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Every region has its spiritual issues and we tend to discuss them when we visit or about to, as is the case of New Jersey.

This is certainly a dynamic place! It is the most densely populated state, some years it is the wealthiest state (per capita), and it serves as a thoroughfare in the great East Coast megalopolis, with New York City at one one end Philadelphia at the other.

That's heavy traffic, in addition to the issues of toxic contamination, which I once investigated here, and organized crime -- which is probably as concentrated here as any other place (tied with Brooklyn), especially around Newark (where seven of the 27 or so Cosa Nostra families have outposts or had in the past. It is of course the setting for The Sopranos (as show I have never seen, but from what I have read, seemed realistic).

A fascinating place: urban areas along its coast and then beautiful rolling hills and famous truck farms (producing some of the nation's best tomatoes).

It is also famous, at least regionally, for something off the beaten path, there in and around the Pinelands toward the south, from the border with New York to Atlantic City: the Jersey Devil.

For decades, witnesses have claimed to occasionally spot a creature described as a flying hoofed biped, although there are variations. The Jersey Devil has worked its way profoundly into the public consciousness, with New Jersey's professional hockey team named after it.

All of which raises questions. Is it just a myth -- something that inspires the gullible? Or a hoax? Is it in the category of Loch Ness, Champie, lake "monsters" in Canada, the mothman in West Virginia, or claimed cryptids like "Big foot," Mokèlé-mbèmbé (a "dinosaur" in Africa), and the chupacabra?

There is a thin line between arcane science and fantasy. Don't ask us to figure these out. For years, the impression we have been given is that some of these "creatures" and "monsters" may have a spiritual side -- in other words, that they are a deception.

Like "UFOs," they are frequently reported near ancient burial areas, or linked to occult activities.

In the case of the "Jersey devil," the earliest legends, says Wikipedia, "date back to Native American folklore. The Lenni Lenape tribes called the area around Pine Barrens 'Popuessing,' meaning 'place of the dragon.' Swedish explorers later named it 'Drake Kill,' drake being a Swedish word for dragon, and kill meaning channel or arm of the sea (river, stream, etcetera)."

When one hears "dragon," the spiritual implications are accented!

It is described as resembling a gargoyle (others say the head is like that of a horse) with bat-like wings and standing on the two hind legs -- which scientists relate to  a species of pterosaur such as a dimorphodon but which Christians would relate more to a classic demonic entity.

The most accepted origin of the story as far as New Jerseyans are concerned started with a woman named Mother Leeds and is as follows:

"It was said that Mother Leeds had 12 children and, after giving birth to her 12th child, stated that if she had another, it would be the Devil. In 1735, Mother Leeds was in labor on a stormy night. Gathered around her were her friends. Mother Leeds was supposedly a witch and the child's father was the Devil himself. The child was born normal, but then changed form. It changed from a normal baby to a creature with hooves, a horse's head, bat wings and a forked tail. It growled and screamed, then killed the midwife before flying up the chimney. It circled the villages and headed toward the pines. In 1740 a clergy exorcised the demon for 100 years and it wasn't seen again until 1890."

"Mother Leeds" has been identified by some as Deborah Leeds. This identification may have gained credence from the fact that Deborah Leeds' husband, Japhet Leeds, named twelve children in the will he wrote in 1736, which is compatible with the legend of the Jersey Devil being the thirteenth child born by Mother Leeds. Deborah and Japhet Leeds also lived in the Leeds Point section of what is now Atlantic County, New Jersey, which is the area commonly said to be the location of the Jersey Devil story."

A bird? A sandhill crane? An ancient creature that survived extinction?

Why so many different animals through history in so many different places? Didn't St. George exorcise such?

Notes another site: "Many people believe that the Jersey Devil could be the very essence of evil, embodied. It is said that the devil is an "uncanny harbinger of war"7. and appears before any great conflict. The jersey devil was sighted before the start of the Civil War. It was also seen right before the Spanish American War and WW I. In 1939, before the start of WW II, Mount Holly citizens were awakened by the noise of hooves on their roof tops. The Devil was seen on December 7, 1941, right before Pearl Harbor was bombed. He was also seen right before the vietnam War.

"The Jersey Devil's habit of being a forerunner to wars could be because of his possible demonic origins. In 1730, Ben Franklin reported a story about a witchcraft trial near Mount Holly. One of the origin legends say that Mother Leeds was a witch. The devil's birth could have been a result of a witch's curse."

Freehold, Edison, Gibbstown. Moorestown. Mount Laurel. Camden. Fort Dix. Bordentown. Gloucester. Medford Park. Pompton Lakes (Route 287).

You can see why we are having our retreat in Somerset (near New Brunswick).

No sightings there -- right?

[resources: Prayer of the Warrior and Spiritual Warfare Prayers]

[also: Michael Brown retreat in New Jersey]

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