Posted tagged ‘folklore’

Blog Post 193 – Book Review: Strange Experience, by Lee R. Gandee

February 10, 2015


Strange Experience: The Autobiography of a Hexenmeister—Personal Encounters with Hauntings, Magic and Mysticism (Prentice-Hall: New Jersey, 1971). 355pp. Illustrations.

 

Let me begin by saying I have wanted to review this book for a long time. Primarily, that is because I have wanted to read this book for a long time, at least in something beyond excerpted form, which is the best I’d been able to do. The book itself seems to be out-of-print, and runs upwards of seventy-five dollars on the second-hand market, and I have always just told myself that when I find a copy for less than fifty, I’ll grab it then. Thankfully, my friend Atticus Hob did a sort of book exchange with me, and let me borrow his copy, and so I have finally been able to dive fully inot Gandee’s text and join him on his meandering journey through his mystically charged coming-of-age tale of sexual awakening, spirit contact, and magic.

I knew of this book for a long time before I read it, largely because one of the people whom I consider a teacher and friend, Jack Montgomery, studied with Gandee during the seventies. Jack included stories of his experiences in his own work, American Shamans, which has already been mentioned before (and we interviewed Montgomery in an earlier episode, too). What I knew the most about was Gandee as an adult, living a hexenmeister’s life and dispensing his perspective for an eager grad student. Strange Experience lives up to its title, showing that Gandee’s youth and development—both magically and personally—were extremely unusual, yet not at all unfamiliar to anyone who has struggled with identity at some point in his or her life.

The book is broken into nineteen chapters and an introduction, with titles such as “A Dead Man’s Treasure” and “The Strangest Prayers are Painted.” Each chapter is introduced with a hex sign—a Pennsylvania German art design frequently seen on barns in Lancaster and Berks Counties. Some of the signs are essentially reproductions of old barn signs, but a number of them are Gandee originals, and all have short explanations about their significance and attributed powers (such as “perpetual watchful protection and guidance” or “man’s power to create through mental and spiritual action”) (pp. 27, 115). He begins with his childhood, which launched on a turbulent evening and never seems to have settled down much. He regularly saw his mother in his tender years, but was largely raised by other relatives, mostly his grandmother. The book explains that Lee’s childhood was full of demons, ghosts, hauntings, and apparitions, but that most people he knew simply accepted those as part of the world in which they lived.

Gandee quickly shifts gears into a bit of a sweet if emotionally confounded romance with a boy named Stud, whom Gandee clearly regards as the love of his life, although he goes to great lengths to account for this love as something other than homosexual. The struggle for sexual identity dominates the book, at least as much as any aspect of magic or regional culture, and Gandee eventually recounts a past life in which he was a sort of sacred prostitute named Zaida, and Stud was a sailor with whom she fell in love. The romance was doomed by jealousy in the past, and in their reincarnated state the two boys don’t fare much better.

Much of the book recounts the simply mind-boggling spiritual world of Gandee, which ranges from the native hexenmeister-craft he practices (including the aforementioned chapter on painting prayers through hex signs) to working with Christian Science methods and encountering ferocious ghosts in Mexico (in the chapter “Ni; Uari! Go!; Die!”). Gandee runs a group of spiritual mediums in college, helps find lost things, manifest desires for his friends and neighbors through art, and studies the powers of animal magnetism and hypnosis along the way. He generally tries to rationalize what he experiences in a blithe, worldly tone, although in many spots he is clearly as swept away by circumstances and wonder as any reader might be.

The information on hexerei and Pennsylvania Dutch magic is incredibly interesting, and shows a tremendously syncretic, vibrant faith-based practice. A student of the pow-wow/braucherei culture would gain a great deal from a close study of the many charms and stories shared by the author, and a student of folk magic generally might see some of the potential inner workings of well-known spells in the book, too. When reading Strange Experience, however, any reader would do well to remember that the experiences are only those of Gandee, and do not speak for a larger culture generally. Gandee was certainly a distinct individual, and the things he writes about are connected to very old practices and traditions, but he quite openly acknowledges the changes he has made over time as well.

Because of the paucity of good, first-hand accounts of this sort of folk magic, Gandee’s book stands out in its field. It hardly reads as a dissection of Pennsylvania German religious or magical culture, and Gandee himself is hard to pin down at times (which is largely the point of his text). I feel that the questions about magical ethics, regional distinction, and social dynamics for sorcerors and their communities all make for good intellectual fodder, even if Lee’s conclusions about such things seem, well, strange. I do hope that others will read this book as well and that Gandee’s place in the pantheon of American magicians might receive a restoration of sorts. What he manages to accomplish in this book is far different than any magical how-to manual, because Strange Experience highlights the humanity of a man with feet in two worlds, belonging to none.

Thanks for reading,
-Cory

Podcast 73 – Protection Magic

January 26, 2015

Podcast 73 – Protection Magic

Summary:
We begin 2015 wih a look at protection spells, as well as some talismans of interest. We also have an adorable background guest star visitng us.
Play:
Download: New World Witchery – Episode 73

-Sources-
Books mentioned include: James & the Giant Peach, by Roald Dahl; The Encyclopedia of 5000 Spells, by Judika Illes; and Earth Power, by Scott Cunningham

Some of the various protective charms and talismans we discuss include: horsehoes, silver (including Mercury dimes), salt, iron, evil eye beads, the ojo de dios/God’s eye, dreamcatchers, gargoyles, the rowan cross, the SATOR and Abracadabra charms, and High John root.

I mention (and recommend) the Sweet Dreams oil from Mrs. Oddly

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. Lakefront Pagan Voice
  2. Betwixt & Between

Blog Post 192 – Eating Your Luck

January 9, 2015

 

Salting down pork, Calvert County, Maryland. From Library of Congress.

Since we just passed that high holy day of good fortune, January 1st, luck has been on my mind. We’ve certainly discussed a lot of tradiitons associated with the New Year and good luck before, so this isn’t going to be a particularly in-depth post, but I had the tickling little idea in my head that it might be interesting to round up a number of the different ways in which people “eat their luck,” especially in conjuction with New Year’s Day (be it the January date or an alternative annual commemoration, such as Chinese New Year). I, of course, eat my black-eyed peas every year for good fortune and health in the coming twelvemonth, but since I’ve covered that before, I’ll skip it here and instead start with some of the other staples from the table of Fortuna.

Cakes

I’ve covered cakes more generally in a separate post, but I wanted to mention here the typical Epiphany treat for Mexican and Mexican American families, the rosca de los reyes (or Kings’ Bread, after the three wisemen/kings who visited Jesus on Epiphany according to some Christian lore). The cake would include a number of fruits, nuts, and spices, all of which had connotations of prosperity. According to the book Mexican-American Folklore, “The bread is formed into a ring resembling a crown, and baked into it are a tiny doll representing the Baby Jesus, along with whole almonds and coins…Anyone who weats a piece of the bread with a coin or almond in it is assured of good luck for the coming year; the finder of the Baby Jesus is expected to give a party for the group on the Feast of Candelaria, February 2nd” (p.219).

Cakes also show up in some Gypsy/Romany lore, with a bit more of an emphasis on luck in love. According to A Romany Tapestry, by Michael Hoadley, Gypsy girls would indicate their approval of a potential love-match by tossing him a cake with a coin inside over a hedge (p. 33).

Pork & Cabbage

When I moved to Pennsylvania this past year, I knew I was entering the heart of a highly folk-oriented culture, and during the holiday season a number of folk traditions became near and dear to me. One new tradition we incorporated into our New Year’s festivities was the eating of pork and sauerkraut (athough we actually did roasted cabbage lightly treated with lemon juice, so it wasn’t completely traditional). The lore surrounding the consumption of these dishes on New Year’s in Pennsylvania Dutch culture ties to the need for forward momentum and prosperity in the coming year. According to the American Folklife Center, “Some traditional foods include pork, because the hog roots forward, symbolic of progress (chicken or other fowl is avoided because it scratches backwards).” Don Yoder, the dean of PA-German folklore, devotes an entire chapter to the subject in his book, Discovering American Folklife.

The tradition of eating pork and sauerkraut (or some other variant cabbage dish) has imbued New Year’s with a connection to pigs beyond the handed-down menus of ethnic groups. Jack Santino, in his classic holiday survey All Around the Year, mentions a fabricated event called the Hungry Hog Society dinner, which features a “hog cake” designed to fill and warm those who eat it, and leave them feeling fat and happy as hogs. The holiday, which was developed by the Blaho family of Ohio, now also include pig-shaped cookies and other pig memorabilia as well (p. 27-29). Cabbage can also be substituted for collard greens (at least as far as symbolism goes), in Appalachian areas.

Beans

We know about black-eyed peas (I think, anyway; I’m fairly sure we covered it in our episode on New Year’s traditions). The culinary site Epicurious also notes that other beans and legumes carry a fair load of luck for those who consume them on New Year’s Day. “Legumes including beans, peas, and lentils are also symbolic of money. Their small, seedlike appearance resembles coins that swell when cooked so they are consumed with financial rewards in mind. In Italy, it’s customary to eat cotechino con lenticchie or sausages and green lentils, just after midnight.” Pork shows up again, of course. The site also lists rice as a popular accompaniment to the protein-laden lucky dishes as they have a similar symbolic association with money and abundance (hence the “lucky green rice” sometimes found in curio shops).

Noodles

In Chinese cooking traditions, as well as some other Asian ones, the use of noodles provides an extra boost of luck and longevity to those who consume them. Frequently noodles are served for birthdays, anniversaries, or other festivals marking passages of time. According an article on the Washington Post website, “noodle dishes are a staple for birthdays and Chinese New Year because they signify a long life for whoever is eating them — as long as the noodles are not cut short. The longer they are, the better.” Chinese lore also ascribes longevity to other foods, such as peaches (I won’t be making any dishes that combine noodles and peaches anytime soon, though, if you’re wondering).

There are plenty of other interesting beliefs about food and luck which are not as widely distributed as the ones noted above. A small potpourri of interesting culinary superstitions includes:

  • It is bad luck to eat peanuts in the dressing rooms of theaters. (Lynell Burns from Muriel Hite) (“Beliefs of New Mexico,” James Penrod, 182).
  • At automobile races it is unlucky to eat peanuts in the pits. (Florine Hop- kins from Monty Owens) (“Beliefs of New Mexico,” James Penrod, 183)
  • Some believe that the luckiest food on New Year’s is whatever you have on hand, so long as your pantry is fully stocked. An English proverb states “Empty pokets or an empty cupboard portend a year of poverty” (The Oxford Dictionary of Superstitions, by Opie & Tatem, p. 295).
  • According to an article in the 2009-2010 Witches’ Almanac, when you make hot chocolate you should whisk it until it’s nice and foamy, then sever, because “Montezuma belived the foam contained the spirit of a god” (p. 42).

These are hardly extensive or even cursory examinations of the many, many foodways associated with luck and good fortune. Do you have food traditions related to luck in your family? If so, I’d be very interested to hear them!

Thanks for reading,

-Cory

Podcast 72 – Yuletide Cheer! 2014 (Part Three)

December 26, 2014

Podcast 72 – Yuletide Cheer! 2014 (Part Three)

Summary:
Our last holiday show is chock-full of new-old-fashioned-way music to put you in the holiday spirit. I keep the talking to a minimum this year and focus on Christmas carols, winter songs about birds, and of course, wassails!

Play:
Download: New World Witchery – Episode 72

-Sources-
See below for a complete track listing.

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
The following songs are used through Creative Commons Licenses and distributed as podsafe media, or presented with the permission of the artist. Please see the distribution sites for additional information on the artists, their works, and how to purchase more of their music.

 

  1. A’Soalin – The Bird Sings/Lisa Goettel (Soundcloud)
  2. In the Bleak Midwinter – Richmondie (Soundcloud)
  3. All Hayle to the Days/Drive the Cold Winter Away – Harper’s Hamper (Magnatune)
  4. Fum Fum Fum – UnToupoutou/Army Men’s Chorale (Christmas Chorus, 2012 – Soundcloud)
  5. Nou is Yole Comen – Shira Kammen (In the Castle of the Holly King – Magnatune)
  6. Wren’s Carol – Shira Kammen (In the Castle of the Holly King – Magnatune)
  7. The Darkling Thrush – Brooms of Destruction (2012 – Soundcloud)
  8. Carol of the Birds – Broceliande (Magnatune)
  9. Children Go Where I Send Thee – The Bird Sings/Lisa Goettel (2013 – Soundcloud)
  10. Holy Night – Ronny Matthes (2012 – Jamendo)
  11. Hail Mary – UnToupoutou/Army Men’s Chorale (Christmas Chorus, 2012 – Soundcloud)
  12. Stille Nacht – Kat 330 (2013 – Soundcloud)
  13. Wassail Song – James Edwards (Christmas Bells, 2009 – Jamendo)
  14. Gower Wassail – Shira Kammen (Magnatune)
  15. Wassail Wassail – The Bird Sings/Lisa Goettel (2013 – Soundcloud)
  16. The Boar’s Head Carol – The Bird Sings/Lisa Goettel (2013 – Soundcloud)
  17. Coventry Carol – UnToupoutou/Army Men’s Chorale (Christmas Chorus, 2012 – Soundcloud)
  18. Deck the Halls – Harper’s Hamper (Magnatune)
  19. The First Noel – Tuba Chick (Composing and Arranging, 2011 – Soundcloud)
  20. Da Day Dawn – Samantha Gillogly (With Artist Permission)

 

Incidental music isMidden in de winternacht” by Ralph Rousseau (2009 – Jamendo).

Podcast 71 – Yuletide Cheer! 2014 (Part Two)

December 26, 2014

Podcast 71 – Yuletide Cheer! 2014 (Part Two)

Summary:
In the second holiday episode, we have a short documentary on the annual celebration of Krampuslauf in Philadelphia and an interview with author Linda Raedisch, who the book on Christmas monsters.

Play:
Download: New World Witchery – Episode 71

-Sources-
Check out the Krampuslauf Philadelphia webpage for more on that celebration. Many thanks to Amber Dorko Stopper and the entire Krampuslauf entourage for making space for me to do this documentary.

You hear Robert Schriewer (who was on a previous episode of our show as well) in the interviews. Please check out his book The First Book of Urglaawe Myths, and see the Urglaawe site for more information on Pennsylvania Deitsch Heathenry.

Big thanks are due to Timothy Essig of the Landis Valley Museum for his help and information as well.

We must recommend The Old Magic of Christmas, by Linda Raedisch, and we thank her highly for being on the show! Also check out her book on Walpurgisnacht as well.

I also highly recommend this little site, which explores several of the critters we discuss.

For information on the Belsnickel, I point you to Alfred Shoemaker’s Christmas in Pennsylvania and Earl Haag’s Pennsyvaanisch Deitsche, as well as Gerald C. Milnes’ Signs, Cures, & Witchery. Chris Bilardi’s Red Church and Jack Santino’s All Around the Year also informed this episode.

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. Welcome to Night Vale

Down at the Crossroads

Podcast 70 – Yuletide Cheer! 2014 (Part One)

December 26, 2014

Podcast 70 – Yuletide Cheer! 2014 (Part One)

Summary:
Our first holiday episode features Cory & Laine discussing the general theme of ‘Christmas monsters,’ or the scary side of the winter season.

Play:

Download: New World Witchery – Episode 70

-Sources-

Most of the beasties we mention in this episode can be found in The Old Magic of Christmas, by Linda Raedisch (she’ll be in our second holiday show, by the way).

I also highly recommend this little site, which explores several of the critters we discuss.

For information on the Belsnickel, I point you to Alfred Shoemaker’s Christmas in Pennsylvania and Earl Haag’s Pennsyvaanisch Deitsche (all of this will also show up in Podcast 71 as well).

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. The Pagan Widow Podcast

Podcast Special – The Green Man of Pittsburgh

October 25, 2014

SHOWNOTES FOR PODCAST SPECIAL – THE GREEN MAN OF PITTSBURGH

Summary
In this week’s spooky tale, we hear about a murderous mutant from Pittsburgh. And we also hear how he might not just be an urban legend…

Sources

The sources for this episode are Weird Pennsylvania and the Wikipedia article on the Green Man.

Play
Special Episode – The Green Man of Pittsburgh

Music
“Grifos Muertos” by Jeffery Luck Lucas, from his album What We Whisper, on Magnatune.com


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