Today’s post is going to be a little different. I’m not going to cite any outside sources (at least, I don’t think I will…I may not be able to fight the urge). Instead, I’m going to present some thoughts I have had which were spurred on by discussions about modernization last week, and in particular a comment from Crystal on Podcast 10. She mentioned that as a city witch, she often feels the pull to get back to nature, which got me thinking: can cities, buildings, and skylines be a part of nature, too?
Now, I know this isn’t an original thought, and that there are deeper philosophical questions here about whether people are a part of nature and therefore whether their creations are also a part of nature, but that’s not really what I’m getting at. When I talk about “nature” above, I really mean the whole of nature, encompassing the spiritual dimension as well. I’m thinking more in terms of whether the Otherworld might well have city elements in it.
Do buildings have specific spirits? Like spirits of the land do? Can you tap into a building’s spirit and use it in magic? These are the questions that are swirling about in my head. For example, there are definite precedents in hoodoo for using things like dirt from a courthouse or a bank or a hospital, because it’s assumed that the land upon which those structures reside will have absorbed a particular type of energetic influence which the root worker can then use for his or her own ends. Is using that energy akin to using a little bit of the spirit of those places, or is the conjurer simply using accumulated human energy?
Even more to the point, are there places in cities that echo the kind of spiritual resonance found in locations like the Rollright Stones or Stonehenge? After all, those structures were, at least to some extent, man-made (though I won’t begin to deny that they may be sitting on top of very particularly powerful places that have nothing to do with people). But why can’t the Empire State Building or Beacon Hill in Boston or the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville have their own resident spirit (or spirits)? And moreover, why not use places like that to do magic—not just in terms of collecting dirt or knick-knacks for spells, but actually deploying spells there, or finding subtle ways to contact spirits and interact with them in those locations?
For me, train stations have always had this very powerful Otherworldly significance. I imagine that after death, there’s this sort of “waiting” place which always seems like a train platform to me. Trains come and go, taking each person off to different post-mortem existences, or sometimes allowing them to just ride and enjoy the scenery for a bit. There are food cars, drinks, other passengers to play cards with if being dead gets boring…er, at least, that’s how I envision it. But lately I’m thinking that going to a train station is a lot like going to the Crossroads in traditional hoodoo practice. I think I may try out a few things at our city train station and see how it goes. If I do, I’ll be sure to post on that and let y’all know about it.
This is, of course, not an extensive discussion of this idea. And there are probably lots of better sources for reading and thinking about urban magical practice than our little blog. In fact, Velma Nightshade over at Witches Brewhaha recently did an episode discussing city witchery that’s well worth checking out (I couldn’t resist the opportunity to link to something). But I just had to let some of these thoughts out, as they were making a lot of noise in my head and the gerbil that lives there was getting upset.
What about your thoughts and opinions? Any strong inclinations on city magic? Does it depend upon specific places? Is there some way to turn a city landscape of concrete and steel into the same kind of magical place an ancient grove might be? Do you practice this kind of city magic yourself? Inquiring minds want to know!
Thanks for reading!
PS – I will be closing the current polls at 5pm today, so if you still haven’t voted, please do! See the top right of the sidebar to vote.
Following on yesterday’s topic of urban conjure and rootwork, I thought today it might be fun to take a look at some spells that have roots in traditional American folk magic, but which use certain modern adaptations to accommodate contemporary life.
In the past, courthouses were often wooden-floored buildings outfitted with spittoons for the convenience of trial attendees with a chaw of tobacco in their mouths. Hoodoo developed a fairly ingenious way to exert some influence over a case by taking advantage of the spitting habit so prevalent in that day and age. A defendant would keep a gob of Little John to Chew (the root known as galangal now—readily available in Asian markets) in his or her cheek, and then spit the juice onto the courthouse floor while ostensibly aiming for a spittoon nearby. This sort of contagious magic would then bring favor in the case from anyone who walked on or near the spit.
Nowadays, spitting in court is probably a good way to lose your case. Most courthouses are kept fairly secure, and tobacco products are seldom allowed in any government building (not that Little John is a tobacco product, but it’s supposed to look like it is, so either way, it’s out). But there’s still a fairly simple way to work a spell in your favor:
1) Get some dirt or water from the courthouse area – This can be dirt from a flower bed, from near the back of the building, or even from a potted plant somewhere on the premises if you can manage it. Or, if the courthouse has a fountain out front, you can collect water from that, or fill a drinking bottle with water from the drinking fountain in the courthouse (or from the bathroom, etc.). Barring all of these options, you can scrape the side of the building and try to gather even just a little bit of dust from it, then mix it with soil from the closest source you can find.
2) Take some Little John to Chew (galangal root) and work up a good bit of spit. Spit the juice into the dirt or water, while reciting a petition or prayer appropriate to your situation (such as Psalm 35, “Contend, O Lord, with those who contend with me…”). If you have only a little bit of dirt, you can add the dirt to some water and make a sort of “tea” out of it and the spit. If you have only a little bit of water, you can dilute it with some more water (add a little whiskey to it to give it a kick).
3) Take the dirt or water and go back to the courthouse. Sprinkle your mixture in a circle around the building, as close as you can get (if you have to walk a block, sprinkling a little as you go, that’s fine—just make sure the entire building is encircled). Whenever the judge who tries your case crosses that line, he will be disposed to favor you.
This trick relies on the same contagious magic as the older trick. Why not just chew and spit at the front steps to the courthouse, you ask? Well, you can’t be sure that your judge will come up those steps, and you need him to come into contact with your trick. Unless he or she lives somewhere in the courthouse, your judge will have to cross the ring you make around the area in order to get inside, and so you should be able to affect him or her that way.
Hot Footing someone to get rid of them is an old hoodoo trick. In the past, it was accomplished by either mixing dirt from someone’s footprint with a special mixture of potent spices called “Hot Foot Powder” (see here, here, and here to buy) or by sprinkling that powder where a target would walk over it. While it’s still possible to work the latter trick in a modern setting without much trouble, getting someone’s footprint-dirt isn’t easy anymore. Additionally, the older version of the trick requires deployment in running water or throwing it away on a road heading out of town.
To bring a trick like this into the modern age, however, is not difficult. City dwellers who can’t pick up dirty foot-tracks can work around that requirement by laying hold of a sock or shoe (or any article of clothing from the target, really). Once you have something of theirs, you simply mix the Hot Foot Powder and wrap it in their clothing (or in the case of a shoe, give the sole a good sprinkling).
Deploying the trick can be done a couple of ways. The simplest is to return the clothing to the target and hope they wear it without noticing the powder first (this is best with shoes). Often, in apartment buildings, this kind of work is fairly easy to do because people will leave wet shoes in the hallway to dry out (much to the chagrin of their neighbors on warm days).
If giving the item of clothing back seems like it would cause raised eyebrows, or just doesn’t strike you as the best method, there are a couple of other distinctly modern deployment techniques that might be worth considering. Since deployment in running water is a traditional method, consider chucking the Hot Footed sock into a sewer (which contains running water, after all, along with all manner of nastiness to help convince your target the time to leave is now). Or, instead of finding a road out of town, you could go down to a train yard or a bus station and toss the sock onto a boxcar or bus heading out of the city. In a lot of ways, a bus station is like a modern-age crossroads with the constant traffic coming and going, so sending someone away via outbound bus is actually a pretty smart way to go about your work. I’d also suggest the same is true of airports, but sneaking things onto planes is a BAD idea, especially right now. You’d really be asking for more trouble than a trick like this is worth. Stick with bus stations and trains.
Send Away Your Troubles
There’s a bit of American folk magic that involves a rather sneaky method for healing common ailments. The person with the disease (usually something like boils, warts, or corns) creates a small packet and “passes” the disease to the materials in the packet. Then he or she drops the bundle in a road. Whoever finds and opens it then receives the disease, and the person who passed the disease is cured of it. Vance Randolph describes the procedure in conjunction with warts:
“Another way to ‘pass’ a wart is to spit on it, rub a bit of paper in the spittle, fold the paper, and drop it in the road; the wart is supposed to pass to the first person who picks up the paper and unfolds it. Children are always trying this, and one can find these little folded papers in the road near most any rural schoolhouse” (OM&F, p.127).
In the modern age, very few folks are walking along our roads, and few of those are going to stop to pick up a strange packet. Motorists zooming by at high speeds never see them and people walking through cities for the most part avoid picking up litter from the walkways. So how can one adapt this sort of spell to work today?
The United States Postal Service processes over 500 million pieces of mail per day (according to their website). So why not put that big, churning system to work for you? Here’s what I suggest:
1) Just like in the old version of the spell, take a piece of paper and rub it against the afflicted part of your body. If you want, you can even write a short petition on the paper asking that it remove illness from you and carry it far away.
2) When you feel like you’ve imbued the paper with the disease, put it in an envelope. Address the envelope, either by selecting a real person to send it to (which I actually don’t recommend—it just seems like an awfully trite way to get vengeance on an enemy and it certainly doesn’t make you any friends) or by writing a “dead letter.” A dead letter is addressed to someone fictional (like Santa Claus, Professor Moriarty, Xenu, etc.) or someone dead (this could be an ancestor or just a spirit you think might be willing to help you by taking your disease off of you and into the grave).
3) Don’t use a return address, and post the letter from a public mailbox. You might, for example, send your disease to:
Hell, the Universe
This letter will then carry your disease away from you and into a sort of “limbo” space.
The only downside to this method is the same one that comes with the old method: if someone ever does open up your letter, they may catch your illness. But all magic comes with risk, so if it sounds like a useful spell to you, please feel free to use it.
That’s it for today. I’d love to hear from other city witches and urban rootworkers if you have suggestions for tricks that might be traditional-yet-modern. Feel free to comment or email us.
Thanks for reading!
-SHOWNOTES FOR EPISODE 10-
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
Download: New World Witchery – Episode 10
Music City Mojo – The online store for our guest, Stephanie. It features products and services as well as contact information.
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!)
Good morning all!
Just a quick post this morning to share an article I found on Witchvox over the weekend. It looks like the concept of New World Witchcraft is catching on as more and more people are taking an active interest in it! I think that’s pretty fantastic, myself.
This article talks about several of the systems we’ve discussed here, as well as a few others we’ve not gotten into yet. The author’s blog also has some interesting reposts of articles on various New World magical subjects. I’ll be interested to know what everyone thinks about it, so feel free to leave a comment and discuss!
Happy Monday! Be well, and thanks for reading!