Category Archives: conjure

Review: Alice Hoffman’s ‘The Rules of Magic’

Standard

The Rules of MagicThe Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“The Rules of Magic,” the prequel to Alice Hoffman’s 1995 bestseller “Practical Magic,” sparkles with the same wisdom and magical realism as the witching story of Sally and Gillian Owens did twenty two years ago. The characters, stories and writing style of this stunning prequel fit hand-in-glove with the characters, stories and writing style of “Practical Magic,” not an easy bit of conjuring for an author to face when going back to a story she told before she truly knew the magical rules when she first wrote about them.

This backstory about Sally and Gillian’s aunts Franny and Bridget (AKA “Jet”) focuses on a theme about life’s curses and blessings and what individuals wish to make of the fate and destiny they are given. Early on, Franny and Jet’s mother asks the sisters whether they’re opting for courage or caution in their unfolding lives. Their answers make for a cohesive story. Clearly, Alice Hoffman opted for courage when she traveled back to 1995 to continue the story of the Owens family.

The book contains wonderful surprises, making it much deeper than a family tree tacked on to the front of a famous novel many years later. The book offers its own multiple levels of depth and angst and joy while changing in positive ways the way many of us who read it will view the characters and themes of the original novel. (Emerging writers considering magical realism as a potential genre for their work will find both novels to be a demonstration of how an author can utilize magic and realism seamlessly in novels set in today’s world.”

While the ending of “The Rules of Magic” represents the best of all possible worlds for the two novels and their characters, turning the last page might be depressing for some readers. The reason is simply this: nobody wants the story to end because when it comes down to it, we need these characters, their joys and sorrows, and their magic in our lives.

View all my reviews

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the magical realism novels “Conjure Woman’s Cat” and “Eulalie and Washerwoman.

Advertisements

A smattering of writing news

Standard
  • 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

The Heart Shield Bible

Standard

Hoodoo practitioners not only consider the Bible to be filled with stories of magic and powerful verses that can be used for spells, but note that from the Civil War through the Vietnam War (and possibly later) Heart Shield Bibles were popular amongst soldiers. These New Testament editions were small enough to fit in the breast pocket of a jacket or shirt and featured gold or gold-colored metal over steel that was said to be able to stop a .45 caliber bullet.

Among the manufacturers was the Protecto Bible Company of St. Louis. The covers of these bibles were often engraved with slogans such as “May this Keep You Safe from Harm” and “God’s Weapon.” They came in a 3-inch by 4.5-inch size and were 3/4-inch thick and sometimes included Psalms. Another edition contained prayers for Catholics.

Many people sent these to their loved ones easily since they often came in a ready to ship box.

During World War II, Bibles carried the inscription: “As Commander-in-Chief I take pleasure in commending the reading of the Bible to all who serve in the armed forces of the United States. Throughout the centuries men of many faiths and diverse origins have found in the Sacred Book words of wisdom, counsel and inspiration. It is a foundation of strength and now, as always, an aid in attaining the highest aspirations of the human soul.” –Franklin D. Roosevelt

protectobible2Interestingly enough, a fair number of these Bibles are currently being sold via eBay, sometimes called Shields of Faith. Did they really work? Stories from the front include statements from slightly injured men who claimed the Bibles stopped enemy rounds. Perhaps the distance traveled and angle of the incoming round made a difference.

However, there’s video on YouTube showing a man simulating a Heart Shield Bible with other materials and testing it with rounds of several calibers. All of them went through. On the other hand, since he used a phone book, those who are sold in the Heart Shield Bible will no doubt remind us that the books in the test were not Holy Writ. Here’s the video link.

The words alone, in Protestant and Catholic editions–like a pocket-sized edition a portion of the ancient Jewish mystical book The Zohar–might be enough, for they are often carried by believers who know little or nothing about the Heart Shield Bible or the hoodoo practice of carrying Bibles and selected Bible verses for general good luck and protection.

–Malcolm

This post originally appeared on “The Sun Singer’s Travels.”

Briefly Noted: ‘Spiritual Merchants’ by Carolyn Morrow Long

Standard

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.”

Briefly Noted: ‘Uncle Monday and Other Florida Tales’

Standard

Uncle Monday and Other Florida Tales, Edited by Kristin G. Congdon, Illustrated by Kitty Kitson Peterson (University Press of Mississippp, 2001), 196pp

unclemonday“Uncle Monday” is a widely known legend about a central Florida shape shifter and conjure man first collected in print by Zora Neale Hurston in the 1930s as part of her fieldwork throughout the state.

It’s an apt title story for this collection of oral-tradition stories compiled and annotated by Kirstin G. Congdon. I have the hard cover edition which is out of print; the paperback is available via Amazon. Unfortunately, it’s not available on Kindle.

These stories are part of what makes Florida, Florida. This volume makes them accessible, though some can be found throughout the Internet (oddly enough, sometimes copyrighted by those who own the sites) as well as in Florida’s Folklore Programs archives and volumes published by the Federal Writers Project.

Congdon is also the author of Happy Clouds, Happy Trees: The Bob Ross Phenomenon (with Doug Brandy) and Just Above the Water: Florida Folk Art (with Tina Bucuvalas).

From the Publisher

Few states can boast the multitude of cultures that created Florida. Native American, African American, Afro-Caribbean, White, and Hispanic traditions all brought their styles of storytelling to fashion Florida’s legends and lore.

Uncle Monday and Other Florida Tales captures the way the state of Florida has been shaped by its unique environment and inhabitants.

Written for adults, children, and folklorists, this gathering of forty-nine folktales comes from a wide variety of sources with many drawn from the WPA materials in Florida’s Department of State archives. Kitty Kitson Petterson’s detailed pen-and-ink drawings illustrate each narrative. The stories represent a cross-section of the ethnic diversity of the state.

The book is divided into five sections: “How Things Came to Be the Way They Are,” “People with Special Powers,” “Food, Friends and Family,” “Unusual Places, Spaces, and Events,” and “Ghosts and the Supernatural.” Within these sections are stories with titles ranging from “How the Gopher Turtle was Made” to the improbable “The Woman Who Fed Her Husband a Leg Which She Dug Up from a Cemetery.” In these tales Florida is a world full of magic, humor, and adventure. There are tall tales, old magical legends, even quirky, almost straightforward narratives about everyday living, such as one story titled, “My First Job.”

Kristin G. Congdon’s informative introduction discusses the origins of Florida tales and the state’s storytelling tradition. A reflection accompanies each story to guide readers to a deeper understanding of historical context, morals, and issues. Although oriented towards children, Uncle Monday and Other Florida Tales is also accessible to adults, particularly scholars interested in the state’s folklore and oral traditions. Whether in a classroom or home, this guide adds great value to the collection.

Reviews

The book has three five-star reviews on Amazon, including this one by “grasshopper4”:  “Uncle Monday is a shape-shifter who for years has resided in a lake near Orlando. Uncle Monday is also a terrific compilation of folklore from Florida. There are myths, legends, tall tales, fairy tales, family stories, and a plethora of excellent oral narratives that have been and remain told in Florida. The introduction to the book is well-written, and each section provides good background information on various characters and tale types. The book also has wonderful illustrations that capture the feel of various stories, and the book includes excellent ideas for teachers to use when presenting the texts in class. It’s a model study by a fine folklorist.”

The book is a wonder for folklore students, writers researching old legends for use in Florida stories, and anyone enjoying a great story.

–Malcolm

Uncle Monday is mentioned in my novel “Eulalie and Washerwoman.” This post originally appeared on “Sun Singer’s Travels”

Throwing the Bones

Standard

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.

 

 

 

 

Hoodoo Nuances: Rising and Falling Clock Hands

Standard

“When both clock hands are rising, cast spells of a positive or uplifting nature; when both clock hands are falling, cast spells that are meant to cast off evil and keep enemies down. But you must not perform magic when one clock hand is rising and another is falling. For Example: if the time is 10:40 the hands are rising, if the time is 2:15 the hands are falling, if it’s 5:45 do not do any magic because the hands are doing both.”

– Moon Phases in Hoodoo Magic from the “Spiritual Illumination” blog.

Years ago when more people were conscious of moon phases, rising and falling tides, solstices and equinoxes, and the flow of the seasons, farmers, fishermen and others who depended on nature for their livelihood, referred to their almanacs to that they were planting, harvesting, and fishing by the signs. For example, as the Natural Events Almanac mentions by way of introduction, “Planting by the signs is a fairly straight forward operation. You plant aboveground crops (lettuce, peas, tomatoes, etc.) when the moon is waxing (growing) from New to Full Moon. Underground crops (beets, radishes carrots, potatoes, etc.) are planted when the moon is waning from Full to New Moon. However, true gardening by the signs is a bit more complicated.”

While the I Ching (book of changes) seems fairly remote from hoodoo, it emphasizes aligning ones life and choices with the natural flow of change, the direction the universe is heading at the moment you ask the oracle a question.   The idea here, which is deeply understood by conjurers, works (for spells, gathering/planing herbs, collecting rain water) and by old farmers and fishermen is that success is more likely when you go with the flow rather than against it.

Taking note of the hands of a traditional clock–which I suspect some day soon people will no longer know how to read–fine-tunes one’s work with the flow of time hour by hour. Like planting and fishing, some work is best done under waxing (growing) moments and some is best done under waning moments.

Conjurers base their practices on what works for them. To some extent this is intuitive inasmuch as you can, with practice, feel the moon’s changes without looking out the window, sense high tides and low tides without referring to a tidal clock, and understand the hours without looking at the positions of the sun and moon–or the hands on your clock.

The “old-time” conjurer woman who posts at Spiritual Illumination believes that “the three most important timing considerations in hoodoo are the day of the week, the time of day, and the time of the moon. Of less importance (generally) are the positions of the planets and the day of the year.” This is a personal preference and differs from person to person.

As a writer, I like conjuring nuances because they add depth to my series of folk magic novels. Personal experience has shown me that notions about time, moon and tides are not superstition because–let us say–that if one works with oracles like the I Ching, the Kabbalist’s Tree of Life, Tarot Cards, and meditation, the flow of time and space and energy become very evident when it comes to their impact on what we are doing. So, it’s not surprising that hoodoo practitioners are very conscious of the benefits of going with the flow.

In some ways, our attitudes about life are a form of conjure in that consciously or subconsciously, our minds are creating the future. What works for the hoodoo practitioner works for all of us.

–Malcolm

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