Seven Sorrows Rosary

The Rosary of the Seven Sorrows, or Chaplet of the Seven Dolours, is a devotion to Mary as the Sorrowful Mother that dates to the 13th century. It became quite popular in Europe during the ravages of the Black Plague.

There are several methods for praying this chaplet. This particular piece reflects my preferred approach to the devotion (and my aesthetic sense). It consists of seven segments of seven cobalt-blue glass beads, each separated by a faceted Czech glass pater bead and a Mexican sacred/immaculate heart milagro. The septets are connected with a repurposed chandelier crystal, and the pendant terminates with a detailed milagro-style focal heart charm (no antiphon beads).

More info available at Seraphin Station.

San Simon – Maximon Community Altar Service – Luck, Open Roads, Uncrossing, Prosperity, Success

October 28 is the feast day of Saints Simon and Jude, and in Guatemala, one of the feast days of the syncretic trickster folk saint who takes part of his name from St. Simon. The other part most likely derives from that of a Mayan underworld deity who essentially shape-shifted into Maximon rather than fading into extinction after the Spanish conquest.

Photo is public domain, courtesy of the photographer Sapfan (Jan Pesula), available at Wikimedia Commons.

As you might expect, then, with a name like this, San Simon or Maximon is a crossroads spirit with a foot in two worlds simultaneously. He is beloved in Guatemala and its diaspora, responding to devotees from any walk of life who petition him for luck, for business success and prosperity, to remove obstacles and open roads, to fight back against injustice, and to thwart attacks of black magic.

Read more or book your spot at Seraphin Station.

Saints Clare and Philomena Candle Services and Novenas Begin Tonight

Big Lucky Hoodoo

*While I normally ask that clients book one service per order and check out for separate services separately, in this case, since Saints Clare and Philomena are so closely associated in some traditions, I’m offering a bundled discount if you book both services together. To get the discount, you have to check out with both services at the same time.

Saint Clare Candle Service & Novena – Clarity, Wisdom, Insight, Clairvoyance

Have lights set and worked on my St.Clare altar in a nine-day community altar work servicebeginning the night of August 11th,the feast day of St. Clare of Assisi.There is some wiggle room andyou can join up after the work startsas long as you see that there are still spots left and it doesn’t say “sold out.”

I will begin a nine-day novena and chaplet recitation to St.Clare on this same day, focused on petitioning her…

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Jesus Malverde Community Altar Service starts tonight

Have a vigil light set and worked on my Jesus Malverde altar in community altar work service beginning on Monday, May 3rd, which serves as the feast day of this folk saint. 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.”

Jesus Malverde, also known as the Angel of the Poor or the Generous Bandit, is a folk saint who is said to have lived and died in late 19th/early 20th century Sinaloa, Mexico. His reputation as a sort of Robin Hood figure began before his death, as the legend has it; he targeted the rich, redistributed the money and goods he stole to the poor, and basically spent his life on the wrong side of the law but by all accounts on the right side of morality.

While many details of his life and death are the stuff of legend and as such unverifiable and certainly prone to dramatic embroidery, what’s undisputable is that he has a solid reputation for responding to the prayers and petitions of his devotees, especially those who find themselves running afoul of the law due to poverty and corruption. 

Since the 1970s, he’s gained greater notoriety in the public eye as a narco saint — the patron saint of drug dealers and smugglers — and that is how many folks beyond the borders of Mexico who hear of him categorize him, increasingly so since the 1990s. But to dismiss him as merely a narco saint and his devotees as drug kingpins and criminals is to ignore the lived realities of the faithful in a complex world where things aren’t always so black and white – where sometimes breaking the law is the right thing (or the only thing) to do, where justice isn’t blind, where the distribution of wealth is immoral, where there is government corruption and the police aren’t always on the right side of the law – humanity’s or God’s.

His devotees petition him to have enough food for their children, for safety in dangerous lines of work (including but definitely not limited to smuggling), and to get them out of legal difficulties, as you might expect from a bandit folk saint. But they also tell of how he miraculously cured their illnesses, returned lost or stolen property, even helped them get *off* drugs and get their lives on firmer footing. 

His reputation as a narco saint has blossomed only over the last 40 or so years and not without a good bit of help from the media. His reputation as the Angel of the Poor and the Generous Bandit, however, long predates the sensationalist “narco saint” appellation, and as a folk saint, there’s a lot more to him than this. So it would be appropriate to petition him for pretty much anything related to living a life that is in some way “on the margins” or precarious or dangerous. It would also be suitable to use this service as an opportunity to “introduce yourself” to Jesus Malverde if you’ve been thinking you wanted to learn more about him but haven’t begun working with him yet.

If you are experiencing financial difficulties, you do not have to pay for a spot in the vigil service in order to have your name and petition included in my prayers and offerings to Jesus Malverde on May 3rd. You can simply submit your name and petition via the intake form and in place of the service/order #, type “jesus malverde prayers only.” There is no cost for the prayers-only option, though if you’d like to, you can make an optional donation in any amount you wish to help offset the cost of time and materials used, and in this case, I will set at least a votive light for you to burn for a few hours, depending on the number of reduced rate/pro bono requests I get for this service.

I’ve been doing some sort of pro bono or reduced rate/pay what you can service every month since COVID began to help those who need spiritual help but can’t afford to book private services. And I’m happy to present your petitions and pray for you as part of my own thanks to Jesus Malverde. Remember, when Jesus Malverde answers your prayers and grants your petitions, you should “pay” the saint by making a donation to the poor. Don’t protest that you are the poor and therefore you’re exempt from this duty – there’s *always* someone poorer than you. You must participate in the spiritual economy, which with Jesus Malverde is always already a financial one as well, and approach him with open rather than closed hands. Make sure you keep your side of the bargain!

Please note that community altar work services do not come with individual readings/reports, though I will post at least one photo of the work to the Discord “forum” for clients, which you’ll receive an invitation to after you book your vigil service spot.

Read more or book your spot at SeraphinStation.com.

If you’d like to make a donation to help offset the cost of pro bono and reduced rate services that I provide for folks experiencing income instability and career challenges during this COVID mess, you can do so here. (Offsite PayPal link)

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 [1], 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.”

Limbourg brothers – Seraphim from the Petites Heures de Jean de Berry, 14th century. Courtesy of the Bibliothèque nationale de France. Public domain.

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).

A remix/reframing of an antique French image in the public domain. It was possibly associated with a chapel of St. Michael that was once in the Brogne Abbey from what I can piece together, but I could be wrong. The original card reads “Saint-Michel, protegez-nous! Tableau de l’Abbaye de Saint-Gerard, 1915.” This current version is the front of a prayer card designed by Karma Zain and licensed CC BY-NC-SA 3.0.

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. [2]

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.


[1] 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.

[2] 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.

Erzulie Freda as equilibrist

While I will probably never stop making a little face when anybody refers to the lwa of Vodou as “gods” and “goddesses,” this is nonetheless a pretty decent little bite-sized article touching on some aspects of Freda’s expressions of femininity.

Nwokocha, Eziaku Atuama. “An Equilibrist Vodou Goddess.” Harvard Divinity Bulletin v. 31:3-4 (Summer/Autumn 2013). Harvard Divinity School. Accessed 7 Feb. 2021.

recent reading roundup: poison, atchafalaya ethnology, faith healing in Louisiana

photo credit jclk8888, Pixabay

I don’t have time to summarize anything right now, but I’m hoping if I leave this here, it’ll spur me to do so later.


James H. Diaz. Atlas of Human Poisoning and Envenoming, 2nd ed. Boca Raton: CRC Press, 2014.


Hilda Roberts. “Louisiana Superstitions.” Journal of American Folklore 40: 156 (1927), 144-208.

  • We’re gonna have to talk about this one when I have some time. This sure does have some… stuff in it. I mean, totally aside from its being “a product of its age” and all that. The blanket conflation of hoodoo doctors and Cajun traiteurs is a pretty humongous one. This would never get published today, and it’s not because of the language. It’s because of shoddy scholarship / painting with too broad a brush.

F.A. de Caro. “A History of Folklife Research in Louisiana.” Louisiana Folklife: A Guide to the State. Nicholas R. Spitzer, ed. Office of Cultural Development, 1985.


John L. Gibson. Archaeology and Ethnology on the Edges of the Atchafalaya Basin: A Cultural Resources Survey of the Atchafalaya Protection Levees. Center for Archaeology Studies, University of Southwestern Louisiana. Final report to the Department of the Army, New Orleans District, Corps of Engineers, Jun. 1979 – Jan. 1982.


Maida Owens. “Louisiana’s Traditional Cultures: An Overview.” Swapping Stories: Folktales from Louisiana. Carl Lindahl, Maida Owens, and C. Renée Harvison, eds. University Press of Mississippi and the Louisiana Division of the Arts, 1997.


Alec Sonnier. Cajun Traiteurs: Faith Healing on the Bayou / The Cajun Traiteur and Transmission of Cajun Folk Healing Knowledge. Master’s Thesis, Dept. of Anthropology. California State University Northridge, May 2020.

  • A quick note that Alec Sonnier’s preface reprints two prayers that a Louisiana traiteuse shared on her Facebook page in early 2020 as the coronavirus epidemic was spreading across the country. You really, really gotta love at least a couple of things about the 21st century – at least a traiteuse sharing healing prayers from her personal practice on social media.
  • I don’t know if that was her private Facebook page or what, so I haven’t posted those prayers here. I don’t know if everybody’s the same way about this, but a lot of times those prayers are not for public consumption. I’m not gonna be the one to assume they are. But in his conclusion, Sonnier prints a prayer shared by another traiteur, Mr. George, who received it in a dream. Mr. George said it “can be used by anyone who wishes to be healed of an ailment” and he encouraged people to use it “to help themselves in the healing process” (131). It goes like this:

“Heavenly Father, I call on You right now in a special way. It is through Your power that I was created. Every breath I take, every morning I wake and every moment of every hour, I live under Your power. Father, I ask you now to touch me with that same power, for if You created me from nothing, You can certainly recreate me. Fill me with the healing power of Your spirit. Cast out anything that should not be in me. Mend what is broken. Root out any unproductive cells, open any blocked arteries or veins, and rebuild any damaged areas. Remove all inflammation and cleanse any infection. Let the warmth of Your healing love pass through my body to make new any unhealthy areas, so that my body will function the way You created it to function. And Father, restore me to full health in mind, body and spirit so that I might serve You the rest of my life. I ask this through Jesus Christ Our Lord. Amen.”

(Mr. George qtd. in Sonnier 131)

He cites a 2008 article on traiteurs by one Julia Swett, too, which is a name one or two of y’all might know :). But careful, y’all, look – this Sonnier’s father is kin to those Heberts, and you know you gotta watch out for those Heberts!

(Just teasing an Hebert – I’m only playing 🙂 )

Why Santa Muerte and Jesus Malverde Are Not Just “Narco Saints”

I can’t count the number of references I’ve seen over the past 15 or so years to Santa Muerte being a “narco saint,” with the implication (or even the straight-up assertion) that she’s a saint for drug dealers, boom, like that’s the whole picture. This kind of statement is incredibly reductionist and oversimplified. It ignores nuance, never mind facts, and it betrays a lack of respect for the (sub)culture(s) from which she springs and a total lack of concern for understanding folk religion – in Mexico or in general.

Seriously, it’s insulting and dismissive even if you *are* a drug dealer. It would be reductionist even if it were true that only those associated with the drug trade in Mexico venerate this folk saint. That it’s not even true just makes all that rhetoric exhausting (and those who uncritically repeat it lazy).

Even though this interview in Vice is called “Narco-Saints Are Melding Catholicism with the Drug Trade in Mexico,” it’s not one of those pieces that just focuses on the narco saint argument. That might have been where the journalist (or the editors) started out, but it’s a little better than the title would suggest.

It’s a very readable interview with a professor of World Arts & Cultures at UCLA, and the occasion is an exhibit he curated in 2014 called Sinful Saints and Saintly Sinners. The journalist might not start out sounding like all that much, but he makes a really astute observation in here towards the beginning:

When you say researcher, I’m thinking not just people like you who are doing historical research but people who are, you know, researching their own lives through religion.

– Jules Suzdaltsev

They don’t pause and unpack that — “researching their own lives through religion” — but boy, I wish they had. I’ll have to file it away for now until I have time to expand on it, but it definitely ties into my ongoing attempts to articulate this stuff about narrative and personal mythology and why it’s so critical — not just for personal spiritual practice but for what I can only think to call “psychic wholeness” at this exact second. (If that doesn’t make sense yet, sorry – I’m working on it! Gradually!)

Anyway, this is not the first or the best piece to look at some of the nuances of vernacular religion or popular piety in Mexico or more generally, and in fact it doesn’t have a lot of depth at all, tbh. But if you don’t know what any of this stuff is even about, it might be worth a look as a very accessible, non-technical (albeit bite-sized) introduction. And even if you do already know what all of this is about, it features some really cool artwork so it still might be worth a look.

I’m especially a fan of Edgar Clement’s La Trinca. Let’s see if this embed feature will work.

Editing to add:

I didn’t go into Jesus Malverde at all here – I kinda ran out of time – so my title ended up being inadvertently misleading. Here’s a pretty decent news piece from 2019 at the Courier Journal on how Jesus Malverde figured in a couple’s drug trial. The piece directly tackles the question of who venerates Jesus Malverde, why, and whether the stereotypes are fair.

Hopefully this goes a tiny way towards fixing my “false advertising” with the post title – sorry about that!