Tuesday, December 4, 2012
|A few of my medicine bags|
In order to understand how to work a medicine bag, we need to define medicine as it is understood in the Indian worldview. To the Native American, medicine refers to anything mysterious, magical, spiritual and supernatural. It is the roots, stones, sticks, and bones of conjure. The three most powerful forms of Indian medicine are water, tears, and laughter (Gene Thin Elk, personal communication, 1994).
A medicine bag is very much like a mojo bag. They are worn or carried on the person for any number of purposes and often the same bag is used for a multitude of purposes, i.e. protection, healing, dream enhancement, and empowerment. Medicine bags can be made for yourself or for other people, just like a mojo or gris gris bag.
Medicine bags are used somewhat differently than mojo and gris gris bags, however. For example, once a mojo bag or gris gris is made, we don't open it up and mess around with the things inside unless we are taking it apart or recharging it. With your medicine bag, you can take an object out, talk to it and ask it for guidance. Ask it for its medicine. For example, if you are feeling scared or apprehensive about something and you have a bear claw in your medicine bag, you can take the bear claw out of the bag and ask the bear for its medicine or protection, strength, and courage. When you are done, place the claw back in the bag and carry the bag with you as usual.
As you can see from the photographs, medicine bags come in all shapes and sizes. I have quite a few medicine bags, these are but a few. I have a special medicine bag that holds corn pollen and a separate one that hold my tobacco. I have several smaller medicine bags that are held inside a larger medicine bag, and those inside an even larger medicine bag. The different bags contain different medicines that I use frequently and are not to be mixed with other herbs. When I am sitting in the darkness of the sweat lodge for example, I cannot see, but I can feel which bag has my cedar when I want to sprinkle some on the hot elders (stones) inside.
Medicine bags will contain special objects of power or "tokens" given to a person as well as power objects found in the natural environment that speak to the person finding it. Unlike gris gris bags which typically do not have more than 13 items and always an odd number in them, a medicine bag can contain as many items as a person wants. Sometimes people will consciously only keep as many items as a sacred number, but that is not a hard and fast rule. Sacred numbers for Indians are 4 (for the four sacred directions - North, East, South, West) 7 (for the seven sacred directions - North, East, South, West, Father Sky, Mother Earth, and Self), 21 (seven times 3) and 28 (seven times four).
There is a lot of misinformation on the web about Native American spirituality and culture, including misinformation about the basics of a medicine bag. According to one website for example, "A Native American medicine bag doesn't necessarily contain medicine. Instead, in Native American culture, items are placed inside the small bag that holds a spiritual significance to the wearer." This statement was obviously written by someone who doesn't have a clue as to what constitutes Native American medicine. The contents inside the bag ARE the medicine. The medicine comes from the realms of animal, plant, mineral, and human and yes, they hold spiritual significance to the wearer, but they also heal and empower.
"To enhance the supernatural and spiritual abilities of the wearer, healers often use the contents to perform the ritual known as vision quest." Again, a misinformed writer. The Vision Quest ceremony has nothing to do with the contents of your medicine bag. The Vision Quest has everything to do with increasing one's own understanding of self/community/the world and one's relationship to the community and the world (meaning Mother Earth and all of her inhabitants, great and small, four-legged, two-legged, eight-legged or no legs, as well as all of her processes). The Vision Quest or hunblecha is one of the Seven Sacred Rites of the Lakota people. Traditionally, this ceremony is conducted in places considered sacred such as The Black Hills and the Badlands. Bear Butte is a traditional site for hunblecha. Often a person will discover their animal spirit guides during the ceremony, but the contents of a medicine bag are not used to perform the ceremony itself.
The Thunder Beings (Wakinyan) live in the Black Hills according to Lakota tradition. At White Horse Mountain, where I participated in my first vision quest, the ancestors still dance and they can be seen and heard in the stillness of that ceremony.
Anything that speaks to you strongly can go into your medicine bag. Some typical tokens found in medicine bags include:
- Corn pollen
- Corn meal
- Lock of hair or mane
- Claw or nail
- Stone fetish
In order to find your medicine, you will have to take regular Nature Walks if you are not the outdoorsy type. Don't just pick up anything, there has to be a strong and clear connection between you and it. You will know when you hold it in your hands and see it. Talk to it and ask it what lessons it has for you. Then, write down any insights you receive in your medicine journal.
To learn more about Native American concepts and their connection to Southern Rootwork and Hoodoo, check out the course Indian Spirit Hoodoo: Working with Black Hawk and Indian Spirit Guides in the Southern Conjure Tradition. In addition to learning about how to work with Black Hawk and Indian Spirit guides, this course teaches about Indian medicine, herbalism and curios, provides and Indian conjure formulary, several tutorials and a variety of works. It also discusses working with other Indian Spirits such as Red Hawk, White Eagle, Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha and Sitting Bull. In addition you will learn about Thunder Medicine and how to make Thunderbolt Powder and hands. I guarantee you you will learn things in this course you will not find anywhere else.
*The above article is excerpted from Indian Spirit Hoodoo:Working with Black Hawk and Indian Spirit Guides in the Southern Conjure Tradition by Denise Alvarado.
*All contents of this article including text and photos are copyright 2012 Denise Alvarado, All rights reserved worldwide. Do not copy and reuse without my permission.
Sign up for the Indian Spirit Hoodoo Course now and get started within 24 hours! Cost includes the book and a kit. Questions? Feel free to post them in the comments section below or email me.
Monday, November 26, 2012
What Came First, the Indian Chicken or the Hoodoo Egg? Exploring Native American Influences on Southern Conjure
A long time ago the Cherokees went to war against a giant monster. They killed him, brought his head home in triumph, and placed it upon the top of a cedar pole in front of the townhouse. The blood trickling down along the trunk colored the pole red and so the wood of the cedar is red to this day.
In traditional Native American medicine, there are four primary herbs found across most tribes: cedar, sage, sweetgrass and tobacco. If these were the only herbs you had access to, it is more than enough. However, in the context of Hoodoo and rootwork, there are numerous plants, roots and herbs utilized that are believed to be the result of the cross-pollination of African and indigenous cultures. Native American tribes such as the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Seminole, Houma, and Choctaw were in close proximity to African slaves and as a result, the natural blending of traditions occurred.
In addition, both Native Americans and African cultures routinely used animal parts—teeth, feet, tails, skins, innards—in both medicine and conjure. It comes as no surprise that some of the local Indian uses of animal parts became incorporated into Hoodoo, acquiring a broader meaning and purpose as a result. In the Native way, if you want to know the meaning of a particular animal part, look to the animal’s nature and you will find your answer.
Both African American and Native American folk medicine and magic relied heavily on the laws of similarity to guide the use of their medzin/medicine. James Mooney, a famous anthropologist noted for his work among the Cherokee observed this phenomenon and likened it to the idea of fetichism:
Cherokee medicine is an empiric development of the fetich idea. For a disease caused by the rabbit the antidote must be a plant called “rabbit’s food,” “rabbit’s ear,” or “rabbit’s tail;” for snake dreams the plant used is “snake’s tooth;” for worms a plant resembling a worm in appearance, and for inflamed eyes a flower having the appearance and name of “deer’s eye.” A yellow root must be good when the patient vomits yellow bile, and a black one when dark circles come about his eyes, and in each case the disease and the plant alike are named from the color. A decoction of burs must be a cure for forgetfulness, for there is nothing else that will stick like a bur; and a decoction of the wiry roots of the “devil’s shoestrings” must be an efficacious wash to toughen the ballplayer’s muscles, for they are almost strong enough to stop the plowshare in the furrow. It must be evident that under such a system the failures must far outnumber the cures, yet it is not so long since half our own medical practice was based upon the same idea of correspondences, for the mediæval physicians taught that and have we not all heard that “the hair of the dog will cure the bite?” ~ James Mooney, 1891
To the Native American, every living thing is a source of spiritual power and as such should be revered. This is similar to the African concept of aché. From the native worldview, however, all living things are also our relations—our relatives—aunt, uncle, sister, brother, and cousin. We look to our plant, animal and mineral relations as Bird people or Winged Ones, Fish people, Snake people, Four-leggeds, Animal people, and Tree people. The rocks and minerals are our grandfathers and grandmothers. The elements Lightening and Thunder, Wind and Rain, Earthquake and Fire—all are powers of nature with the ability to transform and teach, as well as to destroy and put us, the two-leggeds, in our place when necessary.
There are many supernatural meanings associated with the various animals and plants from the native worldview. Some of the meanings remain consistent in the context of Hoodoo and others have changed. Some animals play a significant role in a person’s life and make a regular appearance in a variety of situations, including the dreamtime. When one specific animal seems to figure prominently through a person’s entire lifetime, it is often considered an animal totem or spirit guide. Animal totems bring messages as well as medicine. In fact, whenever a person encounters an animal, the Indian will consider the medicine it brings with it. The medicine of these animals is reflected in the animals’ nature and skills, calling to mind the concept of fetichism as described by Mooney (1891).
The French settlers in Louisiana respected the herbal knowledge and healing skills of the Native peoples, who freely shared their techniques. The Indians made poultices, baths, teas, compounded herbs, and used steam and smoke in a curative fashion. Not surprisingly, the reputation of “Indian as healer” reached its height in popularity in the nineteenth century. Out of this popularity emerged the white Indian doctor, who claimed to have learned botanical curative powers from the local Indians. Some claimed to have acquired the knowledge while held captive. Many of these white Indian doctors took out ads in newspapers to advertise their healing abilities and expertise and as a result, this class of practitioner became known nationwide.
As Native American beliefs and traditions blended with African and European beliefs and traditions, they naturally changed. With the added influence of Christianity, the blend of cultures emerged as a unique system of folk magic and medicine that retained elements of all three cultures but also took on new meanings. Hoodoo continues to evolve and change to adapt to the needs of the people who practice it. That is its nature as a practical, simple, and utilitarian tradition.
Following is a short list of animals, herbs and curios posited to have roots in Indian cultures. By no means exhaustive, it will give you a good idea of how the various materia medica are used in Indian medicine and culture, how they have been adapted to African American folk magic, and how they have evolved within the context of folk magic in contemporary society.
Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis)
The alligator is an animal of great significance to both Native Americans and traditional African cultures. Hoodoo revolves around veneration of water spirits, and in Louisiana, Papa Gator carries with him the essence of rootwork, and is the keeper of ancient wisdom.
Alligator Foot (Alligator mississippiensis)
Alligator feet have their place in folk magic, particularly of the swamp variety. A small alligator foot can be a powerful protective talisman. On a key chain, it can draw luck for gamblers. To protect money: Place a piece of pyrite and a gold Sacagawea coin in the palm of the gator foot and wrap with green flannel and wear around the neck to keep your money safe and close to you. In the absence of a Sacagawea coin, a buffalo nickel or Indian head penny can be used. For fertility: Make a charm by placing Adam and Eve root in the palm of the alligator foot and wrap with red string. Wear about the waist to boost fertility.
Interestingly, the historical and archaeological evidence suggests African Americans used Native American artifacts for magical and ritual purposes. This theory is based on ethnographic studies of objects such as arrowheads found on the Oakley Plantation in West Feliciana, Louisiana, a tenant house in South Carolina (see Orser, 1985), King’s Bay Plantations in Georgia (see Adams, 1987), and other locations. Indian arrowheads are considered to be lucky charms. Although they are called Indian arrowheads, they are believed to have been made by the Creator. This belief can be traced back to the Akan-speaking people from the African Gold Coast who believed prehistoric stone projectile points had magic powers. They called arrowheads nyame akuma (God’s axes) and believed they formed from lightning bolts that hit the earth (Alvarado, Dean and Pustanio, 2012).
Bearberry (Arctostaphylos Uva-Ursi)
Also called Uva-Ursi and Kinnikinnick, this plant is one of the most widely used among Native tribes. Bearberries are three species of small shrubs with evergreen leaves largely found in the Northern hemisphere. Only the dried leaves are used in medicine. In consequence of the powerful astringency of the leaves, Uva-Ursi has a place not only in all the old herbals, but also in the modern Pharmacopoeias (Grieve, 1931). Indigenous peoples have been reported to use bearberry as an anticonvulsant, to stimulate appetite, and to treat anemia, hemorrhage, tuberculosis, stomach disorders, heart troubles, respiratory infections, earaches, sinus infection and congestion, and other ailments (Moerman 1998). Native Americans still use it as spiritual smoke, used as a psychic and spiritual incense and tea. It is often mixed with other herbs and tobacco. I was taught it is mixed with red willow bark and smoked as Kinnikinnick. The Blackfoot used the plant as a dermatological aid. Infusion of the plant, mixed with grease & boiled hoof was applied as a salve to itching and peeling scalp and to rashes and skin sores. An infusion was also used as a wash for babies’ heads. Infusion of the plant has been used as a mouthwash for cankers and sore gums (Hellson, 1974). Leaves were placed on a piece of wood, roasted to a powder and placed on a cut for rapid healing, and leaves pounded into a paste were applied to boils and pimples (Hocking, 1949). The Cherokee used the plant for kidney disease and urinary problems (Hamel and Chiltoskey, 1975). The Cheyenne made an infusion of stems, leaves and berries for sprained backs (Grinnel, 1972) and the berries were used as an ingredient in medicinal mixtures (Hart, 1981). The Cheyenne make a sacred tobacco by combining it with red willow bark (Grinnel). In fact, many tribes, including the Cree, Clallam, Ojibwa, Inuit, Great Basin Indians, Hesquiot, Hoh, Jemez and Lakota, use bearberry either alone or in combination with other herbs as a sacred tobacco. The Chippewa used bearberry as an analgesic. They pulverized the dried leaves and compounded and smoked for headaches (Densmore, 1928). Among the Kwakiutl and Ojibwa the leaves are smoked as a narcotic (Reagan, 1928; Turner and Bell, 1973). The Black Foot mix the leaves with tobacco, dried cambium or red osier dogwood and use it in religious bundles. The Black Foot also used the dried berries in ceremonial rattles and strung them on necklaces for jewelry (Hellson, 1974). The Ojibwa smoked the roots as a hunting charm to attract game (Densmore). To repel evil: the leaves can be burned to drive away bad spirits for people who are going crazy.
Black Snakeroot (Aristolochia serpentaria)
Also known as Virginia Snakeroot, Virginia Dutchmanspipe, and Virginia Serpentary. A perennial with somewhat heart-shaped leaves and small white flowers in branched clusters. Blooms July to October. The dried rhizome is a popular herbal tonic. Some old Cherokee Indian remedies consists of a decoction of black snakeroot blown upon patient for fever and feverish headache, and drunk for coughs; root chewed and spit upon wound to cure snake bites; bruised root placed in hollow tooth for toothache, and held against nose made sore by constant blowing in colds (Mooney, 1891). As a tea, “Blacksnake root is good tuh nuse [use] in de homes fo' heart trouble, nerves, broken down systems an' any bad feet dat chew have tuh de body” (Hyatt #3, p. 2195). To keep away thieves and undesirables: Make a powder from dried, pulverized snakeroot and spread about the home to keep undesirables and thieves away. For courage: Chewing a piece of snakeroot is said to give a man courage (Hyatt, #3). To keep a man: Add a piece of black snake root, gunpowder and powdered sugar to a mojo hand and carry it with you to keep the man you desire.
Cedar in its many varieties is one of the most widely used and versatile plants among Native people. Cedar is found to be used as cordage, as fiber for making mats, rugs, blankets, clothing, canoes, boats, decorations, bows and other hunting and fishing items, For example, paper birch and cedar form the two most sacred trees of the Ojibwe (Smith, 1932). Among the Bella Coola, the inner bark of the tree is used as a fiber for weaving mats, blankets and capes (Turner & Bell, 1973). Among the Haisla, the inner bark fiber is used to make clothing for the nobility (Gottesfeld, 1992), and among the Haisla and Hanaksiala, the wood is used to make racing paddles for canoes and boat ribs, while the inner bark is used to make loin cloths (Compton, 1993). Among the Hesquiat, cedar wood is used for making ornamental dishes and headdresses and the bark is softened with special oil for weaving capes and other clothing of head chiefs (Turner and Efrat, 1982).
In certain Native American traditions, cedar is used to carry prayers to the Creator. It is used toconnect heaven and earth. Cedar is burned to banish negative energies from a person and their environment; thus, opening the door for good spirits and energies to enter. It can be used as loose leaf or as a smudge stick and burned in an abalone shell. Cedar is often used in the sweat lodge ceremony (inipi) to bless the lodge and prepare the space for the Spirits to enter. A small amount is thrown onto the red-hot rocks we call Elders which immediately sparks a red glow. This releases the fresh aroma (medicine), and often makes crackling and popping sounds that are said to be the voices of our Ancestors. In folk magic, cedar is used for healing, purification, money and protection. To keep business flowing and to keep renters from skipping out on rent: Wear oil of cedar and place on doorknobs where people pass through and you will always have renters and always have customers. For business success: Get 6 red onions, some garlic and oil of cedar and boil together. Make a broom from cedar branches and mop the floor with the solution for business success. For gambling luck: Rub hands with oil of cedar before gambling for good luck. For purification and blessings: Burn dried cedar leaves and waft the smoke over yourself or any item in need of blessings and purification. Use the smoke to fumigate a room to purify it.
Lightening Struck Wood
Lightning struck wood can be added to any work to increase its power. It is particularly good for commanding spells, sex spells, and spells of destruction, which draw on its fire energy to destroy. Fire also has a dual nature to transform; hence its ability to be used in positive works as well. Add to mojo bags and gris gris to provide a serious boost in power. To use in candle magic: One way to use lightning struck wood in candle magic is to take some splinters and stick it into the candle wax. Another way is to grind some of it down to a powder, and sprinkle the tops of glass encased candles or roll candles in the powder. To enhance sexual nature: Combine with 2 round High John the Conqueror roots and a pair of lodestones in a mojo bag and carry it with you.
According to Gene Thin Elk, a Lakota spiritual leader, the first medicine for Indian people is the sacred water or mni wakan (G. Thin Elk, personal communication, 1994). Indeed, the healing powers of water are reflected in many Native American stories and legends. According to the Kiowa, healing powers come from deep underwater and are a gift of the Spirit (Baines, 1993). Seawater has been used by the Tlingits to purge impurities from inside one’s body, and many tribes use water to carry the healing properties of certain plants into the body in the form of teas. Water also plays a crucial role in many ceremonies, most notably, the sweat lodge ceremony. Additionally, some medicine people have the ability to instill healing powers into an ordinary glass of water through prayer, and the patient is healed by drinking the blessed water.
Likewise, water is an integral component of the medzin in the African traditions. Pouring libations is an ancestral tradition, just as pouring water is an ancestral tradition in the Native American experience. There are differences between cultures, of course. For example, in the African traditions libations can consist of alcohol, as well as water. When and what to pour is determined by an experienced elder in concert with the purpose of the offering. Water is for cooling and healing, while alcohol is for rousing and igniting, or more commonly referred to as firing up in southern conjure.
In Hoodoo, taking spiritual baths to remove hexes, unblock obstacles, remove and transform illness and grief are just some of the conditions for which water is used as a removing agent. For example, a common means of disposing specific types of works is to toss a work or the remaining elements of a work into a moving body of water. A similar practice is found among the Meskwaki. When a medicine person wishes to use water to remove illness from a person, they will go to a running stream or river and scoop up some water, dipping with the current, thereby capturing water that holds the necessary properties of making the illness run freely from the person (Harrington, 1915).
Wolf teeth are carried for protection and function as a buffer between a person and harsh words. In addition, they are believed to assist in discovering the identity of thieves. According to John George Hohman’s Pow Wow or Long Lost Friend, if a person carries a wolf tooth along with a sunflower collected in August, and wrapped with a laurel leaf “will never be addressed harshly by anyone, but all will speak to him kindly and peaceably. And if anything has been stolen from you put this under your head during the night, and you will surely see the whole figure of the thief. This has been found true” (Hohman, 1819, p. 15). Wolf teeth are also carried for fostering family loyalty.
Alvarado, D., Dean, C. and Pustanio, A. (2012). The Hoodoo Almanac 2012. Prescott Valley, AZ: Creole Moon Publications.
Compton, B. D. (1993). Upper North Wakashan and Southern Tsimshian Ethnobotany: The Knowledge and Usage of Plants. Ph.D. Dissertation, University of British Columbia.
Densmore, F. (1928). Uses of Plants by the Chippewa Indians. SI-BAE Annual Report #44:273-379.
Gottesfeld, L. M. J. (1992). The Importance of Bark Products in the Aboriginal Economies of Northwestern British Columbia, Canada. Economic Botany 46(2):148-15.
Grieve, M. (1931). A Modern Herbal: The Medicinal, Culinary, Cosmetic and Economic Properties, Cultivation and Folk-Lore of Herbs, Grasses, Fungi, Shrubs & Trees with their Modern Scientific Uses. Harcourt, Brace & Company.
Grinnell, G. B. (1972). The Cheyenne Indians - Their History and Ways of Life Vol.2. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.
Hamel, P. B. and Chiltoskey, M. U. (1975). Cherokee Plants and Their Uses -- A 400 Year History. Sylva, N.C. Herald Publishing Co.
Hart, J. A. (1981). The Ethnobotany of the Northern Cheyenne Indians of Montana. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 4:1-55 (p. 25)
Hellson, J. C. (1974). Ethnobotany of the Blackfoot Indians. Ottawa. National Museums of Canada. Mercury Series.
Hohman, J. G. (1856). Pow Wows or the Long Lost Friend. Harrisburg, Pa.: T.F. Scheffer.
Hyatt, H. M. (1970-78). Hoodoo-Conjuration-Witchcraft-Rootwork, 5 vols. Hannibal, MO: Western Publishing.
Moerman, D. E. (1998). Native American Ethnobotany. Timber Press, Portland.
Mooney, J. (1891). Sacred Formulas of the Cherokees. 7th Annual report, Bureau of American Ethnology.
Smith, H. H. (1932). Ethnobotany of the Ojibwe Indians. Bulletin of the Public Museum of Milwaukee 4:327-525
Turner, N. C. and Bell, M. A. (1973). The Ethnobotany of the Southern Kwakiutl Indians of British Columbia. Economic Botany 27:257-310
Turner, N. J. and Efrat, B. S. (1982). Ethnobotany of the Hesquiat Indians of Vancouver Island. Victoria. British Columbia Provincial Museum.
Keywords: Black Hawk, Native American, Indian, Indian Spirit Guide, Indian Spirit Hoodoo, Denise Alvarado, medicine, native American medicine, African Americans, James Mooney, alligator foot, arrowheads, kinnikinnick, bearberry, black snakeroot, cedar, lightning struck wood, wolf tooth
Denise Alvarado www.planetvoodoo.com, www.crossroadsuniversity.com, published author, Educated, artist, internet. I`ll endeavor to remove any and all negative comments I`ve made about her and her businesses or work. The truth is that I do admire Denise`s artistic talents, and I`ve always found her to be an intelligent and congenial person. I do not want to feel this kind of anger or pain any longer, and I don`t want to block Denise`s ability to make a living. And so I would urge others to go ahead and order from her. I regret this whole experience and I will do whatever I can to heal the hurt of it.
Copyright 2012, Denise Alvarado, All rights reserved worldwide.
Since Mother Leafy Anderson brought him to New Orleans with her Spiritualist Church in the early twentieth century, Black Hawk has played a central and symbolic role in the fight against oppression and discrimination among devotees...Black Hawk is venerated as an ancestral spirit among the Mardi Gras Indians, New Orleans Voudouists, as well as rootworkers and conjure doctors. Native Americans consider him a hero, African Americans view him as defender and liberator, and European Americans admire him as the noble savage who despite defeat, fought the good fight. While most of what is written about Black Hawk has either been from a historical perspective or from the perspective of the Spiritualist Church, Black Hawk cannot be confined to a single context. It has become more than evident that he has been adopted by people from many different spiritual traditions as a powerful Indian Spirit to whom devotees believe they can turn to for help and guidance when needed.
There are many mysteries surrounding this legendary figure who has a permanent place in the sacred spiritual environs of New Orleans.
Never before has a book been written about Father Black Hawk from the perspective of a Creole Native who has walked inside the longhouses, sat in the sweat lodges, cried on a hill for a vision, and received the mysteries through a variety of traditional and intertribal Native American ceremonies. The information contained in these pages will blow your mind, burst apart the stereotypes, and give Father Black Hawk the final say in how he should be honored and served. The reader should set aside all expectations for what they think they know and be ready for a true and authentic cultural smorgasbord of Southern Conjure Indian medicine with Black Hawk seated at the top of the Sacred Circle.
This is a preorder. Conjuring Black Hawk is scheduled for release in June 2016. People who preorder the book will be invited to join the Conjuring Black Hawk membership site where you will have access to archived images and articles about Black Hawk and other members-only exclusives.
Preorder your copy of the long-awaited Conjuring Black Hawk today!
Thursday, November 22, 2012
Working with Indian Spirit Guides is an ancestral tradition more than anything else. As such, respect for our ancestors is paramount. This means listening to them, not only in our hearts, but also with our minds and our eyes. We are lucky to have the words of Black Hawk, Red Cloud, Sitting Bull, Geronimo and others transcribed in written form and preserved for us to draw from and learn. They tell us who they are and what they like—we don't have to guess. For example, the popular practice of giving Black Hawk alcohol to “fire him up” is completely contrary to both Native American spiritual traditions, as well as Black Hawk’s belief system (not to mention horribly stereotypical). He tells us how much he hated alcohol because of what it did (and continues to do) to his people. Consider the following passages from his biography where Black Hawk states in no uncertain terms exactly how he feels about alcohol:
“Why did the Great Spirit ever send the whites to this island to drive us from our homes and introduce among us poisonous liquors, disease and death?”
”I found several barrels of whiskey on the captured boat, knocked in the heads and emptied the bad medicine into the river.”
“Our people got more liquor from the small traders than customary. I used all my influence to prevent drunkenness, but without effect. As the settlements progressed towards us, we became worse off and unhappy.”
Perhaps, this passage from his autobiography is the best example for not offering Black Hawk alcohol:
"The white people brought whiskey to our village, made our people drink, and cheated them out of their homes, guns and traps. This fraudulent system was carried to such an extent that I anticipated serious difficulties might occur, unless a stop was put to it. Consequently I visited all the whites and begged them not to sell my people whiskey. One of them continued the practice openly; I took a party of my young men, went to his house, took out his barrel, broke in the head and poured out the whiskey. I did this for fear some of the whites might get killed by my people when they were drunk."
So, in the above passage, he refers to those who brought the alcohol as fraudulent. Knowing how strongly he felt about alcohol, why would we give it to him? Do you want to be a fraud in his eyes? He doesn’t want it and he doesn’t need it. In fact, it is likely to piss him right off and not fight for you at all; but, fight against you. He is a warrior spirit—warriors do not need alcohol to fight their battles. While giving spirits alcohol as an offering is commonplace in Hoodoo, it is not a blanket practice. Not everyone gets rum and whiskey. So the inevitable argument that alcohol is an appropriate offering to Black Hawk in the conjure tradition is an irresponsible and disrespectful excuse on the part of the rootworker, especially in the context of ancestor reverence.
Monday, June 20, 2011
We all know that Black Hawk is an important figure in many spiritualist churches. He is not found in all churches, which is evidence of the independent nature of the various congregations. Typically, it is the spirits that follow the reverend mothers and bishops of the churches that dictate which spirits are emphasized in worship.
The emergence of Black Hawk among spiritualists can be traced to Leafy Anderson, who, according to some reports, was half Mohawk Indian and the assumed founder of the spiritualist church in New Orleans. She is reported to have said Black Hawk was the saint of the south while White Hawk was the saint of the north. I don't remember anything about White Hawk in New Orleans; what I know of him is from an indigenous perspective and from study of the spiritualist church doctrine and manual for reverend mothers.
Though spiritualists will often deny any association with Voodoo or hoodoo, there are a number of similarities and correspondences. The emphatic public dissociation with Voodoo and hoodoo makes sense given the sociopolitical climate in the early twentieth century when African Americans were routinely hassled for their religious beliefs and often imprisoned.
There are a few major spirit guides that are emphasized among spiritualists in New Orleans. Among them are St. Patrick, not surprising given the importance of Damballah Wedo in the New Orleans Voodoo pantheon and the subsequent syncretization of the two. Queen Esther is another major Spirit guide, though she did not take off in popularity like Black Hawk or St. Patrick. This is curious given her worship is focused on the empowerment of women and breaking the confines of socially determined gender roles. The spiritualist church is clearly a female dominated tradition.
Father John is another of the popular spirits of devotion in the Church. It is difficult to determine his origin and it seems to depend on who you talk to. He is affectionately referred to as Cousin John, Father John and some say Father Jones, though it is not clear whether or not Father John and Father Jones are the same spirit. Father John is reputed to be a great doctor and healer and guiding force among the spirits themselves. For this reason, he is often said to be the spirit of Dr. John, the famous gris gris doctor in New Orleans during the time of Marie Laveau. His energy feels consistent with this theory to me.
In addition to these popular spirit guides that appear among spiritualist circles, it is interesting to note that Black Hawk sometimes appears with two other spirits on his altar. This is something that you may not be aware of unless you are from New Orleans and have ever peered into a church yourself. I call them the Holy Trinity of Spiritualism, though not everyone will share this perspective since there is great variation in the spirit guides among churches themselves. However, they appear frequently enough that I believe it is a fitting description.
There is the common depiction of Black Hawk's altar consisting of his statue sitting in a bucket of sand. Yes, this is one way of creating his altar, but is by no means the only way, nor is it the manner in which he is situated in the Spiritualist Churches themselves. The "Black Hawk in a bucket" scenario is often promoted by those with no real ties to the Spiritualist Churches of New Orleans or with New Orleans Voodoo and hoodoo. Alternately, it is a tradition practiced by some elders in the Hoodoo tradition who maintain an altar in this manner in the privacy of their homes. I personally have Black Hawk sitting in a metal galvanized bucket that is filled with a mixture of different earths; some from the land of his birthplace, some from a crossroads, some from a graveyard, etc. The earth blend that he sits on is a very powerful blend that can be used in other works pertaining to him and in starting buckets for others who tutelage under me. Having Black Hawk sit on a blend of earths such as I have described is an old tradition that seems to have been whitewashed in the bucket of sand scenario.
There are many other nuances about Black Hawk that I may eventually share as someone who is an insider looking out as opposed to an outsider looking in. What I want to focus on and stimulate discussion about is his relationship with two other spirits that sometimes appear on his altar in what I call the Holy Trinity of Spiritualism. These two other Spirit Guides are St. Michael the Archangel and Dr. Martin Luther King.
There are numerous cultural and religious implications with this trinity of spirits, and close examination of the three reveals a lot about the collective psyche of the people who follow this tradition. New Orleans is a wonderful city in many ways but it has an awful, dark history of discrimination and oppression of people of color, particularly Africans and Indians. This fact is one common ground that unites the two populations. From this perspective, it is not surprising to see Black Hawk and Dr. Martin Luther King gracing the same altar.
It is also not surprising to see St. Michael share the same altar. St. Michael is said to be the defender and Guardian of Israel. He also is a protector and defender of an oppressed people. An altar to Black Hawk will many times have one or two statues of St. Michael flanking the statue of Black Hawk with a photograph of Dr. Martin Luther King hanging on the wall behind or standing in a frame behind Black Hawk.
But what do Jewish people have to do with New Orleans, you may ask? Well, the Jews were right up there with Africans in the Code Noir (Black Code) set forth and implemented by King Louis of France, which called for the forced religious conversion of all Africans to Catholicism and the expulsion of Jews from the city. The first three articles of the Code speak for themselves:
Article I. We desire and we expect that the Edict of 23 April 1615 of the late King, our most honored lord and father who remains glorious in our memory, be executed in our islands. This accomplished, we enjoin all of our officers to chase from our islands all the Jews who have established residence there. As with all declared enemies of Christianity, we command them to be gone within three months of the day of issuance of the present [order], at the risk of confiscation of their persons and their goods.
Article II. All slaves that shall be in our islands shall be baptized and instructed in the Roman, Catholic, and Apostolic Faith. We enjoin the inhabitants who shall purchase newly-arrived Negroes to inform the Governor and Intendant of said islands of this fact within no more that eight days, or risk being fined an arbitrary amount. They shall give the necessary orders to have them instructed and baptized within a suitable amount of time.
Article III. We forbid any religion other than the Roman, Catholic, and Apostolic Faith from being practiced in public. We desire that offenders be punished as rebels disobedient of our orders. We forbid any gathering to that end, which we declare to be conventicle, illegal, and seditious, and subject to the same punishment as would be applicable to the masters who permit it or accept it from their slaves.(Édit du Roi, Touchant la Police des Isles de l'Amérique Française (Paris, 1687), 28–58).
Given the eventual syncretization of Catholic saints into the New Orleans Voodoo pantheon, it is logical and clear as to how St. Michael found his way on the altar beside Black Hawk and Dr. Martin Luther King.
Black Hawk is referred to as the "Watchman on the Wall" who will "fight your battles for you". He is the guardian of a combined Indian nation, the Sauc and Fox (together referred to as Meskwaki). St Michael is the Guardian of the nation of Israel and her people, and Dr. Martin Luther king is the champion of the Civil Rights movement and representative of freedom from bondage and great leadership. All three of these spirits convey a message of strength, victory, and militancy.
Édit du Roi, Touchant la Police des Isles de l'Amérique Française (Paris, 1687), 28–58
Painting of St. Michael by Erzengel Michael, circa 1636, p.d.
Photo of Black Hawk Bust copyright 2009 by Denise Alvarado, All rights reserved.
Photo of Dr. Martin Luther King from the Library of Congress. New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection, p.d.
Copyright 2010-2013 Denise Alvarado, All rights reserved worldwide. Please ask if you would like to repost this article.