Posted tagged ‘Denise Alvarado’

Blog Post 191 – Book Review: The Voodoo Doll Spellbook, by Denise Alvarado

September 30, 2014

[Author’s disclaimer: I received this book as a review copy from Red Wheel/Weiser Books. They have neither paid nor coerced me in any way to write this review, and the opinions stated herein are my own, and do not reflect the position of the publisher.]

 

I am absolutely certain that a number of people will see the title of Denise Alvarado’s latest title from Red Wheel/Weiser Books and simply ignore its existence. That is a downright shame, because the book proves to be a personal and anthropological tour through an area of magic that can be very easy to misunderstand, work with dolls and effigies. Alvarado confronts the issue of the ‘Voodoo doll’ early in her text, laying its negative cultural cache at the feet of “Hollywood and the media” and noting that despite its origins as a “fusion of folk-lore with science fiction…the image of the pin-stuck doll is so embedded in the collective psyche of the general public that the thought of using a Voodoo doll any differently seems to defy all logic” (p. 2). Alvarado’s book is a repository of doll magic, some of it very interesting and useful, some merely edifying or even occasionally confusing, but it certainly deserves consideration beyond its titular associations.

The book is broken up into twenty-one chapters, generally grouping spells by expected outcome, not much different than other spellbooks in the genre, really. There are chapters on “Money Spells,” “Spells for Good Luck, Success, & Gambling,” and of course, “Spells for Love & Romance.” Alvarado really sets herself apart with the amount of space she devotes to the less savory workings of doll magic, with chapters like “Bend-Over Spells,” “Binding Spells,” “Break Up Spells,” and most especially an extensive chapter on “Curses, Hexes & Spells for Revenge.” Her work draws upon myriad traditions, not solely Vodoun, hoodoo, or Southern Conjure—the fields she clearly connects with best, at least personally. She also brings in chapters on doll magic from the Ancient world, such as dream dolls drawn from Greco-Egyptian magical papyri. One of the truly standout chapters is a section called “Japanese Voodoo Spells,” which actually looks at two types of effigy magic found in Japanese practice, even connecting them to the popular youth culture there: “Aggressive marketing campaigns advertising Ushi no Koku Mairi [Japanese cursing dolls] kits that contain a straw doll, a hammer, a couple of candles, and fifteen-centimeter-long nails are targeted to the young Japanese demographic” and she notes an increasing presence of these dolls in “anime episodes, online games, and videos that promote cyber cursing” on sites like YouTube (p. 172). Alvarado brings in Goetic spells involving dolls, and influences from Christian magical practice via Catholic and Psalm workings. She even includes a doll spell to prevent pets from getting lost.

Sources for The Voodoo Doll Spellbook range from the scholarly to the questionable (ghost hunting websites and a book on Mexican magic which tenuously reframes Hispanic folk ceremonies in a Wiccan context, for example), but generally speaking, Alvarado speaks authoritatively and presents her material well. Several spells are guest-contributed by conjure worker Carolina Dean, which prove to be some of the high points in the text. In some cases, the reason for lumping some spells into separate chapters is unclear, as in the “Binding Spells” section, of which a reprint of Psalm 94 takes up a full twenty percent of the pages. Still, when she is on-target, as with her two Mississippi cursing dolls (pp. 36-38), the quality of the work is apparent, and the spells make a useful compendium of doll magic.

The relatively few other doll-baby work books available (Starr Casas’ slim-but-potent one comes to mind, which seems to be out of print, sadly) mean that Alvarado’s book fills a major niche in practical magical writing. In many ways, what she accomplishes with The Voodoo Doll Spellbook is quite similar to work done by Judika Illes in her books—this is the notebook of a collector of spells. What plagues the text the most is its title, which seems to relegate it to a very specific subcategory of magical work, and which undermines its authority in the minds of educated readers. The material contained within is useful, if occasionally uneven (I’m currently working with one of her money doll spells, for example—I’ll let you know how that goes). While I could consider this book neither a definitive text nor a weak entry in the field, I can certainly point to its utility and some of its unusual offerings as a recommendation to read it and be satisfied.

If you’ve read this book, or have others to recommend on the topic of doll magic, I’d love to hear them!

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

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Blog Post 163 – New World Witchery Cartulary No. 1

September 26, 2012

Hi all!

Today I thought I’d devote a post to, well, other posts. I’m frequently reading, communicating with, or learning from other folk magicians, scholars, storytellers, and various members of the folkloric community. While much of what you find here on New World Witchery focuses on research into history, I don’t want to ever lose sight of the vibrancy and currency of many expressions of folk spirituality and magical living which surround us today. We live in an enchanted world, or at least I like to think so, and I want to share the things that are enchanting me from time to time.

So I’m going to try to start periodically posting brief annotated link rolls (the “cartulary” in this post’s title) which might be of interest to readers of this site. Some will be as simple as podcast recommendations or interesting fiction I’ve come across, and others will be more academic in nature, focused on recent research or discoveries in folklore, fairy tales, or magic in general.  And some may simply have a nice, witchy feel to them. So let’s get started!

I only recently found out that Denise Alvarado and her publishing group put out a neat little almanac last spring called The Hoodoo Almanac, which includes bits of folk magic, lunar astrology, and other almanac-y things. I don’t know if they’ll do one for 2013 or not, but here’s hoping! Alvarado and several other root workers have also started a program for learning folk magic which involves taking several online courses and apprenticing with a live root worker in your area, called Crossroads University. This seems like a great way to learn this particular branch of folk magic. Similar courses can be taken through Lucky Mojo and Starr Casas (a very knowledgeable rootworker and friend to us here at NWW).

Speaking of books and learning, I recently read a review in the Journal of American Folklore (JAF) for a 2006 book on the infamous Pied Piper of Hamelin. The Pied Piper: A Handbook, by Wolfgang Mieder, looks like exactly the kind of in-depth, thorough investigation of the story behind the fairy tale that I love. This is the sort of book I can sink into and lose a few months of my life, so it’s already on my holiday wish list, and the JAF review gave it glowing praise as well.

I’ve very recently been made aware of the delightful blog Roman and Minnie’s Satanic Cocktail Hour, which assumes the personas of two characters from Rosemary’s Baby, then proceeds to imagine their lifestyle as hip 70s witches and pseudo-Satanists. There’s a schlock value to the site, and it’s definitely not safe for work (lots of naked folks), but they also have neat little gems of folklore occasionally, as with their most recent post on Ozark witchcraft from a Time magazine story in the 1939. Special thanks to

Arrowclaire, over at her lovely blog Wandering Arrow, always puts up interesting posts. She had one on dealing with death omens recently that I greatly appreciated, because it puts into perspective the idea of living an omen-driven life without necessarily becoming fearful or overly superstitious.

Rue of Rue & Hyssop had a beautiful post welcoming the autumnal season in. Check out the rather gorgeous PDF (but high-gloss) Pagan Living Magazine in her sidebar, too!

Speaking of great and stunning periodicals, the absolutely amazing Hex Magazine: Old Ways for a New Day is very worthy of your time. It focuses very heavily on Northern European and Teutonic folkways, but also includes a good bit of New World lore, too.

To get you in the mood for a spooky October, go take a peek at the great post Peter from New England Folklore has done on “Kidnapped Witches in Plymouth.” (Storytelling is an October tradition at NWW, so this should get you ready for next month nicely).

That’s my cartulary for today! Happy reading, everyone!

-Cory

Blog Post 147 – Reviews and Recommendations

December 16, 2011

Hi all!

I’ve been reading a lot lately (but then, when am I not?). I’ve also managed to catch a couple of great movies as well. So I thought I’d share some of my thoughts on them with you! The excerpts below are the slightly abridged versions of the full reviews found over at Pagan Bookworm, so head over there if you want the full report.

1)      The Book of English Magic – by Philip Carr-Gomm and Richard Heygate (Overlook, 2010)

If you have spent much time studying occult literature, you know that Great Britain is rife with magical lore: fairies, Arthurian legends, druidry, cunning folk, etc. In The Book of English Magic, Philip Carr-Gomm and Richard Heygate make the not-too-audacious claim that Britain’s magical history is one of the richest—perhaps the richest—in the world. They approach their subject by examining a mix of history, folklore, and modern practices to attempt to piece together a portrait of Britain as an enchanted isle. While I think that they succeed in presenting a magical portrait of a magical land, I also think that the authors are by turns too broad and too narrow. They do a wonderful job looking into subjects like English alchemy and dowsing, providing a number of excellent resources to discover more about each topic. They also dwell overlong on the concept of druidry (not surprising considering it is one of Carr-Gomm’s chief fields of interest—he is also the author of Druid Mysteries, the Druid Plant Oracle, and the Druid Animal Oracle). The paucity of sources supporting some of their research means that while some chapters seem tight and focused, others seem only loosely woven together. They hardly plumb the depths of what is called Traditional Witchcraft, and the concept of cunning folk is given surprisingly short shrift considering how close to contemporary some of that material is. The inclusion of practical exercises gives a slightly ‘workbook’ feel at times, which deflates the momentum of the book in some places, but really does seem to serve the overall work.That being said, if one were looking for a good coffee-table introduction to the myriad magical traditions available to the student of British history, this would be an excellent starting point.

2)      The Voodoo-Hoodoo Spellbookby Denise Alvarado (Weiser, 2011)

This book is about what author Denise Alvarado calls “Voodoo-Hoodoo,” a term which irks some as the continuing inaccurate jumble of two terms which should remain distinct (Voodoo being a religion and hoodoo being a folk magical practice). However, if one takes the time to read Alvarado’s passionate book on the topic, the Voodoo-Hoodoo Spellbook, one can see that she is merely sticking to the terminology most people are familiar with and that the dog of diction has no teeth to bite when it comes to New Orleans-style magic. Instead, Alvarado presents a tradition which blends elements of Haitian Vodoun, folk Catholicism, Southern root work and hoodoo, and a touch of New Age spirituality to create a vibrant, current practice. She uses a number of good resources, often primary ones, to support her understanding of a practice she has lived with her whole life (according to her). She also frequently slips away from the facts and into personal experience, but does so in a non-authoritarian way. Her history of Mardi Gras and the magical folklore associated with them is captivating, as is her heartfelt look at the Seven African Powers. When she does slip off of the scholarly or personal track the book can get a bit messy. Her correspondence tables are not a strength, and her inclusion of New Age style tumbled gemstones in her work almost undermines her traditionalism (as it seems fairly obvious that slaves doing similar work in the 19th century would not have had polished rose quartz to work with). She is flexible and fluid towards Christianity, though here it should be pointed out that she neither says one must work with Christianity nor one must work with African Traditional spirituality. People are looking for spells, and this book definitely has those. There are spells for love, luck, money, protection, and half-a-dozen other needs. Hundreds of spells and workings are contained in this book, as well as recipes for conjure oils and powders, instructions for candle working, and a discussion of poppets and dolls in magical work. Some of them seem totally reasonable within the context of her presented practice, and some seem a little forced. This book fits nicely on the shelf next to other “hoodoo 101” texts, while offering a few doors to open for a reader looking to go deeper.

3)      Old World Witchcraft – by Raven Grimassi (Weiser 2011)

Don’t buy this book. I’m not even bothering providing a link to it. I’ve done a full review at Pagan Bookworm, but let me just say this text is badly researched, mis-cites or fails to cite sources, argues with scholars without presenting their actual point of view/argument, claims that graveyard dirt is just the powdered ash of tree leaves gathered in a cemetery, and says that you can become deeply knowledgable about a plant by studying its sigil. It’s bad history, bad herbalism, and bad witchcraft. All in all, this is a book which suffers from broken clock syndrome (as in, “a broken clock is right twice a day”). He occasionally hits on interesting ideas or brings up worthwhile concepts, but mostly he seems to be posing an elaborate fantasy as a pseudo-historical reality, with very little scholarly backbone to support his claims. When someone prods the gear works, the whole contraption just seems to fall apart.

4)      American Mystic, directed by Alex Mar (Empire 8 Productions, 2010)

Director Mar turns the camera on three different but spiritually similar people: Kublai, an African American man who belongs to the Spiritualist Church; Chuck, a Lakota Sioux sun dancer; and Morpheus, a pagan witch and Feri tradition priestess. The director captures the challenges of these faiths, including both internal and external struggles. While there is an element of novelty to the practices of each film subject, the director never lets curiosity turn into spectacle. The Sun Dance, which can be grueling for participants, is not simply a show of blood and muscle, but rather connects Chuck to his family in a powerful way. Kublai seems to struggle with just how much he believes in his own spiritual gifts. And Morpheus senses her displacement in the modern world, while at the same time she does not shy away from the society of other people.  The film does have its flaws, but keeps a sensitive and intelligent lens focused on these subjects and their deeply-felt spiritualism. This is a rare and lovely documentary on mysticism as seen at the ground level. Available on Netflix.

5)      All My Friends Are Funeral Singers, directed by Tim Rutili (IndiePix Films, 2010)

In this outstanding independent film from director (and bit player/musician) Tim Rutili, a lonely fortune-teller and magical worker named Zel (played by the radiant Angela Bettis) lives in an old country house inhabited by a wide range of unusual ghosts that only she can see. There are dead flappers, priests, blind musicians, and a strange, child-like woman named Nyla (Molly Wade) who cannot speak. Zel is not merely a medium, she is also a deeply talented magical worker. She smartly lays down a salt line in front of her bedroom door every night to keep her ghost-friends out. The director cleverly bookends each section of the film with bits of folk magic, title cards with things like “A wish made while burning onions will come true,” which lends to the overall enchantment of the piece. This is such a lovely and exceptional film that I easily overlooked its flaws in favor of being bespelled by these characters. I cannot recommend this film highly enough. Go, watch it now! Available on Netflix.

Whew! So that’s been my reading and watch list (at least, that all the ones I could write reviews about lately). What have you been getting into?

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

Blog Post 135 – The Magical Catholic

August 31, 2011

Good morning everyone!

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

A papisticall charme.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Cory

Podcast 32 – Voodoo Hoodoo with Denise Alvarado

July 11, 2011

-SHOWNOTES FOR EPISODE 32-

Summary
This episode looks at the particular practices of Voodoo and Hoodoo around New Orleans. We have an interview with spellbook author Denise Alvarado, several excerpts from folkloric and magical texts, and even some music.

Play:

Download:  New World Witchery – Episode 32

-Sources-
First, my apologies for the sudden cut-off in the interview. That was a technical difficulty on my end, but we still got almost a full 30 minutes of discussion with a stellar guest, so enjoy!

Books
Mules & Men, by Zora Neale Hurston
Voodoo in New Orleans, by Robert Tallant
Black & White Magic of Marie Laveau, by NDP Bivens
Music
All songs were taken from the Florida Folklife collection, and are available here: http://www.floridamemory.com/collections/folklife
The songs were “Crow Dance” and “Oh Mr. Brown,” both sung by Zora Neale Hurston, and “Sissy in the Barn,” sung by the children of Carver Elementary School in 1954.

Guest & Announcements
Denise Alvarado can be found at her website, Mystic Voodoo.

Please also check out her books, The Voodoo Hoodoo Spellbook (soon to be released in an expanded edition by Weiser Books), Voodoo Dolls in Magic & Ritual, and The Voodoo Doll Spellbook. You should also subscribe to her journal, Hoodoo & Conjure Quarterly.

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

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

Promos & Music
Title music:  “Homebound,” by Jag, from Cypress Grove Blues.  From Magnatune.
Promo 1 – Conjure Doctor Magical Supplies
Promo 2 – Lakefront Pagan Voice
Promo 3 – Druidcast


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