Posted tagged ‘British Columbia’

Blog Post 121 – Watching Birds

March 1, 2011

Today we’ll be looking at birds and their place as divinatory aids in the New World, something we touched on briefly in the second post on Magical Animals.  Birds have historically been turned to by humans for secret knowledge, largely owing to their unfettered freedom to fly from place to place.  Virtually all mythologies have some tale of a great mythic bird:  the Roc in the Arabian Nights’ Entertainments, Zeus’s swan-form, the Thunderbird of some Native American stories, and the haunting Crane Dance of Japan are some of the better-known examples. A creation myth of the Haida people of the Queen Charlotte Islands says that a raven, lonely in his long flight, spit upon a clam and opened it up, freeing the first humans (see Magical Creatures by E. Pepper & B. Stacy for more on this).  What have birds to do with divination, though?  Many readers probably already know about the branch of fortune-telling known as augury, but for those who haven’t heard of it, it simply means predicting fate by observing the flights of birds.

So how does one go about performing augury?  Here things get a bit fuzzy—in some cases, the future comes as a vision released by a relaxed mind observing with detachment the loops and turns of soaring birds.  Portuguese writer Paulo Coelho incorporates this type of augury into his novella, The Alchemist when he has a young shepherd accidentally catch a glimpse of coming war while he watches two hawks diving over desert sands.  The other method, and the one which makes up a good bit of North American lore, simply involves noting the behavior of birds and interpreting it by means of known connotations.  This sort of augury has numerous manifestations, and is especially prominent in Appalachian lore.  Folklorist W. L. McAtee recorded a number of bird-related divinations in an essay from 1955:

From “Odds & Ends on North American Folklore on Birds,” by W. L. McAtee:

  • “[I]f ever a bird builds in your shoe or pocket, or any of your clothes, you may prepare to die within the year.”
  • “The loon, a favorite with folklorists, is called ‘Bad Luck Bird’ by the natives [of the Sea Islands of Georgia], who will not speak of it, or if possible even look at it when they meet it in a journey by water.”
  • “While recording the common beliefs as to the storm petrels, that ‘Their appearance portends bad weather,’ Mrs. Simcoe [McAtee’s informant] adds: ‘To kill them is unlucky. Each bird is supposed . . . to contain the soul of a dead sailor.’
  • “The Reverend J. H. Linsley in his Birds of Connecticut (1843) noted that the cry of the bittern is a cause of superstitious fear and recorded that one man hearing it ran a mile, saying, that the Devil was after him.”
  • “’A token,’ said Archibald Rutledge [another informant], writing of the Santee Country, South Carolina, ‘is an apparition foretelling death,’ and cites as examples an eagle feeding with black vultures, a wild turkey standing alone under a certain great oak tree, and an albino robin.”
  • “[An] Abundance of people here look upon [whip-poor-wills] . . . as birds of ill omen, and they are very melancholy if one of them happens to light upon their house, or near their door, and set up his cry (as they will sometimes upon the very threshold) for they firmly believe one of the family will die very soon after.”
  • “Canada Jays are supposed to embody the souls of hunters or lumbermen who die in the north woods and it, therefore, brings bad luck to kill them.”
  • “In western North Carolina, it means seven years of bad luck to kill a raven.”
  • “To end this section on a more cheerful note, we cite the Ozark fancy that ‘If a redbird flies across a girl’s path . . . she will be kissed before night.’”

Other mountain lore about birds tends to focus on weather prediction (a subject we’ve covered in our posts on Signs & Omens to some extent, but you can never have enough weather-prediction lore).  Patrick Gainer observes: “When the geese wander on the hills and fly homeward squawking, there will be a storm within twenty-four hours,” and “When the red birds call in the morning, it will rain before night.”  Vance Randolph records some Ozark lore along the same lines:

  • Chickens or turkeys standing with their backs to the wind and with ruffled feathers mean a storm’s coming.
  • A rooster crowing at nightfall portends rain through the dark hours.
  • A sudden burst of robin-song foretells of bad weather.
  • Kingfishers nesting near the water mean a dry season to come.

Birds seem indelibly linked with concepts of luck and death, too.  Anyone who’s seen the 90’s cult film The Crow probably remembers the voice-over at the movie’s opening telling a pseudomyth about how people once believed that a crow ferried souls between the land of the living and the land of the dead, and occasionally allowed one to come back for vengeance (I call this a pseudomyth not because there’s no truth in it, but rather that I’ve never been able to find exactly that myth borne out in folklore, though there are certainly close correlatives to it—corvids are often associated with death).  There are many other pieces of Appalachian lore in this vein:

  • Barn swallows bring good luck where they nest, and it is bad luck to shoot one. (Randolph, OM&F)
  • Redbirds or roosters lingering near one’s doors or windows tend to mean tragedy will come soon after. (Randolph, OM&F)
  • Whippoorwills nesting at a home mean death will soon come to it. (Randolph, OM&F)
  • If a bird flies in the window, someone in the family will die. (Gainer, WG&S)
  • It is bad luck for a hen to crow. (Gainer, WG&S)
  • “Owls are omens of great ill.  If you spot one nearby while you are inside your home, the direction in which it flies away is an indication of the fate of your household.  If it flies off to the left of the cabin, very bad luck can be expected, but if it flies off to the right, it indicates an evil influence has chosen to pass you by.”(Edain McCoy, In a Graveyard at Midnight)
  • “Many western occult traditions regard peacocks as omens of ill fortune and their feathers as tokens of bad luck.” (Pepper & Stacy, MC)

Finally, in the category of “Odds & Ends,” there are some really spectacularly unique bits of North American folklore about birds which come from all over:

  • Buzzards will vomit upon anyone guilty of incest. (Randolph, OM&F)
  • “When you hear the first robin sing in the spring, sit down on a rock and take off your left stocking.  If there is a hair in it, your sweetheart will call on you soon.” (Gainer, WG&S)
  • “If a bird flies down and gets tangled in your hair, it is an indication that the bird has linked itself with your soul, and whatever befalls the bird is likely to befall you also.” (McCoy, IaGaM)
  • Richard Dorson records a legend in Buying the Wind found amongst Illinois “Egyptians” (or what many would call “Gypsies”) about a mouse, a bird, and a sausage who all keep house together until the sausage is eaten and the mouse accidentally kills himself that feels like it must have some embedded magical meaning, though I’ve yet to figure it out.

That’s it for our bird-watching entry.  If you’ve got lore you’d like to share about birds, we’d love to hear it!  It certainly gives me a good reason to keep watching the skies, so please feel free to comment with any augury methods you’ve got.

As always, thanks so much for reading!

-Cory

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Blog Post 31 – Who’s Who in Hoodoo, part deux (Intro, Part III)

March 17, 2010

Today, I’m going to tackle of few of the modern rootworkers I know and/or admire.  This is most certainly is not a comprehensive list of professional hoodoo practitioners in North America, so please don’t start throwing rotten vegetables at me for not listing one of your favorite rootworkers.  But DO feel free to leave a comment on this post with the name/contact info of any professional hoodoo you think the world should know about!

Okay, on with the show!

Modern Rootworkers

Catherine Yronwode – I believe she actually prefers “catherine yronwode,” without capitalization.  If you are reading about hoodoo on the web and you don’t know who she is yet, you should immediately head over to the Lucky Mojo page and read her online text on the history and practice of hoodoo.  She is probably one of the most prominent profiles in modern conjure work, and she runs one of the biggest supply houses for magical and occult goods specializing in traditional hoodoo recipes and formulae.  Yronwode was featured in Christine Wicker’s Not in Kansas Anymore, which profiled magical practitioners across the United States.  She was also a famous comic book artist back in the 1970’s, and judging by the colorful designs on her wares, I’d say she still has an eye for a good picture.  She’s also been instrumental in keeping hoodoo a vital, living tradition rooted in history but adapting to modern times.  Her course for prospective students of hoodoo is almost a pre-requisite for any rootworker, and her Association of Independent Readers and Rootworkers provides a stamp of quality which ensures that those seeking magical help don’t get ripped off.   Seriously, if you’re reading this and don’t know who she is, go to Lucky Mojo right now!

Dr. Christos KioniThis Florida-based rootworker is host of the Lucky Mojo Hoodoo Rootwork Hour.  He is also one of the best known professional conjure men working today, and the active owner of the MyHoodooSpace website.  Dr. K also works very hard to preserve the African Diasporic traditions (such as the ATR practices discussed in the introductory post on hoodoo earlier this week.  I think he works both with the left hand and the right (meaning he will curse if he sees a need for it), though I’m basing that on some of the discussions from his radio show and he may well have changed ideologies since then.  He was also mentioned in Not in Kansas Anymore, and actually knows where to find the grave of Zora Neale Hurston (which very few folks do).  He is definitely a big personality, but he has a friendly and warm demeanor about him, and I believe he’s got a fairly high rate of success with his work, too.  He also happens to be friends with cat yronwode (if you didn’t guess that from the name of his radio program).  As he says of himself “I can hit a straight lick with a crooked stick!”

Michaele Maurer – Miss Michaele (pronounced mi-KAY-luh, I believe) is the owner of the Hoodoo Foundry, a site dedicated to traditional rootwork.  One of the reasons I really like her practice is that she focuses on Southern-style rootwork, including a lot of Bibliomancy and using Biblical prayers and magic to accomplish her goals (not that I think all great rootworkers are Bible-thumping Christians, mind you…see Karma Zain or Papa Toad Bone for contrast).  I really value her deeply traditionalist approach, however, and I also like that she has a broad range of reading styles, including tarot, pendulum, and ceromancy (reading candle wax).  She’s not one who does jinxing or crossing work, but she does at least acknowledge that sometimes it is justified and she helps clients needing those services to find a root worker who will attempt those tricks.   She seems to be very tender-hearted and kind, and works for the good of her clients with deep sincerity.

Starr – An old-fashioned Southern hoodoo woman from Texas, Starr has been steeped in conjure work for most of her life.  She’s quite sassy and funny, and also very straightforward.  She’s another traditionalist who works closely with Christian religious figures, including Saints.  While much of her work is focused on things like spiritual cleansing, sweetening, and healing, she also does vinegar jars, hot foot workings, and as she puts it, “I will do separation and break up work on a case by case basis if so guided by the spirit.”  She also runs the Old Style Conjure site, and offers mini-courses which compliment a broader study of hoodoo quite nicely.

Karma Zain – Ms. Zain is not only a great rootworker, she’s also a bishop in the Franco-Haitian Gnostic Vodoun tradition.  I know, I’ve said I really like old-style conjurers who stick to certain historical precepts regarding the incorporation of Biblical elements, but that doesn’t mean I think all good hoodoo men and women must be Judeo-Christian.   Karma Zain proves that point, because besides being a Vodoun bishop, she’s an honest, straightforward worker who isn’t afraid to say “no” to a client if she doesn’t feel their cause warrants the action they ask for.  She’s the kind of rootworker who isn’t afraid to dig in the dirt and use the less savory curios like bone fragments and fur.  She seems like an incredibly down-to-earth and sensible woman, and one I wouldn’t want t cross!

Papa Toad Bone – This Mississippi based conjure man is the proprietor of the Toad’s Bone Apotheca, one of the funkiest and witchiest sites I’ve seen.  Just looking at his webpage makes me want to lay a trick or two or take a walk to the crossroads.  He’s also Pagan, and very much a non-Christian kind of Pagan, again proving that great conjurers needn’t be entirely wrapped up in the Biblical worldview.  I’ve known him through several different avenues over the last couple of years, and he’s always struck me as someone who really spends time with spirits and understands them incredibly well (I think he even found a great way to play card games with them, but hopefully I’ll get him to tell about that at some point).  He’s also a nitty-gritty sort of worker, spending a good deal of time out in the swamps and wild places gathering materials for his shop and clients.  Again, someone I wouldn’t want to cross, and a rootworker who gets things done.

Carolina Gonzalez – Another Pagan rootworker, Ms. Gonzalez incorporates her Latin roots into her magic, offering a particularly unique blend of brujeria, hoodoo, and witchcraft to her clients.  She runs The Hoodoo Shop on Etsy, and she’s the resident hoodoo expert for sites like The Noble Pagan and The Modern Pagan.  She’s located in the Canary Islands, proof that hoodoo is a worldwide phenomenon at this point.  Her site offers her products as well as courses and LOTS of great information from her many different areas of expertise.

Sarah Lawless – I certainly can’t leave out Sarah, a friend to New World Witchery and a heckuva witch and conjure woman in her own right.  She practices her root work out in the wilds of British Columbia, carefully adapting the fundamental practices of traditional Southern rootwork to her immediate environment.  We’ve talked to and about her a lot on this blog, so rather than sound like a rampaging fan boy, I will simply suggest you go check out her blog and store and see how magical she is for yourself.

Stephanie Palm – The wonderful proprietress of Music City Mojo, and my personal hoodoo teacher.  She is not one to pull punches or sugar-coat things, though she is also incredibly warm and friendly.  Stephanie is the High Priestess of a Traditional Witchcraft coven, as well as a devotee of Vodoun.  She’s a gifted teacher, as well as a gifted conjure woman, and she isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty in a graveyard or to lay down a jinx if the situation calls for it.  More importantly, she isn’t afraid to let someone know that the situation DOESN’T call for a jinx.  I really could go on and on about how much I adore her and how thankful I am to her for all she’s taught me, but for now I’ll just say that if you’re looking for someone who knows their stuff, she’s one to talk to.

I know there are lots more rootworkers out there, and I’d love to hear about them from all of you, so please feel free to post a comment on this blog about your favorite hoodoo men and women.

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

Podcast 2 – Broom Closets and an Interview with Sarah Lawless

January 26, 2010

-SHOWNOTES FOR EPISODE 2-

Summary

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.

Play:

Download:  New World Witchery – Episode 02

-Sources-

Websites

From our guest, Sarah Lawless:

Forest Grove Botanica – a top-notch source for hand-crafted witchy and rootworking goods.

The Witch of Forest Grove – Sarah’s amazingly informative blog

Hedgefolk Tales – Sarah’s podcast on storytelling and lore with a witch-oriented slant

Lilith’s Lantern – A good overview of the Vicia branch of the Andersons’ Feri Tradition

Promos & Music

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

Promo 1-The Celtic Myth Podshow

Promo 2-Witchery of One

Promo 3- Pagan Parents on the Edge


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