Posted tagged ‘New Orleans’

Blog Post 214 – The Naked Witch

March 29, 2019
And ye shall all be freed from slavery,
And so ye shall be free in everything;
And as the sign that ye are truly free,
Ye shall be naked in your rites, both men
And women also: this shall last until
The last of your oppressors shall be dead;
-From Aradia: Gospel of the Witches, by Charles G. Leland

Truth Coming Out of Her Well to Shame Mankind, by Jean-Léon Gérôme 1896 [Public domain] (via Wikimedia Commons)

A lot of modern witchcraft intersects with our bodies. We expect to experience magic as a visceral force, dance ecstatically, use the remnants of bodies–both plant and animal–in our spells, or alternately slather or dab our bodies with magical concoctions to gain a little advantage in a harsh world. In particular, some branches of witchcraft religion, such as British Traditional Wicca, emphasize the importance of bodily acceptance and embrace the human body as a source of power. That power, according to Wiccan progenitor Gerald Gardner, is pulled from the freeing of an “electromagnetic field” by the removal of clothing (although Gardner did allow that he thought “slips or Bikinis could be worn without unduly causing loss of power,” for what that is worth (and please note, I’m not particularly taking Gardner to task here, nor disavowing the traditions he launched, but pointing out that his theories about nudity were influenced largely by his own ideas and experiences).

 

Recently, people engaged with magic–especially magic and ritual where engagement means contact with other people–have been raising their voices over systematic and ongoing abuse at the hands of elders and community members. Women and young people seem particularly vulnerable as targets of groping, unwanted pressure for sexual initiation, or having bodies simultaneously treated as sacred and sexualized as objects. I am not going to recapitulate the entire discussion of these abuses here, although I will highly recommend spending some time really processing posts like the tough-but-vital ones posted by Sarah Lawless in recent months. Her writing has been excellent and influential, and I have seen countless victims (including many men who experience abuse in neo-Pagan circles) step forward to talk about what has happened to them and insist that it stop (and stop it should!).

 

That is not my aim today, however, although my topic is tangled into the net of that discussion. I was curious about the role of the witch’s body, specifically the witch’s naked body, as a component of her power or her craft. I knew well the line from Leland’s Aradia quoted above, but I also know that Leland’s sources do not always speak to a broad experience (or even an historically verifiable one, although I value much of his work). Leland’s goddess insists that nudity is an unshackling from the bonds of slavery and a sign of freedom, and Gardner seems to have run with nudity as a liberating experience as well within his own coven. Yet we also see nudity being used to degrade witches, shame them, or force them into the role of living succubus or “red woman” seductress. Where does nudity fit into a New World magical practice? Are there precedents for nude practice, does nudity have any value in practical magic, and does nudity still matter today?

 

There are essentially two situations in which witches might practice nude in New World witchcraft: alone and in groups. However, even here there are some gray areas, because when a witch is “alone,” they are often not entirely alone. They may be meeting an Otherworldly entity for an initiation rite, for example, and be expected to offer their body up for sexual congress, or even a simple washing ritual. In Appalachian lore, however, the favors were not always sexual, as some initiation rites involved offering a literal piece of one’s body, where “the devil is granted your soul in exchange for some talent, gift, or magical power, it is thought that he then receives some gift of the body in return. This could be a fingernail or even a withered finger.”

 

Just as often, these initiation rites involve a solitary witch stripping bare, but only as a precursor to other solitary action: cursing or shooting at the moon or (more practically) wading into a river or stream to wash away a previous baptism in some symbolic way. The sexualization of the witch in these encounters is virtually nil, except as perhaps a titillating detail for the listener or a matter of practical necessity for the witch. The act itself is symbolic because the witch is abandoning a previous life–usually a Christian one–and the removal of clothing is much like the washing away of the baptism.

 

Other parts of the New World also held that witches might strip bare on their own as an abandonment of social order. That was the common perception in Puritan New England, where witches were believed to travel into the woods to meet with “devils” or “Indians” (who were sometimes regarded by European colonists as essentially interchangeable). The idea that witches practiced magic in the buff, however, varied immensely from place to place. Sometimes it is included as a detail in stories of hag-riding, for example, especially in cases where the witch needed to apply a flying ointment of some kind before taking off.

 

AnonymousUnknown author [Public domain] (via Wikimedia Commons)

Group rituals are often a mixed bag as well, since witches might work in conjunction with another witch at times or meet up with a number of other witches for special events (such as during Walpurgisnacht-type celebrations). In one Ozark story, a would-be witch undergoes her initiation when she “removes every stitch of clothing, which she hangs on an infidel’s [non-believer’s] tombstone.” This rite is witnessed by two other nude initiates, but the sexual congress is relegated solely to the witch and “the Devil,” and not any human initiates. One tale of a pair of sister-witches on Roan Mountain in the Smokies tells of two witches removing their clothing before greasing up and flying up the chimney, for example. Other accounts describe groups of women slipping out of their clothes–or more potently, their skins–before flying off to perform dances. Details of sexual congress appear in European accounts, but are often minimized in North American ones, and frequently even the more diabolical descriptions of group nudity tend not to emphasize sexuality. A number of African tales about witches do indicate that they might have traveled naked to do their work (which was often desecrating graves or hunting children, work that hopefully contemporary witches are not doing). In these cases, however, the nudity was often solitary and never sexual, as the emphasis was on the witch’s wildness and cannibalistic nature rather than her sexual one. I’d also note that in cases where groups of nude witches meet, they are often all one gender (with the exception being the presence of an Otherworldly figure like the Devil), and that when someone intrudes on magical nudity–as happens in the Roan Mountain story–that person is usually punished.

 

In Zora Neale Hurston’s Mules & Men, she recounts an initiation ceremony experienced at the hands of Louisiana conjure-man Luke Turner (who claimed a lineage with Marie Leveau). In that ritual, Hurston was indeed stripped of her clothing and required to lie on a couch with no food for three days while she waited for a spirit to claim her. Then she was carefully bathed and had a symbol painted upon her, and finally “dressed in new underwear and a white veil…placed over [her] head” after which no one was allowed to speak to her until the ritual was concluded. The nakedness here is again symbolic, but Hurston very much demonstrates that there is no sexual component to it. She is most powerful during the ritual when she is veiled, then eventually has the veil lifted and she is given a “crown of power.”

 

Some of the most sensational accounts that involve witchcraft-like practices and nudity are those that come out of places like New Orleans in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries or out of Europe in the early Modern period around the time of the Reformation and the Enlightenment. In both cases, one group sought to exoticize another group and ascribing their rituals with depraved sexual fantasies made the stories of witchcraft all the more thrilling (in the same way that many horror films use flesh to both allure and repulse). Simply reading the Malleus Maleficarum opens up a realm of psychosexual fixations that reflect far more on the priest writing the stories than on any reported activities of witches. Scholar Ronald Hutton links some of these concerns to the long entanglement of witches as magic workers to night-stalking demons like succubi, who stole semen from sleeping men and tormented them with sexual dreams. The New Orleans press, in a similar vein, frequently featured stories of “primitive” African American “voodoo dances,” in which scores of naked or nearly-naked black men would dance. The scandal of these stories would escalate–often with particularly dire consequences to the black men–when papers reported white women joining the dances, again often nude. In these sensationalized accounts, the stripping of the body was highly sexualized and often showed the readers of such stories that magic, witchcraft, voodoo, or other forbidden topics would inevitably corrupt those who came too close. Those who know much about Vodoun as a religion, however, know that nudity is not typical to the formal celebrations and rituals to honor the lwa or invite them into a practitioner’s body. Clothing is often very specifically a part of the rites, with specific colors like white being appropriate when performing music or dance or offerings to invite divine interactions.

 

As often as there are stories of witches removing clothing, there are stories of witches slipping their skins off entirely–something I imagine most witches today won’t do readily–or donning animal skins as a precursor to shapeshifting, as often happened with the skinwalkers of Dine/Navajo tradition. Such practices were also echoed by those who hunted witches, as in Zuni rituals designed to help cleanse a community of witches when witch-hunters wore bear skins to enable them to track witches wearing the skins of creatures like coyotes. It’s worth noting as well that in the Zuni world, many of the accused witches were men, and contact with them required a special water-cleansing ceremony in which those afflicted with witchcraft would be stripped and bathed.

 

Albert Joseph Penot [Public domain] (via Wikimedia Commons)

 

So do witches go about in the nude? Absolutely. There’s no reason to think that they don’t. At the same time, do they have to go around in the nude? Absolutely not. Plenty of stories show witches putting on special clothing such as a fur or a veil in order to work witchcraft, and it does not seem to interfere at all with Gardener’s “electromagnetic field” (which, to be fair, even he conceded was not absolutely bound by clothing). Most crucially, except in sensationalized accounts, the nudity involved with witch stories is not particularly sexualized in the New World. There are many tales in which a magic worker might be bare but their nakedness is a symbolic act for them alone, and never an invitation for another person to violate their body. There are always exceptions, of course, but in most cases, we see examples like Hurston’s where a nude witch (or magical practitioner) is treated with extreme reverence and respect, rather than objectified for their body. Only when the nude witch is caught in the gaze of someone outside of her practice (and by someone untrustworthy) does her nakedness become a sexual problem, which seems to say much more about the one doing the gazing (and I, for one, am all for reviving a Euripedes-esque tearing asunder of those who would impose themselves on any gathering of witches in any state of undress).

 

Naked or not, the witch is powerful. Naked or not, the witch is not to be messed with. Naked or not, the witch does her work, and it is best to let her be.

 

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

References & Further Reading
  1. Breslaw, Elaine G., ed. Witches of the Atlantic World. NYU Press, 2000.
  2. Brown, Karen McCarthy. Mama Lola: A Vodou Priestess in Brooklyn. Univ. of California Press, 2011 ed.
  3. Courlander, Harold. A Treasury of Afro-American Folklore. DaCapo Press, 1996.
  4. Darling, Andrew. “Mass Inhumation & the Execution of Witches in the American Southwest.” American Anthropologist 100 (3), 1998. 732-52.
  5. Deren, Maya. Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti. McPherson, 1998 ed.
  6. Gates, Jr., Henry Louis, and Maria Tatar. The Annotated African American Folktales. Liveright, 2017.
  7. Gardner, Gerald B. Witchcraft Today. Citadel, 2004 ed.
  8. Hurston, Zora Neale. Mules & Men. HarperCollins, 2009 ed.
  9. Hurston, Zora Neale. Tell My Horse: Voodoo in Haiti and Jamaica. HarperCollins, 2008 ed.
  10. Leland, Charles. Aradia: Gospel of the Witches. Witches’ Almanac, 2010 ed.
  11. Milnes, Gerald C. Signs, Cures, & Witchery. Univ. of Tenn. Press, 2012 ed.
  12. Paddon, Peter. Visceral Magic. Pendraig, 2011.
  13. Randolph, Vance. Ozark Magic & Folklore. Dover, 1964.
  14. Russell, Randy, and Janet Barnett. The Granny Curse and Other Ghosts and Legends from East Tennessee. Blair, 1999.
  15. Sprenger, James, and Henry Kramer. Malleus Maleficarum. Public Domain (Sacred-texts.com)
  16. Tallant, Robert. Voodoo in New Orleans. Pelican, 1984 ed.
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Special Episode – Witches When and Where Roundtable

September 1, 2016

NWWPatreonLogo

Summary:

This episode is a special condensed version of one of our bi-monthly Patreon group discussions. The conversation was just so good, and we wanted to share some highlights of it with you. We talk about the times and places we most dream about visiting as magical folk. Enjoy!

 

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

 

Producers for this show: Corvus, Diana Garino, Renee Odders, Ye Olde Magic Shoppe, Raven Dark Moon, Ivory, The Witches View Podcast,  Sarah, Molly, Corvus, Catherine, AthenaBeth, Jen Rue of Rue & Hyssop, Shannon, Little Wren, Michael M., and Jessica (if we missed you this episode, we’ll make sure you’re in the next one!). Big thanks to everyone supporting us!

 

Play:

Download: Special Episode – Witches When and Where Roundtable

 

 -Sources-

This show is really the result of our supporters, some of whom you can find with magical businesses, podcasts, or blogs of their own:

 

We should be launching our newest podcast effort, Chasing Foxfire, this month! If you like folklore, this show will be connecting the dots between folk tales, science, nature, pop culture, literature, and more.

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

Don’t forget to follow us at Twitter! And check out our Facebook page! For those who are interested, we also now have a page on Pinterest you might like, called “The Olde Broom.” Have something you want to say? Leave us a voice mail on our official NWW hotline: (442) 999-4824 (that’s 442-99-WITCH, if it helps).

 

 Promos & Music

Title and closing music is “Dill Pickle Rag,” by The Joy Drops, and is used under a Creative Commons License (available at Soundcloud.com). Additional music is Dvorak’s “Two Waltzes,” from Op. 54, by the Musicians from Marlboro, and is used under the Creative Commons License through the Free Music Archive.

Podcast 61 – Mardi Gras!

March 4, 2014

Summary:

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

Play:

Download: New World Witchery – Episode 61

 -Sources-

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

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

 Promos & Music

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

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

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

Quick Update – NOLA Swag Contest!

November 27, 2013

Hi all!

If you’ve listened to the latest episode, you know we’re having another big contest right now. We had such generous sponsors this year we were able to put together a few extra swag bags for fan giveaways, so you have the opportunity to win one of these stuffed full of magical goodies!

kathleen_swag_bag_2013What’s in the bag, you ask? Well, specific contents will vary a bit (due to the personalized nature of the sponsor items in some cases), but I can tell you about our fantastic sponsors and what they sent along to give you a good idea what would be in there:

  • Javamancy KitCarnavalia/The Mystic Dream  – Chas Bogan and Storm Faerywolf created a fun and clever play on geomantic divination with a Victorian flair.
  • Three Venezuelan Powers Holy Card SetsCamino de Yara– The lovely Carolina Gonzalez shares a beautiful bit of South American folk magic with us.
  • Stay with ME Bath The Curio & Candle Shop  – Ms. Melanie made these simply beautiful (and wonderfully scented) magical herbal baths.
  • Lucky Green Rice SachetsDraconis Arcanum  – Rebecca sends you luck and good fortune, and invites you to share the promo code attached to her samples with your listeners (and use it yourself if you like!)
  • Handcrafted Conjure Condition OilsCandlesmoke Chapel– The Magnusons (Sara & Joseph) are sharing some of their incredible and all-natural hoodoo oils.
  • 2014 Witches’ CompanionLlewellyn Publications – This almanac/annual magical compendium has oodles of lunar dates, spells, and articles.
  • Horsetamer CD – Julia Ecklar & Prometheus Music  – This lovely CD crosses Pagan, folk, and pop genres. Music can be used in podcasts, and especially recommended are tracks “With the Trees” & “The Troll King’s Dream.”
  • Traditions Download Card – Kellianna – A beautiful new record with an old soul! Feel free to listen and use the songs from this excellent album in your shows. Features many fabulous duets, including Wendy Rule, and a number of great old songs with Kellianna’s gorgeous vocal updates.
  • EnchantmentPendraig Publishing– Peter Paddon (in attendance with us this year) sent his latest excellent book, all about the use of physical movement and beguiling in witchcraft. I bet he’d even sign it for you if you ask him.
  • Banshees, Werewolves, Vampires, & Other Creatures of the NightRed Wheel/Weiser Books– Weiser supplied this Varla Ventura title all about the beasties of darkness which is sure to keep you up late at night!
  • The Candle & the CrossroadsRed Wheel/Weiser Books– Weiser also supplied this energetic look at Southern folk magic written by Orion Foxwood (who is one of the teachers at the Folk Magic Festival this year).
  • Fifty-four Devils Cartomancy Kit New World Witchery – Cory & Laine give you his book on cartomancy, a fun deck of playing cards to try it out, and Laine’s hand-made card pouches to keep your fortune-telling deck safe!
  • Witches & Pagans Magazine  – BBI Media  – Anne Newkirk Niven & her team at BBI are providing us with the premier magazine in Paganism today.
  • Herbal Healing Salve – Rue & Hyssop/Three Brooms & a Cat  – Jen sadly couldn’t make it this year due to last-minute problems, but sent along these gorgeous hand-made herbal salves in her place.
  • Magical Miscellany Oil & IncenseMagical Miscellany– The lovely Velma Nightshade (also in attendance this year) has provided us with a sampling of her magical wares from her newly launched business venture, Magical Miscellany.
  • Coconut Oil & Obsidian – Kathleen Borealis/Borealis Meditations – Raw coconut oil and hand-selected obsidian chips from our brilliant globe-trotter, Kathleen!
  • Mini-Altar Kits/Dowsing Rods – Franchesca/VampRaven’s Nest– These super-cute little boxes contain a complete miniature altar set with candles, matches, incense, etc., plus a second box with little custom-made dowsing rods!
  • Scarlet’s Deck – Scarlet’s Treasures/Lakefront Pagan Voice– Scarlet surprised us with copies of her own very special and highly limited-edition tarot deck! These aren’t available for purchase anywhere, so only a few people, including us lucky podkin, have a copy!
  • And let’s also do our best to say thanks to Anna, owner of Erzulie’s Voodoo in New Orleans, who hosted us for our event (even if we were our own meet-and-greet, it was still nice of her to let us have the space for a couple hours).

A pretty fabulous haul, eh? There’s definitely at least $100 worth of stuff inside, but really the money side of it doesn’t begin to cover the quality, thought, and love in these items.

So now that you’re eagerly clawing at your scroll button, eyes big as saucers as you see all these amazing things that *you* can win, how do you go about getting your name in the hat?

Official Rules

  1. Purchase something, anything really, from one of the sponsors (preferably from one other than us, and preferably your purchase would have come after November 1st, but we’re not going to be incredibly rigid on those points). You could buy a wanga doll from Erzulie’s, or a copy of one of Peter Paddon’s books from Amazon, or pick up a copy of Witches & Pagans at your local bookstore…pretty much anything you want to buy. It can be for you, it can be a holiday gift, it doesn’t matter. Really we just want you to support our sponsors! [Edit: Dutiful listener Jasmine noted that requiring a purchase could land us in hot legal water. While the spirit of the contest is to encourage business with our sponsors, we will, of course, allow entries from folks who cannot purchase a product. No purchase necessary, simply email us and state you’d like to enter the contest and we’ll put your name in the hat.)
  2. Once you’ve purchased your item, take a photo of you with your purchase (or a copy of the receipt, or a screengrab of your digital receipt, etc.). Send that picture and a brief message asking to enter the contest and saying what you bought to compassandkey@gmail.com (or tweet it to us @NWWitchery).
  3. EVERY item you purchase gets you a new entry (as long as you send us a picture & message), so enter as much as you like!
  4. Contest ends at midnight, Central Time, on Friday, January 17th, 2014! Get us your picture(s) before then!
  5. We will draw three names at random from all the entries, and each of those three names will win a swag bag!
  6. Due to some of the items in this bag and potential international restrictions (as well as international shipping costs), this contest will only be open to listeners in North America. Sorry! 😦
  7. Winners will be announced in the late January show (our 4th pod-iversary!).

Not too complicated, I hope! If you happen to let the sponsors know you found them through New World Witchery, we’d love that, too!

So that’s the basics of this contest. We’ll keep some reminders going throughout the next month and a half, but entering early and often can’t hurt! We’ll also have a few other small contests running between now and then for books and extra swag items, and most of that will happen via Twitter and Facebook, so make sure you’re watching us at those places, too.

Good luck everyone! And thanks for reading!

-Cory

Podcast 57 – New Orleans

November 25, 2013

Summary:

In this extended episode, we revisit our recent trip to the magical city of New Orleans. We’ll discuss the most recent Pagan Podkin Super Moot, places to see in the Crescent City, and hear some music, travelogues, and even a tea leaf reading or two!

Play:
Download: New World Witchery – Episode 57

 -Sources-

Places Mentioned:

  1. Big thanks and mention to Erzulie’s, which hosted the event!
  2. Yo Mama’s Bar & Grill
  3. Cafe Du Monde (delicious beignets & chicory coffee)
  4. The Gumbo Shop
  5. Chartres House
  6. Bottom of the Cup Tea Room (where we got our leaves read!)
  7. New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum

Tours & Events:

  1. French Quarter Phantoms (great walking tour with ghost stories & absinthe tasting)
  2. Tours BaYou (awesome downloadable driving tour of the Garden District)
  3. Folk Magic Festival

Pop Culture:

  1. American Horror Story: Coven – Made Laine watch her first episode in NOLA!
  2. Jitterbug Perfume, by Tom Robbins – Cory bought his wife some perfume from Bourbon French Parfum because of its connection to this book.

CONTEST!
We announced a new contest in this episode! Details are coming in a separate post, but the basic rules are: 1) Buy something, anything, from one of the sponsors in the list below; 2) Take a picture with that item (or a a picture/screengrab of the receipt); 3) Send your picture to compassandkey@gmail.com and let us know to enter you in the contest. You could win one of three fully-stuffed PPSM Swag Bags, full of items from these great sponsors!

PPSM Sponsors! (We love them!!!)
(We’ll be posting more on these items in other places, but here’s a short list of the swag items and sponsors)

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

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

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

Song List:

  1. When the Saints Go Marching In,” by Wingy Malone (from Archive.org)
  2. Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho,” by the Delta Choral Union (from Archive.org)
  3. Iko Iko,” by the Grateful Dead (from Archive.org)
  4. New Orleans Stomp,” by Louis Armstrong (from Archive.org)

New Orleans Recollections from:

  1. The Texan Heretics
  2. Scarlet at Lakefront Pagan Voice
  3. Kathleen at Borealis Meditation

Quick Update – Who’s Ready for a Giveaway?

November 15, 2013

Hi everyone!

We came away from PPSM4 in New Orleans this year with a few extra items that I thought might be fun to share with our readers! We’re going to start with some books. I’ve got a magical three-pack of books to give away, which includes:

      

The 2014 Witches’ CompanionLlewellyn Publications

Banshees, Werewolves, Vampires, & Other Creatures of the Night, by Varla VenturaRed Wheel/Weiser Books

Fifty-four Devils, by Cory Thomas HutchesonNew World Witchery

There will likely be an extra goody or two in the book box, too, but I’ll keep that stuff a surprise.

So what do you have to do to get entered? This time around, I’ll make it super-simple. All you have to do is either “like” our Facebook page or leave us an iTunes review. Email me at compassandkey@gmail.com to let me know you’ve done it (and tell me what day you did it so I can verify your entry), and I’ll put your name in the sorting hat! If you do both, you get two entries.

I’m going to put the contest deadline at midnight, Central Standard Time, on Friday, November 22nd, 2013. Please make sure you’re entered by then! If you win, I’ll reply to your email to ask for your mailing address.

Just to make it fun, I’ll even give away two runner-up prizes, copies of The 2014 Witches’ Companion from Llewellyn Publications.

We’ll have a slightly bigger and more exciting contest to announce in our upcoming podcast episode, too, but for now I thought this would kick things off for the holiday season nicely.

Good luck! And thanks for reading!

-Cory

Blog Post 161 – Summer Saints, part II (St. John’s Eve)

September 5, 2012

Hi all!
I realize this is rather late, and that I’ve taken a long time to get it out. I’m still working on papers and projects for the graduate seminar, which wound up being incredibly time-consuming, so I had very little time to devote to my work here. However, I hope you’ll forgive me and enjoy the articles I do manage to put out when I manage to get them up.

Today, let’s continue working on those summer saints I started in the last post. While there are plenty of saints remaining in the calendar for the season, I thought that one saint’s feast day deserved some particular attention. St. John’s Eve, which is June 23rd, is ostensibly a celebration of the life and times of John the Baptist. It falls remarkably close to Midsummer, however, and so its connotations and meanings have absorbed a good bit of the lore associated with that holiday, too. It features prominently in accounts of New Orleans Voodoo from the nineteenth century, and functions as a day of tremendous power for working all sorts of quasi-magical operations. Let’s look at two from (quasi-)anthropological perpsectives. The first is an account found in Robert Tallant’s Voodoo in New Orleans, taken from a newspaper report contemporary to the events described (allegedly 28 June 1872):

“On Monday morning (St. John’s Day) I went to the French Market for the express purpose of finding out…the exact spot where the Voudou Festival would be held this year…I took the 8 o’clock train on the Ponchartrain Railroad. Arriving at the lake I fooled around a little; saw great crowds…I hired a skiff and pulled to the mouth of Bayou St. John—the best way of getting there from the lake end—the festival took place near Bayou Tchoupitoulas. Upon arriving at the shanty I found congregated about two hundred persons of mixed colors—white, black, and mulattoes…Soon there arrived a skiff containing ten persons, among wich was the Voudou Queen, Marie Lavaux [sic]. She was hailed with hurrahs.

The people were about equally divided male and female—a few more females. The larger portion of the crowd Negroes [sic] and quadroons, but about one hundred whites, say thirty or forty men, the remainder women.

Upon the arrival of Marie Lavaux, she made a few remarks in Gumbo French [Creole, I presume the reporter means], and ended them by singing, “Saiya ma coupe ca,” to which all hands joined in the chorus of “Mamzelle marie chauffez ca.” [reporter’s itallics, not mine]…The song ended, orders were given by the queen to build a fire as near the edge of the lake as possible, which was ‘did,’ every one being compelled to furnish a piece of wood for the fire, making a wish as they threw it on. Then a large caldron [sic] was put on the fire; it was filled with water brought in a beer barrel; then salt was put in by an old man, who jabbered something in Creole; then black pepper was put in by a young quadroon girl; she sang while putting in the pepper; then a box was brought up to the fire, from which was taken a black snake; he was cut into three pieces (the Trinity), one piece was put in by Marie Lavaux, one piece by the old man who put in the salt, and one piece by the young girl who put in the pepper; then al ljoined in chorus of the same song: “Mamzelle Marie chauffez ca;” then the queen called for a ‘cat,’ it was brought, she cut its throat, and put it into the kettle.

Another repetition of the same chorus, then a black rooster was brought to the queen. She tied its feet and head together and put it in the pot alive. Reptition of the chorus. Then came an order from the queen for every one to undress, which all did, amid songs and yells. The queen then took from her pocket a shot bag full of white and colored powders. She gave orders for every one to joino hands and circle around the pot. Then she poured the powders into the pot, sang a verse of some oracle song, to which all joined in a chorus while dancing around the pot, “C’es l’amour, oui Maman c’est l’amour, etc.”…everybody went into the lake, remained in the bath about half an hour…in half an hour the horn was blown (a sea shell), and all hand shurried back to the queen, and set up another chorus to a verse she sang to the same tune as the first one.

After the song she said ‘You can now eat’” (Tallant 80-81).

A long account (even with my editing), and likely a pretty sensationalized one. Certain aspects—communal feeding, dancing, music, memorized choruses, and the direction of a guiding presence like Marie Laveau—all ring somewhat true to accounts of African Traditional Religious practices in other places, such as the thorough examination of Brooklyn Vodoun in Mama Lola. Yet other features seem glaringly off, such as the complete lack of lwa, or the insistence on nudity (a common embellishment which appeared in several accounts and which essentially exists to exoticize and sexualize an entire race—even in the 1920’s stage shows at The Cotton Club in New York featured nude Black dancers with spears and tribal makeup because white patrons enjoyed “primitive” Black culture). The St. John’s dances, however, were highly popular affairs, and I see no reason to doubt that they truly happened. In many cases, it seems whites saw what they wanted to see—or what they were directed to see, and missed a great deal of the spiritual side of the events.

In Mules & Men, Zora Neale Hurston recounts her apprenticeship with Laveau’s alleged nephew, Luke Turner, who gives a somewhat more mystical (and significantly shorter) version of events:

“Out on Lake Ponchartrain at Bayou St. John she hold a grat feast every year on the Eve of St. John’s, June 24th. It is Midsummer Eve, and the Sun give special benefits then and need great honor. The special drum be played then. It is a cowhide stretched over a half-barrel. Beat with a jaw-bone. Some say a man but I think they do not know. I think the jawbone of an ass or a cow. She hold the feast of St. John’s partly because she is a Catholic and partly because of hoodoo.

The ones around her alter fix everything for the feast. Nobody see Marie Leveau [sic] for nine days before the feast. But when the great crowd of people at the feast call upon her, she would rise out of the waters of the lake with a great communion candle burning upon her head and another in each one of her hands. She walked upon the waters to the shore. As a little boy I saw her myself. When the feast was over, she went back into the lake, and nobody saw her for nine days again” (Hurston 193).

Again, I am a bit skeptical about Turner’s claims in some ways, but he seems to get at the heart of the event in a more profound way. Laveau becomes a demi-goddess in his account, a precursor to the lwa which she would eventually become. Certain aspects of both accounts agree: the presence of music, particularly drum music; the great communal feast; the crowd chanting and calling for her to arrive. For a celebration of St. John, the focus in these accounts tends to be awfully heavy on Marie Laveau, no?

However, that is not to say that St. John should be completely left out of his own holiday. Even one of Tallant’s informants recognizes the role the saint plays in the New Orleans frenzy on his feast day:

“Alexander Augustin remembered some of the tales of old people which dated to the era of the Widow Paris [another name for Marie Laveau].

‘They would thank St. John for not meddlin’ wit’ the powers the devil gave ‘em,’ he said. ‘They had one funny way of doin’ this when they all stood up to their knees in the water and threw food in the middle of ‘em. You see, they always stood in a big circle. Then they would hold hands and sing. The food was for Papa La Bas, who was the devil. Oldtime Voodoos always talked about Papa La Bas” (Tallant 65-6).

So does that mean that John’s role—and I should here clarify that the John honored on St. John’s Eve is St. John the Baptist, who was written about in the New Testament, but who was not the author of the Gospel of St. John (different saints entirely)—is always sublimated to another spiritual force, be it Marie Laveau or Papa Le Bas (also frequently called Papa Lebat, and sometimes seen as an alternate identity for Papa Legba, although he may also be named after a New Orleans priest who tried to eradicate Voodoo only to become a lwa after his death)?

Let us briefly look at the saint behind the day, then. Since we’ve already spent so much time in New Orleans, I’ll pause to crack open my copy of Denise Alvarado’s Voodoo Hoodoo Spellbook, which says that St. John is aligned with Ogun, Agonme, and Tonne in the lwa/orisha traditions, and that he has patronage over silence, slander, bridges, and running water. While Alvarado does note that the eve of June 23rd involves observations in honor of Marie Laveau, she does a lovely job looking at the current understanding of the saint’s feast day on the 24th:

“[The] holiday coincides with summer solstice, celebrated in New Orleans every year by Mambo Sallie Ann glassman at St. John’s Bayou. To celebrate the summer, the warmth, fire, and nourishment from the sun. For opportunities, good luck, and to realign with cosmic forces” (Alvarado 74).

Both Hurston and Alvarado have noted the strong connection to the sun with this day, not surprising given its proximity to the summer solstice. Within Christian cosmology, the desert-dwelling St. John recognized Jesus before most others had, and spoke of baptizing people with fire. He saw the heavens open up, and the holy spirit—sometimes represented by fire, though in this case in the form of a radiant dove—descend to earth to acknowledge Jesus as God incarnate. A number of solar symbols appear in this myth—deserts, fire, heavens opening up, descending light, and even the metaphorical light of understanding which enables John to see Jesus’ true nature. And since Midsummer forms the balance point for the winter holidays, which included the feast of Sol Invictus (the Unconquered Sun), it makes a great deal of sense to have the fiery and solarly-aligned John the focus of such a major holiday. Plus, they guy lived off of locusts, so I think we can spare him a day on the calendar.

Turning to NWW favorite Judika Illes, we find that St. John is associated with the color red, love spells, herbs, marriage, fertility, and, of course, beheading (the method of his death). She notes that he “has dominion over healing and magical plants in general,” which makes sense as one of the famous magical herbs bears his name: St. John’s wort. A bevvy of rituals surround the acquisition and deployment  of this enchanted plant, the most famous of which Illes shares in her book:

“If you rise at dawn on Midsummer’s Day and pick a sprig of St. John’s Wort with the dew still clinging to it, tradition says you will marry within the year—but only if you do not speak, eat, or drink from the time of rising until after the plant is picked. A second part to this spell claims that if you slip the plant benath your pillow and go back to sleep—still without eating, drinking, or speaking—your true love will appear in your dream” (Illes 381).

The Encyclopedia of Mystics, Saints, & Sages also points out that in a number of European cultures, any herb gathered on St. John’s Day before dawn is inherently imbued with intense magical qualities.

Finally, let’s finish up our (rather long) snapshot of St. John with a smattering of magical lore surrounding him and his feast day from around the world:

  • “Wear a mugwort wreath around your brow on Midsummer’s Eve to banish headaches for a year” (Illes 381).
  • “Gather blossoming St. John’s Wort at midnight on St. John’s Eve. If the blossoms remain fresh in the morning, this is an auspicious sign that the rest of the year will be happy; if the blossoms have wilted, magical protective measures may be in order” (Illes 381).
  • To return an wandering lover, gather three roses on St. John’s Eve, bury two secretly  before sunrise in a grave and under a yew tree, and put the third under your pillow. Leave it for three nights, then burn it, and your lover won’t be able to stop thinking about you (Illes 381).
  • St. John is the patron of conversion/baptism and tailors, and can be petitioned for “good luck, good crops, fertility, & protection from enemies” (Malbrough 29).
  • In Russian, a priest would visit local farms on St. John’s day and make a cross of fresh tar on the fence posts while reciting a prayer to keep away witches “who were liable to go around in the shape of dogs and steal milk from the cows” (Ryan 43).
  • A Russian spell from the Enisei region of Siberia notes that gathering twelve magical herbs (unspecified) on St. John’s Eve and placing them under the pillow would induce prophetic dreaming (Ryan 47).
  • St. John could be invoked in a charm with St. Peter to diminish fevers, according to English cunning man William Kerrow (Wilby 11-12).
  • English cunning woman Ursula Kemp “recommended three leaves each of sage and St. John’s wort steeped in ale,” as a powerful potion against witchcraft (Davies 110).

So that’s a little look at St. John. And his day. That was worth the wait, right?

One thing I did learn in my long absence is that I should be careful about setting expectations with some of these posts. I originally intended to make a 3-to-5-part series on the “summer saints,” but at this point it will probably be a while before I return to the saints I had planned to cover in the remaining posts. I still will be addressing magical saints in various articles and from a few different perspectives, but I think for the moment I want to move on to other topics here. My reading and research have me exploring a number of topics, and I’d prefer to get those covered here while they’re fresh in my mind, so forgive me if I get a little bit more scattershot in terms of what gets posted here. I’ve also had requests for topics to be covered that I may essay given a bit of time and the proper resources. So, in other words, I’ve got lots to do, and the saints of summer may just have to wait a bit. I hope that’s okay with y’all.

With all of that being said, thank you so much for hanging in there with me. I’ll do my best to keep work coming your way, but I hope that what is here already is proving useful to you. I’m not going away anytime soon, even if I do seem quiet from time to time. I really love getting emails and comments, too, and I apologize for the delays in response  to those, but thank you to everyone who has written in.

I really appreciate your patience, and thanks so much for being friends to us here at New World Witchery!

Thanks for reading,

-Cory


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