Sunday, September 12, 2010

What's in a Name?

Every now and again, I am asked about why various practitioners use "nicknames" as their main identity. In many traditions this is the norm. Spiritual mothers of New Orleans are all Mama something's or Reverend Mothers, and who knows how many drs there are in the world of hoodoo. I have been referred to as Mama D, Priestess Denise, Voodoo Mama, and reverend sista docta healer medicine woman by any number of people. I use to use Voodoo Mama much more than I do now, but as I have become much more in the public eye and have a serious academic reputation to maintain, I have transitioned over to my real name as my primary identity. I happen to be of the school of thought that transparency is a good thing because it gives my clients more confidence in me as a practitioner. Even when I used Voodoo Mama more than I do now, I have always been open about who I am and where I am from. Just check any of my websites and click on the About Me page and you will learn a lot about who I am, my background, and where I am from.  If anyone wants to know who I am, just look...it's really no secret.

I can't say this is the case with everyone. For some reason, there are those who insist on using a first name or some given name and do not reveal anywhere on their sites their real names or anything much about them at all. Maybe that works for them, I don't know. Personally, I would feel much more confident in having someone perform a service for me if I knew who they were, what their experience was, and where they are from. I mean, I wouldn't go to a dentist named Dr. Bob with no reference to his training or expertise anymore than I would go to a spiritual worker named Dr. Bob who gives no reference to how he obtained his expertise or background. But that's just me...

And for the haters out there, Dr. Bob is a fictitional name with no reference intended towards any real person.

I think this is one thing that is addressed with Cat Yronwode's Association of Independent Readers and Rootworkers (AIRR). For people who need such validation and have no other background or qualifications, this can be a good thing. I suppose even those who have a background could benefit as well. That is what credentials are for, to demonstrate a level of mastery over your particular area or areas. Credentialing gives you credibility because it is bestowed upon you by a group of peers who are already established in your area. But it is only one way in which a reputation of reliability is built or demonstrated. There are many more ways, such as time in the field, life experience, and related professional credentials along with complete transparency.

Now I am not a member of AIRR, nor do I intend to become a member. My life is a whole package of credentials that make me an expert at what I do. Credentialing is a tricky thing when it comes to indigenous healing systems, however. The requirements for holding specific titles are not uniform across cultures. What makes me an expert in my area does not make me an expert in your area, especially given regional and cultural differences. But the fact that my experience lies in a different, but related tradition does not make me any less reliable or competent than you (and I am speaking figuratively here).

But this brings me to an issue that just irritates the hell out of me. Why is it that people who have no idea of my experience or credibility are so quick to attack and squash? What is it with these people? And you know who you are...

Look, if you are going to criticize me and my work, then do so with intelligence. Read my work, learn about my background, dispute what you see with the facts and not with some side of the mouth, grade school playground bullshit. I welcome open discourse on any topic in which I have written...or not. I think intelligent discussion is productive and constructive. It keeps you and I in check and it keeps us accountable to each other and at our best. Nothing wrong with that.

As an academic with advanced degrees, I am used to having to back up every statement with proof. That is the culture of the academic world. If I say something about Native American healing for example, I better be able to back it up with facts or a damned good theory based on related literature and research. My name depends on this. I have taken this training and used it in my life as an indigenous healer, author, and rootworker. The training I have endured on an academic level makes the malicious gossip on forums a joke. But jokes can be hurtful.

My academic training is an afterward, though, to my spiritual training. I wasn't born an academic...I became one. I wasn't born in a university. I was however, born and raised in the unique, Voodoo and hoodoo rich culture that is New Orleans. I am a Creole woman and proud of it. And at the risk of sounding racist and absolutely not being racist, no white person half my age can tell me what I am and what I do is not legitimate. My earliest lesson that I can remember being an actual lesson was by a spiritualist aunt on the bayous of Mississippi when I was around five years old. I was instructed in the art of candle magick and communicating with Spirits. That's when my spiritual training started...at least, that's when I remember it starting. My whole childhood I was taught about plants, minerals and animals, what is referred to as herbalism and animal and mineral curios in today's hoodoo lingo. Back then, and I'll date myself, back in the 60s, we didn't call what we lived hoodoo. It was just life. It was fixing this and doing that or making a mess of somethin'...you get the picture.

And I'll share something else for those of you who feel the need to denigrate my name and for those of you who may just be interested in the juicy details. Do you know what it is like to grow up in the Deep South as a person of color? Nevermind the fact that I was a Voodooist (and in New Orleans, this includes hoodoo for many people, including myself). Do you know what it is like to have to shove your spirituality away underground just so you can maintain a measure of safety? But still, not be safe anyway? Do you know what it is like to pass as white when you can just to be accepted and not part of a "nigger hunt"? Yes, I said it...I said it because it is the sad ass truth. I can tell you that I know what it is like to be shown an oozie in the backseat of someone's car, ready to be used on such hunts, and praying to the Spirits that be that I would not be found out for who I am. Because many of my friends were white, and because I am creole, I was more accepted than my darker brothers and sisters. People focused on my Indian and Spanish heritage more than anything else. But these experiences affected me in a deep and profound way, and for a long time it affected me in a bad way because I internalized it, felt guilty, and punished myself for the sins of another.

At this point, if you are still reading, you may be wondering what does this have to do with hoodoo or Voodoo? Well, I am here to tell you that it has everything to do with it. Because hoodoo is not just a "magickal system" as it has been reduced to in contemporary writings. Hoodoo is part of the history of Louisiana, and I am part of that history, along with anyone else who was born and raised in the culture as I was.

Indigenous religions have for ever and a day been demonized by the predominantly White Christian majority. My ancestors were oppressed in the least and murdered at the worst for being who they were. The religions of my ancestors were made illegal and many were imprisoned. Children were stolen from families with the express intention by the government to break down the family systems and destroy culture. This was very effective. Hoodoo, that is, the use of herbs, roots, bones, natural elements and their spiritual qualities was not separate from Voodoo. According to Dahomean cosmology, the knowledge of how to utilize the sacred herbs, roots, bones, and other natural elements for controlling and changing one’s destiny was given to the people from Legba, who received the knowledge from the Forest Spirits. Hoodoo, in its form today, is a direct result of colonial government policies, church dogma, and slavery, and ongoing persecution of those who openly practiced the Voodoo religion.

And so I ask this question of my criticizers, is this part of your history? If so, what are you taking it out on me for? If not, what are you taking it out on me for?

See, the thing is that just because I was born a Creole doesn't mean I am immune to criticizing other people for what they do. There were times in my life that I am not proud of that I exhibited the behaviors of my oppressors too. I used words and actions to hurt other people, both on a magickal and a not so magickal level (its called lateral oppression in psychology). And then I was enlightened by a few good people who understood the soul wound that I was experiencing. The soul wound is the effect of intergenerational trauma on the psyche of the colonized. Yeah, it is somehow metaphysically technical and you will either get it or you won't. Either way, its okay. We all come to understanding in our own time and I am am certainly not one to judge another for their degree of enlightenment.

What this all boils down to with regards to name bashing on seemingly meaningless forums is tolerance and respect for self and others. You can either continue to be intolerant and disrespectful of someone you don't know and have never spoken to (but if you have read this lengthy post of mine you know me a little better), or you can quit being a cowardly gossiper and address me directly, like any self-respecting person and professional practitioner in any field should do. After all, if we are rootworkers in it for healing and light, then why not act like it.

Now, dispute THAT.

Copyright 2010-2013 Denise Alvarado, All rights reserved worldwide. Please ask if you would like to repost this article.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Hoodoo & Conjure Quarterly! A New Magazine for Hoodoo and Conjure Enthusiasts!

If you haven't heard by now, there is a brand new magazine on the horizon for folks whose souls lie deep in the heart of the conjure arts. I am so excited about this project and the response we have received from the endeavor...it just validates the need for such a magazine.

You may be wondering how this all came about. Well, I cannot take credit for the original idea...it came from Papa Legba who advises me on business opportunities on a regular basis. It was after petitioning him that it became clear this was a project worth attacking, so I pitched the idea to someone I thought to be my friend, who immediately said she was in, albeit mostly for friendly support.

Hoodoo & Conjure Quarterly it is a project that I believe should reflect the community of rootworkers, conjurers, folk magicians, authors, and artists inspired by Spirit and the conjure arts. This is proving to be a realistic goal as I have been approached by several folks who are eager to contribute in a variety of ways. I have wonderful interviews featuring notable folks in the magickal arts, as well as the every day rootworker. I am featuring professionals and those who practice privately or within their circle of family and friends. I am featuring a column on international hoodoo as it is evident this tradition has spread to all corners of the world. And, as an artist myself, I am featuring artists who are inspired by Spirit and conjure.

For example, the first featured artist is Deacon Gary, th' Georgia Mojo Man and his Allegedly Genuine Souvenir Mojos. Deacon Gary really was a deacon in a local church in his community, so he dons the title honestly; it is not just a clever title. The first time I set eyes on his art I knew he was ridden by Spirit to create signatures of love and luck to share with the world. Take a look at what he has to say about his conjuring process:

"Brethren, it is a true saying that "Mojos are curious horsemen", mounting steeds of diverse forms and sizes. And I, Deacon Gary, the Mojoman of Georgia, by the inspiration of the Creative Fire from the Great Creator Spirit, am appointed to the selection and acquisition of horses, worthy and acceptable, for Mojos to mount.

Once a horse, worthy and acceptable to be mounted by a Mojo, is chosen, then is the Mojo conjured to ride forth into the world."

Oh, there is so much more to this story but I have to save it for the magazine.

Another regular column you will find in Hoodoo & Conjure Quarterly is based on my new book the New Orleans Voodoo Hoodoo Formulary. I will share with our readers recipes for New Orleans oils, portions, gris gris, powders, floor washes, spiritual baths and animal and mineral curios. Few people outside of New Orleans Voodoo realize the influence of the French perfumeries on some of the formulas. And, some of the regional differences in the various botanical and zoological materials incorporated in ritual formulas within this tradition have been hotly and incorrectly contested in some of the forums. I think that sometimes people like to argue for the sake of arguing, and as a result miss the opportunity to learn a little something  that could quite possibly enrich their lives and practice.

These are just a few of the topics you will find in Hoodoo & Conjure Quarterly. To read more, please visit the official website Hoodoo & Conjure Quarterly.

Copyright 2010-2013 Denise Alvarado, All rights reserved worldwide. Please ask if you would like to repost this article.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

St Joseph, a Jack of all Saintly Trades




The thing that I love about the conjure arts is that we have a solution for any problem if we know where to look. There are works that can be done to help increase money flow, find a new job, enhance love relationships, and to even sell your home. That's where St. Joseph comes in.

St. Joseph, the husband of Mary and earthly father of Jesus Christ, is honored as the patron saint of families, fathers, expectant mothers, travelers, immigrants, house sellers and buyers, craftsmen, engineers and working people in general.

More than ever before, America's home sellers and realtors have turned to St. Joseph to get an advantage in the tough home sellers market. A spell performed with a statue of St. Joseph is used to make a home or other property sell very fast once it is listed on the real estate market.

The solemn tradition of burying St. Joseph in the earth began hundreds of years ago in Europe. During those times, an order of nuns prayed to St. Joseph (the patron saint of the family and household needs) when they needed more lands for convents. The Sisters were encouraged to bury their St. Joseph medals in the ground.

Over the years, the tradition arose of St. Joseph having a special power in real estate transactions and home sales. The medals evolved into statues, culminating with the complete St. Joseph Home Selling Kits currently available. Today, thousands of home sellers and real estate agents nationwide continue this successful tradition; they are looking for a little divine intervention.

St. Joseph is highly venerated in New Orleans. On St. Joseph's Day he is honored with lavish altars, good food, and celebration. He stands beside Black Hawk and Moses in the spiritualists churches as a patron saint  of social justice.

St. Joseph's Day Altars

by Anna Maria Chupa

Background


Photograph by Anna Maria Chupa
St. Joseph's Day altars began as a custom brought to New Orleans by Sicilian immigrants. The tradition of building the altar to St. Joseph began as far back as the Middle Ages in gratitude to St. Joseph for answering prayers for deliverance from famine. The families of farmers and fisherman built altars in their homes to share their good fortune with others in need. The tradition grew to a more public event on St. Joseph's Feast Day on March 19. Today the individuals who work on the altars are fulfilling their own promises to St. Joseph "to share their blessings with those in need."(2) Without exception, the altar workers explained that they contributed to the altars not for their own purposes but 'for St. Joseph' or for a family member or friend.(5)


One tradition entails begging for the supplies to build the altar. The altar must not incur "any expense nor any personal financial gain."(2) As an act of devotion to St. Joseph, supplicants would promise to build an altar should their sons return home from war safely. Part of the personal sacrifice involved was the act of begging for food.(5)

Although there are perishable foods on the altars, a large portion of the breads, cookies and cakes are wrapped so that they may be given to charities after the altar is broken. The altar is broken after a ceremony which reenacts the Holy Family seeking shelter. The ceremony is called Tupa Tupa "which in Italian means Knock Knock." Children dressed in costume "knock at three doors asking for food and shelter. At the first two they are refused. At the third door, the host of the Altar greets them and welcomes them to refresh themselves."(2)

Butler's Lives of the Saints lists St. Joseph as the patron saint of Families, Working Men, Social Justice, and the Church. St. Joseph is also the Patron Saint of the dying.(3) Following the blessing of the altar on the afternoon of March 18, visitors are invited to leave written petitions to St. Joseph or donations for the poor. The Mary's Helper Newsletter invited people to mail their petitions for the altar in the event that they could not visit personally.

Spiritualism and Vodun Connection

My own journey to the St. Joseph's Day altars began while I was conducting research on Spiritualism and Vodun in New Orleans. In my search for more information on Damballah, an African spirit who came to be associated with St. Patrick and with Moses in the syncretized Vodun of new world contexts, I also saw frequent references to St. Joseph. Spiritualist churches who honored Black Hawk as a patron spirit of social justice simultaneously honored St. Joseph and Moses in prominent positions on their altars.

The Mary's Helpers Newsletter makes an interesting connection in the interpretation of Joseph as a deliverer. "It was told to the Israelites in the Old Testament, 'Go to Joseph,' if they wanted any favor or benefit, referring to the Joseph of Egypt. 'Go to Joseph,' is the advice and counsel given to every Catholic who wants a favor and believes in the sanctity of the Holy Family."

More on Sicilians in New Orleans

Photograph by Anna Maria Chupa
Members of The Greater New Orleans Italian Cultural Society (GNOICS) built their first altar in 1967 "on the front steps of the St. Joseph church on Tulane Avenue."(4) In 1978, the altar location was moved to the Piazza D'Italia, primarily because inclement weather in previous years made the outdoor location on the steps of St. Joseph's problematic.(Chupa:98) Piazza d'Italia is located on "300 Poydras, to the rear of the American Italian Renaissance Foundation Museum and Library building."(4) In 1998, the Altar was prepared under the direction of Mr. and Mrs. Peter Bertucci who have been involved with the altar preparations since 1967. The GNOICS altar has since been reestablished at St. Joseph's Church.


The concentration of Sicilian immigrants in New Orleans explains why this tradition is almost exclusive to this southeastern city. Whereas most immigrants from Naples "settled in New York and other cities along the eastern seaboard" the Sicilians "sailed from Palermo and landed in New Orleans. Between 1850 and 1870, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that there were more Italians in New Orleans than in any other U.S. city. By 1910, the population of the city's French Quarter was 80 percent Italian. Today there are 200,000 Americans of Italian descent living in New Orleans and its suburbs, making Italian Americans the largest ethnic group in the city."(4)

Symbols in the St. Joseph's Day altar
Many of the altars we visited were constructed in the form of a Latin cross with two additional tables running parallel to the length of the cross. This tripartite arrangement refers to the Trinity. A statue of St. Joseph or a picture of the Holy family is usually at the top of the altar.(1)

"All of the items on the altar -- food, candles, medals, holy cards and fava beans -- are blessed by a priest in a special ceremony the afternoon before an altar is 'broken.'" That evening people may visit to pray and leave petitions. Donations are collected for the poor."(1)

Over the doorway a fresh green branch is placed to indicate that the public is invited to participate "in the ceremony and to share the food."(1) The specially prepared breads on the St. Joseph1s altar make take many forms. As this custom is observed during the Lenten season, and the tradition was begun in Sicily where fish and shellfish were more common than meat, decorative breads in the form of shellfish are common. Other symbolic imagery specific to Joseph might include tools used by a carpenter (ladder, saw, hammer, nails) as well as sandals, lilies and a staff. Some of the breads are prepared with a decorative interlace and filled with figs, alluding to the fig orchards of Sicily.(1)

Breads and cakes may also take the form of more common Christian symbols, i.e., the Monstrance or Spada which holds the sacred Host; the Chalice, which refers to the consecration of the Bread and Wine at the Last Supper; the Cross (crucifixion of Christ), Dove (Holy Spirit), Lamb, Fish (Jesus as the Lamb of God and the Fisher of Men); and Hearts (Sacred Heart of Jesus, Immaculate Heart of Mary. A heart pierced by a dagger also refers to the grieving mother or Mater Dolorosa and may bear the names of recently departed loved ones.) A Crown of Thorns and Palms refer to martyrdom and symbols of eternal love.(1)


Wine bottles on the altar represent the miracle of Cana and the twelve whole fish represent the twelve apostles and the miracle of the loaves and the fishes. Other images specific to Sicily include grapes, olives and figs referring to the orchards and vineyards in Sicily. Two prepared foods that are commonly seen on the altar include the Pignolatti and the Pupaculova. The Pignolatti are fried pastry balls joined together in the shape of a pine cone representing "the pine cones Jesus played with as a child." The Pupaculova is a baked bread which encloses a dyed Easter egg representing the "coming of Easter."(1)


Bread crumbs or "Mudica" are served as a seasoning over the Pasta Milanese on St. Joseph's Feast Day and symbolize sawdust.(1) The food served to the public on St. Joseph1s Day is a reenactment of a promise made to St. Joseph for delivery from famine. "Small bags are given as keepsakes to all who visit the altar. Each bag may contain a blessed medal, holy card, fava beans, cookies or bread."(1)

The people we spoke to had several interpretations regarding the appearance of lemons on the St. Joseph's Day altars. Citrus fruits are common in the orchards of Sicily. One woman said that it was good luck to "steal" a lemon from the altar leaving hidden coins behind for the poor.(5) Several women told us that a lemon blessed on St. Joseph's altar will not turn black and is a symbol of good luck.(6) Another woman said that the lemons are for young married women who want to become pregnant. Still others mentioned that during certain periods, the lemon was a luxury so its appearance on the altar is a way of returning ones good fortune to others.(5)

Artichokes figure prominently in the food served and when they are available in abundance, stuffed artichokes may also appear on the altars. In 1998, because artichokes were so scarce, they were not seen on the four altars we visited. In 1997, the artichokes were plentiful.

Perhaps the most ubiquitous symbol to be found on the altar is the lucky Fava Bean. "The gift of a blessed bean is the most well known of the customs associated with the St. Joseph's Day altar. During one of Sicily's severe famines, the fava bean thrived while other crops failed. It was originally grown for animal fodder, but because of its amazing resilience, it became the sustaining food of the farmers and their families. The dried bean is commonly called the "lucky bean." Legend has it that the person who carries a 'lucky bean' will never be without coins. The fava bean is a token of the St. Joseph's Altar, and a reminder to pray to St. Joseph," particularly for the needs of others.(5)

References

  1. St. Joseph Church, Gretna, LA St. Joseph Altar Customs
  2. Mary's Helpers, Inc. News: February 25, 1998
  3. Butler's Lives of the Saints 1991
  4. IADI: Spring 1998
  5. Anna Chupa, Field notes, March 18, 1998. Interview with Dolly and Peter Bertucci, Piazza D'Italia and visitors and altar workers at St. Joseph's Church, Gretna, LA
  6. Anna Chupa, Field notes, March 19, 1997. Interview at Our Lady of Lourdes, Violet, LA 


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

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Invoke St. Expedite for Quick Results


I receive so many emails from people wanting to know how to get relief, and how to get relief fast so I thought I would share a couple of spells here that involve petitioning St. Expedite. Truth be told, I need to share his name and work because he has been extremely helpful to me and others that I have shared his talents with and one of the conditions of him helping you is that you have to agree to spread his name and tell others about how he has helped you. So don't forget that if you try one of these spells and find that he answers you.

Saint Expedite is the patron saint of those who need fast solutions to problems, who strive to put and end to procrastination and delays, and who seek financial success. His feast day is April 19. In Haitian Voodoo, Baron La Croix is often represented by St. Expedite. In New Orleans Voodoo, he often represents Baron Samedi, the spirit of death.

In hoodoo, it is customary to offer St. Expedite pound cake, flowers, and a glass of water. In New Orleans, we typically offer him Sara Lee pound cake. He is believed to grant any request within his power provided the petitioner recommends his invocation to others. In this tradition, his image in the form of Holy Cards and medals are used in gambling charms and crossing rituals.


According to a legend, Saint Expeditus was a Roman centurion in Armenia who was beheaded during the Diocletian Persecution in 303. On the day he decided to become a Christian, the Devil took the form of a crow or a snake and told him to postpone his conversion until the next day. Instead, Expeditus stomped on the animal and killed it, proclaiming, "I'll be a Christian today!"


Here is a popular spell that you can use to petition St. Expedite for just about anything you need fast.

St. Expedite Spell to Get Things Fast


Perform this spell on a Wednesday. Light a red candle in a glass jar. I used a cinnamon candle. Place a Holy Card of St. Expedite on your altar and set a glass of water next to his image. Write your petition on a piece of paper and place it under the candle. Then, say the following prayer:

Saint Expedite, you lay in rest.
I come to you and ask that this wish be granted.

____________ (Express exactly what you want, and ask him to find a way to get it to you.)

Expedite now what I ask of you.
Expedite now what I want of you, this very second.
Don't waste another day.
Grant me what I ask for.
I know your power, I know you because of your work.
I know you can help me.
Do this for me and I will spread your name with love and honor
so that it will be invoked again and again.
Expedite this wish with speed, love, honor, and goodness.
Glory to you, Saint Expedite!

Recite the prayer once a day until your prayer is answered. Allow the candle to burn down. When your request is granted, pour the water  into the empty glass candle holder, and place fresh cut flowers in the candle glass. When your request is granted, thank St. Expedite by offering him a piece of Sara Lee pound cake (In New Orleans we are rather adamant about this, but I have heard reports from others that using any brand of pound cake will do) and be sure to tell someone how he has helped you. If you do not thank him in this manner, he will take back your request and then some, so be sure to remember this step.

St. Expedite Spell to get Rid of an Enemy

Okay, here is another version of the spell from my book The Voodoo Doll Spellbook.

Perform this spell on a Friday. Write the name of your target on a helium-filled red balloon. Make a very small Voodoo doll out of red fabric, anoint with Fast Luck Oil or St. Expedite Oil, and attach a medal of St. Expedite to the doll. Light a red candle. Place a Holy Card of St. Expedite on your altar and offer him a glass of water and say the following prayer:

Saint Expedite, you lay in rest.
I come to you and ask that this wish be granted.
____________ (Express exactly what you want, and ask him to find a way to get it to you.)
Expedite now what I ask of you.
Expedite now what I want of you, this very second.
Don't waste another day.
Grant me what I ask for.
I know your power, I know you because of your work.
I know you can help me.
Do this for me and I will spread your name with love and honor
so that it will be invoked again and again.
Expedite this wish with speed, love, honor, and goodness.
Glory to you, Saint Expedite!

Tie the balloon to the Voodoo doll and release into the air. The person should leave in whatever direction the wind is blowing. When your request is granted, thank St. Expedite by offering him a piece of Sara Lee pound cake. If you do not thank him in this manner, he will take back your request and then some, so be sure to remember this step.

St. Expedite Spell for Financial Relief


Here is a spell for money emergencies. Take a white and a green candle; carve your name on them lengthwise with a pin. Anoint the candles with St. Expedite Oil or Fast Luck Oil. Light the candles and pray to him until he grants your request. Pray to Saint Expedite:

I call forth the Power and the presence of St. Expedite in my time of financial trouble. I offer my body, heart, mind and soul upon your altar of light. I have faith and trust and complete confidence that you will be my strength in this time of need. Quickly come to my assistance.
Bring to me ____________ (Clearly express what you want, and ask him to find a way to get it to you.)
My financial need is urgent. Be my Light and Guide in this situation so that I may live with peace, love, prosperity and abundance and in the Praise of God.
Amen.

Now promise to give Saint Expedite some Sara Lee pound cake if your desire is granted. Tell him you will spread news of his work as well by taking an ad out in your local newspaper so that his fame will grow.


Article Copyright 2010-2016 Denise Alvarado, All rights reserved worldwide.

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Friday, December 18, 2009

An Encounter with a Skinwalker in the Heartland


Investigating paranormal phenomenon is something I have enjoyed doing ever since I was a kid. My friends and I were like kids in a candy store in New Orleans because there are a never-ending number of haunted places to explore. One of my favorite investigations we did this year was in the summer in Iowa City. I was contacted by a couple of people who indicated they were in dire need of a consultation. They were clearly freaked out so I set aside some time to meet with them in person. When we met, they proceeded to tell me that they had been confronted by a skinwalker. Knowing my heritage and background in Native American spiritual phenomenon, they felt I would be able to help them.

My first thought was...a skinwalker in Iowa? This is not the most common occurrence in the Midwest, that is for sure. It intrigued me. So I agreed to investigate further.


First, let me give you a little background in skinwalkers so you have an idea of what I am talking about. Speaking about skinwalkers is a sensitive subject and I don't do so lightly. It is not something that is typically discussed outside of native society, and I have attempted to approach the subject with the utmost respect.


A skinwalker, or yee naaldlooshii as they are called in Navajo (meaning "he goes on all fours" or something to that effect), is a person who has the ability to shapeshift into animal form. Specifically, the Navajo believe that a skinwalker is a type of witch who uses their supernatural power to transform into animals for the purpose of cursing someone else, for escaping from enemies, or for getting from one place to the other very quickly. Skinwalkers are feared in Navajo society and are sometimes blamed for any number of maladies and even the deaths of community members.

Although skinwalkers are most frequently seen as coyotes, wolves, owls, foxes, or crows, the yee naaldlooshii is said to have the power to assume the form of any animal they choose, depending on the specific ability needed.

It is worthwhile noting that witches and witchcraft are viewed differently in Navajo tradition than in the European tradition. Whereas witches in the European tradition are differentiated as practitioners of black, white, or grey magick, witches in Navajo society are frowned upon because they represent evil, pure and simple. As such, they are greatly feared. The most common type of Navajo witchcraft centers around the ritual called the Witchery Way or Corpse-poison Way. The Witchery Way is believed to have been invented by First Man and First Woman and is accounted for in the Navajo Creation Story.

Skinwalkers usually learn their art from a parent, grandparent, or spouse. Most of the time, they are men. Women are only believed to be witches if they are old and childless. The initiation into the Witchery Way involves murdering a close relative, such as a sibling, and engaging in other cultural taboos such necrophilia, grave-robbing, and incest.

The medicine of Witchery Way centers around powdered corpses, known as "corpse poison". The best sources for this bad medicine are the fingerprints and the skull bones from corpses of children, especially twins. This Corpse Poison is said to look like the corn pollen used in blessing ceremonies; however, it is used to curse and harm, as opposed to bless and sanctify.

The effect of the Witchery Way is illness caused by curse. A person who has ingested corpse poison will immediately display symptoms like fainting, swelling of the tongue, or lockjaw. Sometimes, the victims experience a slow and miserable wasting away from what seems to be a normal disease. When the disease does not respond to conventional medicine or traditional ceremonials, it is believed to have been caused by a witch.

Skinwalkers practice their own ceremonies, spells and rituals. They typically gather somewhere in a secluded spot and are hard to locate by conventional means. They operate in absolute secrecy. They travel to and from their meeting places in shapeshift form, and resume their human form when they return. In what is reminiscent of a Black Mass, the witches' ceremonies parody the good sing as they sit in a circle, naked except for masks, jewelry, and paint like that used in normal ceremonies, and surrounded by their supply of corpse-flesh and ash.

Sometimes skinwalkers are tracked and eliminated. A medicine man and good friend of mine taught me how to identify their footprints. One time, I found a set of footprints near our home on the reservation that seemed to resemble the prints of a witch in transition. There was the heel of a bare human foot and the toes of a large coyote. Sometimes their shadows can be seen wandering around the desert. Other times, they attend community functions in full human form, although it is apparent that they are more than merely human. Skinwalkers are a fascinating, albeit dangerous cultural phenomenon.

Interestingly, it is believed that geese are excellent guardians against skinwalkers.

Now, onto our investigation into an encounter with a skinwalker in the Heartland.

Two women (we will call them Lilly and Mary) called after a close encounter with what they believed to be a skinwalker. They felt the entity had attached itself to them and needed my assistance.

One day they discussed going out at spirit hour as a bit of adventure. At the last minute, they decided to go for a walk on a path in Iowa City near a bean field, a walking path.

According to Lilly:

"So then we smudged at about 2:40 am and this time the smudging felt a little uneasy. My walk was hastened like I had a destination although there wasn’t really a destination it was just a journey. We walked a ways and Mary asked what am I in a hurry for and I said I had no idea. I was trying to consciously slow my pace but it took great effort to do so. We are walking down the path, the moon was very bright, trying to look around as I have never been on this path before. I looked around and saw some strange sculptures that looked like they were made of iron. As we walked down the path I could hear the flowing of the creek, and we walked to a crossroads where there was a bench so we sat down at the bench which is just after the crossroads just listening to the sounds and watching the little creatures, seeing the reflection of the moon in their eyes.


I looked over and saw a little animal about ten feet away, couldn’t tell what it was, couldn’t tell what it was because its movement wasn’t like a squirrel or rabbit and didn’t move like either which was rather odd. The other thing that was odd was that its eyes were black…no reflection like all the other animals. At that time the clouds began to cover the moon. Right before we saw the creature, Mary changed her stance from casual and comfortable to guarded and protective, and Mary turned towards me side ways sort of straddling the bench. I was sitting facing the path as she turned facing me.


So then we see this creature, and Mary said it was a spirit animal and began explaining to me about spirit animals. Not creatures we see every day. Mary saw somebody coming down the path and I looked; I see him way down the path and I turn back and I said that’s weird but then we said “yeah but we’re here” and then I turn to look again and he was about 20 feet away, dressed all in black. He had a black front brimmed hat, and was wearing big huge black or very dark brown sunglasses. His pants made a swishing sound, very baggy jogging pants, with a jacket just below the waist, baggy, zipped closed with a collar, no neck because of a collar, couldn’t see a face, saw skater style shoes like vans, like baggy clothes on a skeleton, flat soles on shoes. Hair coming out of the bottom of the hat curled out from under the hat all around from nape to sides. His hair looked greasy.

Then I watched him as he was pretty damn close and went from 30 feet to 10 feet in a in a split second. Got really terrified. I said “what is that?”  He had been walking in a straight line and once about 10 feet away he came directly towards us with his “non eyes” fixed on us. Changed direction without changing speed, stayed completely perpendicular to the ground while he changed course."

According to the women, Lilly dove into Mary with her head down. Mary was still looking and he came within 6 inches of them and they felt a very cold breeze. His footwork was not altered, actually the footwork was a shuffle. Then, he arcs right back out to the path and going parallel into a shuffle run, his feet were moving like an old man but his feet didn’t lift from the ground and he was moving in lightening speed. He came from the crossroads. He did his speed shuffle away, they watched him go and Mary couldn’t look back, as she was too frightened. Lilly looked back and saw him moving away going away from the crossroads. They got up and left walking back towards the crossroads in the direction of the car.

They kept walking back down the path chanting “Imagine yourself being surrounded by white light, we are being protected, we are surrounded by light.” Lilly is demanding to know what it was, Mary wouldn’t tell her, they stopped at a lilac bush and smelled them for comfort.

They got to the car and Lilly asked again what was that? Mary finally told her what she thought it was, that it was a skinwalker. What is a skinwalker?

They get back to Mary's, felt the need to smudge, still had goosebumps, and had the extreme urge to change clothes immediately because it felt like it was clinging onto everything. Smudging up into clothes and pants trying to warm up because they were freezing cold despite it being a mild spring evening. The entity attached itself to them and the following day is when I got the phone call for help. They wanted to know: How to get rid of this skinwalker?

I asked Mary and Lilly if they would take me to the place where this happened. They agreed but wanted to know what I was going to do to keep them safe.

We agreed to go to the same place at 3:00 in the morning. I told them I was going to petition Papa Legba who is the guardian of the crossroads and ask him for help. It was lightly raining the entire time we were there and the wind was blowing very hard, which made creating a veve out of cornmeal nearly impossible...

After the ritual, my son saw a black figure cross the path. He said he felt uneasy…not scared, just extra aware of a presence. My assistant Barbara also felt a strong presence of Legba in particular.


After the ritual,  we walked back down the path towards the car. I noticed a black figure in the field that looked like maybe a medium sized animal that was watching us as it seemed to be moving. My assistant also saw the figure and I tried to photograph the figure but nothing showed up. We couldn’t see its eyes. When I tried to photograph the figure all I got was this:




I couldn’t capture the black figure, but then this appeared:



My assistant asked Ogun who is her guardian loa (spirit) if we could go closer and see it. I have to admit I wanted to try to get a closer shot, but then my camera died. So we got our answer. Damn…then we left.

This is the basic story which does not really capture the intensity of the emotions and experiences of the people involved.

There is a lot to be said about skinwalkers. I was not convinced that it was a skinwalker because the people involved were not Navajo, although Mary was adopted and taught the way of the sacred pipe which is one of the sacred rites of the Lakota, and Lilly is of Cherokee ancestry. My son is half Navajo, I am Creole (Spanish, French and Indian) and was married to a full blooded Navajo, lived and worked in Gallup New Mexico and learned a lot about their religion and spirituality. That is why I wanted to see if I could draw the spirit back out and see for myself. The last spirit I could capture on film that evening was an orb (no, it is not the moon):








While in New Mexico, I learned a lot about skinwalkers from several medicine people. They usually wear animal skins and can morph into the skin of the animal it is wearing, often they are just shadows. Only once did I ever see a skinwalker as a man dressed in black similar to what Mary and Lilly described. It is extremely rare to see which is one reason why this case is so intriguing. Skinwalkers are not born skinwalkers. They are considered pratictitioners of witchcraft and taught the skill of skinwalking.

So, no skinwalkers that night which didn't really surprise me. But there was plenty of other cool spiritual phenomenon going on and the experience was well worth the while. I prescribed some spiritual baths for the two women and prayed prayers of protection over them. I am happy to report that they immediately felt released from the negative energy that had attached itself to them once these rituals were performed.


Image credits

Beast of Gévaudan,, 1764 18th-Century depiction of an inordinately woolly-fleeced Beast - a veritable wolf in sheep's clothing! (public domain)

All other photos copyright Denise Alvarado, All rights reserved worldwide.