My friend Bob Beerbohm, whom i know through the comic book business, turned me on to this store. He was listening to me rave about old hoodoo products and labels and, being a paper ephemera collector himself, he knew how difficult it is to find these things. He told me that his ex-partner Nancy Turner, the mother of two of his three children, is a hoodoo practitioner. He said he found out about this when she brought home a bottle of Follow Me Boy Oil and he realized it was meant for him...
Anyway, Nancy had grown up in East Oakland, California, and she always patronized this particular shop, the Egypt Candle Store. Bob started going there with her and conversing with the proprietor, an elderly woman named Ms. Whyte, a Bishop in the Spiritualist Church. After Bob and Nancy broke up, Bob never went back (he moved to Nebraska, among other changes), but he volunteered to drive me to the site, so we could see if it was still there after 10 years. It was -- but it was closed. We tried again about a month later and it was open. It seems that Ms. Whyte had been in the hospital, but one of her associates, another elderly woman named Betty, was keeping the place open for her.
Despite a rather run-down exterior, the business was active and ongoing, with new Lama Temple brand candles being delivered and customers in and out frequently. Conjure work, called "consultation," was done on the premises. I saw one man writing out a name many times on a piece of paper to give to Ms. Whyte, presumeably so she could perfom a ritual involving the paper (it might be burned, or it might be placed beneath a candle to be burned). If you buy a candle, Ms. Whyte or Betty would dress it with one or more specially formulated oils, according to its intended use. A few complete ritual kits dating from the 1970s were for sale in the back, including "The Blue Penis." This contained a blue penis-shaped candle, various oils, powders, and incense, and instructions for use. The ritual involves stealing a man's "nature" so that he cannot be unfaithful.
All that aside, for me the major charm of the store was the Sonny Boy products that were still available as "new old stock." Supplies of these items were limited, of course. As they ran out, they were being replaced with brand new Indio and Anna Riva products. I advised folks who were interested in old stock labels to limit themselves to one of each item so that others who come after them could enjoy the thrill of buying these blasts from the past.
Of all the pre-zipcode Sonny Boy products i bought at the Egypt Candle Store, my favourite is Sonny Boy's Special Brand Incense, depicting a 1920s-era telephone, off the hook, with cryptic Policy players' numbers on the dial face! Shades of Elmore James and Sonny Boy Williamson:
Talked to my baby
On the telephone
"Stop what you're doin' and
Come on home"
I can't hold on;
I can't hold on too long --
I get a real good feelin', baby,
Talkin' to you on the phone.
Second fave-rave: Sonny Boy's Lucky 13 Dream Brand Incense, showing a black man in a WW II era uniform, eyes closed, conceiving of multitudes of numbers in a thought balloon.
Another couple of good ones: Sonny Boy's Alleged Lucky Dream Brand Brand [sic] Remembering Incense, because it is so "brand conscious," and Sonny Boy's Grandma's Lucky Hand Alleged Indian Grandma Brand Incense, because it is so "Grandma conscious."
Although none of the new-old-stock Sonny Boy products i saw contained real herbs, roots, or minerals, the Egypt Candle Store also had some Papa Jim oils that contained a genuine root or herb. "Papa Jim Court Case Root in Oil," to give one example, contained shaved roots steeped in oil. The label was typewritten and applied with scotch tape; the oil itself had a lovely aroma.
In addition to oils, sachet powders, and incenses, Ms. Whyte stocked baskets filled with roots (High John the Conqueror, Adam and Eve, Lucky Hand, etc.) and a bowl filled with lodestones basking in magnetic sand. Red flannel bags were also for sale, for those who wished to make their own mojo hands.
1999 UPDATE: Alas, in 1998 Bishop Whyte passed, which is very sad news indeed.
2000 UPDATE: The Egypt Candle Store was kept up for about a year by Bishop Whyte's successor, Betty, but in 2000, it closed its doors permanently. I wish you could have seen it -- but now it's gone.
2006 UPDATE: Hurray! The shop has been reborn as the Phoenix Candle Shop, operated by Spiritual Church Bishop Keith Williams. Hours are 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM, Tuedays through Saturdays.
2008 UPDATE: Sonny Boy Products are available retail online thorough their own web site. Check them out!
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