When you think 'Castle of the Devil', you might think of a grand estate full of dark corners and haunted corridors, or a dilapidated building abandoned in the forest surrounded by rumours of terrifying encounters. Not a common thing that is a part of everyday life, such as a tree but that is exactly what it is.
The Castle of the Devil is a Silk Cotton tree, also known as: Ceiba Pentandra (scientific name), Kapok or simply Silk Cotton. Aptly named for the cotton-like fluff obtained from its seed pods.
It is known as the 'Castle of the Devil' because it is believed to be the place where the demon Bazil resides as he is kept trapped within the tree.
As the local folklore dictates, a carpenter (name unknown) carved seven rooms (one above the other) within the trunk of a huge Silk Cotton tree and tricked the devil/demon of death into entering; imprisoning it within. What exactly he did that caused the demon to remain trapped is not known unfortunately, but this is not the only legend that surrounds the Silk Cotton tree and Trinidad and Tobago is not the only place such legends exists.
Caribbean folklore believes that the Silk Cotton tree is home to supernatural beings, such as: spirits or Duppies. People in the Caribbean often refuse to cut down these trees as they fear that the spirits within will be freed and they will become the target of their evil deeds. Such thinking is said to be a product of West African belief systems as there are records of slaves being 'shy' about felling Ceiba trees when slave owners would instructed them to. However, the Silk Cotton tree has existed for decades in the Caribbean long before the arrival of European settlers.
There even existed an Amerindian village full of Silk Cotton trees called Cu-Mucurapo (meaning "Place of Silk Cotton Trees"). This place is remembered as the spot where the first peoples fought and expelled the conquistador, Antonio Sedeno in the year 1533. In the news article The Jumbie Tree, they expand a bit on the history behind the Silk Cotton tree and how it is regarded as sacred for many across the Caribbean, Central American and African societies as well as how they influenced each other.
As mentioned above, there are legends surrounding the Silk Cotton tree throughout Africa, South America, Central America and the Caribbean. The Mayans, before the arrival of Columbus, believed the tree was sacred. It was viewed as the tree of life whose roots extended to the underground and branches help up the heavens. In Jamaica, it is said that in the past when the Spanish occupied the land, they would bury treasure under the tree and kill the slave who buried it. That way the slave's soul/spirit would be trapped and forever guard the buried treasure. The lore is similar in Guyana, except that it was the Dutch settlers instead of the Spanish.
The fear of the Ceiba tree is so palpable that there exist a road that is built around a massive tree in Mahaicony because no one would dare cut it down. Instead it remains alongside the road, where people still give offerings to satiate the spirits the live within. Read more about The Legendary Silk Cotton in the Guyana Chronicle article.
The Silk Cotton tree also plays a part in another local legend known as Gang Gang Sarah or the Witch of Golden Lane. A folklore that is from Tobago and will be discussed in the next post.
Until then, the next time you see a Ceiba tree try to pay close attention. You may catch a glimpse of something staring back at you.