Today in Halloween history we will be studying the origins of the Jack-O-Lantern.
The Jack-O-Lantern began with an Irish legend. So goes the legend there was a man named Jack who was a blacksmith. He was a stingy drunkard and a con-artist. Smooth and silver-tongued it was said he could talk anyone into anything. (For more information, Wikipedia "Stingy Jack".) The Devil heard about Jack and was curious and jealous of his reputation so the Devil went to find him. Some versions say the Devil came to Jack in a bar. Some say Jack met the Devil along a deserted road, and some say Jack came across a body with an evil grin in the path at night on his way home and from there took Jack to the bar to get him drunk enough to kill him. All agree that they were at one point in the pub. Jack requested to have one more drink, or several, or the Devil convinced him to drink more. Jack asked the Devil to pay his tab in exchange for his soul and the devil turned himself into a coin to pay the tab, assuming once it was paid he would turn back into himself and walk out of the bar, but instead of paying with the coin, Jack put it in his pocket with a crucifix to prevent the Devil from returning to his natural form. Jack made a bargain with the Devil to release him if he promised not to come for Jack's soul for another ten years.
Ten years after that the Devil found Jack out walking and informed him it had been 10 years and it was now time to relinquish his soul. Jack was like, 'Oh okay. But could I have an apple first? I'm starving and since I'll be starving through eternity in Hell, at least let me have one last apple before I go!' So the devil climbed up a tree by the road to get Jack his last apple and Jack carved a cross in the tree trunk or laid crosses around the tree so that the Devil would be trapped in the tree. He made the Devil promise never to take his soul to hell.
Jack's lifestyle caught up with him and Jack found himself dead at the Pearly Gates where he was refused entrance to Heaven due to his wicked life. So Jack's soul wandered down to Hell where the Devil reminded him he cannot enter there either. Jack asked, "Then where am I to go?" and the Devil replied, "Back where you came from!" The Devil sent him on his way with a coal from Hell to light his way, which Jack held in a hollowed out turnip. Jack's homeless soul wanders the earth with his coal-in-a-turnip lantern, looking for a home.
Due to this legend, Jack's Lantern or Jack O' Lantern came to be used to describe a strange light flickering over the marshes of Ireland. If approached, the light was always just out of reach. The mysterious occurrence is also known as will o' the wisp and ignis fatuus, Gaelic for 'foolish fire.' It was said that it was Jack's soul wandering, looking for a home.
Part 2: Origins - All Hallows Eve, All Saints Day
Part 3: How it all ties in, Christian response
Part 4: My Personal Beliefs