Back to the 20’s again

candles, spices and incense on a table
Out of the Broomcloset photo by Leon Calafiore

Out of the Broomcloset 

I’m really looking forward to Beltane/May Eve this year, considering last year’s, as was the case for so much in our lives, was a solitary celebration with no flower garlands or Maypoles or bonfires. It will be nice to come out of hiding and reconnect in whatever new forms sociability takes. Dare we hope again (just say yes)?

Not that, following the tumultuous start to the year (read: almost lost the Republic), it’s so surprising to be thinking about the intersection of magic and Justice; or perhaps it’s just my recent service as a Grand Juror, take your pick.

From a certain perspective, this is an inevitable train of thought: ritual practices in most cultures, across time and space, are a human tool to negotiate an inequitable balance of power. Sometimes those imbalances are a result of Earthly or cosmic forces and sometimes, it’s just what we do to each other. There’s a plague ravaging the land, offer a sacrifice to the offended Deity (Apollo was satisfied with a statue, while Sekhmet got beers, many, many beers, tinted red to simulate blood). In much the same way, the “law” has always favored the favored and a Sumerian spell to be the favored party in a lawsuit could easily serve today.

Whether innocent, guilty, or occupying some point on the sliding scale between these two poles, it would be the rare individual that would reject the chance to avoid the consequences of legal entanglements, warranted or not. Yes, many of the same methods that might provide an edge to the “innocent” can, as easily, provide an unfair advantage to the successful among the guilty. The sword of Justice can cut both ways.

Those accused generally were, and still are too often, perceived to rate lower on the scale of social worth and consideration. This certainly would’ve been the case for the thousands of unfortunates who, before secular or ecclesiastical courts, were consigned to eternity, accused of having abilities which, had they such, would have saved them. One can rarely expect authority to respond to logic, alas.

Fortunately, these days here in the good old US of A, we only have secular courts to deal with—at present, Gilead exists on paper and in the minds of a few elected officials. In addition to practices carried across the Atlantic, an extensive body of techniques were developed on these shores by Hoodoo practitioners and Rootworkers as a counterweight to other, greedier thumbs pressing on the scales of Justice. Here are a couple to reflect on. Considering pat-downs and metal detectors have become ubiquitous, discretion is key.

While originally against gossip, this is just as applicable to testimony or deposition. The charm is said over burning Frankincense and Cumin seeds. Originally, one would suspend a spindle and distaff over the incense burner placed on a windowsill, but the same effect can be achieved by using a dowel or a bamboo skewer, with which one pokes at the smoke and burning coals:

Incenses, Incense, burn well: As may burn, and burn,
Those tongues which speak ill of me, You will burn,
I will take this rod, Which will burn as well.
So may burn, and burn, their tongues and not return
Until this rod heals. May neither return!

To improve one’s chances during court appearances, the client, judge, defense lawyer, and witness names are written down on a piece of paper which is put into a bowl of sweet, scented oil or a jar of honey, in front of which a white candle should burn an hour a day during the course of the proceedings. At the same time, the names of opposing counsel and hostile witnesses are written on a piece of paper and placed between two bricks. During the trial proceedings, a pan with ice is put on top of the bricks to “freeze them out so they can’t talk.”

Last but not least, write all the names involved in the defense with a dip pen on a square of white cotton, which is sprinkled with steel dust and worn in the defendant’s shoe. These were collected by Zora Neal Hurston in the 1920s, and here we are in the ‘20s again. Here’s hoping!