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Newsgroup:  alt.lucky.w 

David Silberberg wrote:

   Catherine -

   Thought you might be interested in the following 
   article from today's (11/6/97) Wall Street Journal:

Thank you, very much, David! This is of interest on 
several accounts, as you must know. It is unusual to see
accounts of spell-casting reported by the Wall Street
Journal, to say the least!

Before anyone reads the two curses that follow, i want to
note that i believe there is a fundamental error in the
reporter's ascription of the beef-tongue-names-and-needles
spell described below to "Santeria."

This spell is used in court cases or legal matters to bind
the tongues of hostile witnesses. It seems to be African in
origin, but it has been collected dozens of times (e.g. by
Harry Middleton Hyatt in the 1930s and by Jim Haskins in the
1970s) from the Protestant Christian, *non*-Santeria,
African-American hoodoo culture.

Hoodoo is essentially folk-magic and not a religion in the
sense that Santeria is. I think it is safe to say that the
perpetrator of that tongue spell in Lancaster, California,
was more likely to be an American-born black person than an
"immigrant" and i sincerely doubt that the spell was "a
religious act to solicit the gods to get these people to be
quiet," as theorized by the (Asian-surnamed) detective on
the case. 

The falsity of calling Santeria "a Caribbean religion based
in part on old African voodoo rites" should also be obvious
to anyone who has studied Ocha, Santeria, Vodoun, or related
African-diaspora religions.

The same uneducated mind-set that equated hoodoo folk-magic
with the Santeria religion and then with the Voodoun
religion also seems to have led the writer to posit that the
Chinese curse which is the basis of the story may be

I doubt that it is, except insofar as folk-magic and
religion are entwined in most cultures. Note that the prayer
to Buddha that opens the story is to REMOVE the curse. This
is asking a deity for intercession. It is not the same as
using a deity to curse someone.

Futhermore, the reason that FOUR pennies were used in the
Chinese curses described here seems not to have been
understood by the reporter or the police. In Chinese, the
number four is pronounced "sha" and that is the same
pronunciation given to the Chinese word for "death." Chinese
homonym magic -- where words that sound alike acquire
identical symbolic meanings -- is very powerful, and for
this reason, no Chinese person would give a gift of four
objects, for it would be tantamount to giving death. Many
Chinese and Chinese-American people will not accept a
telephone number with a four in it or live into a house with
a four in the street address. To them, "Sha is death and
four is sha." That is why the pennies in this curse are so
malevolent -- they are money, but only a little money, and
they connote death to the one who receives them.

Having taken all that in, you can now see why i archived
this story, for it provides an interesting glimpse into an
Asian form of "crossing" that is not too well known in

   November 6, 1997

   Dueling Chinese Restaurants
   Accuse Each Other of Cursing

   Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

   REDMOND, Ore. -- Qing Wua Chan places 
   three oranges and three cups of wine
   before a Buddha altar overlooking the 
   lunch-time dining room of her empty
   Stockton's New China Cafe.

   "If I pray to Buddha, maybe he will 
   take away the curse," she says.

   At dinner time two blocks away, Emily 
   Lin sits in her half-empty Full Moon
   restaurant, shaking her head over 
   business setbacks she too attributes 
   to curses -- cast upon her, she says, 
   by Mrs. Chan. Mrs. Lin's complaints
   caused Mrs. Chan to be charged with 
   criminal trespass and criminal mischief
   for allegedly harassing her for three 
   years with spells. "I think it is
   because we make better food," Mrs. 
   Lin says.

   Bad Medicine

   Call this a battle of the hexes. Ever 
   since Mrs. Lin's Full Moon opened three 
   years ago, two Chinese restaurants 
   in this high-desert ranching town
   have squared off in a war of rice, 
   pennies and cooking oil. Mrs. Lin
   alleges that Mrs. Chan has deposited 
   rice and pennies on the doorstep of
   the Full Moon and splashed cooking 
   oil across the windows and doors. Many
   Chinese believe the three items add 
   up to bad medicine, a meager amount of
   rice and a few pennies signifying poor 
   fortune. The oil just makes things worse.

   Mrs. Chan denies hexing Mrs. Lin, 
   although police recently did catch her
   outside the Full Moon with a cup of 
   oil. She claims Mrs. Lin has hexed her
   with rice and pennies. Mrs. Lin denies 
   that, but there is no denying this:
   Old-time residents, many of them 
   farmers and ranchers whose families 
   have lived here in the shadows of the 
   Cascade Mountains for generations, are
   baffled and alarmed.

   "This is our version of the Chinatown 
   gang wars," says Police Chief Jim
   Carlton, with a sigh.

   Across the country, casting spells 
   seems to be on the rise. Anthropologists
   cite as a reason immigration from 
   parts of Asia, Latin America and the
   Caribbean where casting spells is 
   sometimes part of everyday religious

   In Lancaster, Calif., last month, 
   someone left an herb-covered cow's tongue
   outside the local welfare office. 
   The names of 14 workers there were pinned
   to the tongue. "It was a religious 
   act to solicit the gods to get these
   people to be quiet," theorizes detective 
   Brian Moriguchi. No arrests were
   made, but police believe the incident 
   was related to Santeria, a Caribbean
   religion based in part on old African 
   voodoo rites.

   From Tucson to Tampa

   Other hexes are more serious. In 
   Tucson, Ariz., police recently arrested
   Ecuadorian immigrant Deborah Vollmer 
   and her roommate, Christina Ramirez,
   in an alleged murder-for-hire plot 
   against another woman that also included
   black magic. The supposed victim, 
   tipped off, called the police. Witnesses
   told police the women had burned a 
   cardboard voodoo doll with the name of
   the intended victim written on it, 
   after soaking it in snake oil. The
   women, charged with conspiracy to 
   commit murder, have pleaded not guilty.

   In Redmond, nobody can recall anything 
   like the hex war, though a local
   hotel is said to be haunted. It began 
   in early 1994, when Mrs. Lin, newly
   arrived in the U.S. from China's 
   Guangzhou region, formerly known as
   Canton, opened the Full Moon. At the 
   time, Mrs. Chan's Stockton's was
   thriving, in competition with only 
   one other Chinese restaurant across
   town. "It was so nice then, no trouble," 
   recalls Mrs. Chan, 42 years old, a
   fellow Cantonese who came to the U.S. 
   in the early 1980s. She and Mrs. Lin
   are among a handful of Chinese among 
   Redmond's 11,178 inhabitants.

   According to Mrs. Chan, she was running 
   Stockton's with her husband and four 
   children when the first bowl of rice 
   appeared mysteriously on her back
   doorstep. On the rice, she says, were 
   four pennies. Mrs. Chan says rice and
   pennies were left at Stockton's on at 
   least 10 subsequent occasions,
   sometimes with cooking oil spattered 
   on her window. She suspected her new
   rival but didn't have proof. Her 
   12-year-old son, Chiu, says he saw Mrs.
   Lin hurrying away from the Stockton's 
   back door after one of these deliveries.

   Business Is Off

   Mrs. Lin denies she did it. Indeed, 
   she says, she has found rice and
   pennies at her back door. Both women 
   say their businesses, already
   suffering, will collapse if the 
   hexes aren't lifted. According to Arthur
   Wolf, a Stanford University China 
   specialist, the Redmond incidents appear
   to be a version of a generic Chinese 
   curse. Leaving any sort of offering on
   an enemy's back steps does the trick, 
   he says. It invites supernatural
   "bandits and beggars," instead of 
   ancestors and friendly gods.

   Some locals believe that business 
   would be off at both restaurants
   regardless of hexes because the town's 
   other Chinese restaurant, Chan's (no
   connection to Mrs. Chan), has better 
   food. But Mrs. Lin, 34, doesn't buy
   that, and she filed the first hexing 
   complaint with police in January 1994.
   When she filed a second the following 
   November, saying that hexers were leaving 
   rice-and-penny curses nightly and 
   accusing Mrs. Chan, officer Tom
   Jones noted in his report: "Guess it's 
   time to have a chat with Stockton's

   When police notified Mrs. Chan of the 
   accusations, she dialed 911 to complain 
   about the charges and requested that 
   police round up her accuser, according 
   to police reports. Soon, Mrs. Lin 
   reported an escalation in the spells, 
   with wet toilet paper and sand added 
   to the rice and pennies.

   In Possession of Oil

   A break came this year, on April 24. 
   According to police reports, Mrs.
   Lin's mother reported she had seen 
   Mrs. Chan "throw dirty water" and saw
   her "spitting" on the front window 
   and door of the Full Moon. Mrs. Chanwas
   then cited for criminal mischief and 
   was told by police to stay away from
   the Full Moon. But shortly after 
   midnight on Sept. 18, Officer Jones
   spotted Mrs. Chan in the alley behind 
   the Full Moon. Although she explained
   that she was out for a walk, the 
   patrolman said he found a fresh coating 
   of oil on the Full Moon's back door, and 
   a cup of oil in Mrs. Chan's jacket.

   The police report says she admitted to 
   dousing the door. But Mrs. Chan now
   maintains the oil was merely a Chinese 
   herbal remedy she had prepared for
   her husband and that she was there 
   waiting for him to leave a tavern. "In
   China, women aren't allowed in bars," 
   she says.

   Charged with criminal trespass and 
   criminal mischief, Mrs. Chan awaits a court 
   hearing set for Nov. 13. The town seems
   divided over who is at fault. But people 
   agree on one thing: They would like all 
   the cursing to stop.

   © 1997 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. 
   All Rights Reserved.
commentary © 1997 catherine yronwode (

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