Posted tagged ‘blues’

Blog Post 180 – New World Witchery Cartulary No. 4

August 20, 2013

Greetings and salutations! It has been a phenomenally busy end-of-summer around here. We’ve got a show in the works, and I’ve got articles brewing for the website, the Witches & Pagans site, and several print publications as well, so keep an eye out for those. Today I thought it would be good to have a brief cartulary post, though, so that while you’re waiting on tenterhooks for more New World Witchery (and you are waiting on those tenterhooks, aren’t you?), you won’t get too bored.

First of all, it’s the birthday of Howard Phillips Lovecraft, the noted author of some of the best weird and horror fiction of the twentieth century. If you’ve ever heard of Cthulhu or the Necronomicon, those are Lovecraft’s brainchildren, as are so many modern horror elements. What makes him of interest here is that he blends the occult with the scientific, creating a strange but wonderful mythology that is very easy to get sucked into. Much of his work has entered the public domain, and you can frequently find good collections of it cheaply, such as this Kindle collection of his work for less than a dollar. If you want to spend a little more, pick up the truly excellent Library of America collection, which also contains a chronology of Lovecraft’s life and a thorough annotation to the stories. If you’re a podcast listener, you should also definitely check out the HP Lovecraft Literary Podcast, who record dramatized versions of the author’s eerie tales.

I recently reviewed a couple of books on conjure, both of which fall into the non-fiction camp, but since we’re talking about weird tales, I think a few recommendations of conjure fiction would be worthwhile. First, I have to recommend the collection Mojo: Conjure Stories, edited by the wonderful Nalo Hopkinson. I’ve reviewed this book before, so I won’t say more than it is definitely worth a read. Fire Lyte sent me a wonderful collection of late 19th and early 20th century conjure tales called Voodoo: Strange & Fascinating Tales & Lore, edited by John Richard Stephens. The editor unfortunately bowdlerized a number of the stories, but you can find a number of great tales in here anyway, by authors like H.G. Wells and Charles Chesnutt. If you’re looking for a great collection of hoodoo stories just by Chesnutt, I received the marvelous Norton Critical Edition of his Conjure Stories back at Christmas, and it definitely rewards a reader with an interest in folkways , magic, and good literary storytelling.

I can’t recall if I mentioned it or not, but I recently watched a few classic “voodoo” films via Netflix and/or Amazon Instant that may be of interest to folks here. The classic White Zombie stars Bela Lugosi and features all sorts of ridiculous fun. The 1988 film The Serpent and the Rainbow was more enjoyable than I thought it would be at first. It’s based on a book of the same name by anthropologist Wade Davis, who theorized that the “zombie powders” of Vodoun might be a form of bufotoxin or tetradotoxin found in poisonous animals which induced corpse-like comas in victims. The movie obviously mangles the research a bit in the name of good storytelling (well, storytelling of some kind, anyway), but it still makes for a harrowing look at the political and spiritual life of Haiti under the dictatorship of Papa Doc and Baby Doc Duvalier.

Finally, I wanted to mention a few musical items of interest. Firstly, I picked up a really fun compilation CD put out by the Lucky Mojo Company called cat yronwode’s Hoodoo Jukebox. It’s part of a 2-CD set which includes a CD-ROM full of hoodoo-related graphics (mostly in the Lucky Mojo style). The music CD is basically a collection of old country or backwoods blues tunes by the likes of the Memphis Jug Band, Johnnie Temple, and Blind Willie McTell. It’s essentially all tunes coming from public domain sources, so I’m not sure if any of the proceeds go to the artists’ families, but I imagine with Yronwode’s usually ardent position on intellectual property and copyrights she’s found some way to do good things with the funds. Most of these songs you could find by digging around in archives or on the internet long enough, but Cat has done a marvelous job assembling them in one place and providing a really rich commentary on them in the liner notes. If you like blues or even just music about magical things (and I’m looking at you and your upcoming Halloween episode, Velma Nightshade), this is a good collection to have.

I also cannot help but shamelessly plug a friend of mine’s latest release. If you’ve not heard of Amanda Shires, you probably will, and soon. Her new CD, Down Fell the Doves, is the deeply haunting sort of alt-country record I can’t resist. It’s relevant here because several of the tracks have deeply folkloric elements. “Bulletproof” talks about animal curios given to Shires by a man named “Tiger Bill” with the assurance “That’ll make you bulletproof.” The song “Deep Dark Below” speaks of a devil who plays a fiddle with a bow made of bone that “sounds like your deepest desires.” If you like good, spooky music touched by rock, blues, country, and folk influences (somewhat similar to the marvelous band Devil Makes Three, which Sarah Lawless introduced me to), give Down Fell the Doves a listen.

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

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Podcast Special – Memphis Mojo

April 27, 2012

-SHOWNOTES FOR PODCAST SPECIAL – MEMPHIS MOJO

Summary
In this episode, Cory takes you along with him on a trip to Memphis, Tennessee, to discover that city’s magical and mystical side.

Play:
Download: New World Witchery Special – Memphis Mojo

-Sources-
Places:
Ebbo Spiritual Supply
Tater Red’s on Beale St.
A. Schwab’s on Beale St.
The Center for Southern Folklore
The Crystal Grotto at the Memorial Park Cemetery

Information:
Nation Sack” from Lucky Mojo Curio Co. by Catherine Yronwode
Voodoo Village” from Haunted America Tours

You can now request Card Readings from Cory via email, if you are so inclined.

Don’t forget to follow us at Twitter!

-Music-
Memphis Minnie: “Hoodoo Lady Blues
Robert Johnson: “Come on in My Kitchen
Marideth Sisco & Blackberry Winter: “Cold, Rain, & Snow,” and “On a Hill Lone & Gray
Blind Mississippi Morris: “Mysterious Woman Blues

Blog Post 155 – Radiolab and Robert Johnson at the Crossroads

April 17, 2012

Hi all!

I know this isn’t the botanical lore I was promising for the month of April, but don’t worry, there’s more of that coming. I just had to share something that my very dear and wonderful friend Kathleen alerted me to. One of my favorite non-magical podcasts in the world, Radiolab, just did a really interesting mini-show on a topic which intersects with our work here!

Please hop over and check out the 30 minute Radiolab short on the Crossroads, specifically the tangled crossroads legend surrounding blues players Robert Johnson (to whom the myth of selling his soul to become a great blues player is frequently ascribed) and Tommy Johnson (who may actually have done the crossroads ritual). There are fantastic interviews with music historians, blues experts, and even Tommy Johnson’s brother, all of which help shed light on the strange and gorgeous African American folk tale about gaining new power at the crossroads.

I should point out that they come at this from a scientific and historical perspective, and really are pursuing the true story about the musicians rather than doing much to get at the folkloric roots of the crossroads phenomenon. They specifically wind up ignoring the existence of the story in other African American literary and folklore sources, such as these:

  • The multiple incidents of crossoroads conjure recorded by Harry M. Hyatt between 1935-1939 (found at the bottom of the Lucky Mojo page linked above), which would have pre-dated the “creation” of this story as described in the Radiolab short
  • The numerous incidences of crossroads as places of healing, particularly trading things like a wart or a sty to a mysterious stranger, in Southern and African American folklore (which can be found in Hyatt’s work, the work of Vance Randolph, and Newbell Niles Puckett).
  • Puckett’s description of the crossroads ritual as an origin for folk hero Jack, which was published in 1926 and states:

Various legends are in vogue among the Negroes to account for the origin of this creature.  One illustrating the common theme, was told me by a root-doctor last summer.  Jack sold himself to the devil at the crossroads one night at twelve o’clock. For seven years all power was given to him to do as he pleased, but at the end of that period his soul belonged to the devil. [This eventually goes on to tell the story of Jack-o-Lantern, but the crossroads portion of it is given here as illustration of my particular point]

  • Zora Neale Hurston’s 1931 article on African American folk magic, which has the following item in it:

How to Have a Slick Hand with People.

On the dark moon of any Friday night, dress yourself in black. Sit flat in the fork of a cross road at exactly twelve o’clock and sell yourself out to the devil. After which you shall have power to do anything you wish to do (“Hoodoo in America,” 392)

  • The appearance of crossroads in European folk magic (such as that found in Charles Leland’s Gypsy Sorcery & Fortune-telling, published in 1891, long before the legends being described in the blues tales)

There are so many other appearances of crossroads in folklore that it would be daunting to tackle them here (though I will probably try to do a bigger article on them some day). My real point is just to say that while I love the Radiolab story, they definitely overlooked a large amount of crossroads material so that they could focus more on the story of two real blues musicians, which is understandable.

I really do hope you’ll give this particular show a listen. It’s great, especially in its ability to untangle the two legends from one another, and you get to hear some really hauntingly good blues, too.  Let me know what you think of it!

All the best, thanks for reading, and see you down at the crossroads…

-Cory

Blog Post 38 – High John

March 29, 2010

Howdy all!

I hope you had a great weekend!  This week, I’m going to be focusing on herbs, roots, and curios used in various American magical practices.  I’m starting with one of the most common and most important roots in hoodoo:  High John the Conqueror.

This shriveled root is part of the Ipomoea genus, and is a relative of the Morning Glory.  Its resemblance to a shrunken testicle has made it a powerful symbol of potency and virility.   I consider it to be one of the quintessential hoodoo herbs (which is the reason I included it in my “hoodoo kit” post).  Catherine Yronwode says of the root in her Hoodoo Herb and Root Magic book, “ A person possessing a John the Conqueror Root will never be long without money or a lover and will be extremely lucky in games of chance and business” (HHRM p. 111).

Some of the most common ways to use this root are to put it into a jar of neutral oil (such as safflower or olive) and let it sit for a few weeks, occasionally shaking the jar.  The resulting oil (which will have little to no smell and to which you should add some vitamin E or tincture of benzoin to prevent rancidity) can be used to anoint anything that needs more power.  Rubbed on your hands and feet, it adds personal power to everything you do.  Rubbed on money kept in your wallet, it helps you be more successful in luck and business endeavors.  Rubbed (very lightly) on the penis, it restores male virility and enhances sexual prowess.

Another key way to use this root is to keep a whole root in your pocket, either by itself or wrapped in a red cloth bag as a mojo hand.  Fed regularly (once a week at least) with whiskey or the High John Oil I just described, it keeps you empowered and potent at all times.  According to the lore, money comes easier, luck favors you, love finds you, and sex is better than ever.

You can also add John the Conqueror (by the way, you say it “John the Con-ker”) chips or oil to other mojo hands to increase their potency as well.  I like to add them to success and business workings, because they tend to work faster and require less finagling on my part after my initial efforts.

The High John root has appeared in pop culture several times, too.  Whenever hoodoo comes up in songs, a mention of this root is seldom far behind.  For example, in the Allman Brothers Band remake of Willie Dixon’s “Hoochie Coochie Man,” radio audiences of the 70’s heard the lyrics:

“Got a John the Conquerer root and got some mojo too,
We got a black cat bone, we’re gonna slip it to you.”

Considering the libertine behavior the singer boasts of elsewhere in the song, having a little magic keeping his virility charged certainly seems like a good idea (I’ll address the black cat bone reference in another post).  Muddy Waters (who worked with Willie Dixon quite a lot) also recorded a blues song featuring the hoodoo charm, entitled (appropriately) “My John the Conqueror Root.”

There are lots of places to find this root on the web, and if you have a local botanica of some kind, they will also likely carry this curio.  I highly recommend anyone looking into American magic familiarize him/herself with High John.  Who couldn’t use a magical boost from such a potent little root?

Thanks for reading!

-Cory


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