This slightly complex charm to cross a river or running water safely requires the traveler to apply juice from the plants called yauhtli  and tepepapaloquilitl  to the chest, to have the stones beryl and sardonyx as well as an oyster , and to keep the eyes of a large fish enclosed securely in the mouth.
The beryl is to be held in the hand. It’s unclear to me from the manuscript whether the sardonyx and the oyster are also held in the hand or kept in the mouth with the fish eyes.
Near as I can tell, these herbs are specified because they are sacred to the god Tlaloc, the lord of rain and celestial waters.
I think I’d need a charm to help me be brave enough to try this charm.
 Mexican marigold, Tagetes lucida
 lit. mountain butterfly weed; could be another type of marigold, or Porophyllum punctatum, or one of a number of plants called deer herb depending on who you ask.
 Probably. The translator was not entirely sure. If it’s an oyster, it would be sans shell.
The De La Cruz-Badiano Aztec Herbal of 1552. William Gates, trans. The Maya Society, Baltimore: 1939, p. 103.
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.
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.
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.
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!
This is the Immaculate Heart of Mary: sword, flames, roses. No thorns.
This is the Sacred Heart. Only Jesus has a Sacred Heart. Thorns, not roses. Pierced, but with a spear, not a sword. Flames but note the cross in the midst of them.
Occasionally the Sacred Heart will be pierced by an arrow instead. This has to do with an idea that we wound Christ with blasphemy and profaning the Sabbath. The Golden Arrow Prayer said in reparation is said to heal those wounds.
You’ll often see the Sacred and Immaculate Hearts together, but they are still two different things and not interchangeable.
You may now return to your kitten memes.
All of these images are public domain and are copied/pasted so widely that it would be an afternoon’s rabbit hole to try to source them all, sorry.
“Becca Begnaud is a sassy, sweet-looking older woman with warm hugs, gentle eyes and a mouth like a trailer park — surely the only faith healer on the planet to say the words ‘holy shit’ every other sentence. I like her instantly.”
He gets a treatment – for what he doesn’t say, none of our business I guess.
“And then, the strangest thing; for just a moment, it’s as if the river is real, the world disappears and I’m in a kind of peaceful, lucid dream. Afterwards, I open my eyes, but Becca’s already smiling: ‘See, I told you,’ she says. ‘This shit is real.'”
I think I’ll be quoting Becca the traiteur all the damn time.
For a more academic but still quite accessible look at traiteurs, see Julia Swett’s article “French Louisiana Traiteurs” in Folklife inLouisiana. Once I finally get this ship floating on its own again, so to speak, I’m gonna start doing interviews, and Julia’s gonna be one of my first ones.
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?
“Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” – John 11:5
The Gospel of Luke tells us how Martha invited Jesus to her home in Bethany. She cooked and cleaned and catered while her sister Mary sat at Christ’s feet and listened to him speak. Martha pointed out that Mary wasn’t pitching in.
“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things,but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41, NIV)
Christ’s point is that in the grand scheme of things, your eternal soul is more important than social conventions and what people think about your housekeeping. But we need to understand this in context. It’s not that Martha had no imagination or faith or respect or that she was too small-minded to want to sit at Christ’s feet, too.
In Martha’s mind and in her culture, these were her duties, and her performance of them comprised her reputation, value, and trustworthiness as a member of her culture — in a society that valued hospitality quite highly, that in fact didn’t even work as a society without hospitality as a huge part of the glue that held it together.
She wasn’t saying nobody should value hearing him teach. She also wanted to hear him speak; she was also his disciple and believed in him. She was just pointing out that people needed to eat and wash and sit, and somebody’s efforts had to make that happen. (You can imagine that Jesus was accompanied by an entourage, too, all of whom also needed to eat and wash and sit.) She was determined to do her duties well for such an esteemed guest as Jesus, but she wasn’t a doormat. She was pointing out that she was not the only one who could be doing these things, that she *could* be sitting at Christ’s feet right now, too, if she just gave off doing the less glamorous stuff. But somebody has to do it. Dramatic events are unfolding, but somebody has to make the setting they’re unfolding in happen.
In John 12, Christ is in Bethany again before Passover at a dinner in his honor. Lazarus is reclined at the table with him. Word of his resurrection has spread like wildfire; Jesus’ followers are increasing and so are the machinations against his life. Mary makes a spectacle of herself pouring half of liter of precious perfume on Christ’s feet – worth a year’s wages – and wiping them with her hair. Christ is constantly, increasingly aware of the massive cosmic drama he’s part of and what’s right around the corner, his every action and word heavily symbolic. Every step he takes is under the weight of prophecy and its fulfillment, is part of a massive dramatic ritual. In this play, Christ has simultaneously the perspective of the main character and the omniscience of the author. The drama in John’s portrayal is thick indeed.
Martha during all of this? John writes only, “Martha served” (John 12:2).
Hindu deities on vodun altars: Rush, Dana. “Eternal Potential: Chromolithographs in Vodunland,”African Arts vol. 32, No. 4 (Winter, 1999), pp. 60-75+94-96. Also helpful more broadly, imo, for any student of folklore/popular religion who’s ever encountered an argument about whether Abre Camino is “real hoodoo” or not, wondered what to think about the development of the seven-colors school of approach to Santisima Muerte, or pondered the relationships between figures like Legba vs. Ellegua.
Giffords, Gloria Fraser. The Iconography of Mexican Folk Retablos. Thesis. University of Arizona, 1969. I tend to assume everybody immediately sees why stuff like this is so interesting. I tend to be wrong. But basically the iconography had never been studied before this, so this was a big deal, this work. And if you like to understand what you’re looking at when you see a candle in a botanica or grocery store, you’ll encounter plenty of stuff that had its origins here whether you personally work with that imagery/tradition or not.
I read Telling Memories Among Southern Women: DomesticWorkers and Their Employers in the Segregated South years ago, and even then, before I’d really started *studying* this stuff in any consistent and applied way, I felt like everybody I knew ought to read it. I knew they wouldn’t – people think this stuff doesn’t have anything to do with them if their families weren’t the ones being described in these stories – but they’d be wrong, ’cause this is part of how we got here. And the impact of it doesn’t just disappear suddenly when it’s no longer fashionable or feasible or *whatever* to have domestic employees. This is part of Southern culture, y’all, and it’s part of how your role in it, as whatever sex, race, class, gender, family role stratum you occupy, got constructed and defined.
I still feel the same way in 2020. I think Southern folks should read this book — especially white folks. Especially white women. Here’s a review with a useful summary at the Washington Post.