Saturday, October 31, 2015

Stingy Jack

Elbow-deep in gourd guts tonight--while carving a Picasso-esque pumpkin--I starting wondering about how the tradition of carving jack o'lanterns on Halloween started. So after lighting my pumpkin, I began to enlighten myself.

In an Irish legend, a man known as Stingy Jack had a drink with the Devil. Stingy Jack didn't want to pay for the drinks--so he convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin to pay the tab.

Jack popped the coin into his pocket, next to a silver cross--thus preventing Satan from returning to his original form.

Eventually, Jack freed the Devil--but only on the condition that he wouldn't bother him for a whole year and that--should he die--the Devil would not put him in Hell.

Photo: Topjabot

The following year, Jack--who clearly should have gone into politics--convinced the Devil to climb a tree to pick some fruit. Jack carved a cross into the tree--which prevented the Devil from coming down until he promised not to bother Jack for ten years.

Irish gravestone
Photo: Youngbohemian

Not long after, Stingy Jack died. He knocked at Heaven's Gate but God turned him away. Satan also turned Jack away. The Devil was still mad at Jack for playing tricks on him--yet he honored his commitment to not put him in hell.

The Devil as a goat, by Diablorex

Thus, rejected by both Heaven and Hell, Jack was doomed to wander the earth with only a burning coal to light his way. He became known first as "Jack of the Lantern," and then "Jack O'Lantern."

(C)opyright Can Stock Photo / Sandralise

The British had a tradition of making lanterns from potatoes, turnips, and beets. In America, these Irish and British traditions were combined into making jack o'lanterns out of pumpkins. The original jack o'lanterns were carved with faces, but over time, artists have gone hog wild carving intricate designs and patterns.

Wow. Makes my pumpkin look kind of . . . well, kind of sad and lonely, like poor old Stingy Jack, forever wandering, never finding a home.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

McKinley, Denali -- Potato, Potahto

Denali -- formerly Mt. McKinley -- has been in the news lately. Mostly because of its name change. Some people like the new name, and others are upset about it. I prefer to stay out of this disagreement.

Denali, by Derek Ramsey

But I do think that Denali is a fitting name for this magnificent mountain in Alaska, the highest peak in North America. And the reason -- as you might guess -- has something to do with a story. Seeing as how this is a blog about stories. (Mythopath = someone who is receptive to stories.)

Crow near Whittier, Alaska
 photo by lanare Sevi
According to legend, Raven was a shape-shifter and a trickster. Taking the form of a young man, he crossed the sea in his canoe to win the heart of a maiden. When she refused him, he set out on the voyage home. 

The young girl went down to the water’s edge to get some water, and she sank in to her knees. When she cried out in distress, the young man shouted, “It is your own fault.” 

She sank next to her waist and then to her neck. Each time, the young man -- Raven -- taunted her. At last she slipped into the water and drowned. 

 Alaska Brown Bear, by Marshmallow

The girl’s mother, who was furious, had two tame brown bears. She took them to the water’s edge and told them to churn up the water so that the young man would also drown. But he took a white stone and threw it across the water. The water became smooth on the path before him, but all around there raged a roiling storm.

Storm at Sea, Tom Roberts

Exhausted from paddling in the storm, the young man took his harpoon and threw it at a tall wave, just as he fainted in his canoe. When he lifted his head, he found himself in a beautiful spruce forest. The wave he hit had become a great mountain. And the harpoon, passing through the first wave, hit a second wave and formed another mountain. This is the one called Denali, according to the story.

Denali, by Sbork
This is a sad but charming legend from native storytellers in Alaska. Raven's ego and deceit always seem to make trouble for himself and for those around him. And he never seems to learn!