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.


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.

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 🙂

What’s working in the “kitchen”

I have just finished a batch of “Love Me Now Powder” and it smells fantastic.  I won’t say what the ingredient that I’m so fond of is, but it just *smells* like love to me. Since this herb and essential oil’s focus is more on the “NOW” and the imperative voice part than the “Love” part, that might say something a little troubling about my own perspective these days — hope not! 

Tomorrow morning I finish the new batch of Kaliprix powder and get this custom order shipped.  (Powders take FOREVER to make.  Theyingredients must be powdered, and then the essential oils must be blended in, and then, since I don’t use talcum in my “sachet powders,” the base has to be powdered as well.)  Extremely time consuming, but boy does it feel like alchemy.  (Have you ever tried to reduce John the Conqueror root to a powder?  It requires a level of patience and detachment I don’t often attain!  Somebody donate a grist mill to the cause, why don’t you?  I’m getting tired of backing over them with the car.  That was a joke.)

While I’m on the topic, let me vent a little about ebay’s new rating system.  One of the categories on which sellers are now rated is “shipping time.”  Well, ALL of my listings say SPECIFICALLY that I ask five business days’ handling time.  When someone buys something already made, like a saint’s candle, I ship much sooner than that, but the majority of my listings are custom-finished or made to order (using real herbs and essential oils means that things lose potency and even spoil over time, and so I will not make a huge jar of an oil to sell dram bottles from). And then with the hand painted items — well, paint has to dry, and then things have to be sealed, and some of my painted stuff is fired before sealing.  Anyway, the point is, I have only three times that I can think of missed the 5-business-days mark, and in each case it involved a mojo bag.  The candle took longer to burn than expected, or the divination suggested an ingredient I had to rush order.  In these cases, I shipped on day six instead, after emailing the client to let him or her know there would be a delay and the cause of the delay.  So I get really annoyed when I get mediocre ratings on “shipping time.”  If you don’t like my shipping time terms, don’t order from me, dammit!  I ship as advertised, and in my never so humble opinion, I should be rated on meeting my published shipping times.  Especially don’t order a MOJO BAG or other thing involving putting something together on your behalf and then complain that I took too long to do it.  If you want speed over quality and personal attention, order from one of those Big Name Companies that will pluck one off the shelf for you, still wrapped in its cellophane, and slap it in the box for you.  [/rant]

I have a candle spell going for a client, and the flame has been burning high more often than not, and it has mostly been a good clean burn — all good signs for her working.  I was wary about offering these on ebay at first, just like I’m wary of offering readings on ebay (and still haven’t done it), because I have no way of knowing what kind of client I’m going to get, and not all of them are reasonable people.  But so far, so good.

The regular readings, on the other hand, I’m still way behind on.  Sigh.

Still deep in Hyatt material.  I love it.  You know what I would love even more?  Stories from you, dear readers, about things you or your family or someone you heard about does with/for/to saints.  Saints are my niche.  Actually, they will be one day, and in the meantime they’re a big interest.  I just found out last weekend that my grandmother, who is a devout Catholic and who does NOT engage in many of the less-than-orthodox practices HER mother engaged in, nevertheless buried a statue of St. Joseph to sell her home.  Now, I would have expected her to pray to St. Joseph, and to light a candle, and to have a statue, but I did NOT expect her to have buried his statue.  I wonder now if there are other things in her practice she was slow to share either because nobody asked or because she was aware that some of the more traditional Roman Catholic members of the family might have said, “You did WHAT with a statue of a saint?”

Anyway, she sold her house (counts on fingers) four years ago.  The image of my then-84 year old grandmother out in her yard with a shovel burying and then, later, after the house sold, digging up St. Joseph just blows my mind.

And this reminds me that I sent a batch of my St. Joseph oil to another rootworker for her critique and she never ever got back to me.  As she has a special and long term relationship with St. Joseph, I particularly wanted her opinion.  I hope this doesn’t mean she hated it and doesn’t want to hurt my feelings.