| The humble autumn
gourd known as the pumpkin has become the most prevalent symbol of Samhain
for both pagans and non-pagans, mostly due to the practice of carving them
into jack-o'-lanterns. The jack-o'
lantern is at least two thousand years old. The first
were made in Ireland, and were simple faces carved in turnips which could
be easily carried if one needed to travel during the night. They
were designed to frighten away evil spirits who were following deceased
loved ones and blocking their way into the Land of the Dead, and also to
protect the living. Today, jack-o'-lanterns
are still usually carved with leering faces, and are seen as offering protection
through the dark October nights.
Faces rather than other available and more abstract designs were not chosen at random to be carved onto the jack-o'-lanterns. The ancient Celts considered the head the most sacred part of the body, and at one time, even held a cult-like veneration for it. In battle the Celtic warriors would take the heads from their enemies and mount them on top of poles to guard their villages and encampments. For them, the head was not only seen as the center of learning, but also as the seat of the immortal soul, and therefore a repository for all knowledge. In death, as in life, it was believed that the attributes of a person of strength and agility (such as a warrior) were able to be used as a continual protective force.
But despite these ancient beliefs, all jack-o'-lanterns do not have to have faces with eyes, nose, and mouth. There are many creative uses for the pumpkin, and a variety of unique ways to carve them. Visit any craft store or seasonal display area of your supermarket in October and you will find an array of intricate carving tools and patterns for putting detailed pictures on your pumpkin. Many of these are very pagan, with drawings of Death, flying witches, and smiling ghosts the most popular patterns.
Even if you don't have the time or interest to devote to these detailed carvings, you can still make your jack-o'-lantern a little different. Try carving stars, hearts, interlaced knots, or pentagrams instead.
To make luminaria, instead of opening your pumpkins from the top, open them from the side by carving a wide circle in them. Scoop out the insides as you would for a regular jack-o'-lantern. Cut a few small holes in the top to let the heat escape and place a small votive candle in the center. Set these outside with the open sides shining over your walkways. (Be sure to blow them out before you go to bed!)
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Some information - The Sabbats, Edain McCoy