Haunts, witches, and the Devil are part of everyday life in the mountains. Superstitions permeate routine activities, influencing how they cook, eat, farm, hunt, smoke, and drink. It is only natural that on occasion folks want to rid themselves of one or more spirits that happen to be hanging around the home. Halloween is the right time to clean house.
One method for getting rid of a haunting ghost is by feeding him. The family prepares a large meal which, of course, they did regularly, provided they had plenty of food. What is different at this ‘Haunt Removal’ meal is that a place is set for the offending spirit complete with his own chair. For the haunt elimination meal to work, the ghost must be served every item on the table including dessert. Given it is Halloween, pumpkin pie would probably be the dessert of choice. Everyone can eat as usual, but it must be by candlelight only.
As midnight approaches, you must make sure that every chair in the house, except the haunt’s chair at the table, is filled. It doesn’t have to be a person. It can be a dog, a book, a basket, a pair of shoes or anything else handy at the time. Now, with every chair other than the haunt’s filled, you must prop the spirit’s chair forward against the table so that only its front legs touch the floor. Open every window and door and place a lit candle in each. At midnight, you yell as loud as you can:
Spirit, we have given you your fill. You’ve had your stay.
It’s Halloween so winter is coming. Now be on your way!
It is one thing to get rid of a friendly haunting ghost. Most are pleasant enough. As one old mountain boy told me, “We don’t mind them as long as they don’t bother us.” But what about bad spirits, how do you keep them away?
Back in Ireland, people believed that the barrier between life and death was at its thinnest on Halloween when spirits were freed to roam about. So, to keep evil spirits away, they hollowed out turnips turning them into lanterns and then carved scary faces on them. As folks came to the new world, they discovered that pumpkins grown by Native Americans were much more suitable for carving than turnips.
You may not have known it, but those scary turnips and pumpkins were meant to keep away a particularly bad spirit by the name of Stingy Jack. After Stingy Jack had tricked the Devil into buying his drink on multiple occasions neither Hell nor Heaven would let him in. He was doomed to roam the Earth forever. And before people called him Stingy Jack, he had a typical Irish name–it was Jack O’ Lantern!