Tituba the Witch

TitubaandtheChildren-Fredericks[1]

Tituba was the first person examined in the Salem Witch Trials of 1692, and was possibly the only true witch.  She learned the Craft from her mistress in Barbados and likely practiced some form of Voodoo.

Although Tituba was a woman of color there is some debate whether she was African West Indian, Native American, or of mixed heritage.  In the court documents she is listed as an “Indian Woman, Servant.”  She may have been an Arawak Indian from South America who was captured as a child, enslaved in Barbados, and sold to Samuel Parris as a teenager between the ages of 12-17 years old.  Parris brought her to Boston in 1680, along with another slave called John Indian whom she later married.  They had one child called Violet.  During the next few years Parris became a minister,started his own family, and moved his household to Salem in 1689.

What sparked the Salem witch hunts?  Many theories have been offered over the years, but the trigger appears to have been a group of Puritan girls who were bored and yearned for “sport.”  During a particularly harsh winter, when they were often confined to their small houses for long stretches of time, their curiosity was peaked by Tituba’s supernatural tales.  At that time in New England there was also a widespread interest in fortune-telling, which was forbidden.  Two of the girls read fortunes from an egg white in a glass of water, and when they started acting out and having fits  Elizabeth “Betty” Parris and Abigail Williams blamed Tituba as the cause.

The Reverend Parris beat Tituba until she confessed to making a witch cake with Mary Sibley.  And before long, her superstitious ramblings had convinced the people of Salem that Satan was among them. Tituba talked of riding on broomsticks and claimed she saw one of the villagers –  Sarah Osborne – with a winged female demon.  Her accusations led to an outbreak of mass hysteria that ended in the execution of 20 people.

Strangely enough, Tituba was one of the survivors.  Because she had already admitted to being a witch she never went to trail.  Instead, she was placed in jail.  No one knows where she went after her release but it seems likely she was sold to another owner.

Or perhaps the only true witch escaped because she knew a good protection spell!  What do you think?

Sources:

Barillari, Alyssa. “Tituba,” at http://salem.lib.virginia.edu/people/tituba.html

“Tituba,” at http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/salem/ASA_TIT.HTM

Wikipedia. “Tituba,” at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tituba_(Salem_witch_trials)

Kit’s Crit: Tell My Horse (Zora Neale Hurston)

Hurston

Do you believe in Zombies?  Having studied Voodoo in Jamaica and Haiti, Zora Neale Hurston’s book Tell My Horse (1938) claims that the undead really do exist and she has seen proof with her own eyes!

As a member of the Harlem Renaissance, Hurston was interested in recovering authentic black feminine power.  But she did not look for it in the guise of the New Woman, she wanted to reconnect with the wily, wild conjure woman from the African Ur-cultures, the pagan witches of antiquity.

Tell My Horse: Voodoo and Life in Haiti and Jamaica is divided into three parts.  The first two are a little disorganized as she describes the history and politics of Jamaica and Haiti.  Legend has it that while Hurston was doing “under cover” research in Jamaica, the natives found out she was going to publish their secrets and she had to flee the island in fear of her life.

The third section about Voodoo is both disturbing and compelling.  Hurston respectfully introduces this practice as “a religion of creation and life,” but then describes at length the “people who have been called back from the dead,” in particular “this case of Felicia Felix-Mentor . . . So I know there are Zombies in Haiti.”  But these are not the flesh-eating TV characters that appear in The Walking Dead.  Haitian Zombies are generally called back for one of three reasons: to work as free manual labor toiling in the fields; as the revenge of an enemy who wants to deny them eternal rest and peace; or as a sacrifice to another spirit.  It is the Haitian version of giving-a-soul-to-the-devil.

ZombieThe dead person’s spirit is stolen by the Bocor  who turns the body into a mindless slave.  Bocors are the “bad witches” of Voodo, as opposed to the “good witch” leaders called the Houngan. 

Tell My Horse is a strange and fascinating attempt to explain the West Indian Obeah practices.  It is weird – and at times disgusting – and definitely an acquired taste.  Scholars will find it useful, but I do not think its antiquated style holds much appeal for the general reader.

Fortunately, it is a very different book from Hurston’s other stellar work!

Gris-Gris: A Voodoo Charm

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A gris-gris is a voodoo fetish that was originally designed as a doll to protect the owner from evil or bad luck.  Over time, the doll was replaced by a cloth bag that could be worn on the person.  Gris-gris today are usually small pouches inscribed with verses from the Qur’an.  They contain either 1,3,5,7,9, or 13 ritual objects such as animal bones, herbs, stones, hair, nail, or pieces of clothing.

Gris-gris are made on an altar containing the four elements: fire (candle flame), earth (salt), air (incense), and water.  These charms are used to attract money or love, to prevent malicious gossip, to protect the home, and to bring good health and fortune.

Historians believe that the gris-gris tradition originated in Muslim Ghana.  The slaves who arrived in Louisiana carried these amulets with them.  They were quickly adapted to bring ill-fortune and bad-luck curses on their white masters.  As they became part of the New Orleans voodoo culture, gris-gris were amalgamated into black magic rites to conjure up death and disaster.  In this way they changed from being a protective charm into a vengeful curse.

Some African communities still use gris-gris as a form of contraception.

The Voodoo Queen, Marie Laveau marketed a particularly nasty version she called wangas.  Made from the shroud of a person who had been dead for 9 days, they contained a witch-brew made from toad, lizard, bat, cat, owl, rooster – and a suicide’s little finger!

Sources

New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum.

Wikipedia, “Gris-gris,” at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gris-gris_(talisman).

“Voodoo Hoodoo Spell Book,” at http://voodoohoodoospellbook.blogspot.com/p/blog-page_19.html.

Dr. John’s Marie Laveau

Marie Laveau

(Dr. John)

Now there lived a conjure-lady, not long ago,
In New Orleans, Louisiana – named Marie Laveau.
Believe it or not, strange as it seem,
She made her fortune selling voodoo and interpreting dreams.

She was known throughout the nation as the Voodoo Queen.
Folks come to her from miles and miles around,
She sure know how to put that, that voodoo down.

To the voodoo lady they all would go,
The rich, the educated, the ignorant, and the poor.
She’d snap her fingers and shake her head,
She’d tell them about their lovers – living or dead.

Now an old, old lady named widow Brown,
Asked why her lover stopped coming around,
The voodoo gazed at her and squawked
I seen him kissing a young girl up at Shakespeare’s Park
Hanging on an oak tree in the dark.

Oh Marie Laveau, Oh Marie Laveau,
Oh Marie Laveau, Oh Marie Laveau,
Marie Laveau, the Voodoo Queen,
From way down yonder in New Orleans.

Ya, ya, ya – ya, ya, ya – ya, ya, ya – yaaaaa

Now old, old lady, she lost her speech,
Tears start to rolling down her checks,
Voodoo say, “Hush my darling, don’t you cry,”
I make him come back, by and by.
Just sprinkle this snake dust all over your floor,
I’ll make him come back Friday morning when the rooster crow.”

Now Marie Laveau she held them in her hand,
New Orleans, Louisiana was her promised land.
Quality folk, come from far and near,
This wonder woman for to hear.
They was afraid to be seen at her gate,
They’d creep through the dark just to hear their fate.
Holding dark veils over their head,
They would tremble to hear what Maria would say.

Marie Laveau, Oh Marie Laveau,
Marie Laveau, Oh Marie Laveau,
Marie Laveau, the Voodoo Queen,
From way down yonder in New Orleans.

Ya, ya, ya – ya, ya, ya – ya, ya, ya – yaaaaa

And she made gris-gris with an old ram horn,
Stuffed with feathers, shuck from a corn.
A big black candle and a catfish fin,
She make a man get religion and give up his sin.

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Sad news got out one morning at the break of day,
Marie Laveau had done pass away.
St. Louis cemetery she lay in her tomb,
She was buried one night on the wake of the moon.

Marie Laveau, Oh Marie Laveau,
Oh Marie Laveau, Oh Marie Laveau,
The folks still believe in the Voodoo Queen,
From way down yonder in New Orleans.

Oh Marie Laveau, Oh Marie Laveau,
Oh Marie Laveau, Oh Marie Laveau,
Marie Laveau, the Voodoo Queen,
From way down yonder in New Orleans.

Marie, Marie Laveau, Oh Marie Laveau,
Marie Laveau, the Marie Laveau,
Marie Laveau, the Voodoo Queen.

 

Check out this version:

 

Voodoo or Hoodoo?

Voodoo 1

What is the difference between Voodoo and Hoodoo?  I recently visited the New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum to find out.  Here is a brief account of my discoveries:

Voodoo is a religion (led by initiated witch doctors) that has split into two branches – Haitian Vodou and Louisiana Vodoun.

Hoodoo, however, is a form of folk magic (that anyone can practice) which originated in West Africa and thrives predominantly in the southern USA.

They are complimentary aspects of a supernatural belief system from similar ancient roots.

Voodoo 2

Voodoo comes from West African Vodun – “spirit”- and was made popular in Haiti.  It has since spread to many other places, most notably Louisiana, Puerto Rico, Cuba, The Dominican Republic, Ghana, Togo, and Nigeria.  Voodoo is a way of life  built around the supreme being Bondye, a remote creator god.  But there are many spirits called loa that can be worshipped on a personal level.  To connect with the spirit world a believer can invite the loa to enter their body and possess them during religious ceremonies.

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Hoodoo is also called conjure, witchcraft, working the root, and root doctoring.  It is closely aligned with the form of African spirituality known as Ggbo.  As part of the Obeah folk tradition it spread from Haiti and Jamaica to New Orleans and along the Mississippi Delta.  In many way it is an American form of Voodoo.

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Constantly changing as it comes into contact with other cultures, Hoodoo has many Roman Catholic elements.  When African American slaves were forced to convert to Christianity by a law of 1685 they replaced the loas with saints from the Bible.  God became the archetypal Hoodoo doctor who controlled fate and destiny, while Moses was the first man who performed magic and miracles.  The Bible is the greatest conjure book in the world and many of the Psalms are used in spells.

Hoodoo also draws on Spiritualism.  People are able to harness supernatural forces to assist in their daily lives and they can connect with the other world in different ways, often involving rituals and sacrifices.

Bottle Trees are a popular garden feature.  These glass bottles are used to trap evil spirits until the morning sun destroys them.

If you are ever in New Orleans then pay a visit to the Voodoo Museum.  It is a fascinating experience!

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Additional Sources:

Knowledge Nuts, “The Difference Between Voodoo and Hoodoo” at http://knowledgenuts.com/2013/12/26/the-difference-between-hoodoo-and-voodoo/

Wikipedia, “Hoodoo” at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hoodoo_(folk_magic)

Wikipedia, “African Vodun” at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/West_African_Vodun