Update – New Patreon Tier Perks

Hi all!

This is just a super quick update to let you know that our Patreon tiers have been updated/changed this week. We’re trying to streamline the work process for Laine and me, while also adding a few extra perks for most levels!

The new tiers are:

Tier 1 (Omen Readers) – $1/mo. – You get the monthly newsletter, early access to any shows we release, and Discord access

Tier 2 (Fairy Doctors) – $5/mo. – You get the physical #54devils #cartomancy book (after 6 mos. of support) and a digital copy of the annual #witchyzine. You’ll also get priority during our NEW live reading cartomancy sessions, which we’ll do every six weeks or so (priority means you get to submit questions early). You’ll also get bonus episodes released on Patreon.

Tier 3 (Doodlebugs) – $10/mo. – Access to bi-monthly live chats. A digital review copy of the NWW Book by Cory. Plus a physical copy of annual zine. AND you’ll get an Annual Cartomancy Report done by either Cory or Laine (as an emailed PDF)

Tier 4 (Bone Shakers) – $20/mo. – You’ll get an Annual Swag Mailer (usually a book of some kind, a physical copy of the zine, and a few other little bonus gifts). You also get a signed copy of NWW Book (one time after 6 mos of support). We’ll also be featuring one Bone Shaker as a “Sponsor of the Ep” each month, and if you’ve got a business/podcast/project you’d like us to mention as part of that we’ll be glad to do so (some restrictions apply—no racist or homophobic stuff, for example). PLUS you’ll get access to a Live Zoom Cartomancy session with us twice a year where only patrons are invited and get to ask questions and receive readings!

So, yeah, that’s it! Hopefully it makes it easier for Laine and I to streamline some of the work while also adding more benefits for supporters.

HUGE thanks to everyone who has and does support us, too! We are incredibly lucky to get that support and we are so thankful to everyone who chips in to make this possible.

Literally couldn’t do it without you!

Thank you for your support!
Be well!
-C&L

Blog Post 234 – Folk Magic on the Job

Occupational folklore and magic from jobs including athletes, merchants, sailors, sex workers, actors, and more

Or, “Occupational Folk Magic”

Recently a friend of mine (Kathleen Borealis of Borealis Meditations) shared this image on Twitter:

Screen capture saying “This is 100% @newworldwitchery Is there a study of these?” Further screen capture features two posts:
1. Sometimes people try to tell me that scientists are paragons of rationality and I have to break it to them that I have yet to work in a lab that didn’t have at least one secret shrine in it.”
2. “New guy: why is all of the equipment in this room covered in toys?
me: don’t touch those
New guy: says nothing
Me: they need the toys to function. If they don’t all have toys they get jealous.”


Even the most supposedly rational among us—scientists—are, in the end, human. That means that we are prone to seeing the world through the lens of our own beliefs and folklore even when we don’t rationally believe something. We hedge our bets, because it can’t hurt to treat the electron microscope like a finicky child or say “good morning” to the Petri dishes or explain our problems to the rubber coding duck on our workstation. We might not sincerely believe any of that has a real effect, but we do at least *do* those actions, because they mean something to us at some level.

I also recently wrote a mini piece on Instagram about the importance of recognizing who the “folk” were in the folk communities from which you dip the bucket of your magic. I talked about the communities of “kinship,” which are the ones we most often think of because they relate to family, ethnicity, and even geography to some extent. But it’s important to remember that when we share an occupation with others, that makes us a part of a folk group as well. Those folk ties are called communities of “practice,” because we all share actions and behaviors. Think here of being in school—you very likely had a LOT of folklore you shared with classmates about school legends (what was in that lunch meat, anyway?), games (such as fortune-telling folded paper “cootie catchers”), and even nicknames (whether you wanted them or not). You weren’t likely related by blood to most of your classmates, although you may have had a cousin or two, perhaps. You did share geography, so there’s a bit of kinship, but what bonded you was your status as a “student,” which also separated you from other folk groups in the school like “teachers” or even “parents.” Likewise, the “students” might subdivide into groups like “athletes” or “theatre kids” (my group). And even then, there might be “swim team” versus “cheerleaders” or “actors” versus “tech crew.”

So what do these divisions have to do with magic? Well, each folk group generally comes up with its own folk beliefs, and those folk beliefs are often the root of the practices that become magic in the group. When you have an occupation that takes up a good quarter to a third of your waking hours, those groups become incredibly important and the magic you share with those groups can be some of the most relevant magic you do.

Today, I wanted to look at a couple of occupations and their folk magic, so we can see how membership in these folk groups shapes the way the magic works.

Illustration of a baseball mitt next to a cheese sandwich

Athletes
Since I mentioned school athletes already (and we happen to be in the midst of an Olympic season), let’s begin there. One of the best academic explorations of folk magic in occupations is George Gmelch’s essay “Baseball Magic,” in which the anthropologist looks at the superstitions and rituals of various baseball players. For example, one infielder maintained a ritual of keeping a cheese sandwich in his back pocket in order to ensure his performance would remain consistent throughout a game. This might seem strange, but usually these rituals are borne from observing when a particularly remarkable streak of luck strikes and asking “what was different this time?” So when Wade Boggs noticed that he got multiple hits in his rookie season on the days he ate chicken before a game, he adopted that as a magical practice and ate chicken as often as possible before games. Objects in baseball and other sports can also be seen as animate and empowered. Honus Wagner believed, for example, that every bat only had one hundred hits (he admittedly played when wooden bats were the norm). If batting was going poorly, managers might rattle the bats in the dugout in an effort to “wake them up.” Even the hats players wear can become magical, as seen in the “rally cap” ritual where players off the field will turn their hats upside down and inside out (or “bill up”) to reverse bad luck during a game. Hats are also a central concern of rodeo riders, who won’t wear a new hat for a competition for fear of bad luck. Many also have a preferred “lucky hat” they wear only when riding competitively. Racing drivers have rules about not turning wheels in a parked car (similar to rules about not rocking an empty cradle) and not thing a picture right before a race, as either could lead to a dangerous or deadly crash. There are some sexist practices about racers’ wives not being allowed in the pit or being forbidden to wear green to a race to stave off bad luck, too, but then they also generally avoid eating peanuts in the pit for the same reason (Penrod). Some other magical beliefs in the world of athletics:

  • Most athletes won’t shave right before a game, for fear it will remove their luck
  • Batters (in baseball) and boxers will both spit in their hands to increase their strength during a game or match
  • Some athletes will wear a snakeskin around their waist to add strength or agility to their performance during a game (this is easier in the era of wearing snakeskin belts)
  • Seeing white horses or white cars before a ball game is usually good luck
  • Taking crossed game gear (such as bats or golf clubs lying crossed on the ground) leads to bad luckWearing lucky clothes is fairly common in a lot of sports, but many athletes have a pair of socks or an article of clothing that is lucky and washing it is forbidden (for fear of washing away the luck) (Brown, vol 6)
Illustration of sailor’s compass next to a gold coin

Sailors and Fishers
I’ve covered a lot of maritime beliefs and superstitions, as well as some of the magical rituals associated with life on the sea, in other posts and podcast episodes. But there is never a shortage of folk magic in this field, largely because being out on the open ocean is a very risky occupation, and as both Gmelch and his predecessor anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski have noted, superstition and magic are often proportional to the risk associated with any particular task. Some of the lore associated with working the sea:

  • It’s bad luck for a new ship or a freshly painted one to scratch its paint along the dock
  • Many people know the phrase “rats leave a sinking ship,” so sailors would often pay attention to the behavior of rodents on board for signs and omens of what was coming
  • Whistling on a ship was bad luck, especially because a sailor could accidentally whistle up a gale-force wind
  • The albatross is a well-known omen on boats and should be treated with respect (think only of the woes that befall the titular character in Coolridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”), but it’s also considered very bad luck to kill a dolphin or porpoise, because they were thought to be hosts to the souls of lost sailors.
  • If a bird lands on your boat while you’re on a fishing run, you should return to shore and try again another day (Mullen)
  • Fishing trips should never start on a Friday or they will come to a bad end (either a poor catch or worse)
  • Both Catholic and Protestant fishers may carry a medal or token of St. Andrew to ensure a good catch
  • It is thought that fishing between the hours of midnight and 3 a.m. is unlucky, because that is the ‘fishes’ time’ (Shearer)
  • Coins are often installed at various spots throughout the boat to bring good luck. For example, a silver dollar or fifty-cent piece is frequently placed under the main mast for this purpose
  • Two rather strange taboos are found among Texas fishers: carrying a black suitcase onboard and saying the word “alligator,” both of which are thought to bring extraordinary bad luck (I bet Captain Hook at least would agree with the latter custom)
Illustration of a Resurrection Plant (Rose of Jericho)

Merchants & Retail Workers
While retail and merchandise sales is a fairly broad category, it’s also one that has a good bit of superstition, folk magic, and ritual associated with it. Many people have gone into a business to find a framed piece of currency somewhere behind the cash register or along the entry wall, the “first dollar” made by the business. It is honored and never spent, so as to prevent the business from going under at some point in the future. There are lots of other folk beliefs and workings that have to do with increasing business and staving off bad luck (or bad customers):

  • Anything done to grow a business during the waxing moon is more likely to come to fruition, according to Ozark belief (Weston)
  • Making the first sale of the day was vital. Jewish merchants held the belief that the first customer of the day must be sold, even if at a loss or something insignificant, so as to provide good sales the rest of the day.
  • Business deals should not be done on Friday or they will come to a bad end, and working on Sunday is also bad luck (if you’ve worked retail or service industry, you already know this is true given how many people seem to come straight from church to undertip or demand special treatment from cashiers)
  • Sweeping dirt out the back door of a business is sweeping away all of its luck (Penrod). Similarly sweeping after dark was considered unlucky for business (Brown vol. 6)
  • Money stolen from a business could carry a curse, especially if the business owner was honest. One story from Zora Neale Hurston’s fieldwork reports of a woman who ran a little cigar shop so honestly she usually just left the money out on the counter. A sailor came in and stole the money, then returned to his ship. She rowed out in a dinghy to warn the captain and the sailor that if the money wasn’t returned it would do the thief great harm. They couldn’t find where he’d stashed it so they sent her away, but the sailor failed to show up for his next watch. They found him dead in his cabin, the money clenched in his hand. The captain, of course, immediately sent the money back to the woman as quickly as possible
  • If a man’s beard is of a different color than his hair, the shopkeep should expect shady dealing
  • If someone rattles money in their pocket while shopping or haggling, they aren’t to be trusted either (both of these last two are Ozark beliefs)
  • Sprinkling alfalfa and Irish moss in the corners of the shop is thought to bring in business. Similarly, keeping a Rose of Jericho behind the cash register counter and sprinkling the water over the doorstep of the business is thought to spur more customers to come in and spend
  • Zora Neale Hurston notes that a mixture of water, honey, and Japanese Fast Luck powder could be sprinkled at the entrance to the business in the morning or at midnight to draw large crowds of customers
  • Putting a golden coin (like a golden dollar) somewhere where the sun can shine on it is thought to bring more money your way; silver money shown to the moon will do the same
Illustration of a lipstick tube and a wrapped condom

Sex Workers
If risk and reward breed magic, it’s not surprising that sex work has a number of enchantment rituals within it. Those can range from ways to attract customers and clients to ways to protect oneself in dangerous situations or retain the money earned. Some things, like wearing red clothes or keeping red lights or lanterns on a front porch, are fairly well-known because they are thought to inspire lustful feelings and also to identify potential sex workers to interested clients. Other magical lore associated with sex work:

  • A sex worker should tear the corners of any cash money received, both to avoid any unwanted bad luck and as a way to magically stave off pregancy (NOTE: this is NOT scientifically sound birth control, but a folkloric tidbit…please listen to medical advice about preventing pregnancy and STIs first and foremost)
  • One recipe found in Hurston’s notes says a mixture of lavender, geranium, and Van Van (a spicy sweet blend involving lemongrass and ginger or galangal) could be sprinkled in the house or bed where sex work was to take place to help generate more clients
  • The evergreen boldo leaf can be sprinkled around the space where sex work is performed in order to prevent harm coming to those within; similarly carrying a buckeye was thought to stave off STIs as well (but again, this is NOT medical advice)
  • Carrying a Jezebel Root (a variety of iris), especially one dressed with sexual fluids, allows a sex worker to draw in the type of clients they like best and keep them docile and satisfied
  • Burning a shoe sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar would help draw customers to a house of sex workers (yronwode)
Illustration for drama and comedy masks

Actors
Perhaps one of the most superstitious professions is the world of the stage and screen. Plenty of people know about various taboos behind the footlights, such as avoiding the name of a certain Shakespearean “Scottish play” while in the actual theatre or avoiding the phrase “good luck!” in favor of the more dismal “break a leg!” Plenty of other acting-based folk practices might fall under the heading of “magic” as well:

  • Not only the “Scottish play” brings misfortune. Unless you’re actually performing Shakespeare, even quoting the Bard can bring bad luck in a theatre!
  • Like race car drivers, actors shouldn’t eat peanuts backstage (although there are probably sanitary reasons for this, plus if you’ve ever had a salty peanut stuck in your throat you can probably imagine how difficult a soliloquy might be)
  • There are lots of clothing-based taboos: ostrich feathers on a costume are bad luck, as are leaving your shoes or hat on a bed or dressing table
  • Spitting on your makeup brushes before using them ensures good performances and audiences
  • There’s a ritual of lighting a candle in the dressing rooms just before going onstage and leaving it burning during the opening night performance (obviously dangerous, but if you’ve got an awesome stage manager who can spare a tech to keep things safe, it might work out)
  • Those who are so inclined might carry a medal or card for St. Genesius for luck and blessing during the run of a play

There are no shortage of job-related spells, beliefs, charms, and lore, of course. Some additional occupational magical beliefs:

  • Electricians will carry marjoram and feverfew as a way to deflect potential electrocution (yronwode p. 132).
  • Nurses and public safety service workers often swear that full moons bring out the wildest, strangest, and most intense cases (or at least the largest quantity of ER or imperiled people each month)
  • Coal miners will burn the hat of someone who has recently become a new parent to provide protection and blessing to their family; there are also sexist beliefs similar to those found at race tracks about keeping women away from the mines/workplace
  • Pilots—like racers—won’t take photos right before a flight, and they usually avoid allowing their spouse or significant other watch them take off to prevent any accidents or crashes
  • Seamstresses and tailors won’t do repairs on their own clothes, especially not while they are wearing them, for fear of bringing bad luck (even death)
  • Cooks and chefs won’t keep parsley growing indoors because it can invite death into the kitchen or restaurant
Illustraon of a bag of popcorni

There are probably hundreds of bits of folk magic applicable to every job or occupation you could imagine. I recall working at a movie theater and having beliefs about playing movies to empty theaters inviting spirits to be there, for example (so we’d often let someone clock out and watch at least part of a movie if they wanted to so we could avoid that situation). There are also things like “cursed films” that inevitably bring disaster when screened (The Exorcist and The Omen both have reputations like this, although the curses associated with them tend to focus more on the curses on those involved with making the film).

And all of this isn’t even tapping into the numerous magically-oriented occupations from fairy tales: bakers, spinners, soldiers (who we cover in one of our earlier posts), and so forth. We’ve tackled a number of those occupations in a couple of podcasts previously, but even then we could easily fill another several episodes discussing the topic.

What about your occupation? Do you have any magical lore associated with your profession or job? We’d love to hear it if you do! Feel free to share in the comments or send us an email if you’d like to share!

Whatever work you do, we hope you make it magical! Thanks so much for reading!
-Cory

REFERENCES

Brown, Frank C. Frank C. Brown Collection of the Folklore of North Carolina, Wayland Hand, ed. Vol. 6 (1961).

Gmelch, George. “Baseball Magic,” in Elysian Fields Quarterly, vol. 11, no. 3, pp. 25-36 (1992).

Hurston, Zora Neale. “Hoodoo in America,” in The Journal of American Folklore, vol. 44, no. 174, pp. 317-417 (1931).

Malinowski, Bronislaw. Argonauts of the Western Pacific (1922).

Mullen, Patrick B. “The Function of Magic Folk Belief among Texas Coastal Fishermen,” in The Journal of American Folklore, vol. 82, no. 325, pp. 214-25 (1969). 

Penrod, James H. “Folk Beliefs about Work, Trades, & Professions from New Mexico,” in Western Folklore, vol. 27, no. 3, pp. 180-83 (1968).

Randolph, Vance. Ozark Magic & Folklore (1947).

Shearer, P. “Pennsylvania Dutch Folklore,” from Center for Penn. Studies Archives (4 June 1981).

Weston, Brandon. Ozark Folk Magic (2021).
yronwode, catherine. Hoodoo Herb & Root Magic (2002).

Blog Post 233 – Getting into Folk Magic (Videos)

The videos I’ll be sharing here are focused on getting started with folklore and folk magic research. I’m actually going to present them slightly out of order from how I posted them over on YouTube because I think they’ll make more sense in this order. The main idea here is that these videos will let you start pursuing your own line of research into folk magic and finding all sorts of great books like Hubert Davis’s The Silver Bullet and Aaron Oberon’s Southern Cunning, among so many others!

Greetings all!

A number of you probably know this already, but we’ve got a YouTube channel for New World Witchery. I had intended to make sure I was posting here every time I released a new video there, but I’ve actually been so active with the videos I have sort of let them slide here.

But fear not! Because most of the more recent videos have been themed on the same topic, and so I can share them with you here in sort of a cartulary fashion (for those who don’t remember us doing the cartulary posts, they are essentially collections of interesting ephemera and notes from my readings and research…we really need to bring those back!).

The videos I’ll be sharing here are focused on getting started with folklore and folk magic research. I’m actually going to present them slightly out of order from how I posted them over on YouTube because I think they’ll make more sense in this order. The main idea here is that these videos will let you start pursuing your own line of research into folk magic and finding all sorts of great books like Hubert Davis’s The Silver Bullet and Aaron Oberon’s Southern Cunning, among so many others!

The first video I’m sharing is a general orientation into folklore studies. It will give you a high-level overview of what the field is, some guiding principles and definitions, and then go into what magic is as related to folklore a bit as well:

Next, I’m going to point you away from the theory and heady stuff a bit and let you see some of the books I’d consider “101” or beginner books for those interested in both studying and practicing folk magic (and please note, these are all just my opinions):

And next I’m going to point you to the latest video, which looks at some books that cover folk magic in North America from a historical and regional perspective (note: these do look primarily at the post-Colonial history of folk magic here, as Indigenous Peoples’ magic is a much bigger subject that I’m not qualified to write extensively on).

And finally, since we’re talking about books and all that, I’ll throw in a video promo I did for my own book, New World Witchery (because shameless self promotion is really sexy, right?).

There are going to be a lot more videos coming in the future, including more on books and folk magic research, as well as practical topics such as those from our “Everyday Magic” series. If you’re interested in this sort of stuff, please feel free to subscribe to the channel! And if you really enjoy it, comments and shares are definitely welcome!

Thank you so much for reading (and watching)!
Be well!
-Cory

Blog Post 232 – Green Witchcraft II Read-Along Schedule

Hi all!

I realize we’ve already started discussing some of our reading selection for the first half of 2021, Ann Moura’s Green Witchcraft II, on the show (in Episodes 183 and 184 so far). But I forgot to post the reading schedule for you all to follow along! So I’m rectifying that right now by outlining the plan below. You can follow along, and interact with us on our social media (like Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook) or even just leave comments on this post as you read with us!

Reading Plan for Green Witchcraft II by Ann Moura

  • January: Choose book, brief background and introduction to our approach.
  • February: Chapter 1 – What is Green Witchcraft? (Activity – Circle Casting and/or Releasing Fears)
  • March: Chapters 2 & 3 – Who Are the Goddess & God? -and- Who Are the Elementals? (Activity – Meditations; Dark Moon Ritual Consecration; -or- Creating an Elemental Bottle) (Also, Appendix B on Names of Gods & Goddesses will be covered)
  • April: Chapters 4 & 5 – What are the Dark Powers? -and- How are the Dark Powers Used? (Activity – Meditations -or- Sidhe Moon Ritual/Companion Quest) (Also, Appendix A on Terminology will be covered)
  • May: Chapters 7 & 8 – What are Dark Power Herbal Magics? (Activity: Dark Power Exorcism) -and- How are Stones and Crystals Used? (Activity: Crystal/Stone Dedication Ritual)
  • June: Chapters 6 & 10 – How is the Celtic Ogham Used in Divination? -and- What about Familiars and the Tarot? (Activity – Elemental Tarot Spread; Passing the Midhes; -or- Dedicating a Familiar) (also, Appendices C & E on the Sforza Tarot Deck, Black Mirrors, and Ogham Sticks will be covered)
  • July/Wrap-up: Chapter 9 – What are Green Witchcraft Meditations? (Activity – Tree Blending) AND Final thoughts on this/retrospective

As you can see, we’re pushing through this pretty fast, but we’re also planning to try out some of the activities along the way. Sometimes we’ll do something directly from the book, and sometimes we’ll use it as a springboard into another form of practical spellwork (such as one that might show up in an episode like the one we just did on bottle spells).

Also, if you’re interested in getting the book, you can get an exclusive discount at Llewellyn’s site on that or any of her Green Witchcraft books by using the code “GREENWITCH20” at checkout.

We hope you’ll enjoy reading along with us and share your thoughts as we go!

Thanks for listening/reading!

-Cory

Blog Post 231 – Black Magic Matters (Literary Edition)

Hi there. Black Lives Matter. They still do, and we’d like to reiterate that (not just because it’s Black History Month, although that’s a good reason, too, but because it’s a core part of what we believe as well). 

Last year, we posted an article highlighting that Black Magic also matters, particularly in terms of the way Black people have deeply influenced the shape of North American folk magic for hundreds of years now. We highlighted a variety of practitioners, historical figures, and important community members we thought deserved some attention on our platform. We definitely encourage you to go back and check those folks out again, because their contributions only continue to grow in importance over time.

We decided this should also be a topic we revisit from time to time, not least because there are just so many crucial Black figures in the historical and contemporary practice of magic here (and that doesn’t even scratch the surface of those from Indigenous and other communities of Color who have been driving forces of magical creation and expression in North America, too, whom we hope to highlight more frequently as well).

This time, I’m going to share a series of deeply influential folks who have shaped not just my understanding of North American folk magic, but my understanding of literature. This list is focused on those who used the written word to preserve, share, document, enchant, and defend their magical worlds, and I have been extremely lucky to be able to read their work. This group is less focused on the practitioners of magic (although some here certainly do practice it), so I’ll likely have a more practical group to highlight the next time I post. But the words these authors have produced have been so important to me in terms of magic, history, and human feeling that I feel like they are very much worth your time to meet.

A quick note that I have endeavored here to use Bookshop.org links to benefit local bookstores where possible, and only added Amazon links when I had to. I also recommend looking to local Black booksellers to pick up these titles if you can. I should also note that the links here are affiliate links, so our site does benefit from you clicking on them (if that’s an issue please feel free to visit Bookshop.org and search for the titles instead).

And so, Black Magic Matters – Literary Edition:

 

Frederick Douglass 

Many people wind up reading Douglass because of his autobiographical narrative, which became a lightning rod for abolitionists and enabled him to advocate fiercely for the end of slavery during his lifetime. Douglass was a literary master and knew how to turn a phrase, as well as a fierce journalist (he started the paper The North Star, which featured a number of abolitionist articles and helped drive up interest in the subject prior to the Civil War, and later went on to run two other papers as well). 

One element of his narrative that people either completely miss or rabidly focus on is an account in an early edition that tells of a “root” he carries with him when dealing with the cruel slave-driver Covey:

“I found Sandy an old adviser. He told me, with great solemnity, I must go back to Covey; but that before I went, I must go with him into another part of the woods, where there was a certain root, which, if I would take some of it with me, carrying it always on my right side, would render it impossible for Mr. Covey, or any other white man, to whip me. He said he had carried it for years; and since he had done so, he had never received a blow, and never expected to while he carried it. I at first rejected the idea, that the simple carrying of a root in my pocket would have any such effect as he had said, and was not disposed to take it; but Sandy impressed the necessity with much earnestness, telling me it could do no harm, if it did no good. To please him, I at length took the root, and, according to his direction, carried it upon my right side. This was Sunday morning. I immediately started for home; and upon entering the yard gate, out came Mr. Covey on his way to meeting. He spoke to me very kindly, bade me drive the pigs from a lot near by, and passed on towards the church. Now, this singular conduct of Mr. Covey really made me begin to think that there was something in the root which Sandy had given me; and had it been on any other day than Sunday, I could have attributed the conduct to no other cause than the influence of that root; and as it was, I was half inclined to think the root to be something more than I at first had taken it to be.”

Douglass later gets into a knock-down drag-out fight with Covey and one of his assistants, but triumphs (although Covey seems to think he won, he then leaves Douglass alone following the incident). Is this folk magic? There are a number of scholars who identify this root as an element of rootwork or Hoodoo. Douglass himself is very dubious about it, and even in later writings essentially disavows the root as superstition. Still, this passage shows the way that magic entangled with the everyday life of African Americans, and also manages to bring a little of that magic to the reading lists of many young readers today.

To Read: A Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

Also See: The collection of Frederick Douglass-edited newspapers at the Library of Congress website; Kameelah Martin’s Conjuring Moments in African American Literature

Illustration of Charles Chesnutt
Charles W. Chesnutt was an author of color who incorporated Black folk magic into his writing frequently. He is best known for stories like “The Goophered Grapevine.” (Illustration by Cory Thomas Hutcheson, 2021)

Charles W. Chesnutt

The stories of Charles Wadell Chesnutt feature grapevines cursed by conjure-men to wither away, a man whose foot gets twisted backwards by rootwork, a fearsome wolf summoned by an evil witch to do her bidding, and all sorts of other magical goings-on as well. Chesnutt was unique as a late nineteenth-century writer who found success mining African American folklore for story ideas and incorporating them into often funny, sometimes frightening tales. He was also unique in that he identified as Black when he could “pass” as white due to his majority-white ancestry. He made racial issues a centerpiece of many stories, and very much looked to the dismantling of racism as a goal within his work and the work of other authors. His stories, often written in dialect, can feel off-putting at times and do not shy away from racially-charged language or topics, but the massive amounts of magical lore he incorporated into his fiction are captivating. 

To Read: The Conjure Woman, and Other Conjure Tales

Also See: Robert Hemenway’s article “The Functions of Folklore in Charles Chesnutt’s The Conjure Woman,” which discusses the folkloric influences at the root (pardon the pun) of the stories.

 

Nalo Hopkinson

If you’ve never read Jamaican-Canadian author Nalo Hopkinson, you’re missing out. Her work is phenomenally rich, absolutely dripping with magic and character on every page. I first bumped into her through a collection of stories she edited called Mojo: Conjure Stories, which also put me onto work by Tananarive Due, Nnedima Okorafor, and Sheree Renee Thomas. Her book, Brown Girl in the Ring, tells the story of Ti-Jeanne, a young woman struggling in a collapsing world of crime and violence while also balancing the traditions and history she inherits from her rootworking grandmother. Hopkinson frequently incorporates elements of fantasy and speculative fiction into her work, while also keeping it rooted in reality (I personally think she’s essentially a magical realist writer, although I don’t usually see her described that way). She builds on the folklore of her Caribbean heritage and draws the reader into worlds equal parts enchanting and haunting.

To Read: Brown Girl in the Ring; Skin Folk

Also See: Mojo: Conjure Stories (a collection edited by Hopkinson)

Illustration of Toni Morrison
Toni Morrison was a Nobel-prize winning author whose work exuded magic while confronting issues of Blackness and identity. (Illustration by Cory Thomas Hutcheson, 2021)

Toni Morrison

If you’ve listened to our show much, heard me talk about magic and literature at all, then you’re going to know that Toni Morrison has had an outsized impact on my understanding of the universe. I love her writing and have devoured so many of her books. They are often very painful, marvelously uplifting, and incredibly potent because Morrison is a master wordsmith and storyteller. I cannot bring up enough this passage from Sula, which very much informs my sense of cosmology:

“[E]vil must be avoided, they felt, and precautions must naturally be taken to protect themselves from it. But they let it run its course, fulfill itself, and never invented ways to either alter it, to annihilate it or to prevent its happening again. So also were they with people.

What was taken by outsiders to be a slackness, slovenliness or even generosity was in fact a full recognition of the legitimacy of forces other than good ones. They did not believe doctors could heal—for them, none ever had done so. They did not believe death was accidental—life might be, but death was deliberate. They did not believe Nature was ever askew—only inconvenient. Plague and drought were as “natural” as springtime. If milk could curdle, God knows that robins could fall”

If you want books that incorporate Black history, magic, and culture along with incredible stories and unforgettable characters, Morrison is absolutely a must-read.

To Read: Sula; Beloved; Song of Solomon

Also See: “Unspeakable Things Unspoken,” a lecture Morrison gave on African American literary legacies and the ways a reader should engage with a variety of authors 

 

Ishmael Reed

Okay, I know Reed is controversial, but that’s also because he’s bold and experimental, outspoken, brave, and loud on the page. His writing is unapologetic and nearly acidic in its satirical strength, and he takes on a lot of beloved cultural darlings in his work (most recently he wrote a scathing parody of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton with an eye to correcting some of its historical whitewashing, for example). One thing Reed is, however, is meticulous. He unearths pieces of history and culture with the tenacity of a scholar and the literary flourish of a poet. For example, one of his best-known novels, Mumbo Jumbo, is a freewheeling tour of Black history including real-life characters like Black Herman, Marcus Garvey, and President Warren G. Harding (who was sometimes rumored to have Black ancestry). Into that history, Reed injects Hoodoo, Voodoo, Moses, jazz music, spontaneous dance outbreaks, and so much more. His books are the sort of reading that makes you long for footnotes or at least sends you out Googling all the madcap figures and facts he includes to know more (or maybe that’s just me, but I enjoy it!). Reed destigmatizes the power of magic in Black history, and he’s worth your time for that alone (but there’s so much more to enjoy, too).

To Read: Mumbo Jumbo

Also See: Yellow Back Radio Broke-Down (a “HooDoo Western” that is absolutely delightful to read)

 

Randall Kenan

I am incredibly sad that Kenan is no longer with us. I had the chance to correspond with him briefly, and he was a key part of my Master’s thesis (along with Ishmael Reed, Toni Morrison, and Octavia Butler on this list). If there’s an author I think many people haven’t heard of here, it’s Kenan, but that’s a real loss because his work is absolutely magnificent. He only published a few books in his life, but they were absolutely soaked in magic and folklore. Take, for example, this passage from his novel Let the Dead Bury the Dead, in which the history of the town of Tims Creek is interwoven with mythical stories of a devil-disguised-as-preacher who visited long ago:

“[T]he rumors were that these folk had had sexual congress with the Preacher-man. Said that his seed or whatever it was carried madness, and he had forced himself on them innocent youngens and animals and drove em mad…said in one sitting on Christmas Eve, he ate two whole chickens, an entire mess of greens, corn, cabbage, a whole hog, and a cake and a pie. He’d eat and they’d just keep bringing, wide-eyed and plumb put out by the site of it. Say somebody mumbled something bout gluttony and the Preacher just looked at him, mouth full of ham, just looked at him, and that man never said another mumbling word for the rest of his life. Said the Preacher kept a black snake and a big black bird. One woman say she heard the Preacher talking to the snake and the snake talked back. She went deaf.”

If talking snake familiars and ravenous devil-preachers don’t say “American folk magic” to you, I don’t know what to tell you. Kenan also infused his work with intersectional issues, including the difficulties of being both gay and Black in his Southern community. Kenan’s books are founded in occult ideas and make magic both intoxicating and dangerous, and I cannot recommend him nearly enough. We lost him far too soon.

To Read: Let the Dead Bury their Dead; A Visitation of Spirits

Also See: Kenan’s interview with speculative fiction author Octavia Butler in the magazine Callaloo

Illustration of Octavia Butler
The speculative fiction of Octavia Butler is world-shaking for both its bleakness and its hope. She frequently brought in deeply mythic and folkloric elements to her worlds and characters (Illustration by Cory Thomas Hutcheson, 2021)

Octavia Butler

I include the interview with Kenan and Butler above because it’s absolutely fascinating to see them both unpacking her fiction and all its deep mythological roots. If you haven’t read Butler’s work, it’s dark, full of unpleasant situations and serious trauma. At the same time, it’s empowering and encouraging, as the key players in her speculative fiction dramas are trying to make better worlds. Sometimes they are ancient goddess-like figures literally changing their shapes as they live for centuries in a game of cat-and-mouse with other immortals, and sometimes they are teenage women seeking to put post-apocalyptic humans into the stars by combining science and religion in equal measure. Butler’s writing is a magic all its own, too, and she does a phenomenal job conjuring up images that will haunt you long after you turn the page.

To Read: The Parable of the Sower; Wild Seed

Also See: Kindred

 

Tracey Baptiste

So if I’m honest, I’ve only read two things by Tracey Baptiste: Jumbies and her Minecraft-inspired book, The Crash. That latter one is great, but not particularly magical. Jumbies, however, is loaded with magic. She pulls from her Trinidadian heritage and tells a story filled with folk magic, roots, soucouyants, witches, loup garous, and tricksy twins. The book, while aimed at younger readers, is magnetic in its storytelling and folkloric ties, and frankly pretty terrifying! My own children had to put it down because it got so spooky, and they aren’t the type to get that easily spooked. If you have a love of folklore and magic, her writing is absolutely worth checking out. She’s got two sequels (they’re on my to-read pile, I swear!) as well.

To Read: Jumbies (and also, I’m guessing, the sequels…I’ll get back to you on that!)

 

Jeremy Love

The last entry on my list this time is a bit of a mystery. Jeremy Love, a comics author who has worked on several titles including (based on his rarely-updated site) Batman, wrote a webcomic series called Bayou, which was then collected into print and e-book editions. The story is absolutely rife with Southern Black folklore, including a young woman setting off through an uncanny Otherworld populated by monsters and magic in order to save her father. Love then wrote a sequel as well, which seemed like it would be part of a trilogy. However, to date there’s been no third book, and almost a decade has passed. He’s also not easy to find online, and there haven’t been many updates about him or his work. Still, I include him here because 1) the first two books are great stories with a ton of folklore and folk magical elements woven in; 2) the artwork is simply beautiful; and 3) I’m hoping that by writing about a third book it will somehow come to be. 

To Read: Bayou #1 (generally easier to get as e-comics from DC directly) and Bayou #2 

 

That’s where I’m going to leave it for now. This is just a small sampling of Black authors who have written amazing work incorporating folklore and folk magic, and I know there are so many more out there I could get into. Hopefully, though, this introduces you to a few you might enjoy and also helps to demonstrate just how much Black writers contribute. We truly wouldn’t have New World Witchery without the contributions of many of these writers, and all of them make our literary landscape so much richer and better. 

If you have suggestions for Black authors for me to read (especially ones with lots of folklore in their work), I’d love to know! Please feel free to leave comments and point me in the direction of even more great Black magical writing! (Oh, but please note that once again any racist, misogynistic, or otherwise heinous comments will not be approved and may be reported as harassment. Please use the comments to lift up and elevate Black magic and Black writers). 

Thank you for reading,

-Cory

Blog Post 230 – Changing Your Luck

Image of silhouetted animals including cat, skunk, and rabbit
Any number of animals crossing one’s path was considered bad luck and required turning around and beginning a journey again. (Image by author (c) 2021).

As we turn the page on the past year (and I think there are plenty of people who would agree that they’re ready to not just turn the page but rip the whole accursed chapter out of the book), I know many of us are going to make resolutions, plan to live a better version of our lives, and do any number of things to improve situations for ourselves and others. That is all well and good, but if there’s one thing that last year seems to have demonstrated time and again, it’s that at a certain level we also are operating at the hands of Fate. Fortunately, if you’re reading this, you probably have an interest in folk magic, and if there’s one point that many branches of folk magic emphasize, it is that Fate is not a fixed, unshakable future, but something that we can influence through enchanted manipulations and the subtle weaving of our intentions through charms, talismans, and other tools.

Today I want to briefly visit a few of the magical ways in which people have sought to change their luck through folk magic in America. Some are focused on very specific forms of luck, such as gambling, while others are much broader. I’ve already written before about ways in which people can “eat their luck,” for example, as we see with widespread practices of consuming specific “good luck” foods on New Year’s Day. Black eyed peas and greens appear in African American and broader Southern traditions. Pork and sauerkraut are a must-have for those in German American communities, such as those of central Pennsylvania. Likewise, many Latinx people consume foods like grapes—one for each of the twelve days following New Year’s Day—as a method of ensuring prosperity and good fortune in the year to come. Some other food-based luck transformations include:

  • Kissing the cook after taking the last piece of bread to avoid having bad luck (Brown 370).
  • Don’t throw away broken dishes but keep them piled in the back yard/back of the house and they will keep you from going hungry (Hyatt 274)
  • Turning plates at the end of the meal before getting up ensures that any bad luck in the room will be reversed so long as everyone does it (but the same lore warns never to turn a plate during a meal, because it allows “the witches [to] partake of the meal” (Brown 370)

Image of salt shaker
Perhaps the best-known food based form of reversal magic comes from the superstition that spilled salt brings bad luck. According to wide-spread folk belief, this is thought to be related to the idea that Judas must have spilled salt during the Last Supper. (Image by author (c)2021)

Perhaps the best-known food based form of reversal magic comes from the superstition that spilled salt brings bad luck. According to wide-spread folk belief, this is thought to be related to the idea that Judas must have spilled salt during the Last Supper (a folk legend not directly recorded in biblical accounts, which only mentions “dipping into the bowl” at the same time as Jesus). The remedies for this failure of luck, however, are wide-ranging, including tossing a pinch of salt over your left shoulder—sometimes to chase away or blind the Devil. Other versions of this reversal say to throw a bit of salt over either shoulder, or even “on the hot stove” (although tossing salt directly in the fire is thought to cause you to become “very angry”) (Brown 372-74). Throwing food away, however, doesn’t seem very lucky, so fortunately there are also beliefs like those found in Britain and parts of North America that say carrying food like potatoes and onions in one’s pockets would reverse bad luck and bring good (Hyatt 25).

Image of Grandpa Simpson telling rambling story about tying an onion to his belt
Beliefs like those found in Britain and parts of North America that say carrying food like potatoes and onions in one’s pockets would reverse bad luck and bring good. So Grandpa Simpson may have been on to something. (Image from “The Simpsons,” (c)Fox Studios).

Beyond the culinary luck-changers, there are a number of other things a person could do to ensure favorable fortune. Gestures and behaviors that might protect one from bad luck and invite good luck include:

  • Catching a caterpillar, keeping it in your home until it hatches, then freeing it when it becomes a moth or butterfly. It should be noted that the lore is very insistent that you not kill the creature in any of its life stages, as that will bring bad luck (Hyatt 30).
  • Frederick Douglass famously carried a root given to him by a conjure man in his pocket as a way to deflect the “misfortune” of abuse by his overseer, a devil of a man named Covey. It’s possible this was a “master root” or even a “John the Conqueror” root (Douglass 111). Douglass later revised his account of this incident, downplaying the role of conjure and rootwork to distance himself from what was seen as a Black stereotype and the “tomfoolery of the ignorant” (Martin 57).
  • A bit of North Carolina lore says that if you have trouble with being a butterfingers and breaking dishware, you can find a shed snake skin and rub your hands with it to remove that condition (Brown 375) 
  • “It is considered lucky to keep a living plant in your bedroom at night” (Hyatt 21) but there are also admonitions that any cut flowers (or plants that are otherwise in the process of decay) should be removed before sleeping in a room to reverse any potential poor luck in health
  • Several sources indicate that you must restart a journey if a black cat crosses your path. Similarly, other black-completed animals such as skunks, rabbits, or squirrels can all require such a turning back and beginning again (Hyatt 53)
  • Related to the turning back is the idea that if you do turn back, you shouldn’t keep going the same day, but wait until the next day to ward off bad luck (this also ties into the belief that you shouldn’t watch someone’s plane take off). You can also wait until the animal crosses the path of another person, which cancels the bad luck (possibly for both of you)
  • Despite their bad rap as path-crossers, black cats can also reverse bad luck. A bit of lore says that stroking the tail of a (strange) black cat seven times is thought to reverse misfortune and bring good luck (Hyatt 54)
  • Snakes also get a bit of a bad reputation in the path-crossing department. Several people describe the ritual of drawing a cross in a snake track if you see it in your path. This is true whether you see the snake that left the tracks or just the tracks themselves. The cross is thought to cancel out the bad luck (and is likely related to the idea of the “cross” from a Christian context acting against the dangerous and “sinful” nature of the snake from the Garden of Eden story (Hyatt 34). A Kentucky variant, however, totally bypasses the snake and instead simply says that you can reverse bad luck by drawing a cross in the dirt and spitting on it (Thomas no. 1032)

Image of a snake
Several people describe the ritual of drawing a cross in a snake track if you see it in your path. (Image by author (c) 2021)

In many of these examples, animals and other living things (like the houseplant—which makes me glad for my spider plants all the more) are the impetus for the luck-changing magic at work, something I’ve also mentioned when writing about the very strange (and often quite racist) lore associated with lucky rabbits’ feet. Similar animal-bone talismans include the jawbone or breastbone of a frog or the familiar wishbone from a bird like a turkey, which can be carried as luck-giving charms.

Beyond the power of various living things to perform misfortune management, there is a whole cadre of lore connected to sharp and pointy things that are able to reverse the curse:

  • Accidentally crossing two knives brings bad luck, and it can only be undone by the person who crossed the knives picking them up again. Similarly, if a person finds a pair of open scissors, they close them right away, or else “she will quarrel with her dearest friend before the moon changes” (Randolph 58).
  • Another remedy from Nova Scotian lore suggests that a person take “nine new needles, put them in a dipper of water, [and] boil until all the water is gone” (Brown v7 108)
  • Finding open pocket knife and picking it up gives you good luck (Hyatt 273)
  • Similarly finding a pin or penny is potentially bad luck but is easily reversed by simply picking it up and carrying it with you (multiple variations found in Brown 437-38). 

Personally I’ve also often commingled this last charm with the belief that a penny found heads up is good luck, which is great until you find a tails-up penny but also need to pick it up. So my own response is to pick up these “bad luck” pennies and turn them over, then set them down on another surface (usually higher up than the ground), so that I fulfill the basic idea of the charm while also not carrying the bad luck with me. Also, in general I’d prefer not to carry change I pick up off the street for health reasons, but that may just be me.

Image of pocket knife
Finding open pocket knife and picking it up gives you good luck. (Image by author (c) 2021)

Of course, you might also be suffering a run of bad luck because of something you did, or something someone else did. For example, you might have snubbed your local witch (a very bad idea) and thus have fallen under a curse. If the bad luck is the result of conjury or witchcraft, visiting the curse-caster’s front steps is a good way to deal with the problem. Several different traditions, but especially Hoodoo, mention remedies such as spitting on the front step, digging some dirt from under it, or leaving the broken charm under the stair (Brown v7 105-6). There are also long-standing beliefs from a number of cultures that implore you to be humble, because speaking too highly of yourself or your luck courts disaster. Speaking of any good fortune you’ve had recently can invite bad luck to follow, unless you knock or “peck” on wood to counteract that effect (Brown v7 167-8). There’s also a great deal of evil eye lore connected to beliefs like this, but that is its own (rather enormous) topic.

Image of nine pins
Nova Scotian lore suggests that a person take “nine new needles, put them in a dipper of water, [and] boil until all the water is gone” to reverse bad luck. (Image by author (c) 2021).
Some of these reversal charms, spells, and beliefs may seem a bit esoteric to us today. Few of us are going around rubbing our hands with snakeskin or collecting piles of broken dishware in our back yards. But knocking on wood has managed to linger on in widespread use, along with a few other very common bits of magic (some of which people perform without ever even thinking of them as “magical”):

  • A bit of lore found in Florida, Alabama, Michigan, Illinois, and more says that in a time of danger a person should cross their fingers to prevent bad luck (Brown v7 169)
  • “The first dollar collected in a new business should be framed for good luck. 
  • (Mary E. Price from Bill Garrett)” (Penrod, New Mexico article). I know I have seen many businesses that do this and put it on display near the cash register or front door, probably not thinking about the idea that it keeps misfortune at bay and invites good financial luck in.
  • Superstitions about sneezing and luck are common, with many believing that wicked spirits or devils are about when someone sneezes. Hence, the “bless you” or its many variants that you might say are a way of reversing any potential harm, bad luck, or evil that might be close by (Brown v7 153). 

You can see that there are a LOT of options when it comes to luck-reversal, then. There are all sorts of ways that a person can cut their losses through magic, and those I’ve mentioned here are just the very tip of the iceberg (or the found pocket knife or pin, perhaps). I’m always interested in seeing what other rituals people have developed in contemporary times to change luck in their favor, too. Like the lore about not watching one’s loved ones off in an airport, newer technologies breed newer folklore and thus newer folk magic. Surely at some point we’ll have lore about reversing the bad luck of playing online casinos or sports betting apps by doing things like opening other apps first (perhaps ensuring that the betting app is the seventh one opened that day or something similar). Perhaps people will buy wooden phone cases so they can knock on wood more easily whenever they feel a streak of bad luck coming on. Or maybe they will have phone charms resembling rabbits or cats or four-leaf clovers to help them. I should also note that this isn’t strictly about gambling, either (and that gambling can be very addictive so please seek help if you’re worried about that getting out of control). As more of our lives move into the ether of online space, or we see technologies like Roombas running around our house, we may develop new responses to all of these things (perhaps we will begin believing that we must leave the room when our iRobot vacuum is cleaning so it doesn’t go under our feet, which would carry forward a belief about not having your feet “swept” from older lore). 

Wherever our life goes in response to new developments, we will likely always retain a little bit of magical thinking about how to make fortune favor us a little bit more. After the year so many of us have just had, I know there were lots of people who warned against the hubris of claiming 2021 as “your year” out of (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) fear that it would somehow invite another 2020 to rear its ugly head. But taking control through these little rituals—carrying a charm or putting a dollar bill up on the wall or even just tending to a little netted cage of butterflies in your home and then releasing them in the wild—this is something we have done for a long time. What magic do you bring to the table to change things for the better? I’d love to know!

Wishing you a bright and happy beginning to your 2021, and thank you for reading.

-Cory

 

REFERENCES

  1. Brown, Frank C. Frank C. Brown Collection of North Carolina Folklore, v. 6, Wayland Hand, ed. Duke Univ. Press, 1964.
  2. Brown, Frank C. Frank C. Brown Collection of North Carolina Folklore, v. 7, Wayland Hand, ed. Duke Univ. Press, 1964.
  3. Douglass, Frederick. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave. Dover Publications, 1995.
  4. Hyatt, Henry M. Folklore from Adams County, Illinois. Alma Egan Hyatt Foundation, 1935. 
  5. Martin, Kameelah L. Conjuring Moments in African American Literature. Palgrave MacMillan, 2012.
  6. Thomas, Daniel, and Lucy Thomas. Kentucky Superstitions. Princeton Univ. Press, 1920.
  7. Penrod, James H. “Folk Beliefs about Work, Trades, and Professions from New Mexico,” in Western Folklore, vol. 27, no. 3 (Jul. 1968), pp. 180-83.
  8. Randolph, Vance. Ozark Magic & Folklore. Dover Publications, 1964.

Blog Post 229 – Frogs and Toads

Illustration of woman spitting frogs and snakes from her mouth to illustrate fairy tale
“As she spoke, vipers and toads fell from her open mouth.” – from “Diamonds and Toads (or, The Fairies)” (Illustration by Cory Thomas Hutcheson 2020)

“Just then there came a second knock at the door, and a voice called out:

Youngest daughter of the king,
Open up the door for me,
Don’t you know what yesterday,
You said to me down by the well?
Youngest daughter of the king,
Open up the door for me.

The king said, “What you have promised, you must keep. Go and let the frog in.”

-From “The Frog Prince, or Iron Heinrich” from the Grimms’ fairy tales collection

Witches go together with frogs and toads almost as readily as they do with broomsticks and pointy hats in the popular imagination. In the story “The Frog Prince, or Iron Heinrich” from the Brothers Grimm collection, a handsome prince has been transformed into a frog by a “wicked witch,” although we pointedly do not get her side of the story. The story “Diamonds and Toads (or The Fairies),” found in the pre-Grimm French collection done by Charles Perrault, reveals that while a good sister is rewarded by precious jewels dripping from her mouth when she speaks, an ill-mannered girl is punished by a fairy (sometimes a fairy tale proxy for a witch), who curses the girl to spew toads and vipers when she speaks.

Beyond the fairy tales, however, several folk magical practices are woven into the webbed toes of frogs and toads. This post will share a few of those bits of magical lore from North American sources and practices. I will note that there are some gruesome spells herein, including some that involve harm or death coming to these marshy denizens, and I am in NO WAY ADVOCATING that you actually do anything hurtful to frogs or toads. They are a valuable part of our ecology and virtually any spell can be adapted in ways that avoid harming them (although I have nothing against the respectful collection of their remains after their demise). In fact, I’ll even begin with this bit of North Carolina folklore to help warn you away from such cruelty:

-Every frog you kill makes your life shorter (or killing a frog or toad will lead to the death of your mother, father, or another kinsperson) (Brown, p. 54). 

Another series of entries from that collection mentions that killing a frog or toad will lead your livestock to give bloody milk (p. 437-38), but conversely it recommends that an ill animal be fed a live frog in order to cure it (p. 449). That may very well have to do with the sympathetic nature of the magic, and the belief that a frog might have been used to initiate the curse, so forcing the frog into the animal is a way of doubling the hex back on itself and thus purging it from the animal’s system (we see a similar logic in the flogging of bewitched milk over hot coals, which is thought to return the harmful spell to the witch who cast it). 

Along that same vein of logic, we see in a number of folkloric instances the ways in which frogs or toads are sympathetically linked through magic to the world around them. They serve as familiars to witches in many stories (including as the representations of the witch’s power in tales like “The Frog Prince” and “Diamonds and Toads”). In Shakespeare’s play Macbeth we also get a reference to a toad as a witch’s familiar, or spirit companion, an idea commonly echoed in popular accounts of witchcraft. One sixteenth-century witch named Joan Cunny from Essex, England, for example, was associated with a pair of familiars that looked like black frogs and another Essex witch named Margery Sammon kept a pair of toads named Tom and Robin as familiars (Wilby, p. 230, p. 109). These creatures could also hold familiar bonds with other living things, such as trees. For example, some American lore states that killing a tree frog in its tree is thought to also kill the tree, also indicating the “familiar” like nature of them (Brown, p. 499). 

Both toads and frogs seem to operate between worlds, making them liminal agents that can run between either the land and water or between our world and the underworld. What they did in that underworld realm made them even more fearful in the folk imagination. For example, one bit of lore says that because they are thought to eat coals of fire (possibly also hellfire, given their traffic with the underworld), toads and frogs can be venomous or toxic. There are indeed toxic species of these creatures, so the belief about their dangers is not entirely untrue in the case of some poison-skinned frogs, but their dangers do not seem to be caused by the ingestion of brimstone (Brown, p. 409). A similar belief prevails about frogs eating buckshot, too, linking them to fire and iron, weapons, danger, and death. Their toxicity, however, might also be a connection to their witchier lore, especially as some frogs and toads secrete substances that can cause psychedelic reactions in humans (as evidenced by the minor fad–massively overplayed in popular media–with “licking frogs” among college students a few decades ago and even portrayed on The Simpsons). 

Frogs and toads also had more positive qualities (although admittedly these qualities didn’t do much to benefit the animals themselves). For example, an oft-repeated claim seems to indicate that some medieval physicians recommended placing a live frog in one’s mouth to remove a sore throat or other ailments, a supposition that has been dubiously linked to the phrase “a frog in one’s throat” (in reality, the phrase derives from an American lozenge rather than any medieval phraseology). Transferring diseases to animals by touch or by holding them in the mouth was not all that uncommon as a folk remedy or cure, and we see it come up in folklore about maladies such as warts quite frequently. That brings me to one of the other common bits of lore about toads and frogs, which are often accused of causing warts in anyone that holds them. This is essentially bunk, but the belief in magical transference of the disease makes some sense as it is a sort of “contagious” magic. Considering just how many folk wart cures and spells there are, it’s probably not a real crisis for someone to touch a frog or toad even if there were a risk of warts (which, again, there really isn’t).

Illustration of a witch's finger touching a frog
A popular folk belief says that touching frogs or toads causes warts (although that is not scientifically accurate). (Illustration by Cory Thomas Hutcheson 2020)

Curing the magical or venomous maladies of the Anuran order (which, frankly, sounds like the kind of club I’d like to join–”I’m a member of the Anuran Order, Bufo Chapter, Horned Toad House”) include the use of the “toadstone,” a type of secret gem or mineral deposit thought to be carried in the head or body of a toad and which could dispel any number of ailments. Specifically it was believed to be good against poisons, and is mentioned both in Roman lore and once again in Shakespeare as well (it may well be that this stone was actually a type of fossil).

The idea that a toad might carry in its body a powerful magical object was not limited to the toadstone, however, for within witchcraft lore a widely pervasive rite known as the “Toad’s Bone” ritual has captivated occultists for centuries and received a recent uptick in popularity due to the late Andrew Chumbley’s essay, “The Leaper Between.” Historical witchcraft writer Nigel Pennick discusses how in many parts of rural England and the British Isles, the toad’s bone rite was associated with a secret society known as the Horseman’s Word. Reputedly, those who were part of this group were a society of horse whisperers who could calm wild horses and easily help to break them, as well as treating them for certain problems. While they were esteemed for their equine skills, they were also suspected of witchcraft in many cases. They were thought to be brought into the fraternity by completing a toad’s bone rite of some kind, one that mirrored similar rites in witch lore, such as this one:

“The Norfolk witch Tilley Baldrey had her techniques published in The Eastern Counties Magazine in 1901. She tells how she became a witch through the toad-bone ritual. In standard English, ‘you catch a hopping toad and carry it in your bosom until it has rotted away to the back-bone,’ then, ‘you take it and hold it over running water at midnight until the Devil comes to you and pulls you over the water.’ This is the initiation as a witch.” (Pennick loc. 1154).

This initiatory rite resulted in the possession of the toad’s bone, which was carried as a token of power and a symbol of initiation, much in the same way that the black cat bone appears in other witch lore. Similar rituals involved crucifying a toad with thorns (usually blackthorn, although it could be hawthorn in some variants) on top of an ant hill and waiting until the ants had devoured the toad’s flesh. The bones would then be taken to a stream and submerged, and whichever floated against the current was the fabled toad’s bone.

I should note once again that I adamantly do NOT encourage the use of animal torture for the procurement of magical tools. These rites may have some significance in the historical context, but you are just as likely to be able to get many of these tools–even toad and frog bones–from sources that do not require the animals to suffer (given how popular frogs’ legs are in parts of the South, contacting a frog-gigger who hunts for restaurant fare might be a better way to handle this). Waiting to find a frog skeleton is just as good, and comes with a sense of feeling like the bones were meant for you rather than extracted through cruelty and malice.

A desiccated frog skeleton found in my in-laws’ house hidden in the back of a cabinet; you never know when you’ll find these sorts of things!

As a final note about the magic of these lovely amphibians, I should note that they are also thought to be harbingers of changing weather and seasons. A belief found throughout the eastern half of the United States says that the croaking of frogs is thought to signal the end of winter (Brown, p. 323). If you’ve ever been in the South in the early summer, you’ll know the sound of “peepers” out in any even mildly wetland area pretty well. Seeing a large number of frogs (and potentially hearing them as well), is also thought to be a sign of coming rain. In this way we can see the deep connections between the watery world of the pond and the stormy sky as connected, with the toads and frogs acting as those “leapers between” as Chumbley phrased it. 

This is been only a webbed toe dipped into the very deep pond of frog and toad lore, but hopefully it gives you a sense of just how much enchantment can be found in these creatures. Perhaps if the spoiled princess in the story of the golden ball had known that, she might not have been so quick to run away or fear her froggy beau. I’d still prefer not to have them jumping out of my mouth every time I speak, though. It would make teaching pretty awkward.

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

 

References:

Video: Everyday Magic – Nuts

Check out our latest Everyday Magic video, featuring the folklore of nuts! You can also check out more food-related magical lore at some of our previous episodes and posts:

Blog Post 123 – Corn
Blog Post 143 – Apples
Blog Post 144 – Walnuts
Blog Post 157 – Peaches
Blog Post 192 – Eating Your Luck
Blog Post 227 – Bread
Episode 170 – Food and Folk Magic with Gwion Raven
Episode 178 – A Cornucopia of Magic

Images and videos from this video via Pixabay, used under a CC 2.0 license. Some photos by author.

Video: Everyday Magic – Apples

We’ve got another in our Everyday Magic playlist series available! This time we’re taking a brief look at some of the folklore and magic surrounding apples.

Find out more at our blog post: Apples.

Thanks to Peter Muise of the New England Folklore blog for the story of Roger Williams

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Image/Video/Sound Sources: -Pixabay (www.pixabay.com) -Author’s original work (Cory Thomas Hutcheson) -AudioSocket (www.audiosocket.com) All media used under purchased license (AudioSocket), Creative Commons license, or public domain use Created with Wondershare Filmora

Contest Time! Fall 2020 Edition

It’s contest time! 

One of the kind of cool perks to creating New World Witchery is that we often get access to lots of books coming out on magical topics, and sometimes publishers even send us an extra copy or two of some books so we can give them away. I have been very lax in doing these sorts of giveaways, but I’m chalking it (loosely) up to Fate. Well, okay, and a touch of being a little overwhelmed with all the projects I do. But why Fate? 

Because I have a few projects that I need your help with, and I thought why not combine those projects with an opportunity to give away a whole bunch of books? Maybe I’ve just been stockpiling these so that I would have a good cache of verbal treasures to send out as potential “thank yous” to a few lucky folks who help me out with my work!

So how can you help (and also get a chance to win one or more of these books)? 

I’m currently doing a few research projects and I need people to share their experiences with me, so I’ve decided that if you participate in my project, you can also enter to win a book! Here’s how to participate and enter:

  1. Fill out our “Campfire Tales” survey with your favorite spooky/funny/weird/eerie tale from around the old campfire! Importantly, please make sure it’s one that you’ve actually heard told to you, and not just read (or one that you’ve told and not just read) as I’m trying to get stories from the oral tradition. It’s totally fine if they’ve also been written down somewhere, too (and if you grew up reading the Alvin Schwartz Scary Stories series, you’ll know exactly what Campfire Tales are!), but definitely tell me the story in your own words! Make sure to leave a good email address with the survey so we can contact you if you win (we do NOT share your email address with advertisers or third parties). 
  2. Fill out our “Research Survey: Slumber Party and Supernatural Games” form. It will ask you questions about any spooky, weird, or slightly supernatural games you might have played/still play, including everything from “Bloody Mary” to using Ouija boards to newer versions of games like Midnight Man or Three Kings. Again, if you fill out this Google Form survey, make sure to provide an email address if you want to be considered for one of the books as a prize; we don’t share those with third parties or advertisers). 

You can participate in one or both of these surveys to get an entry into our contest! If you’re one of our Patreon supporters, you’ll also get an automatic entry as well (just one of the perks of being a patron!). 

So what are some of the books up for grabs?

  • Making Magic, by Briana Saussy (at least three copies) – A lovely guide to working everyday magic into your life through ritual, art, craft, and intention
  • Outside the Charmed Circle, by Misha Magdalene – All about magical and ritual explorations of gender and sexuality
  • Urban Magick, by Diana Rajchel – A great look at working funky, potent, animistic magic in a cityscape
  • What is Remembered Lives, by Phoenix LaFae – A book about working with ancestors, the Fae, and spiritual powers
  • The Magick of Food, by Gwion Raven – A marvelous overview of magical cookery, including historical recipes, ritual menus, and more
  • The Crooked Path, by Kelden Mercury – An introduction and orientation to Traditional Witchcraft
  • Besom, Stang, and Sword, by Chris Orapello and Tara-Love Maguire (not pictured, but a great book!) – A wonderful introduction to animistic, locally-rooted witchcraft by two amazing witches
  • Fifty-four Devils, by Cory Thomas Hutcheson (at least two signed copies) – My guide to the folklore of playing cards and a basic system of cartomancy

I may also add more books into the mix, depending on what I get/find/mysteriously find under a rock between now and when these contests end. Speaking of, get your entries in by no later than midnight, October 2nd, 2020 by EST to be considered for one of the book prizes!

You can win a prize in both contests, but only one book per survey (and multiple survey responses don’t increase your chances of winning). I’ll be picking the books and winners at random when the contest is over, then contacting winners to confirm a shipping address for any and all books you win.

There is no cost to you to participate in this contest, and you can also choose to do the surveys and not be entered into the drawing for the books if you like (but seriously, free books, why wouldn’t you?!?!)

Huge thanks to Llewellyn, Weiser, and Sounds True publications for all their generosity in offering these texts!

Best of luck, and my immense thanks to everyone who participates!

-Cory