Blog Post 42 – Five-finger Grass

Catherine Yronwode calls this “the most popular green, leafy herb in hoodoo” (HHRM, p. 95).  It’s known by several names, including Cinquefoil and Tormentil (which is actually a particular species in the broader genus of Potentilla, which also includes Five-finger Grass).  This herb, which is not actually a grass, is one of the best to keep around.  It’s fairly easy to grow from seed, or from root cuttings as it is a rhizome.

The value of this herb has been known for a long time.  Sir Francis Bacon noted that it seemed to attract a particular type of wildlife, saying “The toad will be much under Sage, frogs will be in Cinquefoil” (The Works of Sir Francis Bacon, p. 548).  John George Hohman mentions it in his The Long Lost Friend, saying “If you call upon another to ask for a favor, take care to carry a little of the five-finger grass with you,

and you shall certainly obtain that you desired” (Hohman, #14).

This particular herb is a very positive one.  It’s used for protection because of its hand-like shape (imagine a hand held up to halt evil in its tracks), but also in love spells, money and luck workings, and even travel magic.  Here are some of the basic ways to use it:

  • Take a pinch of cinquefoil and put it behind a mirror (in the space between the mirror and its backing).  Then hang the mirror where it faces your front, or main, door.  A landlord or debt collector will be unable to force you from your home, and anyone coming to see you will be predisposed to show you kindness.
  • Carried with Comfrey Root and Lodestone in a black bag and dressed with Commanding Oil, it prevents you from getting lost in your travels (this spell is from Catherine Yronwode, HHRM, p. 95)
  • According to Judika Illes’ Encyclopedia of 5000 Spells, burning Cinquefoil as incense before bed will let you dream of your lover
  • Mixed with Deer’s Tongue and Calamus root and powdered, it can be used to dress love letters in order to encourage loving thoughts from your intended.
  • Putting a pinch of the grass in your wallet or purse will keep you lucky with your money, helping you to spend it wisely, find good bargains, and have luck when you risk it at games of chance.
  • Add it to a mojo bag with a Lucky Hand Root and an Alligator Foot or Rabbit Foot charm, then feed the bag with Hoyt’s Cologne or another lucky scent for help when you’re playing cards.
  • Made into a strong tea and used as a floor wash (or combined with another floor treatment like Chinese Wash) Five-finger Grass will remove curses put upon your household.  You can also add other protective herbs like Rue or Rosemary to help with this.

Botanical.com mentions that the herb has also had reputed healing qualities ascribed to it for quite some time.  In days of yore, it was used to heal aches and sores (esp. those which were ulcerous, such as sores in the mouth), and also to help ease coughs.  Today, they say that “the dried herb is more generally now employed, for its astringent and febrifuge properties.”

You can grow or buy this herb, and it’s definitely a good one to have around your front door (remember the protective qualities; it might even keep the Jehovah’s Witnesses away!), if there’s a sunny spot for it—it prefers full sun and does well in rock gardens.  It’s got very pretty little yellow flowers, similar to a strawberry plant’s.  However you get it, I definitely recommend having it on hand if you are going to be doing hoodoo for luck or money.  Or any number of other spells, for that matter.  I hope you’ve enjoyed this herb, and this week’s posts!

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

Blog Post 39 – Angelica Root

Since we talked about the very masculine High John yesterday, today I thought we’d look at its feminine “counterpart,” Angelica.  The main plant bearing this name is Angelica archangelica, appropriately enough, and it has strong associations with angels and holiness.  It is often associated with the Archangel Michael, and has much of his same protective power.

Culpepper, in his medieval herbal manual, writes of this herb:  “To write a description of that which is so well known to be growing in almost every garden, I suppose is altogether needless; yet for its virtue it is of admirable use” (Culpepper 8).  This plant has been grown commonly for hundreds of years, for its medicinal, culinary, and magical properties.  It’s one of the common flavorings found in liqueurs such as Chartreuse and it has a highly aromatic quality that runs from root to leaf.

Botanical.com describes it thusly:

“The roots of the Common Angelica are long and spindle-shaped, thick and fleshy – large specimens weighing sometimes as much as three pounds – and are beset with many long, descending rootlets. The stems are stout fluted, 4 to 6 feet high and hollow. The foliage is bold and pleasing, the leaves are on long stout, hollow footstalks, often 3 feet in length, reddish purple at the much dilated, clasping bases; the blades, of a bright green colour, are much cut into, being composed of numerous small leaflets, divided into three principal groups, each of which is again subdivided into three lesser groups. The edges of the leaflets are finely toothed or serrated. The flowers, small and numerous, yellowish or greenish in colour, are grouped into large, globular umbels. They blossom in July and are succeeded by pale yellow, oblong fruits, 1/6 to a 1/4 inch in length when ripe, with membraneous edges, flattened on one side and convex on the other, which bears three prominent ribs. Both the odour and taste of the fruits are pleasantly aromatic.”

The root of the plant has potent estrogen-like compounds, which is likely one reason it has a strong connection to women.  It’s also supposed to be good for helping to break fevers and expel disease, particularly diseases of the lungs.

Magically, this plant is female, through and through.  That’s not to say men can’t use it, of course.  I bound up an Angelica root in white linen and placed it beneath our bed when my wife was pregnant to protect her and the developing baby (all turned out quite well, by the way).  But Angelica is renowned for its power to protect women and undo harmful magic.  Some of the various spells one can do with Angelica include:

  • Carrying the root to protect from harm (in general)
  • Women can carry the root, along with a picture of St. Michael the Archangel, to protect from unwanted advances (or worse) from men
  • Dress Angelica root with Blessing oil (or just olive oil over which prayers have been said, such as Psalm 23) in order to protect a newborn baby (place the anointed root in a white cloth under the baby’s bed).
  • Ground Angelica root can be mixed with salt and another protective herb, like rue, rosemary, or sulfur (not an herb, I know, but I think you follow me) and kept in a small white mojo bag to guard against hexes.  Alternatively, the mixture can be sprinkled across doorways or mixed into an Uncrossing floor wash to remove jinxes placed on one’s household.
  • A strong tisane (or tea) of the root can be made and used to sprinkle a new home or a home where negative spiritual activity has occurred in order to make the home calm and peaceful.

Additionally, Cathreine Yronwode mentions that “Angelica stem candied in sugar is an old fashioned treat said to keep children healthy” and that “When buying Angelica, be aware that its occasional alternate name Masterwort more truly belongs to Imperatoria ostruthium…Also, Hercules Club, a plant in the Aralia family, is called Angelica Tree by some, but is not related to Angelica” (Yronwode 30).

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

Blog Post 38 – High John

Howdy all!

I hope you had a great weekend!  This week, I’m going to be focusing on herbs, roots, and curios used in various American magical practices.  I’m starting with one of the most common and most important roots in hoodoo:  High John the Conqueror.

This shriveled root is part of the Ipomoea genus, and is a relative of the Morning Glory.  Its resemblance to a shrunken testicle has made it a powerful symbol of potency and virility.   I consider it to be one of the quintessential hoodoo herbs (which is the reason I included it in my “hoodoo kit” post).  Catherine Yronwode says of the root in her Hoodoo Herb and Root Magic book, “ A person possessing a John the Conqueror Root will never be long without money or a lover and will be extremely lucky in games of chance and business” (HHRM p. 111).

Some of the most common ways to use this root are to put it into a jar of neutral oil (such as safflower or olive) and let it sit for a few weeks, occasionally shaking the jar.  The resulting oil (which will have little to no smell and to which you should add some vitamin E or tincture of benzoin to prevent rancidity) can be used to anoint anything that needs more power.  Rubbed on your hands and feet, it adds personal power to everything you do.  Rubbed on money kept in your wallet, it helps you be more successful in luck and business endeavors.  Rubbed (very lightly) on the penis, it restores male virility and enhances sexual prowess.

Another key way to use this root is to keep a whole root in your pocket, either by itself or wrapped in a red cloth bag as a mojo hand.  Fed regularly (once a week at least) with whiskey or the High John Oil I just described, it keeps you empowered and potent at all times.  According to the lore, money comes easier, luck favors you, love finds you, and sex is better than ever.

You can also add John the Conqueror (by the way, you say it “John the Con-ker”) chips or oil to other mojo hands to increase their potency as well.  I like to add them to success and business workings, because they tend to work faster and require less finagling on my part after my initial efforts.

The High John root has appeared in pop culture several times, too.  Whenever hoodoo comes up in songs, a mention of this root is seldom far behind.  For example, in the Allman Brothers Band remake of Willie Dixon’s “Hoochie Coochie Man,” radio audiences of the 70’s heard the lyrics:

“Got a John the Conquerer root and got some mojo too,
We got a black cat bone, we’re gonna slip it to you.”

Considering the libertine behavior the singer boasts of elsewhere in the song, having a little magic keeping his virility charged certainly seems like a good idea (I’ll address the black cat bone reference in another post).  Muddy Waters (who worked with Willie Dixon quite a lot) also recorded a blues song featuring the hoodoo charm, entitled (appropriately) “My John the Conqueror Root.”

There are lots of places to find this root on the web, and if you have a local botanica of some kind, they will also likely carry this curio.  I highly recommend anyone looking into American magic familiarize him/herself with High John.  Who couldn’t use a magical boost from such a potent little root?

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

Blog Post 37 – Some Weekend Reading

Howdy everyone!

I thought that I’d finish up this week with another essay, this time one that I won’t actually be posting on the New World Witchery site.  Instead, I’m going to provide a link to an excellent essay I found on Pow-wow magic, and then some notes I made while reading it.

The essay itself is written by David W. Kriebel, Ph.D.  and has a distinctly academic tone.  It focuses on the history and practice of braucherei in the Pennsylvania area, as well as examining some modern practitioners (most notably Don Yoder and Silver Ravenwolf (aka Jenine Trayer).  It’s an interesting read, I think, but I’ll let you decide for yourself.

Here’s the essay:  http://www.esoteric.msu.edu/VolumeIV/Powwow.htm

Some of the thoughts I had while reading this were:

  • Why is Pow-wow fading from the magical stage so steadily?  Many spiritual and magical traditions have received increased attention in the past 30-40 years as the shiny patina of atomic-age wonder has begun to fade, yet Pow-wow still seems to be on the decline.
  • Is Pow-wow evolving into something else altogether?  Kriebel mentions Ravenwolf’s book, which has had a mixed reception at best in the magical community.  But her version of Pow-wow may just be where the practice is headed.  Is that a good thing, a bad thing, or just a thing, period?
  • The old books of Pow-wow, such as The Long Lost Friend and the Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses, get a good bit of attention in this essay.  How relevant are they to the current practice of this magical system?
  • I love the story about Mountain Mary.  It makes me wonder just how many of my local folk heroes might have been magically inclined.
  • The three levels of magical ritual (I, II, and III) which Kriebel mentions correspond well to various practices I’ve seen elsewhere (a simple charm from Hohman might be a I or a II, while Chris Bilardi’s complete brauche circuit in The Red Church is more of a III, I think).  I wonder if the idea presented here about Pow-wow would hold true for other magical systems, like hoodoo.
  • One of the best things I come away with from this essay is in his conclusion, where he notes a 90% effectiveness rating for Pow-wow curing, which is remarkably good for any healing practice.  In the end, I think that kind of a result defies any attempts to explain magic as pure superstition, but I may be wrong.  What do you think?

That’s it for this week!  Have a great weekend, and as always, thanks for reading!

-Cory

Blog Post 36 – Questions to a Braucher, Part II


Hello again!

Today we’ve got Part II of the question-and-answer article by Chris Bilardi. I won’t spend a lot of time introducing it, as I think Chris does a marvelous job of presenting his information without all of my gum-flapping beforehand 🙂 Onto the article!

How important is God in braucherei healing?

God is of paramount importance in braucherei. There is no real healing outside of God. Those two statements, I know, sound horribly pious. But, I cannot change the fact of who the real Source of this work is. Before a powwow session the braucher will ask every new ‘patient’ if they belief in God. If the response is ‘no’ the appointment ends right there. There has been some disagreement if one needs to be specifically Christian in order to be treated, or if one only needs to accept the God of the Bible. It is difficult for some to grasp the importance of this. Today we live in a very secularized, humanistic culture. Man has become the measure of all things in an imperfect existentialist universe of largely impersonal forces. Even “spiritual” power, when acknowledged, is made palatable by putting ‘it’ on the same level as electricity, for example. The healing power is “orgone”, “vril”, “animal magnetism”, “chi” – it is anything but God Almighty. But, that is not the world of a traditional braucher. This is not to say that there are no such energies, but in the view of traditional powwowers, it is the Holy Ghost that directs all power. In the Christian belief, the Holy Ghost is not a “what” but a “Who” — the Third Person of the Holy Trinity. The Pennsylvania Germans have traditionally been mainly of the Lutheran and Reformed confessions (although there are many other denominations as well), and it is within that ‘universe’ that old time practitioners had (and have) their foundation and points of reference. Therefore, it is important to note that braucherei is not a religion, but simply a multi-rooted, varied set of folk practices that have grown out of medieval Central European Christian culture. The roots of braucherei practice are many, indeed, and do have some pre-Christian antecedents. But, these pre-Christian bits and pieces are all operative, or practical. All pieces are subsumed in Christ.

Can you give the history of braucherei in a specific location?

Yes, Williams Township, Pennsylvania, specifically around the area of Easton and Raubsville.  During the 18th and 19th centuries, braucherei in this area was dominated by two families of powwowers: the Wilhelms and the Seilers (Saylors).  The patriarch of the Seilers was Johann Peter Seiler (1721 b. – 1803 d.). He and his wife Margaret (nee Maurer) were the parents of Johannes, Daniel, Frederick and Peter. Johann Seiler was a braucher and passed the practice to his youngest son Dr. Peter Saylor (1809 b. – 1868 d.). Dr. Saylor and his father, in turn taught powwowing and general medicine to John Henry Wilhelm (1816 b. – 1886 d.), who was much loved in his community and sorely missed when he passed away. At one point in his career as a braucher, a disgruntled local had Dr. Wilhelm arrested for practicing medicine without a diploma. Around this time Jacob Saylor (1793 b. – 1865 d.), grandson of Johann Peter Seiler, was practicing powwow as well. Prior to John Henry, his grandfather, Jacob Wilhelm (1744 b. – 1821 d.) was a braucher from Germany who passed along his book of charms, which remains to this day with his descendents.  John Henry’s son Eugene Wilhelm was equally loved by his community and practiced until his death in 1905. The interesting thing to note about Dr. Eugene’s practice is that he incorporated magnetic treatments into his powwowing. It was not unusual for powwow doctors to add new fads, trends, or advances in “alternative medicine” to their powwowing. When Mesmerism was the rage, many powwowers would borrow from the Mesmerists.  Dr. Arthur Wilhelm (1879 b. – 1950 d.), Dr. Eugene’s son, incorporated orthodox, allopathic medicine with homeopathy, powwow, and other “alternative” methods in his practice. One of the many things that is interesting about these two families is that the practice of braucherei has had same-gender transmission – not only among blood family members, but between families. Of course, the Saylors and the Wilhelms are related by marriage, which may have accounted for this. This method of teaching powwow differs from most noted traditions that insist on cross-gender transmission: that is, male to female; female to male.  Another interesting note is that Dr. Peter Saylor began the tradition of transferring illness, curses, and evil entities to a local peak called “The Hexenkopf” (which means “the witch’s head”) where it was believe that demons dwelled and evil witches held their Sabbaths. Usually powwow doctors will transfer illness, and other maladies, to smaller objects such as trees, rocks, pieces of metal, etc., making Dr. Henry’s receptor unique. All of the above information regarding these families can be found in Ned Heindel’s excellent book Hexenkopf: History, Healing & Hexerei. I have chosen to highlight this particular area and set of families to illustrate the consistency and persistence of powwow’s transmission as whole lineages.

Is there any difference in the healing of animals vs. the healing of humans?

There is really no differences beyond the types of illnesses – for example, humans don’t get “windgalls” – cysts in horse legs. However, many of the same charms used on humans are used on animals. There are general forms of powwow practice that can cover any illness for man or beast, such as was taught to me that I call “The General Brauche Circuit” in my book.  A notable difference in powwowing animals is that they can be nervous and wiggly and not stay still for longer sessions of powwow work – the same as human children. However, many brauchers have a knack at calming down nervous animals, so there are often no issues to be had.

How can a person get started learning braucherei?
Reading and researching is the first way to begin, unless one knows of someone who powwows and is willing to teach. By researching and keeping an ear to the ground, one will create a network that will make finding an established practitioner easier. However, once a braucher is found there is no guarantee that she or he will take on apprentices or students. Get the old powwow manuals: The Long Lost Friend, Egyptian Secrets of Albertus Magnus, Secrets of Sympathy, just to name three. Also, find books, magazines, and articles on Pennsylvania German (Dutch) folklore, such as issues of “The Pennsylvania Dutchman” (long out of print). My own book, The Red Church, contains much information and a large bibliography for those who want to go farther and do their own research. Despite all of these written sources, nothing can ever take the place of having the tradition passed on by a live human being. That last comment reminds me that spirits can, and do, teach people much when they begin this work. Sometimes this sort of teaching is not always obvious. In other cases it can be more dramatic where a braucher can have ‘visions’ or dreams where they obtain spirit guides, ‘Indian’ guides, and such. I, myself, have received some teaching at this level in the form of highly lucid dreams. Last, but certainly not the least, the Holy Bible is of paramount importance in braucherei practice. Many powwowers will not use any charms other than lines taken directly from Scripture. I highly suggest that a person who wants to be a braucher get acquainted with that book. If one does begin to practice, what s/he will notice in time is that one has a knack for certain types of healing or activity over all others.  Really read up on Pennsylvania German culture and try to immerse oneself in it as much as possible. For those who are outside of the cultural areas, which are mainly in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and certain parts of Carolinas, West Virginia, and Canada, it will be more difficult to do this. For those who live in or near North Dakota, there are the so-called “Volga Germans” or Germans from Russia (who are not Pennsylvania Germans), and have braucherei in their culture which is virtually indistinguishable from the PA German variety. Take the time to get some familiarity with the German language, both the standard usage, and the Deitsch dialect; this will make it easier to understand the things found during research work. One last suggestion: pray for guidance, this is probably the most important of all.

I hope y’all enjoyed that! I know I did. Many thanks to Chris for contributing to us here at New World Witchery. He’s a real friend to us here, and we’re immensely grateful that he took time out of his life to put together this phenomenal essay. If you liked what you read here, please head over to Amazon (or to your book dealer of choice) and pick up a copy of his master-work on braucherei, The Red Church.

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

Blog Post 35 – Questions to a Braucher, Part I

Greetings, all!

This week, we’re very lucky to be able to host a new article by the rather brilliant author of The Red Church, Chris Bilardi.  The article will be put up in two parts over two days.  It’s a thoughtful and well-composed question-and-answer session from a traditional Pow-wow practitioner’s (or braucher’s) perspective.  If you enjoyed my introduction to Pow-wow series, have been looking for straight answers on the magical traditions of the Pennsylvania Germans, or just have an interest in folk magic and healing in general, I think you’re in for a real treat.

Now, without further delay, the article:

Questions to a Braucher

Below is a list of questions regarding the present-day practice of Pennsylvania German Braucherei, or otherwise known as Pow-Wow.

How does one find a braucher nearby and contact them?

Traditionally, one finds a braucher by word of mouth. Prior to the so-called York “Hex Murder” of the braucher Nelson Rehmeyer in 1928, there were many full-time, professional powwowers who hung out a shingle and advertised. After Rehmeyer’s murder, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania began a sever crackdown on the practice of braucherei. With that stated, it must be said that even prior to the shocking events of 1928, most practitioners did not advertise, charge, or hang out a ‘shingle’ that they were in practice. In fact, the norm was, and still is, that of the private individual, the knowledge of whose powwowing activity is passed by word of mouth, and who practices mainly among family, friends, friends of friends, and so-on. At this point, there are still very few publically known powwow doctors. One who wishes to go to one must still keep an ear to the ground, and then make discrete inquiries. Pennsylvania Dutchmen tend to be shy (or even in some cases hostile) when the subject is broached. These reactions are a mixture of embarrassment (for fear of being seen as “backward”), and disbelief (such as some who see the practice as devil’s work, or just superstitious nonsense). It would also be accurate to say that there are many ethnic Dutchmen today who have never heard of powwowing. Reticence on speaking of a known powwower is also a way of protecting a practitioner’s privacy (and ensuring their safety).

What kind of services does a braucher perform?

What services one can get depends upon the individual practitioner. The way it tends to work is like this: each powwower finds that s/he is particularly good at one sort of activity, and then specializes in that type of activity. For example, some are only good at removing warts; others have a knack for getting rid of inflammations, and so on. There are others who will try their hand at any sort of powwowing with the belief that it does not hurt give it a whirl. Some types of powwowing, such as I was taught, in a way fall into the latter category; in this case, there is only one method that is applicable to all conditions. Services have traditionally included any of the following: pain-relieve, inflammatory problems, colic, fever, warts and other lesions, folk-illnesses such as abnemmes or opnema (“the take off” – a wasting disease), aagewachse (“Livergrown”) and rotlaufa (which falls under red inflammatory conditions); also sore throats, heart disease, persistent cough, and any other physical ailment one can think of. Some brauchers believe that they cannot ‘try’ for congenital illnesses, only those acquired throughout life. Other services can include the preparation of charms and talismans, such as the himmelsbrief or a “fire and pestilence letter” (both are written talismans that bless and ward away illness, evil spirits and catastrophes).  Some brauchers are also exorcists; they have the ability to banish ghosts, hauntings, and demonic entities. The reasoning behind these activities is that all Christians are called by Christ to do these things to the glory of God and the good of His children. Not the least of this sort of activity is the breaking of a ferhext (cursed) condition, and the destruction of all acts of witchcraft. Some powwowers have “the sight” and are able to foretell events and find lost objects.

Is this stuff witchcraft?

Short answer: no. Long answer: it depends upon what a person thinks “witchcraft” is. Braucherei is a spiritual, energetic folk practice or modality of healing; traditionally, hexerei (i.e. “witchcraft”) has always been seen as a harmful practice. This is not the witchcraft of Neo-Paganism, or Wicca. The hexe was seen as one whose main purpose for existing was to make life miserable for others: “far die leid gwele”. Fundamentally, hexerei is an abuse of spiritual power. To some people braucherei with all of its seemingly ‘odd’ prayers, hand movements, herbs, and mysterious objects is nothing but dyed-in-the-wool witchery.   For the Neo-Pagan it looks from the outside like what they’ve come to know as “witchcraft”; for the Christian who is turned off by powwow, it equally looks from the outside as what they’ve been told witchcraft is supposed to look like. The common denominator in both of these superficial views is powwow’s “shamanistic” approach to the spiritual world. One of the reasons that Dutchmen have been cautious about helping others get involved in powwow is the very real danger of someone getting tangled up with black magic. It is far too easy for a poorly trained person to use their new-found knowledge abusively. Powwow does demand a good degree of spiritual discernment.

Does one need to pay for braucherei treatment?

Another short answer: no. Unfortunately, there is a long answer here too. In the past there were practitioners (the “professionals” with their shingles hanging outside) that did charge a set fee for healing, despite claiming that their power came “from Jesus”.  Some readers of this article will doubtlessly know of some folk healing traditions that demand the exchange of money (“crossing the palm with silver”) in order for it to work. In no uncertain terms, please understand that braucherei is not one of these traditions. By tradition, if one goes to a powwow doctor, s/he might leave a donation. The powwower will not ask for a donation. I was taught that a person can leave some money underneath the powwower’s Bible. Some practitioners will, in turn, not keep this money, but donate it to their church or to a charity.  As I made note of in The Red Church, there are some activities to which there are legitimate charges, such as the creation of a himmelsbrief or fire and pestilence letter – especially if it entails calligraphic fraktur work. In other words, any activity that demands the time and resources of the powwower can be legitimately charged to the client. However, the bulk of a powwower’s time is spent in healing work, and one is to never charge for healing. It is God who is the real doctor on these occasions, and no human being can take credit (or remuneration) for that work.

That’s it for Part I.  Tomorrow I’ll put up the rest of the article, which will deal a little more with the philosophy of the practice, and advice on getting started.

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

Podcast 6 – Hoodoo and an Interview with Conjure-man Papa Toad Bone

-SHOWNOTES FOR EPISODE 6-

Summary
In this episode, we discuss hoodoo and rootwork, particularly our experiences with it.  Then we have an interview with esteemed conjurer Papa Toad Bone.

Play:

Download:  New World Witchery – Episode 6

-Sources-

Websites
Lucky Mojo Co. – A site with lots of hoodoo information
Toad’s Bone Apotheca – Our guest’s marvelously funky and fantastic online curio shop
Mississippi Cunning + Conjure – A forum space for those interested in Southern magic and Traditional sorcery
Scarespite – A repository of Traditional Witchcraft and Sorcerous folklore

Promos & Music

Title music:  “Homebound,” by Jag, from Cypress Grove Blues.  From Magnatune.
Promo 1-Inciting a Riot Podcast
Promo 2- Druidcast
Promo 3- Podcast Appalachia

Blog Post 33 – A Hoodoo Starter Kit (Intro, Part V)

For my final post this week, I’m putting up my idea of what a beginning rootworker might want to have on hand.  Think of it as a sort of “first aid kit” for getting your hands dirty in hoodoo.  This is only my opinion, by the way, so your mileage may vary according to different conjure practices.  If you have any questions, please feel free to email me or to add a comment to this blog page and I’ll do my best to answer them.  Now, onto the kit!

Candles – I keep lots of these on hand, in several different sizes.  They’re good for doing most types of simple jobs where all that’s required is a quick dressing and a little time to burn them.  You can use color correspondences, if you like, but I find plain white (or beeswax candles with a  golden tint to them) work just fine for me.

Candlesticks/Holders (at least two) – I say at least two because you never know when you’ll need to burn for two things at the same time (say a separation working and then a protection one to help a woman in a bad relationship get out safely and stay safe).  There are some candle burnings, too, where progressively moving the candles closer together or further apart is part of the job being done.

High John root(s) and/or oil – This is the quintessential hoodoo root.  It’s small, brown, and not very impressive to look at, but man it packs a punch.  Anything that needs extra potency can benefit from High John.  There are plenty of folks who simply carry one in their pocket, feeding it regularly with whiskey or oil, to help them always be performing at their best, whatever they do.

Small assortment of condition oils – If I’m being really 100% honest, you don’t need these the way you might need other things on this list.  And you can certainly make your own versions of them rather than buying them from a store.  I like to have some of the basics on hand (especially Van Van and Fiery Wall) because it’s easy to dress a candle with them and do a quick burning, or to dress a mojo bag with them quickly.

Uncrossing – This one’s great for removing hexes and jinxes.
Attraction – Can draw love, money, luck, and other positive things into your life.
Van Van – This oil is a general use oil, good at removing obstacles, increasing luck, finding love, and many other things.
Compelling/Commanding – If you intend to do this kind of work, these are good to have. Compelling makes your target do what they say they will do, and Commanding makes them do what you want.
Blessing – This one is important for cleansing and blessing homes, marriages, children, etc.
Fiery Wall of Protection – A vital oil if you want really good protection for a person or place.

Whiskey (or other alcohol) – When you feed your mojos or other work, the typical offering is whiskey.  It’s also a good offering for working with ancestors and spirits (though some Native American spirits do NOT like it, apparently).  Some who do not use alcohol in their magic will use oils or holy water instead.

Salt – Good for setting protective barriers, for use in spiritual baths (especially to remove harmful influences), and adding to certain jobs where you are trying to neutralize someone else’s work.

Pepper (black and red) – Both are used to make things “hot” for a target, and also in the Hot Foot jobs a rootworker may be called upon to do.  They can be used in other work, as well, particularly if you’re trying to make things “fiery” for any reason (protection, sex, etc.).

Four Theives Vinegar – This is a centuries-old formula and there’s no need to buy it.  Just take good quality cider vinegar (or wine vinegar if you prefer) and add black and red pepper, garlic, and mustard seeds, then let it sit in a dark place, shaking it daily.  After about two weeks, voila!, Four Thieves Vinegar.  There are variations on the recipe (I use rue in mine), so find one that works for you.  It’s good for protection and hexing jobs, and it tastes delicious on a salad!

Honey/Molasses/Sugar/etc. – This is for any kind of sweetening work you do.  You can also add it to certain spiritual baths to help make things sweeter for you in general.  Choose a sweetener that is regionally appropriate—molasses is good in the South, while in Vermont maple syrup would be good.

Red cloth squares – For making mojo hands.  This doesn’t have to be anything fancy.  Flannel and linen are fairly traditional, but whatever is available in your local fabric store’s remnant bin will probably be just fine.  Or cut up an old red t-shirt.  In a pinch, white cloth can be used for most jobs, too.

Bottles/jars – Keep these on hand for doing Honey Jars or Vinegar Jars, as well as making protective bottle spells (like Witch Bottles) or even just as a back-up candle holder.  I save old baby food jars for this kind of work.  If you have a Sharpie, you can even draw or write on the glass, if you feel so inclined.

Envelopes/plastic baggies/etc. – For collecting ingredients or gathering spent spell materials for proper deployment (at a crossroads, in running water, etc.).  I will also confess I usually keep little paper envelopes on hand so that if I’m visiting someone that will be a target for a job and I use their bathroom…well, let’s just say most people leave things like hairbrushes pretty much out in the open…

Bible or other holy book – I’m not saying you have to thump it, sell it, buy it, preach it, or even believe in all of it, but the precedent for using Scripture in hoodoo is long-standing.  I’m not Christian but I use the Psalms in my work fairly often.  If you have a vehement dislike of Christian religion, and the Bible in particular, find another holy book that does work for you, such as the Koran, the Bhagavad Gita, or the poems of Rumi.  My only admonition here is that if the book isn’t spiritual in nature, I would avoid using it in rootwork.  There seems to be something very profoundly sacred about the relationship between a holy book and a magic spell, something that the spirits on the other side respond to.  That’s just my opinion, of course, so if you don’t believe me, I can live with that.

So that’s it for this week’s Introduction to Hoodoo!  I hope you’ve been enjoying this series.  We’ll be doing plenty more with rootwork in the future, including having a guest on our next podcast  who is a professional rootworker!   That episode should be out next week, and hopefully we’ll have a couple of other neat treats for you then, too.
Thanks for reading!

-Cory

Blog Post 32 – Hoodoo You Do (Intro, Part IV)

This blog post will primarily deal with types of hoodoo spells, or “tricks.”  It’s not a complete list of all types of hoodoo magic by any stretch of the imagination, but for someone just getting into it, this should give you an idea of what a conjure man/woman does, and give you some places to start if you want to do hoodoo for you.

Mojo Bags – Probably the best known of the hoodoo magical charms, mojos go by many names:  hands, tobys, jomos, etc.  These small talismans are little bags designed to be worn out of sight and usually close to the skin.  A particular type of mojo worn only by women is the “nation sack” of Memphis, TN.  The way these charms are made may vary a bit from place to place or worker to worker, but the general idea is that a small flannel sack, usually red but sometimes other colors, is filled with magical ingredients—usually an odd number of them.  It’s then closed up, and often anointed or “fed” with some offering on a regular basis (whiskey, rum, or other alcohol is a common food for a mojo hand; some of the condition oils found in hoodoo are also appropriate).  I recently heard these bags described as little spirit houses, and to my mind, that’s a perfect description.  The herbs, oils, curios, and other elements of hoodoo are matched together to make a little home for a spirit who can aid the worker in getting what he or she wants.  I often include a written charm in mine (being inclined towards the written word as I am), and usually I make my mojos as part of a larger working, such as a Candle Burning.

Candle Burnings – Also commonly called “setting lights,” candle burnings in hoodoo are similar to candle burnings in any other magical system.  The only real difference is the method (or methods) of dressing the candles.  In hoodoo, when a worker is dressing a candle to draw something (like money, love, health, etc.), he or she will cover the candle in herbs and oils from the bottom-up.  To rid oneself of something (like a jinx), candles are dressed top-down.  Personal concerns, such as a target’s hair or fingernails, are usually incorporated in the dressing, or may be placed beneath an inverted saucer upon which the candle is burned.  Name-papers with written charms may also be used in this manner.  Henri Gamache’s Master Book of Candle Burning is an excellent resource for this type of magic.

Readings – Most rootworkers begin with a reading of some kind.  Whether its tarot cards, palm reading, or just a sort of psychic once-over with second sight, the conjure person will need to get a good idea of what the client needs—not just what he or she wants.  Often, readings are done as part of a larger interview process to really hone in on what kind of work the rootworker will need to do.  I like to use playing cards to read before doing most magical workings, even ones for myself.

Honey Jars – We covered them a bit in our Special Episode recently, but I love these things, so I’ll mention them again here.  Basically, a honey jar is exactly what it sounds like:  a jar full of honey.  Into this sweet-and-sticky pot you place the names (and personal concerns in some cases) of those you wish to “sweeten up.”  These jars are also known as “sweetening jars,” and can actually contain almost any kind of pure sweetener, such as brown or white sugar, molasses, or syrup.  This is a good way to start doing hoodoo, because it is a very positive type of magic (you’re only making your relationships with those you sweeten better, after all) and it also teaches you to get your hands a little dirty (because you must push the names into the jar with your fingers, and then lick them clean…a nice reward for your efforts!).  You can make jars for each person you want to sweeten if you’re working more elaborate spells on them, or keep one jar with lots of names in it for general sweetening.  You can also make vinegar or “souring” jars, which is a form of Hexing.  I’d generally wait to do a souring jar until after you’ve tried a few sweetening ones, though.

Foot-track Magic – This type of magic stems from African Traditional practices, in which the footprint of a person could be used magically against them (or to help them, but usually harmful magic is associated with foot tracks).  The basic idea behind this kind of spell is that the feet come in contact with a magical potion, powder, or other ingredient and draw the psychic contagion up into the body.  One of the most famous examples of foot-track magic is the use of goofer dust on someone.  The hexing dust is sprinkled somewhere where the target will walk over it, and the poisonous influence of the powder will cause the target’s body to swell and fill with pain, and possibly even die.  Of course, it’s possible to do helpful spells with foot-track work, like laying a prosperity blend in someone’s path to ensure they have good luck, but this is a less common use of this magic.

Washing/Bathing – While I love the fact that hoodoo gets down and dirty, I also really like the emphasis it puts on cleanliness.  There are lots of formulae designed exclusively for things like washing one’s floors to banish harmful things and/or draw beneficial ones.  For example, you can wash your business doorstep or the sidewalk in front of your shop with a money drawing blend (such as bayberry, cinnamon, and rose-of-jericho water) from the outside-in to draw customers to you.  Bathing is also important in hoodoo, particularly ritual bathing performed over a series of 3, 5, 7, or 9 days.  Much like in Candle Burning, if you take a hoodoo bath, you’ll want to stand in the tub and wash up to draw something (like money) and down to get rid of something (like a bad habit).  Prayers, psalms, and other magical phrases may be recited while bathing, and usually at least some of the bath water is saved and later disposed of ritually (by pouring at a crossroads, for example).   I highly recommend Draja Mickaharic’s Spiritual Cleansing if you want to learn more on this subject.

Cleansings/Uncrossing Work – Related to Washing/Bathing is the concept of a Cleansing or an Uncrossing.  These workings are usually done to remove the effects of harmful witchcraft or hexing, and can be done by a rootworker or by a client under a worker’s direction.  Some common methods of uncrossing involve the aforementioned ritual bathing while using downward motion and uncrossing herbs (like rue, hyssop, and salt), marking the client with the “five-spot” or quincunx pattern using an uncrossing oil, or even running a raw egg around the client’s body to absorb negative spiritual energies (this is similar to cleansings found in other systems, like curanderismo).  A rootworker may also smoke or fumigate a client, using a sheet to tent the seated client from the shoulders down and burning incense beneath the chair to fill the tent with sacred smoke.  There are related areas of hoodoo spellwork which are more protective than cleansing which involve putting down salt, chalk, or brick dust lines around a person’s home to prevent harm from reaching them, but these are usually done after a cleansing has been performed on both the client and his/her house.

Jinxing/Hexing – So I know it seems backwards to discuss this after Cleansing/Uncrossing, but I generally feel like it’s better to know how to stop a harmful spell before you get started, so that’s why I mentioned the other first.  However, Jinxing/Hexing is a big part of hoodoo.  From the harmful forms of Foot-track Magic mentioned earlier to more fearsome curses (such as the disgusting but terrifying “Live Things in You” curse, in which a target is tricked into swallowing powdered snake skin, spider eggs, or other unsavory items so that they begin to feel like things are literally crawling around inside them).  Learning to hex someone with hoodoo isn’t hard, though it often requires a strong stomach.  One simple and quite grave curse is to make a doll-baby (stuffed poppet) with the person’s name paper or personal concerns inside of it, then put that into a small coffin and bury it in a graveyard.  The victim should feel their own life-force fading as long as the buried doll remains in the cemetery (a word of warning, though—in most places digging so much as a single spoonful of dirt is considered vandalism and is quite illegal, therefore I do not advocate it).  A simpler and much tamer curse is the vinegar jar I mentioned in our Witch Bottle Special.  By simply placing someone’s name into a jar of vinegar, along with things like red pepper flakes, black pepper, and garlic, you can sour their life pretty effectively.  Shaking the jar every time you think about it can help “stir up” more trouble for them.  Cursing someone for fun, by the way, is always a bad idea.  You never know when it might backfire and wind up dragging you right into trouble, so make sure you’re working “justified,” perhaps by doing a Reading first.

Love Spells – The simplest of these is a type of Honey Jar in which two people’s names are kept and a candle burned over the top of it.  This sweetens them to each other and helps set magic in motion to keep them sweet on one another.  Love spells in hoodoo, though, are not always so nice.  There are plenty of spells aimed at separating lovers (candles are even sold which look like married couples and which, when burned, come apart and lead to divorce or estrangement).  There are also more intense love spells aimed less at finding that one true love than at exercising power over the target (see Controlling Spells for more on that).  Many love spells, though, are more like the sweetening spells, and simply help a person find or catch that perfect mate.  There are some extremely simple love spells in hoodoo which involve little more than tying two dirty socks—one from each mate—together and hiding them away so that love will remain forever “bound” between them.  Of course, for those coming from a background where this sort of manipulation is a magical no-no, even a fairly benign hoodoo love spell can seem a little sinister.  But then, no one says you have to do every spell in the hoodoo spellbook, right?

Controlling/”Bend Over” Spells – I saved these spells for last because I find them incredibly interesting.  They are so antithetical to the kind of magic I did for years, because they completely ignore the idea of non-manipulation.  These spells are all about manipulation, in fact.  Controlling spells (and their sister workings, “Compelling” and “Bend Over” spells) usually involve forcing another person to do what you want them to do.  Sometimes, as in the case of Compelling or Pay Me Now! spells, the force is simply making the target fulfill a promise they’ve already made.  But often these tricks are laid in order to keep an errant spouse from philandering about, or to make a boss give you that raise you’ve been after.  Using roots like licorice and calamus, as well as personal effects from the target (name papers are much less effective in this kind of work, in my experience), a rootworker can do a heckuva number on someone.  One of the most famous methods of using this kind of magic involves a woman putting a bit of her menstrual blood in her husband or lover’s food, thereby making him remain faithful to her.  She can also “tie his nature” by measuring his penis with a string, then soaking it in his semen and tying knots in it.  That way, he will find himself useless unless she releases him, which presumably will only happen when he’s with her.  It’s intense stuff!  But it also makes sense.  For many folks, these workings are last-resort measures.  In some cases—such as using Courtcase formulae or spitting galangal root juice on a courthouse floor—they are the only methods available to poor folks being ground down by the gears of the legal system.  Who wouldn’t want magical reassurance that the judge was on their side?  While I don’t recommend starting with these kinds of spells, I will say I’ve gotten to really like them over time.  They’ve proven useful, and a good rootworker knows how to set limits when using Controlling magic.

Like I said, this isn’t an exhaustive list of all hoodoo techniques and spells, but it should at least give you an idea what kinds of magic are available in the rootworking system.  As always, I recommend checking out the Lucky Mojo site for more info on many of these methods, and if you have any comments or questions, you can email us or leave a comment and I’ll be happy to respond!

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

Blog Post 31 – Who’s Who in Hoodoo, part deux (Intro, Part III)

Today, I’m going to tackle of few of the modern rootworkers I know and/or admire.  This is most certainly is not a comprehensive list of professional hoodoo practitioners in North America, so please don’t start throwing rotten vegetables at me for not listing one of your favorite rootworkers.  But DO feel free to leave a comment on this post with the name/contact info of any professional hoodoo you think the world should know about!

Okay, on with the show!

Modern Rootworkers

Catherine Yronwode – I believe she actually prefers “catherine yronwode,” without capitalization.  If you are reading about hoodoo on the web and you don’t know who she is yet, you should immediately head over to the Lucky Mojo page and read her online text on the history and practice of hoodoo.  She is probably one of the most prominent profiles in modern conjure work, and she runs one of the biggest supply houses for magical and occult goods specializing in traditional hoodoo recipes and formulae.  Yronwode was featured in Christine Wicker’s Not in Kansas Anymore, which profiled magical practitioners across the United States.  She was also a famous comic book artist back in the 1970’s, and judging by the colorful designs on her wares, I’d say she still has an eye for a good picture.  She’s also been instrumental in keeping hoodoo a vital, living tradition rooted in history but adapting to modern times.  Her course for prospective students of hoodoo is almost a pre-requisite for any rootworker, and her Association of Independent Readers and Rootworkers provides a stamp of quality which ensures that those seeking magical help don’t get ripped off.   Seriously, if you’re reading this and don’t know who she is, go to Lucky Mojo right now!

Dr. Christos KioniThis Florida-based rootworker is host of the Lucky Mojo Hoodoo Rootwork Hour.  He is also one of the best known professional conjure men working today, and the active owner of the MyHoodooSpace website.  Dr. K also works very hard to preserve the African Diasporic traditions (such as the ATR practices discussed in the introductory post on hoodoo earlier this week.  I think he works both with the left hand and the right (meaning he will curse if he sees a need for it), though I’m basing that on some of the discussions from his radio show and he may well have changed ideologies since then.  He was also mentioned in Not in Kansas Anymore, and actually knows where to find the grave of Zora Neale Hurston (which very few folks do).  He is definitely a big personality, but he has a friendly and warm demeanor about him, and I believe he’s got a fairly high rate of success with his work, too.  He also happens to be friends with cat yronwode (if you didn’t guess that from the name of his radio program).  As he says of himself “I can hit a straight lick with a crooked stick!”

Michaele Maurer – Miss Michaele (pronounced mi-KAY-luh, I believe) is the owner of the Hoodoo Foundry, a site dedicated to traditional rootwork.  One of the reasons I really like her practice is that she focuses on Southern-style rootwork, including a lot of Bibliomancy and using Biblical prayers and magic to accomplish her goals (not that I think all great rootworkers are Bible-thumping Christians, mind you…see Karma Zain or Papa Toad Bone for contrast).  I really value her deeply traditionalist approach, however, and I also like that she has a broad range of reading styles, including tarot, pendulum, and ceromancy (reading candle wax).  She’s not one who does jinxing or crossing work, but she does at least acknowledge that sometimes it is justified and she helps clients needing those services to find a root worker who will attempt those tricks.   She seems to be very tender-hearted and kind, and works for the good of her clients with deep sincerity.

Starr – An old-fashioned Southern hoodoo woman from Texas, Starr has been steeped in conjure work for most of her life.  She’s quite sassy and funny, and also very straightforward.  She’s another traditionalist who works closely with Christian religious figures, including Saints.  While much of her work is focused on things like spiritual cleansing, sweetening, and healing, she also does vinegar jars, hot foot workings, and as she puts it, “I will do separation and break up work on a case by case basis if so guided by the spirit.”  She also runs the Old Style Conjure site, and offers mini-courses which compliment a broader study of hoodoo quite nicely.

Karma Zain – Ms. Zain is not only a great rootworker, she’s also a bishop in the Franco-Haitian Gnostic Vodoun tradition.  I know, I’ve said I really like old-style conjurers who stick to certain historical precepts regarding the incorporation of Biblical elements, but that doesn’t mean I think all good hoodoo men and women must be Judeo-Christian.   Karma Zain proves that point, because besides being a Vodoun bishop, she’s an honest, straightforward worker who isn’t afraid to say “no” to a client if she doesn’t feel their cause warrants the action they ask for.  She’s the kind of rootworker who isn’t afraid to dig in the dirt and use the less savory curios like bone fragments and fur.  She seems like an incredibly down-to-earth and sensible woman, and one I wouldn’t want t cross!

Papa Toad Bone – This Mississippi based conjure man is the proprietor of the Toad’s Bone Apotheca, one of the funkiest and witchiest sites I’ve seen.  Just looking at his webpage makes me want to lay a trick or two or take a walk to the crossroads.  He’s also Pagan, and very much a non-Christian kind of Pagan, again proving that great conjurers needn’t be entirely wrapped up in the Biblical worldview.  I’ve known him through several different avenues over the last couple of years, and he’s always struck me as someone who really spends time with spirits and understands them incredibly well (I think he even found a great way to play card games with them, but hopefully I’ll get him to tell about that at some point).  He’s also a nitty-gritty sort of worker, spending a good deal of time out in the swamps and wild places gathering materials for his shop and clients.  Again, someone I wouldn’t want to cross, and a rootworker who gets things done.

Carolina Gonzalez – Another Pagan rootworker, Ms. Gonzalez incorporates her Latin roots into her magic, offering a particularly unique blend of brujeria, hoodoo, and witchcraft to her clients.  She runs The Hoodoo Shop on Etsy, and she’s the resident hoodoo expert for sites like The Noble Pagan and The Modern Pagan.  She’s located in the Canary Islands, proof that hoodoo is a worldwide phenomenon at this point.  Her site offers her products as well as courses and LOTS of great information from her many different areas of expertise.

Sarah Lawless – I certainly can’t leave out Sarah, a friend to New World Witchery and a heckuva witch and conjure woman in her own right.  She practices her root work out in the wilds of British Columbia, carefully adapting the fundamental practices of traditional Southern rootwork to her immediate environment.  We’ve talked to and about her a lot on this blog, so rather than sound like a rampaging fan boy, I will simply suggest you go check out her blog and store and see how magical she is for yourself.

Stephanie Palm – The wonderful proprietress of Music City Mojo, and my personal hoodoo teacher.  She is not one to pull punches or sugar-coat things, though she is also incredibly warm and friendly.  Stephanie is the High Priestess of a Traditional Witchcraft coven, as well as a devotee of Vodoun.  She’s a gifted teacher, as well as a gifted conjure woman, and she isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty in a graveyard or to lay down a jinx if the situation calls for it.  More importantly, she isn’t afraid to let someone know that the situation DOESN’T call for a jinx.  I really could go on and on about how much I adore her and how thankful I am to her for all she’s taught me, but for now I’ll just say that if you’re looking for someone who knows their stuff, she’s one to talk to.

I know there are lots more rootworkers out there, and I’d love to hear about them from all of you, so please feel free to post a comment on this blog about your favorite hoodoo men and women.

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

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