Blog Post 145 – Wart Charming

The image of the fairy-tale witch often comes complete with a big, nasty wart perched at the end of her nose. The association of witches with warts could come from a variety of folk beliefs and superstitions: the close ties between warty toads and witches, the idea of a ‘devil’s mark’ which the witch uses to suckle her familiar, or even just a desire to make a something ugly out of something ‘evil.’ The association is not always a purely negative one, however. Folk magicians in the New World (as well as those in the old, though I’ll not be addressing them here) have a long-standing history of curing warts through magical means. In fact, that is frequently one of the most commonly found magical services provided by a community magician (or faith-healer, traiteur, pow-wow, etc.).

Today I thought it would be good to look at a few different methods, stories, and charms associated with wart-removal in American folk magic. I’d like to start in Pennsyvlania-Dutch country, with some of the wart charms found in Chris Bilardi’s The Red Church:


[Do whole body Brauche treatment to eliminate any root causes of warts. Bilardi then gives an extensive treatment involving the mimicking of cutting the wart off using an imaginary knife, a process I will refrain from detailing here as it is somewhat lengthy and I’d rather encourage you to buy his book by leaving a little mystery to it…]

To remove warts using the moon: instruct the patient to go somewhere s/he can observe the moon. This is one of the very few wart charms that utilize the waxing moon. Once the moon in in sight, the afflicted wil say:

‘Was ich raib, nem ab; was ich sen, nem tsu.’
English, ‘What I rub, decrease; what I see, increase.’

The Brauche is done three nights in a row. This is begun two nights prior to the moon being full (251).

In the braucherei tradition, then, there is a sense that warts have a spiritual side, hence the full-body treatment before the specific attempt to cure the wart and the influence of lunar cycles on wart growth or removal. Yet they are also a practical matter, dealt with by simple folk magic and a relatively unassuming charm. Other methods listed in The Red Church:

  • Rubbing warts with cloths that have touched a dead body
  • Scratching a wart with a coffin nail
  • Rubbing the wart with a freshly killed eel or rooster, then burying the body part under the eaves of one’s house
  • Rubbing the wart with pebbles which are then thrown into a grave
  • Using a red string with as many knots as there are warts, rubbing each wart with a knot, then burying the string under the house’s eaves (252-3):

Moving down into the Appalachians, there are a number of variant methods for dealing with warts that parallel—if they don’t exactly duplicate—the methods described by Bilardi. In the hills of West Vriginia, we find these wart cures from Patrick W. Gainer’s Witches, Ghosts, & Signs:

  • To cure warts, wash your hands in stump water.
  • A ninth son can remove warts.
  • Drop dirt from a newly-made grave on a wart and the wart will disappear.
  • To cure warts, pick them with a pin and bury the pin.
  • To cure warts, take a hair from the tail of a gray horse and wind the hair around the warts.
  • To cure warts, steal a dishrag and rub it on the warts, then bury the dishrag. When it rots, the wart will disappear.
  • To cure warts, cut as many notches in a stick as there are warts, throw the stick in a swamp, then bury the dishrag.
  • To cure warts, rub a rock ovr the warts, wrap it in a neat package and throw it away. Whoever finds the package will get the warts.

Already we can see some patterns developing in wart cures. There are essentially three methods which appear over and over again: 1) Rubbing the wart with something and burying it to decay the wart, 2) Scratching or pricking the wart and disposing of either the scratching implement or something marked with blood from the wart, and 3) Passing the warts to someone else in a variant of magical commerce. There are exceptions or variations in each of these, of course. The corpse-touching method might be seen as a way of passing the wart to the corpse, but it may also be seen as symbolically burying it. The stump water method doesn’t fit neatly into any of these categories. And the notion of a ninth son removing warts is strange, as it does not indicate exactly how they are able to do this (I mentioned in the post on Coins that my brother-in-law’s grandfather could charm warts using pennies because he was the seventh son of a seventh son, but that may be more specific to our region).  From these three methods, most other treatments become variants, though exceptions do still occur.

Exchanging the Appalachians for the Ozarks, we find more variants of this type, and a few new tricks. From Vance Randolph’s Ozark Magic & Folklore:

  • He mentions the notched stick method referenced above, but also adds “bury the stick on the north side of the cabin and never mention it to a living soul”
  • Suggests using an onion for a wart cure: cut the onion in half, rub the wart with one half and bury it, then eat the other half. When the onion rots, the wart disappears.
  • Spitting on a hot stovelid, once for each wart, gets rid of them
  • Letting a grasshopper or katydid bite a wart will make it go away
  • Touching a wart with the hand of a corpse will remove them

Here again we have the burial method, the pricking/bleeding method (with the grasshoppers), and the transference method (with the corpse). But we also have the novel stove-top method, which is interesting to me because of the mixture of sympathetic and contagious magic it contains: the spittle on the hot stove looks like a wart sizzling away into nothingness (sympathetic) and it is the spit of the person with the wart which is evaporated (a sort of inverted contagious magic).  Randolph also includes an interesting charm associated with the corpse method:

At the funeral of a close friend, a ‘warty feller’ is supposed to touch his warts and repeat the following jingle:

They are ringing the funeral bell,
What I now grasp will soon be well,
What ill I have do take away
Like jn the grave does lay.

This is believed to benefit tumors, sores, boils, and even cancers as well as warts. (131)

In my Apples post, I cited some Kentucky lore about using that fruit to do the rubbing-and-burial method. A reader mentioned that they had heard something similar to that technique, only using potatoes (which I’ve also heard as well, especially in relation to Irish folk magic or some Appalachian charms). The book I cited, Kentucky Superstitions, mentions the potato method, and also has these interesting variants on wart charming:

  • There are a number of ‘burying’ charms, involving the interment of things like beans, steak, bacon, peach tree leaves, potatoes, walnuts, etc.
  • ‘Picking’ cures are also popular, in which a wart is bled by puncturing it with a brass pin, corn kernels, needles, etc.
  • A variety of substances, including cat’s blood, coffee grounds, dandelion juice, eggs, fish, goose feathers, chicken gizzards, etc. are also rubbed on warts to remove them
  • One of the most popular and common cures involves bleeding the wart, dabbing the blood on corn kernels, then feeding those to chickens—especially a neighbor’s hens—to remove the offending blemish
  • Lemon juice or milkweed are supposed to be good cures for warts
  • Warts can be charmed off by some people with a gift for doing so; some are able to ‘count’ warts off, others can pray them off, and still others ‘buy’ the warts off of someone
  • Warts can be magically passed to another person by leaving them at a crossroads; simply leave a paper spotted with blood from the wart in the middle of the crossing, and walk away without looking back; whoever picks up the paper picks up the warts
  • The stick-notch method or knotted cord method are two popular remedies for warts in which the number of warts is counted by notching a stick or tying a cord, then the burying it or dropping it into running water (121-30)

The corn method is something I found in several places, including Harry M. Hyatt’s Folklore of Adams County. In many cases, the corn must be fed to a neighbor’s chicken, which makes me think it is another technique for passing the warts to someone else, just in a very roundabout way. Hyatt also mentions many of these cures in his books, and offers an interesting addition to the bark-notch method of curing: “I know this works, for my daughter had a wart. She tried several things, and this took her wart away: walk up to a young apple tree — if you have a wart — walk around to the opposite side and cut two notches in the bark, then rub your wart over the two notches, then walk back the same way you came; when the bark grows over the cut places, your wart will be gone” (146).

As always, there’s much more to say on the subject of charming warts, but hopefully this gives a nice broad look at the subject. I need to be very clear, of course, that none of the charms, lore, techniques, or superstitions here are presented as medical advice—a good doctor can freeze a wart off without making you go through the trouble of finding an eel to kill or figuring out which of your neighbors might have some hungry chickens around. But for those interested, wart charming seems to be a simple way to get into traditional folk magic, and who knows, you might just have a knack for it. At the very least, hopefully the warts on that old witch’s nose in the storybook won’t seem so scary anymore.

Thanks for reading!


Blog Post 62 – More Ideas for Urban Witchcraft

Greetings everyone!

Following on yesterday’s topic of urban conjure and rootwork, I thought today it might be fun to take a look at some spells that have roots in traditional American folk magic, but which use certain modern adaptations to accommodate contemporary life.

Courtcase Spell
In the past, courthouses were often wooden-floored buildings outfitted with spittoons for the convenience of trial attendees with a chaw of tobacco in their mouths.  Hoodoo developed a fairly ingenious way to exert some influence over a case by taking advantage of the spitting habit so prevalent in that day and age.  A defendant would keep a gob of Little John to Chew (the root known as galangal now—readily available in Asian markets) in his or her cheek, and then spit the juice onto the courthouse floor while ostensibly aiming for a spittoon nearby.  This sort of contagious magic would then bring favor in the case from anyone who walked on or near the spit.

Nowadays, spitting in court is probably a good way to lose your case.  Most courthouses are kept fairly secure, and tobacco products are seldom allowed in any government building (not that Little John is a tobacco product, but it’s supposed to look like it is, so either way, it’s out).  But there’s still a fairly simple way to work a spell in your favor:

1)      Get some dirt or water from the courthouse area – This can be dirt from a flower bed, from near the back of the building, or even from a potted plant somewhere on the premises if you can manage it.  Or, if the courthouse has a fountain out front, you can collect water from that, or fill a drinking bottle with water from the drinking fountain in the courthouse (or from the bathroom, etc.).  Barring all of these options, you  can scrape the side of the building and try to gather even just a little bit of dust from it, then mix it with soil from the closest source you can find.

2)      Take some Little John to Chew (galangal root) and work up a good bit of spit.  Spit the juice into the dirt or water, while reciting a petition or prayer appropriate to your situation (such as Psalm 35, “Contend, O Lord, with those who contend with me…”).  If you have only a little bit of dirt, you can add the dirt to some water and make a sort of “tea” out of it and the spit.  If you have only a little bit of water, you can dilute it with some more water (add a little whiskey to it to give it a kick).

3)      Take the dirt or water and go back to the courthouse.  Sprinkle your mixture in a circle around the building, as close as you can get (if you have to walk a block, sprinkling a little as you go, that’s fine—just make sure the entire building is encircled).  Whenever the judge who tries your case crosses that line, he will be disposed to favor you.

This trick relies on the same contagious magic as the older trick.  Why not just chew and spit at the front steps to the courthouse, you ask?  Well, you can’t be sure that your judge will come up those steps, and you need him to come into contact with your trick.  Unless he or she lives somewhere in the courthouse, your judge will have to cross the ring you make around the area in order to get inside, and so you should be able to affect him or her that way.

Git-Gone! Spell
Hot Footing someone to get rid of them is an old hoodoo trick.  In the past, it was accomplished by either mixing dirt from someone’s footprint with a special mixture of potent spices called “Hot Foot Powder” (see here, here, and here to buy) or by sprinkling that powder where a target would walk over it.  While it’s still possible to work the latter trick in a modern setting without much trouble, getting someone’s footprint-dirt isn’t easy anymore.  Additionally, the older version of the trick requires deployment in running water or throwing it away on a road heading out of town.

To bring a trick like this into the modern age, however, is not difficult.  City dwellers who can’t pick up dirty foot-tracks can work around that requirement by laying hold of a sock or shoe (or any article of clothing from the target, really).  Once you have something of theirs, you simply mix the Hot Foot Powder and wrap it in their clothing (or in the case of a shoe, give the sole a good sprinkling).

Deploying the trick can be done a couple of ways.  The simplest is to return the clothing to the target and hope they wear it without noticing the powder first (this is best with shoes).  Often, in apartment buildings, this kind of work is fairly easy to do because people will leave wet shoes in the hallway to dry out (much to the chagrin of their neighbors on warm days).

If giving the item of clothing back seems like it would cause raised eyebrows, or just doesn’t strike you as the best method, there are a couple of other distinctly modern deployment techniques that might be worth considering.  Since deployment in running water is a traditional method, consider chucking the Hot Footed sock into a sewer (which contains running water, after all, along with all manner of nastiness to help convince your target the time to leave is now).  Or, instead of finding a road out of town, you could go down to a train yard or a bus station and toss the sock onto a boxcar or bus heading out of the city.  In a lot of ways, a bus station is like a modern-age crossroads with the constant traffic coming and going, so sending someone away via outbound bus is actually a pretty smart way to go about your work.  I’d also suggest the same is true of airports, but sneaking things onto planes is a BAD idea, especially right now.  You’d really be asking for more trouble than a trick like this is worth.  Stick with bus stations and trains.

Send Away Your Troubles
There’s a bit of American folk magic that involves a rather sneaky method for healing common ailments.  The person with the disease (usually something like boils, warts, or corns) creates a small packet and “passes” the disease to the materials in the packet.  Then he or she drops the bundle in a road.  Whoever finds and opens it then receives the disease, and the person who passed the disease is cured of it.  Vance Randolph describes the procedure in conjunction with warts:

“Another way to ‘pass’ a wart is to spit on it, rub a bit of paper in the spittle, fold the paper, and drop it in the road; the wart is supposed to pass to the first person who picks up the paper and unfolds it. Children are always trying this, and one can find these little folded papers in the road near most any rural schoolhouse” (OM&F, p.127).

In the modern age, very few folks are walking along our roads, and few of those are going to stop to pick up a strange packet.  Motorists zooming by at high speeds never see them and people walking through cities for the most part avoid picking up litter from the walkways.  So how can one adapt this sort of spell to work today?

The United States Postal Service processes over 500 million pieces of mail per day (according to their website).  So why not put that big, churning system to work for you?  Here’s what I suggest:

1)      Just like in the old version of the spell, take a piece of paper and rub it against the afflicted part of your body.  If you want, you can even write a short petition on the paper asking that it remove illness from you and carry it far away.

2)      When you feel like you’ve imbued the paper with the disease, put it in an envelope.  Address the envelope, either by selecting a real person to send it to (which I actually don’t recommend—it just seems like an awfully trite way to get vengeance on an enemy and it certainly doesn’t make you any friends) or by writing a “dead letter.”  A dead letter is addressed to someone fictional (like Santa Claus, Professor Moriarty, Xenu, etc.) or someone dead (this could be an ancestor or just a spirit you think might be willing to help you by taking your disease off of you and into the grave).

3)      Don’t use a return address, and post the letter from a public mailbox.  You might, for example, send your disease to:

First Circle
Hell, the Universe

This letter will then carry your disease away from you and into a sort of “limbo” space.

The only downside to this method is the same one that comes with the old method:  if someone ever does open up your letter, they may catch your illness.  But all magic comes with risk, so if it sounds like a useful spell to you, please feel free to use it.

That’s it for today.  I’d love to hear from other city witches and urban rootworkers if you have suggestions for tricks that might be traditional-yet-modern.  Feel free to comment or email us.

Thanks for reading!


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