We mention Shalom Auslander’s story: “Honor God,” from This American Life
We talk about the Freakanomics podcast: “How Much does your Name Matter?”
The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft, by Judika Illes
Spirited Away, a film from Studio Ghibli featuring a girl whose name is stolen by a witch
Oxford Dictionary of Superstitions, by Opie & Tatem
Encyclopedia of Asian American Folklore & Folklife, by Lee & Nadeau
Podcast Special – From Beyond the Grave
SHOWNOTES FOR PODCAST SPECIAL – FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE
Tonight we feature four short stories of the dead affecting the living from the otherworld.
- “Fear,” by Achmed Abdullah
- “The Dead Encampment,” a Russian Gypsy folktale from the collection Russian Gypsy Tales
- “The Dead Man’s Accusation,” a German Jewish folktale from the collection Lilith’s Cave: Jewish Tales of the Supernatural
- “A Journey to the Skeleton House,” a Hopi legend from the collection American Indian Myths & Legends
Today I’m going to be following along the course of my previous entries on brujeria/curanderismo and Catholic folk magic in general by looking at some specific elements, tools, charms, and spells from within those traditions. I should go ahead and note that while Psalm magic is found within all of these streams, I’m not covering it here because it is a huge topic in and of itself, and one which I’ve already explored a bit in posts 115 and 116. I’ll also only briefly touch on any Saint-specific magic, because that could be its own topic, too (and hopefully will be at some point).
That being said, I would like to point out the presence of a number of folk saints in pseudo-Catholic magical practices. These are not officially recognized saints (even Mother Theresa and Pope John Paul II have not been fully canonized yet), but rather people reputed to be intensely holy and capable of performing miraculous feats. They can also be spirits with special powers and areas of influence who do not have a human counterpart, but rather seem to be almost archetypical entities. Some of the most widely petitioned and patronized of these folk saints include:
- Don Pedrito Jaramillo – healing
- Teresa Urrea (“Teresita”) – healing
- El Nino Fidencio – healing & spiritual purification
- Santa Muerte (“La Santisima,” “La Huesada”) – protection, prosperity, family life, love, and a number of other powers
- Saint Michael (Archangel) – protection & spiritual warfare
- Saint Raphael (Archangel) – safe travels, spiritual medicine, & exorcism of evil spirits
Many people simply burn candles with images of these saints emblazoned on the glass or with picture prayer cards placed nearby. Small votive offerings might be left out for them, including small amounts of liquor, coffee, or tobacco, or specific items might be given to specific saints. For example, Saint Michael’s altar would be decorated by war memorabilia, such as medals, maps, or pictures of soldiers. More explicitly spell-like operations can also be performed, such as this method for creating a powerful “fortune magnet”:
Get a candle or statue of Santa Muerte and put her on an altar by herself (she does not like to share altar space, though she has been known to tolerate St. Michael at times). Place a lodestone beside her, and a glass of water on the other side of her. Put a basket of brightly colored fruit (lemons and oranges, for example) in front of her, and place yellow flowers upon her altar. Light a charcoal in a brazier and burn a holy incense (such as Gloria Incense or even just some frankincense). Add a pinch of soil from your homeland (or even hometown) to the burning coal, and say:
Towards you I inclilne, Holy Lady
I bring you water and yellow flowers,
Incense and the dust from which I am made.
Please make the world to twist and turn,
Allowing luck and fortune to cross my path,
Cutting the bitter ties that bind me.
In your honor I shall please you with scented offerings,
I shall plant trees in forests,
I shall give you fruits
In return for your goodwill towards me.
Allow the candle to burn for at least an hour. If possible, allow the candle to burn out on its own. Let the stone sit overnight, rising before dawn and wrapping it in a dark cloth. Keep this with you at all times, and do not unwrap it in direct sunlight. [Adapted from a spell in an anonymously authored chapbook called The Magical Powers of the Holy Death picked up in a botanica]
How’s that for not dwelling on Saint magic? Moving on, then, let’s look at some other spells from other sources. This one, which I’m transcribing from The Red Church and which comes from John G. Hohman’s Long Lost Friend, is not explicitly Catholic, but the presence of latinate words and Christian symbols certainly allows it to fit right in with the whole “magical Catholic” idea:
A Written Charm of Exorcism
Below is a charm paper entitled ‘Against Evil Spirits and Witchcrafts.’ This charm was given to me by ‘Daisy.’ With the exception of a few minor details it is exactly like the one that appears in Hohman’s The Long Lost Friend…
N. I. R.
N. I. R.
All this be guarded, here in time, and there in eternity. Amen. +++ (TRC, p. 273-4)
Chris Bilardi goes on to describe several ways in which you might deploy this charm, including folding it into a tight triangle and slipping it into the frames and jambs of doors and windows in your home (but you must use no metal to affix it). He also mentions putting it into a wallet or binding it with a red string if it is intended to be carried.
Another home protection and blessing charm comes out of ancient Jewish practice, too. Joshua Trachtenberg’s quintessential text on the topic, Jewish Magic & Superstition, describes an excellent blessing charm which consists very simply of bread and salt either ingested to defeat evil spirits or brought into a new home “as a symbolic of the hope that food may never be lacking there” (JM&S p.161). In my own family, we called this the ‘Polish House Blessing’ and included a penny as well (we were Polish through my grandfather’s family). It’s something I still use when someone mooves into a new house in order to bless their new home. I simply put the salt (kosher, please), a piece of bread, and a penny in a small jar (like a baby food jar) and wrap the lid in pretty paper, often with a Psalm written on the underside of it to provide protection and domestic bliss (Psalms 46 and 61 are both good for this).
One of my personal favorite books of the Bible is Jonah, which is also one of the shortest books in the whole book. It’s read every year on Yom Kippur in synagogues, and it has a bizarre blend of folklore, humor, and philosophy in it that I just find delightful. For a magical practitioner, it can also be a very good source of magical phrases. One very simple spell which Draja Mickaharic lists in his Magical Spells of the Minor Prophets is for abating someone’s anger:
To Turn Away Another Person’s Anger
Required: Only the verse
Spell: In the presence of an angry person, say the verse to yourself three times.
Verse: Jonah 4:4 (“Then said the lord, Does thou well to be angry?”)
NOTE: This verse should be memorized and used for this purpose whenever desired (MSMP, p. 52-3)
There are a number of great non-Psalm verses that can be used for various magical purposes. Most of these are simply spoken, though sometimes they can be written down and carried in pockets, purses, etc. for magical aid. A list (hardly exhaustive) of such verses:
- Amos 2:13 – Against an Opressor
- Obadiah 1:6 – To Find that Which Has Been Lost
- Habakkuk 2:2-3 – For Aid in Automatic Writing
- Zechariah 4:13-14 – To Learn Who Your Teacher or Guide Is
- Ezekiel 16:6 – The Blood Verse (for stopping small wounds)
- Genesis 49:18 – For Protection at Night
- Deuteronomy 18:13 – Against Wild Beasts
- Deuteronomy 33:3-4 – For Intelligence
(The above primarily from Magical Spells of the Minor Prophets and Jewish Magic & Supersition)
I’m sure with enough effort, nearly any book of the Bible will yield some magical content, though I’ve not tested that theory.
Finally, I couldn’t reisist including some of the “popish and magicall cures” found in Reginald Scot’s Discoverie of Witchcraft. The following are cures “For direct cure to such as are bewitched in the privie members” (i.e. to deal with impotence, especially impotence caused by witchcraft):
For direct cure to such as are bewitched in the privie members, the first and speciall is confession: then follow in a row, holie water, and those ceremoniall trumperies, Ave Maries, and all maner of crossings; which are all said to be wholesome, except the witchcraft be perpetuall, and in that case the wife maie have a divorse of course.
- Item, the eating of a haggister or pie helpeth one bewitched in that member.
- Item, the smoke of the tooth of a dead man.
- Item, to annoint a mans bodie over with the gall of a crow.
- Item, to fill a quill with quicke silver, and laie the same under the cushine, where such a one sitteth, or else to put it under the threshold of the doore of the house or chamber where he dwelleth.
- Item, to spet into your owne bosome, if you be so bewitched, is verie good.
- Item, to pisse through a wedding ring. If you would know who is hurt in his privities by witchcraft; and who otherwise is therein diseased,Hostiensis answereth: but so, as I am ashamed to english it: and therefore have here set down his experiment in Latine; Quando virga nullatenùs movetur, & nunquam potuit cognoscere; hoc est signum frigiditatis: sed quando movetur & erigitur, perficere autem non potest, est signum maleficii. [Dialect from original text preserved here]
I don’t know if I’ll get another post up before the Salem trip, so if I don’t, I will hope to see some of you there. And the rest of you I’ll look forward to speaking to when I get back!
Thanks for reading!
-SHOWNOTES FOR EPISODE 34-
This episode is the long-awaited episode on “great spells from the good book.” We’re talking about magic both in the Bible and from the Bible.
Download: New World Witchery – Episode 34
NWW Posts on Biblical Magic:
Check out Arrow Claire’s blog post on bibliomancy, as well.
And, of course, the Bible (available pretty much anywhere near you)
Don’t forget about 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].
During the Supermoot, NWW favorite Peter Paddon will be teaching a class on ritual trance and possession. Sign up here.
I’ll also be at the West KY Hoodoo Rootworker Heritage Festival teaching a course on “Biblical Magic & Sorcery.”
Also, you can now follow New World Witchery on Twitter! Our handle is @NWWitchery, and we’ll be posting about new episodes, blog posts, and contests to those who follow us.
Promos & Music
Incidental Music: “The Peaceful Death of the Righteous,” by Troy Demps, James Robinson, & Frank Spaulding; “Wasn’t That a Mystery,” by Madison County Senior Center; “Babylon Is Falling Down,” by Deacon Dan Smith w/Nick Hallman & the Georgia Sea Island Singers [All from the Florida Folklife Project]
I thought today we would take a look at one of the many divinatory systems found in the New World, and one which has remained popular through the centuries: bibliomancy. We discussed this topic during our most recent episode, but I have wanted to expand upon it a bit. The practice of bibliomancy as a form of divination is common enough in the New World that many folks who wouldn’t touch any other type of magical practice might be persuaded to do at least one of the methods below.
Probably the most commonly used book for bibliomancy is the Christian (or in some cases, Hebrew) Bible. Other texts can be used, however, and it would not be out of place to turn to a favorite book of poetry, a dictionary, an encyclopedia, or any other piece of writing. The overarching control factor seems to be that the inquiring party must feel the book has some kind of power. Whether that power is religious/spiritual or simply the force of knowledge or even a fondness born of favoritism does not seem to matter much; just the reverence offered the text is enough to imbue it with oracular power.
The methods for bibliomancy break down into roughly three categories: scanning the text (either at random or specifically), using interpretive devices such as dice, and a very particular technique involving a key.
This is probably the most familiar method, and the one which is least likely to raise eyebrows among laity. People frequently look for signs from God or at least from somewhere else to help point them towards good decisions in times of doubt (or they like to have signs that affirm their choices, depending on your perspective). I’ve known even the most skeptical and non-magically inclined folks to flop open a Bible and point at the page without looking in order to find what will hopefully be a relevant quote. For those who want a little more magic in the process, however, it might help to get into a ritual mindset before posing questions to the Divine. In Draja Mickaharic’s Magical Spells of the Minor Prophets, he notes:
“When selecting a verse that is pertinent to the situation the person finds themselves in, it is generally necessary that the person looking for the verse compose themselves and place a bible before them, either on their lap or on a table. They then are to concentrate upon the matter that troubles them. Once the true question is firmly in the mind of the person seeking an answer, the bible is opened randomly, and without looking at the pages, a finger is set upon some part of the page. The verse so indicated by the person’s finger would then reveal some advice, or lead to a solution to the question that has been poised, or even reveal a solution to the problem at hand” (p.125)
There are other ways to consult a holy book for heavenly guidance, too. Jewish folklore and magical practice interprets scriptural passages incidentally, rather than just directly, for instance. From Jewish Magic & Superstition by Joshua Trachtenberg:
“The familiar use of Scripture in divining (Bibliomancy) was not unknown to Jews. The Romans had thus employed Vergil [sic]; the Bible was already put to this use by Christians before the eight century; in medieval Germany hymn- and prayer-books served the same purpose. But Jews did not have to borrow this device from their neighbors. In Talmudic times it was common practice to ask children what verses they had studied that day in school, and to accept them as good or bad omens, an expedient that persisted throughout the Middle Ages. The more usual procedure of opening the Bible at random and taking the first word or sentence that strikes the eye as a portent, was also followed. Similarly, ‘if, upon awakening, one recalls a Biblical verses, this passage is to be regarded as a”minor prophecy,” and if it is an ominous passage, one should fast.’” [footnoted to Pa’aneah Raza on Leviticus and Perles’ Beitrege] (p. 216)
Trachtenberg goes on to say that no special skills were required for bibliomancy and anyone can do it, and that it is also connected to the act of sortilege/casting lots (much like the Dice Method).
One of the more peculiar and interesting methods of scanning a text for magical guidance comes from New World Witchery standby Vance Randolph:
“Many hillfolk tell fortunes and predict marriages by means of certain quotations from the Bible. For example, the twenty-first and thirty-first chapters of Proverbs have thirty-one verses each. Chapter 21 is the man’s birthday chapter; chapter 31 is the woman’s birthday chapter. A boy looks up his proper verse in the man’s chapter, according to the date of his birth. A man born on the twenty-third of any month, for example, reads Proverbs 21:23—the content of this verse is supposed to be equally significant to him” (OM&F, p. 184)
In my case, the Proverb says, “The plans of the diligent lead surely to plenty, /But those of everyone who is hasty, surely to poverty.” Patience has been a long-standing goal of mine, even from when I was very young, so I do think this method may hold some merit. Or it may be a strange coincidence. Either way, I really like it for its unique spin on a traditional method.
I mentioned this method in Podcast 25, too, but I thought it would be good to write it out here for those who are interested. Connected to one of the few methods of divination not condemned by the New Testement—casting lots—the use of dice in conjunction with the Bible might raise eyebrows now, but it actually makes a great deal of sense. And when you consider that dice were (and are) often made of bone, the vaguely necromantic side of this method begins to surface. The method cited here comes from Judika Illes’ Encyclopedia of 5000 Spells:
“Lord Thoth’s Trio
Thoth, Egyptian lunar god, is given credit for inventing books, magic, and dice. All are combined in the following method.
- Formulate your question, while holding dice.
- Close your eyes and flip open the book.
- Gently, with eyes remaining closed, toss the dice onto the open book.
Read the passage indicated by the location of the fallen dice. An alternative is to read the passage indicated by the numbers shown on the dice—thus you might begin on the sixth line, third word or similar. If using numeral coordination, it’s not necessary for the dice to actually land on the page, although both methods can be integrated.”
There’s no reason other interpretive items could not be used similarly, though the precedent doesn’t exist to my knowledge. I can imagine, however, that a deck of cards could be likewise consulted in conjunction with the holy book of choice, and the number or value of the card taken as a guidepost in determining which verse to read.
Arrow over at the Wandering Arrow blog actually mentioned this a while ago, and it’s her post (and an email she sent me) which really sparked my entire research bender into the subject. The overall method seems to derive from a folk Catholic practice which was outlined in Reginald Scot’s 1584 treatise on magic, The Discoverie of Witchcraft. In this book, Scot lampoons the “popish” superstitions of the Catholics, and cites an example of their folk magic involving a scriptural text (a psalter) and a skeleton key:
“Popish preests (saith he) as the Chaldceans used the divination by sive & sheeres for the detection of theft, doo practise with a psalter and a keie fastned upon the 49. psalme, to discover a theefe. And when the names of the suspected persons are orderlie put into the pipe of the keie, at the reading of these words of the psalme (If thou sawest a theefe thou diddest consent unto him) the booke will wagge, and fall out of the fingers of them that hold it, and he whose name remaineth in the keie must be the theefe.” (Ch. 5)
The Psalm cited, the 49th, is full of memento mori imagery, reminding the singer that death comes to all, and none escapes God’s eye. The connection between this method and the sieve and shears method—both of which involve tenuously suspending something and asking questions until it begins to move—is also interesting, as the sieve and shears appear in witch folklore, too (see “The Horned Women” tale from Ireland). Scot’s mention of this form of bibliomancy is brief, though, and a a more thorough description of the method can be found in Draja Mickaharic’s Magical Spells of the Minor Prophets:
“In the second method of divining using the bible, a key, one of those old fashioned ‘skeleton keys,’ is used in addition to the bible. The key is placed somewhere in the bible, keyed end first, so that the turning end protrudes, sticking out of the wide end of the bible. To keep the key in the bible in this manner, the bible must be tied closed. This may be done with rubber bands or with string, however the person desiring to read in this manner chooses. Irregardless of how the bible is held closed, it is important that it be tied or held tightly, as the bible will be suspended from the key when this work of divination is being done. Once the key when this work of divination is being done. Once the key is fixed in the bible in this manner, the bible is suspended from the fingers of both hands, usually one finger under each of the keys turning end. In that precarious position, a question is asked, either having a yes or no answer, or several questions.” (p. 125)
In this method, the person reading must determine what yes and no are before asking the question, whether it turns or wobbles one way or the other. Mickaharic says this is very effective, and that “the first time I did this, the bible actually jumped from my fingers when the question was answered with a no.”
This method is also backed up by practices within the hexenmeister community. In Chris Bilardi’s Red Church, he provides an almost identical system for inserting a key into the Bible, binding it, and suspending it while asking questions. He is more specific about which books to use, however: “Take the key and place it into the Bible. Some traditional places to put it are the Book of Ruth (Chapter 1), the Gospel of John (any of the Four Gospels, really), and the Epistle of James” (Red Church, p. 303). It’s very interesting to me that the Book of Ruth shows up repeatedly in magical bible study. That might be a topic for another day, though.
So that’s it for basic bibliomancy! I hope this has been informative and useful to you. If you have any other examples of this method, or stories to share about using this or similar techniques, we’d love to hear them!
Thanks for reading!
Staying on the dark side of things today, I’m going to continue the theme I started in my previous blog post on the biblical Psalms which have been used to curse. In this post, I’ll be looking at several of the most commonly used Psalms, as well as some of the spells which are built around them.
To begin, let’s look at the spell that prompted this whole topic. From Judika Illes’ Encyclopedia of 5000 Spells:
“The Cursing Psalm
The power to heal can be the power to harm. Even something as intrinsically good and sacred as a psalm may be used malevolently. Psalm 109 has been called ‘the cursing psalm.’ It may be chanted to harm an enemy.
The psalm itself is inherently benevolent. It’s your emotion and intention that transforms it. Therefore the fist step is to be in the right mood. Then start chanting and visualizing.” (p. 575)
This is certainly the most intensive of the cursing Psalms, including the admonitions:
9Let his [one’s enemy] children be fatherless, and his wife a widow.
10Let his children be continually vagabonds, and beg: let them seek their bread also out of their desolate places.
13Let his posterity be cut off; and in the generation following let their name be blotted out.
Not pleasant stuff, certainly. This one is powerful enough that merely chanting it while focusing on an enemy should cause him or her some distress. However, before simply writing this particular Psalm off as evil, I should point out that it also gets interpreted in more positive ways. Ray T. Marlbrough says it is used “To protect from an enemy, persisting in bothering you” (Magic Power of the Saints). In this light, it is not so much of a curse as a barrier against harm. Braucher Chris Bilardi recognizes its power to be used “against a tenacious enemy,” but also says it is useful “for acquiring friends” (The Red Church). So even the “cursing Psalm” has its upside.
CUT LIMB FROM A TREE THAT IS WITHERING
WHILE MENTIONING WHICH LIMB OF YOUR ENEMY YOU WISH TO BE AFFECTED, OR WHILE MENTIONING OVERALL WITHERING AS YOUR INTENT;
READ THE 70TH PSALM ON YOUR ENEMY;
BURY WITHERED LIMB WITH YOUR ENEMY’S UNDERWEAR –
– TO HURT BY DRYING THEM UP
When ah want someone tuh dry up, or tuh hurt them, yo’ go to a tree an’ git a tree that’s withered all up, dryin’ up. Yo’ don’t know the cause of the tree dryin’ up but chure not supposed tuh know how come the tree is witherin’ up yo’self tuh do this. Yo’ jes’ git the witherin’ tree that’s dyin’, an’ yo’ cut a branch offa that tree, see. An’ yo’ want that person – whatevah limb yo’ want that person tuh lose when yo’ cut this branch offa this tree, yo’ mention de limb that chew want ’em tuh lose, if it’s the right laig or the right arm. It won’t work on they haid; it’ll work on a limb, yore arm or yore laig. An’ then yo’ bury this withered tree wit some of this person’s underwear. Until it’s found, why they’ll wither away or lose dere laig or lose they arm, whichevah yo’ say, an’ they’ll be lingerin’ from it. Co’se if yo’ don’t want ’em tuh die like that or lose their laig or arm, yo’ would say, “Let ’em wither as dis tree withers.” But chew would have tuh read de 70th Psalms tuh do that work. De 70th Psalms will dry that person up, jes’ wither him up. De 70th Psalms will dry yo’ up jes’ like a herrin’ – yo’ see, a dry herrin’. Yo’ read de 70th Psalms on anyone an’ it will dry ’em up.
[Memphis, TN. Informant #926 and #1538 (this is one informant, two different interview dates); B45:19-B51:1 = 1503-1509 and D96:1-D110:2 = 2779-2793.]
This is definitely a severe curse, in that it aims to cause at least semi-permanent damage to a person’s body. Both Bilardi and the Curious Curandera also list this Psalm as one to be used for overcoming evil, particularly bad habits—the withering of a limb in this case being the withering of the wicked part of oneself that must be removed.
Some of the other Psalms that may be used in a cursing capacity include:
Psalm 7 – Used to overcome enemies, especially those who plot against one secretly
Psalm 48 – To undo envious enemies; according to Malbrough, it can also be used to “strike fear into your enemies”
Psalm 52 – Used to punish one’s enemies, especially those who use magic against one
Psalm 53 – Which can be used to curse someone who is being stubborn, or to inflict blindness (mental or physical)
Psalm 93 – Used in legal cases where one has been unjustly accused in order to cross the one who brought the charges
Psalm 100 – According to Bilardi, this Psalm is for “overcoming enemies and obstacles” (TRC)
Psalm 120 – To stop gossip against one or to cross one’s enemies in court cases
Psalm 140 – Against anyone “evil,” though I think that is a fairly subjective idea. It is also used like Psalm 52 against anyone who has worked harmful magic against one
In all of these cases, the Psalms themselves are sometimes all you need, though the more one wants to add to the process, the more potent the curse will be. Muttering the curse over a candle with an enemy’s name carved into it would be a simple and not-terribly-visceral way to do it. Sewing up one of these Psalms into a doll-baby containing an enemy’s hair or foot track and tossing it into a fire, burying it in the earth, or dropping it into a jar full of baneful herbs and oils would be a pretty big curse. The mechanics of the curse really would depend upon the practitioner.
Before I finish up today, I thought I’d also look at a few of the other curse verses employed from the Bible. Just as non-Psalmic verses (like the Blood Verse in Ezekiel 16) and extra-biblical prayers can be employed to do good works, there are a few passages which have some crossing power in them. These are taken from a very fine book on Old Testament magic called Jewish Magic & Supersition, by Joshua Trachtenberg:
To cause an enemy to die: Nu. 14:37
To cause an enemy to drown: Ex. 15:10
Against slander: Ex. 15:7
To cause a man who has sworn falsely to die within a year: Ex. 15:12
To cause a curse to take effect: Lev. 27:29” (p. 110)
Pretty rough stuff! All of these curses make me want to up my protection factor quite a bit. You can’t be too careful out there, where magic is concerned.
I hope this has been useful to someone. If you have questions, feel free to leave a comment or email me. For now, blessings upon you for reading this (after all these curses, you might need them!).
And, of course, thanks for reading!