Posted tagged ‘vance randolph’

Blog Post 132 – The Value of Silence

August 1, 2011

It’s been a while, hasn’t it? But it’s good to see you all again, to get the chance to rejoin the conversation. Except that today, I’m going to be talking about silence, which makes for a rather one-sided discussion, right?

I thought this would be an appropriate topic as I’ve been away for over a month at this point, with very little feedback flowing towards our listeners and readers and almost no new material on the blog or podcast. We’ve been in a realm of silence here at New World Witchery, but maybe that’s not such a bad thing. After all, silence has its uses.

The famous “Witch’s Pyramid,” for example, contains the four sides of a (Wiccan) witch’s code of conduct: To know, to will, to dare, and to keep silent. That’s a fairly modern code, of course, but because it is a complex system expressed in simple language, it taps into some fairly old ideas, including the keeping silent part. There are lots of interpretations of this idea; some say it means one should not discuss one’s magic after the working (one of Shivian Balaris’s interesting Twitter #WitchTips said “never sharing what magick you’ve done is felt to protect the spell so that it can complete properly; plus keeps ego in check,” for example-July 25, 2011). Others think that the silence is designed to insulate practitioners of the “Old Ways” from the persecutions they might suffer if their practices were openly discussed. Still more maintain that the silence in magical practice forms a core component of its spiritual nature; in other words, the silence maintains the mystery, which is very important in a Mystery tradition. I personally think elements of all three positions can be present in a magical practice, though not everyone agrees, of course (fellow podcaster Fire Lyte has mentioned on several shows that he does not like the secrecy and cloak-and-dagger-style mystery that accompanies some of these practices, as they create elitism and insulate seekers from knowledge, for example).

Turning to folklore (as you knew I would), there are several examples of silence serving one of the aforementioned functions. Of course there’s the common practice of observing a “moment of silence” in honor of a fallen hero or a significant event. Folk tales abound in quiet characters. In the story of “The Yellow Ribbon” from Minnesota (which I’ve also heard as “The Black Ribbon”), a woman’s silence guards a mystery that literally means life or death to her. An Old World fairy tale called “The Dwarfs’ Tailor” tells the story of a foolish and loquatious young tailor who must serve a group of dwarves in their enchanted mountain forest home in order to win the love of his old master’s daughter. The dwarves beat the tailor every time he tries to speak or ask questions, and so he learns to serve them in silence, and thus cures his foolish tongue-wagging and becomes a master tailor in his own right. And in the classic Grimm’s tale “The Six Swans,” a young princess must sew six shirts for her six brothers—enchanted into the shape of swans—during a six-year silence in order to release her brothers from the spell upon them. Other stories contain themes of silence, of course, from “The Little Mermaid” to “The Silent Princess” to the (creepy and captivating) episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer entitled “Hush.”

Within the magical continuum, calls for silence or secrecy appear in several traditions. In the Pow Wow practice, you can find this spell:

A GOOD REMEDY FOR THE FEVER.
Good morning, dear Thursday! Take away from [name] the 77-fold fevers. Oh! thou dear Lord Jesus Christ, take them away from him! + + + [here make the sign of the cross three times]

This must be used on Thursday for the first time, on Friday for the second time, and on Saturday for the third time; and each time thrice. The prayer of faith has also to be said each time, and not a word dare be spoken to anyone until the sun has risen. Neither dare the sick person speak to anyone till after sunrise; nor eat pork, nor drink milk, nor cross a running water, for nine days. (from The Long-Lost Friend by J.G. Hohman)

Here the silence seems to be an integrated part of the spell, a purification of the operator in the same way avoiding pork or milk might work (as they are foods often associated with unclean spirits and witchcraft).  It might then be comparable to fasting, a way of conditioning the body to respond to magic, or of preparing it for magical action. Other spells use magical silence to maintain a solemness and help maintain focus, as in this one from the Ozarks:

Some hillfolk say that a girl can call up a phantom of the man she is to marry by wrapping a lock of hair with some of her fingernail clippings in a green leaf and thrusting them into the ashes in the fireplace. Then she sits down before the fire. When the hair and fingernails begin to get warm, the ghostly appearance of her future husband is supposed to rescue them from the fire. Sometimes several girls try this at once. The door must be left open, and everyone must maintain absolute silence (Randolph, OM&F, p. 177-8)

This particular spell is rather reminiscent of the Dumb Supper, of course, though much simplified. The Dumb Supper itself is fascinating as a ritual of silence, but is a topic too big to tackle here. And since I’ve already given a good overview of it in my Halloween article from last year, I’ll leave it be for now.

Still other magical performances use silence as a cipher for secrecy, maintaining that certain things must not be spoken of, or at least, not spoken of frequently. Another Ozark account describes the passing of a specific sorcerous power—fire-drawing (or burn healing)—as a ritual wrapped in secrecy:

A gentleman near Crane, Missouri, has enjoyed a great success in relieving the pain from superficial burns. He just blows gently upon the burned place, touches it with his finger tips, and whispers a little prayer. The prayer may be told to persons of the other sex, but never imparted to one of the same sex. This man said he had learned the magic from Mrs. Molly Maxwell, an old woman who lived in Galena, Missouri. Since he could not tell me, I asked a young woman to get the secret words from him. This is what she heard : ‘One little Indian, two little Indians, One named East, one named West, The Son and the Father and the Holy Ghost, In goes the frost, out comes the fire, Ask it all in Jesus’ name, Amen.’ In teaching this prayer to a member of the opposite sex, the healer said, one should whisper it three times and no more. If a person cannot learn the prayer after hearing three repetitions, I was told, “he aint fit to draw out fire nohow !” (Randolph, OM&F, p. 121-2).

This idea of passing on magical powers in secrecy, carefully revealing them only to the chosen, the initiated, or those otherwise deemed “right” by the magician (or whatever higher power is in charge of the spell/tradition) is central to some practices. Others disavow the entire idea of such secrecy, preferring to work almost entirely in the open. Both seem to have their reasons, and both seem to do effective magic, though I will say that as folk magic goes the rule of silence shows up too often for me to ignore it entirely. I prefer to circumvent it by the time-honored technique of trickery, so that if I pass on secret magical knowledge I do so not by telling a person, but by speaking to an object in the room in such a way that anyone who happens to be in the room might well eavesdrop in on the “secret.”

From what I understand, whoever is in charge of magic seems to appreciate trickery as much as he or she appreciates silence. So that works out well.

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

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Blog Post 79 – Lucky Rabbit’s Foot

August 11, 2010

For today’s post, I’m looking at the folklore and magic surrounding one of the most ubiquitous pieces of conjure paraphernalia, the rabbit’s foot.  There are plenty of theories about this particular luck charm, but not much that can be definitely put down regarding its origin or provenance.  Rabbit foot charms have been around since at least the mid-to-late 19th century in North America, and likely predate the Civil War.  They are used for general luck, gambling aids, love enhancers, and other areas where a bit of extra luck might help.

A quick word of warning, however.  Many of the sources I’ll be citing in this post also date from earlier eras, and thus have a great deal of offensive material in them.  There are words that appear here which would likely incite violence if used lightly today, so please understand that I present them here as a piece of the folklore to which they belong.  Just as a smart modern magician finds a reasonable substitution for liquid quicksilver/mercury (and thus avoids madness and poisoning), a wise student of folklore and folk magic remembers that just because a sentiment appears in print doesn’t make it right or appropriate.

There, now let’s move on to some of the good stuff about rabbits’ feet.

Catherine Yronwode provides information on the rabbit’s foot on her Lucky W Amulet Archive, describing  the foot as catalogue offerings from the early-to-mid twentieth century:

As for the foot itself, a circa-1940 mail order catalogue from the Standard O and B Supply Company, a Chicago-based distributor of African-American hoodoo material, offered undyed rabbit foot charms “made with a metal band and a link to attach on chain.” The Johnson-Smith Novelty Company offered identical charms in its 1941 catalogue. The advertisement shown here goes these one better and promises a free vial of Van Van oil with each rabbit’s foot; the formula is a Louisiana hoodoo favourite that “clears away that evil mess” and increases the strength of any good luck charm to which it is applied. Since none of the older catalogues or ads mention any colour when describing rabbit’s foot charms, it can be assumed that the items were undyed and came only in natural tan or white.

She goes on to talk about her uncertainty regarding why a rabbit’s foot might be so lucky:

Why is the rabbit foot lucky? I am not sure. Rabbits are swift and they reproduce prolifically, but the luck of the rabbit foot is monetary and sexual; as far as i know, it is not related to swiftness or fertility. There is considerable evidence that the lucky rabbit foot is a remnant of an African clan totem, an importation related somehow to Br’er Rabbit, the famous protagonist of an African trickster-god myth-cycle.

Yronwode points out that the rabbit’s foot appears in the famous Uncle Remus stories, written by Joel Chandler Harris in 1881.  In a tale entitled “Brother Rabbit and his Famous Foot,” Uncle Remus describes the tricky Br’er (or Brother) Rabbit’s prosperity-drawing mojo bag (which he refers to as a money purse, or dialectically a “money-pus”):

Brer Wolf look at de money-pus, en see w’at in it. Hit ‘uz one er deze yer kinder money-pus wid tossle on de een’ en shiny rings in de middle. Brer Wolf look in afar fer ter see w’at he kin see. In one een’ dey wuz a piece er calamus-root en some collard-seeds, en in de tier een’ dey wuz a great big rabbit foot (Harris p. 223)

So even a rabbit carries a rabbit’s foot for luck and money.  How’s that for strange?  But why is it so lucky?  In a 1973 thesis on conjuration in the works of African-American author (and somewhat accidental folklorist) Charles Chestnutt, Bettye Jo Crisler Carr uncovers some possible reasons behind this talisman:

One might have expected Chesnutt to refer to ghosts who haunt graves, to witches ‘riding’ their hapless victims by night, to conjurers tying bits of roots in tiny bags to ward off evil. But surely his reference to the efficacy of ‘de lef hin’ foot er a graveya’d rabbit, killt by a cross-eyed nigger on a da’k night in de full er de moon’—surely that is something Chesnutt (or Uncle Julius, who seems equally real) has made out of whole cloth.

An examination of folklore sources, however, justifies Chesnutt’s requirements for the rabbit-foot good-luck charm. An informant from Atlanta states that the talisman must, indeed, be the ‘left hind foot of a graveyard rabbit.  Mary Owen, recording her collected tales prior to 1893, adds to the requirement that it must be ‘de lef hine-foot ob er grabe-yahd rabbit kilt in de dahk o’ de moon.’ A Memphis informant states further that the graveyard rabbit must have been killed by a cross-eyed person. Louise Pendleton, also writing before the publication of Chesnutt’s stories, comments that the use of the rabbit foot for good luck ‘may be traced to the fetishism, or worship of guardian spirits dwelling in inanimate objects, of their African ancestors.’ (Carr,  “Charles Chestnutt & the Doctrine of Conjuration”)

So now we can see the process of making the charm has something to do with its luck associations.  If a cross-eyed person could catch a rabbit in a graveyard in the dark, he would indeed have to be very lucky, and thus his luck might transfer to the animal’s foot (this is a bit of a stretch for a reason, in my opinion, but there certainly seems to be a specific tradition involved in collecting this talisman).  Much of this lore is corroborated by Harry M. Hyatt in his five-volume compendium on African-American folk magic, Hoodoo – Conjuration – Witchcraft – Rootwork.   Two prime examples are included here:

Vol.2,p.1541

A RABBIT’S LEFT HIND LEG, TAKEN WHILE THE ANIMAL IS STILL WARM
AND SEWN INTO A BAG, SHOULD BE CARRIED WITH YOU AT ALL TIMES,
AND KEPT UNDER YOUR PILLOW AT NIGHT FOR LUCK.

If yo’ wanta go git a job agin, yo’ could use a rabit’s foot – yo’ use a rabbit’s left foot. Ketch a rabbit, if yo’ kin kill him; if yo’ can’t ketch it, kill it. Well, befo’ he gits cold, take de left laig of dis rabbit off. (Front or back?) De back laig. Take de back laig off while it’s warm an’ yo’ sew it up in some cloth an’ when yo’ go tuh bed at night, yo’ jes’ carry it an’ push it in yore pillah. If yo’ git up tuh go in de daytime, wear it in yore pocket or either yo’ could have it in yore stockin’. Put it in yore hat or shoe or anything an’ jes’ keep it wit chew all de time. Yo’ll have good luck wit de rabbit’s left hind laig. (When you are going out to get a job?) Yes sir.

[Savannah, GA; Madam Pauline; Informant #1274. C575:1-C586:10 = 2136-2167.]

Vol.2,pp.1486-7

A CHARM TO CARRY

BURY THE RIGHT FRONT FOOT OF A RABBIT IN THE CEMETERY.
AFTER NINE DAYS AND NINE NIGHTS, DISINTER IT.
WEAR IT ON A CHAIN OR FASHION IT INTO SOMETHING SIMILAR TO WEAR
AND CARRY IT WITH YOU.

You take off his right feet, yo’ bury it in de cemetery – let it stay dere fo’ nine days an’ nights. Yo’ go an’ git it out from under dere an’ make yo’ a chain an’ put it on yo’ fo’ a locket or either, yo’ know, yo’ kin jes’ have it made into somethin’ den – yo’ know, somethin’-like. Dat’s de rabbit foot. [She laughs.] Den y’ jis’
tote it wit yo’ or either place it fo’ a watch charm or anythin’ like dat – right feet, jes’ one, de front.

[Waycross, GA; Informant # 1125 (Contact man Edwards’s landlady); Cylinder C235:4-C250: 1 = 1816-1831, and C384:1-C392: 5 = 1965-1973]

One of the common threads to the rabbit’s foot seems to be an intimacy with death or the dead.  The rabbit must be freshly killed (or “warm”) or found in a cemetery.  This may have something to do with its luck.  The dead are able to provide luck to the living in some folkloric accounts, and a magical animal like a rabbit which becomes tied to the dead may well be “running” luck back and forth from them to you.  If you are interested in more spells like the two immediately above, by the way, you can find many of Hyatt’s spells transcribed in the Hyatt Spells Yahoo! Group.  If you manage to find actual text volumes of his work and you have an interest in folk magic, buy them.  They will be worth it.

Finally, Ozark folklorist Vance Randolph records a couple of uses of the rabbit’s foot charm in his Ozark Magic & Folklore:

  • Some healers claim to cure hiccoughs by rubbing a rabbit’s foot on the back of the patient’s neck unexpectedly.
  • I recall a girl near Lanagan, Missouri, who wore a peach stone love-charm on one garter and a rabbit’s foot fastened to the other.

This particular lucky charm can be found throughout North America, often sold in roadside stores, children’s candy-and-prize machines, and even gas stations.   It’s commonly rubbed to actually activate the luck, and “fed” with an oil like Fast Luck or Van Van on a regular basis.  If you happen to have one of these in keychain or charm form, I’d love to hear your experiences with it.  Have rabbit’s feet ever brought you extra luck?  Or, as the joke is often made, is it just “unlucky for the rabbit”?

Thanks for reading (and reading and reading)!

-Cory

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

March 12, 2010

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

Podcast 5 – Signs and Omens

March 9, 2010

-SHOWNOTES FOR EPISODE 5-

Summary
Today we have some listener feedback, as well as some exciting news.  Then, we discuss signs and omens.

Play:

Download:  New World Witchery – Episode 05

-Sources-

Books
Some of the books referenced in today’s show:
Buying the Windby Richard M. Dorson
Signs, Cures, and Witchery – by Gerald C. Milnes
Ozark Magic and Folklore – by Vance Randolph

Promos & Music
Title music:  “Homebound,” by Jag, from Cypress Grove Blues.  From Magnatune.
Promo 1-The Standing Stone and Garden Gate Podshow
Promo 2- Media Astra ac Terra
Promo 3- A Pagan in the Threshold
Promo 4 – Inciting a Riot Podcast

P.S.  This is just a quick apology for the lateness of this episode, as well as occasional shifts in sound quality.  We have been having trouble with our podcast recording software, and had to re-record parts of our show via Skype.  We should have this issue resolved by our next episode, so thanks for bearing with us.


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