We kind of don’t really do Halloween in this country. “All Hallows Eve: when the worlds of the living and the dead collide!” etc..
Maybe it’s just a bit silly for Australians. Maybe it’s because when white settlement happened in Australia, they sent us a bunch of dissenters, heretics, atheists and other dirty troublemakers who didn’t believe in saints. I don’t know. I did see a few dressed-up people wandering around Brisbane last night – ‘Day of the Dead’-style face paint seems to be the cozzie of choice this year.
In any case, these days, Halloween seems more about candy and costumes than communing with the dead. But the real reason we wear scary masks and carve faces into pumpkins? To keep angry ghosts at bay. It’s a ritual designed to keep the dead where they belong. We’re quick, they’re dead, and they want what we’ve got.
The old Irish tale of Jack of the Lantern – as in, Jack o’ Lantern, the face in the pumpkin? – tells that cunning Jack, a thief and a conman, tricked the Devil into promising not to take Jack’s soul at his death. But then Jack dies, and he’s too sinful to go to Heaven.
So Jack has nowhere to go. And now he’s endlessly wandering the earth, looking for the place where lost souls go, lighting his way with an ember from the flames of Hell that will never, ever go out. A gift from the Devil, who thinks Jack’s fate a fine joke, thanks very much, and that’ll teach you to mess with me.
It’s the old cautionary tale of the curse of immortality. Plucky Jack learned the oldest lesson in the book: cheat death at your peril. Walking the earth forever, finding no resting place, denied not only life, but the peace of dying… it’s a fate worse than death.
In paranormal romance, we LOVE this. We can’t resist a lost soul. Our immortal vampires are outsiders, stuck forever in time while the world rushes on by. Fallen angels, too, cast out from heaven, cursed to walk the earth in that eternal in-between place, neither damned nor saved. Demons, who can never be good, no matter how hard they want to.
It’s a heartbreaking, desperately romantic notion. But what I love most about cursed-to-walk-the-earth stories? The cursee has a choice. You can give up, and wallow in your own misery for eternity. Or you can get up, find a purpose, and get on with it, even if it seems hopeless.
That’s what’s cool about Jack of the Lantern – he doesn’t give up. He doesn’t curl up in a beanbag and cry into his beer. He picks up his lantern, and walks on, looking for the place where lost souls go. Because one day, just maybe, he’ll find it.
Because raging against the darkness is better than flickering out. You’ll never cheat fate if you don’t try—and isn’t that what the Devil’s counting on?
So for this year’s Halloween, while we’re celebrating another year in the land of the living, let’s light a pumpkin for plucky Jack, who walks on, no matter what. You might be seeing him soon, bwahahar…