Posted tagged ‘harry m. hyatt’

Blog Post 79 – Lucky Rabbit’s Foot

August 11, 2010

For today’s post, I’m looking at the folklore and magic surrounding one of the most ubiquitous pieces of conjure paraphernalia, the rabbit’s foot.  There are plenty of theories about this particular luck charm, but not much that can be definitely put down regarding its origin or provenance.  Rabbit foot charms have been around since at least the mid-to-late 19th century in North America, and likely predate the Civil War.  They are used for general luck, gambling aids, love enhancers, and other areas where a bit of extra luck might help.

A quick word of warning, however.  Many of the sources I’ll be citing in this post also date from earlier eras, and thus have a great deal of offensive material in them.  There are words that appear here which would likely incite violence if used lightly today, so please understand that I present them here as a piece of the folklore to which they belong.  Just as a smart modern magician finds a reasonable substitution for liquid quicksilver/mercury (and thus avoids madness and poisoning), a wise student of folklore and folk magic remembers that just because a sentiment appears in print doesn’t make it right or appropriate.

There, now let’s move on to some of the good stuff about rabbits’ feet.

Catherine Yronwode provides information on the rabbit’s foot on her Lucky W Amulet Archive, describing  the foot as catalogue offerings from the early-to-mid twentieth century:

As for the foot itself, a circa-1940 mail order catalogue from the Standard O and B Supply Company, a Chicago-based distributor of African-American hoodoo material, offered undyed rabbit foot charms “made with a metal band and a link to attach on chain.” The Johnson-Smith Novelty Company offered identical charms in its 1941 catalogue. The advertisement shown here goes these one better and promises a free vial of Van Van oil with each rabbit’s foot; the formula is a Louisiana hoodoo favourite that “clears away that evil mess” and increases the strength of any good luck charm to which it is applied. Since none of the older catalogues or ads mention any colour when describing rabbit’s foot charms, it can be assumed that the items were undyed and came only in natural tan or white.

She goes on to talk about her uncertainty regarding why a rabbit’s foot might be so lucky:

Why is the rabbit foot lucky? I am not sure. Rabbits are swift and they reproduce prolifically, but the luck of the rabbit foot is monetary and sexual; as far as i know, it is not related to swiftness or fertility. There is considerable evidence that the lucky rabbit foot is a remnant of an African clan totem, an importation related somehow to Br’er Rabbit, the famous protagonist of an African trickster-god myth-cycle.

Yronwode points out that the rabbit’s foot appears in the famous Uncle Remus stories, written by Joel Chandler Harris in 1881.  In a tale entitled “Brother Rabbit and his Famous Foot,” Uncle Remus describes the tricky Br’er (or Brother) Rabbit’s prosperity-drawing mojo bag (which he refers to as a money purse, or dialectically a “money-pus”):

Brer Wolf look at de money-pus, en see w’at in it. Hit ‘uz one er deze yer kinder money-pus wid tossle on de een’ en shiny rings in de middle. Brer Wolf look in afar fer ter see w’at he kin see. In one een’ dey wuz a piece er calamus-root en some collard-seeds, en in de tier een’ dey wuz a great big rabbit foot (Harris p. 223)

So even a rabbit carries a rabbit’s foot for luck and money.  How’s that for strange?  But why is it so lucky?  In a 1973 thesis on conjuration in the works of African-American author (and somewhat accidental folklorist) Charles Chestnutt, Bettye Jo Crisler Carr uncovers some possible reasons behind this talisman:

One might have expected Chesnutt to refer to ghosts who haunt graves, to witches ‘riding’ their hapless victims by night, to conjurers tying bits of roots in tiny bags to ward off evil. But surely his reference to the efficacy of ‘de lef hin’ foot er a graveya’d rabbit, killt by a cross-eyed nigger on a da’k night in de full er de moon’—surely that is something Chesnutt (or Uncle Julius, who seems equally real) has made out of whole cloth.

An examination of folklore sources, however, justifies Chesnutt’s requirements for the rabbit-foot good-luck charm. An informant from Atlanta states that the talisman must, indeed, be the ‘left hind foot of a graveyard rabbit.  Mary Owen, recording her collected tales prior to 1893, adds to the requirement that it must be ‘de lef hine-foot ob er grabe-yahd rabbit kilt in de dahk o’ de moon.’ A Memphis informant states further that the graveyard rabbit must have been killed by a cross-eyed person. Louise Pendleton, also writing before the publication of Chesnutt’s stories, comments that the use of the rabbit foot for good luck ‘may be traced to the fetishism, or worship of guardian spirits dwelling in inanimate objects, of their African ancestors.’ (Carr,  “Charles Chestnutt & the Doctrine of Conjuration”)

So now we can see the process of making the charm has something to do with its luck associations.  If a cross-eyed person could catch a rabbit in a graveyard in the dark, he would indeed have to be very lucky, and thus his luck might transfer to the animal’s foot (this is a bit of a stretch for a reason, in my opinion, but there certainly seems to be a specific tradition involved in collecting this talisman).  Much of this lore is corroborated by Harry M. Hyatt in his five-volume compendium on African-American folk magic, Hoodoo – Conjuration – Witchcraft – Rootwork.   Two prime examples are included here:

Vol.2,p.1541

A RABBIT’S LEFT HIND LEG, TAKEN WHILE THE ANIMAL IS STILL WARM
AND SEWN INTO A BAG, SHOULD BE CARRIED WITH YOU AT ALL TIMES,
AND KEPT UNDER YOUR PILLOW AT NIGHT FOR LUCK.

If yo’ wanta go git a job agin, yo’ could use a rabit’s foot – yo’ use a rabbit’s left foot. Ketch a rabbit, if yo’ kin kill him; if yo’ can’t ketch it, kill it. Well, befo’ he gits cold, take de left laig of dis rabbit off. (Front or back?) De back laig. Take de back laig off while it’s warm an’ yo’ sew it up in some cloth an’ when yo’ go tuh bed at night, yo’ jes’ carry it an’ push it in yore pillah. If yo’ git up tuh go in de daytime, wear it in yore pocket or either yo’ could have it in yore stockin’. Put it in yore hat or shoe or anything an’ jes’ keep it wit chew all de time. Yo’ll have good luck wit de rabbit’s left hind laig. (When you are going out to get a job?) Yes sir.

[Savannah, GA; Madam Pauline; Informant #1274. C575:1-C586:10 = 2136-2167.]

Vol.2,pp.1486-7

A CHARM TO CARRY

BURY THE RIGHT FRONT FOOT OF A RABBIT IN THE CEMETERY.
AFTER NINE DAYS AND NINE NIGHTS, DISINTER IT.
WEAR IT ON A CHAIN OR FASHION IT INTO SOMETHING SIMILAR TO WEAR
AND CARRY IT WITH YOU.

You take off his right feet, yo’ bury it in de cemetery – let it stay dere fo’ nine days an’ nights. Yo’ go an’ git it out from under dere an’ make yo’ a chain an’ put it on yo’ fo’ a locket or either, yo’ know, yo’ kin jes’ have it made into somethin’ den – yo’ know, somethin’-like. Dat’s de rabbit foot. [She laughs.] Den y’ jis’
tote it wit yo’ or either place it fo’ a watch charm or anythin’ like dat – right feet, jes’ one, de front.

[Waycross, GA; Informant # 1125 (Contact man Edwards’s landlady); Cylinder C235:4-C250: 1 = 1816-1831, and C384:1-C392: 5 = 1965-1973]

One of the common threads to the rabbit’s foot seems to be an intimacy with death or the dead.  The rabbit must be freshly killed (or “warm”) or found in a cemetery.  This may have something to do with its luck.  The dead are able to provide luck to the living in some folkloric accounts, and a magical animal like a rabbit which becomes tied to the dead may well be “running” luck back and forth from them to you.  If you are interested in more spells like the two immediately above, by the way, you can find many of Hyatt’s spells transcribed in the Hyatt Spells Yahoo! Group.  If you manage to find actual text volumes of his work and you have an interest in folk magic, buy them.  They will be worth it.

Finally, Ozark folklorist Vance Randolph records a couple of uses of the rabbit’s foot charm in his Ozark Magic & Folklore:

  • Some healers claim to cure hiccoughs by rubbing a rabbit’s foot on the back of the patient’s neck unexpectedly.
  • I recall a girl near Lanagan, Missouri, who wore a peach stone love-charm on one garter and a rabbit’s foot fastened to the other.

This particular lucky charm can be found throughout North America, often sold in roadside stores, children’s candy-and-prize machines, and even gas stations.   It’s commonly rubbed to actually activate the luck, and “fed” with an oil like Fast Luck or Van Van on a regular basis.  If you happen to have one of these in keychain or charm form, I’d love to hear your experiences with it.  Have rabbit’s feet ever brought you extra luck?  Or, as the joke is often made, is it just “unlucky for the rabbit”?

Thanks for reading (and reading and reading)!

-Cory

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Blog Post 40 – Dirt Dauber Nest

March 31, 2010

With warmer days just around the bend, lots of our little insect friends are getting out and about.  One of the insects I least liked before studying hoodoo was the wasp (having wandered into a nest of them once while trying to get newborn kittens out of a barn, I feel I had some justification for my squeamishness about them).  However, hoodoo has given me a new appreciation of at least one kind of wasp:  the dirt (or mud) dauber.

This relatively harmless little black wasp (colors vary a bit, but most of the ones I’ve seen have been dark brown to black) likes to build its nests in long “pipes” from mud it gathers near puddles.  This has earned the wasp the occasional nickname of “pipe organ wasp,” and its nest is usually described as a pipe organ nest.  While the dirt dauber is a keen predator, often hunting spiders which it paralyzes and brings back to its nest for food, it seldom stings people unless provoked.  Though I don’t recommend provoking them.

However, if you can find an abandoned mud dauber nest, it’s well worth collecting it and keeping it in a sealed jar (just in case it’s not as abandoned as you thought) or plastic container.  Often, individual tubes may be abandoned and can be harvested for use as long as you’re careful not to bother any of the more active tubes.

In folk magic, these nests have all sorts of uses.  Once you’ve powdered the nest—an easy task since it crumbles readily—you can add it to hot foot workings, break-up spells, good luck hands, business drawing blends, and lots more.  Harry Middleton Hyatt lists several uses of dauber nest in his work, including:

  • Carrying around a bit of nest in your wallet or purse to draw money and luck (Vol. 2, p.1552)
  • Adding it to a vinegar jar with a couple’s name paper (names written crossing each other, of course) and red pepper and beef gall in order to break them up (Vol. 2, p. 1513)
  • Adding it to a Hot Foot working and placing it someone’s shoe to drive them off (Vol.2 , p. 1505)
  • Mixing it with Graveyard Dirt and Sugar in order to help heal a marriage (the wasps are one of the few where the male wasp stays at the nest to guard it, thus ensuring that the “family” is safe and united, which is probably why the dauber is associated with a faithful marriage) (Vol. 2, p. 1325)
  • Adding Dauber Nest to Graveyard Dirt and throwing it on train tracks to kill someone (there’s more to it than this, of course, but I’d rather not get too into that here) (Vol. 2, p. 1089)

Catherine Yronwode mentions many spells involving Dauber Nest in her book, including spells to destroy an enemy, control an errant husband, and draw new customers to a business.  This last spells involves mixing the nest with Grains of Paradise and sprinkling the powder around the business, as high as you can.  According to Yronwode, because daubers build their nests up high, it symbolizes success.

As a final bit of folklore, if you happen to have daubers building nests on your front porch, leave them there.  They will bring peace and protection to the home, and it can be fun to watch them build their nests on a summer day over a glass of iced tea.

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

Blog Post 13 – Crown of Success

February 15, 2010

One of the things I hope to do on this blog is provide information on specific tools, formulae, ingredients, and objects used in American folk magic.  I hope that these blogs and podcasts will help the eager American witch to develop his or her practice by incorporating these components, or at the very least educate him or her about the different products available in the folk magic marketplace.

Today, I thought I’d focus on the hoodoo formula known as Crown of Success.  I’ve been using that one a lot lately, and it’s one of the ones I almost always have on hand or steeping in my pantry.  I’m sure many people could use a bit more success in their lives, so it’s a good one to have around for quick spellwork.

The recipe varies a bit from maker to maker, but almost all have a few ingredients in common:

  • Bay (as in bay laurel, not the bay which provides Jamaican bay rum)
  • Frankincense
  • Iron pyrite (“fool’s gold”)

There are several ingredients I’ve seen used interchangeably with key ingredients; lodestone can be used instead of pyrite, for example, since it acts as an “attractant” curio.  Likewise, some folks add gold flakes or glitter to the formula because of the association between gold and money/glory/success.  Additional herbs, roots, and curios can include things like master-of-the-woods, deer’s tongue, cinquefoil (also known as five-finger grass), sandalwood, vetiver, dragon’s-blood, etc.

Harry M. Hyatt records an informant in his Hoodoo – Conjuration – Witchcraft – Rootwork compendium who describes a mojo bag for success containing a lodestone, liquid mercury/quicksilver, iron filings, and a black cat bone (Volume 2, p. 1506).  WARNING!  Do NOT use liquid mercury under any circumstances—it is highly toxic and will cause damage or death if handled.  The black cat bone referred to is likely the magical talisman obtained (rather cruelly) by boiling a black cat alive in a magical ceremony and then collecting the bone in a special ritual.  I do NOT advise this, merely present it as a piece of folklore.  The modern formulae for Crown of Success do not depend on either deadly mercury or ritualized animal slaughter.

As far as how to use this particular formula, Lucky Mojo has an excellent page on Crown of Success formula at their site so I won’t go into much detail here.  Very generally, anything that involves gaining favor or accomplishing a goal—things like acing job interviews, applying for loans or grants, or mastering a new skill—can benefit from the inclusion of this product.

My own personal formulation of this recipe (for the oil version of it)  includes the following:

  • Bay leaves & oil
  • Cinquefoil
  • Frankincense tears & oil
  • Sandalwood chips & oil
  • Vetivert (herb & oil, if available)

In the master jar I also keep a rolled piece of paper with this line from Psalm 65 on it:

“Thou crownest the year with thy goodness; And thy paths drop fatness.” (Ps. 65:11)

There are several reliable sources for this oil out there.  I have to plug our shop, Compass & Key Apothecary, of course (forgive the rather paltry site, we’ll be revamping it soon, but you can certainly order any of our oils there).  But I would also heartily recommend Lucky Mojo’s Crown of Success products and Music City Mojo’s oils or mojo hands.  Based on the reputation of the root workers (as opposed to the individual products which I’ve used in the previous two examples), I would also go out on a limb and say that Toad’s Bone Apotheca and Forest Grove Botanica could both mix up a good blend of success formula if you ask them nicely.

One product I will recommend avoiding is Anna Riva’s Crown of Success.  It doesn’t smell “right,” and I’ve never had much luck using her oils in general.  Your mileage may vary, of course, and if you’ve had good luck with her products, I’d love to know about it.

That’s about it for this root work formula.  If you’d like to share your stories about working with it, we’re always happy to hear them.

Thanks for reading!

-Cory


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