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Cooking pot magic

To: alt.lucky.w,alt.religion.orisha,alt.magick.tyagi,alt.magick.alt.pagan
From: catherine yronwode 
Subject: Re: Cooking pot magic
Date: Sat, 11 Jul 1998 17:18:03 -0800 wrote:
> My friend, Willa, knows voodoo and such but does not practice it and will not
> tell hardly anything about it.  She says she can't and won't.  I know that she
> has a frying pan that has something to do with it. Willa's grandmother was
> born missing a hand and she was a famous practitioner in her area, I guess.
> (Willa learned from her.)  Willa said her grandmother didn't use the pan but
> used oak fire in a fireplace.  I've been looking thru your material on the web
> and, so far, haven't found anything referring to using this.  Can you point me
> to something about it?  Are do you know anything about the use of fire for
> conjuring....and why she would use that particular type of wood?
> Gaile

Hi, In replying to your question, i am also pisting it to the usenet
groups alt.lucky,w (world-wide folk magic, including hoodoo) and
alt.religion.orisha (African diaspora religions and magical folkways,
including Santeria, Vodoun, Palo, and hoodoo)

I am missing some context here...i am unsure if your friend Willa
practices Vodoun -- the Haitian synthesis of West African religion
centered on worship of the Loa (gods), or if she practices good old
African-American hoodoo, also known as conjuration, witchcraft and root
work. If the latter, i think i can answer; if the former, someone in
a.r.o. (Craig?) will probably have to help me out here. 

Also, i am going to exclude any mention of European and
European-American customs regarding "witches' cauldrons," as i think
these, while fascinating in their parallel development, won't shed much
light on your specific query. 

I am a complete outsider to African religions, but as i understand it,
there are rituals in several of them (the Congo religion Palo for sure,
right Craig?) that involve the use of consecrated pots in which sacred
objects are placed (?) and which are, when consecrated, the residences
of indwelling gods or spirits. 

Since your friend Willa used a frying pan and did not make a ritually
consecrated pot in the Palo style (what are these called, Craig?), i am
going to assume that she was practicing hoodoo or folk-magic. Hoodoo
strongly reflects the Congo ancestry of its practitioners. It contains
remnants or survivals of Congo religious practice, often not clearly
understood as such by its practitioners, most of whom identify
themselves as Protestant Christians. The use of pots and pans in hoodoo
is well documented. 

During the 1930s, a folklorist named Harry Middleton Hyatt collected
almost 14,000 separate oral history accounts of hoodoo from 1,600
African American practitioners. Among these, he found numerous instances
of divination, diagnosis of magical illness, cure of magical illness,
and consultation for decision-making by coffee pot, cooking pot, and
cooking pan. He was intrigued and somewhat amused by these -- especially
the coffee pots, which seemed so "mundane" -- but apparently he did not
know about the African antecedents to these customs, and so he did not
know how valuable these glimpses into African religious and cultural
survival really were. I think if Hyatt were alive today, he would be
extremely interested in pursuing some of the "Congo connections" to

In any case, the uses for pots, pans, coffee pots, or such in hoodoo are
varied, so it is unlikely i can guess what your friend Willa uses hers
for. I am going to guess divination, though, because that is an area
about which folks are fairly guarded and unlikely to reveal their
thoughts. She might also be using it to cure magical illness. Cooking
pot mgaic in hoodoo is usually performed by a professional practitioner
or consultant (root doctor, tweo-headed doctor, hoodoo woman) for a
client. One such rite involves boiling a whole silver dime (or filings
from the edge of a silver dime) in water (or milk) and drinking the
"silver water." There are many variants of how this is done; it can also
be combined with a rite of cooking pot divination in which the boiling
dime is closely watched for evidence of certain movements which indicate
that "enemy work" is the cause of the client's suffering. 

Now as for the oak wood fire. Oak is specified i think because it burns
hottest and best of all the American hard-woods. Urban people kinda
don't know this, but among rural people of the era before gas stoves
became common, specifying an oak wood fire was not necessarily an
indication of magical intent -- it meant a good hot fire with an
extremely even temperature and none of the sparking, sputters,
flare-ups, or "pops" that a pine wood fire will entail. I have old
cookbooks, for example, that call for building an "oak wood fire" when

However, that having been said, red oak is sometimes used in hoodoo
medical practice (as it is in Appalachian folk-medicine) for a tea or
for medicated bath-water. It contains tannic acid, which is the basis of
its use in that regard. But since an oak wood fire was specified, i
assume the intent here was to get a good fire, that's all. 

Okay, that leads us to rural hoodoo fireplace magic. This is definitely
related to African cooking pot magic; and again, Hyatt has some striking
instances of it. The fireplace was conceived as a site of magical
energy, an aspect of hoodoo that has almost completely died out among
urban people. Rites centerred on the firelace involve the boiling of the
silver dime, explained above, urinating around the four chmney corners
for protection or to lift a curse on someone (in that latter case, the
practitioner tells them to urinate around their own chimey corners, of
course), and the mixing of wood ashes and / or chimney brick dust with
other ingredients to create magical formulas for harm, protection, and
compelling others to do one's will. Burial or innurment of a 
magically-charged object (e.g. one's enemy's hairs, 9 needles, and 9
pins in a small glass bottle; or conversely one's lover's menstrual
cloth) in the fireplace can wreak destruction to that person or cause
them to love you.  

I hope this casts some light on the subject. I look to others to supply
more information on Santeria, Vodoun, and Palo customs regarding pots,
and fires. 

catherine yronwode

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