Pumpkins and jack-o’-lanterns are well-known and beloved symbols of Halloween, and are a lot of fun to carve and put out on the doorstep to light up the street. But something that I didn’t know is that pumpkins and jack-o’-lanterns have a spiritual symbolism and a long history. They weren’t always the way they are today!
- Turnip torches: the original lanterns used on Halloween night in Ireland weren’t pumpkins at all–they were turnips carved with faces and used as lanterns to scare away ghosts and spirits. In Scotland, they originally used thick cabbage stems and made those into the lanterns. It wasn’t until later that pumpkin were used as the preferable choice.
- A squash named Jack: the name “jack-o’-lantern” likely comes from the old Irish folktale about a vile man named Jack. When the Devil first came to claim Jack’s soul, Jack tricked the Devil and escaped his fiery fate. Then later, when Jack eventually died, the Devil was still bitter about being tricked and refused to let Jack enter Hell. Instead, he threw Jack a coal, which Jack then put in a turnip to make a lantern to light the way for his soul, which was trapped eternally on earth. Thus, “Jack of the lantern”, or jack-o’-lantern.
- Remember the wisps?: do you know those cute little will-o’-the-wisps from Brave? They have sometimes been called jack-o’-lanterns, because they resemble the lights of wandering spirits, just like Jack.
- Spirit wards and beacons: many jack-o’-lanterns are used to scare away evil ghosts and spirits, but some of them are also used as beacons, lighting the way for the spirits of lost loved ones who are looking to return home for Halloween night.
- A bit of pumpkin luck: old tradition states that, in order to imbue a jack-o’-lantern with the magical energy needed to ward away evil spirits, the pumpkin must be planted on Good Friday. When you carve your jack-o’-lantern, you should use a knife with a white handle, not a black one, because black is a colour of bad luck. And next time you visit the pumpkin patch, take care not to point at any growing pumpkins–this is an unlucky gesture and will cause the pumpkin to rot.
As you can see, there’s a lot more to pumpkins and jack-o’-lanterns than just a fun activity to make Halloween a bit brighter. Indeed, it’s a practice that involves magic, lore, and whole lot of luck.
Do you carve jack-o’-lanterns?
May your pumpkin lanterns always bring you good luck and protection on Halloween night.
Have anything Halloween or villain related that you’d like to share? Send me a link in the comments or at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to check it out!
All information in this post was gathered from “The Pagan Book of Halloween” by Gerina Dunwich.