#AmericanGods: The Jersey Devil and the Pines Witch


Sara Mastros started up an “American Gods Project” that encourages people to write on spirits and deities local to where they dwell. This fits well into my #AllSorceryIsLocal thing, so I cannot resist jumping in. The following is about some of the spirits in the Pine Barrens.

If you don’t live here, chances are your ideas about New Jersey are formed by its proximity to New York and shows like The Sopranos and The Jersey Shore. Even people from North Jersey may not realize that when you get south of the Toms River, it starts to feel more like rural Arkansas than the Crowded over-developed suburban nightmare that people are familiar with*. In fact 1.1 MILLION acres of land here is protected by Congress and designated by the UN as an International Biosphere Reserve.  The Pine Barrens are quiet, undisturbed, and well… Barren.

It is also the site for the very first Internet Hoax,  the Incunabula,  which told of a cult of artists, magicians, and scientists based in Ongs Hat that broke through into another Dimension using a device called The Egg. 

Of course the Pine Barrens are home other legends as well. Ones with more history and power. Ones that local Pineys swear by.

The most well known of which is The Leeds Devil, better known as The Jersey Devil. Usually the creature, or spirit, has been attributed to being the 13th unwanted child of Mother Leeds – who, in 1735, cursed that child to Devil when she found she was pregnant, some believe he is much older.  Some people claim that the Leeds family had a pact with the devil, and that the Wyvern on the family crest is evidence of their service to demonic powers.

Other people believe that The Jersey Devil has nothing to do with the Leeds Family at all, and is something far older. Before it was called the Pine Barrens, the Lenape tribes called the area Popuessing or Place of the Dragon. Later Swedish Explorers named this area “Drake Kill” or the Streams of the Dragon, possibly for the strange streams of orange water, colored by Iron and Cedar, but possibly for something else that lurked in this area. Some attribute the fact that the Barrens are still protected, even though NJ is one of the most populated and developed states in the Union.

When I moved down here, I of course wanted to go into the pines and conjure the Devil or Dragon of the Pines myself, but my attempts were unsuccessful. So, I decided to enlist the aid of the Dead, specifically Peggy Clevenger, the Pines Witch.

Peggy and her Husband Bill were allegedly Witches back in the 1800’s, and when he died he told Peggy that if he really went to Hell because of his Witchcraft he would send her a sign. Supposedly the well started boiling at their home after that, which was a sign that Bill had indeed found his way to Hell. No one knows where the house is exactly, but we know the general area near Mt Misery where it was, and have a good idea where she might be buried. I collected the appropriate dirts, made offerings of coins and chicken hearts, and found a suitable crossroads to conjure her at. She was able not only to help me with conjuring the Dragon of the Pines, but also with instructing me on the use of local Trees in magic: how the white and black oak of the Pines hold different virtues and can interact with Bog Iron, and how the Pygmy Pines which only spread their seeds in wildfires can be used for cursing and cleansing.

She led me to find a local poem, once posted over the fireplace at a pub long since closed that read: “Where stunted pines of burned-over forest are revealed in darksome pools, The Jersey Devil Lurks.This led me to the one of the Blue Holes here in the pines. Almost perfectly round pools of freakishly blue water (all the surrounding streams are orange) that remains cold all year long. These pools are rumored to be bottomless, but of course they are not, unless you have the spirit of a dead witch showing you how to look… This place was the key to establishing contact with a spirit that fits the description of the Jersey Devil, a powerful spirit that protects the land from humans, but which can, if offered to and treated with respect, can help open up even more of the Sorcery dwelling in these haunted Barrens.

Since then I have encountered other spirit denizens of the Pines. The White Stag of Shamong which appears to warn people of danger and brings good luck if you can catch a glimpse of it. The Black Doctor, James Still who can be found over the remains of his house where he learned and practiced medicine (and some say root-doctoring) in secret because of his race. Many say that he still comes to the aid of stranded travelers in the Pines. Others like the golden haired girl that fell in love with the son of the Jersey Devil, or Captain Kidd who is said to wander headless around the area where his treasure lies buried still remain a mystery to me, but perhaps one day I will encounter them at the edge of the circle, or when wandering the pines looking for materia.

Truly all Sorcery is Local…

*Actually there is a Sopranos Episode about the Pine Barrens so there is that…

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There was a fairly fearsome painting of the Jersey Devil that went with the poem you mentioned.
I did not see it in person myself, it was before my time, but one of the local publications I bought at Batso years ago had a reproduction of it.
As is the case with all good stories, I have to admit that I no longer have that book, and so cannot give you a citation, I lost it years ago when moving to my current residence, but the picture and the poem have stayed with me.
I liked your write-up. I think you did a good job explaining the Pine Barrens and giving the background on the Devil. Lastly, I like the mention of the other spirits said to inhabit the Barrens, though there is a Black Dog said to inhabit the Pine Barrens that is a harbinger, much like the White Stag.
In addition to the Sopranos, there was an episode of the X-Files about the Jersey Devil that I do not recommend. I don’t think the show writers did any homework concerning the legends, and frankly, it would probably tick off anyone from the area who sees it.


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