Pumpkins have long been associated with magic, the occult, the supernatural and, of course, Halloween & Samhain. The history and folklore of the Pumpkin stretches back for hundreds of years. We see the pumpkin in stories such as the ‘Ichabod Crane & Headless Horseman’, ‘It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown’ and several others. Why do we carve a pumpkin? What is the magical significance of the Pumpkin?
Most people who know me will tell you that I love anything Pumpkin, whether it’s Pumpkin Bread, Pumpkin Butter, Pumpkin Pie, and even, yes, Pumpkin Juice. Pumpkin is a staple at our home and we have it year-round. It’s not just for Fall! I make my own Pumpkin candles, and add other scents to them, such as Dragon’s Blood, Cinnamon and others, and they smell amazing. The Fall season is my favorite time of year for many reasons, but one of them is because there is Pumpkin everywhere. Even Pumpkin Pudding & Ice Cream…yummy! I even use pumpkins in some of my spells and rituals, and I will explain my reasons for doing so a bit later.
The name pumpkin originated from the Greek word for “large melon” which is “pepon.” “Pepon” was nasalized by the French into “pompon.” The English changed “pompon” to “Pumpion.” Shakespeare referred to the “pumpion” in his Merry Wives of Windsor. American colonists changed “pumpion” into “pumpkin.” Native Americans dried strips of pumpkin and wove them into mats. They also roasted long strips of pumpkin on the open fire and ate them. The origin of pumpkin pie occurred when the colonists sliced off the pumpkin top, removed the seeds, and filled the insides with milk, spices and honey. The pumpkin was then baked in hot ashes.
But how did the Pumpkin become so popular, and why is it sometimes called a “Jack-O-Lantern”? The answers to these questions stretch back into the mists of the ancient past, the time of the Celts. October 31st was and still is the Pagan holiday of Samhain (pronounced sow-in), the official end of summer and the harvest season. Ancient Celts believed that at Samhain, the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead was extremely thin, allowing the dead to cross over into the world of the living. Sometimes they appeared as apparitions and sometimes in the form of animals, most particularly black cats. The living lit bonfires and dressed in costumes to confuse the spirits and keep them from re-entering the world. When Christianity came to Ireland and Scotland, it simply co-opted the three day festival of Samhain and folded it into All Hallow’s Eve, (October 31st), All Saints Day ( November 1st) and All Souls day ( November 2nd). It was a perfect fit and the original Pagan Samhain blended seamlessly into the new Christian celebration. In most of Christian Europe, the emphasis was and still is, on All Saints Day, but in Ireland and Scotland, because of the Celtic past and the legacy of Samhain, All Hallows Eve, or Halloween became the big deal and various local traditions developed. In Ireland children carved out potatoes or turnips as “Jack-O-Lanterns” and lighted them from the inside with candles. The practice originated from an Irish myth about a man nicknamed “Stingy Jack.” who invited the Devil to have a drink with him and then didn’t want to pay for his drink. It’s a long story, but the bottom line is that Jack tricked the Devil into climbing up a tree to pick a piece of fruit. While the devil was up in the tree, Jack carved a sign of the cross into the tree’s bark so that the he could not come down until he promised not to bother Jack for ten more years. Soon thereafter, Jack died and God would not allow such an unsavory figure into heaven. The Devil, upset by the trick Jack had played on him and keeping his word not to claim his soul, would not allow Jack into hell. So “Jack-of-the-lantern” was condemned to wander the earth between heaven and hell with only a burning piece of coal in a carved out turnip to light his way. This is the origin of the Jack-O-Lantern. It’s a story that came to America with hundreds of thousands of Irish immigrants in the mid nineteenth century. In America, pumpkins were cheaper and more readily available than turnips, but carving them and making them in to Jack-O-Lanterns lit by a candle inside became an American tradition as Halloween was enthusiastically adopted in the New World by people from every possible ethnic background. By the 1880’s it had really caught on and had become part of the tapestry of American holiday traditions. Halloween and Samhain, although somewhat similar, are different in their celebration and meaning. Most Americans celebrate Halloween with no knowledge of it’s Celtic pagan roots, as it was known and celebrated as Samhain.
Another legend tells us that we carve and light pumpkins so that our ancestors can find us and can commnicate with us. At Samhain, the veils between the realm of the living and the dead are at their thinnest, and those who have passed on can cross over into our world, albeit for a short time. I will post a more detailed description of the Samhain holiday in October.
The Pumpkin is a symbol of magic, the unknown and the mysterious. Due to it’s orange color and exotic flavor/scent, I associate it with the Fire element and place a small pumpkin next to a candle in the South section of my home altar. Others associate it with Water due to it’s high water content. I have yet to find a Pumpkin Essential Oil (does one exist?), but I do make pumpkin-scented candles for spellwork. I believe the energy from the Pumpkin helps to increase the power of spells.
Place a pumpkin on your altar and/or light a pumpkin-scented candle when doing any magic that involves discovering and developing your magical skills
When doing tarot readings for others, place a small pumpkin near your cards so you can draw upon it’s energies to reveal the unknown.
Light pumpkin-scented candles near your divination or scrying tools to increase the potency of your readings.
Place pumpkin scented sachets around your home to drive away harmful energy and make your home warm and inviting.
Pumpkin candles are great for relaxation and meditation!
These are just a few ways to use pumpkins in your magical practice. Remember, pumpkins are linked to the mysterious, the unknown, the dark, and all kinds of magic, so use them often!