Thursday, April 14, 2005

The devil gets all the good topography

A man in California thinks that having a mountain named Mount Diablo has negative effects. (Also linked here.)

"Words have power, and when you start mentioning words that come from the dark side, evil thrives," Mijares told the Contra Costa Times. "When I take boys camping on the mountain, I don't even like to say its name. I have to explain what the name means. Why should we have a main feature of our community that celebrates the devil?"

Back in the mid-1980s when I was in graduate school, I wanted to write a paper on how so many interesting Earth features in the United States had "devil" in their names. For instance, a side canyon to the Arkansas River north of here is called "Devil's Hole," also known as "Big Hole." And of course there is Devil's Tower.

I got busy and never wrote the paper--I could not fit it into any of my course work. But I still think that there is something to be said about Americans' ambivalent relationship to the landscape, which is both sacralized and mistrusted in our mythic mind.


Blogger themarigoldtrail said...

What do you think the dominant culture's understanding of the land is, in terms of it's sacredness or their responsibility to it? I'd be curious to try and understand it. I've heard people blame the ambivalence and sometimes outright exploitation on Genesis and the Judeo-Christian edict that the land is man's to use as he will. Do you agree that is what Xianity is saying? Do you think that differs from a Pagan understanding of the land? Do you think Xians understand their god as present in the US, or is their god limited to Israel and some garden in Asia?

Have you seen the movie "In the Light of Reverence"? You might be interested.

Also, I've heard that a number of those "devil" landmarks get their name from their original association with Indian (ie. devil-worshippers) religious use. Can you shed any light on that?

I know it's a lot of questions, so anything you want to respond to. I just find this topic of interest.

10:02 AM  
Anonymous Pacific Druid said...

I've got a little known addition to your list of "devil" landmarks.

I grew up in Loveland, Colorado, along the front range of the Rocky Mountains. As you head up US 34 towards Big Thompson Canyon, there is a row of huge rocks jutting out of a range of hills. This formation is known locally as "The Devil's Backbone".

I always wondered how the formation came to be called that, I never did find out. It is a remarkable beautiful sight.

11:56 AM  
Blogger Chas S. Clifton said...

Pacific Druid:

Maybe that Devil's Backbone (which I've seen, but did not remember) is supposed to connect to "Devil's Head," the rocky ridge that makes a sort of satanic profile, southwest of Denver on the Pike National Forest.


I don't think an association with Indians led to the "devil" names. At least, I am not aware of any such connections in the Western states that I know best.

More likely it was because these earth features were difficult to travel through (like badlands/malpais) or were just spectacularly grotesque.

But there is a basic theological confusion among Christians whether "the Earth is the Lord's" or whether it belongs to the Other Guy.

6:04 PM  

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