Briefly Noted: ‘Old Style Conjure’ by Starr Casas

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.

Publisher’s Description:

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:

  • Bone reading
  • Candle burning
  • Conjure bags
  • 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.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of two hoodoo novels, “Conjure Woman’s Cat” and “Eulalie and Washerwoman.”

A smattering of writing news

  • 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.
  • My publisher Thomas-Jacob will be featuring Eulalie and Washerwoman, Redeeming Grace (Smoky Zeidel), A Shallow River of Mercy (Robert Hays) and The History of my Body (Sharon Heath) in Amazon promotions during December. Keep an eye on Amazon for some wonderful books and opportunities.  While Robert Hays’new book will be released on December first, it’s already available for pre-order.
  • 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.

–Malcolm

Briefly Noted: ‘Spiritual Merchants’ by Carolyn Morrow Long

Spiritual Merchants: Religion Magic & Commerce Paperback – May 31, 2001

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.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the hoodoo-based novels “Conjure Woman’s Cat” and “Eulalie and Washerwoman.”

Throwing the Bones

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

Possum Skeleton – Wikipedia

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.

Introduction to Bone Throwing

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.

Malcolm

For information about my hoodoo novels “Conjure Woman’s Cat” and “Eulalie and Washerwoman,” click on my name to see my website.

 

 

 

 

Conjure Formulary: Devil’s Shoe Strings

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.

Wikipedia photo

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.”

Roots as sold by a conjure shop. Lucky Mojo photo.

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

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of two conjure novels, “Conjure Woman’s Cat” and “Eulalie and Washerwoman.”

 

If your conjure woman stocks Belladonna, run like hell

Wikipedia photo.

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.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of Conjure Woman’s Cat and its sequel Eulalie and Washerwoman.

Briefly Noted: ‘Hoodoo Food!’ with conjure cook-off winners

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.

hoodoofoodNot 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
  • Money Matters
  • Affairs of the Heart
  • Enemy Tricks
  • 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.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of Conjure Woman’s Cat.

 

 

“Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, spammers?”

As many of you know, I take a dim view of spammers because they show up and do their business here without taking part in the conversation or sharing my posts on Twitter or Facebook. Just imagine yourself having a dinner table conversation with your family about the best books you’ve ever read when somebody you don’t know walks into your house, sits down at the table, eats a plate full of mashed potatoes and gravy, and says, “So, y’all want a way to get some cheap condoms?”

That’s a spammer for you.

Spin the wheel of fortune when you leave spam on my posts
Spin the wheel of fortune when you leave spam on my posts – Wikipedia Photo

I appreciate the fact that WordPress weeds out most of the people who try to stop by our blogs to steal all the gravy. But, there’s more work to be done.

With that in mind, I’ve installed my Anti-Spammer Hex App that tracks down those who show up on this blog and on my “Sun Singer’s Travels” blog and try to sell us stuff that has nothing to do with my posts–and worse yet–don’t pay for advertising on my site.

While working on Conjure Woman’s Cat and Eulalie and Washerwoman, I took a lot of notes about spells, magic, candles, plants and especially protection hexes. If you ever hired a hoodoo practitioner, you might have been handed a mojo bag filled with the ingredients of the “law keep away” spell. (It does just what you think it does.)

Well, I’ve modified the “law keep away” spell with extra graveyard dirt obtained from cemeteries that cater to sociopaths and have merged that into the traditional mix while burning a black candle during the new moon as a squinch owl shouted curses from a longleaf pine tree. The resulting formula has undergone rigorous testing at a town near you or maybe even in your neighborhood. If there have been any recent outbreaks of green apple quick step, lice, or mysteriously appearing vulgar tattoos, a spammer or two just wasn’t lucky.

The luck comes into the mix through a random number generator subroutine I added to my assembly language code. This gives spammers a 1 in 100 chance of getting away with leaving a free message here on my blog without being hexed. See, I can be a good sport about this even though the odds favor the house.

So, if you’ve stopped by with a spam message, just ask yourself. . .well, you know what.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell’s two hoodoo novels can be found at Amazon in paperback and e-book editions. The audio edition of “Conjure Woman’s Cat” received an Earphones Award Winner at AudioFile Magazine.

Conjure: why those frizzle chickens are handy

“The Frizzle is a breed of chicken with characteristic curled or frizzled plumage. While the frizzle gene can be seen in many breeds, such as thePekin and Polish, the Frizzle is recognized as a distinct breed in a number of European countries and Australia. In the United States frizzled chickens are not considered a breed, and at shows are judged by the standards of the breed they belong to.” – Wikipedia

Unless one keeps chickens or attends 4-H competitions, most of us will probably never see a chicken with frizzled (curled) plumage, what one blogger calls the “divas of the chicken world.” However, if you’re researching hoodoo for your books–as I have been–it’s amazing what you learn about all kinds of things that are indirectly related to your subject.

So, how would chickens help a conjurer?

Frizzle chicken - Wiipedia photo
Frizzle chicken – Wikipedia photo

First, conjure includes what’s often generically referred to as foot track magic, tricks (hexes) that are placed on the ground in order to keep away or send away people who might walk through them or over them; they are also used as one of the many techniques that can protect one’s own property.

Second, the best defense is a good offense, so if you’re a conjurer, you want your property protected so that others can’t come on it while you’re asleep or away and place tricks on the normal pathways use use to come and go, walk to the potting shed or garden, or gather eggs from your own chickens.

If your chickens aren’t confined in a coop, what do you see them doing on the property? They’re constantly scratching the soil looking for something to eat. If they scratch through a hex sign, for example, they destroy it. According to some conjurers, black frizzle hens are a very good defense against anything a rival did to your property if they find a way to get onto it without your own magic turning them away.

As the very handy Lucky Mojo site puts it, “The backwards curling of the frizzled feathers on these birds is seen as a natural expression of their ability to undo bad work that has been laid down to walk over. Frizzles come in all the usual chicken colours and patterns, but since black hens are the birds most often used to scratch up evil powders in the yard, it follows that a black Frizzled hen would be the best possible bird in the world for that purpose. As with the black cat, also much admired and much feared in hoodoo work, a black Frizzle hen’s dangerous associations with the infernal can be parlayed by a deft root doctor into a powerful tool for undoing and reversing evil and uncrossing clients..”

If you’re working evil, you’ll find the eggs from black hens very effective, but that’s another story. If you want the chickens for style, you should know that their plumage doesn’t offer as much protection against rain and cold weather as flat feathers. Keep them in a sheltered place during bad weather.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the hoodoo novel “Conjure Woman’s Cat,” available at major booksellers in paperback, e-book and audiobook.

 

Local author experiments with hoodoo and discovers that’s a bad idea

Rome, Georgia, July 16, 2016, Star-Gazer News Service–Malcolm R. Campbell, author of the hoodoo novel Conjure Woman’s Cat, was doing hex research on a dark and stormy night when he went to a nearby graveyard to try out a haint calling spell to see what would happen.

Campbell being bugged by a haint while he tries to write the next chapter of his book.
Campbell being bugged by a haint while he tries to write the next chapter of his book.

Haints happened, more than he could shake a stick at (like that would do any good), and while they were generally friendly, they wanted haint tasks: people to scare, places where ghost lights would improve the ambiance, bad neighbors who needed to experience a plague of rabid bull frogs, people walking on lonely roads in search of spooky entertainment.

“I didn’t realize the spell worked until I got home,” said Campbell. “My three cats are always chasing invisible things around the house, so everything seemed normal when I got home from the graveyard. When the cats wouldn’t settle down, I turned off all the lights and was surprised to see a living room full of haints, Most of them threatened to turn on Fox “News” 24/7 unless I kept them busy with exciting haint chores.”

Campbell, who has always believed 100% accuracy makes for better fiction, told reporters during a “fluke rain storm” of flying fish, that trying out the haint spell was bad idea because it didn’t come with any directions for sending the haints back to the graveyard.”

Medicine men, shamans, cops, witches and everyday people with shotguns visited Campbell’s house to try their hand at getting rid of the haints. Nothing worked.

“I have to admit it was fun for a while,” said Campbell, “because when they weren’t out causing mischief, they sat in my Naugahyde recliner and offered tips for the haint scenes in my work in progress. For example, the idea that haints mainly haunt people in cemeteries is pretty much of a myth: more hauntings happen in abandoned Walmart stores than anywhere else.”

Campbell has a hotline with local police to assure them that “his haints” aren’t responsible for every “weird” 911 in Rome and Floyd County.

Security paint at Campbell's house.
Security paint at Campbell’s house.

“There’s been so much publicity about the haint infestation,” said Officer Smith (not his real name), “that people just assume Campbell forgot to close the front door and the haints flew out trying to make every night like Halloween. We’ve advised Campbell to keep each haint on a leash so that innocent people won’t get scared and pee in their pants.”

According to one haint who told his story to a local television station, “We haven’t had this much fun since the spiritualism era of the late 1800s and early 1900s when seances were all the rage, Ouija Boards were selling faster than hotcakes, folks wanted to believe they could talk to dead aunts and uncles, and tables all around the country were rocking, rolling and tapping.”

Campbell told the Feds, who came to town to investigate, that the haints were starting to get bored and were planning to leave for Washington, D.C. during the next thunderstorm when energy fields are high and spiritual travel is easier than falling off a tombstone.

“As soon as they leave, I’m buying a fresh can of haint blue paint for the front of my house to make sure they don’t come back,” Campbell told Agents Houdini and Doyle. The agents subsequently confirmed “things are weirder than usual” whenever Congress  is in session.

Story by Jock Stewart, Special Investigative Reporter.