Special Episode – Camp Splitfoot – Junior

 

Summary: We begin our annual All Hallows Read tradition by visiting our local campsite, Camp Splitfoot. Tonight, we hear the tale of “Junior,” inspired by a local legend from author Victoria Raschke.

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, 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!

 
Cover image of Special Episode - Camp Splitfoot - Campfire Tales

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We begin our annual All Hallows Read with the theme of campfire tales in 2020. Our first tale is a story called “Junior,” inspired by a local legend shared with us by author Victoria Raschke. You can also hear an interview with Victoria in our previous episode.

Huge thanks to everyone who participated in our recent surveys, including the one where many of our tales this year will come from! We’ll have announcements of contest winners soon!

You can now also pre-order Cory’s forthcoming book, New World Witchery: A Trove of North American Folk Magic!

We’re also working with the Wylde Faun candle company to offer a special discount to our supporters! You can buy anything from their catalog and get 20% off by using the code “NewWorldWitch” at checkout!

Image by Cory Thomas Hutcheson.

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

Music for this episode includes works by Colin Scudder, Nicole Reynolds, and Paul Avgernos, and is licensed from Audio Socket.

Please consider supporting us by purchasing our promotional items in the New World Witchery Threadless shop or by joining our Patreon supporters.   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 107 – Enchanted Tennessee with Tony Kail and Rebecca Petersen

Summary:

We move across the state of Tennessee in this episode, discussing hoodoo in Memphis, the magical scene in Nashville, and hearing stories of the Bell Witch and a hexed gun along the way.

 

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: Corvus, Diana Garino, Renee Odders, Ye Olde Magic Shoppe, Raven Dark Moon, The Witches View Podcast,  Sarah, Molly, Corvus, Catherine, AthenaBeth, Jen Rue of Rue & Hyssop, Little Wren, Jessica, Victoria, Daniel, Johnathan at the ModernSouthernPolytheist, Montine, Achija of Spellbound Bookbinding, and Hazel (if we missed you this episode, we’ll make sure you’re in the next one!). Big thanks to everyone supporting us!

 

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If you enjoy this episode, you might like some of our other “travel” episodes, such as the ones on Salem, Pennsylvania, New Orleans, Memphis, and Appalachia.

You can check out Tony Kail’s book, A Secret History of Memphis Hoodoo: Rootworkers, Conjurers, and Spirituals and find out more about his work on the Memphis Hoodoo website.

Rebecca Petersen runs the store Draconis Arcanum in Nashville.

The account of the Bell Witch you heard is taken from Tennessee: A Guide to the State, produced by the Works Project Administration.

The story of “Billy Jesse and the Witched Gun” comes from the book Foxfire 2.

We’re also planning an excursion in early to mid-summer to see the ancient magical artifacts exhibit at the Penn Museum and we’d love for you to join us! More details will be coming soon.

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.

Music:

  1. “Cycles,” by Doug Hamer (Magnatune)
  2. “Evil Devil Woman Blues,” by Memphis Minnie (with Kansas Joe McCoy) (org)
  3. “Darlin’ Corey,” by Town Hall (from the Florida Folklife Collection)
  4. Sedativa II, by DM (Magnatune)

Blog Post 197 – Shapeshifting

“Loup-Garou,” from The Werewolf Delusion, by Ian Woodward (1979) (via Wikimedia Commons)

 

[N.B. Please also check out our podcast episode on this phenomenon as well: Episode 82 – Shapeshifting]

 

One of the talents attributed to witches in a number of cultures is self-transformation. If you’ve plunged more than ankle-deep into witchcraft research, you’ve likely run across famed Scottish witch Isobel Gowdie’s charm, which she reputedly used to transform into a hare, which begins “An I shall go into a hare, with sorrow and sighing in mickle care…” Gowdie was not alone in her belief that through the force of her magic and her will (and perhaps some psychoactive botanical substances or a judicious application of rendered animal fat), she could change her form to that of an animal. Perhaps the most famous example of this power is the werewolf, which sometimes changes of its own volition, but more often is a victim of the shiny moonlight’s powers.

In the New World, plenty of witches also had the power of transformation. This article will look at a few key tales of shapeshifting from New World lore, and ask questions about what the stories could mean for a magically inclined person with an interest in exchanging human form for an animal’s.

Perhaps the best-known and most widespread incarnation of the shapeshifting legend east of the Mississippi is the story of the loup-garou (sometimes also rou-garou, rugaru, or a similar variation). The beast can be found just about anywhere which saw frequent contact with French Colonial influences, such as in Canadian border zones or Louisiana. Often the loup-garou is essentially a werewolf, a human being who can—through magical means often diabolical in nature—become a wolf-like beast. Some versions of the story, recorded by University of Louisiana professor Barry Ancelet, describe the beast as more of a thief than a predator for humans, stealing fishermen’s clams while they sleep. The exact nature of the creature is also indeterminate, since depending on one’s location, it can “range from the rougarou as a headless horseman to a wolf that prowls the forest at night” (Lugibihl). The actual transformation may be permanent (or even ghostly, as some accounts tell of the beast as the remnant of a cruel old man), or may only last for 101 days, after which time the loup-garou transfers its curse to another person through a bite or drinking his or her blood. A person under the curse seems to know whether he or she is suffering from the transformation, and becomes rather wan and unhealthy, but usually remains silent about the condition with others. A major variation on the loup-garou is the bearwalker, about which Richard Dorson recorded several stories in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula during the mid-20th century. As you can probably guess, the assumption of a bear form (or at least an animal form which resembles a bear more than a wolf) is more common in the lore of the borderlands on the north of the Great Lakes.

In the mid-section of the United States, particularly from the mid-Atlantic down to the upland South and across into the Midwest, the power of transformation is far less canine in nature. While the loup-garou certainly fell into the purview of New World magical lore (albeit lore largely imported from Europe), the tales of transformation one finds in places like Appalachia skew distinctly witchy in flavor. Several stories, including one which we’ve recorded here before called “The Black Cat Murders,” talk about witches transforming into cats in order to visit harm on prospective victims. Patrick Gainer recorded his version of the tale in West Virginia from Mrs. Robert Pettry, whose account included a man with a pet bear that struck off the witch-cat’s paw only to have it transform into a human hand once it was severed. This is a very common feature of witch transformation tales, and often once a witch has been injured in her animal state, she bears the marks of her injury in human form as well (which proves helpful to neighbors in identifying her). One of the remarkable points about these transformations remains that in many cases the witch has a physical human body in one place and a spectral body (with some corporeal aspects, as in the case with the bear above) that can travel around at her behest while remaining deeply linked with her. That trait appears throughout North America (again, with some Old World antecedents, including Africa as well as Europe). A tale from Virginia recorded in The Silver Bullet, by Hubert J. Davis, tells of women who turns into a cat only to have her hand whacked off with a knife. The next day, when the man who did the whacking tries to shake hands with the suspected witch, she refuses because her hand is now missing. Davis also reports a tale of a witch who becomes a cat only to be caught by a lonely mountain man, and transformed back into a woman, she marries him and bears him two children. When he begins drunkenly telling someone how they met, she turns herself and the kids into cats and kittens and they disappear forever through a hole in the wall.

Of course, not all witches turn into cats, and not al were-cats are witches, exactly, either. In Utica, New York, Davis found a tale of a witch who turned herself into a black colt that would appear in neighbors’ fields and graze among their horses. When a man sneakily catches the colt and has it shod at the blacksmith’s (I’d note the importance of iron to this story, by the way), the colt then gets put into a pasture, then disappears. However, a neighbor-woman is seen with bandages on all her hands and feet the next day. New York is also the home of famed witch Aunty Greenleaf, who reportedly would turn herself into a white deer rather than a cat or a horse. She managed to elude hunters constantly until one hunter got the idea to use melted silver for bullets and struck her in her transformed state. She, of course, took ill and died (Schlosser 2005). Another famed shapeshifting creature, however, is not a witch at all, but a Native woman who has been cursed into cat form known as the Wampus Cat (Schlosser 2004). Lest you think that all those who are animagi (to steal a term from Harry Potter) are female, an African American tale speaks of a male witch whose form is that of a boarhog, and who uses his powers of magic and transformation to gain a pretty wife with lots of land. Interestingly, a little boy in the story—often called the “Old Witch Boy”—knows the boarhog witch’s secret and reveals it to the girl’s father, resulting in the death of the hog-witch (Leeming & Page).

Some of the most pervasive and powerful witch-stories of transformation come from the American Southwest. Navajo skinwalker tales abound with narratives about evil witches who could use the pelts of animals to take on different shapes, usually to terrorize outsiders or those they did not like on the reservations. Some accounts claim that the witch who could take on the skin of another creature was the most powerful type of witch, and had mastered what was known as “The Witchery Way.” Such a creature was to be greatly feared, and trade in certain skins and furs was severely limited within Navajo culture. Skinwalkers could be recognized by some of their supernatural abilities, but more especially by their eyes: in animal form, their eyes looked human, and vice versa when in their human form. Nasario Garcia recorded many tales in New Mexico, Colorado, Texas, and California from people in the late 20th and early 21st centuries who reported knowing about or having seen witches that had taken on animal forms, just as skinwalkers do. One story related by a a man who recalled the events of the tale from when he was eight years old told of how his father had been driving an oxcart on a dark night with his son (the narrator) and a few farmhands along with him. Suddenly, two sheep appeared alongside the cart, one white and one black, and simply followed them, always matching pace with the cart. Eventually, they simply disappeared. Many others recorded by Garcia spoke of witches taking on owl forms to travel out by night, or occasionally coyote or dog forms, in which case they seemed to want to bite errant travelers (although never in such a way as to cause permanent injury or death, although most who see these creatures report being terrified).

So just what do witches do once they are transformed? In many of the stories, they seem to be up to no good. The tales of witch-cats often speak of numerous murders or unexplained deaths attributed to the shapeshifting sorcerers in the area. In some tales, witches take on cat forms to sneak into the houses of children and steal their breath (which is obviously related to the superstition about cats stealing babies’ breath). In some cases, the witches seem to be up to mischief, as in the case of Aunty Greenleaf, who likes to lead hunters on wild chases and get them lost, or cause their guns to fail. The loup-garous steals food, or worse, passes its curse on to others, sometimes even drinking the blood of another person to accomplish its nefarious task. The near-universal terror of skinwalkers in the Southwest is attributed to their powers to cause sickness and death as witches, although they seldom seem to kill or even severely maim while in animal form (although there are often reports of animal mutilation later connected to them). Richard Dorson records one tale from the Southwest in which shapeshifting witches seem to threaten each other more than the average person. He speaks of a pair of witches who make a bet about which one is faster in horse form. The loser has to stay a horse, which is accomplished by means of a magical halter. The winning witch sells the loser to a man, whose son accidentally removes the halter, and the witch transforms into a fish and swims away in a nearby river, then continues to transform until he’s a coyote. The coyote is tracked and killed by dogs in the end, and notably the witches have done no harm to anyone but themselves.

Why do shapeshifting witches get a bad rap, then? I would like to suggest that the real uneasiness among those who tell the stories is a fear that witches can be anywhere, and anyone, and just about anything. You never know when you might offend a hidden witch, who could be the cat twitching its tail by the fire or a horse in a pasture across the road. A healthy show of respect (even one tinged with fear) makes for a good insurance policy against the witch’s other fearful talents. Of course, being able to take on animal forms also means that the witch knows just how well you treat the lower orders of species, which might also inspire one to act a little better around the flocks and fields, or to pass an extra dog biscuit to the pooch curled up at your feet. Who knows, that might just be all that stands between you and a rather nasty hex, right?

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

 

Sources:

  1. Davis, Hubert J. 1975. The Silver Bullet, and Other American Witch Stories. Jonathan David Publishers.
  2. Dorson, Richard. 1964. Buying the Wind: American Regional Folklore. Univ. of Chicago Press.
  3. Dorson, Richard. 1972. Bloodstoppers & Bearwalkers. Harvard Univ. Press.
  4. Gainer, Patrick W. 2008. Witches, Ghosts, & Signs. West Virginia Univ. Press.
  5. Garcia, Nasario. 2007. Brujerias: Stories of Witchcraft & the Supernatural in the American Southwest & Beyond. Texas Tech Univ. Press.
  6. Leeming, David, and Jake Page. 1999. Myths, Legends, & Folktales of America: An Anthology. Oxford Univ. Press.
  7. Lugibihl, Steve. 2001. “The Rougarou: A Louisiana Folklore Legend.” The Nichollsworth. 26 April. Louisiana State University.
  8. Navajo Skinwalker Legend.” 2015. Navajo Legends Website.
  9. Pitre, Glen. 1993. Swapping Stories: Folktales from Louisiana. Louisiana State Univ. Press.
  10. Schlosser, S. E. 2004. Spooky South. Globe Pequot Press.
  11. Schlosser, S. E. 2005. Spooky New York. Globe Pequot Press.

Wilby, Emma. 2010. The Visions of Isobel Gowdie: Magic, Witchcraft, & Dark Shamanism in Seventeenth-Century Scotland. Sussex Academic Press.

Episode 82 – Shapeshifting

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Episode 82 – Shapeshifting

Summary:

This time, we look at the lore of shapeshifting witches, including loup-garous, Wampus cats, and skinwalkers. We also briefly discuss the idea of hag-riding.

 

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: Renee Odders & Athena (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 82 – Shapeshifting

 

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If you’ve got a paperback copy of a book which you’d like to get bound in leather, our friend Achija Branvin Sionnach of Spellbound Bookbinding is offering our listeners a very deep discount. If you tell him we sent you, he’ll do the leather-binding for you at cost of materials plus shipping.

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.”

 

Promos & Music

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

Music: “Were-Owl,” by S.J. Tucker, from her album Mischief. Incidental music by Brian Johnston, doing a cover of Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London,” found at Soundcloud and used under a Creative Commons License.

Podcast recommendation: Laine recommends the podcast Darkness Radio, and Cory suggests the medical/comedy/folklore show Sawbones.

Blog Post 128 – Iron

North American history has a funny relationship with iron.  On the one hand, iron is largely behind the early expansion that allowed Europeans to dominate the continent so completely with weapons, locomotives, and durable goods and architecture.  On the other hand, it has also been a curse used to inflict injury and death on undeserving people and leading others to rip the very soil of the land apart in search of it.  So maybe it’s not so much of a “funny” relationship as it is one fraught with difficulty and complexity.

American folklore, however, has largely good things to say about iron.  It’s a powerful anti-witchcraft charm and can be used to repel things like wicked fairies attempting to replace a baby with a changeling.  It can come in the form of nails, railroad spikes, horseshoes, or even just random flakes falling as refuse from a blacksmith’s anvil.

Today I thought I’d look at a few of the bits of folklore regarding iron.  Before we look at the New World side of things, though, let’s look at iron in a slightly older context: Roman superstition.

“The taboo on iron dates from the beginning of the Iron Age when religious conservatism forbade the use of the strange new material in place of the usual bronze. It has been suggested that the magic significance of iron arose from its susceptibility to magnetism which, as the superstitious Romans often believed, it derived from witchcraft” (from Taboo, Magic, Spirits, by E.E. Burriss)

Here we see that iron is associated with witchcraft and has a somewhat negative reputation.  Even the Romans, though, were not averse to using witchcraft to fight witchcraft, and so iron became a de facto tool for combating wicked witchery, and by extension, any other harmful supernatural force (ghosts, demons, fairies, etc.).

Other cultures picked up the thread (or started their own threads), seeing iron as a powerful magical tool.  African, pan-Celtic, and Northern European cultures all had particular beliefs about iron and its more enchanted properties, so it probably surprises no one that the Old World traditions regarding iron became the standard beliefs in the New World.

So what are those New World beliefs?  Let’s look at some examples from a few different areas:

From the Colonial Period, South Carolina
In the Joshua Gordon “Witchcraft Book,” (also sometimes called a Commonplace Book) dated from 1784, there is an example of the type of charm typically imported to the colonies from places like England and Ireland in which a heated iron is used to scald milk from a bewitched cow in order to undo witchcraft:

“A cow losing milk could be cured if its owners would ‘take a heather belonging to a box Iron, put it in the fire, and make it Red hot [and then] take the milk of the cows thats hurt [and] power [i.e., pour] on the hot iron repeating the names of the blessed trinity’” (from “ Magic, Astrology, and the Early American Religious Heritage, 1600-1760,” by Jon Butler in The American Historical Review).

This method is commonly found in folktales from Appalachia, such as the next entry.

From the late 19th- or early 20th-century, Tennessee (Appalachian foothills)
Again, a hot iron is used to scald milk and thus undo bewitchment:

“Another case of the use of heat, combined with iron and steel, is shown in the following account, also resulting in injury to the witch and her exorcism. Lewis Hopkins, formerly of Big Creek just beyond the park bounds [The Great Smoky Mountains National Park] told this unusual tale:
My grandmother’s folk had a cow and she give bloody milk.  An old lady, a Phillips, was accused of being a witch. So they got to talkin’ to Sam Evans who said he was a witch doctor and knowed about witches. The witch doctor told the folks to put a baker lid [i.e., the lid of a Dutch oven] in the fire. So they pecked it on with a reap hook [like a scythe or sickle]. So this old women Phillips come to this old man Evans and raised a fuss with him about tellin’ him what to do. They got into a fight and this old man pulled her dress up and they saw the pecks where they was a reap hook a-hackin’ at her. [But] she jumped out and got away from him” (from A Tennessee Folklore Sampler, by Ted Olson, et al).

Other cases of heated irons being used to procure magical results also abound, as we shall see momentarily.

From the 19th-century, Mississippi
In some places, iron implements are not so much valued as remnants of iron from a blacksmith’s shop.  Here is one account of “anvil dust” as it relates to Southern conjure practices:

“Anvil dust is also greatly valued as conjure material. One educated blacksmith of Columbus, Miss., tells me that people are constantly coming into his shop to get the black flakes that fall from the hot iron when it is pounded, although they always look ashamed and give a fictitious reason as to why they want it” (from Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro by Newbell N. Puckett).

This anvil dust is basically iron filings or flakes, and can be found in hoodoo practice as food for magically empowered lodestones.  Or it can be used to help create a cursing formula known as War Water (I’ll hopefully address the creation of this product in a separate post).  Interestingly, these two uses would seem diametrically opposed, with one being the food for an attracting magical fetish, and the other being an ingredient in a banishing potion. I would assert, however, that in these cases the iron serves a similar function on a magical level—with the lodestone it helps broaden the field of attraction for the stone while simultaneously running bad luck away, and in the War Water it’s repelling evil.  So in both cases, there is an element of something being turned away.  That is simply a way for me to reconcile these differences, however, and my come down to rationalization.

From the 19th– or 20th– Century, Ozark Mountains
Old favorite of New World Witchery, Vance Randolph, lists several methods for using iron as a magical tool (I omit the horseshoe lore which I have previously covered in another post, however):

  • “Nails taken from a gallows are supposed to protect a man against venereal disease and death by violence. Country blacksmiths used to secure these nails and hammer them out into finger rings”
  • “A little iron wire worn as a necklace, according to some power doctors, will protect a child from whooping cough”
  • “The water in which a blacksmith cools his irons is supposed to be good for witched cattle and is  sometimes given to human beings also, particularly children” (from Ozark Magic & Folklore, by Vance Randolph)

The last method mentioned is one I found repeated in several sources.  The power and provenance of “anvil water” or “slack water” seems to be well known across several cultures.

From the 20th-century, Illinois
To illustrate my point from the last section, I thought I’d share a bit of folklore from the Midwest, collected by ethnographer Harry M. Hyatt (who famously collected much of the lore about Southern conjure and hoodoo practices):

  • “A piece of old iron hung over the front and back door prevents the spirit of the recent dead from haunting you”
  • “Five nails driven into the trunk prevent the fruit from falling off the tree.  ‘My father did this when fruit was dropping off: drive those old- fashion square iron nails in the tree to hold the fruit on the tree. Never use wire nails; it must be the old iron nails’”
  • “Water from the tub in which a blacksmith cools hot iron is a good wash for the sore udders of a cow”
  • “A broken-winded horse (a horse with heaves) becomes well, if given water in which a blacksmith cools hot iron”
  • “Your looks will be improved if you wash your face frequently with the water in which a blacksmith cools hot iron”
  • “Slack-water, the water in which a blacksmith cools hot iron, is a good wash for poison ivy” (from Folklore of Adams County, by Harry M. Hyatt).

The first two bits are interesting, especially with the death connection, but the last four show that the slack water was considered a sort of cure-all magical formula.  I don’t know about you, but I think I need to make friends with a blacksmith, and quickly!

That’s it for iron, for now at least.  What I’ve written here is only the tip of a very large and ferrous iceberg.  As I said, I didn’t get into the related topic of War Water in the hopes it will appear in another post at a later date.  And I also didn’t touch on the lore of blacksmiths, specifically, as I hope to cover that in some depth later (our next podcast will have a bit about them, in fact).

If you have any local or family lore regarding iron and its magical properties, I would love to hear them!

Thanks for reading,

-Cory

Blog Post 74 – Sassafras

While passing by the cemetery on campus one day, I noticed a few little sprouted saplings with very particularly-shaped leaves.  I got very excited when I moved in closer and saw the definitive “mitten” shape of some of the leaves.  I pinched one and sniffed, smelling a strong spicy aroma almost immediately.  I knew at that point I was dealing with sassafras.

Sassafras is one of those herbs that you can’t avoid in the South.  It grows in all sorts of adverse environments:  roadsides, hedgerows, waste spaces, etc.  It can be short and bushy in its early years of development, but becomes a full-sized tree given enough time.  The roots and bark have long been used in culinary and medicinal applications.  If you’ve ever had a root beer, there’s a chance that you have tasted this plant, as sassafras and sarsaparilla were the two primary flavors in that drink for a long time.  In recent years (since 1960), active ingredient in sassafras, called safrole, has been officially banned by the USDA as potential carcinogen.  So most of the root beer sold now uses artificial flavors to reproduce the sassafras and sarsaparilla taste.  The leaves of sassafras also feature in Cajun cooking; dried and powdered, they become file powder, which is used to thicken stews like gumbo.

Medicinally, sassafras is a tricky root to use.  According to botanical.com, “Oil of Sassafras is chiefly used for flavouring purposes, particularly to conceal the flavour of opium when given to children. In the United States of America it is employed for flavouring effervescing drinks…Aromatic, stimulant, diaphoretic, alterative. It is rarely given alone, but is often combined with guaiacum or sarsaparilla in chronic rheumatism, syphilis, and skin diseases.”  It also seems to have a strong effect on women’s reproductive systems, easing menstrual pain, but also potentially causing abortions.  Several health problems have been connected to consuming overdoses of safrole, including vomiting, collapse, pupil dilation, and cancer.  WARNING!  Consult a physician before taking ANY herb or root internally!  Sassafras is NO EXCEPTION!

Sassafras bark and root have long been made into teas in the Appalachians.  In Foxfire 4, informant Pearl Martin showed students Bit Carver and Annette Sutherland how to gather the herb and make the drink:

“Sassafras is a wild plant that grows in the Appalachians…The spicy, distinct flavor of sassafras makes the tea a popular beverage, served hot or cold…Pearl told us that she could gather roots any time of the year without affecting the taste of the tea.  However, the roots should be gathered young, so they will be tender…She chops the roots from the plants, then washes the roots in cold water.  Next she scrapes off the outer layer of bark and discards it.  Either the roots or the bark can be used in making the tea, but Pearl prefers the roots.  They can be used dried or green.  She brings the roots to a boil in water.  The longer they are boiled, the stronger the tea.  To make a gallon of tea, she boils four average-sized roots [which appear to be about a foot long and an inch thick] in a gallon of water for fifteen to twenty minutes.  She then strains it, and serves it either hot or iced, sweetened with either sugar or honey” ( p. 444).

While the safrole content of the tea is relatively low, again you should consult with a physician before drinking this tea.

Magically speaking, sassafras is a money root.  It attracts business success and material wealth.  Putting a little sassafras root in one’s wallet or purse keeps money from running out.  Catherine Yronwode has several good charms in her Hoodoo Herb & Root Magic book, including a business attracting sidewalk scrub made from sassafras, allspice, and cinnamon (which has the added bonus of a pleasant aroma), and this powerful little Money-Stay-with-Me mojo hand:

“Jam a silver dime into an alligator foot [available from Lucky Mojo and other botanicas and curiosity shops] so that it looks like the ‘gator is grabbing the coin.  Wrap it tightly with three windings around of red flannel, sprinkling sassafras root chips between each layer as you wind, and sew it tight.  Just as the alligator foot holds the coin and won’t let go, so will you be able to save instead of spend” (p. 179).

Sounds like a pretty wonderful charm to know, in my opinion.  I’ve not seen anything particularly about burning sassafras as incense, but I did find a book called A Collection of Folklore by Undergraduate Students of East Tennessee State University edited by Thomas G. Burton and Ambrose N. Manning which records a bit of superstition claiming that bad luck comes if you “burn sassafras wood” (p. 74).  The lore in this particular collection is all from first-hand sources, so I tend to think it’s got some weight.  A similar folklore collection from Kentucky elaborates on this point, saying, “If you burn sassafras wood or leaves, a horse or a mule of yours will die within a week” (from Kentucky Superstitions, #2993).  I tend to think this refers to burning wood in a fire or fireplace as opposed to using a little bit of it as incense, but take your chances as you see fit.  Particularly if your horses or mules are dear to you.

I hope this post has been of some use to you!  Enjoy the slowly waning summer, and get out in the woods to find some sassafras and other plants!

Thanks for reading,

-Cory

Podcast 10 – Urban Conjure and an Interview with Rootworker Stephanie Palm

-SHOWNOTES FOR EPISODE 10-

Summary
In this episode, we share some thanks with our listeners and readers.  Then, we have an interview with urban rootworker Stephanie Palm.  We finish things up with our WitchCraft and Spelled Out segments

Play:

Download:  New World Witchery – Episode 10

-Sources-

Interview
Music City Mojo – The online store for our guest, Stephanie.   It features products and services as well as contact information.

WitchCraft
Drag Me to Hell – We mention this comedy/horror movie as a source of button-lore.

Magic Spelled Out
Lucky Mojo Freezer Spells – This has a good, concise history of the “Shut Your Mouth” tongue/freezer spells.

Promos & Music
Title music:  “Homebound,” by Jag, from Cypress Grove Blues.  From Magnatune.
Promo 1 – Witchery of One
Promo 2- Standing Stone and Garden Gate Podshow
Promo 3 – Inciting a Riot (a custom-made promo from wunderkind and friend of NWW, Fire Lyte!)

Blog Post 47 – Fairy Tale Resources

For this week’s final post, I’m giving you a list of books, stories, websites, and other resources which you can use to dig into folklore and fairy tale magic a bit further.  It’s not comprehensive, but just a few things to scout for at libraries and book stores, and which have something to say about magic without being tucked into the “New Age” section.

Books

Haints, Witches, & Boogers, by Charles E. Price – This book is chock-full of neat ghost stories, plus a few witch tales and some bits about magic in the Appalachian region.  It definitely focuses more on the paranormal than the purely “fairy” aspects of things, but it also gives you locations for each of the stories, so you’d be able to visit them and connect the tale to a particular place, which I like.

Fairy & Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry, by W.B. Yeats – So why am I including this book on a blog about American fairy tales?  Well, if you look at these stories, and then look at fairy tales from the Appalachians (or anyplace where Irish immigrants settled), you’re going to see uncanny similarities.  This book provides a lot of good stories about “fairy doctoring,” too, a practice which resembles the root work, shamanism, and witch doctoring found in North America.

The Granny Curse and Other Ghosts and Legends of East Tennessee, by Randy Russell – This is another one that is focused mostly on ghosts, but also has some really wonderful stories about magical beings, too.  “Greasy Witches” is especially worth noting, because it is one of those stories that parallels an Irish tale found in the Yeats collection I previously mentioned.

Silver Bullet, by Hubert J. Davis – I discussed this book in Tuesday’s post, but I will reiterate that this is a book worth getting if you can.  The stories are all sourced to their original tellers (mostly American sources east of the Mississippi) and provide a good overview of witchcraft in America (non-religious witchcraft, that is).  Definitely worth scouting for at used bookstores.

Favorite Folktales from Around the World, by Jane Yolen – Again, not one specifically devoted to America, though there are several Native American stories here.  What I like is that this book is a lot like North America in that it takes many disparate cultures and mixes them all together by common thread.  If you’re looking for stories about magic, check out the sections “Not Quite Human,” “Shape Shifters,” and “Fooling the Devil.”  They all have lots to say about witchcraft, without ever actually having to tell you that’s what they’re about.

Grimm’s Fairy Tales, by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm – If you like fairy tales, you probably already have this.  If you don’t, you should, in my opinion.  Just try to find an unabridged copy, as there have been numerous versions which “clean up” some of the scarier bits of the stories (where the witchy stuff lies, usually).

Spooky America Series,  by S.E. Schlosser – This may be one of my favorite book series ever.  S. E. Schlosser also runs a great website devoted to American folklore which will give you a good idea what her books are like.  There are individual books for multiple American regions, including Spooky South, Spooky New England, and Spooky Southwest, as well as titles on individual states like Spooky New York or Spooky California.  I love this work, and while it is somewhat more focused on ghost stories, there are plenty of tales about magic, witches, and mystical beings to be found.  I cannot recommend this series highly enough.

I’m not mentioning Vance Randolph’s Ozark Magic & Folklore in detail here because I think I’ve said a lot about it already.  But it is also worth reading for witchy folklore (albeit in less of a “story” format).

Websites

Sur la Lune – This is one of my favorite sites for fairy tales.  It contains annotated versions of classics like Snow White and Red Riding Hood, with references to variant versions and symbolism interpretation.  It doesn’t have just tons of stories, but there are at least a couple dozen of the best, and they’re wonderful.  Plus, the art on the site is gorgeous.

Nursery Rhymes:  Lyrics, Origins, and History – I referenced this site a few times in the post on Mother Goose, and it’s certainly a site worth checking out.  It has little historical or folkloric notes on each of the rhymes it presents, as well as the words to the rhyme and some accompanying illustration.

Faerie Magick – This site, hosted by Fiona Broome, a paranormal researcher and enthusiast of the unseen, has a lot of interesting information on different kinds of fairies.  Most of what she writes, she relates back to folklore, which is a big plus for me.

That’s it for this week!  I hope you’ve enjoyed this little foray in to folklore.  I’ll probably come back to this topic eventually, so if you have any questions or topics you’d like to know more about, please leave a comment or email us and I’ll be happy to try and work them in next time around.

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

Blog Post 31 – Who’s Who in Hoodoo, part deux (Intro, Part III)

Today, I’m going to tackle of few of the modern rootworkers I know and/or admire.  This is most certainly is not a comprehensive list of professional hoodoo practitioners in North America, so please don’t start throwing rotten vegetables at me for not listing one of your favorite rootworkers.  But DO feel free to leave a comment on this post with the name/contact info of any professional hoodoo you think the world should know about!

Okay, on with the show!

Modern Rootworkers

Catherine Yronwode – I believe she actually prefers “catherine yronwode,” without capitalization.  If you are reading about hoodoo on the web and you don’t know who she is yet, you should immediately head over to the Lucky Mojo page and read her online text on the history and practice of hoodoo.  She is probably one of the most prominent profiles in modern conjure work, and she runs one of the biggest supply houses for magical and occult goods specializing in traditional hoodoo recipes and formulae.  Yronwode was featured in Christine Wicker’s Not in Kansas Anymore, which profiled magical practitioners across the United States.  She was also a famous comic book artist back in the 1970’s, and judging by the colorful designs on her wares, I’d say she still has an eye for a good picture.  She’s also been instrumental in keeping hoodoo a vital, living tradition rooted in history but adapting to modern times.  Her course for prospective students of hoodoo is almost a pre-requisite for any rootworker, and her Association of Independent Readers and Rootworkers provides a stamp of quality which ensures that those seeking magical help don’t get ripped off.   Seriously, if you’re reading this and don’t know who she is, go to Lucky Mojo right now!

Dr. Christos KioniThis Florida-based rootworker is host of the Lucky Mojo Hoodoo Rootwork Hour.  He is also one of the best known professional conjure men working today, and the active owner of the MyHoodooSpace website.  Dr. K also works very hard to preserve the African Diasporic traditions (such as the ATR practices discussed in the introductory post on hoodoo earlier this week.  I think he works both with the left hand and the right (meaning he will curse if he sees a need for it), though I’m basing that on some of the discussions from his radio show and he may well have changed ideologies since then.  He was also mentioned in Not in Kansas Anymore, and actually knows where to find the grave of Zora Neale Hurston (which very few folks do).  He is definitely a big personality, but he has a friendly and warm demeanor about him, and I believe he’s got a fairly high rate of success with his work, too.  He also happens to be friends with cat yronwode (if you didn’t guess that from the name of his radio program).  As he says of himself “I can hit a straight lick with a crooked stick!”

Michaele Maurer – Miss Michaele (pronounced mi-KAY-luh, I believe) is the owner of the Hoodoo Foundry, a site dedicated to traditional rootwork.  One of the reasons I really like her practice is that she focuses on Southern-style rootwork, including a lot of Bibliomancy and using Biblical prayers and magic to accomplish her goals (not that I think all great rootworkers are Bible-thumping Christians, mind you…see Karma Zain or Papa Toad Bone for contrast).  I really value her deeply traditionalist approach, however, and I also like that she has a broad range of reading styles, including tarot, pendulum, and ceromancy (reading candle wax).  She’s not one who does jinxing or crossing work, but she does at least acknowledge that sometimes it is justified and she helps clients needing those services to find a root worker who will attempt those tricks.   She seems to be very tender-hearted and kind, and works for the good of her clients with deep sincerity.

Starr – An old-fashioned Southern hoodoo woman from Texas, Starr has been steeped in conjure work for most of her life.  She’s quite sassy and funny, and also very straightforward.  She’s another traditionalist who works closely with Christian religious figures, including Saints.  While much of her work is focused on things like spiritual cleansing, sweetening, and healing, she also does vinegar jars, hot foot workings, and as she puts it, “I will do separation and break up work on a case by case basis if so guided by the spirit.”  She also runs the Old Style Conjure site, and offers mini-courses which compliment a broader study of hoodoo quite nicely.

Karma Zain – Ms. Zain is not only a great rootworker, she’s also a bishop in the Franco-Haitian Gnostic Vodoun tradition.  I know, I’ve said I really like old-style conjurers who stick to certain historical precepts regarding the incorporation of Biblical elements, but that doesn’t mean I think all good hoodoo men and women must be Judeo-Christian.   Karma Zain proves that point, because besides being a Vodoun bishop, she’s an honest, straightforward worker who isn’t afraid to say “no” to a client if she doesn’t feel their cause warrants the action they ask for.  She’s the kind of rootworker who isn’t afraid to dig in the dirt and use the less savory curios like bone fragments and fur.  She seems like an incredibly down-to-earth and sensible woman, and one I wouldn’t want t cross!

Papa Toad Bone – This Mississippi based conjure man is the proprietor of the Toad’s Bone Apotheca, one of the funkiest and witchiest sites I’ve seen.  Just looking at his webpage makes me want to lay a trick or two or take a walk to the crossroads.  He’s also Pagan, and very much a non-Christian kind of Pagan, again proving that great conjurers needn’t be entirely wrapped up in the Biblical worldview.  I’ve known him through several different avenues over the last couple of years, and he’s always struck me as someone who really spends time with spirits and understands them incredibly well (I think he even found a great way to play card games with them, but hopefully I’ll get him to tell about that at some point).  He’s also a nitty-gritty sort of worker, spending a good deal of time out in the swamps and wild places gathering materials for his shop and clients.  Again, someone I wouldn’t want to cross, and a rootworker who gets things done.

Carolina Gonzalez – Another Pagan rootworker, Ms. Gonzalez incorporates her Latin roots into her magic, offering a particularly unique blend of brujeria, hoodoo, and witchcraft to her clients.  She runs The Hoodoo Shop on Etsy, and she’s the resident hoodoo expert for sites like The Noble Pagan and The Modern Pagan.  She’s located in the Canary Islands, proof that hoodoo is a worldwide phenomenon at this point.  Her site offers her products as well as courses and LOTS of great information from her many different areas of expertise.

Sarah Lawless – I certainly can’t leave out Sarah, a friend to New World Witchery and a heckuva witch and conjure woman in her own right.  She practices her root work out in the wilds of British Columbia, carefully adapting the fundamental practices of traditional Southern rootwork to her immediate environment.  We’ve talked to and about her a lot on this blog, so rather than sound like a rampaging fan boy, I will simply suggest you go check out her blog and store and see how magical she is for yourself.

Stephanie Palm – The wonderful proprietress of Music City Mojo, and my personal hoodoo teacher.  She is not one to pull punches or sugar-coat things, though she is also incredibly warm and friendly.  Stephanie is the High Priestess of a Traditional Witchcraft coven, as well as a devotee of Vodoun.  She’s a gifted teacher, as well as a gifted conjure woman, and she isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty in a graveyard or to lay down a jinx if the situation calls for it.  More importantly, she isn’t afraid to let someone know that the situation DOESN’T call for a jinx.  I really could go on and on about how much I adore her and how thankful I am to her for all she’s taught me, but for now I’ll just say that if you’re looking for someone who knows their stuff, she’s one to talk to.

I know there are lots more rootworkers out there, and I’d love to hear about them from all of you, so please feel free to post a comment on this blog about your favorite hoodoo men and women.

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

Blog Post 28 – Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign…

Do I date myself by referencing that song in the title of this blog post?  Oh well…
I thought I’d wrap up the week with a few more examples of signs, tokens, and omens from American folklore.  We’ll be up in the mountains today, both the Appalachians and the Ozarks.
From the Appalachian History blog:

News Bees

“In both Appalachian and Ozarks folklore, news bees appear as omens to those wise enough to read them.”

News bees are not actually bees, but flower flies from the Syrphidae family.  They are marked with bands of black and yellow, much like bees, but are harmless.  They do look an awful lot like sweat bees, however, which can sting a person (though not as severely as other bees or wasps).

News bees, which also go by names like “sand hornets,” “sweat flies,” or “Russian hornets” derive their folk name from the belief that these hovering insects watch the events of humanity unfold, then fly off to deliver their news to others.  According to the folklore, “There are yellow news bees, which mean that good things are in the offing– it’s good luck if you can get one to perch on your finger–and black news bees, which warn of imminent death. The black news bees fly in the windows and out again, and fly straight for the nearest cemetery; they hover making a sound like a human being talking.” (Tabler, par.2)

From Vance Randolph’s Ozark Magic and Folklore:

Some Animal Lore

“It is very generally believed that the appearance of an albino deer is a bad sign ; some hillfolk think it has something to do with witches’ work, others that it is an indication of disease among the deer, and that venison will be unwholesome for seven years” (p. 241)

“Groundhogs are hunted by boys with dogs, and young groundhogs are very good eating. But some of the old-timers frown on the modern practice of shooting groundhogs. They don’t mind if city sportsmen do it but often forbid their own children to shoot groundhogs, because it is supposed to bring bad luck” (p. 243)

Household Signs & Omens

“The Ozark housewife seldom begins to make a garment on Friday never unless she is sure that she can finish it the same day. Many a mountain man is reluctant to start any sort of job on Saturday, in the belief that he will ‘piddle around’ for six additional Saturdays before he gets it done” (p. 69)

“It is bad luck to burn floor sweepings or shavings that have been produced inside the house. An old-time Ozark housewife seldom sweeps her cabin after dark, and she never sweeps anything out at the front door” (p. 70)

The fantastic Appalachian blog Blind Pig and the Acorn has a fascinating entry on a death omen called a “belled buzzard.”

Belled Buzzards

According to the site, which cites a newspaper story about this phenomenon, in King George County, VA, a buzzard was observed flying low by houses with a bell around its neck and streamers tied to its body.  Similarly adorned birds figure in tales from the Carolinas, Tennessee, Alabama, and Arkansas.  According to the blog’s author:

“Most of the sightings or ‘hearings’ caused folks to believe the belled buzzards foretold death. One legend even tells the story of a belled buzzard harassing a man after he killed his wife-to the point of the man turning himself in for her murder” (Tipper par.2).

So if you happen to see any big birds around your neighborhood with bells, chimes, or any musical instrument on their person, take heed!

Personal Lore

Finally, today, I thought I’d share a few of the things I was brought up believing.  Most of this information is from my mother.

  • When cooking soups, stews, and sauces, she’d often include a bay leaf in the pot.  Whoever found the bay leaf was thought to be in for some good luck.
  • If rain broke out of a clear sky, my mother always said that “the Devil is beating his wife.”
  • She taught me that if your ears burn, someone’s talking about you.  If your nose itches, someone wants to kiss you.  And if your hands itch, money’s coming your way soon.
  • You should never kill a spider or a frog indoors, as it will bring bad luck, she always said.  Unless the spider was a black widow or brown recluse.  Then it seemed to be okay.
  • She always kept an aloe plant in her kitchen window, both for an easy source of bug-bite and sunburn treatment and to bless the house in general with good fortune.

Okay, that will do it for today, I think.  Please feel free to share your own lore.  I’m always eager to hear it!

Thanks for reading!

-Cory