Following on yesterday’s topic of urban conjure and rootwork, I thought today it might be fun to take a look at some spells that have roots in traditional American folk magic, but which use certain modern adaptations to accommodate contemporary life.
In the past, courthouses were often wooden-floored buildings outfitted with spittoons for the convenience of trial attendees with a chaw of tobacco in their mouths. Hoodoo developed a fairly ingenious way to exert some influence over a case by taking advantage of the spitting habit so prevalent in that day and age. A defendant would keep a gob of Little John to Chew (the root known as galangal now—readily available in Asian markets) in his or her cheek, and then spit the juice onto the courthouse floor while ostensibly aiming for a spittoon nearby. This sort of contagious magic would then bring favor in the case from anyone who walked on or near the spit.
Nowadays, spitting in court is probably a good way to lose your case. Most courthouses are kept fairly secure, and tobacco products are seldom allowed in any government building (not that Little John is a tobacco product, but it’s supposed to look like it is, so either way, it’s out). But there’s still a fairly simple way to work a spell in your favor:
1) Get some dirt or water from the courthouse area – This can be dirt from a flower bed, from near the back of the building, or even from a potted plant somewhere on the premises if you can manage it. Or, if the courthouse has a fountain out front, you can collect water from that, or fill a drinking bottle with water from the drinking fountain in the courthouse (or from the bathroom, etc.). Barring all of these options, you can scrape the side of the building and try to gather even just a little bit of dust from it, then mix it with soil from the closest source you can find.
2) Take some Little John to Chew (galangal root) and work up a good bit of spit. Spit the juice into the dirt or water, while reciting a petition or prayer appropriate to your situation (such as Psalm 35, “Contend, O Lord, with those who contend with me…”). If you have only a little bit of dirt, you can add the dirt to some water and make a sort of “tea” out of it and the spit. If you have only a little bit of water, you can dilute it with some more water (add a little whiskey to it to give it a kick).
3) Take the dirt or water and go back to the courthouse. Sprinkle your mixture in a circle around the building, as close as you can get (if you have to walk a block, sprinkling a little as you go, that’s fine—just make sure the entire building is encircled). Whenever the judge who tries your case crosses that line, he will be disposed to favor you.
This trick relies on the same contagious magic as the older trick. Why not just chew and spit at the front steps to the courthouse, you ask? Well, you can’t be sure that your judge will come up those steps, and you need him to come into contact with your trick. Unless he or she lives somewhere in the courthouse, your judge will have to cross the ring you make around the area in order to get inside, and so you should be able to affect him or her that way.
Hot Footing someone to get rid of them is an old hoodoo trick. In the past, it was accomplished by either mixing dirt from someone’s footprint with a special mixture of potent spices called “Hot Foot Powder” (see here, here, and here to buy) or by sprinkling that powder where a target would walk over it. While it’s still possible to work the latter trick in a modern setting without much trouble, getting someone’s footprint-dirt isn’t easy anymore. Additionally, the older version of the trick requires deployment in running water or throwing it away on a road heading out of town.
To bring a trick like this into the modern age, however, is not difficult. City dwellers who can’t pick up dirty foot-tracks can work around that requirement by laying hold of a sock or shoe (or any article of clothing from the target, really). Once you have something of theirs, you simply mix the Hot Foot Powder and wrap it in their clothing (or in the case of a shoe, give the sole a good sprinkling).
Deploying the trick can be done a couple of ways. The simplest is to return the clothing to the target and hope they wear it without noticing the powder first (this is best with shoes). Often, in apartment buildings, this kind of work is fairly easy to do because people will leave wet shoes in the hallway to dry out (much to the chagrin of their neighbors on warm days).
If giving the item of clothing back seems like it would cause raised eyebrows, or just doesn’t strike you as the best method, there are a couple of other distinctly modern deployment techniques that might be worth considering. Since deployment in running water is a traditional method, consider chucking the Hot Footed sock into a sewer (which contains running water, after all, along with all manner of nastiness to help convince your target the time to leave is now). Or, instead of finding a road out of town, you could go down to a train yard or a bus station and toss the sock onto a boxcar or bus heading out of the city. In a lot of ways, a bus station is like a modern-age crossroads with the constant traffic coming and going, so sending someone away via outbound bus is actually a pretty smart way to go about your work. I’d also suggest the same is true of airports, but sneaking things onto planes is a BAD idea, especially right now. You’d really be asking for more trouble than a trick like this is worth. Stick with bus stations and trains.
Send Away Your Troubles
There’s a bit of American folk magic that involves a rather sneaky method for healing common ailments. The person with the disease (usually something like boils, warts, or corns) creates a small packet and “passes” the disease to the materials in the packet. Then he or she drops the bundle in a road. Whoever finds and opens it then receives the disease, and the person who passed the disease is cured of it. Vance Randolph describes the procedure in conjunction with warts:
“Another way to ‘pass’ a wart is to spit on it, rub a bit of paper in the spittle, fold the paper, and drop it in the road; the wart is supposed to pass to the first person who picks up the paper and unfolds it. Children are always trying this, and one can find these little folded papers in the road near most any rural schoolhouse” (OM&F, p.127).
In the modern age, very few folks are walking along our roads, and few of those are going to stop to pick up a strange packet. Motorists zooming by at high speeds never see them and people walking through cities for the most part avoid picking up litter from the walkways. So how can one adapt this sort of spell to work today?
The United States Postal Service processes over 500 million pieces of mail per day (according to their website). So why not put that big, churning system to work for you? Here’s what I suggest:
1) Just like in the old version of the spell, take a piece of paper and rub it against the afflicted part of your body. If you want, you can even write a short petition on the paper asking that it remove illness from you and carry it far away.
2) When you feel like you’ve imbued the paper with the disease, put it in an envelope. Address the envelope, either by selecting a real person to send it to (which I actually don’t recommend—it just seems like an awfully trite way to get vengeance on an enemy and it certainly doesn’t make you any friends) or by writing a “dead letter.” A dead letter is addressed to someone fictional (like Santa Claus, Professor Moriarty, Xenu, etc.) or someone dead (this could be an ancestor or just a spirit you think might be willing to help you by taking your disease off of you and into the grave).
3) Don’t use a return address, and post the letter from a public mailbox. You might, for example, send your disease to:
Hell, the Universe
This letter will then carry your disease away from you and into a sort of “limbo” space.
The only downside to this method is the same one that comes with the old method: if someone ever does open up your letter, they may catch your illness. But all magic comes with risk, so if it sounds like a useful spell to you, please feel free to use it.
That’s it for today. I’d love to hear from other city witches and urban rootworkers if you have suggestions for tricks that might be traditional-yet-modern. Feel free to comment or email us.
Thanks for reading!