Posted tagged ‘saints’

Blog Post 134 – Brujeria and Curanderismo: A (Very Brief) Overview

August 24, 2011

I’ve been combing back through a number of different posts lately, and seeing what areas we’ve covered in some detail (hoodoo, rootwork, and Pow-wow, mostly), which ones we’ve done some basic delving into (mountain magic and general witchcraft), and which ones we’ve only just barely touched upon (pretty much everything else). I was very surprised that I’d not covered today’s topic more, as it’s one of the topics with which I have a good bit of practical experience. But for some reason, I’ve only mentioned curanderismo and its ‘darker’ sister brujeria a few times.

And so today, I thought it might be good to remedy that deficiency somewhat. We’ll be giving these traditions only the most basic of examinations, as a deeper exploration of either could easily fill several dozen books and websites. Yet there are relatively few texts or webpages which look at these practices. Partly this may be a linguistic barrier (my Spanish is intermediate-level at best), but honestly I think this may just be an area where research is thin on the ground. I’d love to be proven wrong in that, though, so if you know of some good research on these traditions, please leave a comment and/or link.

To begin, let’s look a bit at curanderismo. This is a system of magical healing, blessing, and cleansing largely centered around Catholic prayers and rituals, with a heavy infusion of folk religion and magic and a bit of herb lore in some cases. A male practitioner is a curandero, while a female practitioner is a curandera. Many of the rituals within this tradition have to do with detecting and undoing evil witchcraft (which is called brujeria by curanderos, which gets a bit confusing…more on that later). In Mexico, where this practice is centered—though there are ever-increasing numbers of practitioners in other Central and North American locations, a person might call upon a curandero if a family member seems to be plagued with some uncommon illness, or if their house seems to be exhibiting symptoms of a haunting, or if they are feeling as though a general run of bad luck has settled onto them. One of the best resources on curanderismo on the internet is Dona Concha of the Curious Curandera website. In the introductory material for one of her many excellent courses, she includes this summary of the practice:

Curanderismo is not only a form of folk healing, it also includes the practice white magic, ritual, cleansings, energy work, spirit contact, divination, and a vast amount of prayer just to name a few. While some practitioners prefer to engage only in one area, others work in all areas.
Curanderismo is a very spiritual practice with strong religious faith. Practitioners use a variety of objects including herbs, spices, eggs, lemons, limes, Holy Water, Saints, Crucifixes, prayer, candles, incense, oils and divination tools. Most include spirit assistance. Not all practitioners work in the same way. For example, one person may perform a spiritual cleansing with a raw unbroken egg while another may employ a bundle of herbs for the cleansing tool.

While a curandera might perform rituals that help remove bad luck or might contact specific spirits (usually angelic or “holy” ones), they tend to shy away from any ‘dark’ magics.

Brujeria, on the other hand, means literally “witchcraft,” and is frequently perceived in a negative light. This system, however, is not entirely dissimilar from hoodoo, with a focus on practical, earthier types of magic: love, money, sex, etc. What gives brujeria its bad reputation is its association with “magia negra” or “black magic.” While both curanderismo and brujeria can work with “magia blanca” (“white magic”) to provide cures, healing, and good luck, only brujeria works with things like spirit summoning and necromancy to achieve its aims. Brujo Negro, who runs a fantastic site on brujeria (and whose name means “black witch”), explains magia negra as an extension of the grimoire magic imported by the Spaniards during the 16th century. He also points out that the native peoples of Mexico—the Nahua, the Xolotl, etc.—did not particularly have concepts of “good” and “evil,” and so the concept of a branch of magic entirely in the service of evil would have been alien to them. Instead, the “healer physician” figure (anthropologically referred to as a “shaman” in many circles) would use his or her knowledge of natural materials and forces—herbs, roots, stones, and animal parts—to craft specialized remedies for community members struck with strange illnesses. The Spaniards did not always understand what the natives were doing, and viewed them and their practices warily.

The use of grimoire magic, talismans, spirit invocations, and other spells which did not explicitly call upon Christian paradigms to accomplish their goals led to opposition between the brujos and the curanderos. This is not all that different than the supposed wars between the benandanti and the witches of Italy, which Carlo Ginzburg has catalogued incredibly well in his book The Night Battles. In truth, both groups were likely working—in general—for the good of their communities, though the brujos might occasionally use more aggressive magic to do their work and likely were a little saltier about the spiritual side of their practice. Another group of magical practitioners (which may be the equivalent of fairy-tale witches or malevolent wizards or folklore) may well have engaged in exclusively cursing practices and malevolent magic, in which case either a brujo or curandero might be called in to do battle with the wicked sorcerer, again demonstrating that the line between the two camps is a fuzzy one at best.

The historical presence of folk magic among Hispanic communities goes back centuries, and while it shares certain commonalities with the European colonial experience along the Atlantic, it also strongly resembles the African experience in America. Contact between native peoples and the new arrivals was relatively high, and cultural exchange was fluid, if not officially indulged:

New Mexico witchcraft cases reveal a variety of features of colonial life in New Mexico that did not exist in other colonized areas of North America. For example, they show the physical proximity in which the Indians and Europeans lived and the increasingly intertwined beliefs they shared—about power, about magic, about healing, and about witches. These characteristics of New Mexico society were especially pronounced after the Spanish returned to the colony in 1706. Witchcraft was so much a part of New Mexico in the eighteenth century that Ramon A. Gutierrez has suggested that it was one of the three main issues that affected life there…Nothing comparable exists among the surviving records in British or French North America, at least as far as indigenous people are concerned” (Games 34-5).

This is not to say that relations were necessarily sunny between the natives and the conquering Spaniards, but the level of integration between Old World and New World beliefs seemed to flow both ways, with people like the Xolotl eventually adapting to the Catholic pantheon of saints and the rituals of the church, while the Spaniards sought out community healers for their ethereal gifts. Witch trials can and did erupt, but seldom with the vigor found in New England (or even old England). The veneer of Catholicism covered a variety of magical practices and set them in an ‘appropriate’ religious context, though in practice healings were still being done through the agency of plants, spirits, and other magical tools.

So just what does a curandero or bruja do nowadays? Much of what brujos and curanderas do resembles another magical practice heavily rooted in Catholicism, that of stregheria (or, more specifically, the cousin tradition of streghoneria), which come from Italy. I hope to dig into this question a bit more in other posts, but it might be good to look at some earmark practices common to one or both traditions, so that you can recognize it when you see it. In both, you are likely to find:

  • Divinatory practices – Sometimes by cards, but just as often by very specific items like eggs broken into a glass of water or the ashes left by a smoldering cigar.
  • Saint magic – Calling upon the intercessory power of saints to accomplish specific tasks. This is usually accompanied by rituals such as candle-burning and prayer.
  • Statuary or charms – This goes hand-in-hand with saint magic for the most part, though other types of charms like milagros (little pewter, silver, or gold charms shaped like hearts, body parts, animals, etc. and used as devotional offerings) are also frequently used.
  • Ritual cleansing – Especially using holy water or natural elements, like eggs, limes, lemons, etc. This can be done on a person or on a specific place.
  • Liturgical prayers – These are used outside of the orthodox liturgy, and are usually repeated several times to gain their benefit in magical settings. Examples include the “Our Father,” or “Ave Maria” prayers.
  • Novena candles – These are easily found in places with large Hispanic populations, and usually have a pillar candle encased by glass with a picture of a saint, angel, or other holy being on them. On the back they typically have short prayers (often in Spanish and English) which are recited while burning the candle.

In the individual practices, the magic may lean more heavily towards one or another of these categories. Certain folk saints are deeply revered by one group and not the other, or sometimes revered by both groups in different ways. A great example of this different-but-the-same relationship is Santa Muerte (“Holy Death”), a powerful spirit both loved and feared throughout Mexico. She’s a big enough topic for her own post at some point, so I’ll just leave that mention as a tease for the moment. As I mentioned earlier, brujeria resembles hoodoo fairly strongly, so there are lots of roots, bones, and rusty nails found in it, while herbal preparations for healing and cleansing tend to be more heavily emphasized in curanderismo.

All of this is simply the lightest scratch across the surface of a very deep subject. I hope to provide more and more information through other posts at other times, and even then I’ll only really be getting at a fairly superficial understanding of this incredible set of traditions and practices. For now, though, I hope this has been a useful magical appetizer.

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

Podcast 28 – Altars

April 22, 2011

-SHOWNOTES FOR EPISODE 28-

Summary
In today’s New World Witchery, we look at different types of altars.  We’ll examine Ancestral altars, Devotional altars, and practical or spellwork altars.

Play:

Download:  New World Witchery – Episode 28

-Sources-
The book which Laine mentions is The Big Little Book of Magick, by D.J. Conway.

Here are some of our various altars:
Cory’s Ancestral Altar
A Devotional Altar from Cory
A practical divinatory altar space from Cory
A kitchen Devotional Altar in Cory’s home
The “indoor crossroads” altar space we mentioned

Promos & Music
Title music:  “Homebound,” by Jag, from Cypress Grove Blues.  From Magnatune.
Promo 1 – The Wigglian Way
Promo 2 – Borealis Meditations
Promo 3 – Inciting a Brewhaha

Blog Post 94 – Compass & Key Relaunch!

September 27, 2010

It’s here! Sooner than expected, though far too long in the making.  We’re working on lots and lots of products at the moment, but our initial offering includes:

Saints & Spirits Oil – This oil is attuned to the spirit realm, and can be used to anoint offering candles or to work spells relying on the aid of spiritual forces.  It’s got a “churchy” smell offset by lavender for a peaceful, pleasant effect.

Wall of Flame Oil – If you need to keep bad influences out of your life, this oil is right up your alley.  It’s like laying down a ring of fire around you and the people and things you love.  Sharp, clean, and hot smelling, it sends back any hurtful energies directed at you to their sources.

Uncrossing Oil – When you’ve got troubles that just don’t seem to quit, and it feels like your luck has just plain run out, this is the oil to use.  A little of this worn on the body (particularly the hands and feet—though do be careful if you have sensitive skin) or burned while praying can do wonders to knock any curses off of you.

Within the next few days we also hope to be able to offer these:

Crown of Success Oil – One of our favorites!  This sweet, spicy blend is designed for general purpose success spells.  It can also be applied to any more focused mojo, like a simple gambling hand or money drawing bag, in order to bring increased potency.

Crown of Success Mojo Bags – Just like the oil, these general purpose mojos are designed to generate some serious success in your life.  They should be fed at least weekly and carried in a pocket, purse, or somewhere out of sight.  They’re red cotton cloth and smell rather nicely, too!

And we’re also working on these items as well, though they will probably be another week or two away:

Attraction Oil – Need to bring something good your way?  Luck, money, or love?  Well this might be the oil you’re looking for.  It works like a magnet for drawing things to you.  Annoint a little of your money before you spend it and it will come back to you with more in tow eventually.  Dab a little on before going out for the evening and you may find yourself bringing home a new lover.  It’s warm and citrusy with floral notes, and a real pleasure to smell!

Uncrossing Soap – Like the oil, this soap helps peel away the spiritual grime that may be hanging around you.  If you can’t manage to take a full spiritual bath, this soap makes a nice alternative.  Smells great and is made with skin-friendly goat’s milk.

Crown of Success Soap – This richly scented olive-oil based soap can help to bring prosperity and good fortune to those who use it.  Use as a hand soap and wash before leaving the house every day, or as a body soap for occasional boosts to your luck and fortunes.

Saints & Spirits Soap – If you need to get spiritually clean, or just want a nice spiritual cast to your day, this is a great soap for you!  It has a holy scent and peaceful pieces of lavender mixed into it.  It’s a lovely way to get clean, right down to your soul!

Once we get things going, I’m going to start making package sales, where you can buy a mojo and an oil of the same type for a discounted price if you get them together.  I also plan to eventually release that print edition of the cartomancy guide through the Etsy site, but I want it to be a little better quality if I’m asking people to pay for it, of course.

I should say that for legal reasons, all of our products are sold as novelties and are NOT to be ingested!  I offer them as folkloric specimens and results will vary from person to person.

If you have products you’d like to see us offer, by the way, please send us a message!  We’re always interested in seeing what people want.  We tend to lean towards prosperity and blessing-type products at the moment, but we’re not opposed to branching out.

We hope you’ll stop by the store!  Until then, thanks for reading!

-Cory

Blog Post 77 – Book Review

August 6, 2010

For today’s entry, I thought I’d approach two books which share a lot in common and which can be useful to people who really enjoy candle magic.  First up, there’s The Master Book of Candle Burning by Henri Gamache.   This is a classic in many hoodoo circles, and falls into the same category of early 20th-century magical texts as the reprints of Black & White Magic by Marie Laveau and Mysteries of the Long Lost 8th, 9th, and 10th Books of Moses, also by Gamache.  All of these small books (usually only around 100 pages each) contain lots of great information on their particular magical subjects, and all are the source of much debate regarding authorship (Marie Laveau most definitely did not write Black & White Magic, which is usually attributed to “N.D.P. Bivins,” whoever that might be).

Candle Burning, though, holds a special place in my heart.  In its pages, Gamache outlines the “Philosophy of Fire” which he traces through a number of the world’s religions, especially linking it to Judeo-Christian and Zoroastrian practice.  Most of what he describes is pseudo-history, though it offers some good food for thought, at times.  What makes this book so invaluable to a magic worker are its spells.  In its pages, it offers spells, prayers, and psalmic rituals for:

  • Gaining Happiness
  • Overcoming an Enemy
  • Obtaining Money
  • Stopping Slander
  • Healing a Troubled Marriage
  • Getting a Promotion
  • Defeating Feelings of Depression

There are so many wonderful rituals in this book, covering a wide variety of problems, that I can’t help but recommend it.  The prayers (and psalms) are all centered around Judeo-Christian religious philosophy, but in a fairly non-denominational way (emphasizing God as a powerful force rather than as part of a Trinity or some particular theological concept).  One of my favorite spells is the last one in the book:

TO CONQUER FEAR

Light your two Monthly Vibratory Candles [candles dressed to match you astrologically], two Daily Cross Candles [crucifix candles or candles inscribed with a cross], and the following Special Purpose Candle:  one Red symbolizing faith and one Gold to soothe nerves.  Read Psalm 3 giving special attention to verse 3:

“But thou, O Lord, art a shield for me; my glory, and the lifter up of mine head.”

Affirmation [prayer]:  “Dear Lord I ask you to help me with my needs in this life and smooth my way.  Protect me so that no one may cause me harm.  In your light, darkness flees.  I fear not, knowing you are with me.”   (p.106)

The book has its issues, of course.  It makes heavy use of “black” versus “white” magic.  It denounces the black magic as a “perversion” but then proceeds to provide numerous candle rituals for things like breaking up a couple or causing confusion.  Still, if one can forgive it these foibles, it’s a great text to have on hand.

Similarly, The Magical Power of the Saints by Rev. Ray T. Malbrough proves itself a useful text full of practical candle burning rituals.  There are many who do not like Malbrough, primarily because he blends hoodoo and Wicca in some of his books without letting the reader know which is which (his Charms, Spells, & Formulas is guilty of this, and apparently his Hoodoo Mysteries is even worse about it).  However, most of the rootworkers who discuss him seem to offer at least some praise for Saints.

Malbrough focuses on the Catholic saints in candle form (and a number of condition candles, which are designed to invite specific conditions into a person’s life—e.g. Anima Sola/Lonely Soul, Just Judge, Lucky Bingo, etc.).  When I picked up the book I thought it would mostly be about the cult of certain saints like Dr. Jose Gregorio or Santa Muerte or the Infant Jesus of Prague.  Instead, I found it’s mostly candle magic focused on specific spells, much like Gamache’s text.  It definitely has a flavor of Catholicism about it, and actually falls pretty close to what I would think of as New Orleans-style Voodoo (though the connections to things like the Seven African Powers are only cursorily glossed).  For comparison, here’s Malbrough’s overcoming fear spell:

TO OVERCOME FEAR

Sometimes fear can be difficult to shake off when it gets hold of you.  Then there are those people who get a thrill from putting fear and superstition in your mind.

  1. Controlling candle, dressed with Controlling oil.  Write your name nine times.
  2. St. Dymphna candle, dressed with Peace oil.  Write your name nine times.
  3. Guardian Angel candle, dressed with Peace oil.  Write your name three times.
  4. Psalms 11, 31, and 141 [to be read aloud]
  5. Take an Uncrossing spiritual bath made with sweet basil, boneset, elder, and bay leaves.  To this tea add ¼ cup of John the Conqueror bath and floor wash.  Immerse yourself three times in the water, and soak twenty minutes.  Take this spiritual bath every three days until you have taken twenty-eight baths.  Cary a mojo/gris-gris made with herbs for courage.  This gris-gris must also contain a stone for courage such as agate, amethyst, aquamarine, bloodstone, carnelian, diamond, lapis lazuli, sardonyx, tiger’s eye, red tourmaline, or turquoise.  (p. 134-35)

As you can see, Malbrough is much more complicated than Gamache, and he definitely infuses his rootwork with some more Wiccan ideas (such as the “stones for courage” he mentions for the mojo hand, none of which show up in any of the African-American hoodoo sources I’ve found).  So long as you can separate the wheat from the chaff, though, this is a pretty solid little book with good candle burning rituals.  If you have this and Gamache’s Master Book of Candle Burning you will cover most of your bases as far as hoodoo candle magic goes, so I certainly recommend picking up both.  If you can only do one, I’d start with Gamache and try Malbrough once you’ve gotten the hang of a few of these rituals, though (perhaps an Obtaining Money burning so you can afford to buy the book?).

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

Blog Post 67 – Charms

June 7, 2010

Whew!  Sorry about that, folks.  Last week was a heckuva beast so I didn’t wind up getting to post all that much.  Or at all, other than the podcast.  I’m hoping that I’ll have more this week, especially considering that after this week, posts will be rather infrequent for the next two months due to grad school.  Anyhow, enough about me; on to the topic!

Today I thought I’d talk a little about charms.  The problem with talking about charms, though, is that it’s hard to define just what a “charm” is.  For some, they’re spoken words used along with other spell components to get results.  Others may take the view that charms are talismans or magical objects, usually fairly small, which are carried like a portable personal spell.  Some think of them as written spells, others mainly include love spells in this category, and some simply think of “charm” as another word for spells.

For my own purposes, though, I’m going to define “charm” thusly:  A spell composed of words, spoken or written.  There, now that’s settled.  So now we have the question, what’s so special about charms?  Well, for one thing, they’re usually simple.  Simple enough, in fact, that ordinary folk who might not otherwise engage in magical practice often work a charm without giving it a second thought.  There are lots of these kinds of little workings to be found throughout the various New World magical systems, but here are a few of my favorites:

Finding Lost Objects

St. Anthony Prayer (Catholic, Strega, Saint-based Hoodoo, Curanderismo)
This prayer is used when an item (or sometimes person) is lost and you need to find it in a hurry. The first version is slightly formal (though not nearly so formal as the prayer on his prayer card).  From the Lucky Mojo site:
St. Anthony, St. Anthony
Please come down
Something is lost
And can’t be found

My own family used a variant of this which was much more informal:
Tony, Tony,
Look around,
Help me find
What can’t be found
I always repeat the prayer at least once out loud and then under my breath as I search for the missing item.  I’d say I have about a 75-80% success rate with this one.  I do know that traditionally if you find your missing item, you should give to the poor in St. Anthony’s name (a practice called “St. Anthony’s Bread”).  This can be as simple as writing “Thank you St. Anthony!” on the edge of a dollar bill and giving it to a homeless person (or leaving it in a poorbox collection of some kind).

Halting a Thief

Three Lilies Charm  ( Pow-wow)
This one comes from John George Hohman’s Long Lost Friend.  I’ve had no reason to use it yet, thankfully, but I like the poetry of this one (or at least, I think it sounds very poetic).  The portions where you see the “+++” symbols indicate making the sign of the cross in the air with your hand as part of the charm:

A GOOD CHARM AGAINST THIEVES.
There are three lilies standing upon the grave of the Lord our God; the first one is the courage of God, the other is the blood of God, and the third one is the will of God. Stand still, thief! No more than Jesus Christ stepped down from the cross, no more shalt thou move from this spot; this I command thee by the four evangelists and elements of heaven, there in the river, or in the shot, or in the judgment, or in the sight. Thus I conjure you by the last judgment to stand still and not to move, until I see all the stars in heaven and the sun rises again. Thus I stop by running and jumping and command it in the name of + + +. Amen.

This must be repeated three times.

Protection

INRI Cross (Pow-wow, Hoodoo, Mountain Magic, most folk magical systems)
This one can again be found in Hohman’s book, as well as many other magical texts.  It’s a written charm, primarily used against harmful magic directed against you, as well as fire.  There are plenty of ways to use this charm, from marking it in a magical oil or water on your door to putting it on a small piece of paper and hiding it in the lintel of your doorframe.  It can also be carried with you for magical protection.  This is the version from Hohman:

A CHARM TO BE CARRIED ABOUT THE PERSON
Carry these words about you, and nothing can hit you: Ananiah, Azariah, and Missel, blessed be the Lord, for he has redeemed us from hell, and has saved us from death, and he has redeemed us out of the fiery furnace and has preserved us even in the midst of the fire; in the same manner may it please him the Lord that there be no fire.

I

N         I          R

I

The simple form of this is to just draw out that last bit, rather than worrying about the prayer before it, but the prayer can also be a powerful addition to the charm.

SATOR Square (Pow-wow, Hoodoo, Mountain Magic, Curanderismo, most folk magical systems)
Another powerful and widely found magical charm, the SATOR square is written out and used much like the INRI cross:
SATOR
AREPO
TENET
OPERA
ROTAS
These words are written out (try to make them as “square” as you can) and again posted or carried to protect you from harm, theft, fire, and any number of other ills.

St. Michael the Archangel (Catholic, Strega, Saint-based Hoodoo, Curanderismo)
This is a common prayer among Catholics facing spiritual struggles, and it’s made its way into magical practice, too.  In the film The Gangs of New York, a priest (played by Liam Neeson) recites this prayer before leading his band of Irish immigrants into battle with another gang.  It’s particularly effective if done in conjunction with the St. Michael medal or candle, but I think you can use it on its own as well.  The main target of this protective charm is evil—if you feel beleaguered by any harmful person or force (and you don’t have a problem invoking this particular spirit), this is a very potent way to deflect that trouble:

Great Archangel Michael Archangel, defend us in battle,
be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the
devil.

May God rebuke our enemies, we humbly pray; and
do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host, by the power of
God, thrust into Hell the Adversary and all other evil
spirits who prowl about the world for the ruin of
souls.  Amen.
I like to use all of these protective charms, though the SATOR square is my favorite.  I generally renew these charms once per year in conjunction with a few other key rituals (and a particular holiday, which I’ll get to eventually).

Well, I’m not quite through with charms yet, but there is plenty here to digest, so I’ll save the rest of them for another day.  Thank you all for being patient, and for being such a wonderful readership!  I’ll be trying to catch up with blog responses and emails over the next day or two, so don’t hesitate to keep up the fantastic comments!

Thanks for reading!

-Cory


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