It is common knowledge that the long standing traditions of Hallowe’en originally stemmed from old pagan celebrations marking the end of the summer harvest. The very title of Hallowe’en is a contraction of the original identity of the festival All Hallows Eve. Some of these customs have survived to become familiar in today’s version of the annual revelry. The custom of Trick or Treating is one of the staples of the entire celebration. Other activities on this day all tend to follow similar themes that highlight the macabre, but in a much more secular fashion than its former style.
If there was one image that perfectly summed up the nature of Hallowe’en overall, then it has to be the sinister looking image of the Jack O’Lantern. Aside from dressing up in costumes and trick-or-treating with their parents and/or adults, perhaps one of the most anticipated activities that any child relishes with glee is carving out pumpkins according to their imaginations. The origins of the Jack O’Lantern is a myth that is open to conjecture that no-one can really confirm to truth.
One of the more popular origins of the Jack O’Lantern surrounds a blacksmith known as Stingy Jack. According to local folklore, Jack was infamous for being a two-faced, deceitful schemer that thrived on manipulating people. Word of his renown reached Lucifer who took more than a passing interest in this unpopular man and put plans in motion to meet him. When Jack came across the Devil, the Dark Lord posed as a deceased individual one evening in the darkened hills in rural Ireland. Even though he was as drunk as he was often seen, he was sober enough to understand that a corpse would not object to post-mortem interference. Jack rolled over his victim and was utterly shocked to see the face of the Devil looking up at him. Rightly or wrongly, Jack considered that his time was up and begged for a final request which was granted. Jack took Lucifer to the nearest tavern for a last drink.
One drink turned into another and then another and before too long the consumption of alcohol exceeded demand and there was nothing left for the pair to drink. When it was time to settle up, Jack casually turned to new drinking partner and demanded that the Devil pay the money. Somehow Jack managed to persuade Satan to transform himself into a piece of silver. The instant that this was done, Jack rammed the coin into his pocket where a crucifix was waiting. The Devil agreed to Jack’s demands not to be hunted down for a decade if the Devil was released from his prison.
Once this amnesty was reached, the Devil found Jack once more and fell for a variation of the same trick again. This time however, Jack insisted on an apple from a nearby tree. While Satan selected an apple, Jack carved four crucifix’s on the bark of the tree and offers Satan a release on the condition that he does not go to Hell. Once again there is little choice but to submit to the man’s wishes. Jack continued the rest of his life safe in the knowledge that he outsmarted the Devil not once, but twice. The years of alcoholism finally took their toll and Jack found himself standing ahead of the Pearly Gates where he was turned away by St Peter. Heaven, as many people knew, is not a place that a lying, deceitful drunk would be welcome at. Not too downbeat, Jack headed towards Hell where his nemesis was biding his time to get revenge. The Devil also refused him entry, citing the agreement that he was coerced into making when Jack was very much alive.
Even though neither afterlife allowed him to reside within their confines, the Devil did more than merely reject Jack’s approach. Jack was given an ember with which he could be marked as a spirit being. Jack found a turnip and hollowed it out, turning it into a makeshift lantern. Ever since then, the Jack of the Lantern’s ghost could be seen wandering aimlessly around the Irish countryside, hoping to find a place to rest. Heaven and Hell were not the only places that kept Jack’s futile search at bay. Local residents came up with a concept to prevent Jack from entering their properties on All Hallows Eve. Each home carved a menacing face into a range of vegetables and prominently displayed them on doorsteps and in windows with a burning ember just like Jack’s lantern.
Irish settlers brought this idea to America in the 19th century, but the Americans of the time used the more plentiful indigenous pumpkin to ward off Jack. From that to this, the tradition has worked admirably. Jack is still out there, and is still looking.
Sites pulled on 27 October 2015