Saturday, March 15, 2008
Friday, March 14, 2008
"What is a mojo? It is, in short, the staple amulet of African-American hoodoo practice, a flannel bag containing one or more magical items. The word is thought by some to be a corruption of the English word "magic" but it more likely is related to the West African word "mojuba," meaning a prayer of praise and homage. It is a "prayer in a bag" -- a spell you can carry.
Alternaive American names for the mojo bag include hand, mojo hand, conjure hand, lucky hand, conjure bag, trick bag, root bag, toby, jomo, and gris-gris bag. In the Memphis region, a special kind of mojo, worn only by women, is called a nation sack. A mojo used for divination, somehwat like a pendulum, is called a Jack, Jack bag, or Jack ball.
The word "gris-gris" looks French (and in French it would mean "grey-grey"), but it is simply a Frenchified spelling of the Central African word gree-gree (also sometimes seplled gri-gri). Gree-gree means "fetish" or "charm," thus a gris-gris or gree-gree bag is a charm bag. In the Caribbean, an almost-identical African-derived bag is called a wanga or oanga bag, from the African word wanga, which also means "charm" or "spell" -- but that word is uncommon in the USA.
The word "conjure" -- as in "conjure work" (casting spells) and "conjure woman" (a female herbalist-magician) -- is an old alternative to "hoodoo," thus a conjure hand is a hoodoo bag, one made by a conjure doctor or two-headed doctor. Likewise, the word trick derives from an African-American term for spell-casting -- "laying tricks" -- so a trick bag is a a bag that contains a spell. Similarly, "wanga" is a West African word meaning a spell, hence a wanga bag is a bag containing a spell.
The word "hand" in this context means a combination of ingredients. The term may derive from the use of finger and hand bones of the dead in mojo bags made for various purposes, from the use of a rare orchid root called Lucky Hand root as an ingredient in mojo bags for gamblers, or by an analogy between the mixed ingredients in the bag and the several cards that make up a "hand" in card games.
Although most "Southern Style" conjure bags are made of red flannel, some root doctors favour the colour-symbolism employed in hoodoo style candle-burning magic and thus use green flannel for a money mojo, white flannel for a baby-blessing mojo, red flannel for a love mojo, pale blue flannel for a peaceful home mojo, and so forth. Leather bags are also seen, but far less frequently than flannel; they are associated with West Indian obeah, another form of folk magic closely related to African-American hoodoo.
Mojos made for an individual are usually carried on the person, always out of sight. They are very rarely worn on a string around the neck, fairly commonly pinned inside a woman's brassiere, and much more commonly pinned to the clothes below the waist or caried in a pants pocket. Those who make conjure bags to carry as love spells sometimes specify that the mojo be worn next to the skin. Mojos intended to purify or protect a location are generally placed near the door, hidden in such a way that they cannot be seen by strangers.
Keeping the mojo from being seen is important because if another person touches it, the luck may be lost. This is sometimes called "killing the hand." The proscription against touching is far stronger in the case of the woman's nation sack than it is in any other kind of mojo.Since the least conspicuous way for a woman to wear a hidden mojo is hanging from a string under her skirt -- or, as Coot Grant put it, above her knee -- a male blues singer is making a double entendre when he declares he's going to find that mojo. It's a sexual joke, but the mojo itself is not sexual.
And what is contained in the mojo hand? Well, that varies a lot, based on what the wearer hopes to accomplish by carrying the amulet and what the maker finds effective or customary to use in preparing it. A mojo carried for love-drawing will contain different ingredients than one for gambling luck or magical protection. Generally there are at least three items in a simple hand, and many root doctors try to ensure that the total number of ingredients comes to an odd number -- 3, 5, 7, 9, or 13 -- although sometimes mixed herbs are counted as one item.
The most common liquids used to feed a hand are alcohol, such as whiskey; a perfume, such as Hoyt's Cologne or Florida Water; bodily fluids, such as spit or urine (or sexual fluids for a love-drawing hand); or with a specially-prepared condition oil. The bag is not generally soaked through, but simply dabbed with the liquid, although some old-time poker players i knew during in my youth, during the 1960s, used to say that to get a gambling hand to really work for you, you had to have your lover pee all over it out in the alley between rounds of play.
Charm vials are Central and South American amulets that contain a variety of plant materials and symbolic objects. As such they are the equivalent of Latin American package amulets and African-American bottle spells and conjure bags or mojo hands. In Peru, larger containers filled with similar lucky charms are placed on altars; they are known as charm flasks. Charm vials are often sold with printed descriptions of their contents, none of which are completely accurate.
Thursday, March 13, 2008
Here is the true story of the fabled Eden of Biblical mention. Formerly an innocent island dreamland to saturate all six senses, it presently rests in a forgotten corner of the earth, dusty and begrudged; barren, stripped, picked clean like pork ribs on an Oakland diner platter.
Once swathed in tropical greenery, with sweet, sticky air oozing through coconut palms, its only inhabitants were contented birds having flown their last journey south, abandoning their natural duties in the northern hemisphere and standing up their date with the continental food chain. Who can blame them, really, this island was a paradisical layer cake, formed over the yawn of time, a little coral here, a little jet-setting bird dung there, iced with hijacked soil and sunshine, and then sprouting slowly from the middle of the South Pacific was a specimen of tropical island perfection, a tiny pinprick in the hulking haystack of the ocean.
This was the original Garden; the hot seat, the epicenter, the womb, where it all began. This was Nauru.
Contrary to popular yore, Adam and Eve were Polynesian. And in an open relationship. This disclosure may upset the quaint story you’ve been told about those milky-skinned sinners, the pale and apathetic alpha mum and dad. They didn’t populate the earth from the honeymoon suite; it certainly wasn’t the couple’s getaway we’ve been told of. Only later would the legendary hookup and hanky-panky of the romantically dubbed Mitochondrial Eve and Y-chromosomal Adam make headlines in Africa. The truth is that a poorly made boat spilled onto the island in the wee hours of the dawn of humanity, onto a silky beach, and a dazed and dehydrated school of half naked, sweaty boaters poured onto the island. They had been lost at sea for weeks now, or was it months? Having only coconuts, their meat and water, for salvation. They were delirious and hallucinating from being baked and cooled, baked and cooled, within the cycle of days and nights, and the psychological drain of waking each morning to another infinite skirt of water was making interpersonal relations pretty tense. Three women, six men, forgetting their homeland, did they have one? Forgetting their language, did they speak one? Forgetting how and why they even got in this rickety boat anyway.
Time yawned again, like a security guard on the graveyard shift. An eon slipped past. Our band of swarthy settlers went forth and multiplied. Their children and their children’s children’s children evolved into modern day homosapiens. Blink.
Forget what you’ve been told. Fabrications are easier than this background check. Nauru was shyly existing, happy to be unseen and unheard. That is until everything changed.
The crowds were getting really unruly. Shouts and roars were audible from the street below, and if he craned his neck out the lofty window of his quarters, he could see the pulsing chaos. Reluctantly, President Ewewin was thinking he might have to place a call to the damn Aussies. Hopefully the phone lines were working. He grimaced at the prospect. They seemed always to be smirking at him condescendingly through the phone when in the past he’d needed to call for assistance in calming his rebellious populace. He sighed and scratched his sizeable stomach. At last count there were nearly 14,000 people on the whole island, and he couldn’t even keep that trifling number under control. From the looks of it this afternoon, every last one of them was clamoring outside his crumbly pink mansion, only warded off by the moat of limestone stalagmites. Apparently they really did care about that airplane he sold to Turkmenistan to pay off his administration’s debts. So. It had been the sole aircraft in the fleet, and the only reliable vehicle for international commerce. So. And it did effectively seal most of the population on the island indefinitely, since most ships had stopped their begrudgingly charitable visits with donated supplies in the last few months. He picked his nose and let out a nervous belch.
His hands had been tied however, he quickly rationalized, as the purchase of all the Astroturf they needed to cover what had once been a grassy blanket on the island was indeed substantial. The rotten pockmarked ground bled dry of nutrients necessary for vegetation, had been scraped and pillaged in the process of the phosphate removal. And they all knew that if it wasn’t for the phosphate, the precious rock they all stood on and called home, they would none of them have ever had a 72” flat screen TV in each room of their homes, nevermind buckets of Chanel no. 5 to sleep in. Ungrateful masses. Perhaps he may have indulged his penchant for shiny red foreign sports cars a bit too much, he considered. He had had four Alfa Romeos imported on a boatful of dried beans and powdered milk back in the late 80s after seeing somewhere on television that they were the car of choice for wealthy Italian businessmen; and there were, of course, the Porsche roadster and the Ferrari that somehow made their way to the island via a cargo boat bound for New Zealand. In any case, only the Ferrari and an Alfa still operated properly, the rest had been pelted with rocks and vandalized in his drives through town recently. He conducted most business from his bed nowadays, preferring only to go out at night, where, in his tattered nightclothes he passed for just another struggling unemployed grouch wandering the streets searching for a kernel of hope. A miracle.
On this night though, he slipped out at twilight and jumpstarted his Ferrari. He drove to the far side of the island along the single dusty road that circled the perimeter, under the gape of the nearly full moon. He stopped at a small hill where a lone ancient coconut palm held court over the eerie Astroturf landscape. The tree was frail and weary, he could tell. It had been many moons since he had returned to this, his beloved childhood sanctuary, and he wondered before stepping out of the car, if the tree would forgive him for his long absence. He eyeballed her warily. She didn’t seem to recognize him; maybe it was the fancy car. The last time he had come to her for aid, advice and coconuts, he had been a mere adolescent, and she had thought it safe to divulge to him, her adored naive companion, several secrets about the mystic island they lived on. She shared with him the island’s hallowed history, how this very land he walked and breathed on, had been the foundation of humanity; how the Universal Feminine Energy had given its blessing to a place so perfect and enchanted that the mind boggled. She had also mistakenly whispered to him a morsel of information about the unique composition of the island. She revealed that the soil contained a valuable mineral that made this atoll unique amongst all the oceans on Earth. Afterwards, he had researched all he could find on this mineral, phosphate, using his only means of contact with the world outside the island, his home morse code system, communing with passing ocean liners and freight vessels. Learning of the valuable resource at his fingertips, or toenails as the case was, he made a significant decision.
In a matter of years, he had established a company that specialized in digging and prying into the soft flesh of the earth, day and night, extracting the precious mineral and selling it all over the world for a fantastic profit. He was rich.
Eventually he was elected president of the diminutive, destitute island nation on the platform of promising each resident a full-length mink coat and a discoteque on every corner. Later the minks would pile up in the seaside landfill after everyone realized how incompatible furs were with equatorial weather, and in time the discos encouraged in the residents a taste for tacky techno music and homemade moonshine.
He had abused her confidence in the most deceitful way, and now he returned for her help in remedying the pandemonium and ruin he had nearly single-handedly created.