Moloch speaks: why I’m voting yes on 4

Houghton Library Blog 2016-11-13

moloch-2This post is part of an ongoing series featuring items recently cataloged from the Julio Mario Santo Domingo Collection.

Measures to legalize recreational marijuana are on five state ballots this year, including Houghton Library’s home state of Massachusetts. The Santo Domingo Collection naturally includes significant historical matter supporting the movement to legalize, but it also offers the following thundering dissent. Pictured here are two works by Robert James Devine, a reverend who published several vehement tracts warning of the drug’s lethal dangers in the first half of the twentieth century. Devine draws parallels between marijuana and Moloch, the ancient Ammonite god: both are false idols, and both demand the sacrifice of children. Lending potency to this metaphor is J.N. Curry’s cover illustration of The Moloch of marihuana, in which devilish drug peddlers fling hapless figures onto the burning hands of Moloch’s brass statue, while a scholar, a policeman, and other complacent citizens avert their gazes.


The text is a series of news items, anecdotes, and relations of Devine’s own crusading efforts against marijuana; throughout, those who smoke it suffer murderous or suicidal urges, accidental deaths, and other such grim fates. Devine asks: “If it has the power to drive cattle ‘loco’ or crazy (who has not heard of a ‘locoed steer’?) or to make an elephant “run amok” – what will it not do to adolescent youths?” (25) (Here he may have conflated marijuana with the swainsonine-producing “locoweed” family of plants, which can cause neurological damage in cattle that graze on them.)

Perhaps unable to improve on artwork so striking, Devine repurposed his cover image of dread Moloch for a second publication, Assassin of youth!: marihuana. This volume is largely an expanded and rearranged edition of Moloch of marihuana, and includes a frontispiece picturing several “reefers” or “muggles” and a marijuana leaf for the vigilant reader’s edification.


Of the many degradations he describes in its pages, Devine at one juncture exclaims:

After listening to such a sordid story freely given by a mere boy of fifteen nonchalantly describing (from behind prison bars) his gamut of debasing escapades, I felt that I needed to wash out my ears and eyes; indeed my whole being cried aloud for an internal bath. (39)

Collected with these works is this unattributed poster, an enlargement of the Moloch image block-printed in several colors of ink, probably decades later. Whether it hung on the wall of a supporter or an opponent of the drug is left to conjecture.


Moloch of marihuana: HV5822.M3 D48 1938

Assassin of youth!: HV5822.M3D48 1943

Moloch of marihuana (poster): AB9.C9374.975m

Thanks to bibliographic assistant Ryan Wheeler for contributing this post.