Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Story of the Jack O' Lantern

The air here in the Ozark Mountains has been crisp of late--unusually so for early October and cloudy weather is beginning to linger for days on end before it finally makes way for an ever diminishing supply of sunlight, both in intensity and duration. Autumn's gloom is slowly descending upon the hilly landscape; and although the foliage is still mostly green, a few patches of red, orange and gold are beginning to appear in the trees. A few colorful members of this season's leafy bounty have already performed their death dance; that graceful and swirling ballet that takes place on the breath of the wind when the months-long connection to the mother tree is finally broken--when her children must fall to the ground--the ultimate sacrifice to the Earth from which they came.

 When occurrences such as these begin to transpire it can only mean one thing: Halloween is approaching and soon the glowing faces of Jack O' Lanterns will be staring out at us from front porches and steps everywhere. Have you ever wondered how the tradition of carving pumpkins into Jack O' Lanterns began? Have you ever heard Jack's story--the one derived from folklore? If not, continue reading; for nothing is more synonymous with the celebration of All Hallows Eve than the fiery persona of the Jack O' Lantern.

As the tale goes Jack lived many years ago in the Ireland of old. He was well known as a quick-tempered drunk Apparently, he was quite the trickster as well. One year, on the night of All Hallows Eve, Jack had gotten himself quite intoxicated at the local pub when suddenly, the Devil appeared to claim his soul. Not wanting his earthly life to end, Jack pleaded with Lucifer to allow him just one more drink before claiming his prize. Once he received the Devil's agreement, Jack announced that he was short on money and asked his dark companion if he would assume the shape of a sixpence so that he could pay the bartender for his final drink. Again, Lucifer agreed. Once he had assumed the shape of the coin however, Jack quickly placed him inside his wallet, which just happened to be equipped with a cross-shaped latch, thus imprisoning the angel who had come to claim his soul. Filled with anger, the Devil screamed, demanding that Jack release him immediately. Now in the driver's seat, so to speak, the clever man told Lucifer that he would release him from the wallet only if he would agree to prolong the claiming of his soul for a full year. Not in a position to refuse Jack's terms, Lucifer agreed and was immediately released.

Grateful for another full year of life ahead of him Jack mended his ways and for awhile at least, became a responsible member of his family and even gave to charity. Over time however, he slipped back into his old ways; and on the following All Hallows Eve, the Devil reappeared as he was making his way home. Demanding that Jack accompany him at once, the man convinced Lucifer to first pick an apple from a nearby tree. Once the evil one had climbed up however, Jack quickly carved the shape of a cross into the bark of the tree, imprisoning his tormentor anew. As before, the Devil demanded his immediate release and in exchange, told the man that he would not come to claim his soul for another ten years. As terms of release the man insisted that Lucifer never bother him again; and after all was said and done, the Devil had no choice but to acquiesce. After that, Jack continued on with his less than honorable lifestyle and was never bothered by the dark angel again.

About a year later Jack's body, no longer able to keep up with his unhealthy lifestyle, gave out and the quick tempered drunkard died. First Jack attempted to pass through the heavenly gates but was barred from entering because of his meanness. Next, he tried to enter Hell but the Devil, still angry because of the embarrassment he suffered due to the man's trickery, refused him entry into the fiery inferno. He did however, toss Jack one burning coal from Hell's eternal fire to help him find his way through the eternal darkness of limbo. Jack placed the ember inside a turnip, which in turn became known as a Jack O' Lantern. It is said that even now on All Hallows Eve you can still see Jack's fire burning as he searches for a place to call home.

It's interesting to note that the original Jack O' Lanterns were made from turnips. It was only when Irish immigrants came to North America that pumpkins, which are much larger and better suited for the job, became a replacement.         

Photo courtesy of Free Stock Photos.

1 comment:

  1. I never actually knew that - you'd think that someone so in love with Hallowe'en would have already known that story. :P

    Beautifully written - thanks for sharing! :D