I’m sure with Valentine’s Day just around the corner, I won’t be the only one to cover today’s topic: love magic. Yes, I know that Valentine’s is a commercial holiday designed to sell greeting cards (or something like that), but this seems as good a time as any to introduce some of the folklore and magic surrounding that strange, powerful feeling of love which seems to rule over so much of our human existence. We’ll also look a little at lust, though I’ll likely save a detailed discussion for a sex magic post of some kind.
I should also say that this little article only scratches the surface of the overall material on this enormous branch of magical practice. Love spells seem to be some of the most commonly sought and most often used enchantments in the world, so any blog post on them will necessarily be rather skint on details. Also, this particular article is a sort-of companion to our upcoming podcast episode, which will be on this topic as well. In the episode, we’ll discuss things like the ethics of love spells, so I only really want to touch on the lore and some of the basic spell ideas here. Of course, if you want to leave comments or send emails regarding questions of ethics, I fully support that!
So what is love magic? Most people would probably understand a spell cast by a young man on his high school crush to make her go out with him as a type of love spell, but what about a spell cast by a wife on an errant husband to make him stay a little closer to home? Is a spell to spice up things in the bedroom a love spell, or just a lust spell, or maybe a little of each? As I pored over the research, I found that there are several distinct categories for love magic:
1) General-purpose love spells, such as wearing rose quartz, hanging a “loving bell,” spells to help a girl find a beau/husband soon, etc.
2) Love divinations, like dream interpretations, carrying a four-leaf clover in the bible, catching a bouquet at a wedding, etc.
3) Lust magic & aphrodisiacs, like the famous Love potion #9, dried turkey bones, powdered bird tongues, vanilla, etc.
4) Person-specific love spells, which make one particular person fall in love with another, using things like hatbands/socks, mirrors, a particularly ghoulish dead-man’s mojo, etc.
5) Magic for staying together, common in hoodoo, such as tying a man’s nature, writing bloody initials for reconciliation, menstrual blood in food, etc.
6) Splitting up work, designed to break a couple apart using things like the black cat/dog hair spell, Hurston’s nine needles spell, etc.
Taking these various categories—which are just my understanding of the material, by the way, and should not be taken as gospel—let’s look at some of the individual spells, beliefs, signs, and ceremonies associated with each one.
A word of warning before we begin: I DO NOT ADVOCATE THE USE OF ANY OF THESE SPELLS. I’m presenting them as matters of folkloric record only. Many of these techniques and/or formulas can be unsanitary or downright dangerous, so please keep that in mind as you read.
General-Purpose Love Spells
This category is fairly well addressed in modern neo-Pagan magical texts, so I won’t get much into it here. I recall learning early on from Scott Cunningham’s Earth Power and other books like it that rose quartz could be worn to draw love to you, or just inspire loving feelings in you. Oraia from Media Astra ac Terra covers the metaphysical properties of rose quartz very well in Episode 20 of that show, so if you want more info, I’d suggest listening to her examination of it.
Cunningham’s book also contains a spell for a “Loving Bell” which involves hanging a small bell somewhere the West Wind can touch it, reciting a little chant, and waiting for the bell to “whisper” your desire for love onto the wind, calling a lover to you (p.46).
Another basic spell from Draja Mickaharic’s A Century of Spells calls for burning a candle anointed with a mixture of basil and almond oil to draw love into one’s life.
As far as North American folklore goes, general-purpose love spells are actually a bit rare. They most often tend to be focused on getting a spouse or preventing spinsterhood (forgive the sexist language there, but these do seem to be customs targeted at women). For instance, in Vance Randolph’s Ozark Magic & Folklore he mentiones that Ozark girls will pin pieces of a wasp’s nest inside their clothing to draw courtship from men. Randolph also mentions a peculiar love charm that he encountered in the mountains and which reputedly brought love into a young girl’s life:
“Many mountain damsels carry love charms consisting of some pinkish, soaplike material, the composition of which I have been unable to discover; the thing is usually enclosed in a carved peach stone or cherry pit and worn on a string round the neck, or attached to an elastic garter. I recall a girl near Lanagan, Missouri, who wore a peach stone love-charm on one garter and a rabbit’s foot fastened to the other.” (p. 166)
It’s not unreasonable to think that the “pinkish, soaplike material” may well be a piece of rose quartz. Or, it may be something else entirely. Patrick W. Gainer records the oft-repeated superstion that if someone sweeps under or on top of a girl’s feet, she will never marry, so girls were very careful not to let that happen. Taking the last bite of any food at the table meant that a girl should kiss the cook or else end up an old maid, too. Gainer also says that a girl who hold’s a bride’s dress on her lap within ten minutes will marry within a year and that if a girl lends her garter to a bride on her wedding day, she can expect to marry soon, too.
There are so many wide-ranging methods of determining a future lover’s identity that it would likely give me carpal tunnel and send my readers into a glazed-eye coma trying to list them all. Divining one’s future love life is probably the most common form of divination, and can be found everywhere from the playground to the wedding chapel to the funeral home. Most folks know about catching bouquets and garters at a wedding to indicate who the next to be married will be. Some of the more unusual methods of determining one’s romantic future are:
- Dream of a funeral and attend a wedding
- Count seven stars for seven nights, and you will dream of the man you will marry.
- To dream of the man you will marry, take a thumbful of salt the night before Easter
- Marry soon if you dream of a corpse
- (the preceding from Richard Dorson’s Buying the Wind)
- If two forks are at a place-setting on the table, the one who sits there will be married.
- Put three holly leaves under your pillow at night and name each leaf. The one that is turned over in the morning will be the name of your husband.
- Put a four-leaf clover in the Bible. The man you meet while you are carrying it will be your husband.
- On the first day of May before sunrise, if you see a snail within a shell, your future husband will have a house. If the snail is outside the shell, he will have none. Sprinkle meal in front of the snail and it will form the initial of the man you are to marry.
- Walk around a wheat field on the first day of May and you will meet your mate.
- The white spots on your nails tell how many lovers you will have.
- On the first day of May, look into a well and you will see the face of your future husband.
- (the preceding from Patrick W. Gainer’s Witches, Ghosts, & Signs)
There are lots of other methods for determining a future spouse, of course, such as peeling an apple in one long strip and tossing it over your shoulder to determine the initial of one’s eventual husband or wife. Several Halloween traditions also focus on love divination, such as throwing nuts into the fire to see if they pop or fizzle, thus reflecting the strength of the love between those who threw. Really, we could be here all day with these, so let’s just say a little reading will reveal a plethora of divinatory options to the curious witch.
Lust & Aphrodisiacs
This is another broad and often-discussed topic, and one which folks can get into heated debates about very easily. For instance, many people contend that certain foods—chocolate, oysters, strawberries, etc.—act as aphrodisiacs and cite medical reports to back up their claims. Others cite counter-claims which demonstrate that any aphrodisiac effect from food is purely psychosomatic /placebo effect. Love potions are incredibly popular, so much so that there’s an enduring pop song by the Searchers entitled “Love Potion No. 9,” which later inspired a popular film of the same name (featuring the lovely Sandra Bullock). I’m not going to get into the ingredients for that potion here, but if you’re interested in it, the upcoming Spelled Out segment on the podcast will look at one recipe for this famous draught.
In American folklore, many ingredients can be brewed into love potions and used to drive a partner wild. Randolph records that yarrow is used in love potions given to men, as are dodder/love vine/angel’s hair, lady’s slipper, and mistletoe. Boys make a love potion from a wild gander’s foot, powdered and put into a girl’s coffee. The use of bird ingredients in such potions is rampant, inlcluding the use of powdered turtle-dove tongue, chicken hearts, and rooster blood for various love and beauty blends. Girls in the Ozarks would keep dried turkey bones in their rooms in order to seduce their beaus when the time was right, too.
Randolph also mentions that a woman can surruptetiously touch a man’s back to inspire feelings of lust in him. Zora Neale Hurston says in her essay “Hoodoo in America” that a potent aphrodisiac charm from Jamaica includes mixing angle worm dust with High John chips and wearing this as a mojo around the waist. Oils and powders such as “Come to Me Boy/Girl” and “Chuparosa” are also used to intoxicate a lover’s senses and make him/her crazy with lust and love. There’s also a hoodoo formula called the “Hot Mama Douche” which is juniper berries steeped in vinegar and which is designed to bring a woman all the sex she can stand. Vanilla, dabbed behind the ears, is also reputed to drive men wild.
Person-specific Love Spells
These are the controversial, yet oft-sought after, spells which one person uses on another to command love. There are a lot of ethical questions involved in these enchantments, and I won’t get into my perspective on them here (though I do talk a bit about it on the show). As the folklore goes, there are a lot of ways to make someone yours through magic. Most of them involve putting a little bit of yourself—such as urine, blood, or sweat—into them, often via food. Wearing the other person’s clothing, especially intimate clothing that has had contact with their skin or which has encircled some part of their body (like a ring, hatband, glove, sock, etc.) will also allow you to command their love. Some examples:
- If a girl steals a man’s hatband and wears it as a garter, it will make him fall in love with her (Randolph, OM&F)
- Socks and hatbands can be used to rule unruly men (Hurston, Mules & Men).
- Turning down a man’s hatband and pinning two needles in it in a cross-wise fashion makes him love you (Haskins, Voodoo & Hoodoo)
Other spells to gain the love of a person include tying poppets/dolls together, knotting used clothes from each person together, or burying personal items from that person on your property. In this latter vein, Zora Neale Hurston records an interesting spell using the person’s image captured in a mirror:
“To bind a lover to a place: a) This is for a girl: Let him look into a mirror but don’t you look into it. Take it home. Smash it and bury it under the front steps and wet the spot with water. He cannot leave the place. b) This is for a boy: Take three locks of her hair, throw one over your head, put one in your bosom, and one in the back of your watch. Then do the same thing with a mirror that the girl does and she is tied. You can’t undo this.” (from “Hoodoo in America”)
Similarly, getting a potential lover to walk over or under a charm specifically planted to catch his/her love can be very effective. Hurston’s Mules & Men contains the following spell:
Use nine lumps each of starch, sugar, & steel dust wet with Jockey Club perfume and put into nine mojo bags tied with red ribbon. Put these all around his home (or yours), especially at entrances and under rugs, and he will be unable to resist you.
As I mentioned before, the best ways to gain control of a lover tends to be to make him or her ingest something that has a bit of one’s own bodily fluid. Randolph mentions the use of menstrual blood in drink (though I usually find that more connected to the next section, “Magic for Staying Together”), as well as using whiskey in which fingernail trimmings have been soaked. In Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro, Newbell Niles Puckett records a love charm which uses bathwater to similar effect: “a great love charm is made of the water in which the lover has washed, and this, mingled with the drink of the loved one, is held to soften the hardest heart.”
Magic for Staying Together
When a relationship hits a rough patch, people often do all sorts of things they wouldn’t normally do. While some spells in this category are designed to bolster the already strong bonds between two happily enamored people, more often than not these spells are done out of desperation. A wife wants to keep her philandering husband at home and away from other women. A man wants to bring back a lover who has left him. These aren’t particularly happy spells, but they do make up a good bit of the overall love spell genre, so here are a few of the more common or more interesting ones.
One spell I found repeatedly, and one which I mentioned in the previous section, was the use of menstrual blood in food. It appeared in the folklore from multiple cultures and always with the same basic idea: a little of a woman’s menses in a man’s food or drink will make him absolutely hers and keep him from ever straying. Urine occasionally pops up in this method, too, though it is far less common.
Other methods involve attaching something to a man’s clothes to mark him as one’s own. In Hurston’s “Hoodoo in America” she notes in Section 9 that there is a such a ritual for regaining and binding the affection of an errant man. It is given in the “dialogue with Marie Laveau” style which is also in the N.D.P. Bivens text Black & White Magic of Marie Laveau. It involves using Van Van and Gilead buds placed in the man’s clothes or fashioned into a talisman for him to wear. A picture of Mary is then prayed over, and the man is supposed to stray no more.
Randolph’s Ozark informants revealed a number of methods for keeping or returning a straying lover, including:
- A girl can write her initials and her sweetheart’s using the blood from the third finger of her left hand in order to reconcile with him after a fight.
- Salting a fire brings an absent lover home, as does leaving one’s shoes in a “T” formation by the hearth.
- A girl can clean her fingernails on Saturday, say a “mysterious old sayin’” and make a man visit her on Sunday. Mountain boys even say ‘my gal fixed her nails yesterday’ to indicate they must go courting.
Of course, sometimes it’s not enough to make someone stay a little closer to home. One hoodoo method for controlling an errant man is to measure his penis with a piece of string (often red) while he is asleep, wet it with his semen, then tie nine knots in it. This method takes away his “nature” and keeps him from being able to perform with anyone but the woman who has the string. In some cases, this means that the man is unable to perform entirely unless the woman unknots the string first, which I imagine puts a damper on spontenaity in the bedroom. However, as the proverb goes, desperate times call for desperate measures (pun very much intended).
This is an area I’ve got no experience with myself, and one which I shy away from in general. As such, my research here is a bit thinner than in other categories of love magic, but I do have one or two examples to provide.
Hurston provides a method for making couples fight like cats and dogs using the hair from—you guessed it—cats and dogs:
“To Make a Fuss and Fight. Take a small bit of the hair of a black cat and of a black dog and mix same with nine grains of red pepper seed and names of persons you wish to make fuss or fall out with each other. The names are written nine times crossed. Place this under their house, gallery or bury same at their gate. The articles can be sewed into a bag, and, if possible, place in the pillow or mattress.” (“Hoodoo in America”)
Hurston also mentions a spell using nine broken needles to break up a couple in her book, Mules & Men.
There are a number of products available for break-up work, including figural candles of a man and woman which are burned so that they separate over time. The Lucky Mojo company sells many of these items, and also has a page outlining other breakup spells, such as feeding two halves of an egg to a black dog and a black cat, or writing a person’s name on the back of a river turtle to send him/her away from a relationship.
Whew! Love is a pretty big topic, and I’ve only given you a few examples here. There are so many other love spells and magical techniques for gaining love, keeping love, or ending love that trying to list them all would be ridiculous. I hope, though, that if you’re curious you’ll continue to look into this sort of magic, and let us know what you find. If you have spells you’ve used in this vein of magic, I’d love to know those, too! And we’ll have a podcast up soon on this topic, as well, so be listening for that. Until next time..
Thanks for reading!