In this episode, we talk about periods of waxing and waning interest in witchcraft, and how to get out of non-practicing rut. Then we have a reading of “Young Goodman Brown” by Nathaniel Hawthorne. We also announce our first ever contest (make sure to listen all the way to the end of the show).
I loosely alluded to this in a previous post, but we’ve decided that we want your weather lore! We’re putting together a show based on weather magic and folklore, and we need good field reports. So, we’re having a little contest here at New World Witchery. From now until the end of February 2010 (the 28th), anyone who: 1) posts a comment on Blog Post 10 – Weather Work, or 2) sends us an email describing any kind of weather-related magic or lore, especially family or local lore, will have their name entered into a drawing. Also include what part of the country/continent you’re from (you don’t need to give us specific locations, unless you win, of course…then we’ll need an address to ship to 🙂 ). All entries must be date-stamped before midnight CST on the 28th to be considered. And if you’ve already posted a comment with weather lore, don’t worry, we’ll count you, too!
On March 1st (or thereabouts), we’ll be drawing a name from the thousands of entries we receive (we’re optimistic) and one lucky reader/listener will receive a free copy of Catherine Yronwode’s Hoodoo Root & Herb Magic. For those of you unfamiliar with this text, it’s the quintessential text on the botanicals and curios used in the practice of Southern-style hoodoo and conjure magic.
Hoodoo Herb and Root Magic, paperbackby Catherine Yronwode
Originally published in 2002.
From the proprietor of the Lucky Mojo Curio Company comes the most thorough, complete, and authentic book on how roots and herbs are used in traditional African-American folk magic. 500 herbs, roots, minerals, and zoological curios are listed, along with their scientific names, so you will know exactly what to harvest or buy from an herb dealer. Included are an amazing 750 spells, formulas, mojo hand combinations, and candle rites, all given in workable, practical detail. Medical usages for many of the herbs, supplementary botanical notes, a series of cross-indexes listing herbs by the magical conditions for which they are recommended, plus 50 beautiful black and white illustrations of herbs and vintage herb packaging round out this informative reference volume. There is no other herb encyclopedia like this one. This is the book to get if you are working traditional conjure and herb magic. 224 pages, trade paperback.
500 herbs, roots, minerals, and rare zoological curios, with taxonomic (“Latin”) names for proper identification.
750 traditional spells, tricks, and magical recipes.
50 black and white line illustrations of common magical herbs and roots of North America.
6 handy charts in which dozens of conditions — such as love-drawing or protection — are listed and the herbs for each condition are given in alphabetical order.
Cross-referencing: Every herb is accompanied by at least one spell.
Bibliography: Authentic recipes are drawn from first-hand experience and 100 years of solid folkloric research.
I own this book and let me assure you, it’s one of the best magical herbals out there. No fluff, no repetitive 101 stuff; just good, solid information backed by great research.
So, if you want to contribute to the wealth of knowledge and lore in the witchy world, plus have a chance to get a fantastic magical reference book, please submit! We’ll also be announcing this on the next podcast, too, so if you primarily keep up with us that way, you won’t be left out.
We recently received a nice blanketing of snow here (which is somewhat rare for our area), and it got me to thinking about weather magic. When I was little, before we moved to the farm, I used to go out to the dirt hill near our house with a big staff in my hands and shout at the wind, seeing if I could get it to gust up or gentle down. I remember feeling like I always had a strong connection to weather, particularly those winds. When we moved out to the farm, my understanding of weather changed dramatically. Our house was on a hill at the top of our acreage, and we were exposed to a number of tempests, some of which were quite severe. When we had snow, 4-foot drifts piled up off of our back porch, deep enough that when I jumped into them I was buried up to my chest. And I still remember waking up one morning and looking out the window only to see a tornado receding back into the clouds after having passed but a quarter-of-a-mile or so from the house and uprooting a number of trees. Being a teenager, I had slept through it, of course.
What I learned on that farm was that weather was wild, and would always be wild. It’s something we can react to, prepare for, run from, or attempt to block out, but we can never really control it the way we like to think we control so many other things—the cleanliness of our water or where our next meal comes from, for example. Magic seems to have the advantage over empirical science here, as many magicians swear by inherited techniques that allow them to control or predict the weather to one degree or another.
Today I thought it might be worthwhile to take a look at a few techniques, charms, and proverbs regarding the weather from various North American sources.
“An Acadian boy would not dare to kill a toad or a spider, for his outdoor pleasure would then be spoiled by the downpour of rain that was sure to follow. A boy of Scotch or Irish descent would be deterred from doing so because it would bring him bad luck.
‘If you wish to live, not die,
Let the spider go alive.’”
I’ve heard this before as an admonition not to harm toads (and for some reason, I always assumed lizards) when out of doors, for fear of bringing on bad weather. The spider is a new twist for me, but I generally try not to disturb any of the bite-ier creatures out in the wild world.
Mary Fraser also reports a weather-predicting system I’ve seen in a couple of places. She mentions that the twelve nights between Christmas and Epiphany represent the coming twelve months of the year. In other words, if you have cold, wet weather on the third day after Christmas, you can expect a rather clammy and dismal March.
If the tall grass is bone dry in the morning, or if there is heavy dew
If rabbits play in a dusty road
If dogs start eating grass
If sheep turn their backs to the wind
If cats sneeze, wash behind their ears, or lick their fur against the grain
Signs of dry weather –
A red sunset promises at least twenty-four hours of dry weather
A rainbow in the evening means clear weather (but a rainbow at morning tells of a storm in the next twenty-four hours)
A ‘sundog,’ or a circle around the sun, indicates prolonged dry weather, or at least a radical change in weather soon
When the crescent moon travels ‘horns up,’ there will be no rain for some time
And finally, one of the most interesting weather-predictors around, also from the Ozarks:
“The blood of a murdered man—bloodstains on a floor or garments—will liquefy on even dry sunshiny days, as a sign that a big rain is coming”
This is only a small sampling of everything out there. I’ve used many of these predictors (leaves turning their backs or cattle lying in a pasture) to prepare for bad weather, and there are many I’ve never even thought to pay mind to (rabbits in a dusty road, for example). So what about you, dear readers? Do you have any family or local lore regarding the weather you’d like to share? If so, please post a comment or send us an email, and indicate roughly what part of the world you’re in and what your weather charm or proverb is. We may do a show on these if we get enough interest!
I’d also like to issue a friendly challenge to you: make mental note of a few of these and start paying attention to them. See if they actually do predict or cause weather patterns for you in your area. Report your findings back here and share your observations with the rest of us. Who knows, we may read your results on the podcast, or something better (he said slyly).
I hope wherever you are, the weather’s treating you fair. If it’s not, you can always contact your neighborhood witch.
Today we’re migrating a little bit outside of New England proper and into territory which we’ll be covering more extensively at a later date. But in honor of Groundhog Day, I thought it would be fitting topay a visit to Punxatawney Phil, the ground-dwelling rodent whose annual weather prediction is the subject of great ceremony (and a rather funny film featuring Bill Murray).
Most people know the traditions associated with this holiday (or its sister holiday, Candlemas), but in case you have been living—like Phil–under a rock, in a cave, or in a town library attended to by men in top-hats—if the holiday marmot pokes his head outside after sunrise on February 2nd and sees his shadow, winter will linger for a while longer. If he doesn’t, you can expect an early spring. There are dozens of variations on the exact way to interpret that weather prediction. My personal favorite is the absurd truism “if he doesn’t see his shadow, only 6 weeks until spring; if he does, 6 more weeks of winter.” I’ve already referenced one proverb about this holiday in a previous post, but there are a couple of poems related to this holiday which illustrate its lore. The first is Scottish in origin:
“If Candlemas be fair and bright
Winter will have another flight
If Candlemas be cloud and rain
Winter will be gone and not come again”
And here’s one from 17th-century poet Robert Herrick (whom you may know as the author of “To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time”):
“Down with the rosemary, and so
Down with the bays and misletoe;
Down with the holly, ivy, all
Wherewith ye dress’d the Christmas hall;
That so the superstitious find
No one least branch there left behind;
For look, how many leaves there be
Neglected there, maids, trust to me,
So many goblins you shall see.”
The lore surrounding this day comes from a couple of key sources. The best known is probably the European tradition of the Candlemas Bear or Badger. These animals would stir (or in some cases, be coaxed) from their winter dormancy, and observers would make note of their reaction to the environment outside. Then a prediction of spring’s eventual arrival could be made and plans could be laid for things like tilling and planting crops. The selection of the groundhog as the New World substitute is outlined by Gerald C Milnes in his Signs, Cures, and Witchery:
“The badger was…used as a weather predictor in Germany, but in the New World, Pennsylvania Germans substituted the groundhog for this role because skunks [whose fat or ‘grease’ the author notes was used as Old World healers used badger fat], unlike badgers, do not hibernate…German Protestants brought the old weather-predicting tradition to Pennsylvania, where it is still actively observed in some German communities. Groundhogs were substituted for the badger (and bear) traditions o fEurope. Now the hibernating groundhog has their supposed powers to predict the weather.”
But why did this holiday catch on so widely when so many other holidays and traditions—such as First Footing or Belsnicking (see Milne for more on this mumming tradition)—remained highly localized? Well, it is certainly a fun holiday, and seems antiquated without being stuffy. In Punxatawney, Phil is cared for by a group known as the Inner Circle, town elders who dress formally for the occasion of Phil’s prognostication in what sometimes seems a silly parody of Lodge traditions like the Masons. The general good humor of the occasion (other than the poor rodent, who probably just wants to go back to sleep) has likely fueled its popularity. But my favorite explanation comes from Jack Santino, in his book All Around the Year: Holidays and Celebrations in American Life:
“In spite of all this obvious phoniness, we still pay attention to the groundhog’s prediction, as trumped up as it may be. This probably has to do with the fact that Groundhog Day is the first time that we direct our attention in any formal way towards the coming, much-anticipated spring. It works for us because after a long January, winter is getting old. February is a difficult month to get through, even though it is short. Any indication of an early spring is eagerly welcomed, and Groundhog Day is the first tentative look ahead.”
Santino also connects the groundhog’s celebration to another February holiday: Valentine’s day. He notes that the original date for Groundhog Day (in the pre-Gregorian calendar) was on the 13th or 14th of February. Likewise, the Candlemas bear became a diminished cutie—the teddy bear often given to a loved one on Valentine’s. I find this connection a bit tenuous, but fun to consider nonetheless.
I should also note that Phil is not the sole weather-predicting critter in the business today. There are also such famed meteorological marmots as Buckeye Chuck (in Ohio, naturally), Woodstock Willie (Illinois), and Balzac Billy (in Alberta). Silly as all this may be, I would once again submit that the attentive witch can learn something on Groundhog Day. Sure, there’s the witchy notion that observing the animals can help predict future events, but I’m more inclined to say the lesson here is that sometimes, it’s okay to smile and laugh at tradition. There’s a time and a place for the somber and serious, but there’s also a time and a place for a little mirth in the mix.
For those seeking to balance Groundhog Day out with something a little more significant, Candlemas itself is still a holiday for Catholics, as well as some Protestant denominations and even some Pagans and neo-Pagans (myself included). In the Christian tradition this is the day for the presentation of Jesus at the temple by his mother, Mary. Christians bring candles to the church to be blessed so that they can be burned throughout the year for loved ones. Many neo-Pagans celebrate the first or second day of February as Imbolg, dedicating it to goddesses like Brigid or Hestia. All of them, though, share something in common with Phil: they’re all looking forward to warmer days and brighter times.
So whatever you’re celebrating today—Groundhog Day, Imbolg, Candlemas, or even an early Lupercalia—I wish you a joyous day and a warm fire to keep you through the remains of winter.
Hello! Today I’m going to take a look at some of the coastal magic found in Northeastern America and Canada (Southern coastal magic will be in a later post, I hope). In the early days, American colonies and states depended greatly on foreign trade for supplies. The wealth of natural resources here were valuable to people across the sea as well, and so much of the commercial backbone of North America during those years depended on seaports and sailing vessels and all those men and women who operated them.
I’ve always found that folks involved in seafaring business are a superstitious lot (and I mean that as a compliment, as I find superstition fascinating and useful in many cases). At the very least, the vast ocean inspires people to consider their own smallness and to take precautions against their mortal end at the sea’s merciless whim. With that said, let’s look at some stories, anecdotes, and practices from the Northeastern coasts of North America.
Some stories from Maine:
“The Cursing of Colonel Buck”, as retold by S. E. Schlosser. In this story, an unscrupulous colonel takes advantage of one of his maids, then turns her out when she bears his sadly misshapen child. In order to prevent any claims on his name, he accuses her of witchcraft and has her burned at the stake. She curses him (perhaps his claims of witchcraft were not so unfounded) as she dies, and her leg falls from the pyre, where her son gathers the leg and runs away. After the colonel dies, his tombstone develops a funny leg-shaped mark on it, which embarrasses the townsfolk. They toss it in the ocean, but it comes back ashore. Then they smash it and put up a new stone, but the leg-mark comes back.
So where’s the New World Witchery in this story? Well, this tale is probably extremely exaggerated. The main clue is that the witch is burned at the stake, a holdover from European witch-lore, but not a punishment found in the New World. However, there’s one small fragment of worthwhile witchery in this tale: the first reaction of the townspeople is to throw the stone into the sea. The idea that natural water sources, especially moving ones like oceans and rivers, can cleanse cursed objects is solidly founded in other magical lore (see Albertus Magnus or hoodoo trick deployment practices).
Buying the Wind, by Richard M. Dorson, contains several excellent bits of Maine magical lore. For example, in the title passage, the practice of “buying wind” is discussed. Captains and crewmembers on becalmed ships would often be tempted to throw money overboard in order to purchase a quantity of wind from God/nature/the sea/etc. The problem arises in that the quantity purchased is always vastly more than one expected to buy. As one of Dorson’s informants puts it:
“Never buy wind when you’re on a boat. You’re daring God Almighty, and he won’t stand for that. You’ll get all the wind you want.”
In one tale, a captain tosses a quarter overboard, and immediately such a gale rises that it tears off the sails and mast from the ship and pushes it into shore, where it barely holds together as the crew disembarks. The captain remarks that if he’d known God sold wind so cheaply he’d only have got a nickel’s worth.
Is this witchcraft? Well, no, not exactly. But the practice of buying something to control the weather is fairly common witch-lore. Many tales exist of sailors buying cauls (the membrane which sometimes covers a newborn’s head after emerging from the womb) from dockside witches to prevent drowning at sea. And those same dockside sorceresses sometimes sold knotted cords to help sailors call up wind as needed—each knot, when undone, would release an increasing amount of wind. So buying the wind is certainly a magical maritime practice, if not outright witchery.
“An old sailor who spent his life as a deep-sea fisherman around the coasts of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland told of a great iron chest that was buried just beneath the water, so that its outline could be seen very distinctly. Every time the crew tried to work around it and, raise it up, thousands of crows, one of which was headless, would swarm around them, so that it was impossible for them to get at it. These crows they believed to be helpers of the decapitated guarding spirit.”
This tale is interesting, to me, because of the clear association of spirit allies with a sacred duty (such as guarding a treasure). I can’t think of many witchier images than a murder of crows—including a headless one—swarming all over treasure-grabbers.
The same volume has several good bits of weather-lore, too:
“If Candlemas day be fine and fair, The half of the winter’s to come an’ mair.”
“Mackerel skies and mare’s tails, Make lofty ships carry low sails.”
“A rainbow in the morning the sailor’s warning, A rainbow at night is the sailor’s delight.”
“Heavy winds kick up a rain.”
The first of these is an old tradition which most people now know as a component of Groundhog Day. I plan to do a post specifically on some of the traditions associated with early February sometime soon, so I’ll save further exposition on it here. The second proverb refers to cloud patterns in the skies. If high wispy clouds (“mare’s tails”) were seen along with clumpy scale-like cloud patterns (“mackerel skies”), then it was a good indication a storm would be coming soon and the sails should be lowered. The third bit of wisdom is fairly common, though sometimes in different iterations (I know it as “red skies at morning, sailor take warning; red skies at night, sailor’s delight”). Basically it just means that the weather conditions at dawn or dusk foretell the weather to come. And the fourth quote is a logical enough assertion that where high winds blow at sea, rain is sure to follow.
Again, are these witchy? Only insofar as the astute witch would know such proverbs and make use of them in his or her daily practice. Reading the signs Nature provides has a lot to do with the mentality of witchcraft, which is constantly looking to the natural-and-other-worlds for guidance, instruction, and wisdom.
A Sailor’s Treasury, by Frank Shay, also supposedly provides a good many of early American sailors’ tales and charms (I cannot give a full recommendation as I have only been able to view snippets online, and no nearby library seems to have a copy of this out-of-print text).
Whew! I’ve only presented a fragment of the nautical witchcraft out there, and already it’s a lot. So I’ll save more seaside witchery for another day.
On this, the second episode of New World Witchery, Laine and Cory discuss the ins and outs of broom closets. In the second segment, we hear from the lovely Sarah Lawless, proprietress of the Forest Grove Botanica and keeper of many irons in many fires. Then, we wrap up with a call for comments and emails from our listeners.