Posted tagged ‘courtcase’

Blog Post 167 – Corpses

November 26, 2012

To get everyone in the holiday spirit, today I thought we might head down the gruesome path to the graveyard and see what we can dig up (figuratively, of course). That’s festive, right? Deck the halls and all that? While I’ve talked recently about bones and their uses in magic, and we’ve touched on the idea of working with the dead in magical practice, too, you may not know that there is a very long and widely spread habit of using corpses—in whole and in macabre part—as magical tools in their own right. Of course, there are many societies, including some Native American tribes, with strong taboos against contact with dead bodies, yet even this geis reflects a sense of respect and awe at the power of the deceased. Sometimes the spirit of the dead person is the fuel behind the magic—in which case it can be seen as a form of necromancy—and sometimes it is simply the body voided of life—any body, really—which empowers the charm.

Probably one of the most famous and nefarious examples of corpse magic is the Hand of Glory, a special candle made from the severed and pickled hand of an executed criminal which supposedly had intense magical properties. One of its talents was its reputed ability to render anyone in a house near where it was lit unconscious, thus making them easy to rob and explaining why the Hand of Glory might have been sought after by eager thieves. Here is one of the brief-but-to-the-point recorded recipes for making a Hand of Glory, from one of my favorite spooky little tomes, Kathryn Paulsen’s Witches’ Potions & Spells (WARNING! THIS IS PROVIDED AS A FOLKLORIC EXAMPLE ONLY! DO NOT DESECRATE CORPSES—IT IS HIGHLY ILLEGAL!):

During an eclipse of the moon, sever the right hand of a corpse, preferably that of an executed murderer. Dry it and preserve it in a jar to which you have added foul smelling herbs. If you light the fingers of this hand as candles, the light can only be seen by yourself and other witches, and the light will not go out until you wish it. If you bring it into a house, sleep will reign over those within.  But you must let no one know that you posses the Hand of Glory. Use this hand to give light whenever you wish to obtain something from a graveyard (Paulsen 40).

Paulsen also mentions a variation on this spell which involves filling a human shin bone with tallow and carrying it as a candle to cause enchanted sleep. The Hand of Glory and its variants date back to at least the early Modern period, showing up in 18th century texts like the Petit Albert.

Across the Atlantic and on North American soil, corpses remained a morbid part of folk magic. Here they were granted powers of healing, crime-detection, secret-keeping, and other occult traits. The bodies of the dead figure into magical systems spanning multiple cultures, including those of Native Americans, the Pennsylvania Dutch, African Americans, and mountain folk in the Appalachians and Ozarks. First Nations practices vary between tribes, with alternating levels of prohibition and interaction when it comes to handling the dead. Randolph notes that “Some hillfolk of Indian descent insist upon sprinkling a little cornmeal over a corpse, just before the burial. This is done unobtrusively, without any noise or ceremony, and many whites have attended funerals where the rite was carried out without eve* noticing it. As the mourners shuffle past the body, here and there you see one drop a tiny pinch of meal into the coffin” (Randolph 316). Such a practice more rightly belongs to burial customs than necromancy, however. In general, contact with the dead can be a powerful—but frequently fearful—thing in Native societies. For example, “[o]ne of the most remarkable of Indian sacrifices was that practised by the Hurons in the case of a person drowned or frozen to death. The flesh of the deceased was cut off and thrown into a fire made for the purpose, as an offering of propitiation to the spirits of the air or water. What remained of the body was then buried near the fire” (Parkman 4). In the Pacific Northwest, there are accounts of tribes with magical groups that engaged in highly taboo behaviors to perform their roles as community sorcerors:  “There were also a number of secret societies—for example the Cannibal Society of the Kwakiutl, whose induction ceremony was believed to involve eating parts of a corpse” (Lowenstein 120). South American Natives have their own legends about how a group of witch-monsters from Chiloe, an archipelago south of the mainland, use a fearsome object called a macun. This is a leather bowl made from human skin taken from the corpse of a virgin which reveals the presence of human victims and can be used in some stories as a mode of transportation.  It can also help the evil brujos turn into animals, open locked doors, and become invisible.

Turning from the cultural backdrop of Native Americans, whose varied practices I have only skimmed in the previous paragraph, let us now look more at the specific applications of corpse magic in some of the non-Native societies of North America. In general, what follows is broken down by magical purpose into categories (legal work, divination, cures, and curses), with a few tidbits at the end. This is a far from complete examination of the topic, however, so I hope this provides an entryway into further study for those interested.

Legal Work
Fundamentally, these sorts of spells are either somewhat divinatory—helping to provide insight into crimes which remain unsolved, for instance—or make use of the dead body to provide legal aid. To this latter end, we can look in Hohman’s Long Lost Friend to find at least one instance in which the figure of the corpse is invoked to help in court-case work:

“TO RETAIN THE RIGHT IN COURT AND COUNCIL.
Jesus Nazarenus, Rex Judeorum.
First carry these characters with you, written on paper, and then repeat the following words: “I (name) appear before the house of the Judge. Three dead men look out of the window; one having no tongue, the other having no lungs, and the third was sick, blind and dumb.” This is intended to be used when you are standing before a court in your right, and the judge not being favorably disposed toward you. While on your way to the court you must repeat the benediction already given above.” (Hohman #147)”

The use of actual corpses in legal work tends to be more in crime-detection, however. One piece of lore spread across several cultures describes leaving an egg in the hand of a murdered man when he is buried. The murderer will be compelled to some action, depending on the story, ranging from returning to the scene of the crime to confessing guilt to suffering illness and death himself. Sometimes the body will perform its own divination, unaided by other witnesses or participants. Kentucky lore says “If a corpse’s nose bleeds, it is a sign that the murderer is in the room” (Thomas #745). Puckett notes in African American lore that “the common Negro belief [is] that If you put your hand on the corpse the ghost will not harm you (or you will be afraid of no more dead people). This may be the remnant of an old ordeal, since the wounds are supposed to bleed if the murderer touches the corpse” (Puckett 88).

Dead bodies can predict a number of situations and conditions it seems, as we shall see in the next section.

Divination
A number of sources on African American lore mention that a corpse that “limber” corpses predict a death to follow them, and insist that mirrors and clocks be covered with cloth as soon as someone dies to prevent anyone else in the house from dying. Like Puckett’s note above about touching the body to prevent fear of dead people, the corpse can intrude upon the living. Touching the body can prevent both bad dreams and visits from an unruly spirit. Likewise, the suggestion of something corpse-like can announce important information (usually another death). Harry Hyatt had an informant who related a tale of ‘death-scent,’ for example:

“I started to eat my breakfast last week. I happened to put my hand to my face; it smelled like a corpse. I said, ‘I wonder who’s going to die.’ And the smell left right away; that is a sudden death. If the smell  stays, it will be longer. That day I had a call. My cousin died when I was eating my breakfast. If it is the left hand that smells, it’s a lady; right hand, a man” (Hyatt #8313).

The dead seem to know a lot about the affairs of the living, but they can also be entreated to hold their tongues. Zora Neale Hurston recorded a spell used for keeping secrets which required a corpse: “If you want a secret kept, put it in the care of the dead by writing it on a piece of paper and folding it small and slipping it into the hand of the corpse, of whispering it in the ear” (Hurston 361). In addition to catching criminals and revealing impending doom, corpses can also be employed in a variety of happier magics, such as healings.

Cures
The volume of cures ascribed to dead bodies is too voluminous to include in any book, so I will only briefly touch on it here.  One of the most popular healings ascribed to the dead is wart-charming, which we’ve looked at before.  In the Ozarks, “[t]here is a widespread belief that warts can be ‘charmed off’ by touching them with the hand of a corpse. I have seen this tried several times. The warts disappeared after a while, just as they generally do under any other treatment, or with no treatment at all. On the other side of the balance, I have met an undertaker who handles many bodies every year, and both his hands are covered with warts!” (Randolph 131). Similar to Randolph’s bit about wart-removal, this charm comes from Kentucky: “You may remove birth-marks by rubbing them with the hand of a corpse.” (Thomas #1067). It can supposedly treat other skin disorders like eczema as well. A variation on the birthmark-removal from Illinois contains a little verbal charm to accompany the act of touching the corpse: “A girl should visit the corpse of a boy and move his hand over her birthmark as she says What I have, take with you; In the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. A boy with a birthmark does this at the corpse of a girl.” (Hyatt #2685). Sometimes merely rubbing the mark or blemish with a rag and placing the rag in the coffin of a dead man is enough to remove the problem. Placing clothes and other objects from a sick person in the casket of the deceased supposedly removes everything from skin disorders to contagious diseases. Clothes taken from the corpse can also be healing: “To remove a swelling on the leg, bandage it with a piece of linen taken from a corpse” (Hyatt #5145).

Some of the other cures attributed to the dead:

  • “In other localities the body is placed on a ‘coolin’-board’ and covered with an arrangement of sheets, the one over the face being raised when the mourners address the corpse. Mourners may talk to the body to this effect: ‘Mandy, you gone an’ lef me. … I may be nex’ . . . Po’ Mandy! . . . Po’ John! .’ A plateful of salt and ashes is placed under the coolin’-board . . . whatever disease the body has goes into the ashes and salt. ‘Ashes takes up from de body de disease.’ These ashes are carried to the grave; and at the words, ‘Ashes to ashes and dust to dust,’ they are thrown into the grave.’” (Puckett 87)
  • “When in pain get some of this graveyard dirt from the breast of the corpse, cook it with lard, and make into a sort of pancake. Sprinkle this with turpentine and bind like a mustard plaster to the place that pains you. You will surely be cured.” (Puckett 287)
  • “Place in a coffin three lice from your head and the corpse will carry away the others.” (Hyatt #1438)
  • One of the more desecration-y methods for solving home problems with a little help from the dead comes from Harry Hyatt: “Pour some of the child’s urine into a bottle, hide this with a coffined corpse, and the child will stop wetting the bed. Sometimes a hole is punched through the stopper so that the urine can drip out — the cure being effected after the bottle becomes empty.” (Hyatt #6298)

In addition to being powerful curatives, bodies of the deceased can also cause tremendous harm.

Curses
It probably comes as no surprise that the use of dead bodies in magical rituals and spells generally gets a fairly negative portrayal. In the previous three sections, the spells were all designed to enact some positive change—albeit messy or sacrosanct in some cases—but now we shall look at a few of the nastier ways in which our dead friends can be used for magic. I’ll begin with a love spell, not because I inherently think love spells are evil curses (I don’t think that at all, actually), but rather because this one is exactly the kind of spell you could make a horror movie out of. It’s obsessive, possessive, and a little mean:

“A girl can take a needle which has been stuck into a dead body, cover it with dirt in which a corpse has been laid, and wrap the whole thing in a cloth cut from a winding sheet ; this is supposed to be a very powerful love charm, and a woman who owns such a thing can make any man fall in love with her. A needle which has been used to make a shroud is useful, too. If a girl thrusts such a needle into her lover’s footprint in her own dooryard, he is forced to remain with her whether he wants to or not. If he leaves the neighborhood he will get sick, and if he stays away long enough he will die.” (Randolph 169)

Randolph also examines witchcraft which falls in line with storybook expectations, harmful stuff perpetrated by willfully malevolent magical practitioners:

“Some witches are said to kill people with graveyard dirt, which is dust scraped from a grave with the left forefinger at midnight. This is mixed with the blood of a black bird; a raven or crow is best, but a black chicken will do in a pinch. The witch ties this mixture up in a rag which has touched a corpse and buries it under the doorstep of the person who is to be liquidated. The practice of burying conjure stuff under houses and doorsteps is well known. I have heard it said of a sick woman that she ‘must have stepped on somethin’ ‘ meaning that she was bewitched.” (Randolph 272)

Sometimes the negative effects of the corpse are inadvertent, however, and cursing is incidental. Several sources mentioned that pregnant women should not look upon a corpse, lest their child be marred in some way. Ozark lore says that using the comb of a dead person, particularly a comb that touched the deceased’s hair, will cause your own pate to go bald. Still other corpse curses seem related to harming the spirit of the departed him or herself. Kentucky lore says that you should “Put a lock of hair of a corpse into a hole in a tree to localize the spirit. If you remove the hair, the spirit will haunt you” (Thomas #741). Trapping a spirit seems like a dangerous game to me, but then, I’m not doing that particular spell anytime soon anyway. One of the quirkier ways of messing with the soul of the departed comes from Illinois: “As long as the funeral bill remains unpaid, the corpse will not rest in its grave” (Hyatt #15193).

In addition to the main methods discussed above, corpses also seem to have other magical uses. Here are a final pair from Hurston and Randolph involving some of the more unusual magic connected to the dead and their bodies:

“I. To Gain All Power. Go to the graveyard the night of All Saints at twelve o’clock. All of the blessed are gone from the cemetery at that time and only the damned are left. Go to a sinner’s grave1 and get nine hairs from his head and give the spirit in there a drink of whiskey. (They’ll do anything for a drink of whiskey.) Just leave a pint of liquor in there with the stopper out. Go home and burn nine red candles and the spirit will do anything you want.” (Hurston 361)

“When a backwoodsman dies, in certain sections of the Ozarks, it sometimes happens that one of his male relatives cuts a hickory stick just the length of the corpse. I have seen a hill farmer carrying one of these sticks on the day of his brother’s death, and I have seen one tied to the wagon which conveyed a corpse to the graveyard, but I have never been able to find out what became of them, or what their significance was. I first thought that the stick was simply to measure the body for a coffin, but it is something more complicated than that, and there is some sort of superstition connected with it.” (Randolph 314)

I hope this has been a worthwhile spin through the old boneyard to look at the dead from a more corporeal angle than we usually do in magic. None of this is to advocate any sort of desecration or anything illegal. While I imagine slipping a pinch of cornmeal into a coffin or wiping a handkerchief over a deceased family member’s hand before the casket is closed would at most raise some eyebrows, just about anything involving messing with the dead means legal problems. If you want to get a little help from the dearly departed, developing a relationship with them as spiritual beings is a much smarter way to go (I wrote about it recently on my other blog over at Witches & Pagans, if you’re interested).  If you have lore about dead bodies and the ways they have been used in magic, I’d love to hear them!

Thanks so much for reading!

-Cory

REFERENCES & SOURCES

  1. Gainer, Patrick W. Witches, Ghosts, & Signs. (Vandalia Press, 2008).
  2. Hohman, John George, ed. Daniel Harms. The Long Lost Friend. (Llewellyn, 2012).
  3. Hurston, Zora Neale. “Hoodoo in America.” Journal of American Folklore (Amer. Folklore Soc., 1931).
  4. Hyatt, Harry M. Folklore from Adams County, Illinois.  (Univ. of Ill. Press, 1935).
  5. Lowenstein, Tom & Piers Vitebsky. Native American Myths & Beliefs (Rosen Pub. Group, 2011).
  6. Paulsen, Kathryn. Witches’ Potions & Spells. (Peter Pauper Press, 1971).
  7. Parkman, Francis. “Indian Superstitions.” North American Review (Univ. of Northern Iowa Press, 1866).
  8. Pinckney, Roger. Blue Roots: African-American Folk Magic of the Gullah People. (Sandlapper Pub., 2003).
  9. Puckett, Newbell Niles. Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro. (Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1926).
  10. Randolph, Vance. Ozark Magic & Folklore. (Dover, 1964).
  11. Yronwode, Catherine. Hoodoo Herb & Root Magic. (Lucky Mojo Press, 2002).
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Blog Post 143 – Apples

November 17, 2011

Inside a red barn,
A white star…
-Part of a riddle, the solution to which is “an apple”

Do you remember that moment in Snow White & the Seven Dwarves when the evil Queen is using all manner of occult ephemera to poison a single apple which she will use to kill Snow White? What about all those baroque and medieval paintings of the Garden of Eden showing a dispassionate Eve holding a bitten apple in one hand? Or the Greek myth of the golden apple given to Prince Paris of Troy that he might award it to the fairest of the goddesses (thus sparking the Trojan War).

Apples appear throughout folklore and myth as symbols of magical power, sacred knowledge, and intoxicating sweetness. American lore has its own apple-toting legend in the form of John Chapman, a.k.a. Johnny Appleseed, who crossed the upper Midwest planting apple orchards as he went (Michael Pollan’s excellent book The Botany of Desire explores how Chapman—a mystical Christian practicing a philosophy called Swedenborgianism—actually planted orchards not for eating apples, but for making hard cider, thus linking him to the magical practice of brewing as well).  Today I thought I’d look at some of the magical manifestations of this ubiquitous fruit. After all, it is as American as, well, apple pie.

I’d like to start with some of the apple lore and superstitions found in Vance Randolph’s Ozark Magic & Folklore, primarily because I love one of the first tidbits I found:

  • “A bad woman can’t make good applesauce” (65)

I have no idea about the veracity, implications, or thought processes behind this statement, but it was just too wonderful to pass up. So if you can’t make good applesauce, you should clearly consider it a moral failing of some kind. Randolph also lists a number of other bits of common apple lore:

  • A goiter can be removed or reduced by rubbing it with half an apple, burying it in the cemetery, then eating the other half (148)
  • Two apple seeds, named for a boy and a girl, dropped onto a hot shovel can predict love. If they move closer together, they will marry; if they part, the love will not last (184)

I’ve covered a bit of the love magic involving apples in another post and podcast episode, but this latter method is one I’d not seen before, and has a very ‘country’ feel to it. Listener and fellow folk-magic blogger Claire shared that instead of peeling the apple in one strip, she and her childhood playmates would twist the stem, saying a letter with each twist, until the thing came loose revealing the initial of one’s future beau.

Many of Randolph’s recorded superstitions can be found in other places as well, such as these wonderful examples from Kentucky folklore:

  • Breaking an apple in two means luck in love (especially if you “name” the apple for someone special)
  • An apple peel removed in a single strip then tossed over the shoulder will land in the shape of a lover’s initial
  • Apple seeds can be counted like flower petals in the “loves me, loves me not” style
  • Apple seeds are used to tell which direction a lover will come from by spitting them in the air, or can be used to divine how long it will take before one sees a sweetheart again by slapping a handful against one’s forehead—the number that stick are the days until the lover arrives.
  • Naming apples on Halloween and then bobbing or playing ‘snap-apple’ for them predicts a future mate
  • Finding twinned apples (or any fruit really) on a tree means a marriage soon
  • Warts can be cured with apples, either by burying an apple and saying ‘As this apple decays, so let my wart go away,” or by scarring an apple tree’s bark—when the bark grows over, the wart will disappear
  • Apples gathered in moonlight will not bruise or rot
  • “If you can break an apple with your hands, you will always be your own boss”

(from Kentucky Superstitions, by Daniel & Lucy Thomas)

Vance Randolph also references the wart-removal charm which involves cutting notches in an apple tree, although in this case it’s a stranger’s apple tree and done in secret, as ‘stolen’ things have tremendous magical curing power (130).

Henry Middleton Hyatt also has several pieces of folklore about apples, some of which contradict the Kentucky beliefs above:

  • Apples which fall in moonlight get ‘soft-rot,’ while apples falling during a dark moon get ‘dry-rot’
  • If you want your next calf to be a female, bury the placenta from the most recent calf birth under an apple tree
  • Girls eat the first apple of June and count the seeds to see how many children they will have
  • Eating ‘twinned’ apples is said to cause twin births
  • Rubbing a piece of apple over a newborn’s tongue ensures that they will have a beautiful singing voice
  • Apple peels, especially those in June, can be rubbed on the face to improve complexion
  • Eating an apple on an empty stomach on Easter ensures good health
  • Menstrual flow can be regulated by boiling the inner bark (or cambium) of an apple tree
  • If you always burn your apple peelings you will never have cancer

Hyatt also reiterates the wart cures involving rubbing sliced apples over the wart and burying them, usually under the eaves of a house (Folklore of Adams County, 146).

In New England, apples also have a love association, as well as some rather more foreboding connotations. The excellent blog New England Folklore provides a wonderful rhyme for counting apple seeds here. The blog author, Peter M., also shares a bit of the darker lore of apples, including the strange coincidence of deaths with apples in New England lore. And what could be creepier than an apple tree eating a person?

Finally, looking towards the deep South and the folk magic of hoodoo, I found that the apple can be used for a variety of purposes. Cat Yronwode suggests using the apple as an agent in sweetening spells, especially those for love. She points out that it can be used as a receptacle for sweetening agents like honey or sugar and it provides sweetness itself in the spell (Hoodoo Herb & Root Magic, 32-3). Denise Alvarado mentions that the Voodoo lwa known as Papa Guede appears as a skeletal figure with a tophat and an apple in one hand in her Voodoo Hoodoo Spellbook. And then there’s this very interesting spell involving apples and court-case work:

Take green and yellow candles, enough to last for nine days, and with a sharp object write on them the names of the chief prosecution witness, the judge, and the district attorney, in that order. Burn the candles upside down to ‘upset the heads’ of these people. Bore a hole in each of three apples and put the name of each of the three above-mentioned persons in the apples. Set them before the candles while they burn the requisite nine days. At the end of nine days take the apples to the vicinity of the jail. Roll one from the entrance, one from the right side, and one from the left side, thereby rolling the prisoner out of jail (Haskins, Voodoo & Hoodoo, 185).

This spell is supposed to be used during an appeals process or after a new trial has been ordered. Perhaps it is tied to the sweetening effect mentioned by Yronwode as a way of urging a new judge or jury to look upon your case favorably?

In any case, the apple has certainly earned its place in American magical lore. If you know of other magical uses for the apple, feel free to post them here. And next time you’re eating an apple, do as the wicked queen suggests—make a wish, take a bite.

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

Blog Post 78 – More Mojos for Success

August 10, 2010

Back in Blog Post 76, I mentioned that I’d be following up with some other types of success mojos.  Academic success is fantastic, but if you’re not in school it’s probably not going to help you much.  So today I thought I’d take that scholastic success mojo hand and rework it for a few other needs.  I hope it helps!

Building upon the basic Crown of Success mojo, which would generally include a John the Conqueror root in a red flannel sack anointed with Crown of Success oil, you could vary your specific ingredients for particular results:

Better Business – Add herbs like sassafras, five-finger grass, or cinnamon, plus a lodestone and magnetic sand.  Try to use an odd number of ingredients.  Pray Psalm 8 or a similar prayer.

Gentle Judge – A court-case success hand.  Use gravel root, little John to chew/galangal, cascara sagrada  bark, sugar, and tobacco.  Pray Psalm 36 or a similar prayer.

High Rollers – This is a gambling success mojo.  Use Job’s tears, a gator paw, a badger or gator tooth, a raccoon penis bone, a rabbit’s foot, and/or a four-leaf clover charm (primarily use curios for this one).  Pray Psalm 41 or Psalm 62 or a similar prayer.

Lucky in Love – With this success hand, it’s less about attracting a new love and more about strengthening one that exists (say, for example, during the process of courtship and marriage).  Add angelica root, violets, and roses (if trying to court a woman) or vanilla, tobacco, and dragon’s blood resin (for courting a man).  You can use lavender if you’re courting someone of the same sex, as well.  Pray Psalm 139 or a similar prayer.

Make It Rain Money – Add cinnamon, collard seeds, beans or peas, lucky hand root, rice, and/or rose of Jericho (things like seeds, beans, peas, and rice all signify abundance).  Add a lucky penny or a silver dime if you like, or a silver charm like a four-leaf clover.  Pray Psalm 126 or a similar prayer.

There are so many variations on these types of mojos, so please try them out and experiment.  I’ve had a lot of success (and the irony of that is not lost on me) working with these types of hands, so I encourage everyone to give them a try.

I’d like to close this post by sharing something one of our wonderful readers mentioned to me.  Odom of the Evil Eye recently wrote me about an academic success hand he’s working on, and he included an ingredient that struck me as just perfect for that kind of work:  coffee.  He made an excellent point that as a stimulant coffee can help keep one awake and alert, and that the university coffee house is such a ubiquitous piece of the college landscape it almost serves as a shrine to this kind of work.  So good eye for that connection, Odom!

Thanks for reading,
-Cory

Blog Post 62 – More Ideas for Urban Witchcraft

May 19, 2010

Greetings everyone!

Following on yesterday’s topic of urban conjure and rootwork, I thought today it might be fun to take a look at some spells that have roots in traditional American folk magic, but which use certain modern adaptations to accommodate contemporary life.

Courtcase Spell
In the past, courthouses were often wooden-floored buildings outfitted with spittoons for the convenience of trial attendees with a chaw of tobacco in their mouths.  Hoodoo developed a fairly ingenious way to exert some influence over a case by taking advantage of the spitting habit so prevalent in that day and age.  A defendant would keep a gob of Little John to Chew (the root known as galangal now—readily available in Asian markets) in his or her cheek, and then spit the juice onto the courthouse floor while ostensibly aiming for a spittoon nearby.  This sort of contagious magic would then bring favor in the case from anyone who walked on or near the spit.

Nowadays, spitting in court is probably a good way to lose your case.  Most courthouses are kept fairly secure, and tobacco products are seldom allowed in any government building (not that Little John is a tobacco product, but it’s supposed to look like it is, so either way, it’s out).  But there’s still a fairly simple way to work a spell in your favor:

1)      Get some dirt or water from the courthouse area – This can be dirt from a flower bed, from near the back of the building, or even from a potted plant somewhere on the premises if you can manage it.  Or, if the courthouse has a fountain out front, you can collect water from that, or fill a drinking bottle with water from the drinking fountain in the courthouse (or from the bathroom, etc.).  Barring all of these options, you  can scrape the side of the building and try to gather even just a little bit of dust from it, then mix it with soil from the closest source you can find.

2)      Take some Little John to Chew (galangal root) and work up a good bit of spit.  Spit the juice into the dirt or water, while reciting a petition or prayer appropriate to your situation (such as Psalm 35, “Contend, O Lord, with those who contend with me…”).  If you have only a little bit of dirt, you can add the dirt to some water and make a sort of “tea” out of it and the spit.  If you have only a little bit of water, you can dilute it with some more water (add a little whiskey to it to give it a kick).

3)      Take the dirt or water and go back to the courthouse.  Sprinkle your mixture in a circle around the building, as close as you can get (if you have to walk a block, sprinkling a little as you go, that’s fine—just make sure the entire building is encircled).  Whenever the judge who tries your case crosses that line, he will be disposed to favor you.

This trick relies on the same contagious magic as the older trick.  Why not just chew and spit at the front steps to the courthouse, you ask?  Well, you can’t be sure that your judge will come up those steps, and you need him to come into contact with your trick.  Unless he or she lives somewhere in the courthouse, your judge will have to cross the ring you make around the area in order to get inside, and so you should be able to affect him or her that way.

Git-Gone! Spell
Hot Footing someone to get rid of them is an old hoodoo trick.  In the past, it was accomplished by either mixing dirt from someone’s footprint with a special mixture of potent spices called “Hot Foot Powder” (see here, here, and here to buy) or by sprinkling that powder where a target would walk over it.  While it’s still possible to work the latter trick in a modern setting without much trouble, getting someone’s footprint-dirt isn’t easy anymore.  Additionally, the older version of the trick requires deployment in running water or throwing it away on a road heading out of town.

To bring a trick like this into the modern age, however, is not difficult.  City dwellers who can’t pick up dirty foot-tracks can work around that requirement by laying hold of a sock or shoe (or any article of clothing from the target, really).  Once you have something of theirs, you simply mix the Hot Foot Powder and wrap it in their clothing (or in the case of a shoe, give the sole a good sprinkling).

Deploying the trick can be done a couple of ways.  The simplest is to return the clothing to the target and hope they wear it without noticing the powder first (this is best with shoes).  Often, in apartment buildings, this kind of work is fairly easy to do because people will leave wet shoes in the hallway to dry out (much to the chagrin of their neighbors on warm days).

If giving the item of clothing back seems like it would cause raised eyebrows, or just doesn’t strike you as the best method, there are a couple of other distinctly modern deployment techniques that might be worth considering.  Since deployment in running water is a traditional method, consider chucking the Hot Footed sock into a sewer (which contains running water, after all, along with all manner of nastiness to help convince your target the time to leave is now).  Or, instead of finding a road out of town, you could go down to a train yard or a bus station and toss the sock onto a boxcar or bus heading out of the city.  In a lot of ways, a bus station is like a modern-age crossroads with the constant traffic coming and going, so sending someone away via outbound bus is actually a pretty smart way to go about your work.  I’d also suggest the same is true of airports, but sneaking things onto planes is a BAD idea, especially right now.  You’d really be asking for more trouble than a trick like this is worth.  Stick with bus stations and trains.

Send Away Your Troubles
There’s a bit of American folk magic that involves a rather sneaky method for healing common ailments.  The person with the disease (usually something like boils, warts, or corns) creates a small packet and “passes” the disease to the materials in the packet.  Then he or she drops the bundle in a road.  Whoever finds and opens it then receives the disease, and the person who passed the disease is cured of it.  Vance Randolph describes the procedure in conjunction with warts:

“Another way to ‘pass’ a wart is to spit on it, rub a bit of paper in the spittle, fold the paper, and drop it in the road; the wart is supposed to pass to the first person who picks up the paper and unfolds it. Children are always trying this, and one can find these little folded papers in the road near most any rural schoolhouse” (OM&F, p.127).

In the modern age, very few folks are walking along our roads, and few of those are going to stop to pick up a strange packet.  Motorists zooming by at high speeds never see them and people walking through cities for the most part avoid picking up litter from the walkways.  So how can one adapt this sort of spell to work today?

The United States Postal Service processes over 500 million pieces of mail per day (according to their website).  So why not put that big, churning system to work for you?  Here’s what I suggest:

1)      Just like in the old version of the spell, take a piece of paper and rub it against the afflicted part of your body.  If you want, you can even write a short petition on the paper asking that it remove illness from you and carry it far away.

2)      When you feel like you’ve imbued the paper with the disease, put it in an envelope.  Address the envelope, either by selecting a real person to send it to (which I actually don’t recommend—it just seems like an awfully trite way to get vengeance on an enemy and it certainly doesn’t make you any friends) or by writing a “dead letter.”  A dead letter is addressed to someone fictional (like Santa Claus, Professor Moriarty, Xenu, etc.) or someone dead (this could be an ancestor or just a spirit you think might be willing to help you by taking your disease off of you and into the grave).

3)      Don’t use a return address, and post the letter from a public mailbox.  You might, for example, send your disease to:

Mephistopheles
First Circle
Hell, the Universe

This letter will then carry your disease away from you and into a sort of “limbo” space.

The only downside to this method is the same one that comes with the old method:  if someone ever does open up your letter, they may catch your illness.  But all magic comes with risk, so if it sounds like a useful spell to you, please feel free to use it.

That’s it for today.  I’d love to hear from other city witches and urban rootworkers if you have suggestions for tricks that might be traditional-yet-modern.  Feel free to comment or email us.

Thanks for reading!

-Cory


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