Sunday, July 13, 2008

Devil's Pool: a brief introduction.

I mentioned Devil's Pool in an earlier post.

Devil's Pool is a small pool, ensconced in a rocky vale, formed by the falls of the Cresheim creek. Over the millennia, the falls have carved out a deep trench and filled it with cold, very cold, water.

As children in Roxborough, we believed it to be bottomless, and that we could be dragged down to hell if we swam there after dark.

As is often the case, when Europeans have moved into a previously non-Christian area, places that were sacred to the indigenous religion and were tied to the name of the local spirit, deity, or divinity found themselves dedicated, instead, to the Christian Devil.

Devil's Pool is interesting in that it has a documented history (albeit cursorily documented) as a "haunted site" (or sacred site, depending on which source you read) according to the Lenape. What's left of the legend is that two powerful manetuwak engaged in battle here. One of them, a water spirit, lost and was consigned to the depths of the pool. Given the context, (and certain other features of the location) I think I'm probably not too off base to conjecture that the "bad" manitou here was Maskanako, the horned serpent/water spirit responsible for floods and heavy rains.

Anyhow, I was at Devil's Pool this weekend, during a cleanup activity sponsored by the Friends of the Wissahickon (which I wish I had known about in advance), a necessary and good undertaking, as the area is regularly trashed by local swimmers. I took a few shots, and a few items stuck with me. First, the following weir, which closes off the pool and prevents a too rapid outflow of its water.

There are some reasons I think a weir to be an important ceremonial structure here, and I'll get into them in a later posting. But it's probably not for fishing. Cresheim Creek is a very, very small stream and contains no fish of any significance. Furthermore, the local Lenape did not regard this as a spiritually "safe" location and its doubtful they'd eat anything they caught here (one local historian has asserted that they avoided the Wissahickon Valley altogether, unless spiritual necessity forced a visit on them, prefering to stick to the Manatawna "plantation" up the hill from the vale).

There are several other weir-like structures here, creating little pools in this area. Immediately to the right and toward me, we see the following pool/weir:
Given the abuse this location has absorbed in the 20th century (the large slab in the background is defaced with graffiti), it is entirely reasonable to assume these weirs represent modern constructions. However, I have evidence that they were present, at least at the turn of the 20th century. The following postcard, dated 1907, clearly shows the large weir pictured in the first image, enclosing the pool proper, from a slightly wider-angled view. Several white figures, I assume well-to-do, vacationing women, are standing on it.

So, why were these weirs constructed, and how did they fit into the ritual significance of Devil's Pool (if they did)? More on that later.

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