Friday, January 3, 2014

The Devil, Jumbies, And The "Shut De Door"(Keep Out The Devil) Song

Edited by Azizi Powell

This post serves as a companion to "A Cultural Critique Of The Song "Shut De Door" (Keep Out De Debil)

In this post I've included excerpts from several online articles that provide explanations of the Caribbean/African and Western European folk beliefs that make up the "Shut De Door" song, i.e. that

Oh, Satan is an evil charmer
(Shut de do, keep out the debil)
He's hungry for a soul to hurt
(Shut de do, keep the debil in de ni-eet)
And without your holy armor
(Shut de do, keep out the debil)
He will eat you for dessert

(Shut de do, keep the debil in de ni-eet)
Shut de do, keep out de debil
You shut de do, keep de debil in de ni-eet
Shut de do, keep out de debil
Light de candle everything's alright
Light de candle everything's alright

The content of this post is presented for folkloric, cultural, and educational purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

(These excerpts are presented in no particular order. They are numbered for referencing purposes.)

Excerpt #1
From "Elizabethan Era Superstitions" By Jennifer Maughan
"Elizabethan superstitions reflect the fears and beliefs of British citizens in the 1500s and early 1600s. The era is distinguished by a long period of peace, as well as a stable and successful overall population. Exploration, art, literature and expansion brought new ideas-both interesting and scary-to the common person. These superstitions blend pagan traditions and international folk tales with seemingly supernatural explanations of events...

Witchcraft And The Devil
People in the Elizabethan era were deeply religious and felt a real fear of the devil and witchcraft. Because there were no scientific explanations for events such as sick animals or bad luck, they blamed witches. Elizabethan witches were believed to cast spells and to keep certain magical animals, such as cats (especially black ones), bats and frogs. The color black was linked to evil, as were the numbers 7 and 13. The devil was thought to roam freely, and saying "Bless you" when someone sneezed was thought to keep the devil from entering their body."

Excerpt #2
"A Force for Evil
To Elizabethans, the influence of the Devil on human affairs was almost as prevalent as that of God. While God was a force for good, the Devil was a force for evil. The Devil was believed to be able to take on whatever form he chose, human or animal, to tempt his victims to do wicked things. Many people believed that ghosts, too, were the Devil in disguise. One of the most famous Elizabethans, William Shakespeare, refers to this belief in his play ''Hamlet.''…
Demonic Possession

Alongside the idea that certain people might make pacts with the Devil, the Elizabethans believed the Devil could forcefully take possession of an innocent victim. In Shakespeare's ''King Lear,'' one character claims to have been possessed in this way by no fewer than five demonic entities. It was commonly believed that the Devil could enter a victim through his mouth as he sneezed, and that this could be prevented if another person said "Bless you." This is one superstition that has survived from Elizabethan times to the present day."

Excerpt #3
From "A study into jumbies" June 8, 2008 By Rustom Seegopaul

[Regarding Guyanese folklore]

O le Higues are also known as “Fire Rass” or Angeli. The ole higue is always a woman. It is said that she sucks the blood of unsuspecting victims as they sleep. Her favourite victims are young children and babies.

The ole higue’s distinguishing feature is the fact that, during the day, she lives among other Guyanese as a somewhat introverted and quiet old lady. At night, this seemingly harmless old woman removes her skin, places it gently in a calabash, and travels across the sky as a ball of fire heading to the home of her intended victim.

To enter the home she shrinks herself and enters through the keyhole.

There have been countless sightings of these balls of fire all over the country, and many people still have a staunch belief in the reality of the ole higue.

There are three ways to dispose of an ole higue. The first is to turn the key while she is trying to get through the keyhole. Even today many people still lock their doors and then turn their key to a horizontal position to allow an ole higue to make it partway into the hole.

The rustling of the key should wake the tenant, who can then turn the key fully and crush the ole higue. It is said that the next morning a pile of bones should be seen on the doorstep.

The second way is to find its skin in the calabash where it is stored and put hot peppers in the skin. An ole higue who tries to wear this skin will be burned by the pepper. The ole higue is very miserly, and the last way to catch the ole higue is to spill rice grains on the floor in front of the front door to the house. As the ole higue enters your house, she will be forced to count every rice grain before she can pass. It is better to make sure there is a large helping of rice on the floor and no bags in sight.

This is because the ole higue will have to pick up the grains with her right hand and place counted grains in her left hand. Her hands can only hold so many rice grains, and it is only a matter of time before the grains begin to fall back to the ground and the process begins again. When the homeowners awake the next morning, they should find a very tired and incredibly distressed ole higue counting rice. This is when the homeowners will beat the woman to death with a broom."

Excerpt #5
"Can the Devil be a bringer of good luck? Yes, indeed, according to old European traditions. This devil -- known variously as Old Nick, Old Scratch, Old Split-Foot, and Der Teufel -- did not begin his career as the "Satan" (adversary) of Christianity and Judaism or the "Prince of Darkness" and "fallen angel" popularized by John Milton in his epic poem "Paradise Lost" (1667 - 1674).

The old Devil is a Teutonic woods-spirit, an ogre-like trickster who may desire to eat human flesh, but is often friendly to wood-cutters and footloose soldiers. In Germanic folk-tales like those collected by the Grimm brothers, he is usually described as living out in the woods with his aged grandmother who combs his hair to put him to sleep at night. Among Americans of Anglo-Saxon heritage, he is sometimes said to have a wife who quarrels with him.

In the area of Central and Eastern Europe comprising Germany, Austria, Hungary, and the Czech Republic, the Devil was never fully absorbed into the Christian mythos as Satan but remained as he had always been, a slender, horned, bearded, fur-covered half-man of the woods. Under the regional names Krampus, Schwarze Peter (Black Peter), and Knecht Ruprecht (Ruprecht the Servant), he accompanies Saint Nicholas on his rounds of gift-giving, originally on December 6th, but eventually on Christmas Day, December 25th. In the early part of the 20th century it was the custom during December to send humourous Krampus postcards to friends...

This old Devil was a spirit of untamed nature who loved music and in many ways resembled the half-human Greek god Pan. Like the West African deities Ellegua and Legba, he could be met with at a crossroads, where he would make pacts -- but unlike these deities, he was described in folktales an unpredictable ally, and a rather dim-witted foe who was easily and humourously outwitted. Coincidentally, he also resembled the Guatemalan crossroads deity Maximon, known as San Simon, for he took a special interest in the affairs of drunkards and gamblers...

When Christianity overtook the native Teutonic religions, the Devil acquired some new attributes. In one of the Grimm's tales, "The Devil's Sooty Brother," he actually lives in Hell, where, for a term of work stoking the hellfires, he grants a veteran soldier a comfortable life in the here-and-now."...
Interestingly enough, I haven't found any online references yet to any Caribbean custom of lighting a candle to keep out the devil or evil spirits.

Also, as the website given as Example #5 demonstrates, there are long held traditions in the many cultures of lighting certain colored candles to achieve a certain result or results. whether that result is good or evil. However, I think that Randy Stonehill's references to lighting a candle are based on the overarching belief that the devil (or evil spirits) are most active in the dark (and at night). Lighting a candle dispels some of the darkness, thus keeping away those evil spirits. A related belief that light= God/Jesus is the basis of such Christian songs as "The Light Of The World Is Jesus". Unfortunately, the belief that good = light and bad = dark influences the way some people have viewed White people and People of Color, especially Black people and other People of Color who are dark skinned.

This concludes this sampling of online material on the devil, jumbies, and the "Shut De Door" song.

Thanks to all those who are quoted in this post.

Thank you for visiting pancocojams.

Visitor comments are welcome.


  1. Thank you for your detailed analysis and your patient and sober-minded responses, particularly to objectors who have shut the door & refuse to even listen to the hurt of those of us at the other end of culturally insensitive performances whether or not intended. I'm a Caribbean person & heard the tail end of this song for the very first time today on a SDA radio station. I was immediately curious. First, the Christian church has not always accepted folk & calypso rhythms. We were punished severely for expressing our authentic African selves. Our ancestors have died and gone to prison for this. Our creole language, music, dance, and spirituality have been satanized and criminalized. Even to sway your body in church was a sin. So even though the church has embraced contemporary music, I cannot forget the history, nor am I readily open to white artists and performers who appropriate what they perceive as exotic products or commodities in affected accents, reproducing them with little or no clue about their cultural formation and meaning.
    Secondly, I understand the song is Randie Stonehill's original composition but I don't doubt the influence of Caribbean artforms in story and song on his work. So far, I have not found any interviews of him acknowledging such influence.
    Thirdly, there will of course be black folks who will enjoy and sing this playful, catchy tune but I am not surprised that we are not knocking ourselves over to perform and record it. That offensive and painful video explains why. We may not always be able to explain and convince white people that it hurts us to be viewed and mocked as ignorant, silly, simple, regressive, uncivilized while they are enjoying themselves at our expense. Hopefuly after 2-3 decades since the release of the song and the infamous video, some white people have seen the light. I believe transformation is possible, slow like molasses, but possible.

    1. You're welcome, Anonymous.
      I appreciate your comment.
      And agree with you that transformation forward is possible, and is occurring but not always in a straight line.