Read LMCCo Forums
Hoodoo in Theory and Practice by catherine yronwode
is sponsored by the
LUCKY MOJO CURIO CO.
Join the LMCCo Newsletter
Of the many traditions that enter into hoodoo folk-magic, one of the least-understood is Jewish mysticism, particularly that which comes out of the medival Kabbalist tradition of belief in the magical efficacy of the words of scripture. The usual question one hears when one mentions the Kabbalah and hoodoo in the same sentence -- and which must be disposed of immediately -- is some variant on, "How could African-American slaves or their descendents have access to esoteric European tracts and grimoires?" The answer is stunningly simple: they bought them by mail order and read them.
In Harry Middleton Hyatt's 5 volume compilation of hoodoo spells, collected from 1600 practitioners in the South during the 1930s, several informants name specific books on European folklore and Kabbalistic magic that they have found valuable in hoodoo work. For instance, interviewee no. 1534, a Louisiana-born black conjure doctor from Memphis, Tennessee, tells Hyatt that in order to perform a certain rite to regain a lost lover for a client, "Yo'd have to talk Hebrew-like. Yo' realize de Hebrew language -- some of dat's in de 'Six' and Seven' Books of Moses' and den de balance is [in] de 91 Psalms of David."
"The Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses" (as well as "The Lost 8th, 9th, and 10th Books of Moses") are compilations of mediveal European and Middle-Eastern magic attributed to the author of the first five books of the Bible. Along with "de 91 Psalms of David" (Godfrey Selig's "Secrets of the Psalms") they were -- and are -- the stock-in-trade of the many mail-order spiritual supply companies that have served the hoodoo market from the 1920s to the present.
"Secrets of the Psalms" is by no means the only compilation of European magic that crossed the colour line in America. During the 1940s, cheap newsprint editions of "Pow-Wows or the Long Lost Friend," and "The Black Pullet" were typically offered through the catalogues of Jewish-owned curio companies like King Novelty and Clover Horn, right alongside an assortment of policy players' dream books and pamphlets on "The Art of Kissing" and "How to Make Love." Hyatt's interviewee no. 1534, cited above, also said that he had read "The Black Art," by Hermann and "Albertus Magnus," the latter presumeably one of several collections of magical receipts spuriously attributed to the sainted German cleric Albert the Great (1193-1280).
After acknowledging that black conjure doctors in Memphis did read and make use of Godfrey Selig's "Secrets of the Psalms," we are still left to wonder who Godfrey Selig was and what he claimed were the magical "Secrets" in the Biblical Book of Psalms. Well, for one thing, the author's name was not Godfrey Selig.
Eoghan Ballard (email@example.com) of the University of Pennsylvania explains:
Johannes Gottfried Seelig arrived in America from the Palatinate of Germany on June 12, 1694, aboard the Sara Maria, which landed across from the Blue Anchor Inn on Dock Street in Philadelphia. He was a follower of Johannes Kelpius, the leader of an often misunderstood band of millennarian pietists who were variously called "The Monks of the Wissahickon" or "The Woman in the Wilderness." Their practice was fairly esoteric. They relied on astrology, were avid astronomers, and created the first recorded botanical garden in North America on a site occupied today by the Wissahickon Golf Course. They also performed the first concert in Pennsylvania, on organ and brass instruments that they brought from Germany, at Gloria Dei -- a Swedish Lutheran church, which is still standing.
In 1720, Johann Conrad Beisell, the Eckerling brothers, Michael Wohlforth, Simon Koenig, Johan George Stiefel, Jacob Stuntz, and Isaac Van Bebber emigrated to Pennsylvania with the intent of joining Kelpius' group on the Wissahickon. Kelpius was by this time dead, leaving only an aging Matthaue and Seelig of the original community remaining faithful and still living in the hermitage. This was the first in a chain of events that led to the revival of esoteric Theosophy and Rosicrucian mysticism in Pennsylvania. Beissel went on to found the much better known and understood monastic community in Ephrata, Pennsylvania, while the man he apprenticed himself to on the advice of Seelig and Matthaue, Peter Becker, founded the Dunkers, another Pennsylvania German religious community important in Moravian history.
The legend of "The Monks of the Wissahickon" grew more fantastic over the years as German ceased to be the language of the community in Germantown, the settlement nearest the Wissahickon, which was eventually incorporated into Philadelphia in the last century. So farfetched had the legends become, that one recent scholar actually claimed that this group practiced an early form of "neopaganism." Actually, they were well within the rubric of German Enlightenment esoteric Christianity and would have blanched to be called "pagan."
Interestingly, a tradition, probably an echo of an earlier tale told concerning Magister Kelpius, attached itself to the death of Johannes Gottfried Seelig, his follower. In this version of the death story, Seelig indicated a desire to William Levering to have his staff thrown into the nearby Schuylkill River. Upon its hitting the water it was reported to have exploded with a loud noise.
Seelig's book was first published in Germantown shortly after his death, based apparently upon handwritten manuscripts. Several editions from the 1700s and early 1800s in both German and English may be found in Philadelphia area museums and libraries.
In "Secrets of the Psalms," Selig's general theme is that of the power of "names," a mystical Jewish Kabbalist belief that by properly pronouncing and invoking certain names of God, of angels, and of demons, one's wishes will be executed. This notion is conjoined with a medieval tradition that holds that many of the Psalms, particularly those attributed to King David, contain within them "seed sounds" or hidden syllables which, when spoken aloud, will cause magical works to be accomplished. The important Medieval Jewish book "Shimmush Tehillim" ("On the Use of Psalms") probably formed the basis for his work, and explains why "Secrets if the Psalms" was subtitled "A Fragnent of the Practical Kabala."
The fact that Godfrey Selig considered himself a mystical Christian, not a Jew, is of little importance in the context of his compilation of Hebrew source material and his translation of it into German. "Christian Kabbalists" have been around since the 12th century, and Selig himself declared in his introduction that "the greatest and most genuine Kabbalists of the Jewish nation were nearly all followers and disciples of the the blessed Saviour of the world." (That this is not true is irrelevant; Selig, like many Christian Kabbalists, believed it and few Jews have sought to point out the error, for fear of persecution.)
The edition of "Secrets of the Psalms" that has been in circulation in English translation in the United States since the late 1930s or early 1940s seems to have been redacted by someone familiar with hoodoo terminology, for in the added headings to the first batch of Psalms there is reference to "crossed conditions," an African-American turn of speech meaning chronic bad luck. There is also evidence of poor copying, for mention is made of one "Rabbi Isaac Logria," a typographical garbling of the name of the celebrated medieval Rabbi Isaac Luria that is unlikely to have been made by Selig.
Among the many results that proper recitation of the specific Psalms will produce, according to Selig's sources, are release from prison, safe childbirth, business success, safe travel, help in court cases, removal of enemies, and overcoming evil. Some of the Psalms are embellished with special prayers to be recited, actions to be performed, or holy names to be called upon. The formula for the construction of the holy names involves an esoteric Kabbalistic letter-substitution method called "gematria" which Selig alludes to but does not explain in full.
Here are a few examples from Selig's book showing how the Psalms are used, My comments (in parentheses) indicate which words in each Psalm seem to have inspired these magical ascriptions:
(Psalm 45 refers to anointing with "the oil of gladness" and to the "rejoicing" that occurs when the "glorious" daughter of the King of Tyre is brought before the King. Psalm 46 contains the words, "God is in the midst of her...God shall help her...He maketh wars to cease unto the end of the Earth.")
(Psalm 61 contains the lines, "Thou hast been a shelter for me, and a strong tower from the enemy. I will abide in Thy tabernacle forever; I will trust in the covert of Thy wings." The reference to "the alphabetical order of Bechar" is obscure Kabbalistic in-fighting about variant rules of gematria which non-Kabbalists can safely ignore.)
(Psalm 121 opens with the line, "I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.")
(Psalm 3 contains the line, "Thou, O Lord, art a shield for me; my glory, and the lifter of mine head.")
(Psalm 132 contains the line, "The Lord hath sworn the truth unto David; he will not turn from it.")
"Secrets of the Psalms" is an artifact of the mystical Jewish belief in the magical efficacy of the recitation of God's Holy Word. That this tradition was mined by a millennarian Christian German and brought to America where it became a magical receipt-book among the descendents of Africans is just "one of those crazy things" that makes life among the humans so interesting.
copyright © 1995-2010 catherine yronwode. All rights reserved.
Send your comments to: cat yronwode.
|Did you like what you read here? Find it useful?
Then please click on the Paypal Secure Server logo and make a small
donation to catherine yronwode for the creation and maintenance of this site.
LUCKY MOJO is a large domain that is organized into a number of
interlinked web sites, each with its own distinctive theme and look.
You are currently reading
HOODOO IN THEORY AND PRACTICE by cat yronwode.
Here are some other LUCKY MOJO web sites you can visit:
OCCULTISM, MAGIC SPELLS, MYSTICISM, RELIGION, SYMBOLISM
Hoodoo in Theory and Practice by cat yronwode: an introduction to African-American rootwork
Hoodoo Herb and Root Magic by cat yronwode: a materia magica of African-American conjure
Lucky W Amulet Archive by cat yronwode: an online museum of worldwide talismans and charms
Sacred Sex: essays and articles on tantra yoga, neo-tantra, karezza, sex magic, and sex worship
Sacred Landscape: essays and articles on archaeoastronomy and sacred geometry
Freemasonry for Women by cat yronwode: a history of mixed-gender Freemasonic lodges
The Lucky Mojo Esoteric Archive: captured internet text files on occult and spiritual topics
Lucky Mojo Usenet FAQ Archive: FAQs and REFs for occult and magical usenet newsgroups
Aleister Crowley Text Archive: a multitude of texts by an early 20th century occultist
Lucky Mojo Magic Spells Archives: love spells, money spells, luck spells, protection spells, and more
Free Love Spell Archive love spells, attraction spells, sex magick, romance spells, and lust spells
Free Money Spell Archive money spells, prosperity spells, and wealth spells for job and business
Free Protection Spell Archive protection spells against witchcraft, jinxes, hexes, and the evil eye
Free Gambling Luck Spell Archive lucky gambling spells for the lottery, casinos, and races
Hoodoo and Blues Lyrics: transcriptions of blues songs about African-American folk magic
EaRhEaD!'S Syd Barrett Lyrics Site: lyrics by the founder of the Pink Floyd Sound
The Lesser Book of the Vishanti: Dr. Strange Comics as a magical system, by cat yronwode
The Spirit Checklist: a 1940s newspaper comic book by Will Eisner, indexed by cat yronwode
Fit to Print: collected weekly columns about comics and pop culture by cat yronwode
Eclipse Comics Index: a list of all Eclipse comics, albums, and trading cards
EDUCATION AND OUTREACH
Hoodoo Rootwork Correspondence Course with cat yronwode: 52 weekly lessons by email
Hoodoo Conjure Training Workshops: hands-on rootwork classes, lectures, and seminars
Lucky Mojo Community Forum: an online message board for our occult spiritual shop customers
Lucky Mojo Hoodoo Rootwork Hour Radio Show: learn free magic spells via podcast download
Lucky Mojo Newsletter Archive: subscribe and receive discount coupons and free magick spells
Follow Us on Facebook: get company news and product updates as a Lucky Mojo Facebook Fan
The Lucky Mojo Curio Co.: spiritual supplies for hoodoo, magick, witchcraft, and conjure
Herb Magic: complete line of Lucky Mojo Herbs, Minerals, and Zoological Curios, with sample spells
Mystic Tea Room Gift Shop: antique, vintage, and contemporary fortune telling tea cups
catherine yronwode: the eclectic and eccentric author of many of the above web pages
nagasiva yronwode: tyaginator, nigris (333), nocTifer, lorax666, boboroshi, !
Liselotte Erlanger Glozer: illustrated articles on collectible vintage postcards
Jackie Payne: Shades of Blues: a San Francisco Bay Area blues singer
Lucky Mojo Site Map: the home page for the whole Lucky Mojo electron-pile
All the Pages: descriptive named links to about 1,000 top-level Lucky Mojo web pages
How to Contact Us: we welcome feedback and suggestions regarding maintenance of this site
Make a Donation: please send us a small Paypal donation to keep us in bandwidth and macs!
There are 6,000 web pages at Lucky Mojo. You can search for a single word (like mojo, hoodoo, pagan, or magick) or an exact phrase (like love spells, witchcraft supplies, or rootwork course):
OTHER SITES OF INTEREST
Arcane Archive: thousands of archived Usenet posts on religion, magic, spell-casting, mysticism, and spirituality
Association of Independent Readers and Rootworkers: psychic reading, conjure, and hoodoo root doctor services
Candles and Curios: essays and articles on traditional African American conjure and folk magic, plus shopping
Garden of Joy Blues: former 80 acre hippie commune near Birch Tree in the Missouri Ozarks
Gospel of Satan: the story of Jesus and the angels, from the perspective of the God of this World
Missionary Independent Spiritual Church: spirit-led, inter-faith; prayer-light services; Smallest Church in the World
Mystic Tea Room: tea leaf reading, teacup divination, and a museum of antique fortune telling cups
Satan Service: an archive presenting the theory, practice, and history of Satanism and Satanists
Southern Spirits: 19th and 20th century accounts of hoodoo, including ex-slave narratives & interviews
Tiger Tiger: prayer flags, singing bowls, beads, ritual religious statues, and altar tools from Thailand and Nepal
Spiritual Spells: lessons in folk magic and spell casting from an eclectic Wiccan perspective, plus shopping
Yronwode Home: personal pages of catherine yronwode and nagasiva yronwode, magical archivists
Yronwode Institution: the Yronwode Institution for the Preservation and Popularization of Indigenous Ethnomagicology