In culture after culture, people believe that the soul lives on after death, that rituals can change the physical world and divine the truth, and that illness and misfortune are caused and alleviated by spirits, ghosts, saints ... and gods.

STEVEN PINKER, How the Mind Works

Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween!

With prospects of ghosts and goblins right around the corner and pumpkins alight with candles, the spookiest of seasons is upon us. One of the traditional plants associated with this season are pumpkins, or “Jack-o’-lanterns.”

The history of the “Jack of the Lantern” dates back to several legends. One legend is based on an old Irish tale. According to this legend, Jack was a mean person who played a trick on the devil. This made the devil mad, so the devil sentenced Jack to walk the earth carrying a lantern made out of a turnip with a burning coal inside.

Jack became “Jack of the Lantern.” This was later shortened to “Jack-o’-lantern.” From this legend came the Irish tradition of placing lighted jack-o-lanterns by doors on Halloween.

Another legend is based on the Celtic celebration of the dead. Celtic ritual believed that the souls of the dead returned on the evening before November 1. Pumpkins were lit in a celebration of the harvest and as an honoring of dead ancestors.

The first fruit that was lit and carved was actually turnips and gourds. The Irish also carved potatoes. Sometime along the way, it was discovered that pumpkins were bigger and easier to carve. European customs included the lighting of pumpkins with scary faces to ward off evil spirits.

Several other legends abound, but all the legends agree that the lighting of the lantern helps ward off evil spirits.

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