There is No Such Thing as War Water

Did I get your attention? Good, because I want to talk about what is tradition and what is not tradition.

 



Here’s the great debate: War Water is rusty water that may contain cut nails, rusty nails, or coffin nails. The nails may come from different places in order to take advantage of their magical correspondences and amplify the formula. In Louisiana, war water was often oil of tar in swamp water with a little Spanish moss thrown in. The latter is the formula I am most familiar with as a New Orleans native, though I make a nice rusty water too. Nails may or may not be an addition to this basic recipe. Though, as with anything hoodoo, formulas vary between families and practitioners.

I can hear it now...some folks reading this are throwing a fit...you can’t have war water without rust! You have to have nails in the water! The nails have to be cut so they can oxidize in the water! War Water has to have rust because rust is a by product of iron and iron is associated with Mars, the god of war and ...wait, what does Mars have to do with hoodoo? (Okay, don't answer that one because I know about European influences).




So this is where I am going with this article...the arguments about “my war water is more authentic than your war water” is a moot point if we really want to talk authentic, traditional formulas. War Water shouldn’t even be in the same sentence because it is not a traditional formula or hoodoo weapon.  Africans used other methods of warfare, as did the Indians. And when they were forced together through the slave trade, if they compared notes, I'm pretty sure war water wasn’t in those notes.

The preferred weapon of war was gris gris, which was reconstructed through the diaspora. Gris gris was brought to these shores via the marabouts and their occult skills and military traditions. It was used in numerous slave revolts as well as in the Haitian revolution. On the other hand, War Water was the creation of the hoodoo marketeers, white folks who looked to make a buck off of the black folk. Then there are the well-meaning white folks who started serving the black communities because there was a need as many stopped preparing their own remedies and so the hoodoo drugstore was one place to go for these remedies. There are many such creations that we tend to call traditional or authentic, when in reality, they do not  originate in African or indigenous spirituality, religion, or folk magic. Things like War Water and the fictional antidote Peace Water  is not an African product; it is the result of commercialized hoodoo.

Marie Laveau was well versed in the art of gris gris, as was Dr. John. Some venture to say Dr. John was an even better gris gris doctor than she and that he taught her about gris gris. My guess is that if Marie Laveau’s  Peace Water is actually her formula, she would have used it to cool down conditions or used it to bless people, places, and things. It would not have been used as an antidote to War Water because there was no War Water during her time.

And if that isn’t enough to get you going, here is something that might. Where I come from, hoodoo is Voodoo (I can hear it again, folks going off on me ...how dare I say they are one and the same? hoodoo is the magic, Voodoo is the religion...blah, blah, blah). The magic is PART of the religion, not separate from it. Those who separate it and those who practice hoodoo as “African American folk magic” are only “using” part of the actual tradition, which has become an American tradition. And while I am at it (oh, this is good!), Christianity was NOT one of the original religions- Voudon, Orisha, Ifa, Mami Wata, Islam and others were among the traditional religions brought to the Americas via the slave trade. Africans were not even allowed to worship as Christians during slavery. Then later, Christianity was imposed on Africans as part of the Code Noir and if they did not conform they were tortured or even killed. But the Africans knew who they were praying to, and it wasn’t Saint Peter.

So, to show you I am not a fool with my head in the sand, I am quite aware that many folks believe Christianity is what makes hoodoo authentic. Moving forward in time, we see many of the colonized folks adopting aspects of Christianity and eventually completely converting. And likewise, we see many descendents of the colonizers defining Hoodoo as a Christian tradition. But hoodoo did not start on these shores. It is not a “later” development. Its origin comes straight from Africa, and is a complete magicospiritual tradition that is intimately connected to the spirits of Voudon (that’s right, the religion).

In my opinion, it is tragic why Christianity is such a big part of American hoodoo. It is the direct result of colonization, a process that interrupted the transmission of the religious aspects of Voudon to subsequent generations and that caused folks to fear their own cultures of origin to the point of rejecting their ancestry.

As I always say when I make such controversial statements, not everyone in New Orleans sees it the way I do. Not everyone uses the power of the spirits to energize their magic and gris gris. But many do. However, it has remained underground for a long time and there are those who still will not come out publicly. I have been taken by my elders to secret locations for ceremonies heretofore undisclosed for fear of intrusion and harassment by outsiders. I am still sworn to secrecy. So I understand. One day, perhaps we won’t have to fear being open about our true religious preferences.

What I have presented is food for thought. Whether you agree with this article or not does not matter to me. I am telling it the way I see it, it’s my opinion, and I am not going to argue about it, though I am happy to have lively discussions.

Reference

Diouf, S. A.  (1998). Servants of Allah: African Muslims enslaved in the Americas.  New York: NYU Press

Copyright 2010-2012 Denise Alvarado, All rights reserved worldwide. Please ask if you would like to repost this article.

Comments

  1. You touch on a subject I've been wondering about. What did the indigenous people use before hoodoo marketers sold waters, oils and candles? Most recipes I see now require store-bought concoctions whose ingrediants seem questionable. What does one do to practice in the original manner?

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  2. You have to do your research, find a good teacher, and then you have to do the best you can. It's not that its bad to use store bought concoctions if that is what you want to do or if you are unable to procure the things you need to make what you want. I just think it is important to question what we are "sold" both figuratively and literally when it comes to indigenous traditions. Availability of ingredients, substitutions, local and regional botany - all of these things will determine what is used in a given work. Personally, my very first lesson when I was 5 involved the use of a candle, but it was not a seven day glass encased candle. It was a simple household candle. As a teenager, the candles I got from the witchcraft shop in the Frenchquarter were altar candles. But I love the glass encased candles so I incorporated them into my practice as an adult. Again, it is okay to adopt newer things, but it is important to know from where the practice derives and not blindly tout something for what it is not.

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  3. Very enlightening review! I have to say this was very informative and made me realize a couple of my own misconceptions of the subject matter. I always found myself some what lost learning the traditions of certain things and although I am always more than eager to learn new things I also want to learn where such and such originated from.

    Thanks for the info! :)

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  4. I'm glad you spoke on this issue. In "Stick, Stones, Roots, and Bones," Stephanie Rose Bird gave a recipe (page 114)for "war water." When you're trying to learn about voodoo, it's hard to know what to believe -- although my rule of thumb is, if it unsettles you, if your gut reaction is "this doesn't feel right," then leave it alone.

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  5. I read that book Sticks and Stones and although much of it didn't feel right to me I still found it interesting. Either way I much prefer four thieves vinegar to war water.

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  6. I personally love Stephanie Rose Bird's stuff...she was born and raised in the tradition so most of it feels very familiar to me. War water has its place now in "modern" hoodoo; though hurling a glass bottle at anyone is likely to land a person a terrorist charge nowadays. So sprinkling the water where an enemy would walk is a better idea.

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  7. Oh Birds stuff is rather interesting I admit. Unconventional but I'm rather like that myself. I would like to read more of her books when I have the chance. I plan on purchasing most of your books as well as Kenaz Filan as I have his Haitan voodoo book. :)

    So many books so little time as my mom would put it.

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  8. I know what you mean...I have so many books and wonder if i will ever be able to read them all...and then I have the tendency to read and reread and reread certain books until I absorb every last word. I'm a complete nerd like that:)

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  9. Well, I believe that the very name reveals, not being authentic recipe, but then again, what is ?

    Many of modern day condition oils are all but originated from African-American people . But like it we or not, magickal systems evolve, or in some cases "de-evolve" even, and all sort of practices and information became "imported" and blended in with original practice. Is it bad ? More often yes, than no, but sometimes it's actually very beneficial.

    Both War Water and Peace Water, can be seen rather as universal occult than Hoodoo supplies, and as such have their proprietary places in Hoodoo community. Many conjurers use tricks from other cultures, than astrological, planetary and even religiously "colored" ( no pun intended ) items, tools and supplies ( ex. Jupiter oil, Krishna incense and alike ) and eventually they become a part of "neo-tradition". It's a cultural , social phenomenon of habituation , I think.

    So If such formulas were not authentic to Conjure ( and I support Your claims that they were not Miss D ) they are an authentic part of modern day Hoodoo. Which is not all that bad I think.

    Well, anyway just thought of sharing my personal views
    Abundance of blessings :D

    ReplyDelete
  10. Well, I believe that the very name reveals, not being authentic recipe, but then again, what is ?

    Many of modern day condition oils are all but originated from African-American people . But like it we or not, magickal systems evolve, or in some cases "de-evolve" even, and all sort of practices and information became "imported" and blended in with original practice. Is it bad ? More often yes, than no, but sometimes it's actually very beneficial.

    Both War Water and Peace Water, can be seen rather as universal occult than Hoodoo supplies, and as such have their proprietary places in Hoodoo community. Many conjurers use tricks from other cultures, than astrological, planetary and even religiously "colored" ( no pun intended ) items, tools and supplies ( ex. Jupiter oil, Krishna incense and alike ) and eventually they become a part of "neo-tradition". It's a cultural , social phenomenon of habituation , I think.

    So If such formulas were not authentic to Conjure ( and I support Your claims that they were not Miss D ) they are an authentic part of modern day Hoodoo. Which is not all that bad I think.

    Well, anyway just thought of sharing my personal views
    Abundance of blessings :D

    ReplyDelete
  11. I don't want to be an asshole Denise but I can't help myself. Many of the Kongolese brought to the New World were apparently pious Catholics. You know the history from the 15th to 18th century onward of the Congo wars and the conversion of the Mani Kongo to Christianity in the earlier period. Just wanted to correct that idea that Christianity wasn't represented in the African diaspora, if it is what you are saying. Sorry.

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  12. Oh, you're not being an asshole for pointing that out. While it is true that there were some Catholics and that conversion was occurring there,conversion to Islam was an even greater phenomenon occurring. Even so those who remained traditional (i.e. African religions) outnumbered both Catholics and Muslims.

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  13. @Shadow, It's not that newer products and formulas are bad in and of themselves. Of course fluid traditions will change over time to adapt to the world around them, especially when commercialism is part of the picture. But there are authentic formulas and authentic traditions that remain relatively unchanged and in this day and age where people tend to change things just because the tradition doesn't suit them, then it is no longer part of that original tradition. It is something different.

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  14. I agree that it's not traditional but regardless it's a part of Hoodoo today. And it made me laugh because about a year a well read newbie (I'm a novice myself) snapped at me saying "Hoodoo and Voodoo is different!"

    Lol

    Sadly this is something that seems to, in what form or another affect all religions. In Wicca, we have the same problem.

    Once upon a time, Wicca was not just a religion. It was synonamous with Witchcraft. In fact the word Wicca means witch.

    Now? Now there is a movement of people who say it should only be a spiritual religion and not be merged with the sorcery. So now we have people who call themselves Wiccans (witches) who aren't actually witches!

    Wtf?!

    That's ridiculous. I get that Christianity was used as a tool of oppression by European Imperialists but the genuine religious and spiritual middle-eastern (and those mixed with European) tradition was not itself at fault.

    When the Ceasars were Pagan they did slavery and forced annexations of other lands. Are we to blame the Greco-Roman pantheon for those crimes?

    I don't think so. And there is a big difference between tbe Imperialist European pervesion of Yeshua's religion and what it was prior to being corrupted by the Enperor Constantine and his Council of Nicea.

    But that's ny view based on my personal Gnostic beliefs. Olofi gave us all variety for a reason.

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  15. very informative...thank u all

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  16. Interesting. Thank you. :)

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  17. Actually both African and Celtic. PERIOD. Although the African Gods of Voodoo are different from the Celtic pantheon but essentially herb magic (hoodoo) can never really be assigned to any one human specie but ALL four PERIOD. People have been trading for tens of thousands of years and wherever whenever there was always herb lore.

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