Throwback Thursday – Jack-o’-lanterns

Will jack-o’-lanterns be a Halloween tradition that survives the apocalypse?

Past: Centuries before the Native Americans introduced pumpkins to puritan societies, the Celts (ancient Irish peoples) were carving gruesome faces into turnips and potatoes and filling them with candles, all in an effort to guide wandering spirits to safety and ward off evil spirits during Samhain.

Ancient Celtic jack-o’-lantern at Carnegie Museum of Natural History

By the early 1800s, the Irish began telling the story of Stingy Jack, a man cursed to roam the earth for eternity after being rejected entry into both Heaven and Hell.

“As the legend goes, God would not allow such an unsavory figure into heaven. The Devil, upset by the trick Jack had played on him and keeping his word not to claim his soul, would not allow Jack into hell. He sent Jack off into the dark night with only a burning coal to light his way. Jack put the coal into a carved-out turnip and has been roaming the Earth with ever since. The Irish began to refer to this ghostly figure as “Jack of the Lantern,” and then, simply “Jack O’Lantern.”

https://www.history.com/news/history-of-the-jack-o-lantern-irish-origins
Stingy Jack art by Anton Vitus

Present: Irish immigrants brought their legend of Stingy Jack with them to the America and replaced turnips with pumpkins, which were big and easier to carve, not mention, the most economical gourds to cultivate, growing almost anywhere with the proper care.

With the commercialization of Halloween, we saw the pumpkin carving grow into a elaborate artistry and jack-o’-lanterns made out of every material substance known to man.

Future: According to an article “Could Humans Grow Food During a Nuclear Winter?” in Discover Magazine from March 2022, any sun-blocking catastrophes, i.e., volcanic eruptions, meteor crashes, or nuclear war would likely reduce sunlight by 40%, causing global permafrost and reducing much need precipitation. A Nuclear disaster would most surely ruin the earth’s soil, at least for a good 5 years or so. Without good sunlight and moderate soil temps, it would probalby be a number of years before survivors could grow fields of pumpkins again, or any food for that matter.

We have already experienced reduced crops in the last few years due to climate change, with soaring temps, severe rain storms in the East, and record-breaking droughts out West. Mini pumpkins, which can grow in controlled environments and small spaces, may be the only variety of pumpkin that survives.

All said, carving jack-o’-lanterns is arguably the oldest and most beloved Halloween tradition. I think as long as there’s a candle or a light, a metal bucket, and one human being left on the planet caring enough about Halloween, the jack-o-lantern will survive.

A Brief History of the Jack-o’-Lantern

People have been carving vegetables into lanterns since the dawn of time. The Maori people used gourds for lights, over 700 years ago. It’s believed the making of jack-o’-lanterns began in Ireland in 1600s, when they used turnips and gourds to hollow out to use for lantern during Halloween in Ireland and Scotland, sometimes carving out grotesque faces to frighten people. 

 

The lanterns represented spirits and were used to ward off evil or lost spirits. Sometimes people put them on the windowsills to keep harmful spirits away from the home. Once Christianity took firm hold in the region and Halloween combined with the Christian observances of All Saints’ Day on November 1 and All Souls’ Day on November 2, jack-o’-lanterns were lit in remembrance of Christian souls in purgatory.

The term Jack-o’-Lantern began showing up in print in the early 1800s, when Irish newspapers began printing stories telling of carved gourd lanterns and information on local gourd carving competitions. But it wasn’t until 1866, that the first recorded association between a carved pumpkin and Halloween would show up in an edition of The Daily News in Kingston, Ontario.

turnip jol

Today’s jack-o’-lanterns have evolved into works of art.  No longer content with simple faces, pumpkin carving has become big business with the sale of tools and artistic guides to help amateurs and home haunters create their own elaborately designed pumpkins, to televised competitions and special appearances by professional carvers, who enjoy D-List celebrity status.

Will-o’-the-Wisp

Jack-o’-Lanterns were once associated with the term ‘will-o’-the-wisp’ or ‘ignis fatuus’, the Medieval Latin for “fool’s fire”. A will-o’-the-wisp was thought to be a ghostly light or orb seen by travelers during the night, particularly near bogs, swamps, or marshes. The phenomenon was said be supernatural, brought on by ghosts, fairies, or other elemental spirits.

330px-Will-o-the-wisp_and_snake_by_Hermann_Hendrich_1823
Will-o-the-wisp_and_snake_by_Hermann_Hendrich_1823

A tale behind the term refers to a wicked blacksmith who was turned away at the pearly gates by St. Peter. He was given a second chance to redeem himself but the blacksmith failed to change his evil ways and was then cursed to wander the earth for eternity. The Devil was impressed by the blacksmith’s antics and decided to give him a single burning coal to keep him warm, which he used to lure foolish travelers into the marshes instead.

The Story of Stingy Jack

In addition to the will-o’-the-wisp myth, no folklore associated with jack-o’-lanterns are quite as memorable as the story of Stingy Jack, a devilish man, so evil, the real Satan paid him a visit to see what all the hoopla was about. The witty Jack was a shrewd deceiver, a master manipulator and a nasty drunkard, who managed to trick Satan, not once but twice. The first time, he convinced the devil to go drinking with him. Afterward, being too stingy to pay, Jack told the Devil to turn into a coin so he can pay the bill. Once the Devil did so, Jack put the coin in his pocket along with a silver cross, trapping Satan until he agreed to spare Jack’s soul for ten years.  The Devil agree and off Jack went.

by surrounding the devil with crosses to trap him until he agreed to spare Jack’s soul. Once Jack finally died from drink, he was refused entrance into heaven for his lifetime of sin and denied entrance into hell per his previous agreement with Satan. Satan cast the doomed soul out to wander the world for eternity, with only a single ember, which Jack inserted into a hollowed turnip to light his way. He became known as Jack of the Lantern, and eventually, Jack-o’-Lantern.

stingy_jack_by_jovan_ukropina
stingy_jack_by_jovan_ukropina