We pick up where we left off last week, discussing “The Bible in Magic and Divination. A few more tidbits from Hyatt’s Folklore of Adams County, Illinois:

This is more about print in general: “13145. Tear off a corner of the first page before lending a book and the borrower will always return it. (You’re keeping a piece of the book as a magical link back to you.)”

Another, “13146. “My husband thinks it very bad luck, if reading a paper and someone comes up and reads the paper over his shoulder; he will drop the paper the moment they do…” — because he is being “overlooked”? Does this come out of the “evil eye” tradition?

From anecdote at 15625, “spirits will always talk to you if you have a Bible under your left arm and ask them, What in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost do you want back here?” Which brought to Maryam’s and Jordan’s mind the old ghost story where the ghost replies, “Since you ask in the Lord’s name, I won’t kill you; instead, I’ll tell you about the treasure hidden under the house.” We talked a little bit about why so many people sought treasure in the old days; because, before “just anybody” could start a bank account, people used to hide their savings on their family property, and it became “lost treasure” when Grandpa died without telling anyone where it was. (Miss Cat explained this on a past episode of the Hoodoo Rootwork Hour which dealt with dowsing. Can’t find a link direct to that episode, though.)

Related: 15629 – “if [in answer to the demand described above, the spirit] just mumbles and don’t say anything, to say, What in the name of the devil do you want? Because SATAN might be wanting to warn you of something that is going to happen.” Maybe this harks all the way back to the oldest Biblical mentions of Satan, as God’s prosecuting attorney.

I also summarized the first episode of Papa Cé’s podcast series, “The Greatest Hoodoo Manual: The Bible.” (You can listen for yourself here.)

He spent a good deal of time debunking the myth that the so-called “curse of Ham” ordains white supremacy over African peoples. Then on to the etymology of the word “hoodoo,” pretty much as Eoghan Ballard has told us, though he went into some detail about how the Ladino/Spanish word “judio” (meaning “Jew;” say “hoo-dee-oh”) became “jud’o” (say “hoo-doe”) in Cuba and Puerto Rico (and Spanish Colonies in the Southwestern US) and, naturally enough, “hoodoo” as non-Spanish-speakers picked up this word for not-churchy (“judio,” not “cristiano”), African-based spiritual work.

Papa Cé spent the rest of this two-hour podcast on championing Godfrey Selig’s Secrets of the Psalms. Do it right, he said: follow the directions given for each Psalm and pray over water or olive oil, write out the papers, whatever. Because when the Bible says “pray,” the Hebrew words used often mean invoke, conjure, summon; and that is why conjure is another name for hoodoo. By working the Psalms, not just reading them silently, you are summoning and commanding spiritual forces to make things happen!

This led me to some remarks by Dr. Theophus Smith in his book Conjuring Culture: Biblical Formations of Black America, which is an extremely dense academic read, full of references to scholars you never heard of and words that Gil Scott Heron would say he knew, “but I do not recognize them in that order.”

But still: Dr. Smith has lots of fun teaching us all about James Weldon Johnson riffing on the tradition of performed sermons – sermons given by rote, not just word for word but phrase for phrase and cadence for cadence – and handed down for centuries.

And the portrayal of God’s creation of the world in assertively anthropomorphic terms: ‘I vision God standing / On the heights of heaven. … His eye the lightning’s flash, / His voice the thunder’s roll. / Wid one hand He snatched / The sun from its socket, / And the other He clapped across the moon.’ Zora Neale Hurston, in Mules and Men, also cites God creating the world in acts very like those of a human conjure, even down to crafting a dollbaby that turns out to be Adam himself.

Not only that, but Hurston says that God didn’t just go up to the mountain to receive the Law: no, he ORDERED God to meet him there and BRING the Law with him! This is just one example of many from across cultures, about a kind of egalitarian way of thinking that you need to do any kind of Coincidence Management or other spiritual work. As Maryam was taught: “Don’t say ‘Please;’ don’t beg.”

Other examples: Abraham, in Genesis, when God announces his intention to destroy Sodom; Abraham talks him into sparing the town if a hundred righteous men can be found there, and then talks God down to ten.

Or these two Russian Jewish stories:

1. During a famine, the local elders put God on trial for child abuse, because he is the Father of mankind and he’s not feeding his people. They find him guilty. Then they go to synagogue.

2. A Jewish woman, at prayer, scolds God because “Even when you are avenging your people, children die; and it doesn’t matter whose – that should break your heart!” And God tells her she’s right.

Smith also has a lot to say about nkisi, the Kongo ancestor of the mojo bag and of container spells generally, and how several closely related principles come into play in choosing components; metaphor, metonymy (we’re using metonymy when we say “The White House” and mean the President; in the same way, you put someone’s hair in as a WAY of putting him or her into the work), and the Doctrine of Signatures. So a nkisi, like a mojo bag, is both a living creature and a coded message, just as I thought.

Next week’s topic: Cleansing and purifying houses and other places. Your experiences enthusiastically welcomed.

2 thoughts on “Sunday School: The Bible in Magic and Divination, part 2

    1. Reverend, I’m not quite sure what sort of help you need if you can already see things in the spirit.

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