Posted tagged ‘christian magic’

Blog Post 135 – The Magical Catholic

August 31, 2011

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

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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

Blog Post 122 – Bibliomancy

March 10, 2011

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

Blog Post 116 – Cursing Psalms (part II)

January 20, 2011

Staying on the dark side of things today, I’m going to continue the theme I started in my previous blog post on the biblical Psalms which have been used to curse.  In this post, I’ll be looking at several of the most commonly used Psalms, as well as some of the spells which are built around them.

To begin, let’s look at the spell that prompted this whole topic.  From Judika Illes’ Encyclopedia of 5000 Spells:

The Cursing Psalm

The power to heal can be the power to harm.  Even something as intrinsically good and sacred as a psalm may be used malevolently.  Psalm 109 has been called ‘the cursing psalm.’  It may be chanted to harm an enemy.

The psalm itself is inherently benevolent.  It’s your emotion and intention that transforms it.  Therefore the fist step is to be in the right mood.  Then start chanting and visualizing.” (p. 575)

This is certainly the most intensive of the cursing Psalms, including the admonitions:

9Let his [one’s enemy] children be fatherless, and his wife a widow.

10Let his children be continually vagabonds, and beg: let them seek their bread also out of their desolate places.

13Let his posterity be cut off; and in the generation following let their name be blotted out.

Not pleasant stuff, certainly.  This one is powerful enough that merely chanting it while focusing on an enemy should cause him or her some distress.  However, before simply writing this particular Psalm off as evil, I should point out that it also gets interpreted in more positive ways.  Ray T. Marlbrough says it is used “To protect from an enemy, persisting in bothering you” (Magic Power of the Saints).  In this light, it is not so much of a curse as a barrier against harm.  Braucher Chris Bilardi recognizes its power to be used “against a tenacious enemy,” but also says it is useful “for acquiring friends” (The Red Church).  So even the “cursing Psalm” has its upside.

Next, let’s lok at Psalm 70 in a spell from  Hyatt’s books, via the HyattSpells Yahoo! Group:

CUT LIMB FROM A TREE THAT IS WITHERING
WHILE MENTIONING WHICH LIMB OF YOUR ENEMY YOU WISH TO BE AFFECTED, OR WHILE MENTIONING OVERALL WITHERING AS YOUR INTENT;
READ THE 70TH PSALM ON YOUR ENEMY;
BURY WITHERED LIMB WITH YOUR ENEMY’S UNDERWEAR –
– TO HURT BY DRYING THEM UP

When ah want someone tuh dry up, or tuh hurt them, yo’ go to a tree an’ git a tree that’s withered all up, dryin’ up.  Yo’ don’t know the cause of the tree dryin’ up but chure not supposed tuh know how come the tree is witherin’ up yo’self tuh do this.  Yo’ jes’ git the witherin’ tree that’s dyin’, an’ yo’ cut a branch offa that tree, see.  An’ yo’ want that person – whatevah limb yo’ want that person tuh lose when yo’ cut this branch offa this tree, yo’ mention de limb that chew want ’em tuh lose, if it’s the right laig or the right arm.  It won’t work on they haid; it’ll work on a limb, yore arm or yore laig.  An’ then yo’ bury this withered tree wit some of this person’s underwear.  Until it’s found, why they’ll wither away or lose dere laig or lose they arm, whichevah yo’ say, an’ they’ll be lingerin’ from it.  Co’se if yo’ don’t want ’em tuh die like that or lose their laig or arm, yo’ would say, “Let ’em wither as dis tree withers.”  But chew would have tuh read de 70th Psalms tuh do that work.  De 70th Psalms will dry that person up, jes’ wither him up.  De 70th Psalms will dry yo’ up jes’ like a herrin’ – yo’ see, a dry herrin’.  Yo’ read de 70th Psalms on anyone an’ it will dry ’em up.

[Memphis, TN.  Informant #926 and #1538 (this is one informant, two different interview dates); B45:19-B51:1 = 1503-1509 and D96:1-D110:2 = 2779-2793.]

This is definitely a severe curse, in that it aims to cause at least semi-permanent damage to a person’s body.  Both Bilardi and the Curious Curandera also list this Psalm as one to be used for overcoming evil, particularly bad habits—the withering of a limb in this case being the withering of the wicked part of oneself that must be removed.

Some of the other Psalms that may be used in a cursing capacity include:

Psalm 7 – Used to overcome enemies, especially those who plot against one secretly

Psalm 48 – To undo envious enemies; according to Malbrough, it can also be used to “strike fear into your enemies”

Psalm 52 – Used to punish one’s enemies, especially those who use magic against one

Psalm 53 – Which can be used to curse someone who is being stubborn, or to inflict blindness (mental or physical)

Psalm 59 – Henri Gamache has a ritual “to overcome an enemy” using this Psalm and several candles (see Master Book of Candle Burning)

Psalm 93 – Used in legal cases where one has been unjustly accused in order to cross the one who brought the charges

Psalm 100 – According to Bilardi, this Psalm is for “overcoming enemies and obstacles” (TRC)

Psalm 109 – The Curious Curandera recommends this one “to overcome a strong enemy, for the ungrateful people who turn against their benefactors”

Psalm 120 – To stop gossip against one or to cross one’s enemies in court cases

Psalm 140 – Against anyone “evil,” though I think that is a fairly subjective idea.  It is also used like Psalm 52 against anyone who has worked harmful magic against one

In all of these cases, the Psalms themselves are sometimes all you need, though the more one wants to add to the process, the more potent the curse will be.   Muttering the curse over a candle with an enemy’s name carved into it would be a simple and not-terribly-visceral way to do it.  Sewing up one of these Psalms into a doll-baby containing an enemy’s hair or foot track and tossing it into a fire, burying it in the earth, or dropping it into a jar full of baneful herbs and oils would be a pretty big curse.  The mechanics of the curse really would depend upon the practitioner.

Before I finish up today, I thought I’d also look at a few of the other curse verses employed from the Bible.  Just as non-Psalmic verses (like the Blood Verse in Ezekiel 16) and extra-biblical prayers can be employed to do good works, there are a few passages which have some crossing power in them.  These are taken from a very fine book on Old Testament magic called Jewish Magic & Supersition, by Joshua Trachtenberg:

“Against an enemy: Ex. 15:5; 15:6; 15:9; 15:19; Deut. 22:6; Is. 10:14 and Prov. 1:17

To cause an enemy to die: Nu. 14:37

To cause an enemy to drown: Ex. 15:10

Against slander: Ex. 15:7

To cause a man who has sworn falsely to die within a year:  Ex. 15:12

To cause a curse to take effect: Lev. 27:29” (p. 110)

Pretty rough stuff!  All of these curses make me want to up my protection factor quite a bit.  You can’t be too careful out there, where magic is concerned.

I hope this has been useful to someone.  If you have questions, feel free to leave a comment or email me.  For now, blessings upon you for reading this (after all these curses, you might need them!).
And, of course, thanks for reading!

-Cory

Blog Post 115 – Cursing Psalms (part I)

January 18, 2011

Several months ago, I received an email from a reader/listener asking about the use of certain biblical texts in the context of cursing.  It said:

“I have been reading Judika Illes’ Encyclopedia of 5000 Spells and came across Psalms 109 being used as a hex. I did not know that you could use Bible verses as a hex. Can you give me more info of this Psalms 109 hex?”

So I thought that today I might start to look at some of the “cursing Psalms,” with an eye to their historical precedents, their place in American folk magic, and some ideas of what to do with them.  Before I get too far into the topic, however, please let me emphasize that using any curse is tricky, and biblical ones can be especially so.  Many of them are based on specific theological ideas about the Old Testament G-d and His will regarding the administration of justice.  If a curse isn’t justified, not only might it not work, it might backfire as according to the theology involved, the curse would go against G-d’s will, and thus invite destruction on the curser.   Basically, as always, be careful with curses.

To look at biblical curses historically, the first hurdle most folks have to leap is the hurdle of modern thinking.  Many who study the Bible are incredibly uncomfortable with the idea that it contains admonitions to do harm to others, yet it clearly does.  Repeatedly G-d tells his chosen people to exterminate tribes, towns, and even civilizations down to the last man, woman, and child (see Deuteronomy and I Samuel).  He inflicts suffering on even his most loyal subjects (see Job).  Some view this all as an historical account, or a gloss for political struggles in a religious context, or as something undone by New Testament theology.  Cursing in the Bible, though, is not limited to cataclysmic events on a national level or a cosmic wager between G-d and Satan—it’s often deeply personal.  There are several accounts in the Bible of G-d’s representatives dishing out curses:

2 Kings 2 – The prophet Elisha curses a group of children for calling him “bald,” and the children are eaten by a pair of bears.

Numbers 5 – A magical ritual is prescribed for determining if a woman has abeen unfaithful.  If she has and she is pregnant from her adultery, the ritual causes spontaneous abortion.

Acts 5 – Peter curses a man and woman who lied to him, and they die.

Acts 13 – Paul curses a man pretending to be an Apostle/sorcerer, and the man goes blind.

(You can read more about magic in the bible here, by the way)

It should be apparent, then, that the Bible doesn’t contain only sweetness and light and the works of a “good” G-d the way many modern people might prefer it.  Rather, it contains a mix of history, folklore, philosophy, and even some occult information straddling the line of morality on all accounts.  Rather than viewing it through the lens of today, when we might not understand why anyone would resort to cursing in the name of a higher power, it is helpful to have a little more perspective.  Theologian Tomas O Curraoin writes about curses in an article for the Irish Catholic digest The Furrow:

“The stand taken by the Old Testament was certainly uncompromising; whereas the contemporary world which influences us all is, to say the least, more accommodating. The maledictions found in the psalms are merely an expression of that fundamental attitude of the Old Testament to evil and to evil-doers. They take their origin in certain human situations, and express an attitude to God, to Life, to the cosmic struggle between good and evil, which is certainly not characteristic of the world-attitude today. In fact there is no question of justifying, in the sense of excusing, the use of curses in the psalms. The psalms are inspired, and do not need to be justified…” (from “The Malediction in the Psalms”).

(Please note here that O Curraoin makes the point that the Psalms themselves, as divine passages, do not need to be justified—I still stand by my point that the use of thes Psalms for cursing must be justified, however).  He goes on to point out that in many cases, the maledictive Psalms are really about justice for those who have no other recourse.  In a tribal system where many legal cases come down to one man’s word against another and where death is on the line for what we might consider minor transgressions, it’s not senseless to call upon G-d to smite one’s enemies before one is destroyed by them.  From a nationalist point of view, the enemy of a faithful follower is an enemy of the people, and thus of G-d, so again, a curse is a-okay.  And in the case of a curse against one who is simply acting immorally to wards his neighbors, well, that is still in line with the whole “G-d’s will” idea because the laws about morality supposedly come from G-d. Or as priest John J. Greehy puts it:

“We must be fair to the Psalmists. They had a keen sense of justice. They realized that there could be no real peace (shalom—the fullness of God’s promise in every sphere of life) unless justice, truth, freedom, even some loving were present in the land. So they invoked the divine justice against unrepentant sinners” (from “The Cursing Psalms” in The Furrow, Mar. 1978).

So, what we have is a system of last resort for someone without other recourse, backed by the most powerful forces he or she can muster.

In that vein, it shouldn’t be surprising that the poor and enslaved are the ones we find using cursing Psalms in history.  Harry M. Hyatt recorded a number of spells involving the Psalms among his Black informants, including some curses.  One particularly interesting example follows:

HOODOO PSALM SCRATCHED ON NEW TINPAN WITH NEW PIN OR NEEDLE OR NAIL TO
CONTROL

9783. Yo’ kin take a tinpan an’ control a person. Yo’ kin take a
brand-new tinpan an’ yo’ kin write – lemme see. Ah got it right heah, de
psalms yo’ find where it says “Vau – v-a-u.” Yo’ kin take that an’ write
that on a brand-new tinplate. (This psalm in which the word “Vau” is
used?) Yes Sir. It’s in psalms [the psalm of a hoodoo book] an’ yo’ kin
write that. But now yo’ don’t write it with a pencil or nuthin like
that. Yo’ take a needle or pin or new nail that’s sharp – anyting that’s
sharp except a pencil – an’ yo’ write that psalm on that tinplate. Then
yo’ kin take that tinplate an’ put it away where it won’t be disturbed
or be handled by anybody else. An’ you kin control that person if yo’
write that psalm fo’ them.

[Waycross, Ga., (1166), 1959:8.]

The Psalm in question is the acrostic Psalm 119, focusing specifically on the Hebrew letter “vau”in verses 41-48 and its portion of the overall Psalm.  From the King James Version:

41Let thy mercies come also unto me, O LORD, even thy salvation, according to thy word.

42So shall I have wherewith to answer him that reproacheth me: for I trust in thy word.

43And take not the word of truth utterly out of my mouth; for I have hoped in thy judgments.

44So shall I keep thy law continually for ever and ever.

45And I will walk at liberty: for I seek thy precepts.

46I will speak of thy testimonies also before kings, and will not be ashamed.

47And I will delight myself in thy commandments, which I have loved.

48My hands also will I lift up unto thy commandments, which I have loved; and I will meditate in thy statutes.

While this isn’t a particularly virulent bit of cursing, it is certainly not a pleasant spell, as it puts someone under the spellcaster’s control. Hyatt also records Psalms 20 and 93 being used to bind one’s enemies in a court situation, Psalms 35 and 102 being used to get rid of a troublesome enemy, and Psalm 70 to make them wither up and suffer.  I should go ahead and say that, of course, the use of cursing Psalms even in hoodoo is fairly limited compared to using Psalms for things like success, luck, love, and protection.  I generally interpret the large percentage of non-cursing spells in most folk magic practices probably indicates that curses should make up a minority of any witch’s magical work, but that’s just my perspective.

I think we’ll stop there today, as this is already a rather lengthy entry.  In my next post, I’ll be including a list of cursing Psalms and their intended effects, as well as any techniques you might use to bring them to fruition.  Until then, don’t do anything I wouldn’t do…

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

Podcast 14 – An Interview with Cat Yronwode

August 31, 2010

-SHOWNOTES FOR EPISODE 14-


Summary
Today we are truly blessed to have an interview with renowned rootworker and teacher Catherine Yronwode of the Lucky Mojo Co.  Then we briefly discuss Christianity in hoodoo.  Laine tells us about Magical Soap in WitchCraft, and Cory talks about Spiritual Cleansing Baths in Spelled Out.

Play:

Download:  New World Witchery – Episode 14

-Sources-
Some of Cat’s many wonderful sites:
Lucky Mojo – Her main site and online store
Lucky W Amulet Archive – A repository of info on lucky charms
Southern Spirits – Her site on Southern folklore and history
Arcane Archive – An archive of magical lore and practice from around the net
YIPPIE – The Yronwode Institute for the Preservation and Popularization of Indigenous Ethnomagicology
Herb Magic – A site on magical plants and roots
Missionary Independent Spiritual Church – The world’s smallest church, and part of the long tradition of Spiritual Churches in the United States
Association of Independent Readers and Rootworkers (AIRR) – A body of trained, professional rootworkers with experience and accountability
Hoodoo and Rootwork Course – One of the definitive training programs in traditional hoodoo
And, of course, her book Hoodoo Herb & Root Magic is often referenced on the blog and in the show.

Cory also reference’s Draja Mickaharic’s Spiritual Cleansing, a definitive guide on the topic.

Promos & Music
Title music:  “Homebound,” by Jag, from Cypress Grove Blues.  From Magnatune.
Promo 1- Inciting a Riot
Promo 2- Pagan in the Threshold


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