Saturday, October 31, 2015

Stingy Jack and the origins of the Jack O'lantern.

Tonight is Halloween Night!  At some point this evening, I'll be driving around the small city I live in, to look at the decorations, and particularly the Jack O'lanterns.  These wonderfully carved pumpkins have always been my favorite Halloween decoration.

In honor of Halloween and my love of Jack O'lantern's, I've decided to tell you the legend of Stingy Jack. and how the Jack O'lantern came to be.

And now!
The Legend of Stingy Jack

Once upon a time, there was, in Ireland, a man known as Stingy Jack.  Jack was mean, drank too much, and delighted in playing tricks on anyone and everyone.

One day, Jack ran into the Devil.  Jack invited the Devil to have a drink with him in the local pub.  When the time came to pay, Jack convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin that Jack could use to pay for the drinks.  Once the Devil had done so, Jack put the coin into his pocket near a silver cross, so the Devil could not change back to his original form.

Jack eventually told the Devil he'd free him, on the condition that the Devil wouldn't bother Jack for the period of one year, and that when Jack died, the Devil would not come for his soul.  The Devil agreed and Jack freed him to go on his way.

The next year, the Devil returned to see Jack, and Jack, ever the trickster, convinced the Devil to climb a tree to pick some fruit. The Devil agreed, but as soon as he was up the tree, Jack carved the symbol of a cross into the bark of the tree so the Devil could not climb down.   Again Jack told the Devil he would release him, on the condition that this time the Devil would not bother Jack for a space of 10 years, and again, that when Jack died, the Devil would not come for his soul.  Again the Devil agreed and Jack released him from the tree.

When Stingy Jack finally died, God refused to allow him into heaven due to his unpleasant character in life.  The Devil, still stung at having been tricked twice by Jack, turned him away from the gates of hell. Instead, he gave Jack a single glowing coal and condemned Jack's spirit to forever walk the world of the living, with nothing else to light his way.   Jack put the coal into a carved out turnip and used that as a lantern to light his way.

 To this day, in dark and lonely places, you can sometimes still see Jack O'lantern walking through eternity.

In Ireland and Scotland, people began to make their own versions of Jack’s lanterns.  They would carve scary faces into turnips or potatoes and placing them into windows or near doors to frighten away Stingy Jack and other wandering evil spirits.  They would also carve happy or welcoming images in order that friendly spirits, or those of their ancestors, were welcome to visit.  In England, large beets are used. Immigrants from these countries brought the jack o’lantern tradition with them when they came to the United States and soon found that pumpkins, a fruit native to America, make perfect jack-o’-lanterns.

And so my friends, thus goes the story of Stingy Jack and the origins of our modern day Jack O'lantern.

Whoever you are, and whatever you celebrate and believe...

Thursday, October 22, 2015

The Pendle Witches

On December 8, 2011 the BBC News website featured an article about the discovery of the archaeological remains of a 17th century cottage.  The building was found under a grass mound, when workers from United Utilities were sent to survey an area of the Lower Black Moss reservoir in the village of Barley, in the shadow of Pendle Hill.

The bones of a cat were found bricked into one wall of the cottage.  It's believed that the cat may have been buried alive to protect the inhabitants from evil.

From an archaeological standpoint, the discovery of the cottage was a treasure trove of information about daily life for the poor in 17th century England.  However, it's the assumption that was made about the people who lived there that leads us into the paranormal.

Pendle Hill is well known for a series of witch trials held in 1612. In all, twenty people were accused of witchcraft and tried.  Ten of them were hanged, and one died in jail.  One was sentenced to stand in the pillory, and the rest were acquitted.

In what almost feels like a precursor to the Salem Witch trials of 1692, the testimony of a child was key to the proceedings.  Nine year old Jennet Device gave evidence against her mother, brother, and several other members of her family and neighbors.  Jennet's testimony, even at that young age, was allowed under King James' rules.  Under his system, all the normal rules of evidence were suspended for witch trials.

There are other similarities to the Salem Witch trials as well.  The families involved in the Pendle trials were long time rivals, much like the many of the families involved at Salem were.  Elizabeth Southerns (Old Demdike) and Anne Whittle (Mother Chattox) and their families, had been at odds for years.  In those days, women who were known as witches didn't just perform hexes and cause the neighbors milk to spoil in the cow.  They were also the local healers and even midwives, using herbs for their medicinal properties to help the sick and ease childbirth.   Both Chattox and Demdike were known as witches and were obviously competitors for whatever business was to be had in the area.  Both families were also known as beggars and there was likely competition there as well.

All in all, the story of the Pendle Witches is fascinating and well worth looking into!

If you're interested in knowing more about the Pendle Witches, and young Jennet Device in particular, there is an excellent documentary called The Pendle Witch Child.

You can read more about the witches at The Pendle Witches.

Also, this page on Google is where I started my research for this article.

NOTE:  The cottage was reburied in 2012 to prevent further damage harsh weather, and overzealous tourists.  You can read the BBC article here.