Lucky Lanterns

pumpkin on doorstep

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.

-Alex

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Have anything Halloween or villain related that you’d like to share? Send me a link in the comments or at valourborn@gmail.com. I’d love to check it out!

All information in this post was gathered from “The Pagan Book of Halloween” by Gerina Dunwich.

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14 thoughts on “Lucky Lanterns

  1. I actually knew all this already, but some of it had slipped my mind. It was nice to be reminded! Even though Halloween isn’t that big a deal over here, it’s not like we have NOTHING to do with it. I’ve carved a few pumpkins in my time, although we don’t call them Jack-o’-lanterns. At least not in England, anyway; I can’t speak for Ireland or Scotland

      • Aha, it’s only because of my mother. She is an incredibly intelligent woman and knows so much, and as I grew up she always used to tell me things. Still does, whenever she has the chance! Plus, I read quite a lot of – what some people might deem – slightly peculiar non-fiction books about the history of things. For example, one staring at me right now from my bookshelf is a book about the history of nursery rhymes.

        Ooo, nothing special. The only design I’ve ever done is that angry face – or variations of it! What other designs are there?

        • That’s awesome :) Both your mother and your interest in nonfiction reading, I mean.I think it’s good to have people in our lives who can share knowledge with us. And I couldn’t stand to read a nonfiction book about “serious” topics, but when it comes to topics that are more bizarre and abstract, I’m more interested in learning about it. Plus, it can be fun to have facts about the origin of nursery rhymes (for example) to impress people with :P

          Where I live, there are tons of designs. Anything you can imagine, really. My sister and I did faces when we were younger (I remember she did a cat and I did a hippie one year) but now I do different designs, like cartoon characters or logos/symbols from shows/books/video games. The past two years (and this one) I’ve been doing Phineas and Ferb characters. A lot of people still do the classic pumpkin face, but just as many people do different creative designs as well.

          • Yeah, it is. Honestly, if it wasn’t for my mother, I genuinely think I would know nothing. Yeah, I get what you mean about reading ‘serious’ non-fiction, but I do read it sometimes, if it happens to be something in which I’m interested. Oh, I am such a fountain of pointless information – that’s what reading non-fiction does to you (especially the books I read)!

            Wow, that’s so weird, but very interesting! I have never witnessed anything carved in a pumpkin apart from the typical pumpkin face. Although, I’m sure that’ll change when I’m in America

          • I hardly think it’s pointless information–I mean, it may not be useful per se, but even the strangest of information can be inspiration for something. Especially when it comes to writing and dialogue.

            Yeah, probably! Hopefully you’ll see some really good ones–there are crazy impressive carvers out there and it’s great to see their efforts.

  2. We don’t “celebrate” Halloween around here, short for a few families that recently moved here. Its so alien to us that the groceries don’t really stock them. So woah, I never realised that there were so much culture and folklore behind Jack-o-Lanterns. I thought they were used to scare off children or something!

    • It’s funny to hear that, because for me, it’s the exact opposite. Most everyone around here celebrates except for the new families. Haha yeah, some of them do, but I don’t think that’s the purpose… that’s what the scary decorations are for! :P

      • ): I’m so envious! Some of the families here tried to get things going, but it never really caught on… so yeah. Last year there was only one family that made the effort to decorate the house. Its really impressive though, all those cobwebs and lighting were stellar.

        Gee, thanks for writing these posts! I think I’ve learned more about Halloween that I ever would! :P

        • That’s a shame :( At least there was one family who decorated the house. I love driving through neighbourhoods just to admire that one great house on the street that really put effort into it.

          Haha, no problem! I learned a lot about Halloween just researching them. I’m glad you’ve enjoyed them :D

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