Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Stingy Jack...the Jack O' Lantern's spooky history

Photo by By Petar Milošević (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons
So, does your Jack O' Lantern sport a Happy face? Creepy face? Goofy face? Donald Trump (or other presidential candidate of choice?) Harvest scene? Broom-riding Witch? Owl? Bats? Or, as we did for our daughter's October wedding thirteen years ago--Hearts? Bride and Groom? Monogram? Anyway you carve it, a Jack O' Lantern is an integral part of any Halloween celebration in most parts of America. Over the years, the simple, classic, snaggletoothed grin has transformed into complicated but often amazing vegetable art. BUT...Where did it all begin? When? And Who is Jack?

Where--- Ireland (well, of course.)
When-- Long ago (hundreds of years per my research.)  
Who-- Stingy Jack. 
By Toby Ord (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons

Seems there was this Irish fellow named Jack who spent a few years consorting with the Devil without paying the Devil his due. It all began when he invited Satan to a pub to share a pint and a bit of unholy camaraderie. At the end of the evening Jack turned out his pockets, empty except for a small silver cross, and showed his companion he had no way to pay the bill. The Devil wasn't in the habit of carrying around currency so Jack proposed that His Lowness could use some supernatural power and turn himself into a coin to pay the barman. And he did. But, instead of paying for the drinks, Jack slipped the coin into his pocket and exited the public house. Not sure how he got away with that, but perhaps the pub's owner recognized Jack's drinking buddy and decided not to press the issue. Jack was careful to put the demonic coin into the pocket holding the cross so, of course, the Devil could not return to his original form and escape. Jack made a deal with the Devil that he would release him under the condition he would not bother Jack for one year and he would not steal his soul when he died. Deal. Devil released.
"Our Scary Tree" photo by Terry Wood (author's brother)

By Bodrugan (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons
A year passed and the Devil once more shared a day with our Jack. This time Jack tricked him into climbing a tree to retrieve a piece of fruit. Perhaps Satan was tempted by the memory of Eden's Forbidden Fruit. While the Devil climbed into the tree's branches, Jack carved a cross into its trunk preventing the Horned One's escape until he promised not to bother Jack for ten more years. Deal. Devil released. (It's not clear how he removed the sign of the cross, trickier than just taking a cross out of one's pocket, but perhaps he added a few more marks rendering the cross into something less holy.)

As with all mortal beings Jack died and, true to his word, the Devil did not steal his soul and take him to Hell. But because of his previous lifestyle consorting with Satan, neither was he allowed into Heaven. Jack returned to the Devil for help but was merely given a lump of burning coal to light his way as he wandered eternally and aimlessly across the Earth. 

Seeing this unfortunate and creepy soul 
By Wyscan, via Wikimedia Commons
haunting the countryside, the Irish began calling him Jack of the lantern. Jack O' Lantern. Kind of like O'Brien or O'Malley. To keep spooky Mr. O'Lantern as well as evil spirits away from their doors especially on All Hallow's Eve, they carved out lanterns from turnips, gourds, rutabagas, and beets. The weird carved faces were meant to scare the spirits away. When Irish immigrants reached American shores and discovered pumpkins, they were able to carve out even more effective lanterns using those larger gourds.

By MANSOUR DE TOTH  (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons

Happy pumpkin carving, my friends, and Happy Halloween! (Watch out for Jack though. Centuries of aimless wandering can make for a pretty testy spirit I think.)

Have a good couple weeks, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...y'all come back now! 


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