Blog Post 17 – Contest Reminder

Hi everyone!

Just a quick reminder that there’s only a little over a week left in our first giveaway.  We’re offering a copy of Cat Yronwode’s Hoodoo Root & Herb Magic to one randomly chosen reader/listener.  All you have to do is email us or leave a comment on Blog Post 10 – Weather Work with some weather lore, preferably from your area or family.  The deadline is February 28th at midnight, Central Time, so please get your submissions in before then.  We’ll likely be putting together a show on weather lore soon and we’d love to have some field reports from out there in the wider magical community.

So good luck, and we look forward to hearing from you!

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

Blog Post 16 – An Introduction to Pow-wow, Part III

Hi folks!  Here is the final installment in my introductory Pow-wow series.  I hope you’re enjoying them!  Now, on to the magic!

Where can I find out more about Pow-wow?

There are many phenomenal resources on this subject.  Here are some of the books I like:

The Red Church, by Chris Bilardi
American Shamans, by Jack Montgomery
Signs, Cures, & Witchery, by Gerald C. Milne
Buying the Wind, by Richard M. Dorson (chapter on “Pennsylvania Dutchmen”)

And, of course, Pow-wows; or The Long Lost Friend, by John George Hohman (also available free at sacred-texts.com).

Additionally, I like this website and its accompanying newsletter:
Three Sisters Center for the Healing Arts

There are other books and resources which I’ve encountered either by proxy or by reputation which I’d also recommend seeking out, though I cannot give a strong opinion on their validity myself, yet:

Strange Experience: The Autobiography of a Hexenmeister, by Lee R. Gandee
Hex and Spellwork, by Karl Herr
The Pennsylvania German Broadside, by Don Yoder
The Pennsylvania German Society

Some Pow-wow Charms & Proverbs

Finally, as promised, here are some Pow-wow charms you can try out yourself.  I’d love to hear how they work for you, so please feel free to leave comments or email us about your results!  Please also note that I provide these for cultural, spiritual, and magical value.  They do not replace conventional medical or legal advice; please see a professional if you have needs in those areas.

First, a few from Hohman’s book:

HOW TO BANISH THE FEVER.

Write the following words upon a paper and wrap it up in knot-grass, and then tie it upon the body of the person who has the fever:

Potmat sineat,
Potmat sineat,
Potmat sineat.

TO STOP BLEEDING.

I walk through a green forest;
There I find three wells, cool and cold;
The first is called courage,
The second is called good,
And the third is called stop the blood

TO REMOVE BRUISES AND PAINS.

Bruise, thou shalt not heat;
Bruise, thou shalt not sweat;
Bruise, thou shalt not run,
No-more than Virgin Mary shall bring forth another son.
+ + +

(The three “+” signs at the end indicate making three crosses in the air over the patient or afflicted area, also sometimes saying the three High Names of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost)

ANOTHER WAY TO STILL-BIND THIEVES.

Ye thieves, I conjure you, to be obedient like Jesus Christ, who obeyed his Heavenly Father unto the cross, and to stand without moving out of my sight, in the name of the Trinity. I command you by the power of God and the incarnation of Jesus Christ, not to move out of my sight, + + + like Jesus Christ was standing on Jordan’s stormy banks to be baptized by John. And furthermore, I conjure you, horse and rider, to stand still and not to move out of my sight, like Jesus Christ did stand when he was about to be nailed to the cross to release the fathers of the church from the bonds of hell.. Ye thieves, I bind you with the same bonds with which Jesus our Lord has bound hell; and thus ye shall be bound; + + + and the same words that bind you shall also release you.

(The conventional wisdom on releasing the thief is that the entire spell must be read backwards.  It’s nice to hold all the cards sometimes.  This charm is almost entirely lifted from entry #22 of the Romanus Buchlein, or Little Book of the Roma, a late 18th century grimoire and prayer book).

Here is a pair of charms which I am citing from Jack Montgomery’s American Shamans, but which he cites from an article entitled “Magical Medical Practice in South Carolina,” from Popular Science Monthly, 1907:

TO HEAL A SPRAIN

Christian Version

“Our Lord rode, his foal’s foot slade [slid],
Down he lighted, his foal’s foot righted,
Bone to bone,
Sinew to sinew,
Flesh to flesh,
Heal, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.  Amen”

Pagan Version

“Phol and Woden went to the wood, there was Balder’s colt his foot wrenched,
Then Sinthgunt charmed it and Sunna her sister,
Then Frua charmed it and Volla her sister, then Woden charmed it as he well could,
As well the bone-wrench,
As the blood-wrench,
Bone to bone,
Blood to blood,
Joint to joint,
As if they were glued together.”

(Montgomery, American Shamans, p. 102)

A classic Pow-wow blood-stopping charm, also from Jack Montgomery (and derived from a passage in Ezekiel, I believe):

And when I passed by thee and saw thee polluted in thine own blood, I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, Live; yea, I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, Live. (p. 253)

Here’s a more modern charm for protection during automobile travel:

“This is a written prayer that is used for protecting cars and other vehicles.  It can be simply folded and placed in the glovebox.

Our Heavenly Father, we ask this day a particular blessing.  As we take the wheel of our car, grant us safe passage through all the perils of trouble.  Shelter those who accompany us and provide us from harm by Thy mercy.  Steady our hands and quicken our eyes that we may never take another’s life.  Guide us to our destination safely, confident in the knowledge that Thy blessing be with us through darkness and light, sunshine and showers, forever and ever.  Amen.” (Bilardi, The Red Church, p. 284)

And I’ll conclude with a few proverbs from the Pennsylvania Dutch, as recorded in Buying the Wind, by Richard M. Dorson (pp.138-141).  Note that “German” here connotes the Pennsylvania-German dialect, not necessarily European German.

-German:  D’r hammer wert aus faerm ambos.
-English:  The anvil outlasts the hammer.

-German:  Waers erscht in di mil kummt grikt’s erscht gimale.
-English:  He that cometh first to the mill, grindeth first.

-German:  En blini sau finnt a alsemol en echel.
-English:  Even a blind pig will sometimes find an acorn.

I hope this series has been informative to you!  This won’t be the last time Pow-wow comes up here, of course, but I think it may be enough to get your feet wet on the subject.  If you try out any of these charms and have results to report or have any thoughts on the different folklore and opinions recorded here, I hope you will leave a comment or send an email and share them with us.

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

Blog Post 15 – An Introduction to Pow-wow, Part II

Welcome back!  Today I’m continuing with a bit more of the history of Pow-wow, as well as some of its cultural connections.  It’s a lot of information, so I’ll spare you a long introduction and get right to the point.

So why is it called “Pow-wow?”

That’s a good question.  After all, the term “powwow” is associated with Native Americans, not with Germans, right?  According to Rosemary Ellen Guiley, author of The Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft:

“The term [Pow-wowing] was derived from the settlers’ observation of Indian powwows, meetings for ceremonial or conference purposes.  Much of the Germans’ witchcraft centered around cures and healing.  The settlers enlisted the help of the Indians in finding native roots and herbs that could be used in their medicinal recipes” (p. 270)

So early on, the connection between the marginalized German settlers and the marginalized natives was established, and an exchange of information shaped the magical practices found among the settlers.  This is that distinctly American flavor I mentioned earlier—the syncretism of Old World techniques with New World resources.  I think it’s important to note that this syncretism was not done willy-nilly, but rather was born of specific needs.  Herbs were not substituted based on intuitive feelings, but based on shared botanical properties.  Hence an old-world root like mandrake might find a substitution in the form of a potato (another member of the nightshade family and one which could be used to make vegetable poppets for sympathetic magic).  Or, it might be replaced by the mayapple, due to its chemical properties (both share certain levels of toxicity which can make them psychoactive in small doses and deadly in larger ones).

Are there still Pow-wows in America?

Oh my yes.  There have been dozens of books written on the subject (many of them fairly recent, and sometimes unfortunately rather misrepresentative), and famous Pow-wows were known as little as thirty or forty years ago.  There are great resources written by fairly contemporary authors like Lee R. Gandee, Jack Montgomery, and Karl Herr, as well as some lesser-known works (such as the text by Chris Bilardi previously cited).  And, of course, Hohman’s Long Lost Friend is still available in print, too.

More than just books, though, there is a living tradition, often fairly hidden to outsiders, within various PA-Dutch communities.  Sometimes complete curing traditions are intact, sometimes only a few charms survive within a family.  Often one can find magical recipe books or almanacs like the ones circulated in the 1800’s sitting near family bibles in modern Pennsylvania-German homes.  Speaking of the Bible, that brings me to the next topic…

Is Pow-wow Christian magic?

This is a bit of a sticky wicket for a lot of folks.  Most certainly, as it is practiced now, Pow-wow is highly dependent on Judeo-Christian religion for its symbols, names of power, etc.  It has its roots in older practices, but tracing those roots is often a murky bit of business.  Rather than asking you to believe me on the subject, though, I’d like to present a few quotes from those more in the know than I am:

“Powwowing has survived into modern times.  Some of the charms and incantations used date back to the Middle Ages, probably to the time of Albertus Magnus, a magician, alchemist and prolific author whose feats were often called witchcraft.  Powwowing charms also include Kabbalistic and Biblical elements” (Guiley, The Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft, p. 270)

“The roots of Bruacherei are indeed quite long, some of which can be traced to pre-Christian Germanic heathenism.  Other roots are equally pre-Christian and stem from older forms of Judaism and the many strains of religion and medicine of the Roman Empire.  Without overreaching too much, the sometimes blurry lines between what constituted a ‘Germanic’ tribe versus a ‘Celtic’ tribe or a ‘Slavic’ tribe, make it quite possible there are Slavic and Celtic pre-Christian elements in Bruacherei.  The truly unique thing about Bruacherei is that it is a wholly Germanic synthesis of all these cultural strains.  Anyone looking for a purely heathen Germanic healing-way via Bruacherei is in for a major disappointment.  To take Bruacherei and reshape it in this manner is to make a brand-new practice out of it.  Therefore it would no longer be Bruacherei as it has been practiced for nearly 900 years and most certainly not as it has been practiced for the past two centuries in America” (Bilardi, The Red Church, p. 73)

“Once, when I showed him [famed Hex/Pow-wow Lee R. Gandee] several items I’d purchased from a mail order occult catalog, he smiled and said, ‘Do you really think that stuff will help you?  Don’t you realize by now that the magic is coming from within you and from God?  You are the catalyst!  In you, the power will either arise or fall flat.’” (Jack Montgomery, American Shamans, p. 77)

What I gather from this and other sources is that if one studies Pow-wow, one needs to be comfortable with Judeo-Christian ideas.  Note I don’t say one has to accept them all, but if learning to use a charm with the words “Jesus” or “Mary” or “Holy Ghost” in it is a problem, Pow-wow may not be the way to go.

There are definitely illustrations of pre-Christian origins for many of the modern Pow-wow charms and spells (I’ll be including one in this series to demonstrate these differences), but as it stands now, this system is tied to its centuries-old Christian heritage.  It is my opinion (and mine alone) that it is possible to work with Pow-wow without any Christian elements, but that if one does so, it is advisable to be absolutely sure that the names, prayers, charms, etc. one uses are intimately connected to their historical roots.  Using strictly Germanic spirit and deity names in this system strikes me as the only practical way to accomplish this (although I’d be willing to entertain the idea of using Native American stand-ins as well, due to the connection between the two cultures through Pow-wow).  The odd tendency in modern magic to use “correspondences” and tables of mix-and-match deities and forces seems somehow improper to me.  One wouldn’t assume that one could play the violin with a drumstick just because both are musical instruments, yet people feel absolutely no reservations about dropping an Egyptian goddess into a Germanic, post-Reformation charm.  Now, a person can play a bluegrass tune or a strain of Bach with the same bow, so I do think that once a person has mastered the basics of the instrument, the specific form and style he or she plays (or in the case of Pow-wow, the specific charms employed) can vary.  But as for outright cross-substitution between very different traditions, I don’t think that still qualifies as Pow-wow.  I suppose if one subscribes to the “all gods are one” hypothesis I might be able to understand that point of view, but that’s not a perspective I follow, so it doesn’t work for me.

All of that is a lot of typing just to say “Yes, Pow-wow is sort of Christian.  Mostly.  More or less.  But not always.  But mostly.  I think.”

That’s it for today.  I should point out that the opinion presented here is my own, and not that of the authors I cite.  Please refer to their works for their specific opinions.  And feel free to engage in a lively and civil debate if you like!  I’d love to get other perspectives!

Oh, and I promise there are some practical things coming up soon, so stick with me for those.

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

Blog Post 13 – Crown of Success

One of the things I hope to do on this blog is provide information on specific tools, formulae, ingredients, and objects used in American folk magic.  I hope that these blogs and podcasts will help the eager American witch to develop his or her practice by incorporating these components, or at the very least educate him or her about the different products available in the folk magic marketplace.

Today, I thought I’d focus on the hoodoo formula known as Crown of Success.  I’ve been using that one a lot lately, and it’s one of the ones I almost always have on hand or steeping in my pantry.  I’m sure many people could use a bit more success in their lives, so it’s a good one to have around for quick spellwork.

The recipe varies a bit from maker to maker, but almost all have a few ingredients in common:

  • Bay (as in bay laurel, not the bay which provides Jamaican bay rum)
  • Frankincense
  • Iron pyrite (“fool’s gold”)

There are several ingredients I’ve seen used interchangeably with key ingredients; lodestone can be used instead of pyrite, for example, since it acts as an “attractant” curio.  Likewise, some folks add gold flakes or glitter to the formula because of the association between gold and money/glory/success.  Additional herbs, roots, and curios can include things like master-of-the-woods, deer’s tongue, cinquefoil (also known as five-finger grass), sandalwood, vetiver, dragon’s-blood, etc.

Harry M. Hyatt records an informant in his Hoodoo – Conjuration – Witchcraft – Rootwork compendium who describes a mojo bag for success containing a lodestone, liquid mercury/quicksilver, iron filings, and a black cat bone (Volume 2, p. 1506).  WARNING!  Do NOT use liquid mercury under any circumstances—it is highly toxic and will cause damage or death if handled.  The black cat bone referred to is likely the magical talisman obtained (rather cruelly) by boiling a black cat alive in a magical ceremony and then collecting the bone in a special ritual.  I do NOT advise this, merely present it as a piece of folklore.  The modern formulae for Crown of Success do not depend on either deadly mercury or ritualized animal slaughter.

As far as how to use this particular formula, Lucky Mojo has an excellent page on Crown of Success formula at their site so I won’t go into much detail here.  Very generally, anything that involves gaining favor or accomplishing a goal—things like acing job interviews, applying for loans or grants, or mastering a new skill—can benefit from the inclusion of this product.

My own personal formulation of this recipe (for the oil version of it)  includes the following:

  • Bay leaves & oil
  • Cinquefoil
  • Frankincense tears & oil
  • Sandalwood chips & oil
  • Vetivert (herb & oil, if available)

In the master jar I also keep a rolled piece of paper with this line from Psalm 65 on it:

“Thou crownest the year with thy goodness; And thy paths drop fatness.” (Ps. 65:11)

There are several reliable sources for this oil out there.  I have to plug our shop, Compass & Key Apothecary, of course (forgive the rather paltry site, we’ll be revamping it soon, but you can certainly order any of our oils there).  But I would also heartily recommend Lucky Mojo’s Crown of Success products and Music City Mojo’s oils or mojo hands.  Based on the reputation of the root workers (as opposed to the individual products which I’ve used in the previous two examples), I would also go out on a limb and say that Toad’s Bone Apotheca and Forest Grove Botanica could both mix up a good blend of success formula if you ask them nicely.

One product I will recommend avoiding is Anna Riva’s Crown of Success.  It doesn’t smell “right,” and I’ve never had much luck using her oils in general.  Your mileage may vary, of course, and if you’ve had good luck with her products, I’d love to know about it.

That’s about it for this root work formula.  If you’d like to share your stories about working with it, we’re always happy to hear them.

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

Podcast 3 – Hot & Cold Spells, A Story, and A Contest

-SHOWNOTES FOR EPISODE 3-

Summary

In this episode, we talk about periods of waxing and waning interest in witchcraft, and how to get out of non-practicing rut.  Then we have a reading of “Young Goodman Brown” by Nathaniel Hawthorne.  We also announce our first ever contest (make sure to listen all the way to the end of the show).

Play:

Download:  New World Witchery – Episode 3

-Sources-

Young Goodman Brown,” by Nathaniel Hawthorne

We also mention A Pagan in the Threshold in this podcast, which is another excellent Pagan podcast.

Promos & Music

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

Promo 1- A Pagan in the Threshold

Promo 2- Forest Grove Botanica

Promo 3- The Celtic Myth Podshow

Contest

Our first ever contest!  We’re looking for weather lore, so please submit yours for a chance to win our prize, a copy of Cat Yronwode’s Hoodoo Root & Herb Magic. Please see Blog Post 11 – A Contest! for more details.

Blog Post 11 – A Contest!

Hi everyone!

I loosely alluded to this in a previous post, but we’ve decided that we want your weather lore!  We’re putting together a show based on weather magic and folklore, and we need good field reports.  So, we’re having a little contest here at New World Witchery.  From now until the end of February 2010 (the 28th), anyone who:  1) posts a comment on Blog Post 10 – Weather Work, or 2) sends us an email describing any kind of weather-related magic or lore, especially family or local lore, will have their name entered into a drawing.  Also include what part of the country/continent you’re from (you don’t need to give us specific locations, unless you win, of course…then we’ll need an address to ship to 🙂 ).  All entries must be date-stamped before midnight CST on the 28th to be considered.  And if you’ve already posted a comment with weather lore, don’t worry, we’ll count you, too!

On March 1st (or thereabouts), we’ll be drawing a name from the thousands of entries we receive (we’re optimistic) and one lucky reader/listener will receive a free copy of Catherine Yronwode’s Hoodoo Root & Herb Magic.  For those of you unfamiliar with this text, it’s the quintessential text on the botanicals and curios used in the practice of Southern-style hoodoo and conjure magic.

From the Lucky Mojo website (slightly abridged):

Hoodoo Herb and Root Magic, paperback by Catherine Yronwode
Originally published in 2002.
From the proprietor of the Lucky Mojo Curio Company comes the most thorough, complete, and authentic book on how roots and herbs are used in traditional African-American folk magic. 500 herbs, roots, minerals, and zoological curios are listed, along with their scientific names, so you will know exactly what to harvest or buy from an herb dealer. Included are an amazing 750 spells, formulas, mojo hand combinations, and candle rites, all given in workable, practical detail. Medical usages for many of the herbs, supplementary botanical notes, a series of cross-indexes listing herbs by the magical conditions for which they are recommended, plus 50 beautiful black and white illustrations of herbs and vintage herb packaging round out this informative reference volume. There is no other herb encyclopedia like this one. This is the book to get if you are working traditional conjure and herb magic. 224 pages, trade paperback.

  • 500 herbs, roots, minerals, and rare zoological curios, with taxonomic (“Latin”) names for proper identification.
  • 750 traditional spells, tricks, and magical recipes.
  • 50 black and white line illustrations of common magical herbs and roots of North America.
  • 6 handy charts in which dozens of conditions — such as love-drawing or protection — are listed and the herbs for each condition are given in alphabetical order.
  • Cross-referencing: Every herb is accompanied by at least one spell.
  • Bibliography: Authentic recipes are drawn from first-hand experience and 100 years of solid folkloric research.

I own this book and let me assure you, it’s one of the best magical herbals out there.  No fluff, no repetitive 101 stuff; just good, solid information backed by great research.

So, if you want to contribute to the wealth of knowledge and lore in the witchy world, plus have a chance to get a fantastic magical reference book, please submit!  We’ll also be announcing this on the next podcast, too, so if you primarily keep up with us that way, you won’t be left out.

Good luck, and thanks for reading!

-Cory

Blog Post 10 – Weather Work

We recently received a nice blanketing of snow here (which is somewhat rare for our area), and it got me to thinking about weather magic.   When I was little, before we moved to the farm, I used to go out to the dirt hill near our house with a big staff in my hands and shout at the wind, seeing if I could get it to gust up or gentle down.  I remember feeling like I always had a strong connection to weather, particularly those winds.  When we moved out to the farm, my understanding of weather changed dramatically.  Our house was on a hill at the top of our acreage, and we were exposed to a number of tempests, some of which were quite severe.  When we had snow, 4-foot drifts piled up off of our back porch, deep enough that when I jumped into them I was buried up to my chest.  And  I still remember waking up one morning and looking out the window only to see a tornado receding back into the clouds after having passed but a quarter-of-a-mile or so from the house and uprooting a number of trees.  Being a teenager, I had slept through it, of course.

What I learned on that farm was that weather was wild, and would always be wild.  It’s something we can react to, prepare for, run from, or attempt to block out, but we can never really control it the way we like to think we control so many other things—the cleanliness of our water or where our next meal comes from, for example.  Magic seems to have the advantage over empirical science here, as many magicians swear by inherited techniques that allow them to control or predict the weather to one degree or another.

Today I thought it might be worthwhile to take a look at a few techniques, charms, and proverbs regarding the weather from various North American sources.

From Nova Scotia (in Folklore of Nova Scotia, by Mary L. Fraser):

“An Acadian boy would not dare to kill a toad or a spider, for his outdoor pleasure would then be spoiled by the downpour of rain that was sure to follow. A boy of Scotch or Irish descent would be deterred from doing so because it would bring him bad luck.

‘If you wish to live, not die,

Let the spider go alive.’”

I’ve heard this before as an admonition not to harm toads (and for some reason, I always assumed lizards) when out of doors, for fear of bringing on bad weather.  The spider is a new twist for me, but I generally try not to disturb any of the bite-ier creatures out in the wild world.

Mary Fraser also reports a weather-predicting system I’ve seen in a couple of places.  She mentions that the twelve nights between Christmas and Epiphany represent the coming twelve months of the year.  In other words, if you have cold, wet weather on the third day after Christmas, you can expect a rather clammy and dismal March.

From the Pennsylvania Dutch (in The Long-Lost Friend, by J. G. Hohman):

For protection of one’s home against storms, say “Beneath thy guardianship I am safe against all tempests and all enemies, J. J. J.”  (These three Js signify Jesus three times.)

Chris Bilardi, in his excellent book on PA-Dutch braucherei, The Red Church, suggests the following Psalms for weather-work:

  • Psalm 2 – For danger at sea (storms); also for headache
  • Psalm 21 – For dangerous storms at sea
  • Psalms 24 and 25 – For dangers of nature—especially the danger of floods
  • Psalm 76 – For averting danger from water

From the Appalachians (in the Foxfire series of books):

It will be a bad winter if –

  • Squirrels’ tails grow bushier
  • Crows gather together
  • The wooly worm has a heavy coat
  • Onions grow more layers
  • Blackberry blooms are especially heavy

It will rain –

  • Within three days if the horns of the moon point down
  • If  leaves show their backs
  • If cows are lying down in the pasture
  • If there is a ring around the moon (count the stars in the ring and it will rain within that many days)

The weather will be fair if –

  • You hear a screech owl
  • Smoke rises
  • Crickets holler (the temperature will rise)

Additionally, here are some bits of lore from the Appalachians:

  • If it’s cloudy and smoke rises, there’s a chance of snow
  • The number of days old the moon is at the first snow tells how many snows there will be that winter
  • For every frost or fog in August, there will be a snowy day in winter
  • A late frost means a bad winter
  • The darker green the grass is during the summer, the harder the winter
  • If it rains on Easter Sunday, it will rain every Sunday for seven weeks
  • If it rains on ‘Blasting Days’ (the three longest days of the year, there won’t be any ‘mast’ (acorns, chestnuts, etc.) for animals like hogs to feed on

From the Ozarks (in Ozark Superstitions and Ozark Magic and Folklore, by Vance Randolph):

Rain will come –

  • If the tall grass is bone dry in the morning, or if there is heavy dew
  • If rabbits play in a dusty road
  • If dogs start eating grass
  • If sheep turn their backs to the wind
  • If cats sneeze, wash behind their ears, or lick their fur against the grain

Signs of dry weather –

  • A red sunset promises at least twenty-four hours of dry weather
  • A rainbow in the evening means clear weather (but a rainbow at morning tells of a storm in the next twenty-four hours)
  • A ‘sundog,’ or a circle around the sun, indicates prolonged dry weather, or at least a radical change in weather soon
  • When the crescent moon travels ‘horns up,’ there will be no rain for some time

And finally, one of the most interesting weather-predictors around, also from the Ozarks:

“The blood of a murdered man—bloodstains on a floor or garments—will liquefy on even dry sunshiny days, as a sign that a big rain is coming”

This is only a small sampling of everything out there.  I’ve used many of these predictors (leaves turning their backs or cattle lying in a pasture) to prepare for bad weather, and there are many I’ve never even thought to pay mind to (rabbits in a dusty road, for example).  So what about you, dear readers?  Do you have any family or local lore regarding the weather you’d like to share?  If so, please post a comment or send us an email, and indicate roughly what part of the world you’re in and what your weather charm or proverb is.  We may do a show on these if we get enough interest!

I’d also like to issue a friendly challenge to you:  make mental note of a few of these and start paying attention to them.  See if they actually do predict or cause weather patterns for you in your area.  Report your findings back here and share your observations with the rest of us.  Who knows, we may read your results on the podcast, or something better (he said slyly).

I hope wherever you are, the weather’s treating you fair.  If it’s not, you can always contact your neighborhood witch.

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

Blog Post 8 – Seaside Sorcery

De Windstoot, by Willem van de Velde II (from Wikimedia Commons)

Hello!  Today I’m going to take a look at some of the coastal magic found in Northeastern America and Canada (Southern coastal magic will be in a later post, I hope).  In the early days, American colonies and states depended greatly on foreign trade for supplies.  The wealth of natural resources here were valuable to people across the sea as well, and so much of the commercial backbone of North America during those years depended on seaports and sailing vessels and all those men and women who operated them.

I’ve always found that folks involved in seafaring business are a superstitious lot (and I mean that as a compliment, as I find superstition fascinating and useful in many cases).  At the very least, the vast ocean inspires people to consider their own smallness and to take precautions against their mortal end at the sea’s merciless whim.  With that said, let’s look at some stories, anecdotes, and practices from the Northeastern coasts of North America.

Some stories from Maine:

“The Cursing of Colonel Buck”, as retold by S. E. Schlosser.  In this story, an unscrupulous colonel takes advantage of one of his maids, then turns her out when she bears his sadly misshapen child.  In order to prevent any claims on his name, he accuses her of witchcraft and has her burned at the stake.  She curses him (perhaps his claims of witchcraft were not so unfounded) as she dies, and her leg falls from the pyre, where her son gathers the leg and runs away.  After the colonel dies, his tombstone develops a funny leg-shaped mark on it, which embarrasses the townsfolk.  They toss it in the ocean, but it comes back ashore.  Then they smash it and put up a new stone, but the leg-mark comes back.

So where’s the New World Witchery in this story?  Well, this tale is probably extremely exaggerated.  The main clue is that the witch is burned at the stake, a holdover from European witch-lore, but not a punishment found in the New World.  However, there’s one small fragment of worthwhile witchery in this tale:  the first reaction of the townspeople is to throw the stone into the sea.  The idea that natural water sources, especially moving ones like oceans and rivers, can cleanse cursed objects is solidly founded in other magical lore (see Albertus Magnus or hoodoo trick deployment practices).

Buying the Wind, by Richard M. Dorson, contains several excellent bits of Maine magical lore.  For example, in the title passage, the practice of “buying wind” is discussed.  Captains and crewmembers on becalmed ships would often be tempted to throw money overboard in order to purchase a quantity of wind from God/nature/the sea/etc.  The problem arises in that the quantity purchased is always vastly more than one expected to buy.  As one of Dorson’s informants puts it:

“Never buy wind when you’re on a boat.  You’re daring God Almighty, and he won’t stand for that.  You’ll get all the wind you want.”

In one tale, a captain tosses a quarter overboard, and immediately such a gale rises that it tears off the sails and mast from the ship and pushes it into shore, where it barely holds together as the crew disembarks.  The captain remarks that if he’d known God sold wind so cheaply he’d only have got a nickel’s worth.

Is this witchcraft?  Well, no, not exactly.  But the practice of buying something to control the weather is fairly common witch-lore.  Many tales exist of sailors buying cauls (the membrane which sometimes covers a newborn’s head after emerging from the womb) from dockside witches to prevent drowning at sea.  And those same dockside sorceresses sometimes sold knotted cords to help sailors call up wind as needed—each knot, when undone, would release an increasing amount of wind.  So buying the wind is certainly a magical maritime practice, if not outright witchery.

Magic and Witchcraft in Nova Scotia:

An interesting tale regarding a hidden treasure is recorded in Folklore of Nova Scotia, by Mary L. Fraser.  She writes:

“An old sailor who spent his life as a deep-sea fisherman around the coasts of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland told of a great iron chest that was buried just beneath the water, so that its outline could be seen very distinctly. Every time the crew tried to work around it and, raise it up, thousands of crows, one of which was headless, would swarm around them, so that it was impossible for them to get at it. These crows they believed to be helpers of the decapitated guarding spirit.”

This tale is interesting, to me, because of the clear association of spirit allies with a sacred duty (such as guarding a treasure).   I can’t think of many witchier images than a murder of crows—including a headless one—swarming all over treasure-grabbers.

The same volume has several good bits of weather-lore, too:

  1. “If Candlemas day be fine and fair, The half of the winter’s to come an’ mair.”
  2. “Mackerel skies and mare’s tails, Make lofty ships carry low sails.”
  3. “A rainbow in the morning the sailor’s warning, A rainbow at night is the sailor’s delight.”
  4. “Heavy winds kick up a rain.”

The first of these is an old tradition which most people now know as a component of Groundhog Day.  I plan to do a post specifically on some of the traditions associated with early February sometime soon, so I’ll save further exposition on it here.  The second proverb refers to cloud patterns in the skies.  If high wispy clouds (“mare’s tails”) were seen along with clumpy scale-like cloud patterns (“mackerel skies”), then it was a good indication a storm would be coming soon and the sails should be lowered.  The third bit of wisdom is fairly common, though sometimes in different iterations (I know it as “red skies at morning, sailor take warning; red skies at night, sailor’s delight”).   Basically it just means that the weather conditions at dawn or dusk foretell the weather to come.  And the fourth quote is a logical enough assertion that where high winds blow at sea, rain is sure to follow.

Again, are these witchy?  Only insofar as the astute witch would know such proverbs and make use of them in his or her daily practice.  Reading the signs Nature provides has a lot to do with the mentality of witchcraft, which is constantly looking to the natural-and-other-worlds for guidance, instruction, and wisdom.

A Sailor’s Treasury, by Frank Shay, also supposedly provides a good many of early American sailors’ tales and charms (I cannot give a full recommendation as I have only been able to view snippets online, and no nearby library seems to have a copy of this out-of-print text).

Whew!  I’ve only presented a fragment of the nautical witchcraft out there, and already it’s a lot.  So I’ll save more seaside witchery for another day.

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

Blog Post 6 – More Colonial Witchcraft

I couldn’t resist the urge to share a few more witchy stories and spells from the early American period.  Let’s start with a little history.  Most folks know about the famous Salem, MA (or rather, Danvers, MA to be more accurate) witch trials.  While these were certainly a major phenomenon in our collective history, Massachusetts was only one colony among thirteen.  So what about witchcraft in the other colonies?

Generally speaking, witchcraft was not treated with such a hard nose nor such an iron fist in other parts of Colonial America.  Witchcraft was generally frowned upon, true, but only in that the term “witchcraft” meant intentional magical malfeasance against one’s neighbors.  Any such bad behavior—stealing, slandering, etc.—was met with equal disdain.  There were witchcraft trials, but these were mostly settled with civil penalties rather than criminal punishments, and religious insurrection did not seem to enter into the argument.  Gerald C. Milne, in his tome, Signs, Cures, & Witchery, describes one a Pennsylvania witch trial as overseen by state founder William Penn himself:

“Penn dismissed the charge of bewitching cattle…and suggested (tongue in cheek)that there was no law against ‘riding a broom’ in Pennsylvania.  He found her guilty onlyof having a ‘witch’s reputation’ and ordered her to practice good behavior.”

In Pennsylvania, the growing tradition of Pow-wow meant that most settlers in that area were at least familiar with the idea of magic, and recognized that it could be used to heal as well as harm.  Chris Bilardi, in his excellent book The Red Church, discusses braucheri, or German-American folk magic and healing.  He makes the point that in many communities, a braucher was an essential part of local life, and would no more have been thought of as a “witch” than a country doctor or veterinarian.

In Virginia, by 1706 it was a crime to accuse someone of being a witch at all, as it was a form of slander to a person’s character.  No acts of witchcraft after that time were brought to capital trial in that state.  In North Carolina, a similar legal precedent was set when a case was dismissed against a woman in 1712, despite her clear confession to the practice of witchcraft.  More is available on these incidents here and here.

Still, despite the leniency of most colonies, the chief impressions of American witchcraft from the early days of the Republic have been drawn from those dark days in Salem.  To that end, I thought it would be worth looking at a literary example of witch-lore.

Young Goodman Brown, by Nathaniel Hawthorne (I like this version myself, as it is a PDF, but a quick Google search of the title will yield webpage versions of the tale).

I’ll not reprint the entire story here, but I do recommend reading this chilling—and weirdly funny at times—tale of witchcraft in a Puritan village.  Hawthorne had a conflicted relationship with witches (his great-great grandfather was a judge at the Salem trials, a fact young Nathaniel would do his best to overcome).  The entire tale portrays the spectral encounter of its title character with a town full of occult and devilish witches, and doesn’t make the witches particularly sympathetic at first glance—in fact, the witches seem to be primarily interested in corrupting Goodman Brown and turning him into a diabolical reveler.  However, I tend to take the story’s “wicked witch” bent as being critical of the Puritan society to which Hawthorne was so embarrassed to have been connected.  There are MANY elements of traditional witchcraft embedded in this piece of fiction, including:

  • Meeting a fetch-self/”devil” on a crooked road
  • Crossing thresholds (forest boundaries or doorways, for example)
  • A serpentine staff, not entirely unlike a stang
  • A “flying ointment” recipe, of sorts
  • “Staff-riding” to travel great distances quickly
  • A Witches’ Sabbath, and an initiation (sort of)

In the end, Goodman Brown is unsure if his encounter was a dream or reality, but it leaves him changed anyway, which can be said for many witches and their experiences between the worlds, I think.

Finally, I thought another witchy (and somewhat less grave) story set in those early days might be a good way to end this post.  This one is from Rhode Island, and is recorded in In Old Narraganset, by  Alice Morse Earle-1898 (a word of warning, this tale is recorded from an earlier time, and the author clearly did not have a problem portraying racial stereotypes in the broadest and most demeaning fashion…I present the tale here because its magical significance is real, not because its characters or authorial tone are worthy of emulation).  From archive.org:

“The Witch Sheep” by Alice Morse Earle.

There are a few things I like about this story.  Firstly, that the magical aspects of the tale are fully integrated with daily life—no one questions Tuggie’s abilities, and her occult power doesn’t lead others to shun her unless she’s actually doing a working against them.  That the wife actually likes to have Tuggie around during soap-making because she can charm the project and make it work is particularly noteworthy to me.  Secondly, I think it’s interesting that “Voodoo” (which sounds more like hoodoo in this story) was a part of the magical landscape up in Rhode Island at this point, and that there are several types of spells with good hints as to how they might be executed in this tale.  The rabbit’s foot that Tuggie boils in the pot to work her “project” on Mum Amey makes me think that she was trying to cause her lots of little accidents and stumbles, but nothing seriously harmful.  Well, that or there was some kind of Fatal Attraction thing going on.  And the final thing I enjoy about this tale is that it is funny.  For all the magic in the story, and the hexing and witchery and other toil-an-trouble, in the end it’s a story about a sheep in drag, and that’s downright amusing.  At least to me.

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

Blog Post 3 – Some Examples of Colonial Magic & Witch-lore

Magic in America has been around for a long time.  Today I thought I’d present a few examples of magical lore and charms as practiced in America from its first contact with European culture through around the early 19th century.  Note that this is not an attempt to create any kind of authenticated, unbroken lineage for the practice of religious witchcraft, but rather some illustrations of American witchcraft in its practical and literary forms.  I hope you enjoy!

“[T]his way of discovering Witches [by forcing a confession or demonstration of witchcraft], is no better than that of putting the Urine of the afflicted Person into a Bottle, that so the Witch may be tormented and discovered: The Vanity and Superstition of which practice I have formerly shewed, and testified against. There was a Conjurer his name was Edward Drake who taught a Man to use that Experiment for the Relief of his afflicted Daughter, who found benefit thereby; But we ought not to practice Witchcraft to discover Witches, nor may we make use of a White healing Witch (as they call them) to find out a Black and Bloody one.”

-From The Wonders of the Invisible World, by Cotton & Increase Mather, 1693

In the passage above, taken from a text by two rather notorious witch-hunters in Colonial history, there are a couple of things well worth noting.  First, there’s a good broad reference to the famous witch-bottle, about which there are plenty of theories.  Generally a witch-bottle is a glass or ceramic jar filled with pins, nails, bits of iron and glass, and other unpleasant things.  Urine is then added to the bottle (depending on who you talk to, it may be one’s own urine or the urine of a “target;” some modern witches use spit instead of urine).  The bottle is the buried, again depending on the lore you find, in either one’s yard or far, far away from one’s home.  It then acts to tear apart any harmful spells or spirits that come against the bottle’s creator, or in some cases it may cause a particular wicked witch physical torment, thereby revealing her.  I tend to go with the protective interpretation of it, and the burial on my own property.  In that way it works sort of like a “ward” to me.  But I could go on forever about witch-bottles, and might spend some time on a future podcast discussing them.  For now, their existence in Colonial New England is enough to go forward.  The second point of interest in this passage is the reference to the “White healing Witch” near the end of the entry.  This relates back to the Cunning Folk of Merry Olde England, who were known to repel the spells and works of “Black and Bloody” witches (their “repelling” power earned them the nickname “pellars” or “pellers,”  a term which is sometimes used by modern Wiccans as a derogatory epithet).

Next, let’s look at some of the charms used in rural New England pre-20th century:

“For generations back the Gloucester [Rhode Island] farmers have believed in wizardry.  They will do much of their work only during the full of the moon.  Otherwise they would expect to die or have very bad luck.  Planting must not be done until the signs of the zodiac are propitious, and gardens must never be plowed on Fridays.  Even a tooth must not be pulled unless the stars are right; if it is, it will come hard and cause great suffering.

Pork, if killed during the small of the moon [waning], will shrink to nothing in cooking, while that butchered at the full moon will continue white and firm.  To insure luck in the management of domestic animals, the sign of the zodiac must be in the leg.  The wishbones of all fowls are preserved on sticks.  Some families keep hundreds on hand all the time.  When the zodiacal sign is in the head, then the Gloucester people believe that one can do the most at catching pickerel and can hook the biggest fish.  Hence the almanac hung by the kitchen fireplace in all Gloucester houses is a thing that settlers could not live without.  Its study, if one would reap good harvests, ‘catch’ good clamming tides, and avoid misfortune, is imperative.

These people also believe that if you take up a black snake and bite it your teeth will never decay; that if the nails are pared on a Friday, toothache will be prevented, and that a child born in the heat of the day can see into the future, and will be exempt from the influences of witchcraft.  A ship that has such a one on board they say will never sink.”

-From “Ghosts and Witchcraft:  A region in New England where superstition thrives,” New York Times.  6 April 1889

This little entry—which dates from the late 19th century but relates traditions likely stretching back to pre-Revolutionary times—is loaded with interesting magical lore.  Much of it relates to the practice of farming according to the phases of the moon or the signs of the zodiac (see the excellent first volume of the Foxfire book series for more information on this concept).  The inclusion of healing by the zodiac is also interesting, and I believe that it also shows up along with farming by celestial design in Vance Randolph’s Ozark Magic & Folklore.  The basic idea behind this practice is that the influence of the moon—and to some extent the stars—on the natural cycles of earth and people can be predicted and used to improve conditions.  For example, one would plant root crops and tubers in the dark of the moon because they grow in darkness.  There are many who swear by this kind of farming.

The other scatterings of folk charms and remedies, such as biting a black snake to carry away tooth rot, are based more on the principle of sympathetic magic.  The black snake carries the black rot into the black earth, where it will dissipate and never harm the person again.

What has all this to do with witchcraft, then?  Well, a good witch is usually aware of natural cycles (even if he or she is not an astrologer, a witch should be able to tell you the phase of the moon and pick out a couple of constellations in the sky, in my humble opinion).  And, as a witch would likely be sought out to help bring prosperity or to heal certain afflictions, having this kind of knowledge certainly can’t hurt from a magical standpoint.  Again, in my opinion.

Finally, I thought I’d leave you today with a little bit of lore from rural New York:

CATSKILL GNOMES

Behind the New Grand Hotel, in the Catskills, is an amphitheatre of mountain that is held to be the place of which the Mohicans spoke when they told of people there who worked in metals, and had bushy beards and eyes like pigs. From the smoke of their forges, in autumn, came the haze of Indian summer; and when the moon was full, it was their custom to assemble on the edge of a precipice above the hollow and dance and caper until the night was nigh worn away. They brewed a liquor that had the effect of shortening the bodies and swelling the heads of all who drank it, and when Hudson and his crew visited the mountains, the pygmies held a carouse in his honor and invited him to drink their liquor. The crew went away, shrunken and distorted by the magic distillation, and thus it was that Rip Van Winkle found them on the eve of his famous sleep.

-From Myths and Legends of our Own Land, by Charles M. Skinner, [1896], at sacred-texts.com).

There are lots of lovely craft-related bits to unpack in this tiny tale:  metal-working, shape-changing liquors, supposedly long-dead men cavorting with the living, etc.  But I’ll leave it to the attentive reader to make of this story what he or she will, because I’m just a wee bit diabolical that way.

I will go ahead and point out that Skinner’s story was published in 1896, and while some of his stories in that same volume have precedents dating back to at least the early 19th century, I’ve also seen some indications that he elaborated his tales occasionally, too.  The connection to the Washington Irving tale of “Rip Van Winkle,” however, makes me feel that this story is at least connected to the same folklore that Irving (who published around the 1820’s) was drawing from.

That’s it for today!  Thanks for reading!

-Cory

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