The Legend of Jack O'Lantern
copyright 2017 dan o donoghue
We think of a Jack O Lantern as an American Halloween creation, the carved out pumpkin with a candle inside.The concept was actually brought by Irish immigrants to the US back in the 19th century. In Ireland we had used carved out turnips to create the spookily-lit "head" and this macabre artifact came complete with a marvellous legend called Jack O Lantern! Here's the Legend:
Jack lived the life of a drinker, cardshark and womaniser, and the day came when the devil came into a shebeen and found Jack drinking at the bar. "Your time is up, Jack" said the devil, "you'll come with me to a place called Hades."
"Fair enough," said Jack, "but could I get a last drink before I go?" The devil granted Jack his wish but Jack had a further request. "I don't have the money to buy the drink but I heard you're a great man to shape-shift, Mr Devil, so if you could just change into a shilling for two minutes I could use it/you to buy a drink?"
"Alright," said the devil. It just took a second and the devil had changed into a bright, shiney shilling in Jack's hand but instead of buying a drink Jack put the shilling in his pocket alongside a silver crucifix he's already placed there. Now the devil was trapped by the crucifix in Jack's pocket.
"Let me out," said the devil.
"I will," said Jack, "but only if you promise to give me ten more years of life?" The devil agreed and Jack got to live ten more years of drinkin' and carousin'.
Ten years later the devil was back and he found Jack sitting at an orchard wall and eating a juicy red apple.
"Time's up, Jack, you'll come with me now."
"Fair enough," said Jack, "but I know you're a man who loves apples and there's one last apple left on this tree, do you want to go up and get it before we head off for Hell?"
Well, it's true the devil did like apples so he climbed up the tree to get the last apple but once he was up Jack carved the image of a crucifix into the bark of the tree which served to once again trap the poor demon.
"Let me down," said the devil.
"I will," said Jack, "but only if you promise to give me ten more years of life?" The devil agreed and Jack got another ten years of drinkin' and carousin'.
When ten years passed Jack died but there was no sign of the devil so Jack's spirit decided to walk the bog road to Heaven (why not, if the devil wasn't about?). But when he got to the pearly gates he was refused admission because St Peter knew he had lived a life of sin. So now Jack had no choice but to walk the long bog road down to Hell. The road was dark and dangerous and Jack stumbled and fell many times. When he arrived at Hell's gate he said, "Alright, Mr Devil, I'm all yours."
"You're not comin' in here," said the devil, "you're too crafty for us down here, you'll have to back up to Heaven."
"Ok," said Jack, "but the road is very dark, could you give me something to light the way?"
The devil threw him out a hot coal and a carved turnip into which Jack could place the coal and this is what Jack used to light his way back through the bog to Heaven.
But once again he was refused admission at the Pearly gates and told to go back to Hell, so from that day onward and for all eternity Jack is left wandering up and down through the bogs of Ireland, going from Heaven to Hell, ad infinitum, and carrying this mysterious light we now call the Jack O Lantern.
This story is often used to explain the ghostlike ethereal light that's often seen in nightime bogs called the "ignis fatuus" or fool's fire. More on this in the next installment....