Originally published at: https://www.saylor.org/2018/10/blog_the-gaelic-roots-of-halloween/
The Halloween tradition of carving scary faces into pumpkins began with the Gaelic Halloween, and even vegetables, such as turnips and potatoes were carved. The folklore also notes the connection to the will-o’-the-wisp, an atmospheric ghost light seen by travelers at night, especially over the Irish bogs. It was said that the flickering light resembled a lantern in the distance. It was also known by the name Jack-o-Lantern.
Centuries ago in the rolling countryside of Ireland there lived a perpetually inebriated man known as “Stingy Jack”. Jack was infamous amongst the local populace for his dishonesty, his manipulation and his overall con-man tendencies. The Devil took notice of Jack’s silver-tongued evil deeds and decided he needed to meet him.
Long story short, Jack tricked the Devil into paying for his drinks. The Devil turned into a coin and Jack placed him in a pocket with a crucifix, trapping him. Jack made a deal to let the Devil go if he was allowed to live for ten years. Ten years later the Devil came for Jack. Jack manipulated the Devil into picking an apple to feed his growling belly and trapped him by placing crucifixes all around the tree. Jack let Satan go, on the condition he would never take his soul into hell. Years later Jack died but was denied entrance into heaven because of his evil deeds. He tried to enter hell, but the Devil kept his promise and didn’t let him in. Instead the Devil gave him an ember to mark him as a denizen of the netherworld. Jack placed this ember in a hollowed out turnip to light his way.
On All-Hallows'-Eve the ghost of Jack can been seen stumbling through the Irish countryside, lit only by the light of his turnip lantern, and would forever be known as “Jack of the Lantern” or “Jack-o-Lantern”.So the story goes, but like most ghost stories and myths the tale changes with each telling.
Halloween was later embraced in the United States with the immigration of the Irish. The holiday also embraced elements from the Mexican Day of the Dead.
Over the years the holiday grew, but it wasn’t until 1947 that ‘trick-or-treating’ gained national attention with issues of the children’s magazines Jack and Jill and Children’s Activities. In 1951, ‘trick-or-treating’ was depicted in a Peanuts comic strip and by 1952 it was a firmly established tradition.
The trick in ‘trick-or-treating’ is usually just an empty threat of mischief if treats are not given out, but studies have shown that children are more prone to behaving more ‘evil’ when disguised in a costume and gathered in large groups. The psychology studies attribute this to deindividuation, the immersion in a group to the point that one loses a sense of self-awareness and feels lessened responsibility for one’s actions.
We hope you have fun this Halloween, share the story of Jack, and don’t forget to eat a slightly unreasonable amount of candy.
Unabridged Tale of “Stingy Jack”
Centuries ago in the rolling countryside of Ireland there lived a perpetually inebriated man known as “Stingy Jack”. Jack was infamous amongst the local populace for his dishonesty, his manipulation and his overall con-man tendencies. Satan took notice of Jack’s silver-tongued evil deeds and decided he needed to meet him.
One evening Jack was stumbling through a forest, after a heavy drinking session, when he tripped over a man sprawled across his path. The man rose up revealing a grimacing face. Fear jolted through Jack, sobering him up, and it was in that moment he understood who was in front of him. Before Satan could even speak, Jack asked if he could get one last drink before being dragged down to Hades. Satan granted this request and together they proceeded to the nearest pub. After a few hours, and more than a few drinks, Jack told Satan to pay the barkeep. Satan was surprised by this and told Jack that he had no need for money and therefore did not carry any. “Surely someone as powerful as you can transform into a silver coin”, Jack slurred, “You can’t be the ruler of the underworld if you can’t do something as simple as that”. Satan was furious and proved his power by turning into a silver coin. In that instant Jack placed Satan in his pocket next to a crucifix. The presence of the crucifix blocked Satan from transforming back to his original form. Satan was furious. He could not believe that he was tricked by a mortal man and demanded that he be set free. Jack agreed to set him free on the condition that he be left alone and untouched for ten years. Satan agreed to the deal and they parted ways.
Ten years later, to the second, Jack once again stumbled into Satan. Jack seemingly accepted his fate, but asked if he could eat something to feed his growling belly before they traveled to Hades. Satan foolishly agreed to this and climbed a nearby apple tree to pick an apple. Jack, having prepared himself for this day, placed dozens of crucifixes around the tree, trapping Satan. Satan was enraged at Jack and in himself for falling, once again, into a trap. Like before he demand to be set free and once again Jack proposed a deal. Jack would set Satan free if he would never take his soul into Hades. Reluctantly Satan agreed, and once again they parted ways.
Years later Jack succumbed to his excessive drinking and died. His soul made the journey towards heaven, but he was not permitted to enter due to his lifetime of evil deeds. Jack, not knowing where else to go, found himself begging to enter into Hades. Satan kept his promise and did not let Jack’s soul in, and instead gave him an ember embedded in a hollowed out turnip to mark him as a resident of the netherworld.
On All-Hallows’-Eve the ghost of Jack can been seen stumbling through the Irish countryside, lit only by the light of his turnip lantern, and would forever be known as “Jack of the Lantern” or “Jack-o-Lantern”.