Archive for the ‘Blog’ category

Blog Post 205 – What is New World Witchery?, Part IV (Witches Make Things (Happen))

March 22, 2018

In previous posts, I’ve already looked at some of the ways that history, folklore, and contemporary behavior come together to form what we’ve termed “New World Witchery.” If you’re just jumping in here, you might want to turn back the hands of time with an enchanted pocketwatch (which seems a very Romantic or Steampunk sort of notion) and read the first of these posts on “What is New World Witchery, Part I (Irrational Pragmatism).” There are other posts that follow, on topics like the moral implications of practical folk magic in North America, and the spiritual entities that seem to hover at the edges of (or stand smack in the center of) New World magical practices. You can certainly start here, though, and go where you wish, and let your intuition act as a compass for these explorations.

Witchcraft Makes Things (Happen): The Physicality of New World Magic

Thinking about witchraft academically is fun (well, for me, at least). Here, however, we turn from the realms of intellect and ether to the dirt-under-the-fingernails side of witchcraft in North America. Magical author Peter Paddon was fond of saying that a good sorcerer can do magic stark naked in a concrete bunker, and I certainly agree that on some level that is true. However, for most people practicing magic in an everyday way, the “stuff” of witchcraft is vitally important. Again and again, we see that the physicality of magic plays a crucial role in how that magic operates, how those who perform the magic perceive the world around them, and how magic shapes the actual spaces around both practitioners and those with whom they have contact. The objects and spaces of magical action, the artifacts of witchcraft as they might be called, are often both a highly attractive element of the practice and one of the ways in which magic reaches beyond the individual and into the broader community. Even those who don’t practice any form of formalized witchcraft might be found carrying a rabbit’s foot in their pocket, or hanging a horseshoe above their door, or even standing a broom in the corner. Witches take these magical actions a step further and combine, amplify, augment, or otherwise expand upon individual talismans or amulets. Witches are the ones who can make the potions or charms needed to guarantee luck or repel evil. They are at a very fundamental level crafters in multiple, layered senses of that word—they overlay a magical craft onto handicrafts, and recognize the process of creation as a form of ritual unto itself.

Often, the process of crafting and creation goes beyond the boundaries of familiar and everyday use. Something used in one way for mundane needs experiences a transformation through magical operation, and becomes an object of power. One of the most readily apparent examples is the humble broom. Whether the broom is used for sealing a marriage (“jumping the broom”) or sweeping luck around the room, it functions as both a mundane tool and a magical one. It can even become the source of magical supplies, as broom straws are used to treat conditions like warts or the evil eye in folk healing rituals.

Broom and Broomstick in Oostende, Belgium (via Wikimedia Commons)

Similarly, we can see other physical objects that jump from their mundane contexts into magical ones, even busting the barriers that separate overt purpose from magical reinterpretation. One practitioner, who follows a generally Druidic path but draws upon folk magical influences, explained via correspondence in 2016 that she had created a “honey jar” type spell, which involves putting select ingredients—sometimes herbs, but frequently paper, images, or even personal objects like hair and fingernails—into a sweet mixture like honey, syrup, or sugar in order to obtain a favorable outcome. She wrote that she had been attempting to secure a mortgage, and decided to do a working on one of the bank officials involved in the approval process. After putting the jar together, she “tracked down his name and a picture and performed the…spell.  Guess it tipped things in my favor because the mortgage was approved the very next day!” While not every spell meets with success like this, the physical contact with ingredients and the ability to hold something magical in one’s hands surfaces again and again in practical witchcraft. Even witchcraft-adjacent magic, such as the treasure-finding work that Joseph Smith did before he founded Mormonism, required the use of physical props (in Smith’s case, special stones called “peep stones” that enabled him to find treasure and later decipher angelic writings).

The physical forms used depend on personal preference, traditional background, and local availability. In some cases, folk magicians lean heavily on the exotic or the unusual, even going so far as to procure incenses and herbs from mail-order or internet supply houses that offer things like dragon’s blood resin or frankincense. Just as often, however, a magical worker can find virtually everything she or he needs simply by walking through the doors of the local supermarket.

Seriously, who wouldn’t want a ouija board umbrella? (Made by Etsy shop StuffoftheDead)

We can get very drawn into the aesthetics of witchcraft, because they are quite frankly pretty awesome. Who doesn’t want to bedeck themselves in black and silver and bones and fill their house with candles, incense, and stones? That aesthetic, however, is only a surface one, something we have reclaimed from pop culture in many ways (and an aesthetic which continues to inspire even in recent years). The physical manifestations of magical practice are oh-so-frequently a well-stocked spice cabinet, a drawer full of pins and bent nails or old wishbones or loose change, and a broom turned up behind a doorway.

And, if I’m being honest, a library a little overburdened with books of folklore.

The physicality of witchcraft is intimately tied with its effectiveness. Spells done naked in a bunker can be effective, but even Peter Paddon wrote a book on the viscerality of magic because he knew, as most who practice magic do, that spells aren’t pure abstraction or thought experiments. They are fleshy, and dirty, and sexy, and painful, and fun, and scary, and sticky, and…well, physical.


Next time: Witches Become Witches


Thanks for reading!



Quick Update – Live Chat on 10/29 (Ghost Stories)

October 25, 2017

By Dennis Hill from The OC, So. Cal. (via Wikimedia Commons)

Hi all!

We just want to let you know that we’ll be doing a live broadcast on Sunday, October 29th, around 9pm EST via our Mixlr channel. We’ll be discussing tales of the supernatural and paranormal that you, our listeners, have shared with us! Please feel free to continue sending in your spooky encounters via email or by leaving a message on our voice mail if you prefer: (442) 999-4824 (that’s 442-99-WITCH, if it helps). The night of the broadcast, you can also listen live and even live chat with us while you are listening via that Mixlr page!

Hope to hear you soon!

-Cory & Laine

Announcement! – Everyday Magical Objects Contest Giveaway

August 1, 2017

Greetings to all you magically-minded folk out there!

In our most recent episode, we sort of came up with an idea for a contest on the fly, and asked you to send us ideas of unusual or particular items you’ve got lying around that you’d like to find a way to work into a spell somehow. Many of you are already sending us your ideas, which is wonderful, but we thought it would be a good idea to announce the contest a little more formally and let you know just what it is you’re entering for a chance to win. And so, here are the official rules!

Everyday Magical Objects Contest Giveaway

**Ways to Enter**

  1. Send us your magical object idea via email (you can try via social media, but we can’t guarantee we’ll get it that way). Please send just one object at a time, and give us enough of a description of the object that we know exactly what it is. If you can, give us some context, like what kind of magical practice you follow (so that when we come up with a response, it might actually be useful to you). This is definitely not a “stump the chumps” situation—that would be too easy with us!—so send us things that you genuinely want to know about. You can send us as many as you like, but each person can only be entered once for sending in an idea.
  2. If you’re a sponsor of ours on Patreon at any level, $1+, you’ve already got one free entry! If you become a sponsor before the contest deadline, you’ll also get the free entry.
  3. Share one of our episodes (a favorite or one you think others should hear) via social media and tag us for an additional entry! (We’re on Facebook and Twitter, so make sure you’re using the tags appropriate to those mediums or we won’t know you’ve shared anything).

That gives you the chance to get up to three entries per person! (Please note, prize winners must be located someplace where it is legal to ship the contents of the prize packs from the United States)


**What You Can Win**

We’re going to give away two different prize packs, each chosen randomly from our selection of entrants (NOTE: If you win one prize pack, you cannot win the other one, sorry!).


Crafty Cards Prize Pack

This prize pack will contain:

  • A signed copy of Cory’s card-reading book, 54 Devils
  • A deck of Wylie Beckert’s Wicked Kingdom playing cards (see the images above and check out her website, as these cards are gorgeous and perfect for cartomancy!)
  • A deck of the Fantod Pack, cards inspired by and drawn from the work of grim children’s author Edward Gorey, interpreted by Madame Groeda Weyrd
  • A free email-based card-reading from Cory! Ask your questions, receive answers from the great beyond! (or at least from Cory at his computer)



Wicked Stories Prize Pack

This prize pack contains things from or inspired by weird or magical stories:

  • A copy of the excellent and terrifying graphic novel Wytches, by Scott Snyder and Jock
  • A deck of Wylie Beckert’s Wicked Kingdom playing cards, which tell their own strange story
  • Several CDs from the Florida Folklife Collection, packed full of blues, bluegrass, and plentyof murder ballads
  • A “Dracula, Lord of Cunning” spellwork candle from Coventry Creations, based on both the character from Bram Stoker’s book and the Vampire Tarot by Robert M. Place


Both prize packs may also get a few extra goodies in them, too! If these prizes sound appealing to you, we’d love for you to enter to win!


The deadline for getting your entries to us will be Midnight, EST, Friday September 1st, 2017.


What will we be doing with your entries? Well, they’ll be part of an upcoming show (or more than one), of course! So make sure if you want us to keep you anonymous or use a pseudonym, you tell us in your email.


We can’t wait to see what you send us! Thanks to everyone who has contributed so far!


Be well,

-Cory & Laine

Special Update – Philadelphia Meetup and Tours

May 12, 2017

Hello everyone!

We’re getting extremely excited about our upcoming trip to Philadelphia, where we’re going to be seeing YOU (hopefully)!. We’ve got most of the pieces in place at this point, so here’s what’s happening: We’ll have two events on June 3rd, 2017, where you can come meet with us and take some tours related to magic.

Sign from the Penn Museum’s “Magic in the Ancient World” Exhibit

Event 1: A Meetup at the Penn Museum to take a private guided tour of the Magic in the Ancient World exhibit.

  • Where: The Penn Museum (3260 South Street, Philadelphia, PA at the Group Entrance (Kress)).
  • When: Saturday, June 3rd, 2017 at 10:30am. The tour and time in the museum will take around 2 hours
  • Cost: Admission as part of our group is $17 for entrance and the guided tour. You can pay via PayPal in advance OR you can pay with cash, check, or credit card the day of the event. However, as a special bonus treat, we are covering the guided tour part of the admission cost for the first twenty (20) listeners who sign up via our Museum Tour event planner page! So if you know for sure you want to come, sign up there and your entrance cost is only $12!

View of Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA. By Ross Abraham (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Event 2: A private “Spirits and Spiritualists” tour at the historic Laurel Hill Cemetery

  • Where: Laurel Hill Cemetery (3822 Ridge Ave., Philadelphia, PA)
  • When: Saturday, June 3rd, 2017 at 3:30pm. The tour will last about 1.5-2 hours, and does involve some walking around the cemetery
  • Cost: Admission as a part of our group is $15. You can pay via PayPal in advance OR you can pay with cash, check, or credit card the day of the event. Please sign up for the event in advance via our Cemetery Tour event planner page so we can be sure we have enough spots for everyone on the tour.

That means hanging out in Philly with us and other awesome New World Witchery fans, seeing really old magical stuff, and then wandering around a graveyard hearing about ghosts and spirit mediums. You can’t beat that! Well, you can, but I think trying to summon the ghost of Ben Franklin would be frowned upon by the city (but you can throw pennies onto his grave if that makes you feel better).

If you are going to attend, please do make sure you sign up so we can have a good head count, and we will look forward to seeing you there very soon!

With love and gratitude to you all,

-Cory & Laine



Announcement: Mixlr Chat – Walpurgisnacht Edition!

April 28, 2017

By Dennis Hill from The OC, So. Cal. (via Wikimedia Commons)

Little Effie shall go with me to-morrow to the green,
And you’ll be there, too, mother, to see me made the Queen;
For the shepherd lads on every side’ll come from far away;
And I’m to be the Queen o’ the May, mother, I’m to be the Queen o’ the May

-from “The May Queen,” by Alfred Lord Tennyson

The fires of May Eve are upon us, and we’re gathering our witches not at the top of the Venusburg or the Brocken, but around the glowing digital fires of our Mixlr Channel. We’ll be doing a live broadcast on Sunday, April 30th, at 9pm Eastern Time to discuss the ideas of magical gifts and objects, and we’ve even got a special guest: AthenaBeth Black! If you haven’t checked out AthenaBeth’s YouTube channel, it’s chock full of great witchy discussions and ideas, and she’s agreed to stand in for Laine (who will sadly be away from a computer that night due to a scheduling conflict). You can listen live and even chat with us via the Mixlr message board while the discussion is going. We hope to see you there! Bring your favorite broom and brew, and come revel in the turning of the Old May Eve with us!

Blog Post 204 – What is New World Witchery?, Part III (Witches Have a Lot of Friends (You Just Can’t See All of Them))

March 30, 2017

“Tituba and Giles Corey,” by John W. Ehninger. Public Domain. (via Wikimedia Commons)

Welcome! If you’re just starting here, you should know that this post is part of my ongoing series trying to use folklore, history, and contemporary accounts of folk magic to paint a picture of what “New World Witchery” might look like. If you haven’t already done so, you may want to read the first post, “What is New World Witchery?, Part I (Irrational Pragmatism).” Then, at least logically, you might want to read the second post, which looks at how Witchcraft is an Amoral (not an Immoral) Act. But who needs logic? Start here if you please, or go back, or divine the content of future posts through by throwing bones, pulling cards, or shaking a Magic 8 Ball. I am just happy you’re here. Please note: my attempt to lay out some sort of shape that defines New World Witchcraft practices here is likely to satisfy no one (not even me). I undertake this effort largely because I think it gives me a point of reference when I’m developing other articles and trying to see how distinctly “New World” certain practices are. So let’s see where that leads us today (or perhaps, let’s not see…there’s a good bit of shapeshifting and invisibility ahead).

Witches Have a Lot of Friends (You Just Can’t See All of Them)

Anyone familiar with British cunning-folk practices has probably run across the concept of the “fairy familiar” through the works of scholars and authors like Owen Davies, Emma Wilby, and Ronald Hutton. English magical folk frequently entered into short- and long-term relationships with otherworldly beings. Sometimes these relationships were straightforward and reciprocal, and sometimes they seemed to be nearly unwanted but inevitable for the person selected by a fairy for contact and assistance. These are not elvish shoemakers doing a day’s work for a kindly cobbler, but often beings who seem to be able to impact the human world without fully understanding it, and beings who sometimes exact steep prices for their services. Wilby notes the phenomenon in her book, citing several well-known cunning folk and their fairy familiars:

“Susan Swapper (Wales, 1607), for example, claimed that she had been told by a companion that if she knelt to the queen of the fairies the latter would give her ‘a living’ while Joan Tyrry (Somerset, 1555) claimed that the fairies ‘taught her such knowledge that she getteth her living by it’…Jonet Rendall (Orkney, 1629) was told by her fairy familiar ‘Walliman’ that ‘He sould learne yow to win almiss be healling of folk’, while Anne Jeffries (Cornwall, 1645), by virtue of the healing powers she gained as a result of her liaison with the fairies, had ‘monies, at all times, sufficient to supply her wants.”

These fairy relationships enabled many magical folk to get by, and even do some good, although one could also turn the power to do harm as well.

“Examination of a Witch,” by Thompkins H. Matteson (1853-Peabody Collection, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commoons)

In the New World, relationships with spiritual folk from other realms has almost always been suspect, even diabolical. Trial records from Salem show accused practitioners of magic confessing to secret meetings in the woods with devils (although there are also potential readings that might suggest meetings with local Indian tribespeople, who were often viewed as satanic savages by English settlers). During the examination of Tituba, for example, the accused slave confessed to meeting with a Devil-figure in the home of her master, Samuel Parris. She claimed to have signed the Devil’s book and to have been forced into doing ill to the children of the household. In another round of examination, she described the familiar spirits of another accused witch, Sarah Good, as a “yellow bird” that drank blood from Good’s hand and which had “wings and two legs and a head like a woman.” The foundation of the Court of Oyer and Terminer, which made the Salem trials so particularly heinous, was the permission granted by the court to allow “specral evidence,” or the suffering of the victims at the hands of unseen spirits, as concrete proof of witchcraft. Of course, many of these details derive from European witchcraft beliefs inherited from earlier trials and confessions, and we should not lay too much stock by them, but they do illustrate an interesting transition within the New World context. In many cases, the concept of “fairy” spirits who aided witches and magical practitioners shifted towards animal familiars (often uncanny animals) and spectral beings that could take the witch’s shape or work on the witch’s behalf (even if it was not in the witch’s best interest, as the specters often “attacked” Salem witchcraft victims in open court as the accused witches tried to defend themselves as innocent).


Witches in North America seemed to spend a lot of time either communicating with their spiritual allies (often in transfigured shapes) or gallivanting around in spirit form themselves. A common motif of “spirit flight” would allow witches to grease themselves up with a flying ointment to travel to distant towns and steal from the local larders and dry goods stores (or, even more often, the wine or whiskey stores of the well-to-do—perhaps another incarnation of the class equity balancing act I’ve already mentioned). Keeping witches out of such places involved spreading salt grains or mustard seeds on the porch or roof, hanging a sieve over the door handle, or otherwise forcing the witch to count some minute object like seeds or holes in order to frustrate her entry. Witches were thought to cavort with devils and wicked spirits in their invisible and insubstantial forms, or to go out working all kinds of mischief. A story from the Mississippi Delta region speaks of a “boo hag” that would travel out at night and leave her skin behind. Only when a young man put salt and hot pepper into her skin before she returned could she be defeated. The mindset of diabolical worship and revelry lingered in the popular imagination about witches well past the Colonial period. In the mid-nineteenth century, Nathaniel Hawthorne published his story, “Young Goodman Brown,” which was riddled with such witch lore. In more recent times, magical practitioners such as self-proclaimed “hexenmeister” Lee Gandee reported the constant presence of spirits, who he called his “boys.” Such spirits heightened or enabled magical practices for those who knew them and worked with them, even without the pretext of diabolical pacts.


Of course, not all spirits were unseen by those around the witch. Just as often, the witch’s companions would be animals like Sarah Good’s alleged yellow bird. A Virginia tale about a witch named Rindy Sue Gose tells of her diabolical pact to become a sorceress, for which she received a little black beetle in a medicine bottle, which she fed with blood from her shoulder. The sucking familiar was a trope widely found in European witch tales, and many believed that the animal would do the witch’s bidding by carrying out her orders or doing dark deeds on her behalf. The Southern tale of “Raw Head and Bloody Bones” describes a witch whose prized razorback hog is slaughtered by local ne’er-do-wells only to be resurrected by her magic to seek vengeance on those who took her friend away from her (again, a form of justice and rebalancing). A subtler way of viewing the animal relationship, however, might suggest that the witch did not so much employ the creature as a servant, but as a second self. Many witches in stories engaged in forms of shapeshifting, turning into black cats, large hares, insects, or other beasts in order to travel swiftly and unseen throughout their portion of the world. In shapeshifted form, witches were particularly vulnerable, and any harm that came to them—being cut with a silver knife or shot by a silver bullet—would leave a mark upon their human body that allowed them to be identified later or kill them outright.

“Superstition Mountain Sentinel (Coyote Sundial),” By Mikesanchez1109 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons]


They could transform others as well, using them has horses (as Betty Booker did to the old Skipper). One legend from Acoma describes two evil “warlocks” who used a magic hoop to turn themselves into coyotes in order to kidnap a beautiful girl from a nearby tribe. Interestingly, the medicine man of the tribe tracks them through the help of animals, telling the braves following him “Listen to the bird singing in yon bush. It is warning us of the great danger we ace. It says to hurry for Isleta [the girl] will be abused if she is not rescued soon.” Animal friends with spiritual connections appear to help both “good” and “bad” magicians, and the Acoma tale reads much like European fairy tales that feature animal helpers warning of danger.


Speaking of fairies, did they all disappear in the New World? Not quite. The unseen powers of fairies do linger on in parts of North America, although many of the tales involving them seem to emphasize the need to counteract their work. The concept of being “elf-shot” or attacked by fairy magic seems to have transferred into areas where large Irish and English populations thrived, including parts of the Ozarks and Appalachians. Vance Randolph speaks of “power doctors,” which are remarkably similar to the “fairy doctors” found in Irish folklore, for instance. There are also plenty of tales of “little people” in the New World, often from Native American sources, although the close interactions noted between cunning folk and fairies are largely absent. In more recent years, however, fascination with fairies and similar beings has captivated American imaginations. There are fairy-oriented gatherings, such as FaerieCon and Mythic Worlds, that seek to connect fairy beings with spiritual identity (and have a rollicking good time doing so). Threads of Traditional Witchcraft in North America have made much of connecting with a “fetch beast,” which is similar to but distinct from the familiar spirits seen in earlier periods of American witchcraft. The broad picture of North American witchcraft certainly has room for the fairy brides and husbands and teachers of British lore, of course, but on the whole North American witchcraft seems to lean more towards the animal kingdom, tales of diabolical meetings, and invisible specters than the Good People Under the Hill. Perhaps much of that has to do with the aversion to aristocracy and courtly systems in North America—the fairies of Europe often seem to organize themselves in ways that parallel the human nobles around them. North Americans are largely removed from such formal aristocracies (although they certainly still exist in the forms of social classes, as evidenced by cotillions and debutante balls). We turn, instead, to wilder things—beasts and haints and devils—to connect to magic.


Next time: Witchcraft Makes Things (Happen)


Thanks for reading!


Special Update – Come See Us in Philadelphia!

March 17, 2017

Sign from the Penn Museum’s “Magic in the Ancient World” Exhibit

Hello Everybody!

We’ve mentioned it a few times on the show, but we’ve finally nailed down a date for our upcoming Philadelphia meetup! Laine will be coming to visit in Philadelphia for the first weekend in June, and we’re setting aside a day so that we can hang out with some of our listeners. Set aside Saturday, June 3rd, 2017, because we’re planning to meet for a tour of the Penn Museum’s “Magic in the Ancient World” Exhibit, then possibly do a little ghost tour in the evening. There are some other possibilities for some magical fun in the area, too, and one or both of us might be able to swing some of those extra stops (but we’ll have to play that by ear).

So, the short version:

  • When: Saturday, June 3rd
  • Where: Philadelphia, PA (specifically the Penn Museum)
  • Who: Cory, Laine, and You!
  • What: A day of looking at old magical stuff, making fun of Cory’s fear of bunnies, and having fun!
  • Why: Because we like you!

We will be putting up some more information as we get a little closer to the date, including a way for you to let us know if you’re coming (we’d love to have a headcount–we might even be able to do a private tour with enough of us!). For now, we are just happy that we have the opportunity to hang out with some of you in the near future on the horizon!

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