Our story begins in Ireland, with a very stingy man named Jack. Jack sat down at a local pub and ordered himself a pint. He began to drink when suddenly the devil appeared beside him. The devil motioned that it was time for him and Jack to go. Jack convinced the devil to stay and have a drink with him while they worked out another arrangement. The devil agreed and the two began to converse. At the end of the second round, the devil again motioned that it was time to leave.
Jack appealed to the devil that he had no coin to pay for their drinks, and therefore could not leave. He asked the devil to transform into six pence so that the two could pay their debt. The devil reluctantly agreed. After he had transformed into the coin, Jack quickly grabbed the coin and placed it next to a silver cross hidden within his pocket, leaving the devil powerless. The devil, incredibly incensed by this, demanded to be set free. Jack agreed on the condition that the devil would not appear to him for the next year and if Jack died within that time, the devil would not claim his soul. The devil agreed, and Jack released him.
One year later, the Devil again appeared to Jack while he was walking through a field. The devil claimed Jack’s time was up. Jack had fallen ill during the years’ time and appeared close to death. “Wait” Jack said, “Let me eat from that apple tree just one more time. As you can tell my body is frail, and I cannot climb the tree to reach the fruit.” The devil agreed to climb the tree and pick an apple for Jack. While the devil climbed, Jack carved a cross into the base of the tree. This cross trapped the devil in the tree. The devil, irate as ever, demanded Jack to remove the cross from the tree. Jack complied, but only after the devil agreed not to bother him or in the event of his death, claim his soul for the next ten years.
Soon thereafter, Jack passed away. His spirit traveled to gates of heaven and asked for admission, only to be turned down by St. Peter for his devious ways. Jack then sought out the devil, finally ready for the devil to claim his soul.
The devil, bound by his agreement with Jack, could not allow him into Hell. He sent Jack back to Earth with a coal from the fire of Hell to light Jack’s way.
Jack carved a hole into a turnip to house his eternally burning coal and was helpless to wonder the Earth, looking for a place to finally rest his soul. Local townspeople began carving scary faces into turnips and potatoes to ward off the spirit of Stingy Jack and other evil entities.
These carving became known as Jack-O-Lanterns, paying homage to the once stingy man, and would customarily be placed on the front steps or windows of a home. The tradition took place at the end of the fall harvest, which marked the beginning of the Irish year. Locals believed the veils between the spirit and living worlds were the closest at this time, leaving spirits free to wander the Earth. The tradition was carried to North America by Irish immigrants who would come to find that pumpkins and gourds were a much better option when carving faces to ward off evil spirits.
So the next time you carve a pumpkin, remember its true intention. Stingy Jack wanders this Earth with his coal ever glowing, searching for relief from his torment. Keep a silver cross in your pocket and never make deals with the devil, or the devil you shall be.
Source: Carroll County, Maryland – Connection Newsletter