May Day is just around the corner, and since I’ve been talking about songs and riddles this week, I thought it might be fun to talk a little about games. Sport and fun may not seem like a particularly witchcraft-tinged topic, but au contraire! I say. There are lots of magical subtexts to games, from the sacrificial-animal nature of a colorful piñata to the gambling mojo or lucky rabbit’s foot stuffed in a card-player’s pocket.
Winning games by magic is a primary focus of many types of hoodoo workings. Some of the various techniques for improving one’s luck include:
- The creation of gambling mojo hands, often “fed” with a woman’s urine (because of her connection to Lady Luck)
- The appropriately named “Lucky Hand” root, which resembles a human hand and which is reputed to bring good luck to one in games of chance
- A buckeye with a hole bored in it, filled with liquid mercury (quicksilver), and sealed with wax was considered incredibly lucky. WARNING: Don’t do this. Mercury is VERY dangerous and VERY poisonous, even in tiny amounts. Modern root workers often use sliver Mercury-head dimes instead.
- The popular alligator-foot or rabbit-foot keychains found in roadside stops throughout the country are considered potent gambling charms.
- One of my favorites is the “coon dong” charm, which is a raccoon penis bone wrapped in a currency note (the higher the better, of course) to ensure continued luck.
Of course, there are lots of other hoodoo charms related to luck and good fortune. Simply carrying a High John root in your pocket is a good way to ensure luck at all you do, including games. Another big game-related piece of hoodoo magic comes in the form of “dream books,” which purport to help the dreamer turn symbols and images from the night’s slumber into winning lottery numbers. Catherine Yronwode has an excellent page on this topic, so I’ll just suggest you visit her site for more on those.
There are many games that have interesting magical undertones (or overtones…maybe highlights or roots?). I thought it might be fun to include a few games that you could include in your own May Day celebrations today. I’m skipping out on the traditional Maypole as that is well documented in many places. I hope you enjoy them!
From Central Illinois (in Richard Dorson’s Buying the Wind, paraphrased)
LONDON BRIDGE IS FALLING DOWN
Two players are named “Takers,” and each chooses an object or idea that represents him/her (such as one player being “bees” and the other “flowers,” or one the “sun” and the other “the moon.” The Takers do not tell the other players which Taker is which object however. The other players form a circle, and the Takers join hands, one outside the circle and one inside. They raise their arms, and the circle begins to turn as everyone sings:
London Bridge is falling down, falling down, falling down;
London Bridge is falling down, and caught my true love in it.
The Takers can drop their arms at any point during the singing, and the circle stops. Whoever the Takers have “trapped” must choose one of the objects and whisper it to the Takers. The Taker whose object is named grabs the trapped player and moves them behind him/her, and then the Takers raise their joined hands again. The singing and circling continues in this way until all the players have been caught and moved behind their chosen Taker.
The Takers keep their hands joined and each player wraps his/her hands around the player before them, forming two human chains linked by the Takers. The game ends with a tug-of-war between the two sides.
This game could be a wonderful way to have some fun while enacting a sort of ritualized drama, such as the struggle between light and dark. It is best with a large group of people of course, and the “prize” for winning could have to do with the losing side serving the winning side at a feast, or something to that effect. Or winning could just be its own very fun reward.
From Appalachia (in Foxfire 6)
DEVIL IN THE PROMISED LAND
“We played a game called ‘The Devil in the Promised Land.’ A big branch went down through our pasture. Some places it was wide and some places were narrow enough to jump across pretty good. There’d be about eight or ten of us on one side. We’d put one on the other side and he was the devil. Now we had to cross the branch and go around him and jump the branch back. Now if he caught us before we made the run around him, we had to go on to the devil’s side” (p. 282)
I love this one, and you could definitely play it without having a huge tree or creek (I’m not 100% sure what that informant meant by “branch”). Just making a big circle with rope or setting boundaries for the “Devil’s land” with stones would be pretty easy. You could also think of this as “a witch and her spirits,” with the Witch being the primary tagger, and her Spirits being the players she catches, who help her catch other players (I would say they can’t “tag” a player, but might help to corral the other players towards the Witch…but that’s just my take on it).
From the Southwest and Mexico
The piñata has an interesting history dating back to at least Mayan times, and possibly even back to China. There’s an excellent short history of the game here, including many traditional rhymes and songs associated with the game, such as:
“Dale, dale, dale, no perdas el tino,
porque si lo perdes, pierdes el camino.
Esta piñata es de muchas mañas, sólo contiene naranjas y cañas.”
Hit, hit, hit.
Don’t lose your aim,
Because if you lose, you lose the road.
This piñata is much manna, only contains oranges and sugar cane.”
Making paper mache representations of animals, spirits, demons, gods, stars, or almost anything magical would add to the occult significance of a game like this. After the candy’s been collected, some of it could be turned into an offering as well, if that’s part of your tradition. The bright colors of most piñatas make them perfect for May Day gatherings, in my opinion.
There are lots of other games you could play as well, like Nature Bingo or Horseshoes, that would fit a spring or summer gathering. This post is already plenty long, though, so I’m going to end it here. Feel free to share your own witchy games, if you have them!
Thanks for reading!