Posted tagged ‘candle burning’

Blog Post 134 – Brujeria and Curanderismo: A (Very Brief) Overview

August 24, 2011

I’ve been combing back through a number of different posts lately, and seeing what areas we’ve covered in some detail (hoodoo, rootwork, and Pow-wow, mostly), which ones we’ve done some basic delving into (mountain magic and general witchcraft), and which ones we’ve only just barely touched upon (pretty much everything else). I was very surprised that I’d not covered today’s topic more, as it’s one of the topics with which I have a good bit of practical experience. But for some reason, I’ve only mentioned curanderismo and its ‘darker’ sister brujeria a few times.

And so today, I thought it might be good to remedy that deficiency somewhat. We’ll be giving these traditions only the most basic of examinations, as a deeper exploration of either could easily fill several dozen books and websites. Yet there are relatively few texts or webpages which look at these practices. Partly this may be a linguistic barrier (my Spanish is intermediate-level at best), but honestly I think this may just be an area where research is thin on the ground. I’d love to be proven wrong in that, though, so if you know of some good research on these traditions, please leave a comment and/or link.

To begin, let’s look a bit at curanderismo. This is a system of magical healing, blessing, and cleansing largely centered around Catholic prayers and rituals, with a heavy infusion of folk religion and magic and a bit of herb lore in some cases. A male practitioner is a curandero, while a female practitioner is a curandera. Many of the rituals within this tradition have to do with detecting and undoing evil witchcraft (which is called brujeria by curanderos, which gets a bit confusing…more on that later). In Mexico, where this practice is centered—though there are ever-increasing numbers of practitioners in other Central and North American locations, a person might call upon a curandero if a family member seems to be plagued with some uncommon illness, or if their house seems to be exhibiting symptoms of a haunting, or if they are feeling as though a general run of bad luck has settled onto them. One of the best resources on curanderismo on the internet is Dona Concha of the Curious Curandera website. In the introductory material for one of her many excellent courses, she includes this summary of the practice:

Curanderismo is not only a form of folk healing, it also includes the practice white magic, ritual, cleansings, energy work, spirit contact, divination, and a vast amount of prayer just to name a few. While some practitioners prefer to engage only in one area, others work in all areas.
Curanderismo is a very spiritual practice with strong religious faith. Practitioners use a variety of objects including herbs, spices, eggs, lemons, limes, Holy Water, Saints, Crucifixes, prayer, candles, incense, oils and divination tools. Most include spirit assistance. Not all practitioners work in the same way. For example, one person may perform a spiritual cleansing with a raw unbroken egg while another may employ a bundle of herbs for the cleansing tool.

While a curandera might perform rituals that help remove bad luck or might contact specific spirits (usually angelic or “holy” ones), they tend to shy away from any ‘dark’ magics.

Brujeria, on the other hand, means literally “witchcraft,” and is frequently perceived in a negative light. This system, however, is not entirely dissimilar from hoodoo, with a focus on practical, earthier types of magic: love, money, sex, etc. What gives brujeria its bad reputation is its association with “magia negra” or “black magic.” While both curanderismo and brujeria can work with “magia blanca” (“white magic”) to provide cures, healing, and good luck, only brujeria works with things like spirit summoning and necromancy to achieve its aims. Brujo Negro, who runs a fantastic site on brujeria (and whose name means “black witch”), explains magia negra as an extension of the grimoire magic imported by the Spaniards during the 16th century. He also points out that the native peoples of Mexico—the Nahua, the Xolotl, etc.—did not particularly have concepts of “good” and “evil,” and so the concept of a branch of magic entirely in the service of evil would have been alien to them. Instead, the “healer physician” figure (anthropologically referred to as a “shaman” in many circles) would use his or her knowledge of natural materials and forces—herbs, roots, stones, and animal parts—to craft specialized remedies for community members struck with strange illnesses. The Spaniards did not always understand what the natives were doing, and viewed them and their practices warily.

The use of grimoire magic, talismans, spirit invocations, and other spells which did not explicitly call upon Christian paradigms to accomplish their goals led to opposition between the brujos and the curanderos. This is not all that different than the supposed wars between the benandanti and the witches of Italy, which Carlo Ginzburg has catalogued incredibly well in his book The Night Battles. In truth, both groups were likely working—in general—for the good of their communities, though the brujos might occasionally use more aggressive magic to do their work and likely were a little saltier about the spiritual side of their practice. Another group of magical practitioners (which may be the equivalent of fairy-tale witches or malevolent wizards or folklore) may well have engaged in exclusively cursing practices and malevolent magic, in which case either a brujo or curandero might be called in to do battle with the wicked sorcerer, again demonstrating that the line between the two camps is a fuzzy one at best.

The historical presence of folk magic among Hispanic communities goes back centuries, and while it shares certain commonalities with the European colonial experience along the Atlantic, it also strongly resembles the African experience in America. Contact between native peoples and the new arrivals was relatively high, and cultural exchange was fluid, if not officially indulged:

New Mexico witchcraft cases reveal a variety of features of colonial life in New Mexico that did not exist in other colonized areas of North America. For example, they show the physical proximity in which the Indians and Europeans lived and the increasingly intertwined beliefs they shared—about power, about magic, about healing, and about witches. These characteristics of New Mexico society were especially pronounced after the Spanish returned to the colony in 1706. Witchcraft was so much a part of New Mexico in the eighteenth century that Ramon A. Gutierrez has suggested that it was one of the three main issues that affected life there…Nothing comparable exists among the surviving records in British or French North America, at least as far as indigenous people are concerned” (Games 34-5).

This is not to say that relations were necessarily sunny between the natives and the conquering Spaniards, but the level of integration between Old World and New World beliefs seemed to flow both ways, with people like the Xolotl eventually adapting to the Catholic pantheon of saints and the rituals of the church, while the Spaniards sought out community healers for their ethereal gifts. Witch trials can and did erupt, but seldom with the vigor found in New England (or even old England). The veneer of Catholicism covered a variety of magical practices and set them in an ‘appropriate’ religious context, though in practice healings were still being done through the agency of plants, spirits, and other magical tools.

So just what does a curandero or bruja do nowadays? Much of what brujos and curanderas do resembles another magical practice heavily rooted in Catholicism, that of stregheria (or, more specifically, the cousin tradition of streghoneria), which come from Italy. I hope to dig into this question a bit more in other posts, but it might be good to look at some earmark practices common to one or both traditions, so that you can recognize it when you see it. In both, you are likely to find:

  • Divinatory practices – Sometimes by cards, but just as often by very specific items like eggs broken into a glass of water or the ashes left by a smoldering cigar.
  • Saint magic – Calling upon the intercessory power of saints to accomplish specific tasks. This is usually accompanied by rituals such as candle-burning and prayer.
  • Statuary or charms – This goes hand-in-hand with saint magic for the most part, though other types of charms like milagros (little pewter, silver, or gold charms shaped like hearts, body parts, animals, etc. and used as devotional offerings) are also frequently used.
  • Ritual cleansing – Especially using holy water or natural elements, like eggs, limes, lemons, etc. This can be done on a person or on a specific place.
  • Liturgical prayers – These are used outside of the orthodox liturgy, and are usually repeated several times to gain their benefit in magical settings. Examples include the “Our Father,” or “Ave Maria” prayers.
  • Novena candles – These are easily found in places with large Hispanic populations, and usually have a pillar candle encased by glass with a picture of a saint, angel, or other holy being on them. On the back they typically have short prayers (often in Spanish and English) which are recited while burning the candle.

In the individual practices, the magic may lean more heavily towards one or another of these categories. Certain folk saints are deeply revered by one group and not the other, or sometimes revered by both groups in different ways. A great example of this different-but-the-same relationship is Santa Muerte (“Holy Death”), a powerful spirit both loved and feared throughout Mexico. She’s a big enough topic for her own post at some point, so I’ll just leave that mention as a tease for the moment. As I mentioned earlier, brujeria resembles hoodoo fairly strongly, so there are lots of roots, bones, and rusty nails found in it, while herbal preparations for healing and cleansing tend to be more heavily emphasized in curanderismo.

All of this is simply the lightest scratch across the surface of a very deep subject. I hope to provide more and more information through other posts at other times, and even then I’ll only really be getting at a fairly superficial understanding of this incredible set of traditions and practices. For now, though, I hope this has been a useful magical appetizer.

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

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Blog Post 77 – Book Review

August 6, 2010

For today’s entry, I thought I’d approach two books which share a lot in common and which can be useful to people who really enjoy candle magic.  First up, there’s The Master Book of Candle Burning by Henri Gamache.   This is a classic in many hoodoo circles, and falls into the same category of early 20th-century magical texts as the reprints of Black & White Magic by Marie Laveau and Mysteries of the Long Lost 8th, 9th, and 10th Books of Moses, also by Gamache.  All of these small books (usually only around 100 pages each) contain lots of great information on their particular magical subjects, and all are the source of much debate regarding authorship (Marie Laveau most definitely did not write Black & White Magic, which is usually attributed to “N.D.P. Bivins,” whoever that might be).

Candle Burning, though, holds a special place in my heart.  In its pages, Gamache outlines the “Philosophy of Fire” which he traces through a number of the world’s religions, especially linking it to Judeo-Christian and Zoroastrian practice.  Most of what he describes is pseudo-history, though it offers some good food for thought, at times.  What makes this book so invaluable to a magic worker are its spells.  In its pages, it offers spells, prayers, and psalmic rituals for:

  • Gaining Happiness
  • Overcoming an Enemy
  • Obtaining Money
  • Stopping Slander
  • Healing a Troubled Marriage
  • Getting a Promotion
  • Defeating Feelings of Depression

There are so many wonderful rituals in this book, covering a wide variety of problems, that I can’t help but recommend it.  The prayers (and psalms) are all centered around Judeo-Christian religious philosophy, but in a fairly non-denominational way (emphasizing God as a powerful force rather than as part of a Trinity or some particular theological concept).  One of my favorite spells is the last one in the book:

TO CONQUER FEAR

Light your two Monthly Vibratory Candles [candles dressed to match you astrologically], two Daily Cross Candles [crucifix candles or candles inscribed with a cross], and the following Special Purpose Candle:  one Red symbolizing faith and one Gold to soothe nerves.  Read Psalm 3 giving special attention to verse 3:

“But thou, O Lord, art a shield for me; my glory, and the lifter up of mine head.”

Affirmation [prayer]:  “Dear Lord I ask you to help me with my needs in this life and smooth my way.  Protect me so that no one may cause me harm.  In your light, darkness flees.  I fear not, knowing you are with me.”   (p.106)

The book has its issues, of course.  It makes heavy use of “black” versus “white” magic.  It denounces the black magic as a “perversion” but then proceeds to provide numerous candle rituals for things like breaking up a couple or causing confusion.  Still, if one can forgive it these foibles, it’s a great text to have on hand.

Similarly, The Magical Power of the Saints by Rev. Ray T. Malbrough proves itself a useful text full of practical candle burning rituals.  There are many who do not like Malbrough, primarily because he blends hoodoo and Wicca in some of his books without letting the reader know which is which (his Charms, Spells, & Formulas is guilty of this, and apparently his Hoodoo Mysteries is even worse about it).  However, most of the rootworkers who discuss him seem to offer at least some praise for Saints.

Malbrough focuses on the Catholic saints in candle form (and a number of condition candles, which are designed to invite specific conditions into a person’s life—e.g. Anima Sola/Lonely Soul, Just Judge, Lucky Bingo, etc.).  When I picked up the book I thought it would mostly be about the cult of certain saints like Dr. Jose Gregorio or Santa Muerte or the Infant Jesus of Prague.  Instead, I found it’s mostly candle magic focused on specific spells, much like Gamache’s text.  It definitely has a flavor of Catholicism about it, and actually falls pretty close to what I would think of as New Orleans-style Voodoo (though the connections to things like the Seven African Powers are only cursorily glossed).  For comparison, here’s Malbrough’s overcoming fear spell:

TO OVERCOME FEAR

Sometimes fear can be difficult to shake off when it gets hold of you.  Then there are those people who get a thrill from putting fear and superstition in your mind.

  1. Controlling candle, dressed with Controlling oil.  Write your name nine times.
  2. St. Dymphna candle, dressed with Peace oil.  Write your name nine times.
  3. Guardian Angel candle, dressed with Peace oil.  Write your name three times.
  4. Psalms 11, 31, and 141 [to be read aloud]
  5. Take an Uncrossing spiritual bath made with sweet basil, boneset, elder, and bay leaves.  To this tea add ¼ cup of John the Conqueror bath and floor wash.  Immerse yourself three times in the water, and soak twenty minutes.  Take this spiritual bath every three days until you have taken twenty-eight baths.  Cary a mojo/gris-gris made with herbs for courage.  This gris-gris must also contain a stone for courage such as agate, amethyst, aquamarine, bloodstone, carnelian, diamond, lapis lazuli, sardonyx, tiger’s eye, red tourmaline, or turquoise.  (p. 134-35)

As you can see, Malbrough is much more complicated than Gamache, and he definitely infuses his rootwork with some more Wiccan ideas (such as the “stones for courage” he mentions for the mojo hand, none of which show up in any of the African-American hoodoo sources I’ve found).  So long as you can separate the wheat from the chaff, though, this is a pretty solid little book with good candle burning rituals.  If you have this and Gamache’s Master Book of Candle Burning you will cover most of your bases as far as hoodoo candle magic goes, so I certainly recommend picking up both.  If you can only do one, I’d start with Gamache and try Malbrough once you’ve gotten the hang of a few of these rituals, though (perhaps an Obtaining Money burning so you can afford to buy the book?).

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

Blog Post 32 – Hoodoo You Do (Intro, Part IV)

March 18, 2010

This blog post will primarily deal with types of hoodoo spells, or “tricks.”  It’s not a complete list of all types of hoodoo magic by any stretch of the imagination, but for someone just getting into it, this should give you an idea of what a conjure man/woman does, and give you some places to start if you want to do hoodoo for you.

Mojo Bags – Probably the best known of the hoodoo magical charms, mojos go by many names:  hands, tobys, jomos, etc.  These small talismans are little bags designed to be worn out of sight and usually close to the skin.  A particular type of mojo worn only by women is the “nation sack” of Memphis, TN.  The way these charms are made may vary a bit from place to place or worker to worker, but the general idea is that a small flannel sack, usually red but sometimes other colors, is filled with magical ingredients—usually an odd number of them.  It’s then closed up, and often anointed or “fed” with some offering on a regular basis (whiskey, rum, or other alcohol is a common food for a mojo hand; some of the condition oils found in hoodoo are also appropriate).  I recently heard these bags described as little spirit houses, and to my mind, that’s a perfect description.  The herbs, oils, curios, and other elements of hoodoo are matched together to make a little home for a spirit who can aid the worker in getting what he or she wants.  I often include a written charm in mine (being inclined towards the written word as I am), and usually I make my mojos as part of a larger working, such as a Candle Burning.

Candle Burnings – Also commonly called “setting lights,” candle burnings in hoodoo are similar to candle burnings in any other magical system.  The only real difference is the method (or methods) of dressing the candles.  In hoodoo, when a worker is dressing a candle to draw something (like money, love, health, etc.), he or she will cover the candle in herbs and oils from the bottom-up.  To rid oneself of something (like a jinx), candles are dressed top-down.  Personal concerns, such as a target’s hair or fingernails, are usually incorporated in the dressing, or may be placed beneath an inverted saucer upon which the candle is burned.  Name-papers with written charms may also be used in this manner.  Henri Gamache’s Master Book of Candle Burning is an excellent resource for this type of magic.

Readings – Most rootworkers begin with a reading of some kind.  Whether its tarot cards, palm reading, or just a sort of psychic once-over with second sight, the conjure person will need to get a good idea of what the client needs—not just what he or she wants.  Often, readings are done as part of a larger interview process to really hone in on what kind of work the rootworker will need to do.  I like to use playing cards to read before doing most magical workings, even ones for myself.

Honey Jars – We covered them a bit in our Special Episode recently, but I love these things, so I’ll mention them again here.  Basically, a honey jar is exactly what it sounds like:  a jar full of honey.  Into this sweet-and-sticky pot you place the names (and personal concerns in some cases) of those you wish to “sweeten up.”  These jars are also known as “sweetening jars,” and can actually contain almost any kind of pure sweetener, such as brown or white sugar, molasses, or syrup.  This is a good way to start doing hoodoo, because it is a very positive type of magic (you’re only making your relationships with those you sweeten better, after all) and it also teaches you to get your hands a little dirty (because you must push the names into the jar with your fingers, and then lick them clean…a nice reward for your efforts!).  You can make jars for each person you want to sweeten if you’re working more elaborate spells on them, or keep one jar with lots of names in it for general sweetening.  You can also make vinegar or “souring” jars, which is a form of Hexing.  I’d generally wait to do a souring jar until after you’ve tried a few sweetening ones, though.

Foot-track Magic – This type of magic stems from African Traditional practices, in which the footprint of a person could be used magically against them (or to help them, but usually harmful magic is associated with foot tracks).  The basic idea behind this kind of spell is that the feet come in contact with a magical potion, powder, or other ingredient and draw the psychic contagion up into the body.  One of the most famous examples of foot-track magic is the use of goofer dust on someone.  The hexing dust is sprinkled somewhere where the target will walk over it, and the poisonous influence of the powder will cause the target’s body to swell and fill with pain, and possibly even die.  Of course, it’s possible to do helpful spells with foot-track work, like laying a prosperity blend in someone’s path to ensure they have good luck, but this is a less common use of this magic.

Washing/Bathing – While I love the fact that hoodoo gets down and dirty, I also really like the emphasis it puts on cleanliness.  There are lots of formulae designed exclusively for things like washing one’s floors to banish harmful things and/or draw beneficial ones.  For example, you can wash your business doorstep or the sidewalk in front of your shop with a money drawing blend (such as bayberry, cinnamon, and rose-of-jericho water) from the outside-in to draw customers to you.  Bathing is also important in hoodoo, particularly ritual bathing performed over a series of 3, 5, 7, or 9 days.  Much like in Candle Burning, if you take a hoodoo bath, you’ll want to stand in the tub and wash up to draw something (like money) and down to get rid of something (like a bad habit).  Prayers, psalms, and other magical phrases may be recited while bathing, and usually at least some of the bath water is saved and later disposed of ritually (by pouring at a crossroads, for example).   I highly recommend Draja Mickaharic’s Spiritual Cleansing if you want to learn more on this subject.

Cleansings/Uncrossing Work – Related to Washing/Bathing is the concept of a Cleansing or an Uncrossing.  These workings are usually done to remove the effects of harmful witchcraft or hexing, and can be done by a rootworker or by a client under a worker’s direction.  Some common methods of uncrossing involve the aforementioned ritual bathing while using downward motion and uncrossing herbs (like rue, hyssop, and salt), marking the client with the “five-spot” or quincunx pattern using an uncrossing oil, or even running a raw egg around the client’s body to absorb negative spiritual energies (this is similar to cleansings found in other systems, like curanderismo).  A rootworker may also smoke or fumigate a client, using a sheet to tent the seated client from the shoulders down and burning incense beneath the chair to fill the tent with sacred smoke.  There are related areas of hoodoo spellwork which are more protective than cleansing which involve putting down salt, chalk, or brick dust lines around a person’s home to prevent harm from reaching them, but these are usually done after a cleansing has been performed on both the client and his/her house.

Jinxing/Hexing – So I know it seems backwards to discuss this after Cleansing/Uncrossing, but I generally feel like it’s better to know how to stop a harmful spell before you get started, so that’s why I mentioned the other first.  However, Jinxing/Hexing is a big part of hoodoo.  From the harmful forms of Foot-track Magic mentioned earlier to more fearsome curses (such as the disgusting but terrifying “Live Things in You” curse, in which a target is tricked into swallowing powdered snake skin, spider eggs, or other unsavory items so that they begin to feel like things are literally crawling around inside them).  Learning to hex someone with hoodoo isn’t hard, though it often requires a strong stomach.  One simple and quite grave curse is to make a doll-baby (stuffed poppet) with the person’s name paper or personal concerns inside of it, then put that into a small coffin and bury it in a graveyard.  The victim should feel their own life-force fading as long as the buried doll remains in the cemetery (a word of warning, though—in most places digging so much as a single spoonful of dirt is considered vandalism and is quite illegal, therefore I do not advocate it).  A simpler and much tamer curse is the vinegar jar I mentioned in our Witch Bottle Special.  By simply placing someone’s name into a jar of vinegar, along with things like red pepper flakes, black pepper, and garlic, you can sour their life pretty effectively.  Shaking the jar every time you think about it can help “stir up” more trouble for them.  Cursing someone for fun, by the way, is always a bad idea.  You never know when it might backfire and wind up dragging you right into trouble, so make sure you’re working “justified,” perhaps by doing a Reading first.

Love Spells – The simplest of these is a type of Honey Jar in which two people’s names are kept and a candle burned over the top of it.  This sweetens them to each other and helps set magic in motion to keep them sweet on one another.  Love spells in hoodoo, though, are not always so nice.  There are plenty of spells aimed at separating lovers (candles are even sold which look like married couples and which, when burned, come apart and lead to divorce or estrangement).  There are also more intense love spells aimed less at finding that one true love than at exercising power over the target (see Controlling Spells for more on that).  Many love spells, though, are more like the sweetening spells, and simply help a person find or catch that perfect mate.  There are some extremely simple love spells in hoodoo which involve little more than tying two dirty socks—one from each mate—together and hiding them away so that love will remain forever “bound” between them.  Of course, for those coming from a background where this sort of manipulation is a magical no-no, even a fairly benign hoodoo love spell can seem a little sinister.  But then, no one says you have to do every spell in the hoodoo spellbook, right?

Controlling/”Bend Over” Spells – I saved these spells for last because I find them incredibly interesting.  They are so antithetical to the kind of magic I did for years, because they completely ignore the idea of non-manipulation.  These spells are all about manipulation, in fact.  Controlling spells (and their sister workings, “Compelling” and “Bend Over” spells) usually involve forcing another person to do what you want them to do.  Sometimes, as in the case of Compelling or Pay Me Now! spells, the force is simply making the target fulfill a promise they’ve already made.  But often these tricks are laid in order to keep an errant spouse from philandering about, or to make a boss give you that raise you’ve been after.  Using roots like licorice and calamus, as well as personal effects from the target (name papers are much less effective in this kind of work, in my experience), a rootworker can do a heckuva number on someone.  One of the most famous methods of using this kind of magic involves a woman putting a bit of her menstrual blood in her husband or lover’s food, thereby making him remain faithful to her.  She can also “tie his nature” by measuring his penis with a string, then soaking it in his semen and tying knots in it.  That way, he will find himself useless unless she releases him, which presumably will only happen when he’s with her.  It’s intense stuff!  But it also makes sense.  For many folks, these workings are last-resort measures.  In some cases—such as using Courtcase formulae or spitting galangal root juice on a courthouse floor—they are the only methods available to poor folks being ground down by the gears of the legal system.  Who wouldn’t want magical reassurance that the judge was on their side?  While I don’t recommend starting with these kinds of spells, I will say I’ve gotten to really like them over time.  They’ve proven useful, and a good rootworker knows how to set limits when using Controlling magic.

Like I said, this isn’t an exhaustive list of all hoodoo techniques and spells, but it should at least give you an idea what kinds of magic are available in the rootworking system.  As always, I recommend checking out the Lucky Mojo site for more info on many of these methods, and if you have any comments or questions, you can email us or leave a comment and I’ll be happy to respond!

Thanks for reading!

-Cory


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