I have to confess to being a fan of Weird NJ. For those of you not fortunate enough to live in New Jersey, Weird NJ is an unconventional travel-guide published twice a year, celebrating the strangeness of the state. Ironically, I discovered Weird NJ while living in Wisconsin. I was attending the 150th birthday celebration of a couple of friends (combined ages, not paranormal!) where one of the gifts was the then recently published Weird Wisconsin. After the original magazine had caught on, books about individual states were commissioned and this was the first one I’d encountered. My wife knows that look in my eye, so on my birthday that year I had my own copy. Even though it is written for a decidedly non-academic readership, I learned more from it than most textbooks I’ve read. When New Jersey loomed large in our future, I added the book version of Weird New Jersey to my growing collection and soon came to rely on it as a repository of local folklore and interesting places to visit.
(Thanks to Matt for permission to use his art, see Matt Can Draw for more!)
This short flight of fancy relates to religion in a very decided way. Within the pages of these publications many locations (popular with teenagers, I’m guessing) bear the moniker, “Devil’s —“ where the space may be filled by any number of nouns: Footprint, Kitchen, Pit, Pathway, Tree, or even Tea Table. This decided interest in naming places after the dark lord seems whelming, even for New Jersey, home of the infamous Jersey Devil. The need to have an evil entity to explain the darkness in our lives is very powerful. Certainly it is not limited to New Jersey as the well-known examples of Devil’s Tower, Devil’s Lake, and Devil’s Postpile attest (although mistranslation may frequently be responsible). Those cultures bound by a monotheistic outlook mark their fears with the Devil.
A relative latecomer to the Bible, the Devil had not been available for earlier attributions of evil. Thinkers of the pre-diabolical period reached widely varied conclusions as to who or what caused the troubles they experienced. Some blamed God while others simply accepted the vicissitudes of circumstance. (Then again, they didn’t have New Jersey as a frame of reference.) Once the Devil entered the picture, the problem of good and evil took on a sharper focus. That sharp distinction, however, frequently belies human experience where issues and situations are seldom as clean cut as they seem.