- The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett
- Bridge to Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson
- IT, by Stephen King
- A Wrinkle in Time and A Wind in the Door, by Madeline L’Engle
- We Have Always Lived in the Castle, by Shirley Jackson
- Sula, by Toni Morrison (as well as works like Song of Solomon, Paradise, and Beloved)
I thought that I’d finish up this week with another essay, this time one that I won’t actually be posting on the New World Witchery site. Instead, I’m going to provide a link to an excellent essay I found on Pow-wow magic, and then some notes I made while reading it.
The essay itself is written by David W. Kriebel, Ph.D. and has a distinctly academic tone. It focuses on the history and practice of braucherei in the Pennsylvania area, as well as examining some modern practitioners (most notably Don Yoder and Silver Ravenwolf (aka Jenine Trayer). It’s an interesting read, I think, but I’ll let you decide for yourself.
Here’s the essay: http://www.esoteric.msu.edu/VolumeIV/Powwow.htm
Some of the thoughts I had while reading this were:
- Why is Pow-wow fading from the magical stage so steadily? Many spiritual and magical traditions have received increased attention in the past 30-40 years as the shiny patina of atomic-age wonder has begun to fade, yet Pow-wow still seems to be on the decline.
- Is Pow-wow evolving into something else altogether? Kriebel mentions Ravenwolf’s book, which has had a mixed reception at best in the magical community. But her version of Pow-wow may just be where the practice is headed. Is that a good thing, a bad thing, or just a thing, period?
- The old books of Pow-wow, such as The Long Lost Friend and the Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses, get a good bit of attention in this essay. How relevant are they to the current practice of this magical system?
- I love the story about Mountain Mary. It makes me wonder just how many of my local folk heroes might have been magically inclined.
- The three levels of magical ritual (I, II, and III) which Kriebel mentions correspond well to various practices I’ve seen elsewhere (a simple charm from Hohman might be a I or a II, while Chris Bilardi’s complete brauche circuit in The Red Church is more of a III, I think). I wonder if the idea presented here about Pow-wow would hold true for other magical systems, like hoodoo.
- One of the best things I come away with from this essay is in his conclusion, where he notes a 90% effectiveness rating for Pow-wow curing, which is remarkably good for any healing practice. In the end, I think that kind of a result defies any attempts to explain magic as pure superstition, but I may be wrong. What do you think?
That’s it for this week! Have a great weekend, and as always, thanks for reading!
This blog post will primarily deal with types of hoodoo spells, or “tricks.” It’s not a complete list of all types of hoodoo magic by any stretch of the imagination, but for someone just getting into it, this should give you an idea of what a conjure man/woman does, and give you some places to start if you want to do hoodoo for you.
Mojo Bags – Probably the best known of the hoodoo magical charms, mojos go by many names: hands, tobys, jomos, etc. These small talismans are little bags designed to be worn out of sight and usually close to the skin. A particular type of mojo worn only by women is the “nation sack” of Memphis, TN. The way these charms are made may vary a bit from place to place or worker to worker, but the general idea is that a small flannel sack, usually red but sometimes other colors, is filled with magical ingredients—usually an odd number of them. It’s then closed up, and often anointed or “fed” with some offering on a regular basis (whiskey, rum, or other alcohol is a common food for a mojo hand; some of the condition oils found in hoodoo are also appropriate). I recently heard these bags described as little spirit houses, and to my mind, that’s a perfect description. The herbs, oils, curios, and other elements of hoodoo are matched together to make a little home for a spirit who can aid the worker in getting what he or she wants. I often include a written charm in mine (being inclined towards the written word as I am), and usually I make my mojos as part of a larger working, such as a Candle Burning.
Candle Burnings – Also commonly called “setting lights,” candle burnings in hoodoo are similar to candle burnings in any other magical system. The only real difference is the method (or methods) of dressing the candles. In hoodoo, when a worker is dressing a candle to draw something (like money, love, health, etc.), he or she will cover the candle in herbs and oils from the bottom-up. To rid oneself of something (like a jinx), candles are dressed top-down. Personal concerns, such as a target’s hair or fingernails, are usually incorporated in the dressing, or may be placed beneath an inverted saucer upon which the candle is burned. Name-papers with written charms may also be used in this manner. Henri Gamache’s Master Book of Candle Burning is an excellent resource for this type of magic.
Readings – Most rootworkers begin with a reading of some kind. Whether its tarot cards, palm reading, or just a sort of psychic once-over with second sight, the conjure person will need to get a good idea of what the client needs—not just what he or she wants. Often, readings are done as part of a larger interview process to really hone in on what kind of work the rootworker will need to do. I like to use playing cards to read before doing most magical workings, even ones for myself.
Honey Jars – We covered them a bit in our Special Episode recently, but I love these things, so I’ll mention them again here. Basically, a honey jar is exactly what it sounds like: a jar full of honey. Into this sweet-and-sticky pot you place the names (and personal concerns in some cases) of those you wish to “sweeten up.” These jars are also known as “sweetening jars,” and can actually contain almost any kind of pure sweetener, such as brown or white sugar, molasses, or syrup. This is a good way to start doing hoodoo, because it is a very positive type of magic (you’re only making your relationships with those you sweeten better, after all) and it also teaches you to get your hands a little dirty (because you must push the names into the jar with your fingers, and then lick them clean…a nice reward for your efforts!). You can make jars for each person you want to sweeten if you’re working more elaborate spells on them, or keep one jar with lots of names in it for general sweetening. You can also make vinegar or “souring” jars, which is a form of Hexing. I’d generally wait to do a souring jar until after you’ve tried a few sweetening ones, though.
Foot-track Magic – This type of magic stems from African Traditional practices, in which the footprint of a person could be used magically against them (or to help them, but usually harmful magic is associated with foot tracks). The basic idea behind this kind of spell is that the feet come in contact with a magical potion, powder, or other ingredient and draw the psychic contagion up into the body. One of the most famous examples of foot-track magic is the use of goofer dust on someone. The hexing dust is sprinkled somewhere where the target will walk over it, and the poisonous influence of the powder will cause the target’s body to swell and fill with pain, and possibly even die. Of course, it’s possible to do helpful spells with foot-track work, like laying a prosperity blend in someone’s path to ensure they have good luck, but this is a less common use of this magic.
Washing/Bathing – While I love the fact that hoodoo gets down and dirty, I also really like the emphasis it puts on cleanliness. There are lots of formulae designed exclusively for things like washing one’s floors to banish harmful things and/or draw beneficial ones. For example, you can wash your business doorstep or the sidewalk in front of your shop with a money drawing blend (such as bayberry, cinnamon, and rose-of-jericho water) from the outside-in to draw customers to you. Bathing is also important in hoodoo, particularly ritual bathing performed over a series of 3, 5, 7, or 9 days. Much like in Candle Burning, if you take a hoodoo bath, you’ll want to stand in the tub and wash up to draw something (like money) and down to get rid of something (like a bad habit). Prayers, psalms, and other magical phrases may be recited while bathing, and usually at least some of the bath water is saved and later disposed of ritually (by pouring at a crossroads, for example). I highly recommend Draja Mickaharic’s Spiritual Cleansing if you want to learn more on this subject.
Cleansings/Uncrossing Work – Related to Washing/Bathing is the concept of a Cleansing or an Uncrossing. These workings are usually done to remove the effects of harmful witchcraft or hexing, and can be done by a rootworker or by a client under a worker’s direction. Some common methods of uncrossing involve the aforementioned ritual bathing while using downward motion and uncrossing herbs (like rue, hyssop, and salt), marking the client with the “five-spot” or quincunx pattern using an uncrossing oil, or even running a raw egg around the client’s body to absorb negative spiritual energies (this is similar to cleansings found in other systems, like curanderismo). A rootworker may also smoke or fumigate a client, using a sheet to tent the seated client from the shoulders down and burning incense beneath the chair to fill the tent with sacred smoke. There are related areas of hoodoo spellwork which are more protective than cleansing which involve putting down salt, chalk, or brick dust lines around a person’s home to prevent harm from reaching them, but these are usually done after a cleansing has been performed on both the client and his/her house.
Jinxing/Hexing – So I know it seems backwards to discuss this after Cleansing/Uncrossing, but I generally feel like it’s better to know how to stop a harmful spell before you get started, so that’s why I mentioned the other first. However, Jinxing/Hexing is a big part of hoodoo. From the harmful forms of Foot-track Magic mentioned earlier to more fearsome curses (such as the disgusting but terrifying “Live Things in You” curse, in which a target is tricked into swallowing powdered snake skin, spider eggs, or other unsavory items so that they begin to feel like things are literally crawling around inside them). Learning to hex someone with hoodoo isn’t hard, though it often requires a strong stomach. One simple and quite grave curse is to make a doll-baby (stuffed poppet) with the person’s name paper or personal concerns inside of it, then put that into a small coffin and bury it in a graveyard. The victim should feel their own life-force fading as long as the buried doll remains in the cemetery (a word of warning, though—in most places digging so much as a single spoonful of dirt is considered vandalism and is quite illegal, therefore I do not advocate it). A simpler and much tamer curse is the vinegar jar I mentioned in our Witch Bottle Special. By simply placing someone’s name into a jar of vinegar, along with things like red pepper flakes, black pepper, and garlic, you can sour their life pretty effectively. Shaking the jar every time you think about it can help “stir up” more trouble for them. Cursing someone for fun, by the way, is always a bad idea. You never know when it might backfire and wind up dragging you right into trouble, so make sure you’re working “justified,” perhaps by doing a Reading first.
Love Spells – The simplest of these is a type of Honey Jar in which two people’s names are kept and a candle burned over the top of it. This sweetens them to each other and helps set magic in motion to keep them sweet on one another. Love spells in hoodoo, though, are not always so nice. There are plenty of spells aimed at separating lovers (candles are even sold which look like married couples and which, when burned, come apart and lead to divorce or estrangement). There are also more intense love spells aimed less at finding that one true love than at exercising power over the target (see Controlling Spells for more on that). Many love spells, though, are more like the sweetening spells, and simply help a person find or catch that perfect mate. There are some extremely simple love spells in hoodoo which involve little more than tying two dirty socks—one from each mate—together and hiding them away so that love will remain forever “bound” between them. Of course, for those coming from a background where this sort of manipulation is a magical no-no, even a fairly benign hoodoo love spell can seem a little sinister. But then, no one says you have to do every spell in the hoodoo spellbook, right?
Controlling/”Bend Over” Spells – I saved these spells for last because I find them incredibly interesting. They are so antithetical to the kind of magic I did for years, because they completely ignore the idea of non-manipulation. These spells are all about manipulation, in fact. Controlling spells (and their sister workings, “Compelling” and “Bend Over” spells) usually involve forcing another person to do what you want them to do. Sometimes, as in the case of Compelling or Pay Me Now! spells, the force is simply making the target fulfill a promise they’ve already made. But often these tricks are laid in order to keep an errant spouse from philandering about, or to make a boss give you that raise you’ve been after. Using roots like licorice and calamus, as well as personal effects from the target (name papers are much less effective in this kind of work, in my experience), a rootworker can do a heckuva number on someone. One of the most famous methods of using this kind of magic involves a woman putting a bit of her menstrual blood in her husband or lover’s food, thereby making him remain faithful to her. She can also “tie his nature” by measuring his penis with a string, then soaking it in his semen and tying knots in it. That way, he will find himself useless unless she releases him, which presumably will only happen when he’s with her. It’s intense stuff! But it also makes sense. For many folks, these workings are last-resort measures. In some cases—such as using Courtcase formulae or spitting galangal root juice on a courthouse floor—they are the only methods available to poor folks being ground down by the gears of the legal system. Who wouldn’t want magical reassurance that the judge was on their side? While I don’t recommend starting with these kinds of spells, I will say I’ve gotten to really like them over time. They’ve proven useful, and a good rootworker knows how to set limits when using Controlling magic.
Like I said, this isn’t an exhaustive list of all hoodoo techniques and spells, but it should at least give you an idea what kinds of magic are available in the rootworking system. As always, I recommend checking out the Lucky Mojo site for more info on many of these methods, and if you have any comments or questions, you can email us or leave a comment and I’ll be happy to respond!
Thanks for reading!