Blog Post 153 – American Ginseng

Hello dedicated (and not abandoned!) readers!

This month, I’m going to be spending a lot of time looking at various botanicals found throughout North American magical practice. What with it being springtime and all, I thought a little stroll through our native meadows, forests, fields, and fens would be a good way to get back in the swing of things, and might even open up some new avenues of exploration for somebody. As always let me emphasize that THIS IS NOT A  MEDICAL BLOG, AND THE INFORMATION HERE IS NOT INTENDED TO DIAGNOSE, TREAT, OR OTHERWISE MEDICALLY PROVIDE FOR ANY ILLNESS OR AILMENT. ALL INFORMATION IS PROVIDED AS FOLKLORE ONLY!!!

I’m starting with a plant that may or may not be familiar to most people: American Ginseng (panax quinquefolia).  This plant can be found throughout the mountainous regions of North America ranging from Canada down to the Southern states. It’s long been highly valued in Chinese medicine, and has been considered a panacea (hence its botanical Latinate name of panax) for a wide variety of complaints. You can read a good bit about the botanical and medical side of the plant at its Botanical.com entry, so I’ll focus today more on the folklore side of this incredibly useful root.

When I was growing up in the rural South, I had a good friend in high school whose father would regularly take him ginseng hunting (or “sanging”) in the hills and mountain areas a few hours away. It was a profitable side business for them, as it has been for mountain folk for nearly three centuries. In the Foxfire Book #3, which includes a whole chapter dedicated to ginseng, there’s a history dating back to the early 18th century in which Father Joseph Lafitau had local Mowhawk tribes in Canada begin gathering and curing native ginseng for sale on the Chinese market (244). At one point, ginseng was reputed to be worth its weight in gold, literally. Jude’s Herbal Home Remedies includes this tidbit about the economic value of the root: “Even Daniel Boone gathered it [ginseng] to sell because it was more profitable than hunting and trapping” (18). Unfortunately this demand led to an overzealous glut of wild harvesting, and ginseng’s botanical population dwindled steadily into the early 20th century. It’s made something of a comeback in the last 50-60 years due to stricter laws governing its harvesting, but as my story about my friend’s family demonstrates, it’s still a very common practice and hard to regulate.

Mountain communities have long known the curative and tonic value of ginseng root. Looking again to Foxfire #3, we find the following:

“The early colonists not only gathered ginseng for sale, but used it in tea to encourage the appetite or strengthen the digestion, especially of elderly persons or puny children. Ginseng plus black cherry and yellowroot made a potent tonic, especially with the addition of some home made whiskey. An early herbal suggested gathering ginseng root and steeping it with chamomile flowers for fainting females” (247)

Its primary powers are to enhance male vigor, and its described as a potent aphrodisiac in a number of sources. This may be due to either its stimulant effect on the circulatory system or the distinctively humanoid shape of the root (a factor which has earned aphrodisiac and potentcy attributions for other roots like mandrake and ginger). Preparations vary from chewing slices of the fresh root to brewing teas to even more unorthodox decoctions. One informant’s method:

“‘You can take the roots that are dry and take a sausage mill or something and grind’em up and drop a pretty good little handful down into your vial of conversation juice [moonshine]. Take this ginseng and liquor and pour out just a small little amount of that ina teacup and set it afire. Strike a match to it, you know, and it’ll burn. And I mean burn it good. And then turn it up and drink it. It’s an awful bitter dose to swallow, but if it don’t do you some good you better get to a doctor and pretty durn fast. It really is good for that [male vigor]. And it’s also good for female disorders. Very good, they tell me, for that’”(Foxfire #3 250-1)

In one example I found, the act of finding ginseng has its own value. From Folk Medicine in Southern Appalachia: “For some, the pursuit of ‘sang’ and other herbs is a therapeutic activity in itself. A ninety-year-old woman from eastern Tennessee said: ‘When I feel down in the dumps, I go sangin’” (60).

Therapeutic uses of ginseng in modern preparations reflect its historical value. Jude’s Herbal Home Remedies recommends it as a tonic and aphrodisiac, and gives this recipe for a male tonic:

“TONIC FOR MEN: Mix ½ ounce each of ginseng, shepherd’s purse, corn silk and parsley. Mix well and add 1 teaspoon of the mixture to 1 cup of boiling water. Let steep 15 minutes, covered. Strain and sweeten if desired. Drink several cups per day for 1 week. This helps to tone up the male reproductive organs. The stimulation to the prostate is helpful to all parts of the system” (120)

It also considers ginseng one of the great coffee subsitutes available in the wild. It is still considered a great digestive aid, as well. The folklore tome Kentucky Superstitions calls it “A sure remedy for all kinds of stomach trouble” (107).

In the folk magical realm, ginseng again parallels its medicinal uses, as well as adding a few new tricks to its repertoire. Cat Yronwode describes a recipe for soaking a ginseng root in Holy Oil which can then be used to anoint the male genetalia to enhance sexual performance. She also mentions it’s a key component of an old-timey gambling mojo, too. The root seems to have made its way into curanderismo practice as well, as the Curious Curandera lists the following uses for it: “Love, wishes, protection, luck, spirit communication, visions, divination, male vigor, gambling luck, to control another.” And Judika Illes, in her oft-recommended tome The Encylopedia of 5000 Spells, gives a number of great magical applications for ginseng root:

  • Tie a red thread around a ginseng root and carry with you for beauty and grace (1026)
  • Wrapping the first dollar earned at a new business around a ginseng root w/ red thread will help improve income (167)
  • Mentions its name as “Wonder of the World root,” and tells how it can be used in hoodoo to enhance longevity, libido, & performance in sexual situations (527). Also says you can carve a wish on a whole root & toss it into running water to gain what you desire (763).
  • Can be burned to break curses (598)

This incredibly verstatile root definitely has a place in a folk magician’s cupboard, though I would recommend acquiring it from legal sources. While I’m normally an advocate of wild harvesting roots for practice, in ginseng’s case three centuries of such harvesting have taken a toll, and since it grows well in cultivation I’d rather see the wild stocks remain alive and untouched for a long time to come.

If you have experience with ginseng or know of any unique magical applications for it, I’d love to hear them! Until next time, thanks for reading!

-Cory

Blog Post 147 – Reviews and Recommendations

Hi all!

I’ve been reading a lot lately (but then, when am I not?). I’ve also managed to catch a couple of great movies as well. So I thought I’d share some of my thoughts on them with you! The excerpts below are the slightly abridged versions of the full reviews found over at Pagan Bookworm, so head over there if you want the full report.

1)      The Book of English Magic – by Philip Carr-Gomm and Richard Heygate (Overlook, 2010)

If you have spent much time studying occult literature, you know that Great Britain is rife with magical lore: fairies, Arthurian legends, druidry, cunning folk, etc. In The Book of English Magic, Philip Carr-Gomm and Richard Heygate make the not-too-audacious claim that Britain’s magical history is one of the richest—perhaps the richest—in the world. They approach their subject by examining a mix of history, folklore, and modern practices to attempt to piece together a portrait of Britain as an enchanted isle. While I think that they succeed in presenting a magical portrait of a magical land, I also think that the authors are by turns too broad and too narrow. They do a wonderful job looking into subjects like English alchemy and dowsing, providing a number of excellent resources to discover more about each topic. They also dwell overlong on the concept of druidry (not surprising considering it is one of Carr-Gomm’s chief fields of interest—he is also the author of Druid Mysteries, the Druid Plant Oracle, and the Druid Animal Oracle). The paucity of sources supporting some of their research means that while some chapters seem tight and focused, others seem only loosely woven together. They hardly plumb the depths of what is called Traditional Witchcraft, and the concept of cunning folk is given surprisingly short shrift considering how close to contemporary some of that material is. The inclusion of practical exercises gives a slightly ‘workbook’ feel at times, which deflates the momentum of the book in some places, but really does seem to serve the overall work.That being said, if one were looking for a good coffee-table introduction to the myriad magical traditions available to the student of British history, this would be an excellent starting point.

2)      The Voodoo-Hoodoo Spellbookby Denise Alvarado (Weiser, 2011)

This book is about what author Denise Alvarado calls “Voodoo-Hoodoo,” a term which irks some as the continuing inaccurate jumble of two terms which should remain distinct (Voodoo being a religion and hoodoo being a folk magical practice). However, if one takes the time to read Alvarado’s passionate book on the topic, the Voodoo-Hoodoo Spellbook, one can see that she is merely sticking to the terminology most people are familiar with and that the dog of diction has no teeth to bite when it comes to New Orleans-style magic. Instead, Alvarado presents a tradition which blends elements of Haitian Vodoun, folk Catholicism, Southern root work and hoodoo, and a touch of New Age spirituality to create a vibrant, current practice. She uses a number of good resources, often primary ones, to support her understanding of a practice she has lived with her whole life (according to her). She also frequently slips away from the facts and into personal experience, but does so in a non-authoritarian way. Her history of Mardi Gras and the magical folklore associated with them is captivating, as is her heartfelt look at the Seven African Powers. When she does slip off of the scholarly or personal track the book can get a bit messy. Her correspondence tables are not a strength, and her inclusion of New Age style tumbled gemstones in her work almost undermines her traditionalism (as it seems fairly obvious that slaves doing similar work in the 19th century would not have had polished rose quartz to work with). She is flexible and fluid towards Christianity, though here it should be pointed out that she neither says one must work with Christianity nor one must work with African Traditional spirituality. People are looking for spells, and this book definitely has those. There are spells for love, luck, money, protection, and half-a-dozen other needs. Hundreds of spells and workings are contained in this book, as well as recipes for conjure oils and powders, instructions for candle working, and a discussion of poppets and dolls in magical work. Some of them seem totally reasonable within the context of her presented practice, and some seem a little forced. This book fits nicely on the shelf next to other “hoodoo 101” texts, while offering a few doors to open for a reader looking to go deeper.

3)      Old World Witchcraft – by Raven Grimassi (Weiser 2011)

Don’t buy this book. I’m not even bothering providing a link to it. I’ve done a full review at Pagan Bookworm, but let me just say this text is badly researched, mis-cites or fails to cite sources, argues with scholars without presenting their actual point of view/argument, claims that graveyard dirt is just the powdered ash of tree leaves gathered in a cemetery, and says that you can become deeply knowledgable about a plant by studying its sigil. It’s bad history, bad herbalism, and bad witchcraft. All in all, this is a book which suffers from broken clock syndrome (as in, “a broken clock is right twice a day”). He occasionally hits on interesting ideas or brings up worthwhile concepts, but mostly he seems to be posing an elaborate fantasy as a pseudo-historical reality, with very little scholarly backbone to support his claims. When someone prods the gear works, the whole contraption just seems to fall apart.

4)      American Mystic, directed by Alex Mar (Empire 8 Productions, 2010)

Director Mar turns the camera on three different but spiritually similar people: Kublai, an African American man who belongs to the Spiritualist Church; Chuck, a Lakota Sioux sun dancer; and Morpheus, a pagan witch and Feri tradition priestess. The director captures the challenges of these faiths, including both internal and external struggles. While there is an element of novelty to the practices of each film subject, the director never lets curiosity turn into spectacle. The Sun Dance, which can be grueling for participants, is not simply a show of blood and muscle, but rather connects Chuck to his family in a powerful way. Kublai seems to struggle with just how much he believes in his own spiritual gifts. And Morpheus senses her displacement in the modern world, while at the same time she does not shy away from the society of other people.  The film does have its flaws, but keeps a sensitive and intelligent lens focused on these subjects and their deeply-felt spiritualism. This is a rare and lovely documentary on mysticism as seen at the ground level. Available on Netflix.

5)      All My Friends Are Funeral Singers, directed by Tim Rutili (IndiePix Films, 2010)

In this outstanding independent film from director (and bit player/musician) Tim Rutili, a lonely fortune-teller and magical worker named Zel (played by the radiant Angela Bettis) lives in an old country house inhabited by a wide range of unusual ghosts that only she can see. There are dead flappers, priests, blind musicians, and a strange, child-like woman named Nyla (Molly Wade) who cannot speak. Zel is not merely a medium, she is also a deeply talented magical worker. She smartly lays down a salt line in front of her bedroom door every night to keep her ghost-friends out. The director cleverly bookends each section of the film with bits of folk magic, title cards with things like “A wish made while burning onions will come true,” which lends to the overall enchantment of the piece. This is such a lovely and exceptional film that I easily overlooked its flaws in favor of being bespelled by these characters. I cannot recommend this film highly enough. Go, watch it now! Available on Netflix.

Whew! So that’s been my reading and watch list (at least, that all the ones I could write reviews about lately). What have you been getting into?

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

Blog Post 143 – Apples

Inside a red barn,
A white star…
-Part of a riddle, the solution to which is “an apple”

Do you remember that moment in Snow White & the Seven Dwarves when the evil Queen is using all manner of occult ephemera to poison a single apple which she will use to kill Snow White? What about all those baroque and medieval paintings of the Garden of Eden showing a dispassionate Eve holding a bitten apple in one hand? Or the Greek myth of the golden apple given to Prince Paris of Troy that he might award it to the fairest of the goddesses (thus sparking the Trojan War).

Apples appear throughout folklore and myth as symbols of magical power, sacred knowledge, and intoxicating sweetness. American lore has its own apple-toting legend in the form of John Chapman, a.k.a. Johnny Appleseed, who crossed the upper Midwest planting apple orchards as he went (Michael Pollan’s excellent book The Botany of Desire explores how Chapman—a mystical Christian practicing a philosophy called Swedenborgianism—actually planted orchards not for eating apples, but for making hard cider, thus linking him to the magical practice of brewing as well).  Today I thought I’d look at some of the magical manifestations of this ubiquitous fruit. After all, it is as American as, well, apple pie.

I’d like to start with some of the apple lore and superstitions found in Vance Randolph’s Ozark Magic & Folklore, primarily because I love one of the first tidbits I found:

  • “A bad woman can’t make good applesauce” (65)

I have no idea about the veracity, implications, or thought processes behind this statement, but it was just too wonderful to pass up. So if you can’t make good applesauce, you should clearly consider it a moral failing of some kind. Randolph also lists a number of other bits of common apple lore:

  • A goiter can be removed or reduced by rubbing it with half an apple, burying it in the cemetery, then eating the other half (148)
  • Two apple seeds, named for a boy and a girl, dropped onto a hot shovel can predict love. If they move closer together, they will marry; if they part, the love will not last (184)

I’ve covered a bit of the love magic involving apples in another post and podcast episode, but this latter method is one I’d not seen before, and has a very ‘country’ feel to it. Listener and fellow folk-magic blogger Claire shared that instead of peeling the apple in one strip, she and her childhood playmates would twist the stem, saying a letter with each twist, until the thing came loose revealing the initial of one’s future beau.

Many of Randolph’s recorded superstitions can be found in other places as well, such as these wonderful examples from Kentucky folklore:

  • Breaking an apple in two means luck in love (especially if you “name” the apple for someone special)
  • An apple peel removed in a single strip then tossed over the shoulder will land in the shape of a lover’s initial
  • Apple seeds can be counted like flower petals in the “loves me, loves me not” style
  • Apple seeds are used to tell which direction a lover will come from by spitting them in the air, or can be used to divine how long it will take before one sees a sweetheart again by slapping a handful against one’s forehead—the number that stick are the days until the lover arrives.
  • Naming apples on Halloween and then bobbing or playing ‘snap-apple’ for them predicts a future mate
  • Finding twinned apples (or any fruit really) on a tree means a marriage soon
  • Warts can be cured with apples, either by burying an apple and saying ‘As this apple decays, so let my wart go away,” or by scarring an apple tree’s bark—when the bark grows over, the wart will disappear
  • Apples gathered in moonlight will not bruise or rot
  • “If you can break an apple with your hands, you will always be your own boss”

(from Kentucky Superstitions, by Daniel & Lucy Thomas)

Vance Randolph also references the wart-removal charm which involves cutting notches in an apple tree, although in this case it’s a stranger’s apple tree and done in secret, as ‘stolen’ things have tremendous magical curing power (130).

Henry Middleton Hyatt also has several pieces of folklore about apples, some of which contradict the Kentucky beliefs above:

  • Apples which fall in moonlight get ‘soft-rot,’ while apples falling during a dark moon get ‘dry-rot’
  • If you want your next calf to be a female, bury the placenta from the most recent calf birth under an apple tree
  • Girls eat the first apple of June and count the seeds to see how many children they will have
  • Eating ‘twinned’ apples is said to cause twin births
  • Rubbing a piece of apple over a newborn’s tongue ensures that they will have a beautiful singing voice
  • Apple peels, especially those in June, can be rubbed on the face to improve complexion
  • Eating an apple on an empty stomach on Easter ensures good health
  • Menstrual flow can be regulated by boiling the inner bark (or cambium) of an apple tree
  • If you always burn your apple peelings you will never have cancer

Hyatt also reiterates the wart cures involving rubbing sliced apples over the wart and burying them, usually under the eaves of a house (Folklore of Adams County, 146).

In New England, apples also have a love association, as well as some rather more foreboding connotations. The excellent blog New England Folklore provides a wonderful rhyme for counting apple seeds here. The blog author, Peter M., also shares a bit of the darker lore of apples, including the strange coincidence of deaths with apples in New England lore. And what could be creepier than an apple tree eating a person?

Finally, looking towards the deep South and the folk magic of hoodoo, I found that the apple can be used for a variety of purposes. Cat Yronwode suggests using the apple as an agent in sweetening spells, especially those for love. She points out that it can be used as a receptacle for sweetening agents like honey or sugar and it provides sweetness itself in the spell (Hoodoo Herb & Root Magic, 32-3). Denise Alvarado mentions that the Voodoo lwa known as Papa Guede appears as a skeletal figure with a tophat and an apple in one hand in her Voodoo Hoodoo Spellbook. And then there’s this very interesting spell involving apples and court-case work:

Take green and yellow candles, enough to last for nine days, and with a sharp object write on them the names of the chief prosecution witness, the judge, and the district attorney, in that order. Burn the candles upside down to ‘upset the heads’ of these people. Bore a hole in each of three apples and put the name of each of the three above-mentioned persons in the apples. Set them before the candles while they burn the requisite nine days. At the end of nine days take the apples to the vicinity of the jail. Roll one from the entrance, one from the right side, and one from the left side, thereby rolling the prisoner out of jail (Haskins, Voodoo & Hoodoo, 185).

This spell is supposed to be used during an appeals process or after a new trial has been ordered. Perhaps it is tied to the sweetening effect mentioned by Yronwode as a way of urging a new judge or jury to look upon your case favorably?

In any case, the apple has certainly earned its place in American magical lore. If you know of other magical uses for the apple, feel free to post them here. And next time you’re eating an apple, do as the wicked queen suggests—make a wish, take a bite.

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

Blog Post 141 – Witch Hazel

Today’s entry is not about the crazed cartoon sorceress from Warner Bros. cartoons (voiced by the inimitable June Foray), but instead we’ll be looking at the remarkable fall-blooming witch hazel tree. Really, the Hamamelis virginiana is not exactly a tree, but a woody shrub which can be found growing near water sources or in forest undergrowth throughout the Eastern United States (as well as in parts of Europe). It bears gorgeous yellow flowers in fall which look almost like a deep yellow honeysuckle bloom or a spidery golden star. It has a number of medical applications (you can usually find an astringent extract of the same name in your pharmacy), and has been used as a tea, poultice, extract, and tincture to treat bleeding wounds for a long time, according to botanical.com.  The handy little book Folk Medicine in Southern Appalachia names witch hazel as a topical treatment for hemorrhoids and sunburn, and mentions it as an infusion for treating menstrual discomfort.

But you’re probably not here for the medical qualities of the plant (although I should quickly make my regular disclaimer that nothing herein contained is intended as medical/legal advice and you should see professional guidance when using any herb, plant, or botanical). So let’s look at the folklore surrounding this plant.

The name is a good jumping-off point. Wikipedia (forgive me, please) indicates that the appellation of “witch” to this plant is related to an Old English word meaning “bendable” or “pliant,” due to witch hazel’s extremely flexible branches. It also tangentially relates it to its folkloric use as a dowsing tool. Since being able to dowse for water or other hidden substances is often referred to as “witching” for such things, connecting the tree name to its application makes some sense. Essentially this could be a chicken-and-egg argument about which idea came first, so I’ll just leave the question hovering in the ether for you to contemplate.

Since we’re mentioning witch hazel’s connection to dowsing, let’s look at one method of using it in this way, from Vance Randolph’s Ozark Magic & Folklore:

“Well, I just cut me a green fork off a peach tree some fellows use witch hazel or redbud, but peach  always works better for me and take one prong in each hand. Then I walk slowly back and forth, holding the fork in front of me, parallel with the ground. When I cross an underground stream the witch stick turns in my hands, so that the main stem points down toward the water. Then I drive a stake in the ground to mark the place, and that’s where I tell ’em to dig their well” (p.83)

In this example, the informant shows a preference to peach branches over witch hazel (which I found in several other sources as well, particularly those focused on the American Southeast). Another informant of Randolph’s, one Mr. A.M. Haswell of Joplin, Missouri, espouses a staunch preference for witch hazel. Regardless of the tree, the technique remains the same. This account does not mention the holding method, which usually involves a palms-up grip, with the thumbs pointing out and away from the body. The stick ‘turning’ is a violent bobbing action, and truly accomplished dowsers can count the bobs to indicate approximately how deep the well is (thirty bobs equals thirty feet, for example).

Witch hazel can be used for other magical applications, too. A technique which seems—to me, anyway—related to its pharmaceutical properties involves using hazel branches to cure warts, scars, or blemishes. The patient takes a hazel stick, cuts three notches into it, applies some blood from the afflicted body part, and casts it into running water (Folklore of Adams County, Hyatt). One version of this method recorded in Folk Medicine by William Black involves writing one’s name on the branch and filling those grooves with blood.

The plant can also be used in protection magic. Randolph mentions that Ozark hillfolk would tie hazel twigs into little crosses and hung on their walls to guard against disease, especially in barns to safeguard the animals (p.284). This is somewhat like the rowan tree charm, which involves crosses of rowan twigs bound by red thread used as protective aids.

So as you are out on your autumn evening walks, keep an eye out for this gorgeous and rather useful magical plant.  Try your hand at dowsing, or just make some healing or protective charms. But make friends with the poor, sweet witch hazel. She gets awfully lonely, and we don’t want her out hunting wabbits, do we?


Thanks for reading!

-Cory

Blog Post 137 – Curandero Spells, part I

Howdy everyone! In the next couple of posts I’m just going to toss a few spells, charms, herbs, and other tools and techniques gleaned from Hispanic folk magical practices out there for you to peruse. As always, let me state clearly that these ideas ARE NOT MEANT TO REPLACE MEDICAL OR LEGAL ADVICE, but are merely provided as folkloric examples of a vibrant cultural practice. With that out of the way, let’s look at the magic!

Illnesses and Maladies
Curanderos treate a variety of different ailments of both physical and spiritual natures. Some of the best known and most commonly treated are:

  • Empacho – a digestive disease caused by a perceived blockage in the intestines
  • Susto – a type of soul-shaking fright that causes a person’s spirit to leave their body, which becomes weak and vulnerable
  • Desasombro – an intensive form of susto which leaves its victim debilitated after severe trauma
  • Mal de ojo – the famous ‘evil eye,’ which can have a number of symptoms, such as bad luck, ill health, or anxiety and depression
  • Mal puesto/brujeria – essentially a curse or malignant witchcraft, which is ‘put on’ a person and must be taken off with spiritual tools and prayer
  • Nervios – nervous diseases that cause emotional distress and suffering
  • Bilis – a type of anger sickness caused by a perceived backup of ‘bile’ in a person’s system, and which is usually treated with a laxative of some kind
  • Muina – a more intensive anger sickness which results in an outward rage of some kind. treated with tranquilizing herbal remedies (like orange blossoms, also called flor de azahar)
  • Latido – a sort of eating disorder which is primarily seen in young women which results in anorexia and bodily weakness, treated  with repeated herbal and physical healing practices
  • Impotence/Infertility – sometimes linked to a psychic cause, sometimes a physical one, sometimes both; usually treated herbally or with techniques like massage combined with prayer
  • Menstrual/Gynecological disorders – irregular menstruation, prolapsed uteruses, and other problems related to the female reproductive system which are almost always treated without requiring the patient to disrobe (a major reason why some people turn to curanderos instead of conventional doctors)

There are plenty of diseases I’m not listing here, of spiritual and medical natures. Accounts of these disorders and their treatment by curanderos can be found in a number of resources, such as Curandero by Eliseo “Cheo” Torres, “Mexican-American Folk Diseases,” by Keith A. Neighbors, and this article from the Western Journal of Medicine in 1983. Folk practitioners generally deal with these maladies on a case-by-case basis, and attempt a holistic cure which integrates body, mind, and spirit in the healing process.

 

Tools
The tools of curanderos are generally easy to find, household items. Combined with the power of prayer and focused intent, their magical or miraculous qualities emerge and they can be used to to treat the illnesses listed above. Some tools are a little more difficult to acquire than simply going to your local grocery store, but almost any of them are available cheaply and easiliy either online or through mail-order.

  • Yerbas (Herbs) – These are probably some of the most common and important components of curanderismo practice.  A number of different herbs are used, often in a variety of forms. They can be bundled and used like a broom or small scourge (see “Rubbing” in the Techniques section), turned into a tea, burned, or even taken in pill form. Some curanderos grow their own, and others purchase herbs at a yerberia, which is similar to a natural health food store or Chinese apothecary. Since there are so many herbs available, I am only going to select a small handful to mention here in the interest of saving space:
    • Ruda (Rue) – primarily used (as it is in other cultures) as an anti-evil charm and a general spiritual curative, it can also bring prosperity and wealth
    • Cenzino/Salvia (Sage) – in most cases the white sage (Salvia apiana) found in the American Southwest, though in some cases culinary sage (Salvia officinalis) may be substituted; protects, cleanses, reverses evil witchcraft and susto, and provides long life and wisdom
    • Anis (Aniseed) – a licorice-flavored seed used in cooking and liqueur-making, which also aids all sorts of digestive problems when chewed or administered as a tea; also used after susto treatments to help the patient’s spirit settle back into his or her body
    • Calendula (Marigold) – used for a number of psychic phenomenon, from prophetic dreaming to helping one to have visions or find stolen property
    • Cascara sagrada – a tree bark which helps with legal issues and court cases, as well as providing general good luck
  • Amuletos (Amulets) – A variety of amulets, from the very simple to the very complex, are used to create magical conditions for clients and/or patients. Most are carried in pockets or purses, though some can also be worn, usually around the neck. Some of the most famous amuletos are the Milagros which are little tin, lead, or otherwise metallic charms in a variety of shapes such as heads, hearts, hands, pigs, Blessed Virgins, and even ears of corn. These are frequently left at the shrine of a saint with especial patronage of a particular type of healing or miracle, but can also be incorporated into other charms. Horseshoes are sometimes found as amulets, either in milagro form or actual horsehoes. One of the most interesting charms I’ve found is the piedra iman, or lodestone charm, which is made in the following way (from Torres’ Curandero):

“I discovered that the piedra iman [lodestone] is the basis for what is called piedra iman curada (a cured lodestone), in the form of an amulet (amuleto) which is a specially prepared plastic bag containing a number of items or trinkets, including a small piedra iman rock. Each item in the bag is significant and represents the following:
-A gold colored bead signifies the need for wealth or money (oro para mi uena );
-A silver colored bead, or silver taken from old jewelry, is for harmony in one’s home (plata para mi casa y hogar);
-A copper coin such as a penny is for the poor and needy (cobre para el pobre);
-A red bead or red bean signifies coral, to rid you of envy and all that’s bad (coral para que se me quite la envidia y el mal);
-A horseshoe or wire bent in the shape of  ahorseshoe to prosper in business or in personal work (la heradura para un buen negocio o trabajo); and
-A piece of lodestone for good luck and fortune (la piedra iman para la uena suerte y fortuna).

People carry the plastic bag with all these items in their pockets or cars, or hang the bag in their homes or businesses” (p. 54)

  • Eggs, Limes, & Lemons – These are used to perform limpias, or spiritual cleansings. In most cases, the food item is rubbed over the body of the patient, then either destroyed in a ritual manner or “read” for information on the person’s condition. Egg limpias are especially common and reading an egg’s contents after a cleansing is done by dropping the cracked egg into a glass of water and interpreting things like bubbles, strands, and coloration of the egg itself. Blood on the egg is a very bad sign, as is a foul odor emanating from the egg. In these cases, multiple limpias may be performed to rid the patient of his or her magical affliction. You can read an excellent description of both the egg cleansing and how to interpret the signs of the egg over at Concha’s Curious Curandera website.
  • Candles – These probably don’t need a whole lot of elaboration, but it should be pointed out that a number of different candles are used within curanderismo. Saint candles are common, of course, but so are the candles frequently found in other traditions, like hoodoo. For instance, one might see a St. Michael candle burning alongside a Fiery Wall of Protection candle or a Sacred Heart of Jesus candle burning with a Reversing candle. Votive candles and tapers are also used for various types of work, from cleansing to simple prayers.
  • Prayer – Probably the most important and powerful tool in a curandero’s bag is his or her selection of prayers. Usually these are liturgical prayers, such as the Apostles Creed, certain Psalms, or the Lord’s Prayer, but occasionally one can find a folk prayer or one that has simply grown up out of the curandero’s personal tradition. Usually prayers are said multiple times, often over extended periods of time, and as often as possible the patient is asked to pray with the worker.

That will just about cover us for today. Next time we’ll have a look at the techniques used by curanderos, as well as a couple of other interesting spells.

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

Blog Post 124 – Tobacco

[A note here:  This is NOT a medical blog, and the information here should not be treated as medical information. I present only folkloric examples of practices historically done by certain people at certain times. Additionally, I am NOT condoning the use of cigarettes, snuff, or any other tobacco product, especially for minors. If you choose to put into practice anything you find here, you take responsibility for your own actions.  Leave me out of it.  Thank you!]

This particular magical herb/plant/ingredient is rather controversial. As a reformed smoker, I know the power of tobacco’s hold on a person—it’s not just the nicotine, but a whole range of psychological dependencies that develop when one is a smoker.  What I’m looking at in this post, however, is not really tobacco as a commodity sold in convenience stores using cartoon animals, but instead the plant found in the Nicotiana genus. Tobacco is a member of the nightshade family (Solanaceae), which includes other rather magical plants like belladonna, datura, and mandrake as well as common (yet mythically significant) edibles like the tomato, potato, and chili pepper.  The plant is also a potent natural insecticide—or insect deterent, rather—and an infusion of tobacco leaves in water is often sprayed in organic garden to keep pests away.

Tobacco, like corn, is deeply significant to certain Native American tribes, who incorporate tobacco into ceremonies and offerings.  Cherokee shamans, for example, would use sacred tobacco in ceremonies designed to combat “night-goers,” evil spirits or people who invaded the dreams of others.  Tobacco smoke was also used as a curative for a number of ailments, and these uses filtered into non-Native practices over time (which we’ll see in just a moment).

When tobacco met European colonists, it experienced a boom in popularity that has kept it one of the top cash crops worldwide ever since—for better or for worse.  It has been deeply wound up in the lives of most North Americans for centuries now, including in their folk medical and magical practices.  One oft-repeated use of the leaf was as a treatment for insect stings and bites, as well as other types of wounds:

  • Tobacco used as a poultice to soothe “abdominal pain…cuts, stings, bites, bruises, and even bullet wounds.” It is thought to “draw out poison” (Randolph, p. 98)
  • “TOBACCO. The leaves are put on a wound to stop bleeding or to prevent infection” (Gainer, p.109)
  • Tobacco, especially homegrown, is good for insect stings and bites (Foxfire 9, p. 66)
  • Wet leaves are wrapped on feet to prevent infection of “full sores” (Cavendar, p. 118-9)
  • Tobacco juice/tea used to wash wounds from snake/dog bites (Cavendar, p. 118-9)
  • A personal informant told me that her grandmother used to put wads of chewing tobacco on cuts, bug bites, and stings to help heal them (informant “Darlene”)

The other chief folk medicinal use for tobacco was the application of smoke to sick or troubled persons.  There were almost as many mentions of this method as there were of the poultice method.  Here are a few:

  • Tobacco smoke can be held in the mouth as a cure for a toothache (Cavendar, p. 118-19)
  • Smoke was blown into an ear for an earache, accompanied by the rhyme “Hurt, Hurt, go away/go into a bale of hay” (Cavendar, p. 118-9)
  • Tobacco smoke is blown into the clothes of colicky children to quiet them, or blown through a straw and “bubbled” in milk as a sedative (Randolph, p.98)

This method clearly derives (I think, anyway) from the Native American medical practices which Europeans adopted in the New World.

The use of tobacco has always had its controversies, of course.  Some objected to it on aesthetic grounds, thinking the act of smoking vulgar and primitive.  Others were disgusted by the smoke and smell associated with the burning leaves.  Still others thought it a waste of money or even a diabolical entrapment for hapless Christians.  One poem I found was circulated in the middle-Appalachians during the nineteenth century and covered all these points:

“Tobacco is an Indian weed,

The Devil himself sowed the seed;

Robs your pockets, burns your clothes,

And makes a chimney out of your nose” (Milne, p. 58)

The religious objections to tobacco were primarily on its use as a vice and an intoxicant.  According to Foxfire 7, the Jehovah’s Witnesses had especial objections to it, and for quite intriguing reasons:  “Smoking has always been completely out of vogue among Jehovah’s Witnesses…As the Society researched the derivations of tobacco and smoking, they found it to be associated with spiritism.”  They also related tobacco to “drugs” used by “priests in pagan ceremony and worship” (Foxfire 7, p. 152-3).

When it comes to purely magical uses of tobacco, the information I found varied a good bit.  Zora Neale Hurston mentions it as a cursing ingredient in a powerful separation spell.  She also tells a very interesting story about a man who takes shelter in an abandoned house only to be joined by a mysterious old man who begins spitting tobacco across the fire at him. When the man attempts to fight the old fellow, he finds himself thrown across the room over and over again.  In this context, there seems to be a subtle current relating the “old man” of the story to the Crossroads Man, Papa Legba, or perhaps the Devil (or maybe even all three from a certain perspective).

One article from 1890 indicated that tobacco was included in mojo bags made with the famous lucky rabbit’s foot.

Cat Yronwode recommends tobacco as an ingredient in court case and spirit contact work.  In this latter capacity, I’ve see tobacco used as an offering to various spirits, particularly crossroads entities and spirits of the dead (Central American folk-saint/crossroads spirit Maximon frequently smokes cigarettes or cigars).  Denise Alvarado’s Voodoo-Hoodoo Spellbook indicates that tobacco is frequently offered to Baron Samedi in the New Orleans Voodoo tradition.

I would also suggest that due to the calmative and drawing effects that tobacco exhibits in folk medicine, it makes a useful addition to house-cleansing and blessing incenses.  A very small pinch added to another incense blend in a well-ventilated house should draw evil spirits out of your home and welcome friendly (and particularly, ancestral) spirits into it.  If you or anyone you live with cannot abide tobacco smoke, however, consider burying a little cut tobacco leaf at the four corners of your property to produce a similar effect.

Lastly, if you choose to smoke tobacco in a ritual context, consider whispering prayers as you exhale smoke.  It makes a fantastic visual focus point to see your requests and adoration slowly rising from your mouth and into the air.  Again, I don’t condone smoking (especially not outside of a very occasional ritual setting), but if you do incorporate it into your practices, I hope that this suggestion helps.

That’s it for the devil-weed tobacco!  I hope this proves useful to some of you out there.  Please let me know if you have any other magical or folk remedy uses for tobacco leaf in the comments below.

As always, thanks for reading!

-Cory

Blog Post 108 – Holiday Magic in the Kitchen

Today I thought I’d look at some of the holiday lore surrounding baking and cooking.  What would the holidays be without the smells of cinnamon and nutmeg and clove and allspice slowly seeping out of the hot oven?  And who imagines a holiday home without the presence of gingerbread or ginger cake of some kind?  Chocolate and peppermint add extra luxury to an already indulgent season.  In short, much of the magic of Christmastime and Yuletide seems to come from the kitchen (I’m sure many kitchen witches reading that chuckle in amusement that such sentiments even need to be typed out).

So let’s start by looking at some of the ingredients in those festive holiday treats:

Cinnamon – This handy kitchen spice has lots of magical uses.  Cat Yronwode recommends it as a business drawing and gambling botanical.  It can be used to make a wash-water which one would then use to scrub down the walkways in front of a business.  This has the effect of drawing in new clients.  In Jim Haskin’s Voodoo & Hoodoo, cinnamon is mixed with sugar and sprinkled in the shoes to increase gambling fortunes.  Draja Mickaharic describes cinnamon as “calming” with a “protective vibration” and also cites its money-making properties in his Century of Spells (which refers not to a unit of time, but rather a unit of enumeration—a century representing the roughly 100 spells found in the book).  Mickaharic also notes that “it has a claming and quieting effect on young children,” though I imagine in cookie form this may not be the case.

Cloves – Mickaharic says these are “psychically protective,” and keep “negative thoughtforms out of the place where it is burned.”  Presumably including cloves in any baked or cooked dish would involve at least heating them, thus releasing some of this power into the kitchen and home.  Yronwode says that “cloves appear in spells for money-drawing, prosperity, room-renting, and friendship” (HHRM, p. 73).  These are also used to make pomanders, clove-studded oranges rolled in orris root powder and hung as protective talismans in the home (well, protective talismans and lovely nosegays to help imbue the house with that sweet, spicy holiday scent).

Nutmeg – This botanical has a mild narcotic effect and has been a staple of magic for some time.  An old hoodoo charm found in Harry Hyatt’s work and later disseminated by other authors involves sealing a small amount of liquid mercury inside a drilled nutmeg, then carrying the charm around as a gambling mojo (this is NOT RECOMMENDED as mercury is highly poisonous—DO NOT DO IT!!!).  Mickaharic describes nutmeg as an herb which inspires conviviality and jovial behavior, and promotes an air of happy friendship in the home.

Allspice – “Good for social gatherings; increases the flow of conversation and the rapport between people” says Mickaharic (CoS, p.50).  These hard, dried berries can also be soaked for a few hours, then strung as a type of herbal rosary using a needle and thread.  Carrying this can help relieve stress and provide peace of mind.  Yronwode recommends this for business and gambling (there’s a pattern here), and also describes a floor wash one can make with ground allspice.   Mixed with cinnamon and burned as incense, Mickaharic says it “places a smooth and witty feeling” in the home.

Ginger – This fiery herb is used to “heat up” or enhance the potency of various other magical ingredients, and also provides a little kick in spells for love or money (HHRM, p.103).  The root can be used as a poppet due to its shape and sometimes-resemblance to a human body, and would be especially effective in a love or lust working.  It can also be carried for protection.

Sugar – Sweetening!  This can be used to add a “sweet” or happy vibration to the home where it is burned (though it can smell very sharp when burned, too…baking it may not have the same oomph as burning it, but will smell better in the long run).  Of course one can keep all of one’s visiting relatives’ name papers in the sugar jar in order to better provide a happy, congenial home during the holidays, but offering them lots of sugary sweets might help ply a good attitude out of them, too.

As you can see, most of these herbs have to do with prosperity and getting along with one another (and a little protection thrown in for good measure).  This makes sense during a season where money might be tight, tension runs high, and houses are full of dangerous things like fire and hot ovens.  So when doing the holiday baking, it might be worth throwing an extra pinch or two of these spices in to up the magical ante of your confections.

I mentioned gingerbread earlier, and it made me think of a couple of stories from early American folklore about bakers whose experiences with cookies certainly have a magical bent:

The Baker’s Dozen” – A piece of reputed folklore recorded by Charles M. Skinner in 1896, this story revolves around a stingy baker and his encounters with an old crone who bewitches his bakery.  Only through the magnanimous efforts of St. Nicolaus (and by swearing better behavior on a gingerbread cookie shaped like him) does he manage to break the spell.

The Gingerbread Man” – This famous story tells of a gingerbread man come to life who flees his baker and eludes capture by the people and animals of the village.  He meets his match in the swift (and often crafty, in various retellings) fox, who finally devours him.

Finally, I’ll leave you with my family recipe for gingerbread:

1 c. sugar
1 c. shortening
1 c. molasses
½ c. hot water
1 Tbs. cinnamon (or to taste)
1 Tbs. ginger (or to taste)
½ tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1 egg
7 c. flour, plus a little extra for rolling dough

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sift flour and mix in dry ingredients.  Add egg, molasses, and shortening and mix.  Slowly add hot water, mixing as you go.  When dough is sticky, begin to work it into a ball.  Dust a flat surface with flour and begin rolling out the dough, working it until you get it about ¼ inch thick.  Cut out shapes with cookie cutters or a knife.   Bake cookies on a lightly greased cookie sheet for about 15 minutes (or until they are crisp at the edges and fully cooked.  Cool on a wire rack, decorate, and eat!

My mother and I used to bake several batches (rather, a whole day’s worth) of gingerbread, then spend time making the finished products into houses, sleighs, people, and animals.  We gave them as gifts, decorated with royal icing and candy, and were often very popular around the holidays.  I hope you enjoy!  It’ll be like taking a little bite out of your New World Witchery host during the holiday season.

Wait, that probably sounds kind of creepy.  Enjoy anyway!

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

Blog Post 106 – Book Review

The Faeries’ Guide to Green Magick from the Garden by Jamie Wood and Lisa Steinke, illustrations by Lisa Steinke

When I was asked to review this book from the publisher*, I said yes without knowing anything about it. The title intrigued me, so I thought I’d give it a chance. I have to be honest though, anytime I hear anything about “faerie” books, I’m always a bit wary. Some books can be a bit more new agey than I like, and, dare I say it- a little fluffy. However, I was pleasantly surprised by how this book treats the subject of faeries.

To start out, the authors talk about Man and his symbiotic relationship with the earth. Talk is quickly shifted to a “go green” type of message, and how important this is in order to have any relationship with the faeries. It comes off a bit heavy handed, especially since it’s all information that any pagan already knows. However, Wood and Steinke then go on to explain how they view faeries- as the life forces of plants. They explain that plants are living beings, and that each faerie has an individual energy and personality that is a manifestation of that plant energy. They go on to say that Steinke’s lovely illustrations are her own personal interpretation of that faerie energy. I was really happy with this explanation, as it’s pretty close to my own view of faeries and they explain it in a easy to understand way.

There are a few more chapters on magickal** gardening, green gardening, and complimentary medicine. I found these to be a bit extraneous though, because they only touch on the subjects in passing. I’m glad though, because the best part of the book is what’s next- the Herbal Index. I loved this part of the book. The set up is that each herb has it’s own entry, with 33 of the most common herbs represented. Each herb has Steinke’s illustration of the faerie energy of the herb, a description of the plant, how to take care of it, and some magickal way to use the herb- whether that be an ingredient in a recipe, an ingredient in a spell, or perhaps a way to make your own beauty product. The only thing I found myself wishing for in this portion of the book was an actual picture of the plant/herb. However, since they’re so common, a quick google search will pull up plenty of pictures. I really enjoyed this portion of the book, and I think it would be great for someone new to working with herbs (like me).

Overall, I was pretty happy with The Faeries Guide to Green Magick from the Garden. It is definitely written for those new to gardening, working with faeries, and even to witchcraft in general. Sometimes the tone is almost apologetic for being about “magick”- as if they are writing to the average person who has never even thought about magick or witchcraft before, which is not who is going to be buying this book. I found this to be a bit patronizing at times.

However, the Herbal Index alone makes the book worth it to me. The descriptions, how to care for the plant, a fun way to use that particular herb, and not to mention the wonderful illustrations, all made me think it will be a good book to have in my repertoire. Again, it is for beginners, so if you’re a seasoned herbalist, this book will probably not have enough information for you. But, if you want an easy introduction into working with faeries and working with magickal herbs, then think about checking out this book.

-Laine

*In the interest of full disclosure, the publisher contacted me and asked if I would give an honest review of the book. I haven’t been paid for this review, and I didn’t pay for the book.

**Also, I’d like to note that I don’t usually make the distinction between magic and magick, but the book makes a point of explaining this, so I figured I would stick with that spelling. The same goes with the fairy/faerie spelling.

Blog Post 102 – 15 Books

Hello everyone!

I recently saw a rather interesting post from a friend on a social networking site in which she listed her “Top 15 Most Influential Books” when it comes to witchcraft.  Since I posted a book review last week (and since most book reviews going forward will likely be shared between this site and the Pagan Bookworm site), I thought that continuing that “bookish” trend might be good.  So this week I will be posting about various texts which have a place North American magical traditions.  Some will be of the grimoire type, and others may just be good reads, but hopefully all of them will be tomes you get much pleasure and use from if you crack the spines and turn the pages.

To start with, however, I’m going to re-use that meme and list my own Top 15 Most Influential (Witchcraft) Books.  These are not necessarily books that I think of as “great,” or even in some cases “good” books.  Many have erroneous information or are, at best, a good starting place for further exploration.  All of them, however, have help shape my study of magic, folklore, and witchcraft in some way, and that’s what this list is really all about.  I’m presenting them in a (roughly) chronological order, since that’s how I best remember them.

TOP 15 MOST INFLUENTIAL (WITCHCRAFT) BOOKS
(2010 Edition)

  1. The Encyclopedia of White Magic by Paddy Slade.  This book was the first book of “real” magic I ever procured.  I’ve talked about it on the show, but the short version is that I was about 11 or so, and I pestered my mother into buying it for me.  Since then, I’ve definitely grown away from its ideas, though I periodically return to it for nostalgic reasons.  It also got me thinking about magic as a folklore-based thing, rather than a sci-fi/fantasy phenomenon.
  2. Earth Power/Earth, Air, Fire & Water by Scott Cunningham.  I know there are lots of folks who regard Cunningham with disdain, but I’m not one of them.   His two books of folk magic, focused on practical spellwork using natural elements, absolutely cemented my interest in spellwork as something more than an esoteric psychological tool.  I still find some of his spells useful, though I’m no longer in tune with his particular worldview or ethical stance.  Moreover, I think that there are far worse books with which one could begin one’s magical studies.  I’ve found over the years that many folkloric sources bear out the techniques described by Cunningham, and I still regard his work fondly.  There are certainly weak points in these books, but winnowing the chaff away is fairly easy with a little work.
  3. Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs by Scott Cunningham.  I’ll not launch into another defense of the author, but instead say that this book (and to a lesser extent, his Complete Book of Incense, Oils, & Brews) augmented my practice of magic again and helped me to start making my own spell ingredients.  It also helped me to cultivate an interest in gardening, for which I am most grateful.  This book also has one other great thing going for it: an amazing bibliography.  While it obviously pulls from sources like Culpepper’s Herbal, it also contained references to things like Vance Randolph’s Ozark Magic & Folklore (which is also on this list).  So I am quite thankful to this book, and this author.
  4. Jude’s Herbal Home Remedies by Jude C. Todd.  This was an impulse buy to augment my growing interest in herbs after I had eagerly devoured the Cunningham tomes.  It’s not a magical book, per se, but focuses mostly on the physical properties of herbs and their applications as health and beauty aids.  It provided a wonderful resource for learning how to interact with various herbs and brew potions, ointments, tinctures, etc. at home.  I still turn to it sometimes for home remedies, and it also has a place because later encounters with books like J.G. Hohman’s Long Lost Friend reminded me that most magical workers had plenty of practical, non-magical herbal info at their fingertips, too.  Jude’s book filled that role for me.
  5. Magical Tales: The Storytelling Tradition by R.J. Stewart.  In my sophomore year of university, I participated in a storytelling class that changed my life.  It took fairy and folktales off of the written page and showed me something deeply vital about them emerges when they are shared with others.  I also happened to be taking classes in things like fairy and folklore interpretation using academic studies like Bruno Bettelheim’s The Uses of Enchantment and Mary Louise von Franz’s The Interpretation of Fairy Tales.  Into this mix came R.J. Stewart’s book, which looked at the phenomenon of storytelling from the point of view of a magical practitioner.  I know a lot of folks were influenced by Stewart’s The Underworld Initiation, and I think that book is absolutely wonderful.  As far as my own personal influence goes, though, this is the one I’d say really connected to me.   It convinced me that stories contain more than just helpful magical tidbits, but sometimes are magical rituals in disguise, if you’re willing to work through them.
  6. Treasury of Irish Myth, Legend, & Folklore by Lady Gregory & William Butler Yeats.  I couldn’t have really appreciated this book prior to encountering book no. 5 on this list (and going through the courses I did at the same time).  I actually had picked up this text years before because of a passing interest in Ireland which I inherited from my mother (we have family ties back to County Mayo).  After I began to understand fairy tales as something more than fanciful stories, however, this book became an absolute mother lode of good magical material.  I’ve since discovered many of the tales have parallels or retellings in Appalachian and Southern folklore, too, which makes me feel even closer to it.
  7. The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm by Jacob & Wilhelm Grimm, Jack Zipes trans.  I actually borrowed this specific collection from a girlfriend, and its completeness stuck with me.  It included a number of tales often omitted, and several tale fragments I’ve not seen in most editions.  Particular variants aside, this collection falls into the same category as nos. 5 & 6 on the list.  Again, I didn’t know what I had until long after I had it, and now I don’t think I could live without it.
  8. The Marriage of Cadmus & Harmony by Roberto Calasso.  At some point, I became a bit of a mythology junkie, particularly Greek myths.  I read and re-read Edith Hamilton, Bulfinch, and the textbooks from my college classes on the topic.  I went to source material by Hesiod, Homer, Euripides, Aeschylus, and anyone else I could find.  I’m definitely not an expert, but as enthusiastic amateurs go, I foment with glee when I encounter new Hellenic tales.  When I got to Calasso’s book, however, I was taking an advanced course on mythology at school, and everything completely changed.  It was this book that taught me one fundamental thing about mythology (and likewise storytelling and therefore magic):  it changes.  More importantly, there is no “true” or “right” version of any story, but simply the stories themselves.  Mythology isn’t linear, but a web of tales—sometimes they contradict each other, sometimes they conflict with what we think about the culture, and sometimes they don’t make much sense to us.  In all cases, though, the tales are true at a level not related to cross-referencing and documentation, but someplace deeply human.  Calasso showed me that by bombarding me with the stories over and over again in his book, every time a little different, but all connected together, until I got it.  I really do need to send him a thank-you note for that.
  9. Aradia, or The Gospel of the Witches, by Charles Godfrey Leland.  Encountering Leland, for me, was like having someone splash very cold water on my face by the bucketful.  I devoured his work Etruscan Roman Remains and his Gypsy Sorcery & Fortune-Telling, of course, with all the tenacity of a budding folklorist.  It was Aradia, however, that really sent me sailing when I read it.  At the time, I was studying with the outer court of a Gardenerian coven, and had to read things like Gardener, Dion Fortune, and other modern occult classics.  When I got to Leland’s book, though, it felt so different, so authentic that I refused to believe its wild claims and actually got angry at it for deceiving me so well.  I’ve since, however, learned that this book is something special—neither entirely true nor entirely false.  More importantly, it is useful, and its mythos grips me in a very strange way.  I can’t come down in favor of Aradia as a piece of unsullied witchlore, historical to its last printed letter.  But I can say that figuratively, it’s as close to a witch’s gospel as I’ve seen yet.  In short, it just “feels” witchy, and makes me feel the same every time I read it.
  10. Call of the Horned Piper by Nigel A. Jackson.  As I branched out and away from Wicca, looking for something I could connect with better, I began to find a lot about something called “Traditional Witchcraft.”  There were dozens of websites, letters (mostly from Robert Cochrane), and books which I suddenly had to read, and in a very brief period I managed to get through most of them.  While there have been a number of very influential and powerful works in the Trad Craft vein that I love, one stands out to me.  Nigel Jackson’s tome is slim, barely the width of a pencil.  It’s a chapbook, really, yet it contains so much information that I can’t imagine life without it (much less because finding a copy is becoming harder and harder to do).  This book is probably more responsible for my religious magical practices than any other, and encapsulates in about 150 pages what many books cannot in 300 or more.
  11. Ozark Magic & Folklore by Vance Randolph.  This is a book that I found first by accident while seeking information on weather lore, then again by chance looking for an herbal reference.  Finally, I was browsing one of Cunningham’s books and saw this title again in the bibliography, and realized I needed to seek it out.  I’ve since read it many times, and it always offers up a plethora of magical information to me.  Randoph’s book is not a how-to, but one could build a complete magical system out of his work.  Yet it also guides one to several other magical books and traditions as well.  This is the book that made me realize North America is full of occult power and lore, if I was only willing to dig for it a bit.
  12. Hoodoo Herb & Root Magic by Catherine Yronwode.  I’ve referenced this book and the accompanying website (Lucky Mojo Co.) so much on this blog and in the show you probably don’t need me to tell you it’s been an influence.  I’ll just reiterate what a valuable piece of work it is and suggest that without it, I’d probably be fairly lost when it comes to making hoodoo charms, mojos, potions, and formulae.
  13. The Silver Bullet by Hubert J. Davis.  Following the ideas gleaned from Vance Randolph, I began looking for other folklore collections from America which might contain a few sprinklings of witchcraft.  A friend suggested I look into The Silver Bullet, and it truly was a revelatory experience.  In the pages of Davis’ book, the complete repertoire of the American witch dances out.  The book’s segments on what witches do, how to become a witch, and what to do to counter curse read like thinly veiled instructions on American witchery taken right out of a cauldron.  Like Randolph, a person could likely develop a complete magical system based on what this book contains.  It is a marvelous book, and one I turn to repeatedly for witchlore.
  14. The Encyclopedia of 5000 Spells by Judika Illes.  This is another one I constantly reference.  Its real influence on me lies in the fact that I share a love of it with Laine.  We both get so much out of it that it acts as a sort of magical bridge between us.  The Secret Garden likewise strengthens that bond—it’s one of her favorite books and another example of magic buried in storytelling which appeals to me—but Judika’s wonderful book (books really—they’re all quite good—but I decided to go with this one as we use it the most) really is our default grimoire at this point.
  15. The Bible.  This one is the last on my list because I’ve only been able to really understand it as a book of magic recently.  I’ve known that certain metaphorical elements of the Bible have always had parallels in world mythology, but it’s only since working with things like Psalms, the Blood Verse (Ezekiel 16:6), and folk Catholic prayers that I’ve come to understand it as a sort of grimoire.  Magic pervades the text, though it often must be disentangled from a lot of theology, history, folklore, etc.  And while I do use the Bible as a sourcebook for magic, I also am not a monotheist, so I have to struggle with certain elements of it.  This is rewarding in its own way, though, and I tend to think of the Bible as a “family” book—since most of my immediate predecessors were Christian (and mostly Catholic), my use of that magic ties me to them, even though I’m not worshiping the same deities they did, exactly.    I also prefer to work with some of the deuterocanonical books, such as the Book of Wisdom found in the Catholic Bible, or the Book of Enoch which is mostly found in the Coptic or Ethiopian Orthodox Bible.  But that’s just a personal preference.

So that’s my list!  Long, I know, and probably way too much commentary, but maybe it will give you some insight into the places I’ve come from and the type of magical person I am.  Or maybe it will give you a reason to catalogue your own influences.  If you do that, I’d love to see them!  Please let me know what books influenced your path, and feel free to post your lists (or a link to your blog if you do a list there) on the comments.

Thanks so much for reading!

-Cory

Blog Post 100 – Winter Lore Contest!

So I said last week I wanted the 100th blog post to be special, and I thought a contest might just be the way to add that little bit of extra charm.  If you listened to the podcast we posted yesterday, you probably already know about this contest, at least to some extent.    We’re hoping to put together some Yuletide specials, and part of that will involve getting lore from all over the continent (or the world, even) and incorporating that into our shows during December.  We’d love your lore, especially, and we’re even willing to give away some prizes to encourage you to send in your best winter holiday traditions.  Here’s the gist of it:

What We’re Looking For:  Your winter folklore, including (but not limited to) holiday traditions, recipes, songs, and stories; superstitions about specific days, events, omens, or signs are welcome; ghost stories set during the winter, bits of historical information, and ethnic customs are greatly appreciated, too!  We already know that many folks put up decorated trees and exchange presents, so no fair telling us that.  Pretty much everything else is fair game, though.  Try to include as much information as you can, and give us your general location (such as “Pacific Northwest” or “Southern France”).   Also, please tell us if we can use your name when we read your contribution.

What We’re Giving Away:  We’ve got two (2) signed copies of Judika Illes’ latest book, The Weiser Field Guide to Witches that we’re giving away as runner-up prizes.  If you don’t know about this book, here’s the blurb from the publisher:

“Witches peek from greeting cards and advertisements, and they dig twisted roots from the ground. Witches dance beneath the stars and lurk around cauldrons. Witches heal, witches scare, witches creep, and witches teach! A compendium of witches through the ages, from earliest prehistory to some of the most significant modern practitioners, The Weiser Field Guide to Witches explores who and what is a witch. From such famed historical legends as Aleister Crowley, Marie Laveau and Elizabeth Bathory to the popular literary and cinematic figures Harry Potter and The Wicked Witch of the West, Illes offers a complete range of the history of witches. Included also are the sacred–Isis, Hekate, Aradia–and the profane–the Salem Witch trials and The Burning Times. The Weiser Field Guide to Witches is appropriate for readers of all ages and serves as an excellent and entertaining introduction for those fascinated by the topic.”

Those of you who are familiar with our blog and podcast probably know how highly we regard Ms. Illes, and this book is a wonderful addition to anyone’s magical library.

Our grand prize is a Compass & Key Hoodoo Kit, which will contain a number of sensational conjurational goodies, including:

  • A bottle of each of our current condition oils (Attraction, Crown of Success, Uncrossing, Saints & Spirits, and Wall of Flame)
  • A custom-made mojo bag, designed for Success & Prosperity
  • Herb and Curio samples, such as a High John root, Chewing John, Gravel Root, & Spirit Money
  • Condition Soaps designed for ritual bathing
  • Flannel squares for making your own mojo bags
  • A Lucky Rabbit’s Foot
  • And more!

This kit would be a great way to get started with hoodoo, or build upon your current practice.

How to Enter: We want this to be easy, so please just leave a comment on either this blog post or the Podcast 19 Shownotes, or better yet send us an email with your submission at compassandkey@gmail.com!  You can get an extra submission by blogging, tweeting, or sharing our contest and contact information with your social network and sending us either a screenshot or a direct link to where you’ve posted about us.  The cutoff for submissions is Midnight (12:00 AM Central Standard Time) on December 6th (St. Nicholas Day).

If you have questions, feel free to email us those as well!  We really want to get as much lore as we can, so please encourage others to send in their contributions (or if they aren’t interested in witchcraft, just find out their lore and send it in as part of your own entry).
Thank you so much everyone for making this blog such a wonderful place, and we’ll be looking forward to all your submissions very soon!

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

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