This week I’d like to tell you my abridged, and thus out of necessity, somewhat modified version of an ancient Irish folk tale known as, “Stingy Jack.” (My apologies to any traditionalist offended by the creative license I have exercised.)
Jack was never frightened by a dare even the one where his friend, the barkeep, challenged Jack to invite the Devil for a drink. In fact, he was thrilled with the idea of matching wits with Lucifer.
Not surprisingly, the Devil was somewhat taken aback when he received his invitation, but he was quick to accept. He had never before encountered such foolishness by a mortal.
Decked out in his finest fiery red duds, his horns freshly manicured and his pitchfork brightly shined, Lucifer arrived at the designated time only to find the pub deserted, except for his host. Jack told Lucifer everyone else in the village - even the tavern’s barkeep - had elected to be elsewhere on this chilly night in late October. As a result, not only would Jack be the Devil’s host, but also his server. Then at the end of the evening, Jack explained, he would leave the tavern owner the appropriate coin to cover their bill.
And so a night of hard drinking began. Lucifer was certain that after an Irish whisky or 10, Jack would be “in his cups” and he could be easily convinced to sign away his soul. But regardless of how many drinks they downed, Jack remained unaffected. At dawn, the Devil was about to give up in his quest for Jack’s soul only to have a new opportunity arise. Jack suddenly discovered he had nowhere near enough money to cover their huge tab!
“Never mind,” said Lucifer. “I can change myself into the golden coin you need. Leave me on the bar’s counter and as soon as I am placed in the till, I’ll simply disappear. Of course, in return you owe me your soul.”
Without hesitation, Jack agreed and the Devil thought, “This is a stupid and simple, man!”
And so Lucifer changed himself into a coin. Now Jack may have been stingy, but he certainly was not simple or stupid! For instead of paying what was owed, he pocketed the golden coin next to a silver crucifix… guaranteeing the Devil could not change back to his original form. Lucifer ranted and raved until finally Jack offered the Devil a deal.
“I’ll remove you from my pocket so you can change back to your original form, but you must first promise to NEVER take my soul,” said Jack.
Reluctantly the Devil agreed and so he returned to Hell, his pointed tail tucked between his legs.
The years went by and Jack lived his life as he saw fit. To him, God’s commandments were not applicable to a man clever enough to outwit the Devil. Finally, his days on this planet ended, but when he arrived at Heaven’s pearly gates, Saint Peter denied Jack entry because of his many misdeeds.
Jack had no option, but to turn to the Devil, only to find himself also barred from Hell! After all, a promise is a promise and Lucifer had guaranteed Jack, he’d never take his soul.
This meant Jack would spend eternity, neither in Heaven nor Hell, but wandering endlessly through that lonely, dark void that exists between the two. Lucifer did agree, however, to give Jack a candle in a hollowed-out turnip to light his way; not as a kindness, but to remind others who might encounter Jack that it is folly to think you can ever permanently outwit the Devil.
With the arrival of the great potato famine in the mid 19th Century, thousands of Irishmen fled to America, bringing with them their tale of Stingy Jack and his turnip lantern. In time, the tale was amended in this country. The turnip was replaced by the pumpkin. And so was born the custom of displaying the “Jack-O-Lantern” every Halloween.
Jim lives in Live Oak.