questions from readers

A reader asks: How can there be such a thing as a relic of St. Michael the Archangel? 

A: Ooh, this is a great question.  The Catholic Church currently recognizes different kinds of relics, and you’ll most often see a "class" system in operation, in English-speaking countries.  First class relics are bones or other bits of the body of the saint; Second class relics are things the saint used in life, like a book or article of clothing; Third class relics are bits of cloth that were touched to a first or second class relic.  According to this scheme, there really can’t be any relics of St. Michael.  But you’ll see them, and what you’re usually seeing are bits of cloth that were touched to a rock or other bit of geography associated with an appearance or apparition of St. Michael.

Now, that’s not to say that there haven’t been people who claimed to have a feather from the wing of St. Michael, or some such.  People have claimed to have all kinds of things.  In fact, competing claims to possession of Jesus’ foreskin have so incensed Rome that the Vatican threatened to excommunicate anybody who kept arguing about it. [1] If each parish priest in medieval Europe were to be believed, there were dozens of holy foreskins floating about.  The Church has maintained a hands-off practice when it comes to relics and apparitions, generally only stepping forward to recognize or condemn them when popular pressure became such that the Church simply had to take a stand.  Generally, though, the Church leaves such matters in the hands of local authorities, and allows devotional practices associated with them as long as they’re not heretical.

Often you’ll see a relic labeled "ex indumentis," and these are usually relic cases with a bit of cloth attached or inside. These are most often "brandea," which are  "third class" relics, bits of cloth touched to 1st or 2nd class relics.  This is a little misleading, as "ex indumentis" actually means "from the cloth," and would imply a second class relic.  These "ex indumentis" relics are usually third class relics, and if you have a relic of St. Michael, it’s technically none of the above, as Michael was never a living human being.  (FWIW, if you find a relic "ex praecordia" of St. Michael, please let me know, because I would like very much to have one, despite the fact that it cannot possibly be legitimate.)

But these lines are not hard and fast, despite what some folks would insist.  Popular practice and faith have always blurred the neat lines that some authorities would like to have arranged around such categories.   And it appears that in some cases, God is just fine with that. For instance, as Caesar of Heisterbach recounts, a 12th century knight unwittingly purchased a fake relic (a bridle of St. Thomas a Becket’s horse), but God stepped in to reward his faith nonetheless. Caesar writes,

  • God truly, to whom nothing is impossible, wishing to reward the faith of the knight and for the honor of his martyr, deigned to work many miracles through the same bridle.  The knight seeing this founded a church in honor of the martyr and in it he placed as a relic the bridle of that most wicked priest [ie, the priest that sold the fake relic]. [2]

The moral of the Caesar of Heisterbach’s story seems to be that God is a little more concerned with faith, devotion, and an attempt at honest piety than he is with relic categorization or even provenance.  If a relic of St. Michael helps you in your devotion to St. Michael, then more power to you.

[1] Silverman, Eric.  From Abraham to America: A History of Jewish Circumcision.  Devon, UK: Rowman and Littlefield, 2002.
[2] "Dist. VIII."  Translations and Reprints from the Original Sources of European History.  Philadelphia, University of Penn. Press, 1897.


Q: For a mojo bag, do you put the herbs in the bag all together, or do you put them in in separate packets?  Where do you store your mojo bag when not carrying it?

A: I have never in all my years seen a mojo bag called such when it contained separate little bundles of herbs wrapped in plastic.  Put your herbs in there and let them mingle.  An exception to this would be something like my Rattlesnake mojo bags, in which the whole rattle is put inside a small plastic or metal container so that it doesn’t get crushed from regular handling.  I imagine that separate combination-amulets could be added as a single ingredient, even if they themselves contain multiple "things."  For instance, if you put a fixed nutmeg in a mojo bag, it would probably count as a single ingredient even if the nut itself contained several ingredients in its hollowed-out center.  And if you added a small paket wanga to a mojo bag, then you would have some ingredients "contained" separately from the others.  But if you’re adding an herb or powder to a mojo bag, you’d generally just add it. 

Where to keep it depends on what it is.  For love/lust work, I recommend the bedroom area – under your pillow could be a good choice, if you don’t have a love altar going (in which case I would probably keep mine on my love altar).  For my own protection mojo, I keep it in my purse.  People who don’t carry purses will doubtless be nonplussed at this tidbit; in that case, you might consider keeping it with your keys, so you always remember to take it with you when you go out.  For money/business success type stuff, I would keep it in my office or shop if I ran my own business.  I might keep it in my car if I were a traveling salesperson.  I have about a billionty altars, and am often building new, short-term ones for very specific client work, so I usually keep mine on or under the applicable altar when I’m not carrying it.  But one of my protection mojos has some very unique items, and it would be irreplaceable if something happened to it; I keep that one under my pillow when I’m not carrying it.  I wouldn’t risk leaving it lying anywhere where some visitor or a friend of my daughter’s might casually pick it up and go, "What’s This?"

** See, S.?  I love ya.  Sorry if I snapped at you, and sorry if it took me so long to answer this.  I have a very bad habit of going "Where the fuck did you hear that shit?!" sometimes, when people bring up questions that strike me as being odd, and I should be better about walking a mile in somebody’s shoes than I am, and realize that when somebody is first getting into this stuff, it can be hard to sort the wheat from the chaff.  Mea culpa.

bit of a convo with another attendee at local solstice gathering – info on points chauds and pakets

> Please excuse my ignorance, but I have never worked with pakets before. Is this a part of rootwork, or voudon, or both?

In my opinion, and I’m not trying to set myself up as some kind of expert on this stuff, pakets and mojo bags have a great deal in common and probably spring from the same sources/places.  A paket is, really,
just a charm that is somehow tied up or contained.  Mojo bags used in hoodoo are often little bags that are tied with a drawstring, but they needn’t be. They could as easily be a small cloth packet tied up like
an envelope, in whatever shape, with string or cord.  A paket can be a jar full of herbs and offerings which is covered with cloth and pinned together and tied with ribbons.  The word simply means “packet.”

I have an introductory paper that covers points chauds (as physical objects) on my blog at [redacted; write for details]; I know you and I have talked about them; this is in case anyone reading this wants to read
more.  A point chaud would literally be tying a spirit to a physical object — in a way that I believe to be similar to the work we are doing on our own physical and astral bodies as we work the points
system in a hands on way.  A mojo bag is never going to be traditionally used for tying a spirit (in the sense of a loa or saint) to an object (though it may occasionally be made to call on a certain spirit or saint); a paket may or may not be dedicated to or call on a particular spirit; a point chaud always ties a spirit, or rather a “moment” or “Flash” of the spirit — it’s something along the lines of a time/space snapshot, in
my humble opinion.  My intent with points chauds on the solstice will be to see if we can get this “snapshot” of our holy place itself, to take home with us into our own private spaces.

So, should we be thinking about what we > want to “charge” these items for? Are we talking practical magick here, like > I want x to happen, so I’m going to make a paket to push that in my favor
> kind of thing? Or am I completely off track?

this can certainly be done.  For instance, I will be doing some work for myself for success in a publishing endeavor this summer.  I could choose to make this with Legba specifically in mind, or not. personally, I will not; one of my household “adopted ancestor” spirits is Gloria Anzaldua and I am more likely to call on her assistance with this b/c I have worked with her on writing-specific stuff for a long time.  (Using or working with spirits in this case is not the same as the ‘bought points’ – points achete –  where you pretty much enslave a spirit; obviously only a fool would try to do that to a loa in the regleman or even an ancestor).  Also, a paket could be made for calling on Dantor’s protection, or for beginning a relationship with Bawon Kriminel, or whatever you can think of, really.

> On another note, I am very interested in govi work. Again, excuse my
> ignorance, but if I’m understanding it right, a govi is a sort of clay or
> glass jar that you evoke a spirit into and keep around for…whatever you
> keep spirits around for.

If I’m correct, govi very literally means “clay jar” or something like that.  but my understanding is similar to yours in that they are often used for the sort of thing you’re talking about.  They are used in ancestor work sometimes, or even to house part of the spirit of a serviteur or temple member.  In many cases it’s less that it contains a spirit, or the whole of an entity, and more that it’s a means itself, a time/place/space itself, where a spirit can come.  So on my ancestor altar, I have a container for my grandfathers, but they
certainly do not live in the containers and are not confined to them. However, there’s a sense in which they reside there, in a way, if that makes any sense at all.  It makes it easier to work with them.  My
long-deceased grandfather’s container has his graveyard dirt in it. My more recently deceased grandfather’s doesn’t, yet, and the connection is weaker.  In other cases, though, and in a sense even in
this case, a govi can be thought of as a particular type of paket, in a way.

 I have no experience with this in the context of
> Voudon (I do in other traditions), but would be interested in exploring it.
> So add that to the list of possible things to do this next weekend.

Fabulous.  This is a good place for me to mention, or reiterate, that I am by no means trying to recreate any so-called authentic Haitian practice into Arabia work.  We’re not in Haiti 🙂  but we are in the direct lineage of + Michael Bertiaux, whose work, however difficult it may be to trace sometimes in terms of specifics and vocabulary, is shot through with Franco-Haitian magickal influence and terminology. We are heirs to a vodoun current that hasn’t been explored as much as some of the other elements of our Work. THAT is what I’m interested in. So I think your work with govis from other traditions is exactly the sort of thing we should talk about and experiment with.

> And for those who are coming that are new to Voudon, I highly recommend
> Karma’s suggestion about doing lave tete (a.k.a. “head washing”), which is a
> way to “clean” or “purify’ your “head” with sights on gaining knowledge of
> who your met tet is. The tradition says everyone has a met tet, or “head
> lwa” – the lwa of your head. This would be the lwa who you have a special
> relationship with, the one that is most prominent in your work, and the one
> you should begin to cultivate a relationship with. At least, that is my
> understanding of it, based on my own experiences. Others should feel free to
> share their own experiences with this.

I would like to hear any other perspectives on this too.  In my experience, lave tete can serve other purposes than identifying your met tete; it may or may not do that, but it is certainly useful for
many other cases.

Note to attendees: if you are coming to this and would like a head washing and want me to make it and administer it (with the assistance of whoever would like to assist – I’m not trying to the boss of this
show), please let me know so I can bring the materials I need.  If you have a specific lwa in mind, let me know that.  If you don’t, but have a specific need in mind, let me know that too.  If you just want to
see what happens and have nothing in particular in mind, let me know that as well.  The ingredients will differ according to what you have going on, and so will the colors of cloth you will need to bring.

> So, I take it we are not talking about drumming, dancing and singing loudly
> on top of the mountain as is often done at larger, more “formal” voudon
> celebrations.

No, not at all.  One of the reasons I am interested in making pakets on the mountain is that I am afraid that our access to the mountain may one day be restricted.  In that worst-case scenario, I would like us to still have a way to visit it and I think this will help.  We may also consider doing some protection work on our “space” there.  But in any case, I don’t picture anything formal with drumming by any stretch of the imagination, not there.

 I’m sure if
> we threw down like we do each year for Fet Gede, we would attract unwanted
> guests, and I mean the kind that have flesh and bone and blood, not the
> mysteries…

Precisely 🙂  And well said.