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    That Old Black Magic

    by | 4 | Dec 5, 2010

    Beware Of The Voodoo Hex

    (A Reason to Be Good For Christmas)

    A songwriter by the name of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins wrote a song recorded by many artists, “I Put A Spell On You.” You’ve heard Creedence Clearwater Revival’s version I’m sure. The song has nothing to do with black magic but it conjures up images of voodoo dolls pierced with pins, and it reminds me that voodoo is alive and well in 2010 and beyond. And why not.

    That old black magic has long been a part of Southern culture. Back in the 1950s, My Dad operated a small pulpwood business. One of his workers would fall ill now and then. Massive and muscular, he often told Dad, “Someone put a root on me.” One time he couldn’t work because he said his “stomach was full of live lizards,” absolutely convicted someone put a root on him. The fellow’s name was even a term for a hex, Whammy.

    Now this black magic, voodoo, hoodoo, or whatever you choose to call it is nothing to dismiss. It has a long history and it has, indeed, killed people. The key to its morbid success is faith. If victims truly believe they’re under a spell then for all practical purposes they are.

    As for dying from black magic, that happens when a root doctor gives a “patient” medicine that inadvertently poisons him. So, as you’d expect, voodoo has long presented law enforcement a big headache, especially in certain regions.

    Down in the South Carolina Lowcountry, the late high sheriff of Beaufort County, Ed McTeer, made a name for himself as a root doctor. I met the good sheriff in 1978 and he was full of tales. Here is but one.

    A witchdoctor put a “blue root,” or curse, on an old black woman, and death was knocking on her door. McTeer, a white sheriff, had studied root medicine so he could better deal with its practitioners and their spells for a practical reason: he routinely encountered both. To better enforce the law, he realized he had to master black magic. He did and he did pretty good as a white witch doctor. His reputation spread.

    McTeer arrived at the helpless woman’s house and had friends bring her to the front porch while in her bed. He then donned his blue sunglasses, a sure sign he was a root doctor, and he began to speak.

    “I know that there is evil working in this place,” he said, “I can feel it in my bones.”

    McTeer told the small crowd gathered around the ill woman that he would cure her. McTeer then went into a trance, wildly circling the yard while mumbling incantations. Suddenly, the woman sat up.

    Sheriff Ed McTeer

    As she did, McTeer bayed like a wild dog and jumped over to her steps where he yanked the offending root out and waved it over his head for all to see.

    Seeing the horrendous root, the crowd shrank back in fright but turned jubilant when McTeer tossed the evil root into the nearby estuary. McTeer, of course, had planted the root earlier to guarantee his conjuring would be a smash hit.

    A week later McTeer paid the woman a visit. She was back to her old self. But what if McTeer had not intervened? Most likely she would have wasted away and died. She believed in root medicine and she believed her time had come courtesy of a hex.

    One day near Edisto Island, I was driving a stretch of highway that well could have been a Lowcountry postcard. The road shot through a tunnel of live oaks heavy with Spanish moss. Rounding a curve I came across a shanty painted sky blue all over. That shade of blue, think Tar Heel blue, supposedly wards off evil spirits. Some folks refer to it as “haint blue,” because an evil spirit can’t pass through that color. You’ll see blue doors and blue window frames in the Lowcountry. Consider them a form of insurance.

    As I drove past the house, a small bridge loomed ahead. Just to its right stood a dead tree with amulets and blue bottles hanging from its limbs. Jostled by the wind and sun struck, beautiful bluish glints brightened the Lowcountry landscape. And the payoff lies in that glittering light: the dancing colors mesmerize the spirits, who enter the bottles only to be trapped for eternity.

    Blue houses, blue doors, blue bottle spirit catchers, and eternity. C’mon, what a bunch of hogwash you say. Well if you’ve ever planned a garden around the old Farmers Almanac or crossed out a black cat that darts across your path, chances are voodoo might be for you.

    It’s a wicked thing, this voodoo. Down in New Orleans I walked into a voodoo shop on Bourbon Street one December afternoon. It was late and blue light fell across this low-slung city down by Mississippi. A strange place this shop was with voodoo dolls and amulets suspended from the walls and ceilings. And a strange incense filled the air, hazy, aromatic, yet threatening.

    I found a book, Voodoo & Hoodo and took it to the sales clerk. Suddenly, the proprietor, a dark-haired woman, appeared from nowhere making a scene.

    “Are you going to kill someone with this book,” she shouted.

    “No, just researching the subject for a book I’m writing,” I replied. Many people filled her cramped shop and they turned toward me as if they were about to see what a murderer looks like.

    Of course, she sold me the book, but why sell a book if you really believe a stranger can use it to kill people. The proprietor’s reaction was more of a marketing stunt. Death by voodoo, though, that was utter nonsense. Or is it?

    Can a cheap voodoo book empower an ordinary fellow like me to put a fatal root on someone? Of course not. Nonetheless on page 115, I found an ominous section, “To Kill Someone.” Right off, the book states, “not much killing is done anymore. It is just too expensive—up to $500 in good times.” So for those who can’t afford the services of a shaman, the book shows the layman how to do it himself.

    Now understand that this book carries a 1978 copyright, so adjusting for inflation and factoring in today’s bad economy, I’d say the cost for a fatal whammy today ought to run about $900. So is voodoo a DIY deal? Can you throw a spell?

    I know some of you are thinking … “Hmmm, anyone can put a hex on someone? Now just what is a death hex like? I wish Tom would give us a few examples.”

    Well here you go.

    Nail Him

    Take a photograph of the intended victim and nail it face-side down against the north side of a tree. For the next nine mornings drive a nail into the photograph. The victim will become progressively weaker and die on the ninth day.

    A Lock

    Obtain a lock of the intended victim’s hair as well as his or her photograph. Bury the two together, preferably in mud or a moist area where the objects will disintegrate quickly. As they disintegrate, so will the victim.

    Sock It To Him

    Get a sock or stocking belonging to the intended victim. Put graveyard dirt in it and bury it under the victim’s front steps. In three weeks the victim will be dead, having mysteriously withered away.

    Yep, the old dirt in the sock trick gets them every time. A real killer.

    Back in 2002 I spent some time researching Lowcountry voodoo. Its images swirled about in my head more than I liked. I could never erase the image of blue houses, blue bottle trees, and dolls hanging from trees. I tried to dismiss it as a joke, but I couldn’t. And I knew voodoo wasn’t just in the Lowcountry, it’s everywhere, rural Georgia even.

    My Dad had to contend with its effects back in the 1950s. And I’m sure he wasn’t alone. Evil can find you out they say. So, how about you? Got any enemies? How do you feel these days? Has anyone asked for your photograph? You’re not missing a sock or stocking are you? What about your hair? Where do you get it cut? Getting a lock would be easy.

    The moral of this column is simple: don’t give anyone a reason to put the root on you. Christmas is coming, so be nice not naughty. You just never know who’s going to get their mojo working. Someone may be beseeching an evil loa or voodoo god to do you in right now, in short, they’re about to cast a spell. To make the spell stick, the evil perpetrator may have to gather black cat bones, graveyard dust, chicken blood, cayenne pepper, and sulphur. And then he’ll concoct a deadly recipe and slip it beneath your steps or home during a full moon.

    The prescribed number of days will pass. And then someone somewhere just may be singing a lyric from Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’s song, “I put a spell on you.” And if they did and if you believe they did, well that old black magic will go to work and it won’t be pretty.

    ###

    Tom Poland

    Tom Poland, A Southern Writer – Tom Poland is the author of twelve books and more than 1,000 magazine features. A Southern writer, his work has appeared in magazines throughout the South. Tom grew up in Lincoln County, Georgia, where four wonderful English teachers gave him a love for language. People first came to know Tom’s work in South Carolina Wildlife magazine, where he wrote features and served as managing editor.Tom’s written over 1,000 columns and features and seven traditionally published books. Among his recent books are Classic Carolina Road Trips From Columbia, Georgialina, A Southland, As We Knew It, and his and Robert Clark’s latest volume of Reflections of South Carolina. Swamp Gravy, Georgia’s Official Folk Life Drama, staged his play, Solid Ground in 2011 and 2012.He writes a weekly column for newspapers and journals in Georgia and South Carolina about the South, its people, traditions, lifestyle, and changing culture and speaks often to groups across South Carolina and Georgia.Tom earned a BA in Journalism and a Masters in Media at the University of Georgia. He lives in Columbia, South Carolina where he writes about Georgialina—his name for eastern Georgia and South Carolina. Visit my website at www.tompoland.net Email me at tompol@earthlink.net

     

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    • Bob

      Good story, Tom. A police chief I knew in Hazlehurst, Ga., also practiced voodoo so he could “break the spells” that some locals believed had been put on them. I went with him on a few calls. He put on quite a show — and apparently it worked. The previously spellbound always thanked him profusely and obviously were much relieved. As a reporter for The Constitution, I also knew of a little shop near the courthouse in Atlanta that was frequented by those in the know on their way to court. I wrote about it in a short story titled “Mojo.”

    • Ah Tom, trains of thought again. The indigenous Australians have people who can “sing” evil on someone, even unto death,

    • susan

      I am ready to get on with this voodoo stuff. I have a person in mind and “I believe”!

    • Peggy Roney

      Every timeLike the Dew shows up in my INBOX, I quickly go down the Table of Contents to see if Tom Poland has written something new. I know it will always be good and fun to read. “That Old Black Magic” reminds me of Yamacraw Village in Savannah where Voodoo was a regular ritual.

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