THE CARVED PUMPKINS AND THEIR SPOOKY GRIN
“Only the knife knows what goes in the heart of a pumpkin.”
The Fall is the most beautiful year season, wrapped in magic colors of golden brown, merging with dark red and kissing the whole nature with such an extraordinary sensibility. The whole world is melting into the lake of tranquility and we are welcoming the appetite for apple pie, zimt tea and cozy cottage in the wood. This period of year is celebration of blessings and enjoyment of every single moment of life, the proof that we are here on the Earth, alive.
Each time I see pumpkins as the main element of the Fall’s decorations all over the West, I am thinking of them in the Halloween mood. I have always wondered why they are so related to the sinister night and what makes them looking so creepy. On the other side, pumpkin is known as the symbol of good harvest and God’s love for the people. The big pumpkin is actually a sign of prosperity and success. There are some studies that even have researched the spiritual connections between our dreams and pumpkins. It is written that dreaming about pumpkin or even pumpkin’s seed means that we are ready to achieve the glorious things, to reach the stars. Considering their religious importance in the circle of God’s blessings, how come that they have been included, for years, into the darkest manifestation and journeys into the absence of light? Why do we carve pumpkins and turn them into the silent observers of Halloween nights full of hungry ghosts ? Because that is exactly what some of our ancestors, ancient Celts, made:“The tradition of carving faces into vegetables dates to the Celts. As part of their autumnal celebration, they wanted to light the way to their homes for the good spirits, so they carved faces into vegetables such as turnips and squash. A light was placed within the hollowed out vegetable.These carved vegetables were eventually called Jack O’Lanterns by the Irish who told a legend about a farmer named Jack who made a bargain with the devil that left him wandering the earth for all time.When the immigrants arrived in America and found a bountiful supply of pumpkins, they soon adopted the pumpkin as the best fruit (and it is a fruit!) for carving Jack O’Lanterns.”
The role of pumpkin has been to protect the homes from the harmful spirits and keep them away, using so called fool’s fire. According to some urban legends, the grinned pumpkins that light up the darkness with inner fire are there to show that the borders between our and another world are broken and that so many supernatural beings are wandering on our Earth, searching for an innocent victim, to take with. The house that has a carved pumpkin with lighted candle is protected from the scary wanderers. The most popular story was about Irishman Stingy Jack who tricked the Devil. However, when he died, Devil sent him again on the Earth, as a damned soul, to seek a shelter for eternity, without any hope to find it. He only had an ember of hellfire to light his forgotten way. Later, the carved pumpkin face has gotten a name of Jack O’Lantern.
Nevertheless, Celts have not carved pumpkins since they are coming later, as North American plant. The European immigrants who have settled up on American continent brought up the variety of their local customs. Some scientists claims that old, good Celts haven’t had time to decorate vegetables and fruits but to save them for cold, long winter. The modern Fall design has been born after the rise of Halloween and pop culture in the USA. The new generations of settlers have been impressed with Native American pumpkin paradise and they had enough time and material to save their food and also to create the interesting myths. During the years, the Halloween has been introduced into American society, with its Celtic roots and Irish spirituality. There is something special about the glowing pumpkin in the creepiest night of October. It has an expression that makes us feel scared or at least, make us feel not so good. Seeing pumpkins with lighted sinister grin in the dark night has something to do with the people’s feeling for comfort zone, the natural fear from unknown, from the darkness that is staring at us.
The pumpkins should show the abundance but in the Night of Hallowmas, they are shaped into the evil creatures, that are waiting for the right moment. It is very difficult to imagine that pumpkin is there to protect our world from the bestiality from the world under, but their grotesque beauty is enough dangerous to keep malicious shadows away from the blessed home.
I found it fascinating that folklore of Halloween has integrated so many elements of paganism and still has remained on the holy ground. It is an American thing with the global character and advertised spirituality. It is a step into occultism but also an evidence of God’s light for the forgotten souls. The pumpkin on the window could be the worshipping of golden harvest before the winter and could be also the guard for the cursed and lost on the God’s road. They must know where they are able to go and where they simply are not allowed to go or to pass by. The magic influence of the pumpkin is too much glorified due to the Halloween fashion and madness but it is simply a fact that pumpkin pie tastes the best as well as the pumpkin soup.
Everyone who enjoys the Halloween, will definitely enjoy the urban tale of the pumpkins and their background in Stingy Jack life. We may be not so skilled to carve the perfect pumpkin with the alluring wicked face that radiates the lost Jack O’Lantern’s soul but we are all capable to choose some pumpkin as our own protector in one night in the year, when everything is possible. The grinned turnip lantern is our last stand, before we all fall asleep in the night when only the damned are awake.
6 thoughts on “JACK-O’-LANTERN: THE EVIL PUMPKIN OF HALLOWEEN”
Sarah’s relative and informative article reminded me of ‘Will-O’-the-Wisp’, from English folklore, which dates to the 1660s, in East Anglia. The term ‘Jack of the Lantern’ derives from this Middle English expression (the Irish Celtic is ‘Jack na laindéar’; which comes from the linguistic history Sarah refers to in her article).
An Irish version (there are several) of the folktale has the Biblical Devil coming to collect the soul of a wayward farmer (i.e. indulgent in profligacy): the farmer, Jack, tricks him into turning into a coin, so he can pay for his one last drink. When the Devil obliges, Jack places him in his pocket next to a crucifix; preventing him from returning to his original form. In exchange for his freedom, the Devil grants Jack ten more years of life. When the term expires, the Devil comes to collect his due. Yet, Jack tricks him again by making him climb a tree and then carving a cross underneath; preventing him from climbing down. In exchange for removing the cross, the Devil forgives Jack’s debt.
However, no one as bad as Jack would ever be allowed into the Biblical Heaven. So, Jack is forced upon his death to travel to the Biblical Hell and ask for a place there. The Devil denies him entrance in revenge, but grants him an ember from the fires of Hell to light his way through the twilight world, to which lost souls are forever condemned. Jack places it in a carved turnip to serve as a lantern.
In scientific communities, it is generally accepted that the Will-O’-the-Wisp phenomenon (i.e. ignis fatuus – foolish fire [reference to the erratic movement of the flames]) is caused by the oxidation of phosphine (PH3), diphosphane (P2H4) and methane (CH4). These compounds, produced by organic decay, can cause photon emissions. Since phosphine and diphosphane mixtures spontaneously-ignite on contact with the oxygen in air, only small quantities of it would be needed to ignite the much more abundant methane to create ephemeral fires. Furthermore, phosphine produces phosphorus pentoxide as a by-product, which forms phosphoric acid upon contact with water vapour, which can explain viscous moisture described as accompanying ignis fatuus, occasionally
Thank you, Sarah, for bringing back beautiful memories about Halloween !
Halloween has always been one of my favorite Holidays ! It comes in the Fall, that beautiful season with crisp fresh air, which makes it even more mysterious than it already is !
Over the years, I have carved both Happy-Faced Pumpkins and Scary ones ! Either way, it has always been fun !
What a lovely and heartwarming season ! The pumpkin soup and the pumpkin pies are just amazing !
Please, keep all black cats and all cats indoors during Halloween, as some evil people try to take advantage of the Holiday to hurt them !
Thanks again, Sarah, for your lovely article which has made me feel very nostalgic !
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