Posted tagged ‘folklore’

Blog Post 190 – Magical Gift Giving

August 22, 2014

“Die Neujahrsbretzel für den Herrn Pfarrer”, 1884 (via Wikimedia Commons)

I’ve had several people recommend a book to me called The Five Love Languages, by Gary Chapman. It’s a book that looks at the various ways in which people give and receive love. It gets into a lot of psychology and interpersonal communication theories, but in a nutshell it assumes that people tend to give or receive affection via physical touch, loving words, acts of kindness or service, quality time, or gifts. I am definitely a gift-giver when it comes to expressing my feelings—I will work for weeks to handcraft something for someone I care about. When my lovely wife and I were courting, I put hundreds of sticky notes all over her apartment with love messages so that she would constantly find them for months and months afterwords. Even when we ship products out of our Etsy shop, I tend to add layers of Spanish moss to the packing material, as well as little lagniappe touches to the shipment to make it feel magical for the person who opens the box. None of this is to brag, but simply to frame the point that giving gifts is a major part of my connection to others.

Giving gifts has been an important aspect of human relationships for a very lnog time. The Ancient Roman patronage system essentially operated on a large-scale gifting economy. In North America, giving gifts with a magical bent appears time and again. A number of superstitions and rituals surround the acts of gifting and receiving gifts. Possibly one of the gifts most beset by magical rules is the knife:

  • One must not give a friend a knife or other sharp instrument, as it “cuts love.” (Price 34).
  • “Giving a knife as a gift is bad luck as it cuts the friendship” (Hines 12).
  • A present of knives will break the friendship between you (the giver) and the recipient of the gift. (Hines 13)
  • No hillman would think of giving a steel blade to a friend such a gift is sure to sever their friendship (Randolph 58).

The ‘hillman’described in the last point would have been obliged to pay for a knife if he received it as a gift, in order to abate any potential tragedies:

Whenever a knife changes hands, it must be paid for, even if the sum is merely nominal. I have seen a salesman, a graduate of the University of Missouri, present his son with a valuable hunting knife but he never let it out of his hand till the boy had given him a penny (Randolph 58).

This is a sentiment I’ve seen echoed through other traditions as well, including some Wiccan circles and their beliefs about gifting athames. I have also seen contrary points, insisting that Wiccan ritual blades must never be purchased, but only gifted.

Knives, however, are only scratching the surface of the myriad taboos, beliefs, and customs surrounding giving and receiving. In the following paragraphs, I hope to lay out some of these traditions (though certainly not all of them… The concept of Christmas and birthday gifts is well outside the scope of a single survey article, for example, and the topic is much larger than a 2,000 word synopsis could handle). What I hope that you will see is the sheer humanity of this process. People seem to develop an entire language around gifting (see the Victorians and their flowers, for example), and understanding that language, especially within a magical context, expands the conversation on American folk magic immensely.

Since we’ve started in the domestic realm with knives, let’s continue in that vein. In the Ozarks, even very small gifts can have great significance:

A button received as a gift is always lucky, no matter what the color. Years ago, many an Ozark girl collectedbuttons from her friends and strung them together into a sort of necklace called a charm string. A charm string not only brought good fortune to the owner but also served as a sort of memory book for women who could not read one button recalled a beloved aunt, another a friend’s wedding, still another a dance or a quilting party or an apple-peelin’ or some other pleasant occasion. (Randolph 61)

These little tokens often represent a greater whole. In the example Randolph cites the ‘memory book’ aspect of the charm pushes it out of the realm of luck and into a broader realm of personal narrative. It tells the story of where the girl has been. The luck may then be a cumulative blessing from all those around her, an assembly of good wishes designed to attract further goodness into her life. Similarly, some fairly small gifts can act as predictors or insurance of future blessings, as in these two examples from Louisiana:

  • A midwife should plant a flower for a baby at its birth.
  • It is good luck for visitors to place a silver coin in a baby’s hand (Roberts 150).

Here we see blessings which ensure growth and health (the flower) and insurance against poverty (the coin) passed onto a baby, with the hopes that the child will grow and prosper in the future.

Of course, there are just as many taboos on gifting as there are joyous customs. As we saw with knives, some of those can be firmly established and nigh universal at times. Let’s look at another domestic commonplace with strong taboos:

  • Never borrow salt or you will have bad luck (Hines 12).
  • Never return salt that has been borrowed (Roberts 178)

Why salt? In my family, we frequently gave salt as a component of a new house blessing for people we knew, which as I understood it derived from Polish traditions (after investigating this a bit, I’m reasonably sure this was adopted from a similar Jewish custom picked up by my family in the area on the border between Lithuania and Poland). We give a jar of salt with some bread and a penny in it, ‘So that the family may never be hungry (bread), never be poor (penny), and their lives may never lack flavor (salt).” The salt, then, can be seen as the experience and cumulative personality of the family, its seasoning or flavor which makes it distinct. Borrowing someone else’s flavor would, in essence, give them power over you, especially when the salt is returned carrying traces of your own eau de familie. It could also be that by taking one family’s wisdom and experience, then returning it, you set off a disruptive cycle whereby your two families will be struggling to rebalance power for a long time, which definitely sounds like bad luck. A similar Louisiana superstition says ‘Don’t give spades, etc., to your neighbors; you will have a fuss if you do (Roberts 174). In that case, the tool is symbolic of a person’s work and labor, and to lend it out cheaply doesn’t bode well for anyone (and makes me think of Homer Simpson borrowing essentially every tool in Ned Flanders’ garage…a very bad neighbor).

The issue of when a gift is given can also impact its significance and magical qualities. While I will avoid holidays and the like here, there are plenty of other occasions when gift-giving is an expectation, such as at baby showers:

  • At a baby shower, the giver of the seventh gift to be unwrapped will be the next to have a baby (Hines 14).

In this example, the gift-giver receives the magical benefit of a prediction. I suppose that if you are not in the market to start a family, this superstition could seem more like a taboo than a blessing. Another key occasion for giving gifts is after a new family moves into a new home. I mentioned my family’s custom for making a house-blessing from my Polish roots, but it turns out that the general concept of the house-warming may come from the other side of my family tree in the British Isles. The hint of magic behind this tradition comes from the original house-warming present, which actually served to warm a new home:

“As poet John Greenleaf Whittier noted…’The Irish who settled here about the year 1720, they brought indeed with them, among other strange matters, potatoes and fairies.’…The Scots [who were also early settlers in America, particularly in the Mid-Atlantic region and parts of Appalachia]…believed in ‘brownies,’ a more subdued version of the leprechaun. Brownies lived in the kitchen fireplace, and the belief was that the owners of the house had a responsibility to always keep these fairy-creatures warm by keeping a constant fire in the hearth. The Yankees noted that Scots-Americans, when moving from one house to another, would always remove burning embers from the old house to the new, to provide a warm home for the brownies that would move in right along with the family. This was how the tradition of ‘house-warmings’ started” (Cahill 32).

I tend to think this is a bit of fancy on Cahill’s part, and that the giving of gifts to new homeowners is something much older and less literal than a brownie’s ‘house-warming,’ but I would be completely unsurprised to find that the actual practice of moving hearth coals to entice fairy-beings to move houses exists in the Old World or the New.

Marriage also features a number of gift-giving customs, some with superstitious components. For example, in Kansas groups of Russian-German emigrants pin money to the bridal skirt as a way of blessing the bride and groom with prosperity. Additionally, a fun game is made of the best man’s gift, and the “custom of some young buck’s stealing the shoe of the bride. The best man had to redeem the shoe with cash, which went into the household fund” (Tallman 227-8). The best man might contribute some or all of the money, with the remainder raised by good-natured begging of the wedding guests.

A number of tales from Appalachia and New England, including stories from Hubert Davis’ The Silver Bullet and other collections of supernatural American folklore, indicate that magical gifts have particular rules when it comes to witches. For example, a witch might offer a very low price for some livestock or sundries she fancies from a local homestead. If she is refused the gift—which is all such a lowballed agreement could be seen as—she curses whatever it is she wanted, rendering it useless to the family that has it. Often she will curse a cow so it won’t produce milk, or she might even curse an entire herd of pigs or sheep rather than just the one she wanted. On the flip-side, a witch should never be given a present of anything from the household, or she could use it to harm those who dwell within. One story features a housewife who loans the local witch-woman a cup of sugar in a neighborly—if cautious—manner, only to find her butter won’t come when she churns it afterwords. She summons a local witch-doctor who takes a piece of hot silver and drops it in the churn, then spills cream on the fire and whips a pan of the scalded dairy until they hear shrieks from the direction of the witch-woman’s home. She, of course, suffers great pains and bears the marks of a whipping and burning the next day, and everyone knows just what’s what. Oh, and the butter is fine after that, too, of course.

Not all witches or magical practitioners are conniving and dangerous when it comes time to share the wealth, though. For example, many witch-doctors and conjurers in the Southern Mountains will not take direct payment for their work, but only offers of gifts made in-kind, such as foodstuffs, clothing, or other necessities. Vance Randloph noted that one witch woman in the Ozarks did not ask a fee for her work, but would accept such donations: “This woman makes no charge for her services, but if somebody offers her a present, such as a new dress or a side of bacon, she seldom refuses the gift” (Randolph 126).

Lest you think all these magical gifting traditions are limited to the realm of humanity, here’s a bit of lore from John George Hohman’s Long Lost Friend to show otherwise:

A GOOD METHOD OF DESTROYING RATS AND MICE.

Every time you bring grain into your barn, you must, in putting down the three first sheaves, repeat the following words: “Rats and mice, these three sheaves I give to you, in order that you may not destroy any of my wheat.” The name of the kind of grain must also be mentioned. (Hohman 70).

Here we see the old idea of “one for the rabbit, one for the crow, one to rot, and one to sow” extended from nursery rhyme to magical practice. Giving the animals a bit of the household bounty seems to be a way to stave off any thievery on their part, at least in this example.

Finally, I can’t help but offer up a humorous story from Maryland which shows animals getting in on the gift-giving action:

It seems that Mrs. Morison’s uncle and her father went fishing one time and as always they carried their [moonshine] jug along. They came to this water moccasin who was just about ready to swallow a frog. So Mrs. Morison’s father took a forked stick and clamped it down over the snake’s head and took it [the frog] away ‘cause they wanted to use it for bait.

Well, that snake looked so darn downhearted that they gave him a drink of moonshine, and off he went. So they went on with their fishing and about an hour later one of them felt a tug on his leg. He looked down and there was that snake back with another frog. All I can say is, that must have been awful good moonshine” (Carey 31).

I’m not sure if the ‘magic’ in that tale is so much in the moonshine or the moccasin, but I couldn’t resist sharing it with you.

I’m sure there are many other magical giving traditions I’m missing here, so if you have any you want to share, please do!

Thanks for reading,

-Cory

Sources

  1. Cahill, Robert Ellis. Olde New England’s Strange Superstitions (1990).
  2. Carey, George G. Maryland Folklore (Tidewater Pub.: 1989).
  3. Davis, Hubert J. The Silver Bullet, & Other American Witch Stories (Jonathan David Pub.: 1975).
  4. Hines, Donald M. “Superstitions from Oregon,” Western Folklore, Jan. 1965.
  5. Hohman, John George. The Long-Lost Friend (Llewellyn, 2012).
  6. Price, Sadie. “Kentucky Folklore,” Journal of American Folklore, Jan-Mar 1901.
  7. Randolph, Vance. Ozark Magic & Folklore (Dover: 1964).
  8. Roberts, Hilda. “Louisiana Superstitions,” Journal of American Folklore, Apr-Jun 1927.
  9. Tallman, Marjorie. Dictionary of American Folklore (Philosophical Library, NYC: 1959).

Podcast 66 – Sacred Artistry with Bri Saussy

July 31, 2014

Summary:
In tonight’s episode (slightly belated, my apologies), we have an excellent discussion of Sacred Artistry and Enchanted Worldviews with the wonderful Bri Saussy. I bookend the interview with a pair of readings on the topic as well. Thanks for your patience, and I hope you enjoy this episode as much as I did!

Play: 
Download: New World Witchery – Episode 66
Play: 

-Sources-

  1. Of course, you should check out Bri’s excellent site, Milagro Roots.
  2. While you’re there, consider signing up for one of her courses, such as Star Magic or Diagnostic Tarot.
  3. Bri recommends Terri Windling’s Myth and Moor blog during the interview.
  4. I read from (and highly recommend) Draja Mickaharic’s  Spiritual Cleansing and Suzi Gablik’s Living the Magical Life.

Keep watching for information on the next Pagan Podkin Supermoot, hosted by Fire Lyte in Chicago (in conjunction with the Pagan Pride Day up there).

If you have feedback you’d like to share, email us or leave a comment. We’d love to hear from you!

Don’t forget to follow us at Twitter! And check out our Facebook page!

Promos & Music
Title music:  “Homebound,” by Jag, from Cypress Grove Blues.  From Magnatune.
Promos:
1)      Betwixt and Between

Podcast 65 – The Slender Man Discussion (with Fire Lyte)

June 26, 2014

Summary:
This episode features an extended discussion with Fire Lyte of Inciting a Riot about the recent Slender Man stabbing incident, mental health and treatment, folk belief, and faith-directed action in the magical spirituality community.

Play:
Download: New World Witchery – Episode 65

-Sources-
While the discussion ranges widely, here are some highlights:

  1. If you don’t already listen to Fire Lyte’s show, Inciting a Riot, you should check it out
  2. The primary story we’re discussing is the Slender Man stabbing incident. While I cannot guarantee every subsection of the NBC news feed on the subject protects the rights of the minors involved, at least at a high level it doesn’t seem to broadcast names, so I’m linking there if you want more on that incident.
  3. If you want to know more about Slender Man, I’d recommend the Wikipedia page, the Something Awful form (NSFW), and/or Creepypasta. Just please remember, this is an internet meme/netlore. Please DO NOT take these sites as gospel or hurt anyone because of what you find on them. They are ENTERTAINMENT ONLY.
  4. Fire Lyte mentions and recommends the skeptical inquiry show Oh No Ross and Carrie
  5. Fire Lyte cites an article on auditory hallucinations in schizophrenia.
  6. Cory talks about auto-flaggelation and self-immolation (specifically Thich Quang Duc) as an aspect of darker faith-based action which complicates our understanding of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ action.

Keep watching for information on the next Pagan Podkin Supermoot, hosted by Fire Lyte in Chicago (in conjunction with the Pagan Pride Day up there).

If you have feedback you’d like to share, email us or leave a comment. We’d love to hear from you!

Don’t forget to follow us at Twitter! And check out our Facebook page!

Promos & Music
Title music:  “Homebound,” by Jag, from Cypress Grove Blues.  From Magnatune.
Promos:
1)      Inciting a Riot
2)      Betwixt and Between

Podcast 64 – Sex and Magic

May 29, 2014

Podcast 64 – Sex and Magic

Summary:

In this show, we discuss the use of sex as a magical tool (as well as magical tools that can be used for sex), and the ethics of mixing sex and magic from our points of view.

Play:

Download: New World Witchery – Episode 64

-Sources-
Some of the things discussed today include:

  1. Cory mentions the book, The Joy of Sex, by Alex Comfort
  2. The discussion of sex and scent brings up bay rum scented items, Bourbon French Parfums in New Orleans, and vanilla (oh, and you should also check out the scent-and-sex heavy book Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins)
  3. In Peter Paddon’s book, Grimoire for Modern Cunning Folk, the deluxe edition has some additional material on sexual fluids in magic. He also has a podcast discussion on sex magic that is excellent.
  4. Cory mentions the use of Damiana liqueur as an aphrodisiac
  5. We talk about using turkey bones in the Ozarks as a sexual magnet. You can find a picture about it here, and lots about it in Ozark Magic & Folklore, by Vance Randolph.
  6. The Crowley quote about masturbation comes from his book Magick.
  7. Cory mentions he’s been watching the occult series called Salem on WGN, and that our previous guest Papa Toad Bone may have a role on it at some point.

Keep watching for information on the next Pagan Podkin Supermoot, hosted by Fire Lyte in Chicago (in conjunction with the Pagan Pride Day up there).

If you have feedback you’d like to share, email us or leave a comment. We’d love to hear from you!

Don’t forget to follow us at Twitter! And check out our Facebook page!

Promos & Music
Title music:  “Homebound,” by Jag, from Cypress Grove Blues.  From Magnatune. Alternate title music was “Love Warrior,” from FOB, and can be found on MusicAlley.com.

Promos:
1)      The Crooked Path Podcast
2)      Lakefront Pagan Voice
3)      Down at the Crossroads

Blog Post 190 – Some Military Superstitions

May 26, 2014

“Jubilant American soldier hugs motherly English woman,” PFC Melvin Weiss (via the National Archives)

With the timing of Memorial Day (for those reading in the U.S., that is) and my brother’s recent entry into the American Armed Forces (he’s been in for just under a year), I thought it might be worthwhile to highlight a few of the superstitions surrounding life as a soldier, sailor, pilot, or marine. Some of these practices are magical in nature, and some simply traditional or an interesting way of adding a layer of significance to the world from folks who already make significant contributions to it. I will not attempt to paint any glossy pictures of military service, nor will I touch on some of the lore which might be construed as highly disrespectful in light of the holiday. I also doubt I’ll cover even a fraction of the total lore around these branches of service, as that could easily fill volumes, and I’m going to attempt to keep this under two thousand words.

For the sake of simplicity, I will look at the beliefs more or less by branch, although in fact it will essentially be by domain—land, sea, and sky. The Marines, while ostensibly a seafaring force and part of the Naval Department, are for all intents and purposes the force that crosses those three boundaries (although I should note that in the modern military, an Air Force pilot on a Naval carrier would not be unusual, and other service members work across branches frequently). I will basically be looking at lore for soldiers, sailors, and pilots, and cross-pollination of belief can be inferred as appropriate.

Soldier Lore
Some of the chief superstitions surrounding life in the Army focus on protection in battle, naturally. Protection from bullets, mortars, bombs, and any of the other myriad dangers on the battlefield is essential, and here are some of the magical methods used:

  • Soldiers would often wear bibles “tucked or pinned over the portion of a uniform covering the soldier’s heart” to fend off bullets (Watts 419).
  • Soldiers in World War I would sew black cats onto their uniforms for good luck (contrary to the traditional ‘bad luck’ association with the animal)
  • Mistletoe could provide protection for a solder, when pinned inside his or her uniform
  • “[S]hells etched with the soldier’s name” were considered lucky amulets (Brunvand 766)
  • The 91st Psalm would be carried or worn inside a uniform for luck and protection
  • Hair, clothing, or jewelry from a loved one back home would sometimes offer some safety from harm
  • A bit of clothing from a personal or national hero could be worn to provide vigor, courage, and insulation from battle damage
  • A soldier should always eat all the food on his plate before battle to ensure he survives it

In addition to tokens and talismans, a number of stories circulated surrounding apparitions which portended good or bad fortune for soldiers during wartime. For example:

“Legends about folk saints defending soldiers and citizens abounded. Variations include the saint appearing as an old man before or during battle, prayers by the soldier or a family member resulting in miracles, the saint healing injuries and aiding prisoners of war to survive or escape, or the saint appearing in a dream. Saints were also credited with disabling enemy weapons and altering the direction of enemy planes and missiles” (Brunvand 766).

Some of the saints to whom a soldier might appeal would include Saint Michael Archangel, for victory in battle, or Saint Christopher, for a safe journey back home. A Cross of Caravaca might also be worn to symbolize such divine protection.

One of the entities who seemed to travel everywhere the soldiers did was the astounding Kilroy. With his eyes, nose, and fingers peeping over the top of a fence, he was always first on the scene, and became something of a traditional bit of graffiti for soldiers:

“Kilroy lore calls for GIs to place drawings of the character in the most remote and unlikely locations, signifying the power and reach of the U.S. military. It is also customary for soldiers to claim that the marking was discovered rather than placed, making Kilroy always the first to arrive at a host of sites. He is rumored to adorn a range of places from the Statue of Liberty’s torch to the surface of the Moon” (Watts 237).

In addition to protective and comical apparitions (or drawings, in Kilroy’s case), there were also the less pleasant ‘death tokens’ which precluded a loss in battle or the death of a soldier. One such creature is the Ghost Dog of Flordia Island in Guadalcanal, essentially a derivation of the ‘Black Shuck’ figure of British lore, a demond dog who spells doom for those who see him.

A good bit of lore sprang up around soldiers who wanted to get a quick discharge from their unit, including such strange techniques as “eating a large stack of pancakes or sleeping with soap under both armpits” (Brunvand 767). Often, these were essentially hazing techniques other soldiers would use on those with cold feet rather than rituals that could actually earn a fast pass out of service.

Civilians could aslo help soldiers in their efforts in some cases, using magical methods. Children during World War II would jump on cracks in the belief that every time they did so, a Nazi soldier would fall. Wives of soldiers were told not to ask about missions, including ones the soldier had survived, and to refrain from watching their soldiers as they left for their tour of duty. Even the symbolic act of saluting or showing a ‘V for Victory’ with the hands and fingers was thought to bolster the soldier’s strength (and his or her morale).

Perhaps the saddest lore surrounding soldiers involves the fallen ones. There are many stories of ghost soldiers and even entire ghost units still fighting battles long after the wars are over (I had a personal experience with a group of Civil War soldiers, which I believe I mentioned on the show, for example). Akira Kurosawa’s film Dreams, features a vignette of just such an occurance, where a lone soldier returning from battle meets his entire platoon of fallen comrades and tries to explain what happened to them.

Finally, I can’t resist mentioning the story of the “Soldier’s Almanack & Prayer Book,” in which a soldier accused of keeping gambling accessories (i.e. playing cards) defends himself by demonstrating that the deck actually functions as an almanac of sorts and a reminder of biblical stories and prayers. There’s a full account of it in the appendix of my book, 54 Devils, and you can find a slightly longer description of it with links to additional material in the short version of that book, “The New World Witchery Guide to Cartomancy.”

Sailor Lore
There are so many superstitions and customs surrounding the life of a sailor, it’s hard to know where to begin. We’ve covered a few of these in previous articles, notably the post on “Seaside Sorcery,” so I’ll try to mostly stick with new material here, but if I repeat myself please pardon the gaffe.

I will start with one reiterated bit of lore on cauls, the thin membrane which surrounds the head of some newborn babies. I did discuss these items briefly in the above-mentioned post, but I found a bit of expanded lore on them which I thought would be appropriate here:

“Many captains and crews would not leave port unless a cawl from a recently born baby was aboard the ship they were to be sailing on. Cawls were often traded from one vessel to another, as one ship came home and another sailed off to distant lands. Having a cawl aboard was a guarantee that the ship wouldn’t sink, and they were often sold to sea captains and shipowners for large sums of money” (Cahill 15).

The part that most interested me in this was the trading from one ship to another, a sort of ‘passing of luck’ from one boat to another. I imagine that to those who used such tools, a caul which had kept a crew safe through one set of voyages would seem doubly powerful to the next crew to inherit it. The enormous cost of the cauls is also worth noting, especially in the context of it being a captain’s purchase—I can imagine some sailors taking it as a bad sign that a captain was too stingy to purchase such an elementary piece of luck for their ship.

Among some of the other pertinent bits of folk belief for life onboard ship we find a similar theme to the soldiers—protection—with the added need for charms which allow a ship stuck in the doldrums to make its way out before the crew starve or go mad. Some of the most popular beliefs:

  • Perhaps the best known bit of sailor lore: Shooting an albatross as bad luck (see Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”).
  • A bucket lost at sea was a bad omen of impending drowning
  • A broom or a mop would likewise have been an ill omen if lost
  • Wearing gold earrings prevent drowning (so THAT’S why pirates have them!)
  • Eggs have a bad luck connotation to them, as they are reputed to conjure up bad storms and winds. The taboo is so strong that in some cases, sailors might not even say the word ‘egg,’ but instead use a euphemism, such as calling it a ‘roundabout.’
  • Other taboo words: Knife, salt, rat, mouse, salmon, and rabbit or hare.
  • Speaking of knives, a knife stuck in the main mast would summon a wind leading whichever direction the handle of the knife pointed
  • Pigs were sometimes kept on old ships because it was believed that a pig in water would always swim directly to the nearest land, even if it couldn’t see it. A ship off its navigational course would toss a pig overboard and follow the pig.

Animals on a ship have much lore surrounding them. Many people probably know about the idea of rats fleeing a sinking ship (sometimes even before that ship left port), but what about cats? There is a strange mix of lore surrounding cats, with some sailors claiming that you could raise a wind (or storm) by throwing a cat overboard (which might be good news for a becalmed ship during the days of sail power) and the somewhat more broadly accepted belief that a cat who drowned portended very bad luck for an entire voyage.

The weather was and is a major consideration for those out to sea, and sailors developed an extensive body of lore around buying wind (see the Seaside Sorcery post for more on that) and raising or quelling storms and predicting the weather. Whistling on board a ship was very bad most of the time, because it would stir up the wind and storms. However, if a ship were unable to move, whistling might be turned to as a way of encouraging the sea to offer up some wind. The best and luckiest day to go to sea was on a Sunday, especially if you could wait until after the morning service to embark. In fact, a counterpart to the famous ‘Red skies at morning…’ rhyme is the less-known but far more interesting: Sunday sail, never fail; Friday sail, bad luck and gales” (Cahill 14).

The final bit of lore concerns mermaids:

“It may be for this reason [mermaids acting as sirens to lure sailors to their doom] that a mermaid sighting is frequently regarded as a portent of imminent danger. The mermaid’s influence is not always unfortunate, however, and in some cases she holds the power and disposition to grant the sailor wishes” (Watts 266)

All of these superstitions barely begin to scratch the surface of maritime lore, and the sheer volume of traditions, practices, and omens observed by sailors throughout history fills a number of books.

The Gremlins, by Roald Dahl (picture via Wikimedia Commons)

Aviator Lore
Since the Air Force has been around significantly less time than the Army, Navy, or Marines, its body of lore is somewhat less robust in terms of sheer volume. What it lacks in quantity, however, it certainly makes up for in quality, as some of the most ritualistic performances of folk belief appear in Air Force stories. Some of the best ones:

  • Like soldiers, a pilot frequently keeps a bible or verse on his person as a protective talisman
  • “Aviators wore mismatched socks and shoes from successful missions, but they avoided apparel from fliers who had been shot down” (Brunvand 766)
  • A pilot would not allow a photograph to be taken of him immediately before flying a mission
  • The pre-flight toast or drink glass should always be tossed in the fire or smashed prior to take-off to ensure safe return
  • Carrying a silver dollar from a year with numbers adding up to thirteen (e.g. a 1903 silver dollar, as 1+9+0+3 = 13) would prevent harm from befalling an aviator
  • A plane with the word ‘boomerang’ somewhere in its name would always fly home safely (e.g. the B-29 Boomerang)

Perhaps one of the most interesting bits of Air Force lore is the ‘clinker’ plane—an aircraft in such bad shape it seems destined to crash right after liftoff. Any pilot who can safely get the plane out on a mission and back again would have been thought to be charmed for life and a safe bet to fly with.

A number of superstitions for airmen and women are more highly personal—a piece of clothing they might insist upon wearing every mission, or a standard phrase or action done immediately before takeoff (similar to the smashing of the glass).

And I would be remiss, of course, if I didn’t mention my favorite bit of superstition and otherworldly interference for pilots: gremlins. No, not the ones from the 1980s movie, but the ones described by numerous air force pilots as intentionally climbing out over moving aircraft parts to destroy and sabotage them midflight. Children’s author Roald Dahl served as a member of the Royal Air Force in Britain and wrote a book about the little creatures (at one time the book was to be made into a Disney cartoon, but in the end its designs and general gist wound up as part of a Bugs Bunny short). The gremlins are sometimes thought to be monsters, and sometimes thought to be aliens, but almost always they are not of earthly realms.

I should also say that if I were to branch off from the magical side of the Air Force superstitions and into the alien-and-UFO side of things, there would be no shortage of material to share. If that’s something you’re interested in, I highly encourage you to look into it further!

So how’d I do? Let’s see, about 2,400 words, so I think that’s enough for this time around. But what about you? Do you know any interesting lore from the Armed Forces? Have you served in the military and heard any of these superstitions, or any ones not included here? I would love to hear them!

Thanks so much for reading,

-Cory

 

Sources:

  1. Brunvand, Jan, ed. The Encyclopedia of American Folklore (1996).
  2. Cahill, Robert Ellis. Olde New England’s Strange Superstitions (1990).
  3. Dorson, Richard. Buying the Wind (1972).
  4. “Gremlins, The.” Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Gremlins
  5. Klesius, Michael. “One More for the Checklist,” Air & Space Magazine (2010).
  6. Opie, Iona, and Moira Tatem, eds. A Dictionary of Superstitions (1989).
  7. Wallrich, T/Sgt. Bill. “Superstition & the Air Force,” Western Folklore (1960).
  8. Watts, Linda S, ed. The Encyclopedia of American Folklore (2007).

Blog Post 189 – New World Witchery Cartulary No. 6

May 20, 2014

Cartulary6

Greetings everyone,

It’s been almost five months since my last cartulary post, so I thought I’d touch base a bit on the various magical, folkloric, and otherwise quirky corners of the world that have caught my attention (and my be of interest to my readers).

I’ll start with a little shameless self-promotion and note that the upcoming Three Hands Press anthology, Hands of Apostasy, will have my essay on witchcraft initiation rituals of the Southern mountains in it. It’s edited by Daniel A. Schulke (Magister of the Cultus Sabbati) and Mike Howard (editor of The Cauldron), and contains eighteen essays on historical and traditional witchcraft, both from a practical and scholarly perspective. Some of the phenomenal authors contributing to this tome include David Rankine, Cecil Williamson, and even a posthumous essay by Andrew Chumbley. There will likely be more information on the Three Hands Press website as the release date approaches (sometime in the next few months).

As a side-note, I’ve been placing essays with The Cauldron for some time now, covering a variety of topics in North American folk magic, and frequently alongside art and articles by some top-notch folks (the aforementioned Howard, Chris Bilardi, Sarah Lawless, and Emma Wilby, for example). If you have any interest in folklore, magic, and little-or-big-P paganism, it’s worth subscribing.

Moving on from shameless self-promotion to the fine work of others, I’ve recently been getting very into botany and horticulture (I can’t have a garden this year since we’re moving, so that might explain it). I completed a really lovely little book called The Drunken Botanist, which looks at the plant kingdom through a shot glass, providing history, growing tips, and drink recipes along the way. I’ve also been reading The Founding Gardeners, a book which places Washington, Adams, Madison, Jefferson, and other notable American patriarchs in the context of their horticultural interests, which were plentiful and various. It turns out Washington was an excellent farmer (in no small part due to slave labor, it should be noted), and Jefferson was more theoretical (and also extensively used slave labor). I also read Bill Bryson’s At Home, a microhistory of Anglo-American culture as seen through a series of rooms in his house, which featured a nice chapter on the garden—it put me on the scent of Wulf’s Founding Gardeners, in fact. And if you can’t get enough botany, I’m going to very highly recommend a favorite book entitled Botany in a Day, which is a wonderful introduction to plant taxonomy and identification that teaches you how to build an understanding of plants intuitively based on stem and leaf shape, color, size, petal count, etc. If you are at all interested in identifying wild plants, this is a great foundational text.

Since we’re already in the garden, I’m also going to recommend you stop and smell the roses with my dear friend Jen Rue on the latest episode of Lamplighter Blues, where Hob, Dean, and Jen talk about working with what’s around and growing your own supplies. Sarah Lawless also recently (well, as recently as possible considering she did just have a baby and all) looked at the idea of what’s immediately available to magical and shamanic practitioner in an extensive article on ‘Bioregional Animism’ which I highly recommend.

In the world of gratuitous pop-culture witch-fluff, the Season of Witch continues. A recent, if unnecessary, television remake of Rosemary’s Baby aired over a few weeks recently, which I’ve not seen but which is on my watch list. I won’t say I’m particularly excited about it, as I love the original Polanski film, but if this one turns out all right, I may change my tune. A decadently dark and occult series called Salem has been airing on WGN, and while I cannot recommend it for historical accuracy (of which there’s none), its tone and deep-and-dark witchy atmosphere is just very hard to turn away from. It will do absolutely nothing to improve the image of witches, folk magicians, or really anyone, but if you want to get a little jolt of wickedness it is a lot of fun. The second season of Witches of East End will also be airing starting in July on Lifetime—the first season was another fun and guilty pleasure like Salem, so I imagine I’ll give round two a try. Oh, and Maleficent is coming out, apparently (if I’m being honest, it’s one of the few magical enchantress stories I’m not interested in, but I’ll probably see it anyway).

Moving away from the inaccuracies of popular television and back to the realm of folklore, I had a listener recently write in to ask about why our Dark Mother tribute episode featured the somewhat more docile version of the fairy tale, “The Juniper Tree,” from the Brothers Grimm. In truth, I mostly chose that version because it was at hand and fit the time frame of the show nicely, but I am absolutely at fault for not pointing out that there is a much darker (and possibly more enjoyable because of it) version of the tale. You can read it at the Sur La Lune fairy tale site if you want to get a glimpse of a very Dark Mother. While you are there, you should also check out their versions of a few of the other tales I considered for that episode, but ultimately decided against due to time, including “Snow White & Rose Red,” and “Hansel & Gretel.”

Finally, I generally try to keep these cartularies more centered on things I’m reading, doing, and so forth, but I do want to take a moment to forward a request from a friend of our site and show, Mrs. Oddly, who is dealing with some difficult legal and financial situations centering on a custody battle. She’s set up a crowdfunding campaign which needs support, so if you have a few dollars you can spare, please consider helping her out. She’s brought some real magic to my world, and she is asking for whatever help we can give.

We’ve got a number of guests lined up for upcoming shows, and I’ve got a few one-off shows I’m hoping to do as well that might be fun, too, so stay tuned to the podcast! I’ll do my best to keep adding things to the website as well, for those that like reading the articles on folk magic here.

Thanks for Reading!
-Cory

Podcast 63 – The Dark Mother

May 12, 2014

Shownotes for Podcast 63 – The Dark Mother

Summary:

This episode is a tribute to the figure of the Dark Mother, with songs, stories, and poetry (by a special guest!). Feel free to send in any thoughts you have about the darker aspects of the feminine divine, particularly those found in folk and fairy tales!

Play:
Download: New World Witchery – Episode 63

-Sources-
In this show we’re featuring several stories and a few poems as well as the music listed below. Stories are:
1)      “The Juniper Tree” – by the Brothers Grimm, from Fairy Tales
2)      “Lilith’s Cave” – recorded by Howard Schwartz, from Lilith’s Cave
3)      “Leyenda de La Llorona” – recorded by Richard Dorson, in Buying the Wind
4)      “Inuit Myth of Sedna” – collected by Leeming & Page, from Myths, Legends, & Folktales of America

Poems are all courtesy of Peter Paddon, host of the Crooked Path podcast, and proprietor of the excellent Pendraig Publishing company.

If you have feedback you’d like to share, email us or leave a comment. We’d love to hear from you!

Don’t forget to follow us at Twitter! And check out our Facebook page!

Promos & Music

Title music:  “Homebound,” by Jag, from Cypress Grove Blues.  From Magnatune.

Song List:
1)      Heather Dale – Mordred’s Lullabye (Avalon)
2)      SJ Tucker – Kashkash (Solace & Sorrow)
3)      Leslie Fish – Hymn to the NIght Mare (Avalon is Risen)
4)      Casey Redmond – Mother’s Acting Strange (MusicAlley.com)
5)      Wendy Rule – Creator/Destroyer (Wolf Moon) and Singing to the Bones (World between Worlds)

Incidental music was by SJ Tucker (from the Ember Days soundtrack) and Disparition.

Blog Post 188 – Visitors, Guests, & Strangers

May 8, 2014

Abraham and the Three Angels, by Gustave Dore (via Wikimedia Commons)

And Moses was content to dwell with the man: and he gave Moses Zipporah his daughter. And she bare him a son, and he called his name Gershom: for he said, I have been a stranger in a strange land. (Exodus 2:22)

And he lift up his eyes and looked, and, lo, three men stood by him: and when he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent door, and bowed himself toward the ground, And said, My Lord, if now I have found favour in thy sight, pass not away, I pray thee, from thy servant: Let a little water, I pray you, be fetched, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree: And I will fetch a morsel of bread, and comfort ye your hearts; after that ye shall pass on: for therefore are ye come to your servant. And they said, So do, as thou hast said. And Abraham hastened into the tent unto Sarah, and said, Make ready quickly three measures of fine meal, knead it, and make cakes upon the hearth. And Abraham ran unto the herd, and fetcht a calf tender and good, and gave it unto a young man; and he hasted to dress it. And he took butter, and milk, and the calf which he had dressed, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree, and they did eat (Genesis 18:2-8).

Southerners are famous for their hospitality, so much so that the words are coupled together idiomatically in the phrase ‘Southern hospitality.’ Leaving aside potentially ironic implications of that expression (let us not forget that the ‘genteel’ South also maintained a bevvy of Jim Crow laws aimed at making life inordinately inhospitable for Southern Blacks), the concept of being a good host and treating those who arrive at one’s doorstep with dignity, warmth, and grace does have strong roots in American soil. Those roots are not exclusive to that soil, of course; the Ancient Greeks placed a tremendous value on the guest/host relationship, evidenced by numerous ancient writings and even the term the Greeks used for the practice of being a good guest/host, ghosti. Likewise, Hebraic culture values the right treatment of the stranger or alien in one’s land, as in the scriptural passages which launched this article, as well as dozens of other examples throughout the Bible. On American ground, however, this relationship found a variety of expressions among numerous peoples. While the performance of hospitality is inevitably different depending on its cultural context, the surprising homogeneity of value placed on hospitable action speaks to a core of humanity.

The practice of hosting and honoring the unknown guest also appears in a number of folk narratives with a distinctively supernatural bent—hosting angels unwares, so to speak, although in some tales the beings hosted are decidedly non-angelic. In this article we shall see some examples of these supernatural interactions, the rewards and risks involved, and some potential interpretations of the practical application of unearthly hospitality. We will also look at some of the rituals and traditions surrounding hospitality towards mortal beings, which is where we shall begin our examination.

In the Appalachian Mountains, traditions of hospitatlity are very strong, of course, but often mountain people might not see much of others except at major events. Being a good host extends to some of the most private moments in life, including the first night of marriage. The concept of a spontaneous wedding reception, called an ‘infare’ can be summed up thusly: ‘The word infare comes from Old English: in plus faran, to go in. It was a reception held in the home of the newly-married couple. Word was ‘spread around;’ no invitations wer issued, but people in the community knew that they were invited. Refreshments were served and games were played very much as at the play-party [essentially a bridal shower]. Neighbors often brought gifts of food and other things to be used in the home of the newly-wed couple’ (Gainer 32-33). The infare is a concept similar to the charivari or shivaree, which involved friends and neighbors of the newlyweds waking them the morning after with banging pots and pans, bells, whistles, hoots, and a number of innuendos about the wedding night. The function of these hospitality rites centers on a few concepts: celebration of a new union, blessing the happy couple, and community integration.

Sometimes extends to the idea of hospitality as an aspect of place versus people: ‘When you return to the house for something that has been forgotten, sit down in a chair before leaving again to avoid bad luck’ (Gainer 127). In a story from Hoosier folklore, it is neither a person nor place with an expectation of hospitality, but an object—a stove, in this case:

An old lady in St. Francisville sold her cookstove to a man who promised to pay her funeral expenses instead of giving her the price of the stove in ready cash. He didn’t do as he promised. Every time his wife tried to get a meal and cook on the stove, the stove lids would fly off. So he went to the priest and told him about it. “Have you made any promises lately?” asked the priest. Then the man had to confess that he had promised to pay the old woman’s funeral expenses in return for the stove but that he hadn’t done it yet. Then the priest told him to go right away and pay off his debt as quickly as he could. So the man did this and after that he and his wife had no more trouble about being able to cook on the stove, and the stovelids never flew off again (Smith 50).

This last example is essentially a haunting tale, although the aspect of returning a promised favor lets me slip it in edgewise to this look at hospitality. Weddings and ghosts aside, many examples of good housekeeping between the mundane and supernatural realms do follow the ‘angelic’ mode more closely.

In folklore from Mormon sources in the western United States, several stories center on visits from saints and angels. One of the best known versions of such tales is that of the “Three Nephites.”

According to the Book of Mormon, Christ, upon his coming to the American continent, had twelve apostles. When it came time for him to leave, he asked them if there was any wish that he might give them. Nine of them asked to go with him. The other three remained silent. They were told that they would never suffer death. Since then they have roamed the earth in a sort of immortal state. They appear at frequent intervals to give aid to those in distress or to give advice. Mormon literature is full of accounts concerning the mysterious appearance of one of these men and the wonderful things that they have done…Oral versions can be heard in almost every Mormon community (Dorson 500-502).

Dorson then recounts two different versions of the Three Nephites tale. In one, a sick brother is brought back from the brink of death on an isolated plot of land by a wandering stranger, who disappears almost the moment he leaves the house. Other Mormon tales include “The White Bread on the White Cloth,” in which an angelic visitor cures a sick baby from a hospitable household and “The Hungry Missionaries,” which tells the story of a pair of missionary Mormons near starvation who are gifted bread by a kindly stranger, only to find that their parents had given bread to a needy stranger that same night hundreds of miles away. Another version of the visitor tale that pops up frequently in Mormon lore involves the appearance of a “wee small voice” which provided emergency guidance in spiritually challenging situations. Some folklorists have equated the wandering Nephite tales with the tales of the “wandering Jew” found in some European legends (see Gustav Meyrink’s The Green Face for a fictionalized version). While the “wandering Jew” tales frequently bear at least a small amount of anti-Semitic language or tone, Jewish custom also has its own version of the guest, with the empty plate set for Elijah during holy meals. My wife and I adopted a similar custom after seeing Christmas Eve practices in Prague.

Returning to the South, there are a few other places where strangers traveling in strange lands find succor among the locals. In Southern Protestant church circles, there are frequently tales of the wandering preacher being hosted by congregational family members, particularly for meals after Sunday service, often dining with a family while sharing extended prayers, blessings, and occasional sermons. Eventually, he becomes something of a comic character, giving rise to the popular proverb: “When the preacher come by for Sunday dinner it make[s] the chickens cry” (Courlander 500). In some versions, the preacher’s role can be turned into an abuse of power, even something evil or diabolical. Literary examples include Flannery O’Connor’s “Good Country People” and Randall Kennan’s Let the Dead Bury Their Dead. In addition to men (and occasionally women) of the cloth, African American communities put emphasis on the value of storytellers who would move between communities sharing lore and news. In this way, they were similar to a wandering bard figure, but more often the storytellers would be found in a centralized location (porch of a local mercantile—also becomes a literary figure, and a central piece of the narrative in Hurston’s Mules & Men).

The traditions surrounding hospitality, whether Southern or more broadly interpreted, form a core piece of American cosmology. Since one never knows just who one is hosting, graciousness is always a wise decision.

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

 

Podcast 62 – Pregnancy and Birth Lore

April 16, 2014

Shownotes for Podcast 62 – Pregnancy and Birth Lore

Summary:
In this episode we’re trying out the wedding ring test, asking about spicy foods, and trying not to scare any birthmarks onto Laine’s baby as we talk about the lore and folk customs surrounding pregnancy and childbirth.

Play:

Download: New World Witchery – Episode 62

-Sources-

We mostly mention various lore we remember without citing sources, but I do mention a few books:

Pagan Podkin Super Moot 5 is going to be in Chicago! Watch Fire Lyte’s page for more detail to come.

Cory is going to be moving to Pennsylvania in the Fall, which may impact the show and blog a bit (but probably for the better in the long run)

If you have feedback you’d like to share, email us or leave a comment. We’d love to hear from you!

Don’t forget to follow us at Twitter! And check out our Facebook page!

Promos & Music

Title music:  “Homebound,” by Jag, from Cypress Grove Blues.  From Magnatune.

Promos:

  1. Lamplighter Blues
  2. Welcome to Night Vale

Blog Post 187 – Magical Hats

April 10, 2014

Cowboy hats for sale in Austin, TX (photo by Nika Vee, via Wikimedia Commons)

There’s a line from the classic (well, sort of) movie Smokey & the Bandit in which Burt Reynolds’s character explains to his lady of the film that he only takes his hat off for one thing, to which his female companion (Sally Field), of course, replies: ‘Take off your hat.’

Costume is frequently a reflection of ceremonial, ritual, or even magical operation, an outer manifestation of inner desire or power. A nun’s habit or a burqa can both represent a commitment to religious life, and inspire reactions from those around them. The ceremonial robes of a Thelemic magician frequently conform to specific standards to enhance invocations and rituals. The Encyclopedia of American Folklore notes:

Folklorists who discuss adornment have concentrated on costume’s socializing force and its relationship to the maintenance of individual and group identities. According to Don Yoder (1972), folk costume expresses identity in a symbolic way; functioning as an outward “badge” of community identity and expressing an individual’s manifold relationships to and within that community (Brunvand 341).

One of the items frequently associated with magicians is the magic hat—whether it’s the shiny tophat of a stage magician concealing a rabbit in its depths or the pointy, star-spangled adornment of a fantasy wizard. In American lore the hat has a special place as a magical item, frequently providing either symbolic guidance, otherworldly taboo, or a method of deployment in spell-casting.

When people think of American hats, possibly the most iconic is the cowboy’s ten-gallon hat (which, of course, does not hold ten gallons, but the galon hatband worn by Southwestern vaqueros). I remember teaching overseas and asking about impressions of America, and the most common response was that we tend to wear cowboy hats and smile a lot.

The cowboy hat—as well as a number of other elements of ‘rugged’ American folk costume—was borrowed from other cultures:

Many specifically American types of costume emerged from the interaction of diverse costume traditions in dialogue with indigenous materials and environments. Recognizable forms in Western regional costume, for example, are creolized forms resulting from the interaction of different traditions of dress. The costume of mountain men who charted new Western territory—fringed buckskin coats, breeches and shirts, fur “coonskin” hats, and thick, colorful blanket jackets—was an adaptation of Native American costume forms suitable for native environments and constructed with indigenous materials. The occupational costume of the American cowboy was also the result of the interaction of various cultural forms in dialogue with the demands of occupation and environment. Many of the recognizable elements of the classic American cowboy costume, such as spurs, hat, boots, and chaps, were the result of cultural exchanges between working Anglo and Mexican cowboys, known as vaqueros. Vaqueros were known by their wide-brimmed hats, short jackets, colorful neckerchiefs, red sashes, elaborate spurs, and protective leather leggings (Brunvand 343)

Given the emblematic nature of the Stetson and its kin and the frequently superstitious nature of life in the Old West, it is hardly surprising that lore has arisen surrounding this headgear. Probably the most common belief surrounding the cowboy hat has to do with what to do when you’re not wearing it. There seems to be an absolute taboo on placing a hat on the bed, which appears in everything from Southwestern rodeo lore to Oregon folk belief.

In both the American South and West, a particular custom of hat-burning following the birth of the first baby (or sometimes only the firstborn son) of a miner prevails. From Vance Randolph’s Ozark Magic & Folklore comes the following account:

In some clans, when a baby boy is born, a sister of the babe’s father comes to the house, looks at the child, and then burns the first hat she finds. No matter whose it is, nor how valuable, she just picks up a hat and throws it into the fireplace. Many people laugh at this and pretend to take it lightly, but it is never omitted in certain families. I know of one case where there was some doubt about the child’s paternity, and the husband’s family were by no means friendly to the young mother, but despite all this one of the sisters came and burned the hat; she did it silently and grudgingly and most ungraciously, but she did it. This practice is never discussed with outsiders, but it is sufficiently known that a series of funny stories has grownup about hats being burned by mistake, strangers’ hats missing, doctors leaving their hats at home, and so on (Randolph 205)

This practice was also found in California by folklorist Wayland Hand, where “[o]n occasion of a miner’s first trip to the mine after the arrival of the firstborn, his comrades simply seize his hat and burn it despite any resistance or protests offered” (Hand 52). This act functions both as an initiatory rite and as a method of preventing bad luck for the child. Hand also notes that the baby was usually made to touch the hat if possible prior to its cremation. A soldier’s hat could also be worn by a woman in labor to give her strength during the birth, furthering the link between children and hats.

A number of traditions from African American folklore have been attached to hats. In most cases, headgear serves as a method for the transference of contagious magic, sometimes almost in a medical sense: “if one borrows a hat from a diseased person, and the wearer sweats round the forehead where the hat rests, he will take the disease” (Steiner 267). Harry Hyatt recorded a string of beliefs among African Americans surrounding hat lore:

9750. If a girl puts a man’s hat on her head, she desires him to kiss her; if a man puts his hat on a girl’s head, he desires to kiss her.
9751. A girl should never put a man’s hat on her head; it will cause quarrels with him.
9752. The girl who tries on a man’s hat will not get him for a husband.
9753. If a woman throws her hat and gloves on a man’s bed, she wants to sleep with him; if a man throws his hat on a woman’s bed, he wants to sleep with her.
9754. A girl can strengthen a sweetheart’s love by laying his hat on her bed when he comes to see her.
9755. The significance of a beau refusing to hand his hat to his girl when he calls on her is love growing cold. 9756. A girl stepping on a man’s hat will soon marry the owner.
9757. “The girls did this when I was young: in the spring stamp with your thumb in the palm of your hand the first twenty-seven straw hats you see and you will meet your beau.”
9758. If a girl takes the bow out of the hat of each man liked, she will marry the owner of the seventh hat.
9759. Let a girl take as many bows as possible from the hats of men liked and wear them on her garter; the bow staying on longest will reveal who among these men loves her best (Hyatt 231)

Clearly some of these are contradictory, as in the piece about one gender wearing the other’s hat breeding either contempt or desire. There does seem to be a very strong connection between hats and sexuality, however, perhaps because the hat sits so close to the brain and retains the warmth of the head, it may be seen to cause ‘feverish’ behavior, such as love, lust, or even fighting. The divinatory rites surrounding hats are also interesting, although I suspect these performances have less to do with any direct effect upon the mind and more to do with other counting rituals related to love forecasting. Several tricks in the practice of old-style hoodoo involve acquiring the band from a man’s chapeau and using it to deploy any number of tricks, mostly designed to influence him in love (or occasionally business).

A bit of lore from the Southern mountains tells about how a person can reverse bad luck caused by unfortunate omens (in particular a fearsome rabbit crossing one’s path): [If a] Rabbit runs cross yur path, turn yur hat ‘roun’. (Wear your hat with the back part in front.)” (Duncan 236). This is not much different from the idea of turning around if a black cat crosses one’s path or even turning a key or coin over in one’s pocket after seeing an unlucky sign. In an era when hats are frequently worn backward (if worn at all), this sort of act is probably much less out of place today than it would have been half a century or so ago.

Hats, then, can be deeply magical objects to those that wear them. It’s hardly surprising that Lyle Lovett sings of his size-7 Stetson, “Well if it’s her you want, I don’t care about that/ You can have my girl, but don’t touch my hat.”

So what about you? Do you have any hat-related lore? What kinds of hats hold particular magic for you? The pointy costume ‘witch’ hat? A trucker’s cap owned by a favorite grandfather? I’d love to hear what makes your hat special and whether you ever ascribe anything magical to it.

Thanks for reading!

-Cory


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