LUCKY STONE, LUCKY BONE, LUCKY ROCK,
All vertebrate animals, including fish, have small bones inside their ears, called otoliths ("ear stones"). These useful structure fall downward as we move, and by touching tiny structures inside the ear canal, they relay our position in space to our brains, so we know, even in the dark, if we are upright, leaning, or laying down.
The otoliths of fish are often quite large in proportion to the size of their skulls and they are so durable that when fish die naturally or are beheaded by fishermen and the heads are thrown back into the water, the bones fall out and wash ashore on the banks of rivers or lakes, where people may collect them. Otoliths grow throughout the life of a fish, and their "rings" can be read the same way tree-ringsare, to gauge the animal's age when it died.
Each species of fish has a characteristic form of otolith, by which it can be identified. Some are thin and leaf-shaped, with frilly edges; some look like angel wings; some look a bit like a tiny clam or mussell shell; and some are round or lenticular, with a pearly finish. They come in pairs, right-hand and left-hand, and although a fish may have three pairs of otoliths in its head, it is the hindmost pair that grows the largest and can be picked out of the skull when the fish is dressed for eating.
Now, just as the Raccoon is revered for having the largest penis bone for its body size, and that bone is used for luck, so are the various species of Drumfish notable for their large ear bones, and these bones, popularly called "lucky stones," are also carried for luck. And, like the Raccoon penis bone , lucky stones entered into African American hoodoo through contact with Native Americans, who consider them lucky.
In America, the species most often associated with the lucky stone are the Freshwater Drum (Aplodinotus grunniens) -- also known as the River Drum, Drumhead, Sheephead, Sheep's Head, Wuss Fish, Gaspergou, Gou, Grunter, Grinder, Google-Gobble, Croaker, Croaker-Fish, or Crocus Fish -- and the Red Drum (Sciaenops ocellatus) -- also known as the Puppy Drum, Redfish, Bull Redfish, or Channel Bass. The large otoliths of Drumfish are lenticular and rounded on one side, and flattish on the back, like very large, pearlescent split peas. They are situated right at the back of the head, almost touching one another, and because these fish make a drumming noise and their otoliths are so large, it is a popular belief that Drumfish strike their ear bones together to produce the sound. Actually, the drumming or grunting noise is produced by muscle contraction against their swim bladders.
Each Drumfish ear bone has a groove or sulcus on one face that forms either an "L" mark or a "J" mark. The "L" bones are from the fish's right side, while the "J" bones come from the fish's left side. Drumfish ear bones were carried for luck by Native Americans long before the Latin alphabet was introduced, but it is a common belief these days that the letter-like markings "L" and "J" stand for Lord Jesus, Luck and Joy, or Love and Joy. Many people who carry Drumfish otoliths want a matched pair, and folks who gather them on riverbanks and beaches tend to sort them by both size and "handedness" to make up pairs.
Other species of fish whose ear bones are considered lucky charms or are called lucky stones are the Buffalo Fish (Ictiobus spp.), the Blue Catfish (Ictalurus Furcatus), the Channel Catfish (Ictalurus Punctatus), and the Flathead or Opelousa Catfish (Pylodictis Olivaris).
Lucky stones are especially valued as charms for money luck, for better business, and for getting the advantage in gambling and games of chance. They may be carried loose in a pocket or wrapped or tied in a mojo hand.
The Catfish otolith, due to the name "Cat" and its relationship to sexual terms like "Cathouse" and "Pussy," is additionally thought to bring special luck to prostitutes and women gamblers.
Here's how to make an effective Lucky Stone Mojo. It is my own work, based on a gambler's hand that Rev. Hyatt learned about in 1938 from Informant #958, a root doctor in Memphis, Tennessee:
Cut out two small, circular disks of chamois leather and whip-stitch them together half-way. Sandwich a silver dime between a pair of lucky fishhead rocks, filling in and surrounding them with softened Lakshmi Dhoop incense into which you have embedded Grains of Paradise. Whip-stitch the mojo tight and dress the leather cover with Double Luck Perfume. Keep it oiled and fed, and wear it in your pocket for gambling luck.
The following documentation on the varied rites for collecting and using Lucky Stone Fish Head Bones 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.
Charleston, South Carolina; Informant #525:
"There's a fish; he's got two stones in his head. Out of them two stones, you want to be sure when you open him to get the right-hand stone. There's two white stones. You'll take that right-hand stone and you'll put it in yur pocket and put some Red Pepper with it --put Red Pepper with that right-hand stone. And take the left-hand stone and take a handful of Sulphur, nothing but Sulphur, and you'll wrap that up good and hide it and put it down by your bed -- on the left corner of your bed, or the north corner of your bed, inside of your mattress. But the right-hand stone, you want to tote that -- it gains everything you want and everything you go after. Actually, you got to get it."
Memphis, Tennessee; Informant #925:
"The Gaspergou -- you know there's two rocks in his head. That's a fish. You get that fish anywhere out the river. It looks like the Buffalo [Buffalo Fish]. You have to look close to see it's not Buffalo. Some people sell them for Buffaloes that don't know the difference. It's a Gaspergou. The rock out of -- those two rocks out of his head, wearing them in the pocket is supposed to be lucky." [This is the fresh-water Drumfish (Aplodinatus grunniens) of the Great Lakes and Mississippi Valley. weight up to 50 lbs. Gaspergou, similar to the French Gasparot (a kind of Herring), is the local name in Louisiana.]
Memphis, Tennessee; Informant #958:
"Get you some lump [briquet or dhoop] incense. Some people don't use red flannel; you can use chamois skin and you make you a little luck bag. You put you a little silver dime in there. And you put you about three pieces of that lump incense in there and you put you some Guinea Pepper [Grains of Paradise] in there, and if you got a fishhead rock, you put that in there. Then you sew it up with a piece of garlic. (Fishhead rock?) Yeah, that only comes in a Drumhead. There be's two little rocks in a Drumhead. (Drumhead fish? ) Yes, sir. And you sew that up. You can pour you some Bergamot on it, or either some Jockey Club perfume. You have to keep it oiled up [fed] like that. That's for your luck. You can wear it in your pocket. Gambling luck."
Memphis, Tennessee; Informant #1541:
"Take a fish, a Buffalo fish, and inside of that Buffalo Fish's head is two little pearls about like that. You get them little pearls out of there and tote them in your pocket and that'll draw money to you, too."
St. Petersburg, Florida; Informant #995:
"A man learnt me, a hoodoo man, to take a Crocus Fish -- it's a little fish called Crocus Fish [Croaker Fish; Fresh-water Drumfish], and you take that head off, and you take a knife and split that head open and there's two rocks in there. Well, you get them two rocks out and you put them two rocks in a little bag and you sew that bag up. Well, when you sew that bag up, then,you give it to the party [your client] and then he goes to the man and reports for a job, and he can't hardly be turned down. And I have seen that and he [the hoodoo man] have done me thataway, the reason I know, and that's the way he said, and that was the end of that."
St. Petersburg, Florida; Informant #1019:
"I have tried this when I first came to St. Petersburg. Go and look me round, couldn't get me a job nowhere. One feller tells me, says, 'Now you go and take you a dime,' he say, 'and buy you a Crocus Fish [Fresh-water Drumfish].' After you get that fish, you cut the head off that fish and you can do what you wish. You can eat the fish or you can throw it away. But be sure you get the head of that fish and cut it open and get them two rocks out of there and put it in a sack and wear it in your pocket. There can't nobody turn you down for a job."
Brunswick, Georgia; Informant #1240:
"The Catfish head -- the rock out the head, you know. I always see these women in these loose houses get them and put them in their pocketbooks -- says it draws the men and keeps luck to them. I've caught Catfish for them for that business."
Finding a lucky rock washed up on a river or lake shore, in contrast to obtaining a pair from a fisherman, is another way to acquire such a good luck piece. Because of their white colour and light weight, they can be found on banks and rivers everywhere.
"Lucky Rock Blues" was recorded in Chicago in 1924 by the great Georgia-born singer Gertude "Ma" Rainey (1886 - 1939). Here she is on vocals, accompanied by Lovie Austin's Serenaders. (Ma Rainey, vocal; Lovie Austin, piano; Tommy Ladnier, cornet; Jimmy O'Bryant, clarinet; Charles Harris, Alto Sax.)
LUCKY ROCK BLUES
Feelin' kind of melancholy, made up my mind to go away
And though some folks says it's folly, sometimes it helps, and fades away
To forget the man you love, although he may be mean
Goodbye folks, I'm on my way, straight down to New Orleans
Goin' to New Orleans to find that lucky rock
Goin' to New Orleans, yeah, to find that lucky rock
Tryin' to rid myself of this bad luck I've got
On my way to find that lucky rock
Oh, I'm on my way to find that lucky rock
Just to ease my mind off all this trouble I've got
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