Posted tagged ‘witch of forest grove’

Blog Post 104 – (A Little) More Colonial (and Native American) Magic

November 30, 2010

I thought in honor of the recent Thanksgiving festivities—at least those here in the US (and with a belated bow to the harvest feasting in Canada), I would take a brief look at some of the magical practices circulating around the time of that “first Thanksgiving.”  The people who arrived in places like Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay to settle the New World—never mind it was already quite settled by its native inhabitants—are commonly referred to as Pilgrims, and contemporarily would have been known as Separatists.  Thinking about that late autumn gathering, when the local Pawtuxet tribe and the Separatists who had survived the harsh New England winter and managed to put together enough bounty for the coming cold season gathered at the table, is a sort of fond romance or fantasy.  Often we imagine the Indians in their deerskins and the Pilgrims in their blackest hats with the shiniest buckles on them.  The staunch Calvinism of the Separatists contrasts with the “noble savage” imagery of the Natives, their shared meal demonstrating two very different worlds breaking bread together.  Yet both groups shared many things in common, including a set of magical practices aimed at protecting their homes and blessing themselves with prosperity.

The fear of malefic witchcraft—which would eventually go on to spawn the famous “witch hunts” of Colonial America—stirred hearts on both sides of the table.  Each group had its own charms, talismans, prayers, and formulas for dealing with the dangers of spiteful magic.  The Pilgrims, drawing on their English heritage, had all sorts of magical tricks up their black-and-white sleeves for defeating evil witches and devils:

“Legal actions against malefic witchcraft merely represented the final point of defense against what were perceived as destructive magical powers.  Prior to entering his complaint into the legal domain, the colonial villager could draw upon a variety of protective magical formulas to maintain some sort of equilibrium between good and evil mystical forces.  Several of these techniques—by no means an exhaustive list—were mentioned in a sermon delivered by Deodat Lawson…’The Sieve and Scyssers [Scissors]; the Bible and Key; the white of an Egge in the Glass; the Horse-shoe nailed on the threshold; a stone hung over a rack in the Stable.’” (Weisman 40)

Looking at these specific examples, we can see a few things which indicate that magic among the Pilgrims was not so uncommon.

The Sieve & Scissors – These items were commonly used in fortune telling games by young girls, particularly on exciting nights like Halloween.  They could also be used to confuse or cut a witch, magically speaking.  The Sieve and Shears appear in Aggripa’s Three Books of Occult Philosophy, as well.

The Bible & Key – The Bible was considered to have inherent magical and protective abilities, and the key likely held the symbolism of “locking away” or “locking out” any harmful witchcraft.  The use of the two together also formed the basis of a spell recounted in Reginald Scot’s Discoverie of Witchcraft:  “Popish preests …doo practice with a psalter and a keie fastned upon the 49[th] psalme, to discover a theefe” (Scot, Chapter V).

The Egg White in a Glass – This is another method of divination involving cracking an egg into a clear glass or jar of water, then reading the resulting shapes, strings, bubbles, and colors found in the glass.  Curanderismo continues to use this method as a regular part of cleansing and reading practice even today.

The Horse-shoe on the Threshold – This particular charm moves out of the realm of divination and into prosperity and protection magic.  We covered horseshoes on our Lucky Charms podcast, and you can read all about them at the Lucky W Amulet Archive page on the subject.  The iron in the shoe, plus the somewhat mystical nature of the animal associated with it, imbued this charm with the power to block witchcraft and provide good luck to those passing under it as they entered a Pilgrim’s household.

The Stone in the Stable – The stone referred to in this charm would likely have been a holed stone, one which had been naturally eroded to leave a gap by which it was then hung in places needing protection from malefic activity.  Sarah over at Forest Grove wrote a bit about these holed stones, saying “In the UK it was used as a protection charm as the locals believed that by tying their front door key or the stable door key to a hole stone they would protect the building it hung upon.”  This, much like the horseshoe, was primarily protective, but a holed stone could also be used to “see” witches and other Otherworldly entities by peering through the gap.

Looking to the Natives’ side of the table, we find that charms to provide protection and blessing were also common among the Algonquin tribes of New England (Algonquin being a language and not an actual tribe, I use the term here to blanket a wide number of groups sharing a more-or-less common landscape and tongue).  Charles Leland (admittedly a questionable source on some matters of folklore, but not without his merits) wrote of many New England Native magical practices.  He compares the workings of Native shamans with the work of Catholic priests in one passage of his book The Algonquin Legends of New England: Tales of Magic:

“For wherever Shamanism exists, there is to be found, in company with it, an older sorcery, or witchcraft, which it professes to despise, and against which it does battle. As the Catholic priest, by Bible incantations or scriptural magic, exorcises devils and charms cattle or sore throats, disowning the darker magic of older days, so the Shaman acts against the real wizard.”

Leland recounts several legends of warriors and magical Indians doing battle with terrible spirits, the dead, and other dangerous forces.  In one tale, a chief’s son, described as “a great hunter, and skilled in mysteries” decides to marry.  In his efforts to get a wife, he sets out on a journey in which he acquires many talismanic and shamanic tools.  One of them is a golden key pulled from a whale’s mouth, which the whale tells him has great protective power:  “While you have it you will be safe against man, beast, or illness. The foe shall not harm you; the spirits which haunt the wilderness shall pass you by; hunger and pain shall not know you; death shall not be in your road.”  The key, then, appears in both the European and Native magical traditions as a powerful amulet.

As a final note on the magic of Native Americans, let us turn from the groaning board of the Thanksgiving feast and look at another magical practice:  fasting.  In an 1866 article entitled “Indian Superstitions,” Francis Parkman describes the use of ritual fasting in order to acquire a Manitou, or guardian spirit:

“Each primitive Indian has his guardian manitou, to whom he looks for counsel, guidance, and protection. These spiritual allies are acquired by the following process. At the age of fourteen or fifteen, the Indian boy smears his face with black, retires to some solitary place, and remains for days without food. Superstitious expectancy and the exhaustion of famine rarely fail of their results. His sleep is haunted by visions, and the form which first or most often appears is that of his guardian manitou, a beast, a bird, a fish, a serpent, or some other object, animate or inanimate. An eagle or a bear is the vision of a destined warrior ; a wolf, of a successful hunter; while a serpent foreshadows the future medicine man, or, according to others, portends disaster…The young Indian thenceforth wears about his person the object revealed in his dream, or some portion of it—as a bone, a feather, a snake-skin, or a tuft of hair. This, in the modern language of the forest and prairie, is known as his “medicine.” The Indian yields to it a sort of wor ship, propitiates it with offerings of tobacco, thanks it in prosperity, and upbraids it in disaster. If his medicine fails to bring him the desired success, he will sometimes discard it and adopt another” (Parkman 4).

Feast or famine, magic has long been on American soil (and Canadian, Central American, & South American soils as well).  So as you eat your turkey leftovers, you could crack an egg into a glass of water, pull out some scissors and a sieve, or maybe even think about putting the food aside for a while and seeing what comes to you in your dreams.  It might add a little New World Witchery to your holiday.  Which, of course, makes me feel pretty darn thankful.

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

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Blog Post 97 – Shop Recommendations

October 12, 2010

While we get our Etsy shop slowly up to speed (there are more products on the way soon, I promise!), I thought I’d take today to recommend a couple of sites where you can find fantastically witchy supplies.  I’ve had good, long conversations with both shop owners and found them to be incredibly knowledgeable about their products and about magic in general.  Without further ado, here they are:

Forest Grove Botanica – The store of Sarah, the Witch of Forest Grove, whom we’ve had on our show before.  Now, I’ve linked to her shop in the past, but as of yesterday, she launched her site independently, so it no longer relies on Etsy to provide transactions and listings.  And it looks like she has really been expanding her wares, too.  She’s including all sorts of wonderful products, like Witches’ Salves, herbal smokes, oils, potions, and incenses.   I’ve already placed my first order, and I’m sure I’ll be getting lots more from her in the future (especially once she gets her Art section up and running).

Alchemy Arts – This is the store I mentioned from the Chicago-land area in Podcast 17 (and which I incorrectly called “Alchemy Works,” sorry!).  I seriously spent a lot of time and money in this shop, and I wish I could have spent more of both there.  This was a phenomenal place, and the owner really knows his stuff.   If you’re in the area, stop by.  Or you can call him and he’ll help you get exactly what you need at a fair price.

If you have favorite shops you’d like to recommend, please comment and do so (if you can provide links, that’s helpful, too)!

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

Blog Post 75 – A New Look!

August 4, 2010

Hi everyone!

So you may have noticed a subtle change or two to our page today.  We have a new look here at New World Witchery, which hopefully makes us look a little more interesting.  Our fantastic web designer is none other than the lovely Sarah, Witch of Forest Grove (and The Pagan Bookworm and Hedgefolk Tales and proprietress of Forest Grove Botanica)!  Many many thanks to her for putting together such a neat design (especially that banner at the top—the old one was kind of sad looking).

If you run into pages or buttons that don’t work, please let me know so we can get those fixed.  Likewise, if you suddenly find one of your comments missing from a previous post, let me know that, too.  Some of them wound up being sent back into “hold” status during the update.

Again, a thousand thousand thanks to Sarah, and we hope you like our new look!

Thanks for browsing!

-Cory

Blog Post 45 – Witches

April 14, 2010

Stories about witches in the New World are plentiful.  Early historical accounts of witch trials in America show that the belief in witchcraft was widespread throughout the colonies, though the degree to which each colony acted on those beliefs varied quite a bit (see Blog Post 3 and Blog Post 6 for some good background on these).

Often, it seems that the stories about witches that appeared in the New World were linked to Old World roots.  Tales of witch-flights in the Appalachians parallel similar stories from the British Isles.  German stories about witches casting spells on hunters’ guns show up in the Ozarks.  In general, many of these stories can be broken up into a few key categories:  how to become a witch, what witches do, and how to deal with witches.

How to Become a Witch

There are several different ways a person (usually a woman in folklore) becomes a witch.  The act of initiation usually involves a pledge of some kind to a dark figure—usually the Devil, though I would argue that this “Devil” is something other than Satanic.  But I digress, and will address this topic further in another post.  In Vance Randolph’s excellent book, Ozark Magic & Folklore, he outlines how the mountain folk thought a witch was initiated:

“Some parts of the witches’ routine are well known, even to people who deny all acquaintance with such matters. The trick of reversing the Lord’s Prayer is a case in point… When a woman decides to become a witch, according to the fireside legends, she repairs to the family buryin’ ground at midnight, in the dark of the moon. Beginning with a verbal renunciation of the Christian religion, she swears to give herself body and soul to the Devil. She removes every stitch of clothing, which she hangs on an infidel’s tombstone, and delivers her body immediately to the Devil’s representative, that is, to the man who is inducting her into the ‘mystery.’  The sexual act completed, both parties repeat certain old sayin’s, terrible words which assemble devils, and the spirits of the evil dead and end by reciting the Lord’s Prayer backwards.  This ceremony is supposed to be witnessed by at least two initiates, also nude, and must be repeated on three consecutive nights.  After the first and second vows the candidate is still free to change her mind, but the third pledge is final. Henceforth the woman is a witch and must serve her new master through all eternity” (Randolph pp. 266-67)

In Appalachia, another witch-making process is described in Foxfire 2:

“JIM EDMONDS:  I heard about a man—a witch said he’d make a witch out a’him if he followed him.  They come to this door and th’witch said ‘Hi-ho, hi-ho!  In th’keyhole I go.’  He went on in and got all he wanted.

Th’old witch came and said, ‘Hi-ho, hi-ho! Out th’keyhole I go,’ and went on out.

Th’old man came and thought he’d do what th’other did and said, ‘Hi-ho, hi-ho!  Up th’high hole I go,’ and fell t’th’floor!

You just had t’pay no ‘tention t’witches.  They can put a spell on you, but they can’t turn you into a witch if you pay them no mind.”  (p. 355)

Hubert J. Davis, in his astoundingly good compilation of American witch-lore entitled The Silver Bullet, outlines another method of becoming a witch:

“’Fust, he’d [the potential witch] have to climb to the top of the highest knob on Witch Mountain and tote either a black cat or a black hen.  Then, he’d have to find the Indian graveyard at the place nigh where two Indian trails cross.  There, he’d have to draw a big ring in the dust ‘bout fifteen feet acrost, and dance in this circle each morning at break of day for eight mornings in a row.  Then, on the ninth morning, he’d have to put one hand on the top of his head and ‘tother on the sole of his foot and say ‘ I give all betwixt my two hands to the Devil…Then the Devil comes…and nips him on the shoulder so hit bleeds.  Then, the Devil tells him to wet his finger in the blood and sign an X to this pact…the Devil will same some magic words over the cat or the hen and change hit into an imp [another name for a familiar]” (Davis pp.14-15)

Various other methods of becoming a witch are recounted in these texts, too, including firing a gun nine times at a full moon, shooting at the rising sun and watching to see if it “bleeds,” or simply being taught the ways of the witch by a family member of the opposite sex.  On this last point, I will note that the writers generally say cross-gender transfer of information is de rigeur, and just because one learns the spells and ways of a witch doesn’t make one an initiate of witchcraft.

I think I should point out that Sarah at Forest Grove did an amazing blog post on initiation recently which I recommend reading.  Particularly because I think there are some pretty strong parallels between the folklore I’m presenting here and the steps towards initiation she mentions in her post.  Let me know what you think, though.

What Witches Do

Having a witch in the neighborhood was a mix of good and bad for early settlers.  On the one hand, witches tended to be able to make potions and counter-charms to help with curses and bad luck, among many other talents.  But on the other hand, a local witch meant that there was a good chance your livestock would end up cursed or dead or both.

A common curse witches could use involved bewitching cattle so that they would not produce milk.  Or rather, the only person who could milk the cow was the witch—she would usually use an axe-handle or an old rag tied to a fence post held over a bucket.  She’d squeeze the object, and milk would pour out, while the cow’s udders slowly drained in a distant pasture.  In one of the stories from The Silver Bullet called “No Milk on Saturday,” Hubert Davis recalls a story about a witch who put a spell on a cow so it would only give bloody milk.  The cow’s owner consulted a witch doctor (see “Dealing with Wicked Witches” below) and figured out how to reverse the curse, eventually.

Witches also had the power to curse people.  One of the main methods of performing such a curse involved the creation of a “witch ball.”  This was a little ball made of black hair from a dog, cat, horse, etc. and wax, which was then thrown or “shot” at the target.  If the victim didn’t get magical remediation immediately, the witch ball could lead to his or her death in fairly short order.  From Ozark Magic & Folklore:

“I have been told of another Ozark witch who killed several of her enemies by means of a “hair ball” just a little bunch of black hair mixed with beeswax and rolled into a hard pellet. The old woman tossed this thing at the persons whom she wished to eliminate, and they fell dead a few hours later. It is said that the fatal hair ball is always found somewhere in the body of a person killed in this manner. In one case, according to my informant, the little ball of combings was taken from the dead girl’s mouth” (Randolph pp.271-272).

Some of the many other sinister tasks a witch might do included bewitching butter churns or soap tubs, causing them to fail to produce any butter or soap.  They could also summon storms and blight crops, as well.  In Randolph’s work, he mentions that one witch ruined a tomato crop by simply drawing a circle inscribed with a cross in the dirt, then spitting in the center.

Of course, the witch could also shapeshift, turning into her animal self easily and slipping off to Sabbaths, into the homes of innocent farmers and their families, or into the bed of a lover while her husband dozed dumbly in bed.  Common shapes for witches included the ubiquitous black cat, the hare, mountain lions, and dogs.  There are plenty of stories about a hunter being unable to shoot a particular animal until he manages to get a silver bullet in his gun.  Then, he mortally wounds the beast, which gets away, and later hears that some local woman is lying in bed missing a hand or a foot—the very part shot off by the hunter!

I’ll refrain from offering too much commentary here on these ideas (though I will be revisiting them at a later date), but I would like to say that many of these common elements have a place in modern witchcraft, albeit not a literal one.  Understanding these stories metaphorically, or understanding the basic kernels of practical witchcraft embedded in these tales, is an exercise worth the undertaking for an aspiring New World witch.

Dealing with Wicked Witches

Randolph makes a key point in his text on Ozark magic that many clairvoyants, mediums, card readers, conjure men, etc. get called “witches” by outsiders, but the Ozark resident made a distinction between them.  Witches were almost always nefarious in purpose, according to Randolph, though he himself revealed that out of nearly two dozen witches he’d interviewed, almost twenty of them reported working against evil rather than for it.

In the Old World, these counter-cursing magical folk were often known as fairy doctors, cunning folk, or pellars.  In the New World, these names sometimes surface, but just as often, they are called witch doctors or conjure folk (which is confusing when you realize that hoodoo and witchcraft cross cultural boundaries in many places, and thus this term may have had different meanings to different people).  In a Works Project Administration report about Tennessee, the folklorist makes the following observation:  “Cunjur [sic] doctors will sell you ‘hands’ or ‘tobies’ enabling you to detect witches and ward off their spells” (Ch. 14, par. 19).  Here, the line between hoodoo (or “cunjur”) and what is typically thought of as European witchcraft is heavily blurred, and the magic of one is used to affect the magic of the other.

Undoing the harm caused by a witch could involve a number of different techniques.  In Hubert Davis’s work, he talks about how the unfortunate farmer with the bloody milk dealt with his problem:

“Steve milked his cow, brought the milk into the cabin and put it in a big flat pan.  Then, he went out on a ridge and cut three birch withes and tied them together.  He built a big fire under the pan of milk and, as it boiled, he flailed as much milk as he could out of the pan into the fire with the birch withes.  As the milk burned with a blue-green flame, Steve saw Granny Lotz’s face in the flames and he knew that it was indeed she who had witched the cow” (Davis p.35)

In the case of a bewitched butter churn, placing a piece of silver under the cursed object would stop the magic sometimes, or burning some of the butter with hot coals would do the trick too.  Other curse-breaking methods included using witch bottles to reverse a curse and shooting an image of the witch with a silver bullet.  This last method could theoretically kill the witch, and often was performed in the nick of time (at least as far as the folklore goes), just before a witch could complete a particularly nasty curse.  Other methods of removing a witch’s curse involved “scoring her” above her eyes, or making her bleed on her forehead.  If that happened, or if you could make her see her own blood in some cases, her powers would be broken.

Another common enchantment involved the bewitching of a hunter’s gun.  A hunter who normally did well would suddenly find he couldn’t hit a thing he aimed at.  In many cases, an elaborate ritual had to be performed to remove such an bewitchment.  As Foxfire informant Jim Edmonds relates:

“Old Billy Jesse claimed he was a witch.  Ol’Gran’daddy couldn’t shoot a thing.  Somebody put a spell on his gun.  He went over to Billy Jesse t’take th’spell off.  He lived in what they call Bitter Mountain Cove.  Told him he wanted him t’take th’spell off him.  Somebody had witched his gun.

So Billy loaded that gun and went t’every corner of th’house and shot sayin’, ‘Hurrah fer th’Devil!’  Run t’every corner and shot—never did load it but once—hollerin’, ‘Hurrah fer th’Devil!’

Billy then said, ‘Now th’next thing you will see will be a great covey of quail.  Now don’t you shoot at nothin’.  Then th’next thing you see will be a big buck.  You can kill him.  Just shoot nothin’ else.

Gran’daddy done just like he told him, and here come a big drove a’birds.  He just held still.  He went on and there was this big ol’ buck.  Shot and killed him.  Th’spell was off his gun.” (Foxfire 2, p.333)

All of this folklore may just be storytelling.  Or it may be a way of hiding secrets in plain sight.  Or it may be to-the-letter true, for all I know.  But at the very least, I know that I enjoy these stories.  And personally, I get a lot out of them that isn’t just related to campfire entertainment.  Though I don’t mind mixing s’mores and witchcraft, should the occasion call for it.

Okay, a long post today, but hopefully a useful one!  Thanks for sticking with it, and as always, thanks for reading!

-Cory

Blog Post 44 –Stories, Tales, Rhymes, and Songs

April 13, 2010

Greetings everyone!

I began discussing fairy tales in the New World last week, and I thought that this week, I might continue that trend.  Before diving too far into more stories, though, I’d like to make a quick case for the value of “fiction” in witchcraft.  I’m mostly focusing on fairy tales, legends, nursery rhymes, and old songs/ballads here, but it’s possible to apply what I’m talking about to a broader range folk material.

Witchcraft, being largely a folk practice, is seldom found in codified form (well, at least it wasn’t found as such until the 20th Century).  Many of the grimoires used by magicians from late antiquity until the Enlightenment (and beyond) contained magical incantations and spells, true, but access to these books was limited.  While some books did make it onto the shelves of everyday magical practitioners—John George Hohman’s Powwow’s is a prime example of this—there were also plenty of witches who would have had no books at all, or perhaps only something like the Bible to plumb for magical material (there’s a lot of it in there, by the way, but I’ll get to that another day).

Instead, much of the lore of the witch was transmitted orally.  By “lore of the witch,” I’m not talking specifically about magical spells and recipes alone, though certainly there are many precedents for such things being passed along orally—mostly through family lines and across genders.  But there were also many stories about witches, or fairies, or conjure-folk, or saints performing rather un-Biblical “miracles,” and so on.  These tales serve as repositories of a sort, holding little bits of information about what a magical worker could do, some of the ingredients he or she would use, and what kind of journeys a witch might be making “oot and aboot” at night.  It is my personal belief that these fragments of magical knowledge are available to any witch “who has eyes to see,” as Robert Cochrane would have put it.

There are already many people who seem to feel the way I do about these old stories, and who recognize that magic is sometimes hidden in plain sight, as dainties for babes or campfire tall tales.  Sarah Lawless, the Witch of Forest Grove, has a wonderful blog post on this topic, as well as an example of how fairy tales can come true—and not always in a nice way.  Of witchcraft based on fairy-lore, she says:

“These are witches and pagans who incorporate the fairy-faith into their practices and belief systems by incorporating genuine fairy lore and traditions. This can involve anything from superstitions concerning the good folk to practicing a specific cultural fairy-faith such as that of Ireland, Brittany, Italy, or the Orkneys.” (Lawless, 09/15/09, par. 6)

She also lists a set of tremendous resources for those interested in learning more about folklore and its relationship to magic (by the way, if you’re not following her blog for some reason, I really can’t recommend it enough).

One of the authors she mentions is R. J. Stewart, who has also explored the relationship between old stories and magic in much of his work.  One of his best known (and hardest to find in print) works on the subject is The Underworld Initiation.  He has a stellar revisiting of that topic on his website, which not only explores the mythic landscape of the Faery realms, but also goes into great detail on how the poem/song (at one time there was little difference between these genres) “Thomas the Rhymer” outlines much of what a potential witch should know about the Underworld.  I also have a copy of his book Magical Tales, which outlines the storytelling tradition as a part of witchcraft, necessary to ensure its survival.  I very much incorporate his point of view into my own life—one of my greatest joys is being able to recite fairy tales by heart to my child as he falls asleep in my arms, and that’s not just because of the witchy bits embedded in the tales.  Having a baby fall asleep on you is like getting caught in a rain shower made of candy.  While wearing a raincoat made of kittens.  It’s just that good.

Robert Cochrane, mentioned above, also saw the value in mining songs and legends for magic.  In one of his letters to Joe Wilson, he says, “My religious beliefs are found in an ancient song, ‘Green Grow the Rushes O’, and I am an admirer, and a critic of Robert Graves.” (Bowers, 12/20/65).  The song Cochrane (born Roy Bowers) mentions contains many references which Cochrane spun into his own particular brand of witchcraft.  His work spawned several Traditional Witchcraft groups, including the Clan of Tubal Cain and the 1734 Tradition.  Robert Graves, a poet who authored a mytho-poetic text on the Divine Muse entitled The White Goddess also used folklore of a sort to explain mystical traditions, though his work is less about witchcraft as a practice than the religious worship of a goddess (in my opinion).

That’s it for this introductory post.  I think it’s always rewarding to learn a tale or two, if only to have something to share around a campfire someday.  And for an astute witch, these sorts of tales often contain even more than just evening entertainments.  For the rest of this week, I’ll be focusing on specific books, stories, or themes which relate to witchery.  I hope that you’ll enjoy discussing them as much as I do.  Please feel free to comment and suggest tales, poems, and songs which have a little witchcraft to offer, as well!  It’s always good to find new sources of magic.
Thanks for reading!

-Cory

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

March 17, 2010

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 13 – Crown of Success

February 15, 2010

One of the things I hope to do on this blog is provide information on specific tools, formulae, ingredients, and objects used in American folk magic.  I hope that these blogs and podcasts will help the eager American witch to develop his or her practice by incorporating these components, or at the very least educate him or her about the different products available in the folk magic marketplace.

Today, I thought I’d focus on the hoodoo formula known as Crown of Success.  I’ve been using that one a lot lately, and it’s one of the ones I almost always have on hand or steeping in my pantry.  I’m sure many people could use a bit more success in their lives, so it’s a good one to have around for quick spellwork.

The recipe varies a bit from maker to maker, but almost all have a few ingredients in common:

  • Bay (as in bay laurel, not the bay which provides Jamaican bay rum)
  • Frankincense
  • Iron pyrite (“fool’s gold”)

There are several ingredients I’ve seen used interchangeably with key ingredients; lodestone can be used instead of pyrite, for example, since it acts as an “attractant” curio.  Likewise, some folks add gold flakes or glitter to the formula because of the association between gold and money/glory/success.  Additional herbs, roots, and curios can include things like master-of-the-woods, deer’s tongue, cinquefoil (also known as five-finger grass), sandalwood, vetiver, dragon’s-blood, etc.

Harry M. Hyatt records an informant in his Hoodoo – Conjuration – Witchcraft – Rootwork compendium who describes a mojo bag for success containing a lodestone, liquid mercury/quicksilver, iron filings, and a black cat bone (Volume 2, p. 1506).  WARNING!  Do NOT use liquid mercury under any circumstances—it is highly toxic and will cause damage or death if handled.  The black cat bone referred to is likely the magical talisman obtained (rather cruelly) by boiling a black cat alive in a magical ceremony and then collecting the bone in a special ritual.  I do NOT advise this, merely present it as a piece of folklore.  The modern formulae for Crown of Success do not depend on either deadly mercury or ritualized animal slaughter.

As far as how to use this particular formula, Lucky Mojo has an excellent page on Crown of Success formula at their site so I won’t go into much detail here.  Very generally, anything that involves gaining favor or accomplishing a goal—things like acing job interviews, applying for loans or grants, or mastering a new skill—can benefit from the inclusion of this product.

My own personal formulation of this recipe (for the oil version of it)  includes the following:

  • Bay leaves & oil
  • Cinquefoil
  • Frankincense tears & oil
  • Sandalwood chips & oil
  • Vetivert (herb & oil, if available)

In the master jar I also keep a rolled piece of paper with this line from Psalm 65 on it:

“Thou crownest the year with thy goodness; And thy paths drop fatness.” (Ps. 65:11)

There are several reliable sources for this oil out there.  I have to plug our shop, Compass & Key Apothecary, of course (forgive the rather paltry site, we’ll be revamping it soon, but you can certainly order any of our oils there).  But I would also heartily recommend Lucky Mojo’s Crown of Success products and Music City Mojo’s oils or mojo hands.  Based on the reputation of the root workers (as opposed to the individual products which I’ve used in the previous two examples), I would also go out on a limb and say that Toad’s Bone Apotheca and Forest Grove Botanica could both mix up a good blend of success formula if you ask them nicely.

One product I will recommend avoiding is Anna Riva’s Crown of Success.  It doesn’t smell “right,” and I’ve never had much luck using her oils in general.  Your mileage may vary, of course, and if you’ve had good luck with her products, I’d love to know about it.

That’s about it for this root work formula.  If you’d like to share your stories about working with it, we’re always happy to hear them.

Thanks for reading!

-Cory


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