Day at the office
All Souls Vigil Service with Novena and Chaplet for the Dead – Free Options
Nine-day vigil, novena, and Chaplet for the Dead service.
Have lights set and worked on my altar in a nine-day community altar service beginning the night of November 2nd, All Souls Day. There is some wiggle room and you can join up after the work starts as long as you see that there are still spots left and it doesn’t say “sold out.”
Along with setting and working lights in the name of your loved one, I will perform a nine-day novena and daily recitation of the Chaplet of the Dead, with appropriate offerings, incense, and other materials and including a photo of your loved one if you have one to send.
The Chaplet of the Dead is a four-decade rosary that includes prayers such as the De Profundis (Psalm 130) and prayers for the repose of the departed soul and the comfort of the bereaved.
In Catholic tradition, the prayers of the living faithful can benefit the souls of those who are in Purgatory. Once purified, these souls will join the company of heaven. Once a loved one has died, they can no longer engage in works or deeds on their own behalf, but the living can pray for them and dedicate their own works and deeds for their benefit, thus helping them enter the presence of God and the saints.
Even if you don’t believe in purgatory in the most literal sense, these prayers and offerings focus on peace and rest of the departed and can serve as comfort for both the dead and their loved ones who are grieving. And it’s completely appropriate to perform such a service for ancestors whose names are unknown, as well, or for the souls of the departed who have no one living to pray for them. You can also use this service as an opportunity to thank those departed, known or unknown, whom you’ve received help or comfort from yourself.
You do not have to book a spot in the vigil service in order to have your loved one’s name and/or a petition included in my 9 days of novena and chaplet prayers. You can simply fill out the intake form and in place of the service/order #, type “all souls novena prayers only.” There is no cost for this option (though if you’d like to, you can make an optional donation here. (Offsite PayPal link)
Learn more or book your service at Seraphin Station.
The Blue Charm: Rustic Hoodoo Amulet Necklace
For this amulet necklace, I’ve basically deconstructed a classic rural Southern-style conjure bag, aka a mojo or toby, and made jewelry out of it.
This is backwoods conjure the way it used to be. It’s miles away from the shiny city general store with imported spices and soaps and fabrics. This is the part of the country where floorwash is made with chamber lye, not ammonia and certainly not Florida Water. New curtains come from recycled worn-out clothes, and those clothes come from recycled flour and feed sacks.
Old barn and field gear provides tiny scraps of leather. Copper, brass, and steel are scavenged from derelict machinery and buildings. Scraps of fabric — saved in an old cookie tin with thimbles and thread — tell 50 years of stories in a square inch: palest blue silk of a once-treasured gown; crisp white poplin once someone’s Sunday best; a thin strip of woven blue and gold once a hair ribbon won at the county fair. Whether passed on or simply moved on, those who once owned these bits and scraps are no longer here. And nobody was listening for their voices before you and I got here. Not everybody can hear them, after all.
This necklace is for those who can – or who want to. It’s for the medium, the storyteller, the card reader, the local historian, for the mad prophet, the family memory-keeper, the soothsayer. It’s for those who live too much in their own heads and those who don’t live enough in theirs, for those who want to remember and those who cannot forget. It’s for magpies of myth, keepers of scraps, and weavers of visions, those who can read the narrative in excavated brick or crumbling beams or rough-loomed fabric remnants. It’s for those who don’t go the long way round to avoid the cemetery at night and who aren’t afraid to slow down and chance hearing whispers in the wind.Continue reading “The Blue Charm: Rustic Hoodoo Amulet Necklace”
Drink Whiskey, Pray, and Set the Bed on Fire: A Glimpse into Pandemic Life 120 Years Ago
This was originally posted in my personal blog a few years ago, but besides being a glimpse into how people dealt with pandemics 120 years ago, it references a few things some of y’all might find especially interesting, including folk remedies, patent medicines, home and herbal remedies, speculations about cats and/or comets being the cause of yellow fever outbreaks, and rural Alabama life at the turn of the century. Since my personal blog is mostly dedicated to family and regional history, I approached via the avenue of family history and focused on the areas where I had ancestors at the time *and* access to some actual records, which is mostly along the Gulf Coast from Florida to Louisiana.
It looks like the Florida Memory site won’t let you link directly to pages within its exhibits – I tried, but everything seems to spit you out a level or several above where I wanted to link to. Sorry about that.
Florida Memory has an online exhibition called Pestilence, Potions, and Persistence: Early Florida Medicine which is fascinating (and disgusting, too – don’t forget disgusting). There’s a lot of cool stuff here, including sections on midwifery, yellow fever, hookworm, and an outbreak of bubonic plague in Pensacola in the 1920s, which I didn’t know about ’til I read this. But poking around that got me thinking about how huge a presence yellow fever was in so many of my ancestors’ lives.
Yellow fever, so called because of its tendency to cause jaundice, could be a killer, and medical understanding of it in the 1800s still had a ways to go. If you grew up around it — as you might if you lived in East Africa or Barbados — it might only make you mildly ill for a few days. But if you didn’t have acquired immunity — if, say, you were a European colonist in Barbados, or New York, or Philadelphia, or Santo Domingo, or the Mississippi River Valley — it could kill you and half the people you knew very quickly.
And nobody really understood what caused it. Until the early 1900s, nobody knew it was a virus spread by mosquito bite. Medical understanding of it more than slightly resembled medieval medical understanding of plague – maybe the air in an area basically got miasmic, infected, dangerous.  Maybe infected people could infect you, somehow, too, so you’d better stay away from them just in case it’s spread that way. Maybe herbs or fumigation could help. Or maybe you should just relocate until the whole outbreak blows over – hope you can afford to!
Some blamed yellow fever outbreaks in the New World on the wrath of God. Some blamed it on newcomers to the area or unsanitary neighbors. Some blamed it on convergences of things like insect populations, filth, global volcanic behavior, the presence of lots of dead cats, the “putrid exhalations” of a coffee shipment spoiled during import, and/or comet activity.  Medical colleges advised burning gunpowder and using vinegar and camphor.  People were urged to avoid intemperate consumption of alcohol at the same time they were surrounded by newspaper advertisements for things like Duffy’s Pure Malt Whisky, “A Scientific Remedy, not a Beverage!” 
During a Florida outbreak in 1888, Dr. John P. Wall wrote of its “having its origin probably in the filth of the slave ship” and warned about “the necessity and importance of sanitation,” explaining that “the atmosphere of the city where it is prevailing sooner or later becomes infected – poisoned with its morbific agent.” 
Wall quotes United States Army surgeon Dr. Sternberg who wrote in 1884 that yellow fever, “like cholera, is contracted in infected localities.” He characterized it as a poison: “In infected places the poison seems to be given off from the soil, or from collections of decomposing organic matter.” 
This was your prevailing medical opinion – these were the experts. Nobody knew yet. So how did ordinary people deal with yellow fever outbreaks? Well, that could depend on where they lived, whether urban or rural, whether there was any kind of local health official or not, and whether they had the resources to do things like burn all their bedding or relocate for a while or whether they had to stay put and make do.Continue reading “Drink Whiskey, Pray, and Set the Bed on Fire: A Glimpse into Pandemic Life 120 Years Ago”
When Angels Are Saints and Saints Are Angels (or a quick lesson in Catholic ontology)
I very frequently see folks online say things like this: “Though technically speaking Archangel Michael is not a Saint [sic], sometimes this entity is venerated as one.”
I’m not linking to the source for that because my goal is not to single anyone out for being wrong. Thing is, this is not an uncommon misperception. It’s pretty easy to find multiple websites and blogs that say something to this effect – even those of folks who are otherwise pretty well-versed in folk religion and/or folk magic. If this were just a couple of blogs and not a pretty widespread point of confusion and error, I wouldn’t be going to the trouble to write about it.
I get that not everybody comes from a Catholic background. But if you’re going to write about saints in the context of hoodoo and folk religion, you should do your research before you make assertions. And if you do your research, you’ll see that in a hoodoo context, when you’re talking about saints, you’re nearly always talking about the definition of saint as used by the Catholic Church.
Some Protestant branches define a saint as basically anyone who is a Christian, a member of the body of Christ by virtue of being a member of the church. Others use the term to designate someone who is “born again” and/or someone who has been baptized (at least into their particular branch of Christianity). Some reserve the term mostly to refer to widely recognized holy figures, such as the biblical patriarchs or those who were martyred for their adherence to the Christian faith. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints considers its members to be saints (but not the members of other churches).
But those are obviously not the operant definitions in traditional hoodoo. While the overwhelming majority of hoodoo practitioners historically have been Protestant Christians, there were always little geographical and cultural pockets of Catholicism (and folk Catholicism), and when rootworkers talk about working with saints, a quick survey of those saints and an understanding of the context in which they are petitioned make it clear that we’re talking about an understanding of sainthood from a Catholic perspective. We aren’t just talking about the biblical patriarchs and your very pious great aunt Emma, who is obviously a vibrant and committed member of the Body of Christ and brings the best potato salad in three states to the church picnic but is obviously not who you light a candle for on a few consecutive Tuesdays when you’re asking for her help.
Non-Catholic folks tend to think of saints as formerly living humans, maybe ones who led especially holy or exemplary lives, maybe performed a few miracles and now hang out in heaven doing various odd jobs for God and letting us bend their ears occasionally when we petition them. But that’s not how it works in Catholic ontology. According to the Roman Catholic Church, to put it as simply as possible, a saint is basically someone who’s in heaven, or to put it another way, if you’re in heaven, you’re a saint. But the actual fabric underlying all of this stuff is just a little more complicated. You can read more about it at the Catholic Encyclopedia, but it’s a concept called the communion of saints:
The communion of saints is the spiritual solidarity which binds together the faithful on earth, the souls in purgatory, and the saints in heaven in the organic unity of the same mystical body under Christ its head, and in a constant interchange of supernatural offices. The participants in that solidarity are called saints by reason of their destination and of their partaking of the fruits of the Redemption…
So you’re part of the communion of saints, the mystical body of Christ, even while you’re still living and even if you’re not quite living perfectly. This isn’t exactly the same thing as being an actual confirmed saint, but you have the potential, and as long as you can stay out of hell, you’ll keep that potential. After you undergo “purification” (or “remedial training” or “detention” or however you want to see Purgatory), then you’ll head to heaven to join the actual community of saints. In other words, as long as you don’t do something that goes down on the Big Permanent Record and lands you in hell, all roads lead to heaven eventually. So you are part of this spiritual economy and you can pray, receive blessings, ask forgiveness, ask a saint to intercede for you, say prayers for the souls of your ancestors, etc. More on this spiritual economy in a moment, but the key point now is that all of these spiritual actions have spiritual results, so things can always change. It ain’t over ’til it’s over.
To paraphrase from later on that same linked webpage, then, saints are basically those who are in fellowship with God the Father and Christ. St. Thomas Aquinas, the great Scholastic philosopher and foremost theologian of the Catholic Church, who was known as the Angelic Doctor and the Angel of the Schools , writes in Summa Theologiae III:8:4:
Where there is one body we must allow that there is one head. Now a multitude ordained to one end, with distinct acts and duties, may be metaphorically called one body. But it is manifest that both men and angels are ordained to one end, which is the glory of the Divine fruition. Hence the mystical body of the Church consists not only of men but of angels. Now of all this multitude Christ is the Head, since He is nearer God, and shares His gifts more fully, not only than man, but even than angels; and of His influence not only men but even angels partake, since it is written (Ephesians 1:20-22): that God the Father set “Him,” namely Christ, “on His right hand in the heavenly places, above all Principality and Power and Virtue and Dominion and every name that is named not only in this world, but also in that which is to come. And He hath subjected all things under His feet.” Therefore Christ is not only the Head of men, but of angels. Hence we read (Matthew 4:11) that “angels came and ministered to Him.”
So the angels, at least the ones who didn’t rebel, are members of the communion of saints, which the Catholic Church characterizes in that linked article as “that reciprocal action of the saints, that corporate circulation of spiritual blessings through the members of the same family, that domesticity and saintly citizenship.” They are under Christ’s power and thus receive his grace, so they’re part of this same spiritual economy that the living and the dead are active participants in. Yes, the dead, which is another big difference between Catholicism and Protestantism and is probably another blog post… but yes, your prayers can help your dead reprobate uncle Joe who’s doing time in Purgatory. And your saintly Grandmother Bosworth, who worked her fingers to the bone and never deserved any of the grief that Joe brought her and who is hanging out in heaven with the other saintly grandmothers, well, she can help you, too, with *her* prayers.
And angels, some of whom Grandmother Bosworth is doubtless rubbing shoulders with at the right hand of God — or at least in a pastoral courtyard just cattycorner to the right arm of God’s comfy chair, but don’t nitpick Grandmother Bosworth! — can hear us and help us. They are part of this same system of reciprocity that extends beyond the borders of life and corporeality, the same spiritual economy in which we might petition a saint and promise a certain “payment” or offering in return, in which working with graveyard dirt or ancestors is not seen as “disturbing the rest of the departed” at all. That idea is totally alien to a Catholic worldview. The dead aren’t gone in the sense of being beyond our ability to interact with in any meaningful way. Grandmother Bosworth is still your grandmother and she’s listening. She made the transition to the afterlife with her personality intact, as it were — her memories and willpower and agency. She can choose to help you (or choose not to, if you’re taking after Uncle Joe).
And so with angels. They are our guardians on this earthly plane. Angels guide individuals (Genesis 28-29, Exodus 32-34, Tobias 4 ff), a chosen people (Exodus 12:13), even a specific geographical region (Deuteronomy 32). And they can serve as psychopomps when we’re leaving it, leading us past the snares of the devil and the gaping mouth of hell so we can make our way to heaven – assuming that’s where we’re headed. 
Now that’s not to say they’re all sweetness and light or they have the same tolerance for your bullshit that Grandmother Bosworth does. Don’t waste an angel’s time whining and don’t make the mistake of thinking they are all hanging around looking like Precious Moments figurines worrying about your love life or your chakras. There’s a reason angels who show up in the Bible often start off with “Don’t be afraid.”
But in the Catholic conception of the communion of saints, angels are 100% active participants and on the same team. And they are absolutely saints.
So yes, St. Michael IS a saint. And an angel. At the same time. The angels who did not rebel are all members of the mystical body of the Church and the communion of saints. People who say otherwise but claim to be talking about hoodoo just don’t have the slightest idea what they’re even talking about and didn’t bother to do their research before they opened their mouths. But the bottom line is that St. Michael can be both a saint and an angel because the Roman Catholic definition of a saint is not the same as the kinda vague concept of sainthood that is floating around in culture more broadly.
And so this in turn should help you see how folk saints fit into all of this – figures who have *not* been formally recognized or canonized by the Catholic church but who are nonetheless venerated by the faithful and seen to have an ability and willingness to respond to the petitions or prayers of the faithful.
That’s how there can be so many darned saints and the Catholic Church doesn’t even pretend that there’s a list anywhere of all of them — because the Church does not *make* saints or grant that status to people or entities. In beatification and canonization, the Church merely formally recognizes the status of sainthood that that person has already attained whether we knew about it or not, and outlines the proper observance of their veneration by the faithful. So there are tons of saints that aren’t formally recognized by the Church with their own feast day or series of statues or whatever. And among the forgotten virgin martyrs and the soldiers of Christ whose names we never knew, we also have figures of folkloric status, both human and not, who are also very active participants in their devotees’ lives: Santa Muerte, Jesus Malverde, Yevgeny Rodionov, Marie Laveau.
Maybe even your pious great aunt Emma one day. Patron saint of the perfect picnic potato salad.
Read more about St. Michael in folklore and vernacular religion, from medieval Ireland through to 20th century Louisiana, at Big Lucky Hoodoo.
 Yeah, did you catch that? Among his several venerable titles, St. Thomas Aquinas is referred to as an angel. Here’s a quick tidbit excerpted from an old children’s schoolbook and here’s a student’s prayer to St. Thomas as the Angel of the Schools. This epithet would need a whole separate blog post to properly unpack, and we’d have to start with etymology, and I can feel some of your eyes glazing over already lol…
But please let all this serve for now just to demonstrate the extent to which God’s creation, and by extension the various available modes and categories of being, are much more complex and dynamic and perhaps even unruly from a Catholic perspective than a non-Catholic might be prepared to appreciate without dropping some highly problematic assumptions and doing some serious digging. So don’t listen to ignorant people talking about the saints, not even if they’re generally well-informed on other aspects of magic or mysticism or religion. There are a lot of folks out there holding forth about saints and angels and who’ve set themselves up as experts who don’t actually know what the hell they’re talking about, not to put too fine a point on it.
 This has always been one of St. Michael’s preeminent roles, in fact. Here’s an 11th century prayer to St. Michael that is fairly typical of its ilk:
I therefore beseech and entreat, archangel Saint Michael, that you [who know those of the accepted souls to be received] deign to take up my soul when it leaves my body and free it from the power of the enemy, so that it may bypass the gates of hell and the ways of darkness, and the lion or dragon who is accustomed to receive souls in hell and lead them to eternal torments may not obstruct it.
(Te ergo supplico et deprecer sancte michael archangele qui ad animas accepiendas accepisti postestatem ut animam meam suscipere digneris quando de corpere meo erit egressa et libera eam de potestate inimici ut pertransive possit portas infernorum et vias tenebrarum ut non se deponat leo vel draco qui conseutus est animas in inferno recipere et ad aeterna tormenta perducere.)
Quoted from Oxford Bodleian Library MS Douce 296, fol. 122v, cited in Kathleen Openshaw, “The Battle between Christ and Satan in the Tiberius Psalter,” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 52 (1989):14-33. Translation is mostly Openshaw excepting the bracketed segment, which she did not translate, so if it’s messed up, it’s my fault.
The Twelve Truths of the World in curing/healing
There is so much here that I feel like a bit of an ass for tagging you in this, Julia, but there are about eight different things in this post I wanted to ask you questions or get your thoughts about. And I don’t have time to isolate them or make my questions into English just yet. But I definitely want to be able to find it again sooner rather than later.
So for anyone interested in faith healing/vernacular religious traditions, here’s part one of a two-part post at Serpent Shod on The Twelve Truths of the World/Las Doce Verdades del Mundo as used in Mexican and Spanish healing/curing. (And in a comment I left over there, I wondered quickly if the author and I might have crossed paths on the 1curanderismo yahoo group back in the day. Only after I sent that did I find the “about” button or author profile or whatever and see that the author in question is Jesse Hathaway Diaz, so yeah, might have crossed paths once or twice lol, and I feel a bit silly for that comment.)
There is something tugging at the corners of my memory here on this prayer, having to do with I think a *Scottish* prayer, maybe late medieval? that I can’t quite summon into full consciousness yet. When I finally do remember, it may turn out to be unrelated/my misremembering, but making a note to self just in case.
Also of note, I have been feeling like a real ass for the glacial progress of my Spanish [glacial is being polite, really]. I felt like an ass about it even before I knew I had a direct-line and fairly close ancestor as well as an entire branch of the family presumably still there in Mexico. I learned five dead languages to read obscure poetry nobody can be sure of the meaning of any longer and I can’t be arsed to learn the living language of our closest geographical neighbors? How lamely American is that? And then to find the proof of that branch of the family a few years ago was like opening a door onto a whole new world… but one in which everything is in Spanish, which i don’t read lol…but I guess now at least I have an ancestor I can petition for assistance?