Blog Post 24 – Book Review

Hello everyone,

So today I’d like to offer a review of a book I’ve cited several times on the blog already, Richard Dorson’s Buying the Wind.  It’s a book of folklore divided by region and focusing on the different stories, beliefs, and practices of those who inhabit those regions.  The regions he covers are broken down as follows:

  • Maine Down-Easters
  • Pennsylvania Dutchmen
  • Southern Mountaineers
  • Louisiana Cajuns
  • Illinois Egyptians
  • Southwest Mexicans
  • Utah Mormons

Each section then goes into further detail regarding the specific folklore of the regional group examined.  For example, under Southwest Mexicans, there is a section called “Proverbios” which contains the bits of folk wisdom like:

Dar atole con el dedo.

“To give gruel with the finger.”  (To deceive with words or acts, especially to deceive one’s husband).

Entre menos burros, mas olotes.

“The fewer donkeys, the more cobs.”  (The fewer, the better…corncobs, dried as well as green, are given burros to eat).

And under Louisiana Cajuns, in the section “Riddles,” we find:

What has a tongue and does not speak?  A shoe

What has teeth but does not bite?  A comb

If a man can lift two hundred and fifty barrels of rice when it is not raining, what can he lift during a rain?  An umbrella

Each section has its own unique attributes.  Some have the songs and proverbs of their region, some have stories and even some loose versions of “spells.”  I say loose because they aren’t exactly how-to’s on spellcraft, but provide some information that could be turned into a how-to pretty easily.  For example, the Louisiana Cajuns section has information on Hoodoo, including a tale from one informant who described a luck mojo bag that “was a little bag of linen and it had like nerves and then bones.”  The nerves are from a vulture, and the bones from a snake, which both could be used in a lucky mojo hand (though I’ve never heard of nerves being used, per se, but that’s what makes these accounts so interesting—their variety).

The entire book is loaded with bits of magic like this, as well as stories of witchcraft and magic which, while more fanciful, give insight into what the occult practices of those areas might be.  In the Southern Mountaineers section, for instance, there’s an interesting account of a “witch-ball,” which is a bit of hair, wax, and other substances rolled into a ball and “shot” at a victim to curse them.  I’ve seen similar stories in other books of American folklore, especially based in the Appalachian areas, so it’s interesting to me to see how prominent such a magical tool seems to be in that area, though it is largely forgotten elsewhere.

I learned a great deal from this book—the entire section on Illinois Egyptians, for example, was a revelation to me, and has opened up a whole new area of interest for me regarding New World Witchery.  And the stories, songs, and proverbs are fantastic!  I can’t get enough of the Southern “Jack” tales!

I should point out that Dorson uses the Aarne-Thompson system of folklore classification, which divides tales into various types for ease of cross-referencing.  It is definitely a book aimed at folklorists and not particularly at a wide audience, but I think anyone can get a great deal from reading it.  And it may open up a whole new love of folklore as a field of study for some folks.

I’ve been reading a borrowed copy from my public library, and it’s just about due to go back there, which was going to be a sad loss, as I still find myself referencing Buying the Wind frequently.  But thanks to a generous donation from reader/listener Amber (many, many thanks to her!), we’ll be able to procure a copy for future reference now.  So hooray for Amber!

That’s all for now!  Thanks for reading!

-Cory

Blog Post 22 – Thank You to All Contest Entrants!

This is just a quick thank you to everyone who participated in our Weather Lore giveaway! We got some wonderful bits of lore we’ll be bringing you in the near future. The contest is closed now, and we should have a winner to announce this week (depending on when Laine and I can get together to do the hat-drawing ceremony). Again, many thanks to our readers and listeners!

All the best, and be well!

-Cory

Blog Post 21– Final Call for Contest Entries!

Hi everyone!

Only a little less than three days left in our first-ever contest!  We’re giving a copy of Cat Yronwode’s Hoodoo Root & Herb Magic to one randomly chosen reader/listener who provides us with a little bit of weather folk lore from his or her family or region.  All you have to do is email us or leave a comment on Blog Post 10 – Weather Work with your general area (you can say “South” or “East Coast” if you like) and a tidbit about what folks say about the weather in your neck of the woods.  The deadline is February 28th at midnight, Central Time, so please get your submissions in before then.  We’ll be using these entries for a podcast on weather magic and folklore, so please write in!

Good luck!

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

Blog Post 20 – Planting by the Signs, Practicum

Thank you for your patience, dear readers.  Today, we have a practical walkthrough for planting by the signs.

The crops: Potatoes, tomatoes, and beans
Starting date: 1 March 2010
Planting zone: 6

I include the planting zone because this version of planting by the signs will depend a little on frost-free dates.  Whatever the last frost free date is for your zone, you’ll want to use that as your guideline.  Everything I am about to explain is based on my area’s frost-free date around the 1st of April.

And we’re off!

Date(s): March 18-19, 23-24
Action(s): Plant sprouting seeds (tomatoes and beans) indoors in greenhouse, or sunny window pots.
Why: Taurus, Cancer, and Pisces are three of the best signs for planting, particularly above-ground crops.  While March 13-14th does have the moon entering Pisces, it’s also the tail end of a waning moon, which can inhibit growth.  Instead, the waxing first quarter on the 18-19th when the moon enters Taurus ensures sprouting in a fruitful, moist sign with a healthy increasing moon to encourage growth.  The 23-24th would also be reasonable for a later start to planting, when the moon is in Cancer and a waxing 3rd quarter.

Date(s): March 20-21, 27-28
Action(s): Cultivate, till, clear weeds.
Why?: The barren signs—Aries, Gemini, Leo, Virgo, Sagittarius, and Aquarius—are best for cultivating the soil, as planting during these times leads to less fruitful yields or no growth at all.  Because I will likely be sprouting seeds on the 18-19th, I like to prep the soil soon afterwards. True, the moon is waxing and almost full, so it might be better to wait until a dark moon/new moon to do so, but that would lead to a later planting, which I don’t want.   Cultivating the soil is less affected by the moon than planting is, so it’s less of a worry to me what phase the moon is in.

Date(s): April 5-6, 10-11
Action(s): Plant potatoes.
Why?:  The best sign for planting potatoes is Capricorn, a dry, productive Earth sign.  The moon enters Capricorn on the 5-6th, so that is a good time to plant them, but it is also worth paying attention to the moon phase here.  It’s only in its 3rd quarter, which isn’t the best for potatoes.  The “old” moon, or fourth quarter right before the new moon, is a great time for planting root crops (and also for gathering them, but we’ll get to that).  On the 10-11th, the moon is “old” and the sign is Pisces, which is good for planting in general, and especially for root growth.  Yes, I know I said a waning moon in Pisces was not great for growth just a bit ago, but that was for my sprouting crops.  My root crops should do just fine.

Date(s): April 15-16, 20-21, 28
Action(s): Transplant sprouts (if big enough) into garden bed.  Make sure you are past your frost-free date for this, and if your sprouts aren’t big enough, wait a few weeks before transplanting.  Check root growth before planting, too.  Beans will likely be ready by now, but tomatoes may have to wait a while.
Why?: The best signs for planting and transplanting are Taurus, Pisces, Cancer, and Scorpio.  Pisces, as we noted with potatoes, is in a waning moon however, so I ruled those dates out for planting.  Taurus is a great sign for planting and comes right as the moon begins waxing on the 15-16th, so that’s a great time to plant.  The 20-21st is ruled by Cancer, and is another good planting time with a waxing moon.  The 28th is a full moon in Scorpio, and probably the best day for transplanting tomatoes (sturdy vines like Scorpio for some reason).

Date(s): May 13-14, 17-18, 26-27
Action(s): Transplant sprouts if they weren’t big enough in April.
Why?: This is the same progression of signs (Taurus, Cancer, Scorpio) from April, with the same waxing-to-full moon phase pattern.

From here, it could get a bit tangled if I tried to keep explaining individual plantings the way I have been, because germination times are going to vary.  Most plants will be fruiting between 60-90 days, but that’s still a big window, and you will likely continue to have growth after the initial fruiting (if you live in a zone with 200+ growing days like me, you hopefully will get at least two good harvests).   So what I’m going to do next is describe a specific activity (such as pruning, harvesting fruit, harvesting roots, etc.) and give you a date along with the sign.  If you want a good description of each of the signs individually and why I’ve selected the dates I have, a concise description of moon signs and their properties can be found here.  I put information on New and Full Moons where I can, but you may need to look up at the sky a few times before making decisions about harvesting.

Weeding (Aries, Gemini, Leo, Aquarius)
June – 2-3 (Aquarius), 6-7 (Aries), 11-12 (Gemini), 15-17 (Leo), 28-29 (Aquarius)
July – 3-4 (Aries), 8-9 (Gemini), 12-13 (Leo), 25-27 (Aquarius)
August – 1 (Aries), 4-5 (Gemini), 8-9 (Leo), 21-23 (Aquarius), 27-28 (Aries)
September – 1-2(Gemini), 5-6 (Leo), 18-9 (Aquarius), 23-24 (Aries), 28-29 (Gemini)

Fertilizing (Capricorn)
June – 25-27 (Full Moon on 26th)
July – 23-24
August – 19-20

Harvesting Fruit (Aries, Gemini, Leo, Aquarius) (Full-to-Waning Moons are best for harvesting)
June – 2-3 (Aquarius), 6-7 (Aries), 11-12 (Gemini), 15-17 (Leo), 28-29 (Aquarius)
July – 3-4 (Aries), 8-9 (Gemini), 12-13 (Leo), 25-27 (Aquarius, Full Moon on 25th)
August – 1 (Aries), 4-5 (Gemini), 8-9 (Leo), 21-23 (Aquarius), 27-28 (Aries)
September – 1-2(Gemini), 5-6 (Leo), 18-9 (Aquarius), 23-24 (Aries, Full Moon on 24th), 28-29 (Gemini)

Harvesting Roots/Tubers (Aries, Gemini, Leo, Aquarius) (Waning-to-New Moons are best for harvesting)
June – 2-3 (Aquarius), 6-7 (Aries), 11-12 (Gemini), 15-17 (Leo), 28-29 (Aquarius)
July – 3-4 (Aries), 8-9 (Gemini), 12-13 (Leo), 25-27 (Aquarius)
August – 1 (Aries), 4-5 (Gemini), 8-9 (Leo, New Moon on 9th), 21-23 (Aquarius), 27-28 (Aries)
September – 1-2(Gemini), 5-6 (Leo), 18-19 (Aquarius), 23-24 (Aries), 28-29 (Gemini)

There are all sorts of other aspects of this that I could go into, such as when to can, when to plant herbs, etc.  If there’s enough interest in this topic, I might do more on it, but for now, this should give you a fairly solid overview of the process as it would happen this year.

The signs don’t just affect planting and harvesting, by the way.  Seasonal hunting, fishing, and building projects can be coordinated astrologically, and there are lots of healing techniques and beliefs associated with specific signs.  Maybe someday I’ll get around to writing about those, but for now I hope you’ve enjoyed this little discourse on planting by the signs.

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

Blog Post 19 – More on Folk Astrology and Gardening

I know I’ve promised a walkthrough of a sign-based planting, and that is still coming, but I thought that today it might be good to provide a couple of quotes and citations regarding just who practices this astrological agriculture.

These practices tended to be broadly found, and not relegated to just one or two American magical systems.  There are slight variances between regions, but that could also have less to do with the magical system in place and much more to do with local climate, latitude, and longitude in relation to the stars.

In the southern hills of Appalachia, one Mary “Granny” Cabe is noted to have been quite skilled with astrology and planting.  Foxfire interviewers tell how she “[p]atiently, with the use of several calendars…explained its [planting by the signs] basic principles and gave us several of the rules” (Foxfire p. 221).  She did more than describe the general system, however.  She also explained how specific plants fared in relation to astrological changes:

“’Take taters.  On th’ dark of th’ moon or th’ old of th’ moon—that’s th’ last quarter,’ she explained, ‘they make less vine; and on th’ light of th’ moon they makes more vine and less tater…Don’t plant in th’ flowers [the sign of Virgo, often seen as a virgin bearing flowers].  A plant blooms itself to death and th’ blooms falls off” (p. 221)

There were also many people in the Appalachians who didn’t believe in this method of planting.  The interviewers record that these were mostly “educated people…[with] college degrees, and held positions of great respect in the community” (p. 225).  One informant makes the excellent point that “if someone’s going to be careful enough to plant by the signs and watch and harvest the crop that carefully, then the chances are he will have a good crop, regardless” (p.225).  Still, the stories persist and the practice of planting by the signs continues in the mountains and hills around that area even now.  The Appalachian heritage blog The Blind Pig and the Acorn records its author’s attempt at sign-planting and several of his commenters speak of doing so, too.

Gerald Milnes, in his Signs, Cures, and Witchery, also discusses planting by the signs in the northern parts of Appalachia and Pennsylvania-Dutch territory:

“Astrologic traditions still exist as more than just quaint curiosities among Appalachian people.  It is noted that these practices declined within English society and in New England before the Revolution.  New England’s almanac makers were under withering attack, religious condemnation, and mockery by the mid-seventeenth century, but over three centuries later continued folk practice based on this cosmology is still easy to ascertain” (Milnes, Signs, Cures, & Witchery, p.32).

Milnes makes the case that much of this preservation of astrological folk culture had to do with the availability of almanacs (he also points out one I completely forgot to mention yesterday, but which is supposed to be excellent for New England climes:  Gruber’s).  Many of these almanacs are the same ones which helped preserve the Pow-wow magic I’ve spoken about in previous posts.

Lest you think the phenomenon of sign-planting is relegated to the Appalachian Mountains, here are a few quotes from Pennsylvania-Dutch planting lore:

“Plant peas and potatoes in the increase of the moon”
“If trees are to sprout again they should be felled at the increase of the moon”
“When sowing radish seed say: as long as my arm and as big as my ass”
-(Dorson, Buying the Wind, pp.124-125)

Okay, so that last one wasn’t really about planting by the signs, but it’s fun anyway.

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

Podcast 4 – Defining “Witches” and an Interview with Juniper and Dr. Brendan Myers

-SHOWNOTES FOR EPISODE 4-

Summary

In this show, we spend some time trying to pin down that elusive word, “witch,” and figure out just what makes a person fit that term.  Then, in the second half of the show we have an excellent pair of guests, Dr. Brendan Myers and Juniper from the Standing Stone and Garden Gate Podshow.  Plus, we have a reminder about our current weather-lore contest.

Play:

Download: New World Witchery – Episode 4

-Sources-


Websites
From our guests:
The Standing Stone and Garden Gate Podshow – The podcast for thinking pagans and working witches.
Walking the Hedge – Juniper’s excellent hedgewitchery site
Walking the Hedge Blog – The ramblings and wanderings of a Canadian hedgewitch
Dr. Brendan Myers’ website – Pagan philosophy, essays on various topics, and all around good intellectual fun.
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

Blog Post 16 – An Introduction to Pow-wow, Part III

Hi folks!  Here is the final installment in my introductory Pow-wow series.  I hope you’re enjoying them!  Now, on to the magic!

Where can I find out more about Pow-wow?

There are many phenomenal resources on this subject.  Here are some of the books I like:

The Red Church, by Chris Bilardi
American Shamans, by Jack Montgomery
Signs, Cures, & Witchery, by Gerald C. Milne
Buying the Wind, by Richard M. Dorson (chapter on “Pennsylvania Dutchmen”)

And, of course, Pow-wows; or The Long Lost Friend, by John George Hohman (also available free at sacred-texts.com).

Additionally, I like this website and its accompanying newsletter:
Three Sisters Center for the Healing Arts

There are other books and resources which I’ve encountered either by proxy or by reputation which I’d also recommend seeking out, though I cannot give a strong opinion on their validity myself, yet:

Strange Experience: The Autobiography of a Hexenmeister, by Lee R. Gandee
Hex and Spellwork, by Karl Herr
The Pennsylvania German Broadside, by Don Yoder
The Pennsylvania German Society

Some Pow-wow Charms & Proverbs

Finally, as promised, here are some Pow-wow charms you can try out yourself.  I’d love to hear how they work for you, so please feel free to leave comments or email us about your results!  Please also note that I provide these for cultural, spiritual, and magical value.  They do not replace conventional medical or legal advice; please see a professional if you have needs in those areas.

First, a few from Hohman’s book:

HOW TO BANISH THE FEVER.

Write the following words upon a paper and wrap it up in knot-grass, and then tie it upon the body of the person who has the fever:

Potmat sineat,
Potmat sineat,
Potmat sineat.

TO STOP BLEEDING.

I walk through a green forest;
There I find three wells, cool and cold;
The first is called courage,
The second is called good,
And the third is called stop the blood

TO REMOVE BRUISES AND PAINS.

Bruise, thou shalt not heat;
Bruise, thou shalt not sweat;
Bruise, thou shalt not run,
No-more than Virgin Mary shall bring forth another son.
+ + +

(The three “+” signs at the end indicate making three crosses in the air over the patient or afflicted area, also sometimes saying the three High Names of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost)

ANOTHER WAY TO STILL-BIND THIEVES.

Ye thieves, I conjure you, to be obedient like Jesus Christ, who obeyed his Heavenly Father unto the cross, and to stand without moving out of my sight, in the name of the Trinity. I command you by the power of God and the incarnation of Jesus Christ, not to move out of my sight, + + + like Jesus Christ was standing on Jordan’s stormy banks to be baptized by John. And furthermore, I conjure you, horse and rider, to stand still and not to move out of my sight, like Jesus Christ did stand when he was about to be nailed to the cross to release the fathers of the church from the bonds of hell.. Ye thieves, I bind you with the same bonds with which Jesus our Lord has bound hell; and thus ye shall be bound; + + + and the same words that bind you shall also release you.

(The conventional wisdom on releasing the thief is that the entire spell must be read backwards.  It’s nice to hold all the cards sometimes.  This charm is almost entirely lifted from entry #22 of the Romanus Buchlein, or Little Book of the Roma, a late 18th century grimoire and prayer book).

Here is a pair of charms which I am citing from Jack Montgomery’s American Shamans, but which he cites from an article entitled “Magical Medical Practice in South Carolina,” from Popular Science Monthly, 1907:

TO HEAL A SPRAIN

Christian Version

“Our Lord rode, his foal’s foot slade [slid],
Down he lighted, his foal’s foot righted,
Bone to bone,
Sinew to sinew,
Flesh to flesh,
Heal, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.  Amen”

Pagan Version

“Phol and Woden went to the wood, there was Balder’s colt his foot wrenched,
Then Sinthgunt charmed it and Sunna her sister,
Then Frua charmed it and Volla her sister, then Woden charmed it as he well could,
As well the bone-wrench,
As the blood-wrench,
Bone to bone,
Blood to blood,
Joint to joint,
As if they were glued together.”

(Montgomery, American Shamans, p. 102)

A classic Pow-wow blood-stopping charm, also from Jack Montgomery (and derived from a passage in Ezekiel, I believe):

And when I passed by thee and saw thee polluted in thine own blood, I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, Live; yea, I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, Live. (p. 253)

Here’s a more modern charm for protection during automobile travel:

“This is a written prayer that is used for protecting cars and other vehicles.  It can be simply folded and placed in the glovebox.

Our Heavenly Father, we ask this day a particular blessing.  As we take the wheel of our car, grant us safe passage through all the perils of trouble.  Shelter those who accompany us and provide us from harm by Thy mercy.  Steady our hands and quicken our eyes that we may never take another’s life.  Guide us to our destination safely, confident in the knowledge that Thy blessing be with us through darkness and light, sunshine and showers, forever and ever.  Amen.” (Bilardi, The Red Church, p. 284)

And I’ll conclude with a few proverbs from the Pennsylvania Dutch, as recorded in Buying the Wind, by Richard M. Dorson (pp.138-141).  Note that “German” here connotes the Pennsylvania-German dialect, not necessarily European German.

-German:  D’r hammer wert aus faerm ambos.
-English:  The anvil outlasts the hammer.

-German:  Waers erscht in di mil kummt grikt’s erscht gimale.
-English:  He that cometh first to the mill, grindeth first.

-German:  En blini sau finnt a alsemol en echel.
-English:  Even a blind pig will sometimes find an acorn.

I hope this series has been informative to you!  This won’t be the last time Pow-wow comes up here, of course, but I think it may be enough to get your feet wet on the subject.  If you try out any of these charms and have results to report or have any thoughts on the different folklore and opinions recorded here, I hope you will leave a comment or send an email and share them with us.

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

Blog Post 15 – An Introduction to Pow-wow, Part II

Welcome back!  Today I’m continuing with a bit more of the history of Pow-wow, as well as some of its cultural connections.  It’s a lot of information, so I’ll spare you a long introduction and get right to the point.

So why is it called “Pow-wow?”

That’s a good question.  After all, the term “powwow” is associated with Native Americans, not with Germans, right?  According to Rosemary Ellen Guiley, author of The Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft:

“The term [Pow-wowing] was derived from the settlers’ observation of Indian powwows, meetings for ceremonial or conference purposes.  Much of the Germans’ witchcraft centered around cures and healing.  The settlers enlisted the help of the Indians in finding native roots and herbs that could be used in their medicinal recipes” (p. 270)

So early on, the connection between the marginalized German settlers and the marginalized natives was established, and an exchange of information shaped the magical practices found among the settlers.  This is that distinctly American flavor I mentioned earlier—the syncretism of Old World techniques with New World resources.  I think it’s important to note that this syncretism was not done willy-nilly, but rather was born of specific needs.  Herbs were not substituted based on intuitive feelings, but based on shared botanical properties.  Hence an old-world root like mandrake might find a substitution in the form of a potato (another member of the nightshade family and one which could be used to make vegetable poppets for sympathetic magic).  Or, it might be replaced by the mayapple, due to its chemical properties (both share certain levels of toxicity which can make them psychoactive in small doses and deadly in larger ones).

Are there still Pow-wows in America?

Oh my yes.  There have been dozens of books written on the subject (many of them fairly recent, and sometimes unfortunately rather misrepresentative), and famous Pow-wows were known as little as thirty or forty years ago.  There are great resources written by fairly contemporary authors like Lee R. Gandee, Jack Montgomery, and Karl Herr, as well as some lesser-known works (such as the text by Chris Bilardi previously cited).  And, of course, Hohman’s Long Lost Friend is still available in print, too.

More than just books, though, there is a living tradition, often fairly hidden to outsiders, within various PA-Dutch communities.  Sometimes complete curing traditions are intact, sometimes only a few charms survive within a family.  Often one can find magical recipe books or almanacs like the ones circulated in the 1800’s sitting near family bibles in modern Pennsylvania-German homes.  Speaking of the Bible, that brings me to the next topic…

Is Pow-wow Christian magic?

This is a bit of a sticky wicket for a lot of folks.  Most certainly, as it is practiced now, Pow-wow is highly dependent on Judeo-Christian religion for its symbols, names of power, etc.  It has its roots in older practices, but tracing those roots is often a murky bit of business.  Rather than asking you to believe me on the subject, though, I’d like to present a few quotes from those more in the know than I am:

“Powwowing has survived into modern times.  Some of the charms and incantations used date back to the Middle Ages, probably to the time of Albertus Magnus, a magician, alchemist and prolific author whose feats were often called witchcraft.  Powwowing charms also include Kabbalistic and Biblical elements” (Guiley, The Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft, p. 270)

“The roots of Bruacherei are indeed quite long, some of which can be traced to pre-Christian Germanic heathenism.  Other roots are equally pre-Christian and stem from older forms of Judaism and the many strains of religion and medicine of the Roman Empire.  Without overreaching too much, the sometimes blurry lines between what constituted a ‘Germanic’ tribe versus a ‘Celtic’ tribe or a ‘Slavic’ tribe, make it quite possible there are Slavic and Celtic pre-Christian elements in Bruacherei.  The truly unique thing about Bruacherei is that it is a wholly Germanic synthesis of all these cultural strains.  Anyone looking for a purely heathen Germanic healing-way via Bruacherei is in for a major disappointment.  To take Bruacherei and reshape it in this manner is to make a brand-new practice out of it.  Therefore it would no longer be Bruacherei as it has been practiced for nearly 900 years and most certainly not as it has been practiced for the past two centuries in America” (Bilardi, The Red Church, p. 73)

“Once, when I showed him [famed Hex/Pow-wow Lee R. Gandee] several items I’d purchased from a mail order occult catalog, he smiled and said, ‘Do you really think that stuff will help you?  Don’t you realize by now that the magic is coming from within you and from God?  You are the catalyst!  In you, the power will either arise or fall flat.’” (Jack Montgomery, American Shamans, p. 77)

What I gather from this and other sources is that if one studies Pow-wow, one needs to be comfortable with Judeo-Christian ideas.  Note I don’t say one has to accept them all, but if learning to use a charm with the words “Jesus” or “Mary” or “Holy Ghost” in it is a problem, Pow-wow may not be the way to go.

There are definitely illustrations of pre-Christian origins for many of the modern Pow-wow charms and spells (I’ll be including one in this series to demonstrate these differences), but as it stands now, this system is tied to its centuries-old Christian heritage.  It is my opinion (and mine alone) that it is possible to work with Pow-wow without any Christian elements, but that if one does so, it is advisable to be absolutely sure that the names, prayers, charms, etc. one uses are intimately connected to their historical roots.  Using strictly Germanic spirit and deity names in this system strikes me as the only practical way to accomplish this (although I’d be willing to entertain the idea of using Native American stand-ins as well, due to the connection between the two cultures through Pow-wow).  The odd tendency in modern magic to use “correspondences” and tables of mix-and-match deities and forces seems somehow improper to me.  One wouldn’t assume that one could play the violin with a drumstick just because both are musical instruments, yet people feel absolutely no reservations about dropping an Egyptian goddess into a Germanic, post-Reformation charm.  Now, a person can play a bluegrass tune or a strain of Bach with the same bow, so I do think that once a person has mastered the basics of the instrument, the specific form and style he or she plays (or in the case of Pow-wow, the specific charms employed) can vary.  But as for outright cross-substitution between very different traditions, I don’t think that still qualifies as Pow-wow.  I suppose if one subscribes to the “all gods are one” hypothesis I might be able to understand that point of view, but that’s not a perspective I follow, so it doesn’t work for me.

All of that is a lot of typing just to say “Yes, Pow-wow is sort of Christian.  Mostly.  More or less.  But not always.  But mostly.  I think.”

That’s it for today.  I should point out that the opinion presented here is my own, and not that of the authors I cite.  Please refer to their works for their specific opinions.  And feel free to engage in a lively and civil debate if you like!  I’d love to get other perspectives!

Oh, and I promise there are some practical things coming up soon, so stick with me for those.

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

Blog Post 14 – An Introduction to Pow-wow, Part I

“Where is the doctor who has ever cured or banished the panting or palpitation of the heart, and hide-boundness? Where is the doctor who ever banished a wheal? Where is the doctor who ever banished the mother-fits? Where is the doctor that can cure mortification when it once seizes a member of the body? All these cures, and a great many more mysterious and wonderful things are contained in this book; and its author could take an oath at any time upon the fact of his having successfully applied many of the prescriptions contained herein.”  -John George Hohman, from the Introduction to POW-WOWS; OR, THE LONG LOST FRIEND

The mysterious folk magic of the Pennsylvania Dutch and their neighbors goes by many names:  Pow-wow, Braucheri, Hexerei, “trying,” etc.  Depending on who you talk to, it may be an extension of Christian prayer or faith healing, a blend of medieval Cabbala and German folk magic, an inherited family practice, a learned set of techniques, an entirely holy healing tradition, or gray-area almost-diabolical sorcery.  There are a range of individual methods to Pow-wow, including written talismans, spoken charms, herbal remedies, and calculated hand-movements.  And I’m not even going to touch the controversial concept of hex-signs on barns yet.

In this series of posts (which will probably go up over the course of the next few days), I want to provide a little bit of background on this rich and interesting magical system, with a few little charms and techniques to try for yourself.  I won’t be getting into great detail yet, as this is a system which many claim takes a lifetime to fully master, but I will be presenting a bit of the lore associated with Pow-wow and pointing you in the direction of a few really solid resources on the subject.

Where does Pow-wow come from?

Because of the syncretic nature of Pow-wow magic, it’s hard to say definitively that Pow-wow comes from one place and one place only.  Very loosely, it stems from German immigrants, but even that isn’t a clear-cut provenance.  As Chris Bilardi puts it in his braucherei text, The Red Church:

“The ‘Germany’ of that period [late 17th century] was, in fact, ‘the Germanies’ – many German principalities and duchies under the Holy Roman Emperor” (p. 41)

Bilardi goes on to point out that many Old World central and northern European cultures migrated here under the German banner, including those from modern-day Poland, Holland, and Scandinavia.  Still, many of these peoples had certain cultural commonalities.  When they came to America, many of these Germanic immigrants pursued unorthodox religious or spiritual paths.  Bilardi refers to two distinct groups of Pennsylvania Germans, the “Plain Dutch” and the “Church Dutch” (‘Dutch’ here being a corruption of the word deustche, the word for the German language).  There was strong religious diversity in the New World, including groups like the Moravians, the Brethren, the Anabaptists (now the Mennonites and the Amish), the Schwenkfelders, and the Lutherans.

In Gerald C. Milne’s text about PA-Dutch and Appalachian German magic, Signs, Cures, & Witchery, he states that, “By 1776, between 110,000 and 150,000 Germans had come to Pennsylvania, many of whom belonged to nonmainstream sects” (p. 5).  This large influx of mystically minded people resulted in a proliferation of distinctly magical practices.  For example, there were the Eckerlin brothers – white-robed Christian ascetic mystics from the late 18th century.  Milne also points out that many of the Germans arriving in America by the 18th century and beyond were well-versed in astrology, and even planted their crops ‘by the signs.’ (p. 31-33).  Old World magical practices, many inherited from grimoire traditions based on dusty tomes like The Egyptian Secrets of Albertus Magnus also came across the Atlantic.  Home remedies, simple magical charms, and astro-agricultural advice began to be collected in almanacs.  The most famous of these was Ben Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanack (sic), which held such saws as “Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.”  Milne notes:

“German-language almanacs were widely distributed on the eighteenth-century frontier.  This held secure a distinct occult-centered cosmology in the minds of early German pioneers that went hand in hand with other occult curing and healing methodologies” (p. 32).

The proliferation of these magical pamphlets and almanacs spread the central ideas of what would become known as Pow-wow around the north-central Atlantic coast, the Appalachian mountains, and inland into the frontier-lands.   One such almanac was the famous Long Lost Friend, by John George Hohman, which outlined many of the practices still used today.  I’ll have some of the charms from this book to try out a little later in the series, but for now it’s enough to know that by 1820 (the date of Hohman’s publication), this form of magic had taken on a distinctly American flavor and had become a key part of the Pennsylvania-Dutch cultural landscape.

Okay, that’s it for today.  I’ve got more coming on this topic, so be on the lookout for additional posts this week!

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

Blog Post 13 – Crown of Success

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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