Blog Post 119 – A Little Love Magic

I’m sure with Valentine’s Day just around the corner, I won’t be the only one to cover today’s topic:  love magic.  Yes, I know that Valentine’s is a commercial holiday designed to sell greeting cards (or something like that), but this seems as good a time as any to introduce some of the folklore and magic surrounding that strange, powerful feeling of love which seems to rule over so much of our human existence.  We’ll also look a little at lust, though I’ll likely save a detailed discussion for a sex magic post of some kind.

I should also say that this little article only scratches the surface of the overall material on this enormous branch of magical practice.  Love spells seem to be some of the most commonly sought and most often used enchantments in the world, so any blog post on them will necessarily be rather skint on details.  Also, this particular article is a sort-of companion to our upcoming podcast episode, which will be on this topic as well.  In the episode, we’ll discuss things like the ethics of love spells, so I only really want to touch on the lore and some of the basic spell ideas here.  Of course, if you want to leave comments or send emails regarding questions of ethics, I fully support that!

So what is love magic?  Most people would probably understand a spell cast by a young man on his high school crush to make her go out with him as a type of love spell, but what about a spell cast by a wife on an errant husband to make him stay a little closer to home?  Is a spell to spice up things in the bedroom a love spell, or just a lust spell, or maybe a little of each?  As I pored over the research, I found that there are several distinct categories for love magic:

1)      General-purpose love spells, such as wearing rose quartz, hanging a “loving bell,” spells to help a girl find a beau/husband soon, etc.

2)      Love divinations, like dream interpretations, carrying a four-leaf clover in the bible, catching a bouquet at a wedding, etc.

3)      Lust magic & aphrodisiacs, like the famous Love potion #9, dried turkey bones, powdered bird tongues, vanilla, etc.

4)      Person-specific love spells, which make one particular person fall in love with another, using things like hatbands/socks, mirrors, a particularly ghoulish dead-man’s mojo, etc.

5)      Magic for staying together, common in hoodoo, such as tying a man’s nature, writing bloody initials for reconciliation, menstrual blood in food, etc.

6)      Splitting up work, designed to break a couple apart using things like the black cat/dog hair spell, Hurston’s nine needles spell, etc.

Taking these various categories—which are just my understanding of the material, by the way, and should not be taken as gospel—let’s look at some of the individual spells, beliefs, signs, and ceremonies associated with each one.

A word of warning before we begin: I DO NOT ADVOCATE THE USE OF ANY OF THESE SPELLS. I’m presenting them as matters of folkloric record only.  Many of these techniques and/or formulas can be unsanitary or downright dangerous, so please keep that in mind as you read.

General-Purpose Love Spells

This category is fairly well addressed in modern neo-Pagan magical texts, so I won’t get much into it here.  I recall learning early on from Scott Cunningham’s Earth Power and other books like it that rose quartz could be worn to draw love to you, or just inspire loving feelings in you.  Oraia from Media Astra ac Terra covers the metaphysical properties of rose quartz very well in Episode 20 of that show, so if you want more info, I’d suggest listening to her examination of it.

Cunningham’s book also contains a spell for a “Loving Bell” which involves hanging a small bell somewhere the West Wind can touch it, reciting a little chant, and waiting for the bell to “whisper” your desire for love onto the wind, calling a lover to you (p.46).

Another basic spell from Draja Mickaharic’s A Century of Spells calls for burning a candle anointed with a mixture of basil and almond oil to draw love into one’s life.

As far as North American folklore goes, general-purpose love spells are actually a bit rare.  They most often tend to be focused on getting a spouse or preventing spinsterhood (forgive the sexist language there, but these do seem to be customs targeted at women).  For instance, in Vance Randolph’s Ozark Magic & Folklore he mentiones that Ozark girls will pin pieces of a wasp’s nest inside their clothing to draw courtship from men.  Randolph also mentions a peculiar love charm that he encountered in the mountains and which reputedly brought love into a young girl’s life:

“Many mountain damsels carry love charms consisting of some pinkish, soaplike material, the composition of which I have been unable to discover; the thing is usually enclosed in a carved peach stone or cherry pit and worn on a string round the neck, or attached to an elastic garter. I recall a girl near Lanagan, Missouri, who wore a peach stone love-charm on one garter and a rabbit’s foot fastened to the other.” (p. 166)

It’s not unreasonable to think that the “pinkish, soaplike material” may well be a piece of rose quartz.  Or, it may be something else entirely.  Patrick W. Gainer records the oft-repeated superstion that if someone sweeps under or on top of a girl’s feet, she will never marry, so girls were very careful not to let that happen.  Taking the last bite of any food at the table meant that a girl should kiss the cook or else end up an old maid, too.  Gainer also says that a girl who hold’s a bride’s dress on her lap within ten minutes will marry within a year and that if a girl lends her garter to a bride on her wedding day, she can expect to marry soon, too.

Love Divination

There are so many wide-ranging methods of determining a future lover’s identity that it would likely give me carpal tunnel and send my readers into a glazed-eye coma trying to list them all.  Divining one’s future love life is probably the most common form of divination, and can be found everywhere from the playground to the wedding chapel to the funeral home.  Most folks know about catching bouquets and garters at a wedding to indicate who the next to be married will be.  Some of the more unusual methods of determining one’s romantic future are:

  • Dream of a funeral and attend a wedding
  • Count seven stars for seven nights, and you will dream of the man you will marry.
  • To dream of the man you will marry, take a thumbful of salt the night before Easter
  • Marry soon if you dream of a corpse
  • If two forks are at a place-setting on the table, the one who sits there will be married.
  • Put three holly leaves under your pillow at night and name each leaf.  The one that is turned over in the morning will be the name of your husband.
  • Put a four-leaf clover in the Bible.  The man you meet while you are carrying it will be your husband.
  • On the first day of May before sunrise, if you see a snail within a shell, your future husband will have a house.  If the snail is outside the shell, he will have none.  Sprinkle meal in front of the snail and it will form the initial of the man you are to marry.
  • Walk around a wheat field on the first day of May and you will meet your mate.
  • The white spots on your nails tell how many lovers you will have.
  • On the first day of May, look into a well and you will see the face of your future husband.

There are lots of other methods for determining a future spouse, of course, such as peeling an apple in one long strip and tossing it over your shoulder to determine the initial of one’s eventual husband or wife.  Several Halloween traditions also focus on love divination, such as throwing nuts into the fire to see if they pop or fizzle, thus reflecting the strength of the love between those who threw.  Really, we could be here all day with these, so let’s just say a little reading will reveal a plethora of divinatory options to the curious witch.

Lust & Aphrodisiacs

This is another broad and often-discussed topic, and one which folks can get into heated debates about very easily.  For instance, many people contend that certain foods—chocolate, oysters, strawberries, etc.—act as aphrodisiacs and cite medical reports to back up their claims.  Others cite counter-claims which demonstrate that any aphrodisiac effect from food is purely psychosomatic /placebo effect.  Love potions are incredibly popular, so much so that there’s an enduring pop song by the Searchers entitled “Love Potion No. 9,” which later inspired a popular film of the same name (featuring the lovely Sandra Bullock).  I’m not going to get into the ingredients for that potion here, but if you’re interested in it, the upcoming Spelled Out segment on the podcast will look at one recipe for this famous draught.
In American folklore, many ingredients can be brewed into love potions and used to drive a partner wild.  Randolph records that yarrow is used in love potions given to men, as are dodder/love vine/angel’s hair, lady’s slipper, and mistletoe.  Boys make a love potion from a wild gander’s foot, powdered and put into a girl’s coffee.  The use of bird ingredients in such potions is rampant, inlcluding the use of powdered turtle-dove tongue, chicken hearts, and rooster blood for various love and beauty blends.   Girls in the Ozarks would keep dried turkey bones in their rooms in order to seduce their beaus when the time was right, too.

Randolph also mentions that a woman can surruptetiously touch a man’s back to inspire feelings of lust in him.  Zora Neale Hurston says in her essay “Hoodoo in America” that a potent aphrodisiac charm from Jamaica includes mixing angle worm dust with High John chips and wearing this as a mojo around the waist.  Oils and powders such as “Come to Me Boy/Girl” and “Chuparosa” are also used to intoxicate a lover’s senses and make him/her crazy with lust and love.  There’s also a hoodoo formula called the “Hot Mama Douche” which is juniper berries steeped in vinegar and which is designed to bring a woman all the sex she can stand. Vanilla, dabbed behind the ears, is also reputed to drive men wild.

Person-specific Love Spells

These are the controversial, yet oft-sought after, spells which one person uses on another to command love.  There are a lot of ethical questions involved in these enchantments, and I won’t get into my perspective on them here (though I do talk a bit about it on the show).  As the folklore goes, there are a lot of ways to make someone yours through magic.  Most of them involve putting a little bit of yourself—such as urine, blood, or sweat—into them, often via food.  Wearing the other person’s clothing, especially intimate clothing that has had contact with their skin or which has encircled some part of their body (like a ring, hatband, glove, sock, etc.) will also allow you to command their love.  Some examples:

  • If a girl steals a man’s hatband and wears it as a garter, it will make him fall in love with her (Randolph, OM&F)
  • Socks and hatbands can be used to rule unruly men (Hurston, Mules & Men).
  • Turning down a man’s hatband and pinning two needles in it in a cross-wise fashion makes him love you (Haskins, Voodoo & Hoodoo)

Other spells to gain the love of a person include tying poppets/dolls together, knotting used clothes from each person together, or burying personal items from that person on your property.  In this latter vein, Zora Neale Hurston records an interesting spell using the person’s image captured in a mirror:

“To bind a lover to a place: a) This is for a girl: Let him look into a mirror but don’t you look into it. Take it home. Smash it and bury it under the front steps and wet the spot with water. He cannot leave the place. b) This is for a boy: Take three locks of her hair, throw one over your head, put one in your bosom, and one in the back of your watch. Then do the same thing with a mirror that the girl does and she is tied. You can’t undo this.” (from “Hoodoo in America”)

Similarly, getting a potential lover to walk over or under a charm specifically planted to catch his/her love can be very effective.  Hurston’s Mules & Men contains the following spell:

Use nine lumps each of starch, sugar, & steel dust wet with Jockey Club perfume and put into nine mojo bags tied with red ribbon.  Put these all around his home (or yours), especially at entrances and under rugs, and he will be unable to resist you.

As I mentioned before, the best ways to gain control of a lover tends to be to make him or her ingest something that has a bit of one’s own bodily fluid.  Randolph mentions the use of menstrual blood in drink (though I usually find that more connected to the next section, “Magic for Staying Together”), as well as using whiskey in which fingernail trimmings have been soaked.  In Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro, Newbell Niles Puckett records a love charm which uses bathwater to similar effect: “a great love charm is made of the water in which the lover has washed, and this, mingled with the drink of the loved one, is held to soften the hardest heart.”

Magic for Staying Together

When a relationship hits a rough patch, people often do all sorts of things they wouldn’t normally do.  While some spells in this category are designed to bolster the already strong bonds between two happily enamored people, more often than not these spells are done out of desperation.  A wife wants to keep her philandering husband at home and away from other women.  A man wants to bring back a lover who has left him.  These aren’t particularly happy spells, but they do make up a good bit of the overall love spell genre, so here are a few of the more common or more interesting ones.

One spell I found repeatedly, and one which I mentioned in the previous section, was the use of menstrual blood in food.  It appeared in the folklore from multiple cultures and always with the same basic idea: a little of a woman’s menses in a man’s food or drink will make him absolutely hers and keep him from ever straying.  Urine occasionally pops up in this method, too, though it is far less common.

Other methods involve attaching something to a man’s clothes to mark him as one’s own.  In Hurston’s “Hoodoo in America” she notes in Section 9 that there is a such a ritual for regaining and binding the affection of an errant man. It is given in the “dialogue with Marie Laveau” style which is also in the N.D.P. Bivens text Black & White Magic of Marie Laveau. It involves using Van Van and Gilead buds placed in the man’s clothes or fashioned into a talisman for him to wear. A picture of Mary is then prayed over, and the man is supposed to stray no more.

Randolph’s Ozark informants revealed a number of methods for keeping or returning a straying lover, including:

  • A girl can write her initials and her sweetheart’s using the blood from the third finger of her left hand in order to reconcile with him after a fight.
  • Salting a fire brings an absent lover home, as does leaving one’s shoes in a “T” formation by the hearth.
  • A girl can clean her fingernails on Saturday, say a “mysterious old sayin’” and make a man visit her on Sunday. Mountain boys even say ‘my gal fixed her nails yesterday’ to indicate they must go courting.

Of course, sometimes it’s not enough to make someone stay a little closer to home.  One hoodoo method for controlling an errant man is to measure his penis with a piece of string (often red) while he is asleep, wet it with his semen, then tie nine knots in it.  This method takes away his “nature” and keeps him from being able to perform with anyone but the woman who has the string.  In some cases, this means that the man is unable to perform entirely unless the woman unknots the string first, which I imagine puts a damper on spontenaity in the bedroom.  However, as the proverb goes, desperate times call for desperate measures (pun very much intended).

Splitting Up

This is an area I’ve got no experience with myself, and one which I shy away from in general.  As such, my research here is a bit thinner than in other categories of love magic, but I do have one or two examples to provide.

Hurston provides a method for making couples fight like cats and dogs using the hair from—you guessed it—cats and dogs:

“To Make a Fuss and Fight. Take a small bit of the hair of a black cat and of a black dog and mix same with nine grains of red pepper seed and names of persons you wish to make fuss or fall out with each other. The names are written nine times crossed. Place this under their house, gallery or bury same at their gate. The articles can be sewed into a bag, and, if possible, place in the pillow or mattress.” (“Hoodoo in America”)

Hurston also mentions a spell using nine broken needles to break up a couple in her book, Mules & Men.

There are a number of products available for break-up work, including figural candles of a man and woman which are burned so that they separate over time.  The Lucky Mojo company sells many of these items, and also has a page outlining other breakup spells, such as feeding two halves of an egg to a black dog and a black cat, or writing a person’s name on the back of a river turtle to send him/her away from a relationship.

Whew! Love is a pretty big topic, and I’ve only given you a few examples here.  There are so many other love spells and magical techniques for gaining love, keeping love, or ending love that trying to list them all would be ridiculous.  I hope, though, that if you’re curious you’ll continue to look into this sort of magic, and let us know what you find.  If you have spells you’ve used in this vein of magic, I’d love to know those, too!  And we’ll have a podcast up soon on this topic, as well, so be listening for that.  Until next time..

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

Blog Post 113 – Spiritual House Cleaning

Home Sweet Home, by Douglas William Jerrold (via Wikimedia Commons)

It’s always nice to start the New Year off with a clean, well-appointed home.  In some traditions, this is not mere vanity or hygiene, but a spiritual necessity that must be done on New Year’s Eve to ensure that the home is clear and ready for the coming year.  Today, I thought I’d look at a few of the magical methods for housecleaning, as well as some of the most common cleaning agents with a magical touch.

Sweeping & Vacuuming – It has to be done.  There’s just no way of getting around it.  The floors must be kept clean, at least within reason, and usually a broom or a vacuum is employed to that end.  Workers in the conjure and hoodoo traditions tend to have specific techniques for sweeping, often going from the topmost floor of the house to the bottom and working from the back of each floor towards the front (though I’ve seen variations on that, often depending on specific needs—getting rid of a bad spirit might involve sweeping out the back door, for example).  While floor washes are the go-to method for spiritually cleansing a house and adding specific magical vibes to the area (see Mopping & Floor Washes below), you can add a degree of magic to the sweeping and vacuuming process, too.  Various powders can be sprinkled on floors and carpets and left there for a bit before sweeping.  These will absorb some spellwork and leave other magic behind.  Some good ones to try out (available at Lucky Mojo):

  • Fear Not to Walk Over Evil – A powerful anti-hex and anti-foottrack magic powder.
  • House Blessing – A simple, very peaceful powder.
  • Crown of Success or Fast Money – To encourage prosperity and abundance.
  • Chuparosa/Hummingbird – To create love and attraction between partners in the home.

Likewise, you might also opt for simple, household items to do some of your mojo work during sweeping and vacuuming.  Many spices make great conjure sweeps (and smell wonderful when taken up by a vacuum and slightly warmed by the machine’s motor—an added aromatic energy).  Some that I like to use:

  • Cinnamon – Creates a sense of prosperity and joviality.  Some use it for business success, but I find it creates more of a personal confidence and comfortability than anything purely financial.
  • Allspice – Another success spice, but also good for stimulating conversation.  I like to vacuum with cinnamon and allspice sprinkled on the carpets before guests come over to encourage a warm, friendly atmosphere.
  • Pine Needles – Good for uncrossing and refreshing a home.  Not a kitchen spice, of course, but still easily accessible.  Be careful though, as too many pine needles can gum up machinery (like vacuums) quickly!
  • Rosemary – Good for domestic bliss, as well as helping those who smell it focus and think clearly.
  • Oregano – Keeps meddlesome influences from interfering in your life.  Makes a nice “law-keep-away” substitute, and discourages nosy neighbors.
  • Garlic Skins – Kills off evil, but it will leave a distinctive odor in the air.
  • Rose Petals – Encourages love and passion when crumbled around the home and left for a bit before sweeping/vacuuming.
  • Salt – Great for stopping any hexes put upon you and removing unwanted spiritual energies from your home.  I use baking soda (a type of salt) sprinkled on carpets before vacuuming to both absorb odors and remove pesky curses.  Jim Haskins records a method of preventing unwanted guests from returning which simply involves sweeping salt after them when they leave.
  • Sugar – A little of this will add a sweetness to your home, though make sure you get it all and don’t use too much—a little sweetness may be great, but a lot of ants aren’t.

The basic method here is to sprinkle everything, let it sit for a bit (if you can stand letting it sit for 24 hours, that is lovely, but probably a little excessive—30 minutes is often plenty of time, and even a 5-minute wait will give you a quick dose of magic).

Mopping & Floor Washes – This is probably one of the best known hoodoo methods of cleansing, blessing, and enchanting a home.  Using a prepared magical floor wash to clean anything that can handle getting wet (including the walls) still makes for great spellwork.  Some of the most famous floor washes are (again from Lucky Mojo):

  • Chinese Wash – An old school formula which reputedly came out of Chinatown (though which Chinatown is not particularly clear).  It’s made from several powerful ingredients, many of which are found in Van Van (see below), with broom straws added for extra oomph.  Good for knocking out any hexes and doing purification work.
  • Van Van – We’ve covered this in Blog Post 81, but briefly this is a blend of several Asian grass extracts, chiefly lemongrass and vetiver root.  It, like Chinese Wash, cleanses and purifies.
  • Peace Water – When made in its most interesting form, peace water is beautiful to look at, with layers of blue and white/clear liquid on top of one another in a mesmerizing stasis.  When mixed up and sprinkled into a floor wash, this helps create feelings of calm, quiet, and tranquility in even very turbulent homes.
  • Rose Water – This very basic addition to a floor wash can be found in many ethnic grocery markets.  It’s not much more than a strong rose tea stabilized with alcohol, so you could easily make your own, but it’s also fairly cheap to buy.  When used in a floor wash, it helps promote feelings of love and agreement.

In addition to these specialty formulas, there are lots of common household cleaners you can use with a magical bent:

  • Pine-Sol – This commercial floor cleaner basically evolved out of hoodoo floor washes.  Cat Yronwode even suggests adding a little Van-Van to a bottle of Pine-Sol and using it as a simple substitute for Chinese Wash.  Traditional pine scent is great, of course, or you can go with…
  • Lemon Pine-Sol – Or any lemon-scented cleanser like it.  Lemons have a cut-and-clear effect on a space, and have long been associated with destroying curses and breaking hexes.  Charles Leland’s Aradia records an anti-evil-eye charm which is fundamentally a pomander made of a lemon and pins.  It leaves a lovely clean smell, too, though a fairly artificial one in most cleansers.  Feel free to add some fresh squeezed lemons to your mop bucket for a rootsier version of lemon-cleanser.
  • Ammonia Draja Mickaharic recommends a simple floor wash of ammonia and salt added to mop water, and it really makes a wonderful cleansing and protecting wash water.  It can really neutralize almost anything thrown at you, magically speaking, and it disinfects beautifully.  Mickaharic also recommends a little ammonia down every drain when you finish cleaning (just a teaspoon or so), to finish off your magical housecleaning.
  • Vinegar – Four Thieves Vinegar is popular as a counter-curse wash, and as a protective mix-in for a mop-water.  But really, any vinegar will help get rid of unwanted energies and protect the home from invaders and malicious forces.  If the scent is strong enough, it may protect you from visitors altogether.
  • Urine – This one is very traditional in hoodoo, though much frowned upon in modern use.  It has, however, been long used as a cleaning agent, and a little urine diluted in some mop water can be very powerful for “marking your territory” and protecting the home.  It can also instill a sense of good luck in the place, and ensure fidelity in your mate and passion from your lover.  If they don’t catch you doing it, of course.

There are lots of other cleaning agents out there that you can use, of course.  Almost anything scented probably has at least some tenuous connection to a magical formula, so a little homework can help you transform that bottle of Mop-N-Glo into a powerful apothecary’s potion.

Windows & Doors – You don’t do windows, you say?  Well, you should at least open them up!  Whenever you do a good house-cleansing, throwing up the windows and letting some fresh air circulate is vital to getting everything “right.”  It helps balance out all the forces in the home, allows bad spirits to leave, and refreshes the air in the house.  It’s cold to do this in winter, of course, but turning the heat off for 10 minutes and letting a little fresh air in can make all the difference in getting a home feeling good and happy again.  Likewise, the doors should be opened for a bit to let the air circulate.

When it comes to washing doors and windows, you can really use any of the same washes I talked about above in the Mopping & Floor Washes section.  You can also use a variety of other ingredients to get things right at all your entrances and exits.  For example, many folks take a little olive oil (or holy oil, which is basically blessed and sometimes lightly scented olive oil) and make a little sigil in the corner of every window, to seal that entrance against evil intrusions.  Some folks put blue bottles in the windows, or jars full of sand or marbles, in the hopes that any witches who might try to get in will be forced to count the contents of the container and be unable to do so before daybreak (when their power ends).  You can make a wash water of red brick dust, urine, and salt in warm water and use it to scrub your door to add a powerful layer of protection.  You can also sprinkle salt or brick dust lines down at the threshold and in the sills of every window to keep out unwanted spirits and spells.

Clearing the Air – Once the house has been aired out and all the windows and doors cleaned and opened for a while, some folks like to light some incense, use room sprays, or even just make a little something in the kitchen to add an element of magic to the home.  I’ve covered some of the holiday scents and their uses in Blog Post 108, and I’ve already mentioned pine and citrus scents as powerful agents for spiritual and physical cleansing.  Other odoriferous offerings to your home can include:

Fresh Bread – One of the best symbols of abundanace and prosperity.  Bake a loaf in your oven and let the scent fill the home.  Cookies are also good for this.

Floral Scents – Like jasmine, rose, or lavender.  All of these have specific uses, and add specific magical “vibrations” to an area (rose fragrances inspire love to many, for example), so look into the flowers you like and figure out what note they will set in your newly cleaned domicile.

Sweeteners – I did mention this in Blog Post 108, but I also said it’s a bit strong when burned.  If you are airing your house out, however, a little honey, brown sugar, molasses, or even table sugar might be a good thing to burn or warm on the stove, as it will provide a sublimely “sweet” feeling to the area.  Draja Mickaharic highly recommends this, and I can’t say I’m against it either.

Nailing It Down – This is a practice particular to conjure and hoodoo, though there are likely variants or similar practices in other magical systems.  The basic idea is that by pounding nails into your home’s corners (and the corners of your property), you fix it there and create a stable environment.  You also assert your ownership of the place, and help to guarantee your continued residence there.  The most commonly used nails for this are the “square-cut” kind, usually sold cheaply at hardware stores.  For doing the corners of your property, you would want to use something bigger, like old railroad spikes.  The basic idea is that you simply nail them into every corner of your home, particularly the ones along outside walls.  You can bless them with oil or holy water or anything else you feel is appropriate, or simply nail them down while saying a little prayer that you remain safe, happy, and comfortable in your home as long as the nails remain in place.  Remove them if you ever have to move away for any reason.

That’s a lot of cleaning!  But it’s always good to have a clean home, for both practical and spiritual reasons, so give some of these a go and see how they work for you!  And if you missed your New Year’s cleaning deadline, well, you can always do these things during your Spring cleaning, too.

I hope this has been useful!  Thanks for reading!

Oh, and Happy New Year!

-Cory

Blog Post 112 – 5…4…3…2… (New Year’s Traditions)

With one set of holidays just behind us, we still have a little more celebration left before the deep, dark, quiet winter sets in.  Today, I’ll be sharing some of the New Year’s traditions from North America (and to some extent, from around the world).  New Year’s has a lot of obvious components: a sense of rebirth, optimism, setting goals for improvement, and even a little romance.  Let’s look at some of the big traditions associated with this glittering and festive affair.

1)      Fireworks – These are a common component of New Year’s festivals worldwide, including the Chinese New Year which occurs later in the winter.  Aside from being a celebratory demonstration of light and wonder, the noise and fire from these explosives may serve to frighten away any lingering demons or bad spirits.  And, of course, they help keep everyone awake until the crucial midnight hour.  This also ties into other noise-making activities on New Year’s Eve, such as singing, banging cymbals, and other loud demonstrations of the party spirit.

In the Appalachians, this sometimes mixed with the mumming traditions of the Christmas season and became something known as a Shanghai Parade.  Gerald Milnes describes the practice in his book, Signs, Cures, & Witchery:

“The shanghai tradition once included music played on violins, flutes, horns, and drums in the Valley [of Greenbriar Co., West Virginia].  There is even a fiddle tune called ‘Shanghai’ that is known in West Virginia and may be connected to the shanghai ritual…people also cross-dress and put on exotic, mostly homemade costumes.  Reversal is a theme, and they generally whoop it up in the spirit of old midwinger revelry” (p. 192)

Jack Santino also describes similar uses of noise-makers, including guns, in his All Around the Year:  “In Hawaii, the custom involves the traditional beliefs of the native Hawaiians, who say that the fireworks scare off demons.  In Ohio, they are used as noisemakers, often instead of a gun, since ‘shooting in the New Year’ is the tradition” (p. 13).

2)      Kissing at Midnight – This tradition is related to others more regionally or culturally specific (such as “First Footing,” discussed below), but has become a broader practice among Occidental celebrants of the New Year.  The Snopes.com page on New Year’s superstitions has this to say on the subject:

“We kiss those dearest to us at midnight not only to share a moment of celebration with our favorite people, but also to ensure those affections and ties will continue throughout the next twelve months. To fail to smooch our significant others at the stroke of twelve would be to set the stage for a year of coldness.”

The idea of setting the stage for the coming year based on what one does on New Year’s Day ties into a lot of the other superstitions and customs related to this holiday.  With kissing, the idea seems to be that if you start the New Year off with someone you love, or at least by kissing someone attractive, you will invite positive romance into your life over the coming year.

3)       First Footing – To those of Scottish extraction, this is probably a very familiar practice.  The Scottish New Year is called Hogmany, and involves several key rituals, including house-cleaning, preparing traditional meals (see “New Year’s Food” below), and First Footing.  Sarah at Forest Grove has written an excellent entry on the Hogmany traditions, and describes First Footing thusly:

“First footing is a divinatory folk tradition where the first person who sets foot in your house in the wee hours of the New Year determines the luck and happenings of the year ahead. A man is preferred over a woman, and a man of dark hair and eye over a man of light hair and blue or green eyes. Redheads are especially unlucky to be the first to set foot across your threshold in some areas of Scotland.”

In some cases this practice requires that the first-footer be not of the household.  We received several pieces of lore in our Winter Lore Contest related to the New Year, including a bit about First Footing from listener/reader Akia: “Some of her [grandmother’s} holiday superstitions included: not letting anyone out of the house or enter until an unrelated male came into the house on New Years Day.”

4)      New Year’s Food – There are a lot of traditions about just what to eat on New Year’s Day.  Some of the most common components of a New Year’s meal are:

      • Black-Eyed Peas
      • Cabbage
      • Collard Greens
      • Ham or Pork
      • Lentils
      • Whiskey (or good, strong booze in general)
      • Potato Pancakes

Most of the foods associated with the New Year are related to prosperity and wealth in some way.  For instance, lentils and potato pancakes are shaped like coins.  Black-eyed peas have fertility and abundance going for them.  Cabbage and collards look like wads of bills waiting to be spent, etc.  Some folks recommend the addition of non-edible components to the meal, such as coins for prosperity.  Patrick W. Gainer says, “It will bring good luck if on New year’s Day you cook cabbage and black-eyed peas together and put a dime in them” (p.123).   Listener and podcaster Aria Nightengale shared her New Year’s food lore during our recent contest, saying, “[W]e always eat pork and cabbage on new year’s day.  According to my Momaw, we eat pork because pigs eat moving forward not backwards, so pork will help you move forward through the new year.  I don’t know the specific purpose of the cabbage…but Momaw cooks it with a silver dollar in it for prosperity.”

There’s a distinctly Southern dish called Hoppin’ John made from black-eyed peas, onions, and ham which can usually be found simmering away on most stovetops during the New Year.  It’s so important to our traditions that many restaurants also offer some version of it on New Year’s Day.  My wife and I have a tradition of going to one specific restaurant every year where we can get good potato pancakes and hoppin’ john to help bring in the New Year with a couple of our friends.  It makes for a nice way to spend the day, and ensures that we get our black-eyed pea requirement taken care of.

There are still many more traditions we could discuss (and I hope to!), such as cleaning practices, taboos, whether or not to give gifts, etc.  But for now, I hope this has been a nice introduction to the wonderfully lore-rich practices of New Year’s celebration.  Here’s wishing you a great day, and a great ending to the year!

All the best, and thanks for reading,

-Cory