On bringing a knife to a gun fight

3 05 2011

I mentioned in an earlier post my wife’s great-grandfather, Rene Broussard. From the looks of it, he was half-white and half-Creole (mixed blood), and was, as already mentioned, quite wealthy for his time. He also taught himself to read English (most people were still speaking French in that part of Louisiana at that point). He also like to dabble in the “black arts”.

According to family lore, one day, Mr. Broussard got into an argument with another man when that man pulled a gun on him and fired five times at point blank range. Mr. Broussard had drawn his knife and came at him, and not one of the bullets hit him. He then gutted that man in the stomach with his blade, killing him instantly.

Now why did none of the bullets hit Mr. Broussard? Well, you see, Mr. Broussard had cut out pages of the magical diagrams from the Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses and pinned them to his body under his clothes for protection. He came out of the fight unscathed.

The moral of the story: sometimes you can bring a knife to a gun fight, depending on what else you happen to be packing.

Kids, don’t try this at home.





Latin American Spiritism in context

14 02 2011

One could make the argument that the soul of religiosity in Latin America is ten percent Catholic and ninety percent Spiritist. That is an exaggeration to be sure, but it can go far in explaining the shape of Catholicism as it has developed in the past two hundred years. Raquel Romberg’s book, Witchcraft and Welfare: Spiritual Capital and the Business of Magic in Modern Puerto Rico, concerns the development of modern religious consciousness in the face of an emerging capitalist economy and its accompanying state. Romberg shows how witchcraft, espiritismo, and brujería, have all been grafted into contemporary conditions of life on all socio-economic levels. These practices are both preserving traditional spirituality and transforming themselves to meet the needs of believers in a constantly changing society.
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The sacred for sale

6 01 2011

Again, thanks to Wufila for posting this link to the Wall Street Journal article on the return of hoodoo practice in the Internet age. The article and the video were fascinating. Some random thoughts:

1. An anxiety of influence: I think that there is no doubt that there is some sort of flow of rituals and prayers between Mexico, the Caribbean, and the American South. The rose of Jericho ritual seen here is something that can also be seen in Spanish-speaking botanicas and occult shops. I have even seen before a holy card of High John the Conqueror in Spanish. It would probably be impossible to find out who influenced whom in this case. As in social and economic questions, the United States is inevitably tied to Latin America, and vice versa, at least in its undercurrents.
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The bewitched automobile

29 09 2010

Well, now, I’ll tell a story what happened to an old lady and her husband down close Hanover. They decided they’d buy themselves a new car – so they did. Well, when Saturday evening come, why, the old gentleman said to his wife, “Now, let’s take a ride in the new car, this evening.” “All right.” They started off and they got in as fer as Hanover. And right at the square in Hanover the care stopped. Nobody could start it. They done everything they knowed, got garage fellows there to look at it, nobody could find anything wrong. Car wouldn’t move. Somebody said, “Well, you go out to Mrs. K. and tell her about this.”

Went out to Mrs. K and told her, and Mrs. K said, “Well, I’ll write you a piece of paper here and you don’t – you’re not to read it. You take it back to the car and put it on the starter and put your foot on this paper, on the starter, and,” she said, “your car will go.” And so they did. Went back a whole crowd around the car. They put this piece of paper on the starter and he put his foot on it, and the car started right off, and away they went. Didn’t have no more trouble that evening with the car.

So the next morning some time, why, they got someone come and said, “Well, the neighbor woman over there is awful sick.” “Well,” they said, “what’s wrong with her?” Said, “She’s in bed, she’s jist that sick she can’t be up.” And this was the woman that put the spell on the automobile. And Mrs. K. fixed her business fer her that she didn’t bother nobody around there fer awhile.

-Text from Don Yoder, “Witch tales from Adams County”, from south-central Pennsylvannia, found in Buying the Wind: Regional Folklore in the United States.





On superstition – part II

20 09 2010

“Your grandmother was superstitious,” my mother told me when describing my paternal grandmother’s veneration of la Santa Muerte. “She said that if she prayed to her, she wouldn’t come to take her in the night.”

This from my mother, who could seamlessly weave faith and folklore, old wisdom and wives’ tales into her exhortations to close the door when I left the house or not put too much salt in my food. Even my mother has standards, even when it seems that I don’t.

Perhaps this was the reason why my mother would only reluctantly tell us how things could really be like back on el rancho in Mexico. It was at a birthday dinner that AG and I took her out for (my mother is out of her element in any restaurant that doesn’t serve hamburgers) that she first told me about the remedies for el mal de ojo, or evil eye. I had known such things existed, of course, as my closest cousin was “cleansed” by his grandmother of the fright sickness. This type of stuff was just background noise for a pocho kid growing up in rural central California. By the sheepish way that my mother recounted this particular story, she probably already heard the “half way catechized” Catholic naysayers telling her that this was just superstition. “Here, have another scapular.”
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Notes on historic Neoplatonism

29 07 2010

Just jotting some stuff down…

It seems to me that the birth of modern religiosity in the West was born out of two condemnations: one of Meister Eckhart’s mystical premises, and the other of Pico della Mirandola’s magical theses. In the former, we have various ideas that reflect the monistic mysticism of Plotinus, such as “one sees God with the same eye by which God sees him”, or something like that. In the condemnation of Pico della Mirandola, you have the condemnation of the last vestiges of theurgy in the West; the idea that supernatural intervention could penetrate the human reality outside of the direct supervision of the Church. This premise was particularly problematic for those pious ears:

There is no science that assures us more of the divinity of Christ than magic and Cabala.

Since then, we have had a particularly dualistic view of these phenomena. While it is true that such a purifying tendency has always existed in the Christian religious consciousness, it is in these two condemnations that one side of the argument got the upper hand. From there we are led to the Reformation, the Counter-Reformation, the birth of modern science, and the rest. The paranoia is that if Christianity in general, and Catholicism in particular, look like anything else in the history of the world, they would be false and pagan. “Natural revelation”, “natural contemplation”, and “natural magic” were thus topics that had to be taken off the table.





Root work

19 04 2010

image credit

I thought that this was an interesting article:

ANCIENT BELIEFS STILL ALIVE IN GEORGIA

Practitioners claim to offer supernatural help,
but often at steep prices

When drug agents kicked in the door of Minnie Pearl Thomas’ trailer at 5 a.m. on March 12, 1999, in the tiny community of Allentown, they walked into an eerie scene.

On the dresser in her dimly lit bedroom they found an altar. On the altar burned several candles. And on the candles were fastened written notes, asking for the spirits’ help with love, money and protection from the law.

The agents were not surprised. They knew that Thomas had been to a root doctor.

It was root work. Since the earliest days of settlers and slaves in this country, the practice, which is akin to voodoo, has flourished in the South. Even in the year 2000, when modern technology has superseded the old ways and Southern culture is becoming more homogenized, root work still thrives out of view from mainstream society.

The candles were not the only root work in Thomas’ house.

Peppers were scattered in [the] space above the ceiling.

Powder was sprinkled around the door.

As they rousted the sleepy Thomas and arrested her for trafficking in crack cocaine, they learned about the powder.

“She said it was Law Stay Away powder,” said Wilkinson County Sheriff Richard Chatman.

Read the rest here





The Golem

18 03 2010

From this site:

Rabbi Bezalel’s son grew up and increased in strength and knowledge; he became a great scholar, well versed in the Holy Law, but also a master of all branches of knowledge and familiar with many foreign languages. In time he was elected Rabbi of Posen [in Poland], but later received a call to the city of Prague, where he was appointed chief judge of the Jewish community.

All his thoughts and actions were devoted to the welfare of his suffering people and his great aim in life was to clear Israel of the monstrous accusation of ritual murder which like a sword of Damocles was perpetually suspended over the head of the unhappy race. Fervently did the rabbi pray to Heaven to teach him in a vision by what means he could best bring to naught the false accusations of the miscreant priests who were spreading the cruel rumors.

And one night he heard a mysterious voice calling to him, “Make a human image of clay and thus you will succeed in frustrating the evil intentions of the enemies of Israel.”
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Notes on alchemy

12 11 2009

Mercury was, for them, the seminal essence of a god who (pro-)creates the universe sexually; indeed the origin myth of mercury tells us that quicksilver first arose when Siva spilled his seed at the end of a long bout of lovemaking with his consort, the goddess Parvati. This seed once spilled, became polluted through its contact with the earth. The alchemist’s craft therefore consists of returning mercury, through a series of chemical reactions of incredible complexity, to its original pristine state. Once he has perfected it in the laboratory, the alchemist may then ingest this mercury, which then transforms him into an immortal human, a “second Siva”.

-David Gordon White, “The Ocean of Mercury: An Eleventh-Century Alchemical Text” in Religions of India in Practice
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Oración de la rosa de Jericó

11 11 2009

Divina rosa de Jericó: Por la Bendición que de Nuestro Señor Jesucristo recibiste, por la virtud que tu encierras y por el poder concedido ayúdame a vencer las dificultades de la vida, dame salud, fuerzas, felicidad, tranquilidad y paz para ganar más dinero con que cubrir mis necesidades y las de mi hogar y toda mi familia.

Divina ROSA DE JERICO: Todo esto te lo pido por la virtud que tú encierras en amor a Cristo Jesús y su grandiosa misericordia. AMEN

(SE DICEN TRES PADRES NUESTROS)

INSTRUCCIONES: La rosa debe ponerse en un platillo hondo con agua a las nueve o a las tres, del día Martes o Viernes, Déjese en agua por tres días consecutivos, quitándose a la misma hora en que se puso y hagase la oracion con todo fervor religioso.

La FE es la que salva y si usted no tiene FE, nada podrá alcanzar de las muchas virtudes atribuidas a esta planta, tenga presente que una planta completamente seca, recobra la vida y su color verde natural al contacto del agua. Úsese el agua que queda después de sacar la planta para rociar las esquinas de la puerta del frente de la casa para ahuyentar las malas influencias, trayendo al hogar la Paz, Poder y Abundancia.
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