When Angels Are Saints and Saints Are Angels

Seraphin Station

I very frequently see folks online say things like this: “Though technically speaking Archangel Michael is not a Saint [sic], sometimes this entity is venerated as one.”

I’m not linking to the source for that because my goal is not to single anyone out for being wrong. Thing is, this is not an uncommon misperception. It’s pretty easy to find multiple websites and blogs that say something to this effect – even those of folks who are otherwise pretty well-versed in folk religion and/or folk magic. If this were just a couple of blogs and not a pretty widespread point of confusion and error, I wouldn’t be going to the trouble to write about it.

I get that not everybody comes from a Catholic background. But if you’re going to write about saints in the context of hoodoo and folk religion, you should do your research before you make assertions…

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An Aggressive Stop Gossip Spell (and some “hoodoo theory”)

This is a lot more trouble than you will usually need to go to.  But I will often advise clients that a formula is warranted in their case, and that candle work is warranted in their case, and so they can work by dressing a candle with oil.  They will often then write back and say "but what spell do I do," thinking, I suppose, that setting a dressed light is not a spell.

Setting a dressed light is a spell.  And setting a dressed light can be extremely effective.  Conjure is not like some ceremonial magic where you have to do a series of complicated actions and speak other languages and do things on a certain day at a certain time.  Just light the darned candle and pray your butt off, seriously.  Some folks make it harder than it has to be.  If you want to use moon phases and days of the week and chants that rhyme, fine, but you don't have to, and not every professional worker does.

But if you want a more complicated spell with multiple moving parts, here's one. Don't ask me what to do if you can't get or don't want to work with animal parts – my advice will be "you aren't trying hard enough" for the first objection and "well, then, light a dressed candle" or "do a google search for stop gossip hoodoo" for the second.  This is "bigger guns" than most cases need, but I figured I'd type it up since I performed it for a client recently, and I feel like I owe a non-complaining, informative post after all that lecturing I was doing 🙂

This is not the Court Case Beef Tongue spell, so won't worry about how you're going to tie the tongue back together after you shred it to pieces, or if you want to eat it after you put alum on it – you aren't going to do any of this stuff.

You need:

  • appropriate oil like Tapa Boca, Shut Your Mouth, STFU, Binding, etc. (not all Stop Gossip oils are suitable) – see below)*
  • target's personal concern, photo, and/or name paper
  • black candle and holder if needed
  • airline-sized bottle of whiskey
  • alum or aloes powder
  • red pepper flakes or hot sauce
  • knotgrass or devil's shoe string
  • some worms, or if you can manage it and stand it, some maggots or flesh-eating beetles
  • a beef tongue (larger), sheep tongue (smaller), or other animal tongue (ox tongue would work)
  • a razor blade, box cutter, or extremely sharp knife
  • a dish or saucer large enough to hold the tongue

Dress your candle.  Light your dressed candle.  (You can carve a petition on it ahead of time if you like – the emphasis should be on the slanderer rather than you. If you want to work a "protect me" petition, see below, at the end of this post. This is not a "protect me" spell.) 

As you set the candle in the holder, say:
"See what they spew from their mouths–they spew out swords from their lips, and they say, "Who can hear us?"" 

Light the candle and say:
"I can hear you, and the Lord God my protector can hear you.  I can see you, and your heart is transparent to me."

Set the personal concerns in the dish or saucer.  Say:
"I see who devises evil plans in their hearts and stirs up war every day."

Baptize the tongue, using the whiskey to sprinkle it and baptize it in the name of your target.  (Don't be a baby – if you are afraid to touch it, you shouldn't be doing this spell.)  Hold it in your hand, sprinkle it with whiskey with your other hand, and baptize it "name", saying "In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. [Name] I call you, [name] you are to me, and what I tell you, you, [name,] will do."

Lay the tongue in the dish atop the concerns and douse it liberally with whiskey.  Say "No one who practices deceit will dwell in my house; no one who speaks falsely will stand in my presence."

Take your blade and make slow, deep, deliberate, precise cuts along the length of the tongue. You can match up a cut for each sentence or phrase below, or you can just slowly recite the whole while cutting.  (If you think you need or want more things to say, consult Psalm 37 and Psalm 35 for ideas; just about every phrase in this spell comes from the Bible and most from the Psalms – the Bible contains some of the more ancient and powerful curses that have been preserved in writing.  Just don't choose passages that are about the Lord as shepherd for this spell – you want good old-fashioned Old Testament smiting here).

"I am in the midst of lions; I lie among ravenous beasts–men whose teeth are spears and arrows, whose tongues are sharp swords. Not a word from their mouths can be trusted; their hearts are filled with destruction.  I destroy their iniquity.  I seize the weapon of my enemy.  Your throat is an open grave; with your tongue you speak deceit. You use your mouth for evil and harness your tongue for lies. But I see through your lies, and the Lord God my protector sees through your lies.  Your tongue plots destruction; it is like the sharpest razor, you who practice deceit.  I curse the whisperer and deceiver, for you have destroyed many who were at peace."

At this point you should have a whole bunch of long, deep slits in the tongue.  It's ok if it is still mostly held together and just looks shredded – it's also ok if you have cut clean through and you have more than one piece now.  (This may depend on the tongue you have and your cutting implement, in other words – a box cutter will not do a quick, clean job on a six-pound cow's tongue.  But it doesn't have to be "just so" – it just needs to be cut up well and good so it would be useless as a muscle.)

Take your herbs and sprinkle them liberally all over the tongue. If you have done the job right, you won't even have to try to get them into the cuts and slits, but you aren't aiming just for the cuts and slits – get your herbs all over it.  As you are sprinkling, say:

"Now I am the sharpest razor, because I am able to cut all evildoers away from me.  I am the strongest sword, because I remove all liars from my presence, and the Lord God my protector punishes your iniquity.  Each day you did unrighteousness with your tongue and were greedy for the blood of the innocent. Now you are dumb and wounded by your own sins.  You pay with your body the recompense for the evil deeds you worked with your tongue." 

Sprinkle the worms or other critters on the tongue, saying:
"Worms shall chew you.  Your tongue is burst open, your teeth divided, your jaws split apart, your throat torn open in the grave that it has become through your deeds.  Your sinews are broken and your tongue is shredded by the worms that thirst for your blood."

Disposal depends on a few factors.  I am a big fan of the old-fashioned method of leaving the ritual remains on the target's property, in which case I might just leave the entire saucer on their doorstep or under their porch, or maybe under a bush in their yard, or I might skip the saucer and hide the tongue in a tree on the property (in which case I might pin or nail any papers or concerns to the tongue first).  If this might get you arrested, however, you can bury it in a cemetery or in the woods (and even do a little funeral ceremony over it – if you want to get fancy, and you are seriously okay with killing work, you can even do a Vigil for the Dead prior to this. Again, this is totally beyond what most cases call for and is not going to be justified in every case – I'm describing a case that was far more serious than usual. The worm thing makes most sense in these cases, since burial enacts the retribution you are describing in the spoken part of the spell. Yes, worms will find it on their own eventually if you bury it, but I wouldn't skip that part just because it required a trip to a specialty pet shop if I were a city-dweller).

Alternately, the more neutral disposal option would be at a crossroads.

Even when work like this is justified, spiritual cleansing afterwards is still recommended.

* I personally advise starting with Stop Gossip work before going as far as a spell like this – mojos, sprinkling powders around your workplace and bathing with Stop Gossip bath, etc.  Even if you do resort to this spell, it's a good idea to pair this work with a protective bath or mojo for yourself, like Stop Gossip.  The difference is that the target for the above spell is the gossiper, while the target for a Stop Gossip bath or mojo is you – you are applying protective elements to yourself in the case of a bath, and those ingredients are designed to get gossip to bounce or slide off you when you carry the bag or bathe in the mixture.  So needless to say, the ingredients for this spell and for a Stop Gossip mojo or bath are not entirely the same. 

Here you are not using slippery elm bark or the like because it's not a protective spell to guard you – it's an active, destructive spell to stop a gossiper. It's presumably justified, and you are presumably free from the sin of slander yourself (if you're not, then don't tempt fate by asking God to smite your slanderer), but you aren't working on yourself here.  You are not the target.  See the difference? Some traditional conjure formulas "work" on two targets, in two "directions," at the same time, like I Can You Can't and Commanding and Court Case, which have stuff in them to work on your success AND make your competition or enemy trip up.  But not all do, and I just want to make sure nobody uses the above ingredient list to make up a stop-gossip bath for themselves, or thinks a Stop Gossip oil is necessarily going to have devil's shoe string in it.  Most Stop Gossip products out there today have protective elements in them and are designed for you to use on yourself, and so they may not be what you want here. Some Stop Gossip spells work in two directions at once, to protect you and to silence your enemy. Some have elements of reversing rather than outright binding.  But not all do.  When in doubt, ask your supplier whether their oil is suitable for what you have in mind. 

ETA: The Ninjacat has an example of a Stop Gossip spell that is a bit less aggressive (though certainly not from the "turn the other cheek" school of spellwork!) – and it's also an example of a spell that clearly delineates its "directionality," if you know what you're reading for/looking at when you read it.  It is a Stop Gossip spell, yes, but it's not of the same variety as other Stop Gossip spells which also target you as part of the whole framework, versus being aimed solely at the gossiper.  See the difference?  You don't mix up alum and pepper and dust yourself with it.  Note: I don't like to link to blogs or sites or posts when I am trying to make a point about how something is wrong or misleading, because – well, that's verging over into gossip territory! But if you do a search for stop gossip spells, you will likely find one  that says to use cloves, chia seeds, alum, and slippery elm I think, all powered together, to stop gossip.  If you don't know what you're doing, you might come away from this with the idea that both cloves and alum should be filed under "Stop Gossip herbs."  Then you might be surprised later, and confused, to find a spell calling for cloves to be used in friendship or affection.  (Follow the tags for an old post about a similar issue that crops up with sulphur, because people have got it in their heads that sulphur is for driving people away, and this results in even not-neophyte-workers getting confused when they come across an old deep South spell calling for sulphur to bring customers to a fish fry or sidewalk sale.  Such things have caused some folks to decide that a certain Hyatt informant was wrong, or confused, or lying to Hyatt, when in fact, the modern, suspicious reader just has the wrong conceptual categories in his or her head.)  Can cloves be used in Stop Gossip work? Sure!  But it's not because "it's an herb that stops gossip" in the same way that alum does.  Can sulphur be used in Goofering work? Sure! But it's not because "it's for driving people away" as such.

This distinction is often lost on "new converts" to hoodoo, who get the basic idea ("this is to stop gossip") but not the theory or directionality behind the work ("who is the target?") – and sometimes they will advise putting a traditional Stop Gossip formula on a target's belongings to *make them shut up.*  I don't recommend this in most cases – I don't think Slippery Elm bark is a very strong deterrent of backbiting itself, but rather protective so that the effects of gossip slide off of you.   Very often, Stop Gossip is the right approach in the workplace or in a large group of friends or family anyway, since gossip spreads and breeds among and within groups, and stopping one person will not usually stop the problem, just as stopping them from gossiping about you will not usually cure them of gossiping altogether – they'll just find somebody else to talk about.

But this issue of directionality is why you yourself bathe with Stop Gossip bath salts, but why Tapa Boca soap is usually slipped into the company washroom so *other people* will use it, as a sneaky trick.  It all depends on what the ingredients in the formula are supposed to be doing, what "direction" they are supposed to be working in.  Often, it is a good idea to work in more than one "direction," with the "carrot and stick" approach, to sweeten your enemies in general but also put the spiritual choke-collar on them so you can yank a knot in their ass when they overstep their bounds – but often (not always) you need to do this as two distinct workings.  (Commanding alone does not always work like we want – in fact, it backfires on some folks, which is why I think many people are too quick to apply Commanding elements to their typical love situations, but that is another post.)

Magic takes the path of least resistance – if you can *get your target to want to do what you want them do,* that is going to be more successful work than forcing them to do something where they are fighting you every step of the way.  So when Hot Foot isn't working, the next step should often be Attraction work (to draw a new, exciting opportunity that your target cannot resist, so they go happily) instead of busting out all the DUME and Plagues of Egypt work.  Same with Commanding work in love – if you are not wrapping them around your little finger with your Follow Me work, then stop focusing on controlling their every thought, word and deed (which is not usually going to work anyway), and focus instead on working on you – boost your sex appeal, glamor, communication, passion, and general aura of "I am Irresistible and Awesome."  You draw more flies with honey etc.  It's often a better use of your time, money, and energy than is inventing new ways to get licorice root into their food, or in trying a new spell to tie their nature. 

I know not everybody shares my view on this sort of thing and people often want what they want, but I'm not just speaking as someone who wouldn't want a relationship if that relationship had to be maintained through coercive magic being constantly applied, or as somebody who would not sic the Intranquil Spirit on somebody I actually loved.  I am also speaking as a rootworker who has seen hundreds and hundreds of cases and has gotten a pretty fair idea of what tends to work and what does not.  I *will* do all kinds of "heavy" work, IF it's justified AND if it looks like it will ultimately benefit the client, even if it is not work I would undertake for myself if I were in the client's shoes.  But the "heaviest" work is not always the most effective work, and with some of that "heavy" work, it does not always ultimately benefit the client even it is wildly successful.  But that, I suppose, is also another post!

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.


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

on sulphur, cayenne, and other “irritants” in hoodoo

I see this come up occasionally, and I thought I'd repost something I posted on a hoodoo list not all that long ago, in response to someone expressing curiosity over why someone would use sulphur or cayenne in a love spell.  To their way of thinking, sulphur and cayenne are part of the crossing/hexing/icky family of herbs and minerals, from which you see them make occasional forays into uncrossing and protection work, and would thus "make more sense" as part of a breakup spell rather than a love spell.

Here was my response:

I'll tell you my theory on it, which you're free to reject 🙂  Where I grew up in Cajun cooking land, you think of cayenne as an irritant first, and then think of different ways to use irritants. One way to use irritants is to heat things up – a little cayenne can be a good thing.  Think of old uses of Spanish Fly – an irritant for an aphrodisiac – or those herbal patches with capsicum in them that my Kung Fu instructor used to give us for healing.  I think of cayenne in the same category as ginger and even cinnamon (only a hell of a lot more irritating).  Then obviously irritants can be used to heat things up for less pleasurable or benevolent things as well (causing fuss and discord, running somebody crazy).

So I would think of it less like "cayenne is for breaking people up" and instead like "cayenne is for heating things up" and go from there in terms of thinking about how to use it.   Is this making sense? I think this is the same way that sulphur can be used in attracting business, even though most folks think of it as a "drive away" or "cause trouble" ingredient.  It's not always, though.  I have a bunch of recipes for business scrubs from Mobile, AL, New Orleans, and areas around and between, that call for sulphur, to raise up attention and get a good crowd at an event or sidewalk sale or barbecue, and at least one "draw a lover" recipe that calls for sulphur, cayenne, and salt.  Now, sulphur, cayenne and salt seem like a good "get the hell away from me" recipe, but at least on the Gulf Coast that same recipe has been used to get somebody to come back.  I believe the principle is that a little irritant can be used to heat things up in a good way, given the larger context of whatever other work you have going on.

more on powders

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.

my response:

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 🙂

how much spellwork is too much?

A reader asks:

Q: I’ve heard that working a few spells at around the same times would "divide" my intent and energy.. So how long would you recommend to "rest" between spells?

A: In my opinion – and this varies by person, so this is only my opinion – I think this is largely rubbish. Of course there is such a thing as spreading yourself too thin, or of not seeing the forest for the trees and worrying small things to death when you could be working on the larger things. And of course it will depend on your own knowledge of where your limits are. But in general, as long as you’re not losing sight of "the big picture" of your life and you’re not getting obsessive/compulsive about working magic to where it’s interfering with your ability to deal with issues in other ways, I don’t think there’s any particular need to "rest" between spells just for the sake of resting.    I mean, hoodoo is very, very practical. And it developed in a culture in which there isn’t a big divide, as there is in Wicca and Ceremonial Magick, between "high" and "low" magic.  It’s designed to solve problems. And in real life, people’s attention *is* divided, every day.  You spend some time on one thing and some time on another and you keep all your plates in the air.  The idea that magic or spellwork energy is finite seems a terribly limiting one to me that doesn’t make much sense in the context of root-and-herb-based folk magic.  YMMV.

[on the need to wait an interval between doing a honey jar on a lover and also doing a mojo bag – would you need to wait between doing these things?]

A: Absolutely not. They’re all smaller components of one larger, long-term work, in my opinion – the relationship.  Practitioners often keep honey jar spells going for months or years, so you can imagine that the idea of "taking a break" between spells doesn’t mesh with honey jar traditions. The honey jar is a central and long term part of a work that you might add specific things to over the course of time.

There’s no need at all to "take a break" between doing a honey jar and a mojo bag on the same situation.  I think it’s true that there is such a thing as "overdoing it" when it comes to work, esp. with relationships/love, in that it can be dangerous to keep throwing magic at something without giving what you already have going time to work.  It’s a danger when people get impatient and decide that if one spell is good, five is better, or if three herbs are good, thirty herbs are better.  However, I do not think that a honey jar and a mojo together is too much.