The Legend of Jack O'Lantern
Hallow e'en is in the air, and the Veil between the Quick and the Dead grows thin.
As I'm sure you know, All Saints Day is Nov. 1, and back in the day superstitious folks would beseech the Saints to intercede on behalf of their recent dead, offering treats and sweet-cakes (usually because that kind of thing was expensive, and thus precious) to the Saints. Enterprising folks sometimes dressed as the dead in order to enjoy the gifts they could not otherwise afford. After time, All Hallow's Eve (as in "...hallowed be thy name,") shortened to Halloween.
Originally, it was only the dead that was to be feared on this night, but as we collectively grew numb to horror, then vampires, witches, werewolves and politicians became costumes and icons.
However, one icon always associated with the event was the jack o'lantern, originally a hollowed turnip with a candle, now the familiar leering symbol that is both decorative and functional as a light source. Here is a poem adapted from Irish Folk Tales.
THE LEGEND OF JACK O'LANTERN
Everyone in the little village knew it.
He could talk a streak until your ears were blue,
But if there was work to be done he wouldn’t do it.
He had the gift of gab, Jack my lad did,
He could talk the birds down from the trees.
But he was lazy as a cat, and heaven forbid,
If he could not do just as he pleased.
Well, the Devil met Jack, in the fields one day,
And he thought he would bargain for a soul.
They wagered who could count every stalk of new hay
In the farmer’s field entire and whole.
Well, Jack climbed a tree, and scouted the land
Then gave the devil a number quite high.
He invited the devil to climb up and stand
Where he could see the entire supply.
When the devil was in the tree, Jack took his knife
And carved a holy cross in the tree bark.
The devil was now stuck, for it would cost him his life
If he attempted to cross that hallowed mark.
Well, the devil was angry, and who could be blamed
Still, Jack bargained for freedom with him.
He stated his case, his terms he proclaimed
And the devil agreed, his voice grim.
Jack had bartered for the safety of his immortal soul,
Never could the devil do him harm.
He would forever be outside of the devil’s control,
A sworn word was as good as a charm.
After freeing old Scratch, Jack went on his way,
And lived his long life as he would.
He never did much harm, you could say,
But he also never did anyone any good.
Jack passed on as men do, and went to Heaven’s gate.
However, they would not let him get through.
Try as he might he simply could not relate
A selfless act for St. Peter’s review.
Denied Heaven’s pleasure Jack turned his attention to Hell,
Irate that Heaven snubbed his failure to act.
But the devil gladly turned him away as well,
For he was still bound by the terms of their pact.
“And where shall I turn, and how to light my way?”
Jack complained, although his words Heaven ignored.
Therefore, the devil decided to vent his thwarted wrath
And flung a burning coal from Hell into a gourd.
Now Jack walks the earth, never to find rest,
His steps lighted by his lantern of shame.
Of all Halloween traditions, the one that shines best,
Is the Jack O’Lantern that today bears his name.