Blog Post 4 – Quick Update & Apology to T. Thorne Coyle

Hi all,

I just wanted to take a moment and apologize to anyone who subscribed to this feed and got an episode of T. Thorne Coyle’s podcast included with blog post #2.  I had included a direct link to a podcast of hers I was referencing in that post, and that, unfortunately, made it look to my feed writer like I had another podcast up.  I corrected the link so it wouldn’t go directly to the audio file, but I think it may have been too late.

While I certainly recommend listening to that episode of Ms. Coyle’s podcast (among many other episodes of her show), I did not intend to hijack that file into my feed, and I apologize.  I most especially apologize to Ms. Coyle, and hope this does not sour her sentiments towards this site or its owners.  I’m trying to figure out how to make that audio file stop feeding, but I have not been able to as of yet, so any suggestions are most welcome. Podcasting is still a fairly new thing to me, so please bear with me/us as we make mistakes.

Thanks for reading & listening!

-Cory

Blog Post 3 – Some Examples of Colonial Magic & Witch-lore

Magic in America has been around for a long time.  Today I thought I’d present a few examples of magical lore and charms as practiced in America from its first contact with European culture through around the early 19th century.  Note that this is not an attempt to create any kind of authenticated, unbroken lineage for the practice of religious witchcraft, but rather some illustrations of American witchcraft in its practical and literary forms.  I hope you enjoy!

“[T]his way of discovering Witches [by forcing a confession or demonstration of witchcraft], is no better than that of putting the Urine of the afflicted Person into a Bottle, that so the Witch may be tormented and discovered: The Vanity and Superstition of which practice I have formerly shewed, and testified against. There was a Conjurer his name was Edward Drake who taught a Man to use that Experiment for the Relief of his afflicted Daughter, who found benefit thereby; But we ought not to practice Witchcraft to discover Witches, nor may we make use of a White healing Witch (as they call them) to find out a Black and Bloody one.”

-From The Wonders of the Invisible World, by Cotton & Increase Mather, 1693

In the passage above, taken from a text by two rather notorious witch-hunters in Colonial history, there are a couple of things well worth noting.  First, there’s a good broad reference to the famous witch-bottle, about which there are plenty of theories.  Generally a witch-bottle is a glass or ceramic jar filled with pins, nails, bits of iron and glass, and other unpleasant things.  Urine is then added to the bottle (depending on who you talk to, it may be one’s own urine or the urine of a “target;” some modern witches use spit instead of urine).  The bottle is the buried, again depending on the lore you find, in either one’s yard or far, far away from one’s home.  It then acts to tear apart any harmful spells or spirits that come against the bottle’s creator, or in some cases it may cause a particular wicked witch physical torment, thereby revealing her.  I tend to go with the protective interpretation of it, and the burial on my own property.  In that way it works sort of like a “ward” to me.  But I could go on forever about witch-bottles, and might spend some time on a future podcast discussing them.  For now, their existence in Colonial New England is enough to go forward.  The second point of interest in this passage is the reference to the “White healing Witch” near the end of the entry.  This relates back to the Cunning Folk of Merry Olde England, who were known to repel the spells and works of “Black and Bloody” witches (their “repelling” power earned them the nickname “pellars” or “pellers,”  a term which is sometimes used by modern Wiccans as a derogatory epithet).

Next, let’s look at some of the charms used in rural New England pre-20th century:

“For generations back the Gloucester [Rhode Island] farmers have believed in wizardry.  They will do much of their work only during the full of the moon.  Otherwise they would expect to die or have very bad luck.  Planting must not be done until the signs of the zodiac are propitious, and gardens must never be plowed on Fridays.  Even a tooth must not be pulled unless the stars are right; if it is, it will come hard and cause great suffering.

Pork, if killed during the small of the moon [waning], will shrink to nothing in cooking, while that butchered at the full moon will continue white and firm.  To insure luck in the management of domestic animals, the sign of the zodiac must be in the leg.  The wishbones of all fowls are preserved on sticks.  Some families keep hundreds on hand all the time.  When the zodiacal sign is in the head, then the Gloucester people believe that one can do the most at catching pickerel and can hook the biggest fish.  Hence the almanac hung by the kitchen fireplace in all Gloucester houses is a thing that settlers could not live without.  Its study, if one would reap good harvests, ‘catch’ good clamming tides, and avoid misfortune, is imperative.

These people also believe that if you take up a black snake and bite it your teeth will never decay; that if the nails are pared on a Friday, toothache will be prevented, and that a child born in the heat of the day can see into the future, and will be exempt from the influences of witchcraft.  A ship that has such a one on board they say will never sink.”

-From “Ghosts and Witchcraft:  A region in New England where superstition thrives,” New York Times.  6 April 1889

This little entry—which dates from the late 19th century but relates traditions likely stretching back to pre-Revolutionary times—is loaded with interesting magical lore.  Much of it relates to the practice of farming according to the phases of the moon or the signs of the zodiac (see the excellent first volume of the Foxfire book series for more information on this concept).  The inclusion of healing by the zodiac is also interesting, and I believe that it also shows up along with farming by celestial design in Vance Randolph’s Ozark Magic & Folklore.  The basic idea behind this practice is that the influence of the moon—and to some extent the stars—on the natural cycles of earth and people can be predicted and used to improve conditions.  For example, one would plant root crops and tubers in the dark of the moon because they grow in darkness.  There are many who swear by this kind of farming.

The other scatterings of folk charms and remedies, such as biting a black snake to carry away tooth rot, are based more on the principle of sympathetic magic.  The black snake carries the black rot into the black earth, where it will dissipate and never harm the person again.

What has all this to do with witchcraft, then?  Well, a good witch is usually aware of natural cycles (even if he or she is not an astrologer, a witch should be able to tell you the phase of the moon and pick out a couple of constellations in the sky, in my humble opinion).  And, as a witch would likely be sought out to help bring prosperity or to heal certain afflictions, having this kind of knowledge certainly can’t hurt from a magical standpoint.  Again, in my opinion.

Finally, I thought I’d leave you today with a little bit of lore from rural New York:

CATSKILL GNOMES

Behind the New Grand Hotel, in the Catskills, is an amphitheatre of mountain that is held to be the place of which the Mohicans spoke when they told of people there who worked in metals, and had bushy beards and eyes like pigs. From the smoke of their forges, in autumn, came the haze of Indian summer; and when the moon was full, it was their custom to assemble on the edge of a precipice above the hollow and dance and caper until the night was nigh worn away. They brewed a liquor that had the effect of shortening the bodies and swelling the heads of all who drank it, and when Hudson and his crew visited the mountains, the pygmies held a carouse in his honor and invited him to drink their liquor. The crew went away, shrunken and distorted by the magic distillation, and thus it was that Rip Van Winkle found them on the eve of his famous sleep.

-From Myths and Legends of our Own Land, by Charles M. Skinner, [1896], at sacred-texts.com).

There are lots of lovely craft-related bits to unpack in this tiny tale:  metal-working, shape-changing liquors, supposedly long-dead men cavorting with the living, etc.  But I’ll leave it to the attentive reader to make of this story what he or she will, because I’m just a wee bit diabolical that way.

I will go ahead and point out that Skinner’s story was published in 1896, and while some of his stories in that same volume have precedents dating back to at least the early 19th century, I’ve also seen some indications that he elaborated his tales occasionally, too.  The connection to the Washington Irving tale of “Rip Van Winkle,” however, makes me feel that this story is at least connected to the same folklore that Irving (who published around the 1820’s) was drawing from.

That’s it for today!  Thanks for reading!

-Cory

Blog Post 02 – Book Review

Cory review’s Chas S. Clifton’s Her Hidden Children: The Rise of Wicca & Paganism in America.

Her Hidden Children, by Chas S. Clifton

I’ve just finished reading Chas S. Clifton’s Her Hidden Children:  The Rise of Wicca & Paganism in America this morning, and I thought that as his topics and my own intersect somewhat I might offer my take on his work.  First of all, I only recently learned who Mr. Clifton was through another podcast, T. Thorne Coyle’s Elemental Castings.  She was part of a panel discussion at the Florida Pagan Gathering in 2009, and Mr. Clifton was on that panel as well (other guests included Gavin and Yvonne Frost and Margot Adler).  The entire discussion can be heard at Ms. Coyle’s website, here.  What convinced me to read Clifton’s book was that in the panel, he spoke as an academic, but also a participant, and he did both with great skill.

After reading his book, I am inclined to think that his personality on the podcast is very much the same personality he puts forth in his writing—albeit a bit homier and less formal when he is speaking than writing.  He manages to provide a good, simple survey of the modern Pagan and Neo-Pagan movement in America, without resorting to overbold brush-strokes when he does so.  He doesn’t take the Gardnerian history at purely face value, but he also doesn’t simply dismiss it out of hand.  Rather, he takes the scholarly approach of examining the texts available and presenting the most reasonable conclusions he can based on those texts (or in some cases, media or personal correspondences).  Like Ronald Hutton’s Triumph of the Moon (which I feel Clifton’s book is greatly informed by), this book is not trying to make any fanciful claims about Paganism’s place in America (he makes the point repeatedly that there’s not a census of religion in America which can present a reliable number of “earth-based religious practitioners” in the US—he instead cites an independent survey which ranges from the upper hundreds of thousands to the low millions).  His examination of the various branches of Paganism in America is particularly noteworthy, as he gives short histories of each segment sourced not only from the branches themselves but from external documentation as well.

I enjoyed learning about the various areas of American Paganism with which I was only marginally familiar:  Feraferia and the Church of All Worlds (CAW), for example.  I also learned a lot about branches I was completely ignorant of, such as the Church of Aphrodite (the first Pagan religious group recognized in America) and the Psychedelic Venus Church.  Some of the better information in the book is about the interaction between various groups which may not always have been apparent.  The Church of Aphrodite, for example, had a great deal of influence on Feraferia because of a shared member, and the influence of Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land on not only the CAW, but groups like the Psychedelic Venus Church.

The book did leave me a little disappointed in some areas:  Clifton relies heavily on certain sources, such as Margot Adler, and on some information which is not particularly accessible (such as the aforementioned personal correspondences).  The largest drawback is that the work really only looks at the mid-to-late twentieth century in America with any great detail, other than to draw a few parallels between Transcendentalism and the modern Neo-Pagan movement.  I would have been greatly interested in finding out what influence movements like Spiritualism and Theosophy had on the Occult revival in America, and what effect in turn that revival had on Wicca and Paganism later on.  But I can also understand that the point of this book may not have been to dig back so far.  The bibliography and footnotes alone make the book worth purchasing or borrowing from the library, and the work certainly doesn’t disappoint in its stated purpose of chronicling the rise of modern Paganism in America.

In the end, while I wanted more, perhaps that is the best recommendation I can give.  This book is great for whetting an appetite for more information on American witchcraft and Paganism, and it certainly can provide a springboard into other areas of discovery.

-Cory

Podcast 1 – Introduction

-SHOWNOTES FOR EPISODE 1-

Summary

For Episode 1 of New World Witchery, Cory and Laine try to come up with a quick and simple definition for New World Witchery, including a brief overview of the traditions we consider to be under the umbrella of American Witchcraft.

We talk a bit about ourselves, our path to witchcraft, and how it has brought us to where we are today. And later on, Cory will give you a little bit of history on witchcraft in America.

Play:

Download:  New World Witchery – Episode 01

-Sources-

Websites

An extensive and very interesting list of witchcraft trials in America can be found at: http://www.personal.utulsa.edu/~Marc-Carlson/witchtrial/na.html.  This site also does the reader a service by providing direction to original source material and making it clear when details are too vague to make definitive statements about the trial.

Two websites which reveal a great deal about Hispanic magical practices are the Curious Curandera and Brujo Negro.   While they may seem diametrically opposed in some ways, they actually have quite a lot in common, and a good overview of Hispanic magical traditions can be worked out between the two.

Lilith’s Lantern, a site dedicated to the Feri  & Vicia branches of Anderson’s witchcraft, is a wonderful resource for learning more about this tradition.

Books

Narratives of the witchcraft cases, 1648-1706, ed. by George Lincoln Burr.  Dover, 2002.

Signs, Cures, & Witchery, by Gerald C. Milnes.  University of Tennessee Press, Knoxville, 2007.

Her Hidden Children, by Chas S. Clifton.  AltaMira Press, 2006.

Promos & Music

Title music:  “Homebound,” by Jag, from Cypress Grove Blues.  From Magnatune.

Promo 1-The Irish & Celtic Music Podcast

Promo 2-The iPod Witch

Promo 3-Witchery of One

Blog Post 01 – Introductions

A general introduction to the blog and podcast, plus a brief outline of New World Witchery.

Hello!

Welcome to New World Witchery, the Search for American Traditional Witchcraft.  This is a show/blog about magic, specifically the magic practiced in North America.   Your hosts are Cory & Laine, practicing witches who work with several New World systems.  If you like magic, particularly American folk magic, this is the show for you.

What is this Podcast/Blog About?

This project is—hopefully—going to help all of those magical practitioners out there who identify with their New World roots make sense of magic as it happens on the American landscape.

Some of the magical praxes we’ll be covering include (but are not limited to):

  • Hoodoo/rootwork
  • Pow-wow (PA Dutch Magic)
  • New Orleans-style Vodou
  • Appalachian Granny Magic
  • Ozark Mountain Magic
  • Brujeria/Curanderismo
  • Victor Anderson’s Feri Tradition/Vicia
  • New England Witchery

In addition, we’ll be having discussions about things like:

  • Effective spell crafting
  • Spell crafting successes and failures
  • Magic for oneself and magic for others
  • Magical terminology
  • Hexing
  • Being in or out of the “broom closet”

This show will be semi-monthly, with (hopefully) one podcast early in the month and one closer to the end of the month.  One podcast will be our regular discussion & banter, plus a segment on lore, history, and/or practice of New World Witchery.  The second podcast will have more discussion & banter, then an interview segment with a notable witch, scholar, or expert on some aspect of American traditional witchcraft.

We’ll also be trying out segments from time to time which we think might enhance the show.  Some of the ideas we’re kicking around are a handicrafts segment, poetry or stories related to American witchcraft, book recommendations, and highlights on magical ingredients and tools.  If you have a suggestion for one of these short segments, please contact us.  We’d love to hear from you!

The blog will be updated more frequently than the podcast, probably once or twice per week.  It will have show notes, short essays, links, and various odds and ends that we think might be worth a look. Again, suggestions are welcome.