Posted tagged ‘colonial’

Blog Post 177 – Treasure Hunting

July 16, 2013

“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).

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Blog Post 128 – Iron

May 25, 2011

North American history has a funny relationship with iron.  On the one hand, iron is largely behind the early expansion that allowed Europeans to dominate the continent so completely with weapons, locomotives, and durable goods and architecture.  On the other hand, it has also been a curse used to inflict injury and death on undeserving people and leading others to rip the very soil of the land apart in search of it.  So maybe it’s not so much of a “funny” relationship as it is one fraught with difficulty and complexity.

American folklore, however, has largely good things to say about iron.  It’s a powerful anti-witchcraft charm and can be used to repel things like wicked fairies attempting to replace a baby with a changeling.  It can come in the form of nails, railroad spikes, horseshoes, or even just random flakes falling as refuse from a blacksmith’s anvil.

Today I thought I’d look at a few of the bits of folklore regarding iron.  Before we look at the New World side of things, though, let’s look at iron in a slightly older context: Roman superstition.

“The taboo on iron dates from the beginning of the Iron Age when religious conservatism forbade the use of the strange new material in place of the usual bronze. It has been suggested that the magic significance of iron arose from its susceptibility to magnetism which, as the superstitious Romans often believed, it derived from witchcraft” (from Taboo, Magic, Spirits, by E.E. Burriss)

Here we see that iron is associated with witchcraft and has a somewhat negative reputation.  Even the Romans, though, were not averse to using witchcraft to fight witchcraft, and so iron became a de facto tool for combating wicked witchery, and by extension, any other harmful supernatural force (ghosts, demons, fairies, etc.).

Other cultures picked up the thread (or started their own threads), seeing iron as a powerful magical tool.  African, pan-Celtic, and Northern European cultures all had particular beliefs about iron and its more enchanted properties, so it probably surprises no one that the Old World traditions regarding iron became the standard beliefs in the New World.

So what are those New World beliefs?  Let’s look at some examples from a few different areas:

From the Colonial Period, South Carolina
In the Joshua Gordon “Witchcraft Book,” (also sometimes called a Commonplace Book) dated from 1784, there is an example of the type of charm typically imported to the colonies from places like England and Ireland in which a heated iron is used to scald milk from a bewitched cow in order to undo witchcraft:

“A cow losing milk could be cured if its owners would ‘take a heather belonging to a box Iron, put it in the fire, and make it Red hot [and then] take the milk of the cows thats hurt [and] power [i.e., pour] on the hot iron repeating the names of the blessed trinity’” (from “ Magic, Astrology, and the Early American Religious Heritage, 1600-1760,” by Jon Butler in The American Historical Review).

This method is commonly found in folktales from Appalachia, such as the next entry.

From the late 19th- or early 20th-century, Tennessee (Appalachian foothills)
Again, a hot iron is used to scald milk and thus undo bewitchment:

“Another case of the use of heat, combined with iron and steel, is shown in the following account, also resulting in injury to the witch and her exorcism. Lewis Hopkins, formerly of Big Creek just beyond the park bounds [The Great Smoky Mountains National Park] told this unusual tale:
My grandmother’s folk had a cow and she give bloody milk.  An old lady, a Phillips, was accused of being a witch. So they got to talkin’ to Sam Evans who said he was a witch doctor and knowed about witches. The witch doctor told the folks to put a baker lid [i.e., the lid of a Dutch oven] in the fire. So they pecked it on with a reap hook [like a scythe or sickle]. So this old women Phillips come to this old man Evans and raised a fuss with him about tellin’ him what to do. They got into a fight and this old man pulled her dress up and they saw the pecks where they was a reap hook a-hackin’ at her. [But] she jumped out and got away from him” (from A Tennessee Folklore Sampler, by Ted Olson, et al).

Other cases of heated irons being used to procure magical results also abound, as we shall see momentarily.

From the 19th-century, Mississippi
In some places, iron implements are not so much valued as remnants of iron from a blacksmith’s shop.  Here is one account of “anvil dust” as it relates to Southern conjure practices:

“Anvil dust is also greatly valued as conjure material. One educated blacksmith of Columbus, Miss., tells me that people are constantly coming into his shop to get the black flakes that fall from the hot iron when it is pounded, although they always look ashamed and give a fictitious reason as to why they want it” (from Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro by Newbell N. Puckett).

This anvil dust is basically iron filings or flakes, and can be found in hoodoo practice as food for magically empowered lodestones.  Or it can be used to help create a cursing formula known as War Water (I’ll hopefully address the creation of this product in a separate post).  Interestingly, these two uses would seem diametrically opposed, with one being the food for an attracting magical fetish, and the other being an ingredient in a banishing potion. I would assert, however, that in these cases the iron serves a similar function on a magical level—with the lodestone it helps broaden the field of attraction for the stone while simultaneously running bad luck away, and in the War Water it’s repelling evil.  So in both cases, there is an element of something being turned away.  That is simply a way for me to reconcile these differences, however, and my come down to rationalization.

From the 19th– or 20th– Century, Ozark Mountains
Old favorite of New World Witchery, Vance Randolph, lists several methods for using iron as a magical tool (I omit the horseshoe lore which I have previously covered in another post, however):

  • “Nails taken from a gallows are supposed to protect a man against venereal disease and death by violence. Country blacksmiths used to secure these nails and hammer them out into finger rings”
  • “A little iron wire worn as a necklace, according to some power doctors, will protect a child from whooping cough”
  • “The water in which a blacksmith cools his irons is supposed to be good for witched cattle and is  sometimes given to human beings also, particularly children” (from Ozark Magic & Folklore, by Vance Randolph)

The last method mentioned is one I found repeated in several sources.  The power and provenance of “anvil water” or “slack water” seems to be well known across several cultures.

From the 20th-century, Illinois
To illustrate my point from the last section, I thought I’d share a bit of folklore from the Midwest, collected by ethnographer Harry M. Hyatt (who famously collected much of the lore about Southern conjure and hoodoo practices):

  • “A piece of old iron hung over the front and back door prevents the spirit of the recent dead from haunting you”
  • “Five nails driven into the trunk prevent the fruit from falling off the tree.  ‘My father did this when fruit was dropping off: drive those old- fashion square iron nails in the tree to hold the fruit on the tree. Never use wire nails; it must be the old iron nails’”
  • “Water from the tub in which a blacksmith cools hot iron is a good wash for the sore udders of a cow”
  • “A broken-winded horse (a horse with heaves) becomes well, if given water in which a blacksmith cools hot iron”
  • “Your looks will be improved if you wash your face frequently with the water in which a blacksmith cools hot iron”
  • “Slack-water, the water in which a blacksmith cools hot iron, is a good wash for poison ivy” (from Folklore of Adams County, by Harry M. Hyatt).

The first two bits are interesting, especially with the death connection, but the last four show that the slack water was considered a sort of cure-all magical formula.  I don’t know about you, but I think I need to make friends with a blacksmith, and quickly!

That’s it for iron, for now at least.  What I’ve written here is only the tip of a very large and ferrous iceberg.  As I said, I didn’t get into the related topic of War Water in the hopes it will appear in another post at a later date.  And I also didn’t touch on the lore of blacksmiths, specifically, as I hope to cover that in some depth later (our next podcast will have a bit about them, in fact).

If you have any local or family lore regarding iron and its magical properties, I would love to hear them!

Thanks for reading,

-Cory

Blog Post 105 – Magic Books in the American Colonies: The Devil’s Book

December 3, 2010

In an effort to blend the subjects of recent blog posts, I thought today I’d start to look at a few of the key magical texts which would have had an influence on the American Colonies.  Much of this entry will be directed by a reading of Owen Davies’ Grimoires: A History of Magic Books and Witchcraft, Magic, & Religion in 17th-Century Massachusetts by Richard Weisman, both of which I highly recommend reading.  I am also pulling from The Silver Bullet by Hubert J. Davis and Witches, Ghosts, & Signs by Patrick Gainer.  I’ll mostly be looking at the English colonies, but the French and Spanish colonies will also enter into the discussion a bit during later articles.

In general, the magical books of the early colonies came in three flavors:  devil’s books, witch-hunting manuals, and grimoires.  The Devil’s Book was frequently thought by Puritan settlers to be the ultimate embodiment of human sin—a willful signing away of one’s soul to infernal powers.  By simply signing one’s name to such a book, a witch gained all her power and lost all her salvation (I use “her” because the popular conception of a witch tended towards the feminine, though male witches were not uncommon either).  Some of the key features of a Devil’s Book and its accompanying rituals were:

The Profaning of the Bible – The witch would have to stamp upon a Bible or otherwise deface it before being allowed to sign.  In some cases, a Bible itself was used to sign the witch into the Devil’s service.  Several Appalachian tales record instances of witches simply making an “X” in a marred Bible to indicate their pact.  In The Silver Bullet, witch Rindy Sue Gose performs this sort of ritual to seal her contract with the Devil:

“Fust, Rinday Sue cut her finger with a knife, and when hit started to bleed, she opened a little Bible and ‘peared to write sumpthin’ in hit with the blood from her finger.  The Devil then nipped her on the left shoulder to give her a witchmark so’s she could suckle her familiar.  Rindy Sue swore to give her soul to the Devil and to work for him the rest of her born days.  Then, the Devil danced with her, and then went into the woods behindst thet tree” (Davis 17).

This action echoes the profaning of the Lord’s name or the recitation of a reversed “Our Father” as a way of breaking the bonds of Christianity for a witch.  Not that you should read much into that, of course.

The Use of Blood as Ink – When witches made their mark, they often didn’t actually sign their name.  In a time when general literacy was still low (though it should be noted that literacy among Puritan men was quite high for the era), not everyone would be expected to have a “signature.”  Instead, they would have a “mark,” often an “X” which they used as an indication of their agreement to a contract.  To personalize this mark in the rituals of witchcraft, a witch wouldn’t simply take an inked quill and make a fancy “X,” though.  Instead, her blood was an indication that the pact bound her body and soul to the Devil.  Puritan minister William Perkins described the process (most business-like) as follows:

“The express and manifest compact is so termed, because it is made by solemn words on both parties.  For the satisfying hereof, he [the future witch] gives to the devil for the present, either his own handwriting, or some part of his blood as a pledge and earnest penny to bind the bargain” (Weisman 36).

The Devil sometimes used a great iron pen to draw the blood from the witch before having him sign his name, and in cases where the book was not a defaced Bible, the great book contained hundreds of other blood signatures from other witches.

Owen Davies observes in his book that the drawing up of a pact between a witch or sorcerer and an infernal representative was nothing new—look at the legend of Faust for example.  What made these New World magical compacts unique was that the witch did not draw up the document herself, but rather was lured into signing a book which she would not take possession of, but rather which remained in the custody of her magical Master.  All her magic, then, would be learned without the aid of books, at least in this model of New England Colonial witchcraft.  Indeed, the Devil presented himself or his imps to the witch as her means for accomplishing malefic magic rather than gifting her the use of dusty tomes of magical lore and spells.  In short, the Devil’s Book was merely a roster of the souls won to his service, and possessed little magical power in and of itself, at least superficially.  However, many witches might claim that a deeper reading of the Devil’s Book phenomenon reveals that the act of writing in blood on a sacred object in fact demonstrates a type of very old and powerful magic.  Thus, such a book, if it could be wrested from the Devil, would be very powerful, indeed, perhaps containing the magic of all those who had signed before.

Next time we pick up this thread, we’ll be looking at the witch-hunting books, and why they may have actually helped more witches in their spellcrafting than they actually hurt by “revealing” them.

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

Blog Post 104 – (A Little) More Colonial (and Native American) Magic

November 30, 2010

I thought in honor of the recent Thanksgiving festivities—at least those here in the US (and with a belated bow to the harvest feasting in Canada), I would take a brief look at some of the magical practices circulating around the time of that “first Thanksgiving.”  The people who arrived in places like Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay to settle the New World—never mind it was already quite settled by its native inhabitants—are commonly referred to as Pilgrims, and contemporarily would have been known as Separatists.  Thinking about that late autumn gathering, when the local Pawtuxet tribe and the Separatists who had survived the harsh New England winter and managed to put together enough bounty for the coming cold season gathered at the table, is a sort of fond romance or fantasy.  Often we imagine the Indians in their deerskins and the Pilgrims in their blackest hats with the shiniest buckles on them.  The staunch Calvinism of the Separatists contrasts with the “noble savage” imagery of the Natives, their shared meal demonstrating two very different worlds breaking bread together.  Yet both groups shared many things in common, including a set of magical practices aimed at protecting their homes and blessing themselves with prosperity.

The fear of malefic witchcraft—which would eventually go on to spawn the famous “witch hunts” of Colonial America—stirred hearts on both sides of the table.  Each group had its own charms, talismans, prayers, and formulas for dealing with the dangers of spiteful magic.  The Pilgrims, drawing on their English heritage, had all sorts of magical tricks up their black-and-white sleeves for defeating evil witches and devils:

“Legal actions against malefic witchcraft merely represented the final point of defense against what were perceived as destructive magical powers.  Prior to entering his complaint into the legal domain, the colonial villager could draw upon a variety of protective magical formulas to maintain some sort of equilibrium between good and evil mystical forces.  Several of these techniques—by no means an exhaustive list—were mentioned in a sermon delivered by Deodat Lawson…’The Sieve and Scyssers [Scissors]; the Bible and Key; the white of an Egge in the Glass; the Horse-shoe nailed on the threshold; a stone hung over a rack in the Stable.’” (Weisman 40)

Looking at these specific examples, we can see a few things which indicate that magic among the Pilgrims was not so uncommon.

The Sieve & Scissors – These items were commonly used in fortune telling games by young girls, particularly on exciting nights like Halloween.  They could also be used to confuse or cut a witch, magically speaking.  The Sieve and Shears appear in Aggripa’s Three Books of Occult Philosophy, as well.

The Bible & Key – The Bible was considered to have inherent magical and protective abilities, and the key likely held the symbolism of “locking away” or “locking out” any harmful witchcraft.  The use of the two together also formed the basis of a spell recounted in Reginald Scot’s Discoverie of Witchcraft:  “Popish preests …doo practice with a psalter and a keie fastned upon the 49[th] psalme, to discover a theefe” (Scot, Chapter V).

The Egg White in a Glass – This is another method of divination involving cracking an egg into a clear glass or jar of water, then reading the resulting shapes, strings, bubbles, and colors found in the glass.  Curanderismo continues to use this method as a regular part of cleansing and reading practice even today.

The Horse-shoe on the Threshold – This particular charm moves out of the realm of divination and into prosperity and protection magic.  We covered horseshoes on our Lucky Charms podcast, and you can read all about them at the Lucky W Amulet Archive page on the subject.  The iron in the shoe, plus the somewhat mystical nature of the animal associated with it, imbued this charm with the power to block witchcraft and provide good luck to those passing under it as they entered a Pilgrim’s household.

The Stone in the Stable – The stone referred to in this charm would likely have been a holed stone, one which had been naturally eroded to leave a gap by which it was then hung in places needing protection from malefic activity.  Sarah over at Forest Grove wrote a bit about these holed stones, saying “In the UK it was used as a protection charm as the locals believed that by tying their front door key or the stable door key to a hole stone they would protect the building it hung upon.”  This, much like the horseshoe, was primarily protective, but a holed stone could also be used to “see” witches and other Otherworldly entities by peering through the gap.

Looking to the Natives’ side of the table, we find that charms to provide protection and blessing were also common among the Algonquin tribes of New England (Algonquin being a language and not an actual tribe, I use the term here to blanket a wide number of groups sharing a more-or-less common landscape and tongue).  Charles Leland (admittedly a questionable source on some matters of folklore, but not without his merits) wrote of many New England Native magical practices.  He compares the workings of Native shamans with the work of Catholic priests in one passage of his book The Algonquin Legends of New England: Tales of Magic:

“For wherever Shamanism exists, there is to be found, in company with it, an older sorcery, or witchcraft, which it professes to despise, and against which it does battle. As the Catholic priest, by Bible incantations or scriptural magic, exorcises devils and charms cattle or sore throats, disowning the darker magic of older days, so the Shaman acts against the real wizard.”

Leland recounts several legends of warriors and magical Indians doing battle with terrible spirits, the dead, and other dangerous forces.  In one tale, a chief’s son, described as “a great hunter, and skilled in mysteries” decides to marry.  In his efforts to get a wife, he sets out on a journey in which he acquires many talismanic and shamanic tools.  One of them is a golden key pulled from a whale’s mouth, which the whale tells him has great protective power:  “While you have it you will be safe against man, beast, or illness. The foe shall not harm you; the spirits which haunt the wilderness shall pass you by; hunger and pain shall not know you; death shall not be in your road.”  The key, then, appears in both the European and Native magical traditions as a powerful amulet.

As a final note on the magic of Native Americans, let us turn from the groaning board of the Thanksgiving feast and look at another magical practice:  fasting.  In an 1866 article entitled “Indian Superstitions,” Francis Parkman describes the use of ritual fasting in order to acquire a Manitou, or guardian spirit:

“Each primitive Indian has his guardian manitou, to whom he looks for counsel, guidance, and protection. These spiritual allies are acquired by the following process. At the age of fourteen or fifteen, the Indian boy smears his face with black, retires to some solitary place, and remains for days without food. Superstitious expectancy and the exhaustion of famine rarely fail of their results. His sleep is haunted by visions, and the form which first or most often appears is that of his guardian manitou, a beast, a bird, a fish, a serpent, or some other object, animate or inanimate. An eagle or a bear is the vision of a destined warrior ; a wolf, of a successful hunter; while a serpent foreshadows the future medicine man, or, according to others, portends disaster…The young Indian thenceforth wears about his person the object revealed in his dream, or some portion of it—as a bone, a feather, a snake-skin, or a tuft of hair. This, in the modern language of the forest and prairie, is known as his “medicine.” The Indian yields to it a sort of wor ship, propitiates it with offerings of tobacco, thanks it in prosperity, and upbraids it in disaster. If his medicine fails to bring him the desired success, he will sometimes discard it and adopt another” (Parkman 4).

Feast or famine, magic has long been on American soil (and Canadian, Central American, & South American soils as well).  So as you eat your turkey leftovers, you could crack an egg into a glass of water, pull out some scissors and a sieve, or maybe even think about putting the food aside for a while and seeing what comes to you in your dreams.  It might add a little New World Witchery to your holiday.  Which, of course, makes me feel pretty darn thankful.

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

Podcast 3 – Hot & Cold Spells, A Story, and A Contest

February 8, 2010

-SHOWNOTES FOR EPISODE 3-

Summary

In this episode, we talk about periods of waxing and waning interest in witchcraft, and how to get out of non-practicing rut.  Then we have a reading of “Young Goodman Brown” by Nathaniel Hawthorne.  We also announce our first ever contest (make sure to listen all the way to the end of the show).

Play:

Download:  New World Witchery – Episode 3

-Sources-

Young Goodman Brown,” by Nathaniel Hawthorne

We also mention A Pagan in the Threshold in this podcast, which is another excellent Pagan podcast.

Promos & Music

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

Promo 1- A Pagan in the Threshold

Promo 2- Forest Grove Botanica

Promo 3- The Celtic Myth Podshow

Contest

Our first ever contest!  We’re looking for weather lore, so please submit yours for a chance to win our prize, a copy of Cat Yronwode’s Hoodoo Root & Herb Magic. Please see Blog Post 11 – A Contest! for more details.

Blog Post 6 – More Colonial Witchcraft

January 19, 2010

I couldn’t resist the urge to share a few more witchy stories and spells from the early American period.  Let’s start with a little history.  Most folks know about the famous Salem, MA (or rather, Danvers, MA to be more accurate) witch trials.  While these were certainly a major phenomenon in our collective history, Massachusetts was only one colony among thirteen.  So what about witchcraft in the other colonies?

Generally speaking, witchcraft was not treated with such a hard nose nor such an iron fist in other parts of Colonial America.  Witchcraft was generally frowned upon, true, but only in that the term “witchcraft” meant intentional magical malfeasance against one’s neighbors.  Any such bad behavior—stealing, slandering, etc.—was met with equal disdain.  There were witchcraft trials, but these were mostly settled with civil penalties rather than criminal punishments, and religious insurrection did not seem to enter into the argument.  Gerald C. Milne, in his tome, Signs, Cures, & Witchery, describes one a Pennsylvania witch trial as overseen by state founder William Penn himself:

“Penn dismissed the charge of bewitching cattle…and suggested (tongue in cheek)that there was no law against ‘riding a broom’ in Pennsylvania.  He found her guilty onlyof having a ‘witch’s reputation’ and ordered her to practice good behavior.”

In Pennsylvania, the growing tradition of Pow-wow meant that most settlers in that area were at least familiar with the idea of magic, and recognized that it could be used to heal as well as harm.  Chris Bilardi, in his excellent book The Red Church, discusses braucheri, or German-American folk magic and healing.  He makes the point that in many communities, a braucher was an essential part of local life, and would no more have been thought of as a “witch” than a country doctor or veterinarian.

In Virginia, by 1706 it was a crime to accuse someone of being a witch at all, as it was a form of slander to a person’s character.  No acts of witchcraft after that time were brought to capital trial in that state.  In North Carolina, a similar legal precedent was set when a case was dismissed against a woman in 1712, despite her clear confession to the practice of witchcraft.  More is available on these incidents here and here.

Still, despite the leniency of most colonies, the chief impressions of American witchcraft from the early days of the Republic have been drawn from those dark days in Salem.  To that end, I thought it would be worth looking at a literary example of witch-lore.

Young Goodman Brown, by Nathaniel Hawthorne (I like this version myself, as it is a PDF, but a quick Google search of the title will yield webpage versions of the tale).

I’ll not reprint the entire story here, but I do recommend reading this chilling—and weirdly funny at times—tale of witchcraft in a Puritan village.  Hawthorne had a conflicted relationship with witches (his great-great grandfather was a judge at the Salem trials, a fact young Nathaniel would do his best to overcome).  The entire tale portrays the spectral encounter of its title character with a town full of occult and devilish witches, and doesn’t make the witches particularly sympathetic at first glance—in fact, the witches seem to be primarily interested in corrupting Goodman Brown and turning him into a diabolical reveler.  However, I tend to take the story’s “wicked witch” bent as being critical of the Puritan society to which Hawthorne was so embarrassed to have been connected.  There are MANY elements of traditional witchcraft embedded in this piece of fiction, including:

  • Meeting a fetch-self/”devil” on a crooked road
  • Crossing thresholds (forest boundaries or doorways, for example)
  • A serpentine staff, not entirely unlike a stang
  • A “flying ointment” recipe, of sorts
  • “Staff-riding” to travel great distances quickly
  • A Witches’ Sabbath, and an initiation (sort of)

In the end, Goodman Brown is unsure if his encounter was a dream or reality, but it leaves him changed anyway, which can be said for many witches and their experiences between the worlds, I think.

Finally, I thought another witchy (and somewhat less grave) story set in those early days might be a good way to end this post.  This one is from Rhode Island, and is recorded in In Old Narraganset, by  Alice Morse Earle-1898 (a word of warning, this tale is recorded from an earlier time, and the author clearly did not have a problem portraying racial stereotypes in the broadest and most demeaning fashion…I present the tale here because its magical significance is real, not because its characters or authorial tone are worthy of emulation).  From archive.org:

“The Witch Sheep” by Alice Morse Earle.

There are a few things I like about this story.  Firstly, that the magical aspects of the tale are fully integrated with daily life—no one questions Tuggie’s abilities, and her occult power doesn’t lead others to shun her unless she’s actually doing a working against them.  That the wife actually likes to have Tuggie around during soap-making because she can charm the project and make it work is particularly noteworthy to me.  Secondly, I think it’s interesting that “Voodoo” (which sounds more like hoodoo in this story) was a part of the magical landscape up in Rhode Island at this point, and that there are several types of spells with good hints as to how they might be executed in this tale.  The rabbit’s foot that Tuggie boils in the pot to work her “project” on Mum Amey makes me think that she was trying to cause her lots of little accidents and stumbles, but nothing seriously harmful.  Well, that or there was some kind of Fatal Attraction thing going on.  And the final thing I enjoy about this tale is that it is funny.  For all the magic in the story, and the hexing and witchery and other toil-an-trouble, in the end it’s a story about a sheep in drag, and that’s downright amusing.  At least to me.

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

Blog Post 3 – Some Examples of Colonial Magic & Witch-lore

January 14, 2010

Magic in America has been around for a long time.  Today I thought I’d present a few examples of magical lore and charms as practiced in America from its first contact with European culture through around the early 19th century.  Note that this is not an attempt to create any kind of authenticated, unbroken lineage for the practice of religious witchcraft, but rather some illustrations of American witchcraft in its practical and literary forms.  I hope you enjoy!

“[T]his way of discovering Witches [by forcing a confession or demonstration of witchcraft], is no better than that of putting the Urine of the afflicted Person into a Bottle, that so the Witch may be tormented and discovered: The Vanity and Superstition of which practice I have formerly shewed, and testified against. There was a Conjurer his name was Edward Drake who taught a Man to use that Experiment for the Relief of his afflicted Daughter, who found benefit thereby; But we ought not to practice Witchcraft to discover Witches, nor may we make use of a White healing Witch (as they call them) to find out a Black and Bloody one.”

-From The Wonders of the Invisible World, by Cotton & Increase Mather, 1693

In the passage above, taken from a text by two rather notorious witch-hunters in Colonial history, there are a couple of things well worth noting.  First, there’s a good broad reference to the famous witch-bottle, about which there are plenty of theories.  Generally a witch-bottle is a glass or ceramic jar filled with pins, nails, bits of iron and glass, and other unpleasant things.  Urine is then added to the bottle (depending on who you talk to, it may be one’s own urine or the urine of a “target;” some modern witches use spit instead of urine).  The bottle is the buried, again depending on the lore you find, in either one’s yard or far, far away from one’s home.  It then acts to tear apart any harmful spells or spirits that come against the bottle’s creator, or in some cases it may cause a particular wicked witch physical torment, thereby revealing her.  I tend to go with the protective interpretation of it, and the burial on my own property.  In that way it works sort of like a “ward” to me.  But I could go on forever about witch-bottles, and might spend some time on a future podcast discussing them.  For now, their existence in Colonial New England is enough to go forward.  The second point of interest in this passage is the reference to the “White healing Witch” near the end of the entry.  This relates back to the Cunning Folk of Merry Olde England, who were known to repel the spells and works of “Black and Bloody” witches (their “repelling” power earned them the nickname “pellars” or “pellers,”  a term which is sometimes used by modern Wiccans as a derogatory epithet).

Next, let’s look at some of the charms used in rural New England pre-20th century:

“For generations back the Gloucester [Rhode Island] farmers have believed in wizardry.  They will do much of their work only during the full of the moon.  Otherwise they would expect to die or have very bad luck.  Planting must not be done until the signs of the zodiac are propitious, and gardens must never be plowed on Fridays.  Even a tooth must not be pulled unless the stars are right; if it is, it will come hard and cause great suffering.

Pork, if killed during the small of the moon [waning], will shrink to nothing in cooking, while that butchered at the full moon will continue white and firm.  To insure luck in the management of domestic animals, the sign of the zodiac must be in the leg.  The wishbones of all fowls are preserved on sticks.  Some families keep hundreds on hand all the time.  When the zodiacal sign is in the head, then the Gloucester people believe that one can do the most at catching pickerel and can hook the biggest fish.  Hence the almanac hung by the kitchen fireplace in all Gloucester houses is a thing that settlers could not live without.  Its study, if one would reap good harvests, ‘catch’ good clamming tides, and avoid misfortune, is imperative.

These people also believe that if you take up a black snake and bite it your teeth will never decay; that if the nails are pared on a Friday, toothache will be prevented, and that a child born in the heat of the day can see into the future, and will be exempt from the influences of witchcraft.  A ship that has such a one on board they say will never sink.”

-From “Ghosts and Witchcraft:  A region in New England where superstition thrives,” New York Times.  6 April 1889

This little entry—which dates from the late 19th century but relates traditions likely stretching back to pre-Revolutionary times—is loaded with interesting magical lore.  Much of it relates to the practice of farming according to the phases of the moon or the signs of the zodiac (see the excellent first volume of the Foxfire book series for more information on this concept).  The inclusion of healing by the zodiac is also interesting, and I believe that it also shows up along with farming by celestial design in Vance Randolph’s Ozark Magic & Folklore.  The basic idea behind this practice is that the influence of the moon—and to some extent the stars—on the natural cycles of earth and people can be predicted and used to improve conditions.  For example, one would plant root crops and tubers in the dark of the moon because they grow in darkness.  There are many who swear by this kind of farming.

The other scatterings of folk charms and remedies, such as biting a black snake to carry away tooth rot, are based more on the principle of sympathetic magic.  The black snake carries the black rot into the black earth, where it will dissipate and never harm the person again.

What has all this to do with witchcraft, then?  Well, a good witch is usually aware of natural cycles (even if he or she is not an astrologer, a witch should be able to tell you the phase of the moon and pick out a couple of constellations in the sky, in my humble opinion).  And, as a witch would likely be sought out to help bring prosperity or to heal certain afflictions, having this kind of knowledge certainly can’t hurt from a magical standpoint.  Again, in my opinion.

Finally, I thought I’d leave you today with a little bit of lore from rural New York:

CATSKILL GNOMES

Behind the New Grand Hotel, in the Catskills, is an amphitheatre of mountain that is held to be the place of which the Mohicans spoke when they told of people there who worked in metals, and had bushy beards and eyes like pigs. From the smoke of their forges, in autumn, came the haze of Indian summer; and when the moon was full, it was their custom to assemble on the edge of a precipice above the hollow and dance and caper until the night was nigh worn away. They brewed a liquor that had the effect of shortening the bodies and swelling the heads of all who drank it, and when Hudson and his crew visited the mountains, the pygmies held a carouse in his honor and invited him to drink their liquor. The crew went away, shrunken and distorted by the magic distillation, and thus it was that Rip Van Winkle found them on the eve of his famous sleep.

-From Myths and Legends of our Own Land, by Charles M. Skinner, [1896], at sacred-texts.com).

There are lots of lovely craft-related bits to unpack in this tiny tale:  metal-working, shape-changing liquors, supposedly long-dead men cavorting with the living, etc.  But I’ll leave it to the attentive reader to make of this story what he or she will, because I’m just a wee bit diabolical that way.

I will go ahead and point out that Skinner’s story was published in 1896, and while some of his stories in that same volume have precedents dating back to at least the early 19th century, I’ve also seen some indications that he elaborated his tales occasionally, too.  The connection to the Washington Irving tale of “Rip Van Winkle,” however, makes me feel that this story is at least connected to the same folklore that Irving (who published around the 1820’s) was drawing from.

That’s it for today!  Thanks for reading!

-Cory


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