Blog Post 35 – Questions to a Braucher, Part I

Greetings, all!

This week, we’re very lucky to be able to host a new article by the rather brilliant author of The Red Church, Chris Bilardi.  The article will be put up in two parts over two days.  It’s a thoughtful and well-composed question-and-answer session from a traditional Pow-wow practitioner’s (or braucher’s) perspective.  If you enjoyed my introduction to Pow-wow series, have been looking for straight answers on the magical traditions of the Pennsylvania Germans, or just have an interest in folk magic and healing in general, I think you’re in for a real treat.

Now, without further delay, the article:

Questions to a Braucher

Below is a list of questions regarding the present-day practice of Pennsylvania German Braucherei, or otherwise known as Pow-Wow.

How does one find a braucher nearby and contact them?

Traditionally, one finds a braucher by word of mouth. Prior to the so-called York “Hex Murder” of the braucher Nelson Rehmeyer in 1928, there were many full-time, professional powwowers who hung out a shingle and advertised. After Rehmeyer’s murder, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania began a sever crackdown on the practice of braucherei. With that stated, it must be said that even prior to the shocking events of 1928, most practitioners did not advertise, charge, or hang out a ‘shingle’ that they were in practice. In fact, the norm was, and still is, that of the private individual, the knowledge of whose powwowing activity is passed by word of mouth, and who practices mainly among family, friends, friends of friends, and so-on. At this point, there are still very few publically known powwow doctors. One who wishes to go to one must still keep an ear to the ground, and then make discrete inquiries. Pennsylvania Dutchmen tend to be shy (or even in some cases hostile) when the subject is broached. These reactions are a mixture of embarrassment (for fear of being seen as “backward”), and disbelief (such as some who see the practice as devil’s work, or just superstitious nonsense). It would also be accurate to say that there are many ethnic Dutchmen today who have never heard of powwowing. Reticence on speaking of a known powwower is also a way of protecting a practitioner’s privacy (and ensuring their safety).

What kind of services does a braucher perform?

What services one can get depends upon the individual practitioner. The way it tends to work is like this: each powwower finds that s/he is particularly good at one sort of activity, and then specializes in that type of activity. For example, some are only good at removing warts; others have a knack for getting rid of inflammations, and so on. There are others who will try their hand at any sort of powwowing with the belief that it does not hurt give it a whirl. Some types of powwowing, such as I was taught, in a way fall into the latter category; in this case, there is only one method that is applicable to all conditions. Services have traditionally included any of the following: pain-relieve, inflammatory problems, colic, fever, warts and other lesions, folk-illnesses such as abnemmes or opnema (“the take off” – a wasting disease), aagewachse (“Livergrown”) and rotlaufa (which falls under red inflammatory conditions); also sore throats, heart disease, persistent cough, and any other physical ailment one can think of. Some brauchers believe that they cannot ‘try’ for congenital illnesses, only those acquired throughout life. Other services can include the preparation of charms and talismans, such as the himmelsbrief or a “fire and pestilence letter” (both are written talismans that bless and ward away illness, evil spirits and catastrophes).  Some brauchers are also exorcists; they have the ability to banish ghosts, hauntings, and demonic entities. The reasoning behind these activities is that all Christians are called by Christ to do these things to the glory of God and the good of His children. Not the least of this sort of activity is the breaking of a ferhext (cursed) condition, and the destruction of all acts of witchcraft. Some powwowers have “the sight” and are able to foretell events and find lost objects.

Is this stuff witchcraft?

Short answer: no. Long answer: it depends upon what a person thinks “witchcraft” is. Braucherei is a spiritual, energetic folk practice or modality of healing; traditionally, hexerei (i.e. “witchcraft”) has always been seen as a harmful practice. This is not the witchcraft of Neo-Paganism, or Wicca. The hexe was seen as one whose main purpose for existing was to make life miserable for others: “far die leid gwele”. Fundamentally, hexerei is an abuse of spiritual power. To some people braucherei with all of its seemingly ‘odd’ prayers, hand movements, herbs, and mysterious objects is nothing but dyed-in-the-wool witchery.   For the Neo-Pagan it looks from the outside like what they’ve come to know as “witchcraft”; for the Christian who is turned off by powwow, it equally looks from the outside as what they’ve been told witchcraft is supposed to look like. The common denominator in both of these superficial views is powwow’s “shamanistic” approach to the spiritual world. One of the reasons that Dutchmen have been cautious about helping others get involved in powwow is the very real danger of someone getting tangled up with black magic. It is far too easy for a poorly trained person to use their new-found knowledge abusively. Powwow does demand a good degree of spiritual discernment.

Does one need to pay for braucherei treatment?

Another short answer: no. Unfortunately, there is a long answer here too. In the past there were practitioners (the “professionals” with their shingles hanging outside) that did charge a set fee for healing, despite claiming that their power came “from Jesus”.  Some readers of this article will doubtlessly know of some folk healing traditions that demand the exchange of money (“crossing the palm with silver”) in order for it to work. In no uncertain terms, please understand that braucherei is not one of these traditions. By tradition, if one goes to a powwow doctor, s/he might leave a donation. The powwower will not ask for a donation. I was taught that a person can leave some money underneath the powwower’s Bible. Some practitioners will, in turn, not keep this money, but donate it to their church or to a charity.  As I made note of in The Red Church, there are some activities to which there are legitimate charges, such as the creation of a himmelsbrief or fire and pestilence letter – especially if it entails calligraphic fraktur work. In other words, any activity that demands the time and resources of the powwower can be legitimately charged to the client. However, the bulk of a powwower’s time is spent in healing work, and one is to never charge for healing. It is God who is the real doctor on these occasions, and no human being can take credit (or remuneration) for that work.

That’s it for Part I.  Tomorrow I’ll put up the rest of the article, which will deal a little more with the philosophy of the practice, and advice on getting started.

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

Podcast 6 – Hoodoo and an Interview with Conjure-man Papa Toad Bone

-SHOWNOTES FOR EPISODE 6-

Summary
In this episode, we discuss hoodoo and rootwork, particularly our experiences with it.  Then we have an interview with esteemed conjurer Papa Toad Bone.

Play:

Download:  New World Witchery – Episode 6

-Sources-

Websites
Lucky Mojo Co. – A site with lots of hoodoo information
Toad’s Bone Apotheca – Our guest’s marvelously funky and fantastic online curio shop
Mississippi Cunning + Conjure – A forum space for those interested in Southern magic and Traditional sorcery
Scarespite – A repository of Traditional Witchcraft and Sorcerous folklore

Promos & Music

Title music:  “Homebound,” by Jag, from Cypress Grove Blues.  From Magnatune.
Promo 1-Inciting a Riot Podcast
Promo 2- Druidcast
Promo 3- Podcast Appalachia

Blog Post 33 – A Hoodoo Starter Kit (Intro, Part V)

For my final post this week, I’m putting up my idea of what a beginning rootworker might want to have on hand.  Think of it as a sort of “first aid kit” for getting your hands dirty in hoodoo.  This is only my opinion, by the way, so your mileage may vary according to different conjure practices.  If you have any questions, please feel free to email me or to add a comment to this blog page and I’ll do my best to answer them.  Now, onto the kit!

Candles – I keep lots of these on hand, in several different sizes.  They’re good for doing most types of simple jobs where all that’s required is a quick dressing and a little time to burn them.  You can use color correspondences, if you like, but I find plain white (or beeswax candles with a  golden tint to them) work just fine for me.

Candlesticks/Holders (at least two) – I say at least two because you never know when you’ll need to burn for two things at the same time (say a separation working and then a protection one to help a woman in a bad relationship get out safely and stay safe).  There are some candle burnings, too, where progressively moving the candles closer together or further apart is part of the job being done.

High John root(s) and/or oil – This is the quintessential hoodoo root.  It’s small, brown, and not very impressive to look at, but man it packs a punch.  Anything that needs extra potency can benefit from High John.  There are plenty of folks who simply carry one in their pocket, feeding it regularly with whiskey or oil, to help them always be performing at their best, whatever they do.

Small assortment of condition oils – If I’m being really 100% honest, you don’t need these the way you might need other things on this list.  And you can certainly make your own versions of them rather than buying them from a store.  I like to have some of the basics on hand (especially Van Van and Fiery Wall) because it’s easy to dress a candle with them and do a quick burning, or to dress a mojo bag with them quickly.

Uncrossing – This one’s great for removing hexes and jinxes.
Attraction – Can draw love, money, luck, and other positive things into your life.
Van Van – This oil is a general use oil, good at removing obstacles, increasing luck, finding love, and many other things.
Compelling/Commanding – If you intend to do this kind of work, these are good to have. Compelling makes your target do what they say they will do, and Commanding makes them do what you want.
Blessing – This one is important for cleansing and blessing homes, marriages, children, etc.
Fiery Wall of Protection – A vital oil if you want really good protection for a person or place.

Whiskey (or other alcohol) – When you feed your mojos or other work, the typical offering is whiskey.  It’s also a good offering for working with ancestors and spirits (though some Native American spirits do NOT like it, apparently).  Some who do not use alcohol in their magic will use oils or holy water instead.

Salt – Good for setting protective barriers, for use in spiritual baths (especially to remove harmful influences), and adding to certain jobs where you are trying to neutralize someone else’s work.

Pepper (black and red) – Both are used to make things “hot” for a target, and also in the Hot Foot jobs a rootworker may be called upon to do.  They can be used in other work, as well, particularly if you’re trying to make things “fiery” for any reason (protection, sex, etc.).

Four Theives Vinegar – This is a centuries-old formula and there’s no need to buy it.  Just take good quality cider vinegar (or wine vinegar if you prefer) and add black and red pepper, garlic, and mustard seeds, then let it sit in a dark place, shaking it daily.  After about two weeks, voila!, Four Thieves Vinegar.  There are variations on the recipe (I use rue in mine), so find one that works for you.  It’s good for protection and hexing jobs, and it tastes delicious on a salad!

Honey/Molasses/Sugar/etc. – This is for any kind of sweetening work you do.  You can also add it to certain spiritual baths to help make things sweeter for you in general.  Choose a sweetener that is regionally appropriate—molasses is good in the South, while in Vermont maple syrup would be good.

Red cloth squares – For making mojo hands.  This doesn’t have to be anything fancy.  Flannel and linen are fairly traditional, but whatever is available in your local fabric store’s remnant bin will probably be just fine.  Or cut up an old red t-shirt.  In a pinch, white cloth can be used for most jobs, too.

Bottles/jars – Keep these on hand for doing Honey Jars or Vinegar Jars, as well as making protective bottle spells (like Witch Bottles) or even just as a back-up candle holder.  I save old baby food jars for this kind of work.  If you have a Sharpie, you can even draw or write on the glass, if you feel so inclined.

Envelopes/plastic baggies/etc. – For collecting ingredients or gathering spent spell materials for proper deployment (at a crossroads, in running water, etc.).  I will also confess I usually keep little paper envelopes on hand so that if I’m visiting someone that will be a target for a job and I use their bathroom…well, let’s just say most people leave things like hairbrushes pretty much out in the open…

Bible or other holy book – I’m not saying you have to thump it, sell it, buy it, preach it, or even believe in all of it, but the precedent for using Scripture in hoodoo is long-standing.  I’m not Christian but I use the Psalms in my work fairly often.  If you have a vehement dislike of Christian religion, and the Bible in particular, find another holy book that does work for you, such as the Koran, the Bhagavad Gita, or the poems of Rumi.  My only admonition here is that if the book isn’t spiritual in nature, I would avoid using it in rootwork.  There seems to be something very profoundly sacred about the relationship between a holy book and a magic spell, something that the spirits on the other side respond to.  That’s just my opinion, of course, so if you don’t believe me, I can live with that.

So that’s it for this week’s Introduction to Hoodoo!  I hope you’ve been enjoying this series.  We’ll be doing plenty more with rootwork in the future, including having a guest on our next podcast  who is a professional rootworker!   That episode should be out next week, and hopefully we’ll have a couple of other neat treats for you then, too.
Thanks for reading!

-Cory

Blog Post 32 – Hoodoo You Do (Intro, Part IV)

This blog post will primarily deal with types of hoodoo spells, or “tricks.”  It’s not a complete list of all types of hoodoo magic by any stretch of the imagination, but for someone just getting into it, this should give you an idea of what a conjure man/woman does, and give you some places to start if you want to do hoodoo for you.

Mojo Bags – Probably the best known of the hoodoo magical charms, mojos go by many names:  hands, tobys, jomos, etc.  These small talismans are little bags designed to be worn out of sight and usually close to the skin.  A particular type of mojo worn only by women is the “nation sack” of Memphis, TN.  The way these charms are made may vary a bit from place to place or worker to worker, but the general idea is that a small flannel sack, usually red but sometimes other colors, is filled with magical ingredients—usually an odd number of them.  It’s then closed up, and often anointed or “fed” with some offering on a regular basis (whiskey, rum, or other alcohol is a common food for a mojo hand; some of the condition oils found in hoodoo are also appropriate).  I recently heard these bags described as little spirit houses, and to my mind, that’s a perfect description.  The herbs, oils, curios, and other elements of hoodoo are matched together to make a little home for a spirit who can aid the worker in getting what he or she wants.  I often include a written charm in mine (being inclined towards the written word as I am), and usually I make my mojos as part of a larger working, such as a Candle Burning.

Candle Burnings – Also commonly called “setting lights,” candle burnings in hoodoo are similar to candle burnings in any other magical system.  The only real difference is the method (or methods) of dressing the candles.  In hoodoo, when a worker is dressing a candle to draw something (like money, love, health, etc.), he or she will cover the candle in herbs and oils from the bottom-up.  To rid oneself of something (like a jinx), candles are dressed top-down.  Personal concerns, such as a target’s hair or fingernails, are usually incorporated in the dressing, or may be placed beneath an inverted saucer upon which the candle is burned.  Name-papers with written charms may also be used in this manner.  Henri Gamache’s Master Book of Candle Burning is an excellent resource for this type of magic.

Readings – Most rootworkers begin with a reading of some kind.  Whether its tarot cards, palm reading, or just a sort of psychic once-over with second sight, the conjure person will need to get a good idea of what the client needs—not just what he or she wants.  Often, readings are done as part of a larger interview process to really hone in on what kind of work the rootworker will need to do.  I like to use playing cards to read before doing most magical workings, even ones for myself.

Honey Jars – We covered them a bit in our Special Episode recently, but I love these things, so I’ll mention them again here.  Basically, a honey jar is exactly what it sounds like:  a jar full of honey.  Into this sweet-and-sticky pot you place the names (and personal concerns in some cases) of those you wish to “sweeten up.”  These jars are also known as “sweetening jars,” and can actually contain almost any kind of pure sweetener, such as brown or white sugar, molasses, or syrup.  This is a good way to start doing hoodoo, because it is a very positive type of magic (you’re only making your relationships with those you sweeten better, after all) and it also teaches you to get your hands a little dirty (because you must push the names into the jar with your fingers, and then lick them clean…a nice reward for your efforts!).  You can make jars for each person you want to sweeten if you’re working more elaborate spells on them, or keep one jar with lots of names in it for general sweetening.  You can also make vinegar or “souring” jars, which is a form of Hexing.  I’d generally wait to do a souring jar until after you’ve tried a few sweetening ones, though.

Foot-track Magic – This type of magic stems from African Traditional practices, in which the footprint of a person could be used magically against them (or to help them, but usually harmful magic is associated with foot tracks).  The basic idea behind this kind of spell is that the feet come in contact with a magical potion, powder, or other ingredient and draw the psychic contagion up into the body.  One of the most famous examples of foot-track magic is the use of goofer dust on someone.  The hexing dust is sprinkled somewhere where the target will walk over it, and the poisonous influence of the powder will cause the target’s body to swell and fill with pain, and possibly even die.  Of course, it’s possible to do helpful spells with foot-track work, like laying a prosperity blend in someone’s path to ensure they have good luck, but this is a less common use of this magic.

Washing/Bathing – While I love the fact that hoodoo gets down and dirty, I also really like the emphasis it puts on cleanliness.  There are lots of formulae designed exclusively for things like washing one’s floors to banish harmful things and/or draw beneficial ones.  For example, you can wash your business doorstep or the sidewalk in front of your shop with a money drawing blend (such as bayberry, cinnamon, and rose-of-jericho water) from the outside-in to draw customers to you.  Bathing is also important in hoodoo, particularly ritual bathing performed over a series of 3, 5, 7, or 9 days.  Much like in Candle Burning, if you take a hoodoo bath, you’ll want to stand in the tub and wash up to draw something (like money) and down to get rid of something (like a bad habit).  Prayers, psalms, and other magical phrases may be recited while bathing, and usually at least some of the bath water is saved and later disposed of ritually (by pouring at a crossroads, for example).   I highly recommend Draja Mickaharic’s Spiritual Cleansing if you want to learn more on this subject.

Cleansings/Uncrossing Work – Related to Washing/Bathing is the concept of a Cleansing or an Uncrossing.  These workings are usually done to remove the effects of harmful witchcraft or hexing, and can be done by a rootworker or by a client under a worker’s direction.  Some common methods of uncrossing involve the aforementioned ritual bathing while using downward motion and uncrossing herbs (like rue, hyssop, and salt), marking the client with the “five-spot” or quincunx pattern using an uncrossing oil, or even running a raw egg around the client’s body to absorb negative spiritual energies (this is similar to cleansings found in other systems, like curanderismo).  A rootworker may also smoke or fumigate a client, using a sheet to tent the seated client from the shoulders down and burning incense beneath the chair to fill the tent with sacred smoke.  There are related areas of hoodoo spellwork which are more protective than cleansing which involve putting down salt, chalk, or brick dust lines around a person’s home to prevent harm from reaching them, but these are usually done after a cleansing has been performed on both the client and his/her house.

Jinxing/Hexing – So I know it seems backwards to discuss this after Cleansing/Uncrossing, but I generally feel like it’s better to know how to stop a harmful spell before you get started, so that’s why I mentioned the other first.  However, Jinxing/Hexing is a big part of hoodoo.  From the harmful forms of Foot-track Magic mentioned earlier to more fearsome curses (such as the disgusting but terrifying “Live Things in You” curse, in which a target is tricked into swallowing powdered snake skin, spider eggs, or other unsavory items so that they begin to feel like things are literally crawling around inside them).  Learning to hex someone with hoodoo isn’t hard, though it often requires a strong stomach.  One simple and quite grave curse is to make a doll-baby (stuffed poppet) with the person’s name paper or personal concerns inside of it, then put that into a small coffin and bury it in a graveyard.  The victim should feel their own life-force fading as long as the buried doll remains in the cemetery (a word of warning, though—in most places digging so much as a single spoonful of dirt is considered vandalism and is quite illegal, therefore I do not advocate it).  A simpler and much tamer curse is the vinegar jar I mentioned in our Witch Bottle Special.  By simply placing someone’s name into a jar of vinegar, along with things like red pepper flakes, black pepper, and garlic, you can sour their life pretty effectively.  Shaking the jar every time you think about it can help “stir up” more trouble for them.  Cursing someone for fun, by the way, is always a bad idea.  You never know when it might backfire and wind up dragging you right into trouble, so make sure you’re working “justified,” perhaps by doing a Reading first.

Love Spells – The simplest of these is a type of Honey Jar in which two people’s names are kept and a candle burned over the top of it.  This sweetens them to each other and helps set magic in motion to keep them sweet on one another.  Love spells in hoodoo, though, are not always so nice.  There are plenty of spells aimed at separating lovers (candles are even sold which look like married couples and which, when burned, come apart and lead to divorce or estrangement).  There are also more intense love spells aimed less at finding that one true love than at exercising power over the target (see Controlling Spells for more on that).  Many love spells, though, are more like the sweetening spells, and simply help a person find or catch that perfect mate.  There are some extremely simple love spells in hoodoo which involve little more than tying two dirty socks—one from each mate—together and hiding them away so that love will remain forever “bound” between them.  Of course, for those coming from a background where this sort of manipulation is a magical no-no, even a fairly benign hoodoo love spell can seem a little sinister.  But then, no one says you have to do every spell in the hoodoo spellbook, right?

Controlling/”Bend Over” Spells – I saved these spells for last because I find them incredibly interesting.  They are so antithetical to the kind of magic I did for years, because they completely ignore the idea of non-manipulation.  These spells are all about manipulation, in fact.  Controlling spells (and their sister workings, “Compelling” and “Bend Over” spells) usually involve forcing another person to do what you want them to do.  Sometimes, as in the case of Compelling or Pay Me Now! spells, the force is simply making the target fulfill a promise they’ve already made.  But often these tricks are laid in order to keep an errant spouse from philandering about, or to make a boss give you that raise you’ve been after.  Using roots like licorice and calamus, as well as personal effects from the target (name papers are much less effective in this kind of work, in my experience), a rootworker can do a heckuva number on someone.  One of the most famous methods of using this kind of magic involves a woman putting a bit of her menstrual blood in her husband or lover’s food, thereby making him remain faithful to her.  She can also “tie his nature” by measuring his penis with a string, then soaking it in his semen and tying knots in it.  That way, he will find himself useless unless she releases him, which presumably will only happen when he’s with her.  It’s intense stuff!  But it also makes sense.  For many folks, these workings are last-resort measures.  In some cases—such as using Courtcase formulae or spitting galangal root juice on a courthouse floor—they are the only methods available to poor folks being ground down by the gears of the legal system.  Who wouldn’t want magical reassurance that the judge was on their side?  While I don’t recommend starting with these kinds of spells, I will say I’ve gotten to really like them over time.  They’ve proven useful, and a good rootworker knows how to set limits when using Controlling magic.

Like I said, this isn’t an exhaustive list of all hoodoo techniques and spells, but it should at least give you an idea what kinds of magic are available in the rootworking system.  As always, I recommend checking out the Lucky Mojo site for more info on many of these methods, and if you have any comments or questions, you can email us or leave a comment and I’ll be happy to respond!

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

Blog Post 31 – Who’s Who in Hoodoo, part deux (Intro, Part III)

Today, I’m going to tackle of few of the modern rootworkers I know and/or admire.  This is most certainly is not a comprehensive list of professional hoodoo practitioners in North America, so please don’t start throwing rotten vegetables at me for not listing one of your favorite rootworkers.  But DO feel free to leave a comment on this post with the name/contact info of any professional hoodoo you think the world should know about!

Okay, on with the show!

Modern Rootworkers

Catherine Yronwode – I believe she actually prefers “catherine yronwode,” without capitalization.  If you are reading about hoodoo on the web and you don’t know who she is yet, you should immediately head over to the Lucky Mojo page and read her online text on the history and practice of hoodoo.  She is probably one of the most prominent profiles in modern conjure work, and she runs one of the biggest supply houses for magical and occult goods specializing in traditional hoodoo recipes and formulae.  Yronwode was featured in Christine Wicker’s Not in Kansas Anymore, which profiled magical practitioners across the United States.  She was also a famous comic book artist back in the 1970’s, and judging by the colorful designs on her wares, I’d say she still has an eye for a good picture.  She’s also been instrumental in keeping hoodoo a vital, living tradition rooted in history but adapting to modern times.  Her course for prospective students of hoodoo is almost a pre-requisite for any rootworker, and her Association of Independent Readers and Rootworkers provides a stamp of quality which ensures that those seeking magical help don’t get ripped off.   Seriously, if you’re reading this and don’t know who she is, go to Lucky Mojo right now!

Dr. Christos KioniThis Florida-based rootworker is host of the Lucky Mojo Hoodoo Rootwork Hour.  He is also one of the best known professional conjure men working today, and the active owner of the MyHoodooSpace website.  Dr. K also works very hard to preserve the African Diasporic traditions (such as the ATR practices discussed in the introductory post on hoodoo earlier this week.  I think he works both with the left hand and the right (meaning he will curse if he sees a need for it), though I’m basing that on some of the discussions from his radio show and he may well have changed ideologies since then.  He was also mentioned in Not in Kansas Anymore, and actually knows where to find the grave of Zora Neale Hurston (which very few folks do).  He is definitely a big personality, but he has a friendly and warm demeanor about him, and I believe he’s got a fairly high rate of success with his work, too.  He also happens to be friends with cat yronwode (if you didn’t guess that from the name of his radio program).  As he says of himself “I can hit a straight lick with a crooked stick!”

Michaele Maurer – Miss Michaele (pronounced mi-KAY-luh, I believe) is the owner of the Hoodoo Foundry, a site dedicated to traditional rootwork.  One of the reasons I really like her practice is that she focuses on Southern-style rootwork, including a lot of Bibliomancy and using Biblical prayers and magic to accomplish her goals (not that I think all great rootworkers are Bible-thumping Christians, mind you…see Karma Zain or Papa Toad Bone for contrast).  I really value her deeply traditionalist approach, however, and I also like that she has a broad range of reading styles, including tarot, pendulum, and ceromancy (reading candle wax).  She’s not one who does jinxing or crossing work, but she does at least acknowledge that sometimes it is justified and she helps clients needing those services to find a root worker who will attempt those tricks.   She seems to be very tender-hearted and kind, and works for the good of her clients with deep sincerity.

Starr – An old-fashioned Southern hoodoo woman from Texas, Starr has been steeped in conjure work for most of her life.  She’s quite sassy and funny, and also very straightforward.  She’s another traditionalist who works closely with Christian religious figures, including Saints.  While much of her work is focused on things like spiritual cleansing, sweetening, and healing, she also does vinegar jars, hot foot workings, and as she puts it, “I will do separation and break up work on a case by case basis if so guided by the spirit.”  She also runs the Old Style Conjure site, and offers mini-courses which compliment a broader study of hoodoo quite nicely.

Karma Zain – Ms. Zain is not only a great rootworker, she’s also a bishop in the Franco-Haitian Gnostic Vodoun tradition.  I know, I’ve said I really like old-style conjurers who stick to certain historical precepts regarding the incorporation of Biblical elements, but that doesn’t mean I think all good hoodoo men and women must be Judeo-Christian.   Karma Zain proves that point, because besides being a Vodoun bishop, she’s an honest, straightforward worker who isn’t afraid to say “no” to a client if she doesn’t feel their cause warrants the action they ask for.  She’s the kind of rootworker who isn’t afraid to dig in the dirt and use the less savory curios like bone fragments and fur.  She seems like an incredibly down-to-earth and sensible woman, and one I wouldn’t want t cross!

Papa Toad Bone – This Mississippi based conjure man is the proprietor of the Toad’s Bone Apotheca, one of the funkiest and witchiest sites I’ve seen.  Just looking at his webpage makes me want to lay a trick or two or take a walk to the crossroads.  He’s also Pagan, and very much a non-Christian kind of Pagan, again proving that great conjurers needn’t be entirely wrapped up in the Biblical worldview.  I’ve known him through several different avenues over the last couple of years, and he’s always struck me as someone who really spends time with spirits and understands them incredibly well (I think he even found a great way to play card games with them, but hopefully I’ll get him to tell about that at some point).  He’s also a nitty-gritty sort of worker, spending a good deal of time out in the swamps and wild places gathering materials for his shop and clients.  Again, someone I wouldn’t want to cross, and a rootworker who gets things done.

Carolina Gonzalez – Another Pagan rootworker, Ms. Gonzalez incorporates her Latin roots into her magic, offering a particularly unique blend of brujeria, hoodoo, and witchcraft to her clients.  She runs The Hoodoo Shop on Etsy, and she’s the resident hoodoo expert for sites like The Noble Pagan and The Modern Pagan.  She’s located in the Canary Islands, proof that hoodoo is a worldwide phenomenon at this point.  Her site offers her products as well as courses and LOTS of great information from her many different areas of expertise.

Sarah Lawless – I certainly can’t leave out Sarah, a friend to New World Witchery and a heckuva witch and conjure woman in her own right.  She practices her root work out in the wilds of British Columbia, carefully adapting the fundamental practices of traditional Southern rootwork to her immediate environment.  We’ve talked to and about her a lot on this blog, so rather than sound like a rampaging fan boy, I will simply suggest you go check out her blog and store and see how magical she is for yourself.

Stephanie Palm – The wonderful proprietress of Music City Mojo, and my personal hoodoo teacher.  She is not one to pull punches or sugar-coat things, though she is also incredibly warm and friendly.  Stephanie is the High Priestess of a Traditional Witchcraft coven, as well as a devotee of Vodoun.  She’s a gifted teacher, as well as a gifted conjure woman, and she isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty in a graveyard or to lay down a jinx if the situation calls for it.  More importantly, she isn’t afraid to let someone know that the situation DOESN’T call for a jinx.  I really could go on and on about how much I adore her and how thankful I am to her for all she’s taught me, but for now I’ll just say that if you’re looking for someone who knows their stuff, she’s one to talk to.

I know there are lots more rootworkers out there, and I’d love to hear about them from all of you, so please feel free to post a comment on this blog about your favorite hoodoo men and women.

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

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

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

Blog Post 29 – An Introduction to Hoodoo, Part I

This week I’ll be focusing on something that seems to generate a lot of interest:  hoodoo.  This is one of my personal favorites when it comes to magical systems, because it is incredibly practical and anyone can do it.  Plus, it doesn’t shy away from the less savory side of magic, but fully acknowledges that curses exist and must be dealt with (and sometimes dealt out when other attempts at justice have failed).

A (VERY Brief) History
Let’s start by getting the confusing terminology out of the way.  Often, the terms “hoodoo,” “conjure,” and “root work” or “rootwork” will appear as synonyms.  Adding to the confusion, most people also mix “voodoo” into this lexical stewpot.  Hoodoo, however, is NOT Voodoo/Vodoun—the former is a magical system not particularly affiliated with any specific religion, and the latter is a very distinct religion.  The confusion between the two stems from the fact that both are outgrowths of something called African Traditional Religion (or ATR for short).  There are other ATR’s which exist, primarily in South America and the Caribbean, but I’ll leave a discussion of those to someone more knowledgeable than myself.  When African slaves were brought to the West Indies, their native religion mixed with the folk practices of the indigenous tribes on the islands and the Christianity of their European captors.  Vodoun evolved over time, primarily in places like Haiti, as well as coming onto American soil through places like New Orleans.

Many modern Vodoun practitioners are very committed to the ATR religious powers, such as Legba, Oshun, and Yemaya (variants on spelling and pronunciation occur depending on where you are and to whom you’re speaking).  The Voodoo which grew up in New Orleans is quite different from the Vodoun in Haiti, though they do share many common elements.  Zora Neale Hurston’s excellent book Mules and Men details much of this overlap (though I advise readers to take this book with a grain of salt, as some of her folklore is a bit embellished and may not present an accurate picture of her subjects).

A big part of Voodoo, though, was a belief in magic and animism.  While Catholicism (dominant in the islands and French-and-Spanish-influenced Southern coastal regions) was fairly adoptive of these ideas so long as they were couched in terminology like “miracles” and “Saints,” slaves transplanted to Protestant-dominated areas found the religious side of Voodoo quashed.  The numerous spirits and beings found in Voodoo’s pantheon were stripped away, and what was left was a magical system detached from its religious side.  Other ATR’s also met the same fate as they moved into the white, Protestant-dominated sections of the United States.  Beliefs in “witchcrafting” and other magical practices go back to at least the beginning of the 19th century among African-American populations, completely removed from any ATR associations, or any deeply religious connection at all.  Only the practical side of the work was still available to the slaves brutally oppressed in Colonial America, as it was often their only real recourse to justice in any way.

Once this practical magic started working its mojo, so to speak, it began to grow in new ways.  It encountered new herbs via contact with another overrun people, the Native Americans.  European folklore, especially German and Anglo-Irish tales, provided new fodder for the developing system.  And the availability of particular regional curios and ingredients shaped the evolving practice.

So is it Hoodoo, Conjure, or Root Work?
In general, the terms “hoodoo,” “conjure,” and “root  work” still get used interchangeably.  “Hoodoo” is common in the gulf coastal regions, “conjure” in places like Memphis and the mid-South, and “root work” in the Atlantic coastal regions.  All terms, however, can be generally found in all places, so don’t be surprised at the overlap.  Additionally, spelling may vary (I’ve seen at least one WPA folklore collection from Tennessee showing this practice called “cunjur” instead of “conjure”).

In my own mind, I do see a slight difference in the three terms:

  • Hoodoo is the general name for the system of African-American and Southern magic using herbs, roots, and everyday objects to influence people and events in one’s life.
  • Conjure is more specifically related to working with spirits, but also uses much of the same magic hoodoo does.  It also relates to faith-healing (to me, anyway).
  • Root work has to do with the crafting of herbal and curio-filled spell objects, or with the use of such things to heal or harm a target.

There’s not a single consensus on where the actual term “hoodoo” comes from.  Some think it is a corruption of “Voodoo,” but this is not a majority opinion.  Catherine Yronwode has a great discussion of this topic on her website, outlining much of this history in more detail.

Hoodoo Now
During the early-to-mid twentieth century, hoodoo underwent another evolution.  It moved, along with Southern blacks, into cities and became urbanized.  Many merchants began to supply hoodoo practitioners with the oils, herbs, candles and other items they needed to do their work.  A number of these suppliers were Jewish, and a strong Jewish presence can still be seen in hoodoo, mostly in the use of talismans and charms imported from European grimoires like The Black Pullet.  Some, such as scholar Eoghan Ballard, have even made convincing arguments that the word “hoodoo” comes from a particular pronunciation of the word “Jewish.”

The terms Voodoo and hoodoo are still confused, even by those who are in the know.  The very reputable and knowledgeable author Jim Haskins even titled his book about hoodoo Voodoo and Hoodoo.

Modern hoodoo is still growing and changing.  Some of the major centers of hoodoo are Forestville, CA (where Cat Yronwode runs her Lucky Mojo Curio Co.), the Gullah region of South Carolina (discussed in Jack Montgomery’s American Shamans in the section on Sheriff McTeer), cities like Memphis and Savannah, and of course New Orleans.  It is also present in rural areas, like the swamps of Mississippi.  And the general practice of root work seems to have spread to other countries as well, as Sarah from the Forest Grove Botanica in Canada uses many root working techniques in her magic.

As this week goes on, we’ll get into more on those techniques, as well as the specific herbs, roots, and curios found in hoodoo.  For now, though, I think I’ll stop before I write a whole book here.

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

Blog Post 28 – Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign…

Do I date myself by referencing that song in the title of this blog post?  Oh well…
I thought I’d wrap up the week with a few more examples of signs, tokens, and omens from American folklore.  We’ll be up in the mountains today, both the Appalachians and the Ozarks.
From the Appalachian History blog:

News Bees

“In both Appalachian and Ozarks folklore, news bees appear as omens to those wise enough to read them.”

News bees are not actually bees, but flower flies from the Syrphidae family.  They are marked with bands of black and yellow, much like bees, but are harmless.  They do look an awful lot like sweat bees, however, which can sting a person (though not as severely as other bees or wasps).

News bees, which also go by names like “sand hornets,” “sweat flies,” or “Russian hornets” derive their folk name from the belief that these hovering insects watch the events of humanity unfold, then fly off to deliver their news to others.  According to the folklore, “There are yellow news bees, which mean that good things are in the offing– it’s good luck if you can get one to perch on your finger–and black news bees, which warn of imminent death. The black news bees fly in the windows and out again, and fly straight for the nearest cemetery; they hover making a sound like a human being talking.” (Tabler, par.2)

From Vance Randolph’s Ozark Magic and Folklore:

Some Animal Lore

“It is very generally believed that the appearance of an albino deer is a bad sign ; some hillfolk think it has something to do with witches’ work, others that it is an indication of disease among the deer, and that venison will be unwholesome for seven years” (p. 241)

“Groundhogs are hunted by boys with dogs, and young groundhogs are very good eating. But some of the old-timers frown on the modern practice of shooting groundhogs. They don’t mind if city sportsmen do it but often forbid their own children to shoot groundhogs, because it is supposed to bring bad luck” (p. 243)

Household Signs & Omens

“The Ozark housewife seldom begins to make a garment on Friday never unless she is sure that she can finish it the same day. Many a mountain man is reluctant to start any sort of job on Saturday, in the belief that he will ‘piddle around’ for six additional Saturdays before he gets it done” (p. 69)

“It is bad luck to burn floor sweepings or shavings that have been produced inside the house. An old-time Ozark housewife seldom sweeps her cabin after dark, and she never sweeps anything out at the front door” (p. 70)

The fantastic Appalachian blog Blind Pig and the Acorn has a fascinating entry on a death omen called a “belled buzzard.”

Belled Buzzards

According to the site, which cites a newspaper story about this phenomenon, in King George County, VA, a buzzard was observed flying low by houses with a bell around its neck and streamers tied to its body.  Similarly adorned birds figure in tales from the Carolinas, Tennessee, Alabama, and Arkansas.  According to the blog’s author:

“Most of the sightings or ‘hearings’ caused folks to believe the belled buzzards foretold death. One legend even tells the story of a belled buzzard harassing a man after he killed his wife-to the point of the man turning himself in for her murder” (Tipper par.2).

So if you happen to see any big birds around your neighborhood with bells, chimes, or any musical instrument on their person, take heed!

Personal Lore

Finally, today, I thought I’d share a few of the things I was brought up believing.  Most of this information is from my mother.

  • When cooking soups, stews, and sauces, she’d often include a bay leaf in the pot.  Whoever found the bay leaf was thought to be in for some good luck.
  • If rain broke out of a clear sky, my mother always said that “the Devil is beating his wife.”
  • She taught me that if your ears burn, someone’s talking about you.  If your nose itches, someone wants to kiss you.  And if your hands itch, money’s coming your way soon.
  • You should never kill a spider or a frog indoors, as it will bring bad luck, she always said.  Unless the spider was a black widow or brown recluse.  Then it seemed to be okay.
  • She always kept an aloe plant in her kitchen window, both for an easy source of bug-bite and sunburn treatment and to bless the house in general with good fortune.

Okay, that will do it for today, I think.  Please feel free to share your own lore.  I’m always eager to hear it!

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

Podcast Special – Witch Bottles

-SHOWNOTES FOR SPECIAL – WITCH BOTTLES-

Summary
This is the first of (hopefully) many mini-episode specials in which we’ll explore particular practical topics in American Witchcraft.  Today, we’re looking at the history, lore, and making of Witch Bottles.  Plus we’ll share our own experiences with them.

Play:

Download:  New World Witchery – Podcast Special – Witch Bottles

-Sources-
*The Wikipedia entry on “witch bottles.”
*Apotropaios – An excellent site with scholarly history of many occult objects, including Witch Bottles.
*The Lucky Mojo page on “Bottle Spells” has lots of great information on the various kinds of magical bottle workings done around the world.
*The Appalachian History blog has an excellent entry on “Bottle Trees.”
*The Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft, by Rosemary Ellen Guiley, has a good article on “witch bottles.”
*The Encyclopedia of 5000 Spells, by Judika Illes, is another tome with lots of magical information, including some on Witch Bottles.

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

Blog Post 26 – Gravel Root/Joe Pye Weed

Today I’d like to discuss an ingredient found in both Native American medicinal practices and Southern conjure and root work.  The flowering herb known as both Gravel Root and Joe Pye Weed can be found throughout most of the eastern half of North America, including portions of Canada, Texas, and Florida.  Its botanical name is Eupatorium purpureum, and it is also sometimes known as Purple Boneset or Queen of the Meadow.

The story behind Joe Pye Weed stems back to a Native American named, aptly enough, Joe Pye, who used the root to heal typhus.  It’s been used in tisane form—both root and flower—to help with kidney problems (though I will recommend here that if you are considering drinking ANY tea made from an herb to consult with a health professional and be SURE you know what you’re drinking).  Foxfire 11 gives some good information on the traditional medicinal use of this wild herb.

The plant itself is often found as a wildflower in fields and “waste” spaces like construction zones (though it doesn’t last as long here).  It’s a perennial so if you cultivate it instead of wildcrafting you should see it coming back regularly.  Joe Pye can reach heights around four feet, so take that into account when planting it.  It can also reseed, so you might want to thin them occasionally.  It has flowers which range from white to pinkish to lavender and purple, and butterflies love it.

Its magical uses tend to be split depending on what part of the plant you’re using.  The leaves and flowers are considered “Queen of the Meadow,” and are not particularly used in traditional hoodoo, though I’ve seen it show up in a spell for success.  Catherine Yronwode mentions putting the flowers in a glass of water next to a burning candle to attract spirits and visions.  The root, which is often the most sought-after part of the plant, is a fantastic help in job-search, success, and luck magic.  I recently used a bit of Gravel Root in a mojo hand along with High John and a copy of Psalm 65 in order to help procure some magical aid with an academic pursuit, which turned out very well.

Joe Pye Root

You can find more on this herb/root in Catherine Yronwode’s Hoodoo Herb and Root Magic, as well as the websites listed below.

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

More information:

Medicinal and identification information – http://www.altnature.com/gallery/joe_pye_weed.htm

Cultivation and propagation information – http://oldfashionedliving.com/joe-pye-weed.html

Folklore and Appalachian history – http://appalachianhistory.blogspot.com/2007/08/queen-of-meadow-cures-all.html

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