Monday, June 20, 2011

In the Company of Black Hawk

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.


References

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.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Ask Voodoomama: How NOT to Ask Voodoo Mama a Question

In case you don't follow my other blog Ask Voodoo Mama, I just posted a discussion about the kinds of questions I get that I really shouldn't be getting. That old saying "There is no such thing as a stupid question" is a downright lie. Check it out and tell me if you agree.

Ask Voodoomama: How NOT to Ask Voodoo Mama a Question

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Who Skinned the Black Cat? Online Botanica sells the Face of a Black Cat as Good Luck Curio




I want to know, since when was a black cat face used for good luck?

I don't quite remember how I stumbled upon this page the other day, all I know is that I did.  I normally like to peruse Papa Jim's Botanica site because he carries stuff I don't carry. However, this is one item I won't be purchasing from him or anyone else, and I certainly won't be aspiring to carry it.

The website says "Black Cat Face. Place in your home or business for Good Luck, Protection From Evil."

"This product was added to our catalog on Thursday 24 February, 2011."

Now, I am all for  the rare and hard to find curios and I will climb a mountain or mountains (literally) to get them. But a black cat face?

I don't even know where to begin with this one.

Well, I posted a link to it on my Facebook page and got a lot of responses, which is why I thought I would blog about it and do a little scientific examination of the evidence. And, being the scientist that I am, I have an inquiring mind and I want to know, who skinned the black cat?

Any research begins with a question. We want to find out something, so we research it. We form a hypothesis and develop a theory, collect our data and then methodically go about proving or disproving the hypothesis. The results may or may not support the hypothesis. Either way, if we can confirm one way or another it's good research, even if we don't confirm the initial hypothesis because at least we have accurate information about the issue at hand and draw a conclusion or conclusions based on facts. We end up with more information than we had in the beginning of the research so we add to a specific body of knowledge that everyone can draw from. Not only do we benefit the scientific community with new found knowledge, we also benefit society at large.

Research also begins with something the researcher is passionate about. When I saw this image and the accompanying advertisement, I was appalled. And I am  not alone. Here are a couple of the comments that supported my initial reaction:

Sorcha Puridai Isn't there some law against that? It should be reported. If it originates from outside the country, it's illegal to import - or export if its inside. There should be a way to shut this down. More education is needed because there are superstitious and impressionable people out there who support this kind of trade ...

Fred Cislo Jr Okay that is just wrong! I would be pissed if somebody told me they bought that!

And there were more. but then, there was this post:

Willa Wylde im betting its not a cat face at all but a fox, you can buy them from various leather places like Tandy, i used to use them to make dream catches and such it even looks like the fox shape...just saying

It's always good to have different opinions about things. Sometimes we can't see the other side of Exu's hat because we can't stand on both sides of the street at one time. But, if we are open-minded and don't jump to conclusions, we can discover the truth based on the evidence at hand.

After reading Willa's comment, I questioned whether or not it was in fact a fox and not a cat. I am not convinced either way...yet.

Now I am writing an article about black cat sacrifice in Volume 2 of Hoodoo and Conjure Quarterly so I don't want to repeat that here, but I do want to give a little contextual background for our informal study of this alleged black cat face. There is no doubt that the use of black cats in magick has a long history in Europe and in hoodoo. Cats played a large role in ancient Egyptian society, for example, as they were used for pest control and were deified (i.e. Bast, Mafdet). In fact, cats  were afforded the same mummification and burial as people were. In ancient Greece, cats were revered and if one was found hurting or killing a cat, even accidentally, the punishment was death.

In New Orleans Voodoo, black cats have been the subject of controversial sacrifice  in the past, particularly with regards to finding the one bone in the body that is all powerful.

Thanks to Robert Tallant and other writers who focused on specific excerpts of his mostly inaccurate and sensationalized account of New Orleans Voodoo, the urban legend of the black cat as THE sacrificial lamb of New Orleans Voodoo has become an undisputed historical fact. He even has a chapter in his book Voodoo in New Orleans called Skin a Black Cat with your Teeth. According to Tallant, “ Sacrifice and the drinking of blood were integral parts of all Voodoo ceremonies. Usually it was the blood of a kid that was used, but often it was that of a black cat”(Tallant, p. 15). The prevalence and inaccuracy of such accounts is something I discuss in the article in HCQ. One thing I have not been able to find, whether truth or fiction, is the use of a black cat face specifically, for good luck.

In at least 20 articles I researched for the article in HCQ, absolute statements are made about the orgiastic parties led by Marie Laveau where the Voodoo worshippers danced around a cauldron filled with frogs and into which snakes and a black cat was tossed. Where did they get their information? Tallant of course, typically the only source cited for these statements. Since the sacred serpent, Li Grande Zombi, is our major Spirit in New Orleans, I hardly doubt anyone was throwing snakes into a cauldron. With such proliferation of unsubstantiated claims, it has become an almost iconic representation of New Orleans Voodoo, albeit completely biased and unfounded. It reminds me of a similar phenomenon that is prevalent on the internet today where people take one source, usually Wikipedia, and regurgitate the information without any critical analysis of the information and without any original authorship that contributes to the body of knowledge. YAWN....

Now the black cat bone is another issue, and it is seemingly supported by local lore and in various blues songs such as the one I have in this post. The truth is, however, the use of black cats in sacrifice didn't start with New Orleans Voodoo or hoodoo. For example, here is a description of the gruesome black cat bone ritual found in the book of St. Cyprian (O Antigo Livro de São Cipriano: Capa de Aço) first published in 1849:


Cook the body of a black cat in boiling water witH white seeds and wood from the willow until the meat is loosened from the bones. Strain the bones in a linen cloth and, in front of the mirror, place the bones, one by one in your mouth, until you find that you have the magic to make you become invisible. Keep the bone with the magic property and, if you want to go somewhere without being seen, place the bone in your mouth."


Do I have to say that a black cat bone, even the "one" alleged special bone will not make you invisible? Admittedly I have not tried it, but I would bet it just ain't so.

During the 17th century, a cat boiled in oil was believed to be excellent for dressing wounds (Russell, 1972). While the mental picture of this is reprehensible, there may have been some (unknown at the time) scientific merit to this, if it was a black cat that was used.

Researchers at the National Institutes of Health discovered the gene mutations associated with a black coat in three types of black cats: the domestic cat, jaguar and South American jaguarundi. Apparently, the mutations affect a gene in the same family as one that causes a resistance to HIV in humans. "There is a mutation in humans that knocks this gene out and causes complete resistance to HIV," O'Brien said. So it may be that the same gene responsible for a black coat may also provide resistance to diseases. You can read the whole article here.

In hoodoo and in New Orleans Voodoo, black cats are associated with good luck and have been advertised as such since the late 1930s. They are particularly good luck in sports and games of chance. The tail of a black cat when pointing upward was considered lucky, and if you stroke a cat's tail nine times before playing cards, it is said to give you a winning edge in card games.

There are many references to the various mystical attributes of black cats from numerous cultures - some positive and some negative. Most "superstitions" about black cats are positive, up until the Middle Ages, that is.

I was born and raised in New Orleans and lived there over thirty years, and I never heard of using the face of a black cat for good luck or anything else. That doesn't mean it never was, just that I never heard of it anecdotally. Even the folks I knew who practiced the darker arts never used the skin of black cats. And try as I might, I can't find reference to the use of a black cat face specifically as a good luck curio in any of the folkloric or anthropological literature. I searched the entire database of literature available through the American Anthropological Association, as well as the library at Walden University, through which I have access to hundreds of academic journals. Nothing...not even a hint. If anyone knows of a reference, please post it in the comments section because I would really love to know if I missed something.

However, my question, who skinned the black cat? is jumping the gun. I have to first prove there is indeed a black cat face on Papa Jim's website.

Research Question: Is Papa Jim's Botanica really selling a skinned black cat face on their website?

Or, is it the face of a fox? Let's examine the evidence, beginning with the obvious. Papa Jim's Botanica states: "BLACK CAT FACE... Place in your home or business for good luck, protection from evil."

Of course, you can't believe everything you read or see, so let's check out the photos and and see if we can differentiate the alleged black cat face from a black fox face.

The first aspect of the images to compare is the shape of the faces. I found a couple of photos of black fox faces and compared them against the black cat face found on Papa Jim's Botanica website. To do this, I used Photoshop to remove the backgrounds of both photos and placed them side by side for comparison. And to be completely fair, I am aware of the variations of pelts and there are some fox faces that appear more rounded than pointed, so I did a side by side comparison of those  as well.

Sample 1:



Sample 2:




Next, I took the individual photos and superimposed them on top of each other, taking care to size them to equal sizes without distorting the ratio. Note that in the images, I made the cat face image into a colored graphic in order to clearly see any similarities or differences in the overall shape of the faces.

Sample 1: Cat face superimposed on fox face

 
Sample 2: Cat face superimposed on rounded fox face


Next, I examined the details of the photos, starting with the noses. The alleged cat face appears to have a smaller nose than the fox face, which appears to be a bit square. In addition, in both of the fox photos, the snouts are narrower than the alleged black cat photo, although the fox face with a rounded nose is not as elongated.

Another detail I noticed is the fur. The fur on the fox appears a bit coarser than the fur on the alleged black cat. And the ears...it looks as if the ears of the alleged black cat face are smaller  and more centrally located than the fox ears, which appear to be larger and laying to the sides.

So far, it's not looking good.

That said, my observations are extremely limited in both the photos and the lack of an ability to hold and feel both specimens firsthand. Further, it is difficult to see the details of either picture clearly.

Even if it is not a real black cat, shouldn't the consumer be told? Why would they say it is a black cat if it is not? It's not like they are asking hundreds of dollars for it. Is it worth selling a black cat face for $22.00?

What do you think?

I have chosen not to link to the site because I am already giving them free advertising as the subject of this blog post. No doubt, some freak will read this and want to buy it. That is on them, not me. If you want to see the ad, just google the words "black cat face" and it will come right up (unfortunately).

My first cat was a black cat named Moses. He was so sweet and I really miss him even though it has been over thirty years since he has passed. I can't imagine someone skinning a black cat and saving the face to sell on a website for good luck. That just can't be good karma.







Black Cat Ju Ju at Creole Moon
 

References

Tallant, R. (1946). Voodoo in New Orleans
California Folklore Society (1964). Western Folklore, Vol 23.



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

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Black Hat Tactics in Clandestine Hoodoo Wars


The term black hat comes from the internet marketing field and refers to unethical and borderline illegal (if not illegal) tactics for garnering traffic and business. They employ methods for SEO (search engine optimization) that include spamming, link farms and article spinning (basically rewriting someone else's article via the use of special software). These are the messages you get in your emails that say "Long time no see" or "check this out" or "have you seen this yet?" and when you click on the link it takes you to those prescription drug sites or some other place you have no interest in. Where do they get your emails from? Well, a lot of places, but many find mine through my contact information at my websites. They email me as if placing an order or asking a question.

There are many underhanded tactics these folks use to achieve their goals; some are effective, many are actually counterintuitive. Eventually, these techniques get the attention of Google and other search engines who remove the Black Hatter’s sites from their indices. Their sites are no longer crawled by the spiders and no longer show up in search results.

I have spent years studying the techniques of the internet marketing gurus in an effort to learn how to market by business on the internet. I have spent time on hackers forums to learn how to keep people from hacking my sites and know how to fix vulnerabilities when it does happen (and it has). The other side of the coin are the legitimate, organic means of SEO, referred to as White Hat tactics. It’s like learning to be a two headed root woman, you need to know both sides of the coin to deal with any given condition that presents itself.
I was thinking about these Black Hat/White Hat tactics and how nicely the terms apply to the internet community of hoodoos.

For example, have you ever been to a blog and someone writes a nasty little comment  from “Anonymous?” I had a few of those here during the Alvarado vs Yronwode incident. Insults were hurled complete with name calling and slander. I deleted those.

For some reason, people get riled up about something, undoubtedly triggered by a blog entry, and then go off on a tangent that has little, if anything, to do with the blog post. They speak confidently and write fearlessly, stating their opinions and making accusations that may or may not be true, but their comments are not done with any integrity because they hide behind the “anonymous” signature. Black hat hoodoo…spreading negative energy on the downlow.

How about this one: private messaging members of a forum, carefully sidestepping the forum owner, sporting their wares and promoting their business. This is usually done under an alias so they are not easily identified by the forum owner. Black hat hoodoo…advertising on someone else’s dime.

Here’s another one: writing disparaging reviews on Amazon.com that stick out like a sore thumb. This only applies if you are an author, but it’s pretty obvious when a review is an actual “critical review” as opposed to a criticism of the author fueled by some underlying jealousy or whatever. As an author, I don’t expect to get 100% positive reviews. I shouldn’t be in the business if I have unrealistic expectations like that. But, it is easy to tell when someone has a chip on their shoulder as opposed to someone who actually has some good feedback for you. I have noticed this has happened to several authors, usually by the same group of people. I even had someone write a negative review of one of my books and they admitted they never even read the book! Still, their little rating goes a long way in the overall ranking of the book. Whatever, Black Hat hoodoo… taking unfair and unprofessional pot shots with no foundation on a competitor.

Here’s a good one: links on your Facebook page by a competitor. This is a real pet peeve of mine. Post on your own damn wall, and if you don’t have enough friends and fans, then spend a few years like the rest of us staying up and working fiendishly all night, studying, marketing, and creating good products and information. Build relationships with people, learn how to network… get in the game or get out.

Here’s one that really gets my goat: the person who joins my forum and steals my content and ideas. The content is copied and pasted to another site without permission or attribution. Since I have devoted a couple of posts going off on that tangent, I will spare you another rant. I’m just sayin’…it falls into the category of Black hat hoodoo.

Okay, I have one more thing on that note and then I will move on…there is one such person on my forum who has ordered from me and copied the design and labeling of some of my products and has them for sale on their site (you know who you are). Now that’s Black Hat hoodoo with extremely LARGE huevos!

So far, the examples I have given are annoying and rude tactics, but not really dangerous. I mean, if I offer a good quality service and products then I don’t have anything to really worry about…except for the time that it takes to get these folks off of my junk.

Oh, there is one other thing I have to worry about - being banned from Google for duplicate content. Not that I am duplicating content, but that my content is copied by someone else and Google, whose behavior is shaped by algorithms, can’t tell where the original content came from. All it knows is that it is a duplication and one site has to go. Just pray it ain’t mine.

Now, there are other tactics used that are dangerous and anyone who is in the business of conjure should be aware of some of these. For example, so-called “friends” who only show up at “special” times. I call these folks the Spy Boys of hoodoo. This is a term borrowed from the Mardi Gras Indian tradition in New Orleans. On Mardi Gras and St. Joseph's night, one member of a gang - the Spy Boy - runs reconnaissance missions around his gang's path, looking for feathers and listening for chants of rival gangs. They are the scouts for the Chief. In hoodoo, these are the spies of a jealous competitor, someone who has it out for you and who is doing a work or planning a work on you. They get off on their underground alliance and report to their “chief” who needs information and wants to know what you are up to. They want to know where your vulnerabilities are. And since we are all human and the internet consists of social networking, we often post personal information about ourselves and experiences we go through. The Spy Boy, who could be female as well as male, is the snitch and reports to their “leader” and is an active participant in the Black Hat tactic.

Have you ever belonged to a forum and noticed  that if you disagree with someone or post information about something (let’s use our new magazine journal Hoodoo & Conjure Quarterly as an example), say you want to tell everyone about his great new hoodoo mag, and your comment is deleted or you are reprimanded by the forum administrator or moderator? What is that about? In this case, the Black Hat tactic is a defensive measure, designed to squelch the success of another.

Then, you notice that because you are a friend of the person who posted the discussion, all of a sudden you start experiencing a streak of “bad luck” And, that bad luck gets worse and worse until something downright dangerous happens. Maybe your children and pets have even suffered… you wonder what’s going on. You don’t want to be paranoid so maybe you talk about it to a few people you trust, and find out you are not alone. Similar things are happening to other people who have similar associations. It seems to be too much of a coincidence to BE a coincidence. So then you have a divination done and see what that might reveal and your suspicions are confirmed. This is Black Hat hoodoo at its lowest, folks.

In fact, there are tenets against targeting children and animals in most, if not all of the organized ATRs. People who breach these taboos are said to lose their power and the power of their main spirits. They only have the lower entities left to work with, and the allegiance of these lower spirits cannot be guaranteed.

People who stoop to the lowest of the Black Hat hoodoo tactics are the most dangerous because they have no super-ego monitoring their id, to put it in psychoanalytic terms. The super-ego is the part of the psyche that sets boundaries on behavior based on morals and ethics. The id is the part of the psyche that is comprised of pure instinct and impulse. They don’t care if they lose control because they have no morals. The out of control behavior that results with a poorly functioning super-ego feels powerful because of its intensity. The lengths to which they go to exact revenge with unbridled instincts makes them feel superhuman and untouchable, as if the laws of nature do not apply to them. But this is just an illusion…out of control is out of control, pure and simple. And anyone who acts maliciously towards another out of jealousy or competitiveness will eventually find themselves sucked into a dark hole with no way out. Unfortunately, these folks tend to do a lot of damage on their way down.

I am sure many people have their own examples of Black Hat hoodoo that they have experienced. Truth be told, I have merely scratched the surface here.

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

Friday, February 25, 2011

How to Make a Voodoo Doll