8. Dressing up or ‘Guising’
Guising or dressing up in disguise was a practice that went hand in hand with Souling. In fact, it probably predated it, stemming as it did from the original Samhain festival. Initially, guises were to fool the spirits abroad at Samhain by making the wearer appear to be one of them -or at the very least unidentifiable, and so able to escape their ire. Later, disguises were assumed when souling door to door, based on characters associated with the season with the intention of hiding the identities of the guisers from neighbors, not any spirits of the season.
Some areas in Britain retained traditional guises that related to the Samhain beliefs. In Wales, people would cross-dress to confuse the spirits, blackening their faces and dressing in rags. Men, in particular, would appear abroad disguised as ‘hags’- an attempt to mimic some of the spirits abroad on Winter’s Eve. In Ballycotton in County Cork, Ireland, the spirit disguises took on a different aspect. Here, a young man would dress up as the Lair Bhan, a white mare and fertility symbol. The Lair Bhan led a procession of youths about the town. They would blow on horns to attract attention and demanded money from the assembled crowds in the name of a legendary wild boar called Muck Olla.
It also became common to guise as Christian saints. Many parish churches were too impoverished to own statues of the saints to take out in procession on All Saints Day. So people dressed up as the saints themselves and acted out their stories. These parades in their turn became plays enacted by mummers around October 31,with characters that combined Christian and pagan traditions: angels, demons, saints and the spirits of the dead. These costumes later became a part of the Souler’s repertoire as they went from house to house, taking the offerings once made to the gods in a strange mix of Christian and pagan disguises.