Welcome October: Pumpkins ~ Magic & Lore
It is a magical time when the mundane laws of time and space are temporarily suspended, and the Thin Veil between the worlds is lifted. According to our Celtic Ancestors, this is the time the souls of people who had died that year make their journey to the Otherworld. During this thinning of the veil, spirits are said to roam the earth freely, and communicating with ancestors and departed loved ones is easier at this time. It’s also told that the Fairy Folk became very active, pulling pranks on unsuspecting humans. People use to dress in white (like ghosts), wear disguises made of straw, or dress as the opposite gender in order to fool the spirits and traveling after dark was not advised. The holiday’s bonfires and glowing turnips (yes, turnips) helped the dead on their journey while protecting the living.
So, let’s talk about the Halloween pumpkin … Pumpkins carved as jack-o’-lanterns would not have been part of traditional Halloween festivals in Celtic Europe. Instead, the Europeans hollowed out large turnips, carved faces into them and placed them in windows to ward off any evil spirits. When the colonists arrived in the New World, they found Native Americans growing pumpkins and adapted them for their Halloween rituals.
The Legend of the Jack-O-Lantern
People have been making jack-o’-lanterns at Halloween for centuries. The practice originated from an Irish myth about a man nicknamed “StingyJack”.
“Like most folklore, the history of the jack-o’-lantern varies a little bit depending on who’s telling the story. But all stories involve a clever drunkard that pulls one over on the devil. Legend has it, in 18th-century Ireland, a foul-mouthed drunk and disreputable miser named Stingy Jack asked the devil to go have a drink with him. The devil obliged and when the bill came, there was that awkward moment that we’re all so familiar with. Jack expected the devil to take care of things, and the devil thought Jack should pony up. Seeing as how Jack had no money anyway, he convinced the devil to turn himself into a six pence coin to pay the bill. The devil fell for it and Jack skipped on the bill and kept the devil at bay by sliding the coin into his pocket to lay at rest beside a silver cross.
The devil was stuck in Jack’s pocket, trapped by the cross, but Jack decided to be a good egg and let him out, providing that the devil wouldn’t come after Jack for a period of one to 10 years, depending on who you ask. The devil had no choice but to agree and once the coin was removed, he turned himself back into the devil and went on his not-so-merry way. At the end of the agreed upon timeframe, the devil found Jack for a little payback. Somehow, Jack convinced him to climb a tree in search of an apple for Jack before they set off for hell. The horned one once again obliged, only to see Jack carve a cross into the tree trunk, and leaving the beast stranded again.
Jack must have felt bad, because he agreed to let the devil down if he promised to never claim his soul for Hell. The devil was caught between a rock and hard place once again, so he agreed. When Jack died, St. Peter rejected him at the pearly gates because of his suspect credentials. The devil wouldn’t and couldn’t let Jack in to hell, per their agreement at the tree. In the end, Jack was given a lump of burning coal by the devil to light his way through purgatory. Jack carried the coal inside a hollowed out turnip.
Irish families told the tale and began to put carved out turnips in their windows to prevent Stingy Jack and other ghouls from entering the home. Some had scary faces carved into them to frighten away any comers. Once the tradition hit the United States, Irish immigrants soon realized that the pumpkin, native to the states, was an ideal fruit for carving. That’s why you see jack-o’-lanterns on porches around Halloween.”
So, we all know that pumpkins taste and smell good – just look at the pumpkin candles, pumpkin latte’s, pumpkin muffins and just about “pumpkin everything” available today. I even make a mean pumpkin chai smoothie (goat’s milk kefir, pumpkin puree, chai spice, stevia and ice). But do you know the mystical/magical properties of the pumpkin?
Pumpkins can be used for protection, divination, banishing, and prosperity. Pumpkins and pumpkin seeds represent fertility, abundance, wealth, love, prosperity, good luck, and can attract money. They can also be used for healing, honoring the Moon, and Divination/Contacting the Spirit World.
For protection, carving ghoulish faces into pumpkins and placing them at your doorstep is said to help protect your home from wandering, harmful spirits this time of year. As you carve your pumpkin this year, this blessing can add your magical intention –
“May the light of this lantern frighten away all evil spirits who wish to do as harm and light the way for all good spirits and ancestors who wish to visit us this night.”
Pumpkins as a symbol of prosperity and can be placed on the altar, hearth, and doorstep to bring prosperity into the home and to those who live in it. Keeping a pumpkin in your divination space is said to provide extra insight in your reading.
Here’s a simple prosperity charm:
Sarah’s Pumpkin Seed Prosperity Spell
You will need:
A tall Glass of Water
A Bag of Salted Dried Pumpkin Seeds
I have learned from various sources that this particular spell was in common use as early as the 1920’s and quite possibly before. This ritual confers a double blessing since it acts as a spiritual cleansing in addition to attracting wealth and prosperity to the individual that performs it.
Sit in a place where you can meditate quickly for a few minutes. Open your bag of pumpkin seeds and count out 9 seeds. Eat the first seed. You may choose to break the seed open with your teeth and eat the soft inner seed, personally, I like to eat the salty hard shell as well. Slowly chew the first seed and wash it down with a drink of cool water. Repeat the process until you consume all nine seeds. After you swallow the last seed say to yourself aloud or silently may the seeds of this holy gourd cleanse me of all negativity and fill my life with wealth and blessings. You will be surprised at how effective something so simple can be! I have heard of people winning jackpots at casinos and encounter long lost friends after performing this easy ritual.
It is hard to imagine that one particular vegetable could be held in such high regard by seemingly distinct cultures from around the world. The only conclusion I can draw is that there is something innately magical growing on those vines!
Caribbean Pumpkin Money Spell
You will need:
A small sugar pumpkin or Caribbean yellow pumpkin
5 Shiny Pennies
Paper Bag from the Grocery Store
I have seen versions of this spell done by practitioners of Obeah and Santeria, two beautiful Afro-Caribbean regions. This spell invokes the aid of Ochun, the Yoruba goddess of love, money and sweetness who is closely associated with Our Lady of Charity, the patroness of Cuba. This simple ritual can confer wealth, attract good luck and even bring about marriage.
First, remove the top from the pumpkin and scoop out the insides as if you were carving a jack-o-lantern. Next, cut a square of brown paper from the grocery store bag and write your wishes, desires and petitions on it. Place the paper inside the pumpkin. Next toss in the 5 pennies and drizzle honey inside as well. Lastly, sprinkle five drops of Holy Water into the pumpkin and replace the top. Take the pumpkin to a river and toss it in. Then wait for Ochun to work her sweet magic in your life!
The Jack-O-Lantern Spell
You will need:
One large carving Pumpkin
Jack-o-lanterns have their origins in ancient Celtic religion. Originally they were meant to frighten off and confuse all evil spirits that roamed on All Hallows’ Eve. Originally, the Irish had used turnips, but when they began immigrating to America in the 19th century, they adopted the pumpkin native to the Americas which was much easier to carve. So this Halloween when you carve your jack-o-lanterns, remember the original meaning of this tradition and as you set your lantern outside whisper the following prayer, may the light of this lantern frighten away all evil spirits who wish to do us harm and light the way for all good spirits and ancestors who wish to visit us this night. And remember always that Halloween, All Saints’ and All Soul’s Day are above all a time to honor and pay respect to the dead who have walked the Earth before us and will one day greet us on the other side.
I hope you have enjoyed learning a bit about pumpkin magic.
Scary Herbs of Halloween
It’s a dark night in autumn. Days are becoming shorter and colder. Harvest time is ending, and pantries are being stocked with fruits and nuts for winter. Inside, beside a warm fire, an old uncle tells ghost stories. Firelight gleams on a bowl of red apples, ready for fortune telling and games. Spiced cider flows, and young people, some wearing odd costumes, dance under the flickering light of turnip lanterns.
Many customs of the holiday we call Halloween date to traditions across prehistoric Europe. But turnip lanterns, at least in the United States, have been replaced by easier-to-carve pumpkins, with—let’s face it—more impressive, large, orange shapes. A glowing turnip or pumpkin, however, has the same purpose: to drive away the darkness, scare away the spooks, and light the way to the next party.
Centuries ago, when rooms were illuminated by fire, Europe’s inhabitants were farmers or herders whose lives depended on knowing the rhythms of the year. Halloween (or Samhain, as it once was called) falls on the midpoint between the fall equinox and the winter solstice. According to the Celtic calendar, which began its holidays on the eve before, Halloween was the start of the new year.
“To understand the significance of these seasonal festivals, we need to step back in time for a moment, closer to the food production cycle than most of us are today,” says Bettina Arnold, co-director of the University of Wisconsin’s Center for Celtic Studies. Certain food plants had important ties to the holiday’s meaning.
First the Apple
Native to eastern Turkey and southwestern Russia, apples have a long relationship with civilization and its myths and symbols. As members of the rose family, apples and their flowers have associations with Venus, goddess of love and fertility.
Poised on the threshold of the new year, Halloween was viewed as a time when it was possible to see into the future, and fortune telling often involved love and marriage predictions. An apple peel thrown over the shoulder, for instance, could predict the first letter of a true love’s name. Peeling an apple in front of a mirror by candlelight might reveal an image of a lover. And the first person to bite an apple floating in a dish of water would be the first to wed (not to mention that apple bobbing might provide quite an opportunity for real-time flirting).
Grown from seed, apples tend to revert to wild species with small, sour fruit. Gradually, over many thousands of years, improved selections were preserved by grafting. Carried by traders, invaders and Romans into Europe, apples were brought to the New World by the first colonists in the 1600s, and the first orchard was said to be planted near Boston in 1625.
Today, 2,500 varieties of apples are grown in the United States, including 100 in commercial production. Red Delicious and Golden Delicious are the two most popular varieties, but one attraction of growing apples in a home orchard is to experience the rare, more historic types. The Lady or Api apple is one of the oldest, dating to 15th-century France. It’s aromatic and sweet but susceptible to apple scab (a fungal disease) where springs are wet.
More practical growers should consider the newer, disease-resistant varieties, such as Liberty, a type of McIntosh developed in New York in 1962. Between the old and the new are hundreds of choices for baking, cooking, saucing and eating fresh. Before planting an apple tree, consult your county’s cooperative extension for recommended varieties and regional advice. Then commit to a routine for pruning, fertilizing, watering and pest control.
Pumpkins Light the Way
“Pumpkins carved as jack-o’-lanterns would not have been part of traditional Halloween festivals in Celtic Europe since pumpkins are New World plants,” Arnold says. Instead, the Europeans hollowed out large turnips, carved faces into them and placed them in windows to ward off any evil spirits.
The turnip-carving tradition survives today. Every November, the village of Richterswil on Lake Zurich in Switzerland is filled with thousands of glowing turnips, brightened from within by candles. Cultivated in Europe for 4,000 years, turnips seem to have a greater appreciation there than here.
Arriving in the New World, colonists found Native Americans growing pumpkins and eventually adapted them to Halloween purposes. They also took a step toward pumpkin pie by filling pumpkins with milk and spices and baking them whole on the hearth.
Pumpkins with “sugar” or “pie” in their names, such as Small Sugar or New England Pie, are likely to have good taste and texture for pies, although butternut squash or neck pumpkins will provide smooth, flavorful, non-stringy flesh for recipes, too.
All pumpkins and squash belong to the genus Cucurbita. C. moschata varieties are widely used for commercially canned pumpkin. Looking to grow a big one? Choose one of the C. maxima varieties, such as Atlantic Giant or Prizewinner. For cuteness in a pumpkin, C. pepo includes miniature varieties such as Jack-Be-Little and Munchkin.
Pumpkins are easy to grow, given enough water, fertilizer and space. The sprawling vines can be vigorous, so allow about 100 square feet for each hill of two or three plants. Prepare the soil by digging in several inches of compost or composted manure. Sow the seeds in warm soil, after the threat of frost has passed. The maturity date for the variety and the length of your growing season will determine the exact sowing date. Harvest when the pumpkins are a deep, solid color and the rind is hard. Leave 3 to 4 inches of stem attached to the pumpkins when cutting them from the vine, and store them in a moderately warm, dry place.
The Journey to the Otherworld
The Celts believed that the souls of people who had died that year journeyed to the spirit world during Halloween/Samhain. The holiday’s bonfires and glowing turnips helped the dead on their journey while protecting the living, according to Jack Santino, a professor of popular culture at Bowling Green State University who studies celebrations and their cultural meaning.
The living might have found protection by carrying a piece of asafetida in their pockets. Asafetida is a herbal residue so vile smelling it was also called “devil’s dung.” A resin obtained from the root of Ferula assa-foetida (fennel-like plants native to the Middle East), asafetida once was used widely in medicine and in cooking. (Its flavor reportedly improves greatly when diluted in hot oil.)
German immigrants brought the practice of carrying asafetida for protection to this country, and you still can find this unusual herb for sale in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, where much of the German culture survives, herbalist Jesse Tobin says. Tobin is a founder of The Three Sisters Center near Kutztown, Pennsylvania, which offers a herbal guild, workshops and demonstrations of Pennsylvania German healing and spiritual traditions.
But perhaps the plant with the strongest ties to Halloween was the elderberry, Sambucus nigra. A small, bushy tree with white flowers and almost black berries, the elderberry was associated with the Germanic goddess Holle (or sometimes Hulda) and was named Hollerbeier for her. Guardian of the dead, the goddess survives today in caricature as a Halloween witch. But as Frau Holle, she was a caring grandmother and wise crone. She helped souls cross over and took messages to them—perhaps written in elderberry juice ink.
In North America, European immigrants found their elderberry’s close relative, S. canadensis, and continued their traditions. People carried pieces of its wood for protection, tied prayers to its branches and left apples beneath it as offerings. “When you think of the magical plants of the Pennsylvania Dutch, the elderberry is number one,” Tobin says.
The elderberry also has been revered for its health benefits since the time of Hippocrates. A tea from its flowers treats cold and flu symptoms, substantiated by the German Commission E (that country’s equivalent of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration), and its berries are rich in antioxidants and vitamin C. “Elderberry was so important in Europe, and in almost all cases, it has the same associations,” Tobin says.