Leeting the Witches & Soul Cakes; Haunting Traditions Of Lancashire.

If like me, you are somewhat attached to British, Brythonic and Celtic folklore and you live in the North of England, then you may be lucky enough to be part of a community that still participates in this Pagan-Christian Folk tradition.

Perhaps you’re even blessed enough to live in a rural area that still carries out this custom, and on a cold and misty November eve, can hear the doleful, yet slightly festive tones of locals going door to door singing…

“A soul! a soul! A soul-cake!
Please good Missus, a soul-cake!
An apple, a pear, a plum, or a cherry,
Any good thing to make us all merry.
One for Peter, two for Paul
Three for Him who made us all”.

But what are Soul cakes? And what does it mean to go ‘Souling’.

‘Souling’ is most often viewed as a Christian folk practice carried out between All Hallows eve and Christmas; although traditionally, it was usually carried out on 1st November; ‘All Souls Day’. However, despite being viewed largely as a Christian folk custom, it cannot be denied that there are some Pagan-like aspects to the practice. For example, the exchange of gifts and the offering of prayers to loved ones and Ancestors, so that their spirits may journey well. Some Catholic churches today (such as the parish church I attended as a child – oddly enough in Greater London, not a place often associated with the custom of Souling) even go as far as to actively discourage Souling for being too ‘Pagan’.

If we temporarily press pause on the Christian vs Pagan folk practices and their differences and similarities, we see that Souling was the annual custom of groups of young people and beggars wandering local villages. They would go door to door and sing traditional Souling songs and In return for their efforts, the inhabitants of the homes visited would offer the ‘Soulers’ soul cakes. These cakes were given in exchange for the Soulers prayers for the spirits of the dead, in the hope that they would one day be able to leave purgatory and enter into the sanctuary of heaven.

The custom of Souling seems to have been most common in the Midlands and North of England, with some counties more actively participating than others. With Shropshire, Cheshire, Lancashire and Yorkshire appearing to have a long history of participating in this haunting, yet quaint custom.

Terminology seems to vary from county to county too. ‘Soul cakes’ was and is the term used most commonly, but, they were also known as psalm cakes, Soul-mass cakes, Somas loaves, and here in Lancashire, Harcakes.

As well as the tradition of Souling here in Lancashire, another associated activity that locals would utilise around All Hallows’ Eve and All Souls’ Day was to carry out the custom of “Leeting” or “Lighting the Witches”. This custom involved lighting candles and carrying them around local streets and upon hill and moorlands to scare away evil Witches. The lighting of the candles and traversing the local areas would start at 11pm. If the candle stayed alight until midnight and was not blown out by wind or Witches’ breath, the holder and their kin would be safe from evil for the following year. Evil Witches were a supernatural phenomena that had come to be feared here in Lancashire since the infamous Pendle Witch trials of 1612, where ten locals would die. Nine by hanging upon Gallows hill in Lancaster, and one in prison at Lancaster Castle’s Gaol cell, while awaiting trial.

A further extension of this local custom was the lighting of Bonfires to scare away all evil! This practice was known as “Teanlay night”. Teanlay night would also happen on All Souls day alongside the custom of Souling.

Lancashire seemed to be both a busy and superstitious county! And in many ways, I suppose it still is. You only have to look at the many offerings left regularly at the Alice Nutter statue in Roughlee, or note how many local Pagan’s actively hold Samhain rituals in local woodlands to realise that folk customs are alive and kicking here!

As a family living in the Lancashire/Greater Manchester area, this year we have modified the custom of ‘Leeting the Witches’ and made it a more Witch friendly practice! After all, we don’t want to ward off our own kind now do we? Instead, a candle is lit and one or all of us walk sunwise around the garden after dark, with the intention to not ward off fellow neighbourhood Witches, but instead to scare off a more generic evil or any lurking Boggarts, Skrikers, Greenies and any other unfriendly Feorin (Fairies)

It has been speculated that some Lancashire Soul cakes were made not of wheat, but actually Oat flour. Possibly as it was a cheaper and more resilient crop flour. You will notice that the Soul cake recipe included in this blog will be based upon this tradition! Ideal, if, like me, you’re gluten free.

Soul Cake recipe.

You will need:

300g Oat Flour

150g of softened butter.

150g of Sugar.

1 Free range egg.

2/3 tblsp of chosen milk (Dairy or Plant based).

1 tsp of Cinnamon

1tsp Mixed spice

100gs of raisins or currents.


Baking paper.

Cooking instructions:

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Sift the Oat flour into a bowl and add the spices and a good pinch of salt into the mixing bowl. Next, add the softened butter and rub it into the mixture until it resembles something like breadcrumbs.

Next, stir in the sugar, egg and milk until you have nice combined and even sticky dough.

Dust your clean surface with additional oat flour and gently pat out the dough. Then, using a round cookie cutter, cut out the soul cakes.

Cover your baking tray with baking/grease proof paper and lay the cut out soul cakes on to the sheet.

Once all of the Soul cakes are assembled upon the baking tray, you can take your currents and raisins and gently push them into each soul cake so that they form a cross shape over the cake.

Bake for about 15-20 mins, until a nice golden brown! If you like, for an additional hit of sweetness, you can dust some icing sugar over the Soul Cakes!

I hope you enjoyed todays blog! If you’re interested in Paganism, Folk ways, folklore and traditional witchcraft, don’t forget to subscribe! You can also catch me over on Facebook and Instagram- Both titled Diaryofafolkwitch!

Through time, mists and the distance between us, blessings from me to you.


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