The wild, earthy smell of a fresh pumpkin being hollowed out for Halloween carving brings back such potent childhood memories for most of us. The undeniable magic of the eerie, glowing light is such a great emblem of the Halloween season. But. . . why do we carve jack-o’-lanterns, anyway? Where did this charming tradition come from?
Did you know that the first jack-o’-lanterns weren’t pumpkins at all? So if they weren’t made from pumpkins, what were they carved from? And what was the point? What is the deeper magic behind the jack-o’-lantern? Find out here:
For many hundreds of years, Western Europeans hollowed out turnips, rutabagas, or large beets and lit them with candles to show the way back to loved ones who had died, inviting them for a visit, and to frighten away any less friendly spirits that might do harm.
The jack-o’-lantern tradition also owes some life to an old Irish legend about a stingy man named Jack (of course!) who outwits the Devil temporarily. By the end of the story, though, the Devil gets his revenge: he denies Jack access to both heaven and hell, forcing him instead to roam the earth with only a glowing coal inside a hollow turnip, his favorite food, as a lamp. According to some popular folk belief, carving little lanterns from turnips was a way of keeping mean-spirited Jack away. When Irish immigrants came to American shores, they readily adopted the easier-to-carve American pumpkin for their jack-o’-lanterns.
But if we focus on the aspect of honoring departed loved ones, then the carving of an old-style turnip or rutabaga takes on a whole new significance, becoming a Spirit Guide that invites warm memories of our beloved dead to come back for a visit.
Unlike pumpkins, turnips are tough and take a bit of patience to hollow out. And instead of cutting all the way through the turnip flesh, as we do with pumpkins, Spirit Guides have designs that are simply etched into the shell, so that the light from within shows subtly.
You might choose to decorate your turnip Spirit Guide with symbols that you associate with your departed friends or relatives. For instance, Cait’s Grannie loved birds, so she usually etches a small songbird in flight on her rutabaga.
When you light the tea-light inside your Spirit Guide, you will see your design take on a magical glow. Take some time to sit beside your Spirit Guide and think loving thoughts of those who have passed on. You and your family may find that this becomes a favorite yearly Halloween tradition.
Adapted from Celebrating the Great Mother, by Cait Johnson and Maura D. Shaw (Inner Traditions, 1995). Copyright (c) 1995 by Cait Johnson and Maura D. Shaw. Reprinted by permission of Inner Traditions.
Adapted from Celebrating the Great Mother, by Cait Johnson and Maura D. Shaw (Inner Traditions, 1995).