Jack, the English Trickster/Fool

May 11, 2013 at 8:12 am 6 comments

As I’ve explored various European traditions over the years- Irish, Scottish, Greek, Norse/Germanic- I’ve found aspects of each that are familiar to my cultural world-view, background and upbringing, as well as aspects that I struggle with as they feel too foreign & alien. But I can’t deny who I am- and while I was raised to think of myself as proudly Irish/Scottish, my culture is mostly English and German in origin.

I’m starting to experiment with the idea looking at possible pagan roots behind English folk culture- fairy tales, ballads and legends. One that comes to mind is there are seemingly countless stories, songs and nursery rhymes with characters named Jack in them. They are not necessarily the same figure- Jack being a nickname for John is a kind of “everyman” archetypal young Englishman- even their flag is called the Union Jack. But what they generally have in common is that Jack is a trickster, a thief, and a fool. The series of graphic novels- Fables features various characters from fairy tales and nursery rhymes, including Jack, who is a composite of many of these tricksters.

Jack & the Beanstalk, Giant-Killer are the most well-known fairy tales. There are many that are traditionally told in the Appalachian Mountain region of the U.S. and some of these likely have roots in England and Scotland.  Here is a web page of Jack Tales, and another specifically for the Appalachian stories.

Jack of all trades, but master of none- a saying, once again referring to Jack’s foolishness.

In cards the Joker is sometimes called Jack, corresponding to the Fool in a Tarot deck.

Jack-in-the-box- a wind-up toy, when Jack pops out, he usually depicted as a jester.

Jack in the Green- figure in May Day parades & pageants- a person (or effigy) covered in garlands & greenery, and pulls pranks. He is sometimes identified with the Green Man, Puck/Robin Goodfellow, and the Green Knight in Arthurian legend. He also appeared in other spring celebrations: Easter Monday, St. George’s Day (April 23) and Whitsuntide (Pentecost)

Jack Frost- a spirit of winter, who paints the leaves red, orange and yellow in the fall, and patterns of frost on windows.

 Jack o’ Kent– wizard/magician who often beats the Devil in bets & games. (this is another common folk theme)  Stingy Jack also fools the Devil- this is an Irish legend said to be the origin of the Jack o’ Lantern

I’m not sure where this is going, but like Jack I’ll have fun wandering off exploring it.  I’m curious what other people have done,  spiritually and/or magically with English folklore.

This post is part of the Pagan Blog Project


Entry filed under: Mythology. Tags: , , , , , .

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6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Holland & Flannery  |  May 31, 2013 at 9:45 pm

    Good article! We’re not usually in the habit of lifting entries from Wikipedia but this one really does give a nice short introduction to another ‘Jack’. He’s an archetype/deity/projection (whichever is your preference!) that we’ve worked with before, along with Jack O’ Green, Jack O’ Corn (John Barleycorn), Jack O’ Lantern and Jack Frost.

    “Jack ‘o’ Lent was a tradition in England in the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries involving the abuse and burning of a straw effigy during Easter.

    The effigy, made of straw or stuffed clothes, was abused and stoned on Ash Wednesday while being dragged about the parish. The figure is then kept until Palm Sunday, when it is burnt. Its burning was often supposed to be a kind of revenge on Judas Iscariot who had betrayed Christ. It is equally likely that it represents the hated figure of Winter whose destruction prepares the way for Spring. He is mentioned in Thomas Heywood’s The Four Prentices of London, and Shakespeare’s Merry Wives of Windsor.” – Wikipedia.

    There’s a fair bit of other about Jack O’Lent around in addition to this. We hope it’s of some interest to you.

  • 2. caelesti  |  November 11, 2013 at 8:19 am

    Thank you! I’m not sure what I believe about the nature & existence of deities, archetypes etc. but I’m exploring them as ideas.
    I’d be curious if you shared more of your insights/experiences with literary or folkloric (rather than traditional mythic) characters.

    It seems there are quite a few interesting folk traditions mentioned in Shakespeare’s works- would be good to take another look there.

  • 3. Spirits of Winter | The Lefthander's Path  |  December 6, 2013 at 8:37 am

    […] follow-up to my earlier post on the recurring “Jack” figure in English folklore- Jack Frost being one form. […]

  • 4. When the Gods Become Real | The Lefthander's Path  |  January 21, 2014 at 11:43 pm

    […] is why I’m becoming more comfortable with the idea of honoring folkloric and older literary figures as deities.  I prefer older characters (19th century or earlier) not due to the “older is more […]

  • 5. Looking at Pop Culture Paganism | The Lefthander's Path  |  August 15, 2014 at 3:42 am

    […] Snow Queen, Snow Maiden, Spirits of Winter, Jack the English Trickster/Fool […]

  • 6. Pagan Blog Project Archive Post | The Lefthander's Path  |  January 4, 2015 at 10:21 am

    […] J- Jack, the English Trickster/Fool […]


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