on love binding spells (just gonna leave this here)

Just stumbled upon The AfroMystic’s article “4 Reasons Why ‘Binding’ a Lover to Yourself is Not Smart.” I’m glad she wrote this. Now I don’t have to. But it needs to be said. Out loud. Regularly.

Now I know not everybody sees eye-to-eye on all the finer points and nuances of potential situations where things like Binding and Intranquility and such get brought up a lot. I don’t necessarily see eye-to-eye with all of my colleagues about every single nuance of this stuff and vice versa. And I absolutely allow that not everybody from every culture, society, or country has the same autonomy, access to resources, and legal status as everybody else (and she touches on this issue as well in her article).

But if you’re a rootworker in the 2000s here, or even if you’ve just been hanging around in rootwork circles long enough, you know exactly the kind of thing she’s talking about ’cause you’ve seen it yourself. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard some version of these:

“Met him last month, want to do binding spell.”

“Takes advantage of me and never spends time with me, want to do binding spell.”

“Regularly sticks his dick in the crazy, comes home, lies about it, and gave me an STD. Want to do binding spell.”

And people get *shirty* (i.e. super offended) when you suggest they should maybe consider this spell instead:

Now don’t anybody get defensive and don’t anybody dismiss this outright. If you are considering love binding work, read this as neutrally as you can, and just check and make sure none of this applies to you. Maybe it doesn’t. If the shoe doesn’t fit, etc., never mind.

But probably 90% of the folks who’ve brought up love binding work to me in the last few decades could have stood to ask themselves these questions. Just give it a read, that’s all I’m saying!

Love Spell Course

Cat over at Cat’s Rants/Original Ninja Cat is offering her course on love spells for the first time in years. Enrollment is open now — and limited.

It covers pretty much everything you could think to ask about practical love magic over the course of 10 weeks. In addition to the weekly course material, you also get a weekly private half-hour chat session with your instructor and access to the course Discord chatroom. Bit more info about materials and access here.

Cat is a plain-talking, straight-shooting kind of worker who calls it like it is. You won’t learn a lot of airy nonsense here where you just glue a quartz crystal to your forehead, smudge your butt with sage, meditate on some kale, close your eyes, and just think positive thoughts real hard, preferably widdershins. She knows her stuff and she has 25 years of professional experience, so *she has seen it all* when it comes to love work in the conjure tradition. This won’t be a waste of time.

some blatant crap I’ve seen lately via reader tips and search terms

No, Crown of Success is not the go-to formula for stopping gossip.

No, you do not use oil to “cleanse” a mojo.

No, you do not feed a mojo with magnetic sand. You feed lodestones with magnetic sand.

No, the term “coffin nail” is not used to describe any rectangular or square iron nail.

Yes, children count as people when you’re talking about whether someone can handle your mojo bag.

Yes, someone that says a mojo bag should be buried to return it to the “mother” is importing shit from some other tradition into what they are telling you and you should be skeptical.

No, mojo bags are NOT “offerings.” They ARE charms. This is some mix-and-match shit by somebody who couldn’t even be bothered to skim Flash of the Spirit for topic sentences.

No, mojos in traditional conjure are not considered or said to have “ashe” by traditional practitioners who are not also on an ATR path. This is mixing apples and oranges in terms of culture and vocabulary. Now, it is true that lots more people probably know that word than did in the 70s or 80s, and the underlying concept is not so much the problem here, given that the word could be said to have entered common parlance in many circles. The problem is that when somebody pretends to be an authority on traditional conjure and says:

* “a mojo bag is made of ashe” or

* “we don’t use salt on altars in hoodoo” (apparently totally ignorant of the fact that salt is a traditional ingredient in plenty of conjure formulas, and too stupid to realize they contradicted themselves by advising you cleanse your candle holders with salt water – this is all shit imported from Wicca or some European tradition, y’all.)

…they are betraying themselves as not only ignorant but also unapologetic about playing some mix-and-match shit. In my book, when you misrepresent the spiritual and religious practices of others, blatantly rifle through the vocabulary and concepts of no less than half a dozen traditions in one blog post, and then try to “educate” people according to your mix and match shit, that’s called being a liar and fraud.

Look, I get search terms. I had an ebay store for ten years. I wrote some phrases for the purposes of having my stuff turn up in search results typed in by people that didn’t know what else to type besides “voodoo doll,” even though the popular conception of voodoo dolls is pretty insulting to vodoun and pretty ignorant of how doll-babies are actually used. If I had refused to put in the key terms that people use to search for things, then they would have found fake crap and only fake crap; I do have to sell stuff in order to stay in business. I have put “wicca” and “hoodoo” in the same ebay listing before – it’s called search engine optimization. I understand why it’s a necessary evil. But I then went on, in the listing, to explain that – I figure if somebody is going to find my stuff via some fuzzy or messy concept or vocab, I can at least try to ensure they get access to more accurate info after having done so. I make sure that if they bother to read the listing, they will understand that wicca and hoodoo are not interchangeable, that the common conception of voodoo dolls is pretty inaccurate, that my voodoo rosaries and oils are not traditional/historical but things I created because there is a place for them among today’s serviteurs (and the loa like them), that chicken feet usually don’t have a damn thing to do with the “voodoo” search term that brings people to the listing, etc.

I have pissed off both narrow-minded Christians AND conjure practitioners by writing about St. Clare being associated with psychic vision. The former group is offended that a saint is associated with psychic and occult stuff, the latter offended because they think I’m misrepresenting conjure by making it seem that saints are integral part to it. Sorry to both, but I didn’t invent it – saints ARE used by some (not all) traditional conjure practitioners, whether you like it or not, and St. Clare IS associated by plenty of folks with psychic vision. It’s not my fault – it’s just a simple fact.  I have pissed off followers of multiple ATRs, I’m sure, by saying that in some houses/temples, such and such orisha is sometimes associated with such and such loa. I’m not defending or even commenting on the practice (and in the description of the thing under consideration, I always explain that this is not necessarily a widespread association or even a wise one to make) – but I am reporting on *what I have seen with my own two eyes,* and sorry, but I have seen practitioners of one ATR put a statue meant to represent a spirit in another ATR on the same altar. It happens. (It probably happens a lot more in New Orleans, but you also have to realize something about the loa — they have their preferences and make them known, and most of these statues and things were made in China anyway, by people of no religion even vaguely resembling that of the person who eventually buys the statue. If Ghuede wants a plastic Wal-Mart tumbler with Halloween bats on it for the altar, or a carved skull pendant made by Buddhist monks, Ghuede gets it.)

 

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If that pisses anybody off, well, I serve Ghuede, not them. If Erzulie Freda wants a string of shiny beads that were made for another saint, spirit, or orisha, and those things are available for me to get without having to change my religion or lie, then I don’t see the problem. Erzulie Freda knows she isn’t Oshun or Babalon, so people getting upset about beads made for Oshun, or a rosary made by a Thelemite for Babalon, but sold to the public and residing on my Freda altar, can get mad if it makes them feel better. Whatever. I serve Freda, and if they did too, they’d probably chill out because they would know how Freda gets about what Freda wants 🙂

But what you don’t see me doing is trying to teach anybody about Oshun, or claim that I serve Oshun, or claim that Freda IS the Mother of Sorrows, or that Mater Dolorosa IS Freda, etc. The loa sometimes seem to be more “catholic” (see sense 2) and adaptable than many modern practitioners of ATRs tend to be 🙂 I have a twenty-plus-year relationship with Erzulie Dantor; I listen to her even when she tells me something that contradicts what somebody in another house or temple does..

BUT. When you pretend to teach people or explain things to them, and you call your shit something it is not, you suck and you deserve to get called out. If you are brazen enough to make a claim like “all good hoodoos must do [X thing that I do],” when what you do is import shit willy nilly and play mix-and-match and expound factually incorrect information, you are disgusting. If you are then so astonishingly stupid as to plagiarize and copy people who should be schooling you, well, some lawyers will eventually get involved, but what you should really be worried about is what Manman Brigitte is going to do you when you farm her out to non-vodouisants who want a charm for a court case and don’t know or care the first thing about the traditions of serving this spirit. You are likely to get schooled with a boot. You should not only be ashamed of yourself – you should be worried.

The Truth about Haunted, “Spelled,” Charmed magical items (or eBay, MST3K style)

Every once in a while a potential customer or client who is fairly new to the world of magic, conjure, spellwork etc will write me about some Haunted Fairy Djinn Thing they got on eBay from a 7th Generation Witch who has 3 dozen identical pendants, all with The World’s Most Powerful Love Spell Ever! ™ on them, sitting in some warehouse or box in her basement. They wonder if another spell will “clash” with this Haunted Fairy Djinn Thing, or if two “styles” of magic (like conjure from the Southern United States and Haunted Fairy Djinn Vampire Lover Wrangling from, er, well, eBay) will “cancel each other out,” or if the Bind Your True Love Forever wishing box they got could have turned on them and cursed them or given them bad karma.

The answer to every one of those questions is no.  There’s a fairly good chance that no spell at all was cast on any of the items you bought from such a place.  If a spell was cast, there’s a fairly good chance that it was cast by someone who knows just enough about marketing but not very much at all about spell-casting. Chances are good that the item you have is magically inert.  Even if a spell was cast on it by a knowledgeable person, if the spell was cast en masse while thirty of them were sitting on a table still with their Dollar Tree tags on them, and you order it later and it’s popped into a box and sent to you and nothing is done by you or the seller to customize the work or link it to you, then I’m not sure I’d even categorize that as you having had a spell cast for you.  Magic is not a gumball machine where you put your quarter in, turn the knob, and get your cookie-cutter result out of the slot. In any case, while I can let my imagination run really really wild and think of a couple of extreme situations in which two spells cast for the same ultimate goal might conceivably “clash” or “cancel each other out,” that kind of thing is really pretty rare.  Spells don’t “turn” on people, generally speaking, and spells don’t actually “cancel each other out,” at least not in the way that people are thinking of when they write with such a question. [1]

giza

The pyramids at Giza, where all Fairy Vampire Demon Pirate Djinn Lovers who get trapped in cheap rings made in China by coven members from Poughkeepsie apparently originate. This image is from Wikimedia Commons and is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

 

 

Anyway, a recent customer question had me looking at one of these eBay listings myself and feeling torn between chuckling and making my best Disapproving Face – the latter not because I don’t have a sense of humor but because sometimes people prey on other people who are in a really bad spot in their lives, don’t really know anything about magic that they didn’t read on eBay, and are willing to part with vast sums of money because they are desperate and believe the bullshit they read on eBay.  But read along with me, and I will provide vaguely educational, distinctly sarcastic reader responses as we go along.

Hello and welcome! Up for auction is an Authentic Blah Blah Witch Fairy Gemstone Vampire Blah Blah Thingamajig.  As you know, ABBWFGVBB Thingamajigs are very rare.  (Yes, that’s why I saw twenty of them at Dollar Tree last weekend.)

This Thingamajig is one of the most powerful Thingamjigs in the world. (According to the person writing this website copy who wants you to buy one.)

This (glitter covered magenta polyclay) Thingamajig (made in China) will work on every Djinn, Spirit, Demon, spell item, spirit item, and cursed item, from our coven or not.  (I can’t even think of anything clever to say.  I am reduced to “No it won’t.”  Unless the claim you are making is that it will brighten up the room with a sort of Kindergarten Kitsch style, and will probably keep the dust off of anything you can fit into it.  That would be true.)

Just place your item in the box and after 48 hours it will be good as new if not better then new.  (You can believe this because anything spelled so creatively and written in 24 point Papyrus typeface just *has* to be true.)

The special spells on this Thingamajig are very unique.  (As opposed to slightly unique?  clue brick: by definition, if it’s plural, it can’t be unique.  Look it up.)

This box has a cloning ability. Just put your spelled item inside and it will duplicate the spell to the non-magical item.  (Seriously, if you believe this, you need to put the credit card down and step away from the computer. Do not spend another cent on anything magic-related from anybody making claims about magical anything in their inventory. You have a LOT to learn about the principles of magic.  This is not Harry Potter or Dungeons and Dragons.  You cannot buy a wand that will do anything when you point it at someone and say “Expelliarmus,” and you cannot buy a box that allows you to cast spells by osmosis.)

I am known all over the world as one of if not the best spell caster.  (I’m so good that I can cast spells on items that enable them to exist in violation of all the principles of magic, all the suggestions of common sense, and all the teaching of history and geography. That’s why I’m casting spells a dozen at a time on cheap Chinese ceramics and pot-metal costume jewelry for $39.99 a pop. This title was awarded to me by an independent, unbiased, and expert panel consisting of my three closest friends in grade school, my cat, and a guy from Nigeria who keeps emailing me to tell me how wonderful I am, how I’m blessed, and how we are going to go into business together as soon as I can scrape up the startup money. The unfortunate side effect of my incredible magical power is that it renders spelling and grammar checking features nonfunctional on all word processing programs within a 5-mile radius.)

I have won many spell casting awards including the Golden Spell award and Spellcaster of the Year.  (And I’ve employed my spellcasting abilities to such great effect — to hide my name, location, and identity from my crazed fans out there worldwide — that everybody who hears of these world-famous awards immediately forgets that they ever heard of them, including the members of the organizations that do the awarding.  I’d name those organizations, but you’d just forget that they were world-famous before you finished reading this really long bio of me, anyway.)

I was rated the #1 Spellcaster in the world six times.  (Of course that identity protection spell means that no professional rootworker, spiritual advisor, or spellcaster can remember that such an award exists, or figure out what sort of governing body would award such a thing and by what criteria. And it means I have to keep repeating this because nobody can remember how great I am otherwise. See? I’m so good, you can’t even remember ever having heard my name before! There’s your proof!)

This Haunted Beauty and Sex Spell Celtic Bracelet will make your skin tighter and your hair and nails grow shinier and your wrinkles melt away.  (It is made with authentic Celtic nylon and authentic Celtic Tourmaline, and you know it’s truly one of a kind since the Celts wouldn’t have known tourmaline if it bit them in the ass and set their mothers on fire, since it isn’t found in Europe and wasn’t introduced until probably 1000 years after anybody stopped identifying themselves as a Celt.)

 

What every self-respecting Celtic Pagan Demon Djinn Vampire Werewolf Angel Fairy Isis Mermaid Unicorn spellcaster has hanging on her bedroom wall, right next to the batik pentacle tapestry, the Twilight poster, and the Azure Green poster depicting the Witches Alphabet.  (I stole this photo from somewhere online when I was making fun of the dominant aesthetic tendencies of certain subsets of neopagans. I wasn’t paying attention to sources so I cannot properly credit the artist – if I just ganked it, I doubt I saw an artist credited or a copyright notice, but if this is your art I will cheerfully remove it if you’d like.)

 

 

Our Haunted Goddess Erzulie Wish Box from a Voodoo Shaman is extremely rare and powerful.  (It’s so rare that not even initiated practitioners of the religion of Vodou have heard of such a thing, and it’s so powerful that it can overcome the facts that Erzulie is not a goddess and there is no such thing as a voodoo shaman.)

All you have to do is write your wish on a piece of paper and put it inside the box for 24 hours.  The Goddess Erzulie is not stingy with her gifts and will shower you with riches, love, and money. She asks nothing in return. (BWAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!  I’m sorry, I’m choking on my tea; therefore I can’t expand on how even a person with knowledge of voodoo as deep as can be gained by spending an entire grueling lunch hour in the metaphysical section of her local chain bookstore, thus absorbing the arcane wisdom of the Ancient Index of the Complete Idiot’s Guide to Voodoo, would know better than this.)

My customers are worldwide and I help many famous people all over the world with their problems.  You have nothing to lose!  (Except $49.99+shipping, your credibility as a critical thinker and person capable of smelling a scam and doing some research and fact-checking, and any shot at a decent love life if you are foolish enough to follow this seller’s directions, make imperious demands of Erzulie Freda while holding a lampwork-beaded trinket and chanting, and thinking that you can walk around calling yourself a worshipper of this goddess who “asks for nothing in return.” Now that’s a spell that *can* “backfire” on you.)

Try our potions, made in authentic sacred ancient voodoo rituals by a voodoo shaman, for instant money.  We are the only seller offering authentic voodoo potions. (I harbor a slightly cruel desire to see this person tarred, feathered, rolled in dollar bills from their ill-gotten gains, adorned with cords from which hang vials of water-purification tablets, and set loose in the communal market of Gonaives, Haiti.)

Selling some comfortably-middle-class college kid in North Carolina a $20 trinket with a non-existent penis-enlarging spell supposedly put on it is kinda sad and I can even crack a grin about it and hope the kid learns a valuable lesson for that $20.  But telling lies about Haitian religion, culture, and history in an attempt to put more cash in your pocket so you can suck up more Venti sugar free vanilla soy Peppermint White Chocolate Mocha at Starbucks while you surf the web for porn, or shoes, on your iPad in air-conditioned comfort is not funny at all. There is a toddler in Jocmel dying of diarrhea today, and a young boy, the family’s only son, dying of cholera in Gonaives.  There is a teen girl being trafficked to the Dominican Republic this week with her parent’s knowledge because her 8 siblings are literally starving to death. There’s another dying of AIDS because antiretroviral drugs are so scarce. Infants die every day because there there is no clean water in their villages.  One child out of a hundred will finish high school. So I hope every dollar you make on your authentic sacred ancient voodoo instant money potion hangs on your soul like an anvil, and I hope you choke on every sip of your fucking Starbucks until you start diverting your profit to UNICEF or the Red Cross or Fonkoze. People who have really traveled the world and spent a lifetime making study of the world’s spiritual practices, religious beliefs, and folk magic systems do not tell such egregious lies while hiding their own faces and do not exploit other religions like this.

***

ETA: While I’m at it, a pet peeve: when “spell” is used as a verb in English, it means to form words with letters (“teach the children to spell”); to explain or make understood (“he doesn’t get it – we have to spell it out for him”); to name or print the letters of in order (“reservation for Barnum – can you spell that for me?”), etc.  It does NOT mean to cast a magical spell, so when you say “this djinn vampire lover voodoo ring has been spelled just for you,” you sound like a moron.  See, English already has a verb that means “to cast a magical spell” so you really don’t need to invent one.  People who are not pretentious snake-oil salesmen might reach for the perfectly functional “enchanted,” for instance.  So when you read “I stood over the altar in my flowing velvet ceremonial robes and created these spelled rings” and “these amulets have been spelled for you,” what this person is saying is that they stood up in their polyester RenFair PJs and enunciated “R-I-N-G” and “A-M-U-L-E-T.”  … which is probably pretty close to the truth in terms of ritual efficacy. The effect of such a “spelling” is about what you’re going to get when you purchase one of the 30 available $89 Vampire Energy Spirit Blood Source with Enhanced Erotic Sex Magic keychains. But as this is the same seller who uses the phrase “the biggest majority of my customers” (as opposed to, you know, the smallest majority), and puts most of the listing in 38 point Papyrus typeface, I am only scratching the surface. There is a special place in hell for this guy, and he will merit his own post someday.

***

[1] Now, if you actually have a genuine spirit trapped in an object, which is very unwise if you didn’t do it yourself and thus know exactly what was done and how to what type of spirit (and even then it’s still very unwise to treat spirits like your slaves and trap them anywhere and keep them hanging around your living room to do your bidding), then I suppose anything is possible – something like that could conceivably “turn on you.”  That would be the pissed off spirit that you’ve trapped and decided to keep around and probably not fed and cared for correctly, and you would have cause to be concerned. But if you buy a “spelled item” like a ring on eBay for $19.99 that has a “spirit” trapped inside it, please take comfort in the fact that nothing is going to happen.  Because your naivete and blind optimism protected you.  Because you bought a ring.  That’s all you bought.  And don’t even get me started on “charging boxes,” for God’s sake.

  

Feeding spirits is always important, sometimes time-consuming, often at least slightly messy, and will almost certainly cost you more than $19.99. 

P.S. This photo is my personal property and may not be copied or used without my explicit written permission. Don’t be an idiot and go around stealing other workers’ photos. The most mediocre spiritual worker with the most basic photo editing software can slip a digital sigil or two in their work that you’d be hard pressed to counter since you’d be hard pressed to even identify it.

excerpts from an interview; frequently asked questions; about Karma Zain

I thought I’d share some excerpts from an interview I was asked to participate in recently, since I have it typed already, and since the questions that were asked are variations of questions I’ve heard plenty of times before. (This was from a university student  doing academic research in anthropology.)

Q: How did you become interested in hoodoo?

A: I grew up on the gulf coast in Alabama as one of sixteen first cousins just on one side of the family, and spent a lot of time with my large, close-knit family all over the southeast — Scots-Irish Protestants in Texas; English Episcopalians and Irish Catholics in Alabama and Louisiana with lots of intermarrying and close “social family” connections in the SW part of the state, hence aunt who teaches French, Cajun siblings-in-law, and a cousin who did her anthropology thesis on traiteurs in St. Landry parish and thereabouts; English/Spanish/Native/Mexican/who knows Catholics in Florida, mostly Pensacola; Irish and Scots-Irish Methodists and Catholics a bit further up north in Butler and Lowndes Counties, AL; and lots of folks scattered in between. We’re a huge family of storytellers who collect lore and practice scores of family traditions, and we all crisscrossed the region several times a year for birthdays, concerts, and to trade around the kids for summer vacations and holidays. My grandparents lived in a tidy but dirt-poor Mobile neighborhood just down the street from a passel of palm readers who were standing room only after church on Sundays.  My great grandmother in Pensacola lived in an immigrant neighborhood – well, Pensacola basically *was* an immigrant neighborhood – and between her church work and his work in a local deli, they knew *everybody* and got recipes and stories from everybody.

my great-great grandparents in Lowndes County, AL

So for instance, my great grandmother had a houseful of home altars with fully dressed saints statues, holy water everywhere, rosaries all the time; she went to mass every day down the street, but you have to get that Jesus and the saints were full time members of the family, not some folks you just visited at God’s house on Sunday.  This wasn’t special stuff you only did at certain times. It was all as everyday as bubblegum. When you are poor and live in the deep south and have a lot of folks around for whom folk traditions and “folk Catholicism” and folk cures and beliefs are woven into the fabric of their lives, these folk traditions and practices like hoodoo are everywhere.  Mind you, nobody called it that, and my great-grandmother might have tanned my hide if I’d equated salting the porch and sweeping after the tax man came with hoodoo. Or it’s possible the word would have been meaningless to her.

Courir de Mardi Gras in Mamou, Evangeline Parish, LA
But it was everywhere, and I was intensely interested in all these folk practices from an early age.  My mama would go down to the giant junk shop on Moffatt Road in the early 80s in Mobile, which was where most people went for lawnmower parts, used appliances, various hardware stuff, discount shoes, whatever – stuff was literally piled on top of other stuff in this space that had once been a nightclub – and she’d be looking to get the lawnmower fixed, or to get a new belt for the vacuum, and I would wander off to the counter where there were a few occult books tucked under the glass and a bunch of plaster statues and ceramic crosses and stuff, and if I stood there long enough, the owner would come by and ask if he could help me. I would tell him I wanted a bottle of Dragon’s Blood oil and he would go in the back. He’d come out 5-10 minutes later with an unlabeled bottle for me that he’d mixed up and/or poured out of a larger bottle.  My grandmother lived a block away from Professor Val, who did spiritual consultations and palm readings, and the little old neighborhood ladies would get out of church on Sunday and go straight to see Prof. Val every Sunday.
It was everywhere if you knew what you were looking at, just like all those million folk cures for taking off warts or keeping away the yellow fever with sulphur and fettidy or keeping the baby from getting colic were.  Maybe the rich folks could afford to take the baby to the doctor every time it got sick, but most folks couldn’t, and the sense of community resourcefulness and home remedies had the same kind of feeling as pragmatic spiritual practices a lot of times – maybe not everybody even believed in astrology, or even gave much thought to whether the kind of stuff they were doing at home was or was not compatible with official Sunday religion.  But even people who were a little skeptical would probably try to get the wart taken off.   So it was all around, to be absorbed – it just didn’t have a name, not in the circles I knew, not in conversation anyway.  Some people would even have those books but it wasn’t the kind of thing you really ever sat down to talk about.
back yard grotto for the Virgin Mary in Evangeline Parish, LA

Q: Is hoodoo something you believe in, or is it a nostalgic practice that you appreciate the history of?

A: I don’t think these two things are mutually exclusive, for starters.  I do truly believe in it, and I also specialize in it rather than in any other kinds or strains or traditions of folk magic or spirituality because I appreciate the history of it; it’s in my blood, it’s in the food I grew up eating, with the baby Jesus in the King Cake and the silver dime in the black eye peas at New Year’s and the gifting the frankincense, gold, and myrrh to the baby Jesus on the Epiphany.  I have studied and even been initiated into other kinds of magical or occult traditions, but I don’t even fool with much of that stuff anymore.  I gave up all the fancy robes and secret passwords and now I work with my hands and the herbs and bones again, instead of a wand and sword.  It’s just more natural to me, and easier, and much more effective, and plus my mama already grows half the herbs I need and I don’t have to go chasing down some rare expensive perfume from Timbuktu to make the stuff I need to make.

Q: So people still seek out conjure as a source of medicine today?

A: Sure.  A combination of poverty, of less access to regular sophisticated medical care, of mistrust of the medical profession in some subcultures and areas, and often simply a truly different conception of the body/mind/spirit relationship than the bio-based perspective of the medical profession all feed into this – I’m sure you know more about this than I do as an anthropology student. There’s a lot of danger in some old folk practices – my grandmother used to let us play with liquid mercury and she was more likely to treat childhood illness with “monkey blood,” aloe vera, a cup of whiskey mixed with lemon and honey, and a heating pad than she was to go stand in line at the clinic, and we just didn’t know better then.  But that’s not to say that aloe vera doesn’t heal burns, and that whiskey+honey+lemon won’t soothe a sore throat.  There’s a lot of wisdom in the old folk practices too.

Saying a rosary to St. Dymphna can actually help a mentally distressed or stressed out or anxious person, not only because it addresses their trouble in a familiar way that validates their belief system and culture of origin and makes sense to them as a whole person who is part of a kin and social network wtih certain shared beliefs and vocabulary, but also because focused, repetitive activity like that can be relaxing, can lower the blood pressure and the level of adrenaline in the body by interrupting the circuit of stress and anxiety, giving the sufferer something soothing to do that gives them some agency and sense of being in control of at least some part of the situation.
That sense of agency is something that poor folks who go to the health center or the county clinics or who are on the state medicaid or medicare type insurance get taken away from them all the time; doctors reinterpret them and reinterpret their experiences to them and translate them into numbers and statistics and organs and systems and genes.  These are the good doctors.  The bad ones treat their poor patients with a barely-disguised sneer sometimes, especially if those patients are pregnant women.  It’s demeaning and dehumanizing.  Supplementing traditional medical care with faith-based treatments that are explicable in the person’s culture of origin and treat the person holistically in terms of mind/body/spirit can be very helpful and empowering, even if you don’t have any scientific evidence that St. Dymphna helped the panic attack, or St. Peregrine helped put the cancer in remission.  Then of course there is the whole question of the inherent healing properties of so many herbs in themselves. But I am not the one to talk about herbal medicine – there are better folks out there to talk to about that.  It’s not all malarkey though.
a spiritual bath as part of a communal spiritual event in central GA

Q: Do you follow strict guidelines, or do you see hoodoo as flexible and open to innovation?

A: I’m not sure I understand this question, what you must be trying to get at by asking it.  If you mean, do I always do a money drawing spell the same way, of course not.  I think every community adds its own original components to things; as long as they emerge organically from and meet the needs of the community, I see it less as innovation and more as the adaptability that is critical to survival and that is the hallmark of any oppressed or underprivileged community.  Hoodoo isn’t about individual practitioners exactly, though of course it’s had its superstars in legend and history.  But it’s about communities and geography and local tradition.  I use red candles for St Expedite but I know of a lady near Savannah who uses pink or blue, depending on the work.  She and I come from different communities and if somebody were to sit down and really study it, they could maybe even figure out why one person from one region or with one type of ethnic background has a slightly different take on somebody from another region or ethnic background.

Another example – I don’t use mercury anymore – when I make a fixed nutmeg for a client, I might use tinfoil or even a cigarette paper or chewing gum wrapper with a shiny side instead.  Mercury is dangerous, but aluminum has enough of the same properties to substitute for some of what mercury did.  I might use other herbs or curios to make up for what aluminum can’t do.  Or, if losing a key ingredient that can’t really be replaced with anything else, then I might use a different approach or trick or curio or spell instead.  If you can’t get semen, there is no point substituting anything else and trying to do the knotted string trick to tie a man’s nature.  You just have to use a different trick.  Same with ritual disposal of spell remains.  If I still lived in New Orleans, I would probably not use as much graveyard dirt for such a variety of things as I do now, living outside Atlanta where there is plenty of it to be had and the dead are not so crowded.   Hoodoo is practical.  You have to look at what you need, waht you want, what you have, what you can get, and how you can make do.

As a professional rootworker, you also have to know your client. My 60 year old African American clients from small towns in Louisiana, or my 40 year old Catholic clients of Spanish descent from a little town in Florida – they want what they know and what they grew up with. These two come to me and not some other worker, not because I am The Best Worker Ever, or even the best at her type of case, and not because I am a certain race or not a certain race or ethnicity, and not because I am or am not a certain religion, even, maybe.  I think a lot of times, they come to me because we speak the same language and grew up eating the same food and breathing the same air and scraping the same red dirt out from under our fingernails.  They don’t want me fixing something that isn’t broken, and why would I?  A city-born worker telling her to run out to Super Target or the health food store and buy a box of fancy chinese herb tea to make a bath from isn’t going to be the worker for her.  She wants a worker who knows good and damned well the nearest Target is in Metairie and it isn’t going to have the fancy chinese tea anyway.  But because I grew up in and around small towns where stuff isn’t open 24/7 and where nobody wanted chinese tea anyway, I can tell her what to go get at the Winn Dixie that will do just as well.  Similarly, I might be way too “country,” or way too snotty about Anna Riva oils, for a client who grew up in a city where Anna Riva oils are what they had and what she has used her whole life, and who the hell do I think I am to tell her to pee in a bucket and throw some brown sugar in there instead of buying a premade, nicely scented wash that she uses and that her mother used before her?  So some of it is “fit” – a shared perspective and vocabulary and culture rather than “one true way” or “this way superior to that way no matter what.”
my great-grandmother and some of her children, Pensacola, FL
But I’m not making these changes because I am trying to be some rock star to bring innovation to the practice, or because I think you can still call it conjure if you use a rose quartz and invoke the goddess and the horned god and don’t do any Old Testament style work because you’re afraid of the law of three (I wouldn’t call that conjure).  Or whatever.  I am making the changes because they are sensible, they are in alignment with the traditional principles and theories, and they are in response to available resources and the needs of the person doing the work.  Everybody has a different potato salad recipe, but potato salad in the southeast tends to have certain traits in common, a certain framework behind it that makes it what it is, a certain point past which innovation makes it hard to call it potato salad anymore.  Same with hoodoo I think.

Q: [Referencing Zora Neale Hurston’s account of a conjure rite to dismiss an evil spirit, gathered in the Bahamas in the 30s.  It involves killing a chicken and capturing a spirit in a bottle.]  Is this a practice you are familiar with?

A: Not in US hoodoo, no.  This happened in the Bahamas, as you know, and also in the 30s.  The time and place and community and culture all matter, and while you may be able to point to some common ancestry in the family tree of this practice and the sorts of practices you’ll see in US hoodoo, that doesn’t make them interchangeable. When most folks where I grew up consider hoodoo in the US, they wouldn’t consider this hoodoo exactly.  Some folks might allow it as conjure and make a distinction between conjure and hoodoo, but I can tell you that where I grew up, and for the majority of my clients that grew up with this versus learning about it over the last few years thanks to the internet and a few books, this isn’t something any of us would do.  Maybe a modern day rootworker who practiced one of a few African Traditional Religions I can think of might do some rite like this – I’m not saying that the elements and principles aren’t explicable and even, singly, recognizable — but most rootworkers are still Christian, and most rootwork clients are still Christian too.  US hoodoo has other ways of dismissing evil spirits, not least of all because we do not live on an island and we do not have easy access to live chickens these days, in most places.  it would be needlessly complicated and needlessly expensive to do this rite in Atlanta, GA in 2010, and it would not be acceptable to the majority of my clients, were I to prescribe it, I don’t think. There are other ways of working that make more sense in this day, age, and place.

***

NB: These photographs are my own personal property from my own personal collection.  They are NOT in the public domain, they did NOT come from some random website, they are not licensed under a creative commons license, and you may NOT use them without my express written permission.

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Does anybody know how to make text wrap around images in livejournal?

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
 

Product “Instructions”: Dressing Candles, Skin Safety, Powders

I have been resisting writing this post for a long time, and I’ll tell you why. In part, it’s because there is already so much information easily available out there  that my writing anything is redundant. Furthermore, there are tons of ways to use oils, and my giving “instructions” is akin to my giving instructions on how to wash your hair: seriously, dab the oil on something. Those are the instructions.

The details are up to you, how complicated you get is up to you, what object you rub the oil on is up to you. People use oils to dress candles, amulets, charms, pakets, mojo bags, stuffed animals, talismans, jewelry, pets, their own hair: the list goes on and on. See, when people ask me for instructions, what they are actually asking for usually is a *spell,* whether they realize that’s what they’re asking for or not. And they don’t think lighting a fixed, dressed candle with intent counts as a “spell,” so they’re asking for something more complex. Well, there are thousands of those out there free for the searching, and I unfortunately just can’t give out free spell advice to all queries or I’d be out of business fast.

But lots of people ask me for instructions, and some get upset with me when I tell them that my oils don’t come with instructions. But I tell them they can visit my blog for ideas and resources. So here you go: a post on how to use condition oils.

Dressing candles

I personally use a method similar to that outlined in Henri Gamache’s Master Book of Candle Burning. Not all rootworkers do this – there is more than one way to skin a cat. But this is what I do. In this book, which you can get very inexpensively and which is a good investment if you are interested in candle-burning magic, Gamache outlines a theory of “polarity” for candles.

Imagine your candle has a North pole (the top) and a South pole (the bottom). Gamache recommends that candles be dressed by rubbing the oil from the center of the candle to the North pole, and then the center of the candle to the South pole. He writes, “the candle is never rubbed in both directions toward both poles.”

Now, here is where my methods (and the methods of some other rootworkers) change a bit. When I’m dressing a candle with oils for the purposes of drawing some influence, I rub the oil from the North pole (wicked end) to the center, so that I’m rubbing towards my body as I’m holding the candle in my hand. Then, I turn the candle so the wick is facing me, and then I rub from the end with no wick to the center. Since I”ve turned the candle, I’m still rubbing *towards* me. And I’ve gone from top to center and then bottom to center with my dressing.

When I’m dressing a candle to get rid of an influence, I reverse this process, dressing from center to wicked end, then turning the candle, and then dressing from center to non-wicked end.  Since I turn the candle, I’m always rubbing *away* from myself.

When I’m dressing a vigil or glass-encased candle, I go clockwise to draw/attract and counter-clockwise to “banish”/”get rid of”/repel.

Do you have to do it this way? No. There are other theories and other practices. But it’s what I personally do.

Some sites that discuss ways to use condition oils:

Dr. E on how to use condition oils (note that his method of dressing candles is slightly different, but equally valid)

cat yronwode at Lucky Mojo on condition oils

sources for candle-dressing philosophies at the Lucky Mojo forums (see? many ways to skin a cat)

Oils and Skin Safety – a very very very frequently asked question

I make ritual oils, not cosmetics. My products are designed for use on altar implements and talismans and the like, and to anoint objects and candles. They are not labeled or sold as cosmetics and I cannot possibly assure anyone that they won’t be allergic to any of the ingredients.

You see, there are laws about labeling cosmetics and body products and there are issues of skin safety with essential oils, as well. If you buy a condition oil or conjure formula that advertises itself as wearable/for use on skin and it is not labeled in accordance with FDA and INCI guidelines/nomenclature, then depending on how it’s made and how your seller is describing and marketing it, your seller could be headed for trouble for not abiding by the labeling laws designed to protect consumers. 

Yes, lots of people put them on their skin. Yes, it’s quite traditional to do so, and if you have a truly traditional formula, it’s unlikely to cause problems unless you have an allergy to an ingredient, because traditional dressing oils were made with dilution levels for skin safety in mind. (A lot of them were actually derived from perfume formulas to begin with.) But that doesn’t mean you should go buying hoodoo oils and wearing them as personal scents willy-nilly.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but makers of hoodoo oils have mushroomed exponentially over the last 10 years and you cannot swing a cat now without hitting somebody selling Van Van and Hot Foot. Hoodoo has gotten really trendy. But a lot of these people learned hoodoo from books and many never saw or smelled an old-school, traditional hoodoo formula made before, say, 2000 (and in some cases, they never saw or smelled one period before they started making their own).

These folks will have no idea what the old-school formulas that tended to be made at skin-safe strengths by default even smelled like. And if they bring a penchant for Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab into this with them, or for Bath and Body Works, you could be getting absolutely anything when you get that bottle. No way in hell would I slather some random oil with no ingredients list from somebody who is an unknown quantity on my body. How do I know if they even know what bergaptene is? How do I know if they made this oil formula with the usual ingredients or if they’ve innovated, and so how do I even know how to check for skin safety? Uh-uh.

This is why my candles and bath/body products that contain no artificial fragrances often do not have as strong a scent as mass-produced, widely-available products that use fragrance oils – not all essential oils are safe for you to use in the quantity I’d have to put in there in order for it to smell like an artificially fragranced item would smell. Others are safe but not affordable in that quantity, or would interfere with a candle’s ability to burn properly/safely, for example.

So don’t expect your conjure stuff to smell like perfume necessarily – if it’s made only with essential oils, it probably won’t smell like anything from Bath and Body Works. That richly scented stuff almost always uses at least some fragrance or cosmetic oils, if only to make the scent last or to make the candle “throw” the scent.

But seriously, even if you are getting oils from somebody you know is making them traditionally and who has been around a while, you still shouldn’t think of them as perfumes. You anoint with them selectively rather than spritzing them all over. And you should always do a skin test for any new bottle even if you’ve used the formula before, because like wine vintages, every “crop” of essential oils can be slightly different.

I don’t care *who* makes it. Basically, if it’s not labeled/tested as a body product, use your head before using it on your body. And please do not fall prey to the myth that “synthetics are bad for you and natural things are good for you.” That is way oversimplified. Essential oils can poison you, and you can be allergic to them. Herbs and oils are powerful and must be respected. “Natural” does not mean “hypoallergenic.” “Natural” does not mean “harmless.” Arsenic and botulinum toxin are “natural” too.

So now that I made you wade through all that, you still want to wear the dang condition oils, yeah? I’d advise you to do some research on body-safe dilution levels for essential oils. Most “make your own herbal shampoo” type sites will give rough guidelines, though they will always vary depending on the actual oils in question and your own skin sensitivity. But they’ll give you some valuable info to use going forward. Some scents you could practically bathe in and others you need to be much more careful with. It’s smart to know which are which. And you should always do a skin patch allergy test (as you would before using a hair coloring product) because new allergies can develop.

As many conjure oils contain ingredients that can cause photosensitivity, you should never slather them on skin that will be in direct sunlight. Traditional conjure oils are not used this way, anyway; they are used for anointing, not as cologne or aftershave. Anointing means, for instance, that lightly-oiled hands are applied to the crown of the head for Crown of Success anointing, or on the forehead for Consecration, or on the temples for Memory Drops, stuff like that. In other words, they are applied in small amounts to ritually significant parts of the body, by getting the oil on the hands and then using the hands to apply/anoint, in ritual settings. They are not poured onto the skin.

You definitely don’t need to use gloves to use my oils (though I would not want to leave my hands unwashed for long if I were using hot foot or hexing oils; otherwise, just keep them away from eyes, mouth, etc). I use my own hands to make all my products, and to dress my clients’ candles and amulets with, and I’ve been doing so nearly daily for many years, so I don’t make my oils with anything known to be toxic when used as directed. I just don’t make them to be cosmetics or, God forfend, personal lubricants (and I have to say so, officially, because you would not BELIEVE some of the things people do sometimes – putting hoodoo oils on body parts where the skin is *way* too sensitive – which can land you in the emergency room with a really embarrassing problem — or putting powders into people’s food and stuff, just stuff that doesn’t make any sense). I have to try to head that stuff off at the pass and make it really clear.

A good (though very general and not hard-and-fast) rule of thumb is that if it smells of citrus, you should probably keep skin dressed with it out of direct sunlight. If it smells strongly of cinnamon or spice, you should probably keep it away from sensitive areas/mucous membranes and be extra careful about the skin patch test. If it smells minty, keep it away from your mouth and your children. Cinnamon essential oil can cause chemical burns, so use on skin with extra care. Wintergreen essential oil has beneficial and therapeutic uses when used in appropriate amounts by a trained qualified practitioner, but it’s not impossible to hit toxic levels of wintergreen when you’re talking about absorption through the skin, especially if you are also using over-the-counter remedies for things like arthritis, muscle aches, and the like.

Will wearing Red Fast Luck oil on your skin burn the piss out of you, or kill you if you’ve used Icy Hot the same day? Maybe not, but why take the risk, especially if you don’t know your condition oil manufacturer to be a person who designs it specifically for dermal application? Once you start adding various sources of dermal absorption, esp. in the form of products not designed for medicinal or therapeutic dermal use, it’s pretty hard to measure the amount you’re absorbing. (For a taste of how complicated it can be to measure dermal oil absorption, have a look at this discussion which starts generally and moves on to discuss eucalyptus, pennyroyal, and wintergreen in particular).

Icy Hot was made in a lab according to standards of safety for dermal use; Fast Luck oil was not. And chances are good that your hoodoo oil supplier, like  me, is not an aromatherapist or medical herbalist. They make condition oils, not medicines. Now if you’ve got one you trust and you wear their oils, great! Good for you. I just want to encourage people to be cautious because some folks don’t actually know what they’re doing when it comes to oils and skin safety, and some aren’t aware that there are laws about this stuff that they’re breaking due to the way they advertise their products.

Powders

The point of my hoodoo powders is to let you deploy the desired formula in ways that need powder for deploying. They are designed for things like sprinkling in your target’s foot tracks or on the path they take to the parking lot so they’ll get it on their shoes, dusting an object or area where liquid dispersal would be impractical or attract too much attention, drawing sigils and symbols on flat surfaces, discreet dispersal in a larger area by blowing, leaving small discreet pinches in pockets, shoes, corners, and other appropriate places, fitting a multi-herb formula into a small space like a flat packet or toby, dusting papers or your hands before contact, things like that. It is traditional to call your target’s name, and/or murmur your petition or pray, as you deploy them. 

They will not hurt you if you put them on your skin, but they aren’t cosmetics, aren’t made in accordance with cosmetic industry guidelines for ingredients or labeling, are not talcum-based, and will be grittier/coarser than talcum-based powders.  They have actual powdered herbs in them, and if you think about it for a second you will realize that actual powdered leaves and stems often don’t make good cosmetics.

So if you are expecting a powder that is as finely ground as a cosmetic and that will make your skin really smooth, you will be disappointed with my powders. Some people do make talcum-based powders, which are quite traditional; it’s my non-talcum powders that are actually the less traditional version, but I have health reasons for not using talcum or making products with talcum. 

They also aren’t sold as “pure herbal powders.” Traditional hoodoo powders have never been 100% herbal material – that’s a thing from European traditions or 20th century innovation or something. There are reasons why they’re made like they’re made, and it’s 100% bullshit that pure herbal powders are “better” – they’re different things that do different jobs. Powder that is made only of ground-up herbs tends to be too expensive to use in the traditional ways, a lousy carrier/absorber of essential oils, and more difficult to camouflage, just for starters.

For the truly old-school and/or purists among you, I do incorporate mineral elements whenever possible even though I don’t use talcum — and yes, this is another element of hoodoo powders not having ever been 100% herbal material. Mineral ingredients are often very important to hoodoo/conjure “recipes” and for some formulas, a powder without the mineral ingredients is no longer a hoodoo formula as it has missed one of the major, critical points. This is yet another reason you need to learn the traditions before you start trying to innovate – before you have internalized the traditions, you won’t even know what all you don’t know and you might be imposing a very ill-fitting paradigm onto hoodoo products that essentially takes all the power out of them.

I usually incorporate mica powders to address necessary mineral components that would have been handled with talcum traditionally, but since these powders are *not* designed to draw attention to themselves, I don’t overdo it, and you probably won’t be able to tell just by glancing at them. But I made my changes from tradition advisedly and with care towards preserving the underlying principles of traditional conjure formulation while avoiding unnecessary health risks from talcum.

Hoodoo condition oils are never meant to be consumed, and while few people would think to eat them, they often don’t think quite enough about what they do with conjure products. Hoodoo powders are generally not designed for putting in food or drink – use powdered herbs for this, not conjure powder formulas designed for sprinkling, dusting, blowing, or drawing designs. And if you want your lover to put his or her mouth somewhere, use products that are designed for that sort of thing.  You can pray over them and add things to them, and that’s more likely to end up being fun and not involve a hospital visit than is risking using a condition oil as a personal lubricant.

Read more about powders and their history at Powders in Hoodoo: Theory, History, Contemporary Differences in Perspective and Region, aka “two rootworkers have a (polite, respectful, and interesting) argument.” Bonus history lesson on 18th century hairstyles and hygiene in the comments.

dressing novena lights

These didn’t turn out as well as I’d hoped, but we’ll see if this works.

People ask me about dressing novenas sometimes – they’ll have problems because their candles won’t burn, or they aren’t sure how much oil to use, or how much plant/herb matter, or whatever.  So I thought I’d try to show y’all what i do.  There’s more than one way to skin a cat, but this works for me.

When I’m dressing a novena light, I use a chopstick to poke three holes in the wax around the wick.  Yes, that’s a big hole.  No, it won’t go all the way to the bottom.  It’s ok.

You can’t really see all of them here, ’cause I’ve already sprinkled some herbs and oil and glitter and they are slightly obscured, but you get the idea.

After I do this, I put bits of herbs and curios into the holes.  Anything chunky or that isn’t quite a powder that needs to be added goes into the holes.  Use something to poke herbs down into the hole if they don’t want to go, or else they’ll escape when you do the next bit:  Then I drizzle some oil around the top, making sure it gets into the holes.  I then cover the surface with oil by rubbing it with my finger, clockwise or counterclockwise as appropriate for the work. 

Finally, whatever herbs are in powder, or close-to-powder, form, then get sprinkled lightly on the top of the oiled surface.  I especially like to use powdered resins when I need to add resins.  A powdered frankincense will keep your candle from hitting a lump of resin as it burns, which might go up by itself with a separate flame and/or blacken the glass.

A sprinkle of glitter – I recommend the really fine, expensive stuff instead of the chunky kindergarten stuff, if you can get it – finishes the dressing.  Do not overdo it!

See? Just a light, fairly even dusting will do ya’ right.  I probably go heavier on the oil than many folks, but if you poke holes, it shouldn’t be a problem.  My lights hardly ever drown, and don’t need a lot of poking and tending the first few days in general.  Go light on the herbs to avoid unexpected conflagrations, and invest in powdered herbs if you’re not the mortar and pestle (or coffee grinder) type, or if you need to use a lot of woody stuff like John the Conqueror root, which you’re better off hitting with a hammer than trying to powder by hand.

Sometimes wicks are bad, or there are air pockets or problems within the candle itself – these novena candles are mass produced – I don’t pour my own.  But if you poke holes and avoid dropping huge chunks of woody herbs and resins into your candle, you should have nice, clean-burning dressed novena lights.  (Sometime when I have a chance I’ll explain how oil prices interfered with etymology, and why novena lights, which ought to burn for nine days, usually only burn for about 5 in this day and age.  I’m conflating novenas and 7 day candles here, not because I’m not aware of the difference – or what differences there used to be – but because for the purposes of this post, it doesn’t really matter).

What if you need to fix a candle that is not made of the soft wax novenas are usually made of, but is made of harder paraffin?  The Ninja Cat shows you one way here.

Happy hoodooing!

FAQs – spellbooks? using oils? and how long will candles take to work?

Q: A customer asks how long a candle will take to work, how to use the oil s/he bought, and whether a spellbook is necessary to do hoodoo.

A: There is no way I can answer a question about how long a candle is going to take to work – it depends on the situation. If you are lighting a single votive candle for a million dollar lottery win, I’d be pretty surprised if it ever worked. If you are lighting it as part of a larger and continuing working to improve your business, you should generally see some signs of positive movement within a month or so if the spellwork you’re doing is going to work, or else you ought to adjust the way you’re working or get a reading.  A sign might be an omen, or just an increase in foot traffic even if you haven’t seen the sales at the level you like yet, or an offer from somewhere for some good word of mouth or low-cost advertising – some sign that things are moving in the desired direction.  (See the comments section for some sage words: it’s probably not going to be the hand of God writing a message to you in the fog of your bathroom mirror.  If that happens, please call me.  I would like to hire you.) 

If you see nothing, it’s time to adjust fire. If you’re burning candles to change a very longstanding situation, though, or work towards something huge like the sale of a home, a month just might not be long enough. There are too many variables in anybody’s case for anybody to be able to tell you how long a candle burning will take to work, or even if it will. Spellwork just doesn’t work like that, and you’ll probably find that many rootworkers will say they do their work but are always careful to phrase things “if it be God’s will.” 

If all you’ve done is have a light set for you, and you and your worker have not gone over your situation and how it got the way it got in any depth, and/or your worker has not read on the situation for you, then a few words of caution may be order:

“How long will this candle take to work” is a nearly impossible question for me to answer before the candle burns, without having done a reading for you and without having any background on how things got like this and without knowing what other spellwork you are doing.  A one day light setting that burns for a few hours is not going to change a long-standing situation all that much by itself, in many cases, and certainly not quickly.  Most of my clients who order one day taper or votive settings do so to have them set three times a week for several weeks running, on a honey jar or sour jar, or else to be offered as thanks  to God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, saints, angels, spirits, etc. for favors granted.  One-day light settings (or, more often, vigil lights) are often used as backup work or kick-starts to other types of spellwork being done by the client, or perhaps spiritual baths being done by the client, as the rootworker “backs up” the work or baths on his or her altars. 

However, keep in mind that candle burning spells often report on themselves and give you information about what you can expect; any indications like this that come through in the burning would be reported on upon its completion.  So the candle both influences the situation AND reports on the situation.  Here’s some description from one of my eBay listings:

The burning candle will be “read” and reported on via a process known as ceromancy. 

What the heck is ceromancy?

When rootworkers and spirit workers burn candles for client petitions, we pay attention to how the candle burns.  Does it burn faster than usual?  Does it sputter?  What do the shapes in the wax tell us?  Does the flame blacken the glass?  These signs tell us something about how the work is going to go and what conditions are surrounding the situation.  Ceromancy is the reading of the wax, and by extension, of the process of the candle-burning itself.

This listing is three-part.

Step one: Order your candle burning service.  You must include your name and DOB and at least a few words about the situation you would like a candle burned for, so I know how to make the name papers or petition, which colors to choose and which oils and herbs to use to anoint the candle, and what to watch for.  Your candle is dressed with appropriate oils and herbs, blessed, and burned on the appropriate altar.

Please allow me to select your candle color and/or type in consultation with you for appropriate saints, specific tricks, etc as I work within the traditions of Southern-style conjure and rootwork; color correspondences from other traditions, such as Wicca, often do not apply.  Some typical options:

  • St. Joseph candle for things relating to the home
  • St. Expedite candle for luck in a hurry
  • Five Finger Grass candle for success in anything you do with your hands
  • Uncrossing candle for removal of negative junk in your life
  • Money Drawing candle for, well, money drawing
  • Road Opener candle for removing obstacles

Step two: Your candle burns.  I read the burning.  The commercially available seven day candles typically burn for 5-7 days but may burn longer or shorter.

Step three: I send you an email report of observations and a photo of your light in progress, after ritually disposing of your spell remains in an appropriate manner.  

Here’s what a candle burning service is good for:

– attracting love, luck, money, business, friendship, etc into your life
– banishing unwanted influences
– working to get rid of troublesome people
– dedicating a new resolution and blessing it (such as the commencement of a new job or diet program)
– blessing for new home or baby
– attracting
– calling on the aid of a saint or spirit

Here’s what a report might indicate:

– working and situation are favorable
– further work is advised
– there is competition or spiritual interference
– one person is more interested than the other in reconciliation
– results will be quicker than anticipated

Here is what a candle wax reading is NOT going to tell you:

– on what date will I meet the person of my dreams?
– what color hair will my next lover have?
– what kind of car should I buy?
– should i take job x or y?

Often a light setting will indicate that more work is advised, though just as often it will indicate favorable influences.  This is NOT a scam and I will never send you your report with a note that says “You are cursed miserably; you must pay me a thousand dollars to have your aura cleansed.”  (You should run away from anybody who who responds like that.)                                                                                                       

THIS SERVICE BOTH CALLS WHAT YOU DESIRE INTO A SITUATION *AND* REPORTS ON THE INFLUENCES SURROUNDING THAT CALLING.  However, it is first and foremost a candle spell; if you are seeking in-depth information on your situation, you will want to book a reading or consultation instead of this service, or in addition to this service.  The candle wax reading reports on the present and future of the situation for which the candle is being burned, and it reports on its own success and/or any obstacles it encounters in the process.

ETA: the Ninja Cat has a post talking about signs that is well worth a read.  Scroll down to the “let the sign find them” part.

Regarding how to use a product: 

I don’t send instructions for anything that doesn’t say it comes with instructions (and that’s mostly just bath salts, as lighting a candle is fairly self-explanatory, but taking a spiritual bath isn’t). There are as many ways to use these items as there are people using them.

For candles, generally people carve their names and petitions on them, unless they set them on photos or name papers, or unless they affix photos to the candle itself. But beyond that – fancy altars, no altars, saints, no saints, powders, no powders, one day burn right through, burn a bit for seven days – the possibilities are nearly endless. My supplies are building blocks, but the architectural plans are yours.  I am always happy to comment briefly on any plan you have for a spell that you want my feedback on; if you bring me an idea and ask for feedback, I can probably answer.  If you write me asking me to give you a spell, you’re probably going to be disappointed.  Even when I do give “instructions,” that terminology is a bit misleading because it implies a “one correct way to do things.”  So I think of these “instructions” more as “suggestions” than “instructions” in the majority of cases. 

Regarding books:

No book is necessary. Rootwork is not a bookbound tradition but an oral tradition (that doesn’t mean nobody read or reads books, it just means that this is not your whole “passed down the grimoire full of sigils that must be drawn just so and rhymes that must be said just right” tradition). The book you are most likely to find an old time rootworker using most often is the Bible.

On graveyard dirt, “sinners,” and working with the dead

I’m on a list dedicated to discussion of the Hyatt material, and there’s been a thread with people opining on what one informant meant by getting dirt "from the grave of a sinner."  Some believe this is shorthand for a murderer, others that it could be anyone who lived rough and probably died that way.  Some have chimed in with questions about just what the relationship between the living and the dead is when you are getting and using graveyard dirt.  I chimed in with some personal experience that I thought I would share here for a perspective on that relationship.

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I would just like to add a bit of personal experience here. My "uncle" (a more complicated blood relationship than this, but we called him Uncle when he was living) was clearly a sinner. He was considered such by the family, and by the community, and by himself. The family was Catholic — he was an unrepentant womanizer, drinker, reprobate, and layabout. (He’s buried in Pensacola and spent some time in Jacksonville, which is the location of the original post’s informant, just for giggles).

Now he never killed anybody, but he can be counted on for mischief, particularly if the mischief involves married couples or causing damage to someone’s home (he is especially good at making electrical systems go haywire). He may have changed his mind about some things post-death — I was a child when he died, so I can’t really say much except what I heard and what little I remember. But in working with him (and by that I mean his graveyard dirt), what I learned was two things. One is that he
wasn’t always like this, all unreliable and kind of famous for going as the wind blew. He got messed up in the spirit while he was living, somehow. From piecing together family stories I think it was in WWII. I know he spent a scary time alone or isolated and that he had to swim while he was hurt. He came back from the military and he never was the same. I didn’t know this when I started working with him, and I can’t prove it, but I *know* it.

Another thing is that there is some stuff I might ask some Random Non-Murdering Carouser to help me with, but won’t ask Uncle, because he won’t do it. That doesn’t mean he won’t help at all, just that he’s got a different perspective now — and heck, maybe he’s looking out for me, who knows. I"m saying all this personal stuff to say, that imo, it’s about the relationship, and about listening and paying attention, not about sending some zombie or dog after a job you have for it. I could just as easily file Uncle under "the grave of a soldier" as "the grave of a sinner," and in fact there are some rumors about some fights he got in that had really bad consequences for the other party. But he isn’t just a soldier OR a sinner; he’s him. And I think if you’re working with graveyard dirt, what you might ought to give some attention to is the fact that you’re working with *somebody,* and that somebody is not some mindless jarred commodity to let out and seal back up.

So this makes me think about the kind of train of thought that would be behind an instruction like "go get dirt from the grave of a sinner." This isn’t "end up in a city you never been before and get some random dirt." This is "go down and get some dirt from old Joe Smith, you know, that one what died when his wife’s lover shot him up." I think it’s safe to presume that many of these informants would know the circumstances of death of at least some of the folks that had been laid to rest in the last few years, or at least would have heard some stories, and in many cases may have had a family link or even a personal relationship with the deceased. So I think there is something to considering just what KIND of sinner you’re talking about, and something to considering just WHO it is, finally, you’re talking about working with. If you don’t know from your own or neighborhood memories just who is buried in your town, it’s probably a good idea to go "meet and greet" before taking up any work. I know I’m not the first one to say this, and [list owner] just said something similar probably better than me, but it
bears reiterating — pulling this stuff out of the cultural context it’s embedded in and working it from an "alien" perspective is a really bad idea, especially for the "big guns" stuff. I wouldn’t dream of working with graveyard dirt from someone not blood related to me until after I had crossed a few familial and personal bridges with the dead. Just my three copper cents.

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FYI, this thread began discussing this informant’s material: [Jacksonville, FL; Informant #598; Cylinders 771:2-776:1]