Archive for the ‘Blog’ category

NWW on IAR

March 9, 2011

Hi everyone,

If you’ve not seen already, I was recently featured as a guest on Fire Lyte’s show, Inciting a Riot.  The focus was on the African Diaspora traditions like Lukumi, Palo, Candomble, and Vodoun (he jokingly referred to me as an “expert” on these, which I am NOT; but I did do a good bit of research for the show so I think it’s still a good overview).  We also wet our feet in topics such as the ongoing debate on “pre-natal murder” in Georgia and weighed in on the recent kerfuffle with Z. Budapest at Pantheacon. We had a bit of a gripe with Pagan media grabbers in general, and learned about an old word, “cockalorum,” which was particularly apt.

I hope you’ll check it out, and feel free to leave me a comment here or send me an email if you want to talk about anything we mentioned on the show.  It’s definitely not my usual format or subject matter, but I had fun doing it, and I think you might like it, too!

All the best,

-Cory

Blog Post 121 – Watching Birds

March 1, 2011

Today we’ll be looking at birds and their place as divinatory aids in the New World, something we touched on briefly in the second post on Magical Animals.  Birds have historically been turned to by humans for secret knowledge, largely owing to their unfettered freedom to fly from place to place.  Virtually all mythologies have some tale of a great mythic bird:  the Roc in the Arabian Nights’ Entertainments, Zeus’s swan-form, the Thunderbird of some Native American stories, and the haunting Crane Dance of Japan are some of the better-known examples. A creation myth of the Haida people of the Queen Charlotte Islands says that a raven, lonely in his long flight, spit upon a clam and opened it up, freeing the first humans (see Magical Creatures by E. Pepper & B. Stacy for more on this).  What have birds to do with divination, though?  Many readers probably already know about the branch of fortune-telling known as augury, but for those who haven’t heard of it, it simply means predicting fate by observing the flights of birds.

So how does one go about performing augury?  Here things get a bit fuzzy—in some cases, the future comes as a vision released by a relaxed mind observing with detachment the loops and turns of soaring birds.  Portuguese writer Paulo Coelho incorporates this type of augury into his novella, The Alchemist when he has a young shepherd accidentally catch a glimpse of coming war while he watches two hawks diving over desert sands.  The other method, and the one which makes up a good bit of North American lore, simply involves noting the behavior of birds and interpreting it by means of known connotations.  This sort of augury has numerous manifestations, and is especially prominent in Appalachian lore.  Folklorist W. L. McAtee recorded a number of bird-related divinations in an essay from 1955:

From “Odds & Ends on North American Folklore on Birds,” by W. L. McAtee:

  • “[I]f ever a bird builds in your shoe or pocket, or any of your clothes, you may prepare to die within the year.”
  • “The loon, a favorite with folklorists, is called ‘Bad Luck Bird’ by the natives [of the Sea Islands of Georgia], who will not speak of it, or if possible even look at it when they meet it in a journey by water.”
  • “While recording the common beliefs as to the storm petrels, that ‘Their appearance portends bad weather,’ Mrs. Simcoe [McAtee’s informant] adds: ‘To kill them is unlucky. Each bird is supposed . . . to contain the soul of a dead sailor.’
  • “The Reverend J. H. Linsley in his Birds of Connecticut (1843) noted that the cry of the bittern is a cause of superstitious fear and recorded that one man hearing it ran a mile, saying, that the Devil was after him.”
  • “’A token,’ said Archibald Rutledge [another informant], writing of the Santee Country, South Carolina, ‘is an apparition foretelling death,’ and cites as examples an eagle feeding with black vultures, a wild turkey standing alone under a certain great oak tree, and an albino robin.”
  • “[An] Abundance of people here look upon [whip-poor-wills] . . . as birds of ill omen, and they are very melancholy if one of them happens to light upon their house, or near their door, and set up his cry (as they will sometimes upon the very threshold) for they firmly believe one of the family will die very soon after.”
  • “Canada Jays are supposed to embody the souls of hunters or lumbermen who die in the north woods and it, therefore, brings bad luck to kill them.”
  • “In western North Carolina, it means seven years of bad luck to kill a raven.”
  • “To end this section on a more cheerful note, we cite the Ozark fancy that ‘If a redbird flies across a girl’s path . . . she will be kissed before night.’”

Other mountain lore about birds tends to focus on weather prediction (a subject we’ve covered in our posts on Signs & Omens to some extent, but you can never have enough weather-prediction lore).  Patrick Gainer observes: “When the geese wander on the hills and fly homeward squawking, there will be a storm within twenty-four hours,” and “When the red birds call in the morning, it will rain before night.”  Vance Randolph records some Ozark lore along the same lines:

  • Chickens or turkeys standing with their backs to the wind and with ruffled feathers mean a storm’s coming.
  • A rooster crowing at nightfall portends rain through the dark hours.
  • A sudden burst of robin-song foretells of bad weather.
  • Kingfishers nesting near the water mean a dry season to come.

Birds seem indelibly linked with concepts of luck and death, too.  Anyone who’s seen the 90’s cult film The Crow probably remembers the voice-over at the movie’s opening telling a pseudomyth about how people once believed that a crow ferried souls between the land of the living and the land of the dead, and occasionally allowed one to come back for vengeance (I call this a pseudomyth not because there’s no truth in it, but rather that I’ve never been able to find exactly that myth borne out in folklore, though there are certainly close correlatives to it—corvids are often associated with death).  There are many other pieces of Appalachian lore in this vein:

  • Barn swallows bring good luck where they nest, and it is bad luck to shoot one. (Randolph, OM&F)
  • Redbirds or roosters lingering near one’s doors or windows tend to mean tragedy will come soon after. (Randolph, OM&F)
  • Whippoorwills nesting at a home mean death will soon come to it. (Randolph, OM&F)
  • If a bird flies in the window, someone in the family will die. (Gainer, WG&S)
  • It is bad luck for a hen to crow. (Gainer, WG&S)
  • “Owls are omens of great ill.  If you spot one nearby while you are inside your home, the direction in which it flies away is an indication of the fate of your household.  If it flies off to the left of the cabin, very bad luck can be expected, but if it flies off to the right, it indicates an evil influence has chosen to pass you by.”(Edain McCoy, In a Graveyard at Midnight)
  • “Many western occult traditions regard peacocks as omens of ill fortune and their feathers as tokens of bad luck.” (Pepper & Stacy, MC)

Finally, in the category of “Odds & Ends,” there are some really spectacularly unique bits of North American folklore about birds which come from all over:

  • Buzzards will vomit upon anyone guilty of incest. (Randolph, OM&F)
  • “When you hear the first robin sing in the spring, sit down on a rock and take off your left stocking.  If there is a hair in it, your sweetheart will call on you soon.” (Gainer, WG&S)
  • “If a bird flies down and gets tangled in your hair, it is an indication that the bird has linked itself with your soul, and whatever befalls the bird is likely to befall you also.” (McCoy, IaGaM)
  • Richard Dorson records a legend in Buying the Wind found amongst Illinois “Egyptians” (or what many would call “Gypsies”) about a mouse, a bird, and a sausage who all keep house together until the sausage is eaten and the mouse accidentally kills himself that feels like it must have some embedded magical meaning, though I’ve yet to figure it out.

That’s it for our bird-watching entry.  If you’ve got lore you’d like to share about birds, we’d love to hear it!  It certainly gives me a good reason to keep watching the skies, so please feel free to comment with any augury methods you’ve got.

As always, thanks so much for reading!

-Cory

Quick Update

February 28, 2011

Hi everyone,

Sorry for the temporary lull in posts.  I’ve actually got two posts on different kinds of divination I’m working on, so those should be up soon.  Additionally, I’m hoping to have a new episode recorded soon–we’ve had  a series of delays in recording due to things like scheduling conflicts and me being hit in the face by a 2×4 over the weekend (I’m okay, but I can tell you with some degree of authority that when you start a fight with your house, your house most likely will win).

At any rate, I do apologize for the temporary slowdown, but I’ll try to have a good bit of content up soon.  Thanks for your patience, and for all the comments and emails!  I’ll be replying to those as soon as possible.

For now, thanks for continuing to read us here!

-Cory

Blog Post 120 – Divination in the New World (an Overview)

February 22, 2011

Greetings everyone!

First of all, sorry for the complete absence of posts last week.  I got a little swamped and didn’t get as much research time as I wanted, but hopefully today’s rather long article will make up for it.

We’re going to be looking over the next few posts at divination, fortune-telling, and other methods of forecasting fate.  Before we dive into details, though, I thought it might be good to tackle the topic generally and look at the types of divination which have been historically popular in the New World, as well as some more modern methods.  .  Some of these systems are ones which I can only cover cursorily, as my experience is relatively shallow with them.  I hope to cover each of these in more detail with time, or at least provide references to help anyone wanting to learn more about them, eventually.

So what are the most popular divinatory methods in the New World?

Arithmetic Methods – Probably the most common divinatory methods used in the modern New World are astrology and numerology.  Almost anyone can tell you his or her sun sign.  A Harris Poll from 2009 shows that about 26% of adult Americans believe in astrology.  Horoscopes related to these sun signs are printed in a majority of national newspapers in the United States, and a surprising number of folks know their ideal romantic compatibility as far as sun signs are concerned.  Less well-known but still fairly prevalent is numerology, particularly the form of numerology known as alphabetic numerology.  This is closely related to Gematrian numerology—a kabbalistic practice which uses Hebrew letters as symbols for numerals to understand a sort of universal mathematics arranged by G-d for the wise to know the world.  Another arithmetic method of divination which has found a certain degree of New World success is geomancy, which depends upon mapping energetic lines upon the earth and determining information based on their patterns and intersections.  The most commonly found version of geomancy in North America is the practice of dowsing, which seeks to uncover hidden water, mineral, oil, or other deposits within the earth using surface-based detection methods.  Science generally frowns upon all of these fields, despite their incredibly intricate mathematical structures, though there have been a few efforts to validate the powers of geomancy, and some large oil companies consult dowsers periodically to help determine ideal drilling locations.

Natural Objects & Phenomena – We’ve covered this a bit already, particularly the signs & omens which seem to pervade much of American folklore, but it is worth examining a few of the other natural-object-based divinatory systems, too.  For example, in many parts of the New World, some system of augury (divination based on birds) has been practiced.  One of the most interesting versions of this can be found in a practice known as alectromancy, which studies the patterns scratched by a rooster when grain is strewn for him.  Traces of this practice can be found in one of the primary influences on later hoodoo, The Black Pullet.  Other objects commonly used in various New World magical systems are cowrie shells (small whitish shells which bear a strong resemblance to the female genitalia) and chamalongos (ritually prepared and polished pieces of coconut shells).  These can both be “cast” in the same manner as dice might be (see “Games” below), and the resulting patterns interpreted to provide answers to specific questions. Another method which has fallen out of favor in modern times—though it was tremendously popular in ancient Rome—is haruspicsy, or the reading of livers or entrails from sacrificed animals.  A modern version of this, however, lives on in the wishbone ritual from the Thanksgiving turkey.  Luck is afforded whoever takes the biggest part of a wishbone snapped in twain between two people when the bird has been cooked and eaten.  Of course, there are a vast number of natural phenomena which are interpreted as portents of the future in traditional folklore—everything from weather to insect behavior to the color of certain animals can have deep meaning to the right person.  Since we’ve touched on that idea in other places, however, I’ll simply leave it at that.

“Gypsy” Methods – I will admit I don’t like the title I’m giving this section, but please understand that by “gypsy” methods I’m not referring necessarily to Romany traditional practices.  Instead, I’m really evoking the Hollywood and fictional version of the Gypsy so often mistaken for the real thing.  But, since the methods employed by those characters are actually relevant, I thought this might be the best category in which to assemble them.  Some of the best known methods are palmistry, cartomancy, and crystal gazing.  Each of these, despite its Hollywood glamorization, is actually a legitimate method.  Palmistry uses the lines on the palm of a person’s hand to determine the overall trajectory of his or her life.  It’s been popular as a parlor entertainment for over a century in America, and likely has been on New World soil for much longer than that.  Cartomancy is probably the best known fortune-telling method in the New World other than astrology, though a much smaller number of people seem to put stock in it.  One of the fun twists to cartomancy is that while tarot is a popular method (even immortalized in American poet Sylvia Plath’s poem, “Daddy,” as a “Taroc pack” and associated with Jewishness), it has long been common for root workers in America to use simple playing cards to get answers to difficult questions.  Crystal gazing, a type of scrying which uses highly polished spheres of minerals like quartz or amethyst to relax the mind and allow visions to enter the mind of the seer, is another popularly seen method, though it is often ridiculed in modern society—poked fun at in cartoons like Bugs Bunny, Scooby Doo, and The Simpsons, for example.  Other methods which commonly get attributed to Gypsies are candle reading—though this is a bit controversial because of something known as the “Gypsy candle scam”—and tasseomancy, which involves reading the patterns left in a cup after someone has drunk tea from it.  In this latter method, coffee is also fairly popular.  The reputation of these methods has suffered a bit due to public ridicule, but they also have their staunch supporters, and in many cases are the methods magical practitioners learn first.

Games – This is a peculiar but fascinating branch of divination which has been surprisingly prevalent in the United States.  I’ve already mentioned the use of playing cards as divinatory aids, and they certainly straddle this category nicely.  Dice and dominoes have also been used to predict the future in several magical systems, particularly those originating from Africa, a practice known as cleromancy which is also referred to as “casting lots.”  It seems to be related to older methods of throwing bones—such as knuckle bones from sacrificial offerings—and interpreting the resulting patterns.  A version of cleromancy is likely the primary version of divination condoned in the Bible (hence all the references to “casting lots” for things in Joshua, I Samuel, Proverbs, Jonah, and Acts (in the last case, lots are cast to determine who the replacement apostle for Judas Iscariot will be).  Famed Wiccan author Raymond Buckland has a book on domino divination for those interested entitled, appropriately enough, Buckland’s Domino Divination.  One of the methods for divination which took off rapidly in the United States after its introduction was the Ouija board.  This system, based on the automatic writing device called the planchette and a special board containing letters, numbers, and symbols, became a central method for communicating with the other world in movements like Spiritism.  Mitch Horowitz’s Occult America devotes an entire chapter to the “talking board” and its impact on American metaphysics, not to mention its economic impact (it outsold leading board games like Monopoly at times).  Other games have brought fortune-telling to the masses through clever marketing, as well.  The Magic 8 Ball which was created by Alabe Crafts in the mid-twentieth century, combined elements of the Ouija board and the crystal ball, and despite its novelty was actually inspired by the clairvoyant mother of one of the inventors.  We spoke a bit on our previous show about “cootie catchers,” the finger-mounted puppet-like devices used by young children to predict future happiness and misfortune.  There are several games played by children in this vein, including MASH (which stands for Mansion, Alley, Shack, House) and a plethora of predictive skip-rope rhymes.  Children, it seems, know a lot about divination and incorporate it into their play regularly.

Text-based Fortune-telling – This isn’t a particularly diverse branch of divination in the Americas, but it does seem to be important.  A recent correspondence sent to me by Arrow of the Wandering Arrow blog outlined a form of bibliomancy, which is the use of the Bible (or other important book) to determine things like marital candidates and the identity of thieves.  Bibliomancy is still practiced in many places, and the techniques involved can be as simple as opening to a random passage in a book and seeing if it has any relevance to the question at hand.  Methods can also be quite complex, involving for example a key placed at a passage in the book of Ruth while the Bible is held between the hands of two people standing opposite each other as they name people they know until the key moves on its own to reveal the perfect marriage partner.  Less prevalent in North America but still quite important is the Chinese predictive system of the I Ching, or Book of Changes.  This method, which combines elements of the “Natural Objects” casting in the form of yarrow stalks with significant markings on them that get thrown to reveal patterns, relies heavily on a book of short hexagrams.  These six-line poems match up to the patterns revealed by the yarrow stalks and provide insight into a particular problem.  The I Ching has become increasingly popular in the West, largely due to Asian immigration into population centers.

Other Methods – Plenty of other methods for determining the future exist which don’t quite fit one category or another (or which I have arbitrarily decided to lump in this “Other” category because, well, I’m the one writing this article).  One bit of outdated but once profoundly influential methods of determining someone’s fate is phrenology, the study of the bumps, divots, and ridges of the scalp.  During the late 19th century there were a number of scientists who supported phrenology as a way of understanding psychology.  It has since fallen much out of favor (partly due to its connection to eugenics—the “science” of building a better person which often involved rather racist and callous methods), but still may hold a bit of interest for those who like old-fashioned divinatory techniques.  Oneiromancy remains popular, and dream-interpretation guides are readily available in most bookstores.  Many folks who do hoodoo also keep dream-interpretation books around to help predict winning lottery numbers.  The biblical precedent (see the stories of Joseph or Daniel interpreting dreams) may have a lot to do with why this technique has stayed more or less legitimate even among conservative audiences.  Necromancy is a word that conjures up (pardon the pun) specters of horror for some, but which had tremendous impact on the American spiritual landscape through Spiritist séances and mediumship.  The practice of talking to the dead is common in a number of religions, and guidance from deceased ancestors is highly valued in Vodoun, Santeria, and Obeah traditions.  On the flip-side, the practice of cold reading takes the idea of necromancy and removes the dead from the equation completely, instead allowing “psychics” to use broad statements, on-the-spot observation, and leading questions to “interpret” messages which are fraudulent, but often quite comforting (I can’t help but think of the South Park episode on this subject, which I highly recommend).  There are other great techniques being generated on New World soil all the time, too.  For instance, Juniper from Walking the Hedge has adapted the old “stones and bones” casting technique to include other objects from her life and has developed a unique and beautiful divinatory system.

There are so many methods of forecasting the future that I haven’t even touched upon here, so please don’t feel left out if I omitted your personal favorite (in fact, feel free to share a little about it in the comments section!).  Many of these methods fall in and out of favor depending on the fashion of the time—phrenology was once almost regarded as fact, but is regarded by many diviners today as at best a quaint and outdated method of uncovering information.  Some of them seem outright silly on the surface or are utter fakery (the Magic 8 Ball for the former, cold reading for the latter).  A number of these techniques, however, still hang on.  The popularity of astrology remains strong, and bibliomancy seems to be indulged quite openly, as proven by the publication of things like The Book of Answers, which I’ve seen in not only bookstores but also in greeting card shops and trendy furniture outlets.  Of course, plenty of these methods are practiced just under the radar of mainstream society, too.

Whatever your preferred method of fortune-telling, I wish you well and hope this article has been useful to you.  More will be coming on specific subcategories within this list…but you probably knew that already.

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

Blog Post 119 – A Little Love Magic

February 10, 2011

I’m sure with Valentine’s Day just around the corner, I won’t be the only one to cover today’s topic:  love magic.  Yes, I know that Valentine’s is a commercial holiday designed to sell greeting cards (or something like that), but this seems as good a time as any to introduce some of the folklore and magic surrounding that strange, powerful feeling of love which seems to rule over so much of our human existence.  We’ll also look a little at lust, though I’ll likely save a detailed discussion for a sex magic post of some kind.

I should also say that this little article only scratches the surface of the overall material on this enormous branch of magical practice.  Love spells seem to be some of the most commonly sought and most often used enchantments in the world, so any blog post on them will necessarily be rather skint on details.  Also, this particular article is a sort-of companion to our upcoming podcast episode, which will be on this topic as well.  In the episode, we’ll discuss things like the ethics of love spells, so I only really want to touch on the lore and some of the basic spell ideas here.  Of course, if you want to leave comments or send emails regarding questions of ethics, I fully support that!

So what is love magic?  Most people would probably understand a spell cast by a young man on his high school crush to make her go out with him as a type of love spell, but what about a spell cast by a wife on an errant husband to make him stay a little closer to home?  Is a spell to spice up things in the bedroom a love spell, or just a lust spell, or maybe a little of each?  As I pored over the research, I found that there are several distinct categories for love magic:

1)      General-purpose love spells, such as wearing rose quartz, hanging a “loving bell,” spells to help a girl find a beau/husband soon, etc.

2)      Love divinations, like dream interpretations, carrying a four-leaf clover in the bible, catching a bouquet at a wedding, etc.

3)      Lust magic & aphrodisiacs, like the famous Love potion #9, dried turkey bones, powdered bird tongues, vanilla, etc.

4)      Person-specific love spells, which make one particular person fall in love with another, using things like hatbands/socks, mirrors, a particularly ghoulish dead-man’s mojo, etc.

5)      Magic for staying together, common in hoodoo, such as tying a man’s nature, writing bloody initials for reconciliation, menstrual blood in food, etc.

6)      Splitting up work, designed to break a couple apart using things like the black cat/dog hair spell, Hurston’s nine needles spell, etc.

Taking these various categories—which are just my understanding of the material, by the way, and should not be taken as gospel—let’s look at some of the individual spells, beliefs, signs, and ceremonies associated with each one.

A word of warning before we begin: I DO NOT ADVOCATE THE USE OF ANY OF THESE SPELLS. I’m presenting them as matters of folkloric record only.  Many of these techniques and/or formulas can be unsanitary or downright dangerous, so please keep that in mind as you read.

General-Purpose Love Spells

This category is fairly well addressed in modern neo-Pagan magical texts, so I won’t get much into it here.  I recall learning early on from Scott Cunningham’s Earth Power and other books like it that rose quartz could be worn to draw love to you, or just inspire loving feelings in you.  Oraia from Media Astra ac Terra covers the metaphysical properties of rose quartz very well in Episode 20 of that show, so if you want more info, I’d suggest listening to her examination of it.

Cunningham’s book also contains a spell for a “Loving Bell” which involves hanging a small bell somewhere the West Wind can touch it, reciting a little chant, and waiting for the bell to “whisper” your desire for love onto the wind, calling a lover to you (p.46).

Another basic spell from Draja Mickaharic’s A Century of Spells calls for burning a candle anointed with a mixture of basil and almond oil to draw love into one’s life.

As far as North American folklore goes, general-purpose love spells are actually a bit rare.  They most often tend to be focused on getting a spouse or preventing spinsterhood (forgive the sexist language there, but these do seem to be customs targeted at women).  For instance, in Vance Randolph’s Ozark Magic & Folklore he mentiones that Ozark girls will pin pieces of a wasp’s nest inside their clothing to draw courtship from men.  Randolph also mentions a peculiar love charm that he encountered in the mountains and which reputedly brought love into a young girl’s life:

“Many mountain damsels carry love charms consisting of some pinkish, soaplike material, the composition of which I have been unable to discover; the thing is usually enclosed in a carved peach stone or cherry pit and worn on a string round the neck, or attached to an elastic garter. I recall a girl near Lanagan, Missouri, who wore a peach stone love-charm on one garter and a rabbit’s foot fastened to the other.” (p. 166)

It’s not unreasonable to think that the “pinkish, soaplike material” may well be a piece of rose quartz.  Or, it may be something else entirely.  Patrick W. Gainer records the oft-repeated superstion that if someone sweeps under or on top of a girl’s feet, she will never marry, so girls were very careful not to let that happen.  Taking the last bite of any food at the table meant that a girl should kiss the cook or else end up an old maid, too.  Gainer also says that a girl who hold’s a bride’s dress on her lap within ten minutes will marry within a year and that if a girl lends her garter to a bride on her wedding day, she can expect to marry soon, too.

Love Divination

There are so many wide-ranging methods of determining a future lover’s identity that it would likely give me carpal tunnel and send my readers into a glazed-eye coma trying to list them all.  Divining one’s future love life is probably the most common form of divination, and can be found everywhere from the playground to the wedding chapel to the funeral home.  Most folks know about catching bouquets and garters at a wedding to indicate who the next to be married will be.  Some of the more unusual methods of determining one’s romantic future are:

  • Dream of a funeral and attend a wedding
  • Count seven stars for seven nights, and you will dream of the man you will marry.
  • To dream of the man you will marry, take a thumbful of salt the night before Easter
  • Marry soon if you dream of a corpse
  • If two forks are at a place-setting on the table, the one who sits there will be married.
  • Put three holly leaves under your pillow at night and name each leaf.  The one that is turned over in the morning will be the name of your husband.
  • Put a four-leaf clover in the Bible.  The man you meet while you are carrying it will be your husband.
  • On the first day of May before sunrise, if you see a snail within a shell, your future husband will have a house.  If the snail is outside the shell, he will have none.  Sprinkle meal in front of the snail and it will form the initial of the man you are to marry.
  • Walk around a wheat field on the first day of May and you will meet your mate.
  • The white spots on your nails tell how many lovers you will have.
  • On the first day of May, look into a well and you will see the face of your future husband.

There are lots of other methods for determining a future spouse, of course, such as peeling an apple in one long strip and tossing it over your shoulder to determine the initial of one’s eventual husband or wife.  Several Halloween traditions also focus on love divination, such as throwing nuts into the fire to see if they pop or fizzle, thus reflecting the strength of the love between those who threw.  Really, we could be here all day with these, so let’s just say a little reading will reveal a plethora of divinatory options to the curious witch.

Lust & Aphrodisiacs

This is another broad and often-discussed topic, and one which folks can get into heated debates about very easily.  For instance, many people contend that certain foods—chocolate, oysters, strawberries, etc.—act as aphrodisiacs and cite medical reports to back up their claims.  Others cite counter-claims which demonstrate that any aphrodisiac effect from food is purely psychosomatic /placebo effect.  Love potions are incredibly popular, so much so that there’s an enduring pop song by the Searchers entitled “Love Potion No. 9,” which later inspired a popular film of the same name (featuring the lovely Sandra Bullock).  I’m not going to get into the ingredients for that potion here, but if you’re interested in it, the upcoming Spelled Out segment on the podcast will look at one recipe for this famous draught.
In American folklore, many ingredients can be brewed into love potions and used to drive a partner wild.  Randolph records that yarrow is used in love potions given to men, as are dodder/love vine/angel’s hair, lady’s slipper, and mistletoe.  Boys make a love potion from a wild gander’s foot, powdered and put into a girl’s coffee.  The use of bird ingredients in such potions is rampant, inlcluding the use of powdered turtle-dove tongue, chicken hearts, and rooster blood for various love and beauty blends.   Girls in the Ozarks would keep dried turkey bones in their rooms in order to seduce their beaus when the time was right, too.

Randolph also mentions that a woman can surruptetiously touch a man’s back to inspire feelings of lust in him.  Zora Neale Hurston says in her essay “Hoodoo in America” that a potent aphrodisiac charm from Jamaica includes mixing angle worm dust with High John chips and wearing this as a mojo around the waist.  Oils and powders such as “Come to Me Boy/Girl” and “Chuparosa” are also used to intoxicate a lover’s senses and make him/her crazy with lust and love.  There’s also a hoodoo formula called the “Hot Mama Douche” which is juniper berries steeped in vinegar and which is designed to bring a woman all the sex she can stand. Vanilla, dabbed behind the ears, is also reputed to drive men wild.

Person-specific Love Spells

These are the controversial, yet oft-sought after, spells which one person uses on another to command love.  There are a lot of ethical questions involved in these enchantments, and I won’t get into my perspective on them here (though I do talk a bit about it on the show).  As the folklore goes, there are a lot of ways to make someone yours through magic.  Most of them involve putting a little bit of yourself—such as urine, blood, or sweat—into them, often via food.  Wearing the other person’s clothing, especially intimate clothing that has had contact with their skin or which has encircled some part of their body (like a ring, hatband, glove, sock, etc.) will also allow you to command their love.  Some examples:

  • If a girl steals a man’s hatband and wears it as a garter, it will make him fall in love with her (Randolph, OM&F)
  • Socks and hatbands can be used to rule unruly men (Hurston, Mules & Men).
  • Turning down a man’s hatband and pinning two needles in it in a cross-wise fashion makes him love you (Haskins, Voodoo & Hoodoo)

Other spells to gain the love of a person include tying poppets/dolls together, knotting used clothes from each person together, or burying personal items from that person on your property.  In this latter vein, Zora Neale Hurston records an interesting spell using the person’s image captured in a mirror:

“To bind a lover to a place: a) This is for a girl: Let him look into a mirror but don’t you look into it. Take it home. Smash it and bury it under the front steps and wet the spot with water. He cannot leave the place. b) This is for a boy: Take three locks of her hair, throw one over your head, put one in your bosom, and one in the back of your watch. Then do the same thing with a mirror that the girl does and she is tied. You can’t undo this.” (from “Hoodoo in America”)

Similarly, getting a potential lover to walk over or under a charm specifically planted to catch his/her love can be very effective.  Hurston’s Mules & Men contains the following spell:

Use nine lumps each of starch, sugar, & steel dust wet with Jockey Club perfume and put into nine mojo bags tied with red ribbon.  Put these all around his home (or yours), especially at entrances and under rugs, and he will be unable to resist you.

As I mentioned before, the best ways to gain control of a lover tends to be to make him or her ingest something that has a bit of one’s own bodily fluid.  Randolph mentions the use of menstrual blood in drink (though I usually find that more connected to the next section, “Magic for Staying Together”), as well as using whiskey in which fingernail trimmings have been soaked.  In Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro, Newbell Niles Puckett records a love charm which uses bathwater to similar effect: “a great love charm is made of the water in which the lover has washed, and this, mingled with the drink of the loved one, is held to soften the hardest heart.”

Magic for Staying Together

When a relationship hits a rough patch, people often do all sorts of things they wouldn’t normally do.  While some spells in this category are designed to bolster the already strong bonds between two happily enamored people, more often than not these spells are done out of desperation.  A wife wants to keep her philandering husband at home and away from other women.  A man wants to bring back a lover who has left him.  These aren’t particularly happy spells, but they do make up a good bit of the overall love spell genre, so here are a few of the more common or more interesting ones.

One spell I found repeatedly, and one which I mentioned in the previous section, was the use of menstrual blood in food.  It appeared in the folklore from multiple cultures and always with the same basic idea: a little of a woman’s menses in a man’s food or drink will make him absolutely hers and keep him from ever straying.  Urine occasionally pops up in this method, too, though it is far less common.

Other methods involve attaching something to a man’s clothes to mark him as one’s own.  In Hurston’s “Hoodoo in America” she notes in Section 9 that there is a such a ritual for regaining and binding the affection of an errant man. It is given in the “dialogue with Marie Laveau” style which is also in the N.D.P. Bivens text Black & White Magic of Marie Laveau. It involves using Van Van and Gilead buds placed in the man’s clothes or fashioned into a talisman for him to wear. A picture of Mary is then prayed over, and the man is supposed to stray no more.

Randolph’s Ozark informants revealed a number of methods for keeping or returning a straying lover, including:

  • A girl can write her initials and her sweetheart’s using the blood from the third finger of her left hand in order to reconcile with him after a fight.
  • Salting a fire brings an absent lover home, as does leaving one’s shoes in a “T” formation by the hearth.
  • A girl can clean her fingernails on Saturday, say a “mysterious old sayin’” and make a man visit her on Sunday. Mountain boys even say ‘my gal fixed her nails yesterday’ to indicate they must go courting.

Of course, sometimes it’s not enough to make someone stay a little closer to home.  One hoodoo method for controlling an errant man is to measure his penis with a piece of string (often red) while he is asleep, wet it with his semen, then tie nine knots in it.  This method takes away his “nature” and keeps him from being able to perform with anyone but the woman who has the string.  In some cases, this means that the man is unable to perform entirely unless the woman unknots the string first, which I imagine puts a damper on spontenaity in the bedroom.  However, as the proverb goes, desperate times call for desperate measures (pun very much intended).

Splitting Up

This is an area I’ve got no experience with myself, and one which I shy away from in general.  As such, my research here is a bit thinner than in other categories of love magic, but I do have one or two examples to provide.

Hurston provides a method for making couples fight like cats and dogs using the hair from—you guessed it—cats and dogs:

“To Make a Fuss and Fight. Take a small bit of the hair of a black cat and of a black dog and mix same with nine grains of red pepper seed and names of persons you wish to make fuss or fall out with each other. The names are written nine times crossed. Place this under their house, gallery or bury same at their gate. The articles can be sewed into a bag, and, if possible, place in the pillow or mattress.” (“Hoodoo in America”)

Hurston also mentions a spell using nine broken needles to break up a couple in her book, Mules & Men.

There are a number of products available for break-up work, including figural candles of a man and woman which are burned so that they separate over time.  The Lucky Mojo company sells many of these items, and also has a page outlining other breakup spells, such as feeding two halves of an egg to a black dog and a black cat, or writing a person’s name on the back of a river turtle to send him/her away from a relationship.

Whew! Love is a pretty big topic, and I’ve only given you a few examples here.  There are so many other love spells and magical techniques for gaining love, keeping love, or ending love that trying to list them all would be ridiculous.  I hope, though, that if you’re curious you’ll continue to look into this sort of magic, and let us know what you find.  If you have spells you’ve used in this vein of magic, I’d love to know those, too!  And we’ll have a podcast up soon on this topic, as well, so be listening for that.  Until next time..

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

Blog Post 118 – Four Thieves Vinegar

February 2, 2011

Greetings everyone!

I recently received an email regarding a topic we discussed on the podcast a while back:

“Cory, on one episode you mention 4 thieves vinegar and was wondering if you had the recipe. I totally want to make some! I heard what items go into it, but don’t know the proportions.”

I was surprised that I actually haven’t done a post on this yet, as it is such a fundamental formula, and so easy to make.  So today I thought I’d put up some information on this particular recipe.

Let’s start with the history.  The legend is that sometime during the plague years of the 16th and 17th centuries, a story went about that four spice merchants had discovered a secret formula which made them immune to the plague and which they’d rub on their bodies before robbing corpses ravaged by the disease.  That formula was eventually revealed to be a strong red wine vinegar with a number of different spices—reputedly one for each thief—most notably a lot of garlic.  Vinegar and garlic have some strong antiseptic properties, so it’s not hard to imagine that in a time before Leeuwenhoek’s discovery of microorganisms in 1675 any application of anti-microbial formula would help prevent a communicable disease.

Of course, the history provided is the stuff of legend, and may or may not have a basis in fact.  The earliest English reference to the Four Thieves and their famous concoction appears in 1825, in the publication Pharmacologia, where it is referred to as Four Thieves Vinegar or Marseilles Vinegar, after the French region where some legends claim the Thieves operated.  A 1939 article published in Pennsylvania History by Mulford Stough notes that the formula was used in Philadelphia during the outbreak of a plague during the 1790’s.  Stough blames the outbreak on the huge influx of immigrants from Santo Domingo (basically the Haitian Revolution concurrent with that time period sent a large number of Dominicans and Haitians fleeing to America, through major centers like New Orleans and Philadelphia).  While there’s no explicit link between the use of the vinegar formula to battle the disease and the immigrants themselves, I’m inclined to allow myself a bit of speculation here and say that there is a connection.  Whether the European formula entered the immigrants’ magical systems here, or whether the arrival of the immigrants (who may already have been using the formula magically) spurred its resurgence, I cannot say.

What I can say is that the potion did enter into the folk magical practices of America, and has continued to remain popular.   It’s also a flexible formula, one that has been adapted and changed many times over the years, depending on the need of the practitioner.  Here I’d like to give you my own personal recipe and method for making it and tell you a bit about how I use it, then look at some variations from other recipes and magical folk.

Cory’s Four Thieves Vinegar (please feel free to copy, use, distribute, etc. with attribution)

Ingredients

  • One pint mason jar, filled to just about 3/4 full with good cider vinegar
  • One head of garlic, peeled of skins (around 8-12 cloves)
  • One large handful of red chili flakes (probably about 2 tbsp, though I don’t measure that way when I make this stuff)
  • One large handful of black mustard seeds (again, around 2 tbsp, and if you can’t find black mustard, brown will be fine, though you might want to toast them to release their oils and blacken them a bit)
  • One handful of salt (not quite as much, maybe 1.5 tbsp)–kosher or sea salt are best
  • Optional ingredients include: a sprig of rue (I usually include), black peppercorns (small handful of these), rosemary, other types of chilies such as habanero or jalapeno, guinea pepper grains, galangal root, ginger root, etc.  You only need a little bit of any of these to boost the overall strength of the mix.

Put your ingredients into your mason jar, making sure it doesn’t overflow.  Cap and seal, then shake vigorously for 30-60 seconds.  Put it a cool, dark place or a refrigerator.  Shake daily for 2 weeks, then keep stored in a dark pantry or a fridge.

If you want to time your vinegar production magically, set it up to begin when the moon is waxing and finish when the moon is full if you intend to use it  for protection.  Go from full to new moon if you want to use it to banish someone/thing.  If you can make it while the moon is “in Aries,” “in Leo,” or “in Sagittarius” that might boost its power, too.

The ways I use FTV tend to be protective and for uncrossing work.  A little can be added to a bath to help knock off any evil eyes or general bad luck.  During spring cleaning, I usually add a little urine (in a separate bucket, please!) and red brick dust to a wash that I use on the front door and porch steps of my home to repel any harm sent my way.  One of my favorite ways to use FTV is to mix it with some olive oil and put it on a salad as a sort of spring tonic to clear out any lingering malevolence that might have accrued in my body.  Adding a tablespoon of it to a glass of water and drinking every morning is another good way to go (I’ll admit that I did this for a while but eventually let it slide and now just use the salad dressing method instead).

If you want to use it for banishing someone, you can break a bottle of it on their property (much like War Water) or stick their name paper in a jar of the vinegar—maybe with an extra handful of red pepper flakes to really heat up the spell.  Or, and this is probably going to blow your mind, give it to them to eat.  But wait! you say.  I’ve been eating it all along and it’s protecting me.  What’s going on here?  This is one of those weird circumstances where intention seems to play a part.  If you serve it to them with the desire to get them to leave you alone, that seems to be enough.  Of course, if you’ve timed the production to make the vinegar essentially banishing anyway—in which case I hope you’re not eating it—then intention may or may not really be what’s causing the results.

Okay, so now for the variations.  Of course, there are lots of folks who follow the older French recipe and use red wine vinegar instead of cider vinegar.  I just use the latter because it’s more typically American and thus something I have a stronger connection to, but feel free to use either version.  Other variations include one from author Ray T. Malbrough’s Charms, Spells, & Formulas in which he says: “To a gallon of strong cider vinegar add a handful of the following: rosemary, wormwood, lavender, rue, sage, and mint.  Add 1 ounce of powdered camphor gum.”  He goes on to recommend shaking and heating the mix for four days before finally straining it and bottling it, and that would definitely speed up the process.  I would say, however, that ingesting this version might not be a good idea with the camphor gum in it (camphor is poisonous if swallowed).  Malbrough recommends the vinegar as a cursing agent, one that can be used to cross someone’s luck or break up their home.

Cat Yronwode speaks of its uses, saying “Four Thieves Vinegar is used for protection, because it contains garlic, and also to cause confusion and discord among enemies, because it is sour” (p. 203).  Jim Haskins mentions it as “bad vinegar” in his book Voodoo & Hoodoo, and talks of it being used to curse and break up homes.

Draja Mickaharic gives a recipe in his book, A Century of Spells:

“To make the original Four Thieves Vinegar, peel a number of cloves of garlic.  Place the garlic in a clean glass bottle.  When the bottle is full of peeled garlic cloves, wine vinegar is poured over the garlic until the bottle is full.  The bottle can then be capped and placed in the refrigerator, root cellar, or spring house for a week or so.  The vinegar should be used a little at a time, with new wine vinegar being added as some is drawn out.  It will last a year or so before a new batch needs to be made” (p. 130-31).

Mickaharic also says that “Purists use a red Bordeaux wine, and wait for it to turn to vinegar before using it…Apple cider vinegar is not the ‘real thing’ but it works just as well in magic and better for some healing work,” which is basically how I feel about the topic.  He recommends it as a spring tonic and calls it a great salad dressing, too!

Northwoods witch Sarah Lawless says that her FTV uses “the old school recipe which is more a tonic than a crossing blend – onion, garlic, thyme, oregano, rosemary, lavender, peppercorns, bay leaves, and red wine with red wine vinegar”  (Thanks Sarah!).

One of the more unusual recipes I’ve found for this mixture is from Dorothy Morrison’s Utterly Wicked, which lists the recipe as including Adam & Eve Root (a type of endangered orchid found in the eastern U.S.), John the Conqueror root, black pepper, and vetivert.  This is a recipe I also would probably never eat, as the High John root comes from the Ipomoea genus which has demonstrated toxicity.  However, this recipe is very unique as it does not contain most of the key ingredients found in other blends: garlic, red pepper, rosemary, etc.  About the only ingredients it has in common with other recipes are black pepper and, well, vinegar.  I’ve not tested the efficacy of this version, so if anyone out there has, I’d love to know what you think of it!

Four Thieves Vinegar continues to be popular among occultists and witches, but it’s got a broader appeal, as well.  One of the best sites I found while researching this article was Secret of the Thieves, a website which tells the history of FTV and offeres a wide range of products based on the recipe such as toothpaste, mouthwash, hand sanitizer, soap, and even dental floss!

So if you’re looking for a good, widely-used folk-magical formula, I recommend making this rather simple one yourself.  It’s easy, has protective and cursing applications, and keeps for a long time.  If you have other variants, I’d love to hear those, and if you find new applications for the vinegar, please let me know those as well!

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

Quick Update – Call for Submissions

January 26, 2011

Attention all writers!

I know there are at least a few folks who read the blog or listen to the podcast and who also enjoy wordsmithing in a fictive vein.  In case you haven’t heard, Misanthrope Press is holding an open call for submissions of short fiction to be included in their upcoming Etched Offerings: Voices from the Cauldron of Story pagan fiction anthology.  They’ve extended their submission deadline to the end of April, so I highly recommend you put together your best short story with touches of the magical, the mythical, and the metaphorical and send it over to them for consideration.  Here are some of the details from their website:

“If you are reading this anywhere other than www.misanthropepress.com, we urge you to visit our website and view the full guidelines page. We have had to reject several submissions that did not fit our intended theme because people didn’t fully review the guidelines first; we don’t want you to waste your own time by being another one. Etched Offerings: Voices From the Cauldron of Story is a Pagan religion themed short fiction anthology. We are seeking stories about, or relevant to, contemporary Pagan paths and lifestyles, regardless of tradition. Stories about the gods and goddesses, about modern Wiccans, witches, shamans, and other magickal practitioners, as well as fantasy stories of myth and magick are all welcome…

Stories that retell existing myths and legends are acceptable, but there needs to be an original twist or fresh perspective in the telling…

Stories not strictly about Pagan topics, but featuring Pagan characters are very welcome…

We are not looking for stories that focus too heavily on how difficult it is to be Pagan in our society. It’s a valid issue, very much so in some geographic regions, but it’s not what we want to focus on in this anthology.  We’re looking for stories that celebrate the joys and rewards of following a Pagan path, not ones that lament the challenges we face. If your character faces such a challenge and overcomes it, and your story focuses on the triumph of that, that’s acceptable. We won’t, however, accept many stories of this nature, so keep that in mind when submitting.

Along these same lines, while we will potentially accept a very small number of stories that deal with the clash of religious beliefs and/or groups, we won’t be accepting any stories that directly criticize or bash the beliefs of another group. It’s a fine line, we realize; if you’re not confident in your ability to walk it, pick another topic for your story.”

Full guidelines are available at the Misanthrope Press site, so please head over there and throw your ink-stained hat in the ring!

Good luck, and happy writing!

-Cory


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,520 other followers

%d bloggers like this: