Posted tagged ‘treasure finding’

Blog Post 177 – Treasure Hunting

July 16, 2013

“Jim Hawkins & the Treasure of Treasure Island,” illustration by Georges Roux (via Wikimedia Commons)

A number of modern spells are designed to bring “prosperity” into an individual’s life.  In some cases, Wiccan and Wiccan-influenced spellbooks contain workings that either target specific needs and cash amounts, or which seek to generally enhance the financial stability of the magician or his/her designated target (most Wiccan spellbooks also require that the magician have permission from the target even in beneficial magical workings like this). Certainly, magical practices designed to bring a sense of bounty and abundance into one’s life go back quite far—the cults of Fortuna and Tyche in the ancient world appeal to good luck, and the Roman cult of Pomona pursued the ideal of a fruitful life. Folk magic, however, has generally focused less on meeting a generalized prosperity and has drilled down to specific financial problems and advantages. The Wiccan spells which seek a specific sum of money to cope with a specific issue—a medical bill, a broken radiator, etc.—very much mirror the sorts of spells done by people across multiple times and places as they tried to cope with uncertain finances.

Another brand of folk magic, however, did not work towards a specific sum, nor did it seek to bring a vaguely defined sense of wealth into someone’s life. Instead, many spells targeted getting rich—quick! In some cases, the spell’s target would be a gambler who worked to gain the advantage in games of chance (more on that another day, hopefully). A few stories talk of acts of magical extortion, wherein a magician would either try to low-ball the purchase of land/livestock with the threat that failure to accept a paltry offer would result in the destruction of the commodity in question OR a witch might place a curse on a neighbor and only remove the curse for a fee (you can find several examples of such stories in The Silver Bullet, and Other American Witch Stories by Hubert J. Davis).

If someone wanted to get rich really quickly, however, he or she would turn to magical treasure hunting. Plenty of European grimoires had methods for finding lost treasures, usually with the help of spirits. Some grimoire texts which influenced American practices, such as The Black Pullet, spelled out in detail how to summon treasure-seeking daemons to work on one’s behalf:

Seal4BlackPullet

“This talisman and this ring are not less valuable. They will enable you to discover all the treasures which exist and to ensure you the possession of them. Place the ring on the second finger of your right hand, enclose the talisman with the thumb and little finger of your left hand, and say, Onaim, Perantes, Rasonastos.” I repeated these three words, and seven spirits of a bronze colour appeared, each carrying a large hide bag which they emptied at my feet. They contained gold coins which rolled in the middle of the hail where we were. I had not noticed that one of the spirits had on his shoulder a black bird, its head covered with a kind of hood. “It is this bird,” the old man said to me, “who has made them find all this treasure. Do not think that these are some of what you have seen here. You can assure yourself of this.” I replied, “You are for me the truth itself. My father! Do you believe that I would insult you by doubting?”

He made a sign, and the spirits replaced the gold in the bags and disappeared. “You see, my son, what the virtues of these talismans and rings are. When you know them all, you will be able, without my aid, to perform such miracles as you judge proper” (The Black Pullet, 20-21).

Seals and incantations like these made it into later magical practices, especially in places where grimoire languages like German, Spanish, or French were spoken (to be clear, many grimoires were written in languages like Latin with commentaries in European languages, and these three tongues were hardly the only ones in which grimoires appeared).

Of course, being able to find treasure only helps if treasure is already buried in the earth waiting to be found. In the maritime culture of early New England (as well as the maritimes of other parts of the New World), a widespread belief in hidden golden caches secreted beneath the soil became the basis for a number of magical spells. A Maine man named Daniel Lambert, suddenly flush with money, faced suspicion, for:

Lacking any other apparent explanation, his neighbors attributed Daniel Lambert’s sudden wealth to the discovery of buried pirate treasure. Despite Canaan’s location dozens of miles from navigation, the inhabitants readily believed that Lambert had found a treasure chest because, as Kendall explained, “The settlers of Maine, like all the other settlers in New England indulge an unconquerable expectation of finding money buried in the earth.” Indeed, backcountry folk insisted that troves of pirate treasure guarded by evil spirits pockmarked the New England countryside even in locales far from the coast (Taylor 7).

Since the New World was vast and dangerous, people turned to magic to help find these copious buried (and frequently ‘cursed’) treasures, and to remove any dangers that might arise during the expedition to unearth them. A number of ‘rules’ for enchanted bounty-seeking developed, including:

  • Treasure hunting teams needed at least three members, as that number ensured magical success
  • Magical circles should be inscribed around the digging site to prevent any malevolent spirits from attacking the diggers
  • Implements of silver, such as silver spoons or spades, should be used to dig at least part of the earth to ensure luck in the hunt and to protect the diggers from harm
  • Blood offerings (animals usually) had to be made to quell the guardian spirits protecting the treasure—a belief related to the idea that a guardian spirit was usually a person who was killed and his blood spilled over the burial ground

In addition to maritime treasures, the idea of “Indian” gold became very popular. Some European colonists and conquerors were sure that entire cities of gold were just waiting to be found in the dense, mysterious interiors of North and South America. Gonzalo Pizzaro and Sir Walter Raleigh both mounted expeditions to find such legendary places, frequently referred to as “El Dorado,” or “the golden one.”  In almost every case, however, the site was protected by evil spirits, a curse, ghosts, or some other malevolent force. In some situations, however, the spirit might actually help a seeker find his or her treasure:  “There are many tales about ghosts who speak to people, telling them to dig at such-and-such a place to find a buried treasure. The ghost is usually that of some fellow who died without being able to tell anybody where his treasure was concealed, and who cannot rest quietly until someone gets the money and enjoys it” (Randolph 219). How one ensures that the ghost is not simply walking the magician into a trap is anyone’s guess.

One of the best examples of magical treasure hunting led to an entire religious movement in the New World. While the time has not yet come to explore the full magical heritage of the Latter Day Saints, I would be remiss to omit them here.  Joseph Smith, prophet and founder of the Mormon faith, used to hunt for treasure using methods derived from alchemy and hermetic science/magic. He followed the rules laid out above, frequently offering “sacrificed either pure white or jet black sheep or dogs to lay out magic circles of blood” prior to discovering his golden plates and having his angelic vision (Taylor 12). Smith’s methods were not deviant or unusual. He used seer or peep stones to help find his hidden treasures, and his activity in the highly spiritually active area of New York known as the Burned-Over District was imitative of earlier seekers and followed by those who did the same. In fact, Smith was following very much in his own father’s footsteps, as Joseph Smith, Sr. was an active treasure seeker in Palmyra, New York. He is recorded to have once described his methods to a neighbor, saying “the best time for digging money was in the heat of the summer, when the heat of the sun caused the chests of money to rise to the top of the ground” (Brooke 31). The tradition the Smiths followed required—like many grimoire traditions do—that the seeker be spiritually pure or else he will fail in his pursuits, a concept brought in from hermetics and alchemy. The fervent spirituality and insistence on saintly behavior left a strong mark on the junior Smith, and helped him feel prepared for his prophetic role in revealing the Book of Mormon (which was inscribed on golden plates).

In some cases, treasures of golden pieces and precious gems are not the target of the magic. I have written previously on the phenomenon of dowsing, which allows a person to magically search for substances like water and oil beneath the earth. In some cases, the dowser might also search for veins of gold or silver or other valuable ores like iron. The method for making such a dowsing tool appears in Hohman’s early nineteenth century text, The Long-Lost Friend:

TO MAKE A WAND FOR SEARCHING FOR IRON, ORE OR WATER.

On the first night of Christmas, between 11 and 12 o’clock, break off from any tree a young twig of one year’s growth, in the three highest names (Father, Son and Holy Ghost), at the same time facing toward sunrise. Whenever you apply this wand in searching for anything, apply it three times. The twig must be forked, and each end of the fork must be held in one hand, so that the third and thickest part of it stands up, but do not hold it too tight. Strike the ground with the thickest end, and that which you desire will appear immediately, if there is any in the ground where you strike. The words to be spoken when the wand is thus applied are as follows: Archangel Gabriel, I conjure thee in the name of God, the Almighty, to tell me, is there any water here or not? do tell me! + + +

If you are searching for Iron or Ore, you have to say the same, only mention the name of what you are searching for.

This version of magical dowsing incorporates high magical elements (such as the invocation of Gabriel) and strong folk magical ones (the clipping of the tree twig at sunrise and the simple dowsing methodology).  On the simpler end of the spectrum, one could simply put a bit of whatever was being sought into the tip of the dowsing rod, as in this example from the Ozarks: “Many hillfolk are interested in the search for lost mines and buried treasure, and some of these people have tried to use the witch stick in their quests. If a man is looking for buried gold, he fastens a gold ring to the end of his stick ; if it  is silver that he expects to find, he splits the end of the wand and inserts a silver coin. Rayburn says that to locate mixed ores one uses two different metals usually a dime and a penny” (Randolph 88).

The practice of hunting for buried wealth and riches spanned cultural and geographic boundaries. In many cases, very strict rules were followed, regarding purification and protection as well as actual seeking magic. Spirits would guide a magician to the site of a treasure, and in some cases might even be employed to raise it from the earth. In other cases, the spirits associated with the treasure were deeply malevolent and most of the magic employed was to placate or dis-empower any evil that might be lingering about the dig site. The payoff for an effective treasure hunter could be a sack of coins, a buried chest, or even a new branch of a religion, but the work required up front was heavy and intense. While gambling charms might take longer, the success rate was better overall. In the end, getting rich quick via magical means, it seems, has always been a labor-intensive and time-consuming effort, just like any other job.

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

SOURCES

  1. Anonymous. The Black Pullet (Red Wheel/Weiser, 2007).
  2. Brooke, John L. The Refiner’s Fire: The Making of Mormon Cosmology, 1644-1844 (Cambridge UP, 1996).
  3. Davies, Owen. Grimoires: A History of Magic Books (Oxford UP, 2010).
  4. Davis, Hubert J. The Silver Bullet, and Other American Witch Stories (Jonathan David Pub., 1975).
  5. El Dorado,” Wikipedia (2013).
  6. Gainer, Patrick W. Witches, Ghosts, & Signs: Folklore of the Southern Appalachians (Vandalia Press, 2008).
  7. Hohman, John George. The Long-Lost Friend: A 19th Century American Grimoire, ed. Daniel Harms (Llewellyn, 2012).
  8. Horowitz, Mitch. Occult America: White House Seances, Ouija Circles, Masons, & the Secret Mystic History of Our Nation (Bantam, 2010 reprint).
  9. Hutcheson, Cory. “Blog Post 146 – Dowsing,” New World Witchery, 2011.
  10. Milnes, Gerald C. Signs, Cures, & Witchery (Univ. of Tenn. Press, 2009).
  11. Randolph, Vance. Ozark Magic & Folklore (Dover, 1964).

Taylor, Alan. “The Early Republic’s Supernatural Economy: Treasure Seeking in the American Northeast, 1780-1830.” American Quarterly (Spring, 1986).

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Blog Post 146 – Dowsing

December 7, 2011

Today’s entry deals with a very specific type of magic, one which has been associated with the word “witch” in a positive way even within deeply Christian communities for a century or more. The practice of dowsing, or “water witching” as it is sometimes called, essentially deals with the use of divination instruments to find something. Most frequently, that something is water, but on occasion it might be oil, precious metals, lost objects, or even lost people. The phenomenon of water witching is one of the most accepted mystical practices in the West today, and there are organizations devoted to its study from both scientific and metaphysical perspectives. A person can be a dowser and still be a respected member of his or her community, even a highly valued one if he or she is effective at it, though magic or divination of any other kind might be frowned upon by the neighbors. But just what is dowsing and how does it work? Here is an excellent description taken from a folklore handbook on a specific area of the Appalachian foothills:

Almost without exception, dowsers were used to ‘witch’ wells dug in the region [the Upper Cumberland area of TN/KY] before the 1930s. A dowser, or water witch, is a person perceived to have a skill for discovering underground water with the use of a divining rod, usually a small, forked limb cut from virtually any fruit-bearing tree or willow. Because a water witch’s method is not scientifically proven, reliance on this technique is considered a folk practice. However, there were at least 25,000 active diviners in the United States as late as the mid-1950s, according to folklorist Trudy Balcom, and the results of their predictions have proven as successful as those of hydrologists and geologists.

Dowsers were often called in before a new home was built, so that the house could be located near a well. To find the water, the dowser typically holds the free ends of the forked prongs, wrists turned upward. Thumbs are pointed horizontally outwards so that the loose ends of the prongs extend three to four inches beyond the thumbs. (There are variations on the manner in which the switch is held.) The dowser walks slowly toward the desired location of the well. When the witch comes upon a subterranean stream immediately below, the vertex of the fork turns toward the ground; the stronger the stream, the more forceful the downward pull. The fork often twists in the dowser’s hands when a strong stream of water is discovered. Some say that the bark will even twist off into the dowser’s hands, and a few people claim that the forked limb often begins to nod, one time for each foot of dirt and rock that will have to be excavated before water is reached (from Upper Cumberland Country, by William Lynwood Montell, 37-8).

This summary of water witching covers most of the basics: a forked rod, used to find water before digging a well, the power in the dowser, and the nodding to indicate well depth. It also addresses the issue of scientific verification, which is a sticking point for a lot of professional dowsers. Some argue that they can produce repeatable results with their methods, even going so far as to get large mining companies to acknowledge their findings. Yet many scientific studies are at best inconclusive when it comes to water witching, or even outright disprove the phenomenon (on paper, anyhow). I’m not here to argue the merits of scientific proof of spiritual phenomena, so I’ll just say that both sides have evidence of some kind, and both seem to be firmly convinced of their interpretation of that evidence. Getting back to the folklore of dowsing, I found a rather interesting footnote explaining the dowser’s use of the forked branch in the book Kentucky Superstitions, which seemed to indicate that the forked shape is related to lightning in some way (292).

Water witches proved to be incredibly valuable members of their communities, and were not only popular but highly regarded for their skill, with no diabolical associations. From Vance Randolph’s Ozark Magic & Folklore:

Nearly all of the old settlers in the Ozark country believe that certain persons can locate underground streams by ‘cunjurin’ round’ with forked sticks. These characters are called water witches or witch wigglers, and the forked switches they carry are known as witch sticks. Despite this sinister terminology, the waterfinder has no dealings with the Devil, is not regarded as dangerous by his neighbors, and has nothing to do with witchcraft proper (83)

Randolph himself takes it very seriously, indicating that it’s not something that he has seen scientifically proven, but which he has seen demonstrated over and over again, which is a fairly sharp contrast to his usual bemused skepticism with regard to the folk beliefs of those he studied. He also makes several other observations on the powers of water witches:

  • He says that the power is in the dowser, not the stick itself, but that he felt a distinct sensation upon holding a witch stick in his hands ( 84)
  • He discusses the societies built around the practice of water witching or dowsing, including ‘Water Surveyors’ Club’ of Butler, MO (86)
  • He gives the story of Fred Goudy of Everton, MO, who dowsed using copper wire instead of tree branches, and gained great fame by doing so (87)

Of note, however, is his doubt about water witches who claim to find mineral deposits or oil. He does not put stock in the ability to find anything other than water with this method, at least as far as the Ozarks are concerned:

Many hillfolk are interested in the search for lost mines and buried treasure, and some of these people have tried to use the witch stick in their quests. If a man is looking for buried gold, he fastens a gold ring to the end of his stick ; if it is silver that he expects to find, he splits the end of the wand and inserts a silver coin. Rayburn says that to locate mixed ores one uses two different metals usually a dime and a penny. Witch sticks thus equipped for treasure hunting are sometimes called ‘doodlebugs,’ but I don’t know if this is an old backwoods term or a recent importation. I have seen perhaps a dozen doodlebugs in operation but have yet to hear of any treasure being found by the doodlebuggers in the Ozarks. It is said that a switch loaded with metal will not react to water, or to any other substance save the particular metal which is attached to the stick (88)

Richard Dorson records the presence and commonality of ‘water witches’ in Illinois in his book Buying the Wind, saying that (in the early 20th century), most farmers had dowsers find wells for them, often for only a dollar or two in payment. He also reports that dowsing for oil had lately (the book was published in 1964 for a sense of temporality) become more common and profitable than dowsing for water (321-22). Veering momentarily into recent history, in a letter dated December 8, 1993, the Chevron Oil Company told Welsh dowser J.P. Taylor that “you opened our eyes to the world of dowsing…it certainly made us think there is more to it than we had previously known.”  The letter goes on to highlight how Taylor, with no prior knowledge of the specific geology of two regions, had been able to accurately identify subterranean oil and gas reservoirs. This is hardly proof positive of dowsing’s power, but it should put into perspective the acceptance with which water witching has been met, even in the past quarter-century or so.

I’d like to conclude today by going back in time and abandoning the present-day (not that it’s not a nice place to visit, but let’s go where the history is hanging out) and looking back at dowsing in the Colonial period. Peter M.’s New England Folklore blog tells a humorous and interesting story about the “Rod Men” of Middletown, VT. He also mentions a few of the late 18th-century powers ascribed to dowsers:

  • Determining lifespans
  • Finding wild plants to cure illnesses
  • Treasure-finding
  • Receiving divine messages
  • And my favorite: “Tell young women their clothes had the Devil in them, and should be removed”

So that’s it for this cursory examination of water witching. There are probably far more qualified folks to write on this phenomenon than me, so consider this a fleeting glimpse into a fascinating subject. My own experiences with dowsing have been limited to using bent copper rods and attempting it (unsuccessfully) with a broken tree branch (which was not taken from a living tree, so that might explain the problem). If you’ve had experience with water witching or treasure/mineral/oil dowsing, I’d love to hear about it! Please leave a comment below! Otherwise, here’s hoping you find what you seek in life!

Thanks for reading,

-Cory


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