Title: The Jersey Devil
Interviewee: Steven Miao
Situation (Location, ambience, gathering of people?): In his room at Webb tower, at USC in Los Angeles. Me and the interviewer.
Piece of Folklore:
Interviewee- “It lives in a forest. The forests what remaining forests we have. Apparently people disappear, and they get eaten by the devil. There are also sightings from time to time. Its humanoid, but the devil. And it eats people. Oh it lives in the Pine Barrens. I heard it from my friends that live around Jersey. It kills livestock and attacks humans. It looks like a kangaroo with goats head and it has bat wings. Random sightings of it randomly. It is the reason that the hockey team is called the New Jersey Devils. They are named after the devil.”
Interviewer- “Why do you like this story so much?”
Interviewee- “Well its more than a story to me, I mean it is pretty much something that I believe in, I guess it’s more than just a story to me is all I’m saying. Where I grew up people never really talked about it much, but it was just one of those things that everyone knew about. I don’t know. It was something in our sub-conscience I guess.”
Interviewer- “Do you remember where you first heard of it or from who?”
Interviewee- “No, not really. I only remember that eventually, like when I got into middle school, I knew about the Jersey Devil. I don’t remember the first time I heard about it.”
This mythical story of the Jersey Devil appears to be closely kept and remembered by the Interviewee, as he was in a defensive mindset when asked further about the story. Even though the Interviewee has not had a personal encounter with the mythical creature, he still believes deeply in the monster, or at least believes in continuing the story and telling others about it. Similar to the headhunters of Borneo, where they embraced something that at first is a little embracing, but they embrace it nonetheless simply because it sets them apart from the rest. The Interviewee cherishes the story because it marks him apart from the other people of Los Angeles, it marks him as someone from New Jersey. It makes him unique.
For another story of the Jersey Devil detailing its birth, see “The Jersey Devil” in the USC folklore archives.
Tags: Jersey Devil, Mythical, Creature
The informant is my mother, who was born and raised in North Vancouver, Canada. She has two older brothers, and both of her parents immigrated from the United Kingdom when they were adults. She worked in accounting until she retired at the age of 50. She is widowed and has two children: myself and my brother, who has Cerebral Palsy.
This is a story her father used to tell her to explain the ridges in the sides of hills in England.
“So, when I was 15, I went to England with dad, and my girlfriend Laurie came with us. And when we were driving along through England, it was all these various hills, and they all had sort of…what looks like rings going around the hills. Um, and I said to dad, “What causes those rings?” And dad goes, “Sidehill gougers.”
And I went, “What?” And he said, “Sidehill gougers. Haven’t you ever heard of Sidehill gougers?” And I said, “No..?” And he said, “Oh, of course you have.” And I said no. “Oh, well I’ll just have to tell you all about Sidehill gougers, then. Okay, so, Sidehill gougers are this unusual animal that are born with one side of their legs shorter than the other side. And as a consequence, they can only go one direction up a hill. And they go around and around the hill and as they climb up the hill, they eat their way up and as they get older and older and older. And then they die right at the top and that’s how the hill starts to grow up.”
Of course, my father’s story was a little more elaborate and went on for a lot longer. And occasionally, most Sidehill gougers have shorter right legs than left legs and are always going around the same direction. Occasionally, though, there’s a Sidehill gouger that may be born with shorter left legs than right legs, and then he’s going the opposite direction from all the rest of them and he ends up bumping into them and causing a big havoc. But a Sidehill gouger’s life is going around, and that’s what makes the rings on the hills is these Sidehill gougers as they make their way up slowly up the mountain as they’re aging, they eat their way up and as they slowly climb their way to the top of the hill, the Sidehill gougers.
I said, “Well what happens when they get to the top?” “Well, that’s where they die, isn’t it?”
And then the generation of Sidehill gougers continues. And the predominant ones are right head leg—right leg short side gougers, and left—and I believed him. I believed this story.”
Do you know if he learned that from someone else or if he made it up?
“I don’t know where he learned it from. I’m probably sure that someone would have told him but he was very good at making up stories as well. And he always did like to…he was a bit theatrical, so of course when he told this story it was very elaborate and very long, and very intricate on the whole lifespan of Sidehill gougers and how they developed.
And of course because of the elaborateness of the story I’ve quite shortened it, um, I believed the whole story and was asking him questions, and he was giving me answers you know, “Oh, are they all born with short right legs?” “No, some of them are born with short left legs and they have to walk the other way, and they cause all kinds of havoc. But they end up dying out in the long run because there aren’t as many of them.” So it was a big long process.”
The Sidehill gouger interests me because as a folkloric creature, it has a fairly small impact on humans in their everyday lives. Unlike fairies or leprechauns or other such creatures, all the Sidehill gouger does is walk around hills in circles. As a result, it seems more as though they are used to explain unusual geographic features, in this particular case, the ridges on British hills. I would be interested in collecting different versions of this piece of folklore to see if they have a larger roles in other contexts.
These creatures are typically females who have sold their souls to the devil in exchange for power and earthly rewards. They shed their human skins at night and fly around as balls of fire. Often, they practice various forms of black magic and are generally evil beings. However, they are not immortal, and during the day cannot be distinguished between you and me. A way to kill them would be to find their human skins late at night, and put copious amounts of salt in them. The logic in this is that the salt would burn their flesh, and since they cannot exist as balls of fire in the day, the act of putting their skins back on would cause so much pain that they’d die as a result.
My informant heard this from her grandmother and her mother, who were both first generation immigrants from Trinidad. According to her grandmother, their neighbor in Trinidad was one of these creatures. One time, she told my informant’s grandmother that she had red roses from the Queen of England’s garden and then proceeded to produce to two red roses. While this might not be strange by itself, roses were not native to Trinidad and could not be found anywhere during that period of time. Additionally, when my informant’s grandmother was pregnant, she saw one in her room, trying to suck on her blood. However, they could not stand people who were associated with God and spat the blood out and left.
There are many things that skirt the edge of belief and this is one of them. This is an example of binary opposition in more agricultural/hunting cultures that exists in those islands. Note the Christian influences in this story. As learned in class, the idea of God and the Devil spawned from the missionaries that came to the various places that they spread the word of God. The missionaries tended to place a God vs. Satan spin on most of the folklore and culture that they touched and is evident here.
My informant is an office manager living in Hollywood, California. He grew up in the midwestern United States and moved to Los Angeles to attend USC’s graduate program in film production. He now does media work in an office at USC, and in his spare time stays active with creative endeavors like creating web videos and writing a web comic that updates twice weekly. He completes the daily crossword puzzle at lunch every day, and is the type of person who probably always wins Trivial Pursuit.
I was chatting with my informant (my boss) at our office – near the water cooler, yes, it actually happens – and he told me a strange story about his roommate who had recently attempted astral projection (magical transportation of her consciousness to another place) by putting herself into a meditative state. Though her attempt was not successful, she did descend deep enough into her meditation that she had a dreamlike vision of a small, humanoid creature sitting in darkness. She asked it, “what are you doing?” It replied, “waiting.” Frightened by the image, she quickly snapped herself out of her meditative state.
My boss thought the creature sounded like a cauchemar. The cauchemar, he explained, is a demon-like creature whose name means “nightmare” in French. He had first learned of it from a friend who lived in Louisiana, though he suspected stories about the creature had been brought to Louisiana by the French because the myth “seems European.”
According to my informant, the cauchemar is an evil creature, that chooses its victims at random. It sits on your chest while you sleep and either: rides your sleeping body where ever it likes, or sucks the breath out of you, killing you slowly while you sleep. My informant thought that the cauchemar sounded like an explanation someone might have given for conditions that cause sleepers to wake in the middle of the night feeling pressure on their bodies, like sleep apnea.
Because the cauchemar does not discriminate when it chooses a victim, it seems to me to be a simple personification of nightmares. Its impossible to control whether or not one will have a nightmare, and that lack of control, especially while vulnerable (unconscious), is frightening. Giving them a face makes nightmares easier or us to understand, and even if depicted as a hideous, malicious creature, this is comforting.
This painting of the creature from the 1700s by Swiss painter Johann Heinrich Fussili supports my informant’s suspicion that the mythological creature may have been brought to the United States from Europe. It depicts an impish creature with large ears and fur covering its body, sitting on the chest of a woman in white. In spite of its comical appearance, the distressed pose of the sleeping woman, and the alarmed face of her horse suggest that this is indeed a creature to be feared.
Image found at: “Cauchemar.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 4 Mar. 2012. Web. 24 Apr. 2012. <http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cauchemar>.
Found throughout South East Asia, this is a female monster that appears at first glance to be a beautiful woman with long black hair. On closer examination though, she has sharp fangs and razor like claws. Unlike most female monsters that only target males, the Pontianak kills and is rather indiscriminate in her choice of victims, though there seems to be a preference for pregnant females and men. Depending on her choice of victims, males tend to have their bodies drained of blood. Whereas, pregnant women usually have their unborn fetuses ripped from their bodies before the Pontianak eats the unborn baby and drains the mother of all her blood. There is no know way to subdue the Pontianak other than not to stop for her, as her preferred location tends to be on highways and abandoned roads late at night.
My informant first heard of this particular breed of monster was at a campfire when he was about 15 years old. The Pontianak is a classic horror story told to scare people from travelling alone at night. However, there are real stories of encounters with this monster. Often, they are in a taxi and they pass by a beautiful woman on the side of the road wearing a sarong kebaya and when they pass by, they usually see the pale face, sharp teeth and claws that characterize the Pontianak. Those fortunate enough to live though seeing a Pontianak are few and far between.
Like most creatures like this, they are often the center of many a horror film. According to my informant, there are at least 3 movies that involve the Pontianak; however, none of them were made in English but in Bahasa Melayu and Bahasa Indonesia. This is because this is a creature, primarily in Malay folklore and this extends to both Malaysia and Indonesia. There are variations on the Pontianak in the other South East Asian countries, but the Pontianak spans at least three countries on that area of the continent.
This can be viewed as a variation of the vengeful female demon/creature in most folklore. While there is various speculation on her origins, for in some, she is the embodiment mother’s who have died due to either childbirth or a miscarriage and she is the bitter result because she cannot stand other people having children when she couldn’t. In other tales, she is what happened to a scorned woman whose fiancé betrays her for someone else and she kills herself in response.
This is a male creature, commonly shaped as a human. As can be inferred from his name, he is covered from head to toe in black oil. Sometimes, he is described as naked and sometimes he’s wearing a black pair of swimming trunks. In many stories, he plays a significant roles as a rapist that only targets virgins. There is some dispute over his origins though, it is unclear whether or not he is of human origin or is a creature from the spirit world. Some speculate that the Orang Minyak is the result of a spurned lover that has powers due to his solicitation of either a bomoh (Malayan Witch Doctor) or a contract with a creature from the spiritual world. The Orang Minyak is commonly found in Malayan folklore with appearances made in Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.
This knowledge was imparted to my informant when she was on a school camping trip at the tender age of 16 in Singapore in the late nineteen sixties. The Orang Minyak is commonly one of the perpetrators and has been blamed for many rapes especially in the 1960s, early nineteen seventies, even though the reports have been few and far between since the 2000s. According to my informant, the more superstitious Malay students would wear sweaty shirts to give the appearance of someone who had just been with a man.
Strangely enough, while the Orang Minyak has always been part of Malay folklore, there was a surprising amount of hype produced after a series of movies about the Orang Minyak were produced in the 1960s. Before this, there was an occasional sighting and crime committed by the Orang Minyak, however, there was a sudden onslaught of cases and sightings of the Orang Minyak after the movies came out. This prompts many to question if the Orang Minyak became a convenient cover-up for many rapists and rape cases.