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This research was conducted by catherine yronwode from 1996 - 2007 and has been published to the world wide web as part of an ongoing project documenting the role of Jews in Hoodoo. You may use the information to support your own research, but please do assign proper credit. Thank you.
Mikhail Strabo was a pseudonym of Sydney J. R. Steiner, the Jewish American proprietor of Guidance House, a New York publishing company of the 1940s. Guidance House books on hoodoo and Spiritualism were distributed by many mail order magical, occult, hoodoo and conjure supply houses of their era, and they remain in print to this day.
His importance to the development of urban-style hoodoo rests on his having been the first author to present material about the use of candle magic in African American hoodoo. His "A Candle To Light Your Way," published in 1941, was revised and expnaded in 1942 as "The Guiding Light to Power and Success," the same year that Henri Gamache (another pseudonymous Jewish hoodoo author) published "The Master Book of Candle Burning." Together, these three books, along with Steiner's 1943 pamphlet, "How to Conduct a Candle Light Service," had an immense effect on the way that candles were handled by root doctors and conjure practitioners.
Sydney Steiner did not invent hoodoo candle magic, by any means. Rather, he was a participant-observer and documentarian who respectfully included an introduction in one of his pamphlets that verified the source of his information in the African American Spiritual Church Movement in New York City. Steiner's books were distributed nation-wide in African American conjure shops and occult candle and curio stores, and the methods he had observed in New York soon became popular in Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, and Dallas. During my own youth in the 1960s in Oakland, California, i participated in Spiritual Church services much like those that Steiner had described twenty to twenty-five years earlier.
The real name of Sydney Steiner, hidden beneath the pseudonym "Mikhail Strabo," was determined through copyright renewal searches.
Under the copyright laws in effect during Sydney Steiner's lifetime, the copyright for a book had to be renewed by the author or an agent 28 years after original publication. The Mikhail Strabo books for which copyrights were renewed tell the story of who the author really was and how he eventually came to claim authorship credit.
At http://www.ebooksread.com/authors-eng/us-copyright-office/us-copyright-renewals-1969-july---december-8-0/page-15-us-copyright-renewals-1969-july---december-8-0.shtml (yes, that is one long URL), in the copyright renewals for 1969, Steiner declared himself the author of the following books, but he did so under his pseudonym Mikhail Strabo:
A candle to light your way.
15Dec41; [original publication date: December 15, 1941]
Guidance House (PWH);
3Oct69; [copyright renewal date: October 3, 1969]
The guiding light to power & success.
14Feb42; [original publication date: February 14, 1942]
Guidance House (PWH);
3Dec69; [copyright renewal date: December 3, 1969]
The magic formula for successful prayer.
10Feb42; [original publication date: February 18, 1942]
Guidance House (PWH);
3Dec69; [copyright renewal date: December 3, 1969]
Likewise, in a 1970 copyright renewal, one year before his death, at http://books.google.com/books?id=W0lqSv7f4kMC&pg=PA3255&lpg=PA3255&dq=%22adele+clemens%22&source=web&ots=kCmkIgESpn&sig=PNyzBjG-VQ2gLk0CRMgGGHvFo_E his name is given as MICHAEL Strabo -- probably a clerk's misspelling, not his own, as all editions of the book contain his first name as Mikhail, not Michael.
How to Conduct a Candle Light Service
Introd. by Adele Clemens [See below for more on Rev. Adele Clemens]
24May43 [original publication date: May 24, 1943]
Guidance House (PWH);
22Oct70 [copyright renewal date: October 22, 1970]
However, also in 1969, under NEW WORK (not a copyright renewal) the pseudonym is revealed --
aTX0000011610 / d1978-03-17 2usco
aTX0000011610 a(DLC-CO)TX 000011610
aDLC-CO cDLC-CO k1969 00
aNow! You can build your fortune on faith /
cby Mikhail Strabo [pseud. of Sydney J. R. Steiner].
cGuidance House aNew York : bGuidance House, c c1969
c1969 d1969-12-15 a41 p. 1 [original publication date: December 15, 1969]
aSteiner, Sydney J. R., d1894-1971 [birth and death dates for Sydney Steiner]
eauthor 1 aStrabo, Mikhail, pseud. eauthor
2 aGuidance House eclaimant 0
aYou can build your fortune on faith
aTX 000011610 bB Non-dramatic literary work cTX e1 mA pPUB rB
a782 aDCSU e7800036 00926nam 2200253zi
The Social Security Death Index gives the following information:
Apr 03, 1894 - Jul 10, 1971
last residence was Miami, Florida
card issued in New York
Although Sydney J.R. Steiner was born in 1894, he and his family did not appear in the United States Federal Census of 1900 under the name Steiner. What is found in the 1900 Federal Census is the household of Annie [later Anna] Gross, age 48, born in October, 1861 in Hungary. She resided at 326 East Eighth Street in New York City. With Annie were her daughter Ella Gross, age 18, born in February 1882 in Hungary; her daughter Irene Rosenfeld, age 27, born in June 1972 in Hungary, and Irene's son Sidney [sic] Rosenfeld, age 6, born in April 1894 in New York. Mr. Rosenfeld, the child's father, was deceased, and Irene's marital status was listed as "Widowed." She was listed as the mother of one living child. Based on this record, i believe that the "R." in Sydney J. R. Steiner's name is Rosenfeld, the name of his father's family, and thus his name might also be rendered Sydney J. Rosenfeld Steiner.
The man later said to be Sydney J. R. Steiner's father (presumably his adoptive father) was listed among those who were made naturalized citizens on April 10, 1901. Geza Steiner's birthdate was given as February 18, 1865 and his "former nationality" was "Austrian," although on other papers his place of birth was"Hungary." (Confusion over nationalities due to the break-up of the Austro-Hungarian Empire was commonplace in official records of that era.) Geza Steiner lived at "65 St. Market Pl., N.Y. City" and his occupation was "Musician." The official "Witness" to his naturalization was "Theodore Robert Rosenkranz (Musician)."
In the United States Federal Census for 1910, Sydney Steiner (his name still spelled Sidney) was listed as living with his parents and older brothers in Manhattan Ward 12, New York, New York. His surname was no longer Rosenfeld and his "father" (presumably by adoption) was now Geza Steiner, age 44, born in Hungary, a "Musician [band or orchestra] Leader" who had immigrated to the United States in 1892. His mother, Irene Steiner, age 37, born in Hungary, was not employed. She had immigrated to the United States in 1887. Sydney's eldest brother, Charles B. Steiner (presumably his step-brother, from Geza's first marriage), age 20, born in Austria, was employed at "Office Work, Crockery B." (The words "Crockery B." are clearly legible, but not very easy to understand. Perhaps he did office work for a crockery broker or wholesaler; perhaps he worked at Crocker Bank, which was founded in 1870). His elder brother George Steiner (presumably his step-brother, from Geza's first marriage), age 17, born in New York, was employed at "General Office Work." Sydney, age 16, born in New York and still in school, was not employed.
In the New York State Census of 1915, Sydney J. R. Steiner was living with his mother Irene Steiner, age 43, born in Hungary, who had become the head of household, at 253 East 68th Street. His adoptive father, Geza Steiner, was not present and may have been deceased. Irene's mother, Anna Gross, age 67, born in Hungary, was in the household and was not employed. Also in the home were Sydney's adoptive brothers, all listed as children of Irene. The three sons were Charles Steiner, age 25, born in Austria, a bank cashier (perhaps at the Crocker Bank, which makes the "Crockery B." entry of the 1910 census more understandable); George Steiner, age 23, born in the United States, a "Salesman in Cotton Goods; and Sydney J. R. Steiner, age 21, a "Salesman of Papers" -- perhaps dealing in printer's papers. working in a stationer's shop, selling newspapers on the street, or selling advertisements or working in the distribution department for a newspaper. Based on his later employment record, it seems likely that he had embarked on the bottom runs of his later career as an ad copy writer, newspaper advertising manager, ad company director, and author.
In 1917 Sydney J.R. Steiner, age 23, received a World War I Draft Registration Card, and on this was noted that he had been born in New York, New York, currently resided in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, with his wife and child, and was employed in "Advertising" at "The Globe" [newspaper] in Harrisburg. He was of "medium" height and "medium" weight. His eyes were "brown" and his hair was "brown." Also in 1917, Sydney and his wife Charlotte were listed in the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania City Directory. Their home address was 1715 Pennsylvania and Sydney's office at The Globe was at 324 Market Street. His occupation was "Advertising Manager."
Sydney Steiner was listed on the census rolls of 1920 as again living in New York, namely Manhattan Assembly District 14. He was the 25 year old son of the head of household, Irene Steiner, age 45, who had been born in Hungary. Irene's mother, Anna Gross, age 74, also born in Hungary, was in the home, as was Sydney's wife, Charlotte Steiner, age 24, and their son Leonard Steiner, age 3. Sydney was the only one in the family working at that time, and his occupation was "Advertising, Department Store" -- presumably writing ad copy and circulars. Sydney's adoptive brothers Charles and George were no longer in the home.
For reasons unknown, the Steiner family did not appear in the 1930 census, but in 1940, they were living at 37-39 63rd Street in Queens, New York. where they had also resided in 1935. Anna Gross was apparently deceased, and the family consisted of Sydney Steiner, age 46, head of household; Charlotte Steiner, age 43, wife; Leonard Steiner, age 23, son; and Irene Steiner, age 70, mother. Sydney's occupation was "Advertiser [ad copy writer], Ad Agency," and Charlotte's occupation was "Designer, Women's Wear." Irene and Leonard were not employed at the time.
In 1942 Sydney J. R. Steiner registered for the World War Two military draft. He was 48 years old and resided at 37-39 63rd Street, Woodside, Long Island, New York. His telephone number was Newtown 9-9254 and his wife was Charlotte Steiner, at the same home address. His employment was at S. Steiner Advertising, 45 West 57th Street, New York City, New York. A year earlier he had already published his first metaphysical book under the pseudonym "Mikhail Strabo," but he did not list that on his draft card.
Sydney J. R. Steiner was about 47 years old when he began writing and publishing the Guidance House book series under the name Mikhail Strabo in New York City in 1941, and about 77 years old when he died in Miami, Florida, in 1971.
"How to Conduct a Candle Light Service" by Mikhail Strabo (Sydney Steiner) features an introduction by Rev. Adele Clemens, pastor of Divine Harmony Spiritual Church. Steiner was living in New York City at that time, and it would seem that Rev. Clemens was the pastor of a Spiritualist church in Harlem with a predominantly African-American congregation.
Only one person of this name is in the SSDI, the extremely long-lived:
ADELE H CLEMENS
07 Dec 1898 - 03 Mar 2003 (V)
(104 years old when she died and her death was an accident)
[died at zip code] 18064 (Nazareth, Northampton, PA) 198-28-0448
card issued in Pennsylvania
From numerous news articles, it is obvious that this is a different woman of the same name. (See obituaries below for more on Adele H. Clemens, born in San Antonio, Texas, 07 Dec 1898 - died in Nazareth, Pennsylvania 03 Mar 2003.
Women are notoriously difficult to trace through legal records such as the SSDI, due to the common practice of changing the surname upon marriage.
I have not been able to locate either print or online mention of Divine Harmony Spiritual Church in New York City during the 1940s. This is not unexpected, as material on the African American Spiritual Church Movement is spotty at best.
A Divine Harmony Spiritual Church currently exists in Miami, Florida, the city to which Sydney Steiner retired, and where he died in 1971. It is affiliated with the Missionary Independent Spiritual Churches denomination.
Documentation of the Spiritual Church Movement in 20th century New York City awaits a dedicated historian. In the meantime, a tantalizing glimpse of some churches in this loose confederation, as they appeared during the era of Sydney Steiner and Rev. Adele Clemens can be found in the 1937 "March of Time" newsreel feature "Harlem's Black Magic." This short news film, although racist and wildly inaccurate in many ways, does include clear images of signage for a number of Spiritual Churches in Harlem.
As a side-note, i would like to mention that the history -- indeed the very existence -- of the Spiritual Church Movement and its inter-denominational umbrella organizations, such as the Colored Spiritualist Association of Churches -- remains largely unknown outside the African American community, and has not been celebrated by the wider religious world. Indeed, when Harry Middleton Hyatt interviewed 1,600 African American rootwork practitioners during the late 1930s, he actually dismissed their mentions of Spiritual Churches in cities like Philadelphia and Chicago, in one instance claiming that his informant's statements were untrue because he himself knew of no such churches in Pennsylvania! The only exception to this general ignorance of the 20th century Spiritual Church Movement centers on the history of the Spiritual Church Movement in New Orleans, where three books ("The Spirit of Blackhawk" by Jason Berry; "Spirit World" by Michael Smith, and "The Spiritual Churches Of New Orleans" by Claude F. Jacobs and Andrew J. Kaslow) provide a nice cross-section of images and information.
In "Catalog of Copyright Entries. Third Series: 1948" by Library of Congress. Copyright Office
the following notice appears, linking the pseudonym Mikhail Strabo with the name of a co-author Desire Lanti:
The Golden Keys to the Sacred Psalms
A Guide to the Use of the Psalms
for People of All Faiths
by Desire Lanti [and] Mikhail Strabo
(c) Guidance House;
25Dec47; AA851194 [original publication date: December 25, 1947]
An SSDI search turns up no Social Security records for
The surnames Lanti, Dei Lanti, and De Lanti are Italian. There was a Doloris Lanti, born in 1917, and a few De Lanti family members lived in Queens, New York, near where Sydney Steiner was raised, but the first name Desire seems rather far-fetched for a person of that era. If we ignore the concept that this was another pseudonym, we are again faced with the difficulty of tracing women through the SSDI, due to their habit of changing surnames upon marriage.
"The Golden Keys to the Sacred Psalms," like the better-known "Secrets of the Psalms" by Gottfried Seelig (Godfrey Selig) is an adaptation of the medieval Jewish folk-magical and kabbalistic text "Sepher Shimmush Tehillim" ("The Book on the Use of the Psalms"). It may also be noted that Lanti's and Steiner's subtitle reference to its suitability "for People of All Faiths" is fairly typical Jewish code meaning "Christians can use this too."
As Mikhail Strabo, Sydney Steiner is cited in compilations of famous quotations -- e.g, at
Only you can hold yourself back, only you can stand in your own way. Only you can help yourself. -- Mikhail Strabo
The poets were not alone in sanctioning myths, for long before the poets the states and the lawmakers had sanctioned them as a useful expedient. They needed to control the people by superstitious fears, and these cannot be aroused without myths and marvels. -- Mikhail Strabo
The following information is included for the sake of completeness and relates to Adele H. Clemes, born in San Antonio, Texas, and a resident of Wind Gap, Pennsylvania, at the time of her death.
Posted 10/6/2005 10:19 PM Updated 11/3/2005 5:47 PM
Problems excused: Few nursing homes penalized
Adele Clemens lay in bed at the Gracedale nursing home when
a sheet caught a spark from the mangled electrical outlet on
the wall beside her. Flames raced up the bedding and covered
the 104-year-old's head; badly burned, she hung on for a day
-- just long enough for her family to say goodbye.
IN THE NEWS
Adele H. Clemens, 104
More on the fire, and Adele's son Ira, is here:
Her granddaughter is mentioned here:
("Clemens is not expected to survive, according to her granddaughter, Charlotte Giobbi,
55, of Wind Gap.")
Berwick High School in Berwick, PA
There is also a lot online about the Clemens meat packing company in
Pennsylvania and the fact that the elder Clemens, founder of
same, was a Mennonite.
Thus it does not seem that this Adele
Clemens of Texas and Pennsylvania was the pastor of Divine Harmony Spiritual Church in
New York City in 1941.
Zion Presbyterian Church
By The Morning Call | March 5, 2003
Adele H. Clemens, 104, of Gracedale, Upper Nazareth Township, formerly of Wind Gap, died March 3 in Lehigh Valley Hospital, Salisbury Township. She was the wife of the late Ira S. Clemens. She worked for Fenner Silk Mill, Wind Gap. Born in San Antonio, Texas, she was a daughter of the late Wilhelm and Emma (Ebensberger) Von Daehnert. She was a member of Zion Presbyterian Church, Wind Gap. She was a member of Slate Valley Lodge 673, Pen Argyl. Survivors: Son, Ira D. of Denville, N.J.; daughter, Virginia Duvall of Wind Gap; nine grandchildren, 15 great-grandchildren.
Adele Clemens 1952 - 1955
NOT THE SAME WOMAN! -- probably a younger relative, a grandchild perhaps
IN THE NEWS
Adele H. Clemens, 104
More on the fire, and Adele's son Ira, is here: www.virginiamasonry.org/docs/fire_safety_nursing_homes.pdf
Her granddaughter is mentioned here: http://www.zoominfo.com/people/Clemens_Adele_300513041.aspx ("Clemens is not expected to survive, according to her granddaughter, Charlotte Giobbi, 55, of Wind Gap.")
Berwick High School in Berwick, PA
There is also a lot online about the Clemens meat packing company in Pennsylvania and the fact that the elder Clemens, founder of same, was a Mennonite.
Thus it does not seem that this Adele Clemens of Texas and Pennsylvania was the pastor of Divine Harmony Spiritual Church in New York City in 1941.
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