The tradition of carving Jack-o’-lanterns came from a fear of “Will-o’-the-wisps” from English folklore. Will-o’-the-wisp describes a ghostly or supernatural event called ignis fatuus, or “foolish fire.” Some say it resembles a figure carrying a lantern. Others see just a floating ball of light. Ignis fatuus sightings are most often by travelers at night, especially in swamps or marshes.
These eerie lights would retreat if approached, but followed a person if they turned and walked away. The legend warns against following a Will-o’-the-wisp, as they are said to lead travelers to their death. To ward off these evil spirits, people carved faces into turnips and put candles inside to make them as frightening as possible (they actually resembled Will-o’-the-wisps). This tradition was especially important on Halloween when the barrier between Earth and the spirit world was easily crossed.
Many countries have their own legends about Will-o’-the-wisps. Though scientists have tried to understand how these spectral lights are formed, they have not found a definite answer. Will-o’-the-wisps remain one of the unsolved mysteries of Halloween. They add to the thrill of the night and remind wayward travelers to remain vigilant lest they be lured from safe paths by a Will-o’-the-wisp.
Value: 60¢ 1-Ounce First-class Rate (Forever)
Issue Date: September 29, 2016
Printing Method: Offset
Format: Pane of 20
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