Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Will O' The Wisp

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays, second only to Christmas. I believe that holidays are often created as an output for creative expression through decorating. Halloween allows the the 'dark' side of our personalities and creative flair to be 'tacky' or even horrific. It provides a great venting of any negativity we may have.

I get more excited about carving Jack-O-Lanterns than my kids do. From scooping out the pumpkin pulp, to lighting my masterpiece - I look forward to it every year. It is a tradition in our family based on a tradition from the early 1800's (maybe even earlier).

The origin of the Jack-O-Lantern is said to come from Ireland and based on the urban legend of a trickster named Stingy Jack. There are two versions of his tricking the Devil that I am aware of. In one, he convinces the Devil to change into a coin to pay his debt at a local pub, but instead of paying the debt, he places the coin in his wallet next to a cross, thereby trapping the Devil. In another version, he convinces the Devil to climb a tree, and while the Devil is in the tree, Jack places crosses around the base of the tree to entrap Lucifer. Regardless, the Devil ends up trapped and Jack does not set him free until Lucifer promises Jack exclusion from eternal damnation in Hell. The story goes on to tell that when Jack dies, he is denied entrance from Heaven because of all his tricks and wrong-doing; and because of his pact with the Devil, he is excluded and safe from Hell as well. The Devil threw him a burning ember from the fires of Hell. Jack carried this ember in a carved out rutabaga/turnip for use as a lantern as he walked the earth eternally and hid in swamps and bogs. Jack The Lantern's legend was brought to America by the Irish and evolved into a symbol to ward off the Devil and evil spirits. The pumpkin became the vegetable of choice as it was more plentiful than turnip and easier to hollow out.

A number of my family and friends are from Newfoundland, Canada. In Newfoundland, Halloween pumpkins are called 'Jackie Lanterns'. They re-tell the same folklore tale, but the lights in pumpkins are said to be 'ghost lights' or 'bog lights'. This is based on the phenomena of lighted orbs often seen floating over bogs and marshes that scientists say are caused by marsh gases. These same 'bog lights' are based on the story of the 'burning ember' that Stingy Jack (often called Drunk Jack in Newfoundland) was given by the Devil, and are known as Will O' The Wisp.

Will O' The Wisps have been cited throughout many places of literature such as JK Rowling's Harry Potter series, JRR Tolkien's, The Lord of The Rings, Michael Ende's NeverEnding Story, and Bram Stoker's, Dracula. One of my favorite authors, Johann Wolfgang von Goeth has Will O' The wisps appear in his fairy tale, The Green Snake and The Beautiful Lily. Whenever they are seen, however; they are always just moving out of our reach. Some people refer to goals as 'will o' the wisps' for this reason. They see their goals as magical lights that move away the closer we advance toward them. For me, this is an interesting analogy.

Regardless where the legend began, I have always been fascinated by Jack-O-Lanterns. Maybe the goal analogy is why. When I set a goal, I capture it and hold on to it until it manifests. No getting away from this chick. I grew up in the country too, so bogs and ghost lights only make me more curious - not afraid to go after them. My captured goals are trapped in my own pumpkins. the light in these same pumpkins represents hope and the unwavering faith of my achievement, and the scary faces push all the 'demons' or negativity away from me achieving those goals.

I think there should be a lot more people carving pumpkins and capturing their goals. Maybe this should also be done year around - not just for Halloween. Right now, however, I am planning my costume for trick or treating. I think I might go as Sarah Palin this year - but that's a whole other story...
Happy Halloween and here is a quote for you from one of my favorite authors as mentioned above to ponder as you carve your own Jack-O-Lanterns...

"The moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too.
All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have
occurred...unforseen incidents, meetings, and material assistance, which
no man could have dreamed would have come his way."
- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


Jeni said...

I really enjoied this post. I am also equally excited about carving my pumpkin this year. My husband and I celebrate Halloween each year with childlike enthusiasm. As pagans, this is a sacred holiday for us as well, but we never forget the fun of it. I had never heard the story of the Jack O Lanturn but I'm glad you shared it. I love to store up the history of the holiday and share it with my daughter. Thanks again and have a happy and safe Halloween!

Leigh LeCreux said...

Hey Jeni!
Glad you liked it. I am following you as well on here. you have some great posts! Thanks for the follow! I think I may be getting the hang of this blog thing. I only started it becuase I had so much to write, but nowhere to do it! My husband laughs at me, and so does my partner because I like to write by candlelight on paper. I mentioned this in a recent radio interview, and the producer was tonguetied. I guess not a lot of people still believe in the power of creative writing on paper. Anyhow, glad you are here, and thanks for letting me in your circle!