We mention Shalom Auslander’s story: “Honor God,” from This American Life
We talk about the Freakanomics podcast: “How Much does your Name Matter?”
The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft, by Judika Illes
Spirited Away, a film from Studio Ghibli featuring a girl whose name is stolen by a witch
Oxford Dictionary of Superstitions, by Opie & Tatem
Encyclopedia of Asian American Folklore & Folklife, by Lee & Nadeau
Earth, Air, Fire, & Water, by Scott Cunningham
We launch our eighth year of podcasting with an episode that looks forward to the coming months through divination. Lots and lots of divination! Laine and Cory try out several different divinatory methods (some they’ve used before, and some they haven’t), then break down what they see in the cards, beans, bones, or stones for the year ahead. Plus we do our Magical Object, which seems like child’s play but also has plenty of magical uses, too!.
Please check out our Patreon page! You can help support the show for as little as a dollar a month, and get some awesome rewards at the same time. Even if you can’t give, spread the word and let others know, and maybe we can make New World Witchery even better than it is now.
Producers for this show: Heather, Achija of Spellbound Bookbinding, Raven Dark Moon, WisdomQueen, Regina, Jen Rue of Rue & Hyssop, Little Wren, Khristopher, Tanner, Johnathan at the ModernSouthernPolytheist, Catherine, Montine, Cynara at The Auburn Skye, Sarah at ConjuredCardea,The Trinket Witch, Victoria, Sherry, & AthenaBeth. (if we missed you this episode, we’ll make sure you’re in the next one!). Big thanks to everyone supporting us!
Download: Episode 122 – Divining the New Year
Both of us use Cory’s method of cartomancy for one of our readings. You can find out more about that in his book, 54 Devils, or by reading these posts from our past:
- Blog Post 82 – Cards, an Overview
- Blog Post 83 – Pips & Faces (Cards, part II)
- Blog Post 84 – Diamonds & Clubs (Cards, part III)
- Blog Post 85 – Hearts & Spades (Cards, part IV)
- Blog Post 88 – Spreads (Cards, part V)
- Blog Post 89 – The New World Witchery Guide to Cartomancy
Laine also uses the following methods/tools:
- The Javamancy Board by Chas Bogan of Carnivalia/The Mystic Dream
- The Rabbit Tarot, by Nakisha Elsje Vanderhoeven
Cory also uses the following methods/tools:
- Rune Stones given to him as a gift, read using some of the information in Diana Paxton’s Taking Up the Runes
- The Haindl Tarot pack, by Hermann Haindl (Rachel Pollack’s books are the top recommended interpretation guides)
- His personal “bones” collection for bone readings. He uses elements of the technique in cat yronwode’s Throwing the Bones, as well as drawing on his experience. Some photos are below:
Thank you to listener Maria, who suggested the Everyday Magical Object of marbles for this episode. Please feel free to send in your own suggestions for future objects!
If you have feedback you’d like to share, email us or leave a comment. We’d love to hear from you!
Don’t forget to follow us at Twitter! And check out our Facebook page! For those who are interested, we also now have a page on Pinterest you might like, called “The Olde Broom.” Have something you want to say? Leave us a voice mail on our official NWW hotline: (442) 999-4824 (that’s 442-99-WITCH, if it helps).
Promos & Music
Incidental Music is “Laid Ten Dollars Down,” by the Black Twig Pickers, and is used under a Creative Commons License from the Free Music Archive.
Special Episode – The Dumb Supper
This is our first 2017 #AllHallowsRead tale, “The Dumb Supper.” A girl and her friends try out a marriage divination ritual, and find out that things don’t always go according to plan.
Download: Special Episode – The Dumb Supper
This story is loosely based on a version of the tale found in Vance Randolph’s Ozark Magic & Folklore, as well as a number of other versions.
Promos & Music
Incidental music by Olssons (“Ambient One”); DR (“Sedativa I & II”); Byzons (“Apatheia (Or, The Story of a Girl Trapped in a World of Madness)),” all of which are used through Creative Commons license on SoundCloud.
Sound effects are sourced from Creative Commons licensed recordings at Sound Bible.
“My ears are burning; who’s talking about me?”
“If your nose is itching, someone wants to kiss you.”
“Your feet itch? You must be about to go somewhere.”
I remember my mother often sharing the little bits of proverbial wisdom throughout my childhood.
Usually they were delivered with a wink or a wry smile, and I don’t think she took them particularly seriously, but then she also wouldn’t have been surprised to find out that any one of these tokens had borne some fruit in the real world. If you think about it, assumptions about the intimate connection between a person’s body and the world around him or her are not anything new or unusual. Plenty of people have an uncle whose bunions predict snowstorms, or a grandmother whose arthritis tells of coming rain, or headaches that detect heatwaves moving in. There are plenty of other ways one’s body might help one prepare for a day outdoors, according to American lore:
Beyond those sorts of weather-related phenomena, however, bodies are reputed to be in touch with all sorts of esoteric information. Of course, obtaining pieces of a person’s body is a primary way of gaining magical control over him or her, but that, I fear, goes beyond the scope of this article. Instead, this brief examination will focus on the body as a giver or receiver of information, rather than a source of spell ingredients. For example, often the physical features of a person imply certain characteristics about their intellect or psychology, according to American lore:
- A fat person is believed to have a good disposition and a friendly nature
- A big head can be the sign of great intelligence, provided it’s not too big (which would mean a person of no wit whatsoever)
- A person with a “long head” is thought to be someone of dubious morality and “unscrupulous” character
- A person with a broad face is thought to be warm and friendly, while a narrow face indicates shrewdness and insensitivity
- “Dimple on the chin,/ Devil within” – A dimpled chin indicates a troublemaking personality
- Long arms indicate someone with a “grasping” nature, someone who will do whatever it takes to geth what he or she wants
- Trimming a baby’s fingernails will turn it into a thief
- And of course, cold hands mean a warm heart.
What do all of these sorts of lore have in common, then? They all seem to operate off of the ever-present Doctrine of Signatures, which we’ve seen before, and which fundamentally states that like affects like. By that logic, we can see how things like “broad face” and “big head” can be indicators of abundance with regard to particular character traits (I can only assume that the same sort of logic applies to the “fat person,” in that they have general abundance in their figure and thus must have some in their disposition towards others as well). More interesting are the less direct connections between things like trimming fingernails and later thievery in life. I would suggest that because a baby is supposed to undergo very little “reduction” during the first year or so of life (a period when their hair, body, and in some cases, teeth, are all growing more abundant), that trimming something off of the baby’s hand will make it always look for something to fill the void. That, in turn, might lead the baby to fill it with other people’s things, and thus the fear of thievery is attached to the belief. Makes sense? Coming with me on that one? (It’s fine if you don’t, of course, as these sorts of lore-bits often can have multiple meanings and origins).
Some of my favorite bodily predictors come in the form of love (and lust) lore, because they seem so appropriate to connect to how we experience our fleshly existence. I always heard that if your nose itched, someone wanted to kiss you, as I noted above (which may indicate either a lustful flag of interest if one subscribes to the nose/penis symbolism that some folklorists do, or a simple sense of “rooting out” such a person, as indicated in the paragraph on itching below). Another fairly common bit of folklore says that “a hair in your mouth means someone wants to kiss you.” Hair can have very sexual connotations (which is why it frequently gets associated with sexuality in Abrahamic religions), so its presence in the mouth would be a very reasonable indicator of lustful intent. Another bit of lore deals more with what to do if your paramour wanders off: “Throwing nail parings into a fire is a way to call a lover back to you” (okay, so this is more of a spell, but it does seem as though the nail trimmings are communicating with the other person, so I’m calling it a fit).
Itches or burning sensations on the body are of particular importance, and seem to offer very particular meaning depending on where they occur. Some examples from Kentucky lore:
- If your ears burn some one is talking ill of you, while if your hand itches you will receive a present, or shake hands with a stranger.
- If your right foot itches, you are to go on a journey; if the left, you are going where you are not wanted.
- When your nose itches, some one is coming. If it is when you are away from home, you may know you are wanted at home.
- If your right eye itches, you will cry; if the left, you will laugh.
Again, we see elements of the Doctrine of Signatures, in that ears receive the voice of others in most circumstances, so if they act in an uncharacteristic manner, they must indicate an unheard voice somewhere out in the world. Feet carry us on journies, of course, so the interesting element in that superstition is the association with particular feet and the type of journey. With the long-standing stigma against “sinister” (the original meaning of that word being “left-sided”) use of limbs, the connection between the left foot and an unpleasant journey makes some sense. The less obvious one is the nose, although we may make some guesses about why a nose would be a barometer for upcoming human contact. We might think of proverbial phrases like “sticking one’s nose where it doesn’t belong” or a “nosy person,” and understand that noses are believed to be the body part which roots for information, particularly about the lives of others, and so the nasal connection does have some precedent.
In Mexican-American folklore, bodily functions are often regulated by “hot” or “cold” natures (not dissimilar from Ayurvedic medicine). Because of those temperature associations, people can figure out important information about a person’s state of well-being based on whether small signs on the body indicate larger imbalances within the person. A great example would be hair, which is thought to be “hot” while it grows. A person whose “heat” dies away quickly, however, will likely begin to go gray, as though his or her vitality were turning to ash on his or her head. Having long hair can also help one lose weight in this estimation, because longer hair burns off more energy, thus depleting the body of its energetic fat stores.
Surprisingly few death omens connected to anything body related. This likely reflects an anxiety that bodily warnings are incredibly frequent and common, and that death should be a rare and unusual occurance, rather than anything commonplace. One of the few bits of bodily lore connected to death has to do with the loss of a limb and its disposal. Supposedly, if one loses a limb through combat or other misfortune, and fails to take off any shoes or other vestments on the detatched extension, the person will experience phantom pains so long as the problem is not corrected.
Vance Randolph collected some interesting lore which borders on a divinatory method using the appearance of spots on fingernails:
“White spots on fingernails are supposed to represent lies, and little boys often hide their hands to avoid betraying falsehoods. However, there is a fortunetelling rhyme children use when counting these white spots :
A gift, a ghost, a friend, a foe, A letter to come, a journey to go.
Some people say that a large white spot means a journey.”
These sorts of counting-out rhymes often figure in children’s play, sometimes as a means of selecting play partners and sometimes with more occult connotations, as in the spot-counting rhyme above. Why white spots should indicate lies remains open to interpretation, but if I had to guess I’d assume that the spots are thought to be the actual lies trapped beneath the glass-like surface of the nail, demonstrating that lies always come up for air, sooner or later.
I’ll close today with a little tidbit from a somewhat older book (originally published in England, but likely in circulation throughout the British colonies), which is devoted to divination via dreams and moles on the body. The entire second half of the pamphlet is about moles and their meanings, and often provides startlingly specific and inalienable interpretations of mole size, shape, and position. One such indicator: “If a Mole is on the crown of the head, it shews another on the nape of the neck, and the party witty, and to have good natural parts: but that he will die poor.” I would say that indicates that a pair of moles is a bit of a mixed bag, wouldn’t you? I think I’ll go back to being a bit heavyset and being perceived as friendly, then.
Thanks for reading!
- Bronner, Simon J. Explaining Traditions. 2011.
- Bronner, Simon J. American Children’s Folklore. 2006.
- “Dreams & Moles, with their Interpretation & Signification.” Published by the Royal Society of London, 1750.
- Dundes, Alan. Interpreting Folklore. 1980.
- Hyatt, Harry M. Folklore of Adams County, Illinois. 1935.
- Ingham, John M. “On Mexican Folk Medicine.” American Anthropologist. 17, (1): 76-87.
- Price, Sadie F. “Kentucky Folklore.” The Journal of American Folklore. 14, (52): 30-38.
- Randolph, Vance. Ozark Magic & Folklore. 1964.
- Smith, Grace. “Folklore from ‘Egypt.’” Hoosier Folklore. 5, (2): 45-70.
Shownotes for Podcast 62 – Pregnancy and Birth Lore
In this episode we’re trying out the wedding ring test, asking about spicy foods, and trying not to scare any birthmarks onto Laine’s baby as we talk about the lore and folk customs surrounding pregnancy and childbirth.
Download: New World Witchery – Episode 62
We mostly mention various lore we remember without citing sources, but I do mention a few books:
- The Ways of My Grandmothers, by Beverly Hungry Wolf
- Our old standby, Ozark Magic and Folklore, by Vance Randolph makes an appearance
- You can read about the weird Drano test mentioned by Laine here
Pagan Podkin Super Moot 5 is going to be in Chicago! Watch Fire Lyte’s page for more detail to come.
Cory is going to be moving to Pennsylvania in the Fall, which may impact the show and blog a bit (but probably for the better in the long run)
If you have feedback you’d like to share, email us or leave a comment. We’d love to hear from you!
Promos & Music
There’s a line from the classic (well, sort of) movie Smokey & the Bandit in which Burt Reynolds’s character explains to his lady of the film that he only takes his hat off for one thing, to which his female companion (Sally Field), of course, replies: ‘Take off your hat.’
Costume is frequently a reflection of ceremonial, ritual, or even magical operation, an outer manifestation of inner desire or power. A nun’s habit or a burqa can both represent a commitment to religious life, and inspire reactions from those around them. The ceremonial robes of a Thelemic magician frequently conform to specific standards to enhance invocations and rituals. The Encyclopedia of American Folklore notes:
Folklorists who discuss adornment have concentrated on costume’s socializing force and its relationship to the maintenance of individual and group identities. According to Don Yoder (1972), folk costume expresses identity in a symbolic way; functioning as an outward “badge” of community identity and expressing an individual’s manifold relationships to and within that community (Brunvand 341).
One of the items frequently associated with magicians is the magic hat—whether it’s the shiny tophat of a stage magician concealing a rabbit in its depths or the pointy, star-spangled adornment of a fantasy wizard. In American lore the hat has a special place as a magical item, frequently providing either symbolic guidance, otherworldly taboo, or a method of deployment in spell-casting.
When people think of American hats, possibly the most iconic is the cowboy’s ten-gallon hat (which, of course, does not hold ten gallons, but the galon hatband worn by Southwestern vaqueros). I remember teaching overseas and asking about impressions of America, and the most common response was that we tend to wear cowboy hats and smile a lot.
The cowboy hat—as well as a number of other elements of ‘rugged’ American folk costume—was borrowed from other cultures:
Many specifically American types of costume emerged from the interaction of diverse costume traditions in dialogue with indigenous materials and environments. Recognizable forms in Western regional costume, for example, are creolized forms resulting from the interaction of different traditions of dress. The costume of mountain men who charted new Western territory—fringed buckskin coats, breeches and shirts, fur “coonskin” hats, and thick, colorful blanket jackets—was an adaptation of Native American costume forms suitable for native environments and constructed with indigenous materials. The occupational costume of the American cowboy was also the result of the interaction of various cultural forms in dialogue with the demands of occupation and environment. Many of the recognizable elements of the classic American cowboy costume, such as spurs, hat, boots, and chaps, were the result of cultural exchanges between working Anglo and Mexican cowboys, known as vaqueros. Vaqueros were known by their wide-brimmed hats, short jackets, colorful neckerchiefs, red sashes, elaborate spurs, and protective leather leggings (Brunvand 343)
Given the emblematic nature of the Stetson and its kin and the frequently superstitious nature of life in the Old West, it is hardly surprising that lore has arisen surrounding this headgear. Probably the most common belief surrounding the cowboy hat has to do with what to do when you’re not wearing it. There seems to be an absolute taboo on placing a hat on the bed, which appears in everything from Southwestern rodeo lore to Oregon folk belief.
In both the American South and West, a particular custom of hat-burning following the birth of the first baby (or sometimes only the firstborn son) of a miner prevails. From Vance Randolph’s Ozark Magic & Folklore comes the following account:
In some clans, when a baby boy is born, a sister of the babe’s father comes to the house, looks at the child, and then burns the first hat she finds. No matter whose it is, nor how valuable, she just picks up a hat and throws it into the fireplace. Many people laugh at this and pretend to take it lightly, but it is never omitted in certain families. I know of one case where there was some doubt about the child’s paternity, and the husband’s family were by no means friendly to the young mother, but despite all this one of the sisters came and burned the hat; she did it silently and grudgingly and most ungraciously, but she did it. This practice is never discussed with outsiders, but it is sufficiently known that a series of funny stories has grownup about hats being burned by mistake, strangers’ hats missing, doctors leaving their hats at home, and so on (Randolph 205)
This practice was also found in California by folklorist Wayland Hand, where “[o]n occasion of a miner’s first trip to the mine after the arrival of the firstborn, his comrades simply seize his hat and burn it despite any resistance or protests offered” (Hand 52). This act functions both as an initiatory rite and as a method of preventing bad luck for the child. Hand also notes that the baby was usually made to touch the hat if possible prior to its cremation. A soldier’s hat could also be worn by a woman in labor to give her strength during the birth, furthering the link between children and hats.
A number of traditions from African American folklore have been attached to hats. In most cases, headgear serves as a method for the transference of contagious magic, sometimes almost in a medical sense: “if one borrows a hat from a diseased person, and the wearer sweats round the forehead where the hat rests, he will take the disease” (Steiner 267). Harry Hyatt recorded a string of beliefs among African Americans surrounding hat lore:
9750. If a girl puts a man’s hat on her head, she desires him to kiss her; if a man puts his hat on a girl’s head, he desires to kiss her.
9751. A girl should never put a man’s hat on her head; it will cause quarrels with him.
9752. The girl who tries on a man’s hat will not get him for a husband.
9753. If a woman throws her hat and gloves on a man’s bed, she wants to sleep with him; if a man throws his hat on a woman’s bed, he wants to sleep with her.
9754. A girl can strengthen a sweetheart’s love by laying his hat on her bed when he comes to see her.
9755. The significance of a beau refusing to hand his hat to his girl when he calls on her is love growing cold. 9756. A girl stepping on a man’s hat will soon marry the owner.
9757. “The girls did this when I was young: in the spring stamp with your thumb in the palm of your hand the first twenty-seven straw hats you see and you will meet your beau.”
9758. If a girl takes the bow out of the hat of each man liked, she will marry the owner of the seventh hat.
9759. Let a girl take as many bows as possible from the hats of men liked and wear them on her garter; the bow staying on longest will reveal who among these men loves her best (Hyatt 231)
Clearly some of these are contradictory, as in the piece about one gender wearing the other’s hat breeding either contempt or desire. There does seem to be a very strong connection between hats and sexuality, however, perhaps because the hat sits so close to the brain and retains the warmth of the head, it may be seen to cause ‘feverish’ behavior, such as love, lust, or even fighting. The divinatory rites surrounding hats are also interesting, although I suspect these performances have less to do with any direct effect upon the mind and more to do with other counting rituals related to love forecasting. Several tricks in the practice of old-style hoodoo involve acquiring the band from a man’s chapeau and using it to deploy any number of tricks, mostly designed to influence him in love (or occasionally business).
A bit of lore from the Southern mountains tells about how a person can reverse bad luck caused by unfortunate omens (in particular a fearsome rabbit crossing one’s path): [If a] Rabbit runs cross yur path, turn yur hat ‘roun’. (Wear your hat with the back part in front.)” (Duncan 236). This is not much different from the idea of turning around if a black cat crosses one’s path or even turning a key or coin over in one’s pocket after seeing an unlucky sign. In an era when hats are frequently worn backward (if worn at all), this sort of act is probably much less out of place today than it would have been half a century or so ago.
Hats, then, can be deeply magical objects to those that wear them. It’s hardly surprising that Lyle Lovett sings of his size-7 Stetson, “Well if it’s her you want, I don’t care about that/ You can have my girl, but don’t touch my hat.”
So what about you? Do you have any hat-related lore? What kinds of hats hold particular magic for you? The pointy costume ‘witch’ hat? A trucker’s cap owned by a favorite grandfather? I’d love to hear what makes your hat special and whether you ever ascribe anything magical to it.
Thanks for reading!
There’s a bit of folk superstition about New Year’s Day that says whatever you want to be doing for the next twelve months, make sure you’re doing it on January 1st. You’re also not supposed to start anything you can’t finish, which brings me to this quick-n-dirty little blog post. I intend (dare I say hope?) that I will be doing a tremendous amount of writing over the coming year, including finishing several writing projects I’ve been working on for a while, so I wanted to make sure I wrote something for New World Witchery before midnight tonight. But I also have been using the day to accomplish a dozen other New Year’s magical traditions (cleaning, black-eyed peas, collard greens, etc.) so I thought a short and simple giveaway post might just kill the proverbial twin birds.
For this giveaway, we’ll be handing out a doozy of a divination prize pack. It includes:
- A copy of my cartomancy book, Fifty-four Devils
- A mini-altar kit and pair of mini-dowsing rods from Franchesca at The Texan Heretics
- A bottle of Psychic Boost Oil from the lovely Magnusons of Candlesmoke Chapel
- A stunning javamancy board from Chas Bogan of Carnivalia
- A five-card email card reading from me, complete with card report
Pretty stellar, huh?
So what do you have to do to get an entry into this contest? It’s incredibly simple! Just answer one or more of the following questions:
- What are your magical/witchy/Pagan New Year’s resolutions? What magical projects do you hope to get off the ground? Are there areas you want to learn more about? Are you going to get more involved in the community? Just give us a brief snapshot of what you hope to accomplish from a magical standpoint in the coming year.
- What is your favorite magical/witchy/Pagan holiday and why? What do you do for it? Has it always been your favorite? What will you be doing to make it special this year?
- What (if any) practices, spells, etc. has New World Witchery been able to add to your cauldron? Are there specific regions of folk magic you’ve begun to explore more (like Conjure or Powwow)? Do you find the info here useful on a practical level or is it more of a general information site for you?
That’s it! All you have to do is write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and answer a question or two or three. You get one entry per question answered, so you have a chance to get up to three entries just by writing to us (you can combine all answers into a single email, as long as you make it clear you’re answering multiple questions somehow). Make sure to use the subject line “Three Questions Contest” so I know what you’re writing us about.
The deadline for this contest will be Friday, January 31st, so get your answers to us by then!
Also, please check out and/or enter our other current contest for one of three NOLA swag bags, which will be ending January 17th!
Thanks everyone for a great 2013, and here’s looking forward to a very enchanted new year!