USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘voodoo’
Legends
Magic
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Menstrual Blood in the Food

Background

Location: Tarzana, CA

Informant: M.S. - Black, female hairstylist in her late 20’s, born and raised in Los Angeles but has family in New Orleans, LA

Context

Overheard in a hair salon in Tarzana, California. M.S. is a stylist that was working at the salon, speaking to her client. Told in the context of Louisiana witchcraft. The collector has heard this piece of folklore told many times before this encounter.

The Bayous of Louisiana are well known to the locals for being places of witchcraft practice and voodoo. Many local wives-tales revolve around the idea of this witchcraft having real effects. I have summarized the telling in my own words below

 Main Piece

The tale goes that if a woman wishes to “keep” a man, or ensure that she and the man will stay together romantically, she should put her menstrual blood in his food while she is cooking and serve it to him. This will create a mystical and unbreakable bond that influences the man to stay as her partner.

Thoughts

I have personally heard this wives tale told to me from members of my family that still reside in Louisiana. The folklore itself points to both an interest in Louisiana witchcraft and the belief that those methods can be employed by common folk to help them achieve certain goals, specifically when relating to other people and controlling them through supernatural means.  Stories like this circulate and are based in areas of Louisiana that are known for witchcraft, specifically Black, female witchcraft. The informant seemed to tell the story as though she believed there was some merit to the idea of witchcraft, as she expressed that it would be foolish to attempt witchcraft as it could have dangerous effects on the “caster.” It is a common held belief in Louisiana that witchcraft is not to be trusted and should be treated with caution.

general
Legends

Neighborhood Voodoo Tree

Context: The informant is a 51-year-old man who has lived in Memphis, Tennessee for his entire life. When asking him about legends or stories that he was told as a child, he remembered this one. He does not remember who exactly told him about the lady who lived on his street, but he assumes it was one of the kids who lived near him in his neighborhood.

Piece: “There was a woman that lived in a house on my street growing up and, it was different from every house in the neighborhood. It was poorly kept. There was a tree in the corner of the yard, a small wider kinda, wild looking tree. There were these things hanging in the tree. I seem to recall them looking like crudely constructed ghost figures. They were made out of some sack material and they had small distorted faces drawn on them. There were strings tied around them.  I was told that they were voodoo dolls. That was the first time I heard about Voodoo dolls. People would say that if you went in her yard, she would make a voodoo doll for you that looked just like you, and she could control you with the doll. She could control you to perform tasks for her. If she stuck a pin in it, you would feel pain. If you lit them on fire, they would burn. There is something very strange about this house, and looking back on the events, I would not be surprised if the woman was actually a practitioner of voodoo. My perception is that most of the area where I lived around was new construction, but I could feel a distinction with this one house.”

Analysis: When I asked the informant what he thought about this story, he immediately responded by pointing out the fact that his neighborhood consisted almost entirely of white families. He remembers the woman being African-America and elderly and thinks this is what led many of the children in the neighborhood to believe she practiced voodoo, of course in addition to the mysterious tree. In much of the popular culture during the 1970s, the customs of voodoo were often presented through a prejudiced lens which deemed it a lesser, more primal practice as opposed to the more popular religions of the time. You would also rarely see a white person performing voodoo in film, tv, or literature. Oftentimes when a community or group is presented with something that they are unfamiliar with, they will create some explanation in order to fill the void of uncertainty. In this case, children may have seen the mysterious figures on the tree which did look very similar to the voodoo dolls presented in pop culture (confirmed by the informant) and immediately assumed that was what they were.

Annotation: For another version of voodoo dolls see:

Reuber, Alexandra. “Voodoo Dolls, Charms, And Spells In The Classroom: Teaching, Screening, And Deconstructing The Misrepresentation Of The African Religion.” Contemporary Issues in Education Research (CIER), vol. 4, no. 8, 2011, p. 7.

Folk Beliefs
general
Homeopathic
Magic

Haitian Voodoo

Context: Informant’s father is from Haiti and grew up in an area where Voodoo was practiced. Though it may not have been the majority, there was still a presence and the practice was perceived as dangerous. Because of this, he would need to come back into the house from playing at a certain time in order to avoid being caught up in any practices in his neighborhood area.

Informant:

“The thing that keeps coming to mind is like Voodoo… which isn’t like… I don’t know. I just remember my Dad saying that like… he would play stuff… he would like play outside, and at a certain time, you would like, have to go inside because like… the Voodoo people would just like, come around the corner and do their thing and leave at night. But one day, he was like playing too late and he could hear sounds like around the corner, around the mountain or whatever, from around his house and then he saw them and they were in all white… and like, yeah.”

KA: And what is the “Voodoo people” specifically? Like, this was in…

“In Haiti.”

KA: Okay.

“This was like, when he was a kid in Haiti. Um… I mean, for my family specifically, we don’t have to like… really do anything related to Voodoo, but you shouldn’t like… not believe in it just in case anything comes true. It’s like you shouldn’t… I don’t know… I guess like… speak against the gods or like Loa or something like that. I’ve also started researching Voodoo, ’cause I thought it was interesting, but I don’t know. It’s not something that… it’s not really a thing that a lot of Haitians like… do? But it’s also like… not a thing that a lot of Haitians DON’T believe in.”

KA: So why would your Dad have to run inside and not be out?

“Because they’re also like… I mean it can be dangerous.”

Introduction: The informant was introduced to Voodoo through their father.

Analysis: I found this extremely interesting. I feel like people acknowledge Voodoo but don’t fully understand it all of the way. Growing up, I’d hear about Voodoo a little bit from my dad, but it was never an overwhelming presence in my life. The interaction I did have from him was caution though. Through the years I feel as though I’ve been exposed to it the most through popular culture which can morph the reality of it in a way, so I think it would be extremely interesting and beneficial to learn more through a lens that isn’t just one meant to entertain.

Magic
Myths

Tokolosh

Main piece:

There is a little tiny elf-fairy called Tokolosh. It’s evil. its part of African witchcraft. In Zimbabwe, witchcraft is voodoo but it’s also Nigerian so it’s an African thing.

Background information (Why does the informant know or like this piece? Where or who did they learn it from? What does it mean to them?):

When informant was in Grade 10 or 11, she heard about Tokolosh after an action conference at a missions school. The christian speaker was talking about african wifchcraft to get rid of, which included Tokolosh.

As a foreigner living in Zimbabwe, she don’t know what the full story is and when she asked others to explain it, she didn’t understand.

Context (When or where would this be performed? Under what circumstance?):

Typically, it’s a part of African voodoo and witchcraft so the story would be shared with those in Africa who believe or practice voodoo. In this case, it was told in opposition of it through christians trying to bring faith into Africa. It seems like it is passed through word of mouth even to kids because the informant asked friends at school about it. It’s not a part of formal education.

Personal Analysis:

Witchcraft seems to be more integrated into African culture than in America. The tokolosh seems to be taken seriously if christians are working towards getting rid of it.

Contagious
Folk Beliefs
Legends
Magic
Narrative
Signs

Witches in Nicaragua

Original Script: “So…basically…my mom told me that, I don’t know…that maybe back in the 1970s or 80s there was a huge earthquake in Nicaragua that like killed a ton of people because a volcano exploded. And like it had huge sinkholes…like a bunch of sinkholes in the country. So people would fall into the sinkholes and they were never found. So basically, my mom said that a bunch of witches were the cause of the Earthquake because it happened a day or two after Halloween…So my mom and a lot of people in the country think it was because of witches that came around the world and I guess like, Nicaragua is one of the most international spots for witches…like Santeria and Voodoo, and like all the dark magic kind of thing and they came around the world and all the negative energy that came with them from being there caused the earthquake. So they think that is the reason why a lot of people died. I mean witch thought it very common in Nicaragua….Like there is a story about the president’s wife, Rosario Murillo, because they think that she is a witch.

So the president has been the president for maybe like four terms, like he did two terms before, than there were other presidents, then he became the president again. I mean he changed the constitution of Nicaragua was to say that you can have unlimited terms so basically like a dictatorship…like a communist country. They say that the reason how is life is because of his wife. Because his wife has a really strong influence over him, like, she is a super intelligent woman, like she studied in Switzerland at this boarding school…and she speaks like twelve languages. And she knows a lot of people in the world, like diplomats, really powerful people. They think she is a witch, because the way the country is set up. For example, there is a Christmas tree in the middle of the capital that is there all year round and it is always lit up, and its like, its really weird. When I went there I was like what the hell. Why is there a Christmas tree in the middle of summer? And it’s even more insane during Christmas time…like everyone think she is really weird and brainwashes her husband. Like during, presidential meetings that are broadcasted she is always speaking, or speaking over him, or even cutting him off, and it is just weird because even though he is the president. In Latin America, even though woman are equal they still have that role of being submissive, so the fact that she is controlling the president that is kind of a big deal. And everyone think that she is crazy and that she casted a spell on her husband to make him do whatever she wants, so she is really the one controlling the country. And, like whenever something goes wrong she is the one that gives the public speech. I don’t know…she even dresses really weird. She looks like a witch with her dress and long skirts mismatched, and her creepy hands…and her facial structure, hollow bone cheeks, big nose, her eyes even look scary, her evil face! Like she’s a witch! Everyone is afraid of her because they think she is going to cast a spell on them!”

Background Information about the Piece by the informant: Kamilah and her mother have always been spiritual people. The belief in witches, demons, and angels is strong to Kamilah’s mother however, it is even more so in her home country—Nicaragua. While Kamilah did not particularly believe in witches as her roots from Nicaragua do, the case with Rosario Murillo, really made Kamilah a strong believer in them.

Context of the Performance: Talking about the Dictator’s wife and strange occurrences; speeches, Rosario Murillo, makes in accordance to presidency issues.

Thoughts about the piece: Interviewing Kamilah Lopez was one of my favorite interviews thus far. I had never met someone with such an interesting story about witches and them causing natural occurrences, which was very thought provoking to me. This legend is incredibly remarkable especially because it is one of the legends that made Kamilah believe in witches.

To begin with, the witches’ causing an Earthquake was a collisions of two oppositions: witches and a natural disaster (Earthquake), which fits the category of a legend perfectly: it is something that can happen in the real world (Nicaragua). Kamilah had mentioned that Nicaragua was still in an old-world type mind-set. Which is fascinating considering that the people of Nicaragua, including Kamilah’s mother, believe that the witches caused an Earthquake that killed hundreds of people. It is noteworthy, that the people of Nicaragua have an old-mind set, because it was a mind-set that came before “science” was established, thus, a natural disaster, which ended up killing hundreds of people, could be contributed to “witchcraft.” However, I wonder what could be said about the Earthquake if it had not killed as many people, but still followed days after Halloween.

Furthermore, it is also important to note that Voodoo and Santeria—which Kamilah had mentioned that the negative energy from the meeting of witches caused on Halloween the Earthquake—are, indeed, attributed to negative attributes, which these qualities mostly revolve around death. As noted by Kamilah and her mother, Nicaragua is a center ground for such witchcraft practices, thus, the people of Nicaragua attributing the deaths from the earthquake to Voodoo and Santeria is correlated with the background of the two practices and the mind-set of the people makes perfect sense. Additionally, Santeria is associated with paganism, which correlates with the Christmas tree mentioned by Kamilah that Rosario Murillo keeps all year long. Hence, the people of Nicaragua believing that Murillo is a witch, creates an eerie parallel between Murillo and Santeria. For more information on Voodoo and Santeria please see Voodoo and Afro-Caribbean Paganism by Lilith Dorsey.1

Moreover, the people of Nicaragua creating a comparison to the devastating Earthquake and Murillo being a witch is not only eerie but thought provoking. It brings into the common question of the personification of witches being attributed to the masses fearing a person—particularly a woman. Because Murillo has such influence in not only Nicaragua and over her husband, but the world because of her connections, people fear her and her capabilities. Especially because of the established quasi dictatorship in Nicaragua, people start to question what she can really do and the negative affects she can bring—for a prime example the earthquake that killed hundreds of people. Additionally, there is also the stereotype of having physical characteristics that makes one look like a witch. As Kamilah had mentioned: “and her facial structure, hollow bone cheeks, big nose, her eyes even look scary, her evil face! Like she’s a witch,” thus, the stereotypical dress and physical appearance of a witch becomes prominent in the people’s belief of why Murillo is a witch. For more information on Rosario Murillo, please see Dictator’s Handbook by Randall Wood and Carmine DeLuca.2

In conclusion, it is not so hard to see why the people of Nicaragua believe in witchcraft and why Murillo could be a possible witch. Because of the association with Santeria and Voodoo, the negative affects the country has been experiencing can all be contributed to their belief in witchcraft along with the fear of Murillo.

1 Dorsey, Lilith. Voodoo and Afro-Caribbean Paganism. New York: Citadel, 2005. Print.

2 Wood, Randall, and Carmine DeLuca. The Dictator’s Handbook. Place of Publication Not Identified: Gull Pond, 2012. Print.

Customs
general
Initiations
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Bujería

The informant’s family originated in Cuba. Her mother was born and raised in Cuba but her father was born and raised in America. Her Cuban culture and background comes from her mother’s side and folklore that her mom picked up over the years and shared with her. The folklore from this informant comes from family stories that are shared amongst the family as lessons or as advice. 

Brujería (Quemada)  

The informant’s cousin Pache was in love with a gipsy and traveled around Spain with him. He taught her how to be a brujería, translated in english as a person who practices voodoo. Her favorite bruja, translated as what the person practicing voodoo creates or potion, to create was a Quemada, in english Quemada is translated as burned, but it is in this tradition a potion used to fend off evil. A Quemada “spell” is made by first an alcoholic beverage mixed together in a huge clay pot, an incantation is spoken over the mixture, the mixture is lit on fire (where quemada comes from), and the people involved drink the quemada. This ritual was meant to get rid of evil spirits so Pache and her boyfriend would do the quemada usually to people who were just married to rid them of evil spirits in their relationship.

Analysis…

Rituals similar to this are definitely not practiced in the culture that I am constantly in. I am not familiar with them, but when I hear about them I am seriously intrigued. It is extremely interesting that voodoo and potions are viewed as a way to rid a person, house, or relationship of evil spirits. When the informant was telling me about her cousin and what she experienced and the rituals that she performs really struck me as interesting. I guess for me, I didn’t realize it was a real cultural tradition in modern culture to practice these types of practices. It is interesting also that Pache usually only performs these rituals when a couple is married and maybe if someone buys a new house. I connect this to religion because people are married and that is an important step religiously, and people moving into a house usually will pray over the house because they want to purify it. With Pache’s Brujería, it is really similar, she performs her ritual at weddings and to rid evil spirits. Maybe in some way the two are connected and that would be another interesting subject to explore.

Folk Beliefs

Spellbinding Spaghetti

Richard L Cuthbert was born in Savannah, Georgia.  His father was in the United States Air Force and Richard ending being raised by his paternal grandmother.  He moved to Compton, California with his relatives from his father’s side of the family.  It is here where he met his high school sweetheart, Twesa Cuthbert.  They had two children together.  Richard (now widowed) currently lives in Rialto, California with his daughter, Keesha Cuthbert.

One thing that I have a hard time eating from any other woman is spaghetti.  I know that it is probably just a silly superstition, and I wouldn’t exactly say that I am a superstitious man, but every time I see a plate of spaghetti that I didn’t prepare I get a weird feeling.  As the story goes, women, especially from the South, that are islanders in any way … I’m talking Jamaican or those women that practice voodoo, sometime put blood from their women’s cycle into the sauce.  Supposedly this is to make the mean that eat it fall under some sort of spell and be in love with them.  I personally think that this is disgusting and I cannot imagine any woman doing something that nasty.  I also can’t figure why,  if they did do this, that they wouldn’t put it in a more Creole dish, like gumbo or jumbalaya.  A dish that has more to do with their heritage.  Spaghetti has nothing to do with them, so in a lot of ways I don’t believe it.  But … women ARE crazy so I don’t know.

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