Posted tagged ‘Devil’s Book’

Episode 102 – Evil

November 22, 2016

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Summary:

We take a look at the concept of Evil as it relates to magic and witchcraft. Is there such a thing? What guides a witch’s moral compass? Do witches ever summon demons? And just what kind of shenanigans is Cory up to, anyway?

 

Please check out our Patreon page! You can help support the show for as little as a dollar a month, and get some awesome rewards at the same time.  Even if you can’t give, spread the word and let others know, and maybe we can make New World Witchery even better than it is now.

 

Producers for this show: Corvus, Diana Garino, Renee Odders, Ye Olde Magic Shoppe, Raven Dark Moon, The Witches View Podcast,  Sarah, Molly, Corvus, Catherine, AthenaBeth, Jen Rue of Rue & Hyssop, Shannon, Little Wren, Michael M. and Jessica (if we missed you this episode, we’ll make sure you’re in the next one!). Big thanks to everyone supporting us!

 

Play:

Download: Episode 102 – Evil

 

 -Sources-

We start off by Looking Back at our Episode 19 – Curses & Hexes. Other articles that might be of interest include Blog Post 105 – The Devil’s Book, Blog Post 126 – Some Devils, and Blog Post 127 – Summoning Devils. Cory also mentions the story of Betty Booker, which can be found in Blog Post 195.

Cory mentions Mont and Duck Moore, two Appalachian witches. Their tales can be found in The Silver Bullet: And Other American Witch Stories as well as this article. Other books mentioned include Neil Gaiman’s Stardust (as well as the film based on it) and Lucifer Ascending, by folklorist Bill Ellis.

On the internet more generally, you may want to check out Dawn Jackson’s Hedgewytchery site (only available through Archive.org currently) and Fire Lyte’s recent episode on “Fluffy Bunnies.”

We also make mention of the Paranormal Activity series of films, as well as the recent Fox TV series The Exorcist.

Check out our latest podcast effort, Chasing Foxfire, which just launched in early October. If you like folklore, this show will be connecting the dots between folk tales, science, nature, pop culture, literature, and more.

If you have feedback you’d like to share, email us or leave a comment. We’d love to hear from you!

Don’t forget to follow us at Twitter! And check out our Facebook page! For those who are interested, we also now have a page on Pinterest you might like, called “The Olde Broom.” Have something you want to say? Leave us a voice mail on our official NWW hotline: (442) 999-4824 (that’s 442-99-WITCH, if it helps).

 

 Promos & Music

Title and closing music is “Homebound,” by Bluesboy Jag, and is used under license from Magnatune.

Podcast Special – Learning Witchcraft

August 28, 2012

Podcast Special – Learning Witchcraft

Summary: In this episode, I’ll be telling stories from American folklore about how people learn witchcraft. We’ll hear tales of initiation and apprenticeship, solitary witches, witch apprenticeships, and find out just what witches do.

Play:

Download:  New World Witchery Special – Learning Witchcraft

 

Stories:

 

Promos & Music
“Grifos Muertos” by Jeffery Luck Lucas, from his album What We Whisper, on Magnatune.com

All incidental music comes from the group Falling You, from the album Touch,  on Magnatune. Songs include:

  • “Sadness of the Witch”
  • “The Art of Possession”
  • “Less Likely to Believe”
  • “Something About Eve”
  • “Reading the Leaves”

Blog Post 125 – Some Devils

April 27, 2011

One of the longest-standing charges against witchcraft in the New World (as well as the old) is its inherent alliance with diabolic forces.  A person simply could not be a witch without being bound in some way to the Devil or one of his minions, according to popular conceptions which remain strong even today.  The notion of witchcraft as a Satanic practice is, of course, inaccurate—many Satanists have nothing to do with witchcraft, and many witches have nothing to do with Satan (that name here being used for the Adversary of the Judeo-Christian God).  There are certainly Satanic witches, just as there are Jewish witches or Christian witches.

I prefer to draw a distinction, though, between Satan and the Devil (or devils in general, the capital “D” being used when referring to a singular entity).  In most cases, Satan appears in biblical lore as a being concerned with the overall cosmology of heaven and earth, leading wars against God, and presenting deep philosophical and theological complications into the story of Creation.  Devils, on the other hand, are creatures interested in particular individuals, usually offering them power or temporal gifts in exchange for a soul, a service, or as a reward for exemplary cleverness.  They stem from myriad sources, including the Teutonic Teufel, the trickster spirits of African and Native American mythology, the Norse Loki, and British devil-figures like “Old Nick.”  Today, I’ll be looking at the Devil and his role in American witchcraft, particularly his place as an Initiator and a Trickster.

Devil as Initiator

I’ve already somewhat covered this in our post on Initiation, but the Devil (or one of his guises) functions as a primary point of contact for aspiring witches looking for ways to join the Otherworld.  While this initiation does often feature some distinctly anti-Christian elements, such as the inverted recitation of the Lord’s Prayer, the Devil’s role in such inductions tends to take on the tenor of a patron or godfather.  The Devil “sponsors” the initiating witch, usually offering a physical or magical token in exchange.  Some of these gifts include a familiar imp, spirit, or animal – See “Devil beetle bleeding toe” by Davies, or

exceptional magical and/or physical ability (such as the tale of the crossroads by Tommy Johnson, or any of the accounts of gamblers using the crossroads ritual in Harry M. Hyatt).  What the witch herself offers the Devil varies a bit.  Some examples are:

  • The life of someone near to her – “I am told, by women who claim to have experienced both, that the witch’s initiation is a much more moving spiritual crisis than that which the Christians call conversion. The primary reaction is profoundly depressing, however, because it inevitably results in the death of some person near and dear to the Witch” (OM&F, p. 268).
  • Her family – As happens, for example, in the Appalachian story of Jonas Dotson, a young man whose granddaddy and daddy were both preachers who decides to become a witch.  A very specific ceremony is laid out in the book, involving the use of stolen rams, toad’s blood, a pewter plate, a silver bullet, and an incantation.  He undergoes the initiation rite three times before it “takes” and the Devil makes him a witch (or in the context of the story, a conjure man).  Basically, he must untie the bonds of family in order to become a magician, and each initiation separates him further and further from those family members.  (Davis, p. 22-25)
  • A bit of her own flesh or blood – “If, through a pact, the devil is granted your soul in exchange for some talent, gift, or magical power, it is thought that he then receives some gift of the body in return.  This could be a fingernail or even a withered finger” (SC&W, p.164).
  • Her immortal soul – This is probably the most common story, and is what is frequently meant by “selling yourself” to the Devil.  In Vol. 2 of Harry M. Hyatt’s magnum opus on hoodoo folklore, a ritual for meeting the Devil in the form of a tornado at the crossroads ends with “An’ when he [the Devil] gits dere he tells them [the person at the crossroads] exactly whut tuh do, an’ dey’ll dance with him. Dat’s whut chew call sellin’ yo’self to de devil” (Hyatt, p.1346)
  • A person’s soul even after death.  W.J. Hoffman recounts a Pennsylvania-Dutch legend about a miserly man known as “Old Kent” whose death was presaged by all manner of supernatural occurrences, such as a murder of crows rapping at the windows. After he died, his wife heard such rapping frequently, so often in fact that no guests would stay the night and eventually she had to abandon the house altogether (Hoffman p. 34-5)

In many of the tales of the Devil as initiator, he also takes the new witch’s name down with a pen in a great black book, signifying the entry of the witch into a long line of witches whose names fill the book’s pages.  He is often quite terrifying to those who encounter him.  One account of a witch’s initiation witnessed by a couple of country men out in the woods describes him thus:

“Neither me nor Jeff had ever seed the Devil, and we couldn’t believe our eyes, but it must’ve been him.  He had horns just above his ears, his feet had hoofs like a deer, he had a long tail like a cow, and fiery eyes that looked like two boiled eggs.” (Davis, p. 17)

Quite frightening, no?

The gifts gained by becoming a witch through compact with the Devil often must be exercised regularly in order to remain potent.  Lapsing in witchcraft seems to lead to torment on the witch’s part if the Devil finds that she’s not been keeping up her end of the bargain by using her powers.  I would posit that while the folklore here superficially portrays the Devil as a cruel master, he may instead be a necessary goad.  After all, what great musician or momentous artist ever became who they are without practice?  Again, the Devil may be a stern teacher at times, but one that provides the necessary impetus for improvement in one’s craft.

In all of these particular aspects—mentor/sponsor, gift-giver, book-keeper/librarian, school-master—the Devil rather reminds me of a faculty member at a university, taking a student under his wing, and helping the young witch succeed in her field of calling.  But that may just be thoughts spurred on by my gearing up for graduate school again.  Because imagining the Devil as some doddering old professor is foolhardy at best.  He is, of course, more dangerous than I give him credit for.

Devil as Trickster

Tricksters are common in a number of cultural mythologies, and often have somewhat unsettling or frightening sides.  Because of these attributes, the Devil makes a perfect candidate for chief trickster in many folk tales.  Just as often as he tricks someone, though, the Devil also gets tricked or outwitted in some way.  This flip-side to his role provides a number of amusing tales, but I tend to think there’s a subtle willingness to play the fool on the Devil’s part, making the whole scenario one big trick in the end.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The lore about trickster Devils is not a New World phenomenon, of course.  There are several tales from Europe and Africa which feature a Devil or a diabolical trickster figure of some kind, such as the Grimm’s tale “The Devil’s Sooty Brother” or the Ashanti tales about Anansi the Spider (see Podcast 26).  Native Americans, however, also seemed to latch on to the concept of the tricksy Devil, and either came to the campfire with their own Devil tales or allowed a Devil to be integrated into their storytelling at times.  A legend recorded by Charles M. Skinner in 1896 discusses a land dispute between the Devil and the Long Island Native tribes which resulted in the creation of a natural landmark (see “The Devil’s Stepping-Stones”).

Skinner also records another wonderful story which has become a tightly integrated piece of Americana.  In “The Devil and Tom Walker,” the poor, bedraggled title character meets the Devil in a wood outside of Boston, where they have this exchange:

“Who are you?” he [Tom] asked.

“I go by different names in different places,” replied the dark one. “In some countries I am the black miner; in some the wild huntsman; here I am the black woodman. I am the patron of slave dealers and master of Salem witches.”

“I think you are the devil,” blurted Tom.

“At your service,” replied his majesty.

The Devil coaxes Tom with the promise of treasure, which he at first resists, instead sending his wife to collect it instead.  When she disappears, he enters into his Faustian bargain and uses the money to set up a usury business.  He attempts at every turn to outwit the Devil, keeping a Bible on him at all times and even burying his horse feet up so that if the world turns upside down on Judgment Day, he’ll have a running start in escaping his fate.  Of course, the Devil finally catches Tom and spirits him off to hell, leaving behind only cinders and ashes in place of all his money and possessions.

What interests me about this particular tale is that unlike the European Faust, Tom Walker has no interest in magical gain or supernatural powers—only money.  Well, money and getting rid of his wife, that is.

Sometimes the Devil’s trickster competitions are with angels, saints, or even God.  In these cases, the Devil almost always loses, but often whatever occurs in the story has some lasting impact on the world.  The catfish, according to one Southern folk tale, gets its distinct and ugly appearance from a brush with the Devil.  God created the fish, then took the evening off to go up to the “Big House” with his archangels and eat supper.  When he came back down to the river, the Devil was sitting there descaling the fish.  God demanded he put the catfish back and the devil agreed.  The catfish rolled in the mud to make up for its lack of scales but never grew them back again (Leeming, p. 59-60).

Sometimes, of course, people do get the better of the Devil.  In a piece of Maryland folklore which parallels the Ashanti story of Anansi and Anene which I told in Podcast 26, a woman (who is never quite identified as a witch, peculiarly enough), enters into a contract with the Devil and outwits him at every turn:

“Not many outwitted the devil, but Molly Horn was one.  She and the devil contracted to farm on the Eastern Shore together.  They agreed that on the first crop Molly would take what grew in the ground and the devil would take what grew on top.  Molly planted white potatoes and the devil came out shortchanged.  So for the next crop they decided to do it the other way round, the devil getting what grew in the ground.  This time Molly planted peas and beans and once more the devil got nothing.  A hot argument ensued on the bank of the North West Fork of the Nanticoke River in Dorchester County.  Molly struck the devil a terrific crack and skidded him across the marsh to the edge of the Bay.  When he stood up and shook the mud off himself, it formed Devil’s Island, then he dove overboard and made Devil’s Hole.” (Carey, p. 49)

Sometimes, though, people don’t quite get the best of the trickster Devil, and pay a gruesome price.  Zora Neale Hurston records the tale of High Walker in her book, Mules & Men, in which the titular Mr. Walker gains necromantic powers from the Devil only to eventually be tricked into losing his head, literally, in a graveyard.

As a final point about the Devil as a trickster, I’d like to look at the Devil’s music.  As most probably know, the Devil loves music, especially fiddle music, and can be lured into a fiddle contest on a moment’s notice.  If you’ve ever heard the Charlie Daniels Band perform “The Devil went down to Georgia,” you know this story (a Mariachi band once sing this to my wife and me at a large Mexican wedding, which was a pretty phenomenal experience).  While it is an entertaining song even on its own, it has precedents in folklore, too:

“It is a well-known old belief that fiddlers make pacts with the devil in order to obtain their talent.  Players of old-time fiddle music commonly kept (and still keep) rattlesnake rattles in their fiddles, perhaps unconsciously associating a symbol of the devil with the instrument.  The devil appears as a serpent in Genesis, and he is more modernly portrayed playing a fiddle…the instrument has been called the devil’s box, the devil’s riding horse, and similar terms” (Milne, p.153)

Milne also asserts a connection between the rattles placed in the instrument and a similar practice in West Africa, something I’ve not had time to research but which adds an intriguing layer to this particular custom.

Well that’s it for the Devil for today.  I have a feeling he’ll be coming back up periodically.  When he does, hopefully I’ll be ready for him.  Perhaps I should start some fiddle lessons?

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


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