questions you’ve asked: road opening, timing, haints, czechoslovakia (!?)

Some of these are from my saved-up list of questions that people ask via email or blog comments, that I save up to answer on my blog when I get a chance, and some are implied/indirect questions that come from search terms. Don’t forget that I maintain a directory of Frequently Asked Questions and commonly requested information.

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Q: What are some spells to remove obstacles?

It kind of depends on the obstacles. In some cases, you need Uncrossing, in others you might need Spiritual Cleansing or Van Van or Chinese Wash, and in still others you might want Road Opener. If you don’t need uncrossing, but you’re just kind of stuck and have the inertia thing going or aren’t getting the opportunities you need, then the formula you want for removing obstacles is usually going to be either Van Van or else something like Road Opener or Abre Camino. Sometimes it might be called Blockbuster, but you should ask your supplier, because depending on where they’re coming from (theoretically as well as regionally), Blockbuster might be more akin to Uncrossing or Van Van. And some folks, probably those not from the Southeast, seem to make Road Opener with quassia, which is not how I learned it in the Southeast, and in my opinion that will not do the same job (and it cannot then be called Abre Camino, because Abre Camino contains an actual herb called Abre Camino instead of quassia). In short, there may be more or less intersection with other formulas, depending on the background of your supplier and their formula, so it doesn’t hurt to ask the person selling the stuff you are going to buy.

While on this topic, I have heard people claim that Road Opener is not hoodoo. I call bullshit. While it’s true that Road Opener came into hoodoo through Latin American routes, it’s sure as hell part of hoodoo now, and there is a definite difference between Road Opener and Uncrossing. Uncrossing removes crossed conditions. There are all kinds of situations that could benefit from Road Opening that do not need Uncrossing and that may need something that is not precisely Van Van; where once we might have approached that through a combination of herbs or actions that did not go by the name “Road Opener,” what we today know as Road Opener fills a niche, is useful, and is definitely used by traditional practitioners of conjure. Saying it’s not hoodoo is imo being overly pedantic (and is generally part of some online pissing contest and/or the kind of “over-correction” that results in people saying things like “irregardless” and “I feel badly for you” – people trying so hard to be “correct” that they end up “over-correcting” and end up somewhere silly; and if you’re like most of my readers and clients, you don’t really give a crap about whether something was used in the 70s in Florida but not the 50s in Mississippi. You just want your situation remedied.) Saying it’s not hoodoo because it entered hoodoo at some later point than the mythical non-existent “originary” point is going to put you on flimsy ground to talk about Chinese Wash (once upon a time it was not used in hoodoo); Hot Foot oil (once upon a time there was only powder); the method of candle-dressing employed by hordes of workers (because it was popularized in a booklet in the 40s by a man [or maybe a woman] who grew up Jewish; Blackhawk (Native American via Spiritualist churches in Louisiana); and boldo leaf (which is in a shit-ton of modern protection formulas but crossed into hoodoo through Mexican folk practice). Honestly, it’s a ridiculous argument. [*]

What you do with those obstacle-removing formulas will, for the sake of easier communication in this blog post, be called spells. (Usually folks who ask this sort of thing want to be given what they think of as a “spell,” which will be specific instructions for exactly how to do some multi-component rite called “a road opener spell” or something like that. Thing is, hoodoo really isn’t a system of “spells” in the sense of “things that have to be done just so on a Friday before a full moon with these rhymes” or where people have spells collected in books and stuff like that. Rather, you light a candle, or sprinkle powders, or take a bath, or do some combination of those things and others that suits your supplies and your situation. Every “road opener spell” I do for a client is probably slightly different; the appropriate actions and ingredients depend on the situation. I do not have a book of spells – the idea is sort of ridiculous, and most folks I know who didn’t come to this from a different background don’t default to calling their work “spells” or telling clients they need to do “spells.” Personally, I call what I do altar work or just plain “work,” and avoid the term “spells” just because 1. it was never called that when I was growing up, and 2. it gives the wrong impression, that conjure is about collections of spells and books of shadows and stuff like that. So people who write me saying “these spells are hard to find” have, in my opinion, *the wrong idea* about how these things are traditionally done; collections of typed-up spells are hard to come by because they’re unnecessary (and when we do post “spells” for the benefit of clients who want to be given “spells”, we usually have to endure dozens of follow-up questions about what herb we can substitute for some herb we list, and what to do if we can’t get that kind of candle or a certain oil, etc, which defeats the purpose of typing the damned thing up in the first place). It’s just the wrong way to think about conjure. When we do altar work for you, we don’t select a spell from out of a book. I’ve written about this at length elsewhere, particularly in the FAQ directory; bottom line, if you want a spell explained or suggested that is specific to your situation and materials at hand, book a consultation with a professional worker who can instruct you on what to do for your specific situation.)

But here are some suggestions from Lucky Mojo. (So when you dress a candle with oil and light it, you are doing a candle burning spell for our purposes here.) If you insist on a given a set of instructions to follow just so, then Dr. E has a thorough, nice Roads of Fortune spell here. But honestly, properly dressing and fixing a candle is powerful work. So is a spiritual bath. Don’t make it harder than it has to be.

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Q: Reconciliation mojo bag takes one month to work.

A: I’d be pretty darned surprised. The most important reply here is that there’s no such thing as one simple answer to the question of “how long will X take to work.” It totally depends on the situation (and on your definition of what success is in that situation). You can read more about timing in spells here: “How Long Will It Take to Work” and “Timing Spells, Setting Limits, and the Non-Existent Rule of 3 Days/3 Weeks/3 Months.” But I’d say one month for a reconciliation working of any type, in very many of the situations for which I’ve been consulted,  would be way too optimistic. But it totally depends on the situation and specifics of the individual case. The bottom line: There are too many variables in anybody’s case for anybody to be able to answer your question about how long the candle or mojo you are thinking of buying will take to work, or even if it will.  Spiritual work just doesn’t work like that.  The reality is that sometimes it is NOT God’s will.  And this is not a gumball machine where you put your quarter in and get a prize you can anticipate from the picture in the window.

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Q: Sour jar take how long to work? [sic]

A: See above.

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Q: What happen to the old fashion hoodoo that was used in the 70’s?

A: Assuming you mean the 1970s, you are actually talking about what I’d call the full flower of “modern hoodoo” (I’d distinguish that from today’s hoodoo, which I’d call “contemporary” and, if pressed, probably use the late 80s as a historical marker for… maybe). The 70s is not “old fashioned” when you are talking about hoodoo history – that is recent as hell. But for starters, you have to define what you mean by “old fashioned.” Do you mean hoodoo as it was in the 1850s? 1920s? In Memphis? Detroit? Natchez, Mississippi? Crystal River, Florida? By the 70s, you had lots of published books on all kinds of practices “cross-pollinating” with older, more rural, less book-derived practice, including European witchcraft and commercialized “Eastern mysticism,” astrology, etc. You’d had mail-order catalogs for generations at that point, and you had drugstores in large cities selling candles and things from China. The old-school candle shop owners (who had once upon a time been new-fangled!) might start selling books on meditation to help their bottom lines; the tea leaf readers might branch out into astrology to get and keep clientele; the tarot was much better known by then, even among those who had grown up reading playing cards; the era of pharmacists blending their own colognes, hair oils, and perfumes in the back from formularies were largely over and everything was imported en masse. In some areas, a cultural turn resulting from Black Pride, Afrocentrism, or Rastafarianism, for instance, might mean that the younger generation was no longer using the hair products their parents had used, or attending the churches their parents had attended, or valuing the same art, aesthetics, music, and even naming conventions their parents had valued. This ties into the other question on this page that spilled over into my footnote about “what is and isn’t hoodoo” – you can’t really say something like “here’s the originary date of hoodoo, and here’s the cutoff date for old-school conjure, and everything that was new after that is not traditional hoodoo.” I see this today in interviewing people in academic contexts about voodoo in Haiti or folk religion or spiritual practice in just about anywhere – often the grandchildren will talk to you about their interest in or return to practices that their parents won’t speak of and tried to distance themselves from. Sometimes the children have to recover these practices on their own, if their grandparents or older relatives are no longer living.

So the bottom line depends on how you define some of your terms. What happened to the hoodoo of the 70s? the same thing that happened to the hoodoo of the 60s and the 50s. It changed a bit as the world changed, as horizons changed, as neighborhoods and markets changed. What happened to “old fashioned hoodoo”? Well, how do you define old-fashioned?

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Q: Was czech jewelry ever spelled cech?

A: FFS, wtf. Well, this is a hoodoo, voodoo, magic, and folk religion blog, but I happen to be able to answer this, and the question brought more than one person to this blog, so what the hell. (Though these search terms make me baffled at how some people use search engines – they aren’t oracles and typing complete sentences usually helps rather than hinders!) The “czech” you see when a rosary is made with “Czech glass beads” is short for “Czechoslovakia,” which as of 1993 no longer exists; that area is now divided into “the Czech Republic” and “Slovakia.”  There, they speak Czech and Slovak (get it?). In the Czech language, they have different ways of conveying sounds through orthography than we have in English. In English, we use “Cz” to represent the sound we pronounce in this case as a hard “ch,” but they use “Č” (see that little symbol on top of the C? That is *critical* to its pronunciation and therefore spelling – you cannot just leave it out or it would be pronounced differently).  So, no, it was never spelled “Cech,” but it was spelled “Čech” (with the little symbol). I imagine the person who asked this question did not realize that “czech” was short for “czechoslovakia,” or else they could have just looked it up in any encyclopedia, but I digress.

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[*] This sort of thing becomes an issue for anyone studying living folk practice. Living practices change. Herbs and resins and dirts and flora/fauna used in Western Africa, for instance, had to change in Haiti, Louisiana, Brazil, Trinidad, Virginia – because the same stuff does not grow in all those places, just to touch on the tip of the iceberg. You can see the sorts of issues it raises in the contemporary practices surrounding Santisima Muerte in Mexico today. I maintain that, from a historical perspective, the use of gold, purple, green etc Santisima Muerte statues is an interpolation that came through modern commercial occult markets and probably has at least a little to do with symbolism and practice found in commercially-available materia magica for traditions such as Santeria. But however they came about, and however recent they are compared to the red, black, and white statues, the fact remains that living devotees of the saint who are actively, at this very moment, living a spiritual life in which the saint plays a significant role, are using them and see a need they fill. And for someone to come in from “outside” their particular community and tell them their practice is not legitimate — well, who’s the authority, finally? The academic or the practitioner? You can do a slippery slope thing with this if you want and say “well, then, since I practice hoodoo, then whatever I do is hoodoo, and nobody can to say any different.” We can — and do, in various corners of monograph footnotes, articles, blogs, and websites — debate this kind of thing ’til the cows come home. You can even accuse me of doing the same thing I’m criticizing here, when I rant about people selling stuff to “cleanse” mojo bags, or when I say “watermelon fragrance oil is not hoodoo.” Sure, there are some lines that are going to be debatable, less than clear cut, in a living, breathing tradition. (For instance, I say that if it’s the consistency of soup, you have no business calling it gumbo, but there are folks winning prizes with gumbo recipes that I would not hit a hog in the behind with. Is it chili anymore if it’s white and made with cannellini beans? When you are really hungry, do you give a crap?)

*And yet* the fact remains that when my 40 or 60 year old clients from Louisiana or Florida or South Carolina order a bottle of Van Van oil from me, they have an expectation of what it’s going to smell like, and if I send them something pink that smells like gardenias, they are probably going to ask if I mislabeled the bottle (and maybe secretly think I’ve lost my mind). They will not have the same reaction to my suggesting Road Opener oil, even though neither of us used a thing called precisely that in our childhoods (probably in part because my clients know I am not some convert who jumped off a Wicca wagon and started making Van Van oil last year, so I am not going to sell them some new age goop that does not “fit” with what we both grew up with). Similarly, while Catholic conjure doctors were a relative rarity outside of Louisiana, they nevertheless did exist, and work with some saints did extend beyond the borders of Catholicism and even those who would self-identify as Spiritualists or Spiritists prior to the internet and folk Catholics like me writing blogs. So saying “work with the saints is not traditional hoodoo” is profoundly ignorant, not to mention insulting. Folk magic is *always, always* influenced by region, including the religion, traditions, culture, and flora and fauna of the physical land upon which its practitioners live, in their physical neighborhoods. I have clients from Alabama who grew up with this stuff who leave offerings at their ancestor’s graves, and I have other clients from the East Coast who grew up with this stuff who hold their breath when they go by graveyards and paint the baby’s windowsill blue to “keep off the haints.” Workers I respect who I know to be authentic and honest say they were taught that women shouldn’t do rootwork while pregnant. I was never taught any such thing and I seem to come from a very different way of conceiving of both spiritual work and pregnancy; the theory underlying such a prohibition doesn’t fit into my worldview, religion, or practice. Those are very different approaches to working with and living with the dead, with the unborn, with liminality, and they can be traced to different regions and distinct “paths” along the diaspora and/or traditions in question; and yet, it’s too simplistic to say that one set of beliefs is “traditional” or “authentic” and the other is not. The bottom line is that there has never been any monolithic central guide to *anything* that’s a folk tradition – if there were, it wouldn’t be a folk tradition anymore. At least part of it would be codified, captured, encapsulated, isolated, no longer “in free play” in a living community. To say that things change does not mean “anything goes,” but to say that any change after some arbitrary, imaginary cutoff date is “not hoodoo” is just ridiculous.

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For some further thoughts and conversation that unfolded from this post in the comments section over at the mirror site, go here.

timing in spells – setting time limits; the nonexistent “rule of three days/weeks/months”

This keeps coming up despite me and a bunch of other folks repeatedly insisting that it’s a misunderstanding.  I have at least one client a month say something about “the rule of three” referring to timing in spells.  This is usually interpreted as something like “three days for a sign, three weeks for movement, three months for resolution.”

Well, my dears, there is NO SUCH RULE.  I’m not entirely sure how it got to be “popular knowledge” that it was, but I hear it all the time. And when a client comes to me doing work on a major long-standing issue, working towards a major outcome on a huge slow-moving thing, and they are freaking out thinking everything they’ve done is useless because they didn’t see full resolution within three months, I get frustrated and sad that they are freaking out for no good reason and make a note to write a post about this.  If you are just recovering from a generational curse that has had your teeth in the dirt for years, and you are trying to get your show business career on track, I can just about promise that you are not going to get a big recording contract three months after you finish your first series of Uncrossing baths.  You should, however, see *movement over time.*  But 3/3/3 may not apply in your case, or it may apply but you may need to think about these things in smaller “chunks” where the phases are broken down into steps.

Some people have told me that Miss cat of Lucky Mojo teaches this 3 day/3 week rule.  Well, I am a student of Miss cat’s and I can tell you there is no such rule – it’s a guideline and people often misinterpret what she teaches.  Here is a post in which cat talks about this 3/3/3 timing thing.  And you should read it, because it explains what she means by “signs” and “movement.” If you are doing love work and your worker has recommended you set some time limits on that work, then this is the type of thing you need to be thinking about and looking for.  You do not have to pick in segments of three, though – you might decide you need signs by one month, movement by three months, and resolution by six months. Or you might decide you need signs in three days, movement in three weeks, and resolution in three months – that’s fine too.  It depends on you and your situation.

Please note a few things about Miss cat’s post up there. One is that this is what Miss cat was taught, this rule of thumb in looking for signs, movement, and resolution. Not everybody adheres to this. I personally find these specific times useful approximately half the time, though the concept of signs/movement/resolution is absolutely key and central even if the number 3 doesn’t always apply.

Another is that she never says “spells should always work according to this timeline.” She does not say that. She says, for instance, “if you see no movement within three weeks, you definitely want to do more work.”  These are not “rules” of magic.  These are handy timeframes that help you structure your expectations and “check in” as your situation progresses. Generally, while it would be unreasonable to expect every spell, no matter the situation, to fully manifest within three months, you *should* see some signs of movement in a reasonable period of time, and three months would nearly always be a reasonable period of time in which to expect to see movement even if not complete resolution – even for major, big, long-standing stuff. You *should* look for signs of movement, and you should *not* just sit there if you see no signs of movement within a reasonable period of time. If a spell is going to work, you should see movement along the way. If you don’t, you need to adjust fire.  If you are working for yourself, you can often use the 3/3/3 guideline as a “check in” guide.  If you are having work done for you, ask your worker what sort of check-in timeline you should use for your particular situation.

Note that she says “We are not looking for last-minute turn-arounds here — on the 90th day you get your result — rather, we are looking for good signs, positive movement, and a successful outcome, completing the spell.”  The bottom line is that you should be seeing movement along the way, not sitting there pining over your mojo bag that is doing nothing for your case and expecting that you will suddenly see a drastic turnaround after months of seeing nothing.  Setting timeframes and checking in will prevent you from wasting your time, money, energy, and life by waiting around wasting hope on something that isn’t working.

This 3 days/3 weeks/3 months thing is a convenient guideline that applies to *some types of work in general, sometimes.* And actually, I refer to it more often when I’m telling people about setting time limits in their own work (usually love work) than I do when consulting with a client and telling them what they should expect in their own particular spellwork – I use it as an example to explain how they should go about setting time limits and what they should be looking for when they “check in.”  This is especially important with love work, where somebody has a specific target and might be likely to cling to an outcome and keep throwing work at it when no positive signs at all have manifested at the three month point.  But it’s important to keep in mind, also, that there could be a lot of intermediate steps that you maybe aren’t considering when you go to set up your timelines.  From “meeting across a crowded room” to “marriage” in three months is totally unrealistic, even if “marriage” is your ultimate goal when you first set out to do love work.  You will need to break that up into stages in terms of your thinking, recognizing that you have to get from a first date to a relationship to commitment to engagement and that it’s not 0 to 60 in three weeks. And recognize that if you are working to draw marriage material, that is going to take longer than working to draw a weekend fling. You need to think and use common sense, basically, in addition to understanding the theory behind this sort of thing.  And be aware that some types of work are naturally “faster” while others are naturally “slower” (honey jars being a good example of the latter – those are ongoing mid- to long-term workings).  But if you are doing work on a target and you have been setting lights or carrying a mojo bag and you have seen NO signs of positive movement at all in three weeks, you definitely want to check in rather than just sitting there and setting the same old kind of light for another month.

If you’re doing love work, figure out what you can live with, what is reasonable and realistic, what makes sense for your case. Decide when you need to see action, movement, and make that the “mid-term” checkin point. You can have more than one checkin point. The idea is that you do NOT sit there for four months doing work that isn’t working.  But it might not be reasonable to expect that you’ll have moved in together and gotten engaged within four months. Your time limits for this might not fall along a 3/3/3 line at all – but you should pick some checkin times and then stick to them. If you are not seeing any positive movement at your checkin time, then adjust fire.

For more in timing, see this post on success rates and guarantees and this post on “how long will candles take to work.” See also Miss Bri’s post on timing in spellwork.

on “success rates” and “guarantees”

I will freely admit that I have not always made myself popular in all the internet conjure-folk magic-and-hoodoo-oriented places.  Part of that is because I have a low tolerance for bullshit, especially when it’s bullshit couched in directive, authoritative language. Part of it is because I am a professional educator by formal education and training — I teach college students in my day job — and I am (perhaps too deeply) invested in critical thinking, honest qualifiers ("I was taught" versus "it is this way and anybody who says otherwise is a poser/liar/fake") and sufficient theoretical grounding.  Part of it is because I don’t always take enough time to reread what I’ve written before I send it out on internet forums, and I have thus – often quite unintentionally – pissed people off, which is even worse given my degree in Communication 😮  (when I am directly gunning for someone, they know it.  I very, very rarely set out to do this, though. Usually it’s a communication misfire, and part of that is that I do in fact have a temper.  I’m not alone in this, but I do own it as something that has occasionally gotten the better of my best intentions).

I am prefacing this post with the above because I am fairly sure it’s going to piss some people off. But I have had some very cordial and very educational disagreements with a number of colleagues and acquaintances, and I choose to have faith that any disagreement I get on this will be ultimately instructive.  Collegial would be nice, but ultimately educational will do. (Bottom line: I can disagree with someone on a matter of theory and/or practice and still have a great deal of respect for them as a person and even a practitioner.  Really.)

So here’s a question that’s not quite frequently asked, but is asked often enough, and has important enough implications, for me to post it here.

Q: something along the lines of "What is your success rate?"

A:  Success rates vary depending on the type of case, how well the client follows instructions, the details of the case, and also on a definition of success.  The whole business of advertising success rates is usually a mark of a scam artist.  I would never hire anyone who had "93% success rate!" on their card or flyer, because that is by definition a shady statistic.  But let me give you an example of why/what I mean, so you don’t think I’m being evasive. For instance, tonight I sent a very long email to a client who is adamant that she wants breakup work on her ex and his new lover to help her reconciliation case.  I read for her, and saw that while she might get the breakup accomplished, she was not likely to get it on the timeline she wanted – it was going to be slow work and there wasn’t going to be a decisive blowup but rather a steady, slow erosion of trust.  Furthermore, I saw that she was not likely to get her ultimate goal – the reconciliation – even if the breakup did work according to her wildest dreams.  I asked her to think some questions and issues over, and I told her I would consider doing the work if a number of things were addressed, not least of which was being willing to set a time limit, and the underlying idea being her emotional and psychic health first and foremost.  I work from a fairly Hippocratic place, ethically – if a work will ultimately help the client, I may undertake it even if I am pretty darned sure it won’t accomplish what they want it to accomplish.  If a breakup spell helps this client finally get closure – even in the form of having her ex tell her he has definitively moved on and to stop calling him – then I may undertake it with the larger goal of closure in mind.  The client has not hired me yet to do the breakup work, but I know her and this type of case well enough to tell you, with certainty, that she will not consider the work a success if she does hire me for it, because she is not going to get what she wants when she wants it.

I have another client who hates spiritual baths. I have read for her repeatedly.  I strongly recommend a 7 day course of spiritual cleansing baths.  She won’t do them; they’re too much trouble and she doesn’t believe she needs to be spiritually cleansed.  I have told her that if she doesn’t, then her chances of success with the love-drawing work she’s itching to do will be much, much lower.  The success rate is largely in her hands.  Will I do the love drawing work even if she doesn’t take the baths?  Probably, because it won’t harm her.  And also, I’m not perfect.  My own work has surprised me plenty of times.  But if she comes back in three months and has had no lasting results, and again wants me to repeat the work and again won’t do the spiritual cleansing, I probably *won’t* do the love drawing work again, because my cards are telling me it will be a waste of her money, and while she’ll probably find somebody else to do the work (workers waiting to reconcile lovers in 48 hours with a 99% success rate are very, very easy to find on the internet and in the classifieds), I won’t keep taking a client’s money if I don’t genuinely believe that my work is helping them.  You can read about why one such similar spell failed by following the "reconciliation" tags. For what it’s worth, the person that spell was for emailed me last week and asked for assistance on another issue. She and the ex never did get back together, but now, four years later, they are both in new relationships, and she is still my client.

Hopefully this gives you an idea of why I’m allergic to the question of "success rates." There is no such thing as a number or percentage.  It’s like asking a family doctor for his success rates – so much depends on stuff that that question doesn’t allow to be considered, and the job of a rootworker is more like that of a country doctor general practitioner than a lawyer or a boxer.  I can tell you I have done thousands of tarot readings and hundreds of protection spells, and I have clients who have been my clients for more than ten years.  I also have reading clients who got one reading and never came back and I have no idea why. And I have rootwork clients who dislike me – sometimes for my bluntness, as I’m sure you can imagine if you actually read my blog 🙂 , sometimes because the work didn’t do what they wanted it to do or because it did nothing at all, sometimes because I refused to take their cases, the list goes on!

And then there’s the fact that the slight majority of clients simply never report back (though this depends on the type of work – folks who set lights for people get a larger percentage of "drop ins" with no extensive info and no followup than do folks who mostly do, say, honey jars or court cases.  I personally think rootworkers who advertise a success rate are displaying fairly unethical behavior for these reasons, and I would be extremely suspicious of any worker who advertised a success rate with a number attached to it.

Miss Bri at Milagro Roots has a valuable post on timing in spellwork, and how to gauge success within certain passages of time.  I wholeheartedly agree with her that "a reasonable amount of time" depends a lot on what type of working you are doing; some types of spellwork will manifest more quickly than others (healing a family wounded by generations of abuse will not happen in three days, three weeks, or three months, but an empathic and intuitive reader will be able to help you see the bigger picture and conceive of what progress in such a complicated case would look like).