"Old-time Root Doctors have claimed that breaking a bottle of WAR WATER against the doorstep of an Enemy will bring Strife and Sorrow to the Enemy's Home. Sold as a Curio only."
-- The Lucky Mojo Curio Co. catalogue
War Water is basically a suspension of iron rust in water, with other ingredients added according to the desires of the manufacturer. Since the Roman god Mars was the god of war and his symbolic metal was iron, it seems pretty clear that War Water is a European contribution to hoodoo. It may have originally been compounded as a blood tonic or strengthener of courage, but in the hands of African-American folk-magicians, it became a tool for laying tricks against an enemy by means of hostile foot track magic, causing "poisoning through the feet" and making everyone in the household quarrel and fight one another.
Additional ingredients included in War Water to make it stronger are magnetic sand and a rusty nail or coffin nail. Spanish moss, an evil-looking twisty grey herb which rots away in the water quite nicely, provides the proper blackness to the red-ochre colour of the basic mix and imparts an appropriate "swamp water" scent when you break the bottle open. A few practitioners also include creosote in the bottle. (This is a toxic, carcinogenic substance and must be handled with gloves.)
In regard to the use of rusty nails to strengthen War Water, my correspondent OmiJuba (firstname.lastname@example.org) made some great suggestions, "You can add nails from specific locations: a hospital, to cause injury; a court house, to make someone lose a court case; a jail, to get someone arrested; the person's job site, to make them get fired; or a graveyard, to ... well, you get the idea."
War Water is always sold in glass bottles. To use it, you shake a bottle up and hurl it at the doorstep of your enemy, where it should break, leaving a rusty, dangerously sharp mess for him or her to step in. When i was a young woman coming up in the East Bay in the 1960s, War Water was used by fractious root workers to declare occult war on each other. Since these folks were already at odds to the extent that they could not simply walk into each other's yards and smash the glass bottle on the doorstep, they would make "drive by" attacks, rumbling through the residential streets of Oakland in the midnight hour and tossing bottles of War Water into the yards of their enemies, like occult Molotov cocktails. Ah, those were the days ...
The opposite of War Water is, of course, Peace Water, which is used to soothe a home and ensure that only good spirits and friendly people enter.
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