Posted tagged ‘iron’

Blog Post 130 – War Water

June 7, 2011

In my Spelled Out section of Podcast 30, I gave the recipe and basic uses of a conjure formula called War Water. For those who didn’t have a pen handy, I thought now would be a good time to provide a little of the provenance, process, and practice surrounding this mixture.

War Water, which is also commonly called Mars Water or Iron Water, is in its most essential form, simply water in which iron has been allowed to rust. The presence of iron in the water gives it a reddish-brown hue, looking a bit like blood even in some cases. Draja Mickaharic makes a good case for why iron’s presence in the water empowers it:

“Iron is the metal of the planet Mars, the planet astrologers credit with ruling warfare and combat, as well as sex. Used either for defense or attack, war water is a strong carrier of the negative emotional energy used in magical battles” (Century of Spells, p. 27).

Mickaharic also points out that the formula was originally used to treat anemia (an iron deficiency in the blood), though far better treatments are now available. Cat Yronwode notes on her site that the Martian association indicates that it is not originally an African recipe: “Since the Roman god Mars was the god of war and his symbolic metal was iron, it seems pretty clear that War Water is a European contribution to hoodoo” (“War Water” par. 1). Despite its origins, however, this particular magical mixture is firmly planted in hoodoo and conjure practice now.

So how does a person make War Water? Almost every source—except one—agree that the basic recipe involves putting cut iron of some type into a container, covering it with a bit of water, and letting it rust. There are plenty of variations, sometimes depending on the intent, and sometimes just depending on who’s telling you how to make it. Judika Illes breaks down the formula by intent:

Protective War Water

  • Iron nails (cut iron), ones that rust easily
  • Enough water to cover nails in a mason jar
  • Let rust for about 7-10 days (open periodically to allow oxidation)
  • Keep adding water as the rust builds
  • Strain and use as needed (but discard if bacteria form)

Malevolent War Water

  • Thunderstorm water in a jar
  • Rusty nails, sulfur, and urine

(Encylopedia of 5000 Spells, p. 1080)

This formulation is essentially the same as the one found in Draja Mickaharic’s Century of Spells, though Mickaharic’s version is a bit looser, calling for about 3/4 pound of cut iron nails in a 2 quart bottle. These are covered with tap water and allowed to rust. After the rust begins, more water is added, and the bottle is covered (though occasionally uncovered for rusting purposes).

The alternative recipe comes from the normally quite reputable Zora Neale Hurston’s “Hoodoo in America,” in which she describes War Water as “Oil of Tar in water (filtered)” (p. 412). Oil of Tar is essentially a thick distillate of creosote or burned pine resin—which is carcinogenic and dangerous. A reasonable substitution for Oil of Tar would be turpentine, another pine distillate with slightly less caustic properties. However, almost every formulary I found other than Hurston’s had separate distinctions for War Water and a formula called “Tar Water,” which is much more like Hurston’s recipe and which is used to remove psychic sludge from one’s life. I would then conclude that Hurston recorded the Tar Water recipe as a War Water recipe in error, or quite possibly an editor inserted this formula without knowing the difference (which commonly happened to Hurston’s work).

There are also additional ingredients that you can add to the water to help “flavor” it for your magical purposes. One of the most common additions is Spanish moss, a dense vegetal beard which covers trees in the Deep South. Once it begins to rot in the liquid, it turns the mixture black and gives it a decaying scent. Adding sulphur or gunpowder would also give it a powerfully aggressive and dangerous vibe. My teacher, Stephanie Palm, makes a formula that basically takes Mississippi River water and turns it into War Water with these sorts of additions in it, which she calls “Swamp Water.”

Once you have War Water, how do you use it? There are several methods for deploying this water, depending on just what your final intent might be. If you only intend to use the most basic rust-water formula for protective purposes, here are some ways you might apply it:

  • As an addition to a spiritual bath
  • As a wash for the outside of your home or business
  • As a sprinkle for any letters or papers you might be sending out to someone hostile to you (such as legal papers)

The most common use of War Water, however, is as a component of psychic warfare. Cat Yronwode says of it:

“To use it, you shake a bottle up and hurl it at the doorstep of your enemy, where it should break, leaving a rusty, dangerously sharp mess for him or her to step in. When i was a young woman coming up in the East Bay in the 1960s, War Water was used by fractious root workers to declare occult war on each other. Since these folks were already at odds to the extent that they could not simply walk into each other’s yards and smash the glass bottle on the doorstep, they would make “drive by” attacks, rumbling through the residential streets of Oakland in the midnight hour and tossing bottles of War Water into the yards of their enemies, like occult Molotov cocktails. Ah, those were the days …” (“War Water” par. 4).

In Jim Haskins’ Voodoo & Hoodoo, he says that to use War Water you should “obtain the nest of a dirt dauber, break it apart and mix it with graveyard dirt. Put the mixture in a bottle with War Water and shake it up. Smash it on the person’s walkway” (p. 130).  Hurston does not mention smashing the bottle, but she does call for sprinkling it in front of an enemy’s house. She also provides a secondary method which requires that you “take a fresh black hen’s egg, make a hole big enough to get the egg out and take the names, pepper sauce and mustard and fill the egg up and soak it in War Water for nine days and throw ito ver the house, and it will cross the house and they will have to move away” (“Hoodoo in America,” p. 375).

As a final note, if you are considering starting a psychic war, Draja Mickaharic makes a good case for having sturdy defenses in place before beginning any attack:

“If you are going to declare psychic war on someone you should mop your stairs, porch, doorway, and any outside surfaces of your home on which anything can be cast or thrown before you begin the war. This ensures that you will be protected when the other person’s inevitable counterattack comes. In most cases War Water will cause any spell which is placed on your doorstep to rebound instantly to the sender.” (Century of Spells, p. 28)

So that’s War Water. My own personal inclinations with this water would be to use a railroad spike, coffin nails, and urine in a jar for defensive and protective magic, while perhaps using coffin nails, goofer dust, red pepper, sulphur/gunpowder, and Spanish moss for a more aggressive formula. But that’s just me, and quite frankly I have yet to need either of these formulas. My only real experience with War Water thusfar is as a spiritual bath for protection, and in that case only in it’s iron-and-water form. It seemed to work fine, so unless the need for a more advanced concoction presents itself, that’s probably as far as I’d take it.

If you have used this formula or one like it and want to share, please do.

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

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Podcast 30: Magical Professions

May 27, 2011

-SHOWNOTES FOR EPISODE 30-

Summary
This episode is all about the magical professions found in folk and fairy tales. Laine discusses weaving in WitchCraft, and Cory looks at iron and War Water in Spelled Out.

Play:

Download:  New World Witchery: Episode 30

-Sources-
The Element Encyclopedia of Witches & Witchcraft, by Judika Illes

Some of the fairy tales and folklore we reference are:

We’d like to ask our listeners to consider giving to funds like the Tuscaloosa Disaster Relief Fund or the Heart of Missouri United Way in light of recent natural disasters in those areas.

Please also consider donating to the Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund, which is currently helping victims of severe weather across the country.

Finally, both Laine and Cory will be attending the Second Annual Pagan Podkin Supermoot in Salem, MA, on the weekend of Sept. 17th, 2011.  Find out more details about the event and opportunities to come meet us in person at the PPSM2 Website. [Laine respectfully asks that she not be in any photographs, due to privacy concerns—Cory will be happy to wear a wig and pretend to be Laine, however].

Promos & Music
Title music:  “Homebound,” by Jag, from Cypress Grove Blues.  From Magnatune.
Promo 1 – The Infinite & the Beyond
Promo 2 – Lakefront Pagan Voice
Promo 3 – Pennies in the Well

Blog Post 128 – Iron

May 25, 2011

North American history has a funny relationship with iron.  On the one hand, iron is largely behind the early expansion that allowed Europeans to dominate the continent so completely with weapons, locomotives, and durable goods and architecture.  On the other hand, it has also been a curse used to inflict injury and death on undeserving people and leading others to rip the very soil of the land apart in search of it.  So maybe it’s not so much of a “funny” relationship as it is one fraught with difficulty and complexity.

American folklore, however, has largely good things to say about iron.  It’s a powerful anti-witchcraft charm and can be used to repel things like wicked fairies attempting to replace a baby with a changeling.  It can come in the form of nails, railroad spikes, horseshoes, or even just random flakes falling as refuse from a blacksmith’s anvil.

Today I thought I’d look at a few of the bits of folklore regarding iron.  Before we look at the New World side of things, though, let’s look at iron in a slightly older context: Roman superstition.

“The taboo on iron dates from the beginning of the Iron Age when religious conservatism forbade the use of the strange new material in place of the usual bronze. It has been suggested that the magic significance of iron arose from its susceptibility to magnetism which, as the superstitious Romans often believed, it derived from witchcraft” (from Taboo, Magic, Spirits, by E.E. Burriss)

Here we see that iron is associated with witchcraft and has a somewhat negative reputation.  Even the Romans, though, were not averse to using witchcraft to fight witchcraft, and so iron became a de facto tool for combating wicked witchery, and by extension, any other harmful supernatural force (ghosts, demons, fairies, etc.).

Other cultures picked up the thread (or started their own threads), seeing iron as a powerful magical tool.  African, pan-Celtic, and Northern European cultures all had particular beliefs about iron and its more enchanted properties, so it probably surprises no one that the Old World traditions regarding iron became the standard beliefs in the New World.

So what are those New World beliefs?  Let’s look at some examples from a few different areas:

From the Colonial Period, South Carolina
In the Joshua Gordon “Witchcraft Book,” (also sometimes called a Commonplace Book) dated from 1784, there is an example of the type of charm typically imported to the colonies from places like England and Ireland in which a heated iron is used to scald milk from a bewitched cow in order to undo witchcraft:

“A cow losing milk could be cured if its owners would ‘take a heather belonging to a box Iron, put it in the fire, and make it Red hot [and then] take the milk of the cows thats hurt [and] power [i.e., pour] on the hot iron repeating the names of the blessed trinity’” (from “ Magic, Astrology, and the Early American Religious Heritage, 1600-1760,” by Jon Butler in The American Historical Review).

This method is commonly found in folktales from Appalachia, such as the next entry.

From the late 19th- or early 20th-century, Tennessee (Appalachian foothills)
Again, a hot iron is used to scald milk and thus undo bewitchment:

“Another case of the use of heat, combined with iron and steel, is shown in the following account, also resulting in injury to the witch and her exorcism. Lewis Hopkins, formerly of Big Creek just beyond the park bounds [The Great Smoky Mountains National Park] told this unusual tale:
My grandmother’s folk had a cow and she give bloody milk.  An old lady, a Phillips, was accused of being a witch. So they got to talkin’ to Sam Evans who said he was a witch doctor and knowed about witches. The witch doctor told the folks to put a baker lid [i.e., the lid of a Dutch oven] in the fire. So they pecked it on with a reap hook [like a scythe or sickle]. So this old women Phillips come to this old man Evans and raised a fuss with him about tellin’ him what to do. They got into a fight and this old man pulled her dress up and they saw the pecks where they was a reap hook a-hackin’ at her. [But] she jumped out and got away from him” (from A Tennessee Folklore Sampler, by Ted Olson, et al).

Other cases of heated irons being used to procure magical results also abound, as we shall see momentarily.

From the 19th-century, Mississippi
In some places, iron implements are not so much valued as remnants of iron from a blacksmith’s shop.  Here is one account of “anvil dust” as it relates to Southern conjure practices:

“Anvil dust is also greatly valued as conjure material. One educated blacksmith of Columbus, Miss., tells me that people are constantly coming into his shop to get the black flakes that fall from the hot iron when it is pounded, although they always look ashamed and give a fictitious reason as to why they want it” (from Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro by Newbell N. Puckett).

This anvil dust is basically iron filings or flakes, and can be found in hoodoo practice as food for magically empowered lodestones.  Or it can be used to help create a cursing formula known as War Water (I’ll hopefully address the creation of this product in a separate post).  Interestingly, these two uses would seem diametrically opposed, with one being the food for an attracting magical fetish, and the other being an ingredient in a banishing potion. I would assert, however, that in these cases the iron serves a similar function on a magical level—with the lodestone it helps broaden the field of attraction for the stone while simultaneously running bad luck away, and in the War Water it’s repelling evil.  So in both cases, there is an element of something being turned away.  That is simply a way for me to reconcile these differences, however, and my come down to rationalization.

From the 19th– or 20th– Century, Ozark Mountains
Old favorite of New World Witchery, Vance Randolph, lists several methods for using iron as a magical tool (I omit the horseshoe lore which I have previously covered in another post, however):

  • “Nails taken from a gallows are supposed to protect a man against venereal disease and death by violence. Country blacksmiths used to secure these nails and hammer them out into finger rings”
  • “A little iron wire worn as a necklace, according to some power doctors, will protect a child from whooping cough”
  • “The water in which a blacksmith cools his irons is supposed to be good for witched cattle and is  sometimes given to human beings also, particularly children” (from Ozark Magic & Folklore, by Vance Randolph)

The last method mentioned is one I found repeated in several sources.  The power and provenance of “anvil water” or “slack water” seems to be well known across several cultures.

From the 20th-century, Illinois
To illustrate my point from the last section, I thought I’d share a bit of folklore from the Midwest, collected by ethnographer Harry M. Hyatt (who famously collected much of the lore about Southern conjure and hoodoo practices):

  • “A piece of old iron hung over the front and back door prevents the spirit of the recent dead from haunting you”
  • “Five nails driven into the trunk prevent the fruit from falling off the tree.  ‘My father did this when fruit was dropping off: drive those old- fashion square iron nails in the tree to hold the fruit on the tree. Never use wire nails; it must be the old iron nails’”
  • “Water from the tub in which a blacksmith cools hot iron is a good wash for the sore udders of a cow”
  • “A broken-winded horse (a horse with heaves) becomes well, if given water in which a blacksmith cools hot iron”
  • “Your looks will be improved if you wash your face frequently with the water in which a blacksmith cools hot iron”
  • “Slack-water, the water in which a blacksmith cools hot iron, is a good wash for poison ivy” (from Folklore of Adams County, by Harry M. Hyatt).

The first two bits are interesting, especially with the death connection, but the last four show that the slack water was considered a sort of cure-all magical formula.  I don’t know about you, but I think I need to make friends with a blacksmith, and quickly!

That’s it for iron, for now at least.  What I’ve written here is only the tip of a very large and ferrous iceberg.  As I said, I didn’t get into the related topic of War Water in the hopes it will appear in another post at a later date.  And I also didn’t touch on the lore of blacksmiths, specifically, as I hope to cover that in some depth later (our next podcast will have a bit about them, in fact).

If you have any local or family lore regarding iron and its magical properties, I would love to hear them!

Thanks for reading,

-Cory

Blog Post 80 – Horseshoes

August 17, 2010

Following in the vein of recent posts, today I’m looking at another luck charm:  the horseshoe.  One thing Laine and I discussed in Podcast 13 was that the horseshoe seems to be a rather ubiquitous talisman.  It is so ubiquitous, in fact, that many folks may not even realize it has any magical connotation at all.  In an article from Western Folklore entitled “Lucky Horseshoes,” Jeannine E. Talley writes:

The horseshoe as a bestower of luck is so frequently encountered that it has become a cliche, but at the same time an isolated belief without a context. Barnet’s comment that the mule has been “pounding it full of luck” provides not only the ‘logic’ explaining why the horseshoe is full of luck but also reveals that luck is ac-cumulative. His insistence that the old nails must be used to hang the shoe is not found in standard collections for folk belief, but is akin to the notion that if the hardware is hung with prongs down, the luck will “run out.” This instance is a prime example that collecting the item is not enough; the contextual background of any item is of equal importance since it often contains the rationale which makes the belief credible. (p. 129)

I like this particular examination of the horseshoe because it details two points:  1) the horseshoe’s luck comes from its association with the horse itself and 2) as Talley states, the luck is accumulative, so the longer a shoe has been on a horse, the luckier it is.

Of course, there are plenty of other theories about why a horseshoe might be lucky.  Robert M. Lawrence, in his article,  “The Folk-Lore of the Horseshoe” describes the horseshoe as a talismanic emblem with many possible folkloric connections, including:

  • The Jewish Passover – like blood spread on doorposts/lintels and rowan trees in Scotland
  • Serpent emblem – “In front of a church in Crendi, a town in the southern part of the island of Malta, there is to be seen a statue having at its feet a protective symbol in the shape of a half-moon encircled by a snake”
  • Moon emblem – “the brass crescent, an avowed charm against the evil eye, is very commonly attached to the elaborately decorated harnesses of Neapolitan draught horses, and is used in the East to embellish the trappings of elephants.”
  • Phallic Emblem of some kind
  • Prong-shamed talisman – like protective horns of animals (connected to African symbols)
  • Horse as Sacred Animal (as mentioned above)
  • Iron as “Virtuous” metal capable of dispelling harmful forces (Journal of American Folklore, v.9, n.35, 1896, p. 288-292)

I hope to get into some of these symbols and ideas in other posts at another time—particularly iron, which shows up a lot in fairy doctoring practices and other magical systems—so for now I think it suffices to say that horseshoes have a lot of lore to build upon and are quite lucky, though no one seems to know exactly why they are so.

So how does one use horseshoes?  First of all, the shoe needs to be one which actually has been on a horse at some point (remember all that pounding of luck into it in Jeannine Talley’s article?).  Likewise, there are some who say that hanging a horseshoe involves using a spent horseshoe nail, too.  That seems to be a slightly less stringent requirement, but if you happen to have a spare horseshoe nail with your horseshoe, why not use it?

The issue of which way the “horns” of the shoe are pointing seems to be hotly contested by those who concern themselves with such things.  Both opinions seem to have some sound reasoning behind them, which I mentioned in the most recent podcast.  The general idea boils down to whether you think the horns up are “holding in the luck” or whether the horns down are “pouring the luck out on you.”  Either way, I think this is where instinct kicks in.  If you feel like you’ve hung it the “wrong way,” you probably have and  you should switch it.  But if you feel like your luck’s in good condition and your horseshoe’s “right,” then leave it be.

As to how specifically a horseshoe might be used, Harry M. Hyatt has a few examples of horseshoes in hoodoo work:

1) From Vol.2,p.1547

NAIL A HORSESHOE UP
OVER YOUR FRONT DOOR.
NAIL A PENNY DOWN IN THE FRONT
DOOR TOO. SCRUB IT ALL THE TIME.*
THESE WILL BRING YOU GOOD LUCK.

Dey kin use a horseshoe. Yo’ take a horseshoe an’ yo’ kin nail it up
ovah yore front do’ an’ take a penny an’ nail it down in de front do’; an’
yo’ jes’ let dat penny stay dere all de time an’ yo’ scrub ovah dat penny
all de time, an’ jes’ leave it dere an’ dat’ll be good luck fo’ yo’.
[Savannah, GA; Madam Pauline; Informant #1274. C575:1-C586:10 = 2136-2167.]

2) From Vol.2,p.1443

A HORSESHOE OVER THE DOOR
KEEPS SPOOKS OUT AND BRINGS LUCK.
& A MULESHOE OVER THE DOOR OF A BUSINESS
BRINGS BUSINESS SUCCESS

Keep a horseshoe – keep it ovah de do’ to keep de spook outa dere an’
fo’ luck, specially a man who does business. He’d have a new [mule] shoe ovah
de do’ – like he do’s a business roun’ in a shop or a restaurant or somepin
lak dat, because a mule is a hard-workin’ thing, hard-workin’. All right.
An’ jes’ lak ah’d have de mule when he hitch out an’ go to his stall to
eat, people be coming to his place and say….
[Sumter, SC; Informant #1387; Cylinders C885:1-C902:4 = 2366-2383]

(Both of these can be found in Hyatt’s book or in the excellent Yahoo! Group  “HyattSpells”)

I like the first example because it combines the lucky penny with the lucky horseshoe, and places luck at your head and your feet, so every time you enter a door,  you get caught between the two and get a double dose of luck.  I also like the rationale for using a mule shoe to boost business (because the mule is so hard-working).

Finally, Vance Randolph describes the Ozark methods of horseshoe deployment in Ozark Magic & Folklore:

  • Most hillfolk of my acquaintance use a horseshoe instead of the stone (to protect chickens from hawks), and some think that a muleshoe is even better. It is frequently fastened in the firebox of the stove rather than in the oven. In the old days the muleshoe was hung up in the fireplace, or even set into the mortar at the back of the chimney (p. 43)
  • Many hillfolk think that the man who finds a horseshoe with the closed end toward him will do well to “leave it lay.” If the open end is toward the finder, he sometimes spits on it and throws it over his left shoulder, a procedure which is supposed to bring good fortune. Or he may place it in a tree or on a fence,saying: “Hang thar, all my bad luck!” In this case, whoever touches the hanging horseshoe falls heir to the misfortune of the man who placed it there (p. 62)
  • Probably the commonest way to keep witches out of the house is to nail a horseshoe over the door; this is regarded as a sort of general prophylactic against witches, bad luck, contagious disease, and other evil influences (p. 283)

So that’s the lucky horseshoe.  Another long article, so I apologize for that, but hopefully you aren’t too bored.  Skimming is probably a good skill to apply when reading these blogs.  At any rate, if you have any questions or comments about horseshoes, please feel free to post them!

As always, thanks for reading!

-Cory


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