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Posts tagged ‘conjure’

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.

 

 

 

 

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Favorite Scenes from ‘Eulalie and Washerwoman’

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 DescriptionTorreya, 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. 

Excerpts

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.

Audio Edition

“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.

Reviews

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

“Narrator Tracie Christian’s spirited style is ideal to portray the fantasy world of conjure woman Eulalie Jenkins and her shamanistic cat, Lena, who live in Florida in the 1950s. Christian captures Eulalie’s shock when she learns that Jewish merchant Lane Walker, who’s always traded fairly with the local African-Americans, is being forced to give up his store to the Liberty Improvement Club, which forbids serving blacks. Lively descriptions of Eulalie reading possum bones and casting spells; tender scenes with her old beau, Willie Tate; and feline Lena’s communication with Eulalie via secret thought speech add to the local atmosphere. S.G.B. © Audiofile Magazine 2017

If the novel happens to end up on your bookshelf, I hope you enjoy reading it.

–Malcolm

 

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.

 

The writer has a conjurer

“Perhaps the most succinct evidence for the potent magic of written letters is to be found in the ambiguous meaning of our common English word ‘spell.’ As the Roman alphabet spread through oral Europe, the Old English word ‘spell, which had meant simply to recite a story or tale, took on a new double meaning: on the one hand, it now meant to arrange, in the proper order, the written letters that make up the name of a thing, in the correct order, was to effect a magic, to establish a new kind of influence over the entity, to summon it forth. To spell, to correctly arrange the letters to form a name or a phrase, seemed thus at the same time to cast a spell, to exert a new and lasting power over the things spelled.”

– David Abram in “The Spell of the Sensuous.”

The old adage “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” is rather false. Consider the sound-bite phrases and misleading comments in the current Presidential campaign alone that, once said, become gospel. Consider perjury in a courtroom, verbal bullying in a school, highly messaged government-speak, dear john letters, exaggerations on product labels and advertising, and phrases from religious books that are taken out of context. The pen and the voice really are mightier than the sword, the stick or the stone.

In my Sun Singer’s Travels blog, I recently posted “What the hell are these important writers talking about?”  Primarily, this was a rant about the obscure (and possibly gibberish) discussions between some writers and some interviewers that make no sense whatsoever to most readers and natural writers. By natural writers, I mean those who discover their stories as they write and, while they usually know the ins and ours of style and technque, they don’t look upon words as requiring a doctoral dissertation to set down on the page in a story.

If a writer creates elaborate outlines, s/he also may write organically while putting words on the page if s/he uses the outline as a rough guide rather than a recipe to be followed precisely. Personally, I think outlines get in the way of the story, though that’s simply my approach.

Hoodoo Reading the Bones

This kit is available from the Lucky Mojo Curio Company.

This kit is available from the Lucky Mojo Curio Company.

Traditional conjurers (also called hoodoo practitioners or root doctors) often use a form of divination called “reading he bones” to obtain answers to questions for themselves or their clients. Possum and chicken bones are often used; others (as the picture shows) add other objects such as stones, nuts and shells.

While some conjurers paint or number the bones, assign a meaning to each one–like the meanings assigned to individual Tarot cards–others throw the bones into a small circle drawn in the dirt (see picture here) and listen for the voices of their ancestors who were also conjurers. As with Tarot card readers who are advanced enough to forget the descriptions of each card that they read in a book, conjurers reading the bones may variously say they’re using their intuition, tapping into their inner selves, or hearing the voices of the “old ones” in their lineage.

In short, they use the bones as they view them on the ground as catalysts for channeling information from outside themselves. You can’t do this unless you can step away from the logical “what-ifs” that come to mind when you ask the bones a question. Too much logic destroys a reading because the conjurer is thinking of typical speculative answers to the question (my missing spouse stayed late at work, got in a car wreck, ran away with a co-worker, forgot to tell me s/he had a dinner meeting, etc.) rather than listening for the ancestors or intuition to speak.

Discovery writing

Writing with no outline–or a few sketchy ideas–is often called “discovery writing” because the writer discovers what the characters are going to do and say while writing rather than creating an outline or a list of scenes in advance. Many of us have a general idea what we’re going to do before we start writing. While writing “Conjure Woman’s Car,” for example, I knew that my main character was an old-style conjure woman living with her cat in the Florida Panhandle in the 1950s. I also knew that the Klan was going to do something bad and she was going to respond with hoodoo (folk magic).

Other than that, the story evolved as I told it. In a sense, my muse, my intuition, and even the developing characters “decided” what was going to happen next. When I finished a scene or a chapter, suddenly the thing that was going to happen next came to mind. I supported my intuition by reading a lot about conjurers, spells and related blues songs. Quite often, I’d learn what was going to happen next in my story by the “coincidental” reading of a certain conjuring practice or a historical KKK tactic.

I like to think that when a writer is using discovery writing, s/he is following a practice very similar to the traditional conjurer who throws the ones and listens for the voices of her ancestors for the answer. The conjure woman asks a question and allows the process to create the answer. The discovery writer asks “What If,” listens for the voice of his “muse” and or his unconscious mind and allows the writing process to create the story.

We are, in this way, attempting to cast a spell in the sense David Abram suggests in the quote at the beginning of this post. No, we are not using words to “force” our readers to write us large checks or leave town or change their political beliefs. We’re using words to cast a spell called a story that claims the reader’s imagination from the first word through “the end.”

When the short story or novel comes out well, we’re often praised for our imaginations. That’s okay, but really, our ability is simply to listen and record what we hear. When the story or novel doesn’t turn out well, we probably stepped in the way of the natural process and tried to plan or micro-manage the action down one road or another where it didn’t belong.

At best, we’re conjurers who know as our experience grows how to establish a process that works. Those who read the bones know that they get better results when they wash and dry the bones before throwing them on an animal hide or into a circle. They know not to touch the bones with their hands but to use a stick. Likewise, writers know what conditions make it easier for them to write: some listen to music; others like the background sounds of a natural setting or a coffee shop. Whatever conjurers and writers typically do when they work evolves into rituals that support hearing the true answer to the question or hearing where the story needs to go.

Answers and stories live and breathe on their own. If we have a talent, it’s being able to keep our of the way.

–Malcolm

I invite you to stop by my “Conjure Woman’s Cat” website for more information about my 1950s Florida folk magic novella as well as my other books.

Haints, Plate-Eyes and Demons, oh my

Frankly, I don’t like reading specific directions for summoning evil spirits because I’m afraid I’ll accidentally think them or recite them and suddenly a hideous monster will appear.

demonFrom hoodoo to witchcraft to high magic, the lore is filled with cautions about the dangers of summoning bad stuff because unless you know what you’re doing, the bad stuff will come after you. This would be kind of like purchasing a rabid dog to keep traveling salesmen away from your door. The odds seem high that the dog will attack you first.

Another reason I don’t like reading specific directions for summoning evil spirits is the feds. They probably track this stuff and the last thing I need is the NSA telling the FBI that I used the search terms “black arts conjure oil” or “hoodoo demon-calling spell” enough times for it “to be a problem” as opposed to looking for crossword clues.

Writers often talk about stuff like this. We worry about doing research about how to kill people, make bombs, mix deadly and untraceable poisons, and making pacts with the devil. The people who have that kind of history on their computers usually tern out to be serial killers or the kind of nut cases who join ISIS and saying “I’m just writing a book” probably won’t cut it when the cops arrive.

I didn’t worry about this when I was writing Conjure Woman’s Cat because for that book, I was looking up good spells, good charms, and how to reverse jinxes. But in the sequel, my good conjure woman is combating a black arts root doctor and so I have to know more about that side of the business for her to be able to speculate about what he’s doing and how.

Since I try to make the spells and uses of herbs as realistic as possible within the world of conjure, I don’t feel right just making it up. Suffice it to say, the curses I’ve found aren’t going into the sequel verbatim. For one thing, I have to find a spell or recipe in multiple places before I’ll trust that it’s more than the imaginings of one resource. For another, what if the thing works as advertised? I don’t need to see on CNN that people are using my book to summon demons to go after their spouses’ lovers or to disrupt law-abiding governments (if any). So, everything has to be blurred around the edges: exact enough to make a real conjure woman nod in agreement but inexact enough to your child, spouse or neighborhood crook can’t use it.

By the way, plate-eyes aren’t seen very much any more, but generally they’re unpleasant, what with their glowing eyes the size of plates. If one bothers you, you can get rid of it with anything that smells bad. I’m pretty sure I’m not going to use any plate-eyes in the sequel to Conjure Woman’s Cat because nobody seems to know how to contact one of them. Haints, well, they’re okay, but they usually have their own agendas.

Demons, though, they’re looking pretty good, figuratively speaking, because they’re easier to summon that most people think and fewer people are going to question whether the author has used the right technique or the wrong technique to call them.

When the book comes out, I promise it won’t contain the exact technique for calling a demon. It will be close enough to make the book slightly dangerous. But that’s what readers want.

–Malcolm

KIndle cover 200x300(1)Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Conjure Woman’s Cat” and a batch of paranormal Kindle short stories.

Stop by my website.