Miss Cat took a long running jump before she actually got to the subject of floor washes, colognes, and other liquid conjure formulas. She began with the different major theories of magical contagion — of spreading bad luck to others. In some cultures, they believe in what Mexicans call mal aire, bad air; in the Middle East and around the Mediterranean, the evil eye — an unintentional curse. This might go back to the Sumerians — they had eye charms but, apparently, they were not writing about it.
In sub-Saharan Africa, they believe that magical contagion is picked up through the feet; hence the use of powders thrown underfoot for people to step in. And this is where floor washes come in handy.
In the US, foot track magic is widely believed by African-Americans, and it survived because it crept under the radar of the dominant culture. When slaves were meticulously sweeping their yards and floors to clear away evil messes, their white masters saw nothing but ordinary cleanliness. Floor washes in hoodoo — and there are many, still made and still good — are a primary tool to combat perform foot track magic.
One of the most widely known is Chinese Wash — originally called Young’s Chinese Wash. Why on earth did conjure workers come to rely on anything called Chinese Wash? Well, Mr. Young, who wrote under the pen name Lewis de Clermont, was interested not only in hoodoo and its spiritual supplies, but in a wide variety of Asian things. The formula for Chinese Wash is very similar to Van Van, and in making it for sale, he may have found the herbs in New York’s Chinatown. It was there he also found ling nuts — which he sold as anti-witchcraft charms under the name bat nuts or devil pods.
After more romping among the history of the great hoodoo mail-order houses, Miss Cat began talking about ammonia. Even on a physical level, it’s a good cleanser — a powerful grease-cutter. It is also probably a “polite substitute” for urine, a very old-time ingredient in protection and cleansing baths: it marks your territory as yours — and that is older than humanity.
In addition, urine is sterile when it’s fresh, and it’s also antibacterial: soldiers know — because the military teaches them — to urinate on wounds when there is nothing else to clean them with. Sulfur, an antibacterial element, is what makes it yellow.
Many people, of course, would freak out when you mention urine as a floor wash ingredient, so you can always recommend ammonia instead. And ammonia, of course, is a byproduct of the decomposition of urine.
Florida water is popular these days in many magical traditions besides the Afro-Caribbean ones from which it sprang. Florida water is an inexpensive copy of the famous Eau de Cologne, which survives nowadays as a delicious perfume called No. 4711. It is cheap as fine perfumes go; a 4-ounce bottle costs only $30! Hoyt’s Cologne, which dates from the late 1860s, was the first decent inexpensive copy; it’s a darker, more earthy fragrance, very inexpensive and still rather nice.
Florida water is a still less expensive — and, when sampled right after the other two perfumes, is downright nasty! Miss Cat had bottles of each on hand for us to sniff. The No. 4711 was mysterious and kaleidoscopic — different and equally wonderful every time we tried it. Hoyt’s Cologne was rather nice, and less subtle. By comparison, Florida water was bitter and flat. It was the same brand of Florida water that I have on my workbench at home, which is so demure and refreshing when I use it! It was quite a shock.
After that, we spent the next several hours making four cases — 48 bottles — of Peace Water. This is not the cheap white lotion sold by the careless, ignorant or willfully stupid, but a beautiful blue oil floating on a translucent white aqueous solution.
At the next table, other apprentices were making ravishingly delicious, ruby-colored Four Thieves Vinegar. At Lucky Mojo, this is precisely what it is supposed to be: an edible, savory, spicy protective tonic.
Downwind, a few brave souls were making War Water, a which has a potentially interesting fragrance with a faint similarity to patchouli — which will nonetheless turn your stomach at once.
After that, miscellaneous production labor of many kinds, and then the monthly Hoodoo Rootwork Correspondence Course homework party. There were 10 new graduates, the largest group I have ever heard of! Congratulations! You will soon know who you are.