- Lilith Dorsey’s Patheos blog is the best way to see her regular writing, and the article “Black Witches Talk Back” in response to the article in The Atlantic is a must-read companion to this episode.
- Dorsey has also written several books, including The African-American Ritual Cookbook and Love Magic: Over 250 Spells and Potions for Getting It, Keeping It, and Making It Last.
- We also mention Witchdoctor Utu, who we had on our show during the Great Lakes episode.
- We discuss several anthropologists whose work we find valuable, including Zora Neale Hurston, Maya Deren, and Margaret Mead.
- We mention Bri Luna (the Hoodwitch) and Chiquita Brujita in conjunction with the rising movement towards magical diversity and inclusion.
- Lilith mentions dancing for Dr. John, whose New Orleans music is a lot of fun to listen to
- We briefly touch upon the idea of sexual predation in neo-Pagan circles, a topic covered well by Sarah Lawless in some of her recent articles
I love a good summer peach. Or peach cobbler. Or homemade peach ice cream. And I can’t tell you how much I miss my mother’s homemade brandied peaches (which were amazing over some hand-churned vanilla). If you live in North America, it’s likely you’ve encountered peaches everywhere from grocery stores to roadside stands to neighbors’ backyards. They’re ubiquitous, which also means they’ve been a major player in the foodways of America.
Today I’m going to briefly look at the peach from another folkloric perspective, focusing on its relevance in magical lore as opposed to its purely culinary uses (though I imagine the two are not ever to be completely disentangled from one another).
The flesh of the peach is frequently regarded as a nearly sacred food in its homeland of China, where it is thought to aid immortality. The lore of the peach is extensive there, with every part of the tree and fruit making an appearance. Peach pits are worn as amulets to ward off demons, while blossoms are used to enhance love, luck, & beauty. Peaches are left in family shrines, and feature prominently in the literature and art of China. You can read a good deal more about the role of the peach in Chinese lore here and here.
Peaches were highly valued in places like the Appalachian Mountains, too. According to the third Foxfire book, one of the most common varieties was the Indian peach, a shrubby variety with small, firm peaches:
“Indian peaches are small trees, spreading with scraggly branches, said to be descendants of those trees planted by the Cherokees around their villages…The fruit of the Indian peach is white with a rosy cheek, white-meated with a red heart…All have a most delicious flavor, raw or cooked. Peaches are rich in iron, and peach leaf tea was a medicine for bladder troubles or used as a sedative” (Foxfire 3 303)
In North American folklore, all parts of the peach have their value as well. In Folk Medicine in Southern Appalachia, one of the author’s informants says this of the peach tree: “The peach tree was justifiably described by herbalist Tommie Bass of northern Alabama as ‘a drugstore on its own’ in recognition of its many medicinal uses” (Cavender 64-5). Below you’ll see a sampling of the many different magical and/or medicinal uses of the peach and its parts:
- “A baby that refuses to come can be brought at once and the labor pains will stop, if the woman drinks tea made from bark scraped downwards off a young peach tree.” (Hyatt #2972) Hyatt also states in several other places that peach branches were used to help bring a baby into the world by magical means.
- “Peach tree root or bark was also commonly used [to treat diarrhea]” (Cavender 88)
- Peach wood can be used in a magical cure for warts by cutting as many notches in a peach branch as one has warts (Thomas #1493) (see also “Leaves”)
- Peach wood is one of the reputed choices for making dowsing forks, according to many sources (Thomas #105; Brunvand 432, Steiner 271, Randolph 83)
- Ozark lore specifies that peach bark scraped upward prevents vomiting and/or diarrhea, but scraped downward it is a strong emetic (Randolph 95)
- “A mess of peach roots, ground up and mixed with lard, is said to cure the seven-year itch” (Randolph 109)
- A piece of Kentucky lore states that twinned peaches found together indicate that you will be married soon (Thomas #593)
- Eating a peach pecked by a bird is said to lead to poisoning (Steiner 267)
- John George Hohman mentions the use of “peach-stones” as a cure for “gravel” (kidney stones). He attests to it especially because it cured him of his own gravel (Long-Lost Friend #84)
- Hohman attests that peach pits can also be taken to remedy drunkenness (#185)
- The seeds reputedly can help stimulate hair growth in some people (Todd 55)
- Vance Randolph describes an Ozark love charm consisting of a carved peach stone filled with “some pinkish, soap-like material” which he could not identify (Randolph 166)
- Both Randolph and Newbell Niles Puckett mention the peach-pit charm as a powerful one, akin to the lucky rabbit’s foot charm (Puckett 437)
- Peach leaves were thought to be a Colonial-era cure for worms (Black 199)
- Cat Yronwode mentions using dried peach leaves in wisdom oil blends to help students focus on studies (HHRM 143)
- Kentucky lore says that rubbing warts with peach-leaves, then burying them will remove warts (Thomas #1492)
- The leaves were frequently made into a poultice, which could be used to treat headaches, bruises, and “pumpknots (bumps caused by a blow or knock to the head)” (Cavender 98, 109)
- One of the Foxfire informants recommended a peach leave poultice mixed with salt and cornmeal to treat an abscessed tooth (Foxfire 9 70).
- Herbalist Jude C. Todd recommends the use of peach leaves as a part of a dandruff treatment (Todd 53)
- Hohman says that “The flowers of the peach-tree, prepared like salad, opens the bowels, and is of use in the dropsy” (Long-Lost Friend #185)
- Hohman also recommends the use of the flowers as a cure for worms and constipation (#185)
- Girls in the Ozarks pierce their ears when peaches are in bloom, believing that piercing them any other time will lead to infection (Randolph 164)
Vance Randolph has a great bit of lore regarding the planting of peaches as well:
“In planting peach trees, it is always well to bury old shoes or boots near the roots. Not far from Little Rock, Arkansas, I have known farmers to drive into town and search the refuse piles for old shoes to be buried in peach orchards. The older and more decayed the leather, the better it works as fertilizer” (Randolph 39)
From my own perspective, I really like the dowsing power of the peach, but I also have a great fondness for the carved peach pit charms. They seem like they would be beautiful and incognito ways of carrying natural amulets about on one’s person. I can also easily see using the flesh of a peach like the flesh of an apple, carving things into it before eating to absorb those qualities. The peachy pulp, which bears such a strong resemblance in so many ways to human flesh, also suggests a use as a makeshift dolly. When the “heart” of the peach, its stone, is considered, this is likely a very apt application of magic to the rosy-golden fruit.
I thought I’d finish up today with something non-magical, but which certainly has an enchanting power: brandied peaches like my mother used to make (I sadly do not have her exact recipe anymore, so the one I’m sharing is adapted from the excellent Putting Food By, by Greene, Herzberg, & Vaughan). We used to have a spoonful of these over ice cream after dinner sometimes, and they were simply otherworldly. They’re not as sweet as you might think, but that’s part of their charm. Plus, you can’t go wrong with a little booze in your dessert. I hope you enjoy!
Peaches (1 lb.)
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
Whole cloves (optional)
Whole cinnamon sticks (optional)
Clean & dry your one-pint canning jars. Score skin of peaches, then blanch them in boiling water and dunk them into an ice bath. Slip the skins off and slice the peaches into halves and quarters (removing stones).
Make a simple syrup by boiling the cup of sugar with the water. Cook the peaches in the sugar syrup for about 5 minutes, then transfer peaches into individual jars. To each jar add 1-3 cloves (optional), 1 cinnamon stick (optional), and 2-3 tablespoons of brandy. Seal jars and process in a hot water bath for about 20-25 minutes, then carefully remove the jars and allow them to seal.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this look at peaches. If you have any other ideas about using peaches in magic, please leave them in here or drop us a line.
Thanks for reading!
Greetings blog subscribers (and casual readers, too)!
When I first stumbled on today’s gorgeous botanical subject in the hilly areas around Chattanooga, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The passionflower is one of the most outlandish, garish, over-the-top, and beautiful blooms I’ve encountered in the wild. It looks as thought it would be more at home in a tropical nursery than growing in the foothills of the Appalachians, and yet this clinging vine with big, showy blossoms is right at home among sweetgum trees, sassafras, and tulip poplars.
The flower is sort of ‘leveled,’ with a base of beautiful petals which come in vibrant colors like purple and pink upon which rest elevated pistils and soaring stamens in a delicate (and highly symbolic) pattern. The passionflower goes by several names, including the maypop, herb of the Cross, and maracuja. The latter name comes from Spanish-speaking localities in which the twining vine blooms, and the flower has definitely found a home in the folklife of Hispanic herbalists. But before I get ahead of myself with all of that, let’s look briefly at some of the Old World lore about this lovely bit of flora.
Here’s a description of how the passionflower got its name, from perennial (pardon the pun) favorite, T. F. Thiselton-Dyer’s The Folk-lore of Plants:
“The passion-flower has been termed Holy Rood flower, and it is the ecclesiastical emblem of Holy Cross Day, for, according to the familiar couplet:—
‘The passion-flower long has blow’d
To betoken us signs of the Holy Rood.’ (CH XVII)”
“A plant closely connected by tradition with the crucifixion is the passion-flower. As soon as the early Spanish settlers in South America first glanced on it, they fancied they had discovered not only a marvellous symbol of Christ’s passion, but received an assurance of the ultimate triumph of Christianity. Jacomo Bosio, who obtained his knowledge of it from certain Mexican Jesuits, speaks of it as ‘the flower of the five wounds,’ and has given a very minute description of it, showing how exactly every part is a picture of the mysteries of the Passion. ‘It would seem,’ he adds, ‘as if the Creator of the world had chosen it to represent the principal emblems of His Son’s Passion; so that in due season it might assist, when its marvels should be explained to them, in the condition of the heathen people, in whose country it grew.’”  (CH XIX)
The passionflower naturally fits into a schema of religious botany, then, and would seem to be a sort of pinnacle representation of the Doctrine of Signatures, which essentially states that every plant (or creatrure, for that matter) bears certain visual, olfactory, or other cues indicating what the divine intends us to do with it.
Medicinally, this plant has a powerful sedative effect, though not one so strong as something like valerian root. This can be seen as a sort of ‘peace,’ bestowed by the plant as its creator would bestow divine peace. You can read a good bit about its medicinal qualities here and here, where they are able to get much more into the hows and whys of passionflower’s sedative effects. [Though I will note here, as I always do, THIS IS NOT A MEDICAL BLOG, AND I DO NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. PLEASE CONSULT YOUR PHYSICIAN FOR MEDICAL INFORMATION ABOUT HERBS, SUPPLEMENTS, OR ANY OTHER TREATMENTS YOU ARE CONSIDERING].
Moving into passionflower’s magical side, there is surprisingly little to do with its ability to inspire religious faith, offer any kind of divine protection, or even be used as a decoration on altars to holy saints, which greatly surprises me. I would think those uses would be nearly the first use I’d put them to, but wiser workers than I would note that passionflower’s real power is not just in its blossom, but in its less showy bits: the tangly and highly clinging vine which supports the gorgeous floral display.
Cat Yronwode describes the passionflower as an ingredient in the Chuparrosa (or “hummingbird” in Spanish) charm, which is used to foster feelings of love and attachment (hence the clinging-vine quality):
“Dried Passion Flower leaves or pieces of the root may be carried in a red flannel bag dressed with Love Me Oil. Mexicans are known to add such a bag a charm to the Divine Hummingbird, or Chuparrosa. In the old days this would have been dried hummingbird heart, but it is illegal to kill hummingbirds or to possess their body parts in some states now—and with good reason, as the birds are under tremendous habitat destruction pressure from human beings. A metal charm of a hummingbird sewn to the bag or carried inside will do just as well” (Hoodoo Herb & Root Magic, 142)
Beyond its love-bringing and binding qualities, the flower also seems to bring feelings of peace and contentment between lovers and members of a household, likely due to its soporific effects in its medical applications.
In Latin American countries, the passionflower has similar applications, including use as a love-binder and spiritual sedative. It’s also used in a Brazilian floral horoscope, where it represents the month of June. Again, I’m surprised at its limited appeal as a holy or divine flower, as I think it would likely be an excellent addition to offering altars to Marian incarnations or to do work with Jesus in various forms. But that’s merely speculation on my part, so I digress.
If you’ve had any experiences, magical or otherwise, with this amazing bloom, we’d love to hear about them! Feel free to leave a comment below or email us if you know more about this beautiful, intriguing addition to American flora.
Thanks for reading!
Really, this entry should be called “pins & needles & spikes & nails & all other kinds of spiky things,” but that would have been an overly long title, so I’m standing by my choice. What I’ll be looking at today are folkloric occurrences of piercing devices as magical tools. This will probably overlap a bit with my entry on iron, but I’ll attempt to cover more new ground than old.
Probably one of the first things to come to mind when looking at sharp-and-pointy things is the popular “voodoo doll,” which is essentially a European-style poppet. These poppets are stuffed with botanicals, curious, dirt, rags, and/or personal items from the intended target and then manipulated to control him or her. Films and television frequently portray only harmful magic being done through these dolls, but a witch or conjurer can also use them to cast love spells, healing spells, or even health and wellness spells. I’ll probably try to do a separate entry on doll magic another time, but it’s worth a mention here, too, I think.
There are some African roots to the voodoo doll phenomenon, including the minkisi minkondi, which were little wooden dolls from Kongo where spirits were thought to live. The doll’s owner would drive a spike into it to “provoke the forces within them” and then the owners would be able to command the spirit to perform certain tasks (Chireau, Black Magic: Religion & the African American Conjuring Tradition). Other cultures have certainly used small effigies of human beings to cause hurt or help, as well. Denise Alvarado has a book which examines these dolls in detail, including a look at corn dollies, fetishes, Greek kolossoi, and other similar magical poppets.
Of course pins and other sharp objects can be used to cause magical harm even without the use of a doll (which makes sense according to the Doctrine of Signatures, which has tremendous influence on much folk magic). Zora Neale Hurston recorded a sinister curse which involved taking nine new pins and nine new needles and boiling them in a nefarious formula called “Damnation Water” in order to cross one’s enemy (Hurston, Hoodoo in America). An old-world carry-over (likely from England, but found in Southern communities where conjure is common) says that burying a pin taken from the clothes of a living person with a dead person will cause the target to die within a year (William G. Black, Folk Medicine).
Probably the most One of the more gruesome application of pin-and-needle magic had little to do with the magical effects of these tools, and all too much to do with their physical dangers: “One instance is given [in an account from 1895] of ‘toad heads, scorpion heads, hair, nine pins and needles baked in a cake and given to a child who became deathly sick’” (“Conjuring and Conjure-Doctors in the Southern United States,” Journal of American Folklore, p. 143). Curing magical maladies often involved finding pins used in spellwork and disposing of them in a ritual way: “He went at once to the hearth, took up a brick, and found sticking in a cloth six pins and needles. He took them up, put salt on them, and threw them in the river. The needles and pins were said to be the cause of so many pains”( “Conjuring…”, JAF, p.145).
A number of ‘Shut-up’ spells—tricks that involve tying the tongue of a gossip or potential witness against you in court—involve taking a slit tongue from an animal like a cow or sheep, packing it with hot peppers, vinegar, and/or salt along with the name paper of the target, and pinning it up with a number of pins and needles (usually nine, but not infrequently more).
Not all piercing spells used metal points. An account of Clara Walker, a former slave from Arkansas, describes her getting help from a rootworker who made a mud effigy of her master and ran a thron through the back of it, causing severe back pain in him (Chireau, Black Magic…)
Pins and needles needn’t be solely used in malicious work, however. A healing spell from England resembles wart charms in Appalachia and some of the rootworker cures from Hyatt’s Folklore of Adams County, requiring pins that have been used to poke or pierce a wart to be sealed in a bottle and buried in a newly-dug grave (Black, Folk Medicine). An account of a mojo bag from the days of slavery tells of “a leather bag containing ‘roots, nuts, pins and some other things,’ which was given to [the slave] by an old man” (Chireau, Black Magic…). The purpose of this bag was to prevent whippings on the plantation where the slave toiled, which could be quite severe.
Pins are also frequently used in witch-bottle spells, which cover a number of different magical traditions, including this version from hoodoo: “Bottles of pungent liquids, pins, and needles were interred by practitioners or strung on trees as a snare for invisible forces” (Chireau, Black Magic…). It would be an egregious error of me not to at least mention coffin nails, too, which are frequently applied in hoodoo and conjure preparations. Usually these are used to inscribe candles with signs, figures, names, etc., but they can also be included in things like war water mixtures or mojo bags to cause hurt and violence. Interestingly, they can be used for protection and health, too. Binding two or four nails into a cross with a little wire or red thread creates a powerful anti-evil charm. Vance Randolph recorded that “nails taken from a gallows [not the same as coffin nails, but rather similar] are supposed to protect a man against venereal disease and death by violence” (OM&F). He also describes these nails being turned into rings by blacksmiths to be worn as protective amulets.
Another hoodoo application involves the use of a series of nails of increasing size, starting with little ‘brad’ nails and getting progressively bigger until you use railroad spikes at the end. The spell is often referred to as “nailing down the house” and requires a practitioner to start by putting the small brads into the corner of each room, and nailing them down, while speaking magic words about protection, prosperity, and stability. Then the conjurer takes bigger nails and nails down the four corners of the house, again praying the magic words. This pattern continues until the conjurer reaches the four corners of the property and nails down iron railroad spikes into the dirt, thus sealing the home from harm and ensuring that the owner will remain in the home and not be evicted. I’ve heard one rootworker say that adding a little urine to each of the nails helps with this work, too, as a way of “marking one’s territory.”
Sewing needles or hairpins can also be used in love spells, as in these from Adams County, Illinois:
- 9641. The significance of a bending needle is a hug for the sewer.
- 9650. If a girl tries on a dress pinned for a fitting, each pin catching in her petticoat or slip will represent a kiss before the day is over.
- 9654. Before going to bed on January 21, a girl may tear off a row of pins (from a new package according to some) , say Let me see my future husband tonight as she pulls out each pin, and then stick them in the sleeve of her nightgown; that night he will be seen in her dream.
- 9655. If a pin found on the floor or street is picked up and stuck in your coat, you will have a date before the week ends.
- 9656. The girl who finds and picks up a pin pointing toward her will see her beau that day.
- 9657. A girl finding and picking up a pin will be dated that night; the man will come from the direction towards which the pin points.
- 9666. For luck in love a girl may secretly put one of her hairpins in her beau’s left hip pocket; this is also supposed to hold him.
- 9669. If while walking along you pick up a large safety pin and name it a man you want to see, he will soon be seen; if a small safety pin and
- name it a girl, she will soon be seen.
The binding power of pins in love spells makes a good bit of sense, and seems deeply entrenched in popular culture; think of high-schoolers being “pinned” (an antiquated notion, I know) or of the description of Cupid shooting arrows or darts to cause romantic feelings in his victim…er..targets. Amorous magic incorporating prickly things is not all lettermen jackets and floating nekkid babies, however. A somewhat heavier love spell from Zora Neale Hurston prevents a lover from straying:
Use six red candles. Stick sixty pins in each candle – thirty on each side. Write the name of the person to be brought back three times on a small square of paper and stick it underneath the candle. Burn one of these prepared candles each night for six nights. Make six slips of paper and write the name of the wanderer once on each slip. Then put a pin in the paper on all four sides of the name. Each morning take the sixty pins left from the burning of the candle. Then smoke the slip of paper with the four pins in it in incense smoke and bury it with the pins under your door step. The piece of paper with the name written on it three times (upon which each candle stands while burning) must be kept each day until the last candle is burned. Then bury it in the same hole with the rest. When you are sticking the pins in the candles, keep repeating:
‘Tumba Walla, Bumba Walla, bring (name of person desired) back to me.’ (Hurston, Hoodoo in America)
There are several agricultural spells which involve driving iron nails or spikes into trees to prevent fruit from dropping off of it (see Randolph, Hyatt, etc.). There’s a lovely bit of distinctly American folklore that says two iron nails driven into your bat will make you a better batter (in the game of baseball, that is).
Finally, I wanted to share an adorably sweet childhood rhyme does not use actual pins, but merely the words as part of a wishing spell performed when two people accidentally speak the same words at the same time. From Hyatt’s Folklore of Adams Co.:
8643. After two persons speak the same thing at the same time, the little finger of the one is held crooked about the little finger of the other and these words spoken alternately:
When a man marries,
His troubles begin,
What goes up the chimney,
They then make a wish and together say Thumbs.
I know there are dozens more applications of pins-and-pokey-bits magic I am not listing here, but hopefully this gives you some idea of what you can do with a simple sewing needle or a couple of iron nails. Magical tools are everywhere, if you know what you’re looking for, and how to use them. But for now, I’ve waxed on long enough about this topic, so let’s stick a pin in it and call it done.
Thanks for reading!
In marble walls as white as milk,
Lined with skin as soft as silk,
Within a crystal fountain clear,
A golden apple doth appear.
No doors there are to this stronghold
Yet thieves break in to steal the gold (from “Riddles,” American Folklore: An Encyclopedia, p. 1318)
This riddle (a variant of which appears in Tolkien’s The Hobbit during Bilbo’s riddle-game with Gollum) probably isn’t very hard to figure out. Eggs are one of the food staples which exist nearly worldwide, and almost every culture has traditions dealing with eggs. They are cooked, painted, dyed, emptied and filled with dioramas, and the shells are even ground up and added to the soil to prevent garden pests.
Today we’re going to look a little at some of the magical traditions surrounding eggs, particularly the ones we find in the New World.
Much of the lore about eggs has to do with their production or bewitchment, such as these tidbits (from Folklore of Adams Co. Illinois, by Harry M. Hyatt):
- 1772. Hit a hen on the back and she will lay an egg.
- 1773. A hen never lays eggs near a potato patch.
- 1774. Eggs are not laid by hens on a windy day.
- 1823. If you set a hen in the dark of the moon, half of the chicks hatched will be deformed.
- 1824. Set a hen at sunrise in the light of the moon and all the eggs will hatch.
- 1825. If you set a hen to hatch in the light of the moon, more of the eggs will be hatched.
- 1848. To procure chickens of different colors, set the eggs on Sunday morning as the congregation leaves church; the various colors in the clothing of the church-goers produces this result.
- 1849. Chickens of various colors are procured by setting the eggs on Ash Wednesday.
- 1892. For white diarrhea among chickens [sometimes believed to be caused by witchcraft], drop a piece of iron into their drinking water and also let them eat corn saturated with urine.
Eggs are frequently used to heal magical illnesses or to help with prophetic work. John George Hohman records several uses of eggs in magic among the Pennsylvania Dutch, including a method for curing “falling away,” a folk sickness characterized by physical weakness, by boiling an egg, putting three holes in the shell, and then leaving it on an anthill to be devoured. A common belief among several traditions says that eggs left in the hands of a murder victim will compel the murder to return and be caught before the eggs rot. A bit of folklore related to Midsummer festivals (which may be from Latin American or Slavic sources, as the book is unclear to which culture it is referring): “In one divination, a girl seeks her betrothed by reading the shape of a egg white in a glass of water; in another, the index is a wreath floated on a stream” (“Solstices,” Amer. Folklore: An Encyclopedia, p. 1412). This seems to be related to a more general set of European folklore focused on St. John’s Day and Midsummer Eve, such as this ritual from Madeira:
On St. John’s eve at ‘Ave Maria’ the village maidens in Madeira try their fortunes in various ways. They take a newly laid egg, break it in a tumbler of cold water, and place it out of doors in a secluded place. Should the white rise in lines that in any way represent a ship, they will soon take a voyage. If it at all resembles a house, it means marriage and settling down. If a coffin or tombstone, it means death (Ecyc. of Superstitions, Folklore & the Occult Sciences, by Cora L.M. Daniels, p. 1551)
This practice may sound familiar, as it is very similar to the curandero method of egg reading done during a limpia, or spiritual cleansing. In that process (which I touched on briefly in Blog Post 137 – Curandero Spells, part I), an egg is used to rub and mark a person’s body in order to cleanse them of curses, witchcraft, bad luck, and general spiritual illness. An Ozark superstition says that if a man eats owl eggs it will cure him of alcoholism (this is not recommended, especially due to the potential environmental damage it could cause).
Eggs can also be used to cause harm as well as to cleanse it. Newbell N. Puckett records that among Southern African Americans eggs put into a couple’s bed will cause them to quarrel and fight (perhaps because they smash the eggs and get into a row about who’s going to clean it up?). A curious German method recorded by Harry M. Hyatt uses “a glass of salt water that will hold an egg up”and a picture of a person (usually a former lover). The egg is floated in the glass, the picture put upside down over it, and the water swirled around while making a wish for ill (or good, if the conjurer is so inclined) fortune for the person (Folklore of Adams Co., 16006). Hyatt also records that a witch can give a person a ‘gift’ of three eggs in order to curse them. In his extensive masterwork on folk magic (Hoodoo-Conjuration-Witchcraft-Rootwork), Hyatt records a number of other curses using eggs, including using buzzard’s eggs to cause someone harm or this spell, which allegedly forces a straying spouse to be faithful:
WRITE YOUR HUSBAND’S NAME
AND THE NAME OF THE WOMAN HE’S FOOLING AROUND WITH
ON AN EGG.
THROW THE EGG AWAY FROM YOU
IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER,
AGAINST THE EAST CORNER OF YOUR HOUSE.
DO THIS FOR NINE CONSECUTIVE MORNINGS,
AND THAT AFFAIR WILL BE OVER.
Yes, ah learnt dis on chicken aigs. Yo’ take a aig, if a woman is runnin’ wit yore husband, an’ yo’ git chew a aig an’ bust a aig fo’ nine mawnin’s – an’ write dere names on dat aig – an’ bust de aig in [the] east fo’ nine mawnin’s. Throw it away from yo’ “In the Name of the Father” in de east – in de cornah of de house fo’ nine mawnin’s. Dat bust ’em up an’ yo’ nevah will be bothahed wit ’em no mo’ – yo’ won’t have tuh worry. Jes’ write dere names on dose aigs an’ bust ’em fo’ nine mawnin’s – yeah one each mawnin’.
(Whose house do you bust that on, your own house?)
Yore own house, yeah.
(Despite the ‘on’ of my question, these eggs are broken inside the house. This is a rite to separate a man and woman, not to make someone move from a house. The eggs are busted against the wall, thrown away from you so that the dangerous substance will not spatter on you.)
[Memphis, TN; A lady who once worked in Louisiana; Informant #1419. D15:3-D23:6 = 2698-2706.] (Vol. 2, p.1581)
Eggshells also have magical uses completely on their own and apart from their high-protein filling. A curious southern tradition involves using eggs as a method to deter predators from killing young chickens on a farm: “Hawks may be kept from catching your chickens by sticking a poker in the fire; by threading eggshells, from which chickens have recently hatched, on a piece of straw (or putting them in a covered tin bucket) and hanging them in the chimney” (Puckett, Folk Beliefs…, p.323). Vance Randolph records that a tea made from “toasted egg shells in water” was taken by a girl near Forsyth, Missouri, for ailments unknown, but likely related to stomach issues. And I would be much remiss if I didn’t mention the magical ingredient of cascarilla, or powdered eggshell, which is used in Santeria/Lukumi as well as a few other traditions. It is usually sold in little paper cups (though it is not hard to produce yourself if you just wash and save your eggshells from a few breakfasts), and used to ward off evil and occasionally to draw sigils for ritual work.
Dreaming of eggs is supposed to be good luck, indicating everything from monetary gain to a wedding or children on the horizon. Traditions conflict about whether the eggs must be whole or broken to indicate good news, with convincing arguments presented on both sides (a fragile relationship situation—such as one affected by a lover’s quarrel–could be deemed finished by dreaming of broken eggs, or the possession of whole eggs might mean wealth, for instance). Randolph records this tidbit about the use of eggs to produce prophetic dreams:
Sometimes a mountain damsel boils an egg very hard, then removes the yolk and fills the cavity with salt. Just before bedtime she eats this salted egg. In the night, according to the old story, she will dream that somebody fetches her a gourd filled with water. The man who brings her the water is destined to be her husband. It is surprising how many young women have tried this, and how many feel that there may be something in it (Ozark Magic & Folkore, p. 174)
While this method seems popular, I think it would probably not be good for anyone’s blood pressure.
Wow, that’s a lot of material about eggs! And I’ve only scratched the surface here. There are so many more superstitions, spells, and sayings about eggs that I couldn’t begin to cover them all. So I’ll just recommend that if you want a good, easily available household tool for magic, you just can’t beat the humble egg. Hm, speaking of beaten eggs, I wonder if there are any magical meringues out there?
Thanks for reading!
-SHOWNOTES FOR EPISODE 24-
Tonight’s show is all about the love…magic! We discuss different types of love spells, the ethics of casting them, the power of scent to inspire love, and the famous Love Potion #9.
Download: New World Witchery – Episode 24
Earth Power – Scott Cunningham
Ozark Magic & Folklore – Vance Randolph
Mules & Men and “Hoodoo in America” – Zora Neale Hurston
Voodoo & Hoodoo – Jim Haskins
Witches, Ghosts, & Signs – Patrick W. Gainer
Buying the Wind – Richard Dorson
The Voodoo Hoodoo Spellbook – Denise Alvarado
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.
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
- (the preceding from Richard Dorson’s Buying the Wind)
- 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.
- (the preceding from Patrick W. Gainer’s Witches, Ghosts, & Signs)
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).
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!