One of the most well-known autumn symbols for Samhain, which is better known as Halloween, is the pumpkin, and it is known among both pagans and the non-pagans. The reason behind that is because of the tradition that is at least two thousand years old, where they carving pumpkins into jack-o’-lanterns. Ireland was the first place where this tradition took place, and it started by simple faces being carved into turnips, as they could be easily carried if one needed to travel during the night. The main idea behind the designs of the jack-o-lantern is to frighten evil spirits away who were following deceased loved ones, and blocking their way into the Land of the Dead while also serving as protection for the living. Today, jack-o-lanterns are still carved with various faces, and they serve as protection during the October nights.
It is not a coincidence for the face to be carved into the jack-o-lantern, as the ancient Celts believed that the head is the most sacred part of the body, and at one time, they even held a cult-like veneration for it. During the battle, the Celts would take the heads of their enemies, and mount them on top of poles to guard the soil that they have lived on. Celts didn’t see the head as a center of learning, but also the seat of the immortal soul, which envisioned it as the repository of all knowledge. It was believed that attributes of a person such as strength and agility were used as a protective force in both life and death.
The head of the Celtic God, Bran the Blessed, was the most famous head of protection, and his noble noggin was mounted high on the site where the Tower of London now stands. He was turned towards the English Channel as insurance against future invasions, as that is where the islands with biggest coming threats were located.
While the tradition is to carve a face into the jack-o’-lantern, it does not necessarily have to be a full face with eyes, nose, and mouth, as you can easily notice that there are various creative ways to carve a pumpkin. Every store you visit during the Halloween month is going to have different carving, and you can find various tools to carve some really incredible art onto the pumpkin. While it is common to draw many other pagan characters like Death, flying witches, smiling ghosts, modern Halloween brings all kinds of creations to life.
While carving an artistic jack-o’-lantern may take a lot of time, you can still make your pumpkin unique by adding some small details such as pentagrams, stars, hearts, or whatever you consider in the spirit of the holiday.
Carving the pumpkins is just one part of the procedure, as a lot of people tend to carve the top off in order to use them as candle holders for their home, or for a party. Different sizes of pumpkins can provide different lighting effects, and such luminaria, which is the Latin word for “lights”, can be used as a function of showing the way for travelers and friendly spirits during the night.
In order to make a luminaria, the process is very similar when compared to carving a standard jack-o’-lantern, however, instead of carving the top off, you would make a hole on the side of the pumpkin, and then take the insides out before you put in a small candle in the center. Of course, don’t forget to make a couple of tiny holes on the top of the pumpkin so the heat can escape, otherwise, you would end with a burnt pumpkin. You can safely put these on your walkways for a Halloween atmosphere, but remember to blow them out before you go to bed.