Table of Contents
- YOU DON’T KNOW JACK
- FOOLISH FIRES
- AND NOW FOR THE JACK OF THE HOUR
YOU DON’T KNOW JACK
Ever wondered who Jack is and what’s the deal with the lantern? So have we. Let’s do a little digging together in the old patch and find out.
Although people had been making creepy lamps out of root vegetables to scare away evil spirits since the time of the ancient Celts, there’s a particular Irish legend we’d like to share with you that really got everyone carving. Before we get to it though, where does this term “Jack-O’-Lantern” come from in the first place?
Appearing in 17th-century Britain, it was originally a reference to a night watchman carrying a lantern, although not limited to this usage. The common name “Jack”, as used to refer to a man one doesn’t know, was an established colloquialism at the time. Thus, pretty much any unknown dude walking around with a light could be deemed a “Jack of the lantern”, or “Jack-O’-Lantern”.
Around the same time, the bogs in Britain were apparently farting lights. Put another way, decaying organic matter in marshlands generated gases that would phosphoresce at times, giving off an eerie light in the right conditions known as ignis fatuus, Latin for “foolish fire”.
Although commonly referred to as Will-o’-the-wisp, meaning “Will of the torch” (don’t ask who Will is ), this effect was originally dubbed a Jack-O’-Lantern. Many believed that the creepy light flickering across the swamp was in fact the flame from “Jack’s” lantern, a beacon to lure unsuspecting travelers astray. “Which Jack?” you ask. This Jackass.
AND NOW FOR THE JACK OF THE HOUR
For the record, there are differing versions of this legend and we’re going with this one, with just a touch of our own sauce of course.
Drinkin’ & Dashin’ With The Devil
So Stingy Jack was a blacksmith by trade, shit-disturbing, alcoholic cheapskate by nature. One night he goes out for drinks with none other than the Devil (that’s one way to skip the cover charge). After the two of them tie one on, Jack flakes on paying his way — hence one of his nicknames, Flaky Jack — and proposes that the Devil turn himself into a coin so that they may order another round, or so says Jack. The Devil obliges for some reason, his judgment perhaps addled by the local ale, but Mr. Stingy has other plans.
He decides to keep the money, puts it in his pocket which contains a silver cross, thus trapping the Devil and preventing him from changing back, and then skips out on the bill entirely. The old “Devilled Drink ‘n’ Dash”.
Jack later frees the Devil from his scary cross pocket on condition that he not be disturbed for one year and that when he dies, the Devil will not take him to Hell where he’s pretty sure he belongs. Satan agrees.
Devilled Apple Tree Cross Toss
Fast Forward one year. Jack meets the Devil again and somehow convinces him to climb a tree to pick some apples for him as he’s feeling a little peckish. The Devil, who, truth be told doesn’t come off as the sharpest prong on the pitchfork in this story, agrees.
Up in the branches, he finds himself stuck once again after Jack throws a bunch of crucifixes around the base of the tree as if they were loose change. The old “Devilled Apple Tree Cross Toss”. Again, Jack weasels a promise out of the Devil: he’s allowed back down on condition that he leave Jack alone for ten more years. And again, done deal.
Sad Jack & Weaponized Root Vegetables
A little time passes, Jack continues being an inveterate asshole, and then dies. Problem is, Heaven won’t have him for obvious reasons and he has a deal with the Devil barring him from You-Know-Where that Satan has every intention of honouring. Jack’s soul is now officially lost somewhere between the Moon and New York City so to speak, cursed to wander the Earth aimlessly forever.
The Devil, kind of a super nice guy in this story, gives Jack a burning ember to light his way which he puts into a carved-out turnip he happens to have on him. Jack then sets out on his sad, lonely trek, the haunting light from his lamp a signal to all that he’s near, so keep thy distance.
And so, it was believed that Jack of the Lantern (Jack-‘O-Lantern to those who know him) may come creeping around your neighbourhood at night, ominous vegetable lamp in hand, a wandering warning to all who would seek to make deals with the Devil or just generally be a shit.
Thus the Jack-O’-Lantern tradition was born in Ireland and Britain of carving out freaky faces in taters, turnips and such and placing them in windows, doorways and on steps in a concerted, neighbourhood watch effort to scare Stingy Jack and any other evil spirits off to the opposite side of town. Yes, the pumpkin would eventually take over, but ever see some of those old-school carved turnips? You’d be scared too.