Once upon a time in Ireland sometime around 1750…
An Irish folk legend as retold by Jessica B
As a child, I never had many friends. One time, a boy named Patrick started to be my friend. But, when I stole his homework and demanded a weeks worth of lunch money for it’s return, our friendship abruptly ended.
I never understood or embraced the ideas of truth, honesty or love. It seemed to me they all caused me more work then if I simply rejected them all. Why would I learn to bake a pie, grow vegetables or buy a chicken when I could just steal them from someone who already had?
I glided through life, taking what I needed.
I spent my Sundays basking in the quiet while the rest of Ireland went off to church.
I always knew of God and the Devil. Throughout my life, I spoke with the Devil on numerous occasions. I never remember speaking with God though. I always assumed we could talk later, when my fun was good and done.
The first time I met the Devil, it was Halloween night. I was drunk. Well, I was always drunk but, on this particular occasion, I happened to be drunk and sitting on a stool next to the Devil.
He was drunk too.
I don’t know much about the Devil’s daily life but, by the looks of things, this wasn’t his first time in a pub.
I realized, even in the midst of my libation, there this was no coincidence that the Devil was seated next to me. I knew I needed a plan if I was to see November’s morning.
And so, being the fantastic trickster that I am, I came up with a plan.
“Devil, sir”, I said,
“I know you are here for my soul and I will gladly give it to you if you would please just help me out with one last drink.”
Being a man of a similar disposition to myself, The Devil laughed and quickly agreed. He transformed himself into the silver coin I needed for my “last drink”.
Now, at this point, you’ll have to agree that I am a very smart man.
I quickly put the Devil into my coin purse which had a very large cross embroidered on it.
I may not be a man of God but, I certainly know how to use his powers to benefit me in my time of need!
The Devil’s powers of transformation were worthless in the face of the cross.
So, we began bartering for my soul and his transformation.
I demanded the Devil promise to leave my soul alone for 10 years in exchange for his release.He offered five years. We agreed on seven and, I set him free.
I spent those next seven years reveling in my own glory. Bouncing from town to town, taking whatever I needed form whoever had it.
Lying, Cheating, Stealing. After all, what did I have to fear?
On the first day of the eighth year, I assumed the Devil had forgotten me and I was off to celebrate.
As I crossed the street I saw, standing before me, the infinitely recognizable dark form.
“Hello again, Devil,” I said.
“Hello Jack,” said the Devil. “I am here to collect your soul.”
I was not yet ready to go so, pretending to comply, I asked the Devil if he would please first just climb an apple tree and get me an apple for the journey.
The Devil thought about this and decided he could see no trickery in the plan and he had nothing to loose. So, he climbed the tree.
As he was plucking my apple, I quickly pulled out my knife and carved a cross into the tree’s trunk.
The Devil was unable to come down and was, again, forced to come to an agreement with me.
This time, I demanded the Devil promise to never, ever, in all of eternity, take my soul. He agreed.
I removed the cross from the bark and the Devil was again free.
Some number of years later, as I was stealing turnips from my cousins garden, I collapsed.
Dead. No Devil. No warning. I just died.
I stood before St. Peter and the gates to heaven, laughing. Laughing to myself at how I had outsmarted the rules of heaven and hell.
Peter closed the gates.
“You are not welcome here,” he said.
And, he sent me to Hell
The devil stood before the gates to Hell.
“Hello Jack,” he said.
“I see the world is finally free of miserable you.”
The Devil, remembering his promise, closed the gates.
When I asked him where I was to go, he simply said
“back to where you came from.”
I turned and saw the way back was dark and windy. I begged the Devil to give me something to light my way.
As he turned to walk away, he tossed a burning lump of coal over the gate.
I took my stolen turnip, placed the coal in it, and used it as a lantern to light the darkness.
I am now doomed, for all of eternity, to wander the darkness, alone, with my lantern.
I am not welcome by anyone. I have no friends, no family, no comfort. Only my coal and my stolen turnip.
My name and my lantern have become synonymous with a damned soul.
My story prompted the people of Ireland to begin carving faces in turnips, potatoes, rutabagas or beets in order to chase me and other ghosts away.
When the Irish came to America, they brought with them the “Jack-O-Lantern” custom and beliefs. As turnips were not as readily available in America, they began using Pumpkins instead.
And, so it is.
I will wander the earth, welcomed by no one. You will continue to carve your Jack-O-Lanterns as a reminder to me that my lying, cheating and stealing got me nowhere but right back where I came from.
Alone and damned.