Spooky tales: When Jack let the Devil buy his beer

At Halloween it’s a long-standing tradition to carve wicked faces into pumpkins but one story relates how the custom derives from the tale of an Irish drunk who tricked the Devil into buying him ale and was condemned to forever walk the Earth.

With the increasing commercialization of Halloween its links to the Celtic/pagan past and the subsequent Christian festival of All Hallows (or Saints’ or Souls’) Eve have faded into near obscurity – as has (one of the many) origin tales of one of the most distinctive features of Halloween, the Jack-o-lantern.

Dating back to the 19th century, pumpkins, swedes, turnips and other root vegetables have been carved with grotesque faces to either represent or ward off evil spirits or simply to try and frighten people.

There are, as is so often the case, numerous tales as to how the tradition came about but they usually coalesce around an Irish figure known as ‘Stingy Jack’, Jack the Smith’ or ‘Drunk Jack’.

The story goes that long ago, in rural Ireland, lived a man named Jack. Jack was a knave and trickster with a well-known taste for beer.

One night while heading home Jack ran into the Devil who said he’d come to take Jack’s wicked soul once and for all.

Jack made a last request that he have one more drink before the Devil did so and Old Nick, seeing no reason to refuse, granted it.

When Jack had quenched his thirst in a local pub and it was time to go he suggested to the Devil they pay a trick on the landlord.

If the Devil turned himself into a silver coin to pay the man then later he could disappear and the pair would have their beer without paying.

The Devil, impressed with his conniving ways, agreed but as soon as he’d transformed himself into a coin Jack stuck him in a pocket next to a Crucifix.

Unable to change back into his real form the Devil was forced to agree to spare Jack’s soul in exchange for being released.

A few years later Jack died and because of his sinful life full of deceit and drink he was refused entry to Heaven.

Begging for entry to Hell so that hi soul would have somewhere to rest a delighted Devil informed Jack that he couldn’t possibly take his soul as he’d sworn not to.

And so Jack was cast out into the netherworld, forever to roam, never to rest. The Devil did grant Jack one small favour though – he gave him an ember to light his way, which Jack placed inside a large turnip and so became, Jack of the Lantern.

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