Watching down on creation from the great sanctified church in the sky, I’m sure you are spry enough again to sing and dance in a ring shout circle, and re-conjure your memories of a life well lived.
As you watch us muddle through our days, perhaps you notice this old writer whom you once knew as that white boy around the corner who stopped by daily to see his best friend in the house where you worked as a maid in Tallahassee. Because my friend’s parents were frequently absent due to work, volunteer, and church schedules, you were the stern ruler of that household from dawn to dark.
In those days, I saw you as the heart and soul of that home even though our flawed traditions wouldn’t allow you to walk in through the front door. I loved and respected (and sometimes) feared you then, but I was not allowed to tell you so. After my mother and my grandmother, you were the best cook on the planet, but Southern booking wasn’t the best of what I learned from you.
I learned about faith and forbearance and streetwise savviness in a dangerous world along with the value of humor and tall tales as antidotes to the slights and terrors of the day. In those days, perhaps you saw me as part of the fair number of kids who hung out around that house and the woods behind it and had no way of knowing whether I’d end up in reform school or the priesthood. Well, I guess you knew I wasn’t destined to become a priest!
Like the children who lived in that house, Flora, I went off to college and then into the Navy and then into a life a thousand miles away. I’m sorry I lost track of you then. I wish I had hugged you goodbye before I went off into the world.
Now, as Lena, the third novel in my Florida Folk Magic series is nearing its release date, I want you to know that the book’s acknowledgements tell my readers you are my inspiration for Eulalie, the conjure woman who is the heart and soul of the series. Thank you for everything you taught me and my apologies for everything I have forgotten.
Washington, D.C., March 10, 2018, Star-Gazer News Service–Dumbfounded federal agents admitted in the dawn’s early light here today that they have no “anti-spell” technology available to stop the Conjure Women of America’s powerful Congress Be Gone spell.
“Congressmen and women are dropping like flies as the spell flows through the Capitol building like left over green slime from an old horror movie,” said Washington station agent Charles W. Chesnutt.
Implemented when Senators and Representatives begin using greyed out speech balloons that led to squabbling and gridlock instead of action, the spell is forcing lawmakers to put their rails between their legs and leave.
“We wrote down old regrets on parchment and tied them up with devil’s shoestrings and a pinch of goofer dust while burning black candles dressed with fermented sodium pentothal,” said Caroline Dye, matriarch of Conjure Women of America, LLC.
“They’ve got out nuts roasting over an open fire,” said Chesnutt. “Someday soon the halls of government will be cleared out, deadsville, flat empty, lights on but nobody’s home, and I’m betting my pension we’ll be going with them.”
Analysts at the Seals of Solomon Think Tank on Backlick Road said they can’t think of anything to do except draw their paychecks like Congress while doing “absolutely nothing.”
“When it comes to Congress, the tail ain’t even wagging the dog,” said Chief Thinker, Daniel Stormy. “Damn town has turned into a giant hoax-a-thon.”
“Congress has turned into a pack of dogs that won’t hunt,” Dye told reporters at her Chillum, Maryland moonshine still. “Once they pack it up, we’ll let the good Lord sort things out.
Story filed by Jock Stewart, Special Investigative Reporter.
Those who know Mama Starr Casas from her Old Style Conjure website, need no introduction to this practical guidebook published in September. Like her website commentaries, it’s blunt, practical, based on the culture she grew up in, and overviews works (spells) and approaches in an easy to understand manner. The book reminds us that conjure (hoodoo, rootwork) is directly linked to African American ancestors, the Christian Bible, and common sense approaches to magic based on the materials at hand in a typical Southern household.
Conjure workers are usually Christian. I like Casas’ statement, “If you remove the Bible from Old Style Conjure work then what you are doing really isn’t Conjure work! It then becomes something else. If you can hold the greatest Conjure book ever written in your hands and learn the power from it; why in the world would you let anyone stop you?” She also doesn’t agree with people who mix hoodoo with other forms of magic in a roll-your-own approach.
Conjure, hoodoo, rootwork―these are all names for southern American folk magic. Conjure first emerged in the days of slavery and plantations and is widely considered among the most potent forms of magic. Its popularity continues to increase, both in the United States and worldwide. This book is a guide to using conjure to achieve love, success, safety, prosperity, and spiritual fulfillment. Author Starr Casas, a hereditary master of the art, introduces readers to the history and philosophy of conjure and provides practical information for using it. Featuring Casas’s own rituals, spells, and home recipes, the book provides useful information suitable for novices and seasoned practitioners alike.
In its pages, you’ll learn about:
Building your own conjure altar
Research or Practical Use
This book is readable and should be very helpful to those who are interested in folk magic as an avocation, want to try out spell work themselves, or are fascinated by the history and culture of hoodoo. Students of magic will also enjoy the inspirational forward by Orion Foxwood.
I’m slowly working on a new novel called Lena as a sequel to Conjure Woman’s Cat and Eulalie and Washerwoman. For reasons that might become apparent once it’s published, you’ll see why I’m moving so slowly on it. It begins like this: “So, Eulalie sang ‘Lady Luck Blues’ as she drove the 1949 clover green Studebaker pickup truck down that southbound road while creeks, wiregrass, longleaf pines, and sunny autumn afternoon savannahs slow-drag danced past the open windows and South Wind’s children teased her hair into sweet disorder. She was happy and heading for Willie Tate down in Carrabelle.” Unfortunately for Eulalie, the happiness isn’t going to last.
I rely on a lot of books and websites for source material about conjure. Unfortunately, Spiritual Information–featuring Voodoo Queen–will no longer have new posts. The author, who is older than I am, has become too ill to continue, and wants to retire after she finishes healing. The good news is that her blog will remain online as a reference. There’s a handy index of topics on the left side of the screen. A quick glance at this list will show you how wonderful this blog has been for those who want to learn more about the oldest hoodoo traditions from days gone by.
I appreciate the support of those of you who also followed my other blog “The Sun Singer’s Travels.” In trying to simplify (whatever that means), I’ve closed that blog. It was my oldest, having started on Blogger many years ago, subsequently moving here to WordPress. I’ll try to keep you up to date on this blog as well as my website.
This has nothing to do with writing, but my friend and Thomas-Jacob colleague Smoky Zeidel, who lives in a southern California desert community, has been posting glorious pictures of her vegetable garden on Facebook. I’m jealous. My tomatoes, banana peppers and jalapenos finally bit the dust with our cooler temperatures. I still have some hardy oregano and parsley. If you’re taking notes, the oregano and parsley won’t be on the test.
This is a very thorough, readable and well-illustrated reference to the traditionally large and widespread practice of selling hoodoo, Voodoo and other spiritual supplies via mail order, web sites, and retail stores. The book begins with a compact description about the origins of hoodoo and charms–one of the best descriptions I’ve seen–and then goes on to discuss the nature of selling charms, herbal mixtures and other supplies by mail. The book includes a list of current (as of the publication date) merchants that were in business along with their histories.
One thing you notice before reading too far into the mechanizing section is the sad truth that many merchants faked what they were selling. The ingredients were either not as advertised or were not prepared in the proper manner. Carolyn Long conducted extensive interviews with catherine yronwode (pronounced “Ironwood”) who founded the Lucky Mojo Curio Company. Long notes that yronwode not only has a great deal of hoodoo information (history, spells, practices) on her site but guarantees that the powders, oils, herbs, candles and other supplies she sells are genuine.
All savvy merchants, current and historical, were likely to run afoul of the USPS if they claimed their merchandise would actually produce working magical spells and/or cure ailments. For that reason, merchants sold–and continue to sell–their products “as curios only.”
Long includes a chapter about one of the more famous products, High John the Conqueror (and related “John” products) which are generally used for protection. The irony is, nobody’s sure what it is. Many plants have been considered that are native and non-native to the United States. The problem goes back to the fact that early conjurers were not, of course, using the scientific name of the root, so now we’re stuck having to guess. Until shown otherwise, I would tend to believe yronwode’s description here.
From the Publisher
They can be found along the side streets of many American cities: herb or candle shops catering to practitioners of Voodoo, hoodoo, Santería, and similar beliefs. Here one can purchase ritual items and raw materials for the fabrication of traditional charms, plus a variety of soaps, powders, and aromatic goods known in the trade as “spiritual products.” For those seeking health or success, love or protection, these potions offer the power of the saints and the authority of the African gods.
In Spiritual Merchants, Carolyn Morrow Long provides an inside look at the followers of African-based belief systems and the retailers and manufacturers who supply them. Traveling from New Orleans to New York, from Charleston to Los Angeles, she takes readers on a tour of these shops, examines the origins of the products, and profiles the merchants who sell them.
If you are researching hoodoo and/or writing a hoodoo-based folk magic novel, this book will serve as a handy reference.
What do bones bring to mind? Perhaps, the bones left on a dinner plate, the fish or chicken bones you try not to swallow, the bones you break when you fall, the bones that ache as you grow older, or perhaps you think of the recent TV show “Bones” based on the novels of forensic anthropologist Kathy Reichs.
Fans of the TV show and Reichs’ novels know that bones are used in forensics to determine identity and potentially the natural or criminal cause of death. Conjurers and others who “throw the bones” do so as a method of divination. The use of bones as oracles or to determine the future of a person in relation to a question is ancient. The method is also rare inasmuch as most people tend to focus more these days on Tarot cards, I Ching readings, crystals, and psychic skills.
“Bone Reading is a form of divination that uses animal bones, nuts, shells, and curios such as dice or beads…collectively known as ‘bones’ …to divine information . . .In times past, the bones were often tossed into a circle drawn on the ground; however, modern bone readers are more inclined to toss them onto a specially marked cloth. ” – Carolina Conjure
Conjurers use a variety of methods, with many relying on the bones of one animal–often a possum or a chicken–that are kept in a pouch or basket–and used multiple times for multiple readings. Some use natural colorings, marks or paints to create a heads/tails side of each bone. This tends to limit the reading to one or more yes/no questions.
Others consider the layout of the circle whether it has been printed on a cloth or drawn on the ground. Some visualize a single cross that’s called a crossroads and consider the quadrants where the bones fall. Others divide the circle into sections based on the face of a clock, the “wheel of the year” (seasons, solstices, equinoxes), or the signs of the zodiac.
Those who visualize the circle where they toss the bones as being divided into sections, may also interpret the bones partially on bone type (what it means by itself), intuition, or the guidance of spirits (typically ancestors). Depending on the question being considered, they may include a domino, seeds, dice, shells, stones or other objects in the circle. Whatever falls outside the circle when the bones are thrown (tossed, scattered) does not figure in the reading other than noting that it was excluded.
Bone readers typically don’t use the entire skeleton of an animal. Their collection may include bones obtained in various ways so that each has a special significance. Others may not seem to apply to a particular question. In addition, those using, say, possum or chicken bones, see meanings in each bone: good or bad news, travel, health, relationships. Those reading possum bones may throw only six of them, the right and left jawbone, the right and left front legs, and the right and left back legs,
The circle is considered sacred space. It contains the reading just as a particular Tarot card spread contains the cards to be considered. Many readers begin the reading with a prayer, the recitation of a psalm, and settling themselves into a relaxed posture and frame of mind so as to be receptive to the messages found when they throw the bones.
Bone reading is difficult–and some say, impossible–to learn out of a book or from a website even if you’re using the bones to answer yes/no questions. Interpreting the bones–as with tea leaves–depends on practice, a wise mentor, and sometimes initiation into a religion or a system. I find it fascinating while writing my conjure and crime novels, but would never attempt it myself. On the other hand, my Tarot deck is an old friend.
I suppose most authors have favorite scenes from each of their books. We hope our readers like them, too. Here are a few from Eulalie and Washerwoman, from Thomas-Jacob Publishing.
Publisher’s Description: Torreya, a small 1950s Florida Panhandle town, is losing its men. They disappear on nights with no moon and no witnesses. Foreclosure signs appear in their yards the following day while thugs associated with the Klan take everything of value from inside treasured homes that will soon be torn down. The police won’t investigate, and the church keeps its distance from all social and political discord. Conjure woman Eulalie Jenkins, her shamanistic cat, Lena, and neighbor Willie Tate discover that the new “whites only” policy at the once friendly mercantile and the creation of a plantation-style subdivision are linked to corrupt city fathers, the disappearing men, rigged numbers gambling, and a powerful hoodoo man named Washerwoman.
So Eulalie woke precariously from the blues of her dreams into the jaundiced light of the kerosene lantern when a frightful pre-dawn bedlam was visited upon our back porch by a man named William Ochlockonee Tate, a blue-nosed hinny named Minnie, and a Florida water moccasin named Nagaina. I’m Lena, the cat. Before my conjure woman was awoken by Minnie’s flailing hooves, I dozed blamelessly behind the pot marigolds until they were kicked into the yard.
“Sergeant told me they’d study on it after they get the crime wave under control.”
Eulalie spat a shower of juice against the busted marigold pot. “Crime wave? I hadn’t heard.”
“It’s so scary, you won’t sleep on this lumpy old sofa on the back porch no more. Officer Moe, he claims the Bellamy Bridge haint came to town to hex us up one side and down the other. Officer Larry took a posse and rode south to apprehend a swamp booger pissin’ in front of that new white people’s church on the Estiffanulga Road. “Preacher man was damn well pissed off.” Willie couldn’t help but grin at that. “Sergeant Curly’s been on the trail of Two-Toed Tom for a month of Sundays; says if he don’t close in for the kill soon, he’ll jump Jim Crow.”
“Bless their shiny badges and pea-pickin’ hearts,” said Eulalie as matter-of-factly as one could make such a tongue-in-cheek pronouncement with a good chew in the way.
“So, what do we do first? Gather herbs. Light candles. Boil water?”
“We ain’t midwifin’, old man.”
“Don’t drink nothin’ out of that pan, Lena,” she said. “That’s the leavings of blackberry root, alum and turpentine, not a cure for anything you got. You saw ol’ Bill Carver walkin’home with the cure because he rolled too many hot biscuits at the jook and got a personal disease”—she clapped her hands twice and glared at me like this was a warning—“one that makes it hurt to pee.”
“‘Negroes and Whites have been coming here for years no hint of a problem, Mr. Ivy. Why do I need a sign now?’ Little Poison leaned across the counter close enough for me to smell the cheap bourbon on his breath. ‘Listen good, Lane. When Niggers and Whites are together, somebody’s out of place. If I go inside that praise church, I’m in the wrong place. That’s a Nigger place. If a Nigger walks in my church, he’s out of place. Out of place people have a way of getting hurt, hurt bad sometimes, and then they’re found floating face down in the Apalachicola after falling off Alum Bluff, hurt bad when their necks get caught in nooses or their houses blow up or burn down. Civilized people grieve when people of any race, including you bagel-dogs get hurt. The Liberty Improvement Club wants a happy town where nobody gets hurt. You might say, we’re the Nigger’s best friend because we help him see the places he belongs, places he can have a comfortable life. When he makes a mistake, we punish him because we believe in spare the rod, spoil the child. You can see that, can’t you? That sign keeps people in the right place like saying keep off the grass or no parking. That sign will make you rich. Yeah, I thought your Jew-boy eyes would grow wide when you heard that. Mr. Smith will come by in an hour and explain it to you.’ He tossed another hundred dollar bill on the counter and left the store with a grin wide enough to show every rotten tooth in his mouth.”
“Gives us time for a quickie behind the brush pile, brown sugar,” said Billy “We’ll pop your clutch and see how fast you scream ‘Lordy Lordy’ and beg for more.”
Billy was in the process of massaging her bottom and leaning in close enough to lick the frown off her lips when he froze, froze like time looked away, then screamed, “Holy shit,” and stumbled back holding his neck, and for Hank it was the same even though his greedy fingers hadn’t quite reached Eulalie’s blouse, freezing though as the good Lord covered his eyes, wailing then like a stuck pig before stumbling backward over a keg of nails.
“Yellow jackets don’t believe in paramour rights,” said Eulalie.
She winked at me and walked off down the street. I stood there and watched Billy and Hank shoving their heads into the icy slush in the Coca-Cola cooler until they ran out of fresh profanity.
Told through the narrative voice of Lena, Eulalie’s shamanistic cat, the fast-paced story comes alive. The approach is fresh and clever; Malcolm R. Campbell manages Lena’s viewpoint seamlessly, adding interest and a unique perspective. Beyond the obvious abilities of this author to weave an enjoyable and engaging tale, I found the book rich with descriptive elements. So many passages caused me to pause and savor. ‘The air…heavy with wood smoke, turpentine, and melancholy.’ ‘ …the Apalachicola National Forest, world of wiregrass and pine, wildflower prairies, and savannahs of grass and small ponds… a maze of unpaved roads, flowing water drawing thirsty men…’ ‘…of the prayers of silk grass and blazing star and butterfly pea, of a brightly colored bottle tree trapping spirits searching for Washerwoman…of the holy woman who opened up the books of Moses and brought down pillars of fire and cloud so that those who were lost could find their way.'”
– Rhett DeVane, Tallahassee Democrat
“A simply riveting read from beginning to end, ‘Eulalie and Washerwoman’ is very highly recommended for both personal reading lists and community library General Fiction collections. – Julie Summers, Midwest Book Review
Devil’s Shoe Strings are the root from Viburnum Opulus (aka cramp bark, Guelder-Rose, water elder, European cranberry bush) and several other similar plants that conjurers use for protection, breaking jinxes and for bringing good luck and money.
As the name Guelder Rose indicates, the plant supposedly originated in the Netherlands. The plant stands out in with its showy white flowers in April and May, and its red fruit in the fall. While it can be invasive, it is often used in yards as a hedge, attaining heights up to 15 feet. The flowers attract butterflies and the fruits is somewhat edible (but not right off the plant).
Indians smoked camp bark as a tobacco substitute and used it to relieve spasms and cramps associated the pregnancy. According to Web MD, “These days, the bark and root bark of this plant are still used to make medicine. As the name suggests, cramp bark is used for relieving cramps, including muscle spasms, menstrual cramps, and cramps during pregnancy. Cramp bark is also used as a kidney stimulant for urinary conditions that involve pain or spasms.”
In conjure, devil’s shoe strings from Viburnum Opulus and similar plants have a wider variety of uses. Mixed with dirt from an enemy’s yard and red pepper, devil’s shoe strings send curses back to the person trying to harm you. Put them in your mojo bag sith a silver dime and high John the conqueror root for general protection. Put them in a bottle of whiskey or Hoyt’s Cologne, let sit for nine days, and then dampen your hair with the coction for good luck.
As Conjured Cardea notes, “Devil’s shoestring is used for protection, to ‘trip up the devil’ so he can’t get in your home or life. They are also carried for gambling luck and for gaining employment. Some folks drive them into the ground around the front door or place a bundle of them above the door or mantelpiece. In the beginning of hoodoo, people would wear an anklet made with nine pieces of devil’s shoestring and a silver dime to prevent being ‘poisoned through the feet’ by stepping in goofers dust or other foot-traffic tricks.”
You need not be a conjurer to enjoy the plant because it just looks darned pretty in your back yard in hardiness zones 3-8.
Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of two conjure novels, “Conjure Woman’s Cat” and “Eulalie and Washerwoman.”
Belladonna (nightshade) and the potato you eat with your steak are related. Solanaceae, plants that prefer shade or dappled sunlight, is a large family! However, if your conjure practitioner keeps belladonna in stock, its primary use–other than as a curiosity or an ornamental–in folk magic is to poison people. In 1915, plant researcher Henry Walters said nightshade was a plant filled with hatred.
Several berries might do the trick. Touching it will badly inflame your skin. In areas where belladonna grows wild, medical students were (and perhaps still are) taught to recognize the symptoms of belladonna poisoning by memorizing this phrase: “Hot as a hare, blind as a bat, dry as a bone, red as a beat, and mad as a hatter.”
It’s use now in cosmetics is rare, though it once was fairly common. It was once used by women to accentuate their eyes, hence bella donna (beautiful woman). It still has some medical uses, though the dangers it presents are outside the skill set of most herbalists and root doctors.
It can be used in the treatment of whooping cough, Parkinson’s disease, motion sickness, psychiatric conditions, and as a painkiller. (See WebMD for more information.)
How apt that the active agent in belladonna, atropine, is named after Atropos, the Greek fate who snipped an individual’s threat of life. Or, as Milton said, “Comes the blind Fury with the abhorred shears/And skits the thin-spun life.
The plant often appears in myths and fairy lore. Purportedly, it put Snow White to sleep when it was injected into the apple she was given. Like Henbane and Thornapple (aka Devil’s Apple), Belladonna is associated with the goddess of night and death, Hecate.
According to Amy Stewart (in a handy and fun little guidebook called Wicked Plants) says that nightshade “causes rapid heartbeat, confusion, hallucinations, and seizures. The symptoms are so unpleasant that atropine is sometimes added to potentially addictive painkillers to keep patients from getting hooked.”
The plant’s names, nightshade and belladonna sound like magic, mystery and enchantment. Yet, it’s not the kind of mystery I want my friendly neighborhood herbalist or conjure woman playing around with.
Some of the best recipes often come out of special cookbooks published by church groups, friends of the library committees, clubs, and historical societies. The recipes in Hoodoo Food! The Best of the Conjure Cook-Off and Rootwork Recipe Round-Up are no exception.
Not only are the book’s recipes solid and well-thought-out by traditional cooking standards, they’re grouped by type, that is to say, the conjure category where they’ll provide extra blessings and benefits:
New Year’s Luck
Affairs of the Heart
Dreams and Divination
The book was published in 2014 by the Ladies Auxiliary of California’s Missionary Independent Spiritual Church and includes the first-, second- and third-place winners of conjure cook-offs held between 2010 and 2013.
In addition to the handy categories, the recipes’ ingredients include parenthetical notations showing their conjure benefits. As a fan of Hoppin’ John, I see that the New Year’s Luck recipe notes that the beans, diced bacon, spicy sausage, and red onion are great for luck, that the rice helps with prosperity and fertility, and that the spices help with protection.
Under Money Matters, who can resist “Valentina’s Hot Money-Draw Texas Chili” even if they already have plenty of money? The recipe is filled with ingredients for protection, pleasure, gold, blessings, and love luck. If you want more love luck, then feast your taste-buds on the treats listed under Affairs of the Heart, including “Love Honey” and “Ashta Special For Romance and Seduction.” This is the book’s largest category.
When you’re ready for more than a good night’s sleep, I like the “Astral Travel Tea” in Dreams and Divination, and suspect that the roasted dandelion root is a key ingredient here. Of course, good food is good food, and that applies to recipes like “Haters Be Gone Hot Wings” even if everybody loves you, and “Red Eye Gravy to Keep Your Man Working” even if he’s already busy.
You’ll notice as you read the book, you’ll find words of wisdom in the header at the top of every page. My favorites are “Men may come and men may go … but pie goes on for ever” and “The most dangerous food is a wedding cake.”
With this 96-page cookbook, you’ll eat well, live long, and prosper. Of course I can’t guarantee any of that, but it’s worth a try if you like having fun in the kitchen.