When we think of Halloween, often one of the first things that comes to mind is the Jack-O-Lantern. It is one of the iconic symbols of the season, and often a fond memory we have from childhood. I have loved Halloween for as long as I can remember, and carving pumpkins is one of the things that I always looked forward to.
When I was little, we often went to an orchard to pick our own pumpkins. There is definitely something magical about walking the field and choosing the 'perfect' pumpkin. I was blessed with parents that had very different outlooks, so I saw things from two different perspectives. My dad and I carved pumpkins, while Mom painted hers (and then we cooked it!). Dad loved getting pumpkins with character...so knobby ones, strangely shaped ones or pumpkins with odd looking skin. Mom liked hers medium sized, smooth skin and pretty perfect looking. I leaned toward the odd myself.
Once we got the pumpkins home, we would carve (or paint) them! The first step was always cutting the top open and scooping out the seeds. Which, if you've never done it, is quite the sensory experience. The 'guts' of a pumpkin are quite aptly named, a bit slimy, very stringy...and full of seeds. We always saved the seeds, rinsed them and roasted them for a snack. If the flesh of the pumpkin was very thick, we would thin it a little (saving what we carved out to cook and blend and keep in the freezer or cube up and add to soup).
We always did faces on our Jack-O-Lanterns. They might be funny or scary, strange or normal, but it was always a face. I've seen some amazing other things carved on pumpkins though, from intricate scenes to fancy patterns. The great thing about a Jack-O-Lantern is that you can make it whatever you want.
Which is why I think they have so much potential! Not only can you carve up whatever you desire into the pumpkin, you can display it, out in the open, for pretty much the entire month of October..and no one will look at you differently!
Carving gives you lots of room for adding in extras. If you want to create a Jack-O-Lantern as a magical creation, you can do all kinds of things to tune it to whatever focus you want. One of the first things you can do is pick your carving medium. You are absolutely not limited to pumpkins! Many early lanterns were actually carved in turnips, so think outside the box. You can carve almost any root vegetable, though of course the smaller ones may be more challenging. There are tons of decorative pumpkins and squash varieties in the store at this month, and many have very unique shapes that can spark all kinds of creative carving ideas.
But you can also carve fruit! Apples can make really interesting faces as they dry and shrink. Oranges can be carved out like pumpkins. Many of these foods you can also use as cute serving containers for other foods! Carve faces into bell-peppers and stuff them (or fill them with dip). Carve apples and fill them with granola and make apple-crisp-lanterns! Carve your oranges with patterns, stick in some gloves and float them in your punch or hot cider!
While the bulk of carved lanterns involved taking the top off and then carving a face, you can definitely do it different ways. You might cut the whole bottom off and make a carved dome to place over a candle. You could take off both the top and bottom, and carve the ring that remains....you could even get fancy and put it on a spinning base to give it movement!
Many people only carve one side of the pumpkin and that is fine, but you can certainly carve things all the way around...especially if you are doing magical carving. You may want a different symbol for each element or direction, or a different energy facing out than you have facing your house. You could carve the front for what is seen and the back for what is hidden.
And, you don't have to stick to regular carving! If you only carve through the skin, but not the flesh beneath, it gives a different kind of look once you are lit. And, because the flesh is absorbent, you can dye this skinned area with either food coloring or some other pigment and end up with a very colorful design! If you add regular paint to your pumpkin skin, you can make a different day and night look (the paint will be mostly unseen at night). You can even carve patterns in the skin, and then paint a different picture over it to have a colored night time image that is almost invisible during the day!
You can go even more hidden by etching symbols or words into the flesh on the inside. Use a sharp skewer, the tip of a blade or even a pencil to mark the flesh of the pumpkin. This is a great place to add more personal details or to elaborate on what the symbols you have carved mean. If you have specific things you want to draw in or keep out, you can name them.
Once you have carved what you want, you can decide if you want to include other things in your lantern. You can add herbs or stones, small tokens, or anything else that feels appropriate. You may want to lay out a small grid inside or just scatter them. Harder things can be pressed into the pumpkin, or you can even carve little shelves in the flesh for your additions. You can anoint the inside of your carving with appropriate oil (and then stick herbs to the oil).
Finally, you should pick and bless your candle. Like any other candle magic, choose a color and shape that matches your focus. Even though the shape of the candle may not be seen, it will still work (and depending on how you carved, it may peek out for an interesting effect). As you light the candle each night, say a blessing or chant to activate your lantern.
After Halloween is over, you may want to gather up some of the wax remaining and any stones or big herbs that you added in and make a small sachet with the lantern remains. You could peel a bit of the pumpkin skin to dry and add to it. You could also have saved some of the seeds to dry and add in. Or you could release the whole thing, knowing that it had done it's work!
Have fun with this! Whether you choose to decorate for the joy of it or to add magic to your decorations, enjoy the season, carve pumpkins (or other things!) that feel right to you, and embrace the magic of this time of year!