Monday, August 27, 2012
I have begun this post and put it into draft several times. The week for the letter "J" was much earlier in the Pagan Blog Project 2012, and I wanted to write something warm and meaningful about Jack-O-Lanterns, because there is something in that glowing face that is welcoming to my soul...But I couldn't do it in the heat of Summer, with the misquotes and flies buzzing, and life in full bloom. Jack-O-Lanterns are the stuff of Autumn, when there is a thin layer of frost twinkling on pumpkin stems, when the leaves have turned out in their finest colors, when the grass is brown and crisp, and the air has that certain invigorating crispness. Writing about Jack-O-Lanterns in the Summer when it's over a hundred degrees and I am wearing shorts and a tank top is a disconnect I can't reconcile
This morning it was 65 degrees, and I dressed in a heavy knit top and sweat pants. There's brace of searing orange leaves up in one of the trees in the back yard that wasn't there yesterday...And I had to make a cup of hot tea to get started this morning to coax myself awake, because I wanted to stay snug and warm among the fleece throws and pillows.
We all know the story of the Jack-O-Lantern-How a humble turnip was turned into a lantern after being hollowed out and illuminated by a hot coal or a candle. We've heard the tales about faces being carved on the turnip, and later on pumpkins which were plentiful in America. We know the Irish introduced this charming tradition to their new homeland. There is nothing new to add to that bit of history.
I collect Halloween items, which began with the decorations that we used around the house. My modest collection now consists of things I grew up with-some which are now considered 'vintage'-and simply things that have caught my eye and I like. About a third of the pieces I've collected are Jack-O-Lanterns in paper, plastic,glazed ceramic and dolomite. My favorite, the one which stays out all year long and is the first to lighted to greet the season, is a simple clay piece I purchased at a dollar store about 20 years ago..and of course, his name is Jack.
There is nothing particularly outstanding about Jack. His features are rustic and crudely cut into the Terra cotta vessel. I imagine if left intact, Jack would be nothing more than a rounded flowerpot. The eyes and nose are upward pointing triangles and his wide grin boasts three teeth. The face is slightly tilted and off center. Unlike some of his dollar store brethren, I have not chosen to improve his lot with cosmetic improvements such as smoothing and painting. Jack sits silently, in all his imperfection, on my desk, where he is lit daily from Mabon until after All Saint/All Souls. He ushers the portal open, as I prepare the way for the ancestors with prayers, chants and meditation to make the yearly journey back across the Veil to join the living, and throughout Halloween night until the first softness of All Saints morning he is the only light in the room where I keep vigil. I am always a bit sad to put him on the shelf at the end of the season to make way for the splendor and richness of Yule and Christmas.
Jack and I are old friends now. We've spent the better part of two decades together, and he's been a constant in the last tumultuous third of my life when I moved from my childhood home to my first apartment since college, then made subsequent moves due to job and financial situations, until today, where he's sat on my desk for the last five Halloweens in North Carolina. I suspect we've been together for much longer than before the time a flowerpot was turned into a Jack-O-Lantern. There is something comfortable and comforting about that ragged, imperfect, lop-sided grin...Something very old and knowing...Something kindred and connected to the place where my spirit dwells and my soul grows. In the subtle illumination of Jack's face, I see the face of all my loved ones who have left this earthly plane. They watch me through Jack-O-Lantern eyes and smile back at me with that ragged grin. They speak to me silently in the flickering light, reminding me that some day my own inner light will join with theirs, but for now, we are on opposite sides of the Veil.