Who was Jack-o’-Lantern and how did he become a Halloween pumpkin?

Before it was a pumpkin, Jack-o’-Lantern was a mythical Irishman who played tricks on the Devil.

Terrifying Jack O Lantern turnip on display at the Museum of Country Life Co Mayo

The original Jack-o’-Lantern was a blacksmith named Jack who was too evil to go to heaven when he died.

Was Jack-o’-Lantern so very evil?

Well, he was certainly a very annoying practical joker, particularly when it came to deities. His nicknames, “Stingy Jack” and “Drunk Jack” may give some hint of his interests. Apparently his evil deeds became so well known that the devil came to see for himself.

Jack lived up to his Drunk Jack moniker by convincing the Devil to buy him drinks all night. The penny-wise Jack then tricked Satan into turning into a coin to pay for the drinks. Jack shoved Satan/coin into his pocket next to a cross. (Why did evil Jack have a cross? Was he PREPARED for this eventuality?)  In return for his freedom, the Devil agreed to leave Jack alone for a year and never claim his soul for hell.

Fool me once…

The very next year, Jack tricked the Devil into climbing into a tree to pick an apple. While he was up in the tree, Jack carved a sign of the cross into the tree’s bark. Naturally, the devil was trapped until he promised not to bother Jack for ten more years.

When Jack finally died, he was much too sinful to go to heaven. However, Satan had promised not to take his soul, and so he was barred from hell as well. Jack asked how he would see where to go, as he had no light. The devil gave Jack a single burning coal to light his way and sent him off into the night to “find his own hell.”  (One for Satan!).

This Jack O Lantern was traditionally carved in (Fintown) Baile na Finne, County Donegal Gaelltacht, c. 1903 National Museum of Ireland

Jack carved out one of his favorite turnips, put the ember inside it, and began endlessly wandering the Earth.

He became known as “Jack of the Lantern”, or jack-o’-lantern.

An atmospheric ghost fire or spark created from marsh gas – sometimes called jack-o’-lanterns, hinkypunks, hobby lanterns, corpse candles, fairy lights, will-o’-the-wisps, and fool’s fire – became Jack’s lonely bobbing light.

Siobhan is a freelance writer, research addict and lover of twisted history. If you like horrible but amazing history, check out her website www.interesly.com or Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/interesly. Or you can reach her through www.siobhanoshea.com.