Its light was said to mislead travelers at night, flickering over peat bogs, swamps, and marshes, resembling a lantern shining in the dark. Where scientists now see bioluminescence, storytellers saw spooky flame-carrying figures. In English tales these mysterious lights were called Will-o’-the-wisps — a wisp being a bundle of sticks used as a torch and Will the name of a legendary wicked blacksmith banished from heaven with nothing but an ember to warm him as he wanders the marshes for all time.
Irish legend tells a similar tale of Stingy Jack, a cunning type who tried for many years to trick the devil. Jack would lose in the end. Forbidden to enter either heaven or hell, he, too, was doomed to walk the earth with only an ember burning in a carved-out pumpkin — or, as the original versions have it, a turnip — to light his way. Either way, like Will of the wisp, Jack of the lantern was a ghostly guide to nowhere.
Carving a modern-day jack-o’-lantern starts with the right tools and a little creative license.