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Wednesday, October 9, 2013

100 Days of Halloween....The Jack O'Lantern

I've not forgotten my 100 Days of Halloween project. Work has been busy and will get busier so, I'm not able to post as often as I'd like. I've received great feed back from fellow Halloween lovers and I do not want to disappoint. 

So, I'm stealing a free moment to post about Jack O'Lanterns, not pumpkins (which I love too but, will save for another post) but, the ghoulish grins of Jack O'Lanterns. It's not really Halloween until you carve one. Here's a bit of history from Wikipedia and some images of this Halloween icon: 


A jack-o'-lantern is a carved pumpkin, turnip or beet, associated chiefly with the holiday of Hallowe'en, and was named after the phenomenon of strange light flickering over peat bogs, called will-o'-the-wisp or jack-o'-lantern. In a jack-o'-lantern, the top is cut off, and the inside flesh then scooped out; an image, usually a monstrous face, is carved out, and the lid replaced. It is typically seen during Halloween.


The term jack-o'-lantern is in origin a term for the visual phenomenon ignis fatuus (lit., "foolish fire") known as a will-o'-the-wisp in English folklore. Used especially in East Anglia, its earliest known use dates to the 1660s. The term "will-o'-the-wisp" uses "wisp" (a bundle of sticks or paper sometimes used as a torch) and the proper name "Will": thus, "Will-of-the-torch." The term jack-o'-lantern is of the same construction: "Jack of [the] lantern."
The origin of Jack o' Lantern carving is uncertain. Some make the case that its carving is thought to come from Ireland, where turnips, mangelwurzel or beets were used. Others claim that Jack-o'-lanterns originated with All Saints' Day (1 November)/All Souls' Day (2 November) and represented Christian souls in purgatory. Christopher Hill writes that "jack-o'-lanterns were carved out of turnips or squashes and were literally used as lanterns to guide guisers on All Hallows' Eve." Bettina Arnold writes that they were sometimes set on windowsills to keep them out of one's home. Despite these claims there has yet to be evidence provided by historians that turnips were carved into lanterns in Ireland during Halloween, prior to the practice being present in the U.S. Notable examples inc. a detailed account of a Halloween night in Ireland in 1834 which makes no mention of any jack-o'-lantern or carved vegetables acting as lanterns,  nor does Robert Burns mention them in his famous poem "Halloween".

 The story of the Jack-O'-lantern comes in many variants and is similar to the story of Will-o'-the-wisp retold in different forms across Ireland and Scotland. An old Irish folktale tells of Stingy Jack, a lazy yet shrewd farmer who uses a cross to trap the Devil. One story says that Jack tricked the Devil into climbing an apple tree, and once he was up there Jack quickly placed crosses around the trunk or carved a cross into the bark, so that the Devil couldn't get down. Another tale says that Jack put a key in the Devil's pocket while he was suspended upside-down. 

Another version of the story says that Jack was getting chased by some villagers from whom he had stolen, when he met the Devil, who claimed it was time for him to die. However, the thief stalled his death by tempting the Devil with a chance to bedevil the church-going villagers chasing him. Jack told the Devil to turn into a coin with which he would pay for the stolen goods (the Devil could take on any shape he wanted); later, when the coin/Devil disappeared, the Christian villagers would fight over who had stolen it. The Devil agreed to this plan. He turned himself into a silver coin and jumped into Jack's wallet, only to find himself next to a cross Jack had also picked up in the village. Jack had closed the wallet tight, and the cross stripped the Devil of his powers; and so he was trapped.

In both folktales, Jack only lets the Devil go when he agrees never to take his soul. After a while the thief died, as all living things do. Of course, his life had been too sinful for Jack to go to heaven; however, the Devil had promised not to take his soul, and so he was barred from hell as well. Jack now had nowhere to go. He asked how he would see where to go, as he had no light, and the Devil mockingly tossed him an ember that would never burn out from the flames of hell. Jack carved out one of his turnips (which were his favorite food), put the ember inside it, and began endlessly wandering the Earth for a resting place. He became known as "Jack of the Lantern", or Jack-o'-lantern.





Jack-o-lanterns were also a way of protecting your home against the Undead. Superstitious people used them specifically to ward away vampires. They thought this because it was said that the Jack-o-lantern's light was a way of identifying vampires and, once their identity was known, they would give up their hunt for you.

I hope you've enjoyed your wiki-tutorial on Jack O'Lanterns. I think it's just about time for a trip to the pumpkin patch!

Joane

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