Posted tagged ‘jim haskins’

Blog Post 130 – War Water

June 7, 2011

In my Spelled Out section of Podcast 30, I gave the recipe and basic uses of a conjure formula called War Water. For those who didn’t have a pen handy, I thought now would be a good time to provide a little of the provenance, process, and practice surrounding this mixture.

War Water, which is also commonly called Mars Water or Iron Water, is in its most essential form, simply water in which iron has been allowed to rust. The presence of iron in the water gives it a reddish-brown hue, looking a bit like blood even in some cases. Draja Mickaharic makes a good case for why iron’s presence in the water empowers it:

“Iron is the metal of the planet Mars, the planet astrologers credit with ruling warfare and combat, as well as sex. Used either for defense or attack, war water is a strong carrier of the negative emotional energy used in magical battles” (Century of Spells, p. 27).

Mickaharic also points out that the formula was originally used to treat anemia (an iron deficiency in the blood), though far better treatments are now available. Cat Yronwode notes on her site that the Martian association indicates that it is not originally an African recipe: “Since the Roman god Mars was the god of war and his symbolic metal was iron, it seems pretty clear that War Water is a European contribution to hoodoo” (“War Water” par. 1). Despite its origins, however, this particular magical mixture is firmly planted in hoodoo and conjure practice now.

So how does a person make War Water? Almost every source—except one—agree that the basic recipe involves putting cut iron of some type into a container, covering it with a bit of water, and letting it rust. There are plenty of variations, sometimes depending on the intent, and sometimes just depending on who’s telling you how to make it. Judika Illes breaks down the formula by intent:

Protective War Water

  • Iron nails (cut iron), ones that rust easily
  • Enough water to cover nails in a mason jar
  • Let rust for about 7-10 days (open periodically to allow oxidation)
  • Keep adding water as the rust builds
  • Strain and use as needed (but discard if bacteria form)

Malevolent War Water

  • Thunderstorm water in a jar
  • Rusty nails, sulfur, and urine

(Encylopedia of 5000 Spells, p. 1080)

This formulation is essentially the same as the one found in Draja Mickaharic’s Century of Spells, though Mickaharic’s version is a bit looser, calling for about 3/4 pound of cut iron nails in a 2 quart bottle. These are covered with tap water and allowed to rust. After the rust begins, more water is added, and the bottle is covered (though occasionally uncovered for rusting purposes).

The alternative recipe comes from the normally quite reputable Zora Neale Hurston’s “Hoodoo in America,” in which she describes War Water as “Oil of Tar in water (filtered)” (p. 412). Oil of Tar is essentially a thick distillate of creosote or burned pine resin—which is carcinogenic and dangerous. A reasonable substitution for Oil of Tar would be turpentine, another pine distillate with slightly less caustic properties. However, almost every formulary I found other than Hurston’s had separate distinctions for War Water and a formula called “Tar Water,” which is much more like Hurston’s recipe and which is used to remove psychic sludge from one’s life. I would then conclude that Hurston recorded the Tar Water recipe as a War Water recipe in error, or quite possibly an editor inserted this formula without knowing the difference (which commonly happened to Hurston’s work).

There are also additional ingredients that you can add to the water to help “flavor” it for your magical purposes. One of the most common additions is Spanish moss, a dense vegetal beard which covers trees in the Deep South. Once it begins to rot in the liquid, it turns the mixture black and gives it a decaying scent. Adding sulphur or gunpowder would also give it a powerfully aggressive and dangerous vibe. My teacher, Stephanie Palm, makes a formula that basically takes Mississippi River water and turns it into War Water with these sorts of additions in it, which she calls “Swamp Water.”

Once you have War Water, how do you use it? There are several methods for deploying this water, depending on just what your final intent might be. If you only intend to use the most basic rust-water formula for protective purposes, here are some ways you might apply it:

  • As an addition to a spiritual bath
  • As a wash for the outside of your home or business
  • As a sprinkle for any letters or papers you might be sending out to someone hostile to you (such as legal papers)

The most common use of War Water, however, is as a component of psychic warfare. Cat Yronwode says of it:

“To use it, you shake a bottle up and hurl it at the doorstep of your enemy, where it should break, leaving a rusty, dangerously sharp mess for him or her to step in. When i was a young woman coming up in the East Bay in the 1960s, War Water was used by fractious root workers to declare occult war on each other. Since these folks were already at odds to the extent that they could not simply walk into each other’s yards and smash the glass bottle on the doorstep, they would make “drive by” attacks, rumbling through the residential streets of Oakland in the midnight hour and tossing bottles of War Water into the yards of their enemies, like occult Molotov cocktails. Ah, those were the days …” (“War Water” par. 4).

In Jim Haskins’ Voodoo & Hoodoo, he says that to use War Water you should “obtain the nest of a dirt dauber, break it apart and mix it with graveyard dirt. Put the mixture in a bottle with War Water and shake it up. Smash it on the person’s walkway” (p. 130).  Hurston does not mention smashing the bottle, but she does call for sprinkling it in front of an enemy’s house. She also provides a secondary method which requires that you “take a fresh black hen’s egg, make a hole big enough to get the egg out and take the names, pepper sauce and mustard and fill the egg up and soak it in War Water for nine days and throw ito ver the house, and it will cross the house and they will have to move away” (“Hoodoo in America,” p. 375).

As a final note, if you are considering starting a psychic war, Draja Mickaharic makes a good case for having sturdy defenses in place before beginning any attack:

“If you are going to declare psychic war on someone you should mop your stairs, porch, doorway, and any outside surfaces of your home on which anything can be cast or thrown before you begin the war. This ensures that you will be protected when the other person’s inevitable counterattack comes. In most cases War Water will cause any spell which is placed on your doorstep to rebound instantly to the sender.” (Century of Spells, p. 28)

So that’s War Water. My own personal inclinations with this water would be to use a railroad spike, coffin nails, and urine in a jar for defensive and protective magic, while perhaps using coffin nails, goofer dust, red pepper, sulphur/gunpowder, and Spanish moss for a more aggressive formula. But that’s just me, and quite frankly I have yet to need either of these formulas. My only real experience with War Water thusfar is as a spiritual bath for protection, and in that case only in it’s iron-and-water form. It seemed to work fine, so unless the need for a more advanced concoction presents itself, that’s probably as far as I’d take it.

If you have used this formula or one like it and want to share, please do.

Thanks for reading!


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)


  • 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!



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