Spiritual Herbalism and Folk Magic
Spiritual Herbalists have the ability to extract the essence of herbs, roots, and flowers to bring mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual well being to their clients. They do this by enhancing herbal preparations with music, dance, chanting, and prayer. If you have ever said a prayer before eating a meal then you have grasped the core concept of Spiritual Herbalism, but this is not a "faith based healing" nor are the medicines snake oil. The herbs, roots, flowers, and oils that are used have real physiological effects as observed and practiced by native people from antiquity. Before consulting any herbalist check with your doctor to make sure herbal and aromatic therapy is safe for you.
The first herbalists in the Americas were the Native people. Indigenous spirituality primarily holds an animist worldview. That means that all things, including plants, have intelligence. The Arawak migrated from South America up into the Caribbean Islands, to Florida, and even as far north as the Carolinas. They are referred to as Tainos.
The Tainos were the people who greeted Christopher Columbus when he arrived in the Caribbean. These Native people had already inhabited the region for 1000 years before Columbus arrived and had intimate knowledge of the islands, healing plants, and mastered sea travel. The Tainos were referred to as the "good folk" who were handsome, energetic, and hospitable. They had a cosmology, performed ritual bathing, venerated their ancestors, and used hallucinogenic plants to go into trance. Next time you eat something Creole know that it was the Tainos who invented the seasoning! Contrary to popular belief the Tainos did not go extinct but are as durable as the spirit of the Caribbean.
When African slaves were forced to the new world they brought the religions of IFA, Vodou, and others with them. Some Tainos and Africans were able to escape to the forests, caves, and mountains where the Spanish refused to venture. Others fled to surrounding islands. Those who were still enslaved by Europeans concealed their religions syncretizing African spirits with Catholic saints. The African slaves that were brought over included royalty, military, and priestly classes. The ancestral knowledge that was brought to the new world ran deep into the Congo. Other esoteric and occult European practices were absorbed into the culture such as Freemasonry.
The Yoruba Speaking People
IFA is a Traditional African Religion that originated in what is now Nigeria with the Yoruba speaking people. IFA is a spiritual science with a very complex binary system of divination called ODU IFA. The knowledge of Ifa has been preserved within Yoruba communities and transmitted among IFA priests. Orishas are the spirits of IFA, like angels and archangels, who are in charge of human affairs. Santeria and Lucumi are new world manifestations of Orisha worship.
The Fon Speaking People
Benin, in West Africa, is the center of Vodou in the world. When the people of the Dahomey Kingdom arrived in Saint Domingue they brought their religion with them. Over time Vodou developed differently across the island. Haitian Vodou and 21 Divisions (Dominican Vodou) is different from what is practiced in Africa, yet they drink from the same well. At Vodou parties the LWA or Mysteries are called down and when they arrive they possess their devotees to communicate with the congregants.
The Bantu Speaking People
Portuguese explorer Diogo Cão sailed the Congo River becoming the first European to encounter the Kongo Kingdom. King Nzinga Nkuwu converted to Christianity in 1485. Kongo people maintained churches but also kept shrines to their local spirits. The Kongo people's conversion was based on a different assumption about what Christianity was and syncretic beliefs continued for centuries. Kongo Christianity played a role in the formation of Haitian and Dominican Vodou. A new world manifestation of Congo spirituality is Palo Mayombe.
Today people in the islands and across the world practice these traditions in different forms. They are most commonly known as Santeria, Candomble, Lucumi, Palo mayombe, Haitian Vodou, 21 Divisions (Dominican Vodou), Umbanda, and Obeah. These beliefs and practices arrived in New Orleans and evolved into what is known as Louisiana Voodoo. These traditions continue to evolve around the United States in communities of the diaspora.
An eclectic and pragmatic religion, Umbanda emerged in the late 1920s, mixing popular Catholicism, Afro-Brazilian animism, and spiritualism imported from France. It has spread through all urban social classes, reaching uncounted millions of people. Umbanda is related to Candomble, but is not identical. Umbanda is one of the most widespread Afro-Brazilian religions today and includes the worship of Orishas syncretized with Saints.
Before any spirits can be called in conjure Papa Legba must be honored first. He is the guardian of the crossroads between this world and the next. Legba is the trickster spirit in African Vodou as practiced in Benin. He is syncretized with St Lazarus by some and St Peter by others in Haitian and Dominican Vodou. He can be found at dusk and dawn at the crossing of day and night. He can be seen by intersections, train tracks, and any crossroads. He loves candy, rum, black coffee, and tobacco he smokes out of a corn cob pipe.
Marie Laveau was a famous Creole practitioner of Voodoo, who was renowned in New Orleans. Her daughter, Marie Laveau II, also practiced rootwork, conjure, Native American and African spiritualism as well as Louisiana or what is known today as New Orleans Voodoo. Tourists continue to visit her tomb and some draw X marks in accordance with a decades-old tradition. They turn around three times and leave an offering hoping Marie will hear their requests.
Hoodoo, or Rootwork, is an old and powerful system of African American folk magic. Hoodoo's roots derive primarily from the Gullah people. The Gullah are a distinctive group of Black Americans from South Carolina and Georgia. They live in small farming and fishing communities along the Atlantic coastal plain and on the chain of Sea Islands which runs parallel to the coast. In the 1800's white and Jewish pharmacists opened their shops in southern black communities and began to offer items asked for by their black customers, as well as things they themselves felt would be of use. Homemade powders, mojo hands, oils, and talismans form the basis of much rural hoodoo, but there are also successful commercial companies selling various hoodoo products to urban and town practitioners. These are generally called spiritual supplies, and they include herbs, roots, minerals, candles, incense, oils, floor washes, sachet powders, bath crystals, icons, aerosols, and colognes.
Southern Conjure's magical lore would grow with the emerging of the mail order catalog. Most practicing Hoodooist identify as Christian and not only see the Bible as the word of God but also a book of spells, especially the Psalms. Like all folk magic it generally concerns itself with day to day activities like love, luck, protection, and revenge!
The Pennsylvania Dutch
Pow-wowing, or brauche, is a magia-religious practice whose chief purpose is healing physical ailments in humans and animals. The practice has been present on this continent since the first German speaking settlements were established in Pennsylvania in the early eighteenth century, although it has its roots in much older German esoteric traditions.
Pow-wowing was essentially a religious movement which regarded illness as the work of the devil to be expelled by charms, herbs, and incantations delivered by an empowered believer in the Scriptures. The Bible is considered the most important book of pow-wow and no practitioner would work without his on hand. The majority of the charms and spells utilized by the pow-wow are generally agreed upon to be remnants of medieval Catholic folk magic.
Native American Medicine
Native American healers believe that plants, trees, shrubs, flowers and herbs possess a spirit and intelligence. When harvesting plants and herbs to be used in Herbalism the Shaman only takes what is required and asks permission and expresses gratitude during the harvesting process. The healing potential of the plants and herbs are empowered by ritual ceremonies, prayers, songs and chants.
Espiritismo, Portuguese and Spanish for spiritualism, is a term used in the US and the Caribbean to refer to the belief that good and evil spirits can affect health, luck, and other aspects of human life. Espiritismo believes in a supreme God who is the omnipotent creator of the universe. Just as good and evil exist in the physical world, it also exists in the spiritual world. Elevated ancestors and spirit guides affect and influence in a positive way while malevolent spirits do so in a negative way. Espiritismo has never had a single leader nor center of practice, and as such its practice varies greatly between individuals and groups. The foundation for Espiritismo's theology was from the books of French Spiritualist Allen Kardec.
In the early 1800s Espiritismo would gain popularity in Puerto Rico because of the Espiritismo's condemnation of the Catholic Church. When a practitioner of Espiritismo incorporates elements of Santeria in their practice it is referred to as Santerismo. Espiritismo made it's way into New York City during the Puerto Rican and Cuban diasporas of the 1940s and 1950s. Fleeing a shattered economy in Puerto Rico, and political persecution in Cuba, this new generation of Caribbean Americans continued to practice their faith in garages, basements, and bodega backrooms.
Sanse is a mixture of Espiritismo, Dominican Vodou, Taino Boriken spirituality, and Afro Puerto Rican Witchcraft. The word Sanse is derived from the creole word Zanset which means ancestor. "Sansistas" tend to consider themselves Catholic but they can be of any religious background. Haitians and Dominicans starting migrating to Puerto Rico as early as 1803 and it is said that a Papa Boko starting initiating espiritistas into the tradition. Sanse became very popular with Afro Puerto Ricans on the Island.
There are 21 Divisions of spirits in Sanse and they come from all walks of life. On earth they lived exemplary lives and when they died were elevated to the status of saints. They act as spirit guides to human beings and can aid in just about every aspect of life. The brightest Light in our universe, called el Gran Sol, is seen as the sun that gives life and sustains it. He blesses humanity with goodness, kindness, compassion, understanding, love, and truth. The sun is his thrown and a spark of his essence exists in all humanity. He is envisioned as the Master Jesus Christ.
Puerto Rican Witchcraft
Brujería is the Spanish word for witchcraft. Men are called brujos and women brujas. Brujería doesn’t participate in hierarchical communities or initiation-based fraternities. It is extremely individualistic. Rituals are heavily dependent on the attitudes of the participants, on the forces of nature, and spontaneity of spirits. As separatist ideals begin to gain momentum more practitioners are clinging to cultural nationalism especially that of Afro-Boricua and Taíno folklore.
The Seven Wonders
There are seven distinct characteristics that all Shamanic and Folk Magic systems have in common. They are:
- Communication with Ancestral guides
- Calling and working with spirits
- Trance through Divine possession or psychedelics
- The practice of divination and dream interpretation
- The ability to cast spells both for good and ill
- Use of herbal medicine and healing methods
- Wisdom teachings from the Antiquity of time
Generations pass and over time the body of healing wisdom has continued to expand and embrace many traditions. Yoga, Qigong, and the New Age movement has also contributed to the already exhaustive body of healing techniques. The revival of European Witchcraft and Druidry have lead many Americans to explore earth honoring paths. One thing is for certain and that is "Magic" has always played a crucial role in the social and political evolution of mankind. I am proud to continue on in the spirit of these traditions offering healing and support to those in need of hope and emotional repair. If you need my help contact me HERE.