Archives For Hoodoo

[We welcome guest writer Kenya Coviak, also known as Mistress Belladonna. Coviak has been a practicing Pagan and student of metaphysics and magick for over 30 years. Practictioner, Teacher, Coach, and Counselor, she has shared her knowledge and skills with many in the southeastern Michigan community. Additionally, Coviak has served as past Children’s Coordinator, Presenter, and Public Relations for Pagan Pride Day Detroit, is an editor at PBN News, was a member of FOCASMI, Third Degree Oak Moon Coven, and a founder of the Great Lakes Witches’ Council.]

It seems that all over the magickal worlds in the United States, that Hoodoo is the thing to do right now. People make claims to “Aunties” and “friend’s Grandma’s” with abandon when referring to their expertise and prowess in this practice. But for me, I grew up with it not being a separate thing to be studied, but something that one simply does.

Spell working, folklore and magickal traditions were the rhythm of life. Along with listening to the Blues and to Rock and Roll, I grew up thinking that everyone’s Daddy let them play with their extra lodestones. Everyone kept their brooms turned upside down, and the root store was always in the address book, along with the “street numbers” policy dream books and two dollar bills.

[Photo Credit: K. Coviak]

[Photo Credit: K. Coviak]

My early years were filled with stories of haints, dream books, and psalms. The latter being curious, as neither of my fictive kin’s parents attended church. As for me, Sunday’s began with church, until I got too mouthy, and were followed by floor wash and incense on Sunday evenings.That was a regular routine. My “god family” attempted valiantly to put God in me through ordeal-length services. But my invitation to these sermons eventually ended when I made a wisecrack questioning why the same women who were hit with the Holy Ghost every weekend were not holy enough to get hit with it at Farmer Jack’s supermarket. My preteen years ended with me being cut loose from the family of the Black Church.

It was 1986, and I was in my early teens. The wind played with my mess of hair as I happily walked toward the bus stop with my “blood sister.” We lived on opposite sides of town, so I had already arrived at her house, also by bus, and was ready to hit the free festivals of downtown Detroit.

Back in those days we took the buses everywhere. I lived on the North End, and she lived on the West Side. It was necessary to ride these bus lines back and forth when we wanted to hang out. And if we were going downtown, we had to take the Dexter bus. That monster was an adventure of experience with every type of character you could have imagined. I can still smell the mix of cigarette smoke from the passengers, and the Pink Oil and Ultra Sheen in my hair.

But this particular time, we had barely left her porch steps when her mom told us that she needed to make a quick trip.  And, we, of course, had to go along. Where did we go? Straight to Goodwill Candle near Grand Blvd. While her mother picked up “a few things” from the clerks, we busied ourselves looking at the genuine goat parchments and pre-made cursing dolls. My favorite was always the red and green greeting cards that came with a curse inside. A recipient was informed that if they had received such a card  they were already crossed. The severity varied. I got a real kick, and a chill, out of those cards.

After leaving the shop with my hands covered in a fine residue of Three Kings powder and charcoal, we were off to my friend’s house again. We waited while music played, tapping our feet on the blue carpeted floor. No shoes, of course. My friend’s mother did her works, and then finally we were given a brown paper bag to take with us on our way to the festival.

“Throw this in the river,” her mother said. The bag was heavy and a little damp. We were told not to look inside.

So of course, we did. We were teens after all, and in the bag was a small paper cup, an apple with the top cut out in a wedge, and some fish hooks. The apple was filled with honey and other things that will not be discussed here. This whole affair was to be thrown into the river. We were not to look back.

There we were, two teen girls headed to a summer festival for fun and excitement with a side trip of spell work. This was not a strange event to us. This was simply what one did. My friend’s mother was trying to keep a gentleman who was very angry. He was a real piece of undesirable work. My sister found the man vexing so she really did not want to do this. But there was no getting rid of her mom’s decision to keep him around. Therefore, we threw our parcel into the Detroit River, just like thousands of Detroiters have done for years and continue to do today. The water takes the spells for good or for bad.

Detroit River [Photo Credit: Gary Muehlenhardt, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Public domain]

Detroit River [Photo Credit: Gary Muehlenhardt, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Public domain]

While in high school, my book bags continually smelled of orange blossom oil and success oil. I blended these often for other girls in band class to help them. We never spoke of it, but they never stopped coming to me for it. No questions were ever asked, except by the sanctified girls who judged everyone. They always inquired after the state of my soul, but I ignored them.  

Friends, school, church, all these magickal parts of my life intersected and found a central point in my home and with my family. One time, my Daddy asked me to help him put in a concrete path leading from our back gate. In order to make a smooth foundation, he gave me what seemed to be a mundane task with a sledgehammer and a pile of red bricks. He had me crush those bricks into the dirt. The dust completely covered the soil; which he then covered with concrete.

The foundation that I was spreading was actually to keep burglars away from our property until two years after he died. They could not pass the gate post. We needed no alarm system. We were safe. At the time, I never thought about it as protection work. To me, it was just what you do when you lay concrete at your fences. But later, I would find out what it really was.  

I always looked forward to helping my father with his soil balls each year. They would be kept in the milk chute. He would go out to the yard and “test the soil” with the balls. But the balls always had something else in them, and it was sometimes sparkly. They were kept by the house and in the chute, except on occasions when they were in his room as he “doctored”  them. This also never seemed strange to me.

When I was at the beauty shop getting my hair relaxed, I would listen to the church ladies enjoying the gospel station. They would laugh and talk of rinsing their sheets in lavender to keep their men faithful. These women would also discuss which Psalms and seals to use on their husbands or on other women who were interested in their husbands.

Keeping the Bible open to the 91st Psalm and using holy water with people’s names in the bottles was common. Throwing a Psalm on someone to harm them was not strange. And, the minister giving you something to bind another was not unheard of. In fact, some even pronounced death to parishioners if they did not mend their ways in a set time.  

While at the beauty shop, my Mama would get a lovely silver rinse in her hair and smile. Then, back at home, as the pins came out, hair would inevitably come out as well. Our strands would get caught in the wires of the rollers. The only way to dispose of this hair was to burn it. You never threw away hair, it must always be burned so no one could get it. You didn’t want to go crazy like “such and such” person. This was “fact” just like the Law of Gravity; it was just truth.

Little mysteries filled my life in that house. The brass bottle that was painted blue was said to contain a djinn. Yes, that was the exact word. It had a dark wax seal, and I was told to never touch it or open it. The tiny jar with my Mama’s fingertip, which she kept in the basement dresser, was also something odd but normal as well. It had been severed at her workplace, but it was re-purposed for “works” that happened in the dark of the night. She used it for different things that were secret, but protective.

But that is another story

Then there were the times that things went very badly. All actions did not lead to desired outcomes. Damage control was another key skill to have. When I accidentally burned the wrong candle in my room and conjured up something I could not put down, a mom from our band boosters club came to my rescue. She had used her “eye,” which was in her hand, to look at me. She saw something was not right. 

This mother, then, went with me to the candle shop and fixed a set of herbs and had me take home seven candles to solve the problem. The appropriate verse was opened at the new testament, and my room was a sauna for a week as they burned.

[Photo Credit: K. Coviak]

Inside a Candle Shop [Photo Credit: K. Coviak]

My own Mama was annoyed, because another woman had come into the business of her house. She did not like active practice and only used prevention. I was grounded for two weeks. Not just for the candles, but because I had conjured without talking to her first. Although we never spoke of it again, she flustered when I would try to bring it up and spoke of haints overrunning the house if I wouldn’t listen. This is probably why she painted the bathroom blue.  

As a teen and into early adulthood, Anna Riva books were scattered across my floor next to those of Scott Cunningham. My practices “eventually” expanded.  A friendly Sikh taught me even more about the powers of oils and showed me how to use them to control. Eventually, Tarot cards and herbalism from different traditions were as much a part of my daily life as Faygo, Park’s Barbeque, and Stroh’s ice cream.

When I learned to drive, I was a mobile menace. Every month, I traveled to the banks of the river. Sometimes it was to toss in bottles filled with Four Thieves Vinegar and an unfortunate name on a parchment. Other times I stood on its banks and made fires. After these rites, the ashes were thrown in or buried on the banks. Again, none of these acts were thought of as exotic or strange, just something one does here in the “D”.

But to be clear, it was also not uncommon to go to church the “very” next morning and sing just as loud as everyone else with a smile on the lips and a swing in the hips. However, for me, church was a conflicted issue, because I have always been a witch. I did not reconcile my realities until my thirties, after the requisite excursion into the world of Black Consciousness-based liberation cults of various flavors.

Growing up like this, in a world of magicians, was something I took for granted. We never made a big issue out of it. We understood that there were certain things you either knew or did not know. And most of us knew them.

This common local lore of magick continues to be passed from generation to generation, even today. The Hoodoo stores stay busy with new customers of every age and background. Like clockwork, auto plant workers and civil servants visit twice a month to buy cases of candles, roots, and oils at the local shops. The traditions practiced in my childhood are the same ones that are practiced today.

For example, Belle Isle is the literal graveyard of spells, tricks, hexes, and personal concerns. Each and every willow tree on that island has probably been used by at least one person to remove and “take a cross” (also known as giving it to the tree). Visitors may notice that certain tree groves are avoided by native Detroiters. This is, because after you “remove or take a cross,” you are not to revisit that tree … ever.  

Another practice that reminds me of our unique magical culture is the midnight wanderings that many new Detroit “carpetbagging gentrifiers” sometimes find threatening. It is the Hoodoo tradition of walking around in the middle of the night with no clear destination. We seem to be hanging about sidewalks and corners aimlessly and furtively, which makes many “newcomers” suspicious and assume that we are engaged in criminal activity.

However, in actuality, we are often looking for a suitable crossroads. We do magic in these places. We dump items in these places. We make petitions. We leave offerings. We do all sorts of things that have not even been written, and will not be written … here or anywhere.

But one of the main requirements is that we be secretive. It is important to not be seen. Therefore, we become masters of the blink of the eye action.I credit many of the things that have saved my life in my motorcycle club days to having performed quick getaways from spell work in my teens.

Interestingly, a woman in that very “motorcycle club” once made a doll baby of me. It was a beautiful porcelain doll that contained some of my personal concerns. Unfortunately, this was done without my consent, and I only found out after the woman had a falling out with the inner group. One of the other sisters exposed her and offered to destroy the doll. After its destruction, my life picked back up to a better pace, and I eventually drifted away from that life. But before that, the compulsion had been strong enough that I could not escape.


None of this was strange to me or to any of us. This is what life was. This is how it is. This is what one does. We do workings. Even the most holy of rollers may have a Seal of Moses in their purse from Discount Candle near Eastern Market. Even the most steadfast Moor has been known to carry High John root in their pockets in my circle.

The smells of sulfur, oils, powders, and novena candles take me to my childhood home. There is no stronger core for me than this “reality”. There is no taking the this out of me, any more than one can take that cup back out of the river.

Blue Ridge Mountains

Courtesy of JSmith on Flickr

The Appalachian Mountains conjure up images of rustic living, long-distance hiking and banjos. The range formed back in the Paleozoic Era and now stretches from Newfoundland, Canada to Alabama.  Wandering through its rough terrain is the famous 2,174 mile Appalachian Trail. Throughout time humans have been nurtured by these mountains, developing vibrant cultures within their shadows.

While the northern Appalachian culture has lost much of its unique regional flavor, the communities nestled in the Blue Ridge and Smokey Mountains of southern Appalachia have clung to their rural roots. These areas are far more isolated and distant from growing urban centers. As a result, their traditions have been well-preserved.

Byron Ballard

Byron Ballard
at the Celtic Tree Workshop

Deep within the heart of this southern world, there lives the unexpected: a thriving Pagan community. To get a better understanding of this area and just how the Appalachian way informs the practice of Paganism I turned, quite literally, to a Village Witch. Byron Ballard, a senior priestess of Mother Grove Goddess Temple, lives in the small city of Asheville, North Carolina. She was born and raised in the Appalachian countryside and has since become a recognizable and respected figure in the community.

Heather:  Southern Appalachia has a rich culture that is distinct and recognizable.  Do you see this regional color influencing the practice of Paganism in the area?  How?

Byron: Here in Appalachia we are not far from our agricultural roots as in other parts of the country.  We remain close to the land. I grew up in a rural cove where most people gardened and preserved food. The use of curative herbs and food was common less than a generation ago–many of us don’t think of it as merely a historical leftover.  So for Appalachian Pagans, being close to the land is an accident of birth that is beautiful and significant to us.

H:  Historically speaking, the Cherokee Indians populated this area prior to European colonization.  Their influence is still felt up and down the Blue Ridge and Smokey Mountains.  Does traditional Cherokee culture inform the Appalachian Pagan’s spiritual practice today?

B: I am currently researching what I call the three strands of Appalachian Folk magic: one of which is Cherokee. Unlike other regions, southern Appalachia saw a gentler transition from the dominant Indian culture to American culture. What I mean by that is that the colonists here did not aggressively push into the region. The two cultures lived peacefully and independently which led to gentle integration and cooperation. This continued for over a century.

Meaders Face Jug

Smithsonian American Art Museum
Folk Artist Lanier Meaders
Appalachian Face Jug

As a result, we share many traditions with the Cherokee, such as herbalism and oral storytelling. I also believe that the folk tradition of healing waters comes from Cherokee roots.  In addition, because of Appalachia’s isolation, people have a strong sense of self-reliance which has allowed for the development of wonderful folk art, music, and textiles. This is common to all the cultures of Appalachia.

H: Today, most of the southern Appalachian chain is within the Bible belt. But yet, you live in an area with a thriving Pagan population.  What does the Pagan community look like in Asheville?

B:  I do not have exact figures.  In the Buncombe County area, I suspect about 1000 people self-identify as Pagan of some sort.  Specifically speaking, Asheville has long been an eclectic enclave and is known for having a vibrant Pagan influence.  In addition, there is a segment of the local population that doesn’t identify as Pagan but rather defines their spirituality in terms of nature.  These Jews, Christians, and New Age enthusiasts do not go to church or temple to unite with their concept of the divine.  They go hiking.

You have to understand that the mountains here are some of the oldest in the world.  We have two of the oldest rivers, the New River and the French Broad, running through the area.  It is almost as through you can hear the area hum with a deep low sound.  It calls people in. People that hear become connected to it.

H: As with most of the country, there has been a growing need for interfaith work.  You’ve been a key player in making this happen in Asheville.  Despite the southern setting, your interfaith work has been tremendously successful.  How did a small southern mountain city find its interfaith movement?

B: The interfaith community was born when a woman named Mary Page Sims, the wife of an Atlanta Episcopal Bishop, retired to Hendersonville, North Carolina. In the 1990s, she started a local cooperative circle for United Religious Initiative. I met her shortly after and a group of us began a second circle–Greater Asheville URI Cooperation Circle.

Byron Ballard

Around 2005, the Asheville circle was disbanded, due to a lack of leadership and general interest in interfaith work. Several years later, the Brotherhood at our local Reform congregation wanted to widen their long-term Jewish-Christian dialogue group.  They chose congregational leaders from a very diverse cross-section of the Asheville spiritual community and hired a consultant to lead the group through a process to determine whether there was interest in interfaith work. We formed the Mountain Area Interfaith Forum which is now in its fifth year of operation.

H:  I met you through our work with Lady Liberty League on the Bumcombe County school case that concerned religious freedom.  After working on this particular case, you became involved in yet another very focused interfaith board.  Tell me about that.

B: After the Buncombe County School Board met to establish a protocol for dealing with religious material within the schools, the superintendent, Tony Baldwin created a Faith-Based Leadership Advisory Council.  I serve on the committee with other leaders from all faiths.  Now, when anyone in the school district has a concern or question about a religious observance or tradition, we are available to provide information and support.  Tony Baldwin has been extremely supportive as the County moves through this cultural transition from assumed religious homogeneity to the embracing of its diversity.

H: Thank You, Byron.

Over the years, Byron has worked tirelessly to educate others about beauty of Goddess spirituality and its symbiotic relationship with Appalachian folk tradition.  This fall she taught classes at the Southeast Woman’s Herbal Conference, a weekend celebrating folk tradition, herbalism and the ways of the wise woman, held in Black Mountain, North Carolina.  Byron also co-founded The Coalition of Earth Religions for Education and Support or CERES, a social networking organization for local Appalachian Pagans. She has been interviewed for or contributed to numerous Pagan magazine including Witches and Pagans and Hoodoo & Conjure Quarterly.

Hillfolk HoodooMuch of her outreach work has been done through her writing.  She was a columnist, the Village Witch, for the local Gannett daily paper, The Asheville Citizen-Times and the Mountain Xpress.  More recently, Byron published a book Staubs & Ditchwater:  An introduction to Hillfolks’ Hoodoo. The book included her paper entitled “Hillfolk Hoodoo and the Question of Cultural Strip-mining” which, in 2007, she presented at the Harvard Colloquium “Forging Folklore: Witches, Pagans, and Neo-Tribal Cultures.”

Not all regions of the U.S. are fortunate enough to have such a rich culture heritage, one that lends itself so well to the practice of a Pagan spirituality. In that way, Southern Appalachia is a true national treasure.  Byron herself would be the first to admit, there’s just something in the spirit of those mountains.  Having visited, I would have to agree.


Have you ever read one of those articles about a sacrifice done in a graveyard and wondered who, exactly, does that sort of thing? Well, after a sacrificed rooster was found in a graveyard at Cocoa, Florida, hacked Facebook pictures traced the ceremony back to Christos Kioni, a “living legend” and “two headed” root doctor/spiritual coach. Florida Today interviewed Kioni to find out about his beliefs, and why he conducted the graveyard ceremony.

Kioni was hired by a woman in her 30s pleading for help. He said someone put roots — or a spell — on her, leaving her welted with skin lesions, swollen legs, jaundice and heart problems. “[the spirit of Jonathan Davis, the grave where the ceremony was performed] is very strong. He’s calling people to his grave. He was a warrior,” Kioni said. “His mother should be proud.” Just before sundown, a time when hoodoo practitioners believe the world transitions between life and death, Kioni presided over the sacrifice. The rooster was washed in scented water, perfumed with oils and prayed over as candles flickered. “We presented it to almighty (God)…but I did not deface a grave. This is my religion,” he said.

What isn’t mentioned in the article, but is mentioned in Kioni’s own Youtube channel, is that he’s a initiate into Palo Mayombe. The various threads of Palo are often misunderstood, and often sensationalized as the “dark side of Santeria” due to its willingness to engage with necromancy. Considering the reactions Palo can receive, its not too surprising the root doctor didn’t mention that part of his spiritual resume. One of the most interesting things about this profile/story on Kioni is his own account of how he entered into the world of root work and hoodoo.

“Curiosity and love of God led him to the seminary, he said. He later joined Assemblies of God, a Pentecostal denomination that promoted speaking in tongues, prophesies and spiritual warfare. He became a pastor, but later left organized religion and got into what many Christians consider the forbidden worlds of witchcraft and divination. He has since built what Anderson called a worldwide audience in the hoodoo community.”

I have commented before on how close the Pentecostal and neo-Pentecostal forms of spiritual warfare are to traditional magic as Pagans and other practitioners understand it, and here we have confirmation of something I’ve often wondered: do Christian spiritual warfare techniques ever lead someone into magic? The answer, at least in this case, seems to be yes. I would recommend reading the entire profile, as its not often that traditional news outlets are able/willing to track down and interview root workers, and other practitioners, when they cause controversy with their rites.

Just a few quick news notes for you on this Thursday.

COG Local Council Protests Go Daddy: The Dogwood Local Council of Covenant of the Goddess (COG), a regional body that serves Witches and Wiccans living in Georgia and Alabama, have sent out an announcement that they have stopped using the Internet domain service Go Daddy and are joining an ongoing protest that stems from company CEO Bob Parsons shooting and killing an elephant in Zimbabwe.

“We understand that Parsons’ acts were within the legal limits of Zimbabwe’s laws. And he may believe that he is doing good. However, the ends do not always justify the means. After careful consideration, we, as Witches and members of humanity, have decided to protest these killings,” states Hawk, First Officer of Dogwood Local Council and High Priestess of GryphonSong Clan […] “While we do not want to see humans starving as a result of these roving elephants, we cannot condone the progressive annihilation of a species simply because they are in our way. And the African Elephant is still on the WWF endangered species list.”

Parsons has repeatedly defended his actions as humanitarian in nature, criticizing his critics as unwilling “to step up and do anything,” saying they are “all talk and no walk.” Vanity Fair notes that Parsons seemingly failed to realize that the “heroism of rich white men shooting elephants” has long ago fell out of fashion. As for Dogwood’s protest, it remains to be seen if the rest of COG, or other Pagan organizations, will follow suit.

The Wicker Tree Will Be Coming to America: Fangoria reports that “The Wicker Tree”, the forthcoming companion film to the classic 1973 Pagan-themed horror film “The Wicker Man,” has been picked up by Anchor Bay Entertainment for distribution, and that the film will be screened at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.

“Fango has learned that writer/director Robin Hardy’s THE WICKER TREE—the British helmer’s semi-sequel to his 1973 classic THE WICKER MAN—has been picked up for distribution in North America and the UK, as early as this fall. The film’s international sales agent, High Point Media Group, will screen THE WICKER TREE at the upcoming Cannes Film Festival on May 14 and 16. Anchor Bay Entertainment will release THE WICKER TREE, described as a “companion piece” to the original film and based on Hardy’s 2006 novel COWBOYS FOR CHRIST (the initial title for the follow-up movie, previously attempted and scuttled a few years ago), which takes place 40 years after the events of the previous film.”

So we could be seeing this film in theaters this fall! Maybe just in time for Samhain? We’ll keep you posted. You can read all of my “Wicker Tree” coverage, here.

New Orleans Voodoo and Hoodoo Gets a Magazine: New Orleans Voodoo Examiner Denise Alvarado brings our attention to a new quarterly magazine entitled Hoodoo and Conjure Quarterly.

“Recognizing the resurgence of folk magic and the growing community of hoodoos, rootworkers, and spiritualists, Planet Voodoo has created a new, high quality journal that meets the needs of today’s conjurers and curious. Hoodoo & Conjure Quarterly (HCQ) journal is the first publication of its kind that focuses on New Orleans Voodoo and hoodoo and related African derived traditions. It shares historical and contemporary information about aspects of the conjure arts, including magico-religious practices, spiritual traditions, folk magic, southern hoodoo, and religions with their roots in the African Diaspora and indigenous herbalism. Each issue of Hoodoo & Conjure Quarterly brings you original and traditional formulas, spells, tutorials, root doctor, spiritual mother, and conjure artist profiles, information about New Orleans Voodoo and more!”

The periodical was created by Alvarado and her business partner Sharon Marino. The first issue came out in March, is in full color, and is 100+ pages long. If you want order a copy, please visit Planet Voodoo.

It happens every year. The irresistible combination of Halloween (aka Samhain to many Pagans) and real-live Witches causes a great flood of articles involving local Pagans. While usually of the light-as-a-feather “meet the Pagans” variety, they can sometimes be insightful, or give attention to Pagans who are doing good work. For instance, the Chicago Tribune’s profile of Circle Sanctuary minister Paul Larson.

He said he spent years searching religions for the proper spiritual fit. “I was born into the Mormon faith, converted to the (Episcopal) faith and then became a Buddhist,” Larson said. “But I had been investigating paganism since 1969.” About eight years ago, after experiencing the loss of several family members and friends, he began to concentrate on paganism. “I still consider myself a hyphenated American, a Mormo-Episco-Buddhi-pagan,” said Larson, who has a Buddhist statue in his office located in the Merchandise Mart. The statue isn’t too far from the certificate that shows he was ordained over the summer as a Wiccan minister. “Eight years ago as I was going through my (reinvention), I stopped believing in religious exclusivity, that there was one path through which the divine speaks,” he said. Larson said that despite the misconceptions, contemporary paganism has become attractive to more people, particularly young people, over the last three decades because of its reverence for the environment and its embrace of feminism. It also allows for a diversity of thought and belief systems that aren’t bound by a singular doctrine.

Meanwhile, the Religion News Service concentrates on how some Christians and Pagans work to co-exist and spread their faith’s message within the hothouse confines of Salem during the Halloween season. Giving special attention to Pastor Phil Wyman of The Gathering, who had come into conflict with his own denomination over his openness to the local Pagans and Witches.

[Phil Wyman] trains counselors not to fear witches and to disavow an “aggressive, warfare” mentality. “That would ruin what we would do,” Wyman said. “A dialogue is the only way that we’re really going to find out what people think, what they really believe and where they stand. We have to be willing to hear what they believe as well as say what we believe. There’s a give and take.”

The RNS also interviews Spiritualists, Witches, and Catholics to paint a picture of how all faiths get swept up in the atmosphere of Salem’s Halloween, participating in festivities and having divinations performed on their behalf.

Perusing the seasonal coverage you can find stories on Witches’ Balls, local metaphysical shops, shamans, and even an in-depth examination of Hoodoo in America courtesy of Erik Davis.

“In his necessary history Occult America, Mitch Horowitz declares hoodoo “America’s first boundary-free faith.” He also shows how hoodoo was transformed by the emerging commercial marketplace of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, when mail-order catalogs and chains of urban supply shops standardized some hoodoo practices while providing a cornucopia of new items for imaginative appropriation. Products developed for secular purposes — like Florida water or Hoyt’s cologne—transformed into healing potions. The resulting magical transformations were not limited to the United States — San Pedro shamans in Peru still love to spritz with Florida water.”

Of course you can also find your usual smattering of “Halloween is evil” articles if you look hard enough. Various pastors and ministers trying very hard to inject Christ into this spooky holiday season. But these seem to be shrinking, especially as more and more people turn to this holiday as a means of escape from the mundane problems around them. Between all the Christine O’Donnell coverage, the Druid charity status story, and now the usual spate of Halloween/Samhain pieces, this may be one of the biggest media blitzes in terms of sheer coverage and interviews our communities have seen in years. Whether all this coverage translates into more respect, understanding, or even converts, is still an open question. What we can say is that is certainly keeps modern Paganism, for better or for worse, in the public eye.

I’m not much of a sports fan, but I did end up watching the second half of last night’s Super Bowl between the New Orleans Saints and the Indianapolis Colts. While the Saints seem like a well-honed and remarkably skilled unit, at least to my inexperienced eyes, I was also struck by how “lucky” the team seemed in those final quarters of the game. Did they have some “outside” help? Religion reporter Gary Stern noted that many of the Saints are devout Christians, who quickly thanked God for the victory.

“Well, that was quite a game. You have to feel good for the city of New Orleans, no matter which team you root for. Coming five years after Katrina, the Saints’ big win seems perfectly scripted. By whom? A bunch of Saints players are saying that it was “God’s plan” that they beat the Colts.”

But thinking about the religious and cultural climate of New Orleans, I had some other notions of who might deserve a thank-you. Lisa Johnson, sister of retired football pro Eric Dickerson, and a root-worker for several NFL stars, tells Gawker that the outcome was a foregone conclusion.

The Colts were up against every single “Southern root doctor, voodoo priest, and conjurer” in the Bayou last night. Johnson knew the Saints were getting special help when she watched the NFC Championship against the Vikings two weeks ago: quarterback Brett Favre took a beating, playing terribly after a whole season of the best football of his long career. “I guarantee you,” she said, “when he got up at the end of the game, he felt like an old man.” The conjurers went to work on the Colts the week before the game … From midnight to 5 a.m.—”the witching hour”—the conjurers “burn candles, sage and tobacco” Chicken feet were used to curse opposing players and protect the Saints. By the time the game started, Johnson knew the Colts couldn’t win…

While I’m sure there were some practitioners in Indianapolis trying their best to influence the outcome, they were probably out-gunned by sheer numbers alone. For weeks the media has been hinting that alongside Christian prayers, many fans were trying to appease the spirit of Marie Laveau, or engage in some root-work to make the win happen. Indeed, many commentators, despite thinking the Colts were technically better, decided there were too many mystical intangibles working for the Saints to lose.

“Sure, Peyton Manning is the most ruthlessly clinical surgeon under center since Joe Montana. But he tempted the fates. He might have offended New Orleans’ late voodoo queen Marie Laveau along the way. Or did you miss the “gris-gris” bestowed upon the once-favorite son of the South? Brett Favre, who grew up a Saints fan in neighboring Mississippi and later became King Creole, had the audacity to ride into the Louisiana Superdome with Minnesota. He needed a mere five yards or so to set up a game-winning field-goal attempt in the waning seconds. And as he rolled right, the field opened up. Then, as if someone (Laveau?) stuck a pin in the right arm of his purple-clad voodoo doll, Favre uncorked a cross-body pass. Interception. Overtime. Favre never touched the ball again. The erstwhile Aints were Super Bowl-bound.”

So as Get Religion explores the many Christian dimensions of yesterday’s Super Bowl, let’s also acknowledge that there was plenty of “extracurricular” spiritual activity happening on the side-lines. I mean, can you have a big win in New Orleans without thanking God and the spirits? Something tells me there are going to be plenty of offerings left at crossroads, graves, and shrines in the coming weeks alongside the “amens” in church.

Sometimes you can understand why something strange makes the news and provokes wild speculation. For instance, when people find dead animals in parks, that is bound to freak people out and lead to speculation of “dark” magic practiced by a mysterious “other”. But other times, you have to wonder how something actually made the headlines, such as in the case of a “cursed cow tongue” found in a rural cornfield.

“…farmers called police to County Road 28 and County Road 5 around 7:30 p.m. Saturday, and police said they found a package wrapped securely in black plastic and tied with yellow nylon ropes. Police said someone dug a small hole and left the package inside. Since officers couldn’t tell what was inside the package, they called out the bomb squad. X-rays showed no mechanical devices inside, so police opened the package and found some kind of flesh that had sutures in it. An anthropologist, who is part of the investigative staff identified it as a cow’s tongue.When officers opened the sutures, they found a photograph inside, writing in Spanish and what looked like different types of pepper, said Longmont Police Cmdr. Tim Lewis.Officers said they did some research and found a cow’s tongue is used in different types of rituals, including one that would make someone stop gossiping or talking about a person, which is what this appears to be, Lewis said.”

First of all, a bomb squad? I understand the need for caution, but who would bomb a rural cornfield? Also, since they uncovered that it wasn’t a bomb, and in fact no danger to the community, why was the press told? Further, they said they are trying to warn the person in the photo and bring in the spell-maker for questioning (though they admit they probably won’t press charges), escalating a simple bit of folk-magic into an ongoing drama.

An x-ray of a cursed cow-tongue.

If there is a lesson here, it is two-fold. First, magical practitioners need to be really, really careful about where they leave spells. Even if you’re doing a bit of non-malefic magic to stop someone bad-mouthing you, you better make sure that en-spelled cow tongue (that you bought at the butchers) or bottle full of pee and rusty nails is buried somewhere safe. Second, if no harm was done, and no charges are going to be pressed, then this should never have been a matter that made its way to the press. You don’t think the local papers aren’t going to want to follow up and see who did this? There is the very real possibility that a fragile  (or simply personal) domestic situation could boil over now that it’s splashed all over “news of the weird” sections across the country. As for the local papers, frankly, you’d think that with newspapers collapsing across the country, they’d want to save their payroll for issues that actually concern the public at large.

My semi-regular round-up of articles, essays, and opinions of note for discerning Pagans and Heathens.

Jane Baker, from the Australian paper The Yass Tribue, holds up Hypatia of Alexandria as a beacon of inspiration when confronting various fundamentalisms and maintaining independent thought.

“In a time darker than ours, a time when reason was held hostage to fundamentalism, when only one form of thought and belief was permitted, when scholars were denounced and their works destroyed, Hypatia kept teaching and standing up for reason. “Reserve your right to think, for even to think wrongly is better than not to think at all,” she told her students. Those words should stay with us when we read the papers, listen to the news, hear the latest demagogue spruiking his zealotry. We have to think. We have to question. We cannot accept what we are told without thought and consideration. That is what stands between us and the darkness of ignorance and fanaticism.”

Now that Hypatia’s story is being adapted into a film, one wonders if the famous Neoplatonist will indeed become a sort of Pagan saint, invoked against intolerance and religious extremism by a variety of groups.

Students from Pagan/Wiccan club and Native American club at Joliet Junior College, inspired by one of their teachers, joined forces to create a Relay for Life team and raise money for Cancer research.

“Students from the Native American Club and the Pagan Wiccan Club joined together to create the JJC Thunderbirds team for the All-College Relay for Life being held this weekend at Lewis University in Romeoville. In a final push to raise funds for the walk, they created an event – ‘Clips for a Cure’ – on the JJC bridge Thursday afternoon. Anyone donating a foot of hair to Locks of Love was eligible for a free hair cut; others were given a hair cut with a donation as small as $5. Hairstylists from J&M Hair Salon in Joliet donated their time and talent to the cause, cutting both men’s and women’s hair.”

Thanks in part to the efforts of these clubs, Joliet Junior College has raised over $25,000 for cancer research in the past two years. This is a wonderful example of young Pagans involved in making the world a better place, and showing that the future of our religious movement is in good hands.

The Florida Sun-Sentinel re-tells the myth of Eos and Tithonus.

“Naturally Tithonus loved Eos. Who could resist the love of such a beautiful goddess? Just as she does today, in those years long ago, Eos woke the world each morning with curling rings of light, and every morning she mystically brought the world out of darkness. Whenever Tithonus looked at her, he felt a glow, the way so many people feel at dawn – as buoyant as an April morning on those days when the first buds begin to bloom.”

Just the myth. No commentary, no moral lesson, just the story. If re-printing the great stories and myths in newspapers is a new trend, I approve! Perhaps they can run a serial of the Trojan War?

A Druid from Portsmouth has turned in his ritual sword to the police in order to make a statement on the recent growth of stabbing incidents in the UK.

“A Druid who had to fight a legal battle to get his sword back after police confiscated it has now handed the weapon in to promote world peace. Merlin Williams used his blunt sword, Taliesin, to create a circle of safety around members of the druid order at ceremonies … He said: ‘The thought to hand the sword in to police came to me when I was meditating and thinking about world peace and the stabbings you read about in the papers all the time. ‘I wanted to show that druids are peace-loving and although the sword was never used for violence, I thought handing it in to the police station where it was confiscated would be a good way of doing this. I also want to discourage others from carrying knives as it can lead to violence and people being hurt.'”

Williams is a member and chief bard of the The Insular Order of Druids, an organization that has had more than one run-in with the law over confiscated ritual blades.

The Oshawa Public Library in Ontario has generated a bit of scandal over providing a tarot workshop to local teens.

“It’s not often that a school librarian takes issue with a library program. But Oshawa’s Susan Packer said she was driven to act last week, after learning Oshawa’s public library will be offering tarot card workshops for teens later this month. “I believe that tarot reading is a dangerous practice. Teenagers who might attend the program offered at the library will be dabbling in the occult,” said Ms. Packer, who is the parent of three teenagers and a teacher-librarian at an Oshawa elementary school … Ms. Packer shared her concerns with the Durham District School Board and sent a letter to the library board and local politicians last week, asking that the program be dropped.”

While such a controversy might have played out differently in America, it seems that Canada has little tolerance for religious hysteria. A librarian at OPL said that “we don’t let small groups of people dictate what large groups of people can see or do or learn”, and they plan to go ahead with the workshop. The workshops are being held on April 19th and 26th, and will feature Zsuzsana, author of “The Now Age”.

In a final note, a couple people passed along a link to a story from late last year that I missed. It concerns an ongoing rivalry between two Baltimore candle stores on the same street “Grandma’s Candle Shop” and “Lucky Star Candles: Home of Old Grandpa.”

“Grandma’s and Grandpa’s have both been caring for the spiritual health of downtown Baltimore for three decades, squabbling like an old married couple the whole time. The feud isn’t as hot as it was when Old Grandpa ran his store, but despite their similarities, there’s no love lost between the candle merchants.”

This story has it all: drama, allegations of intellectual property theft, bad blood, and different religious backgrounds (Grandma’s is Pagan-friendly, Grandpa’s is decidedly Christian in tone). Both uneasily co-exist while selling mojo and magical supplies to the locals. A must-read!

That is all I have for now, have a great day!

The Digital Journalist has a wonderful essay up by producer and director Jim Gabour on the culture of Voodoo in New Orleans, and how a simple wedding gift of “mojo” made his neighbors see him in a new light.

“Seems two old friends in L.A. are getting married, and I want to send them something as a gift – they’ve both been very generous to me with their friendship and their unselfish introduction of a Looziana boy into the West Coast media community over the years. So I want to send an only-from-New-Orleans-and-only-from-me gift to celebrate their union. After much rumination I decide I will go to my favorite voodoo shop (the XXX Botanica is literally the Wal-Mart of voodoo paraphernalia) and put together a packet of lucky charms. Surely a New Orleans sort of thing, that. The XXX is out in a bad part of the Faubourg St. John area, and a bit of a drive, but I figure that the effort will make it more of a heartfelt gift.”

I won’t reveal the story here, but it’s worth the read for a no-nonsense look into the culture of hoodoo and Voodoo in present-day New Orleans. For more of Gabour’s writings, check out the Open Democracy site.