Name in the Honey Jar

Main Piece: 

“So when my grandma would think that someone had ill will towards you, she would write their name on a piece of paper and stick it in a jar of honey, and put it in the freezer. So it’s the idea that like, it would you know, ‘sweeten’ the person or like make them change their opinion [of you] or influence them in a way.”


My informant is one of my friends who lives in Miami, Florida, and is of Cuban and Iranian heritage. This is a folk belief that her grandmother holds, and practices for both herself and the rest of my informant’s family members whenever they supposed someone had “ill will” towards them. This belief seems to have been passed down from my informant’s great-grandmother. When I asked if my informant believed in the custom, she confessed, “I think I want to believe it, it definitely gives me a sense of comfort,” then added, “I kind of feel like, ‘what do I have to lose by it?'”


This piece was brought up when my informant and I were talking about the different kinds of superstitions we’d heard in our families growing up. Since she’d already told me a piece of Iranian folk beliefs from her father’s side, I asked if she knew any Cuban ones, and she provided me with the above piece. 


I’ve never heard of a custom like putting someone’s name into a jar of honey to “sweeten them,” so I enjoyed this folk belief for the content, but I also found it to be a good example of Homeopathic magic, whether my informant’s grandmother intended it or not. In this piece, the desired event is for the person intending to inflict ill will on— for example— my informant, to change their mind about doing so. In order to do that, my informant’s grandmother wrote the person’s name down on a slip of paper, and stuck it into a jar of honey, which is the mimetic action that is supposed to represent the kindness said person should show towards my informant instead of trying to inflict ill will. I’m not sure what putting the jar of honey in the freezer does, but the action of freezing could be to solidify the behavior that the person should show the informant without worrying that it will melt, and thus undo their way of thinking. 

However, this custom could also be interpreted as a combination of two types of magic: Homeopathic and Contagious. One element of the performance is to take the person’s name— which is deeply connected to their identity— by writing it down on paper. Contagious magic usually requires a physical part of someone’s body/identity, which can’t be done with a name, but it seems that writing it down is the equivalent of making it physical.