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Hoodoo in Theory and Practice by catherine yronwode
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NATION SACK

The "nation sack" is a particular kind of mojo hand that is of special interest to women, because it is used to keep a man faithful and true. It so happens that the Nation sack is also of special interest to blues fans (many of whom are men) because it is mentioned in what may be Robert Johnson's finest song, "Come On In My Kitchen," recorded on November 23, 1936.

The song was recorded twice; here are the lyrics to the "released" version of 1937:

COME ON IN MY KITCHEN (take 1)

Mmm mmm mmm mmm mmm mmm
     mmm mmm mmm mmm mmm
Mmm mmm mmm mmm mmm
     mmm mmm mmm mmm
You better come on
     in my kitchen
     babe, it's goin' to be rainin' outdoors

Ah, the woman I love
     took from my best friend
Some joker got lucky
     stole her back again
You better come on
     in my kitchen
     baby, it's goin' to be rainin' outdoors

Oh-ah, she's gone
     I know she won't come back
I've taken the last nickel
     out of her nation sack
You better come on
     in my kitchen
     babe, it's goin' to be rainin' outdoors

Oh, can't you hear that wind howl?
     Oh-y, can't you hear that wind howl?
You better come on
     in my kitchen
      baby, it's goin' to be rainin' outdoors

When a woman gets in trouble
     everybody throws her down
Lookin' for her good friend
     none can be found
You better come on
     in my kitchen
     baby, it's goin' to be rainin' outdoors

Winter time's comin'
     hit's gon' be slow
You can't make the winter, babe
     that's dry long so
You better come on
     in my kitchen
     'cause it's goin' to be rainin' outdoors

I am sure that many people who have listened to this beautiful song have wondered what a nation sack is -- and why Johnson's stealing from it has caused his woman to leave him.

A nation sack is a special kind of mojo hand, conjure bag, toby, or root bag -- similar to a jomo or jack ball -- but it is a charm that is only carried by women. Its basic use is in spells of female domination over men or to keep a man faithful and make him generous in money matters. There are many kinds of mojo hands made and worn for love and fidelity, but during the 1930s, the use of the nation sack, by that name at least, seems to have been restricted to the region immediately around Memphis, Tennessee, and adjacent areas of Mississipi and Arkansas, where Robert Johnson spent his youth and young adulthood.

Lucky-Mojo-Curio-Co.-Nation-Sack-Mojo-Hand-Magic-Ritual-Hoodoo-Rootwork-Conjure-Charm-for-Love

Nation Sack Mojo Hand $20.00

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Triple Strength Nation Sack $30.00

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In the liner notes to "Robert Johnson: the Complete Recordings" Stephen C. LaVere defines a nation sack as "a small pouch worn around the neck in which keepsakes and valuables are kept" -- but this is patently false. In fact, it is a charm bag, worn for a purpose, as well as a respository of "keepsakes and valuables." Additionally, in the 19th and early 20th centuries, back in the day when women always skirts and dresses, the nation sack was hung from a belt at the waist, not hung from around the neck. This placed it and its content near to its owner's privates, which is magically important, because the nation sack contains items of the woman's husband or lover which she wishes to keep under her control.

Nation sacks are still made to this day, and the ones from the Lucky Mojo Curio Company come filled with roots and herbs, plus instructions on how to accumulate the requisite "keepsakes and valuables" that make this bag so special. The regular nation sack is plenty strong, but for those who want a few extra rare and costly curios added, a Triple Strength nation sack should admirably fill the bill.

To understand the traditional manner of making and use of the nation sack, the following documentation is presented 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.


{What follows is an extract from a long interview with Informant No. 1517, who lived in Memphis, Tennessee, and whom Hyatt described as "a hoodoo woman...a small-time worker or occasional worker" -- by which he meant that she made conjurations for others, but was not a full-time professional at the trade. Says Hyatt, who did not reveal the names of his interviewees, "I have called her 'The Nation Sack Woman' because at the end of the interview she gave me an excellent account of the nation sack or nation bag -- a fetish to some women and worn by them." The interview runs from page 1449 to page 1459 of Vol. Two. The nation sack material is all on page 1458.}


[The nation sack or nation bag {is} an article in my experience confined to the Memphis region. It is unknown along the East Coast and within the New Orleans area -- {by} the name.]

{A couple of notes on the regionalism of the term:
(1) In this interview, the informant compares nation sacks to "tobies" -- a regional name for mojo hands used primarily in Maryland. From the context, it appears that Hyatt had asked her if she knew about tobies -- and she responded by describing nation sacks.
(2) As to how the Delta blues musician Robert Johnson learned the regional term nation sack -- although he was a native of Mississippi, Johnson spent much of his youth in Memphis, and later settled in the nearby town of Helena, Arkansas.}

The nation bag -- dey make dis bag aroun' -- a belt aroun' dem an' dat bag hangs right down heah, and dey tote dere money an' all dere diff'rent little conerns lak ah'm tellin' yo' 'bout.

{What she has been telling him about are numerous hoodoo spells that utilize bluestone, sugar, nails, lodestones, salt, urine, photographs, hair, a person's name written on paper, and so forth. Thus, these "diff'rent little concerns" are the physical objects women use in hoodooing.}

Dey tote some of de men's concernin's {that is, personal physical objects such as the man's fingernail clippings, pubic hair, a 9-knot string charm with the man's nature or name tied into it, or a fragment of cloth soiled with his semen} -- dey got it in dat bag. Yo' know, a man bettah not try tuh put dere han' on dat bag; yo' know, he betta not touch. He goin' have some trouble serious wit dat ole lady if he try tuh touch dat bag, 'cause when she pulls it off at night -- if she sleeps by herself, she sleeps wit it on; but if she got a husban', yo'll see her evah night go an' lock it up in dat trunk. Nex mawnin' yo' see her go dere an' git it. He never tetch it -- she got her stuff in dere. All of her stuff, dat's where she tote dat. She got her money in dere an' her snuffbox an' all dat othah stuff -- yo' say 'tobies' -- dat's what's in dat bag. An' don't chew touch dat bag. If yo' [a man] wanta have some serious trouble -- prob'ly make him git sick.

Mah husband's mothah, she wus a real ole lady 'bout 95 yeahs ole. She had a bag on her an ah'm de one dat fetched it 'cause she drew pensions, an' ah'm de one got her money out 'cause ah had to take care of it, an' so she had mo' diff'rent little -- ah don' know, diff'rent little [things] tied up.

{The informant is subtly telling Hyatt something he does not pick up on -- that although men cannot touch a nation sack, the old woman readily let her daughter-in-law -- ANOTHER WOMAN -- handle it.}

Ah know she did conjurin' on Mr. Simpson, her husban', fo' yeah, 'cause she had ma'ed him ah 'magine fifty yeahs ole [had been married to him 50 years], an' she re'lly kept him, too. She had him in dat bag, in her nation sack.

She had dat nation sack an' done wore it, an' she sewed, she had so much confidence in dat dat she wouldn't throw it away. She sewed it to anothah brand-new one, an' dat wore out, put dat in 'notha one -- her nation sack was dat big [demonstrates].

Mah husban', he say, "Mah mothah wouldn't nevah let yo' tetch dat," say, "Mah daddy nevah has had his han's on dat nation sack."

{Here Hyatt fails to note that the informant is pointing out that her husband was wrong -- his mother DID let her handle her nation sack. She is indicating that the taboo is only against men touching it, and that men are not always aware of the gender bias in the taboo.}

(Do women still wear them as much as they used to?)

Well, now, when yo' find one dat's be 'customed to things lak dat. Ah know several women dat wears 'em, dat dey gotta wear 'em now. In wearing dat junk on 'em dey gotta have a nation sack, see. An' if dey got a man sleepin' wit 'em dey done got heaps of dese things, an' dey cain't have dese things aroun' 'em untied. {A great many hoodoo style love spells involve folding, wrapping, tying, sewing, or placing objects in a cloth; "untied" objects would be liable to be touched or seen.}

Dey {the men} wanta know whut's it about. An' when dey {the women} git it covered down in dat nation sack, see, dey pull it off an' lock it up, see, 'cause nobody 'sposed tuh touch it. An' when dey git up in de mawnin' dey put it on, an' den dey cain't git in de bed. Well, yo' see, dey's 'fraid dey might go tuh sleep, an' he examine it yo' know. Dere's lots of 'em. Ah know several of us wearin' 'em.


So that is a nation sack love spell-- and as this interview makes clear, Robert Johnson violated two (or even three) taboos when he "taken the last nickel out of her nation sack" -- he touched her nation sack, he stole her money, and -- as indicated in Hyatt's spell #13008 (nine silver dimes in a nation sack with lodestone for protection and trade) -- the money itself was part of the magical charm, which he thereby destroyed.

No wonder she wouldn't come back!

pookline

Oh and for the serious blues fans, here is the discographi8cal data on the two versions of the song that Johnson recorded:

1936-11-23 | SA 2585-1 | Come On in My Kitchen | Vocalion 03563 | 1937 | 2:47

1936-11-23 | SA 2585-2 | Come On in My Kitchen | Columbia 46222 | 1990 | 2:35

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