Fearsome Friday – Jack O’Lantern

Ever wonder where certain traditions come from? I often do, especially silly or odd things. Here is an old Irish legend that resulted in a spooky Halloween tradition.

There was once a man so stingy that he was called Stingy Jack. One day he was in a bar when the Devil walked in. Jack decided to have a few drinks with the Devil. Being stingy though Jack decided he would trick the Devil into paying for the drinks. He agreed to give the Devil his soul if the Devil bought the drinks. The Devil quickly agreed. When it came time to pay Jack convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin which Jack would use to pay for the drinks. The Devil agreed and changed himself into a coin. Jack grabbed the coin but instead of paying for the drinks he put the coin in his pocket next to a silver cross preventing the Devil from changing back into his original form. Eventually, Jack agreed to release the Devil if he would not claim his soul for another 10 years.

Ten years passed and Jack met the Devil while walking down a dirt road. The Devil, recognizing Jack, attempted to collect the soul. Jack asked for an apple from the top of a tree. The Devil agreed and climbed the tree. Jack took out a pocket knife and carved a cross into the tree, making it impossible for the Devil to get down. This time, Jack made the Devil agree to never take his soul before Jack allowed him out of the tree.

After many more years Jack died. At the gates to Heaven, God refused to allow Jack in because of how Jack led his life on earth. Jack asked God where he should go and God said that maybe he might be better suited to go to Hell instead.

Jack went to Hell to see if the Devil would let him in but as promised the Devil would not let Jack in Hell either.

Jack asked the Devil where he should go if neither Heaven nor Hell would take him. The Devil told Jack he should go back to earth to roam about for eternity. The Devil gave Jack a lump of coal to light the way on such a dark night. Jack placed the coal into a carved turnip and used this as his lantern.

The Irish and Scottish brought the tradition of carving and lighting turnips or potatoes and placing them in windows and doorways to ward off evil spirits to America where the tradition of carving pumpkins on Halloween continues to this day.

The Jack of the Lantern became the Jack O’Lantern.

Growing up not far from Tarrytown, New York every year around the time of Halloween a certain legend that always involved a spooky Jack O’Lantern was often told to scare us children. That is The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. I think living so near to Sleepy Hollow certainly added to the potential realness of the story and the fear factor that the headless horseman may just come into your own neighbourhood as well. For those of you not familiar with the story here is a link to it – The legend of Sleepy Hollow.

What do you think, are Jack O’Lanterns spooky?



About Billie Jo Schinnerer

Born and raised on the edge of the Helderberg Escarpment in eastern New York. Formerly a teacher. Moved to the North West area of England in 2003. Now a mother of three who doesn’t really know what she wants to be when she grows up.
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10 Responses to Fearsome Friday – Jack O’Lantern

  1. Alexis says:

    My thesis paper for one class ended up being about old Samhain superstitions and rituals that play into modern Christian and Halloween traditions. Fun topic!

  2. scribbla says:

    Awesome origin tale. I thoroughly enjoyed that.

  3. Neat story, Billie Jo. I’ve never heard that version before.

    I can imagine how scared you must have been as a child with all these almost real stories chasing your imagination. I didn’t live anywhere near Sleepy Hollow and they scared me half to death. After I heard about the Headless Horseman, I had trouble sleeping for many nights. I was convinced that doors and walls wouldn’t be any hindrance to him if he decided he wanted to…I wasn’t sure what, but I WAS sure it would be very unpleasant.

  4. Billie Jo, I really enjoyed learning this Irish legend. Like Sandra, I had not heard of it before. Too me Jack o Lanterns are not scary. I love to see them lit up. They are always pieces of art.

    By the way, I included you in my Make A Difference Blog hop. http://haleywhitehall.com/2011/10/blog-hopping/

    • I love Jack O’Lanterns. When I lived in the US I used to carve about six of them myself but know we only have three.

      Thanks for including me in the hop. I have been hopping around a few of them that I did not know about since I saw Mike’s post.

  5. Selena says:

    I heard that legend as a child. Great to hear it again. I love jack-0-lanterns and agree with Haley. They are pieces of art!

  6. Pingback: Review: Gather ‘Round The Campfire for a Howling Good Time … of Horror, Fear & Fantasy | Write @ You!

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