Hoodoo in America

6 04 2010

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THE THREE sisters were on Interstate 20, just east of Dallas, in the early hours when it happened. Myra, who was driving, started to act strangely, trying to veer the car into oncoming traffic and off the sides of bridges.

Then the steering wheel squirmed into life and started to pummel her, before mutating into a monstrous demon. The apparition sprang from the dashboard, mounted the crazed Myra and began its possession of her.

It was exactly as the women had feared. The previous evening – 17 March, St Patrick’s Day – they had fled from their hometown of Arcadia in northwestern Lousiana, convinced that an evil spirit was pursuing them.

Most of what is known of their journey – including a decision, halfway, to abandon their terrified children with strangers – has been told by the women to lawyers, friends and the police.

But only one thing was recorded for certain: Myra’s admission, just after dawn, to a suburban Dallas hospital. Both her eyes were missing.

Four months on, the events of that night still haunt Arcadia, otherwise famous only as the place where Bonnie and Clyde were gunned down. It is a remote, neglected little town, population 3,000, where the racial divisions of Old South still linger. The Crawford sisters – Myra, 30, who will be blind for life, Doretha, 34 and Beverly, 35 – have retreated to a shuttered brick house on Evangeline Drive, a scrubby cul-de-sac on the black side of the railway tracks.

Neighbours, slumped in the boiling summer air on their porches, hesitate to talk of the affair. Some even run away, afraid, because this is hoodoo business. ‘I’m scared of them – the hoodoo, the Crawfords and all of it,’ says one young woman. ‘They might want pull my eyes out.’

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On the margins of theology – 2.5

1 10 2009


The lodestone cultus in Mexico

The men in Mexico still carry lodestones to give them success and great virility. They regard the stone as a living being, every Friday placing it in water, then in the Sun, and giving it iron filings to “eat”. However, they also believe that this stone has a devil inside and will not enter a church with it. Another belief is that if a lodestone is rubbed on a knife blade, anyone wounded by that blade will die of the poison left there.

-found here

Some may discount the above as coming from a disreputable source, or think that it is the result of some bizarre “New Age” thinking influencing the minds of Mexican men. The only problem with such a supposition is that the cult to the lodestone is an established “tradition” in many parts of Mexico, and I have even translated a prayer to it here.

Isabel Kelly, in her book, Folk Practices in North Mexico, has a significant section on the lodestone cultus. Although she speculates that it is a “recent cult” (keep in mind that the field work for this book was done in 1953), she nevertheless goes into quite a bit of detail regarding how it manifested itself in daily life. The “theology” behind it is stricly oral (of course), and oddly based on dubious Christological origins, as was explained to the anthropologist by an herbalist in Torreon:

The [lodestone] is where Christ is kneeling. Have you not seen the picture? A “light” woman [presumably Mary Magdalene. The Libro de San Cipriano twice mentions “the Samaritan woman” in connection with the lodestone] cut a piece of the stone for luck…
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From the Magical Conclusions

19 08 2009

Voices and words have efficacy in a magical work, because in that work in which nature first exercises magic, the voice is God’s.

Every voice has power in magic insofar as it is shaped by the voice of God.

Voices that mean nothing are more poweful in magic than voices that mean something. And one who is profound can understand the reason for this conclusion from the preceding conclusion.

-Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, from the 900 Theses

The Gendering of Catholic Folk Magic

26 07 2009


To say that I have always been an odd duck is a bit of an understatement. Perhaps some can attribute it to the fact that growing up, I was a bit of a “mama’s boy”. [Mexican families have a horrible double standard where the boys (sometimes literally) get away with murder, while girls are watched as if any minute they were going off to become street walkers if not properly guarded.] Thus, a boy with a religious disposition was deemed to be a bit of an oddity, though a necessary oddity. Who else was going to fill the ranks of the clergy? Besides, I have a devout grandfather and some devout great-uncles, and men on that side of the family are for the most part church-going. But religion, as in the vast majority of Catholic cultures, was primarily a female affair; the religious secrets of the family were passed down mother to daughter, and mother to son, but the son for the most part preserved them as a vague memory of home and hearth, as a place of safety away from the violence and poverty that often were the burdens of daily life.
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Common Magic

7 07 2009


Everyone practices magic, whether they realize it or not, for magic is the art of attracting particular influences, events, and situations within human life. Magic is a natural phenomenon because the universe is reflexive, responding to human thoughts, aspirations, and desires; students of cosmology, for example, realize that the universe will correspondingly provide evidence for any theory projected upon it. Because of the magical, reflexive nature of reality, a certain amount of awareness is required, for people attract to themselves what they really desire. People who don’t know what they want ususally attract what they need. This may be a seemingly random series of situations and perhaps unhappy events, destined to jolt them to a higher level of awareness in the long run. Since the universe does respond to our innermost desires, true philosophers have always held that one should be idealistic in spirit and perpetually aim to invoke the highest. People who have a low-minded view of things will discover this reflected in the events of their lives, thus confirming their perspective, while others who are high-minded and invoke the spirit of excellence find themselves capable of attracting it.

-David Fideler, Jesus Christ, Sun of God: Ancient Christian Cosmology and Early Christian Symbolism

Enchanted Protestantism

29 06 2009

On the “Incarnational Nature” of American Folk Belief

In our commercialized society, people can often be given to very distorted generalizations of ideological opponents. As I have said recently, the general course of American religion can be seen as having gone full circle. For many, such as the late John Richard Neuhaus, we are living in the “Catholic” moment in which the doctrine and general rhetorical trajectory of the Catholic Church is converging with the ideological aspirations of American conservativism. The mainstream Protestant denominations, including the former pillar of white conservative religion, the Episcopal Church, are defecting from both their conservative pretensions and orthodox Christianity itself. Not so long ago, we had an intellectually rigorous American Protestantism, committed to a “conservative” morality. This has been replaced since the 1960’s with the aforementioned liberalizing mainstream churches on the one hand, and the “Gospel frisbee”, hyper-personalistic Evangelicalism of the white suburbs on the other. Where else is an intelligent, cultured Christian to go but Rome? The irony of all of this is that a hundred years ago, Catholics were barely considered white, and they were certainly not considered Anglo. The white man’s burden used to extend to breaking the back of “Papist superstition”. Not anymore, apparently. Somewhere, someone is having a hearty laugh over all of this.
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De Magia

19 02 2009


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But why do we think that Love is a magician? Because the whole power of magic consists in love. The work of magic is the attraction of one thing by another because of a certain affinity of nature. But the parts of the world, like the parts of a single animal, all deriving from a single author, are joined to each other by the communion of a single nature. Therefore just as in us the brain, lungs, heart, liver, and the rest of the parts draw something from each other, and help each other, and sympathize with any one of them when it suffers, so the parts of the great animal, that is all the bodies of the world, similarily joined together, borrow and lend natures to and from each other. From this common relationship is born a common love; from love, a common attraction. And this is the true magic.

-Marsilio Ficino, Commentary on Plato’s Symposium on Love