Blog Post 185 – New World Witchery Cartulary No. 5

Happy New Year to you!

Today I thought I might share a few of the things from my holiday stocking, as well as other treats and delights I’ve been enjoying lately. I got a very lovely and eclectic selection of books & music, some of which might be of interest to folks here, so if you find something among the pile that you like, I’d love to know!

The first thing I want to mention is a beautiful copy of Crossway’s Four Holy Gospels. It’s the English Standard Version (ESV) of the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, & John illuminated using contemporary art by Makoto Fujimura. It’s a big, gorgeous clothbound edition and conveys a great deal of the mystical nature of these texts. I know it’s a bit odd to recommend a Bible of sorts on a site with so much magic and all, but if you’ve been around us for a while you know that we’re equal opportunity when it comes to mysticism and magic. So if you’re looking for a good heirloom version of the gospels with a little artistic magic, this is a good one to have.

In addition to the gospels, I got a copy of an excellent book called Kanaval: Vodou, Politics, & Revolution on the Streets of Haiti. It’s a photojournalistic look at the Haitian carnival costumes, parades, and traditions, and it will be of extreme interest to anyone captivated by the rituals of Vodou(n) or other African Traditional Religions. A number of lesser-known loa show up in the text, and there are oral histories from participants in the celebrations that are simply unmatched in recent history. In addition to the book and its magnificent photos, there are two accompanying CDs (one of which I received along with the gospels from my in-laws—I have an amazing family). One is called Spirits of Life, which has a number of ritual songs, and the other is Rara in Haiti and plays some of the more celebratory carnival jazz-style music.  I also bought myself a simply wonderful new magical psalter from Troy Books:  The Charmer’s Psalter, by Cornish witch Gemma Gary. It has fast become one of my favorite magical books and travels with me everywhere now.

Shifting from the authentic to the entertaining, I’ve been very much enjoying this year’s run of American Horror Story, subtitled Coven and set in a world of New Orleans Voodoo and witchcraft. I actually introduced Laine to the show, and she’s taken off running with it, consuming the first two seasons as well (subtitled Murder House and Asylum). I’m sure we’ll wind up discussing it more elsewhere, and it’s generating some controversy around the Pagan blogosphere, but if you’ve not checked it out and enjoy good, immersive horror, it’s fun to watch, in my opinion.

In that same vein, I’ve also been enjoying the kitschy-but-witchy antics of Witches of East End on Lifetime. I can’t say it’s a must-see, but the episodes I’ve seen have been enjoyable and if you’re a fan of things like Charmed, this might be fun, too. Might.

A lot has been going on in the podcasting universe lately, too. I’ve been tuning in to a couple of new shows, including The Kindle Witch with Faelyn, Pagan Life Radio with Brent/Raven, and one called Disney Story Origins. The first two offer some nice new elements to the Pagan podcasting world. Faelyn uses her show to explore books in a sort of book-club format, while also sharing a lot of neat moments from her own practice. Brent/Raven uses his show to create a really neat community space for talking to Pagans working on specific goals, or just get into good discussions about the role of Paganism in contemporary society. The Disney origins podcast is a gem, where the host compares and contrasts the stories that inspired Disney movies to the films and explores how that translation happens. The most recent episode gets into the excellent recent film Frozen and its inspiration, “The Snow Queen,” by Hans Christian Andersen (a section of which was included in our Yule show this year).

I’m also sad to say we’re losing at least one of our podkin for a while. Gillian at Iron Powaqa recently announced she’s taking an open-ended break from recording to focus on other projects. I completely understand her reasons, but she will definitely be missed. I fear this will be a trend, as several podcasters have disappeared this year.  On a happier podkin note, Fire Lyte has published his first book of poetry, The Playground, which is available in several formats now. If you’re a fan of his poetry, this is definitely a book to get (plus it supports Pagan podcasting, which is always a noble cause).  Finally, if you’ve not been listening to Peter Paddon’s revitalized podcast, do so! It’s the reason New World Witchery even exists, and he’s an absolutely charming fellow (all puns intended).

That’s all the news that’s fit to print for me this week! What was under your tree this year?

Don’t forget to enter our contests! We’ve got a NOLA Swag Bag contest finishing this Friday, and a Three Questions contest which will finish up next week. Give ‘em a go, and maybe win something fun!

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

Blog Post 177 – Treasure Hunting

“Jim Hawkins & the Treasure of Treasure Island,” illustration by Georges Roux (via Wikimedia Commons)

A number of modern spells are designed to bring “prosperity” into an individual’s life.  In some cases, Wiccan and Wiccan-influenced spellbooks contain workings that either target specific needs and cash amounts, or which seek to generally enhance the financial stability of the magician or his/her designated target (most Wiccan spellbooks also require that the magician have permission from the target even in beneficial magical workings like this). Certainly, magical practices designed to bring a sense of bounty and abundance into one’s life go back quite far—the cults of Fortuna and Tyche in the ancient world appeal to good luck, and the Roman cult of Pomona pursued the ideal of a fruitful life. Folk magic, however, has generally focused less on meeting a generalized prosperity and has drilled down to specific financial problems and advantages. The Wiccan spells which seek a specific sum of money to cope with a specific issue—a medical bill, a broken radiator, etc.—very much mirror the sorts of spells done by people across multiple times and places as they tried to cope with uncertain finances.

Another brand of folk magic, however, did not work towards a specific sum, nor did it seek to bring a vaguely defined sense of wealth into someone’s life. Instead, many spells targeted getting rich—quick! In some cases, the spell’s target would be a gambler who worked to gain the advantage in games of chance (more on that another day, hopefully). A few stories talk of acts of magical extortion, wherein a magician would either try to low-ball the purchase of land/livestock with the threat that failure to accept a paltry offer would result in the destruction of the commodity in question OR a witch might place a curse on a neighbor and only remove the curse for a fee (you can find several examples of such stories in The Silver Bullet, and Other American Witch Stories by Hubert J. Davis).

If someone wanted to get rich really quickly, however, he or she would turn to magical treasure hunting. Plenty of European grimoires had methods for finding lost treasures, usually with the help of spirits. Some grimoire texts which influenced American practices, such as The Black Pullet, spelled out in detail how to summon treasure-seeking daemons to work on one’s behalf:

Seal4BlackPullet

“This talisman and this ring are not less valuable. They will enable you to discover all the treasures which exist and to ensure you the possession of them. Place the ring on the second finger of your right hand, enclose the talisman with the thumb and little finger of your left hand, and say, Onaim, Perantes, Rasonastos.” I repeated these three words, and seven spirits of a bronze colour appeared, each carrying a large hide bag which they emptied at my feet. They contained gold coins which rolled in the middle of the hail where we were. I had not noticed that one of the spirits had on his shoulder a black bird, its head covered with a kind of hood. “It is this bird,” the old man said to me, “who has made them find all this treasure. Do not think that these are some of what you have seen here. You can assure yourself of this.” I replied, “You are for me the truth itself. My father! Do you believe that I would insult you by doubting?”

He made a sign, and the spirits replaced the gold in the bags and disappeared. “You see, my son, what the virtues of these talismans and rings are. When you know them all, you will be able, without my aid, to perform such miracles as you judge proper” (The Black Pullet, 20-21).

Seals and incantations like these made it into later magical practices, especially in places where grimoire languages like German, Spanish, or French were spoken (to be clear, many grimoires were written in languages like Latin with commentaries in European languages, and these three tongues were hardly the only ones in which grimoires appeared).

Of course, being able to find treasure only helps if treasure is already buried in the earth waiting to be found. In the maritime culture of early New England (as well as the maritimes of other parts of the New World), a widespread belief in hidden golden caches secreted beneath the soil became the basis for a number of magical spells. A Maine man named Daniel Lambert, suddenly flush with money, faced suspicion, for:

Lacking any other apparent explanation, his neighbors attributed Daniel Lambert’s sudden wealth to the discovery of buried pirate treasure. Despite Canaan’s location dozens of miles from navigation, the inhabitants readily believed that Lambert had found a treasure chest because, as Kendall explained, “The settlers of Maine, like all the other settlers in New England indulge an unconquerable expectation of finding money buried in the earth.” Indeed, backcountry folk insisted that troves of pirate treasure guarded by evil spirits pockmarked the New England countryside even in locales far from the coast (Taylor 7).

Since the New World was vast and dangerous, people turned to magic to help find these copious buried (and frequently ‘cursed’) treasures, and to remove any dangers that might arise during the expedition to unearth them. A number of ‘rules’ for enchanted bounty-seeking developed, including:

  • Treasure hunting teams needed at least three members, as that number ensured magical success
  • Magical circles should be inscribed around the digging site to prevent any malevolent spirits from attacking the diggers
  • Implements of silver, such as silver spoons or spades, should be used to dig at least part of the earth to ensure luck in the hunt and to protect the diggers from harm
  • Blood offerings (animals usually) had to be made to quell the guardian spirits protecting the treasure—a belief related to the idea that a guardian spirit was usually a person who was killed and his blood spilled over the burial ground

In addition to maritime treasures, the idea of “Indian” gold became very popular. Some European colonists and conquerors were sure that entire cities of gold were just waiting to be found in the dense, mysterious interiors of North and South America. Gonzalo Pizzaro and Sir Walter Raleigh both mounted expeditions to find such legendary places, frequently referred to as “El Dorado,” or “the golden one.”  In almost every case, however, the site was protected by evil spirits, a curse, ghosts, or some other malevolent force. In some situations, however, the spirit might actually help a seeker find his or her treasure:  “There are many tales about ghosts who speak to people, telling them to dig at such-and-such a place to find a buried treasure. The ghost is usually that of some fellow who died without being able to tell anybody where his treasure was concealed, and who cannot rest quietly until someone gets the money and enjoys it” (Randolph 219). How one ensures that the ghost is not simply walking the magician into a trap is anyone’s guess.

One of the best examples of magical treasure hunting led to an entire religious movement in the New World. While the time has not yet come to explore the full magical heritage of the Latter Day Saints, I would be remiss to omit them here.  Joseph Smith, prophet and founder of the Mormon faith, used to hunt for treasure using methods derived from alchemy and hermetic science/magic. He followed the rules laid out above, frequently offering “sacrificed either pure white or jet black sheep or dogs to lay out magic circles of blood” prior to discovering his golden plates and having his angelic vision (Taylor 12). Smith’s methods were not deviant or unusual. He used seer or peep stones to help find his hidden treasures, and his activity in the highly spiritually active area of New York known as the Burned-Over District was imitative of earlier seekers and followed by those who did the same. In fact, Smith was following very much in his own father’s footsteps, as Joseph Smith, Sr. was an active treasure seeker in Palmyra, New York. He is recorded to have once described his methods to a neighbor, saying “the best time for digging money was in the heat of the summer, when the heat of the sun caused the chests of money to rise to the top of the ground” (Brooke 31). The tradition the Smiths followed required—like many grimoire traditions do—that the seeker be spiritually pure or else he will fail in his pursuits, a concept brought in from hermetics and alchemy. The fervent spirituality and insistence on saintly behavior left a strong mark on the junior Smith, and helped him feel prepared for his prophetic role in revealing the Book of Mormon (which was inscribed on golden plates).

In some cases, treasures of golden pieces and precious gems are not the target of the magic. I have written previously on the phenomenon of dowsing, which allows a person to magically search for substances like water and oil beneath the earth. In some cases, the dowser might also search for veins of gold or silver or other valuable ores like iron. The method for making such a dowsing tool appears in Hohman’s early nineteenth century text, The Long-Lost Friend:

TO MAKE A WAND FOR SEARCHING FOR IRON, ORE OR WATER.

On the first night of Christmas, between 11 and 12 o’clock, break off from any tree a young twig of one year’s growth, in the three highest names (Father, Son and Holy Ghost), at the same time facing toward sunrise. Whenever you apply this wand in searching for anything, apply it three times. The twig must be forked, and each end of the fork must be held in one hand, so that the third and thickest part of it stands up, but do not hold it too tight. Strike the ground with the thickest end, and that which you desire will appear immediately, if there is any in the ground where you strike. The words to be spoken when the wand is thus applied are as follows: Archangel Gabriel, I conjure thee in the name of God, the Almighty, to tell me, is there any water here or not? do tell me! + + +

If you are searching for Iron or Ore, you have to say the same, only mention the name of what you are searching for.

This version of magical dowsing incorporates high magical elements (such as the invocation of Gabriel) and strong folk magical ones (the clipping of the tree twig at sunrise and the simple dowsing methodology).  On the simpler end of the spectrum, one could simply put a bit of whatever was being sought into the tip of the dowsing rod, as in this example from the Ozarks: “Many hillfolk are interested in the search for lost mines and buried treasure, and some of these people have tried to use the witch stick in their quests. If a man is looking for buried gold, he fastens a gold ring to the end of his stick ; if it  is silver that he expects to find, he splits the end of the wand and inserts a silver coin. Rayburn says that to locate mixed ores one uses two different metals usually a dime and a penny” (Randolph 88).

The practice of hunting for buried wealth and riches spanned cultural and geographic boundaries. In many cases, very strict rules were followed, regarding purification and protection as well as actual seeking magic. Spirits would guide a magician to the site of a treasure, and in some cases might even be employed to raise it from the earth. In other cases, the spirits associated with the treasure were deeply malevolent and most of the magic employed was to placate or dis-empower any evil that might be lingering about the dig site. The payoff for an effective treasure hunter could be a sack of coins, a buried chest, or even a new branch of a religion, but the work required up front was heavy and intense. While gambling charms might take longer, the success rate was better overall. In the end, getting rich quick via magical means, it seems, has always been a labor-intensive and time-consuming effort, just like any other job.

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

SOURCES

  1. Anonymous. The Black Pullet (Red Wheel/Weiser, 2007).
  2. Brooke, John L. The Refiner’s Fire: The Making of Mormon Cosmology, 1644-1844 (Cambridge UP, 1996).
  3. Davies, Owen. Grimoires: A History of Magic Books (Oxford UP, 2010).
  4. Davis, Hubert J. The Silver Bullet, and Other American Witch Stories (Jonathan David Pub., 1975).
  5. El Dorado,” Wikipedia (2013).
  6. Gainer, Patrick W. Witches, Ghosts, & Signs: Folklore of the Southern Appalachians (Vandalia Press, 2008).
  7. Hohman, John George. The Long-Lost Friend: A 19th Century American Grimoire, ed. Daniel Harms (Llewellyn, 2012).
  8. Horowitz, Mitch. Occult America: White House Seances, Ouija Circles, Masons, & the Secret Mystic History of Our Nation (Bantam, 2010 reprint).
  9. Hutcheson, Cory. “Blog Post 146 – Dowsing,” New World Witchery, 2011.
  10. Milnes, Gerald C. Signs, Cures, & Witchery (Univ. of Tenn. Press, 2009).
  11. Randolph, Vance. Ozark Magic & Folklore (Dover, 1964).

Taylor, Alan. “The Early Republic’s Supernatural Economy: Treasure Seeking in the American Northeast, 1780-1830.” American Quarterly (Spring, 1986).

Podcast 53 – Papisticall Charmes

Summary

Tonight we’re looking at the concept of “magical Catholicism,” or folk magic using Catholic symbols. We’ll have a couple of saint stories, a brief history of the traditions, and a bevy of practical applications.

Play:

Download: Episode 53 – Papisticall Charmes

Play:

 -Sources-

Relevant blog posts (and podcasts) mentioned in this episode:

  • Blog Post 115 & 116 (Cursing Psalms)
  • Blog Post 122 (Bibliomancy)
  • Blog Post 134 (Brujeria & Curanderismo Intro)
  • Blog Post 135  (The Magical Catholic)
  • Blog Post 136 (Papisticall Charmes/More Catholic magic)
  • Blog Post 137 & 138 (Curandro Spells)
  • Blog Post 160, 161, & 176 (Saint Magic)
  • Podcast 34 (Biblical Magic)
  • Podcast Special (Magical Saints)

(All of these can be easily found by navigating to the “Magical Systems” resource page of the NWW site, then looking at the subheadings of ‘Curanderismo & Brujeria’ and ‘Other Magical Systems’)

Books worth seeking out on the topic:

 

Other worthwhile resources:

  1. Check out the Yahoo! Group Catholic Folk Magic
  2. The site fisheaters.com which has several pieces of information that veer towards the esoteric which are worth checking out (such as “St. Anthony’s Brief” or “Holy Oils”) [A warning: this site is very traditional, and thus its viewpoints may be controversial; browse at your own risk]
  3. I would highly recommend the Library Page of the Curious Curandera website, where you’ll find a number of free titles on magical Catholicism, including “How to Pray the Rosary,” “Saints and their Patronage,” and “Prayers for Different Needs.” There are a few (very good) pay titles, too, but it’s hard to beat the wonderful free texts. Her courses are marvelous, too!
  1. Legends of St. Expedite come from http://saintexpedite.org/history.html and luckymojo.com/saintexpedite.html
  2. The legend of Saint Charlene was adapted from an essay by Donna McGee Onebane (http://www.louisianafolklife.org/LT/Articles_Essays/CharleneRichard.html#tab2)
  1. Special thanks to Listener “V” for your spells from Cartagena!

 

If you have feedback you’d like to share, email us or leave a comment. We’d love to hear from you!

Don’t forget to follow us at Twitter!

 Promos & Music

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

Additional Music:

Promos:

  1. Lamplighter Blues
  2. Lakefront Pagan Voice
  3. The SaintCast

Podcast 49 – Powwow and Braucherei

Summary

Today we’re taking a brief look at the folk magical system of the Pennsylvania German (or “Dutch”) community, known as Powwow or Braucherei. We’ve got an interview with braucher Robert Schreiwer, several readings on the topic, and some charms, spells, and songs, too.

Play:

Download: Episode 49 – Powwow and Braucherei
Play:
-Sources-

Books mentioned within the show

  1. Discovering American Folklife: Essays on Folk Culture & the Pennsylvania Dutch, by Don Yoder
  2. The Long Lost Friend, or The Pow-wow Book, by John George Hohman
  3. American Shamans: Journeys with Traditional Healers, by Jack Montgomery
  4. The Red Church, or The Art of Pennsylvania German Braucherei, by Chris Bilardi
  5. Hex and Spellwork, by Karl Herr
  6. Buying the Wind, by Richard Dorson
  7. Strange Experience: The Autobiography of a Hexenmeister, by Lee R. Gandee

Additional Sources

  1. Signs, Cures, & Witchery, by Gerald C. Milne
  2. Ozark Magic & Folklore, by Vance Randolph (section: “Power Doctors”)
  3. Powwowing Among the Pennsylvania Dutch, David W. Kriebel
  4. Hex Signs: Pennsylvania Dutch Barn Symbols, by Don Yoder
  5. New World Witchery Podcast 29 featured an interview with author Jack Montgomery, who presented some good information on powwowing

Websites

  1. Urglaawe – Braucher Rob Schreiwer’s site on Heathen braucherei
  2. Three Sisters Center for the Healing Arts – A place to learn more about braucherei & associated practices
  3. Braucher.webs – Braucher Rob Chapman’s site for powwow and braucherei
  4. New World Witchery posts on Braucherei: Intro Part I, Part II, and Part III (also see our page Resources:  Magical Systems, under the heading “Braucherei, Hexenmeisters, & Pow-wow”)
  5. We have a great written interview with braucher Chris Bilardi here: Part I & Part II
  6. An online essay on Powwow by David W. Kreibel is available here

If you have feedback you’d like to share, email us or leave a comment. We’d love to hear from you!

Don’t forget to follow us at Twitter!

 Promos & Music

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

German folk songs came from the site Mamalisa.com. The songs played in this episode were:

  1. Winter, Ade!
  2. Taler, Taler du musst wander
  3. Meine Hande sind verschwunden
  4. Rolle, Rolle, Rolle
  5. Handewaschen
  6. Guten Morgen ruft die Sonne

Incidental music was Johannes Brahams, Symphony No. 4, found at Archive.org

Promo 1- Lamplighter Blues

Blog Post 156 – Passionflower

Greetings blog subscribers (and casual readers, too)!

When I first stumbled on today’s gorgeous botanical subject in the hilly areas around Chattanooga, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The passionflower is one of the most outlandish, garish, over-the-top, and beautiful blooms I’ve encountered in the wild. It looks as thought it would be more at home in a tropical nursery than growing in the foothills of the Appalachians, and yet this clinging vine with big, showy blossoms is right at home among sweetgum trees, sassafras, and tulip poplars.

The flower is sort of ‘leveled,’ with a base of beautiful petals which come in vibrant colors like purple and pink upon which rest elevated pistils and soaring stamens in a delicate (and highly symbolic) pattern. The passionflower goes by several names, including the maypop, herb of the Cross, and maracuja. The latter name comes from Spanish-speaking localities in which the twining vine blooms, and the flower has definitely found a home in the folklife of Hispanic herbalists. But before I get ahead of myself with all of that, let’s look briefly at some of the Old World lore about this lovely bit of flora.
Here’s a description of how the passionflower got its name, from perennial (pardon the pun) favorite, T. F. Thiselton-Dyer’s The Folk-lore of Plants:

“The passion-flower has been termed Holy Rood flower, and it is the ecclesiastical emblem of Holy Cross Day, for, according to the familiar couplet:—

‘The passion-flower long has blow’d
To betoken us signs of the Holy Rood.’ (CH XVII)”

“A plant closely connected by tradition with the crucifixion is the passion-flower. As soon as the early Spanish settlers in South America first glanced on it, they fancied they had discovered not only a marvellous symbol of Christ’s passion, but received an assurance of the ultimate triumph of Christianity. Jacomo Bosio, who obtained his knowledge of it from certain Mexican Jesuits, speaks of it as ‘the flower of the five wounds,’ and has given a very minute description of it, showing how exactly every part is a picture of the mysteries of the Passion. ‘It would seem,’ he adds, ‘as if the Creator of the world had chosen it to represent the principal emblems of His Son’s Passion; so that in due season it might assist, when its marvels should be explained to them, in the condition of the heathen people, in whose country it grew.’” [21] (CH XIX)

The passionflower naturally fits into a schema of religious botany, then, and would seem to be a sort of pinnacle representation of the Doctrine of Signatures, which essentially states that every plant (or creatrure, for that matter) bears certain visual, olfactory, or other cues indicating what the divine intends us to do with it.

Medicinally, this plant has a powerful sedative effect, though not one so strong as something like valerian root. This can be seen as a sort of ‘peace,’ bestowed by the plant as its creator would bestow divine peace. You can read a good bit about its medicinal qualities here and here, where they are able to get much more into the hows and whys of passionflower’s sedative effects. [Though I will note here, as I always do, THIS IS NOT A MEDICAL BLOG, AND I DO NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. PLEASE CONSULT YOUR PHYSICIAN FOR MEDICAL INFORMATION ABOUT HERBS, SUPPLEMENTS, OR ANY OTHER TREATMENTS YOU ARE CONSIDERING].

Moving into passionflower’s magical side, there is surprisingly little to do with its ability to inspire religious faith, offer any kind of divine protection, or even be used as a decoration on altars to holy saints, which greatly surprises me. I would think those uses would be nearly the first use I’d put them to, but wiser workers than I would note that passionflower’s real power is not just in its blossom, but in its less showy bits: the tangly and highly clinging vine which supports the gorgeous floral display.

Cat Yronwode describes the passionflower as an ingredient in the Chuparrosa (or “hummingbird” in Spanish) charm, which is used to foster feelings of love and attachment (hence the clinging-vine quality):

“Dried Passion Flower leaves or pieces of the root may be carried in a red flannel bag dressed with Love Me Oil. Mexicans are known to add such a bag a charm to the Divine Hummingbird, or Chuparrosa. In the old days this would have been dried hummingbird heart, but it is illegal to kill hummingbirds or to possess their body parts in some states now—and with good reason, as the birds are under tremendous habitat destruction pressure from human beings. A metal charm of a hummingbird sewn to the bag or carried inside will do just as well” (Hoodoo Herb & Root Magic, 142)

Beyond its love-bringing and binding qualities, the flower also seems to bring feelings of peace and contentment between lovers and members of a household, likely due to its soporific effects in its medical applications.

In Latin American countries, the passionflower has similar applications, including use as a love-binder and spiritual sedative. It’s also used in a Brazilian floral horoscope, where it represents the month of June. Again, I’m surprised at its limited appeal as a holy or divine flower, as I think it would likely be an excellent addition to offering altars to Marian incarnations or to do work with Jesus in various forms. But that’s merely speculation on my part, so I digress.

If you’ve had any experiences, magical or otherwise, with this amazing bloom, we’d love to hear about them! Feel free to leave a comment below or email us if you know more about this beautiful, intriguing addition to American flora.

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

Blog Post 136 – Papisticall Charmes (More Catholic-flavored Magic)

Howdy-do!

Today I’m going to be following along the course of my previous entries on brujeria/curanderismo and Catholic folk magic in general by looking at some specific elements, tools, charms, and spells from within those traditions. I should go ahead and note that while Psalm magic is found within all of these streams, I’m not covering it here because it is a huge topic in and of itself, and one which I’ve already explored a bit in posts 115 and 116. I’ll also only briefly touch on any Saint-specific magic, because that could be its own topic, too (and hopefully will be at some point).

That being said, I would like to point out the presence of a number of folk saints in pseudo-Catholic magical practices. These are not officially recognized saints (even Mother Theresa and Pope John Paul II have not been fully canonized yet), but rather people reputed to be intensely holy and capable of performing miraculous feats. They can also be spirits with special powers and areas of influence who do not have a human counterpart, but rather seem to be almost archetypical entities. Some of the most widely petitioned and patronized of these folk saints include:

  • Don Pedrito Jaramillo – healing
  • Teresa Urrea (“Teresita”) – healing
  • El Nino Fidencio – healing & spiritual purification
  • Santa Muerte (“La Santisima,” “La Huesada”) – protection, prosperity, family life, love, and a number of other powers
  • Saint Michael (Archangel) – protection & spiritual warfare
  • Saint Raphael (Archangel) – safe travels, spiritual medicine, & exorcism of evil spirits

(for more information on these folk saints, see Curandero by Cheo Torres and Magical Powers of the Saints by Ray T. Malbrough)

Many people simply burn candles with images of these saints emblazoned on the glass or with picture prayer cards placed nearby. Small votive offerings might be left out for them, including small amounts of liquor, coffee, or tobacco, or specific items might be given to specific saints. For example, Saint Michael’s altar would be decorated by war memorabilia, such as medals, maps, or pictures of soldiers. More explicitly spell-like operations can also be performed, such as this method for creating a powerful “fortune magnet”:

Get a candle or statue of Santa Muerte and put her on an altar by herself (she does not like to share altar space, though she has been known to tolerate St. Michael at times). Place a lodestone beside her, and a glass of water on the other side of her. Put a basket of brightly colored fruit (lemons and oranges, for example) in front of her, and place yellow flowers upon her altar. Light a charcoal in a brazier and burn a holy incense (such as Gloria Incense or even just some frankincense). Add a pinch of soil from your homeland (or even hometown) to the burning coal, and say:

Towards you I inclilne, Holy Lady
I bring you water and yellow flowers,
Incense and the dust from which I am made.
Please make the world to twist and turn,
Allowing luck and fortune to cross my path,
Cutting the bitter ties that bind me.
In your honor I shall please you with scented offerings,
I shall plant trees in forests,
I shall give you fruits
In return for your goodwill towards me.

Allow the candle to burn for at least an hour. If possible, allow the candle to burn out on its own. Let the stone sit overnight, rising before dawn and wrapping it in a dark cloth. Keep this with you at all times, and do not unwrap it in direct sunlight. [Adapted from a spell in an anonymously authored chapbook called The Magical Powers of the Holy Death picked up in a botanica]

How’s that for not dwelling on Saint magic? Moving on, then, let’s look at some other spells from other sources. This one, which I’m transcribing from The Red Church and which comes from John G. Hohman’s Long Lost Friend, is not explicitly Catholic, but the presence of latinate words and Christian symbols certainly allows it to fit right in with the whole “magical Catholic” idea:

A Written Charm of Exorcism

Below is a charm paper entitled ‘Against Evil Spirits and Witchcrafts.’ This charm was given to me by ‘Daisy.’ With the exception of a few minor details it is exactly like the one that appears in Hohman’s The Long Lost Friend

I.
N. I. R.
I.
Sanctus.   Spiritus.
I.
N. I. R.
I.

All this be guarded, here in time, and there in eternity. Amen. +++ (TRC, p. 273-4)

Chris Bilardi goes on to describe several ways in which you might deploy this charm, including folding it into a tight triangle and slipping it into the frames and jambs of doors and windows in your home (but you must use no metal to affix it). He also mentions putting it into a wallet or binding it with a red string if it is intended to be carried.

Another home protection and blessing charm comes out of ancient Jewish practice, too. Joshua Trachtenberg’s quintessential text on the topic, Jewish Magic & Superstition, describes an excellent blessing charm which consists very simply of bread and salt either ingested to defeat evil spirits or brought into a new home “as a symbolic of the hope that food may never be lacking there” (JM&S p.161). In my own family, we called this the ‘Polish House Blessing’ and included a penny as well (we were Polish through my grandfather’s family). It’s something I still use when someone mooves into a new house in order to bless their new home. I simply put the salt (kosher, please), a piece of bread, and a penny in a small jar (like a baby food jar) and wrap the lid in pretty paper, often with a Psalm written on the underside of it to provide protection and domestic bliss (Psalms 46 and 61 are both good for this).

One of my personal favorite books of the Bible is Jonah, which is also one of the shortest books in the whole book. It’s read every year on Yom Kippur in synagogues, and it has a bizarre blend of folklore, humor, and philosophy in it that I just find delightful. For a magical practitioner, it can also be a very good source of magical phrases. One very simple spell which Draja Mickaharic lists in his Magical Spells of the Minor Prophets is for abating someone’s anger:

To Turn Away Another Person’s Anger

Required: Only the verse

Spell: In the presence of an angry person, say the verse to yourself three times.

Verse: Jonah 4:4 (“Then said the lord, Does thou well to be angry?”)

NOTE: This verse should be memorized and used for this purpose whenever desired (MSMP, p. 52-3)

There are a number of great non-Psalm verses that can be used for various magical purposes. Most of these are simply spoken, though sometimes they can be written down and carried in pockets, purses, etc. for magical aid. A list (hardly exhaustive) of such verses:

  • Amos 2:13 – Against an Opressor
  • Obadiah 1:6 – To Find that Which Has Been Lost
  • Habakkuk 2:2-3 – For Aid in Automatic Writing
  • Zechariah 4:13-14 – To Learn Who Your Teacher or Guide Is
  • Ezekiel 16:6 – The Blood Verse (for stopping small wounds)
  • Genesis 49:18 – For Protection at Night
  • Deuteronomy 18:13 – Against Wild Beasts
  • Deuteronomy 33:3-4 – For Intelligence

(The above primarily from Magical Spells of the Minor Prophets and Jewish Magic & Supersition)

I’m sure with enough effort, nearly any book of the Bible will yield some magical content, though I’ve not tested that theory.

Finally, I couldn’t reisist including some of the “popish and magicall cures” found in Reginald Scot’s Discoverie of Witchcraft. The following are cures “For direct cure to such as are bewitched in the privie members” (i.e. to deal with impotence, especially impotence caused by witchcraft):

For direct cure to such as are bewitched in the privie members, the first and speciall is confession: then follow in a row, holie water, and those ceremoniall trumperies, Ave Maries, and all maner of crossings; which are all said to be wholesome, except the witchcraft be perpetuall, and in that case the wife maie have a divorse of course.

  • Item, the eating of a haggister or pie helpeth one bewitched in that member.
  • Item, the smoke of the tooth of a dead man.
  • Item, to annoint a mans bodie over with the gall of a crow.
  • Item, to fill a quill with quicke silver, and laie the same under the cushine, where such a one sitteth, or else to put it under the threshold of the doore of the house or chamber where he dwelleth.
  • Item, to spet into your owne bosome, if you be so bewitched, is verie good.
  • Item, to pisse through a wedding ring. If you would know who is hurt in his privities by witchcraft; and who otherwise is therein diseased,Hostiensis answereth: but so, as I am ashamed to english it: and therefore have here set down his experiment in Latine; Quando virga nullatenùs movetur, & nunquam potuit cognoscere; hoc est signum frigiditatis: sed quando movetur & erigitur, perficere autem non potest, est signum maleficii. [Dialect from original text preserved here]

I hope this post has been entertaining and interesting for you. Please also check out the recent posts on curanderismo and Catholic folk magic, as well as our most recent episode on biblical sorcery.

I don’t know if I’ll get another post up before the Salem trip, so if I don’t, I will hope to see some of you there. And the rest of you I’ll look forward to speaking to when I get back!
Thanks for reading!

-Cory

Podcast 34 – Biblical Magic

-SHOWNOTES FOR EPISODE 34-

Summary
This episode is the long-awaited episode on “great spells from the good book.” We’re talking about magic both in the Bible and from the Bible.

Play:
Download: New World Witchery – Episode 34

 

-Sources-

NWW Posts on Biblical Magic:

1)   Blog Post 135 – The Magical Catholic
2)   Blog Post 122 – Bibliomancy
3)   Blog Post 116 – Cursing Psalms part II
4)   Blog Post 115 – Cursing Psalms part I

Check out Arrow Claire’s blog post on bibliomancy, as well.

Books:
Secrets of the Psalms, by Godfrey Selig
Magical Spells of the Minor Prophets, by Draja Mickaharic
Jewish Magic  & Superstition, by Joshua Trachtenberg
Power of the Psalms, by Anna Riva

And, of course, the Bible (available pretty much anywhere near you)

Don’t forget about the Second Annual Pagan Podkin Supermoot in Salem, MA, on the weekend of Sept. 17th, 2011.  Find out more details about the event and opportunities to come meet us in person at the PPSM2 Website. [Laine respectfully asks that she not be in any photographs, due to privacy concerns—Cory will be happy to wear a wig and pretend to be Laine, however].

During the Supermoot, NWW favorite Peter Paddon will be teaching a class on ritual trance and possession. Sign up here.

I’ll also be at the West KY Hoodoo Rootworker Heritage Festival teaching a course on “Biblical Magic & Sorcery.”

Also, you can now follow New World Witchery on Twitter! Our handle is @NWWitchery, and we’ll be posting about new episodes, blog posts, and contests to those who follow us.

Promos & Music

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

Incidental Music: “The Peaceful Death of the Righteous,” by Troy Demps, James Robinson, & Frank Spaulding; “Wasn’t That a Mystery,” by Madison County Senior Center; “Babylon Is Falling Down,” by Deacon Dan Smith w/Nick Hallman & the Georgia Sea Island Singers [All from the Florida Folklife Project]

Promo 1 – Pagan in Portland
Promo 2 – Magick and Mundane
Promo 3 – Conjure Doctor Products
Promo 4 – Media Astra ac Terra

Blog Post 135 – The Magical Catholic

Good morning everyone!

Last time I touched briefly on the practice of curanderismo, which is a Hispanic system of folk magic centered upon healing, jinx removal, and protection/cleansing rituals. I also mentioned that it takes a lot of its magical cues from Catholicism, albeit in a syncretic and flexible form of that religion. I received a comment on that post, too, which raised a thoughtful question about Catholicism in the New World and why it might have been seen as ‘magical’ or why its presence can be felt so strongly within magical traditions on this side of the Atlantic. I think that much of this attitude appeared in the Old World after the Reformation, when the broad brush of ‘papism’ or ‘pope worship’ was being used to paint the embattled Catholic Church. Some of the best illustrations of the Protestant perception of ‘the magic Catholic’ come from a tome which has informed witchcraft studies for centuries, Reginald Scot’s Discoverie of Witchcraft. In the following passage, you can see how Scot—who associated superstitious beliefs in witchcraft with the foolish ‘superstition’ of Catholicism—clearly links the priest with the sorcerer:

A papisticall charme.

Signum sanctæ crucis defendat me à malis præsentibus, præteritis, & futuris, interioribus & exterioribus:

That is, The signe of the crosse defend me from evils present, past, and to come, inward and outward. (Book XII, Chapter IX)

Scot certainly thought little of such charms, saying later in his book, “HE that can be persuaded that these things are true, or wrought indeed according to the assertion of couseners, or according to the supposition of witchmongers & papists, may soone be brought to beleeve that the moone is made of greene cheese” (Book XV, Chapter V).

To be sure, a number of Catholics have spent years—centuries in fact—fighting against these perceptions and very few mainstream Catholics would cotton to having their religion identified with sorcery or witchcraft. From a perspective of official Church doctrine and approved dogma and praxis, it is vital to note that Catholicism does not condone magic or the use of enchantments and charms, and that they fall in line largely with other Christian groups when it comes to beliefs and religious operations. They believe in Jesus as God (as well as seeing him as part of a divine trinity made up of “Father, Son, & Holy Ghost/Spirit”), they require baptism, they expect remission of wrongdoings (and, in the case of confession, admission of wrongdoing), and believe in an afterlife in which they will be judged by God for the quality of their lives and the state of their souls. There are a number of fine-pointed theological differences between Catholicism and Protestant denominations, but in many ways they are deeply similar.

What we’re looking at here, then, is not the official, dogmatic, Vatican-approved version of Catholicism, but rather a phenomenon which might be termed as ‘folk’ Catholicism. Folk religions are not exclusive to this religion, of course. There are also folk Hindus, folk Daoists, folk Shintoists, and folk Jews, all with varying degrees of adherence to official practice and varying degrees of handed-down traditions from unofficial sources. Folk Catholicism is particularly relevant to New World esoteric studies, however, because it has appeared in several different places. It shows up in the spiritual and magical practices of New Orleans (such as in the work of author Denise Alvarado). It also appears prevalently in Italian-American communities, and occasionally within Irish-American communities.  Both the Foxfire books and Gerald Milne’s Signs, Cures, & Witchery contain examples of Appalachian residents whose beliefs veer towards the enchanted from time to time via a connection with Catholicism. Milne cites the Swiss/German community of Randolph Co., NC, in one such illustration:

“In Randolph County, the Swiss/German Helvetia community observes Fastnacht prior to the beginning of Lent. It happened that in Helvetia, some of the original families were Catholic, and now their pre-Lenten observance is celebrated by all in a non-religious way. At Helvetia, an effigy of old man winter is burned on a bonfire” (SC&W, p. 195)

Milne also points out that festivals like this were a confluence of Catholic traditions (Lent) and non-Catholic ones (the midwinter effigy burning), which took on a mystical significance in their union. Probably one of the best places to look for Catholic folk magic, however, is within the context of the North (and South) American Hispanic communities, which have strong historical ties to more mainstream Catholicism, and yet which also have allowed a beautiful flowering of folk culture in tandem with Catholic expansion, resulting in a rich and fairly accessible magical storehouse.

In the previous post, I have already looked very generally at some of the techniques of curanderismo and brujeria. Both traditions draw heavily on folk Catholicism to provide their magic, including things like the Apostles Creed and Lord’s Prayer as charms against harmful magic, or using tools like holy water, scapulars (a type of loosely-worn ornament which contains religious icons or written prayers), and rosaries to effect change.  In my next post, I hope to get into the specific spells, charms, and tools used within Catholic folk magic. For now, though, I wanted to leave you with some sites and books which might be of interest to anyone pursuing the folk Catholic path.

  1. I highly recommend the Yahoo! Group Catholic Folk Magic, where curanderas, brujos, and a number of other folk magicians with a base in Catholicism share ideas and resources.
  2. You could always give The Discoverie of Witchcraft a good read. It may have been intended as satire and mockery, but it has a heck of a lot of good pseudo-Catholic magic in it, too.
  3. The moderators of the site fisheaters.com would probably balk at my reference to them here, because they mostly focus on actual Vatican-approved Catholicism. However, familiarizing yourself with these ideas and practices is good if you plan to work ‘within’ this stream, and there are actually several pieces of information that veer towards the esoteric which are worth checking out (such as “St. Anthony’s Brief” or “Holy Oils”) [A warning: this site is very traditional, and thus its viewpoints may be controversial; browse at your own risk]
  4. One book that a number of Catholics grow up with is Alban Butler’s Lives of the Saints (or at least some version of it). Why do I recommend it here? For the same reason I recommend folk and fairy tales to any aspiring magician—there is more to these tales than what’s on the page. St. Lucy’s removal of her own eyes has a distinctly magical flavor to it, in my opinion, which may explain why her celebration in Scandanavia is laced with esoteric symbolism.
  5. Finally, I would highly recommend the Library Page of the Curious Curandera website, where you’ll find a number of free titles on magical Catholicism, including “How to Pray the Rosary,” “Saints and their Patronage,” and “Prayers for Different Needs.” There are a few (very good) pay titles, too, but it’s hard to beat the wonderful free texts.

That’s all for today! I’ll try to have another post up soon with some more practical elements for you (though it is always possible I’ll get distracted and have a tangential topic). Until then, though…
Thanks for reading!

-Cory

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

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

Blog Post 122 – Bibliomancy

I thought today we would take a look at one of the many divinatory systems found in the New World, and one which has remained popular through the centuries:  bibliomancy.  We discussed this topic during our most recent episode, but I have wanted to expand upon it a bit.  The practice of bibliomancy as a form of divination is common enough in the New World that many folks who wouldn’t touch any other type of magical practice might be persuaded to do at least one of the methods below.

Probably the most commonly used book for bibliomancy is the Christian (or in some cases, Hebrew) Bible.  Other texts can be used, however, and it would not be out of place to turn to a favorite book of poetry, a dictionary, an encyclopedia, or any other piece of writing.  The overarching control factor seems to be that the inquiring party must feel the book has some kind of power.  Whether that power is religious/spiritual or simply the force of knowledge or even a fondness born of favoritism does not seem to matter much; just the reverence offered the text is enough to imbue it with oracular power.

The methods for bibliomancy break down into roughly three categories:  scanning the text (either at random or specifically), using interpretive devices such as dice, and a very particular technique involving a key.

Scanning

This is probably the most familiar method, and the one which is least likely to raise eyebrows among laity.  People frequently look for signs from God or at least from somewhere else to help point them towards good decisions in times of doubt (or they like to have signs that affirm their choices, depending on your perspective).  I’ve known even the most skeptical and non-magically inclined folks to flop open a Bible and point at the page without looking in order to find what will hopefully be a relevant quote.  For those who want a little more magic in the process, however, it might help to get into a ritual mindset before posing questions to the Divine.  In Draja Mickaharic’s Magical Spells of the Minor Prophets, he notes:

“When selecting a verse that is pertinent to the situation the person finds themselves in, it is generally necessary that the person looking for the verse compose themselves and place a bible before them, either on their lap or on a table.  They then are to concentrate upon the matter that troubles them.  Once the true question is firmly in the mind of the person seeking an answer, the bible is opened randomly, and without looking at the pages, a finger is set upon some part of the page.  The verse so indicated by the person’s finger would then reveal some advice, or lead to a solution to the question that has been poised, or even reveal a solution to the problem at hand” (p.125)

There are other ways to consult a holy book for heavenly guidance, too.  Jewish folklore and magical practice interprets scriptural passages incidentally, rather than just directly, for instance.  From Jewish Magic & Superstition by Joshua Trachtenberg:

“The familiar use of Scripture in divining (Bibliomancy) was not unknown to Jews. The Romans had thus employed Vergil [sic]; the Bible was already put to this use by Christians before the eight century; in medieval Germany hymn- and prayer-books served the same purpose. But Jews did not have to borrow this device from their neighbors.  In Talmudic times it was common practice to ask children what verses they had studied that day in school, and to accept them as good or bad omens, an expedient that persisted throughout the Middle Ages.  The more usual procedure of opening the Bible at random and taking the first word or sentence that strikes the eye as a portent, was also followed.  Similarly, ‘if, upon awakening, one recalls a Biblical verses, this passage is to be regarded as a”minor prophecy,” and if it is an ominous passage, one should fast.’” [footnoted to   Pa’aneah Raza on Leviticus and Perles’ Beitrege] (p. 216)

Trachtenberg goes on to say that no special skills were required for bibliomancy and anyone can do it, and that it is also connected to the act of sortilege/casting lots (much like the Dice Method).

One of the more peculiar and interesting methods of scanning a text for magical guidance comes from New World Witchery standby Vance Randolph:

“Many hillfolk tell fortunes and predict marriages by means of certain quotations from the Bible.  For example, the twenty-first and thirty-first chapters of Proverbs have thirty-one verses each.  Chapter 21 is the man’s birthday chapter; chapter 31 is the woman’s birthday chapter.  A boy looks up his proper verse in the man’s chapter, according to the date of his birth.  A man born on the twenty-third of any month, for example, reads Proverbs 21:23—the content of this verse is supposed to be equally significant to him” (OM&F, p. 184)

In my case, the Proverb says, “The plans of the diligent lead surely to plenty, /But those of everyone who is hasty, surely to poverty.”  Patience has been a long-standing goal of mine, even from when I was very young, so I do think this method may hold some merit.  Or it may be a strange coincidence.  Either way, I really like it for its unique spin on a traditional method.

Dice

I mentioned this method in Podcast 25, too, but I thought it would be good to write it out here for those who are interested.  Connected to one of the few methods of divination not condemned by the New Testement—casting lots—the use of dice in conjunction with the Bible might raise eyebrows now, but it actually makes a great deal of sense.  And when you consider that dice were (and are) often made of bone, the vaguely necromantic side of this method begins to surface.  The method cited here comes from Judika Illes’ Encyclopedia of 5000 Spells:

Lord Thoth’s Trio

Thoth, Egyptian lunar god, is given credit for inventing books, magic, and dice.  All are combined in the following method.

  1. Formulate your question, while holding dice.
  2. Close your eyes and flip open the book.
  3. Gently, with eyes remaining closed, toss the dice onto the open book.

Read the passage indicated by the location of the fallen dice.  An alternative is to read the passage indicated by the numbers shown on the dice—thus you might begin on the sixth line, third word or similar.  If using numeral coordination, it’s not necessary for the dice to actually land on the page, although both methods can be integrated.

There’s no reason other interpretive items could not be used similarly, though the precedent doesn’t exist to my knowledge.  I can imagine, however, that a deck of cards could be likewise consulted in conjunction with the holy book of choice, and the number or value of the card taken as a guidepost in determining which verse to read.

Keys

Arrow over at the Wandering Arrow blog actually mentioned this a while ago, and it’s her post (and an email she sent me) which really sparked my entire research bender into the subject.  The overall method seems to derive from a folk Catholic practice which was outlined in Reginald Scot’s 1584 treatise on magic, The Discoverie of Witchcraft.  In this book, Scot lampoons the “popish” superstitions of the Catholics, and cites an example of their folk magic involving a scriptural text (a psalter) and a skeleton key:

“Popish preests (saith he) as the Chaldceans used the divination by sive & sheeres for the detection of theft, doo practise with a psalter and a keie fastned upon the 49. psalme, to discover a theefe. And  when the names of the suspected persons are orderlie put into the  pipe of the keie, at the reading of these words of the psalme (If thou  sawest a theefe thou diddest consent unto him) the booke will wagge, and fall out of the fingers of them that hold it, and he whose name remaineth in the keie must be the theefe.” (Ch. 5)

The Psalm cited, the 49th, is full of memento mori imagery, reminding the singer that death comes to all, and none escapes God’s eye.  The connection between this method and the sieve and shears method—both of which involve tenuously suspending something and asking questions until it begins to move—is also interesting, as the sieve and shears appear in witch folklore, too (see “The Horned Women” tale from Ireland).  Scot’s mention of this form of bibliomancy is brief, though, and a a more thorough description of the method can be found in Draja Mickaharic’s Magical Spells of the Minor Prophets:

“In the second method of divining using the bible, a key, one of those old fashioned ‘skeleton keys,’ is used in addition to the bible.  The key is placed somewhere in the bible, keyed end first, so that the turning end protrudes, sticking out of the wide end of the bible.  To keep the key in the bible in this manner, the bible must be tied closed.  This may be done with rubber bands or with string, however the person desiring to read in this manner chooses.  Irregardless of how the bible is held closed, it is important that it be tied or held tightly, as the bible will be suspended from the key when this work of divination is being done.  Once the key when this work of divination is being done.  Once the key is fixed in the bible in this manner, the bible is suspended from the fingers of both hands, usually one finger under each of the keys turning end.  In that precarious position, a question is asked, either having a yes or no answer, or several questions.” (p. 125)

In this method, the person reading must determine what yes and no are before asking the question, whether it turns or wobbles one way or the other.  Mickaharic says this is very effective, and that “the first time I did this, the bible actually jumped from my fingers when the question was answered with a no.”

This method is also backed up by practices within the hexenmeister community.  In Chris Bilardi’s Red Church, he provides an almost identical system for inserting a key into the Bible, binding it, and suspending it while asking questions.  He is more specific about which books to use, however:  “Take the key and place it into the Bible.  Some traditional places to put it are the Book of Ruth (Chapter 1), the Gospel of John (any of the Four Gospels, really), and the Epistle of James” (Red Church, p. 303).  It’s very interesting to me that the Book of Ruth shows up repeatedly in magical bible study.  That might be a topic for another day, though.

So that’s it for basic bibliomancy!  I hope this has been informative and useful to you.  If you have any other examples of this method, or stories to share about using this or similar techniques, we’d love to hear them!

Thanks for reading!

-Cory