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FOOT-TRACK MAGIC

IN THE HOODOO TRADITION

One of the distinguishing characteristics of African-derived spells in African-American hoodoo is the wide-spread belief in "foot-track magic," a form of evil work in which a magical poison enters the victim through his or her feet, causing an unnatural illness.

Many victims of foot-track magic complain of persistent bad luck that lasts for years, of mental disturbances such as "a wandering mind," or of the inability to gain and control money or love. A significant number also describe their affliction as being accompanied by swollen or painful legs and feet, a staggering gait, or being forced to crawl instead of walk. Their symptoms most often correspond to what modern medicine would call edema or diabetic neuropathy, with a smaller number resembling polio or sciatica -- except that in general, people who have been "hurt" or "poisoned through the feet" cannot be cured by conventional doctors, and eventually they consult a root worker, Gysy woman, or conjure doctor who succeeds in taking off the spell and restoring their physical health and mental well-being.

Most foot-track spells fall into two general categories.

  • In the first group, which i call "direct foot-track magic," some sort of "mess" (powders, roots, stones, chalk-marks, buried bottle spells, etc.) is "put down" in a pattern, line, cross-mark, or "quincunx" array so that the victim will walk over it and be hurt or poisoned through the feet. I believe that direct foot-track magic is the oldest form of laying down tricks, and the most African. This form of foot-track spell, often called crossing or "putting something down," is more likely to produce severe health problems than it is to affect the victim's fortunes in love, money, or luck.

  • In the second category, which i call "sympathetic foot-track magic," a person's footprints, socks, shoes, toenails, or foot-skin are captured and then doctored in some way (usually with powders) to work a trick on the victim, such as removing them from town, jinxing them, bringing them under control in love or money matters, or giving them an unnatural illness. This form of foot-track spell is more likely to affect the victim's well-being or luck than his or her physical health, unless the material is put in the shoe -- in that case, "poisoning through the feet" sets in, with the usual results. Although no actual cross-marks need be used in a sympathetic foot-track spell, the results are still usually referred to as crossed conditions.
  • When it comes to direct foot-track spells, one of the most "African" methods -- and hence the oldest -- consists of laying out cross-marks (such as a circle with an "X" in it or three rows of "wavy snake-lines"). These can be drawn with chalk or sprinkled with powders) in the path of the victim. Such patterns may be activated by spitting in them as you curse the one for whom they are laid. If innocent people walk over the mark, some folks will tell you that they should remain unaffected because "it wasn't put down for them" -- but almost as many people will say that anyone who walks across such a mess gets crossed, and that this can be the cause of crossed conditions when one has no enemy.

    One old-style way to cross someone is to mix gum arabic, unravelled bits of hemp rope, and sulphur powder or Goofer Dust, and strew it in their path. This mess will stick to their shoes and work on them for a long time. A shed snake skin placed in an enemy's path, especially if filled with a "killing powder" like Graveyard Dirt , is also said to intend sure death to the one who steps on it.

    Another traditional method of working foot track magic is to lay out stones in a quincunx pattern or artificial crossroads, sometimes with a button belonging to the victim at the center. Regional names for this type of snare include "a line" (as in the phrase "she made him cross a line") or "cross-marks" ("she laid down cross-marks for him"). The effects of being tricked in this manner were quite eloquently described by the Mississippi blues singer Robert Johnson in the song "Stones in My Passway," recorded in Dallas, Texas on June 19th, 1938.

    STONES IN MY PASSWAY
    by Robert Johnson

    I got stones in my passway and my road seems dark at night
    I got stones in my passway and my road seems dark at night
    I have pains in my heart, they have taken my appetite

    I have a bird to whistle and i have a bird to sing
    Have a bird to whistle and i have a bird to sing
    I got a woman that i'm loving, oh, but she don't mean a thing

    My enemies have betrayed me, have overtaken poor Bob at last
    My enemies have betrayed me, have overtaken poor Bob at last
    And there's one thing certain, they have stones all in my pass

    Now you're trying to take my life and all my lovin' too
    You have laid a passway for me, now what are you trying to do?
    I'm crying, "Please, please, let us be friends"
    Now when hear me howling in my passway, rider,
             please open your door and let me in

    I got three legs to truck on, whoa, please don't block my road
    I got three legs to truck on, whoa, please don't block my road
    I been feelin' strange 'bout my rider, babe, i'm booked and i got to go

    In the realm of sympathetic foot-track magic, perhaps the oldest and most traditional method for laying a trick is to use a spoon to lift up and collect the dirt of the footprint of the person you wish to harm. You can then place the captured the footprint dirt in a paper and mix it with something like Hot Foot Powder, Goofer Dust, or Crossing Powder, toss the mixture over your left shoulder into running water, and walk away without looking back. The person will leave you alone and may have to move out of town. A river is the best running water for this spell, but if there isn't one near you, throw the mixture into a flooded drainage ditch or flush it down the toilet. Alternatively, the paper may be burned in the flame of a black candle.

    Another very old form of sympathetic foot-track magic, rarely used in modern times, consists of locating a clear impression of the enemy's foot print in the dirt and then whipping it with a horse-whip while cursing him or her by name. This is said to be as effective as making a doll-baby and torturing it to harm the one you hate.

    A third old method of working foot track magic is to lay down a line of Red Brick Dust to protect and defend one's home or place of business against the incursions of enemies or those practicing malevolent witchcraft.

    When working sympathetic foot-track magic with an enemy's sock or shoe, the main idea is to get their foot to contact the powders, just as if they had walked barefoot through the mess. Women resentful of family members whose laundry they must wash have been known to dissolve a tablespoonful of the commercial mineral salts known as Hot Foot or Crossing in the rinse water to "fix" their enemy's socks. On the other hand, socks and stockings can be used to incite love-magic, too. For instance, if you take your left stocking and your lover's right stocking and tie them in a square knot and hide them beneath the bed, your lover will remain faithful and true, and never wander far away from you. Liekwise, if you write your lover's name nine times on a heart-shaped violet-leaf and wear it in your shoe, the man or woman in question will come under your control.

    Here is a blues songthat explains how graveyard dirt is put in a lover's shoes to produce both thrall-like love and the typical symptom of "poisoning through the feet," an inability to walk. The lyrics also contains reference to several items used in making a mojo hand for love-domination.

    CONJURED
    by Esmond Edwards
    as recorded by Wynnonie Harris
    Chicago, August 6, 1964 (Chess CHV412)

    You said it was love made me stutter when I talk,
    But is it love that makes me stagger when I walk?

         The Gypsy woman told me, "She's got you conjured, son"
         Well, somebody's lyin' -- you are that Gypsy one.

    You said I was jealous when I didn't go to work,
    You sprinkled my shoes with graveyard dirt,

         The Gypsy woman told me, "She's got you conjured, son"
         Well, somebody's lyin' -- you are that Gypsy one.

    The whiskey you bought me, I was afraid to unscrew it,
    The Gypsy woman told me it was embalming fluid
    You got a Black Cat Bone and a Buzzard Feather,
    A John the Conquer Root and they're all tied together

         The Gypsy woman told me, "She's got you conjured, son"
         Well, somebody's lyin' -- you are that Gypsy one.

    (repeat last verse and chorus)

    The hurts which direct foot-track magic inflict upon the legs and feet of the victim have given rise to a range of protection and purification spells in which the person under attack may wear an amulet at the ankle or on the leg, perform a ritual house-purification to "clear away that evil mess" laid on the floor or at the doorstep, and/or bathe in a ritual way "from the head down to the toes" in order to send the poison back out through the soles of the feet.

    Devil's Shoe String roots and silver coins are powerful magical protections agent against direct foot-track magic. Soaking 9 Devil's Shoe Strings with whiskey and then stabbing them into your pathway protects you from anything that has been laid down for you in that path. Likewise, if you believe that someone is trying to "poison you through your feet," tying nine Devil's Shoe Strings around your ankles will disable your enemy from working footprint magic against you.

    Wearing a silver dime at the ankle also functions as magical protectant and in addition it is used as a warning sign against the presence of an evil powder such as Hot Foot or Goofer Dust or Crossing. The mechanism behind this is that the sulphur that is an ingredient in those powders will turn the silver black. This is interpreted as confirmation that someone is laying down tricks for you and as a protection, in that the silver dime "kills" the poison.

    Commercial apotropaic spiritual supplies such as Fear Not to Walk Over Evil contain the same protecting herbs and minerals mentioned above. In powder form they are sprinkled in the pathway to the home to counteract any mess that has been put down and thus "kill" it before it gets to your feet. In the form of crystal salts they may be used for personal bathing or rinsing the laundry, especially the socks, to keep the feet from being poisoned.

    Herb-based curative preparations such as Uncrossing and 13-Herb Spiritual Bath are said to take off a jinx, break a trick, or remedy crossed conditions. The powder form is sprinkled in the pathway, especially if it is known to have been dressed by an enemy. The crystal salts or herb baths are dissolved or brewed in water, then used in a spiritual cleansing ceremony, applied as a floor wash, or mixed into regular commercial liquid or spray carpet cleaners to kill any suspected crossing mess that may have been laid down on or in the floor by an enemy. Another favoured cure for a home that has been messed with is to ritually clean the floor from the back of the house to the front with purifying Chinese Wash or with a few drops of Van Van Oil in a bucket of water.

    The following documentation on foot-track magic comes from "Hoodoo - Conjuration - Witchcraft - Rootwork," a 5-volume, 4766-page collection of folkloric material gathered by Harry Middleton Hyatt, primarily between 1935 and 1939.


    IMPORTANT: If this is the first time you have encountered Hyatt material
    at this web site, please take a moment to open and read the supplementary page called
    "Hoodoo - Conjuration - Witchcraft - Rootwork" by Harry Middleton Hyatt.


    Cause: SOMETHING PUT DOWN FOR YOU TO WALK OVER
    Cure: DEVIL'S SHOE STRING ; 9 DAYS AND 9 KNOTS

    1209: If dey put somethin down fo yo tuh walk ovah, yo'll take devil's-shoestring. Yo know dat devil's-shoestring. Yo'll get de devil's-shoestring an' yo' tie it round, possible round heah.

    (Where?)

    Round yore laigs -- devil's-shoestring tied round yore laigs an' let it stay right there round yore laig nine days. After nine days yo' take it an' tie you nine knots in each one dem strings yo' got round laig. Tie dat devil's-shoestring right round geag -- two strands of it. An' after nine days, den yo' tie nine knots in it an' wear it nine mo' days, understand, an' then yo' kin walk ovah anything an' it ain't gonna hurt cha.

    (You tie one piece around each leg just below the knee?)

    That's right.

    [Waycross, Ga., (1138), 1852.1]


    Cause: SOMETHING PUT DOWN; LEG AFFECTED
    Cure: DEVIL'S SHOE STRING

    1208. A woman live out heah -- she out heah now. She lived out to -- by de Fairfax [?]. Well, she was heah [in town] an' somebody put somepin down to her do'step an' she stepped ovah it an dis laig here drawed up. {atrophied; as with polio} An hit's a man lived out heah from Sappville [?], Uncle Tom Williams, he brought some devil's shoestring an' he tole' us about how he did it. An' he tied it round dis laig an' tied a piece round her wase [waist] an' one round her ahm [arm], an' she got so she could walk. An' de doctors say she would nevah walk no mo'. An' he took dat devil's-shoestring an' wrapped it an' twist it, put round dere -- put three pieces round her. [The magic three.] Dat laig straightened out an' she went to walkin' agin.

    [Waycross, Ga., (1134), 1843:1.]


    Apotropaic Foot Track Spell: BLACK PEPPER IN SHOE KEEPS YOUR FOOTPRINT FROM "REGISTERING" SO IT CANNOT BE CAPTURED

    1123. I've heard of them taking black pepper and putting it in the shoe to keep a person from getting the dirt out of their footprint. They said the footprint won't register in the sand if they have black pepper in the shoe.

    [Snow Hill, Md., (83), 2:22 (Nansemond Co., Va.)

    [Black pepper like red pepper usually occurs in combinations of ingredients {especially with salt}; it being less frequently used than red.]


    "Law Keep Away" Spell: CAPTURED POLICE FOOT TRACKS AND RABBIT FOOT WITH "X" MARKS

    2224. {This is a spell for protection from the police, sometimes called a "Law Keep Away" spell; it is unusual in that it utilizes the captured foot-tracks of policemen to ward the law away from a house where illegal activities are bing conducted.} Yo' take de left hind foot of a rabbit an yo/ go round where the law is traveled on the dirt {where policemen have walked on the dirt} an' yo' get jes' a lil dirt -- jes' whut yo' kin hold on lightly out of they track, an' yo' take that dust an' bring it back an' when yo' brings it back why yo' take an' fix it up an' yo' plant it under each corner of the house -- right up under there. An' yo' take that rabbit foot an' yo' go to de back do' right up undah de first step an' yo' make a "X" an' also at de front do'. That will keep him away.

    (You make that "X" with the rabbit's foot?)

    Yessuh.

    (And then what do you do with the rabbit's foot after you make the "X"?)

    Yo' put it back in yore pocket.

    [Fayetteville, N. Car., (1412), 2539:5.]

    {Unfortunately, Hyatt did not ask this informant how he "fixed up" the policemen's foot-track dust before putting it under the four corners of the house. Mixing the footprints with Law Keep Away Powder would do the trick, or one could use law-repellent herbs, such as black mustard seed or oregano. Also, it is worth noting that the position of the four corner-deposits and two "X" marks indicate that this spell is a modified form of "quincunx" pattern trick, adapted to protect both entrances rather than guard the home from the center outwards,}


    Cause: YOUR FOOT TRACK IS CAPTURED
    Cure: YOUR OWN WASH WATER

    1221: If a person got chure foot track -- you live in de yard, de same yard an' he take yore foot track out -- you go back in de house an de same dirty water you wash in de dishpan, you throw it in de bottom of yore shoes and throw it in yore track and back out de gate fer three mawnings. Den dat person will turn loose yore foot track.

    (If a person has my foot track? I see, that's to get rid of the spell.)

    That's to get rid of the spell.

    [Charleston, S. Car., (519), 613.1; from Doctor Maguin -- he pronounced it Mongain (?).] ]

    {Note the reversal of the crossing by walking backwards; also, if i interpret this correctly, it is not dish-washing water in the pan but bathing water or water in which you have washed your face and hands.}


    Cause: WOMAN HOODOOED IN HER SHOE; LEG SWELLS UP
    Cure: BEEF GALL AND DRIED COW DUNG TEA

    1202: My mother, she was hoodooed at Miss S's house. I guess, if you ever been up on Cherry Street, to old S's -- they was Jews -- but she had a woman there named Tuley S. Well, my mother was a pastry cook -- she was making twelve dollars a week, but this other woman she didn't like that 'cause she wasn't getting the money. But if she got rid of my mother, that would be her job. She hoodoo her in her shoe. She put something in her shoe, just poisoned her same as a rattesnake. She was a hoodoo. And her [the mother's] feet come to bothering her and was swollen. Doc come to my mother.

    (Doctor Robey?) [Informant had mentioned him in another story.]

    Doctor Robey, and told her to go out in the pasture and get some cow manure where it's done got brown just like -- just done caked up, and make a tea out of it. Get her a beef gall and --

    (What was that - a beef gall?)

    A beef gall, and take that beef gall and squeeze a little of that syrup from out of there -- whatever it is -- squeeze it into that tea and drink it. That stuff come out of her black as your hair -- from out of -- you know, black as your hair. And she, before that -- she didn't die neither. That ole man cured her.

    [My hair was dark brown. Usually informants said "As black as your hat," referring to an old black hat concealing a microphone on the table -- see Introduction and in Index, Author, black hat of.] {Note that Hyatt died before he could prepare an index to the work.}

    (Just put the beef gall into this cow manure tea?)

    Into the cow manure tea. Boil this cow manure.

    [Vicksburg, Miss., (752, 1029:2.]


    Acknowledgements:
    Thanks to Eli Marcus (emisme@inter.net.il) for his transcription of the lyrics of "Conjured" and to Alan Balfour (abalfour@dial.pipex.com) for discographical information of what happens to have been Wynonie Harris's last recording session.

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