This is one of my favorite Irish folk tales. I know I must have posted it around somewhere before, but here it is for those who have never found it in the archives. Happy Halloween.
Legend of Jack-O-Lantern
Jack was a lazy farmer and spent more time at the local pub drinking and betting than tending his crops. He was a prankster and all his mischief making did nothing to endear him to his friends and neighbors. Jack felt sure this was the devil’s doing and if Satan would stop putting so many temptations in his path, he could make a turn for the better.
Now Jack figured the devil was as fond of betting as he was and devised a plan to trap him. He’d met Satan at the pub on many a dark night and it was always the same, with the devil offering riches and fame in return for Jack’s soul. Jack of course refused such offers, not wanting riches and having no use for fame. He did, however, want to be less of a sorrowful burden to his family and stop all his evil shenanigans.
Although his wife argued vehemently against his scheme, Jack decided to proceed. He was confident the plan would succeed, not to mention, it allowed him to go to the pub every night with a legitimate excuse. He didn’t have long to wait. A few nights passed and Satan once again joined him at his table, buying him ale and making the usual offers in return for his soul.
“You truly want my soul, Devil?”
Satan laughed. “You know I’ll have you sooner or later, Jack. Why not take my offer and enjoy what’s left of your wretched life?”
“I’ll make a wager with you. There’s a tree on the south end of my land. It grows straight and tall with limbs only at the top. Now, many a man has tried to climb the tree, but none has made it to the top. Even with you being the devil and all, I don’t think you can do it. If you can climb to the top without slipping back down or falling, I’ll take your offer and you can have my soul.”
Satan loved a good bet, but he was slightly irritated that this miserable mortal doubted his ability to accomplish such a simple task. “I can climb your tree, Jack, never fear. Lead the way.”
The two left the pub and walked the short distance to the tree. Satan removed his hooded cape and shimmied up the tree without any problems at all. “I made it, Jack, and now you’re mine.” His laugh echoed hollowly from the top branches.
Jack hurriedly removed his hunting knife and carved a cross on the trunk, as high up as he could reach. “Think again, Devil. I’ve trapped you. You can’t come down unless I remove the cross.”
Satan howled in anger when realizing he’d been tricked. He was trapped in the blasted tree and would have to bargain with the man to gain his freedom. “What is it you want, Jack?”
“I’ll carve out the cross and set you free if you promise to never again set temptation before me.”
“Agreed! Let me down.”
Jack’s plan had worked. He could now go about his life without the danger of falling to temptation. Unfortunately he was never allowed to reap the benefits. The very next day, the same tree was felled in a storm and came crashing down on poor Jack, taking his life. Having been involved in more than a few evil misdeeds, Jack was denied entrance to Heaven. It would seem the devil would have his soul after all.
But Satan was still angry at having been tricked and would not allow him into Hell. Jack was doomed to walk the earth in the cold darkness for all eternity. He begged the devil to have pity and Satan relented by giving him a single glowing coal. Jack found a large turnip and carved out the middle and front. He placed the burning ember inside and used it to light his way.
Many have claimed to see the swaying of Jack’s lantern on dark nights and most especially on All Hollows Eve. Perhaps you will, too.