Blog Post 234 – Folk Magic on the Job

Occupational folklore and magic from jobs including athletes, merchants, sailors, sex workers, actors, and more

Or, “Occupational Folk Magic”

Recently a friend of mine (Kathleen Borealis of Borealis Meditations) shared this image on Twitter:

Screen capture saying “This is 100% @newworldwitchery Is there a study of these?” Further screen capture features two posts:
1. Sometimes people try to tell me that scientists are paragons of rationality and I have to break it to them that I have yet to work in a lab that didn’t have at least one secret shrine in it.”
2. “New guy: why is all of the equipment in this room covered in toys?
me: don’t touch those
New guy: says nothing
Me: they need the toys to function. If they don’t all have toys they get jealous.”


Even the most supposedly rational among us—scientists—are, in the end, human. That means that we are prone to seeing the world through the lens of our own beliefs and folklore even when we don’t rationally believe something. We hedge our bets, because it can’t hurt to treat the electron microscope like a finicky child or say “good morning” to the Petri dishes or explain our problems to the rubber coding duck on our workstation. We might not sincerely believe any of that has a real effect, but we do at least *do* those actions, because they mean something to us at some level.

I also recently wrote a mini piece on Instagram about the importance of recognizing who the “folk” were in the folk communities from which you dip the bucket of your magic. I talked about the communities of “kinship,” which are the ones we most often think of because they relate to family, ethnicity, and even geography to some extent. But it’s important to remember that when we share an occupation with others, that makes us a part of a folk group as well. Those folk ties are called communities of “practice,” because we all share actions and behaviors. Think here of being in school—you very likely had a LOT of folklore you shared with classmates about school legends (what was in that lunch meat, anyway?), games (such as fortune-telling folded paper “cootie catchers”), and even nicknames (whether you wanted them or not). You weren’t likely related by blood to most of your classmates, although you may have had a cousin or two, perhaps. You did share geography, so there’s a bit of kinship, but what bonded you was your status as a “student,” which also separated you from other folk groups in the school like “teachers” or even “parents.” Likewise, the “students” might subdivide into groups like “athletes” or “theatre kids” (my group). And even then, there might be “swim team” versus “cheerleaders” or “actors” versus “tech crew.”

So what do these divisions have to do with magic? Well, each folk group generally comes up with its own folk beliefs, and those folk beliefs are often the root of the practices that become magic in the group. When you have an occupation that takes up a good quarter to a third of your waking hours, those groups become incredibly important and the magic you share with those groups can be some of the most relevant magic you do.

Today, I wanted to look at a couple of occupations and their folk magic, so we can see how membership in these folk groups shapes the way the magic works.

Illustration of a baseball mitt next to a cheese sandwich

Athletes
Since I mentioned school athletes already (and we happen to be in the midst of an Olympic season), let’s begin there. One of the best academic explorations of folk magic in occupations is George Gmelch’s essay “Baseball Magic,” in which the anthropologist looks at the superstitions and rituals of various baseball players. For example, one infielder maintained a ritual of keeping a cheese sandwich in his back pocket in order to ensure his performance would remain consistent throughout a game. This might seem strange, but usually these rituals are borne from observing when a particularly remarkable streak of luck strikes and asking “what was different this time?” So when Wade Boggs noticed that he got multiple hits in his rookie season on the days he ate chicken before a game, he adopted that as a magical practice and ate chicken as often as possible before games. Objects in baseball and other sports can also be seen as animate and empowered. Honus Wagner believed, for example, that every bat only had one hundred hits (he admittedly played when wooden bats were the norm). If batting was going poorly, managers might rattle the bats in the dugout in an effort to “wake them up.” Even the hats players wear can become magical, as seen in the “rally cap” ritual where players off the field will turn their hats upside down and inside out (or “bill up”) to reverse bad luck during a game. Hats are also a central concern of rodeo riders, who won’t wear a new hat for a competition for fear of bad luck. Many also have a preferred “lucky hat” they wear only when riding competitively. Racing drivers have rules about not turning wheels in a parked car (similar to rules about not rocking an empty cradle) and not thing a picture right before a race, as either could lead to a dangerous or deadly crash. There are some sexist practices about racers’ wives not being allowed in the pit or being forbidden to wear green to a race to stave off bad luck, too, but then they also generally avoid eating peanuts in the pit for the same reason (Penrod). Some other magical beliefs in the world of athletics:

  • Most athletes won’t shave right before a game, for fear it will remove their luck
  • Batters (in baseball) and boxers will both spit in their hands to increase their strength during a game or match
  • Some athletes will wear a snakeskin around their waist to add strength or agility to their performance during a game (this is easier in the era of wearing snakeskin belts)
  • Seeing white horses or white cars before a ball game is usually good luck
  • Taking crossed game gear (such as bats or golf clubs lying crossed on the ground) leads to bad luckWearing lucky clothes is fairly common in a lot of sports, but many athletes have a pair of socks or an article of clothing that is lucky and washing it is forbidden (for fear of washing away the luck) (Brown, vol 6)
Illustration of sailor’s compass next to a gold coin

Sailors and Fishers
I’ve covered a lot of maritime beliefs and superstitions, as well as some of the magical rituals associated with life on the sea, in other posts and podcast episodes. But there is never a shortage of folk magic in this field, largely because being out on the open ocean is a very risky occupation, and as both Gmelch and his predecessor anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski have noted, superstition and magic are often proportional to the risk associated with any particular task. Some of the lore associated with working the sea:

  • It’s bad luck for a new ship or a freshly painted one to scratch its paint along the dock
  • Many people know the phrase “rats leave a sinking ship,” so sailors would often pay attention to the behavior of rodents on board for signs and omens of what was coming
  • Whistling on a ship was bad luck, especially because a sailor could accidentally whistle up a gale-force wind
  • The albatross is a well-known omen on boats and should be treated with respect (think only of the woes that befall the titular character in Coolridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”), but it’s also considered very bad luck to kill a dolphin or porpoise, because they were thought to be hosts to the souls of lost sailors.
  • If a bird lands on your boat while you’re on a fishing run, you should return to shore and try again another day (Mullen)
  • Fishing trips should never start on a Friday or they will come to a bad end (either a poor catch or worse)
  • Both Catholic and Protestant fishers may carry a medal or token of St. Andrew to ensure a good catch
  • It is thought that fishing between the hours of midnight and 3 a.m. is unlucky, because that is the ‘fishes’ time’ (Shearer)
  • Coins are often installed at various spots throughout the boat to bring good luck. For example, a silver dollar or fifty-cent piece is frequently placed under the main mast for this purpose
  • Two rather strange taboos are found among Texas fishers: carrying a black suitcase onboard and saying the word “alligator,” both of which are thought to bring extraordinary bad luck (I bet Captain Hook at least would agree with the latter custom)
Illustration of a Resurrection Plant (Rose of Jericho)

Merchants & Retail Workers
While retail and merchandise sales is a fairly broad category, it’s also one that has a good bit of superstition, folk magic, and ritual associated with it. Many people have gone into a business to find a framed piece of currency somewhere behind the cash register or along the entry wall, the “first dollar” made by the business. It is honored and never spent, so as to prevent the business from going under at some point in the future. There are lots of other folk beliefs and workings that have to do with increasing business and staving off bad luck (or bad customers):

  • Anything done to grow a business during the waxing moon is more likely to come to fruition, according to Ozark belief (Weston)
  • Making the first sale of the day was vital. Jewish merchants held the belief that the first customer of the day must be sold, even if at a loss or something insignificant, so as to provide good sales the rest of the day.
  • Business deals should not be done on Friday or they will come to a bad end, and working on Sunday is also bad luck (if you’ve worked retail or service industry, you already know this is true given how many people seem to come straight from church to undertip or demand special treatment from cashiers)
  • Sweeping dirt out the back door of a business is sweeping away all of its luck (Penrod). Similarly sweeping after dark was considered unlucky for business (Brown vol. 6)
  • Money stolen from a business could carry a curse, especially if the business owner was honest. One story from Zora Neale Hurston’s fieldwork reports of a woman who ran a little cigar shop so honestly she usually just left the money out on the counter. A sailor came in and stole the money, then returned to his ship. She rowed out in a dinghy to warn the captain and the sailor that if the money wasn’t returned it would do the thief great harm. They couldn’t find where he’d stashed it so they sent her away, but the sailor failed to show up for his next watch. They found him dead in his cabin, the money clenched in his hand. The captain, of course, immediately sent the money back to the woman as quickly as possible
  • If a man’s beard is of a different color than his hair, the shopkeep should expect shady dealing
  • If someone rattles money in their pocket while shopping or haggling, they aren’t to be trusted either (both of these last two are Ozark beliefs)
  • Sprinkling alfalfa and Irish moss in the corners of the shop is thought to bring in business. Similarly, keeping a Rose of Jericho behind the cash register counter and sprinkling the water over the doorstep of the business is thought to spur more customers to come in and spend
  • Zora Neale Hurston notes that a mixture of water, honey, and Japanese Fast Luck powder could be sprinkled at the entrance to the business in the morning or at midnight to draw large crowds of customers
  • Putting a golden coin (like a golden dollar) somewhere where the sun can shine on it is thought to bring more money your way; silver money shown to the moon will do the same
Illustration of a lipstick tube and a wrapped condom

Sex Workers
If risk and reward breed magic, it’s not surprising that sex work has a number of enchantment rituals within it. Those can range from ways to attract customers and clients to ways to protect oneself in dangerous situations or retain the money earned. Some things, like wearing red clothes or keeping red lights or lanterns on a front porch, are fairly well-known because they are thought to inspire lustful feelings and also to identify potential sex workers to interested clients. Other magical lore associated with sex work:

  • A sex worker should tear the corners of any cash money received, both to avoid any unwanted bad luck and as a way to magically stave off pregancy (NOTE: this is NOT scientifically sound birth control, but a folkloric tidbit…please listen to medical advice about preventing pregnancy and STIs first and foremost)
  • One recipe found in Hurston’s notes says a mixture of lavender, geranium, and Van Van (a spicy sweet blend involving lemongrass and ginger or galangal) could be sprinkled in the house or bed where sex work was to take place to help generate more clients
  • The evergreen boldo leaf can be sprinkled around the space where sex work is performed in order to prevent harm coming to those within; similarly carrying a buckeye was thought to stave off STIs as well (but again, this is NOT medical advice)
  • Carrying a Jezebel Root (a variety of iris), especially one dressed with sexual fluids, allows a sex worker to draw in the type of clients they like best and keep them docile and satisfied
  • Burning a shoe sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar would help draw customers to a house of sex workers (yronwode)
Illustration for drama and comedy masks

Actors
Perhaps one of the most superstitious professions is the world of the stage and screen. Plenty of people know about various taboos behind the footlights, such as avoiding the name of a certain Shakespearean “Scottish play” while in the actual theatre or avoiding the phrase “good luck!” in favor of the more dismal “break a leg!” Plenty of other acting-based folk practices might fall under the heading of “magic” as well:

  • Not only the “Scottish play” brings misfortune. Unless you’re actually performing Shakespeare, even quoting the Bard can bring bad luck in a theatre!
  • Like race car drivers, actors shouldn’t eat peanuts backstage (although there are probably sanitary reasons for this, plus if you’ve ever had a salty peanut stuck in your throat you can probably imagine how difficult a soliloquy might be)
  • There are lots of clothing-based taboos: ostrich feathers on a costume are bad luck, as are leaving your shoes or hat on a bed or dressing table
  • Spitting on your makeup brushes before using them ensures good performances and audiences
  • There’s a ritual of lighting a candle in the dressing rooms just before going onstage and leaving it burning during the opening night performance (obviously dangerous, but if you’ve got an awesome stage manager who can spare a tech to keep things safe, it might work out)
  • Those who are so inclined might carry a medal or card for St. Genesius for luck and blessing during the run of a play

There are no shortage of job-related spells, beliefs, charms, and lore, of course. Some additional occupational magical beliefs:

  • Electricians will carry marjoram and feverfew as a way to deflect potential electrocution (yronwode p. 132).
  • Nurses and public safety service workers often swear that full moons bring out the wildest, strangest, and most intense cases (or at least the largest quantity of ER or imperiled people each month)
  • Coal miners will burn the hat of someone who has recently become a new parent to provide protection and blessing to their family; there are also sexist beliefs similar to those found at race tracks about keeping women away from the mines/workplace
  • Pilots—like racers—won’t take photos right before a flight, and they usually avoid allowing their spouse or significant other watch them take off to prevent any accidents or crashes
  • Seamstresses and tailors won’t do repairs on their own clothes, especially not while they are wearing them, for fear of bringing bad luck (even death)
  • Cooks and chefs won’t keep parsley growing indoors because it can invite death into the kitchen or restaurant
Illustraon of a bag of popcorni

There are probably hundreds of bits of folk magic applicable to every job or occupation you could imagine. I recall working at a movie theater and having beliefs about playing movies to empty theaters inviting spirits to be there, for example (so we’d often let someone clock out and watch at least part of a movie if they wanted to so we could avoid that situation). There are also things like “cursed films” that inevitably bring disaster when screened (The Exorcist and The Omen both have reputations like this, although the curses associated with them tend to focus more on the curses on those involved with making the film).

And all of this isn’t even tapping into the numerous magically-oriented occupations from fairy tales: bakers, spinners, soldiers (who we cover in one of our earlier posts), and so forth. We’ve tackled a number of those occupations in a couple of podcasts previously, but even then we could easily fill another several episodes discussing the topic.

What about your occupation? Do you have any magical lore associated with your profession or job? We’d love to hear it if you do! Feel free to share in the comments or send us an email if you’d like to share!

Whatever work you do, we hope you make it magical! Thanks so much for reading!
-Cory

REFERENCES

Brown, Frank C. Frank C. Brown Collection of the Folklore of North Carolina, Wayland Hand, ed. Vol. 6 (1961).

Gmelch, George. “Baseball Magic,” in Elysian Fields Quarterly, vol. 11, no. 3, pp. 25-36 (1992).

Hurston, Zora Neale. “Hoodoo in America,” in The Journal of American Folklore, vol. 44, no. 174, pp. 317-417 (1931).

Malinowski, Bronislaw. Argonauts of the Western Pacific (1922).

Mullen, Patrick B. “The Function of Magic Folk Belief among Texas Coastal Fishermen,” in The Journal of American Folklore, vol. 82, no. 325, pp. 214-25 (1969). 

Penrod, James H. “Folk Beliefs about Work, Trades, & Professions from New Mexico,” in Western Folklore, vol. 27, no. 3, pp. 180-83 (1968).

Randolph, Vance. Ozark Magic & Folklore (1947).

Shearer, P. “Pennsylvania Dutch Folklore,” from Center for Penn. Studies Archives (4 June 1981).

Weston, Brandon. Ozark Folk Magic (2021).
yronwode, catherine. Hoodoo Herb & Root Magic (2002).

Blog Post 229 – Frogs and Toads

Illustration of woman spitting frogs and snakes from her mouth to illustrate fairy tale
“As she spoke, vipers and toads fell from her open mouth.” – from “Diamonds and Toads (or, The Fairies)” (Illustration by Cory Thomas Hutcheson 2020)

“Just then there came a second knock at the door, and a voice called out:

Youngest daughter of the king,
Open up the door for me,
Don’t you know what yesterday,
You said to me down by the well?
Youngest daughter of the king,
Open up the door for me.

The king said, “What you have promised, you must keep. Go and let the frog in.”

-From “The Frog Prince, or Iron Heinrich” from the Grimms’ fairy tales collection

Witches go together with frogs and toads almost as readily as they do with broomsticks and pointy hats in the popular imagination. In the story “The Frog Prince, or Iron Heinrich” from the Brothers Grimm collection, a handsome prince has been transformed into a frog by a “wicked witch,” although we pointedly do not get her side of the story. The story “Diamonds and Toads (or The Fairies),” found in the pre-Grimm French collection done by Charles Perrault, reveals that while a good sister is rewarded by precious jewels dripping from her mouth when she speaks, an ill-mannered girl is punished by a fairy (sometimes a fairy tale proxy for a witch), who curses the girl to spew toads and vipers when she speaks.

Beyond the fairy tales, however, several folk magical practices are woven into the webbed toes of frogs and toads. This post will share a few of those bits of magical lore from North American sources and practices. I will note that there are some gruesome spells herein, including some that involve harm or death coming to these marshy denizens, and I am in NO WAY ADVOCATING that you actually do anything hurtful to frogs or toads. They are a valuable part of our ecology and virtually any spell can be adapted in ways that avoid harming them (although I have nothing against the respectful collection of their remains after their demise). In fact, I’ll even begin with this bit of North Carolina folklore to help warn you away from such cruelty:

-Every frog you kill makes your life shorter (or killing a frog or toad will lead to the death of your mother, father, or another kinsperson) (Brown, p. 54). 

Another series of entries from that collection mentions that killing a frog or toad will lead your livestock to give bloody milk (p. 437-38), but conversely it recommends that an ill animal be fed a live frog in order to cure it (p. 449). That may very well have to do with the sympathetic nature of the magic, and the belief that a frog might have been used to initiate the curse, so forcing the frog into the animal is a way of doubling the hex back on itself and thus purging it from the animal’s system (we see a similar logic in the flogging of bewitched milk over hot coals, which is thought to return the harmful spell to the witch who cast it). 

Along that same vein of logic, we see in a number of folkloric instances the ways in which frogs or toads are sympathetically linked through magic to the world around them. They serve as familiars to witches in many stories (including as the representations of the witch’s power in tales like “The Frog Prince” and “Diamonds and Toads”). In Shakespeare’s play Macbeth we also get a reference to a toad as a witch’s familiar, or spirit companion, an idea commonly echoed in popular accounts of witchcraft. One sixteenth-century witch named Joan Cunny from Essex, England, for example, was associated with a pair of familiars that looked like black frogs and another Essex witch named Margery Sammon kept a pair of toads named Tom and Robin as familiars (Wilby, p. 230, p. 109). These creatures could also hold familiar bonds with other living things, such as trees. For example, some American lore states that killing a tree frog in its tree is thought to also kill the tree, also indicating the “familiar” like nature of them (Brown, p. 499). 

Both toads and frogs seem to operate between worlds, making them liminal agents that can run between either the land and water or between our world and the underworld. What they did in that underworld realm made them even more fearful in the folk imagination. For example, one bit of lore says that because they are thought to eat coals of fire (possibly also hellfire, given their traffic with the underworld), toads and frogs can be venomous or toxic. There are indeed toxic species of these creatures, so the belief about their dangers is not entirely untrue in the case of some poison-skinned frogs, but their dangers do not seem to be caused by the ingestion of brimstone (Brown, p. 409). A similar belief prevails about frogs eating buckshot, too, linking them to fire and iron, weapons, danger, and death. Their toxicity, however, might also be a connection to their witchier lore, especially as some frogs and toads secrete substances that can cause psychedelic reactions in humans (as evidenced by the minor fad–massively overplayed in popular media–with “licking frogs” among college students a few decades ago and even portrayed on The Simpsons). 

Frogs and toads also had more positive qualities (although admittedly these qualities didn’t do much to benefit the animals themselves). For example, an oft-repeated claim seems to indicate that some medieval physicians recommended placing a live frog in one’s mouth to remove a sore throat or other ailments, a supposition that has been dubiously linked to the phrase “a frog in one’s throat” (in reality, the phrase derives from an American lozenge rather than any medieval phraseology). Transferring diseases to animals by touch or by holding them in the mouth was not all that uncommon as a folk remedy or cure, and we see it come up in folklore about maladies such as warts quite frequently. That brings me to one of the other common bits of lore about toads and frogs, which are often accused of causing warts in anyone that holds them. This is essentially bunk, but the belief in magical transference of the disease makes some sense as it is a sort of “contagious” magic. Considering just how many folk wart cures and spells there are, it’s probably not a real crisis for someone to touch a frog or toad even if there were a risk of warts (which, again, there really isn’t).

Illustration of a witch's finger touching a frog
A popular folk belief says that touching frogs or toads causes warts (although that is not scientifically accurate). (Illustration by Cory Thomas Hutcheson 2020)

Curing the magical or venomous maladies of the Anuran order (which, frankly, sounds like the kind of club I’d like to join–”I’m a member of the Anuran Order, Bufo Chapter, Horned Toad House”) include the use of the “toadstone,” a type of secret gem or mineral deposit thought to be carried in the head or body of a toad and which could dispel any number of ailments. Specifically it was believed to be good against poisons, and is mentioned both in Roman lore and once again in Shakespeare as well (it may well be that this stone was actually a type of fossil).

The idea that a toad might carry in its body a powerful magical object was not limited to the toadstone, however, for within witchcraft lore a widely pervasive rite known as the “Toad’s Bone” ritual has captivated occultists for centuries and received a recent uptick in popularity due to the late Andrew Chumbley’s essay, “The Leaper Between.” Historical witchcraft writer Nigel Pennick discusses how in many parts of rural England and the British Isles, the toad’s bone rite was associated with a secret society known as the Horseman’s Word. Reputedly, those who were part of this group were a society of horse whisperers who could calm wild horses and easily help to break them, as well as treating them for certain problems. While they were esteemed for their equine skills, they were also suspected of witchcraft in many cases. They were thought to be brought into the fraternity by completing a toad’s bone rite of some kind, one that mirrored similar rites in witch lore, such as this one:

“The Norfolk witch Tilley Baldrey had her techniques published in The Eastern Counties Magazine in 1901. She tells how she became a witch through the toad-bone ritual. In standard English, ‘you catch a hopping toad and carry it in your bosom until it has rotted away to the back-bone,’ then, ‘you take it and hold it over running water at midnight until the Devil comes to you and pulls you over the water.’ This is the initiation as a witch.” (Pennick loc. 1154).

This initiatory rite resulted in the possession of the toad’s bone, which was carried as a token of power and a symbol of initiation, much in the same way that the black cat bone appears in other witch lore. Similar rituals involved crucifying a toad with thorns (usually blackthorn, although it could be hawthorn in some variants) on top of an ant hill and waiting until the ants had devoured the toad’s flesh. The bones would then be taken to a stream and submerged, and whichever floated against the current was the fabled toad’s bone.

I should note once again that I adamantly do NOT encourage the use of animal torture for the procurement of magical tools. These rites may have some significance in the historical context, but you are just as likely to be able to get many of these tools–even toad and frog bones–from sources that do not require the animals to suffer (given how popular frogs’ legs are in parts of the South, contacting a frog-gigger who hunts for restaurant fare might be a better way to handle this). Waiting to find a frog skeleton is just as good, and comes with a sense of feeling like the bones were meant for you rather than extracted through cruelty and malice.

A desiccated frog skeleton found in my in-laws’ house hidden in the back of a cabinet; you never know when you’ll find these sorts of things!

As a final note about the magic of these lovely amphibians, I should note that they are also thought to be harbingers of changing weather and seasons. A belief found throughout the eastern half of the United States says that the croaking of frogs is thought to signal the end of winter (Brown, p. 323). If you’ve ever been in the South in the early summer, you’ll know the sound of “peepers” out in any even mildly wetland area pretty well. Seeing a large number of frogs (and potentially hearing them as well), is also thought to be a sign of coming rain. In this way we can see the deep connections between the watery world of the pond and the stormy sky as connected, with the toads and frogs acting as those “leapers between” as Chumbley phrased it. 

This is been only a webbed toe dipped into the very deep pond of frog and toad lore, but hopefully it gives you a sense of just how much enchantment can be found in these creatures. Perhaps if the spoiled princess in the story of the golden ball had known that, she might not have been so quick to run away or fear her froggy beau. I’d still prefer not to have them jumping out of my mouth every time I speak, though. It would make teaching pretty awkward.

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

 

References:

Episode 174 – Backwoods Witchcraft with Jake Richards

Summary:
We talk with author and conjure worker Jake Richards about folk magic in the Southern Highlands, the many magical-cultural influences found throughout the mountains, and what people get right and wrong about Appalachia.
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Producers for this show: Heather, WisdomQueen, Jennifer, Jen Rue of Rue & Hyssop, Little Wren, Khristopher, Tanner, Fergus from Queer as Folk Magic, Achija of Spellbound Bookbinding, Johnathan at the ModernSouthernPolytheist, Catherine, Payton, Carole, Stephanie, Kat, Breanna, Staci, Montine, Vic from the Distelfink Sippschaft of Urglaawe, Moma Sarah at ConjuredCardea, Jody, AthenaBeth, Bo, Scarlet Pirate, Tim, Leslie, Sherry, Jenna, Jess, Laura, Abbi, Nicole, & Clever Kim’s Curios (if we missed you this episode, we’ll make sure you’re in the next one!). Big thanks to everyone supporting us!
Play:
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We can highly recommend that you pick up a copy of Jake’s book, Backwoods Witchcraft, from Weiser Books. You can also check out his very informative blog, Little Chicago Conjure, as well
You might be interested in some of our other posts on Appalachian and Southern mountain folk magic, too:
Cory introduces the episode with a story adapted from Richard Dorson’s Buying the Wind.
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Episode 144 – Southern Cunning with Aaron Oberon

Summary:
We’re talking about life as a swamp witch today with author Aaron Oberon! Aaron takes us through his work with “folkloric witchcraft” and the ways he both draws on his Southern roots and adapts them to meet contemporary needs. He’ll share his perspective on the Devil’s wife, making magical tools, and Queer identity in a Southern magical context.
Please check out our Patreon page! You can help support the show for as little as a dollar a month, and get some awesome rewards at the same time.  Even if you can’t give, spread the word and let others know, and maybe we can make New World Witchery even better than it is now.
Producers for this show: Heather, WisdomQueen, Regina, Jen Rue of Rue & Hyssop, Little Wren, Khristopher, Tanner, Fergus from Queer as Folk Magic, Achija of Spellbound Bookbinding,  Johnathan at the ModernSouthernPolytheist, Catherine, Patrick, Carole, Payton, Staci, Debra, Montine, Cynara at The Auburn Skye, WickedScense, Moma Sarah at ConjuredCardea, Jody, Josette, Hazel, Amy, Victoria, Sherry, Tarsha, Jennifer, Clever Kim’s Curios, Donald, Jenni Love of Broom Book & Candle, & AthenaBeth. (if we missed you this episode, we’ll make sure you’re in the next one!). Big thanks to everyone supporting us!
Play:
 -Sources-
You should definitely check out Aaron’s upcoming book, Southern Cunningavailable for pre-order! You can also find his work in the book Queer Magic and listen to him on the Broomsticks in the Bayou podcast.
Aaron’s work references the book The Silver Bullet by Hubert Davis, as well as an essay Cory wrote for Three Hands Press in the book Hands of Apostasy.
If you have feedback you’d like to share, email us or leave a comment. We’d love to hear from you!
Don’t forget to follow us at Twitter! And check out our Facebook page! For those who are interested, we also now have a page on Pinterest you might like, called “The Olde Broom.” You can follow us on Instagram or check out our new YouTube channel with back episodes of the podcast and new “Everyday Magic” videos, too (as well as most of our contest announcements)! Have something you want to say? Leave us a voice mail on our official NWW hotline: (442) 999-4824 (that’s 442-99-WITCH, if it helps).
Promos & Music
Title and closing music is “Homebound,” by Bluesboy Jag, and is used under license from Magnatune. Additional songs are “Dill Pickle Rag,” by The Joy Drops (via a CC Attribution license on SoundCloud); “Shady Grove,” by Doc Watson & Jack Lawrence (from the public Florida Folklife Collection); and “Out of Your League,” by Ninety Pounds of Ugly (licensed from Magnatune).
If you like us AND you like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, you will love our new show: Myth Taken: A Buffy the Vampire Slayer Podcast, now available through all the podcatchers!
Please think about checking out our Audible Trial program. Visit Audibletrial.com/newworldwitchery to get your free trial of Audible, where you can download over 180,000 titles (including some narrated by Cory). Your purchases help support this show, and there’s no obligation to continue after the free trial

Episode 123 – Everyday Magical Objects Revisited

Summary:

We dig back into the listener suggestions for everyday magical objects and look at another round of commonplace (or uncommonplace) items and how they can fit into a magical practice. Everything from the dapper gentlewitch’s accessories to photosensitive paper makes it into this one, so we hope you enjoy!

 

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

 

Producers for this show: Heather, Achija of Spellbound Bookbinding, Raven Dark Moon, WisdomQueen, Regina, Jen Rue of Rue & Hyssop, Little Wren, Khristopher, Tanner, Jody, Johnathan at the ModernSouthernPolytheist, Catherine, Montine, Cynara at The Auburn Skye, Sarah at ConjuredCardea,The Trinket Witch, Victoria, Sherry, & AthenaBeth. (if we missed you this episode, we’ll make sure you’re in the next one!). Big thanks to everyone supporting us!

 

Play:

Download: Episode 123 – Everyday Magical Objects Revisited

Play: 

 

 -Sources-

You might want to take a quick listen back to our first Everyday Magical Objects episode if you aren’t familiar with what we’re doing in this one. You may also want to listen to our episodes featuring Robert Schreiwer and Robert Phoenix, since Cory mentions the event with them (which was a blast!).

Some of the books and folklore sources used for this episode include:

 

Thank you to listeners Heather, Autumnn, Mahalia, Mila, Chris, & Jennifer for this episode’s Everyday Magical Object suggestions. Please feel free to send in your own suggestions for future objects!

 

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

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

 

 Promos & Music

Title and closing music is “Homebound,” by Bluesboy Jag, and is used under license from Magnatune.

Podcast 55 – The State of Conjure

Summary
This episode features a special one-hour interview with the cast of Conjure Crossroads, discussing the state of conjure in the US. We’ll hear about art, magic, New Orleans, and what conjure looks like today among  current practitioners.

Play:
Download: New World Witchery – Episode 55

 -Sources-
You can find our guests from this episode at the following links:

  1. Starr Casas – Old Style Conjure (she also has her own podcast of the same name)
  2. Sindy Todo – Todo Mojo (be sure to check out her gorgeous railroad spike art)
  3. Susan Diamond & Wolf – Serpent’s Kiss, Two Hoodoos,  and Shimmering Wolf Studios
  4. Orion Foxwood – Two Hoodoos, his personal page, and the House of Brigh (his Faery Seership site)
  5. And of course, check out their show, Conjure Crossroads on Blogtalk Radio

You can find out more about the New Orleans Folk Magic Festival here, and more about ConjureCon here.

Several of our guests also have some great books on conjure available, including:

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

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

Keep an eye out for more info on the New Orleans Magical Meetup on Novemer 8-10, 2013! You can follow the official Facebook page, or watch the website for more details!

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

Promos:

  1. Lamplighter Blues
  2. Witches’ Brewhaha

Blog Post 178 – Book Reviews

This seems to be a great time to work with American folk magic. Not only have a number of people begun working with the systems that have evolved here (like hoodoo, pow-wow, and all the other flavors of North American magic you probably come to this site to investigate), but the vast amount of information on the various branches has become legion. Thanks very much to author-teachers like Cat Yronwode, Conjureman Ali, and Denise Alvarado, the opportunity to learn folk magic has expanded beyond a few internet sites and hard-to-find instructors to entire shelves of books and even folk magic festivals where students can gather together and learn from a bevy of the brightest minds in practical magic today.

Keeping up with the tremendous reading list available to someone interested in folk magic is no easy task. My current pace is roughly a book a week to a book every two weeks, and that includes the books I review for the Journal of American Folklore, texts on folk magic, books on literature and criticism, science writing, etc. Occasionally I manage to squeeze one in for fun, too!

That’s not to say that my ‘required’ reading list can’t be fun, too, of course. Two recent entries into the pile of texts on folk magic that have been absolute pleasures to read are The Black Folder, compiled by Cat Yronwode and The Conjure Workbook, v. 1: Working the Root, by Starr Casas.

The Black Folder is the assembly of a number of workshop handouts from a variety of events and educational opportunities presented by Yronwode’s Lucky Mojo Curio Company and Missionary Independent Spiritual Church over the past decade or so. Many of the entries, particularly the early ones, are by Yronwode herself. Her section on working hoodoo based on items you can pick up at the grocery store or pull from your pantry is first-rate, and doesn’t simply focus on the spice rack but includes work with onions and other produce as well. Other top-notch contributors include Conjureman Ali, Sindy Todo, Robin York, Dr. E, Starr Casas, and many others. Topics range from the oft-covered bottle spells and honey jars to very detailed and unique pieces on foot-washing, the use of skulls in magic, and even some Swedish troll-magic courtesy of Dr. Johannes Gardback. The design of the book really looks like a collection of newsletters that have been bound up in a black cover (it is, however, a trade paperback version of the original Black Folder, which Yronwode used to keep up with all the informational pamphlets used by teachers in Lucky Mojo’s courses). Reading through this book provides a bit of a biography of Lucky Mojo as well, as the evolution of the company and its teaching role can be seen in the more-or-less chronological progression of the pamphlets.  The work provided varies in quality according to the author, with some authors giving standout spells and methods, and some which focus more on theory than technique. I found a few entries that seemed more conjectural and less based on inherited practices or research, but for the most part the book is an absolute treasure-trove of information. While it does not replace the opportunity to learn from these folks in person, it certainly does a phenomenal job of feeling like field notes from working magicians. It is published by Lucky Mojo, so you can buy it directly from them or through Amazon and other booksellers.  Because of the difficult layout work that must be required to piece together all those pamphlets, it seems like the kind of text that will not likely ever appear in eBook format, so a physical copy is the only way to go, but highly worth the purchase price.

In The Conjure Workbook, Casas—who contributed to The Black Folder as well, noted above—also does a tremendous amount of assembly, piecing together essentially an entire lifetime of conjure knowledge in a little under 300 pages. Casas has been teaching and writing for several years, and has formerly produced texts on doll baby work, money magic, basic Southern conjure, and Blackhawk independently. For this endeavor, however, she has joined up with Pendraig Publishing (Peter Paddon’s company). At the very outset, I will say the biggest problem with the book has nothing to do with the work presented, but rather the frequent typos, spelling errors, and odd edits that plague the text. Hopefully future volumes and editions will corret those issues, though, because this book is highly valuable and informative. Starr’s workbook reads like a master class with a highly skilled and practiced conjure worker. She makes no bones about the type of work she does, which she labels as specifically Southern conjure and ties to working with the Bible (please note, she does not say one must be a Christian to do this work, but that one must be comfortable with the Bible as a source of spellwork and power—this point frequently gets misunderstood in her writing). She has been practicing within a Catholic strain of the work for many years, so the Saints make a strong entry into this book. She doesn’t shy away from the darker side of saints like St. Lucy and St. Ramon, and includes work with Mary and several of the prophets, too—which are spirits that receive relatively little attention in other works on Biblically-framed folk magic despite their powerful natures. Casas puts the work first in this book, and if you’re looking for actual spells to do, this is certainly the kind of text to keep handy. She also does not regurgitate anyone else’s spellwork (at least as far as I can see) and gives the reader a piece of her own history and philosophy in between the spells. More than anything, this book reads like a conversation with her, and provides loads of new conjure projects to an aspiring worker, including doll babies made with shrunken apple heads, medicine bottle spells, and even a good reason to invest in getting a box of chalk from the dollar store to keep handy. Starr has put together a book that, despite its proofreading issues, manages to be absolutely invaluable to anyone who likes to get their hands a little dirty in folk magic.

Both of these books are born from years of practical experience, and they both have more of a classroom feel than most titles on folk magic do, which may make them more accessible than other texts on similar subjects. It is highly likely both books will be the initial entries into multi-volume series as well, which hopefully means that classes will continue, so to speak, for a long time to come.

Yronwode and Lucky Mojo have also begun producing a number of smaller books, like The Art of Hoodoo Candle Magic in Rootwork (by Ms. Cat) and Hoodoo Honey & Sugar Spells (by Deacon Millet), but I’ve yet to read most of those. Casas also has released a small book on reading “conjure cards,” and she’s put out a deck and a special deluxe set that includes the cards, book, and blessing oil through Pendraig. They look absolutely stellar, though I’ve not laid hands on a set yet, only seen the online previews. I mention these because both Pendraig and Lucky Mojo seem to be strong contenders in terms of putting out useful texts on folk magic now, and I’m very happy to see them expanding their offerings. Hopefully that means an ever-growing source of knowledge and spellwork for all of us.

There are plenty of other texts I’d love to explore (including one that I’ll try to get to with a bit of fanfare soon, called Fifty-Four Devils, by Cory Thomas Hutcheson, who seems a rather promising fellow, if a bit silly at times), but for now I hope you’ll check out The Black Folder and Working the Root and let me know what you think.

Wishing you all the best, and happy reading!

-Cory

Blog Post 168 – New World Witchery Cartulary No. 2

Today we’re rounding up another group of links that readers of this blog might find interesting or enjoyable and sending them out into the world. I’ve not had as much time to write for the blog or record for the show as I’m knee-deep in the process of thesis-writing and researching places for PhD research, but I do continually find myself reading new posts, articles, and information that pertain to the various branches of folk lore, folk magic, and folk belief. Here’s a brief list that will hopefully give you some things to peruse while you’re waiting upon tenterhooks for the next riveting New World Witchery post or show.

I’ll start today in the realm of Pennsylvania-Dutch magic. There’s a brand new edition of the pow-wow classic The Long Lost Friend available from Llewellyn, edited and annotated by Daniel Harms.  Hohman’s text is presented here in several formats, including the original 1820 edition (with the German language version) and in an expanded 1856 English translation. Many of the spells are pulled from a third edition, the 1837 “Skippacksville” version. It’s a surprisingly stuffed text with a tremendous amount of folkloric value, and if you have any interest in American folk magic at all I highly recommend getting it.

In the same vein, if you enjoy braucherei, hexerei, and pow-wow, but want to explore it in a Pagan/Heathen context, I cannot recommend enough that you hurry over to Urglaawe. This is Rob Schreiwer & Co.’s site which helps collect—in English and PA-German—the vast stores of Germanic magic which exist on both sides of the Atlantic (with a heavy emphasis on the beliefs and practices of the Pennsylvania-Dutch in America). Schreiwer will be part of an upcoming episode of the show, and he’s a brilliant mind with a tremendous amount of information in his head, so please take a look at the work he’s doing. If you’re a schuler of things Deitsch, you won’t regret it.

In a final nod to the Germanic cultures of America, I was recently introduced by SilverShadow and Dr. Hob to the fascinating phenomenon of courting candles. These little spiral-shaped candle holders would be lit and adjusted to provide light for suitors to visit their sweethearts. When the candle burned out, the beau had to leave. If a father liked a suitor, he’d adjust the candle to provide more time in the light; if not, he’d move the little key to make the candle burn out more quickly. I’m always fascinated by things like this, as I can see plenty of ways they can be used magically in addition to their more mundane applications.

Speaking of Dr. Hob, he’s been very active on his own website lately, Pennies for the Boneyard, with phenomenal posts on topics ranging from his relationship with Christianity and conjure work to a review of ConjureMan Ali’s Santisma Muerte book to a rather flattering and kindly review of our own cartomancy guide. If you’ve not come across his blog before, give it a visit and tell him we sent you.

You should also check out the fun and informative show he and SilverShadow are doing together, called Lamplighter Blues.

I’m reading Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil for the first time as part of a book club, and if you haven’t read it, it’s worth the time. The story gives you a wonderful portrait of the strange, beautiful, and eerie city of Savannah, Georgia, as well as a specific murder trial that occurred there in the 1980s. A major portion of the story takes place in cemeteries, and a conjure woman whom the author names “Minerva” becomes somewhat crucial in the narrative. This is essentially a non-fiction book, though, and Minerva is actually Valerie Fennel Boles, widow to one of the Dr. Buzzards of Beaufort, South Carolina. Boles carried on Buzzard’s conjure work until her death in 2009, and the portrayals of her practice in the book—despite the appellate of “voodoo” which author John Berendt uses to describe what she does—are incredibly vivid and authentic.  You can read more about Dr. Buzzard in Jack Montgomery’s American Shamans, too, which we’ve mentioned here before.

If you haven’t seen it yet, Sarah Lawless’ latest venture has gone live. Go take a peek at the Poisoner’s Apothecary, and check out some of the projects she’s working on. I’m particularly excited about the range of pipes she’s carving for smoking rituals.

I think that will just about do it for today. If you enjoy these links, let them know who sent you and let us know what you like best in the comments section. And feel free to share what you’re reading/writing/learning these days, too!

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

Blog Post 157 – Weekend in Pictures

Bonus! Answer the following (very easy) question and get your name in the hat for a prize! One lucky winner will get a Lucky Bundle from Compass & Key Curiosities with a few bottles of our best lucky oils and a lucky curio or two. Leave your answer in the comments section below by MIDNIGHT TONIGHT (4/25/12) to enter!

The Question: Where was I?

Told you it was easy! Good luck!

Blog Post 153 – American Ginseng

Hello dedicated (and not abandoned!) readers!

This month, I’m going to be spending a lot of time looking at various botanicals found throughout North American magical practice. What with it being springtime and all, I thought a little stroll through our native meadows, forests, fields, and fens would be a good way to get back in the swing of things, and might even open up some new avenues of exploration for somebody. As always let me emphasize that THIS IS NOT A  MEDICAL BLOG, AND THE INFORMATION HERE IS NOT INTENDED TO DIAGNOSE, TREAT, OR OTHERWISE MEDICALLY PROVIDE FOR ANY ILLNESS OR AILMENT. ALL INFORMATION IS PROVIDED AS FOLKLORE ONLY!!!

I’m starting with a plant that may or may not be familiar to most people: American Ginseng (panax quinquefolia).  This plant can be found throughout the mountainous regions of North America ranging from Canada down to the Southern states. It’s long been highly valued in Chinese medicine, and has been considered a panacea (hence its botanical Latinate name of panax) for a wide variety of complaints. You can read a good bit about the botanical and medical side of the plant at its Botanical.com entry, so I’ll focus today more on the folklore side of this incredibly useful root.

When I was growing up in the rural South, I had a good friend in high school whose father would regularly take him ginseng hunting (or “sanging”) in the hills and mountain areas a few hours away. It was a profitable side business for them, as it has been for mountain folk for nearly three centuries. In the Foxfire Book #3, which includes a whole chapter dedicated to ginseng, there’s a history dating back to the early 18th century in which Father Joseph Lafitau had local Mowhawk tribes in Canada begin gathering and curing native ginseng for sale on the Chinese market (244). At one point, ginseng was reputed to be worth its weight in gold, literally. Jude’s Herbal Home Remedies includes this tidbit about the economic value of the root: “Even Daniel Boone gathered it [ginseng] to sell because it was more profitable than hunting and trapping” (18). Unfortunately this demand led to an overzealous glut of wild harvesting, and ginseng’s botanical population dwindled steadily into the early 20th century. It’s made something of a comeback in the last 50-60 years due to stricter laws governing its harvesting, but as my story about my friend’s family demonstrates, it’s still a very common practice and hard to regulate.

Mountain communities have long known the curative and tonic value of ginseng root. Looking again to Foxfire #3, we find the following:

“The early colonists not only gathered ginseng for sale, but used it in tea to encourage the appetite or strengthen the digestion, especially of elderly persons or puny children. Ginseng plus black cherry and yellowroot made a potent tonic, especially with the addition of some home made whiskey. An early herbal suggested gathering ginseng root and steeping it with chamomile flowers for fainting females” (247)

Its primary powers are to enhance male vigor, and its described as a potent aphrodisiac in a number of sources. This may be due to either its stimulant effect on the circulatory system or the distinctively humanoid shape of the root (a factor which has earned aphrodisiac and potentcy attributions for other roots like mandrake and ginger). Preparations vary from chewing slices of the fresh root to brewing teas to even more unorthodox decoctions. One informant’s method:

“‘You can take the roots that are dry and take a sausage mill or something and grind’em up and drop a pretty good little handful down into your vial of conversation juice [moonshine]. Take this ginseng and liquor and pour out just a small little amount of that ina teacup and set it afire. Strike a match to it, you know, and it’ll burn. And I mean burn it good. And then turn it up and drink it. It’s an awful bitter dose to swallow, but if it don’t do you some good you better get to a doctor and pretty durn fast. It really is good for that [male vigor]. And it’s also good for female disorders. Very good, they tell me, for that’”(Foxfire #3 250-1)

In one example I found, the act of finding ginseng has its own value. From Folk Medicine in Southern Appalachia: “For some, the pursuit of ‘sang’ and other herbs is a therapeutic activity in itself. A ninety-year-old woman from eastern Tennessee said: ‘When I feel down in the dumps, I go sangin’” (60).

Therapeutic uses of ginseng in modern preparations reflect its historical value. Jude’s Herbal Home Remedies recommends it as a tonic and aphrodisiac, and gives this recipe for a male tonic:

“TONIC FOR MEN: Mix ½ ounce each of ginseng, shepherd’s purse, corn silk and parsley. Mix well and add 1 teaspoon of the mixture to 1 cup of boiling water. Let steep 15 minutes, covered. Strain and sweeten if desired. Drink several cups per day for 1 week. This helps to tone up the male reproductive organs. The stimulation to the prostate is helpful to all parts of the system” (120)

It also considers ginseng one of the great coffee subsitutes available in the wild. It is still considered a great digestive aid, as well. The folklore tome Kentucky Superstitions calls it “A sure remedy for all kinds of stomach trouble” (107).

In the folk magical realm, ginseng again parallels its medicinal uses, as well as adding a few new tricks to its repertoire. Cat Yronwode describes a recipe for soaking a ginseng root in Holy Oil which can then be used to anoint the male genetalia to enhance sexual performance. She also mentions it’s a key component of an old-timey gambling mojo, too. The root seems to have made its way into curanderismo practice as well, as the Curious Curandera lists the following uses for it: “Love, wishes, protection, luck, spirit communication, visions, divination, male vigor, gambling luck, to control another.” And Judika Illes, in her oft-recommended tome The Encylopedia of 5000 Spells, gives a number of great magical applications for ginseng root:

  • Tie a red thread around a ginseng root and carry with you for beauty and grace (1026)
  • Wrapping the first dollar earned at a new business around a ginseng root w/ red thread will help improve income (167)
  • Mentions its name as “Wonder of the World root,” and tells how it can be used in hoodoo to enhance longevity, libido, & performance in sexual situations (527). Also says you can carve a wish on a whole root & toss it into running water to gain what you desire (763).
  • Can be burned to break curses (598)

This incredibly verstatile root definitely has a place in a folk magician’s cupboard, though I would recommend acquiring it from legal sources. While I’m normally an advocate of wild harvesting roots for practice, in ginseng’s case three centuries of such harvesting have taken a toll, and since it grows well in cultivation I’d rather see the wild stocks remain alive and untouched for a long time to come.

If you have experience with ginseng or know of any unique magical applications for it, I’d love to hear them! Until next time, thanks for reading!

-Cory