Everyone knows that carved pumpkins and Halloween/Samhain go hand in hand but do you know why? Here are a few stories of how they came about!
The term "Jack-o-lantern" has been used to refer to the flickering lights seen over peat bogs. The candles placed inside of carved pumpkins look about the same at night.
There have been many ways of creating these things other than pumpkins, including apples and turnips! Typically they are carved with a face. You cut the top off of them scoop out the insides and then carve a face and put a candle inside to light it up.
Older stories come from the British Isles telling of how turnips were carved then placed around walk ways and homes to ward off evil spirits returning to walk the lands during All Hallow's Eve. It was believed that these bad spirits liked to mess with crops and live stock. When the United States were colonized the fruit of larger pumpkins were used. Usually a "treat" to placate the spirits was left with the Jack-o-lantern if no treat was left the spirits would play nasty "tricks" on those living there.
In America the carved pumpkin used to be a symbol of the harvest season and Thanksgiving long before it became associated with Halloween. Often times they graced the tables set for Thanksgiving as center pieces.
In folk lore the story of Stingy Jack is often told. As the story goes a farmer named Jack used a cross to trick the Devil. When the Devil came to collect his soul he tricked him into climbing an apple tree and once he was up there he nailed, or carved, crosses below him so that he became trapped in the tree. This saved him from his time to die. Another version involves Jack running from some villagers he stole from. In his flight he meets the Devil at a cross roads. He convinces the devil to turn himself into a coin to pay the villagers for the stolen goods, and then he can get away. When the Devil turns into a coin Jack puts the coin into a wallet and places a cross on it trapping the Devil and stripping him of power. In both tales Jack only lets the Devil go once he agrees never to take his soul. Jack lives a long life and eventually dies of old age. Since Jack's life was bad and full of sin he's not allowed to go to heaven, but since he had made the Devil swear not to take his soul he was also barred from hell. Lost and alone he had no where to go and is trapped in the dark. He whines "it's so dark how can I see where I should go?", being the joker that he is the Devil tossed him an ember from hell that would never go out. Jack carved a lantern from a turnip (his favorite meal) and placed the ember inside. He then wandered the earth looking for some where to go and became known as Jack of the Lantern or Jack o' Lantern. This tale was told to explain the flickering lights seen over bogs and swamps at night. It is said that those lights are Jack's soul endlessly wandering, carrying his ember from hell, trying to find where he should go.
In some countries the lanterns were used to ward off everything from ghosts and spirits to the dead who had risen from their graves, even vampires and werewolves in others. It is believed that the light from them reveals hidden evil and frightens away anything bad.
I aim to educate others on the common traditions around this time of year and share with them the legends behind most of them. So that hopefully a better understanding of our traditions will help put an end to the fear of them. Happy Haunting this year my friends!
Tomorrow's post will be about Trick-or-treating and it's origins!