Origin of the Jack-o-Lantern

As Halloween approaches, the jack-o-lanterns will appear in your neighborhood. You will see them in windows, on doorsteps, along porch railings, atop fence posts, even on roof tops. Some jack-o-lanterns are large and some are small; some are elaborate and some are simple; some are frightening and some are funny. What all jack-o-lanterns have in common is their origin in the ancient folktale of Stingy Jack. Dim the lights, grab some popcorn and prepare yourself for the tale of the man who thought he beat the Devil.

Legend of Stingy Jack, The Jack-o-Lantern

Stingy Jack, the story goes, lived in Ireland hundreds of years ago. There was no Halloween in the time of Stingy Jack, but all Irish people that All Saints Day was held at a time of year when the veil between this world and the next became very thin. Some say Stingy Jack was a farmer. Some say he was a blacksmith. Most say he never married because no woman would have him. Everyone agrees that he was a skinflint, a liar, a drunk and a mean spirited prankster who cared little for others. What Stingy Jack had going for him was his ability to lie and convince anyone of anything … a true ‘silver tongued devil of a man’. And, Jack used this talent in the nastiest ways.
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The stories of Stingy Jack’s bad behavior spread so far and so wide … finally reaching the Devil himself in hell. The more the Devil heard about Jack’s heartless acts of betrayal, the more jealous the Devil became. Who was Stingy Jack, a mere mortal, to do so many awful things that people talked of him more than the Devil? So, the Devil decided to pay a visit on Stingy Jack and trick Jack into sending his own soul to hell. That would settle this issue of who was the most evil of them all.

When the Devil showed up at Stingy Jack’s door Jack was terrified. But he hid his fear well behind his cheerful words. "Oh, it’s you", said Jack, "I expected you, sooner or later. It is too bad you have come just now. I was heading down to the pub for some ale. Why do you not come with me, Mr. Devil, and we will have a drink together. We can have a bowl of turnips", for Jack loved eating turnips, "After that, I will go wherever you like."

The Devil was taken back by Jack’s good nature and his seeming resignation to the fact he could not escape the Devil. So what harm could there be in joining Jack for his final glass of ale. When the Devil and Jack arrived at the pub and took their seats at the bar, Stingy Jack made a show of looking through all his pockets for some money. "Damn!", Jack shouted, "I got no money!"

"Do not look at me,", the Devil said, "I have no need to carry money."

"Wait!" replied Jack with thoughtfulness, "But are not you, the Devil, the ultimate deceiver? Cannot you become money? Now that would be an impressive deception. You become a gold coin and I will give you to the barkeep to pay for the ale. Then, once you are in the till, you transform back to the Devil. What a evil prank that would be. It will scare everyone … it will create a new legend of how frightening the Devil can be."

The Devil thought it over and decided this could be a great opportunity to generate even more fear of him. Now the Devil understood how Stingy Jack got his reputation. So, the Devil transformed himself into a gold coin on the top of the bar.

Stingy Jack quickly snatched up the coin and put it in his pocket. In his pocket is a silver crucifix. Not that Stingy Jack has any use for God or religion, but Jack figures you never know when having a crucifix around might come in handy for a con. And, today is the day. With the crucifix firmly against the coin, the Devil is unable to work his evil magic and transform himself from his disguise as a gold coin. The Devil was trapped.

Though the Devil was trapped in the form of a coin, he could still talk. "Let me out!" the Devil yelled. Naturally, people in the pub become disturbed by this voice coming from Stingy Jack’s pocket. Especially a voice that sounds like the Devil. "I have the Devil trapped in my pocket", boosted Jack, "and if I can trap the Devil, just imagine what I might do if you cross me. I want all the ale I can drink, free, and turnips, too, or I will turn this Devil loose on YOU.". After that, people are terrified of Jack and ever obliging to his requests, but Devil is furious with him.

Soon, Jack offers the Devil a deal. If the Devil will leave and not bother him for ten years, Jack will let the Devil loose. Jack is in the prime of his life. To be trapped in Jack’s pocket for years to come is not something the Devil can tolerate. So, the Devil accepts Jack’s bargain and the Devil is allowed to resume his form. The Devil keeps the deal and does not bother Stingy Jack for ten years.

On the last day of the tenth year, Stingy Jack, now grown old and stiff and slow, was walking along a country path when the Devil appeared and blocked his way. Jack is terrified, knowing the type of revenge the Devil will seek. But, again, Jack hides his fear and does what Jack does best: Talk.

"Ah, it’s you," says Jack, "I knew you would be right on time. I hope you know my trapping you was all in good fun. But, I have always regretted what I did to you. It was not very kind of me to embarrass you like that. I am an old man know. I cannot get around very well. There is no way to run so I guess the game is over". The Devil eyed Jack carefully. Yes, Jack had gotten old and seemed broken and genuinely remorseful. "I know you will take me now. But before I go, I want to have one last apple from an apple tree I have always loved. I was just on my way there, now. If you will let me have that last apple, I will go with you without a fuss". The Devil decided he just wanted Jack in hell, today. If he could get Jack there without a struggle, so much the better. The Devil decides to escort Jack to the apple tree he seems to so dearly love. "This tree produces the sweetest, mot delicious apples in all the world" Jack keeps saying. "all I want is one last bite before I leave this world"

When they get to the tree the Devil hisses, "Get your apple but be quick about it.". There are a few apples left high in the tree. Jack keeps trying to climb the tree but his youthful strength is gone. Over and over he trying to find a way up the tree. "I am sorry", Jack whines, "but I just am not as young as I use to be. I will get that apple, but it is going to take this old man awhile to climb all the way up there". With his next effort, Jack takes a fall. He does complain. Just struggles to his feet to try again.

The Devil feels his temper starting to rise. Every time he deals with Stingy Jack something goes wrong. All the Devil wants is to get Jack to hell and take is revenge. "STOP!", shouts the Devil, I will go up there and get your apple for you. With that the Devil leaps to the top of the tree. Just as quickly, Jack cuts the Sign of the Cross into the bark of the tree. Jack has done it again – the Devil is trapped for he cannot pass the Sign of the Cross. The Devil screams in fury. Jack giggles.

"Here is how this is going to work", Jack tells the Devil, "You are never going to bother me again. You will never take my soul. You will never take me to hell. Promise me that and I will let you out of this tree. Do not take my deal and I am going to plant crosses all around this tree, then, go into town and invite everyone to come see the Devil trapped in a tree. They will laugh at you. Most likely no one will fear or respect you again". The Devil knows Jack has him right where he wants him. The Devil has no choice but to take Jack’s deal. Jack scratches out the Sign of the Cross and the Devil leaps down out of the tree. With blood in his eyes, the Devil swears one day he will find a way to get even with Jack. Jack just laughs.

Many more years pass before Stingy Jack dies. No one mourns his passing. He is buried in a shallow unmarked grave. None attend his funeral. In fact, they raise a rise a cup of ale in the pub to celebrate Jack’s death. Stingy Jack does not care. He set off for Heaven, confident he can trick Saint Peter to let him inside the pearly gates. But, when Jack gets to Heaven, Saint Peter knows all about Jack. And, Saint Peter is nobody’s fool. "You don’t belong here", says Saint Peter, "You have led a horrible life. You will never be allowed in Heaven. There will be no discussion about this. Go down to Hell and see if the Devil will take you in". With that, Saint Peter sent Jack away and forbids Jack to speak to him again.

Stingy Jack is dumbfounded. And angry. "Who wants to go to Heaven, anyway", Jack grumbles, "it probably boring". On his way from Heaven to Hell, Jack stops in a turnip field to steal a few last turnips, have a snack, and figure out a plan to sneak into Hell before the Devil knows he has arrived. Once inside, Jack knows he will work some sort of deal to make his stay pleasant. When Jack gets to Hell he is surprised to find the Devil waiting at Hell’s gate. "Oh, no, Jack, you will never enter here. You made a deal to stay out of Hell and I am going to be happy to keep that deal. You, Jack are condemned to walk the Netherworld between Heaven and Hell, going from gate to gate and always being denied entrance". With that, the Devil let loose with a horrifying laugh. "I have my revenge, Jack … I have my revenge"

"Here is a parting gift to remember me by", said the Devil, "to show there are no hard feeling.". Then the devil tossed and eternal ember from Hell to Stingy Jack. "This ember will light your path as you walk the darkness of the Netherworld between Heaven and Hell". Then, the Devil laughed again and the gates of Hell slammed shut to Jack, forever. Jack caught Hell’s ember with the turnip in his hand.

There was very little light from the top of the turnip. Soon, Jack realized he could put the ember inside the turnip and carve a few holes in it to create a weak lantern. And, so began Stingy Jack’s eternal wandering between Hell and Heaven, never finding entrance into either world. Ghosts, ghouls and spirits avoided Jack. In fact, they were afraid of Jack. He was the person who had thought he had bested the Devil. He was damned by Heaven and Hell.

The Irish have said for centuries that when the veil is thin between the earth and the afterlife, you can see Jack’s lantern floating in the fields and marshes and woodlands, as he tried to find his way between Heaven and Hell. "Did you see the light of Jack of the Lantern last night near the marshes?", people would whisper to one another. Soon they just shortened ‘Jack of the Lantern’ to ‘Jack-o-Lantern’.

Soon, people noticed that, when the thin veil between this world and the afterworld was pulled back in late October, the ghosts, goblins, ghouls, spirits and even demons, would all flee at the appearance of Jack-o-Lantern. So, in late October the people would create there own jack-o-lanterns and put them in their windows, next to doors, in order to frighten away mischievous spirits, ghosts and goblins on what would become known as Halloween.

Some Historical Background

In Ireland and Scottish Highlands was a time known as the festival of Samhain, held between October 31st and November 1st. There was a celebration of the harvest and a celebration of the last, long days of summer were over. The earth transitions from a time of bounty and rebirth to a time of cold and gloom. It was thought this was a time when the world of the living and the world of the dead came few close together.

In accordance of the legend of Stingy Jack, turnips, beets and mangelwurzel were used to create jack-o-lanterns. While some where made into typical lanterns, other were carved with faces. When immigrants from Ireland, Scotland and even Britain came to North America they brought with them the tradition of setting out jack-o-lanterns near the end of October into November. After all, the spirit world clearly extended to wherever people lived and died.

The immigrants were soon introduced to pumpkins which made far larger and more interesting jack-o-lanterns. Also, pumpkins seem born to celebrate Halloween since pumpkins reach being a fully matured size in mid-to-late October.

The first historically confirmed jack-o-lantern was found in Northern Ireland and has been dated to approximately the 1660s AD.


Would you like to contact someone in the afterlife? Talk with Psychic Lily – you can contact Lily at 1-866-407-7164, extension 7782. Do you think a ghost or spirit is in your home? Give 1800 Ghost Help a call at 1-800-340-8374 (Toll Free USA and Canada). The 24 hour support team will help you make appointments or directly connect you with an experienced clairvoyant, psychic or medium.

Happy Halloween … and do not forget to put out those creative jack-o-lanterns.