Part 3 of 3 in the week of pumpkins........
The story goes that Jack had stolen some property from some villagers and was being run out of town. As he was making his escape he met the Devil who told him it was time for Jack to die. However, Jack had the gift of the gab and managed to persuade the Devil that he knew of a way that he would be able to have some fun and torment the God loving villagers instead.
Jack being a trickster agreed that he would only let the Devil go if he agreed never to take his soul.
Several years later the villain died. As he made his way to the Gates of Heaven he was turned away, he had led too bad a life to be allowed into Heaven. So he made his way to the gates of Hell instead, but of course the Devil had promised not to take Jack’s soul and he therefore barred him from entering there too.
Jack was trapped with nowhere to go. It was dark and he asked the Devil how he would see as he had no light. The legend claims that he was tossed a light from the embers that would never burn out as it was from the flames of hell.
Turnips were apparently one of Jack’s favourite foods in the living world so he carved one out, placed the ember inside and began to wander the Earth, looking for a place to rest. From that time on he became known as Jack of the Lantern.
The tradition of carving a swede or turnip seems to have originated in Ireland and they were left on the doorsteps of houses on All Hallow's Eve as an 'offering', or a treat, to prevent spirits playing tricks. Pumpkins were more readily available in America and were generally used there instead.
*Samhain (pronounced sauwain)
The 31st October - Samhain (or Halloween as we now seem to call it), stems from the belief that the Celtic year begins (as life begins) in the dark (in the womb). It's a threshold time in the Celtic calender when the veil between this world and the Otherworld, where the dead and supernatural beings live, becomes permeable and the beings that inhabit it can walk amongst mortals.
It’s a time with the Sidhe, (the Good Folk, Little People or Tuatha De Danann), move from their summer residences to their winter homes. (Farmers today will still not farm land that contains Fairy Forts for fear of upsetting the Little People.) The Sidhe can be seen riding in procession from one Fairy Fort (or rath) to another across the fields.
It’s traditional to put out a bowl of milk or a piece of cake for Sidhe as they pass by.
In the old times all crops had to be gathered in before Samhain and no berries were picked as it was believed that the Pooka would spit on them. The last sheaf from the harvest was named the Hag (or Cailleach), who was formally revered as the crone aspect of the Celtic triple goddess, but has now dwindled into the figure of the witch.
*Reference : Celebrating Irish Festivals by Ruth Marshall