recommended reading

If you haven’t tripped over New World Witchery in your internet travels yet, head on over and take a look. They have posts and podcasts on American folk magic, witchcraft, herbs, minerals, curios, various strains of conjuring, folklore, book reviews and recs, and even interviews with contemporary practitioners of good old American folk magic.

This is a very well-written site – the prose is lucid and easy to understand, and the owners, Cory and Laine, know their stuff and explore genuinely interesting topics without just copying-and-pasting the work of others.  They are synthesizing their understanding and their interest in whatever topic they write on instead of just throwing loosely-connected collections of links out there.  The posts are educational, and the design is easy on the eyes with just the right amount of visual interest in the form of photographs of herbs and conjure goodies. 

My favorite thing about their approach to the blog and, I gather, to their approach to their own study as well, is that they combine first-hand knowledge, experience, and practice with a solid, logical, and researched historical and traditional understanding of what they are doing and talking about.  Far too many lists and blogs out there say, "Here’s a spell for [whatever,]" or, "here’s how to make [whatever formula,]" without giving any indication of where the info came from (and I’m not talking about people who are giving their own personal recipes that come from their own education and practice). I especially hate sites that toss a bunch of spells from *different* traditions up without making any distinction between things from African-American conjure tradition, things from Santeria, things from their Egyptian next door neighbor, things copied out of a library book, and things Scott Cunningham said.  Removing spells and recipes and discussions from their context is no way to learn and no way to teach.  The study of folk magic has to involve, well, the "folk."  Or it’s just going through the motions.

As those with an interest in folk traditions know, the source of information is important – not only because not all sources are equally reliable (Herman Slater, anyone?) but also because regional variations and the informant’s cultural and religious background will often inform if not overtly shape their practice and their spiritual framework.  I may not be able to tell you exactly what a worker puts in her Fast Luck oil just because I know where she’s from, but if she burns blue candles for St. Expedite I have a pretty good idea of where she, or her teacher, or her teacher’s teacher, is from or lived for a while.  If I meet somebody who uses crawfish instead of crabs in their Reversing workings, it’s a pretty good bet I have a window into some of the cultural influences that shaped their practice, and that in turn helps me understand their own unique stuff they bring to their work.  If I meet a client who tells me his daddy used to talk about putting up blue glass bottles in the window to keep away haints, it’s a pretty good bet that his daddy didn’t grow up in Texas even though that’s where he lives now. 

That’s the kind of stuff I’m talking about – not just collecting recipes and saying "Ok, now I know how to do X, time to move on," but instead paying attention to the sources of the information, to the people it comes from and the cultures *they* come from, to what shapes it and influences its changes over time, what regional influences are at work …. paying attention to all this stuff is how you *really* learn folk magic – NOT by weaseling recipes out of people or by buying an encyclopedia of spells.

And then there is the scholarly apparatus side of things – if you’re going to make a claim that "so and so is done because of a tradition that came to Tennessee via Ireland," but you don’t tell anybody how you got that info or why your claim should be believed, but rather expect everybody to say "Oooh, yeah, they said it so it must be true – who are they? No idea. But they insist we can trust them because they are The Voodoo Love Doctor!!!11OMG" — then you’re just clogging the already crowded airwaves in my opinion.  The internet doesn’t need any more "experts" who "know it all" and "hold forth" from on high about their knowledge without engaging the reality that that knowledge came from somewhere and is discussable and accessible from a context other than "my super secret grimoire that has been passed down in my family for 1200 years."  Pointing towards your sources doesn’t make you less knowledgeable or less competent or less of an authority – it makes you less of a pompous windbag and less of a lousy resource. 

As I said in the comments of one of Cory and Laine’s posts:

I love to see folks who back their claims up with logic and reputable references, rather than just claiming “it’s so because I say so.” I’m really impressed with the way y’all document your stuff, and this makes your blog a really great resource for those who want to learn. I get so many clients who say “I read at such and such a site that you can’t do X without Y,” or “so and so said X can only be used for male/female work, not work for gay couples,” or whatever else. It’s nice when people explain the theory and thinking behind what they say, so that those learning can begin to glimpse the “why” of the pronouncements they read, and know where to go to learn more. Keep up the great work!

So add these guys to your blogroll, and I’ll get off my soapbox now 🙂

Happy hoodooing!

~ Karma Zain

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