The Devil Pod, also known as Bat Nut, Goat Head, Bull Nut, and Buffalo Nut, is the seed pod of Trapa bicornis, an aquatic Asian plant. Glossy and black, it averages 2 1/2 - 3 inches from tip to tip, and when dried and oiled, its surface texture is similar to that of a chestnut or buckeye. However, depending on the way it is viewed, this naturally sculpted botanical oddity looks like nothing so much as a leering goat-horned devil, an enraged bull demon, a flying bat, or an alien chupacabra! The illusion of an evil face appears on both sides of the pod, and the two faces are usually quite different in visage.
In China, the Bat is a lucky animal, because the name "Bat" (Fu) sounds just like the word for happiness (Fu), so to the Chinese, who know this plant as the Ling Nut, the image it shows is of a Bat and it is considered a lucky food to eat.
Although the seed inside the pod is edible when cooked, the Bat Nut's rarity in the United States and its bizarre shape have led to its use as an offering on altars to some of the darker gods. While it is not native to Africa, Europe, or South America, it would not be out of place on a modern altar dedicated to cthonic tricksters such as Eshu-Ellegua-Legba of West Africa, Hades-Pluto of the ancient Mediterranean, or Maximon of Guatemala.
A more positive use for the Devil Pod is to ward off evil, and for that purpose it can be placed above a doorway, facing outward as an apotropaic guardian, much in the manner of ancient Tibetan door demons. Likewise, it makes a splendid inclusion in mojo bags of the types commonly known as "Jinx Breaker," "Keep Away Enemies," or "Run Devil Run."
For more information on devil-related folk-magic, see these illustrated pages:
A few botanical footnotes:
Trapa bicornis is a member of the the water caltrop family, the Trapacaea. The name caltrop is Latin and refers to an ancient four-pronged spiked iron device that Roman soldiers threw into the paths of horses to injure their feet. The common water caltrop, Trapa natans, has four spiked prongs, like the weapon; introduced from Asia, it has become a pest plant in the southern United States.
There is another plant called a caltrop that makes a four-spiked seed pod; its common name is puncture vine and it is in the caltrop family, the Zygophyllaceae.
Both Trapa natans and Trapa
bicornis are occasionally and erroneously called "water
chestnuts," but that name more properly belongs to Eleocharis
dulcis, a vegetable whose crisp and crunchy white tuber is a
common ingredient in Chinese food. Strangely enough, when
roasted, water caltrops taste more like chestnuts than water
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