But have you ever wondered why we carve cute, scary, or creepy faces into gutted pumpkins and leave them glowing on the porch? It seems like a strange tradition when you stop and think about it.
The history of the jack-o’-lantern goes back to an old Irish myth about a man named Jack…
The Legend of Stingy Jack
As the story goes, a drunkard named Jack lived in a small village in Ireland several centuries ago. Jack was an unsavory character with a reputation among the townsfolk for having a silver tongue and being a manipulator, deceiver, and all-around rotten human being. They called him Stingy Jack.
When Satan heard the rumors about Jack’s misdeeds, he was dubious that they could possibly be true (and envious if there was a chance they might be). The devil decided to meet Jack and see for himself if he was as vile as his reputation. If Jack really was as nasty as everyone claimed, Satan wanted his soul.
On that fateful night, Jack was stumbling through the countryside, drunk as usual. He noticed a figure on the cobblestone path.
Now, Jack may have been a stingy drunk, but he was clever. Upon learning that Satan had come to claim Jack’s malevolent soul, Jack made a last request—he asked if he could have one more drink at his favorite pub before the trip to Hell.
Satan saw no reason to deny Jack’s request, so he agreed to take Jack back to the pub and let him drink to his heart’s content. After quenching his thirst, Jack admitted that he didn’t have any money. He asked Satan to pay the tab.
But the devil didn’t have any money, either.
Jack thought of a solution and proposed that Satan could transform himself into a silver coin so Jack could pay the tab. Then, when the bartender wasn’t looking, Satan could turn back into his true form and take Jack to Hell.
Satan, who was rather impressed by Jack’s shameless manipulation tactics, agreed to the plan and transmuted into a coin. Jack slipped the silver coin into his pocket… which also happened to contain a crucifix.
The crucifix prevented Satan from escaping or changing forms. Satan begged and pleaded, left with no choice but to give in to Stingy Jack’s demand—to spare Jack’s soul for the next ten years. In exchange, Jack would set the devil free.
A decade passed, and Jack continued to live a life full of sin and deceit. Ten years to the day the deal had been struck, Jack and Satan crossed paths again when Jack was stumbling home from the pub.
Stingy Jack sighed, knowing that his time was up. He greeted Satan with an air of acceptance. And yet, as the devil prepared to take him to Hell, Jack made another last request. He told Satan that he was starving and begged for an apple to ease his hunger on the journey.
The devil, who hadn’t learned his lesson from his last encounter with Jack, foolishly agreed to the request. He climbed a nearby apple tree (since Jack was too drunk to get an apple without falling), and while he was in the branches, Jack set crucifixes around the base of the trunk, once again trapping the devil. Furious that he’d been tricked a second time, Satan demanded that Jack release him.
As before, Jack agreed, but only if the devil conceded to his terms. This time, Stingy Jack set the condition that Satan could never take his soul to Hell.
Stuck in the apple tree with no means of escape, the devil was forced to agree. Jack set him free, and the two parted ways again.
Eventually, many years later, a lifetime of alcohol took a toll on Jack’s body. He took his final breath and died. His soul approached Heaven’s gate, but St. Peter turned Jack away due to his lifetime of sinful behavior. With nowhere else to go, Jack went down to Hell’s gate and begged for admittance to the underworld. But Satan, who was still bitter about Jack’s tricks, refused, citing their final contract. He had promised Jack that he would never take his soul to Hell, and he wouldn’t break his oath.
As a final parting gift, Satan bestowed Jack with an ember of hellfire to light his way as he roamed the earth as a lost soul trapped between the planes of good and evil. Jack stuck the burning ember inside a carved turnip to serve as a lantern.
He ceased to be known as Stingy Jack and instead became Jack of the Lantern, which was shortened to jack-o’-lantern over time.
So, the next time you notice the glow of a jack-o’-lantern around Samhain when the veil between our world and the afterlife is thin, be wary. It could be the light of Stingy Jack’s hellfire…
Ready to Carve Your Jack-O’-Lantern?
Award-winning fantasy author, freelance writer, spiritual explorer, and sole founder of Green Witch Lunar Witch. She created her first website in 2016 and published her first novel two years later. Sara spends most of her time writing, creating, and daydreaming.