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The Eightfold God: Part Two – Jack of the Lantern

Samhain time is upon us, and its time for my next installment of the Eightfold God. I had hoped to talk about the horned gods we place upon the solar holidays, but sadly life got in the way, so it appears I will be doing the four fold vegetation god on the Fire Festivals first, and then move to the horned gods on the solar festivals.

After our John Barleycorn, we have Jack of the Lantern, the pumpkin headed figure. While not a long standing image of folklore, the carved jack o'lantern has captured the imagination of many Witches, particularly American Witches celebrating Halloween. The image was popularized in a 1980's horror movie by the name Pumpkinhead, though it was not really a pumpkin-headed being, but simply a demon with a large head conjured in a pumpkin patch. Those who survey other pop culture will find the image also plays a role in the popular Vertigo/DC Comic, The Sandman, by Neil Gaiman. One of the supporting characters is Merv Pumpkinhead. His image, in turn, is based upon the Oz novels of L. Frank Baum, with the character Jack Pumpkinhead.

 

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A statue of the Pumpkin King outside of Disneyland's Haunted Mansion during the "Haunted Mansion Holiday" overlay in 2004.

The use of pumpkins at Halloween is not as old as modern Pagans would like to believe. They can be accurately traced to the celebration of American Halloween in the early 1800's, and are believed to be imported from Ireland or elsewhere in the British Isles, where turnips or beets were used instead of pumpkins.

Originally the Jack O'Lantern was not referring to a vegetable lantern, but a manifestation of the will o the wisp, a ghost light or faery light appearing in the night as a manifestation of supernatural activity. These faery lights are said to enchant and draw people off the path into dangerous areas where harm will befall them. Later, it referred to the more familiar gourd carvings. Originally they were thought to ward away the harmful spirits that would be loose in the world when the veil was thin. The light was supposed to reveal the identity of the undead, and once revealed, ghouls and vampires would no longer plague you, seeking to trick their victim. Now jack o'lanterns can be both entertaining and interesting pieces of temporary art.

The Jack of the Jack O Lantern, in Christian folklore is said to be a fellow, often described as a thief, who tricks the Devil into never claiming his soul. Usually the trick employed involves a cross of some sorts, robbing the Devil of his powers temporarily. Jack agrees to remove the cross, and the Devil agrees to never take his soul. Sadly Jack's not good enough to enter Christian heaven, so having no other place to go, he is forced to wander the Earth. Unable to see, the Devil, mocking him, grants him an ember from Hell, a light that will never go out, and Jack places it in a turnip lantern, giving rise to the name Jack O' Lantern.

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A Jack o' Lantern made for the Holywell Manor Halloween celebrations in 2003. Photograph by Toby Ord on 31 Oct 2003.

When doing vision work with the gods of this season and the spirit of the green life at Samhain, the God manifests to me as a Pumpkin-headed figure. This poem describes some of the ways we work with him in the ever evolving Temple of Witchcraft tradition. Partial inspiration was the poem The Pumpkin by John Greenleaf Whittier.

 

Jack of the Lantern: A Samhain Evocation

by Christopher Penczak

 

Oh Green and Orange lord of the plot,

Who rules in ruin, we forget thee not.

Growing upon vines, creeping around,

Never once rising up off of the ground.

When the harvest is almost done,

You are there, ready to come.

Jack of the Lantern, burning bright.

Jack of the Lantern, shining on in the night.

 

Stingy Jack joined with the Lord of the Green

A Green Devil with eyes unseen.

Trapped at the crossroads, trapped up a tree

The Two became One, and Jack would not be free.

Forever entwined in turning the wheel

With Jack Frost, Jack Green, Jack Corn in zeal.

Lord of Life in the time of death

With a hollowed out head, there would be nothing left.

 

First he was a turnip, or perhaps a beet

Then a pumpkin grin, to lure us in with sweets

First fierce, then friendly, our pumpkin lord

Will O' the Wisp, or luminous gourd?

Guardian spirit at the Samhain tide

Silent witness to the Wild Hunt's ride.

 

Deepest of mysteries does this Jack keep

Secret of ages found in our sleep

First you must stay close to the ground

Only then Mother Earth will reveal your crown

Before you are crowned you must empty your head

Only the hollow ones pass through that door of dread

Without brains, eyes, teeth or tongue

You can know the song of creation as it is really sung

 

Transformed you will be, carved by her blade.

Like the Jack of the Lantern, you'll be remade.

New eyes, new nose, new mouth and most important of all

The Earth star's ember in your hallowed hall

Eternally burning, eternally bright

Fire in the head, star in the night.

From the North and the East, the South and the West

Walk with this Jack on the never ending quest.

 

One of the key themes in this poem, and in the Eightfold God motif is dividing the God aspect of the Witchcraft Lord into life and light with death and darkness, and manifest them through a Bright Green Man-esque figure on one side, and a Horned Hunter god on the other. But rather than keep in a polarity, dividing the wheel of the year into four agricultural expressions, as Jack Frost, Jack of the Green, Jack of the Corn and Jack of the Lantern, along with four horned god expressions. On the fire festivals, these Jacks turns the wheel with us. See Part 1 of the Eightfold God.

But part of my work with Plant Familiars gives rise to the idea that the Green God is not all goodness and life, but the forces of rot and decay in the forrest, a dark Green God who introduced himself to me as the Green Devil. The forces of death and decay in the green world can be expressed as the Green Devil, and while the Pumpkin image is one of the harvest and life, it is one of the last things harvested in the barren field, and being hollowed out, gives the impression of death energies.

The vine of the gourd, or the root vegetables such as beets and turnips, grow within or close to the Earth, seen as the Mother, the planetary consciousness. To enter into the season of darkness and experience the mysteries of this time, one needs to be close to the land, to the Earth itself. The life force is withdrawing into the land, and into the depths of the underworld. Those who are out of touch with their body, with their land, with the planet, won't be able to tap into these mysteries.

I love the imagery of the hollowed out gourd, and what that might mean for us in terms of understanding a deeper mystery. Much of what is present needs to be removed. Many times when we come to study, we have a lot of our own preconceived ideas. When talking with an elder and teacher whom I respect, he commented that one of the most difficult things is getting people out of their heads and experience the teaching as it is, without first having to compare it and deconstruct it. No matter our experience level, we often have to go back to the “beginner's mind” when studying a new teaching, system or tradition before we get to intellectual about it, bringing a wealth of previous knowledge to it. While comparison is great, and I'm a big believer in comparative religions, when you are having an experience, if you are so in your logical mind, comparing, analyzing and trying to understand it on an intellectual level, you are actually missing the point and the very experience you are seeking. Many rituals, including initiation rites, often evoke strong emotions through powerful imagery to overwhelm the mind and get you into the actual experience. The rites often overwhelm or close off some of the senses and prevent you from speaking – strong oils or incense, blind folds, bindings and unfamiliar environments.

Like the Zen proverb of the seeker finding the monk, and telling the monk all about what he has learned about Zen while the master pours a cup of tea. His cup is full and he keeps pouring, spilling the tea everywhere. The seeker wonders why he did such a foolish thing, but he did it to illustrate the seeming seeker was already full, and must empty his cup to receive the teachings. We too, must empty our cup, empty our head, or become hollow in the best sense of the world, a vessel ready to receive. If not, the experience just spills out and onto the ground.

One cannot be unscathed, unchanged, when seeking the powers of the underworld. Like the knife that cuts the pumpkin and changes it, we are marked by the gods. Perhaps this is, in part, a form of the Witch's Mark, setting one apart on the path. The carving of the pumpkin makes new portals for light – new eyes, nose and mouth. We can think of it as enchanted or initiated senses and voice. The most important change is the “earth star's ember” or the light of illumination and inspiration, in the “hallowed hall” or cauldron of the head, granting us the ability to truly see beyond the ordinary. It is the light of the stars, as well as the light in the heart of the underworld that guides us. Magick of the underworld can initiate us in the traditions of secret fire that illuminate the mysteries.

So this fall, when carving and lighting your pumpkin luminaries, take a moment to think of the deeper powers that could be at work with our old friend, Jack of the Lantern.  

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Christopher Penczak is the co-founder of the Temple of Witchcraft, a system, tradition and religious nonprofit organization focused on magickal education and building community. He is an award winning author of over twenty books, including The Inner Temple of Witchcraft, The Three Rays of Witchcraft and Ascension Magick and a co-owner of Copper Cauldron Publishing, a company dedicated to producing inspirational products of magick and art for the evolution of consciousness for individuals and the world. Based in New England, he travels internationally to teach magick and healing.

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