Posted tagged ‘Arkansas’

Blog Post 30 – Who’s Who in Hoodoo (Intro, Part II)

March 16, 2010

Today we’ll be looking at some famous personalities from the root working world.  These are not comprehensive biographies, by any means.  But they should at least give you some cursory information and enough information to look into the interesting lives of these conjure-folk further if you desire.

So, without further adieu, here’s Who’s Who in Hoodoo:

Historical Hoodoo Figures

Marie Laveau – Known as the “Voodoo Queen of New Orleans,” there is much folklore and little fact surrounding the powerful figure of Marie Laveau.  She was a free woman of color living in New Orleans during most of the 19th century, living to be nearly 100 years old herself.  She was flamboyant—holding large dances in Congo Square and appearing frequently with a large snake which she had named Gran Zombi—but surprisingly also very devout, often attending Catholic mass on a regular basis.  While she is best known for her Voodoo associations, Laveau had a tremendous gift for magic, and was said to maintain control of the city through a network of informants and a healthy dose of sorcery.  Zora Neale Hurston, who studied hoodooo (and Voodoo) with Laveau’s alleged nephew, Luke Turner, wrote about Laveau’s  intense magical power:

“The police hear so much about Marie Leveau that they come to her house in St. Anne Street to put her in jail. First one come, she stretch out her left hand and he turn round and round and never stop until some one come lead him away. Then two come together…she put them to running and barking like dogs. Four come and she put them to beating each other with night sticks. The whole station force come. They knock at her door. She know who they are before she ever look. She did work at her altar and they all went to sleep on her steps” (Hurston, Mules and Men, Part II, Chapter 2)

Today, many people—magical practitioners or not—visit her grave in New Orleans, leaving her offerings and asking her for favors, a practice not uncommon in hoodoo. (additional info gathered from Wikipedia and R.E. Guiley’s Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft).

Doc Buzzard – There are many who claim the name “Doc” Buzzard, but the most famous one is a South Carolina root doctor from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He was a famed magician and healer, and was much sought after for his cures.  He was also white, which sometimes surprises people.  There were many inheritors to the name “Doc Buzzard,” one of the best known being a rather unscrupulous character who was eventually reigned in by…

Sheriff James McTeer – According to Jack Montgomery, who spent a good bit of time interviewing McTeer:

“Sheriff McTeer recounted a…conclusion to a psychic war he had with the famous Doctor Buzzard. McTeer ordered Dr. Buzzard to stop selling potions. This particular war of curse and counter-curses ended with the drowning death of Dr. Buzzard’s son. Soon after, Dr Buzzard visited McTeer and the two men made peace and became friends of a sort.” (Montgomery, American Shamans, Chapter 1)

McTeer was a gifted hoodoo in his own way, though he was less focused on the prefabricated potions which made hoodoo a viable commercial enterprise throughout the 20th century.

Aunt Caroline Dye – A famed hoodoo woman from Arkansas, Aunt Caroline Dye was another long-lived magical practitioner (supposedly living to the ripe old age of 108).  She was cited in Harry Hyatt’s encyclopedic text on hoodoo as being a great jinx-breaker, and the Lucky Mojo page on her cites several blues songs devoted to her legendary gifts.

Henri Gamache – A pseudonym for an otherwise unnamed author, Henri Gamache is the name associated with many of the most influential texts in mid-20th century hoodoo.  His “Philosophy of Fire” as outlined in The Master Book of Candle Burning is a foundational text for conjure candle rituals, and includes a good number of psalm rituals as well.  Other key texts authored by Gamache include Terrors of the Evil Eye Exposed and Mystery of the Long Lost 8th, 9th, and 10th Books of Moses.

Moses – Speaking of Moses…  There are many who look on Moses as the first conjure man.  He was imbued with holy power by G-d, and used several commonplace tools to create miracles, not unlike the conjure men and women of recent times.  Some of his “tricks” include:

  • Transforming his staff into a serpent (Exodus 7)
  • Turning the Nile into blood (Exodus 7)
  • Summoning the Plagues of Egypt (Exodus 7-12)
  • Parting the Red Sea (Exodus 14)
  • Bringing water from the rock with his staff (Exodus 17)
  • Mounting a bronze serpent on a staff to cure venomous snake bites among the Israelites (Numbers 21)

Zora Neale Hurston was a major proponent of this view of Moses, making it a central theme in her book Moses, Man of the Mountain.  In Mules and Men, Hurston describes Moses as:

“The first man who ever learned God’s power-compelling words and it took him forty years to learn ten words.  So he made ten plagues and ten commandments.  But God gave him His rod for a present and showed him the back part of His glory.  Then too, Moses could walk out of the sight of man” (Hurston, Mules and Men, Part II, Chapter 1).

Of course, this is not the common view of Moses, but I like to at least consider the idea…but then I like to take a generally unorthodox view of lots of Judeo-Christian mythology, myself.

Zora Neale Hurston – To end, I thought I should at least mention the woman I’ve cited several times today.  Zora Neale Hurston is a folklorist from the mid-20th century whose most famous book is Their Eyes Were Watching God.  However much of her best work is in the study of hoodoo and Voodoo in books such as Mules and Men and Tell My Horse.  While many of her stories are elaborations or even (possibly) completely fictional constructs, they nonetheless provide a lot of good hoodoo techniques, recipes, and philosophies.  Taken with a hefty grain of salt, her work is a great way to explore hoodoo as it grew within the African-American community during the twentieth century.

That’s it for today.  Tomorrow I hope to get into contemporary rootworkers.  Until then…

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

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Blog Post 28 – Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign…

March 12, 2010

Do I date myself by referencing that song in the title of this blog post?  Oh well…
I thought I’d wrap up the week with a few more examples of signs, tokens, and omens from American folklore.  We’ll be up in the mountains today, both the Appalachians and the Ozarks.
From the Appalachian History blog:

News Bees

“In both Appalachian and Ozarks folklore, news bees appear as omens to those wise enough to read them.”

News bees are not actually bees, but flower flies from the Syrphidae family.  They are marked with bands of black and yellow, much like bees, but are harmless.  They do look an awful lot like sweat bees, however, which can sting a person (though not as severely as other bees or wasps).

News bees, which also go by names like “sand hornets,” “sweat flies,” or “Russian hornets” derive their folk name from the belief that these hovering insects watch the events of humanity unfold, then fly off to deliver their news to others.  According to the folklore, “There are yellow news bees, which mean that good things are in the offing– it’s good luck if you can get one to perch on your finger–and black news bees, which warn of imminent death. The black news bees fly in the windows and out again, and fly straight for the nearest cemetery; they hover making a sound like a human being talking.” (Tabler, par.2)

From Vance Randolph’s Ozark Magic and Folklore:

Some Animal Lore

“It is very generally believed that the appearance of an albino deer is a bad sign ; some hillfolk think it has something to do with witches’ work, others that it is an indication of disease among the deer, and that venison will be unwholesome for seven years” (p. 241)

“Groundhogs are hunted by boys with dogs, and young groundhogs are very good eating. But some of the old-timers frown on the modern practice of shooting groundhogs. They don’t mind if city sportsmen do it but often forbid their own children to shoot groundhogs, because it is supposed to bring bad luck” (p. 243)

Household Signs & Omens

“The Ozark housewife seldom begins to make a garment on Friday never unless she is sure that she can finish it the same day. Many a mountain man is reluctant to start any sort of job on Saturday, in the belief that he will ‘piddle around’ for six additional Saturdays before he gets it done” (p. 69)

“It is bad luck to burn floor sweepings or shavings that have been produced inside the house. An old-time Ozark housewife seldom sweeps her cabin after dark, and she never sweeps anything out at the front door” (p. 70)

The fantastic Appalachian blog Blind Pig and the Acorn has a fascinating entry on a death omen called a “belled buzzard.”

Belled Buzzards

According to the site, which cites a newspaper story about this phenomenon, in King George County, VA, a buzzard was observed flying low by houses with a bell around its neck and streamers tied to its body.  Similarly adorned birds figure in tales from the Carolinas, Tennessee, Alabama, and Arkansas.  According to the blog’s author:

“Most of the sightings or ‘hearings’ caused folks to believe the belled buzzards foretold death. One legend even tells the story of a belled buzzard harassing a man after he killed his wife-to the point of the man turning himself in for her murder” (Tipper par.2).

So if you happen to see any big birds around your neighborhood with bells, chimes, or any musical instrument on their person, take heed!

Personal Lore

Finally, today, I thought I’d share a few of the things I was brought up believing.  Most of this information is from my mother.

  • When cooking soups, stews, and sauces, she’d often include a bay leaf in the pot.  Whoever found the bay leaf was thought to be in for some good luck.
  • If rain broke out of a clear sky, my mother always said that “the Devil is beating his wife.”
  • She taught me that if your ears burn, someone’s talking about you.  If your nose itches, someone wants to kiss you.  And if your hands itch, money’s coming your way soon.
  • You should never kill a spider or a frog indoors, as it will bring bad luck, she always said.  Unless the spider was a black widow or brown recluse.  Then it seemed to be okay.
  • She always kept an aloe plant in her kitchen window, both for an easy source of bug-bite and sunburn treatment and to bless the house in general with good fortune.

Okay, that will do it for today, I think.  Please feel free to share your own lore.  I’m always eager to hear it!

Thanks for reading!

-Cory


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