Archive for the ‘Blog’ category

Blog Post 137 – Curandero Spells, part I

September 30, 2011

Howdy everyone! In the next couple of posts I’m just going to toss a few spells, charms, herbs, and other tools and techniques gleaned from Hispanic folk magical practices out there for you to peruse. As always, let me state clearly that these ideas ARE NOT MEANT TO REPLACE MEDICAL OR LEGAL ADVICE, but are merely provided as folkloric examples of a vibrant cultural practice. With that out of the way, let’s look at the magic!

Illnesses and Maladies
Curanderos treate a variety of different ailments of both physical and spiritual natures. Some of the best known and most commonly treated are:

  • Empacho – a digestive disease caused by a perceived blockage in the intestines
  • Susto – a type of soul-shaking fright that causes a person’s spirit to leave their body, which becomes weak and vulnerable
  • Desasombro – an intensive form of susto which leaves its victim debilitated after severe trauma
  • Mal de ojo – the famous ‘evil eye,’ which can have a number of symptoms, such as bad luck, ill health, or anxiety and depression
  • Mal puesto/brujeria – essentially a curse or malignant witchcraft, which is ‘put on’ a person and must be taken off with spiritual tools and prayer
  • Nervios – nervous diseases that cause emotional distress and suffering
  • Bilis – a type of anger sickness caused by a perceived backup of ‘bile’ in a person’s system, and which is usually treated with a laxative of some kind
  • Muina – a more intensive anger sickness which results in an outward rage of some kind. treated with tranquilizing herbal remedies (like orange blossoms, also called flor de azahar)
  • Latido – a sort of eating disorder which is primarily seen in young women which results in anorexia and bodily weakness, treated  with repeated herbal and physical healing practices
  • Impotence/Infertility – sometimes linked to a psychic cause, sometimes a physical one, sometimes both; usually treated herbally or with techniques like massage combined with prayer
  • Menstrual/Gynecological disorders – irregular menstruation, prolapsed uteruses, and other problems related to the female reproductive system which are almost always treated without requiring the patient to disrobe (a major reason why some people turn to curanderos instead of conventional doctors)

There are plenty of diseases I’m not listing here, of spiritual and medical natures. Accounts of these disorders and their treatment by curanderos can be found in a number of resources, such as Curandero by Eliseo “Cheo” Torres, “Mexican-American Folk Diseases,” by Keith A. Neighbors, and this article from the Western Journal of Medicine in 1983. Folk practitioners generally deal with these maladies on a case-by-case basis, and attempt a holistic cure which integrates body, mind, and spirit in the healing process.

 

Tools
The tools of curanderos are generally easy to find, household items. Combined with the power of prayer and focused intent, their magical or miraculous qualities emerge and they can be used to to treat the illnesses listed above. Some tools are a little more difficult to acquire than simply going to your local grocery store, but almost any of them are available cheaply and easiliy either online or through mail-order.

  • Yerbas (Herbs) – These are probably some of the most common and important components of curanderismo practice.  A number of different herbs are used, often in a variety of forms. They can be bundled and used like a broom or small scourge (see “Rubbing” in the Techniques section), turned into a tea, burned, or even taken in pill form. Some curanderos grow their own, and others purchase herbs at a yerberia, which is similar to a natural health food store or Chinese apothecary. Since there are so many herbs available, I am only going to select a small handful to mention here in the interest of saving space:
    • Ruda (Rue) – primarily used (as it is in other cultures) as an anti-evil charm and a general spiritual curative, it can also bring prosperity and wealth
    • Cenzino/Salvia (Sage) – in most cases the white sage (Salvia apiana) found in the American Southwest, though in some cases culinary sage (Salvia officinalis) may be substituted; protects, cleanses, reverses evil witchcraft and susto, and provides long life and wisdom
    • Anis (Aniseed) – a licorice-flavored seed used in cooking and liqueur-making, which also aids all sorts of digestive problems when chewed or administered as a tea; also used after susto treatments to help the patient’s spirit settle back into his or her body
    • Calendula (Marigold) – used for a number of psychic phenomenon, from prophetic dreaming to helping one to have visions or find stolen property
    • Cascara sagrada – a tree bark which helps with legal issues and court cases, as well as providing general good luck
  • Amuletos (Amulets) – A variety of amulets, from the very simple to the very complex, are used to create magical conditions for clients and/or patients. Most are carried in pockets or purses, though some can also be worn, usually around the neck. Some of the most famous amuletos are the Milagros which are little tin, lead, or otherwise metallic charms in a variety of shapes such as heads, hearts, hands, pigs, Blessed Virgins, and even ears of corn. These are frequently left at the shrine of a saint with especial patronage of a particular type of healing or miracle, but can also be incorporated into other charms. Horseshoes are sometimes found as amulets, either in milagro form or actual horsehoes. One of the most interesting charms I’ve found is the piedra iman, or lodestone charm, which is made in the following way (from Torres’ Curandero):

“I discovered that the piedra iman [lodestone] is the basis for what is called piedra iman curada (a cured lodestone), in the form of an amulet (amuleto) which is a specially prepared plastic bag containing a number of items or trinkets, including a small piedra iman rock. Each item in the bag is significant and represents the following:
-A gold colored bead signifies the need for wealth or money (oro para mi uena );
-A silver colored bead, or silver taken from old jewelry, is for harmony in one’s home (plata para mi casa y hogar);
-A copper coin such as a penny is for the poor and needy (cobre para el pobre);
-A red bead or red bean signifies coral, to rid you of envy and all that’s bad (coral para que se me quite la envidia y el mal);
-A horseshoe or wire bent in the shape of  ahorseshoe to prosper in business or in personal work (la heradura para un buen negocio o trabajo); and
-A piece of lodestone for good luck and fortune (la piedra iman para la uena suerte y fortuna).

People carry the plastic bag with all these items in their pockets or cars, or hang the bag in their homes or businesses” (p. 54)

  • Eggs, Limes, & Lemons – These are used to perform limpias, or spiritual cleansings. In most cases, the food item is rubbed over the body of the patient, then either destroyed in a ritual manner or “read” for information on the person’s condition. Egg limpias are especially common and reading an egg’s contents after a cleansing is done by dropping the cracked egg into a glass of water and interpreting things like bubbles, strands, and coloration of the egg itself. Blood on the egg is a very bad sign, as is a foul odor emanating from the egg. In these cases, multiple limpias may be performed to rid the patient of his or her magical affliction. You can read an excellent description of both the egg cleansing and how to interpret the signs of the egg over at Concha’s Curious Curandera website.
  • Candles – These probably don’t need a whole lot of elaboration, but it should be pointed out that a number of different candles are used within curanderismo. Saint candles are common, of course, but so are the candles frequently found in other traditions, like hoodoo. For instance, one might see a St. Michael candle burning alongside a Fiery Wall of Protection candle or a Sacred Heart of Jesus candle burning with a Reversing candle. Votive candles and tapers are also used for various types of work, from cleansing to simple prayers.
  • Prayer – Probably the most important and powerful tool in a curandero’s bag is his or her selection of prayers. Usually these are liturgical prayers, such as the Apostles Creed, certain Psalms, or the Lord’s Prayer, but occasionally one can find a folk prayer or one that has simply grown up out of the curandero’s personal tradition. Usually prayers are said multiple times, often over extended periods of time, and as often as possible the patient is asked to pray with the worker.

That will just about cover us for today. Next time we’ll have a look at the techniques used by curanderos, as well as a couple of other interesting spells.

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

Quick Update – Poll!

September 29, 2011

Hi everyone!

Laine & I mentioned on our last show that we might consider doing little podcasts after doing spells or rituals together which would be unedited and essentially be us chatting for a few minutes about what we did. We’d love to know if this would be interesting to you, so please answer the poll below!  Thanks!

Quick Update – KY Rootwork Festival

September 22, 2011

Just a reminder that today is the last day to register for the Western Kentucky Hoodoo Festival! Online registration for the Hoodoo Festival ends on Thursday 9/22 at midnight!

Register here:
http://fb.me/1532uMuvJ

I’ll be teaching a course in Biblical Spellwork, and two former guests of ours (Stephanie Palm and Jack Montgomery) will also be teaching courses.

Had a great time in Salem and met some truly WONDERFUL fans! We’ll talk about that more in upcoming posts and/or podcasts, but just wanted to say thanks to all who came out!

The blog and podcast should be getting some more posts soon, and we have some other treats and announcements we’ll be working on as well in the coming weeks.

Don’t forget to enter our Share-a-Spell contest! We need your voice to make some awesomeness happen! http://wp.me/pHOKU-j9
Thanks everyone!
-Cory

Blog Post 136 – Papisticall Charmes (More Catholic-flavored Magic)

September 12, 2011

Howdy-do!

Today I’m going to be following along the course of my previous entries on brujeria/curanderismo and Catholic folk magic in general by looking at some specific elements, tools, charms, and spells from within those traditions. I should go ahead and note that while Psalm magic is found within all of these streams, I’m not covering it here because it is a huge topic in and of itself, and one which I’ve already explored a bit in posts 115 and 116. I’ll also only briefly touch on any Saint-specific magic, because that could be its own topic, too (and hopefully will be at some point).

That being said, I would like to point out the presence of a number of folk saints in pseudo-Catholic magical practices. These are not officially recognized saints (even Mother Theresa and Pope John Paul II have not been fully canonized yet), but rather people reputed to be intensely holy and capable of performing miraculous feats. They can also be spirits with special powers and areas of influence who do not have a human counterpart, but rather seem to be almost archetypical entities. Some of the most widely petitioned and patronized of these folk saints include:

  • Don Pedrito Jaramillo – healing
  • Teresa Urrea (“Teresita”) – healing
  • El Nino Fidencio – healing & spiritual purification
  • Santa Muerte (“La Santisima,” “La Huesada”) – protection, prosperity, family life, love, and a number of other powers
  • Saint Michael (Archangel) – protection & spiritual warfare
  • Saint Raphael (Archangel) – safe travels, spiritual medicine, & exorcism of evil spirits

(for more information on these folk saints, see Curandero by Cheo Torres and Magical Powers of the Saints by Ray T. Malbrough)

Many people simply burn candles with images of these saints emblazoned on the glass or with picture prayer cards placed nearby. Small votive offerings might be left out for them, including small amounts of liquor, coffee, or tobacco, or specific items might be given to specific saints. For example, Saint Michael’s altar would be decorated by war memorabilia, such as medals, maps, or pictures of soldiers. More explicitly spell-like operations can also be performed, such as this method for creating a powerful “fortune magnet”:

Get a candle or statue of Santa Muerte and put her on an altar by herself (she does not like to share altar space, though she has been known to tolerate St. Michael at times). Place a lodestone beside her, and a glass of water on the other side of her. Put a basket of brightly colored fruit (lemons and oranges, for example) in front of her, and place yellow flowers upon her altar. Light a charcoal in a brazier and burn a holy incense (such as Gloria Incense or even just some frankincense). Add a pinch of soil from your homeland (or even hometown) to the burning coal, and say:

Towards you I inclilne, Holy Lady
I bring you water and yellow flowers,
Incense and the dust from which I am made.
Please make the world to twist and turn,
Allowing luck and fortune to cross my path,
Cutting the bitter ties that bind me.
In your honor I shall please you with scented offerings,
I shall plant trees in forests,
I shall give you fruits
In return for your goodwill towards me.

Allow the candle to burn for at least an hour. If possible, allow the candle to burn out on its own. Let the stone sit overnight, rising before dawn and wrapping it in a dark cloth. Keep this with you at all times, and do not unwrap it in direct sunlight. [Adapted from a spell in an anonymously authored chapbook called The Magical Powers of the Holy Death picked up in a botanica]

How’s that for not dwelling on Saint magic? Moving on, then, let’s look at some other spells from other sources. This one, which I’m transcribing from The Red Church and which comes from John G. Hohman’s Long Lost Friend, is not explicitly Catholic, but the presence of latinate words and Christian symbols certainly allows it to fit right in with the whole “magical Catholic” idea:

A Written Charm of Exorcism

Below is a charm paper entitled ‘Against Evil Spirits and Witchcrafts.’ This charm was given to me by ‘Daisy.’ With the exception of a few minor details it is exactly like the one that appears in Hohman’s The Long Lost Friend

I.
N. I. R.
I.
Sanctus.   Spiritus.
I.
N. I. R.
I.

All this be guarded, here in time, and there in eternity. Amen. +++ (TRC, p. 273-4)

Chris Bilardi goes on to describe several ways in which you might deploy this charm, including folding it into a tight triangle and slipping it into the frames and jambs of doors and windows in your home (but you must use no metal to affix it). He also mentions putting it into a wallet or binding it with a red string if it is intended to be carried.

Another home protection and blessing charm comes out of ancient Jewish practice, too. Joshua Trachtenberg’s quintessential text on the topic, Jewish Magic & Superstition, describes an excellent blessing charm which consists very simply of bread and salt either ingested to defeat evil spirits or brought into a new home “as a symbolic of the hope that food may never be lacking there” (JM&S p.161). In my own family, we called this the ‘Polish House Blessing’ and included a penny as well (we were Polish through my grandfather’s family). It’s something I still use when someone mooves into a new house in order to bless their new home. I simply put the salt (kosher, please), a piece of bread, and a penny in a small jar (like a baby food jar) and wrap the lid in pretty paper, often with a Psalm written on the underside of it to provide protection and domestic bliss (Psalms 46 and 61 are both good for this).

One of my personal favorite books of the Bible is Jonah, which is also one of the shortest books in the whole book. It’s read every year on Yom Kippur in synagogues, and it has a bizarre blend of folklore, humor, and philosophy in it that I just find delightful. For a magical practitioner, it can also be a very good source of magical phrases. One very simple spell which Draja Mickaharic lists in his Magical Spells of the Minor Prophets is for abating someone’s anger:

To Turn Away Another Person’s Anger

Required: Only the verse

Spell: In the presence of an angry person, say the verse to yourself three times.

Verse: Jonah 4:4 (“Then said the lord, Does thou well to be angry?”)

NOTE: This verse should be memorized and used for this purpose whenever desired (MSMP, p. 52-3)

There are a number of great non-Psalm verses that can be used for various magical purposes. Most of these are simply spoken, though sometimes they can be written down and carried in pockets, purses, etc. for magical aid. A list (hardly exhaustive) of such verses:

  • Amos 2:13 – Against an Opressor
  • Obadiah 1:6 – To Find that Which Has Been Lost
  • Habakkuk 2:2-3 – For Aid in Automatic Writing
  • Zechariah 4:13-14 – To Learn Who Your Teacher or Guide Is
  • Ezekiel 16:6 – The Blood Verse (for stopping small wounds)
  • Genesis 49:18 – For Protection at Night
  • Deuteronomy 18:13 – Against Wild Beasts
  • Deuteronomy 33:3-4 – For Intelligence

(The above primarily from Magical Spells of the Minor Prophets and Jewish Magic & Supersition)

I’m sure with enough effort, nearly any book of the Bible will yield some magical content, though I’ve not tested that theory.

Finally, I couldn’t reisist including some of the “popish and magicall cures” found in Reginald Scot’s Discoverie of Witchcraft. The following are cures “For direct cure to such as are bewitched in the privie members” (i.e. to deal with impotence, especially impotence caused by witchcraft):

For direct cure to such as are bewitched in the privie members, the first and speciall is confession: then follow in a row, holie water, and those ceremoniall trumperies, Ave Maries, and all maner of crossings; which are all said to be wholesome, except the witchcraft be perpetuall, and in that case the wife maie have a divorse of course.

  • Item, the eating of a haggister or pie helpeth one bewitched in that member.
  • Item, the smoke of the tooth of a dead man.
  • Item, to annoint a mans bodie over with the gall of a crow.
  • Item, to fill a quill with quicke silver, and laie the same under the cushine, where such a one sitteth, or else to put it under the threshold of the doore of the house or chamber where he dwelleth.
  • Item, to spet into your owne bosome, if you be so bewitched, is verie good.
  • Item, to pisse through a wedding ring. If you would know who is hurt in his privities by witchcraft; and who otherwise is therein diseased,Hostiensis answereth: but so, as I am ashamed to english it: and therefore have here set down his experiment in Latine; Quando virga nullatenùs movetur, & nunquam potuit cognoscere; hoc est signum frigiditatis: sed quando movetur & erigitur, perficere autem non potest, est signum maleficii. [Dialect from original text preserved here]

I hope this post has been entertaining and interesting for you. Please also check out the recent posts on curanderismo and Catholic folk magic, as well as our most recent episode on biblical sorcery.

I don’t know if I’ll get another post up before the Salem trip, so if I don’t, I will hope to see some of you there. And the rest of you I’ll look forward to speaking to when I get back!
Thanks for reading!

-Cory

Update – Share-a-Spell Contest!!!

September 9, 2011

Hi everyone!

So I know I promised more practical spells for this post, but I promise those are coming in the next post. It’s even written already, and will be out next week, so fear not.
Today, though, I come bearing good tidings! Tidings of a contest, in fact! Here’s the skinny on how to enter and what you might win:

“Share-a-Spell Contest”

Rules
We want you to share a favorite spell with us. It can be something simple, like carrying a rabbit’s foot and rubbing it when you need a little luck, or a full-blown ritual invocation of Furcas, Solomonic Duke of the Infernal Realms. We would love magic from American and/or folkloric sources, of course, but really any spell that you’ve used and found effective will do.

The trick to this is that we want your spell in audio format. We want you to record yourself describing the spell in 5 minutes or less, then send that recording to us. We can accept .mp3, .m4a, AAC, and .wav formats. If you don’t have a good audio recorder program, you can go to an online recording site like Vocaroo and do it there, then email the file to us. When you’re recording, please state your name (a pseudonym is fine) and where you’re from (either general location, like “the Pacific Northwest” or your tradition, like “I practice Pow-wow magic”), then give us your spell including any ingredients, incantations, and actions necessary to complete it.

Please note that by sending us your audio spell, you are giving implied permission for us to include it in a podcast at a later date, so if you don’t want to share your real name, it’s totally fine.

When you’re ready to submit your spell, send it to compassandkey@gmail.com with the subject line “Audio Spell Contest.”

Deadline for submissions is Friday, October 14th, 2011. Drawing will be held on our episode closest to Halloween.

So now that you know how to enter, what can you win?

Prizes
This is still up in the air at this point, as I put a call out to our Twitter followers and haven’t heard much yet, but we’re thinking of giving away a book, a set of magical oils, or an online/Skype card reading. Or possibly all three. Or possibly all three AND something else. Really, like I said, up in the air at the moment. But just to give you a little more to go on, if we do those prizes, here’s what you’d be getting:

  • Book – Probably one from a recent or upcoming New World Witchery guest, and most likely we’ll try to get it signed by the author if possible.
  • Oils – A set of oils handcrafted by us, just like the ones we used to sell (and will again in the near future, I promise!) at our Etsy shop. Some of our formulae are Crown of Success, Saints & Spirits, Black Cat Oil, and Van Van Oil. We may include a mojo bag and/or charm with the prize, too.
  • Card Reading – A cartomancy session with Cory, done either via Skype, phone, or email. You’ll get up to twenty minutes, which is enough time to ask at least a couple of questions.

If you have a prize you prefer, let us know when you submit your entry, and we’ll take that into account when we finally make our drawing.

We’ll try to hammer out more specific details as we get closer to the drawing, but for now we hope you will participate and we can’t wait to see what kinds of spells you send in!

Best of luck, and thanks for listening and reading!

-Cory

Blog Post 135 – The Magical Catholic

August 31, 2011

Good morning everyone!

Last time I touched briefly on the practice of curanderismo, which is a Hispanic system of folk magic centered upon healing, jinx removal, and protection/cleansing rituals. I also mentioned that it takes a lot of its magical cues from Catholicism, albeit in a syncretic and flexible form of that religion. I received a comment on that post, too, which raised a thoughtful question about Catholicism in the New World and why it might have been seen as ‘magical’ or why its presence can be felt so strongly within magical traditions on this side of the Atlantic. I think that much of this attitude appeared in the Old World after the Reformation, when the broad brush of ‘papism’ or ‘pope worship’ was being used to paint the embattled Catholic Church. Some of the best illustrations of the Protestant perception of ‘the magic Catholic’ come from a tome which has informed witchcraft studies for centuries, Reginald Scot’s Discoverie of Witchcraft. In the following passage, you can see how Scot—who associated superstitious beliefs in witchcraft with the foolish ‘superstition’ of Catholicism—clearly links the priest with the sorcerer:

A papisticall charme.

Signum sanctæ crucis defendat me à malis præsentibus, præteritis, & futuris, interioribus & exterioribus:

That is, The signe of the crosse defend me from evils present, past, and to come, inward and outward. (Book XII, Chapter IX)

Scot certainly thought little of such charms, saying later in his book, “HE that can be persuaded that these things are true, or wrought indeed according to the assertion of couseners, or according to the supposition of witchmongers & papists, may soone be brought to beleeve that the moone is made of greene cheese” (Book XV, Chapter V).

To be sure, a number of Catholics have spent years—centuries in fact—fighting against these perceptions and very few mainstream Catholics would cotton to having their religion identified with sorcery or witchcraft. From a perspective of official Church doctrine and approved dogma and praxis, it is vital to note that Catholicism does not condone magic or the use of enchantments and charms, and that they fall in line largely with other Christian groups when it comes to beliefs and religious operations. They believe in Jesus as God (as well as seeing him as part of a divine trinity made up of “Father, Son, & Holy Ghost/Spirit”), they require baptism, they expect remission of wrongdoings (and, in the case of confession, admission of wrongdoing), and believe in an afterlife in which they will be judged by God for the quality of their lives and the state of their souls. There are a number of fine-pointed theological differences between Catholicism and Protestant denominations, but in many ways they are deeply similar.

What we’re looking at here, then, is not the official, dogmatic, Vatican-approved version of Catholicism, but rather a phenomenon which might be termed as ‘folk’ Catholicism. Folk religions are not exclusive to this religion, of course. There are also folk Hindus, folk Daoists, folk Shintoists, and folk Jews, all with varying degrees of adherence to official practice and varying degrees of handed-down traditions from unofficial sources. Folk Catholicism is particularly relevant to New World esoteric studies, however, because it has appeared in several different places. It shows up in the spiritual and magical practices of New Orleans (such as in the work of author Denise Alvarado). It also appears prevalently in Italian-American communities, and occasionally within Irish-American communities.  Both the Foxfire books and Gerald Milne’s Signs, Cures, & Witchery contain examples of Appalachian residents whose beliefs veer towards the enchanted from time to time via a connection with Catholicism. Milne cites the Swiss/German community of Randolph Co., NC, in one such illustration:

“In Randolph County, the Swiss/German Helvetia community observes Fastnacht prior to the beginning of Lent. It happened that in Helvetia, some of the original families were Catholic, and now their pre-Lenten observance is celebrated by all in a non-religious way. At Helvetia, an effigy of old man winter is burned on a bonfire” (SC&W, p. 195)

Milne also points out that festivals like this were a confluence of Catholic traditions (Lent) and non-Catholic ones (the midwinter effigy burning), which took on a mystical significance in their union. Probably one of the best places to look for Catholic folk magic, however, is within the context of the North (and South) American Hispanic communities, which have strong historical ties to more mainstream Catholicism, and yet which also have allowed a beautiful flowering of folk culture in tandem with Catholic expansion, resulting in a rich and fairly accessible magical storehouse.

In the previous post, I have already looked very generally at some of the techniques of curanderismo and brujeria. Both traditions draw heavily on folk Catholicism to provide their magic, including things like the Apostles Creed and Lord’s Prayer as charms against harmful magic, or using tools like holy water, scapulars (a type of loosely-worn ornament which contains religious icons or written prayers), and rosaries to effect change.  In my next post, I hope to get into the specific spells, charms, and tools used within Catholic folk magic. For now, though, I wanted to leave you with some sites and books which might be of interest to anyone pursuing the folk Catholic path.

  1. I highly recommend the Yahoo! Group Catholic Folk Magic, where curanderas, brujos, and a number of other folk magicians with a base in Catholicism share ideas and resources.
  2. You could always give The Discoverie of Witchcraft a good read. It may have been intended as satire and mockery, but it has a heck of a lot of good pseudo-Catholic magic in it, too.
  3. The moderators of the site fisheaters.com would probably balk at my reference to them here, because they mostly focus on actual Vatican-approved Catholicism. However, familiarizing yourself with these ideas and practices is good if you plan to work ‘within’ this stream, and there are actually several pieces of information that veer towards the esoteric which are worth checking out (such as “St. Anthony’s Brief” or “Holy Oils”) [A warning: this site is very traditional, and thus its viewpoints may be controversial; browse at your own risk]
  4. One book that a number of Catholics grow up with is Alban Butler’s Lives of the Saints (or at least some version of it). Why do I recommend it here? For the same reason I recommend folk and fairy tales to any aspiring magician—there is more to these tales than what’s on the page. St. Lucy’s removal of her own eyes has a distinctly magical flavor to it, in my opinion, which may explain why her celebration in Scandanavia is laced with esoteric symbolism.
  5. Finally, I would highly recommend the Library Page of the Curious Curandera website, where you’ll find a number of free titles on magical Catholicism, including “How to Pray the Rosary,” “Saints and their Patronage,” and “Prayers for Different Needs.” There are a few (very good) pay titles, too, but it’s hard to beat the wonderful free texts.

That’s all for today! I’ll try to have another post up soon with some more practical elements for you (though it is always possible I’ll get distracted and have a tangential topic). Until then, though…
Thanks for reading!

-Cory

Blog Post 134 – Brujeria and Curanderismo: A (Very Brief) Overview

August 24, 2011

I’ve been combing back through a number of different posts lately, and seeing what areas we’ve covered in some detail (hoodoo, rootwork, and Pow-wow, mostly), which ones we’ve done some basic delving into (mountain magic and general witchcraft), and which ones we’ve only just barely touched upon (pretty much everything else). I was very surprised that I’d not covered today’s topic more, as it’s one of the topics with which I have a good bit of practical experience. But for some reason, I’ve only mentioned curanderismo and its ‘darker’ sister brujeria a few times.

And so today, I thought it might be good to remedy that deficiency somewhat. We’ll be giving these traditions only the most basic of examinations, as a deeper exploration of either could easily fill several dozen books and websites. Yet there are relatively few texts or webpages which look at these practices. Partly this may be a linguistic barrier (my Spanish is intermediate-level at best), but honestly I think this may just be an area where research is thin on the ground. I’d love to be proven wrong in that, though, so if you know of some good research on these traditions, please leave a comment and/or link.

To begin, let’s look a bit at curanderismo. This is a system of magical healing, blessing, and cleansing largely centered around Catholic prayers and rituals, with a heavy infusion of folk religion and magic and a bit of herb lore in some cases. A male practitioner is a curandero, while a female practitioner is a curandera. Many of the rituals within this tradition have to do with detecting and undoing evil witchcraft (which is called brujeria by curanderos, which gets a bit confusing…more on that later). In Mexico, where this practice is centered—though there are ever-increasing numbers of practitioners in other Central and North American locations, a person might call upon a curandero if a family member seems to be plagued with some uncommon illness, or if their house seems to be exhibiting symptoms of a haunting, or if they are feeling as though a general run of bad luck has settled onto them. One of the best resources on curanderismo on the internet is Dona Concha of the Curious Curandera website. In the introductory material for one of her many excellent courses, she includes this summary of the practice:

Curanderismo is not only a form of folk healing, it also includes the practice white magic, ritual, cleansings, energy work, spirit contact, divination, and a vast amount of prayer just to name a few. While some practitioners prefer to engage only in one area, others work in all areas.
Curanderismo is a very spiritual practice with strong religious faith. Practitioners use a variety of objects including herbs, spices, eggs, lemons, limes, Holy Water, Saints, Crucifixes, prayer, candles, incense, oils and divination tools. Most include spirit assistance. Not all practitioners work in the same way. For example, one person may perform a spiritual cleansing with a raw unbroken egg while another may employ a bundle of herbs for the cleansing tool.

While a curandera might perform rituals that help remove bad luck or might contact specific spirits (usually angelic or “holy” ones), they tend to shy away from any ‘dark’ magics.

Brujeria, on the other hand, means literally “witchcraft,” and is frequently perceived in a negative light. This system, however, is not entirely dissimilar from hoodoo, with a focus on practical, earthier types of magic: love, money, sex, etc. What gives brujeria its bad reputation is its association with “magia negra” or “black magic.” While both curanderismo and brujeria can work with “magia blanca” (“white magic”) to provide cures, healing, and good luck, only brujeria works with things like spirit summoning and necromancy to achieve its aims. Brujo Negro, who runs a fantastic site on brujeria (and whose name means “black witch”), explains magia negra as an extension of the grimoire magic imported by the Spaniards during the 16th century. He also points out that the native peoples of Mexico—the Nahua, the Xolotl, etc.—did not particularly have concepts of “good” and “evil,” and so the concept of a branch of magic entirely in the service of evil would have been alien to them. Instead, the “healer physician” figure (anthropologically referred to as a “shaman” in many circles) would use his or her knowledge of natural materials and forces—herbs, roots, stones, and animal parts—to craft specialized remedies for community members struck with strange illnesses. The Spaniards did not always understand what the natives were doing, and viewed them and their practices warily.

The use of grimoire magic, talismans, spirit invocations, and other spells which did not explicitly call upon Christian paradigms to accomplish their goals led to opposition between the brujos and the curanderos. This is not all that different than the supposed wars between the benandanti and the witches of Italy, which Carlo Ginzburg has catalogued incredibly well in his book The Night Battles. In truth, both groups were likely working—in general—for the good of their communities, though the brujos might occasionally use more aggressive magic to do their work and likely were a little saltier about the spiritual side of their practice. Another group of magical practitioners (which may be the equivalent of fairy-tale witches or malevolent wizards or folklore) may well have engaged in exclusively cursing practices and malevolent magic, in which case either a brujo or curandero might be called in to do battle with the wicked sorcerer, again demonstrating that the line between the two camps is a fuzzy one at best.

The historical presence of folk magic among Hispanic communities goes back centuries, and while it shares certain commonalities with the European colonial experience along the Atlantic, it also strongly resembles the African experience in America. Contact between native peoples and the new arrivals was relatively high, and cultural exchange was fluid, if not officially indulged:

New Mexico witchcraft cases reveal a variety of features of colonial life in New Mexico that did not exist in other colonized areas of North America. For example, they show the physical proximity in which the Indians and Europeans lived and the increasingly intertwined beliefs they shared—about power, about magic, about healing, and about witches. These characteristics of New Mexico society were especially pronounced after the Spanish returned to the colony in 1706. Witchcraft was so much a part of New Mexico in the eighteenth century that Ramon A. Gutierrez has suggested that it was one of the three main issues that affected life there…Nothing comparable exists among the surviving records in British or French North America, at least as far as indigenous people are concerned” (Games 34-5).

This is not to say that relations were necessarily sunny between the natives and the conquering Spaniards, but the level of integration between Old World and New World beliefs seemed to flow both ways, with people like the Xolotl eventually adapting to the Catholic pantheon of saints and the rituals of the church, while the Spaniards sought out community healers for their ethereal gifts. Witch trials can and did erupt, but seldom with the vigor found in New England (or even old England). The veneer of Catholicism covered a variety of magical practices and set them in an ‘appropriate’ religious context, though in practice healings were still being done through the agency of plants, spirits, and other magical tools.

So just what does a curandero or bruja do nowadays? Much of what brujos and curanderas do resembles another magical practice heavily rooted in Catholicism, that of stregheria (or, more specifically, the cousin tradition of streghoneria), which come from Italy. I hope to dig into this question a bit more in other posts, but it might be good to look at some earmark practices common to one or both traditions, so that you can recognize it when you see it. In both, you are likely to find:

  • Divinatory practices – Sometimes by cards, but just as often by very specific items like eggs broken into a glass of water or the ashes left by a smoldering cigar.
  • Saint magic – Calling upon the intercessory power of saints to accomplish specific tasks. This is usually accompanied by rituals such as candle-burning and prayer.
  • Statuary or charms – This goes hand-in-hand with saint magic for the most part, though other types of charms like milagros (little pewter, silver, or gold charms shaped like hearts, body parts, animals, etc. and used as devotional offerings) are also frequently used.
  • Ritual cleansing – Especially using holy water or natural elements, like eggs, limes, lemons, etc. This can be done on a person or on a specific place.
  • Liturgical prayers – These are used outside of the orthodox liturgy, and are usually repeated several times to gain their benefit in magical settings. Examples include the “Our Father,” or “Ave Maria” prayers.
  • Novena candles – These are easily found in places with large Hispanic populations, and usually have a pillar candle encased by glass with a picture of a saint, angel, or other holy being on them. On the back they typically have short prayers (often in Spanish and English) which are recited while burning the candle.

In the individual practices, the magic may lean more heavily towards one or another of these categories. Certain folk saints are deeply revered by one group and not the other, or sometimes revered by both groups in different ways. A great example of this different-but-the-same relationship is Santa Muerte (“Holy Death”), a powerful spirit both loved and feared throughout Mexico. She’s a big enough topic for her own post at some point, so I’ll just leave that mention as a tease for the moment. As I mentioned earlier, brujeria resembles hoodoo fairly strongly, so there are lots of roots, bones, and rusty nails found in it, while herbal preparations for healing and cleansing tend to be more heavily emphasized in curanderismo.

All of this is simply the lightest scratch across the surface of a very deep subject. I hope to provide more and more information through other posts at other times, and even then I’ll only really be getting at a fairly superficial understanding of this incredible set of traditions and practices. For now, though, I hope this has been a useful magical appetizer.

Thanks for reading!

-Cory


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