Archive for the ‘Blog’ category

Blog Post 133 – Summer Reading List

August 17, 2011

Hi there!

Today I thought I’d share some of the various books and other texts I’ve been reading over the summer, both for school and for pleasure. Most everything I’ve read has had something I could take from it and apply to magical or folkloric study, though in many cases the connection might be a bit tenuous.  What I hope to illustrate is that reading across broad categories (and, by extension, having broad experiences), can provide you with a lot of good material and insight. At the very least, I hope to wow you with my lexical engrossment. Women dig guys with big libraries, right?

All kidding aside, I hope you find this useful or interesting, and that I am able to show the relevance to New World Witchery. So here we go!

African American Literature

Knowing the culture from which a tradition or practice develops is important, and a large portion of my summer involved becoming deeply familiar with African-American literary culture, which in turn helped me better understand things like hoodoo.

Slave narratives: I read a number of these for my African American Literature course, and then even found myself reading additional titles in this genre as well. Nearly every one I read mentioned at least some magical practice, varying from the presence of a fortune-teller in William Wells Brown’s story to Frederick Douglass’ use of a magical root to keep from being beaten (according to Douglass, who was dubious of its powers, it did seem to work). The attitude in these texts varies pretty widely when it comes to magical practice. Some condone it, some treat it with ambivalence, and some are hostile towards it. Some of the works I read included:

Folklore: We read several authors renowned for their folkloric contributions, and several writers deeply influenced by folk tales. In nearly every case, some element of conjure or rootwork is present, though often only incidentally or tangentially (as in Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon). Through studying these works I found new sources of magical lore which function as old fairy tales often do—preserving the folklife information in fictional form. A selection of suggested texts:

I’m sure there were dozens of references to conjure culture I missed in these as well as the other works I read for this class, but in each of them I found something of value related to my magical, spiritual, ancestral, or simply scholarly practice.

Bible as Literature

I’m planning on exploring the magical connections in the Bible elsewhere (it actually wound up being a major component of my final paper for the class, a 20-page monster that essentially argued “no magic=no Bible”). But I thought it might be good to list a few of the major sources I used on that paper, as they revealed a tremendous amount about historical magical practices related to this keystone cultural text.

There were plenty of scholarly articles on the topic, too, and a number of entries in reference books like The Cambridge Companion to the Bible and the Anchor Bible Dictionary. Trying to list all of those, however, would probably be tedious, so I’ll leave them be for the moment.

While I’m not one to say all North American folk magic is biblically based (in fact much of it is completely unrelated to the Bible), the Bible has had an impact on multiple magical systems here, and so I find learning more about it useful. I especially find learning more about it in a magical context useful!

Creative Non-Fiction

This was supposed to be my “fun” course, a writing class in a workshop-style setting. It was actually fairly reading-intensive, too, though. I wound up writing a piece on a somewhat famous conjure personality as part of the course, and got an excellent response to it. I can only think of one book, though, that falls into the New World Witchery camp of texts: Salvation on Sand Mountain, by Dennis Covington. This book is about snake handling churches in southern Appalachia, and the portions of it we read for class were eerily magical at times. The author of the book starts off as a non-believer, and even engages in the handling as a non-believer, but finds that a mystical power overtakes him when he’s ‘in the moment,’ so to speak. I definitely recommend it based just on the limited amount we read.

In addition to my school work, I was also spending time reading a number of books for fun, which I’ll hopefully get around to reviewing soon. I’ve already put up a review of Charles De Lint’s Promises to Keep over at the Pagan Bookworm site, and I’m working on reviews for about 3-4 other titles as well. I’m also planning to restart Moby Dick when the fall weather hits, and possibly re-read some Hawthorne, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

At any rate, I hope you’ve been having a fun and useful summer, too! What’s been on your reading list the past few months?

All the best, and thanks for reading,

-Cory

Blog Post 132 – The Value of Silence

August 1, 2011

It’s been a while, hasn’t it? But it’s good to see you all again, to get the chance to rejoin the conversation. Except that today, I’m going to be talking about silence, which makes for a rather one-sided discussion, right?

I thought this would be an appropriate topic as I’ve been away for over a month at this point, with very little feedback flowing towards our listeners and readers and almost no new material on the blog or podcast. We’ve been in a realm of silence here at New World Witchery, but maybe that’s not such a bad thing. After all, silence has its uses.

The famous “Witch’s Pyramid,” for example, contains the four sides of a (Wiccan) witch’s code of conduct: To know, to will, to dare, and to keep silent. That’s a fairly modern code, of course, but because it is a complex system expressed in simple language, it taps into some fairly old ideas, including the keeping silent part. There are lots of interpretations of this idea; some say it means one should not discuss one’s magic after the working (one of Shivian Balaris’s interesting Twitter #WitchTips said “never sharing what magick you’ve done is felt to protect the spell so that it can complete properly; plus keeps ego in check,” for example-July 25, 2011). Others think that the silence is designed to insulate practitioners of the “Old Ways” from the persecutions they might suffer if their practices were openly discussed. Still more maintain that the silence in magical practice forms a core component of its spiritual nature; in other words, the silence maintains the mystery, which is very important in a Mystery tradition. I personally think elements of all three positions can be present in a magical practice, though not everyone agrees, of course (fellow podcaster Fire Lyte has mentioned on several shows that he does not like the secrecy and cloak-and-dagger-style mystery that accompanies some of these practices, as they create elitism and insulate seekers from knowledge, for example).

Turning to folklore (as you knew I would), there are several examples of silence serving one of the aforementioned functions. Of course there’s the common practice of observing a “moment of silence” in honor of a fallen hero or a significant event. Folk tales abound in quiet characters. In the story of “The Yellow Ribbon” from Minnesota (which I’ve also heard as “The Black Ribbon”), a woman’s silence guards a mystery that literally means life or death to her. An Old World fairy tale called “The Dwarfs’ Tailor” tells the story of a foolish and loquatious young tailor who must serve a group of dwarves in their enchanted mountain forest home in order to win the love of his old master’s daughter. The dwarves beat the tailor every time he tries to speak or ask questions, and so he learns to serve them in silence, and thus cures his foolish tongue-wagging and becomes a master tailor in his own right. And in the classic Grimm’s tale “The Six Swans,” a young princess must sew six shirts for her six brothers—enchanted into the shape of swans—during a six-year silence in order to release her brothers from the spell upon them. Other stories contain themes of silence, of course, from “The Little Mermaid” to “The Silent Princess” to the (creepy and captivating) episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer entitled “Hush.”

Within the magical continuum, calls for silence or secrecy appear in several traditions. In the Pow Wow practice, you can find this spell:

A GOOD REMEDY FOR THE FEVER.
Good morning, dear Thursday! Take away from [name] the 77-fold fevers. Oh! thou dear Lord Jesus Christ, take them away from him! + + + [here make the sign of the cross three times]

This must be used on Thursday for the first time, on Friday for the second time, and on Saturday for the third time; and each time thrice. The prayer of faith has also to be said each time, and not a word dare be spoken to anyone until the sun has risen. Neither dare the sick person speak to anyone till after sunrise; nor eat pork, nor drink milk, nor cross a running water, for nine days. (from The Long-Lost Friend by J.G. Hohman)

Here the silence seems to be an integrated part of the spell, a purification of the operator in the same way avoiding pork or milk might work (as they are foods often associated with unclean spirits and witchcraft).  It might then be comparable to fasting, a way of conditioning the body to respond to magic, or of preparing it for magical action. Other spells use magical silence to maintain a solemness and help maintain focus, as in this one from the Ozarks:

Some hillfolk say that a girl can call up a phantom of the man she is to marry by wrapping a lock of hair with some of her fingernail clippings in a green leaf and thrusting them into the ashes in the fireplace. Then she sits down before the fire. When the hair and fingernails begin to get warm, the ghostly appearance of her future husband is supposed to rescue them from the fire. Sometimes several girls try this at once. The door must be left open, and everyone must maintain absolute silence (Randolph, OM&F, p. 177-8)

This particular spell is rather reminiscent of the Dumb Supper, of course, though much simplified. The Dumb Supper itself is fascinating as a ritual of silence, but is a topic too big to tackle here. And since I’ve already given a good overview of it in my Halloween article from last year, I’ll leave it be for now.

Still other magical performances use silence as a cipher for secrecy, maintaining that certain things must not be spoken of, or at least, not spoken of frequently. Another Ozark account describes the passing of a specific sorcerous power—fire-drawing (or burn healing)—as a ritual wrapped in secrecy:

A gentleman near Crane, Missouri, has enjoyed a great success in relieving the pain from superficial burns. He just blows gently upon the burned place, touches it with his finger tips, and whispers a little prayer. The prayer may be told to persons of the other sex, but never imparted to one of the same sex. This man said he had learned the magic from Mrs. Molly Maxwell, an old woman who lived in Galena, Missouri. Since he could not tell me, I asked a young woman to get the secret words from him. This is what she heard : ‘One little Indian, two little Indians, One named East, one named West, The Son and the Father and the Holy Ghost, In goes the frost, out comes the fire, Ask it all in Jesus’ name, Amen.’ In teaching this prayer to a member of the opposite sex, the healer said, one should whisper it three times and no more. If a person cannot learn the prayer after hearing three repetitions, I was told, “he aint fit to draw out fire nohow !” (Randolph, OM&F, p. 121-2).

This idea of passing on magical powers in secrecy, carefully revealing them only to the chosen, the initiated, or those otherwise deemed “right” by the magician (or whatever higher power is in charge of the spell/tradition) is central to some practices. Others disavow the entire idea of such secrecy, preferring to work almost entirely in the open. Both seem to have their reasons, and both seem to do effective magic, though I will say that as folk magic goes the rule of silence shows up too often for me to ignore it entirely. I prefer to circumvent it by the time-honored technique of trickery, so that if I pass on secret magical knowledge I do so not by telling a person, but by speaking to an object in the room in such a way that anyone who happens to be in the room might well eavesdrop in on the “secret.”

From what I understand, whoever is in charge of magic seems to appreciate trickery as much as he or she appreciates silence. So that works out well.

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

Blog Post 131 – Miles to Go

June 10, 2011

[NOTE: This is a very long personal entry. It doesn’t really reveal any new information about North American Witchcraft. If you regularly read the blog for its information content, please feel free to skip this entry. Thank you!]

Yet, ah, my path is sweet on either side
All through the dragging day,—sharp underfoot
And hot, and like dead mist the dry dust hangs—
But far, oh, far as passionate eye can reach,
And long, ah, long as rapturous eye can cling,
The world is mine: blue hill, still silver lake,
Broad field, bright flower, and the long white road
A gateless garden, and an open path:
My feet to follow, and my heart to hold.

Edna St. Vincent Millay

If you’ve been a long-time listener and/or reader of New World Witchery, you probably know that I have significant trouble remembering my dreams, or even gaining access to them at all. I’ve gotten plenty of great tips to help me with dreaming, particularly when it comes to the type of dreaming I crave most—dreams infused with magic and witchcraft. I’ve tried herbal pillows, a cup of mugwort tea before bed, mirrors under my pillows, prayer, and dreamcatchers. I’ve kept a journal by my bed to record the few and far between dreams I receive as best I can in the dark—a technique that does at least yield some results, though inevitably I wind up with gaps of several months from one page to the next.

I haven’t tried everything, of course. Deep breathing exercises, focused and guided relaxation to pre-recorded visualizations, Lunesta, and other options are still open.  But I have attempted a number of methods to get into the dream world and really use that space, only to find my marginal successes frustrating in their inconsistency.

Up to this point, I’ll admit, dreaming has bothered the hell out of me. I can’t seem to do it right, or to get what I really want out of the experience.

What I want, of course, is probably the big problem. I have seen for several years now a tendency among witches and magical practitioners to encounter their gods, daemons, spirits, fetches, fairies, and otherworldly entities of choice in dreams. Sometimes the dreams come unbidden—even unwelcome—and seem to be very nearly disastrous for the one having them. I recall Peter Paddon talking about an encounter with the Dark Mother figure which involved a series of terrifyingly bloodthirsty dreams that left him shaken to his core. Which was the point, yes, but it was also unnerving for him. Other very close friends have shared their dreams with the community involving scenes that could come from fairy tales or horror films or an amalgamation of the two.  And always, always, I read with envy their experiences and wonder when it will be my turn.  And ever I sense somewhere there’s a voice saying “Patience. You do not understand, yet.” Those gods, those spirits, those fairies, those beings of that Otherworld, they simply do not want to meet me in dream space. They have given me little fragments of dreams to appease me from time to time, but always I find myself holding me an empty plate, husks, shells, seed pods, or splinters.

Recently, Laine & I went out into the midnight woods to work a little witchcraft. As always, we high-stepped and staggered our way past the outermost portion of the dense tangled wall separating tightly-mown lawns and garden pavers from shin-deep undergrowth and the scratchy whisper of treetops moved by the lightest wind. We lost our way, though we’ve traveled the paths beyond the thicket several times in all seasons. We expected to lose our way because our destination in the woods is an old stone chimney in a small clearing carpeted with periwinkle vines that we both take to be enchanted. Every time we go visit—especially at night—it seems to move in time and space. This visit was no different, and we found that even though we were sure we were close, we couldn’t see the chimney until we turned off our flashlights, took a deep breath,listened to the woods around us, and turned our lights on again. Rising up before us not ten feet away we saw the chimney, waiting patiently. Had it been there all along?

Shortly after Laine and I started working together, we did a guided visualization in which I read a pathworking to her and she attempted to relax and go into a trance-space. For my part, I found the experience calming and pleasant, but not terribly magical. Laine, upon coming “back,” more or less confirmed the feeling. It had been a fine exercise, but not terribly resonant. I have had past-life regressions done by a professional hypnotist several times, and only one seemed to ever click. I’ve tried pathworkings from other magical workers—some of them brilliantly written and full of symbols and keys to spiritual insights—and found that they don’t strike the chord that simply reading a fairy tale from an Andrew Lang or Grimm’s book does.

I’m a very cerebral person, someone who enjoys being in my own headspace tremendously. On any given night when I finally get ready to go to bed, I’ll wash my dishes in the sink, put a few things aside for the next day, and then start thinking about something I’ve read, or seen, or experienced in the past day or two or twelve. I start muttering, framing a discussion with myself—ever a Devil’s advocate, and deeply in love with that role—until I’m finally at full-tilt and thirty minutes or an hour have slipped by. What was to be a midnight bedtime has suddenly slipped to 1 a.m. or later, just because I can’t stop talking to myself about some idea that won’t let go.

I dream of being a teacher, a professor particularly, and helping students make sense of folklore and stories and mythology in their own lives. I dream of making a living with words, of thinking about them and about how people use them. I dream about stacks of books piled high by my bed, poring over papers from pupils which contain threads of brilliance buried beneath mounds of “proper grammar,” and “technical skill.”  I dream of carrying my 1 a.m. conversations into a classroom, a room full of young devils waiting to catch me in a mistake, or catch some respectable author in a mistake, or catch themselves in a mistake. I dream of devilish intellects and diabolical minds which are hungry for new ideas, just as I am.

When it comes to witchcraft, however, the life of the mind falls short for me. Dreams are not the place where my witchcraft works. They help me from time to time, but mostly they only make me confident that I don’t really need dreams. I need real experiences, ones I can’t rationalize away, ones that happen and that jar me out of my perceptions of reality. Experiences that scare me a little, and remind me how much of witchcraft is just overcoming fear.

I’ve told the story before—probably several times—about my accidental meeting of the Black Man of the Crossroads. I had gone out to work a ritual for a completely unrelated entity, and after I emerged from behind my hiding spot, I was startled by the presence of a man in dark shadow, standing directly under a streetlight. I didn’t address him, and instead pretended not to notice who he was. I often look upon that experience as a failure of my own will and a giving in to fear, but at the same time it made me aware of something very profound: it’s all real. Witchcraft, magic, and sorcery are not simply psychological operations for me—they are true, actual experiences that can be fraught with physical danger and which can completely unhinge my notions of expected reality in a split second.

The night not long ago when Laine and I went to the woods, we worked our magic and prepared to go. At the last moment, we decided to do something else, a very particular bit of witchcraft which involved asking for a sign when we finished. Almost immediately the ground just around the chimney started to rustle with the sound of skittering feet. Some of the stones on the chimney started to glow—possibly with the faint moonlight, though I think something else was behind it. And a firefly, the only one we saw at all that night, came out of the dark forest straight towards us. It circled over our heads a while, then flew off again into the dark woods. The experience was immediate and real and we both recognized it as it happened, then continued to be awed by it for hours afterward.

I’ve heard from a number of folks lately who write regularly in the magical community—particularly bloggers—about how they see their experiences and practices being co-opted by casual readers who then turn around and write about the exact same incidents with nary a nod to their witchy progenitors. I understand that frustration. Many people in the magical community work incredibly hard to establish a functional practice of their own. Jumping in feet first without doing all the work of establishing such a practice, without making that journey independently, can lead to a shallow type of witchcraft. Something which may look mysterious and magical on the surface, but which ultimately crumbles when poked and prodded by more experienced and knowing fingers.

But I also understand the other side of the equation. For those who are—more or less—plagiarizing witchcraft from other witches, it may be because they finally found something that works for them. Or in many cases, it may be that they’ve found something that they think finally works for them, and in their enthusiasm they wind up stepping on a lot of toes putting this new-found practice into place. In those cases, however, I think what the new folks are really finding is their own starting point, a launching pad into deeper witchcraft. One day they may discover that they have gone in a completely different direction and now they are writing about practices which other newbies are co-opting to form their own loose foundations. It doesn’t make the plagiarism right, but it does put it into perspective.

I leave in a few days to continue the pursuit of a dream. I’ll be studying and reading and engaging in linguistic deviltry. I’ll be spending time in one of my favorite cemeteries anywhere (this article is peppered with photos from this gorgeous graveyard). I’ll be going into woods and waiting at darkened crossroads to see what turns up. I’ll be carrying mojos to help with study, personal mastery, and prosperity. I won’t be putting mirrors under my pillow, burning incense to help me astrally project, or playing pathworkings on my iPod. I will be looking for passionflowers and sassafrass roots in the woods. I won’t be invoking four elements, calling on a nameless God and Goddess, or using an athame. I will be asking my ancestors for help, and using my playing cards to find out what they say.

I will be practicing my witchcraft, which comes from my experiences.  It involves meeting a Man in Black at a crossroads, physically fighting my way through brambles and poison oak, looking a coyote or a buck dead in the eyes at twenty paces.  It relies little on dreams, which I have only recently come to understand.  It doesn’t bother me anymore that I don’t have dreams rife with witchcraft, because that doesn’t fit who I am. It works amazingly well for others, but not for me.  What works for me is going to real graveyards at midnight, real forests under the light of a full moon, real crossroads where unexpected visitors can turn up at any moment.  I’ve still got the kind of witchcraft that lives in my feet and hands, my eyes and breath, and it is my own brand and it is beautiful to me and it works for me and…

And if someone takes what I do and runs with it, if I see half a dozen blogs on North American folk magic appear in the next six months, if I read about people going into forests which seem to shift and change as in fairy tales, well that’s okay. We’re all making our way, and I’ve got miles to go before I sleep, too.

Thanks for reading, and I’ll talk to you all soon…

-Cory

[Special Thanks to those I consider my teachers. They have influenced me profoundly whether they know it or not: Sarah Lawless, Stephanie Palm, Morgaine, Janus, Mrs. Graveyard Dirt, Robin Artisson, Peter Paddon, Gar Pickering, Vance Randolph (& dozens of other folklorists), Cat Yronwode, Juniper Cox,  Zora Neale Hurston, Concha, Brujo Negro, and far too many others to mention here. Without them, I wouldn’t be here today.]

Blog Post 130 – War Water

June 7, 2011

In my Spelled Out section of Podcast 30, I gave the recipe and basic uses of a conjure formula called War Water. For those who didn’t have a pen handy, I thought now would be a good time to provide a little of the provenance, process, and practice surrounding this mixture.

War Water, which is also commonly called Mars Water or Iron Water, is in its most essential form, simply water in which iron has been allowed to rust. The presence of iron in the water gives it a reddish-brown hue, looking a bit like blood even in some cases. Draja Mickaharic makes a good case for why iron’s presence in the water empowers it:

“Iron is the metal of the planet Mars, the planet astrologers credit with ruling warfare and combat, as well as sex. Used either for defense or attack, war water is a strong carrier of the negative emotional energy used in magical battles” (Century of Spells, p. 27).

Mickaharic also points out that the formula was originally used to treat anemia (an iron deficiency in the blood), though far better treatments are now available. Cat Yronwode notes on her site that the Martian association indicates that it is not originally an African recipe: “Since the Roman god Mars was the god of war and his symbolic metal was iron, it seems pretty clear that War Water is a European contribution to hoodoo” (“War Water” par. 1). Despite its origins, however, this particular magical mixture is firmly planted in hoodoo and conjure practice now.

So how does a person make War Water? Almost every source—except one—agree that the basic recipe involves putting cut iron of some type into a container, covering it with a bit of water, and letting it rust. There are plenty of variations, sometimes depending on the intent, and sometimes just depending on who’s telling you how to make it. Judika Illes breaks down the formula by intent:

Protective War Water

  • Iron nails (cut iron), ones that rust easily
  • Enough water to cover nails in a mason jar
  • Let rust for about 7-10 days (open periodically to allow oxidation)
  • Keep adding water as the rust builds
  • Strain and use as needed (but discard if bacteria form)

Malevolent War Water

  • Thunderstorm water in a jar
  • Rusty nails, sulfur, and urine

(Encylopedia of 5000 Spells, p. 1080)

This formulation is essentially the same as the one found in Draja Mickaharic’s Century of Spells, though Mickaharic’s version is a bit looser, calling for about 3/4 pound of cut iron nails in a 2 quart bottle. These are covered with tap water and allowed to rust. After the rust begins, more water is added, and the bottle is covered (though occasionally uncovered for rusting purposes).

The alternative recipe comes from the normally quite reputable Zora Neale Hurston’s “Hoodoo in America,” in which she describes War Water as “Oil of Tar in water (filtered)” (p. 412). Oil of Tar is essentially a thick distillate of creosote or burned pine resin—which is carcinogenic and dangerous. A reasonable substitution for Oil of Tar would be turpentine, another pine distillate with slightly less caustic properties. However, almost every formulary I found other than Hurston’s had separate distinctions for War Water and a formula called “Tar Water,” which is much more like Hurston’s recipe and which is used to remove psychic sludge from one’s life. I would then conclude that Hurston recorded the Tar Water recipe as a War Water recipe in error, or quite possibly an editor inserted this formula without knowing the difference (which commonly happened to Hurston’s work).

There are also additional ingredients that you can add to the water to help “flavor” it for your magical purposes. One of the most common additions is Spanish moss, a dense vegetal beard which covers trees in the Deep South. Once it begins to rot in the liquid, it turns the mixture black and gives it a decaying scent. Adding sulphur or gunpowder would also give it a powerfully aggressive and dangerous vibe. My teacher, Stephanie Palm, makes a formula that basically takes Mississippi River water and turns it into War Water with these sorts of additions in it, which she calls “Swamp Water.”

Once you have War Water, how do you use it? There are several methods for deploying this water, depending on just what your final intent might be. If you only intend to use the most basic rust-water formula for protective purposes, here are some ways you might apply it:

  • As an addition to a spiritual bath
  • As a wash for the outside of your home or business
  • As a sprinkle for any letters or papers you might be sending out to someone hostile to you (such as legal papers)

The most common use of War Water, however, is as a component of psychic warfare. Cat Yronwode says of it:

“To use it, you shake a bottle up and hurl it at the doorstep of your enemy, where it should break, leaving a rusty, dangerously sharp mess for him or her to step in. When i was a young woman coming up in the East Bay in the 1960s, War Water was used by fractious root workers to declare occult war on each other. Since these folks were already at odds to the extent that they could not simply walk into each other’s yards and smash the glass bottle on the doorstep, they would make “drive by” attacks, rumbling through the residential streets of Oakland in the midnight hour and tossing bottles of War Water into the yards of their enemies, like occult Molotov cocktails. Ah, those were the days …” (“War Water” par. 4).

In Jim Haskins’ Voodoo & Hoodoo, he says that to use War Water you should “obtain the nest of a dirt dauber, break it apart and mix it with graveyard dirt. Put the mixture in a bottle with War Water and shake it up. Smash it on the person’s walkway” (p. 130).  Hurston does not mention smashing the bottle, but she does call for sprinkling it in front of an enemy’s house. She also provides a secondary method which requires that you “take a fresh black hen’s egg, make a hole big enough to get the egg out and take the names, pepper sauce and mustard and fill the egg up and soak it in War Water for nine days and throw ito ver the house, and it will cross the house and they will have to move away” (“Hoodoo in America,” p. 375).

As a final note, if you are considering starting a psychic war, Draja Mickaharic makes a good case for having sturdy defenses in place before beginning any attack:

“If you are going to declare psychic war on someone you should mop your stairs, porch, doorway, and any outside surfaces of your home on which anything can be cast or thrown before you begin the war. This ensures that you will be protected when the other person’s inevitable counterattack comes. In most cases War Water will cause any spell which is placed on your doorstep to rebound instantly to the sender.” (Century of Spells, p. 28)

So that’s War Water. My own personal inclinations with this water would be to use a railroad spike, coffin nails, and urine in a jar for defensive and protective magic, while perhaps using coffin nails, goofer dust, red pepper, sulphur/gunpowder, and Spanish moss for a more aggressive formula. But that’s just me, and quite frankly I have yet to need either of these formulas. My only real experience with War Water thusfar is as a spiritual bath for protection, and in that case only in it’s iron-and-water form. It seemed to work fine, so unless the need for a more advanced concoction presents itself, that’s probably as far as I’d take it.

If you have used this formula or one like it and want to share, please do.

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

Blog Post 129 – Upcoming Events

May 31, 2011

Good news everyone!

Today I have some very fun events to share with y’all about events coming up later in the year.  These will be opportunities to meet with one or both of your New World Witchery hosts, as well as to meet and greet other great people as well.

The Second Annual Pagan Podkin Supermoot
We mentioned this in our last episode, but both Laine and Cory will be attending the Second Annual Pagan Podkin Supermoot in Salem, MA, on the weekend of Sept. 17th, 2011.  This is a gathering of Pagan and witchy podcasters from across the continent (we even have Canadians coming!), and there will be a big meet-and-greet on Saturday, Sept. 17th, at the Omen store. Fans are encouraged to come out and meet us, ask questions, be horribly disappointed in how boring we really are, etc. Some of the other podcasters who will be there include:

Other podcasters may come, too, though they haven’t been able to confirm yet. There may be workshops and classes as well, though details are still being worked out at this point. We will probably also have a group lunch that day which fans will be able to attend, too.  If you want to stay up to date on happenings with this event, check out the PPSM2 Website, and watch for tags like #ppsm2 on Twitter and Facebook.

A note on this event: While we both want to meet our fans and get to know you all, we do please ask that you not take any photos of Laine—she is still in the broom closet and can’t risk exposure. We’ll try to come up with something clever to allow you to still get a photo (maybe Cory in a wig or a sock puppet of some kind), but we hope you’ll understand about this issue.

West KY Hoodoo Rootworker Heritage Festival
This event will be taking place the weekend following PPSM2, from Sept. 23-25, 2011. It’s going to be focused on Southern Conjure practices, with an emphasis on hoodoo, rootwork, Pow-wow, granny magic, Vodoun, and Santeria/Lukumi. Some of the guest presenters will be:

  • Jack Montgomery, author of American Shamans, NWW friend & interviewee
  • Stephanie Palm, owner of Music City Mojo and Cory’s conjure teacher
  • Temperance, owner of Temperance Alchemy and magician, healer, & interfaith minister extraordinaire
  • Cory, from New World Witchery (hey, that’s me!…still not sure what I’m going to teach, but I’ll post that as soon as I figure it out)
  • Telling Point, a musical act featuring a deep tribal rock sound

This festival is still in its early planning stages, but it will likely be growing and adding new guests, performers, and workshops between now and the end of summer.

The Heritage Festival is put on by the Spirit of the Earth Church and will take place near Hopkinsville, KY. It’s a multi-day camp-out type of festival, so be aware that you’ll need to bring your own tent or find a hotel nearby.  Cory will definitely be attending at least part of the weekend.  For more information, check out the event website. Updates will likely be made frequently, and we’ll try to mention it again as time gets closer for it.

There may be other events we mention or post as time goes on, but for now these are the two places you will be able to find at least one of us in person.

Hope to see you all soon!  As always, thanks for reading!

-Cory

Blog Post 128 – Iron

May 25, 2011

North American history has a funny relationship with iron.  On the one hand, iron is largely behind the early expansion that allowed Europeans to dominate the continent so completely with weapons, locomotives, and durable goods and architecture.  On the other hand, it has also been a curse used to inflict injury and death on undeserving people and leading others to rip the very soil of the land apart in search of it.  So maybe it’s not so much of a “funny” relationship as it is one fraught with difficulty and complexity.

American folklore, however, has largely good things to say about iron.  It’s a powerful anti-witchcraft charm and can be used to repel things like wicked fairies attempting to replace a baby with a changeling.  It can come in the form of nails, railroad spikes, horseshoes, or even just random flakes falling as refuse from a blacksmith’s anvil.

Today I thought I’d look at a few of the bits of folklore regarding iron.  Before we look at the New World side of things, though, let’s look at iron in a slightly older context: Roman superstition.

“The taboo on iron dates from the beginning of the Iron Age when religious conservatism forbade the use of the strange new material in place of the usual bronze. It has been suggested that the magic significance of iron arose from its susceptibility to magnetism which, as the superstitious Romans often believed, it derived from witchcraft” (from Taboo, Magic, Spirits, by E.E. Burriss)

Here we see that iron is associated with witchcraft and has a somewhat negative reputation.  Even the Romans, though, were not averse to using witchcraft to fight witchcraft, and so iron became a de facto tool for combating wicked witchery, and by extension, any other harmful supernatural force (ghosts, demons, fairies, etc.).

Other cultures picked up the thread (or started their own threads), seeing iron as a powerful magical tool.  African, pan-Celtic, and Northern European cultures all had particular beliefs about iron and its more enchanted properties, so it probably surprises no one that the Old World traditions regarding iron became the standard beliefs in the New World.

So what are those New World beliefs?  Let’s look at some examples from a few different areas:

From the Colonial Period, South Carolina
In the Joshua Gordon “Witchcraft Book,” (also sometimes called a Commonplace Book) dated from 1784, there is an example of the type of charm typically imported to the colonies from places like England and Ireland in which a heated iron is used to scald milk from a bewitched cow in order to undo witchcraft:

“A cow losing milk could be cured if its owners would ‘take a heather belonging to a box Iron, put it in the fire, and make it Red hot [and then] take the milk of the cows thats hurt [and] power [i.e., pour] on the hot iron repeating the names of the blessed trinity’” (from “ Magic, Astrology, and the Early American Religious Heritage, 1600-1760,” by Jon Butler in The American Historical Review).

This method is commonly found in folktales from Appalachia, such as the next entry.

From the late 19th- or early 20th-century, Tennessee (Appalachian foothills)
Again, a hot iron is used to scald milk and thus undo bewitchment:

“Another case of the use of heat, combined with iron and steel, is shown in the following account, also resulting in injury to the witch and her exorcism. Lewis Hopkins, formerly of Big Creek just beyond the park bounds [The Great Smoky Mountains National Park] told this unusual tale:
My grandmother’s folk had a cow and she give bloody milk.  An old lady, a Phillips, was accused of being a witch. So they got to talkin’ to Sam Evans who said he was a witch doctor and knowed about witches. The witch doctor told the folks to put a baker lid [i.e., the lid of a Dutch oven] in the fire. So they pecked it on with a reap hook [like a scythe or sickle]. So this old women Phillips come to this old man Evans and raised a fuss with him about tellin’ him what to do. They got into a fight and this old man pulled her dress up and they saw the pecks where they was a reap hook a-hackin’ at her. [But] she jumped out and got away from him” (from A Tennessee Folklore Sampler, by Ted Olson, et al).

Other cases of heated irons being used to procure magical results also abound, as we shall see momentarily.

From the 19th-century, Mississippi
In some places, iron implements are not so much valued as remnants of iron from a blacksmith’s shop.  Here is one account of “anvil dust” as it relates to Southern conjure practices:

“Anvil dust is also greatly valued as conjure material. One educated blacksmith of Columbus, Miss., tells me that people are constantly coming into his shop to get the black flakes that fall from the hot iron when it is pounded, although they always look ashamed and give a fictitious reason as to why they want it” (from Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro by Newbell N. Puckett).

This anvil dust is basically iron filings or flakes, and can be found in hoodoo practice as food for magically empowered lodestones.  Or it can be used to help create a cursing formula known as War Water (I’ll hopefully address the creation of this product in a separate post).  Interestingly, these two uses would seem diametrically opposed, with one being the food for an attracting magical fetish, and the other being an ingredient in a banishing potion. I would assert, however, that in these cases the iron serves a similar function on a magical level—with the lodestone it helps broaden the field of attraction for the stone while simultaneously running bad luck away, and in the War Water it’s repelling evil.  So in both cases, there is an element of something being turned away.  That is simply a way for me to reconcile these differences, however, and my come down to rationalization.

From the 19th– or 20th– Century, Ozark Mountains
Old favorite of New World Witchery, Vance Randolph, lists several methods for using iron as a magical tool (I omit the horseshoe lore which I have previously covered in another post, however):

  • “Nails taken from a gallows are supposed to protect a man against venereal disease and death by violence. Country blacksmiths used to secure these nails and hammer them out into finger rings”
  • “A little iron wire worn as a necklace, according to some power doctors, will protect a child from whooping cough”
  • “The water in which a blacksmith cools his irons is supposed to be good for witched cattle and is  sometimes given to human beings also, particularly children” (from Ozark Magic & Folklore, by Vance Randolph)

The last method mentioned is one I found repeated in several sources.  The power and provenance of “anvil water” or “slack water” seems to be well known across several cultures.

From the 20th-century, Illinois
To illustrate my point from the last section, I thought I’d share a bit of folklore from the Midwest, collected by ethnographer Harry M. Hyatt (who famously collected much of the lore about Southern conjure and hoodoo practices):

  • “A piece of old iron hung over the front and back door prevents the spirit of the recent dead from haunting you”
  • “Five nails driven into the trunk prevent the fruit from falling off the tree.  ‘My father did this when fruit was dropping off: drive those old- fashion square iron nails in the tree to hold the fruit on the tree. Never use wire nails; it must be the old iron nails’”
  • “Water from the tub in which a blacksmith cools hot iron is a good wash for the sore udders of a cow”
  • “A broken-winded horse (a horse with heaves) becomes well, if given water in which a blacksmith cools hot iron”
  • “Your looks will be improved if you wash your face frequently with the water in which a blacksmith cools hot iron”
  • “Slack-water, the water in which a blacksmith cools hot iron, is a good wash for poison ivy” (from Folklore of Adams County, by Harry M. Hyatt).

The first two bits are interesting, especially with the death connection, but the last four show that the slack water was considered a sort of cure-all magical formula.  I don’t know about you, but I think I need to make friends with a blacksmith, and quickly!

That’s it for iron, for now at least.  What I’ve written here is only the tip of a very large and ferrous iceberg.  As I said, I didn’t get into the related topic of War Water in the hopes it will appear in another post at a later date.  And I also didn’t touch on the lore of blacksmiths, specifically, as I hope to cover that in some depth later (our next podcast will have a bit about them, in fact).

If you have any local or family lore regarding iron and its magical properties, I would love to hear them!

Thanks for reading,

-Cory

Blog Post 127 – Summoning Devils

May 9, 2011

In Blog Post 126 we looked a little bit at the Devil as a folkloric figure in American witchcraft.  One of the questions I received in response to that post was, “but how do I meet him?”  Is the Devil an entity anyone can just summon up?  Do you have to be careful to call the “right” devil so as not to wind up with more on your plate than you can handle?  And if you do meet the Devil, how do you come away with your soul intact (assuming you want to)?

Today I thought I’d look at some of the ways, folklorically speaking, that people have been known to get into contact with the Devil or other “dark” spirits.  Some of these are based on old European folk traditions, and some call a figure which may or may not be the Devil, but which certainly shares traits with him (trickster nature, otherworldly knowledge, granting of gifts, etc.).  A word of warning before we dive in, though: Do NOT attempt any spiritual summoning work or diabolical contact without the proper precautions—while dark spirits can be powerful allies, they also can have a dangerous side and should be treated with respect and caution.

So, with that being said, let’s look at some of the main ways to meet your devil.

Invocation & High Magic

If you’ve ever read Christopher Marlowe’s Faustus, you’ll be quite familiar with this method.  In this late 16th century play, Dr. Faustus (quite possibly based on a real person), learns the art of high magic and uses a magic circle to call forth a devil named Mephistopholes, who will act as his servitor on Earth in exchange for his soul.  He seals his pact with blood, and pretty much gets what he wants for a while (including Helen of Troy), then gets dragged off to hell for his final punishment.

In Marlowe’s version, the imp is a distinct entity, and in some versions of the legend he takes on the form of a dog or other animal to serve Faustus as a familiar.  Shakespeare, contemporary to Marlowe, also knew a bit about diabolic invocation through high magic.  In his Henry VI, part 2, Shakespeare demonstrates a different version of how such a meeting might go.  In Act I, scene iv, a conjurer named Bolingbroke summons the spirit of a devil named Asmath into a witch named Margaret Jourdain (based on a real woman and accused witch named Margery Jourdayne), then proceeds to interrogate the demon for information.  He dismisses the devil just before royal authorities break in and arrest everyone present for heresy and treason.

So here we have two methods inherited from the grimoire traditions of old Europe: direct appearance and possession.  Owen Davies gives an excellent overview of these traditions in his appropriately titled Grimoires: a history of magic books.  These late-antiquity and medieval methods of making contact with nefarious forces also found popularity in the New World, mostly through grimoires like the Grimoire Verum, Albertus Magnus’ Egyptian Secrets, and derivative texts drawn from such sources.  These tomes influenced magical systems like Pow-wow and hoodoo, though the specifically diabolic elements were often highly diminished by the time they reached the hands of folk practitioners.  The exception to this is that the seals found in the Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses were still used for magical purposes, and several of those seals are specifically designed to invoke diabolic aid from entities like Mephistopholes and Leviathan.

Should you get the urge to perform any of these types of invocations—and I reiterate my warning about being prepared and knowing what you’re doing first—here are several rituals you might try:

  • The Grimoire Verum – This text says that America is ruled by the devil Astaroth, whose sigils are included for your invocational purposes.  Please note that you should probably learn a little bit about basic Solomonic invocation and banishing from the Key of Solomon first, though the Grimoire Verum does give a little instruction in these areas as well.
  • The Sixth & Seventh Books of Moses – There is a lot less instruction here than you would find in some of the other grimoires, so if you’re not versed in summoning and dispelling, you may need to look elsewhere.
  • Dr. Faustus – Here is the text used by Marlowe for his Faustian invocation.  Bear in mind that this was designed to be staged, so use it more as a guide than a rote ritual to be followed.
  • Henry VI, part 2 – Shakespeare’s text for invocation and bansishment.  Take with the same grain of salt you used with Marlowe’s work.

Meeting the Devil

On the more folkloric side of things, the common method for contacting a devil of some kind involves a journey to a liminal or wild place where he is thought to reside.  In most cases, the Devil can be found either at a crossroads or in a forest of some kind, though there are exceptions (many modern stories of meeting the Devil involve transportation or big cities, e.g. Robert Bloch’s Hell-Bound Train, Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked this Way Comes, and the cult film Rosemary’s Baby).  Probably the most famous ritual is the crossroads ritual, which I’ve mentioned here before.  As I’m planning to do an article on the crossroads as an independent magical space, I won’t go into great detail, but rather just say that Cat Yronwode has a great entry on the crossroads for those who are interested.

The forest or wild place meeting is a common folkloric theme across many cultures.  There are, of course, the Teutonic tales of meeting various wild spirits or devils in the forest, as in the Grimms’ tales of the Devil (see “The Devil’s Sooty Brother,” or “The Devil’s Grandmother”).  There are biblical precedents for these sorts of meetings as well—Moses encounters the burning bush in the desert, which is at least terrifying if not outright diabolic.  Three of the gospels also recount the story of Jesus being tempted in the desert (an analog for wilderness in biblical terms).  American folklore picks up this thread, and stories of meeting the devil in wilderness are quite common.  “Young Goodman Brown,” by Nathaniel Hawthorne, features such a meeting, and at least one scholar has brought the idea into the twentieth century by suggesting that “Men in Black” sightings associated with UFO’s in rural areas may be connected to devil lore.

The other alternative to the forest meeting is the graveyard meeting.  Usually in this version of the story, the person meeting the Devil must also do battle with him.  It can be a battle of wits, but just as often it is a physical wrestling match which parallels the interior struggle of the person confronting his or her fears by meeting the Devil in a graveyard in the firstplace.

So how does someone put this kind of meeting into practice?  Will devils always show up in graveyards after dark?  Will someone wandering in the forest or through a crossroads inevitably meet a Man in Black of some kind?  Sadly, I have no answers here.  All I can say is that if you’re truly moved to attempt these sorts of rituals, the Devil tends to show up in some form or fashion.  So if you’re interested in pursuing this line of contact, you could:

  • Attempt the Toad’s Bone ritual, which terminates with a graveyard wrestling session or a bout in a river
  • Give the Greased Plate method a try (mentioned in Blog Post 50 and found in The Silver Bullet, p.24)
  • See what happens if you do a Crossroads Ritual for a certain amount of time
  • Or, just wander to any of these kinds of places, swear yourself to the Devil (or in many cases, against God), and call out to the Devil to come and offer you terms of some kind—a new skill, riches, knowledge, etc. in exchange for service or something intangible like, oh, say, your soul.

One final thing I should mention is that the best-case scenario in many of these stories usually involves a person quick-witted enough to outsmart the Devil.  So always be aware of just what you say to any devil you meet, and make sure you leave loopholes for yourself if you promise them anything.  They seem to enjoy a good trick, so it’s a win-win if you can outsmart them.

Again, please be careful with this sort of magic. It has the potential to be dangerous, and at the very least it’s a little intense and can run you afoul of the law if you’re not cautious (loitering at crossroads or in graveyards tends to get the police rather grumpy).  If you do have any good experiences with this sort of work, though, please share!  I’d love to hear it!

Thanks for reading,

-Cory


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