Happy Halloween! Well, it was yesterday or today or tomorrow depending on where you’re from. Anyway, it’s time to see something freaky. This is a traditional Irish Jack-o’-Lantern made from a turnip. Turnips and beets were the popular plants to make Jack-o’-Lanterns out of before pumpkins became available in European supermarkets.
This nineteenth century example is from the Museum of Country Life in Turlough Village, County Mayo, Ireland. The Irish say they got the tradition of Jack-o’-Lanterns because of the deeds of a certain blacksmith named Jack. He managed to trap the Devil through some means (stories vary from fooling him into turning into a coin or climbing a tree and then trapping him with a cross) and in return for freeing him, got the Devil to promise not to put him in Hell.
Once Jack died, Heaven refused to take him and Hell couldn’t take him either, so now he walks the Earth in a Purgatory of his own making. The Devil gave him a bit of a fire in a turnip to help him light his way at night. He’s been called Jack of the Lantern, or Jack-o’-Lantern, ever since.
Some folklorists believe the tradition of putting a light in a turnip goes back all the way to Celtic times, when the festival of Samhain involved a communal fire to ward off evil influences. Once the festivities were over, the people would go home, carrying a bit of the fire with them to give luck to their household. The idea of my ancestors all carrying lit turnips home through the prehistoric night has a great deal of appeal, I must say. It’s a better use for them than eating the damn things.
Now go scare someone.
Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
Sean McLachlan is the author of the historical fantasy novel A Fine Likeness, set in Civil War Missouri, and several other titles. Find out more about him on his blog and Amazon author’s page. His latest book, The Case of the Purloined Pyramid, is a neo-pulp detective novel set in Cairo in 1919. It just won the Kindle Scout program and will be published late in 2017.