WARNING: Some of this
subject matter is a bit grim.
In northern European countries a festival was traditionally held at the end
of October that dealt with the slaughter of animals at a time when the
vegetation was dying and there wouldn’t be enough food for them anyway. That’s why
Halloween is a bit gruesome, but it’s also a time of feasting and merriment
since there is a lot of food. In northern countries it
was customary to have a feast and people went to the cemetery to visit the
graves of dead family members. Often a candle is left burning at the grave site,
and some food or drink may be left for them. In Russia, where the holiday is called Dziady, the dead are likely to
get a shot of vodka. But for gorey good fun, you have to go to the Celts and the
When I was a child, we used to sing endless rounds of “Great big gobs of
gooshy, gooey gopher guts...” when we went trick or treating at Halloween. But I
was interested in whether there might be any traditional songs or stories associated with this time of year. Many of the songs in this collection
for Halloween and Samhain are related to the Creation Myth that tells how *Yama, the first cow was dismembered by the first man,
and the world was created from its body. But whether these compositions actually
fit with Indo-European Religion or not, all of these songs and stories
have a certain spooky, ethereal or exotic quality that we associate with
Halloween and Samhain and most of them are very beautiful. I have put the lyrics
for some of them on the Halloween Song Lyrics page so that you can easily print
them out and, I hope, sing them. There are some 26 items here, numbered for convenience. #gargoyle
Table of Contents
Story of the First Gargoyle
Yemaya and St. James Infirmary Blues
1. Story of the First Gargoyle
This story is a French saint’s tale, and explains why there are gargoyles on the
walls of northern French cathedrals. The architectural use of gargoyles is surely based on a late Gallic Pagan tradition of hanging bucrania
(cow skulls) on the walls of the sanctuary as at Gournay-sur-Aronde. The festival of St. Romain and the Gargoyle was celebrated on May 1st or April 30th,
and a description of the festival is given in the Golden Bough, Vol. 2, pp. 165-170 and Vol. 2, p. 314ff.
However the actual feast day of St. Romain (or St. Romanus in Latin) is set to Oct. 23, the date of the translation of his
relics, and not incidentally the date in northern countries for one of the feast
days of St. James, a Pagan Saint always associated with *Yama. In any case this story can probably
be told at this time of the year because the subject matter is appropriate. Unfortunately, there’s no recording of this story, so you will have to tell it
yourself. Here’s the gist of the story:
The story of the First Gargoyle tells that a dragon lived in the
marsh near the city of Rouen in France. Every day it ate the mariners or it
caused flooding of the river Seine. St. Romain came and made the dragon stop by
making the sign of the cross at it with his two index fingers. He was then able
to lead it back to town on a rope. Then the poor dragon was killed and its body
was burned, but since the head and neck wouldn’t burn (because they were used to
fire, as the story tells), they were hung up on the side of the cathedral. This
was the beginning of gargoyles, which are still used on churches to throw water
away from the walls.
Whatever the origin or
purpose of “gargoyles,” bucrania now have a purely decorative use on many
government buildings in the United States, and it’s fun to walk around town and
look for the various animal and human heads affixed near the tops of major
buildings. The university library in this town has a bunch of human heads carved
around the top of the outside walls, and there are rams’ heads hanging above the
coffee shop. #halloween
Halloween, meaning “holy evening,” or All Hallows Eve is the name of the
holiday in English. Note that it refers to the night before the 1st day
of November. It would have originally been celebrated on the dark of the moon
preceding the first new moon of winter. Now it is set to October 31st although
it is usually celebrated on the preceding Saturday night because even children
get to stay up late for this holiday. This season was called
Blodmonath in Anglo-Saxon for the obvious reason that it was the time of year that
animals were slaughtered before winter. Halloween was apparently influenced by
the Celts in England, or by the Irish and Scots in the United States. American Halloween
is a lot more fun than the tradition in a lot of European countries, however,
masking and elaborate parties for adults at this time of year have become
popular everywhere now.
2. Myth of Ymir
Myths are often recited or sung especially at the appropriate festivals because this is considered by the
Indo-Europeans to be a way to praise and honor the Gods. No seasonal date is connected to the story of Ymir
in Old Norse, but since it seems to represent the northern Indo-European practice of slaughtering livestock at the close of the summer season, it might
be told now. An explanation for the forms of this myth in various Indo-European languages is given in the Myth of Creation article. The Story of Ymir is told in Old Norse in two verses of
the Grimnismal 40-41, in the Elder Edda. Here is the text of the two verses in Old Norse (which can be heard as
Ymir in Old Norse) and in English translation:
|Old Norse original:
Ór Ýmis holdi
var jørð um scøpvð,
en ór sveita sær,
bjørg ór beinum,
baðmr ór hári,
en ór hausi himinn.
En ór hans brøm
gerðu blíð regin
Miðgarð manna sonom;
en ór hans heila
vøru þāu in harðmoðgu
scý øll um scøpuð.
Of Ymir’s flesh
the earth was fashioned,
And of his sweat the sea;
Crags of his bones,
trees of his hair,
And of his skull the sky.
Then of his brows,
the blithe Gods made
Midgard for sons of men;
And of his brain
Clouds were all created.
If we follow Tacitus who said that the Germanic people chanted the myths about their Gods at their celebrations, and if this identification of this myth with the season of Halloween is correct, then it would probably be appropriate to recite the entire myth at this time of year. The most complete version is given in the Prose Edda of Snorri Sturluson and can be found as the Myth of Ymir on a separate page on this website. The prose version includes the verses from the Grimnismal. I wasn’t able to find any performance of that but there is a decent retelling of the Norse Creation, Part 2 [myth of Ymir] on YouTube by the people at Story Forge, with Karyn Keene as the narrator. It is very likely that the English festival of Halloween or Hollantide equates to the Álfablót at this time of year, mentioned in Scandinavian sources, but very little is known about that.
3. There is a symphonic setting of the Elder Edda composed by Jón
Leifs. The CD is called Edda-Part 1, Sköpun heimsins (The Creation of the
World), and the section for Ymir is sung by Gunnar
Gudbjornsson, with the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra. They want you to buy the
whole CD, but I found some recordings of it that you can listen to on MySpace before you decide.
If you like the music in the Lord of the Rings movie, you will certainly like
this. It’s very powerful sounding.
English Ballads and Metrical Romances
Other songs in English are less obviously related to the myth of Ymir. Some are
ballads where one of the protagonists is named Grim, or Graham, and usually
somebody gets dismembered. Some of these texts are in very archaic English and
might be too long to sing, but they still might be fun to read in the dark by
candlelight (or a flashlight). They function a bit like ghost stories, with or
4. Sir Cawline
This song is known from several sources including
Child’s Ballads, #61, with the music given from Bronson. The words and music are
published on Digital Tradition at Sir Cawline ballad. This page has the lyrics in a
northern English dialect. I have rewritten them a bit on the Halloween Song Lyrics page to make them more clear in modern English. In this
version, Sir Cawline has to go to Orlange Hill in the middle of the night in the
dark of the moon, but in some versions Orlange Hill is called Eldritch Hill.
The words and music are published together in Traditional Ballad Airs, p. 18-19 and this is available on the net at
King Malcolm and Sir Colvin. There are two performances on the net now, one is Sir Colvin by Steve Turner, a shorter version. There is also a very long version published in Percy’s Reliques, with a performance
of King Malcolm and Sir Colvin by Raymond Crooke, but it runs about 14 minutes.
5. The Workhouse Boy
A nicely ghoulish ballad, this is
set to Christmas, but it fits better with Halloween and the myth of *Yama/James,
with the chorus, “Jamie’s been murdered by the overseers...” I would have
considered the name Jamie to be a coincidence except that (Spoiler Alert)
there are so many other points in common with the story of *Yama--poor Jamie is
murdered, necessarily dismembered, and eaten for dinner. His friends, the other
boys at the workhouse, mourn him and in some versions he is mourned by his
brother or twin brother or twin sister. The song is known in four different versions
from old broadsides, one of which mentions that it is sung to the tune of the
Mistletoe Bough. The words only for The Workhouse Boy are given on Digital Tradition, and then the tune for
Mistletoe Bough is given on a different page.
There is a performance of The Workhouse Boy by Grendel’s Bane on YouTube with the lyrics on the page and it is nicely creepy. It is probably based on the version by the group The Halliard with Nic Jones, Tony Rose and Jon Raven which can be heard on the MidWinter CDs, on disc 1.
6. Grim King of the Ghosts
This is actually an old music hall song about a guy who
is so in love that he wants to die, but ignore that and it’s great for
Halloween. I added some of the
verses (the ones I liked best) onto the Halloween Song Lyrics page. These are given from Percy’s Reliques.
The music for this song was
originally published in 1729 in John Gay’s “Beggar’s Opera” because he used the
tune for a different song.
A version of it is beautifully performed by Quodlings Delight on the
Heere Beginneth the Knights Tale CD. This is only available on the Quodlings Delight page and you can listen to it there.
7. The Erl-King
These poems in various Germanic
languages are delightfully spooky. The concept of a soul-stealing Erl-King seems
to have been borrowed into a Germanic language from a Mongolian original where
the name Erlik Khan is a name of the King of the Dead, and corresponds to Yama
in Mahayana Buddhism (see Other Correspondents). Somehow it was picked up by
Goethe and his poem Erlkönig dual language with translation by Edwin Zeydel, became a favorite romantic subject, with a
setting by Franz Schubert (Erl-koenig, D. 328). There is a performance of the Erl König by Franz Schubert with Daniel Norman, tenor and Sholto Kynoch, piano. I prefer this one because Kynock has a much lighter touch on the piano. Usually the piano sounds a bit clunky (I’m not Schubert’s biggest fan), although it is supposed to represent the sound of the horse running through the
But if that’s all too much German, it can just be read, preferably
by candlelight, in the form of the English poem The Erl-King by Sir Walter
Scott, (1731-1832). This poem is given on the Halloween Song Lyrics page and it makes a great ghost story.
Ballads of Tam Lin, Thomas the Rhymer and Orpheus
here. These songs and stories may be borrowed (Orpheus certainly is) and they
have no obvious connection to the Anglo-Saxon name Grim, but they have eerie
themes such as abduction by Kings and Queens of Faerie and travel to an Other
World. Some of the ballads include an explicit statement that the events in the
songs took place at All Hallows Eve.
8. Tam Lin
A number of versions of
this ballad are known from various sources, among them Child Ballad #39; with
the music given in Bronson, p. 327 vol. I. The words and music for Tam Lin can be found on Digital Tradition in several
versions. There is a good recording of Tam Lin sung by Sandy Denny with Fairport Convention from
the Liege and Lief CD, on YouTube.
9. Thomas the Rhymer
There are several versions of this
ballad known from the Child Ballads among other places. Sets of the
lyrics for Thomas the Rhymer from Child #37 can be found on
Sacred-Texts which has the whole set of lyrics from Child. A somewhat different
version with words and music for Thomas the Rhymer is on Digital Tradition. A recording
of the 6 minute version of Thomas the Rhymer by Steeleye Span can be heard on YouTube. The vocalist here is
10. Witch of the Westmoreland
© to Archie Fisher
This song doesn’t really have
anything to do with Halloween but is both spooky and beautiful and it goes well
with the other ballads so I am including it. It was written by a modern person
Archie Fisher and was first performed by him in 1976. You can hear the Witch of the Westmoreland performed by Stan Rogers on YouTube.
Versions of Eurydice and Orpheus
The story is obviously
based on the well-known Greek myth about the God or hero Orpheus, in which his
wife Eurydice dies or is abducted by Pluto, and Orpheus must negotiate with the
Gods for her return. The story was borrowed into English as early as the 1300’s,
where the Greek original is altered to fit with English culture (possibly with
Welsh or Breton influence). Unlike the usual Greek telling, the English versions end happily.
11. Sir Orfeo
One of the earliest versions is the Middle English metrical romance
Sir Orfeo by the author of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. This is quite long so I did not expect to find a performance of it, although the BBC made a film of it.
But there is a short segment of the Abduction of Herodias (Eurydice) from Sir Orfeo, beautifully performed by Linda Marie Zaerr who chants and sings it, with harp accompaniment by Laura Zaerr, on YouTube. The film has subtitles for the Middle English text and the YT page has a short synopsis of this section, which is just 3 minutes long.
12. King Orfeo
This is a great ballad and adapted to
medieval English culture with Pluto turned into the King of Faerie. Several
versions are known from the Shetland Islands, and one was remembered by John
Stickle who sang a few verses for Alan Lomax, thus preserving the tune for us. The
words are given in the Child Ballads #19; with the music in Bronson on p. 275,
Vol. 1. This has the very old-fashioned type of intertwined chorus where the
second and fourth lines of each verse are taglines. When Eurydice, or rather Queen Isabel, is abducted, it
is reported to King Orfeo that:
The King of Fairies with his dart,
Two versions of the words and music for King Orfeo are given on Digital Tradition with the
verses in the Scots dialect of English and with the Scandinavian taglines. Among
the beautiful recordings is a version of King Orfeo by the group Alva, with vocals by Vivien Ellis on the Love
Burns In Me CD. This is sung in modern English except for the taglines which are
in the Shetland Islands (Scandinavian) dialect. This is a very easy
song to learn.
green the wood grows early
has pierced your lady to her heart!
where the hart runs yearly.
13. Orphic Operas
More formally, there are some 64
operas about Eurydice and Orpheus, starting with La Favola d’Orfeo by
Monteverdi, first performed in 1607. It’s too much to include all of these but
you might be interested in a few choice selections.
One of the outstanding pieces of music from the Gluck version of Orfeo ed
Euridice (1762) is the Dance of the Blessed Spirits. This is in
the form of a ballet when Orpheus finds Eurydice in Elysium. You can see Pina Bausch’s production of the ballet on YouTube. But for my money
(free), there is a very beautiful and affecting performance by Tony Lin and Ben Morrison of just the
music using violin and piano, also on YouTube.
And then there is the sarcastic and cynical version Orpheus in the
Underworld by Jacques Offenbach, first performed in 1858. Here Eurydice
is so bored with her fiddle-playing husband Orpheus that she begs to die. This
operetta descends (in more ways than one) into the Moulin Rouge version of
classical mythology. In Offenbach’s satirical skewering of Gluck’s opera, the
Dance of the Blessed Spirits is replaced by an Infernal Galop, which everyone
knows as the CanCan (No. 53, the Chaconne). Here the “underworld” of Greek myth
is equated to the demimonde of Paris. There is a short reprise of Offenbach’s melodies written by Johann Strauss Jr., as the Orpheus Quadrille (opus 236) and this includes the cancan, which can be heard especially at the end. The Orpheus Quadrille is played by the Slovak State Philharmonic Orchestra and it’s only 5:41 long, on YouTube. This music is quite charming but not spookey.
Traditional Halloween Customs
Halloween Traditions from Yesteryore are described in an article by Carolyn Emerick at the Archivist’s Corner with games and vintage pictures and a link to the poem Halloween by Robert Burns. This describes the customs for family Halloween parties in Scotland and we celebrated this way when I was growing up in the U.S. with bobbing for apples and other children’s games. #samhain
This is the name of the Celtic holiday
celebrated at the time of the fall animal slaughter and it retains songs and
traditions of the ancient Pagan festival.
14. Táin Bó Cúailnge
There are several Celtic myths or stories that refer to the Creation of the World but the most widely recognized one falls near the end of the Táin Bó Cúailnge, when the two bulls fight and the Brown Bull kills the White Bull. This story is told very briefly on the page that gives the Indo European Creation Myths. It should be noted that the events in the Táin Bó may begin, mythologically speaking, in the fall but the main events of the story, including the battle between the bulls, are explicitly stated to occur at Imbolc, around February 2nd.
Souling Songs or Soul-Cake Songs
Souling is a folk
custom which continues in some areas of England on Samhain, the night of October
31. Children go about in groups and sing Souling Songs and beg for treats, very
similar to American Halloween. The traditional request was for Soul Cakes,
which were probably whatever kind of bread or cookie people had around though all of the recipes I’ve seen include exotic ingredients like corn syrup or ginger. There
are many versions of the Souling Songs.
15. Soul-Cake Songs
The words and music for the Soul-Cake
song (which begins “A soul, a soul, a soul-cake!”) are available as Soul-Cake Song on Digital Tradition. This is the short
version which is just sung repetitively. Another version with additional verses
sung to the same tune is the Souling Song also at Digital Tradition. There are very pretty performances such as The Souling Song recorded by John Langstaff, on the Jackfish CD; and by the children’s chorus on A Child’s Christmas Revels CD. These two can be listened to on MySpace. Another good version is the
Souling Song by the Watersons on the Frost and Fire CD which has the subtitle “A Calendar of Ritual and Magical Songs.” This has the sharp change in tempo which isn’t marked on the notated music.
There is another version of this song with better, more traditional words,
published by Jon Raven (p. 23):
Soul! Soul! for an apple or two;
If you’ve got no apple, pears will do,
Soul! Soul! for your soul’s sake,
Pray good mistress, a Soul Cake!
An apple, or pear, a plum or a cherry,
Or any good thing to make us all
St. Peter was a good old man,
And so for his sake, give us one.
None of your worst, but one of your best,
So God may send your souls to
Up with your kettles, and down with your pans,
Give us a Soul Cake
and we’ll be gone!
16. Antrobus Soulcakers Song
There is a second Soul Cake
Song which begins “We are one, two, three hearty good lads....” This song was
sung by the Antrobus Soulcakers and they were recorded by Alan Lomax or Peter Kennedy on the English Customs and Traditions CD, Vol. 9, Songs of Christmas. The lyrics to this Soul Cake Song are at the Mainly Norfolk: English Folk
and Other Good Music website put together by Reinhard Zierke. This website gives
lyrics to many traditional folk songs, and it’s well written. The notated music
is available as the first song for the Rudheath (Cheshire) Souling Play which
follows next on this list. The Antrobus Soulcakers Song is sung at the beginning of the
Greenman Mummers Souling Play on YouTube. It falls in the first 1:08 of the play (after a bit of harrumphing), and this is a good foot-stomping song, suitable for singing in a bar.
17. Souling Plays
There are entire plays for celebrating
this festival written out. Back in the 1800’s the Soulers or Soul-Cakers were
adults and they would go from house to house and perform Souling Plays, and
these were written down by early collectors. There are
many folk plays which for some reason the English refer to as Mummer’s plays. People still perform them, some by
tradition and some as a revival. Of course the grownups would ask for beer and
money, not cookies; some don’t ask for anything. The practice of Souling is
thought to bring good luck to all the houses that are visited. Souling Plays are
usually distinguished from other folk plays by having a “Horse” which is
actually a horse’s skull on a broom handle, manipulated by someone referred to
as the “Driver” played by an actual human being. Usually the Driver speaks for
the Horse, with a speech that introduces the Horse, here called “Dick”:
In comes Dick and all his men,
Although this play is in English, the use of a horse in this context may show
Celtic influence. Aside from the Horse and a Souling Song, Souling Plays include
the same elements as most English folkplays: a fight between two famous warriors
in which one is killed, and then revived by a Quack Doctor, with much silly
slapstick humor and jokes. Souling Plays include the Guilden Sutton Play and the
Rudheath (Cheshire) Souling Play, named for the geographic areas of England
where they were first collected by folklorists in the 1800 and 1900’s.
Many English folk plays, some with music, are given on the website: www.folkplay.info. This website gives the entire script
for the Rudheath (Cheshire) Souling Play, including the words
and music for the introductory Souling Song.
He’s come to see you once again.
Was once alive and now he’s dead,
And nothing but a poor old horse’s
There are at least five Souling Plays performed on YouTube. My favorite is
the Comberbach Souling Play with a really creepy horse.
This has good clear words and it’s only about 10 minutes long.
18. Hop Tu Naa
Note that Naa is pronounced “nay,” rhymes with “pay” in English. This song is known from the Isle of Man and is sung in Manx Gaelic and in many versions in English. It is their customary song at this time of the year, sung as part of house to house visits by children. A very brief version of the song was recorded by Winifred Woods in 1965, with the words:
Hop Tu Naa, Hop Tu Naa!
As Carolyn Emerick points out, a number of the verses describe cutting and sharing various parts of the body, and so this probably reflects the custom at this time of year of butchering livestock, with the livestock being imagined as a human victim. She gives more information with links to several videos on her Hop-Tu-Naa page, and the videos can be used to learn the songs. The Isle of Man website gives many variations of Hop Tu Naa with words in both Manx and English. The music for one version of the song is published in Bronwen Forbes’ book Make Merry in Dance and Song.
Jinny the Witch flew over the house
To get the stick to lather the mouse!
Hop Tu Naa, Hop Tu Naa!
Modern Samhain Songs
There are several good modern songs
for Samhain that you might like, although some are Wiccan in outlook. These songs are copyright to their modern
composers, so I don’t include the written music, but I have included the words
for two of them on the Halloween Song Lyrics page because they were widely
19. All Souls Night by Loreena McKennitt
This is a beautiful ethereal song on The Visit CD, and it is available to buy through the
Loreena McKennitt official
page, although her page is difficult to navigate. The song All Souls Night can be heard on YouTube at the moment.
20. Samain by Steeleye Span
This song gives a rather
christianized view of Samhain, fitting with Halloween traditions in Scotland, but I still like it. It’s on the They Called Her
Babylon CD. The song Samain is currently on YouTube, with a lot of heavy guitar.
21. All Hallows Eve by Wiccan Ways
The lyrics for this
song begin, “Now the door is open, between spirit and physical realm...” From
the Other Side of Midnight CD, this has music that sounds both foreboding and
beautiful, but the words are rather sweet if you listen to them. This is Wicca,
but the practice fits fairly closely with the Indo-European tradition of
ancestor worship. I only found this on other people’s MySpace playlists, because
Wiccan Ways doesn’t seem to have a website of their own.
22. Samhain Song by Lisa Thiel
This is a beautiful song
and she has a beautiful voice. It’s on the album Circle of the Seasons, song #9.
You can listen to this Samhain Song on YouTube, and this version has the lyrics right on the page.
23. Souling Song (Samhain Version) by Kristen Lawrence
© to Kristen Lawrence
This song starts out with the chorus of the traditional Soul Cake song, but there are many additional verses written from the point of view of the ghosts. Make sure you have some Soul Cakes in case they show up at your house! The lyrics are on the page. It has a modern sound with a synthesizer but it’s very beautiful and spooky. It’s on the
Broom with a View CD at CDBaby, and the Souling Song by Kristen Lawrence can be heard on YT. #yemaya
Story and Song of Yemaya
24. The Story of Yemaya
Yemaya is an orisha or Goddess in the Santeria (Voodoo) religion. The Story of Yemaya is told in Cakes for the Queen of Heaven by Shirley Ann Ranck (pp.
153-4). She has excerpted it from Jambalaya by Luisah Teish, a Santeria
priestess from New Orleans who now has a congregation in
Oakland, California. Yemaya is the name in Yoruba, a language of West Africa, and yet the story of
Yemaya seems to correspond in some way to the myths of Yama/Ymir which are known
in various Indo-European languages and in some Semitic languages, though the
nature of the connection is opaque to me. This is the story quoted from Ranck:
In the Yoruba religion of Africa, personal power, ashe is
personified in a variety of orishas, or deities. Yemaya is the Mother of the
Sea, the Great Water, the Womb of Creation. Yemaya gazes often into the waters.
Each time she wonders who that beautiful woman is who stares back at her. One
time as she wondered, her belly grew until it exploded, covering the land with
lakes and rivers and streams. Then Yemaya looked into the waters again, and
wondered about the beautiful woman she saw. Again her belly grew until it
exploded and filled the heavens with stars and a full moon. Finally Yemaya
looked into the full moon and even there she saw that same beautiful woman. Once
again her belly grew until it exploded and there before her stood thousands of
beautiful women. “Who are you beautiful women?” Yemaya asked. The women looked
deep into the eyes of the Goddess Yemaya and there they saw their own
reflections. So the women said to Yemaya, “We’re you.”
25. The Goddess Yemanja (among other spellings) is worshipped among many people of African ancestry, and
in the New World she is equated to the Spanish Catholic saint Santiago or San
Diego (St. James). The Song of Yemaya is popular throughout the
Caribbean and is found in Cuban and Creole music. It has been recorded in dozens
of versions and they are all great in an exotic world-beat sort of way. My
favorite version is sung by Nurudafina Pili Abena on the Ancient Mothers CD, put
together by Robert Gass and On Wings of Song, a women’s chorus. There is a version of Yemaya
by Abbilona, with very interesting rhythms and a powerful singer. Another version by Deva Premal on the Music for Yoga CD sounds like a lullaby. The last
is not spooky enough for Halloween, but I liked it anyway. Deva Premal’s Yemaya Assessu can be heard on YouTube and this version has
beautiful pictures of water, put together by Andreea Petcu, the editor of the
YouTube video. [fuggle26]
26. St. James Infirmary Blues
And finally, since we have
managed to work our way back to New Orleans with a voodoo priestess, I feel free
to suggest a version of the St. James Infirmary Blues. The song might just be
pressed into relevance, based on the fact that St. James is the patron saint of
trauma victims, which is why there are so many hospitals dedicated to him,
including the one in New Orleans referred to in this song. There are many
versions of this song, but my favorites today are by Cab Calloway, and I
especially want to recommend the 1920’s Talkartoons videos of Betty Boop with
Cab Calloway singing his hit songs. These are available on YouTube, for example,
Betty Boop in Minnie the Moocher and Betty Boop as Snow White with the St. James Infirmary Blues. Both
of these videos are full of ghosts and the music is fabulous, so of course they
are appropriate for Halloween. If you just want to hear the songs, here are some
good short versions of Minnie the Moocher and St. James Infirmary Blues.
I hope these are enough good songs that you can put together a playlist of
music suitable for the season. I have also put together a page of Halloween Song Lyrics which anyone can print out to sing them because I wish to
encourage people to sing and tell stories. I think there should be more singing.
Music References (which I hope you may find
• Bronson, Bertrand Harris, Traditional Tunes of the Child Ballads, Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 1959.
• Child, Francis James, The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1882-1898 (and subsequent editions). Lyrics from Child Ballads on Sacred-Texts
• Christie, W. and Christie, Wm. Traditional Ballad Airs, Volume 2, David Douglas (publ.), Edinburgh, 1881.
• Raven, Jon, The Urban and Industrial Songs of the Black Country and Birmingham, Broadside, Wolverhampton, 1977.
• Percy, Thomas, Reliques of Ancient English Poetry, ed. by Henry Wheatley, Swan Sonnenschein & Co. London, 1891.
• English Folkplays (Mummers’ Plays), some with songs with words and music are on the net at www.folkplay.info
• Forbes, Bronwen, Make Merry in Step and Song, Llewellyn Publications, Woodbury, Minnesota, 2009.
• Frost and Fire CD by the Watersons
• Frazer, James George, The Golden Bough, MacMillan & Co. Ltd., London, 1919-1920, (12 vol. edition), includes many
descriptions of traditional folk festivals.
• Grimnismal 40-41, (Poetic Edda). The English translation of Ymir is quoted from p. 21, The Prose Edda by Snorri Sturluson, translated by Arthur Gilchrist Brodeur, The American-Scandinavian Foundation, Oxford University Press, London, 1923.
• Ranck, Shirley Ann, Cakes for the Queen of Heaven, Delphi Press, Inc., Chicago, Ill, 1995.
• Boer, R.C., ed., Die Edda, Martinus Nijhoff, ’s-Gravenhage, 1922. The Old Norse text of Ymir is given from this book.
• Price, T. Douglas, Europe Before Rome, Oxford University Press, Oxford and N.Y., 2013.
Unscholarly Sidenote: Here is a link to some suggestions for Halloween costumes, which I am including because they are very funny and actually rather clever.
This article was published at pierce.yolasite.com/hallsongs but Yola went out of business in 2011, when their servers were hacked by a disgruntled employee. The article is now published here, expanded and updated.
© 2007, last updated 10/26/2015, piereligion.org/hallsongs.html