April 01, 2012

The Devil's Den

We're blessed in this part of the country with an abundance of natural features named after Satan.

Just off the top of my head, I can think of the Devil's Chair, the Devil's Hopyard, Purgatory Chasm, the Devil's Beanpot and the Devil's Oven. Lots of towns also have at least one of the Devil's footprints imprinted on a boulder.

Clearly our Puritan ancestors were obsessed with the Evil One and held him accountable for almost every unusual rock, cave, or crevice. In some cases these natural features were also associated historically with the local Algonquians, whom the Puritans erroneously felt were Satan's minions.

That's the situation with the Devil's Den in Ashland, Massachusetts, a small cave where archeologists have found some evidence of early Indian activity. Tony and I decided to pay a visit while we were in Ashland looking for the witch caves. Why not see two interesting sites on one tank of gas?



We parked our car in Wildwood Cemetery and followed a trail that a local guidebook said would lead to the Devil's Den, but unfortunately we couldn't get there. This giant construction site blocked our access, and the trail had been removed. We actually could see the cave far on the other side of the construction site but had no way to get to it.



It turns out that Ashland is creating new athletic fields behind their high school and the Devil's Den has been at the center of some controversy. Some people in the town claim it has to be destroyed for the new soccer fields but the local historical society has been petitioning to save the cave.

The Devil's Den after being damaged. Photo taken from this site.
 Seriously? You're going to destroy a cave that is thousands of years old, named after Satan, and associated with ancient Indian groups so you can expand your athletic fields? It just seems like a decision everyone will regret in a couple years once the high school population starts to shrink again. I think it's important to preserve the things that make this part of the country interesting and unique. And besides, if I were a high school student I would rather have a cave called the Devil's Den than a soccer field, wouldn't you?

It seems the historical society has prevailed and the Devil's Den has been spared, although it has been damaged. I suppose the important thing is that the cave has been preserved, but if the Ashland soccer team has a bad losing streak we'll know who to blame. Satan!

14 comments:

papijoe said...

Don't forget the numerous Tophet swamps in your list of infernal place names. Dan Boudillion has some fascinating material on his site if you are interested. I've partially explored the one in Lexington.

I think I could make a good case that the Algonkian powwows were minions of Hobbamock, who corresponds pretty closely to the Judeo-Christian Satan. But of course there were more benevolent Indian deities as well.

Peter M said...

Hi Papijoe!

Thanks for that piece of information, which I didn't know. I have seen Dan Boudillion's site and it is a really great resource!

A lot of historians have made the claim that local powwows/shamen had close relationships with Hobbamock, so you're not alone in that. Certainly the Puritans did associate Hobbamock with Satatn, and the two names are used interchangeably in some witch trials. The Alonquians didn't have a dualistic, good vs. evil religious world view, though, so I don't think Hobboamock filled quite the same role in their theology as Satan did in the Puritans'. But maybe some of the Devil place names in New England do get their name because they were associated with Hobbamock? The powwows certainly did go to swamps to contact him.

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Hikergirrl said...

"but if the Ashland soccer team has a bad losing streak we'll know who to blame."

I beg your pardon, but it should be, " we'll all know WHOM to blame."

Other than that, I enjoy your blog posts very much! I am disabled and can't travel like you ( I certainly can't hike through the woods), so I truly enjoy adventuring vicariously through you. I wish you many more safe and exciting adventures! :D

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