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The Devil Walks Among Us: The Legend of The Jersey Devil

Inhabiting the Pine Barrens of Southern New Jersey, United States, is a creature known as the Jersey Devil. This legendary being has been described as a kangaroo-like creature with the head of a goat, horse, or dog – depending on the source. It also has bat wings, horns, cloven hooves, claws, and a forked tail. It can move with impressive speed and emits a blood-curdling scream to make its presence known.

In the beginning, it would feast upon cattle and sheep, then it moved on to terrorizing people with its unearthly scream in the surrounding rural area and beyond. According to legend, the appearance of the Jersey Devil foretells disaster in the form of shipwrecks, war, crop failures, or other unfortunate events. However, no human has ever reported being directly harmed by the beast.

The Curse

The legend goes something like this: A young girl from New Jersey was either cursed by a gypsy or cursed as a traitor by the townspeople after she fell in love with a British soldier. This girl, as a resident of the Pine Barrens, New Jersey, became known as Mother Leeds and is said to have had 12 children. Upon discovering she was pregnant with a 13th child, she cursed it in frustration, crying that the child would be the Devil, or more specifically “let it be the Devil!”

In 1735, on a dark and stormy night, Mother Leeds gave birth to the child. In some versions of the story Mother Leeds is a witch, and the father of the child is the Devil himself. After being born, the child quickly changed into the creature known as the Jersey Devil, killed the midwife that had helped birth it, and then it either fled or unfolded its wings and flew away into the night.

Mother Leeds has subsequently been identified as Deborah Leeds, on the grounds that the husband of this woman, Japhet Leeds, named 12 children in his will in 1736. The two lived in the Leeds Point section of Atlantic County, New Jersey, which is commonly the location for the origin of the legend. In some versions, there is a subsequent attempt, and failure, by local clergymen to exorcise the beast from the land.

Political and Religious “Monsters”

Another explanation for the origin of the Jersey Devil explains that prior to the early 1900s the Jersey Devil was referred to as the Leeds Devil or the Devil of Leeds, either in connection with the aforementioned family or the origin location. According to historian of science Brian Regal, the folk legend of the Jersey Devil is an amalgamation of various other popular legends prior to the 1900s. This includes a “ colonial-era political intrigue” involving New Jersey politician, Benjamin Franklin, and his rival almanac publisher Daniel Leeds (1651-1720). This rivalry led to the Leeds family being portrayed as “political and religious monsters,” and, supposedly, it was Daniel Leeds being portrayed as the “Leeds Devil” that sparked the popular legends that spawned the creature.

The Jersey Devil, Philadelphia Bulletin, January 1909.

The Jersey Devil, Philadelphia Bulletin, January 1909. ( Public Domain )

In the 17th century, English Quakers settled in the Southern New Jersey area. Daniel Leeds was a Quaker and prominent figure in his community located in the Pine Barrens. He became increasingly ostracized by the Southern New Jersey Quaker congregation following his publication in 1687 of almanacs containing astrological symbols and writings. This type of writing was deemed “too pagan” or blasphemous, and the almanacs were censored and destroyed.

Lashing out against this censorship, Daniel Leeds continued to produce his almanacs with increasingly esoteric astrological Christian themes and writings. He became more and more involved with Christian occultism, Christian mysticism, cosmology, demonology, angelology, and natural magic.

Due to his interests and continued production of banned material he became an enemy of the association of Quakers in Southern New Jersey and he was dismissed as evil. Subsequently, Daniel Leeds’s son, Titan Leeds, began to include the Leeds family crest on the almanacs. The crest depicted a wyvern, a bat-winged dragon-like creature which stands on clawed feet – reminiscent of the description of the Jersey Devil.

Does the Jersey Devil Exist?

Brian Regal suggested that beyond the story of Daniel Leeds, the modern legend of the Jersey Devil was solidified and standardized in the early 20th century as the myth we know today. During the week of January 16 through 23, 1909, newspapers published hundreds of claimed encounters with the Jersey Devil all over the state of New Jersey. There were claims of attacks on a trolley car in Haddon Heights and a social club in Camden.

Police in Camden and Bristol, Pennsylvania supposedly fired on the creature with no effect. Others saw footprints in the snow that were said to have resembled those of the beast. Sightings were reported as far away as Delaware and Maryland. Due to the influx of reported sightings and attacks panic spread throughout the state and surrounding area.

Schools were prompted to close, and workers were encouraged to stay home. Groups of hunters, certain of their skill, patrolled the countryside, and it is rumored that the Philadelphia Zoo posted a $10,000 reward for the creature.

One group, calling themselves the “Devil Hunters,” consider themselves the official researchers and authority on the Jersey Devil. They devote their time to collecting reports, visiting sightings, and going on hunts in the Pine Barrens to prove that the creature does, in fact, exist.

Medical sociologist Robert E. Bartholomew has explained that the numerous sightings of the Jersey Devil in 1909 can be attributed to mass hysteria sparked by the historical urban legend. Skeptics chalk the reported sightings and attacks up to nothing more than misidentified animal sightings, historical local disdain for the Leeds family, and negative perceptions of the local rural population of the Pine Barrens.

The legend is seen as a scary story used to spook and entertain children of the area. No photographs, bones, or any evidence whatsoever have ever been found to prove the existence of this creature, and there is no explanation for its origin beyond the supernatural myth.

Stan Patitul and his Infernal Pact with the Devil

The legends of world mythology are full of tales about infernal pacts. In the case of such a pact, the individual gives up his or her own soul in exchange for service to the devil or demons. However, there are also atypical infernal pacts which do not end with the individual losing his or her soul. Instead, another soul is claimed by the contracted demon. Such an atypical infernal pact appears in the tale of Stan Patitul written down by Romanian author Ion Creanga

Which goes as follows:

There was once a rich and hard-working man who lived in a village. However, despite being rich, he was still single. He had reached the age of 30 and he still had not gotten married. He wanted to find his better half, but that had not yet happened. There is an old Romanian saying states that by the age of 20 a person can find someone to marry by oneself; by the age of 25 others find a match for the person; by the age of 30 only an old woman can find someone for the person and after this age, only the devil can find a match for the individual. Such was the case of the man named Stan.

One night, the man got up, prepared some food and left for the forest to bring some firewood. At dawn he reached the forest, gathered the firewood and took a break to eat. He ate, but he left some food behind in the forest. He did not want to carry it back home, so he said that whoever found and ate it should say thanks to God for it. Stan left and was caught in a terrible storm. Meanwhile, Scaraoschi (the leader of the devils in Romanian mythology, Satan) ordered his devil subjects to go and cause trouble in the human world.

Scaraoschi is the leader of the devils in Romanian mythology, Satan

Scaraoschi is the leader of the devils in Romanian mythology, Satan ( public domain )

One of the devils ended up in the forest and found the food leftovers from Stan. The man was long gone home, but the food was still there, so the hungry devil began to eat. He had not managed to cause any trouble that day even though he had tried and he ate the food without saying any thanks to God afterwards. Upon his return before Scaraoschi, the devil admitted that he had failed in causing trouble in the human world and apologized. Then, Scaraoschi told him that he knew he had eaten the food without thanking God as the human had said and, for this reason, the devil had to serve the human for three years. However, after those three years, the devil gained the right to take whatever he wanted from the human’s house.

The devil took the form of an eight-year-old boy and went to Stan’s house. He stated that he wanted to serve the man for three years and then claim whatever he wanted from the man’s house in exchange. Stan accepted and the devil began to serve him. The devil made the man richer than before and, after two years, he asked Stan why he did not get married and promised to find a way for him to marry. After a while, Stan and the devil went to the village party on Sunday. There, Stan met a woman he liked. Upon seeing this, the devil told the man that the woman would not make a good wife because she had a devil’s rib, but Stan did not want to hear it. That was the woman he wanted to marry, so the devil had to make it happen and he did.

The devil took the form of a young boy to serve Stan

The devil took the form of a young boy to serve Stan ( deviantart)

The two got married, they loved each other and they lived happily together. Still, the devil told Stan that he had to remove the woman’s devil rib if the two were to remain together until old age. After a while, the woman gave birth to a wonderful baby boy. One day, the family was invited to go to a wedding, but the devil advised Stan to let his wife and son go there before him. The devil told the man to test his wife’s fidelity by summoning her to another house under another identity. He had bribed a wicked old woman to bring his wife to the house along with the child to meet the mystery man. The woman failed the test and came along with the old woman. At the house, she did not recognize her disguised husband. The man made the two women drink until they fell asleep. Stan took the child and returned home very upset. The devil promised to solve the problem by removing the woman’s devil rib.

Meanwhile, the two women woke up and realized that they could not find the child. They began to cry until the old woman came up with an idea. She put the cat in the baby’s place and burnt the house down so that it would seem as if the place had caught fire with the child inside. The woman’s father came along to bring the woman and the old hag to Stan’s home. Everyone had found out about the woman’s infidelity. Shamed, the woman hid the wicked old hag in a big sack because that was the day when the devil servant was meant to leave for good. She intended for the old woman to stay hidden until the servant’s departure.

Face to face with her husband, the woman began to tell the story she and the old hag had made up. Stan refused to listen anymore and the devil came in and quickly removed the woman’s devil rib. The devil promised his human master that the woman would be a good, kind and honest one from that point on and that the two would live happily together. Then, the devil said that his time of servitude was over. He also spoke about his true identity and reminded Stan about the food he had left behind in the forest, food for which the devil had to serve him for three years.

As payment, the devil took the sack with the wicked old hag inside and left in an instant after having said his goodbye to Stan. Stan was sad about the loss of his faithful servant, but he had escaped both the infernal evil as well as the human evil represented by the old hag. In Hell, the devil was rewarded for having completed his task in bringing a new soul along with him. As for the old hag, she was only mourned by the soul of her cat whom she had loved so much.

In the infernal pact made with Stan, the devil does not claim the soul of the one whom he serves on earth. Instead, he claims the soul of the wicked old woman who is said to have deserved her fate. Unlike other tales of infernal pacts, the devil’s service does not bring misfortune to Stan, instead it brings prosperity and happiness.

Sources:

https://www.ancient-origins.net/myths-legends-europe/stan-patitul-and-his-infernal-pact-devil-005093

https://www.ancient-origins.net/myths-legends/jersey-devil-007400

https://theportalist.com/jersey-devil-history

https://dribbble.com/shots/14444120-Jersey-Devil

https://science.howstuffworks.com/science-vs-myth/strange-creatures/jersey-devil.htm

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