conscio,
Consentiens
Et cupiens
Videre
factum quod audio,
Parata sum parere
Dei consilio.

4. Angelus disparuit
Etstatim puellaris
Uterus intumuit
Vi partus salutaris.
Qui, circumdatus utero
Novem mensium numero,
Hinc Exiit
Et iniit
Conflictum,
Affigens humero
Crucem, qua dedit ictum
Hosti mortifero.

5. Eia Mater Domini,
Quae pacem reddidisti
Angelis et homini,
Cum Christum genuisti;
Tuem exora filium
Ut se nobis propitium
Exhibeat,
Et deleat
Peccata;
Praestans auxilium
Vita frui beta
Post hoc exsilium.

The carol appears to have been a popular one, preserved in several mss. It was so popular that in c. 1400 or so Chaucer alludes to it in Canterbury Tales, specifically, in “The Miller’s Tale,” where we are told that “hendy” Nicholas sings and accompanies himself on the psaltry:

And over all there lay a psaltery
Whereon he made an evening’s melody,
Playing so sweetly that the chamber rang;
And Angelus ad virginem he sang;
And after that he warbled the King’s Note:
Often in good voice was his merry throat.

The poet Gerard Manley Hopkins created a very loose translation that’s perhaps better read as a poem inspired by the Latin hymn) under the title “Gabriel, from Heaven’s King.”

BL Arundel 248 f. 154v

BL MS Arundel 248 f. 154
see detail

In the British Library’s MS Arundel 248, a collection of various texts in several languages from the early 13th century, the Latin text and tune  for “Angelus ad virginem” is immediately followed with a related song in Middle English. This kind of macaronic preservation of songs in multiple languages, side-by-side, is a not uncommon practice in medieval manuscripts, and given that the Church used Latin and scribes used English and or French, or German or Irish or . .  . multilingual songbooks make a great deal of sense. The way this collection of folios are organized, with a brief crudely drawn staff for the tune, followed by the lyrics is very reminiscent of a modern musician’s cheat book.

Gabriel, fram heven-king
sent to þe maide sweete,
broute hir blisfúl tiding
and fair he gan hir greete:
5 “Heil be þu, ful of grace ari3t!
For Godes son, þis heven-li3t,
for mannes love
wil man bicome
and take
10 fles of þee, maide bri3t,
mankén free for to make
of sen and devles mi3t.”

Mildëlich him gan andswere
þe milde maide þanne:
15 “Wichëwise sold ich bere
[a] child withute manne?”
þangel seid, “Ne dred tee nout:
þurw þoligast sal been iwrout
þis ilch þing
20 warof tiding
ich bringe:
al mánken wurth ibout
þurw þine sweet childínge
and ut of pine ibrout.”

25 Wan þe maiden understood
and þangels wordes herde,
mildëlich with milde mood
to þangel hie andswerde:
“Ure lords þewe maid iwis
30 ich am, þat heer aboven is.
Anentis me
fulfurthed be
þi sawe
þat ich, sith his wil is,
35 [a] maid, withute lawe,
of moder have þe blis.”

Þangel went awei mid þan
al ut of hire si3te;
hire womb arise gan
40 þurw þoligastes mi3te.
In hir wes Crist bilok anon,
sooth God, sooth man in fles and bon,
and of hir fles
ibore wes
45 at time.
Warþurw us kam good won;
he bout us ut of pine
and let him for us slon.

Maiden-moder makëles,1)Makëles or “matchless” is a triple pun; she is without peer, without a mate, also used in the Middle English lyric “I Sing of a Maiden.”
50 of moder ful ibunde,
bid for us him þat tee ches,
at wam þu grace funde,
þat he forgive us sen and wrake
and clene of evri gelt us make
55 and heven-blis
wan ur time is
to sterve,
us give, for þine sake,
him so heer for to serve
60 þat he us to him take.

The Annunciation F. 26r from Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry MS 65 in the Musée Condé, Chantilly, France. C. 1412–1416.

The tune for the Middle English version is usually easily recognized as the Latin hymn. The same Latin text of “Angelus ad virginem”  inspired a Basque Christmas carol “Birjina gaztettobat zegoen” collected by Charles Bordes.2)Archives de la tradition basque, 1895 Sabine Baring-Gould (1834-1924) folklorist, novelist, and poet responsible for several hymns (including “Onward Christian Soldiers”) spent some time in the Basque region of Spain as a child, and translated the carol from Basque to English, in the process reducing the original 6 stanzas to 4.

1. The angel Gabriel from heaven came
His wings as drifted snow his eyes as flame
“All hail” said he “thou lowly maiden Mary,
Most highly favored lady,” Gloria!

2. “For know a blessed mother thou shalt be,
All generations laud and honor thee,
Thy Son shall be Emanuel, by seers foretold
Most highly favored lady,” Gloria!

3. Then gentle Mary meekly bowed her head
“To me be as it pleaseth God,” she said,
“My soul shall laud and magnify his holy name.”
Most highly favored lady. Gloria!

4. Of her, Emanuel, the Christ was born
In Bethlehem, all on a Christmas morn
And Christian folk throughout the world will ever say:
“Most highly favored lady,” Gloria!

This was one of my favorite childhood carols, familiar from a 1963 Time Life record, an album rich with Medieval carols, under the title “The Angel Gabriel.” It’s also been released as “Gabriel’s Message,” and “The Angel Gabriel From Heaven Came.”

These are all available in contemporary recordings. “Angelus ad virginem” has been recorded by The Tallis Scholars on Christmas with the Tallis Scholars and by The Sixteen and Harry Christophers on the album Christus Natus Est. Anonymous 4 have recorded the Middle English version as Song: Gabriel, fram heven-king on their album On Yoolis Night — Medieval Carols & Motets. Sting on the album If On A Winter’s Night recorded the Basque derivative under the title “Gabriel’s Message.” There’s a video of Sting singing “Gabriel’s Message” here. I particularly favor Sting’s rendition because it’s both simple and complex in the way Medieval music often is, and he doesn’t sing in an artsy pseudo operatic tenor.

References   [ + ]

1. Makëles or “matchless” is a triple pun; she is without peer, without a mate, also used in the Middle English lyric “I Sing of a Maiden.”
2. Archives de la tradition basque, 1895

The Boar’s Head Carol

“The Boar’s Head Caro”l celebrates a Christmastide tradition of ceremonially cooking and presenting the boar’s head as a main course at a feast. Indeed, Queen’s college still celebrates a notable boar and an alum in “The Boar’s Head Carol.”

Tradition says, or at least William Henry Husk, Librarian to the Sacred Harmonic Society says,  that the boar’s head tradition of a feast at Queens derives from

Where an amusing tradition formerly current in Oxford concerning the boar’s head custom, which represented that usage as a commemoration of an act of valour performed by a student of the college, who, while walking in the neighbouring forest of Shotover and reading Aristotle, was suddenly attacked by a wild boar. The furious beast came open-mouthed upon the youth, who, however, very courageously, and with a happy presence of mind, thrust the volume he was reading down the boar’s throat, crying, “Græcum est,” and fairly choked the savage with the sage (London: John Camden Hotten, 1868 reprinted by Norwood Editions, Norwood, PA, 1973).

The Middle English version of The Boar’s Head Carol:

Chorus: Caput afri differo (The boar’s head I offer)
Reddens  laudes domino (Giving praises to the Lord).

The bores heed in hand bring I,
With garlans gay and rosemary,
I pray you all synge merely
Qui estis in convivio (As many as are in the feast).

The bores heed, I vnderstande,
Is the  chefe seruyce in this lande;
Loke, where euer it be fande,
Seruite cum cantico (Let us serve with song).

Be gladde lordes, both more and lasse,
For this hath ordeyned our stewarde
To chere you all this Christmasse,
The bores heed with mustarde.

I grew up hearing “The Boar’s Head” carol every Christmas, by way of a Time Life album my mom had. But I think my very favorite recording is the one from Harry Christopher’s The Sixteen. It’s a super collection of medieval and renaissance Christmas carols, and it’s neither too folksy nor too operatic. I’ve linked to it to the left; the iTunes album is Christmas Music from Medieval and Renaissance Europe – Harry Christophers & The Sixteen. You can also just buy The Boar’s Head Carol.

The Boar’s Head Carol

There was a Medieval Christmastide tradition of ceremonially cooking and presenting the boar’s head as a main course at a feast. Indeed, Queen’s college still celebrates a notable boar and an alum in “The Boar’s Head Carol.”

Tradition says, or at least William Henry Husk, Librarian to the Sacred Harmonic Society, says that the boar’s head tradition of a feast at Queens derives from

Where an amusing tradition formerly current in Oxford concerning the boar’s head custom, which represented that usage as a commemoration of an act of valour performed by a student of the college, who, while walking in the neighbouring forest of Shotover and reading Aristotle, was suddenly attacked by a wild boar. The furious beast came open-mouthed upon the youth, who, however, very courageously, and with a happy presence of mind, thrust the volume he was reading down the boar’s throat, crying, “Græcum est,” and fairly choked the savage with the sage.1)London: John Camden Hotten, 1868. Reprinted by Norwood Editions, Norwood, PA, 1973.

The Middle English version of The Boar’s Head Carol:

Chorus: Caput afri differo2)Latin:The boar’s head I offer.
Reddens laudes domino.3)Giving praises to the Lord.
The bores heed in hand bring I,
With garlans gay and rosemary,
I pray you all synge merely
Qui estis in convivio.4)Latin:As many as are in the feast.

The bores heed, I vnderstande,
Is the chefe seruyce in this lande;
Loke, where euer it be fande,
Seruite cum cantico.5)Latin: Let us serve with song.
Be gladde lordes, both more and lasse,
For this hath ordeyned our stewarde
To chere you all this Christmasse,
The bores heed with mustarde.

I grew up hearing “The Boar’s Head”carol every Christmas, by way a Time Life album my mom had. But I think my very favorite recording is the one from Harry Christopher’s The Sixteen on the album Christmas Music from Medieval and Renaissance Europe — Harry Christophers & The Sixteen. It’s a super collection of medieval and renaissance Christmas carols, neither too folksy nor too operatic. You can also just buy The Boar’s Head Carol on iTunes.

References   [ + ]

1. London: John Camden Hotten, 1868. Reprinted by Norwood Editions, Norwood, PA, 1973.
2. Latin:The boar’s head I offer.
3. Giving praises to the Lord.
4. Latin:As many as are in the feast.
5. Latin: Let us serve with song.

Soul Cake and Souling

Soul, soul, a soul cake!
I pray thee, good missus, a soul cake!
One for Peter, two for Paul,
Three for Him what made us all!
Soul cake, soul cake, please good missus, a soul cake.
An apple, a pear, a plum, or a cherry, anything good thing to make us all merry.
One for Peter, one for Paul, and three for Him who made us all.

All Souls’ Day is one of the feast days of the Roman Catholic Church. All Souls is observed on November 2. Special prayers are offered for the deceased souls in Purgatory, believed to be waiting. All Souls follows All Saints Day on November 1, the day on which the saints in heaven are commemorated under the assumption that the souls languishing in purgatory should also be remembered and prayed for. All Souls’ was established initially by Abbot Odilo of Cluny (d. 1049). All Souls’ was widely celebrated by the 13th century. All Souls’ is also known as Soulmas Day or Saumas.

Prior to the Protestant Reformation, it was common in England and the British Isles for people to give food and alms to the poor on All Souls’ Day with the assumption that the food was recompense for praying for the dead. In the 17th century John Aubrey (Remaines of Gentilisme and Judaisme. 1686–87. Ed. James Britten. London: The Folklore Society, 1880. 23) describes piles of small cakes set out on All Souls’ in Shropshire houses; visitors to the house would take one with the understanding that they would pray for the souls of the departed family members. The idea is that the prayers will assist the departed souls in Purgatory to move on to Heaven. Aubrey offers two lines of a lyric he describes as ‘an old Rhythm or saying’:

A Soule-cake, a Soule-cake,
Have mercy on all Christen soules for a Soule-cake.

Aubrey’s reference is to a traditional lyric performed by “mummers,” people going house to house on and singing on November 2, the Feast of All Souls, Commemoration of all the Faithful Departed, or in Latin commemoratio omnium fidelium Defunctorum in hopes that the mistress of the house would reward them with a soul cake. The soul cake, as suggested by Aubrey’s reference is a small cake that was typically made with oats as well as flour, and seasoned with spices and dried fruits. The mummers or singers would be rewarded for praying with the small cakes. The cakes and the custom of distributing them to visitors date back to the Middle Ages in England. The practice of going house to house and singing is called “souling” and is frequently cited an analogue if not an ancestor of modern day Halloween trick or treat. Souling seems to be a fairly localized custom until the 19th century, and was primarily associated with Shropshire, north Staffordshire, Cheshire, and Lancashire.

There are genuine medieval recipes for soul cakes but they’re generally not very tasty. Like many medieval desserts, historic soul cake recipes tend to be heavy with respect to spices for modern tastes. Later recipes, especially those from the 18th century are much more like a modern slightly spicy scone with dried fruit.

Here is a modernized version of a recipe from the English recipe compilation referred to as Elinor Fettiplace’s Receipt Book. The original recipe from 1604 is as follows:

Take flower & sugar & nutmeg & cloves & mace & sweet butter & sack & a little ale barme, beat your spice, & put in your butter & your sack, cold, then work it well all together, & make it in little cakes, & so bake them, if you will you may put in some saffron into them and fruit.

There’s a modern version of the recipe here, one that was featured on The Food Network.

And here’s Sting on the David Letterman Show, singing the Soul Cake song, with the traditional melody, and some lovely but not quite so ancient additional lyrics. The song is from Sting’s If On a Winter’s Night album of seasonal music for Winter.

Halloween

And pleasant is the fairy land,
But, an eerie tale to tell,
Ay at the end of seven years
We pay a tiend to hell;
I am sae fair and fu o flesh,
I’m feard it be mysel.
But the night is Halloween, lady,
The morn is Hallowday;
Then win me, win me, an ye will,
For weel I wat ye may.

In 609 Pope Boniface IV pronounced November 1 All Saints’ Day. It was a day to commemorate all the saints of the church. In 837 Pope Gregory IV formally ordered the observance of All Saints’ Day.

All Saints n.
November 1, the day on which a Christian feast honoring all the saints is observed. Also called Allhallows (AHD).

In Medieval England the day was known as Allhallows, or All Hallows’ Day; the evening before was known as All Hallows’ Eve, or Halloween. Hallow is a verb meaning:

1. to make holy; sanctify; consecrate.
2. to honor as holy; consider sacred; venerate: to hallow a battlefield.

Hallow is fairly early and cognate with holy; it’s derived from Old English hālgian, derived from Old English hālig or “holy,” and cognate with German heiligen and Old Norse helga (AHD).

The relationship between Halloween and the Celtic harvest feast of Samain/Samhain isn’t clear; it’s not unreasonable to assume that one of the reasons Pope Gregory specifically sanctioned the November first date is that there was a Pagan feast day with precedence, and one associated with the dead, and the Otherworld of the Sídhe, or the fairies to English speakers. We see this in the ballad of “Tam Lin,” in which the mortal Tam Lin is taken by the Queen of Fairies to dwell with her. He fears he is to be the sacrifice, the teind or tax to hell, unless his mortal lover Janet can save him on Halloween. There are many versions of the ballad of Tam Lin; my favorite is probably from the album Liege and Lief by Fairport Convention, featuring the amazing vocals of Sandy Denny.


Cover of Elizabeth Pope's Perilous Gard

There are several novelizations of “Tam Lin” as well multiple musical versions. The first one I read, and still one of my very favorite’s is Elizabeth Pope’s Perilous Gard. It’s a YA set in Elizabethan England. The heroine is one of Elizabeth I’s ladies-in-waiting, removed from Hatfield “for her own good,” and placed in the guardian ship of a minor noble in Derby, near the location of the Blue John fluorspar mine in the caverns at Treak Cliff near Castleton in the Derbyshire hills. Pope’s novel is not a retelling of the ballad, but the ballad is a thematic touchstone for the novel, one that the characters refer to.

Cover of Pamela Dean's Tam Lin Pamela Dean‘s Tam Lin is set in a small liberal arts college, with Janet an incoming freshman. It too is a fabulous book, with a lovely and very different take on Tam Lin. Dean’s Tam Lin is rich with literary allusions that are a joy if you recognize them but that aren’t intrusive.The ballad is a source, and a touchstone for Dean’s novel, but again, this is not a mere retelling. Dean’s Tam Lin is also a super female bildungsroman, or coming of age story, and the heroine Janet has a believable voice.

The Cherry-Tree Carol

The Cherry-tree Carol:

O then bespoke Mary,
so meek and so mild:
“Pluck me one cherry, Joseph,
for I am with child.”

O then bespoke Joseph,
with words most unkind:
“Let him pluck thee a cherry
that brought thee with child.”

manuscript image of The Flight Into Egypt


Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library. “Miniature of Virgin and Child [Flight into Egypt?], large initial on gold, linefiller, full border design. 1440–1460. https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47da-e494-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

The Cherry-tree Carol appears to have first been collected in Britain in the seventeenth century. Francis James Child printed three versions, calling the song “The Cherry-Tree Carol,” and publishing it as Child Ballad 54. It was collected previously, and subsequently, in versions from all over the British isles, and from America’s Appalachia region, where Jean Ritchie popularized the Cherry-tree Carol, in a version memorialized by Joan Baez and others.

In 1992 the editors of The New Oxford Book of Carols (after James Child) described the Cherry-tree carol as one of several “doubting Joseph” carols, including The Cherry Tree Carols, Joseph Being An Aged Man, Joseph Being An Old Man Truly, and Joseph Was An Old Man (Keyte and Parrott, eds. The New Oxford Book of Carols. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992. Carol #129, pp. 446-8).

The basic motifs include the context of the “flight into Egypt,” when Joseph and Mary fleeing Herod’s “massacre of the innocents” after an angel warns Joseph via a dream that Herod intends to kill all first born male children (Matthew 2:13), fruit miraculously appearing and offering itself to Mary, and Joseph’s repentance for casting doubt on Mary’s chastity (Joseph’s jealousy is referenced in Matthew 1:18 1:25).

The story is an old one, appearing in Chapter 20 of the Apocryphal Pseudo Matthew, written sometime in the ninth century, wherein the fleeing Joseph and Mary are in the Egyptian dessert, and Mary, hungry and thirsty, wishes she might consume some of the unreachable dates on the date palm.

And it came to pass on the third day of their journey, while they were walking, that the blessed Mary was fatigued by the excessive heat of the sun in the desert; and seeing a palm tree, she said to Joseph: Let me rest a little under the shade of this tree. Joseph therefore made haste, and led her to the palm, and made her come down from her beast.

And as the blessed Mary was sitting there, she looked up to the foliage of the palm, and saw it full of fruit, and said to Joseph: I wish it were possible to get some of the fruit of this palm. And Joseph said to her: I wonder that thou sayest this, when thou seest how high the palm tree is; and that thou thinkest of eating of its fruit. I am thinking more of the want of water, because the skins are now empty, and we have none wherewith to refresh ourselves and our cattle.

Then the child Jesus, with a joyful countenance, reposing in the bosom of His mother, said to the palm: O tree, bend thy branches, and refresh my mother with thy fruit. And immediately at these words the palm bent its top down to the very feet of the blessed Mary; and they gathered from it fruit, with which they were all refreshed. And after they had gathered all its fruit, it remained bent down, waiting the order to rise from Him who bad commanded it to stoop.

Then Jesus said to it: Raise thyself, O palm tree, and be strong, and be the companion of my trees, which are in the paradise of my Father; and open from thy roots a vein of water which has been hid in the earth, and let the waters flow, so that we may be satisfied from thee. And it rose up immediately, and at its root there began to come forth a spring of water exceedingly clear and cool and sparkling. And when they saw the spring of water, they rejoiced with great joy, and were satisfied, themselves and all their cattle and their beasts. Wherefore they gave thanks to God.

Sometime in the fifteenth century in slightly revised form of the story appears in the anonymous cycle drama known as either Ludus Coventriae, or the N-Town Plays, depending on the edition and editor. Here, in Play 15, the Nativity, the Egyptian date has been transformed to the much more English fruit, the cherry, unseasonably bearing fruit in Winter. The cherry tree, at Mary’s request, bows down that she might pick and eat of its fruit.

MARIA A, my swete husbond, wolde ye telle to me
What tre is yon standynge upon yon hylle?
JOSEPH Forsothe, Mary, it is clepyd a chery tre.
In tyme of yere, ye myght fede yow theron youre fylle.
MARIA Turne ageyn, husbond, and beholde yon tre,
How that it blomyght now so swetly!
JOSEPH Cum on, Mary, that we worn at yon cyte,
Or ellys we may be blamyd, I telle yow lythly.
MARIA Now, my spowse, I pray yow to behold
How the cheryes growyn upon yon tre,
For to have therof ryght fayn I wold!
And it plesyd yow to labore so mech for me.
JOSEPH Youre desyre to fulfylle I shal assay, sekyrly.
Ow! To plucke yow of these cheries—it is a werk wylde
For the tre is so hygh, it wol not be lyghtly!
Therfore, lete hym pluk yow cheryes begatt yow with childe.
MARIA Now, good Lord I pray thee, graunt me this boun,
To have of these cheries and it be youre wylle.
Now I thank it, God—this tre bowyth to me down!
I may now gaderyn anowe and etyn my fylle.
JOSEPH Ow! I know weyl I have offendyd my God in Trinyte,
Spekyng to my spowse these unkynde wurdys,
For now I beleve wel it may non other be
But that my spowse beryght the Kyngys Son of Blys!
He help us now at oure nede.
Of the kynrede of Jesse, worthely were ye bore:
Kyngys and patryarkys gow beffore.
All these wurthy of youre kynred wore,
As clerkys in story rede.

There’s a strong association of miraculous cherries and the nativity in medieval English drama. In another of the cycle dramas, the Secunda Pastorum or Second Shepherd’s Play of the Wakefield master, the poor shepherds each provide a gift to the infant Christ. Coll, the eldest of the shepherds, brings the miraculously unseasonable fruit as his gift.

Hayll, yong child!
Hayll, maker, as I meyne,
Of a madyn so mylde!
Thou has waryd, I weyne
The warlo so wylde:
1030 The fals gyler of teyn,
Now goys he begylde.
Lo, he merys,
Lo, he laghys, my swetyng!
A wel fare metyng!
1035 I haue holden my hetyng;
Haue a bob of cherys.

Other shepherds offer the babe holly and a ball, instead of the myrrh, frankincense and gold of the Bible.

Last of all, we see the story of The Cherry-tree Carol transformed to the bare motifs of the miraculous fruit in the Middle English romance of Sir Cleges, seen here from Oxford MS Bodleian 6922 (Ashmole 61). Fols. 67b-73a, in ms. from the fifteenth century featuring a northeast midland dialect.1)The same ms. also contains one of the versions of Sir Orfeo. This late Arthurian romance has nothing to do with Chretien de Troye’s Cliges, at all; it is rather the story of a knight whose generosity and lavish public feasts, especially at Christmas, have paupered him. Cleges is presented with a miraculous cherry tree, bearing fruit out of season in his garden, when he kneels and prays. His wife suggests that Cleges and his son take the cherries as a Christmastide gift to King Uther in Cardiff.

As he knelyd onne hys kne
Underneth a chery tre
Makyng hys praere,
He rawght a bowghe in hys hond
To ryse therby and upstond;
No lenger knelyd he ther.
When the bowghe was in hys hond,
Gren levys theron he fond
And ronde beryes in fere.
He seyd, “Dere God in Trinyte!
What maner beryes may this be
That grow this tyme of yere?
“I have not se this tyme of yere
That treys any fruyt schuld bere,
Als ferre as I have sought.”
He thought to tayst it yff he couthe:
One of them he put in hys mouthe;
Spare wold he nought.
After a chery it relesyd clene,
The best that ever he had sene
Seth he was man wrought.
A lytell bow he gan of slyfe,
And thought he wold schew it hys wyfe;
In hys hond he it brought.
“Lo, dame, here is a newylte:
In our garthyn upon a tre
I found it, sykerly.
I ame aferd it is tokenyng,
Because of our grete plenyng,
That more grevans is ny.”
His wyfe seyd, “It is tokenyng
Of more godnes that is comyng:
We schall have more plente.
Have we les or have we more,
Allwey thanke we God therfore;
It is the best, treulye.”
The lady seyd with gode cher,
“Late us fyll a panyer
Of the frute that God hath sente.
Tomorow when the dey do spryng
Ye schall to Cardyff to the Kyng,
Full feyre hym to presente.
Sych a gyft ye may hafe ther
That we schall the beter fare,
I tell you, verament.”
Syre Clegys grantyd sone therto:
“Tomorow to Cardyff I wyll go,
After your entent.”

Uther, having recognized Cleges as a knight he thought long dead, rewards Cleges and the knight”s son, thus ending their poverty.

You can, if you wish, find numerous versions of the Cherry-tree carol online, including versions from Jean Ritchie, Joan Baez, Sting, and the Anonymous 4. Here’s one of the many versions in full:

The Cherry-tree Carol

Joseph and Mary walked
through an orchard green,
Where was berries and cherries,
as thick as might be seen.

O then bespoke Mary,
so meek and so mild:
“Pluck me one cherry, Joseph,
for I am with child.”

O then bespoke Joseph,
with words most unkind:
“Let him pluck thee a cherry
that brought thee with child.”

O then bespoke the babe,
within his mother’s womb:
”Bow down then the tallest tree,
for my mother to have some.”

Then bowed down the highest tree
unto his mother’s hand;
Then she cried, See, Joseph,
I have cherries at command.

O then bespake Joseph:
”I have done Mary wrong;
But cheer up, my dearest,
and be not cast down.”

References   [ + ]

1. The same ms. also contains one of the versions of Sir Orfeo.

Gift Music Meme

This is the first meme I’ve created; I’d been thinking about it for a while, and with help and collusion from my friend MacAllister Stone, I think I’ve figured out how it might work. Won’t you play too?

The purpose of this meme is to gift a friend with a single song you’ve chosen from the iTunes store, and to have the friend blog about the song, and, if they like tag one or more of their friends. You have to have Apple’s free iTunes software for Mac or Windows to use the iTunes store.

  1. Pick one or more of your friends who listens to digital music; preferably someone who already has iTunes and an iTunes account, and who has a blog or Live Journal or something similar.
  2. Songs are .99 cents on iTunes; if people want to send MP3s directly, that’s up to them, but post the song title, artist, and album anyway. I suspect it’s possible to do this with other music services, but I don’t know. There are also lots of good sources for free music on the net; feel free to use those, or to publicize indie artists you like a lot. Oh, and there are free songs at Amazon too.

  3. Select the song you want to give.
  4. Post this meme on your blog or Live Journal, and list your friends, the songs you’ve chosen for them, (keep the song a secret until after you friend receives it, if you’d like), a link to their blog, and these instructions. Feel free to add a comment about why you chose the song.
  5. Purchase the single song for each friend, one at a time, (that is don’t buy three songs for three friends.) If you want to use the iTunes store Give music feature, find the song, then click the Gift button that’s included in the link for the album the song is on (near the top); then click the Gift button for that song. When you check out, you’ll be shown a form with spaces for your name, your friend’s name and email address, and a short message. This will be emailed to your friends, with instructions about how to download their gift songs. Use the message to send them a link to the permalink for your blog post about the meme so they’ll know to blog about the song. Use “Gift music” as the Tag if you tag posts.
  6. If you decide to “gift back” someone who tags you, please also tag someone else, so we can have a variety of musical tastes, journals, and people.

Troubleshooting: You do need to have the iTunes application installed before you try to download the song; it wouldn’t hurt to have it open either. If the URL in the email from the iTunes store doesn’t seem to work, try copying it, line by line to a new document, deleting any return characters or extra spaces your email program may have inserted as it “broke” the URL into separate lines.

I’m tagging the following innocent victims:

Updated: I’ve managed to find songs for some other people–that’s both hard and fun–so here are some others I’m tagging:

  • Dori Smith“Come on a My House” by Rosemary Clooney from 16 Most Requested Songs: Rosemary Clooney
  • Kip Manley “Avanti” by Corvax Corus from Mille Anni Passi Sunt