Welcome virtual traveller to the first of my posts for 'The Storyteller's Journal'. This blog hopes to give you seasonal ways to connect with nature through stories whether it be stories about how we interact with the world around us , myths that explain the once unexplainable or legends that have become folklore.
This month I'm looking at the Jacks that appear at Halloween. Jack O' The Latern, Jack O' The Bowl and Taypot Jack all have associations with the passing of souls and Samhain night, so grab yourself a mug of something hot, curl up beside the fire and read about some of Jack's stories.
Turnips, swedes and pumpkins have long been carved at this time of year and there are several legends associated with them.
The first is that of the Will O' The Wisp. Will O' The Wisp is a character from East Anglian folklore and is associated with the phenomenon called 'ignis fatuus' or 'foolish fire' . These flickering flames hover above marshland enticing unwitting travellers from the path, often to their death. In some legends the light is held by a man named Will and the light comes from a bundle of sticks he is holding as a torch. So when did these lights become associated with pumpkins?
Jack O'Lantern emerged from an Irish legend, which I will tell you all about in a moment, but he is also mentioned in Hampshire and Cornwall. In Cornwall there is a poem associated with him:
Jack o' th' lantern! Joan the wad
Who tickled the maid and made her mad
Light me home, the wether's bad
As you can see from this poem Jack is also associated with a character called Joan and they are both considered mischievous but helpful characters, guiding people home in bad weather. This also brings us full circle back to 'Will O' The Wisp' as 'Joan The Wad' too is associated with these tiny hovering blue flames. She is a little less sinister depending on how you feel about being tickled, as she is said to lead you from the path and tickle you.
In Scotland the lantern is called 'Candle & Castock', which is a large turnip lantern:
Jack pops up again in Switzerland where, instead of a lantern, children leave a bowl of milk out for a character named 'Jack O' The Bowl' and in Ireland there is a tradition of 'Taypot Jack'. According to Micheal Fortune the Irish folklorist, Taypot Jack was a spirit of Halloween and once you had finished the tea in the tea pot on Halloween night, when you went to pour the dregs outside as usual, you had to say 'for the living and the dead' so as not to wet the souls of the dead.
Will O' The Wisps, bowls of milk and teapots all bring us to pumpkins and the legend of Stingy Jack.
It is said that the origin of vegetable lanterns at Halloween comes from the Irish tradition. Turnips and Swedes were originally used (pumpkins are an American variation) and the lanterns are said to represent spirits or supernatural beings.
There is evidence that this tradition also happened in the UK, towards the end of the 18th century and in Worcestershire they were called 'Hoberdy's Lantern'.
The legend associated with these lanterns is Stingy Jack. This is the story of a reprehensible fellow who manages to trick the Devil on two occasions and, on Jack's eventual demise, he finds himself not able to gain entrance to Heaven or Hell. Instead he is destined to wander purgatory with only a burning coal to light his way. The turnips or Jack O' Lanterns are said to represent this coal and Jack wandering in the liminal space, which is tangibly close on this night.
These days children (in the main) dress up and travel door to door 'Trick Or Treating' with their Jack O'Lanterns and certainly in our village, if you have a pumpkin beside your door on this night, you can expect a knock at the door and a requirement for treats to be bestowed upon the doorstep visitors.
In Season 2, Epsiode 7 of the 'Stories From Lore' podcast I tell this story along with some folklore concerning more door knocking traditions. You can listen to the folklore and the story here:
I'll be back in November with some bonfire themed tales for you. For now, you can find me on Instagram via @dd_storyteller , on Facebook as DD Storyteller and on Twitter as @dd_stortyeller. I'll see you there!