The Many Tricks of Halloween

Hello everyone, welcome to Lukelore. A quick deep dive into a folklore topic, where I share some of the stories from around the world that have piqued my interest. I am back! Those of you who don’t know, I have been ill with this year’s Big Bad. I was very lucky with it, and I’m fine now, but the way we record LukeLore this is my first performance since the turducken got me. And I’m back for something great, too…

It’s Halloween! Or it is, at least, the Halloween special for 2020 whenever you get the chance to listen to it.

For this episode, I wanted to move on from last year’s loose theme of looking at where the Treats came from to some Spooky Season Tricks. As Halloween Tricks do, indeed, have a long heritage. I’m going to take us quite a ways back here by the end of this LukeLore. From modern mischief, to the centuries old Christian story that named the Jack-o-Lantern, all the way back to a witch up to some SOW-in mischief. I’m pretty sure I kept pronouncing SOW-in Samhein last year… Celtic and Gaellic cares not for the foolish weak Latin based alphabet. I’m pretty sure I’ll call it Samhein again at some point to, but I’ll do my best for this Halloween special at least. SECTION BREAK, first topic is Medieval Christian to modern day Tricks. As I got settled down to dig into this topic, I expected a lot more cruelty (for lack of a better word). As I paddled about in the Medieval traditions, around the time you would have the All Souls begging door to door in search of cake I covered last year, I started finding some neat little details.

Children begging has always been a part of the holiday. Going door to door at SOWin offering to pray for the souls of the dead for scraps, then evolving to include singing and dancing along with picking up the Medieval idea of “guising” in costume to avoid the notice of spirits around the time the dead were closest to the world of the living. So for the sake of timeframe, we’re now at around the medieval era, and Christian Clergy as they expand their power have moved a Christian holiday of praying for the dead from I think it was around March time to coincide with the pagan Autumn’s end festival of SOWin to displace the pre-Christian traditions. An “if you can’t beat them, subvert them” move.

The Halloween tricks were not retribution for refusing to share out some treats, though, which was a bit of a surprise to me. TP-ing a house seems to be a more modern thing, and not just because there wasn’t any toilet paper back then. It looks like the Tricks were pagan traditions, small spells, that would be frowned upon by the church but the children would get up to as a part of the holiday. They were “tricks” because you were misbehaving playing games you shouldn’t. Things like throwing apple peels or eggshells into a bowl to try and find the name of who you will marry, or looking into a mirror by candlelight to try and see their face. The way I read it, it seemed to be more focused on little girls too, which probably didn’t go too well as witch panic fervor started setting in. Not going to focus on that part though, even if we are doing tricks this year, but I found it interesting that messing around with a spirit board this time of year actually ties in nicely to centuries old Trick traditions.

The mischief I was expecting to find have always a part of SOWin though, but it wasn’t people to blame. The world of the gods was supposed to be visible to people on this holiday, and what was in that world would look back taking the chance to play tricks on people. This is another root origin of dressing up for Halloween, as masks were used to hide your identity from the assorted gods and otherworldy inhabitants. Halloween tricks still live on as a bit of fun being had around the holidays for the most part, although in some cases this unfortunately goes beyond festive games. Around where I live we have Mischief night, or “mizzy night”, typically the day before Halloween were little buggers go wild breaking stuff and setting off fireworks. Bring Back Bloody Mary for the holidays, I guess? Beats getting egged. SECTION BREAK Brennan, next is an Irish Christian story. Pumpkins themselves, for an example, have one hell of a trick associated with them…

The lanterns themselves are Celtic, and come from pre-Christian traditions. Most often carved out of turnips, but any root vegetable will do with plenty of regional variations. At least one part of England the tradition spread to had a preference for carven beets. The trick of the Lanterns is that the lit up gruesome visage was a way to ward off spirits with ill intent and malicious entities at the time of year the world of the dead was closest to the world of the living.

This is the tale of Stingy Jack, whose name now is forever linked to these wards. Stingy Jack was a man who fancied himself as quite the smart fellow, and was exactly as generous as his acquired nickname suggests. He once got it into his head to invite the devil to drink with him and so Stingy by name because of being stingy by nature, Jack didn’t want to pay for these drinks once they had had them. He came up with a plan for the devil to turn himself into a coin to trick the barkeep with, which the devil obliged for the sake of mischief. Only once Stingy Jack had the coin, he decided he wanted to keep it so shoved it in a pocket with a crucifix made of silver inside preventing the devil from changing back. The drinks went unpaid for, and Stingy Jack was off with the devil trapped in his pocket.

Stingy Jack eventually set the devil free so long as the devil promised to leave him alone for a year, and should Jack die during this time the Devil would not claim his soul. Somehow, after the year was up, Jack then managed to trick the devil into climbing a tree to steal some fruit wherein Jack promptly carved a sign of the cross in the bark trapping the devil up among the branches. Right where he wants him, Jack manages to get the Devil to promise to leave him alone not claiming his soul should he died for another ten years.

Come on though, a SECOND time being tricked? Fool me once, and all that. At this point, as dumb as the Devil may seem in this story… Stingy Jack was dumber having managed to well and truly outsmart himself. Not long after tricking the Devil a second time, Jack died, and from death it was time for a reckoning.

Heaven didn’t want such an unsavoury soul. Turns out avoiding being dragged to hell is not the same thing as waltzing into heaven, and Stingy Jack was not a nice man. Turned away from the gates of heaven, there was only one place left to go.

Down, and away from the light.

The Devil was waiting for Stingy Jack at the gates of hell, and ready to gloat.

A promise is a promise, and Jack would NEVER be allowed into hell. I’m not sure if this was a long con from the ruler of said Hell or not, but the Devil gladly gave Jack what he thought he wished for. Stingy Jack begged for something, anything, and the Devil gave him a single burning coal before casting him out into the night never to return. Stingy Jack was a man who liked a turnip, and having had one upon his person as he died now had one in his pocket as he wandered after death. He turned the turnip into a SOWin lantern to hold the coal without pain and walked away into the mortal world as a spirit to never know rest.

From this association, and the knowledge that the cursed shade of Stingy Jack will be wandering Ireland looking for an unwarded home to rest in come SOWin, the name Jack-‘o-Lantern, Jack of the Lantern, is how we refer to these carved vegetables. As people of Irish heritage emigrated to the Americas, the pumpkin gourds of the New World became a great fit for this tradition. Big, easy to carve, and able to be grown ripe for the right time, the Halloween Pumpkin Jack-‘o-Lantern become an iconic element of the season. SECTION BREAK, we’re still in Ireland but we’re going back to pre-Christian traditions. People, and cultural traditions, have been around a long time. We can go back before Halloween, before All Hallow’s Eve, way back to a SOWin story, for a story that involves a bit of a trick war of otherworldy powers… centred on an idiot.

Back in pre-Christian Ireland, there was a tower among a brackish bog that was the home of the witch Allison Gross.

Now, alarm bells should already be ringing here, and quite rightly so. A handful of danger tropes and the rather on the nose name Gross should have people steering clear.

But there’s always That One Guy, even two thousand or more years ago, and so a Celtic That One Guy defies the internal screaming of his self preservation instincts to venture forth across the bog that notorious witch Allison Gross calls home.

This almost immediately goes badly, because OF COURSE IT DOES. One encounter with a cranky witch later, our intrepid hero slash oblivious idiot is turned into a worm and cursed to circle a tree in the bog until he eventually dies.

Allison Gross would have been easy to spot, and avoid, as like her name would hint at she was supposed to be the ugliest of the witches of the time. I would bet my not insubstantial bodyweight in Halloween candy that this utter Lemming felt the need to point this out when he bumped into her.

Know what you should do? Apart from obviously stay out of the bog of the notorious witch Allison Gross, see it’s that one over there with the tower so maybe go around it?

If you HAVE to go into the witch’s bog, bumping into the witch while you’re at it, be polite as hell and apologise. You’re probably still screwed, but hopefully not torturous transmogrification screwed. I’m not sure when this happened timewise, but his existence as a worm circling a tree continued on to SOWin.

I’ve mentioned cursed spirits and bored gods, both of whom are abroad on this strange day, but there’s another faction to consider avoiding in Ireland when the barriers between worlds are thin. Brennan’s special friends the fae can be out and about enjoying the countryside on SOWin. Crossing the witch’s bog on a Halloween rideabout, the fairy Queen and her retinue were out and about this SOWin day. Probably a power move to assert dominance, given that this was the fairy Queen we’re talking about.

Coming across the now-worm-former-dumb-person, on a whim the fairy Queen turned him back into a man before continuing on her way. Probably less a good deed and more another power move to mess with a seething Allison Gross.

Here’s a translated poem I found of this event:

O Allison Gross, that lives in yon tower

the ugliest witch in the North Country...

She's turned me into an ugly worm

and gard me toddle around a tree...

But as it fell out last Hallow even

When the seely [fairy] court was riding by,

the Queen lighted down on a gowany bank

Not far from the tree where I wont to lie...

She's change me again to my own proper shape

And I no more toddle about the tree. From here, one of two things happened. A lesson was learned, and the moron fled the bog before the fairie Queen left to annoy a different mortal than Allison Gross. Or else he either hung about or tried to cross the witch’s bog again some day, and a furious scorned Allison Gross flayed him alive to make a stew.

I’m leaning towards the bad end, given how dumb this guy was in the first place. Some people just will not learn, and this feels like one of them. SECTION BREAK heading to the outro That’s it for this LukeLore. I would like to confirm for anyone who wasn’t sure yet that yes, I absolutely freaking LOVE Halloween. Easily my favourite holiday. I know this year is casting a long and dark shadow, but as I record this I truly hope everyone is having the happiest Halloween they can. Do what you can, even if you have to do it in isolation. Carve up a pumpkin, fire up that lantern to drive away Stingy Jack and any other spectral malcontents, then get some sweet treats and spooky movies on the go. HAVE A BLAST.

These Autumn and Winter holidays that have grown out of Europe and now spread about the globe are all about living your life to spite the darkness, and in the worst year of living memory it’s the best possible time for them. Have a fantastic Halloween. I’ll be reminding you all again to revel to spite the darkness again later when we get to the Christmas special! If you do want to contact me there’s the show’s dedicated email lukeloregsg@gmail.com, and the general show email ghoststoryguys@gmail.com. Both myself and the main show are really easy to find on Facebook and Twitter if you want to make day to day contact, as well as a very active Instagram account a lot of the community gets involved with.

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Goodbye for now.