, , ,


Otherwise Known As:
Jack O’Lantern, Jack-o-Lantern, Jack of the Lantern
Similar Entities:
Jack Skellington, Samhain, Pumpkaboo & Gourgeist
Commonly Featured In:
Film & Television

Jack-o’-lanterns are the defacto face of Halloween and with plenty of good reasons to go behind it but I wonder how many of you know the truth behind this ghoulish gourds? Oh yes, I’m sure a fair amount of you are no doubt aware that the use of pumpkins wasn’t until the Americas were found and founded, and that it was such vegetables like turnips that were utilized, but do you know how long the practice has been done?

Truth be told, no one does simply for the fact that gourds have been a domesticated plant species for well over ten thousand years ago for their carving potential, but the earliest known use of a gourd as a lantern was as far back as 700 years by the Maori people of New Zealand.

The custom of using turnips, and eventually pumpkins, for the making of jack-o’-lanterns at Halloween owes its roots to Ireland and the Scottish Highlands. The festival of Samhain, a celebration that is widely considered the forefather of the modern Halloween holiday, was a time where supernatural creatures and the souls of the departed were thought to roam the earth. As to the purpose of the jack-o’-lanterns, that is something that has a multitude of reasons depending on whom you ask.

For some, they are used to ward off evil spirits by way of frightening them away from homes. They are also said to represent the souls lost to Purgatory, what with Halloween being the eve of All Saints Day that is in turn followed by All Souls’ Day.

As to the origin of the name, now there’s an interesting tale or three to tell. One of the oldest, and by far most likely, reasoning behind the name comes from a tale whose roots lie in the Emerald Isle but has multiple variations across the entirety of Europe. The main elements of the tale goes that a man by the name of Jack manages to trap Satan and is both rewarded and cursed, again depending on which variation of the tale is told.

The story goes that Jack manages to trick The Devil into a trap of his own making, most often because he is either on his deathbed or is about to be killed via an angry mob. The trap is made in a variety of ways but one of exceptional note is that Jack, being chased by a mob of villagers from whom he stole all their valuables, tempts The Devil into turning into a coin that Jack would use to pay for the stolen goods. When coin disguised Satan disappears, the villagers would no doubt fight over who had stolen it, leading to further evils that The Devil could reap.

Intrigued by the idea, Satan did indeed to himself into a coin, a silver one no less, which Jack snatched up and closed tight into a wallet that contained within it a cross that Jack had also stolen from the village. With a cross right next to him, The Devil was stripped of his powers and was thus trapped by Jack who only agreed to release the Dark Prince should he agree to never take Jack’s soul.

Stuck between a cross and a hard place, Satan agreed and so Jack lived a longer life than most but he did eventually die. However, his life had been far too sinful for him to enter Heaven and as The Devil promised, Hell would not take him. He asked The Devil who met him at the Blackened Gates, where he would go and how he would find his way for he had no light with which to see.

The Devil mockingly tossed him an ember from the very flames of Hell itself, which would never burn out and Jack carved out a lantern from a turnip, or pumpkin, to use as a lantern. Thus began his endless wandering across the Earth in search of a resting place to call his own.

Thus he was so named “Jack of the Lantern.”

A more recently modernized interpretation of this very myth was actually featured in the cartoon series The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy wherein Jack was not so much a thief as a trickster of the worst sort. Having their fill of his antics twenty times over, the people of his village sent a prank gift to their Queen and framed Jack for it. In response, the Queen sent forth her Black Knight to end Jack’s life. However, Jack proved ever a wily one even in death as he managed to swipe Grim’s scythe when the Reaper came for him.

Jack promised to give it back in exchange for eternal life and an infuriated Grim agreed to the promise. Jack would have his eternal life but he would have a cursed life like no other. For Grim does not take kindly to tricks and with but a swipe of his scythe, beheaded Jack, leaving the trickster to grow and carve pumpkins for a new head.

There was another interpretation of the Jack o’ Lantern character done by Rankin Bass in one of their Festival of Family Classics episodes. This variation of Jack had it that he was never a man but was in fact a leprechaun whom had the brilliantly mad idea of turning himself and his pot of gold into a pumpkin seed to sleep and rest undisturbed for a year’s time and was abruptly awoken when two young children used his pumpkin-self and carved a terrifying head out of it for their scarecrow.

Realizing that the children’s farm has a more supernatural pest problem, Jack offered his services to the youngsters. Let me tell you, there’s yet to be a variation yet of a Jack o’ Lantern that could ever come close to being so awesome.

Characters that are similar to Jack o’ Lantern but are wholly unique to themselves, have appeared over the years in many shapes and sizes. The Fright Knight of Danny Phantom whose sword, Soul Shredder, sends those whom it cuts to a world of their worst fears and whose master cannot be ridden of until said sword is placed within a pumpkin and an incantation is made.

Then there’s Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King of Halloween Town, who has grown weary of the endless scares and frights, and wants for something exciting, something new that he’s never experienced before and finds it in an entirely different holiday altogether. Last, but certainly not least, was the character of Samhain seen in The Real Ghostbusters cartoon series who was the literal god of the Halloween holiday, who sought to rid the world of light and make All Hallow’s Eve last forever.

As for me, myself, personally… well… I’m rather partial to the likes of this fellow below, but then again, I’m always eagerly waiting for a new tale of All Hallow’s Eve…