Cat doesn’t want me hijacking her post any more, I’m sure, since it’s not actually about the history of powders, but this has been on my mind for some time now, and her post just gave me the excuse to finally write about it. You’ll have to read this to understand the conversation.
Ok, I posted originally to make this linked argument: Talc is not necessarily cheap filler, pure herbs are not necessarily better, talc and other mineral bases in powder are deeply traditional hoodoo whereas pure herbal powders are not, and there are several reasons other than "cheap filler" for using non-herbal bases. You have swayed me somewhat on point 2 and not at all on the other points 🙂
To point 2: you seem to be saying that if one can get ahold of pure herbal powder, there are both health-related and magical reasons for preferring it. I don’t disagree, except in cases where mineral additions are not magically inert. I personally believe that talc was likely, in some strands of practice, originally a substitution for African-rooted practices involving white minerals that were not easily available in new cultural and geographical contexts, but I also concede that whatever active and conscious connection may have been there at one point has pretty much been lost over the generations. Your use of the word "anymore" won you big points in that round 🙂 ("talcum is a later inclusion, and one that I feel does not fit anymore").
All the stuff you say about health, etc is true, but has no bearing on my primary claim, which is that talc is not necessarily a cheap filler. I don’t use talc myself for precisely those health reasons. Furthermore, I think it’s worth noting that making real talc-based sachet powders is actually a very expensive and time consuming process, assuming the product contains real herbs and essential oils and not just fragrance. It’s much, much easier to use plain old powdered herbs, even if you’re powdering them yourself (and backing over your J the C root with a car before taking a hammer to it, ’cause you can’t powder that shit with a coffee grinder). Manufacturers who make talc-based powders (with real herbs and oils) do so because of long tradition and customer expectations, not because it’s easier and cheaper.
I am also, personally, severely anti-talc. I do not use it and I will not make it, for many of the reasons you list. You don’t have to defend the stance of being severely anti-talc to me. I’m not arguing against it nor trying to change your mind. I just felt obligated as a rootworker, born and raised in the South, whose clientele includes a significant number of older people born and raised in the South, to raise some objections to what I saw as some of the underlying premises floating around your post – not because I think you’re wrong/evil/bad/etc, nor because I think you’re trying to rewrite tradition based on purely personal whim, but because I get a lot of client and reader questions from folks who want to toss out tradition without examining it, and along the way manage to be very insensitive, ignorant, dismissive, and finally deeply disrespectful of the very culture and the very people that have kept these traditions alive. When I get people saying "but pure herbal powders are better," the implicit or not-so-implicit accompanying verbiage sometimes gets close to "and people who use talc-based powders (or whatever – it’s not just powders I get this about) are being tricked/are benighted/are not intelligent enough to know better or ask for any better."
I am NOT saying you said that or that you implied it. But I feel very strongly that changes to tradition – and I hold again that pure herbal hoodoo powders with no mineral element whatsoever are extremely rare prior to the 60s (including prior to the drugstore era) and thus are a change to tradition – should be interrogated and the theories and wherefores understood. That’s really all I’m saying. You say that there are sometimes good reasons to change tradition, citing copper sulphate (old-time bluing. copper nitrate is a completely different chemical, though it’s also blue). I do not disagree. But that does not invalidate my major claim.
I think you’re really onto something with the regional thing, too. The first few years I was making hoodoo products, nobody ever ordered my powders. People who were not from the South had little to no idea what they were for and had no need for them in their regular spellwork. People who were from the South didn’t like them because they weren’t talc-based, and thus they were grittier (you can make a fine powder with an orris root base, a very fine one, and it has the added bonus of being a magical ingredient in its own right, but it doesn’t do the same job as talc as an item to be worn on the body. It will absorb some oil but will never help with "lubricating" the surface of the skin in the same way that talc does – because it’s not a mineral). In Southern rootwork, sachet powders were very often *worn on the body.* Wearing pure herbal matter on the body is preposterous if you live in the South – in an hour you will look like somebody made dumplings under your chin and armpits.
Does that mean everybody should use talc-based stuff? Nope. But sachet powders are the way they are for more than one reason, is all I’m saying, and I think you’re right that some of that is hard to really grok if the regional and cultural variations are big enough. "If we have the technology to omit it, then why not omit it?" Ok, no argument there, as I mentioned at the beginning. But that isn’t evidence to support the claim that talc is cheap filler – it’s just evidence to support the claim that it should be omitted if possible, the latter of which I am not going to argue against.
Re. colored talc-base being a mail-order/cosmetic industry addition, sure, no argument. But that does not invalidate my major point. Pure herbal matter stronger? Well, that depends on one’s theory of powders. Within a certain cultural milieu, no, they are not stronger. They are *different,* and they are for different things. If you use powders mostly for altar work and sneaky deployment, they’re probably *better* for your uses. But I have had to "educate" quite a few newcomers to hoodoo who tell me they want powders made to order because pure herbal powders are "stronger," and they don’t want filler, and I have to find a way to politely tell them that they don’t get to rewrite generations of hoodoo tradition because they are comparing apples and oranges. A mineral base in hoodoo powders is deeply traditional and has much more going on than "cheap filler." And even a non-mineral, other-than-leafy-matter-derived base has many reasons besides cheap filler. Are talc powders a "later invention" than non-talc powders? Yes. But there is no "pure origin" to which we can return to find the organic, unadulterated Ur-sachet powder (foot track powders are a different class – more below). Are the uses of talc-based powders all uses that are still relevant or even desired by many modern practitioners? Nope. But that doesn’t change my main argument.
Finally, and this could have its own post, foot-track type powders and sachet-type powders are really not even coming from the same place, and the principles of combination are not the same. Foot-track type powders pre-date sachet powders as they’re currently used by a long, long, long time. I would argue that before there was Pryor’s ™ hot foot powder, there was parched foot track and manure. But before there was drugstore Love Me powder, there was nothing (powder-wise). It didn’t replace anything – *as a standalone powder item.* It’s its own thing. So absolutely no argument against your statement about talc being "later" – but also not germane to my original claim. "ashes and dirts and things" were indeed the original powders. And the original powders were not deliberately worn by people wanting to draw a new lover. Is the distinction I’m trying to make even making sense? I’m up past my bedtime, sorry 🙂
"If we want to be uber-super-traditional, why not go back to the days when we didn’t use talc at all?" Then we would be going back to days when powders weren’t often knowingly applied to the body for all the reasons they are now applied to the body. We’d be going back to a day when powders did a different job, in general. That’s all I’m saying. Talc is relatively new, compared to pepper and manure and foot-tracks, but so is Black and White ointment, Florida Water, two-dollar bills, and my great-grandmother. I’m not saying things don’t change over time and that talc’s inclusion was not one of those things. I’m also not saying that maybe the sensible next change for people who use powders like you do is in fact to move away from any base at all, to pure herbs. All I’m saying, I guess, is that it’s a hell of a lot more complicated than "cheap filler," and I feel a sort of – I guess moral! — obligation to explain why I say this – not because I have an axe to grind with you in any way, shape, or form, but because people without your understanding of the social and cultural history of hoodoo can draw some pretty ignorant and disrespectful conclusions from the plain statement "talc is cheap filler."
Now I will shut up 🙂 Thank you for a provocative and engaging discussion! I’m sorry for hijacking your post with a discussion I think you wanted to end, but aside from the "moral" considerations :-), this has to do with ritual deployment as well, I think. The more people understand about *why* things are the way they are, the more sensible their proposed changes and alterations will be, know what I mean? Need to dust your lover with something that looks like a cosmetic and hate talc? Orris root powder will do the job as 1. a base, 2. a stabilizer for your essential oils so they will last when kept in a cosmetics container, and 3. still be in line with "hoodoo theory." Need to disguise the tell-tale color of goofer dust? Mix it with local dirt. It will do its job and still be in line with "hoodoo theory." I am absolutely not arguing that we should cling desperately to things simply for the sake of clinging, even if technology, science, the internet, coffee grinders, whatever have given us better, more efficient, or healthier ways to do things. I’m just arguing for understanding the wherefores before changing stuff, is all. Overall, I think I agree that the days of talc are waning. Most of my customers that prefer it have grandchildren who do not, and the "incoming generation" is going to make its own changes, as it always does. Nighty-night 🙂