When i lived in Missouri, back in the 1970s, i met several boys and men who told me that they kept buckeye nuts in their pockets as a "lucky piece." The "doctrine of signatures" -- the magical belief that items from nature reveal their purpose or usefeulness by their shape, colour, or markings -- may be what gives buckeyes their status as pocket pieces among men, for by "luck," they mean good fortune in sexual matters, and buckeyes certainly recall in miniature the idealized, smooth, beautiful, firm testicles of men.
In addition to increasing the bearer's sexual power, the buckeye is thought by many people in the eastern and southern United States to be a sure preventive of rheumatism, arthritis, or headache. Identical beliefs were recorded in Germany and the Netherlands during the early 19th century, but there the preventive power was attributed to the buckeye's European relative, the horse-chestnut. It is probable that European immigrants transferred the horse-chestnut's magical ability to the buckeye when they settled in America.
In the African-American hoodoo tradition, a buckeye in the pocket is reputed to increase one's supply of pocket money -- and the buckeye forms the basis of a popular hoodoo charm for gamblers:
Take a buckeye and drill a hole into it. Fill the hole with liquid mercury and seal it with wax. Carry it concealed in a mojo bag while playing at cards. Metallic quicksilver is used because Mercury is the god of games of chance and sleight of hand. Sometimes a silver "Mercury" dime is added to the bag to augment its mercurial power. Anointing the charm with Fast Luck oil likewise increases its efficacy. This same charm can also be made with a nutmeg or a whole John the Conqueror root.
A botanical footnote:
The buckeye tree (Aesculus glabra) is a relative of the chestnut and the horse-chestnut. The nut is the same rich, mellow warm-brown as a chestnut, but it is less readily edible, due to its high tannic acid content. The California Indians leached both acorns and buckeyes, but there were many other easily edible nuts in the Midwest and East, including hickory, walnut, butternut, and -- until the blight struck during the 20th century -- chestnut, so the Indians and the white folks who followed them into the area just left the buckeyes alone.
While chestnuts and horse-chestnuts are flat on one side and gently rounded on the other, with a flattened, round abcssion scar at the top and a pointed tip at the bottom, the smaller buckeyes are more uniformly spherical, albeit irregular in shape. In fact, at about an inch in diameter, they resemble nothing so much as diminutive human testicles. If you oil them, they will dry to a nice smooth finish, with none of the air-gaps between the shell and the kernel that you'll find in dried chestnuts.
A former buckeye collector, Lee Rudolph (firstname.lastname@example.org), tells how buckeyes were treated in his youth:
"I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, and had, circa 1954-5, a large but undiscriminating collection of buckeyes. My father (also a native of Cleveland) taught me to oil them by rubbing them alongside my nose, where the human skin does indeed produce a nice oil, equally suitable for musical instruments, but generally harder to apply to them than to a buckeye, which fits the curve of the nose and upper cheek perfectly."
The lucky buckeye nut shown here is one i collected in the woods in Oregon County,
Missouri in 1975. I stripped away its green jacket and oiled it well every day
for a month. It dried to a deep, glowing brown, like a fine piece of furniture or
sculpture. A simple object, found in nature, but very potent.
copyright © 1995-2003 catherine yronwode. All rights reserved.
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