Blog Post 16 – An Introduction to Pow-wow, Part III

Hi folks!  Here is the final installment in my introductory Pow-wow series.  I hope you’re enjoying them!  Now, on to the magic!

Where can I find out more about Pow-wow?

There are many phenomenal resources on this subject.  Here are some of the books I like:

The Red Church, by Chris Bilardi
American Shamans, by Jack Montgomery
Signs, Cures, & Witchery, by Gerald C. Milne
Buying the Wind, by Richard M. Dorson (chapter on “Pennsylvania Dutchmen”)

And, of course, Pow-wows; or The Long Lost Friend, by John George Hohman (also available free at sacred-texts.com).

Additionally, I like this website and its accompanying newsletter:
Three Sisters Center for the Healing Arts

There are other books and resources which I’ve encountered either by proxy or by reputation which I’d also recommend seeking out, though I cannot give a strong opinion on their validity myself, yet:

Strange Experience: The Autobiography of a Hexenmeister, by Lee R. Gandee
Hex and Spellwork, by Karl Herr
The Pennsylvania German Broadside, by Don Yoder
The Pennsylvania German Society

Some Pow-wow Charms & Proverbs

Finally, as promised, here are some Pow-wow charms you can try out yourself.  I’d love to hear how they work for you, so please feel free to leave comments or email us about your results!  Please also note that I provide these for cultural, spiritual, and magical value.  They do not replace conventional medical or legal advice; please see a professional if you have needs in those areas.

First, a few from Hohman’s book:

HOW TO BANISH THE FEVER.

Write the following words upon a paper and wrap it up in knot-grass, and then tie it upon the body of the person who has the fever:

Potmat sineat,
Potmat sineat,
Potmat sineat.

TO STOP BLEEDING.

I walk through a green forest;
There I find three wells, cool and cold;
The first is called courage,
The second is called good,
And the third is called stop the blood

TO REMOVE BRUISES AND PAINS.

Bruise, thou shalt not heat;
Bruise, thou shalt not sweat;
Bruise, thou shalt not run,
No-more than Virgin Mary shall bring forth another son.
+ + +

(The three “+” signs at the end indicate making three crosses in the air over the patient or afflicted area, also sometimes saying the three High Names of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost)

ANOTHER WAY TO STILL-BIND THIEVES.

Ye thieves, I conjure you, to be obedient like Jesus Christ, who obeyed his Heavenly Father unto the cross, and to stand without moving out of my sight, in the name of the Trinity. I command you by the power of God and the incarnation of Jesus Christ, not to move out of my sight, + + + like Jesus Christ was standing on Jordan’s stormy banks to be baptized by John. And furthermore, I conjure you, horse and rider, to stand still and not to move out of my sight, like Jesus Christ did stand when he was about to be nailed to the cross to release the fathers of the church from the bonds of hell.. Ye thieves, I bind you with the same bonds with which Jesus our Lord has bound hell; and thus ye shall be bound; + + + and the same words that bind you shall also release you.

(The conventional wisdom on releasing the thief is that the entire spell must be read backwards.  It’s nice to hold all the cards sometimes.  This charm is almost entirely lifted from entry #22 of the Romanus Buchlein, or Little Book of the Roma, a late 18th century grimoire and prayer book).

Here is a pair of charms which I am citing from Jack Montgomery’s American Shamans, but which he cites from an article entitled “Magical Medical Practice in South Carolina,” from Popular Science Monthly, 1907:

TO HEAL A SPRAIN

Christian Version

“Our Lord rode, his foal’s foot slade [slid],
Down he lighted, his foal’s foot righted,
Bone to bone,
Sinew to sinew,
Flesh to flesh,
Heal, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.  Amen”

Pagan Version

“Phol and Woden went to the wood, there was Balder’s colt his foot wrenched,
Then Sinthgunt charmed it and Sunna her sister,
Then Frua charmed it and Volla her sister, then Woden charmed it as he well could,
As well the bone-wrench,
As the blood-wrench,
Bone to bone,
Blood to blood,
Joint to joint,
As if they were glued together.”

(Montgomery, American Shamans, p. 102)

A classic Pow-wow blood-stopping charm, also from Jack Montgomery (and derived from a passage in Ezekiel, I believe):

And when I passed by thee and saw thee polluted in thine own blood, I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, Live; yea, I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, Live. (p. 253)

Here’s a more modern charm for protection during automobile travel:

“This is a written prayer that is used for protecting cars and other vehicles.  It can be simply folded and placed in the glovebox.

Our Heavenly Father, we ask this day a particular blessing.  As we take the wheel of our car, grant us safe passage through all the perils of trouble.  Shelter those who accompany us and provide us from harm by Thy mercy.  Steady our hands and quicken our eyes that we may never take another’s life.  Guide us to our destination safely, confident in the knowledge that Thy blessing be with us through darkness and light, sunshine and showers, forever and ever.  Amen.” (Bilardi, The Red Church, p. 284)

And I’ll conclude with a few proverbs from the Pennsylvania Dutch, as recorded in Buying the Wind, by Richard M. Dorson (pp.138-141).  Note that “German” here connotes the Pennsylvania-German dialect, not necessarily European German.

-German:  D’r hammer wert aus faerm ambos.
-English:  The anvil outlasts the hammer.

-German:  Waers erscht in di mil kummt grikt’s erscht gimale.
-English:  He that cometh first to the mill, grindeth first.

-German:  En blini sau finnt a alsemol en echel.
-English:  Even a blind pig will sometimes find an acorn.

I hope this series has been informative to you!  This won’t be the last time Pow-wow comes up here, of course, but I think it may be enough to get your feet wet on the subject.  If you try out any of these charms and have results to report or have any thoughts on the different folklore and opinions recorded here, I hope you will leave a comment or send an email and share them with us.

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

Blog Post 15 – An Introduction to Pow-wow, Part II

Welcome back!  Today I’m continuing with a bit more of the history of Pow-wow, as well as some of its cultural connections.  It’s a lot of information, so I’ll spare you a long introduction and get right to the point.

So why is it called “Pow-wow?”

That’s a good question.  After all, the term “powwow” is associated with Native Americans, not with Germans, right?  According to Rosemary Ellen Guiley, author of The Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft:

“The term [Pow-wowing] was derived from the settlers’ observation of Indian powwows, meetings for ceremonial or conference purposes.  Much of the Germans’ witchcraft centered around cures and healing.  The settlers enlisted the help of the Indians in finding native roots and herbs that could be used in their medicinal recipes” (p. 270)

So early on, the connection between the marginalized German settlers and the marginalized natives was established, and an exchange of information shaped the magical practices found among the settlers.  This is that distinctly American flavor I mentioned earlier—the syncretism of Old World techniques with New World resources.  I think it’s important to note that this syncretism was not done willy-nilly, but rather was born of specific needs.  Herbs were not substituted based on intuitive feelings, but based on shared botanical properties.  Hence an old-world root like mandrake might find a substitution in the form of a potato (another member of the nightshade family and one which could be used to make vegetable poppets for sympathetic magic).  Or, it might be replaced by the mayapple, due to its chemical properties (both share certain levels of toxicity which can make them psychoactive in small doses and deadly in larger ones).

Are there still Pow-wows in America?

Oh my yes.  There have been dozens of books written on the subject (many of them fairly recent, and sometimes unfortunately rather misrepresentative), and famous Pow-wows were known as little as thirty or forty years ago.  There are great resources written by fairly contemporary authors like Lee R. Gandee, Jack Montgomery, and Karl Herr, as well as some lesser-known works (such as the text by Chris Bilardi previously cited).  And, of course, Hohman’s Long Lost Friend is still available in print, too.

More than just books, though, there is a living tradition, often fairly hidden to outsiders, within various PA-Dutch communities.  Sometimes complete curing traditions are intact, sometimes only a few charms survive within a family.  Often one can find magical recipe books or almanacs like the ones circulated in the 1800’s sitting near family bibles in modern Pennsylvania-German homes.  Speaking of the Bible, that brings me to the next topic…

Is Pow-wow Christian magic?

This is a bit of a sticky wicket for a lot of folks.  Most certainly, as it is practiced now, Pow-wow is highly dependent on Judeo-Christian religion for its symbols, names of power, etc.  It has its roots in older practices, but tracing those roots is often a murky bit of business.  Rather than asking you to believe me on the subject, though, I’d like to present a few quotes from those more in the know than I am:

“Powwowing has survived into modern times.  Some of the charms and incantations used date back to the Middle Ages, probably to the time of Albertus Magnus, a magician, alchemist and prolific author whose feats were often called witchcraft.  Powwowing charms also include Kabbalistic and Biblical elements” (Guiley, The Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft, p. 270)

“The roots of Bruacherei are indeed quite long, some of which can be traced to pre-Christian Germanic heathenism.  Other roots are equally pre-Christian and stem from older forms of Judaism and the many strains of religion and medicine of the Roman Empire.  Without overreaching too much, the sometimes blurry lines between what constituted a ‘Germanic’ tribe versus a ‘Celtic’ tribe or a ‘Slavic’ tribe, make it quite possible there are Slavic and Celtic pre-Christian elements in Bruacherei.  The truly unique thing about Bruacherei is that it is a wholly Germanic synthesis of all these cultural strains.  Anyone looking for a purely heathen Germanic healing-way via Bruacherei is in for a major disappointment.  To take Bruacherei and reshape it in this manner is to make a brand-new practice out of it.  Therefore it would no longer be Bruacherei as it has been practiced for nearly 900 years and most certainly not as it has been practiced for the past two centuries in America” (Bilardi, The Red Church, p. 73)

“Once, when I showed him [famed Hex/Pow-wow Lee R. Gandee] several items I’d purchased from a mail order occult catalog, he smiled and said, ‘Do you really think that stuff will help you?  Don’t you realize by now that the magic is coming from within you and from God?  You are the catalyst!  In you, the power will either arise or fall flat.’” (Jack Montgomery, American Shamans, p. 77)

What I gather from this and other sources is that if one studies Pow-wow, one needs to be comfortable with Judeo-Christian ideas.  Note I don’t say one has to accept them all, but if learning to use a charm with the words “Jesus” or “Mary” or “Holy Ghost” in it is a problem, Pow-wow may not be the way to go.

There are definitely illustrations of pre-Christian origins for many of the modern Pow-wow charms and spells (I’ll be including one in this series to demonstrate these differences), but as it stands now, this system is tied to its centuries-old Christian heritage.  It is my opinion (and mine alone) that it is possible to work with Pow-wow without any Christian elements, but that if one does so, it is advisable to be absolutely sure that the names, prayers, charms, etc. one uses are intimately connected to their historical roots.  Using strictly Germanic spirit and deity names in this system strikes me as the only practical way to accomplish this (although I’d be willing to entertain the idea of using Native American stand-ins as well, due to the connection between the two cultures through Pow-wow).  The odd tendency in modern magic to use “correspondences” and tables of mix-and-match deities and forces seems somehow improper to me.  One wouldn’t assume that one could play the violin with a drumstick just because both are musical instruments, yet people feel absolutely no reservations about dropping an Egyptian goddess into a Germanic, post-Reformation charm.  Now, a person can play a bluegrass tune or a strain of Bach with the same bow, so I do think that once a person has mastered the basics of the instrument, the specific form and style he or she plays (or in the case of Pow-wow, the specific charms employed) can vary.  But as for outright cross-substitution between very different traditions, I don’t think that still qualifies as Pow-wow.  I suppose if one subscribes to the “all gods are one” hypothesis I might be able to understand that point of view, but that’s not a perspective I follow, so it doesn’t work for me.

All of that is a lot of typing just to say “Yes, Pow-wow is sort of Christian.  Mostly.  More or less.  But not always.  But mostly.  I think.”

That’s it for today.  I should point out that the opinion presented here is my own, and not that of the authors I cite.  Please refer to their works for their specific opinions.  And feel free to engage in a lively and civil debate if you like!  I’d love to get other perspectives!

Oh, and I promise there are some practical things coming up soon, so stick with me for those.

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

Blog Post 14 – An Introduction to Pow-wow, Part I

“Where is the doctor who has ever cured or banished the panting or palpitation of the heart, and hide-boundness? Where is the doctor who ever banished a wheal? Where is the doctor who ever banished the mother-fits? Where is the doctor that can cure mortification when it once seizes a member of the body? All these cures, and a great many more mysterious and wonderful things are contained in this book; and its author could take an oath at any time upon the fact of his having successfully applied many of the prescriptions contained herein.”  -John George Hohman, from the Introduction to POW-WOWS; OR, THE LONG LOST FRIEND

The mysterious folk magic of the Pennsylvania Dutch and their neighbors goes by many names:  Pow-wow, Braucheri, Hexerei, “trying,” etc.  Depending on who you talk to, it may be an extension of Christian prayer or faith healing, a blend of medieval Cabbala and German folk magic, an inherited family practice, a learned set of techniques, an entirely holy healing tradition, or gray-area almost-diabolical sorcery.  There are a range of individual methods to Pow-wow, including written talismans, spoken charms, herbal remedies, and calculated hand-movements.  And I’m not even going to touch the controversial concept of hex-signs on barns yet.

In this series of posts (which will probably go up over the course of the next few days), I want to provide a little bit of background on this rich and interesting magical system, with a few little charms and techniques to try for yourself.  I won’t be getting into great detail yet, as this is a system which many claim takes a lifetime to fully master, but I will be presenting a bit of the lore associated with Pow-wow and pointing you in the direction of a few really solid resources on the subject.

Where does Pow-wow come from?

Because of the syncretic nature of Pow-wow magic, it’s hard to say definitively that Pow-wow comes from one place and one place only.  Very loosely, it stems from German immigrants, but even that isn’t a clear-cut provenance.  As Chris Bilardi puts it in his braucherei text, The Red Church:

“The ‘Germany’ of that period [late 17th century] was, in fact, ‘the Germanies’ – many German principalities and duchies under the Holy Roman Emperor” (p. 41)

Bilardi goes on to point out that many Old World central and northern European cultures migrated here under the German banner, including those from modern-day Poland, Holland, and Scandinavia.  Still, many of these peoples had certain cultural commonalities.  When they came to America, many of these Germanic immigrants pursued unorthodox religious or spiritual paths.  Bilardi refers to two distinct groups of Pennsylvania Germans, the “Plain Dutch” and the “Church Dutch” (‘Dutch’ here being a corruption of the word deustche, the word for the German language).  There was strong religious diversity in the New World, including groups like the Moravians, the Brethren, the Anabaptists (now the Mennonites and the Amish), the Schwenkfelders, and the Lutherans.

In Gerald C. Milne’s text about PA-Dutch and Appalachian German magic, Signs, Cures, & Witchery, he states that, “By 1776, between 110,000 and 150,000 Germans had come to Pennsylvania, many of whom belonged to nonmainstream sects” (p. 5).  This large influx of mystically minded people resulted in a proliferation of distinctly magical practices.  For example, there were the Eckerlin brothers – white-robed Christian ascetic mystics from the late 18th century.  Milne also points out that many of the Germans arriving in America by the 18th century and beyond were well-versed in astrology, and even planted their crops ‘by the signs.’ (p. 31-33).  Old World magical practices, many inherited from grimoire traditions based on dusty tomes like The Egyptian Secrets of Albertus Magnus also came across the Atlantic.  Home remedies, simple magical charms, and astro-agricultural advice began to be collected in almanacs.  The most famous of these was Ben Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanack (sic), which held such saws as “Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.”  Milne notes:

“German-language almanacs were widely distributed on the eighteenth-century frontier.  This held secure a distinct occult-centered cosmology in the minds of early German pioneers that went hand in hand with other occult curing and healing methodologies” (p. 32).

The proliferation of these magical pamphlets and almanacs spread the central ideas of what would become known as Pow-wow around the north-central Atlantic coast, the Appalachian mountains, and inland into the frontier-lands.   One such almanac was the famous Long Lost Friend, by John George Hohman, which outlined many of the practices still used today.  I’ll have some of the charms from this book to try out a little later in the series, but for now it’s enough to know that by 1820 (the date of Hohman’s publication), this form of magic had taken on a distinctly American flavor and had become a key part of the Pennsylvania-Dutch cultural landscape.

Okay, that’s it for today.  I’ve got more coming on this topic, so be on the lookout for additional posts this week!

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

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

-SHOWNOTES FOR EPISODE 3-

Summary

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

Play:

Download:  New World Witchery – Episode 3

-Sources-

Young Goodman Brown,” by Nathaniel Hawthorne

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

Promos & Music

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

Promo 1- A Pagan in the Threshold

Promo 2- Forest Grove Botanica

Promo 3- The Celtic Myth Podshow

Contest

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

Blog Post 11 – A Contest!

Hi everyone!

I loosely alluded to this in a previous post, but we’ve decided that we want your weather lore!  We’re putting together a show based on weather magic and folklore, and we need good field reports.  So, we’re having a little contest here at New World Witchery.  From now until the end of February 2010 (the 28th), anyone who:  1) posts a comment on Blog Post 10 – Weather Work, or 2) sends us an email describing any kind of weather-related magic or lore, especially family or local lore, will have their name entered into a drawing.  Also include what part of the country/continent you’re from (you don’t need to give us specific locations, unless you win, of course…then we’ll need an address to ship to 🙂 ).  All entries must be date-stamped before midnight CST on the 28th to be considered.  And if you’ve already posted a comment with weather lore, don’t worry, we’ll count you, too!

On March 1st (or thereabouts), we’ll be drawing a name from the thousands of entries we receive (we’re optimistic) and one lucky reader/listener will receive a free copy of Catherine Yronwode’s Hoodoo Root & Herb Magic.  For those of you unfamiliar with this text, it’s the quintessential text on the botanicals and curios used in the practice of Southern-style hoodoo and conjure magic.

From the Lucky Mojo website (slightly abridged):

Hoodoo Herb and Root Magic, paperback by Catherine Yronwode
Originally published in 2002.
From the proprietor of the Lucky Mojo Curio Company comes the most thorough, complete, and authentic book on how roots and herbs are used in traditional African-American folk magic. 500 herbs, roots, minerals, and zoological curios are listed, along with their scientific names, so you will know exactly what to harvest or buy from an herb dealer. Included are an amazing 750 spells, formulas, mojo hand combinations, and candle rites, all given in workable, practical detail. Medical usages for many of the herbs, supplementary botanical notes, a series of cross-indexes listing herbs by the magical conditions for which they are recommended, plus 50 beautiful black and white illustrations of herbs and vintage herb packaging round out this informative reference volume. There is no other herb encyclopedia like this one. This is the book to get if you are working traditional conjure and herb magic. 224 pages, trade paperback.

  • 500 herbs, roots, minerals, and rare zoological curios, with taxonomic (“Latin”) names for proper identification.
  • 750 traditional spells, tricks, and magical recipes.
  • 50 black and white line illustrations of common magical herbs and roots of North America.
  • 6 handy charts in which dozens of conditions — such as love-drawing or protection — are listed and the herbs for each condition are given in alphabetical order.
  • Cross-referencing: Every herb is accompanied by at least one spell.
  • Bibliography: Authentic recipes are drawn from first-hand experience and 100 years of solid folkloric research.

I own this book and let me assure you, it’s one of the best magical herbals out there.  No fluff, no repetitive 101 stuff; just good, solid information backed by great research.

So, if you want to contribute to the wealth of knowledge and lore in the witchy world, plus have a chance to get a fantastic magical reference book, please submit!  We’ll also be announcing this on the next podcast, too, so if you primarily keep up with us that way, you won’t be left out.

Good luck, and thanks for reading!

-Cory

Blog Post 9 – Groundhog Day

Today we’re migrating a little bit outside of New England proper and into territory which we’ll be covering more extensively at a later date.  But in honor of Groundhog Day, I thought it would be fitting topay a visit to Punxatawney Phil, the ground-dwelling rodent whose annual weather prediction is the subject of great ceremony (and a rather funny film featuring Bill Murray).

Most people know the traditions associated with this holiday (or its sister holiday, Candlemas), but in case you have been living—like Phil–under a rock, in a cave, or in a town library attended to by men in top-hats—if the holiday marmot pokes his head outside after sunrise on February 2nd and sees his shadow, winter will linger for a while longer.  If he doesn’t, you can expect an early spring.  There are dozens of variations on the exact way to interpret that weather prediction.  My personal favorite is the absurd truism “if he doesn’t see his shadow, only 6 weeks until spring; if he does, 6 more weeks of winter.”   I’ve already referenced one proverb about this holiday in a previous post, but there are a couple of poems related to this holiday which illustrate its lore.  The first is Scottish in origin:

“If Candlemas be fair and bright
Winter will have another flight
If Candlemas be cloud and rain
Winter will be gone and not come again”

And here’s one from 17th-century poet Robert Herrick (whom you may know as the author of “To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time”):

Ceremony upon Candlemas Eve

“Down with the rosemary, and so
Down with the bays and misletoe;
Down with the holly, ivy, all
Wherewith ye dress’d the Christmas hall;
That so the superstitious find
No one least branch there left behind;
For look, how many leaves there be
Neglected there, maids, trust to me,
So many goblins you shall see.”

The lore surrounding this day comes from a couple of key sources.  The best known is probably the European tradition of the Candlemas Bear or Badger.  These animals would stir (or in some cases, be coaxed) from their winter dormancy, and observers would make note of their reaction to the environment outside.  Then a prediction of spring’s eventual arrival could be made and plans could be laid for things like tilling and planting crops.  The selection of the groundhog as the New World substitute is outlined by Gerald C Milnes in his Signs, Cures, and Witchery:

“The badger was…used as a weather predictor in Germany, but in the New World, Pennsylvania Germans substituted the groundhog for this role because skunks [whose fat or ‘grease’ the author notes was used as Old World healers used badger fat], unlike badgers, do not hibernate…German Protestants brought the old weather-predicting tradition to Pennsylvania, where it is still actively observed in some German communities.  Groundhogs were substituted for the badger (and bear) traditions o fEurope.  Now the hibernating groundhog has their supposed powers to predict the weather.”

But why did this holiday catch on so widely when so many other holidays and traditions—such as First Footing or Belsnicking (see Milne for more on this mumming tradition)—remained highly localized?  Well, it is certainly a fun holiday, and seems antiquated without being stuffy.  In Punxatawney, Phil is cared for by a group known as the Inner Circle, town elders who dress formally for the occasion of Phil’s prognostication in what sometimes seems a silly parody of Lodge traditions like the Masons.  The general good humor of the occasion (other than the poor rodent, who probably just wants to go back to sleep) has likely fueled its popularity.  But my favorite explanation comes from Jack Santino, in his book All Around the Year:  Holidays and Celebrations in American Life:

“In spite of all this obvious phoniness, we still pay attention to the groundhog’s prediction, as trumped up as it may be.  This probably has to do with the fact that Groundhog Day is the first time that we direct our attention in any formal way towards the coming, much-anticipated spring.  It works for us because after a long January, winter is getting old.  February is a difficult month to get through, even though it is short.  Any indication of an early spring is eagerly welcomed, and Groundhog Day is the first tentative look ahead.”

Santino also connects the groundhog’s celebration to another February holiday:  Valentine’s day.  He notes that the original date for Groundhog Day (in the pre-Gregorian calendar) was on the 13th or 14th of February.  Likewise, the Candlemas bear became a diminished cutie—the teddy bear often given to a loved one on Valentine’s.  I find this connection a bit tenuous, but fun to consider nonetheless.

I should also note that Phil is not the sole weather-predicting critter in the business today.  There are also such famed meteorological marmots as Buckeye Chuck (in Ohio, naturally), Woodstock Willie (Illinois), and Balzac Billy (in Alberta).  Silly as all this may be, I would once again submit that the attentive witch can learn something on Groundhog Day.  Sure, there’s the witchy notion that observing the animals can help predict future events, but I’m more inclined to say the lesson here is that sometimes, it’s okay to smile and laugh at tradition.  There’s a time and a place for the somber and serious, but there’s also a time and a place for a little mirth in the mix.

For those seeking to balance Groundhog Day out with something a little more significant, Candlemas itself is still a holiday for Catholics, as well as some Protestant denominations and even some Pagans and neo-Pagans (myself included).  In the Christian tradition this is the day for the presentation of Jesus at the temple by his mother, Mary.  Christians bring candles to the church to be blessed so that they can be burned throughout the year for loved ones.  Many neo-Pagans celebrate the first or second day of February as Imbolg, dedicating it to goddesses like Brigid or Hestia.  All of them, though, share something in common with Phil:  they’re all looking forward to warmer days and brighter times.

So whatever you’re celebrating today—Groundhog Day, Imbolg, Candlemas, or even an early Lupercalia—I wish you a joyous day and a warm fire to keep you through the remains of winter.

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

Blog Post 8 – Seaside Sorcery

De Windstoot, by Willem van de Velde II (from Wikimedia Commons)

Hello!  Today I’m going to take a look at some of the coastal magic found in Northeastern America and Canada (Southern coastal magic will be in a later post, I hope).  In the early days, American colonies and states depended greatly on foreign trade for supplies.  The wealth of natural resources here were valuable to people across the sea as well, and so much of the commercial backbone of North America during those years depended on seaports and sailing vessels and all those men and women who operated them.

I’ve always found that folks involved in seafaring business are a superstitious lot (and I mean that as a compliment, as I find superstition fascinating and useful in many cases).  At the very least, the vast ocean inspires people to consider their own smallness and to take precautions against their mortal end at the sea’s merciless whim.  With that said, let’s look at some stories, anecdotes, and practices from the Northeastern coasts of North America.

Some stories from Maine:

“The Cursing of Colonel Buck”, as retold by S. E. Schlosser.  In this story, an unscrupulous colonel takes advantage of one of his maids, then turns her out when she bears his sadly misshapen child.  In order to prevent any claims on his name, he accuses her of witchcraft and has her burned at the stake.  She curses him (perhaps his claims of witchcraft were not so unfounded) as she dies, and her leg falls from the pyre, where her son gathers the leg and runs away.  After the colonel dies, his tombstone develops a funny leg-shaped mark on it, which embarrasses the townsfolk.  They toss it in the ocean, but it comes back ashore.  Then they smash it and put up a new stone, but the leg-mark comes back.

So where’s the New World Witchery in this story?  Well, this tale is probably extremely exaggerated.  The main clue is that the witch is burned at the stake, a holdover from European witch-lore, but not a punishment found in the New World.  However, there’s one small fragment of worthwhile witchery in this tale:  the first reaction of the townspeople is to throw the stone into the sea.  The idea that natural water sources, especially moving ones like oceans and rivers, can cleanse cursed objects is solidly founded in other magical lore (see Albertus Magnus or hoodoo trick deployment practices).

Buying the Wind, by Richard M. Dorson, contains several excellent bits of Maine magical lore.  For example, in the title passage, the practice of “buying wind” is discussed.  Captains and crewmembers on becalmed ships would often be tempted to throw money overboard in order to purchase a quantity of wind from God/nature/the sea/etc.  The problem arises in that the quantity purchased is always vastly more than one expected to buy.  As one of Dorson’s informants puts it:

“Never buy wind when you’re on a boat.  You’re daring God Almighty, and he won’t stand for that.  You’ll get all the wind you want.”

In one tale, a captain tosses a quarter overboard, and immediately such a gale rises that it tears off the sails and mast from the ship and pushes it into shore, where it barely holds together as the crew disembarks.  The captain remarks that if he’d known God sold wind so cheaply he’d only have got a nickel’s worth.

Is this witchcraft?  Well, no, not exactly.  But the practice of buying something to control the weather is fairly common witch-lore.  Many tales exist of sailors buying cauls (the membrane which sometimes covers a newborn’s head after emerging from the womb) from dockside witches to prevent drowning at sea.  And those same dockside sorceresses sometimes sold knotted cords to help sailors call up wind as needed—each knot, when undone, would release an increasing amount of wind.  So buying the wind is certainly a magical maritime practice, if not outright witchery.

Magic and Witchcraft in Nova Scotia:

An interesting tale regarding a hidden treasure is recorded in Folklore of Nova Scotia, by Mary L. Fraser.  She writes:

“An old sailor who spent his life as a deep-sea fisherman around the coasts of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland told of a great iron chest that was buried just beneath the water, so that its outline could be seen very distinctly. Every time the crew tried to work around it and, raise it up, thousands of crows, one of which was headless, would swarm around them, so that it was impossible for them to get at it. These crows they believed to be helpers of the decapitated guarding spirit.”

This tale is interesting, to me, because of the clear association of spirit allies with a sacred duty (such as guarding a treasure).   I can’t think of many witchier images than a murder of crows—including a headless one—swarming all over treasure-grabbers.

The same volume has several good bits of weather-lore, too:

  1. “If Candlemas day be fine and fair, The half of the winter’s to come an’ mair.”
  2. “Mackerel skies and mare’s tails, Make lofty ships carry low sails.”
  3. “A rainbow in the morning the sailor’s warning, A rainbow at night is the sailor’s delight.”
  4. “Heavy winds kick up a rain.”

The first of these is an old tradition which most people now know as a component of Groundhog Day.  I plan to do a post specifically on some of the traditions associated with early February sometime soon, so I’ll save further exposition on it here.  The second proverb refers to cloud patterns in the skies.  If high wispy clouds (“mare’s tails”) were seen along with clumpy scale-like cloud patterns (“mackerel skies”), then it was a good indication a storm would be coming soon and the sails should be lowered.  The third bit of wisdom is fairly common, though sometimes in different iterations (I know it as “red skies at morning, sailor take warning; red skies at night, sailor’s delight”).   Basically it just means that the weather conditions at dawn or dusk foretell the weather to come.  And the fourth quote is a logical enough assertion that where high winds blow at sea, rain is sure to follow.

Again, are these witchy?  Only insofar as the astute witch would know such proverbs and make use of them in his or her daily practice.  Reading the signs Nature provides has a lot to do with the mentality of witchcraft, which is constantly looking to the natural-and-other-worlds for guidance, instruction, and wisdom.

A Sailor’s Treasury, by Frank Shay, also supposedly provides a good many of early American sailors’ tales and charms (I cannot give a full recommendation as I have only been able to view snippets online, and no nearby library seems to have a copy of this out-of-print text).

Whew!  I’ve only presented a fragment of the nautical witchcraft out there, and already it’s a lot.  So I’ll save more seaside witchery for another day.

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

Podcast 2 – Broom Closets and an Interview with Sarah Lawless

-SHOWNOTES FOR EPISODE 2-

Summary

On this, the second episode of New World Witchery, Laine and Cory discuss the ins and outs of broom closets.  In the second segment, we hear from the lovely Sarah Lawless, proprietress of the Forest Grove Botanica and keeper of many irons in many fires.  Then, we wrap up with a call for comments and emails from our listeners.

Play:

Download:  New World Witchery – Episode 02

-Sources-

Websites

From our guest, Sarah Lawless:

Forest Grove Botanica – a top-notch source for hand-crafted witchy and rootworking goods.

The Witch of Forest Grove – Sarah’s amazingly informative blog

Hedgefolk Tales – Sarah’s podcast on storytelling and lore with a witch-oriented slant

Lilith’s Lantern – A good overview of the Vicia branch of the Andersons’ Feri Tradition

Promos & Music

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

Promo 1-The Celtic Myth Podshow

Promo 2-Witchery of One

Promo 3- Pagan Parents on the Edge

Blog Post 6 – More Colonial Witchcraft

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The Witch Sheep” by Alice Morse Earle.

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

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

Blog Post 5 – Podcast Recommendation

I’d like to take just a minute to heartily recommend a new podcast which has just put forth its first episode.  Hedgefolk Tales is the latest endeavor by the very busy and very informative Sarah, the Witch of Forest Grove.  In her show, Sarah will be presenting stories and tales from history, mythology, and folklore, and then sharing some witchcraft-related exegeses with us.  From listening to the first show alone I can already tell this is going to be one of my new favorite podcasts.

Some out there may know Sarah from her appearances on The Wigglian Way as The Pagan Bookworm.  She has a great sense of style and a fantastic voice for this kind of work, so please do go check out Hedgefolk Tales.

Oh, and in the interest of fair disclosure, I should say that we’re planning to have Sarah as a guest on an upcoming episode of New World Witchery, too.  How we lucked out lining her up as a guest, I’ll never know.  Maybe a candle or two was burned just to help things along…but I’ll never tell.

Be well!

-Cory