Posted tagged ‘Louisiana’

Blog Post 197 – Shapeshifting

November 26, 2015

“Loup-Garou,” from The Werewolf Delusion, by Ian Woodward (1979) (via Wikimedia Commons)

 

[N.B. Please also check out our podcast episode on this phenomenon as well: Episode 82 – Shapeshifting]

 

One of the talents attributed to witches in a number of cultures is self-transformation. If you’ve plunged more than ankle-deep into witchcraft research, you’ve likely run across famed Scottish witch Isobel Gowdie’s charm, which she reputedly used to transform into a hare, which begins “An I shall go into a hare, with sorrow and sighing in mickle care…” Gowdie was not alone in her belief that through the force of her magic and her will (and perhaps some psychoactive botanical substances or a judicious application of rendered animal fat), she could change her form to that of an animal. Perhaps the most famous example of this power is the werewolf, which sometimes changes of its own volition, but more often is a victim of the shiny moonlight’s powers.

In the New World, plenty of witches also had the power of transformation. This article will look at a few key tales of shapeshifting from New World lore, and ask questions about what the stories could mean for a magically inclined person with an interest in exchanging human form for an animal’s.

Perhaps the best-known and most widespread incarnation of the shapeshifting legend east of the Mississippi is the story of the loup-garou (sometimes also rou-garou, rugaru, or a similar variation). The beast can be found just about anywhere which saw frequent contact with French Colonial influences, such as in Canadian border zones or Louisiana. Often the loup-garou is essentially a werewolf, a human being who can—through magical means often diabolical in nature—become a wolf-like beast. Some versions of the story, recorded by University of Louisiana professor Barry Ancelet, describe the beast as more of a thief than a predator for humans, stealing fishermen’s clams while they sleep. The exact nature of the creature is also indeterminate, since depending on one’s location, it can “range from the rougarou as a headless horseman to a wolf that prowls the forest at night” (Lugibihl). The actual transformation may be permanent (or even ghostly, as some accounts tell of the beast as the remnant of a cruel old man), or may only last for 101 days, after which time the loup-garou transfers its curse to another person through a bite or drinking his or her blood. A person under the curse seems to know whether he or she is suffering from the transformation, and becomes rather wan and unhealthy, but usually remains silent about the condition with others. A major variation on the loup-garou is the bearwalker, about which Richard Dorson recorded several stories in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula during the mid-20th century. As you can probably guess, the assumption of a bear form (or at least an animal form which resembles a bear more than a wolf) is more common in the lore of the borderlands on the north of the Great Lakes.

In the mid-section of the United States, particularly from the mid-Atlantic down to the upland South and across into the Midwest, the power of transformation is far less canine in nature. While the loup-garou certainly fell into the purview of New World magical lore (albeit lore largely imported from Europe), the tales of transformation one finds in places like Appalachia skew distinctly witchy in flavor. Several stories, including one which we’ve recorded here before called “The Black Cat Murders,” talk about witches transforming into cats in order to visit harm on prospective victims. Patrick Gainer recorded his version of the tale in West Virginia from Mrs. Robert Pettry, whose account included a man with a pet bear that struck off the witch-cat’s paw only to have it transform into a human hand once it was severed. This is a very common feature of witch transformation tales, and often once a witch has been injured in her animal state, she bears the marks of her injury in human form as well (which proves helpful to neighbors in identifying her). One of the remarkable points about these transformations remains that in many cases the witch has a physical human body in one place and a spectral body (with some corporeal aspects, as in the case with the bear above) that can travel around at her behest while remaining deeply linked with her. That trait appears throughout North America (again, with some Old World antecedents, including Africa as well as Europe). A tale from Virginia recorded in The Silver Bullet, by Hubert J. Davis, tells of women who turns into a cat only to have her hand whacked off with a knife. The next day, when the man who did the whacking tries to shake hands with the suspected witch, she refuses because her hand is now missing. Davis also reports a tale of a witch who becomes a cat only to be caught by a lonely mountain man, and transformed back into a woman, she marries him and bears him two children. When he begins drunkenly telling someone how they met, she turns herself and the kids into cats and kittens and they disappear forever through a hole in the wall.

Of course, not all witches turn into cats, and not al were-cats are witches, exactly, either. In Utica, New York, Davis found a tale of a witch who turned herself into a black colt that would appear in neighbors’ fields and graze among their horses. When a man sneakily catches the colt and has it shod at the blacksmith’s (I’d note the importance of iron to this story, by the way), the colt then gets put into a pasture, then disappears. However, a neighbor-woman is seen with bandages on all her hands and feet the next day. New York is also the home of famed witch Aunty Greenleaf, who reportedly would turn herself into a white deer rather than a cat or a horse. She managed to elude hunters constantly until one hunter got the idea to use melted silver for bullets and struck her in her transformed state. She, of course, took ill and died (Schlosser 2005). Another famed shapeshifting creature, however, is not a witch at all, but a Native woman who has been cursed into cat form known as the Wampus Cat (Schlosser 2004). Lest you think that all those who are animagi (to steal a term from Harry Potter) are female, an African American tale speaks of a male witch whose form is that of a boarhog, and who uses his powers of magic and transformation to gain a pretty wife with lots of land. Interestingly, a little boy in the story—often called the “Old Witch Boy”—knows the boarhog witch’s secret and reveals it to the girl’s father, resulting in the death of the hog-witch (Leeming & Page).

Some of the most pervasive and powerful witch-stories of transformation come from the American Southwest. Navajo skinwalker tales abound with narratives about evil witches who could use the pelts of animals to take on different shapes, usually to terrorize outsiders or those they did not like on the reservations. Some accounts claim that the witch who could take on the skin of another creature was the most powerful type of witch, and had mastered what was known as “The Witchery Way.” Such a creature was to be greatly feared, and trade in certain skins and furs was severely limited within Navajo culture. Skinwalkers could be recognized by some of their supernatural abilities, but more especially by their eyes: in animal form, their eyes looked human, and vice versa when in their human form. Nasario Garcia recorded many tales in New Mexico, Colorado, Texas, and California from people in the late 20th and early 21st centuries who reported knowing about or having seen witches that had taken on animal forms, just as skinwalkers do. One story related by a a man who recalled the events of the tale from when he was eight years old told of how his father had been driving an oxcart on a dark night with his son (the narrator) and a few farmhands along with him. Suddenly, two sheep appeared alongside the cart, one white and one black, and simply followed them, always matching pace with the cart. Eventually, they simply disappeared. Many others recorded by Garcia spoke of witches taking on owl forms to travel out by night, or occasionally coyote or dog forms, in which case they seemed to want to bite errant travelers (although never in such a way as to cause permanent injury or death, although most who see these creatures report being terrified).

So just what do witches do once they are transformed? In many of the stories, they seem to be up to no good. The tales of witch-cats often speak of numerous murders or unexplained deaths attributed to the shapeshifting sorcerers in the area. In some tales, witches take on cat forms to sneak into the houses of children and steal their breath (which is obviously related to the superstition about cats stealing babies’ breath). In some cases, the witches seem to be up to mischief, as in the case of Aunty Greenleaf, who likes to lead hunters on wild chases and get them lost, or cause their guns to fail. The loup-garous steals food, or worse, passes its curse on to others, sometimes even drinking the blood of another person to accomplish its nefarious task. The near-universal terror of skinwalkers in the Southwest is attributed to their powers to cause sickness and death as witches, although they seldom seem to kill or even severely maim while in animal form (although there are often reports of animal mutilation later connected to them). Richard Dorson records one tale from the Southwest in which shapeshifting witches seem to threaten each other more than the average person. He speaks of a pair of witches who make a bet about which one is faster in horse form. The loser has to stay a horse, which is accomplished by means of a magical halter. The winning witch sells the loser to a man, whose son accidentally removes the halter, and the witch transforms into a fish and swims away in a nearby river, then continues to transform until he’s a coyote. The coyote is tracked and killed by dogs in the end, and notably the witches have done no harm to anyone but themselves.

Why do shapeshifting witches get a bad rap, then? I would like to suggest that the real uneasiness among those who tell the stories is a fear that witches can be anywhere, and anyone, and just about anything. You never know when you might offend a hidden witch, who could be the cat twitching its tail by the fire or a horse in a pasture across the road. A healthy show of respect (even one tinged with fear) makes for a good insurance policy against the witch’s other fearful talents. Of course, being able to take on animal forms also means that the witch knows just how well you treat the lower orders of species, which might also inspire one to act a little better around the flocks and fields, or to pass an extra dog biscuit to the pooch curled up at your feet. Who knows, that might just be all that stands between you and a rather nasty hex, right?

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

 

Sources:

  1. Davis, Hubert J. 1975. The Silver Bullet, and Other American Witch Stories. Jonathan David Publishers.
  2. Dorson, Richard. 1964. Buying the Wind: American Regional Folklore. Univ. of Chicago Press.
  3. Dorson, Richard. 1972. Bloodstoppers & Bearwalkers. Harvard Univ. Press.
  4. Gainer, Patrick W. 2008. Witches, Ghosts, & Signs. West Virginia Univ. Press.
  5. Garcia, Nasario. 2007. Brujerias: Stories of Witchcraft & the Supernatural in the American Southwest & Beyond. Texas Tech Univ. Press.
  6. Leeming, David, and Jake Page. 1999. Myths, Legends, & Folktales of America: An Anthology. Oxford Univ. Press.
  7. Lugibihl, Steve. 2001. “The Rougarou: A Louisiana Folklore Legend.” The Nichollsworth. 26 April. Louisiana State University.
  8. Navajo Skinwalker Legend.” 2015. Navajo Legends Website.
  9. Pitre, Glen. 1993. Swapping Stories: Folktales from Louisiana. Louisiana State Univ. Press.
  10. Schlosser, S. E. 2004. Spooky South. Globe Pequot Press.
  11. Schlosser, S. E. 2005. Spooky New York. Globe Pequot Press.

Wilby, Emma. 2010. The Visions of Isobel Gowdie: Magic, Witchcraft, & Dark Shamanism in Seventeenth-Century Scotland. Sussex Academic Press.

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Episode 82 – Shapeshifting

November 23, 2015

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Episode 82 – Shapeshifting

Summary:

This time, we look at the lore of shapeshifting witches, including loup-garous, Wampus cats, and skinwalkers. We also briefly discuss the idea of hag-riding.

 

Please check out our Patreon page! You can help support the show for as little as a dollar a month, and get some awesome rewards at the same time. Even if you can’t give, spread the word and let others know, and maybe we can make New World Witchery even better than it is now.

Producers for this show: Renee Odders & Athena (if we missed you this episode, we’ll make sure you’re in the next one!). Big thanks to everyone supporting us!

 

Play:

Download: Episode 82 – Shapeshifting

 

-Sources-

If you’ve got a paperback copy of a book which you’d like to get bound in leather, our friend Achija Branvin Sionnach of Spellbound Bookbinding is offering our listeners a very deep discount. If you tell him we sent you, he’ll do the leather-binding for you at cost of materials plus shipping.

If you have feedback you’d like to share, email us or leave a comment. We’d love to hear from you!

Don’t forget to follow us at Twitter! And check out our Facebook page! For those who are interested, we also now have a page on Pinterest you might like, called “The Olde Broom.”

 

Promos & Music

Title music:  “Homebound,” by Jag, from Cypress Grove Blues.  From Magnatune.

Music: “Were-Owl,” by S.J. Tucker, from her album Mischief. Incidental music by Brian Johnston, doing a cover of Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London,” found at Soundcloud and used under a Creative Commons License.

Podcast recommendation: Laine recommends the podcast Darkness Radio, and Cory suggests the medical/comedy/folklore show Sawbones.

Blog Post 194 – Plugging (Healing with Trees)

March 30, 2015

Kirkridge Shelter sign, Appalachian Trail near Fox Gap, Monroe and Northampton Counties. Photo by Nicholas A. Tonelli (Wikimedia)

Exploring American folk magic means looking under lots of stones, poking about in the weeds on the roadside, and scaring furry little critters out of their hiding spots as we try to discover the methods that have been used to solve problems throughout the years. Whether it’s using potatoes to cure warts or making your spare change break an incoming hex, the techniques of folk magic demonstrate a masterful application of resources at hand to get the results a body needs. Which brings me to the subject of this article, the practice of “plugging” to heal disease.

Largely found in the mountain regions of America, although it also appears in a few other places as well, the basic practice of plugging consists of measuring a person against a tree, boring a hole in the tree, then filling and stuffing the hole (or “plugging” it, obviously). Some folks also call the practice “pegging” rather than “plugging,” since the bored out chunk of tree forms a natural peg (and since the image of a peg may have a more biblical connotation to some practitioners, since a tent peg is used in the Book of Judges to kill an enemy of the Israelites). Once the person measured against the tree grows past the height of the hole, he or she should be cured of the disease. Of course, this means that the person must still be growing, which essentially means this method is used to help children with chronic illness rather than adults. There are a few variants in the practice, which we’ll get to, and some of those provide relief for adults, but for now let’s look at some of the typical examples:

“Drill a hole in a black oak or sourwood tree just above the head of the victim [of asthma], and put a lock of his hair in the hole. When he passes that spot in height, he will be cured. (Another person told us that if the person died, the tree would also.)” –Foxfire Book, p. 231

This is probably the most basic version of the method, although it is more specific about the tree than many versions. For the most part, the remedies simply say “a tree,” although some will indicate a preferred species to affect a cure. One Southern spell says that “chills can be driven away by boring a deep hole in the sunny side of an oak tree, blowing your breath into it, and plugging up the hole, with the result that the tree dies” (Botkin, Treasury of Southern Folklore, p. 630). Variants from the Foxfire 40th Anniversary book also say you can do the remedy with a black gum tree, and interestingly, you can use a detached form of the plugging remedy: “Take a sourwood stick the size [height] of the child when he’s two or three years old. Put it in the top of the house where it won’t get wet. When the child outgrows the stick, the asthma will be gone. This also works for hay fever, and some say it can be done with any “dry stick” by placing it “under the doorstep” (p. 349). The last examples show that the power to heal is not directly tied to a living tree, but simply to the qualities of wood, since the twigs are detached form their trunk before use in the spell.

Plugging is hardly an Appalachian phenomenon, however. A bit of lore from Indiana is very similar to the mountain method: “Measure the baby’s height on a tree and make a hole at this point in the tree. Then cut off a lock of the baby’s hair and put it in the hole. When the bark of the tree grows so as to cover the place, the baby will be well” (Grace Smith, “Folklore from ‘Egypt’,” p. 70). John George Hohman reports a version of plugging which resembles the detached plugging in the sourwood stick example above: “Cut three small twigs from a tree — each to be cut off in one cut — rub one end of each twig in the wound, and wrap them separately in a piece of white paper, and put them in a warm and dry place” (Hohman, Long-lost Friend). One collection of lore from Louisiana is rife with examples of plugging:

379. To cure a child of asthma stand him up by a post and lay a knife on his head and run it into the post. When the child grows above this knife he will no longer have asthma.
380. Negroes cure asthma by taking some of the victim’s hair, tying it up in red flannel, and putting it in the crack of the door.
381. To cure a child of asthma stand him up against a tree and bore a hole just above his head. Into this hole put some of the child’s hair and then stop it up. When the child grows above the hair he will no longer have the asthma.
382. To cure a child of croup stand him up against a tree and run a knife through his hair into the tree burying some of his hair. When the child grows above the hair he will no longer have the croup…
385. A way to cure croup is to bore a hole in the wall behind a door at the height of the child’s head. Put some of the child’s hair into the hole and cork it up. The child will no longer have croup…
389. To keep a child from having whooping-cough take him to a house that is just being built, stand him against the wall, and bore a small hole in it just above his head. Then put some of his hair into it, plug up the hole, and cut the hair off. As he grows above this he will not have the whooping-cough. (Hilda Roberts, “Louisiana Superstitions”)

Many of these are in “Superstitions from Oregon,” by Donald Hines, demonstrating that the practice is hardly a unilocal one. Henry Middleton Hyatt recorded dozens of incidents of plugging in his “Folklore of Adams Co., Illinois” collection. One such example somewhat resembles the practice of plugging without the use of a tree mentioned in the collection above:

  1. “If you have asthma, take and stand the person up against a door — the door must be an outside door — bore a hole in the door at the top of their head, save the sawdust, then put a lock of their hair in this hole, then the sawdust, then the plug. When the person grows above that hole, they will be well. Do you see that hole in the kitchen door over there? Well, that is where we tried this on my niece, and she got well.” (Hyatt).

The use of the wall or door as a substitute for a tree may stem from the fact that—at least in most homes prior to very recent times—these objects would have all been made of wood, and so might have retained the general properties of trees. Since it is unlikely that those doing the boring would know exactly what wood their walls or doors are made of (although in some older cases they might have known), I think this demonstrates the point that the type of tree used for the cure was less important than the fact that it was a tree.

While a number of these techniques do specifically apply to children, in some cases the practice was extended to adult patients as well. In several of Hyatt’s examples, plugging is used to cure excessive bleeding without any relationship to the patient’s growth:

  1. Profuse bleeding in a horse is stopped by boring a hole into a tree, putting in it some of the blood, and plugging up the hole with a wooden peg.”
  2. To check a bleeding caused by a cut, bore a hole into a soft maple tree and plug up in this hole some of the blood”

In this pair of examples, we can see a general sympathetic magical principle at work, since the stopping of the hole represents the stopping of the wound, and the symbolic transfer of the hurt to the tree. In many cases, the plugging action creates a symbiotic enchantment between the patient and the tree. Several accounts claim that if the tree sickens and dies at some point in the future, so will the person healed by its intervention.

Healing is not always the aim of the plugging, either. One Appalachian plugging says, “When you pull a tooth, drive it in an apple tree, and good luck will follow” (Gainer, 125). Likewise, the healing accomplished in some cases may not be physical, but mental. Some Appalachian lore says that putting hair from a recent haircut under a rock will prevent headaches, a sort of form of plugging (probably because birds can’t get the hair and weave it into their nests, which is believed to cause headaches or madness). Surprisingly, plugging has received little attention as a magical practice (although I somewhat suspect that its lack of marketability and a general inclination against drilling holes in things in the modern age have something to do with that). I hope this brief glimpse into the practice gives readers a chance to explore plugging a bit further, as we really only have the very tip of a rather large iceberg here. If you have additional information on plugging you’d like to share, we’d love to hear it!

Thanks for reading,

-Cory

Podcast 61 – Mardi Gras!

March 4, 2014

Summary:

We look at the various traditions, festivities, and delights of Mardi Gras and Carnival, and then explore Lent with a special guest. We’ve got articles, cocktail recipes, conversation, and music! Laissez les bon temps rouler, y’all!

Play:

Download: New World Witchery – Episode 61

 -Sources-

  1. We hear a bit of history on Mardi Gras from Jack Santino’s All Around the Year
  2. I read a segment of “The Election of the Pope of Fools” from Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame
  3. You can read the quotes from Mark Twain on Mardi Gras here
  4. I describe a country Mardi Gras as found in Richard Dorson’s Buying the Wind
  5. I share recipes for a Sazerac and a Hurricane (with my own magical twist)
  6. I cite our article on “Magical Cakes” to talk about King Cake
  7. Please check out our guest Scarlet’s site & show
  8. If you have feedback you’d like to share, email us or leave a comment. We’d love to hear from you!

Don’t forget to follow us at Twitter! And check out our Facebook page!

 Promos & Music

Title music:  “Homebound,” by Jag, from Cypress Grove Blues.  From Magnatune.

Song List (all songs found at Archive.org’s Audio Library):

  1. “Zydeco Stomp” – Clifton Chenier
  2. “Bourbon Street Parade” – Louis Armstrong & the Dukes of Dixieland
  3. “Orys Creole Trombone” – Dutch Swing College Band
  4. “Hey Pocky Way” – The Grateful Dead
  5. “Way Down Yonder in New Orleans” – Dutch Swing College Band
  6. “Dixie” – Louis Armstrong & the Dukes of Dixieland
  7. “Basile Mardi Gras Song” – A. Michot (misattributed in the episode)
  8. “Sweet Georgia Brown” – Louis Armstrong & the Dukes of Dixieland
  9. “Look at my King”- King K Damon
  10. “Morning Has Broken” – Kaar Norge
  11. “Just a Closer Walk with Thee” – Louis Armstrong & the Dukes of Dixieland

Podcast Special – Learning Witchcraft

August 28, 2012

Podcast Special – Learning Witchcraft

Summary: In this episode, I’ll be telling stories from American folklore about how people learn witchcraft. We’ll hear tales of initiation and apprenticeship, solitary witches, witch apprenticeships, and find out just what witches do.

Play:

Download:  New World Witchery Special – Learning Witchcraft

 

Stories:

 

Promos & Music
“Grifos Muertos” by Jeffery Luck Lucas, from his album What We Whisper, on Magnatune.com

All incidental music comes from the group Falling You, from the album Touch,  on Magnatune. Songs include:

  • “Sadness of the Witch”
  • “The Art of Possession”
  • “Less Likely to Believe”
  • “Something About Eve”
  • “Reading the Leaves”

Blog Post 53 – Riddle Me This

April 27, 2010

Which is the Maid without a Tress?
Which is the Tower without a Crest?
Which is the Water without any Sand?
And which is the King without any Land?
Where is no Dust in all the Road?
Where is no Leaf in all the Wood?
Which is the Fire that never Burnt?
And which is the Sword without any Point?

-Riddles from Dawn Jackson’s (sadly defunct) Hedgewytchery site (a version still exists at Archive.org, however)

I love riddles.  I’ve always enjoyed letting them roll around in my brain until I can figure them out.  I’m that way with many brain-teasers, but there’s something very special about riddles, I think.  As a witch, I value riddling because riddles have had a place in mystical practice for a long time now (just think about Oedipus facing off with the Sphinx’s riddle).   I think they have the potential to help move one into an altered state of consciousness, and to force the brain to stop thinking in a simply linear, rational fashion.  The mindset which comes after a little riddling is an ideal one for magic, because connections that aren’t immediately obvious suddenly become apparent.  Or such is my opinion on the subject.

Today I’m going to look at a few riddles from American folklore (though some of them may be older in origin).  I’ll post a response in the comments section with the answers in case you don’t want to see those right away.  I’ll also try to point out anything that might have magical significance as I go along.  Without further ado, the riddles (from Richard Dorson’s Buying the Wind):

From the South:

The ole man shook it an’ shook it;
The ole woman pulled up her dress an’ took it.
(The solution to this one is simple, but I like the sexual connotations to the riddle itself.)

About six inches long, an’ a mighty pretty size;
Not a lady in the country but what will take it between her thighs.
(Again with the sexual innuendo…apparently we Southerners are a dirty-minded lot.  The solution to this one, though, is interesting because of the idea of “riding” to the witches’ Sabbat—in may folkloric versions, there is a sexual side to this riding).

From the Pennsylvania Dutch:

What goes and goes,
And yet stands and stands?
(Solve this one and you’ve got an interesting way to look at one version of a witch’s magical circle).

What poor fellow passes up and down the steps on his head?
(No witchy significance I can see; I just like this one)

What has its heart in its whole body?
(The answer to this one is worth remembering, for naturally-inclined folk)

What resembles half a chicken?
(A simple answer, but exactly the kind of riddling answer that I like, because it is both slightly funny and a little weird—it does a nice job of making the brain shut out its over-analytical side, for me at least)

From the Louisiana Cajuns:

If a man can lift two hundred and fifty barrels of rice when it is not raining, what can he lift during the rain?
(Again, this one isn’t really magical, but helps to get that child-like mindset which can be very useful in witchcraft)

What goes to the bayou laughing and returns crying?
(This one has more to do with sound than anything else, and getting the guesser to use his or her imagination a little)

What was it that was given to you that belongs to you only but that your friends use more than you?
(This one has particular significance for a witch, I think—if you think of “friends” in this context as covenmates, gods, spirits, etc., it makes sense, at least to me)

So what about you all out there?  Do you have any favorite riddles?  Do you ever use riddles as a way to get yourself into a magical mindset?  I’d love to hear what you have to say, so please feel free to leave a comment!

Thanks for reading,

-Cory

Blog Post 30 – Who’s Who in Hoodoo (Intro, Part II)

March 16, 2010

Today we’ll be looking at some famous personalities from the root working world.  These are not comprehensive biographies, by any means.  But they should at least give you some cursory information and enough information to look into the interesting lives of these conjure-folk further if you desire.

So, without further adieu, here’s Who’s Who in Hoodoo:

Historical Hoodoo Figures

Marie Laveau – Known as the “Voodoo Queen of New Orleans,” there is much folklore and little fact surrounding the powerful figure of Marie Laveau.  She was a free woman of color living in New Orleans during most of the 19th century, living to be nearly 100 years old herself.  She was flamboyant—holding large dances in Congo Square and appearing frequently with a large snake which she had named Gran Zombi—but surprisingly also very devout, often attending Catholic mass on a regular basis.  While she is best known for her Voodoo associations, Laveau had a tremendous gift for magic, and was said to maintain control of the city through a network of informants and a healthy dose of sorcery.  Zora Neale Hurston, who studied hoodooo (and Voodoo) with Laveau’s alleged nephew, Luke Turner, wrote about Laveau’s  intense magical power:

“The police hear so much about Marie Leveau that they come to her house in St. Anne Street to put her in jail. First one come, she stretch out her left hand and he turn round and round and never stop until some one come lead him away. Then two come together…she put them to running and barking like dogs. Four come and she put them to beating each other with night sticks. The whole station force come. They knock at her door. She know who they are before she ever look. She did work at her altar and they all went to sleep on her steps” (Hurston, Mules and Men, Part II, Chapter 2)

Today, many people—magical practitioners or not—visit her grave in New Orleans, leaving her offerings and asking her for favors, a practice not uncommon in hoodoo. (additional info gathered from Wikipedia and R.E. Guiley’s Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft).

Doc Buzzard – There are many who claim the name “Doc” Buzzard, but the most famous one is a South Carolina root doctor from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He was a famed magician and healer, and was much sought after for his cures.  He was also white, which sometimes surprises people.  There were many inheritors to the name “Doc Buzzard,” one of the best known being a rather unscrupulous character who was eventually reigned in by…

Sheriff James McTeer – According to Jack Montgomery, who spent a good bit of time interviewing McTeer:

“Sheriff McTeer recounted a…conclusion to a psychic war he had with the famous Doctor Buzzard. McTeer ordered Dr. Buzzard to stop selling potions. This particular war of curse and counter-curses ended with the drowning death of Dr. Buzzard’s son. Soon after, Dr Buzzard visited McTeer and the two men made peace and became friends of a sort.” (Montgomery, American Shamans, Chapter 1)

McTeer was a gifted hoodoo in his own way, though he was less focused on the prefabricated potions which made hoodoo a viable commercial enterprise throughout the 20th century.

Aunt Caroline Dye – A famed hoodoo woman from Arkansas, Aunt Caroline Dye was another long-lived magical practitioner (supposedly living to the ripe old age of 108).  She was cited in Harry Hyatt’s encyclopedic text on hoodoo as being a great jinx-breaker, and the Lucky Mojo page on her cites several blues songs devoted to her legendary gifts.

Henri Gamache – A pseudonym for an otherwise unnamed author, Henri Gamache is the name associated with many of the most influential texts in mid-20th century hoodoo.  His “Philosophy of Fire” as outlined in The Master Book of Candle Burning is a foundational text for conjure candle rituals, and includes a good number of psalm rituals as well.  Other key texts authored by Gamache include Terrors of the Evil Eye Exposed and Mystery of the Long Lost 8th, 9th, and 10th Books of Moses.

Moses – Speaking of Moses…  There are many who look on Moses as the first conjure man.  He was imbued with holy power by G-d, and used several commonplace tools to create miracles, not unlike the conjure men and women of recent times.  Some of his “tricks” include:

  • Transforming his staff into a serpent (Exodus 7)
  • Turning the Nile into blood (Exodus 7)
  • Summoning the Plagues of Egypt (Exodus 7-12)
  • Parting the Red Sea (Exodus 14)
  • Bringing water from the rock with his staff (Exodus 17)
  • Mounting a bronze serpent on a staff to cure venomous snake bites among the Israelites (Numbers 21)

Zora Neale Hurston was a major proponent of this view of Moses, making it a central theme in her book Moses, Man of the Mountain.  In Mules and Men, Hurston describes Moses as:

“The first man who ever learned God’s power-compelling words and it took him forty years to learn ten words.  So he made ten plagues and ten commandments.  But God gave him His rod for a present and showed him the back part of His glory.  Then too, Moses could walk out of the sight of man” (Hurston, Mules and Men, Part II, Chapter 1).

Of course, this is not the common view of Moses, but I like to at least consider the idea…but then I like to take a generally unorthodox view of lots of Judeo-Christian mythology, myself.

Zora Neale Hurston – To end, I thought I should at least mention the woman I’ve cited several times today.  Zora Neale Hurston is a folklorist from the mid-20th century whose most famous book is Their Eyes Were Watching God.  However much of her best work is in the study of hoodoo and Voodoo in books such as Mules and Men and Tell My Horse.  While many of her stories are elaborations or even (possibly) completely fictional constructs, they nonetheless provide a lot of good hoodoo techniques, recipes, and philosophies.  Taken with a hefty grain of salt, her work is a great way to explore hoodoo as it grew within the African-American community during the twentieth century.

That’s it for today.  Tomorrow I hope to get into contemporary rootworkers.  Until then…

Thanks for reading!

-Cory


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