The Legend of Stingy Jack and the Halloween Lantern

I realize I should be living up to the promise I made last week to write about medicinal marijuana, but it’s Halloween! After carving pumpkins, making spider cupcakes and eating Tootsie Rolls I find it impossible to be serious. And speaking of pumpkins, it’s rather odd that once a year we carve scary faces in them, light them up and put them on our front porches. Whose goofy idea was this, anyway?

Actually, the jack-o’-lantern has been around for centuries. I should have figured out from the “o” in o’-lantern that the custom originated in Ireland. You see, there once was a man, a miserable old drunk by the name of Stingy Jack, who loved to play tricks on his neighbors. No one was safe from his pranks – not his neighbors, his friends, nor his dear old mother. He was such a jokester, the story goes, that he bragged he could fool anyone – even the Devil himself. One day Jack went down to the corner pub for a pint when he spied the Devil at a table with a tall glass of bitter ale in front of him. Stingy Jack looked at the glass and licked his lips. “I’ll have me pint,” he thought to himself, “but I won’t leave this establishment a single shilling lighter.” Taking a seat at the Devil’s table he said, “You’re a man of some reputation! Certainly your money is too good for a working man’s tavern. What if I told you I have a way we could drink the evening away and pay nary a pence?” The Devil motioned Jack to continue. “Turn yourself into coin,” Jack said with a smile, “and I’ll pay for our drink. Once the barman has been paid, turn yourself back again!” The Devil agreed and turned himself into a gold piece. Jack took the coin but instead of buying more ale he put the gold next to a silver cross he carried in his pocket. Now it was impossible for the Devil to exercise his own free will. “Give me what I ask,” Jack whispered to the coin, “and I’ll set you free.” Then Jack told the Devil he had to promise that he would not bother him for a year and that if he were to die in that time he would not take his soul. Reluctantly, the Devil agreed. Jack removed the coin from his pocket and put it down on the table, whereupon the Devil returned to his former self. “Good day to you now,” Jack said with a sly smile. “And remember our bargain.” Whistling a tune, he tipped his hat to the Devil and left the pub, proud that he, Stingy Jack, had put one over on Lucifer himself. The Devil, content with the knowledge that time was on his side, sat down and ordered another drink.

It was a lovely summer day when Jack was wandering through the countryside and came upon the Devil sitting under an apple tree. “Now’s my chance,” Jack thought, “to buy myself a bit more time.” Jack doffed his hat to the Devil and bowed low. “I’ve had a few months to think,” said Jack. “I took advantage of you that day in the pub and I’d like to make amends. We could have a meal together. I have bread, cheese and a few turnips in me rucksack – even a jug of wine! The gorgeous apples in this tree would make our lunch a beautiful thing. Ah, but this bad leg of mine! I’ll never be able to reach that delicious fruit. Would you be so kind as to climb the tree and pick us an apple or two?” The Devil thought for a moment and decided that climbing the tree would only be to his advantage, since it would put him above Jack. He began to climb. Then Jack reached into his rucksack for his knife and quickly carved a cross into the bark of the tree. “I’m too clever for you!” cried Jack. “Now you’ll agree to leave me in peace for the rest of my days. And when my time is over, you’ll not make my soul your own.” The Devil, faced with the prospect of sitting on a branch for the next ten or twenty years, reluctantly agreed. Jack chipped the cross away with his knife and the Devil came down from the tree.

A few years later, Jack died and met St. Peter at the gates of Heaven. “You’ve lived the life of a blaggard and a drunkard,” boomed St. Peter. “You’ll not be entering here. Your fate lies that way.” Peter pointed to a path that wound down a mountainside into the darkness below. Jack started down the path and after walking for days through inhospitable and treacherous country, he came once more upon the Evil One. “Jack, my boy!” said the Devil. “I can’t say I’m surprised to see you here. You look like you could use a bit of hospitality but I made you a promise and a promise I shall keep so I’ll stick to my word and not take your soul. You won’t be entering here, either. Off with you now!” Jack turned to go. “Please, Devil,” said Jack. “I know my fate is my own. But there’s nothing but the darkness out there. How will I know where to go?” Lucifer laughed the laugh of the triumphant and tossed Jack an ember from the flames of Hell. Jack sighed, sat down and pulled a turnip and his knife from his rucksack. “I’ve no idea where I’m going,” said Jack, “but I’ll surely be able to see my way there.” He hollowed out the turnip, placed the glowing ember inside it and started on his way. And the poor beggar wanders still, lighting the path ahead with his Jack-o’-Lantern.

(The Irish in America, of course, found the native pumpkin much easier to carve and so the custom was born!)

Happy Halloween to all of you from all of us here at Apex Medical Placements!





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