Posted tagged ‘coffin nails’

Blog Post 140 – Pins and Needles

October 13, 2011

Really, this entry should be called “pins & needles & spikes & nails & all other kinds of spiky things,” but that would have been an overly long title, so I’m standing by my choice. What I’ll be looking at today are folkloric occurrences of piercing devices as magical tools. This will probably overlap a bit with my entry on iron, but I’ll attempt to cover more new ground than old.

Probably one of the first things to come to mind when looking at sharp-and-pointy things is the popular “voodoo doll,” which is essentially a European-style poppet. These poppets are stuffed with botanicals, curious, dirt, rags, and/or personal items from the intended target and then manipulated to control him or her. Films and television frequently portray only harmful magic being done through these dolls, but a witch or conjurer can also use them to cast love spells, healing spells, or even health and wellness spells. I’ll probably try to do a separate entry on doll magic another time, but it’s worth a mention here, too, I think.

There are some African roots to the voodoo doll phenomenon,  including the minkisi minkondi, which were little wooden dolls from Kongo where spirits were thought to live. The doll’s owner would drive a spike into it to “provoke the forces within them” and then the owners would be able to command the spirit to perform certain tasks (Chireau, Black Magic: Religion & the African American Conjuring Tradition). Other cultures have certainly used small effigies of human beings to cause hurt or help, as well. Denise Alvarado has a book which examines these dolls in detail, including a look at corn dollies, fetishes, Greek kolossoi, and other similar magical poppets.

Of course pins and other sharp objects can be used to cause magical harm even without the use of a doll (which makes sense according to the Doctrine of Signatures, which has tremendous influence on much folk magic). Zora Neale Hurston recorded a sinister curse which involved taking nine new pins and nine new needles and boiling them in a nefarious formula called “Damnation Water” in order to cross one’s enemy (Hurston, Hoodoo in America). An old-world carry-over (likely from England, but found in Southern communities where conjure is common) says that burying a pin taken from the clothes of a living person with a dead person will cause the target to die within a year (William G. Black, Folk Medicine).

Probably the most One of the more gruesome application of pin-and-needle magic had little to  do with the magical effects of these tools, and all too much to do with their physical dangers: “One instance is given [in an account from 1895] of ‘toad heads, scorpion heads, hair, nine pins and needles baked in a cake and given to a child who became deathly sick’” (“Conjuring and Conjure-Doctors in the Southern United States,” Journal of American Folklore, p. 143). Curing magical maladies often involved finding pins used in spellwork and disposing of them in a ritual way: “He went at once to the hearth, took up a brick, and found sticking in a cloth six pins and needles. He took them up, put salt on them, and threw them in the river. The needles and pins were said to be the cause of so many pains”( “Conjuring…”, JAF, p.145).

A number of ‘Shut-up’ spells—tricks that involve tying the tongue of a gossip or potential witness against you in court—involve taking a slit tongue from an animal like a cow or sheep, packing it with hot peppers, vinegar, and/or salt along with the name paper of the target, and pinning it up with a number of pins and needles (usually nine, but not infrequently more).

Not all piercing spells used metal points. An account of Clara Walker, a former slave from Arkansas, describes her getting help from a rootworker who made a mud effigy of her master and ran a thron through the back of it, causing severe back pain in him (Chireau, Black Magic…)

Pins and needles needn’t be solely used in malicious work, however. A healing spell from England resembles wart charms in Appalachia and some of the rootworker cures from Hyatt’s Folklore of Adams County, requiring pins that have been used to poke or pierce a wart to be sealed in a bottle and buried in a newly-dug grave (Black, Folk Medicine).  An account of a mojo bag from the days of slavery tells of “a leather bag containing ‘roots, nuts, pins and some other things,’ which was given to [the slave] by an old man” (Chireau, Black Magic…). The purpose of this bag was to prevent whippings on the plantation where the slave toiled, which could be quite severe.

Pins are also frequently used in witch-bottle spells, which cover a number of different magical traditions, including this version from hoodoo: “Bottles of pungent liquids, pins, and needles were interred by practitioners or strung on trees as a snare for invisible forces” (Chireau, Black Magic…). It would be an egregious error of me not to at least mention coffin nails, too, which are frequently applied in hoodoo and conjure preparations. Usually these are used to inscribe candles with signs, figures, names, etc., but they can also be included in things like war water mixtures or mojo bags to cause hurt and violence. Interestingly, they can be used for protection and health, too. Binding two or four nails into a cross with a little wire or red thread creates a powerful anti-evil charm. Vance Randolph recorded that “nails taken from a gallows [not the same as coffin nails, but rather similar] are supposed to protect a man against venereal disease and death by violence” (OM&F). He also describes these nails being turned into rings by blacksmiths to be worn as protective amulets.

Another hoodoo application involves the use of a series of nails of increasing size, starting with little ‘brad’ nails and getting progressively bigger until you use railroad spikes at the end. The spell is often referred to as “nailing down the house” and requires a practitioner to start by putting the small brads into the corner of each room, and nailing them down, while speaking magic words about protection, prosperity, and stability. Then the conjurer takes bigger nails and nails down the four corners of the house, again praying the magic words. This pattern continues until the conjurer reaches the four corners of the property and nails down iron railroad spikes into the dirt, thus sealing the home from harm and ensuring that the owner will remain in the home and not be evicted. I’ve heard one rootworker say that adding a little urine to each of the nails helps with this work, too, as a way of “marking one’s territory.”

Sewing needles or hairpins can also be used in love spells, as in these from Adams County, Illinois:

  • 9641. The significance of a bending needle is a hug for the sewer.
  • 9650. If a girl tries on a dress pinned for a fitting, each pin catching in her petticoat or slip will represent a kiss before the day is over.
  • 9654. Before going to bed on January 21, a girl may tear off a row of pins (from a new package according to some) , say Let me see my future husband tonight as she pulls out each pin, and then stick them in the sleeve of her nightgown; that night he will be seen in her dream.
  • 9655. If a pin found on the floor or street is picked up and stuck in your coat, you will have a date before the week ends.
  • 9656. The girl who finds and picks up a pin pointing toward her will see her beau that day.
  • 9657. A girl finding and picking up a pin will be dated that night; the man will come from the direction towards which the pin points.
  • 9666. For luck in love a girl may secretly put one of her hairpins in her beau’s left hip pocket; this is also supposed to hold him.
  • 9669. If while walking along you pick up a large safety pin and name it a man you want to see, he will soon be seen; if a small safety pin and
  • name it a girl, she will soon be seen.

The binding power of pins in love spells makes a good bit of sense, and seems deeply entrenched in popular culture; think of high-schoolers being “pinned” (an antiquated notion, I know) or of the description of Cupid shooting arrows or darts to cause romantic feelings in his victim…er..targets. Amorous magic incorporating prickly things is not all lettermen jackets and floating nekkid babies, however. A somewhat heavier love spell from Zora Neale Hurston prevents a lover from straying:

Use six red candles. Stick sixty pins in each candle – thirty on each side. Write the name of the person to be brought back three times on a small square of paper and stick it underneath the candle. Burn one of these prepared candles each night for six nights. Make six slips of paper and write the name of the wanderer once on each slip. Then put a pin in the paper on all four sides of the name. Each morning take the sixty pins left from the burning of the candle. Then smoke the slip of paper with the four pins in it in incense smoke and bury it with the pins under your door step. The piece of paper with the name written on it three times (upon which each candle stands while burning) must be kept each day until the last candle is burned. Then bury it in the same hole with the rest. When you are sticking the pins in the candles, keep repeating:

‘Tumba Walla, Bumba Walla, bring (name of person desired) back to me.’ (Hurston, Hoodoo in America)

There are several agricultural spells which involve driving iron nails or spikes into trees to prevent fruit from dropping off of it (see Randolph, Hyatt, etc.). There’s a lovely bit of distinctly American folklore that says two iron nails driven into your bat will make you a better batter (in the game of baseball, that is).

Finally, I wanted to share an adorably sweet childhood rhyme does not use actual pins, but merely the words as part of a wishing spell performed when two people accidentally speak the same words at the same time. From Hyatt’s Folklore of Adams Co.:

8643. After two persons speak the same thing at the same time, the little finger of the one is held crooked about the little finger of the other and these words spoken alternately:
‘Needles, Pins,
Triplets, Twins,
When a man marries,
His troubles begin,
What goes up the chimney,
Smoke, Knives,
Forks, Longfellow,
Shortfellow.’
They then make a wish and together say Thumbs.

I know there are dozens more applications of pins-and-pokey-bits magic I am not listing here, but hopefully this gives you some idea of what you can do with a simple sewing needle or a couple of iron nails. Magical tools are everywhere, if you know what you’re looking for, and how to use them. But for now, I’ve waxed on long enough about this topic, so let’s stick a pin in it and call it done.

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

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Blog Post 130 – War Water

June 7, 2011

In my Spelled Out section of Podcast 30, I gave the recipe and basic uses of a conjure formula called War Water. For those who didn’t have a pen handy, I thought now would be a good time to provide a little of the provenance, process, and practice surrounding this mixture.

War Water, which is also commonly called Mars Water or Iron Water, is in its most essential form, simply water in which iron has been allowed to rust. The presence of iron in the water gives it a reddish-brown hue, looking a bit like blood even in some cases. Draja Mickaharic makes a good case for why iron’s presence in the water empowers it:

“Iron is the metal of the planet Mars, the planet astrologers credit with ruling warfare and combat, as well as sex. Used either for defense or attack, war water is a strong carrier of the negative emotional energy used in magical battles” (Century of Spells, p. 27).

Mickaharic also points out that the formula was originally used to treat anemia (an iron deficiency in the blood), though far better treatments are now available. Cat Yronwode notes on her site that the Martian association indicates that it is not originally an African recipe: “Since the Roman god Mars was the god of war and his symbolic metal was iron, it seems pretty clear that War Water is a European contribution to hoodoo” (“War Water” par. 1). Despite its origins, however, this particular magical mixture is firmly planted in hoodoo and conjure practice now.

So how does a person make War Water? Almost every source—except one—agree that the basic recipe involves putting cut iron of some type into a container, covering it with a bit of water, and letting it rust. There are plenty of variations, sometimes depending on the intent, and sometimes just depending on who’s telling you how to make it. Judika Illes breaks down the formula by intent:

Protective War Water

  • Iron nails (cut iron), ones that rust easily
  • Enough water to cover nails in a mason jar
  • Let rust for about 7-10 days (open periodically to allow oxidation)
  • Keep adding water as the rust builds
  • Strain and use as needed (but discard if bacteria form)

Malevolent War Water

  • Thunderstorm water in a jar
  • Rusty nails, sulfur, and urine

(Encylopedia of 5000 Spells, p. 1080)

This formulation is essentially the same as the one found in Draja Mickaharic’s Century of Spells, though Mickaharic’s version is a bit looser, calling for about 3/4 pound of cut iron nails in a 2 quart bottle. These are covered with tap water and allowed to rust. After the rust begins, more water is added, and the bottle is covered (though occasionally uncovered for rusting purposes).

The alternative recipe comes from the normally quite reputable Zora Neale Hurston’s “Hoodoo in America,” in which she describes War Water as “Oil of Tar in water (filtered)” (p. 412). Oil of Tar is essentially a thick distillate of creosote or burned pine resin—which is carcinogenic and dangerous. A reasonable substitution for Oil of Tar would be turpentine, another pine distillate with slightly less caustic properties. However, almost every formulary I found other than Hurston’s had separate distinctions for War Water and a formula called “Tar Water,” which is much more like Hurston’s recipe and which is used to remove psychic sludge from one’s life. I would then conclude that Hurston recorded the Tar Water recipe as a War Water recipe in error, or quite possibly an editor inserted this formula without knowing the difference (which commonly happened to Hurston’s work).

There are also additional ingredients that you can add to the water to help “flavor” it for your magical purposes. One of the most common additions is Spanish moss, a dense vegetal beard which covers trees in the Deep South. Once it begins to rot in the liquid, it turns the mixture black and gives it a decaying scent. Adding sulphur or gunpowder would also give it a powerfully aggressive and dangerous vibe. My teacher, Stephanie Palm, makes a formula that basically takes Mississippi River water and turns it into War Water with these sorts of additions in it, which she calls “Swamp Water.”

Once you have War Water, how do you use it? There are several methods for deploying this water, depending on just what your final intent might be. If you only intend to use the most basic rust-water formula for protective purposes, here are some ways you might apply it:

  • As an addition to a spiritual bath
  • As a wash for the outside of your home or business
  • As a sprinkle for any letters or papers you might be sending out to someone hostile to you (such as legal papers)

The most common use of War Water, however, is as a component of psychic warfare. Cat Yronwode says of it:

“To use it, you shake a bottle up and hurl it at the doorstep of your enemy, where it should break, leaving a rusty, dangerously sharp mess for him or her to step in. When i was a young woman coming up in the East Bay in the 1960s, War Water was used by fractious root workers to declare occult war on each other. Since these folks were already at odds to the extent that they could not simply walk into each other’s yards and smash the glass bottle on the doorstep, they would make “drive by” attacks, rumbling through the residential streets of Oakland in the midnight hour and tossing bottles of War Water into the yards of their enemies, like occult Molotov cocktails. Ah, those were the days …” (“War Water” par. 4).

In Jim Haskins’ Voodoo & Hoodoo, he says that to use War Water you should “obtain the nest of a dirt dauber, break it apart and mix it with graveyard dirt. Put the mixture in a bottle with War Water and shake it up. Smash it on the person’s walkway” (p. 130).  Hurston does not mention smashing the bottle, but she does call for sprinkling it in front of an enemy’s house. She also provides a secondary method which requires that you “take a fresh black hen’s egg, make a hole big enough to get the egg out and take the names, pepper sauce and mustard and fill the egg up and soak it in War Water for nine days and throw ito ver the house, and it will cross the house and they will have to move away” (“Hoodoo in America,” p. 375).

As a final note, if you are considering starting a psychic war, Draja Mickaharic makes a good case for having sturdy defenses in place before beginning any attack:

“If you are going to declare psychic war on someone you should mop your stairs, porch, doorway, and any outside surfaces of your home on which anything can be cast or thrown before you begin the war. This ensures that you will be protected when the other person’s inevitable counterattack comes. In most cases War Water will cause any spell which is placed on your doorstep to rebound instantly to the sender.” (Century of Spells, p. 28)

So that’s War Water. My own personal inclinations with this water would be to use a railroad spike, coffin nails, and urine in a jar for defensive and protective magic, while perhaps using coffin nails, goofer dust, red pepper, sulphur/gunpowder, and Spanish moss for a more aggressive formula. But that’s just me, and quite frankly I have yet to need either of these formulas. My only real experience with War Water thusfar is as a spiritual bath for protection, and in that case only in it’s iron-and-water form. It seemed to work fine, so unless the need for a more advanced concoction presents itself, that’s probably as far as I’d take it.

If you have used this formula or one like it and want to share, please do.

Thanks for reading!

-Cory


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