Since we just passed that high holy day of good fortune, January 1st, luck has been on my mind. We’ve certainly discussed a lot of tradiitons associated with the New Year and good luck before, so this isn’t going to be a particularly in-depth post, but I had the tickling little idea in my head that it might be interesting to round up a number of the different ways in which people “eat their luck,” especially in conjuction with New Year’s Day (be it the January date or an alternative annual commemoration, such as Chinese New Year). I, of course, eat my black-eyed peas every year for good fortune and health in the coming twelvemonth, but since I’ve covered that before, I’ll skip it here and instead start with some of the other staples from the table of Fortuna.
I’ve covered cakes more generally in a separate post, but I wanted to mention here the typical Epiphany treat for Mexican and Mexican American families, the rosca de los reyes (or Kings’ Bread, after the three wisemen/kings who visited Jesus on Epiphany according to some Christian lore). The cake would include a number of fruits, nuts, and spices, all of which had connotations of prosperity. According to the book Mexican-American Folklore, “The bread is formed into a ring resembling a crown, and baked into it are a tiny doll representing the Baby Jesus, along with whole almonds and coins…Anyone who weats a piece of the bread with a coin or almond in it is assured of good luck for the coming year; the finder of the Baby Jesus is expected to give a party for the group on the Feast of Candelaria, February 2nd” (p.219).
Cakes also show up in some Gypsy/Romany lore, with a bit more of an emphasis on luck in love. According to A Romany Tapestry, by Michael Hoadley, Gypsy girls would indicate their approval of a potential love-match by tossing him a cake with a coin inside over a hedge (p. 33).
Pork & Cabbage
When I moved to Pennsylvania this past year, I knew I was entering the heart of a highly folk-oriented culture, and during the holiday season a number of folk traditions became near and dear to me. One new tradition we incorporated into our New Year’s festivities was the eating of pork and sauerkraut (athough we actually did roasted cabbage lightly treated with lemon juice, so it wasn’t completely traditional). The lore surrounding the consumption of these dishes on New Year’s in Pennsylvania Dutch culture ties to the need for forward momentum and prosperity in the coming year. According to the American Folklife Center, “Some traditional foods include pork, because the hog roots forward, symbolic of progress (chicken or other fowl is avoided because it scratches backwards).” Don Yoder, the dean of PA-German folklore, devotes an entire chapter to the subject in his book, Discovering American Folklife.
The tradition of eating pork and sauerkraut (or some other variant cabbage dish) has imbued New Year’s with a connection to pigs beyond the handed-down menus of ethnic groups. Jack Santino, in his classic holiday survey All Around the Year, mentions a fabricated event called the Hungry Hog Society dinner, which features a “hog cake” designed to fill and warm those who eat it, and leave them feeling fat and happy as hogs. The holiday, which was developed by the Blaho family of Ohio, now also include pig-shaped cookies and other pig memorabilia as well (p. 27-29). Cabbage can also be substituted for collard greens (at least as far as symbolism goes), in Appalachian areas.
We know about black-eyed peas (I think, anyway; I’m fairly sure we covered it in our episode on New Year’s traditions). The culinary site Epicurious also notes that other beans and legumes carry a fair load of luck for those who consume them on New Year’s Day. “Legumes including beans, peas, and lentils are also symbolic of money. Their small, seedlike appearance resembles coins that swell when cooked so they are consumed with financial rewards in mind. In Italy, it’s customary to eat cotechino con lenticchie or sausages and green lentils, just after midnight.” Pork shows up again, of course. The site also lists rice as a popular accompaniment to the protein-laden lucky dishes as they have a similar symbolic association with money and abundance (hence the “lucky green rice” sometimes found in curio shops).
In Chinese cooking traditions, as well as some other Asian ones, the use of noodles provides an extra boost of luck and longevity to those who consume them. Frequently noodles are served for birthdays, anniversaries, or other festivals marking passages of time. According an article on the Washington Post website, “noodle dishes are a staple for birthdays and Chinese New Year because they signify a long life for whoever is eating them — as long as the noodles are not cut short. The longer they are, the better.” Chinese lore also ascribes longevity to other foods, such as peaches (I won’t be making any dishes that combine noodles and peaches anytime soon, though, if you’re wondering).
There are plenty of other interesting beliefs about food and luck which are not as widely distributed as the ones noted above. A small potpourri of interesting culinary superstitions includes:
- It is bad luck to eat peanuts in the dressing rooms of theaters. (Lynell Burns from Muriel Hite) (“Beliefs of New Mexico,” James Penrod, 182).
- At automobile races it is unlucky to eat peanuts in the pits. (Florine Hop- kins from Monty Owens) (“Beliefs of New Mexico,” James Penrod, 183)
- Some believe that the luckiest food on New Year’s is whatever you have on hand, so long as your pantry is fully stocked. An English proverb states “Empty pokets or an empty cupboard portend a year of poverty” (The Oxford Dictionary of Superstitions, by Opie & Tatem, p. 295).
- According to an article in the 2009-2010 Witches’ Almanac, when you make hot chocolate you should whisk it until it’s nice and foamy, then sever, because “Montezuma belived the foam contained the spirit of a god” (p. 42).
These are hardly extensive or even cursory examinations of the many, many foodways associated with luck and good fortune. Do you have food traditions related to luck in your family? If so, I’d be very interested to hear them!
Thanks for reading,
Laissez les bon temps rouler, y’all! It’s Mardi Gras, which means a last-minute pre-Lenten extravaganza of flesh, fun, and other words starting with the sixth letter of the alphabet. In honor of the Carnival spirit of feasting (another “f” word!), I thought I’d take a brief look at one of the things I most associate with this holiday: cake.
Cake may not have the aesthetic magical impact of a cauldron bubbling over a fire or a bag full of bones scattered in the dirt, but this bakery standby (and some of its culinary cousins) manages to surface in a number of magical practices. Since this is Mardi Gras, let’s start with one of the most obvious, the King Cake. The King Cake originates in Epiphany and Old Christmas celebrations from Catholic countries, but has also become incredibly prominent in Carnival and Mardi Gras celebrations. The one you’re most likely to find in a local bakery (I have found Hispanic bakeries frequently are my best source) will be big, doughy cakes covered in icing and lots of colored sugar—usually gold, green, and purple. Somewhere inside, a small plastic or metal baby lurks, waiting to grant luck on the one fortunate enough to get a slice with the little token in it (or unfortunate enough, if you happen to bite into the baby and chip a tooth before you know what you’re doing). The lucky association of the baby in the King Cake resembles other traditions in which a bean is baked into a cake and the recipient receives blessings, money, or good luck upon finding it. Sometimes the “King” or “Queen” of the feast would be chosen by the finding of a bean or a pea:
Samuel Pepys (whose wife was French) recorded a party in London on Epiphany night, 6 January 1659/1660: “…to my cousin Stradwick, where, after a good supper, there being there my father, mothers, brothers, and sister, my cousin Scott and his wife, Mr. Drawwater and his wife, and her brother, Mr. Stradwick, we had a brave cake brought us, and in the choosing, Pall was Queen and Mr. Stradwick was King. After that my wife and I bid adieu and came home, it being still a great frost.” The choosing of King and Queen from the pie, usually by the inclusion of a bean and a pea, was a traditional English Twelfth Night festivity. (via Wikipedia’s article on “King Cake”)
Most Westerners know about the significance of candles on birthday cakes, as well as the wishing tradition that comes with blowing them all out at once. Some of the other quirky and semi-magical rituals we perform in conjunction with cake:
- “Portions of the wedding cake are often saved to eat at anniversary parties (and at christenings) to symbolize that the marriage has lasted and matured” (Brunvand 63).
- Brides are not supposed to bake their own wedding cakes, for fear of bad luck.
- A newly married couple frequently joins hands to cut the wedding cake and serve the first slice, which can symbolize their union and service to one another, their joint role in serving the community and their families (in some cases members of the family are served first by the bride and groom), or their shared prosperity and a wish that they should never know hunger together.
- “The wedding reception provides more folklore, mostly concerning the wedding cake. One popular belief says that if the bride cuts the cake first, with the groom placing his hand over hers, their marriage will be cooperative. This ritual also ensures fertility. Some traditions urge the couple to fast, while others insist that they eat their entire meal for good luck. Trinkets in the shape of rings, horseshoes, and cupids are often baked inside the cake” (Brunvand 1548).
- “Let a bride on her wedding-night throw a piece of wedding-cake outdoors and next morning watch how many birds eat the cake; the number of birds will be the number of her children” (Hyatt 54).
- “If a slice of the birthday cake tips over on the plate, that person will never marry” (Brunvand 170)
- Over-the-Hill celebrations frequently involve black or coffin-shaped cakes to symbolize (humorously, we hope) the ever approaching death of the recipient.
- Several cultures celebrate the Passover-and-Easter holidays with special cakes, including the Jewish use of unleavened cakes in Pesach meals, the Dutch use of Paas cakes in the Easter feast, fastnaacht cakes of the Pennsylvania Dutch, and other similar baked treats.
- Also from the Germanic tradition: “Years ago it was almost a general custom among Germans in Quincy to bake a coffee-cake and eat it with the family who had a new baby so that the child would become wealthy” (Hyatt 73).
- From the files of American History: “Although Election Day is not a legal holiday, the event nonetheless is associated with folk customs. For example, in New England, there is a tradition of preparing Election Day cake. This yeast-raised cake, prepared with spices, raisins, and nuts, dates back to the 1700s in Connecticut. It is tied to an era in which the trip to cast one’s vote was a journey punctuated with visits to friends and family. By the 19th century, polling places were more accessible, and the customs of Election Day cake and callers waned” (Watts 125).
Of course, Western culture hardly has a monopoly on cake-based traditions. Since we’re also entering the Chinese New Year, I can’t help but mention the delicious little mooncakes you can find in a number of Chinese bakeries at this time of year. In some cases, these sorts of little glutinous cakes might be offered to ancestors or deities (as with the tt’ok of Korean origin) or simply consumed as a symbol of prosperity and blessing during the celebrations.
According to American Folklore: An Encyclopedia, “Some American children enjoy baking a ‘thundercake’ when they first hear thunder and starting to eat it when the storm breaks (if the storm allows enough time for baking)” (Brunvand 1553). I’m not entirely sure what the significance of this weather-ritual might be, although I would speculate it brings some kind of protection or prosperity. Harry Hyatt recorded an interesting pregnancy divination based on a baking cake: “’ When I was young, whenever my bread or cake cracked open in the middle, I always was in a family way. It never failed.’ Some say the cracking open is not necessary; a raising-up more than usual in the center is sufficient” (Hyatt 54). A variation on this technique says if the cake breaks open during baking, a baby girl is not far behind.
Cakes also can have a darker (“devil’s food?”) side. Some cakes can be used to cause harm or to undo hurtful magic by sending it back to its origins. The famous “witchcake” made from urine and grains which Tituba allegedly showed the Parris girls how to make in Salem, MA, was supposed to have caused tremendous suffering to whomever was attempting to curse the young ladies. Another rather evil-sounding cake was allegedly used to poison a child: “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). Gruesome.
Still, all in all, cakes tend more towards the “angel food” side of things, and bring luck, prosperity, and joy along with other blessings. After all, it is cake, right?
So enjoy your Mardi Gras celebrations with whatever baked sweetmeat you find most appealing. I will be having pancakes with FROG jam (Fig-Raspberry-Orange-Ginger, made by our local Amish country market and SO delicious!) and hopefully laissez-ing the bon temps rouler all day long! Here’s wishing you a wonderful day!
Thanks for reading,
- Brunvand, Jan. American Folklore: An Encyclopedia (1998).
- “Conjuring and Conjure-Doctors in the Southern United States,” Journal of American Folklore (1896).
- Hyatt, Harry M. Folklore of Adams Co., Illinois (1935, 1965).
- “King Cake.” Wikipedia (2013).
- Milne, Gerald C. Signs, Cures, & Witchery (2007).
- “Tituba.” Famous American Trials: Salem Witchcraft Trials 1692. Univ. of Missouri (Kansas City, 2012).
- Watts, Linda S.The Encyclopedia of American Folklore (2006).
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!
With one set of holidays just behind us, we still have a little more celebration left before the deep, dark, quiet winter sets in. Today, I’ll be sharing some of the New Year’s traditions from North America (and to some extent, from around the world). New Year’s has a lot of obvious components: a sense of rebirth, optimism, setting goals for improvement, and even a little romance. Let’s look at some of the big traditions associated with this glittering and festive affair.
1) Fireworks – These are a common component of New Year’s festivals worldwide, including the Chinese New Year which occurs later in the winter. Aside from being a celebratory demonstration of light and wonder, the noise and fire from these explosives may serve to frighten away any lingering demons or bad spirits. And, of course, they help keep everyone awake until the crucial midnight hour. This also ties into other noise-making activities on New Year’s Eve, such as singing, banging cymbals, and other loud demonstrations of the party spirit.
In the Appalachians, this sometimes mixed with the mumming traditions of the Christmas season and became something known as a Shanghai Parade. Gerald Milnes describes the practice in his book, Signs, Cures, & Witchery:
“The shanghai tradition once included music played on violins, flutes, horns, and drums in the Valley [of Greenbriar Co., West Virginia]. There is even a fiddle tune called ‘Shanghai’ that is known in West Virginia and may be connected to the shanghai ritual…people also cross-dress and put on exotic, mostly homemade costumes. Reversal is a theme, and they generally whoop it up in the spirit of old midwinger revelry” (p. 192)
Jack Santino also describes similar uses of noise-makers, including guns, in his All Around the Year: “In Hawaii, the custom involves the traditional beliefs of the native Hawaiians, who say that the fireworks scare off demons. In Ohio, they are used as noisemakers, often instead of a gun, since ‘shooting in the New Year’ is the tradition” (p. 13).
2) Kissing at Midnight – This tradition is related to others more regionally or culturally specific (such as “First Footing,” discussed below), but has become a broader practice among Occidental celebrants of the New Year. The Snopes.com page on New Year’s superstitions has this to say on the subject:
“We kiss those dearest to us at midnight not only to share a moment of celebration with our favorite people, but also to ensure those affections and ties will continue throughout the next twelve months. To fail to smooch our significant others at the stroke of twelve would be to set the stage for a year of coldness.”
The idea of setting the stage for the coming year based on what one does on New Year’s Day ties into a lot of the other superstitions and customs related to this holiday. With kissing, the idea seems to be that if you start the New Year off with someone you love, or at least by kissing someone attractive, you will invite positive romance into your life over the coming year.
3) First Footing – To those of Scottish extraction, this is probably a very familiar practice. The Scottish New Year is called Hogmany, and involves several key rituals, including house-cleaning, preparing traditional meals (see “New Year’s Food” below), and First Footing. Sarah at Forest Grove has written an excellent entry on the Hogmany traditions, and describes First Footing thusly:
“First footing is a divinatory folk tradition where the first person who sets foot in your house in the wee hours of the New Year determines the luck and happenings of the year ahead. A man is preferred over a woman, and a man of dark hair and eye over a man of light hair and blue or green eyes. Redheads are especially unlucky to be the first to set foot across your threshold in some areas of Scotland.”
In some cases this practice requires that the first-footer be not of the household. We received several pieces of lore in our Winter Lore Contest related to the New Year, including a bit about First Footing from listener/reader Akia: “Some of her [grandmother’s} holiday superstitions included: not letting anyone out of the house or enter until an unrelated male came into the house on New Years Day.”
4) New Year’s Food – There are a lot of traditions about just what to eat on New Year’s Day. Some of the most common components of a New Year’s meal are:
- Black-Eyed Peas
- Collard Greens
- Ham or Pork
- Whiskey (or good, strong booze in general)
- Potato Pancakes
Most of the foods associated with the New Year are related to prosperity and wealth in some way. For instance, lentils and potato pancakes are shaped like coins. Black-eyed peas have fertility and abundance going for them. Cabbage and collards look like wads of bills waiting to be spent, etc. Some folks recommend the addition of non-edible components to the meal, such as coins for prosperity. Patrick W. Gainer says, “It will bring good luck if on New year’s Day you cook cabbage and black-eyed peas together and put a dime in them” (p.123). Listener and podcaster Aria Nightengale shared her New Year’s food lore during our recent contest, saying, “[W]e always eat pork and cabbage on new year’s day. According to my Momaw, we eat pork because pigs eat moving forward not backwards, so pork will help you move forward through the new year. I don’t know the specific purpose of the cabbage…but Momaw cooks it with a silver dollar in it for prosperity.”
There’s a distinctly Southern dish called Hoppin’ John made from black-eyed peas, onions, and ham which can usually be found simmering away on most stovetops during the New Year. It’s so important to our traditions that many restaurants also offer some version of it on New Year’s Day. My wife and I have a tradition of going to one specific restaurant every year where we can get good potato pancakes and hoppin’ john to help bring in the New Year with a couple of our friends. It makes for a nice way to spend the day, and ensures that we get our black-eyed pea requirement taken care of.
There are still many more traditions we could discuss (and I hope to!), such as cleaning practices, taboos, whether or not to give gifts, etc. But for now, I hope this has been a nice introduction to the wonderfully lore-rich practices of New Year’s celebration. Here’s wishing you a great day, and a great ending to the year!
All the best, and thanks for reading,