Posted tagged ‘Lord’s Prayer’

Blog Post 138 – Curandero Spells, part II

October 4, 2011

Hello again! Today we’re finishing up our look at the small selection of curandero spells I started in our last post. We’re looking at technique mostly, and I’ve got a couple of other spells that might be of interest to you at the end of the post. Let me reiterate that these ideas ARE NOT MEANT TO REPLACE MEDICAL OR LEGAL ADVICE, but are merely provided as folkloric examples of a vibrant cultural practice. And now, our exciting conclusion!

Techniques
Curanderos use a variety of techniques to do their work, often depending on the specialty of the worker or the case at hand. Some workers only do herbal remedies, while others also work with a certain degree of Western conventional medicine, recommending vitamins or over-the-counter medications in conjunction with regular prayers.

SmokingCuranderos frequently smoke their clients with herbs or incense in order to cleanse them of negative effects. The incense used may be church incense (often called “Gloria Incense” in religious supply stores) or a homemade concoction of ground up herbs, roots, barks, and resins. The patient usually stands while the curandero walks around him or her, wafting the smoke onto the torso, arms, legs, and head. Sometimes the smoke is used to “seal” a person to prevent any bad influences from getting in after a limpia has been performed.

Rubbing – A major component of curanderismo practice is rubbing. Eggs, fruit, plants, and sometimes just hands are rubbed over the body with massaging techniques to help alleviate symptoms and empower curative spells. Clothes are almost always left on, and most curanderos are very careful not to touch anyone in ways that would make them feel morally compromised. This does not mean that the patient feels no pain, however. Frequently the massages are very intensive, and rubbing can turn into a light beating fairly quickly during major cleansings. You can see an example of the herb-rubbing (or flogging) technique in this YouTube video from Gurreros de Sangre.

Burning – Thankfully, not the burning of actual people but rather the burning of used ingredients and tools. Herbs, eggs, cloth, and other items may be burned once they’ve been used to perform cleansings so that any evil influences they’ve collected will be destroyed. Sometimes alcohol is used to facilitate a burn, and sometimes the items are simply tossed into a fire or onto hot coals. Candles, of course, are also burned to provide magical or miraculous effects.

Prayer – This has already been covered a good bit in the “Tools” section of the previous post, so here I’ll just say that the prayers are almost always spoken aloud, even if only half-mumbled. Something about the sound is vitally important to affecting the cure.

For a Few Spells More
To finish up, I thought I’d share a couple of other spells which are not strictly speaking part of curanderismo, though both of them come from people who practice within some version of that tradition. The first comes from Eliseo “Cheo” Torres and his book Curandero. It’s a spell I’ve seen versions of in multiple magical traditions, so I’m not sure if it originates in Hispanic folk magic or if it simply has made its way into those practices, but either way, here it is:

 A method for battling stress called “los siete nudos” or The Seven Knots:

One takes a red ribbon, ties one knot in the center of it while focusing on a major problem. Then he/she begins tying six more knots, about four inches apart, alternaitng right and left of the knot, like this:
1)  —————X—————-
2) —————-X———X——
3) ——X——–X———X——

  …and so on until one gets a ribbon looking something like this:

—X—X—X—X—X—X—X—

 The completed cord is placed in a sealable container, like a mason jar or a babyfood jar.The sealed jar is then buried in the backyard. While tying the knots, the person is to strongly picture the particular worries in his or her life that he or she wishes to be rod of. Tying the knots can be accompanied by a prayer, such as the Apostle’s Creed or Lord’s Prayer, in order to seal in the power of the charm before burial.

 This final spell was taught to me only very recently by someone who works within the conjure tradition, but who also grew up learning Native American magic and brujaria in Texas. I don’t have permission to use her name at this time, but she’s someone I’ve known from a distance for a few years, and she was one of my fellow lecturers at the recent Western Kentucky Rootwork Heritage Festival. This technique requires a rather unusual tool: a turtle shell.

 Slow-manifesting Moon Spell

 A turtle shell naturally has thirteen plate divisions to it, which can be seen as one for every moon in the year. If you happen to be lucky enough to have a turtle shell handy, you can take it out into the moonlight of a full moon and trace a sacred symbol (such as a cross or star) onto each plate with your finger, while reciting a prayer. For instance, if you wanted to gain spiritual guidance, you might pray Psalm 23. To break a bad habit, you might use Psalm 70. For general success and prosperity, Psalm 65 would be excellent. The trick to this is that the wish or desire must be something that can manifest slowly and incrementally. The spell will work over the next year, and you should see some slight change with each passing full moon. By the end of the year, your wish should be granted (or at least, should be as close to fruition as possible).

 She also explained to me that the foundation of this prayer is the idea of the turtle as a representation of earth itself, something solid and foundational. The turtle carries its home with it, and so the earth carries all we need as well, if only we’re willing to be patient enough to pursue it over time. Again, this may not be, strictly speaking, a curandero spell, but I thought it was a good one and one worth sharing.

Resources

Some of my resources have been scattered throughout these posts, but here’s a lovely reference list for your perusal :

I hope these have been useful to you! If you have information, thoughts, or ideas about these practices, we’d love to hear them.
Thanks for reading!

-Cory

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Blog Post 50 – A Witch’s Initiation

April 22, 2010

For my 50th blog post, I thought I’d do something special, something that really tickles my fancy.  I’ll be talking about the various types of witch initiations found in New World folklore.   I’ve already touched on this in Blog Post 45 – Witches, but today let’s expand a little bit on the concept.

In general, witch initiations in North American folklore share a few commonalities:

  • The renunciation of Christianity, often through a ritual like repeating the Lord’s Prayer backwards
  • The giving of oneself to an otherworldly entity, such as the Devil or a “Man in Black” in exchange for magical powers
  • An act of exposure, such as being naked or sexual union of some kind, though in some cases this is not necessary
  • A sign or omen of the candidate’s acceptance as a witch
  • The transmission of magical knowledge in a ceremonial way, and/or the presentation of a familiar or fetch animal

Not all of these components are found in every case, of course, and the nature of the witch may be such that he or she is not an “initiated” practitioner, but merely someone who has picked up magic throughout his or her life.  This last circumstance is often found in places where magic is prevalently mixed with Christian practice, such as in the Appalachians (Granny magic) or among the Pennsylvania-Dutch (Pow-wow).  Of course, in these cases, the magical worker is seldom called a “witch,” though sometimes the term “witch doctor” is used.  It’s funny, to me anyway, to think about how a witch is “made” through initiation, much like someone can be “made” in the Mafia.  But I digress…

Now let’s take a look at how witches were/are initiated according to specific folklore examples.  From German Appalachian lore, there are stories of witches being initiated by obtaining a “Black Bible.”  Scholar Gerald C. Milnes links this tome to the Key of Solomon, a grimoire with many reputed magical properties and a host of instructions  on how to accomplish various magical tasks.  One of his informants outlines the basic ritual thusly:

“Now say you’re going to be a witch.  Okay, now I don’t know where you get ‘em, but they call e’m the little Black Bible.  Take that little Bible and you go to a spring where it’s a-running from the sun…not towards the sun, away from the sun…Take that little Black Bible and go to that stream, strip off, and wash in there—take a bath in that water—and tell God you’re as free from him as the water on your body” (Signs, Cures, & Witchery, p. 162).

Milnes also describes a similar Appalachian rite of this nature involves taking dirt and shaking it off of a plate or dish while stating aloud that you are as clear of Jesus Christ as the dish is of dirt.  Something more is added to this folklore:

“If, through a pact, the devil is granted your soul in exchange for some talent, gift, or magical power, it is thought that he then receives some gift of the body in return.  This could be a fingernail or even a withered finger” (SC&W, p.164).

Such a “sacrifice” is not uncommon in witch-lore, with the physical offering being anything from a bit of blood to sign a pact to a body part like a finger or toe to—at the extreme end—the death of a loved one.  This is a story commonly applied to many chthonic cult deities or spirits.  Santa Muerte in the Latin-American magical traditions has also been accused of this sort of thing.

I outlined one type of witch-initiation culled from Hubert Davis’s The Silver Bullet in Blog Post 45, an initiation which involved a type of blood offering in exchange for the presentation of a magical imp.  That version of initiation is only one of many methods presented by Davis.  Here’s another one, from Wise County, Virginia:

“She [Granny, the narrator of the tale] began: ‘I’ve been told thet annuder way to git to be a witch is to fust go to the top of a high mountain, throw rocks at the moon and cuss God Almighty.  Then, go find a spring where the water runs due east.  Take a brand new knife and wash hit in the spring just as the sun rises.  Say, “I want my soul to be as free from the savin’ blud of Jesus Christ as this knife is of sin.”  Do this fer twelve days in a row.  Effen on the thirteenth day the sun rises a drippin’ blud, hit’s a shore sign thet you’re becomin’ a witch’” (TSB, p. 11).

This variant is interesting, to me, because of a few elements.  First, in this initiation, the spring must flow east (or towards the rising sun, though against the natural path of the sun), which seems to be different than in the Milnes version.  In this initiation, too, the witch isn’t naked, but a new knife is washed in the stream while a renunciation is made.  Finally, the bloody sunrise is a sign to the witch indicating acceptance or denial of the initiation—this feature is common in several variations of the rite.  Davis also mentions another witch-making method which bears some of the trademarks of the process:

“He [the potential witch] then waited until Friday the thirteenth and returned to the spring as the morning turned gray over the ridge.  He dipped some water from the spring with his ram’s horn and poured it over the pewter plate.  He did this seven times and repeated the verses Liz [a witch] had taught him:

‘As I dip the water with a ram’s horn,
Cast me cruel with a heart of thorn,
As I now to the Devil do my soul lease…
May my black and evil soul be
Of Christian love and grace free
As this plate is of grease’ (TSB, p. 24).

This, to me, bears a strong similarity to the dirt-and-plate version of the ritual outlined in Signs, Cures, & Witchery.

I mentioned a ritual involving the reversed Lord’s Prayer from Vance Randolph’s Ozark Magic & Folklore in my post the other day.  Randolph discusses several other ways of becoming a witch in that work, some simple, and some more complicated:

  • A woman could fire a silver bullet at the moon and “mutter two or three obscene old sayin’s” (p. 265)
  • Repeating the Lord’s Prayer backwards and firing seven silver bullets at the moon will do the trick
  • Magical information can only passed across gender lines (man-to-woman or vice versa), or between partners united by sexual intercourse
  • Widows were the best candidates for becoming witches, as they only had to learn “the Devil’s language,” whatever that might be.

Randolph goes on to say that the transformation of a person into a witch was a moving one, and often one with a morbid downside:

“I am told, by women who claim to have experienced both, that the witch’s initiation is a much more moving spiritual crisis than that which the Christians call conversion. The primary reaction is profoundly depressing, however, because it inevitably results in the death of some person near and dear to the Witch” (OM&F, p. 268).

In this case, the lost loved one is called a “Witch’s sixpence,” and is the “price” paid for the witch’s powers.  This is not a universal belief, however, as many witches do not lose anyone close to them, and instead gain a new friend:  the familiar, fetch, or imp.  I’ll be doing something more extensive on this aspect of witchcraft in the future, so for now, I will just say that the familiar of the witch is a big subject with as much (often conflicting) information floating around about it as, well, the subject of initiation.

Finally, here are some examples of witch-induction from Kentucky.  I’ve gleaned these from the book Kentucky Superstitions, by Daniel and Lucy Thomas.

  • To become a witch, go to a mountain top at dawn, shoot through a handkerchief at the rising sun, curse Jehovah three times, and own the Devil as master. When you shoot through the handkerchief, blood will fall from it (Mountains, #3773)
  • To become a witch: the candidate goes with the Devil to the top of the highest hill at sunrise nine successive days and curses God; the Devil then places one hand on the candidate’s head and one on his feet, and receives the promise that all between his hands shall be devoted to his service.  (Mountains, #3774)
  • To become a witch, you shoot at the moon nine times with a silver bullet, cursing God each time (Mountains, #3775)
  • You can become a witch by taking a spinning-wheel to the top of a hill, giving yourself up to the Devil, and waiting until the wheel begins to turn. The witches will then come to instruct you (Mountains, #3776)

These are similar to other folkloric initiation ceremonies already discussed, with the exception of the last one.  The inclusion of the spinning wheel here is interesting to me, because it seems to be connected to an idea I find very witchy: the threads of Fate.  It also reminds me of the Irish folktale “The Horned Women,” which is a story I glean much in the way of witchery from.  In this case, the wheel’s turning is much like the rising of a bloody sun—it provides an omen that the witch has been accepted into the fold of witches before her.

So what do I make of all of this?  Well, my own opinion (and I stress that it is only my take on the phenomenon of witch initiations, and no one else’s) is that each of these stories contains little pieces of initiatory lore, but always with a layer of sensationalism on top.  These folk tales were intended to amuse and spark curiosity, after all, so it doesn’t surprise me that a small offering of blood, say on an new witch’s cingulum or a few drops in a cup of wine poured out to the god, gods, or spirits to which the witch is binding herself, has become exaggerated into the death of a family member or the withering of a limb.  I think that initiations have a profound impact on those that undergo them, and that many of the common elements (the renunciation, the vow to serve a witch-god/goddess/devil/etc., and the granting of magical gifts like certain charms or familiars) are profound acts that may well belong in an initiation ceremony. Many of these features are also found in other initiation ceremonies and Traditional Witchcraft works, such as Paul Huson’s Mastering Witchcraft or Nigel Jackson’s Call of the Horned Piper. I also think that some elements are overlooked in these sorts of folkloric imaginings of “witch-making”.  For instance, one thing Sarah at Forest Grove mentioned in her post on initiations is that once one becomes a witch (or takes initiation), one finds “Growth and strength of abilities and experiences the more one practices and keeps their promises.”  Most stories about witches seem to either end at the oaths taken upon becoming a witch, or to start in medias res of a witch’s career, showing a witch operating in one way, unchanging, until she is (inevitably) defeated.  That makes for good storytelling, but perhaps not for so much good practical witchery.  Witchcraft is wonderful in that the more you do it, the better it gets!

In the end, I like this topic, but I should say one more thing.  I don’t think that a person-to-person initiation is necessary to practice witchcraft.  If you’ve not taken an initiation, or don’t ever plan to, but find you are good at witchcraft anyway, keep doing it.  You certainly don’t need anyone to validate your magic if it’s working, and if whatever forces you draw your magic from one day choose to initiate you, I have a feeling that much like Don Corleone, they’ll make you an offer you can’t refuse.

My apologies if this post has been overlong, but I hope it’s useful to somebody out there.   If nothing else, you’ve worked out your scrolling finger for today.

All the best, be well, and thanks for reading!

-Cory


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