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Court Case Bucket Spell

To: alt.religion.orisha,alt.lucky.w,alt.magick.tyagi,alt.magick
From: catherine yronwode 
Subject: Court Case Bucket Spell
Date: Thu, 12 Apr 2001 19:34:16 GMT

Mostly for Eoghan....

For those interested in Congo-style nganga, caldera, or
bucket practices in the African diaspora, that is, religious, 
magical, and spiritual practices in which open containers are 
used in work with spirits -- here is one such item, from Harry 
M. Hyatt’s “Hoodoo - Conjuration - Witchcraft - Rootwork”
collection of oral histories. I have excerpted it from an
interview in Volume Two with “The Gifted Medium” of New
Orleans, Louisiana, recorded circa February 14, 1940. The
informant was #1559, an unnamed female Spiritualist medium
and root worker. Cylinders 2839:7 - 2852:3.

First, i will give my gloss of the entire spell, then you shall
have the transcription from Hyatt. 

{Spiiritualist 3-Day Court Case Bucket and Candle Spell:

{First, sweeten the judge. If he is a white person
(Caucasian), use only white items for him: write his name on
white paper and place the paper in a white saucer or cup
filled with white (clear) Karo syrup, white (clear) soothing
syrup (opiated or alcoholic sweet medicinal syrup), and
white rock-candy (sugar crystals). The informant does not
give a counter-example, but logically, if the judge is dark
skinned, use brown paper for his name, brown saucer or cup,
two brown syrups, and brown rock candy for the offering. The
sweetening is an offering for the spirits who will work upon
the judge.

{After the offering is set out, place a metal bucket
partially filled with sand on the seance table. Bury a
second name-paper with the judge’s name in the sand and then
set a large red pillar candle upright in the sand. If the
defendant is entirely innocent, instead of a red pillar
candle, you may use a white self-lighting Master Light
candle. (Master Light was a brand name and is no longer
available, however it also can refer to any candle of that
type, a stout white 3-day pillar candle with a dripped or
dribbled wax finish.)

Burn the appropriate candle continually for three days
before the court date and recite Psalm 71 seven times per
day (21 times total). During these three days, spiritually
call upon the judge to look with favour upon the defendant.
Speak to him in the spirit (in trance) so that he will
favour the case.

Incidentally, because the judge’s candle-bucket is kept on
the seance table rather than on the altar, you may call
traveling spirits to the table while the candle burns and
their rapping will prophesy the outcome of the case: two
raps for failure, three raps for success.}

-----transcription ----

Note: Interviewee’s speech is transcribed phonetically,
Hyatt’s speech is in (parentheses), Hyatt’s comments in
[brackets], and my comments in {curly brackets}.

Fo' a case in co't, yo' must have the judge's name an' you'
sweeten this judge an' when yo' sweeten dis judge --
everyone doesn't use de same way of workin'. When yo'
sweetin' dis judge 'cordin as ah 'fore told yo' with white
{people, mentioned earlier in the interview} -- everything
must be sweeten wit white {Karo} syrup. Dere is a form of
soothin' syrup an' rock candy dat is used tuh sweeten dis

Den dere is a red light [candle] dat is set in a bucket wit
sand wit de judge's name. An' everything will come out in
that direction very successful with the  party that is to be 
prosecuted -- in reading the 71 Psalms seven times a day
with faith an' belief, if it is a justified case. Ah do not
have to believe in an unjustified case, such as willfully
murder or stealing.

{The 71st Psalm begins "In thee, O Lord, do I put my trust:
let me never be put to confusion. Deliver me in thy
righteousness, and cause me to escape: incline thine ear
unto me, and save me." }

Or if it is a real justified case, work with that Psalm an'
that light which we call master light -- a master light
would come without soul [touching it?]. A master light will
light itself. 

An' if you set that jes' three days befo' the time of de
co't -- an' then yo' would have to call upon this judge an'
tell him just whut chew desire him to do in this case, that
he will look upon de client in de way that chew want him tuh
look upon him.

(Now, when you set that, do you put this bucket on the
altar, burn it on the altar or where?)

Well, ah have dis bucket setting on de table because ah find
that there is virtue in contactin' de spirits through a

There is a certain amount of spiritual raps that are
given -- two is fo' no an' three is fo' yes. An' de 
names of such {the names in the bucket} goes
down through these spiritual raps an' when yo' contact 'em
{the spirits} yo' know jes' if yo' goin' to be successful.
As she set inside chew, yo' will call upon de divine spirit
an' ask, "will ah be success? Will John come out all right?"
If it's two raps it's no -- If it's three yo' will be successful.

(Now you say you write the judge's name on this piece of
paper, and you put this in the sand and put the candles
around it?) 

{Hyatt must have misunderstood: she described using ONE
candle, not several (in a choice of two styles), and placing
the candle IN, not “around” the sand-filled bucket.}

Yo' place the name in there an' just say, "ah'm burying de
candle." {She clarifies that a single candle is used,
partially buried in the bucket of sand, above the buried

(And what do you do with the sweetening?)

De sweet'ning does not have anything to do with that -- it
does not contact that. De sweet'nin' is put in a saucer or
cup an' left open where de diff'rent spirits that would
travel in, will come in an' help that individual out. 

---end transcription---

Well, i hope you enjoyed that! 

cat yrownode

Hoodoo in Theory and Practice --

Lucky Mojo Curio Co.
   Send e-mail with your street address to
and receive our free 32 page catalogue of hoodoo supplies and amulets

     Copyright (c) 2001 catherine yronwode. All rights reserved.

From alt.magick.tyagi Sat May  5 13:42:31 2001
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E. C. Ballard wrote:
> This is a very interesting sort of spell, Cat. I am not sure that I
> would classify it as part of the same complex as the Ngangas or Black
> Hawk "buckets" although you might argue that in a loose way it is
> related. My reasoning is largely taxonomical. A Black Hawk bucket and
> Afro-Cuban Ngangas (calderos) are homes for specific spirits. They are
> in essense animated altars in which a living spirit has been brought 
> to reside or which may be inhabited by the spirit when called upon to 
> do so.
> This particular spell is one that uses the bucket to perform a magical
> operation. As such it is in my opinion at least, less like these afore
> mentioned altars than a normal hoodoo hand is. The hand is a charm
> constructed of many elements - usually including a fair amount of
> vegitable matter which rely apart from any pharmacological properties
> upon the use of language to insinuate certain outcomes. An example 
> being Devil's shoestring to tie the culprit who has hurt you.
> This is something other in my view. It is not to say that there isn't
> some at least habitualized relationship (such as the tendency to use
> such vessals) but I view it as something distinct from the conceptual
> practice of ngangas and Indian buckets. etc.
> Rebutals are always welcomed. ;-)
> Eoghan

There's no vegetable matter in the bucket (as in a hand) -- and the
bucket is not portable (as is a hand). It contains only sand and the
judge's name, representing his spirit, whom you talk to while in a
trance, plus an inserted candle (representing a stick, perhaps) -- so i
don't see it as hand-like. And what about the OTHER half of the spell --
the cup filled with syrups and candy and the judge's name -- which is
set out to attract spirits who "travel" through and then will go to work
for the judge on your behalf? The cup is apparently set on the altar,
not on the seance table. It is, however, not a permanent installation,
as a nganga would be, unless one might be doing a lot of court case
spells on behalf of clients who will come before that same judge, in
which case i assume it would be kept there all the time and refreshed as

I like your use of the term "habitualized relationship" to describe this
woman's use of the bucket -- and, true to that characterization, she
does mention other spells designed around the use of buckets and metal
lard cans containing the name-papers of people to be contacted

I consider her methods to be typical of pre-WWII NOLA Spiritual Church
Movement religious magic under the influence of Leafy Anderson.  For
instance, she not only tells Hyatt about Hindu spirit guides, but also
about Indian spirit guides -- probably Blackhawk, although Hyatt fumbles
the interview at that point and mistakenly thinks she means "Hindoo"
when she says "Indian." 

This informant, by the way -- coming as she did from a Roman Catholic
background with an apparent conversion to the Spiritual Church Movement
-- equates hoodoo with making "rag dolls" on people and with other
coercive magic. She says that she will have nothing to do with rootwork,
being a Spiritual Medium, although she ably relates the typical hoodoo
beef-tongue hoodoo court case spell to Hyatt, along with several other
spells of that type, which she calls "Ism" spells (as in "Hoodoism").
All sorts of "Isms,", she says, are practiced across the river, in
Algiers. In New Orleans proper, she says, there are "Spiritual Temples"
instead. And, she says, there is no reason that "the government"
(Hyatt!) should be interested in her work, because she is a Spiritual
Medium and harms no one. 

All in all, she is an articulate presenter of information about this
sector of African-American religious belief. One only wishes that Hyatt
had not seen fit to dismiss so much of her information as spurious. Not
only does he blow off her mention of her "Indian Spirit Guide," but even
after she tells Hyatt how people dress in the Spiritual church, and
which angel-spirits they invoke, and so forth, he inserts a note in the
text to the effect that her claim that there are numerous Spiritual
Temples in NOLA is false, because such "private churches" (his term!)
only exist in Baltimore, Maryland (!!!). Still, he did let her speak her
piece and he recorded it faithfully, and for that we can be grateful. 

As i get deeper into the transcription of her interview, i will send
along any further mention of buckets. As far as i recall, most, if not
all, references to buckets in Hyatt are to be found in the NOLA
interviews. I wonder if it will turn out that they were all related to
him by members of the Leafy Anderson Spiritual Church Movement... 

cat yronwode 

Hoodoo in Theory and Practice --

Lucky Mojo Curio Co.
   Send e-mail with your street address to
and receive our free 32 page catalogue of hoodoo supplies and amulets

     Copyright (c) 2001 catherine yronwode. All rights reserved.

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