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Full text of "Folk beliefs of the southern Negro"

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FOLK BELIEFS OF THE SOUTHERN NEGRO 



FOLK BELIEFS OF THE 
SOUTHERN NEGRO 



BY 

XEW'BELL XILES ?L"CKETT. Ph.D. 




- CHAPEL HILL 

THE UNTVXRSITY OF NORTH CAROLES'A PRES? 

LOXEX^X: HTMPHREY MILFORD 

1*55 



pg 



Copyright/ 1926,y By 
The University of North Carolina Press 



Peesses of 

Edwards & Broughton Company 
RALEIGH 



TO 

MY WIFE 



^^62f 



PREFACE 

Overwhelmed by the frenzy of a "holy dance" a 
Negro minister of my acquaintance panted: "You 
sees me dancin', folks, but de skip's on de inside!" 
After twenty years or more of close association with 
the Negro, an honorary membership in "de Mount 
Zion Missionary Baptist Church," and several years' 
experience as an amateur "hoodoo-doctor," I am 
convinced that "de signs an' wonders" disclosed here 
are but outward manifestations of a well-nigh inscrut- 
able Negro soul. My peep behind the curtains has 
destroyed for me the fable that "the Southern white 
man thoroughly understands the Negro," and has 
opened my eyes to the importance of objective study 
as a means of establishing more cordial relationships. 

In a general sort of way the Southerner does under- 
stand the Negro, but this understanding is limited 
almost completely to the practical affairs of life, and 
consists chiefly in knowing how to make the Negro 
work. Regarding the feelings, emotions, and the 
spiritual life of the Negro the average white man knows 
little. Should some weird, archaic, Negro doctrine 
be brought to his attention he almost invariably 
considers it a "relic of African heathenism," though 
in four cases out of five it is a European dogma from 
which only centuries of patient education could wean 
even his own ancestors. This confusion of African 
and European lore only intensifies cultural differences, 
and for this reason I have modified this volume, 
originally a dissertation presented for the degree of 



Vlll 



Preface 



Doctor of Philosophy in Yale University, into its 
present form. In essence a study of acculturation, 
it centers chiefly around folk-lore and superstition, 
because in almost all other affairs of Negro life the 
African element has been entirely supplanted by the 
European. Its aim is to present these Negro folk- 
beliefs, to show their origin whenever possible, and to 
indicate some of the general principles governing the 
transmission and content of folk-lore in general. My 
personal work among the older rural Negroes has 
shown me the necessity of haste in collecting this fast- 
disappearing lore. Several of my best informants 
during the year have passed on to the Great Beyond, 
and daily many pages of irretrievable folk-knowledge 
are being erased in a similar manner. 

While the lore presented here is but a smattering of 
the material existent, yet considerable pains have been 
taken to make it as representative as possible. Close 
personal field work has been supplemented by question- 
naires sent out to all the Negro colleges of the South. 
In this way some ten thousand beliefs were gathered, 
most of them coming from Mississippi, Alabama, and 
Georgia — the heart of the "Black Belt" — though 
material was obtained from every state of the South, 
giving an index to the spread of each particular belief. 
About two-thirds of these ten thousand beliefs were 
duplications, and of the thirty-five hundred or so 
retained, almost a third were collected personally. 
A careful survey of the available published material 
indicates that almost twenty-four hundred of these 
beliefs have never before been published. This col- 
lection, including many citations from published 
sources, constitutes the basis of the present discussion. 



Preface ix 

I am under obligations to Professor A. G. Keller 
and M. R. Davie of Yale University, whose courses 
iirst opened my eyes to the possibility of a scientific 
study of societal relations. Again I am indebted to 
Professor J. E. Cutler, who has read the manuscript 
and offered many valuable suggestions, and to 
Mr. W. G. Thayer, Librarian of the John G. White 
Collection of Folk-lore at the Cleveland Public 
Library, whose assistance in regard to source material 
has been of inestimable value. Without the co- 
operation of the Negro colleges and the assistance 
of my four hundred informants listed at the end of the 
text my efforts would have availed little. To Hattie 
Harris, Ed Murphy, and especially to Frank Dick- 
erson, who now can speak only through these printed 
pages, I owe particular gratitude, not to mention 
Mrs. Allen B. Puckett, Robert Bryant, Professor L. G. 
Painter and many others whose names appear fre- 
quently throughout this volume. 

My greatest thanks, however, are due to my wife 
and to my mother, whose inspiration and assistance, 
not only in the preparation of the manuscript but also 
in the collection of lore, have enabled me to present 
this work in its present form. 

•^Columbus, Mississippi, iN . JN . r . 

August, 1925 



CONTENTS 



I. Practical and Emotional Backgrounds 1 

Antiques. Mental Heirlooms. Source of American Slaves. Physique 
and Folk-lore. The African Potpourri. Laziness, Humor, and Sex- 
uality. Other Traits. Vocational Characteristics. Language a Uni- 
fying Force. Mutilated English. True Linguistic Survivals. The 
Conservatism of Verse. Other Possible Survivals. Slave English. 
Language and Lore. African Marriage Customs. American Survivals 
Few. Law and Government. Fewer Restrictions upon Self-gratifi- 
cation. Grandiloquent Speech. Courtship Formulas. Animal Folk- 
tales. Fossilized Customs. African Characters. The Dog. African 
Origins. Devil-tales and Others. The Tar-baby Story. Erroneous 
Nature-beliefs. Snakes. Miscellaneous Beliefs. Negro Jokes. Laugh- 
ing at the White Man. Typical Riddles. Proverbs. Games. Survi- 
vals of African Music. Slave Dancing. "Holy Dances." Songs from the 
Soul. "Jump-up Song." African Singing. Negro Song Structure. 
Sovereignty of Religious Songs. Rag-time and Jazz. Education by 
Song. Rhythmic Lore. Funeral Fun. Conclusion.. 

II. Burial Customs, Ghosts, and Witches 79 

The Concept of Death. European Acculturation. Dying in Ease. 
Prophylactic Measures. Dying Whispers. Preparation for Burial. 
Stygian Sign-posts. Wakes. The Funeral Procession. Negro Mourn- 
ing Customs. Significance in Africa. Clothes and Crepe. Multiple 
Funerals. Grave-lore. Graveyard Omens. Dead Detectives. Trouble- 
some Spirits. Ghost-dodging. Gifts to the Dead. Grave Decorations. 
"Layin' de Sperrit." The African Soul-concept. Survivals of the 
"Dream-soul." The Srahman and other Souls. Ghost-land. Poly- 
theism in the South. Negro "Ha'nts." Brawny Specters. Ecto- 
plasmic Manifestations. Serious Business. Cadaverous Avengers. 
Ghastly Associates. Mutilated Specters. The Mark of the Beast. 
Spookish Humor. English Phantoms. The Jack-o'-my-Lantern. The 
Origin of Jack. Flying Horses and Mermaids. "Double-sighted" 
Folks. How to See Ghosts. "Fightin' de Ghosses." Summary of 
Ghost-lore. The Absence of Fairies. Witches. Metamorphosis. 
Ridden by Witches. Vampires and Ghouls. Driving Off and Capturing 
Witches. Brooms and Silver Bullets. Hags and Horses. Sharp Points 
and Salt. Skin, Body, and Spirit. The Counting Instinct. Conclusion. 

III. VOODOOISM AND CoNJURATION 167 

Contributory Factors. Reality of the Belief. The Fetishistic Foun- 
dation. Spirit and Object. Homes for Spirits. Witchcraft and Re- 
ligion, The Fetish-dance. Origin of the Voodoo Cult. African Sur- 
vivals. Marie Laveau. Louisiana Voodoo Rites. Diabolic Festivals. 
Rites in Other Localities. The "Judas Eye." Initiations. New 
Orleans Today. Modern Voodoo Seances. In Other Localities. The 



xil Contents 

African Witch-doctor. The Man-fetish. Professional Obligations. 
The Southern Hoodoo-doctor. Other Pecularities. Visions and Meta- 
morphosis. A Self-made Hoodoo-doctor. Professional Duties. Satis- 
fied Patients. Common Sense Treatment. Evasive Instructions. In 
Africa. Out-hoodooing the Hoodoos. Credulity of the Hoodoo-doctors. 
Conjurers by Accident. Symptoms of Conjuration. African Charms. 
Survivals in America. The Fetish Color. Pre-conjural Preparations. 
"Layin' de Trick." New Orleans Charms. Tapers, Feathers, and 
Coffins. Other Charms. General Characteristics. Conjure-balls, Bot- 
tles, and Bags. "Tricken-bags" and "Luck-balls." Typical Negro 
"Hands." Other Ingredients. Conjurers Made to Order. A European 
Case. 

IV. VooDOOisM AND CoNJUEATiON — Continued 242 

Images. Photographs. Roots. Graveyard Dirt. Reptiles in the 
Body. Reptilian Complications. "Lockin' de Bowels." The "Black 
Cat Bone." Practical African Witchcraft. Where Ghosts are Real. 
Negro Love-charms. Winning and Holding. "Shamin' yo' Fairer." 
Home-breaking. "Good-Bye, Enemy." Running Water, Running Men. 
Calling the Absent. Insanity Charms. "Dustin' Hats." Softening 
Hearts. Job Getters. Dodging the Law. Talismanic Watch-dogs. 
Circean Detectives. Gambling, Debt-getting, and Other Charms. Dis- 
cipline and Train-stopping. Other Practical Applications. Preven- 
tives of Conjuration. Red Flannel and Silver. Pepper, Salt, and 
Frizzly Chickens. Horseshoes and Candles. Miscellaneous Preven- 
tives. Diagnosing Conjuration. Finding the "Hand." "Turnin' de 
Trick." Curing the Conjured. The Power of Faith. Reptiles Re- 
moved. Hoodoing for Science. Headaches, Bites, and Hoodoo. Fooled 
to Life. 

V. Positive Control-Signs: Minor Charms and Cures 311 

Distinction Between Signs and Hoodoo. Positive and Negative 
Control-Signs. Prophetic Signs. Charms and Amulets. Animal- 
Taming. The Feminine Touch. The Cross Symbol. Controlling the 
Rain. Snakes. Poultry and Agriculture. Lost Things, Clothes, and 
Wind-making. Aids to the Love-lorn. Your Future Mate. Wedding 
Days and Colors. Contraceptives. Pre-natal Influences. Child-birth. 
Confinement and After. To the Manner Born. Food and Clothing. 
Nails, Hair, and Associates. Babies and Brooms. Birthmarks and 
Thrush. Fretfulness. Stuttering. Other Ills. For Future Greatness. 
Mirrors and Hats. Tooth-cutters. New and Old Teeth. Harnessing 
the Moon. New Year's Day. The Watery Grave. General Good Luck. 
Wishing. Fishing and Hunting. The Future. Practicality of Signs. 
Folk-remedies. Germs and Ghosts. Rheumatism. Backache. Chills 
and Fever. Sore Throat. "Fallen Palate." Colds and Other Res- 
piratory Diseases. Whooping Cough. Hiccoughs. Toothache. 
"Shingles." Wens and Goiters. Earache. Sprains and Cramps. Nose- 
Bleed. Wounds. Snake-bite. Boils and Headache. Ringworm and 
Warts. Eye-trouble. Fits and Scrofula. Venereal Diseases. "Female- 
•complaint." Miscellaneous Ills. Panaceas Prevention of Disease. 



Contents xili 

VI. Negative Control-Signs: Taboos 393 

Negro Taboos. Etiquette With a Vengeance. Feminine Lore. 
Sweeping. Hair and Nails. Ominous Friday. Unlucky Thirteen. 
The Perils of Sewing. Wash-day. The Imp of the Kitchen. House- 
hold-lore. Chairs, Lamps, and Clocks. Edged-tools and Other Things. 
The Trail to a Whipping. Coffee-drinking and Mirrors. Peanuts and 
Policemen. Dangerous Carpentry. The Rules of Sleep. Signs at 
Sunrise. Miscellaneous Domestic Beliefs. Vesta's Creed. Tree-plant- 
ing. Marriage. Turning Back. Hands Behind Head. Walking Back- 
wards. Teeth-sucking. Shoe-lore. The Elusive Fish. "Dont's" 
for the Farmer. The Borrowed Hat. Money and Trade. Friendship 
Hints. Personal Etiquette. The "Spring-keeper." Animal Taboos. 
The Power of the Petticoat. Conclusion. 

VII. Prophetic Signs or Omens 439 

Nature of Prophetic Signs. The Swish of Skirts. Salt-spilling. 
The Flame of Fate. General Household Omens. Shoes and Clothing. 
Eyes that See Ahead. Follow Your Nose. Ears that Talk. Feet, 
Arms, and Face. Sneezing-signs. Hair. Features and Fate. Love and 
Wedding Omens. Cross-eyed Folks. The Deadly Female. Other 
Human Omens. The Wise Old Moon. The Voice of the Elements. 
Animal Harbingers. Cats. Brer Rabbit. The Rabbit Foot. Horses. 
Horseshoes. Dog-language. Miscellaneous Animal Omens. The Feath- 
ered Prophet. Shutting the Owl's Mouth. Poultry. Wild Birds. The 
Buzzard. The Friendly Redbird. Insects. Plants. Pins. Things 
Found. Dream-signs. Snake-dreams. Visions of Death and Burial. 
Dreams of Meat. Eggs. Other Common Dream-signs. Representative 
Specimens. Weather-lore. Four-footed Forecasters. Aches and In- 
sects. Birds and Weather. Wild Birds. Vegetable Weather-prophets. 
Reliable Weather-signs. Moon and Stars. The Sky. Sunshine and 
Rain. Conclusion. 

VIII. Christianity and Superstition : Conclusion 520 

Supplements to Christianity. Negro Religion Uniform. Polythe- 
istic African Religion. Survivals in America. African Concept of 
Sin. Slave Religion. Negro Church a Social Center. Emotional 
Religion. "Praise Houses." The Emotion-expert. The Sermon. "A 
Slipperance uv de Tongue." "Comin' Thru." Resemblance to Africa. 
White Examples. Negro Visions. "Mrs. God." The "Foot-wash" 
and "Holy Dances." Christianity and Culture. Christianity in 
Africa. The Devil in Africa and America. Negro Devil-forms. The 
Faust Legend. Minor Devil-beliefs. Christ and Other Sacred Char- 
acters. Holy Herbs. God and the Lizard. Fetishistic Christianity. 
Christianized Voodooism. The Lucky Saint Joseph. Religion and 



xiv Contents 

Conjure. Bibliomancy. Superstitious Conversion. Dreams and Re- 
ligion. Aleatory Self-maintenance. Primitive and Civilized Religion. 
"Religion in Overalls." Meaning of Superstition. Eliminating Super- 
stition. Literary Education Ineffective. Suggested Training. Race 
Pride. Conclusion. 

IX. References Cited - 583 

X. List of Informants 599 



ILLUSTRATIONS 



A Negro Conjure-Doctor Frontispiece. 

Songsters of Note Facing page 63 

Negro Graves in Mississippi " 106 

Mississippi Hoodoo-Doctors " " 201 

Making a "Hand" " "283 

Nutmeg, Red Flannel, and Silver ... " "314 

Some of My Informants " 385 

Two Volumes OF Folk-Lore '' 438 

Possession by the Spirit " ' 539 



FOLK BELIEFS OF THE SOUTHERN NEGRO 



CHAPTER I 

PRACTICAL AND EMOTIONAL BACKGROUND 

Antiques. No one appreciates the musty byways 
and corners of life more than the collector of antiques. 
The new chases the old from parlor to bedroom, to 
kitchen, to attic or woodshed, until finally the time- 
honored relic is either converted into kindling-wood 
or else is pounced upon by some antiquist and restored 
to its original place of honor. This dust-sifting is of 
double interest in the South since the cycle of degen- 
eration is twice repeated. Grandfather's chair, pos- 
sibly a splendid old Colonial piece, passes from the 
attic of the white planter to the "bes' room" of his 
Negro servant, from which it continues its usual 
route to the kitchen and woodshed as the Negro 
pride develops a longing for "new style stuff." Thus 
the Negro has very often become the custodian of 
many things which contributed much to the glory of 
the Old South, and the desire for a four-poster support 
for a veneered genealogy has sent even the most 
supercilious whites scrambling beneath the social bars 
into the dust of many a humble smokehouse and barn. 
In this pay-dirt are found many nuggets of mahogany, 
walnut or rosewood — spindle-beds and chairs, delicate 
tete-a-tetes, old clocks, spinning-wheels, what-nots, 
gate-leg tables, quaint old chests and dressers in 
various stages of dilapidation — battered, whitewashed, 
weather-beaten, smeared with enamel from the ten- 
cent store, patched up with rawhide or hickory, or 
hammered together with mutilated fragments of other 



2 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

masterpieces Into the most mongrel mishmash Imagin- 
able. And yet, In spite of paint, pounding, and 
patching, the master-touch of Chippendale, Sheraton, 
and others, and the French Influence from New 
Orleans and elsewhere are clearly discernible. 

Mental Heirlooms. Of no less Interest are the 
mental heirlooms of the Old South. Here again 
choice Items of folk-lore were handed down from the 
white master to the better class of slaves with whom 
he had more friendly contact. These European beliefs 
were later forgotten by the white man and relegated 
by the more advanced Negro to the garret of mental 
life; but in the more Illiterate Negro sections, and 
especially In the rural sections — the very woodshed 
of Negro life — may be found many fragments of early 
European thought. Mutilated and half-forgotten, 
smeared with the veneer of culture, and hammered 
together with Items of "book-larnin','' health prop- 
aganda, Scripture, and what not, this miscellany 
nevertheless shows the Negro to be, at least In part, 
the custodian of former beliefs of the white. But the 
task of ascertaining the component elements is very 
much more difficult with antique lore than with 
antique furniture. The Influences creating Negro 
furniture were definitely European or American, but 
with Negro folk-knowledge the African ^ past enters 
In and must be considered before any accurate analysis 
of these beliefs can be attempted. Ignorance creates 
an air of mystery, and Africa Is too often regarded as 

1 While there are a few isolated cases of traits acquired from the American 
Indians, in the main the plantation Negroes were isolated so effectively from 
these savage folk, who spoke an entirely different language, that little im- 
portant contact occurred. By the time the importation of slaves for the 
cotton plantations was in full sway the Indian was a negligible element in 
the environment. 



Practical and Emotional Background 3 

a sort of Cimmerian jumbo, responsible for all the 
"devilment" of the Negro ^ regardless of the insa- 
lubriousness of his particular American environment. 

Sources of American Slaves. Roughly speaking, 
the six to twelve million ^ Negro slaves brought to 
America came from that portion of the West Coast of 
Africa between the Senegal and the Congo rivers. 
True enough these West Coast slave markets did in 
turn obtain some slaves from far in the interior of the 
continent, ^ but the principal markets were about the 
mouths of the Senegal, Gambia, Niger, and Congo, 
and the majority of blacks were obtained from this 
West Coast region. * Here was the locality closest to 
America, the one with the densest population (more 
than half the total population of Africa was located 
in this western equatorial zone), * with the inhab- 
itants consisting largely of the more passive inland 
people driven to the coast by inland tribes expanding 
towards the sea. ^ This mild and pacific disposition 
was enhanced by the tropical climate and excessive 

1 With the exception of direct quotations the term Negro will be used to 
mean Afro-American, while the term African will be employed for African 
Negroes. 

2 See Work, M. N., Negro Year Book, (1918-1919), p. 151. 

^ For some idea of the extent of this contributing area, see Krehbiel, H. E., 
Afro-American Folksongs, pp. 56-57. Conrad, Georgia B., Reminiscences 
of a Southern Woman, Southern Workman, vol. 30 (1901), p. 252. Park, R. E., 
Journal Negro History, vol. 4 (1919), p. 117. Work, M. N., Negro Year Book 
(1918-1919), p. 151. Cable, G. W., The Dance in Place Congo, Century 
Magazine, vol. 31 (1886), p. 522. 

* Weatherford, W. D., The Negro from Africa to America, pp. 29-30. 
Brawley, B. G., Social History of the American Negro, p. 17. Brawley, B. G., 
Short History of the American Negro, pp. 1-2. Burton, R. F., Wit and 
Wisdom from West Africa, p. 387. Aimes, H. H. S., African Institutions in 
America, J. A. F. L., vol. 18 (1905), p. 15. 

6 Simpson, B. L., The Conflict of Colour, pp. 236-37. 

^ See Tillinghast, J. A., The Negro in Africa and America, p. 21. Keane, 
A. N., Man; Past and Present, p. 54. Wilberforce, W., The Abolition of 
the Slave Trade, pp. 86-87. Hutchinson, H. N., The Living Races of Man- 
kind, p. 332. 



4 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

humidity of the coast. ^ The lack of beasts of burden ^ 
forced pastoral tribes into agriculture, and native 
slavery (sometimes cruel, ^ but generally milder than 
the American form) " grew up as a natural concom- 
itant. Thus we have in this section of Africa a people, 
for the most part, with an easy-going disposition ; located 
in great numbers in that section of Africa closest to 
the New World; accustomed to agriculture and to 
human slavery; and a people of good physique — a 
quality further enhanced by the selective activity of 
the slave trade itself. ^ It is small wonder that, 
except for a few slaves taken from the Zambezi and 
Mozambique, the great majority of American slaves 
trace back their origin to this western seaboard. 

Physique and Folk-Lore. A detailed anthropological 
discussion of these West African tribes is aside from 
our present objective. It is true that the physical 
characteristics of a people affect their folk-beliefs, but 
only in a general sort of way. Thus the fetish figures 
in the African Collection at the U. S. National Museum 
reflect accurately the flat noses and kinky hair of the 
makers who modeled their gods in the image of African 
man. A folk predisposed to rheumatism would be 
naturally expected to stress cures for that disease in 
their folk-medicines, and a people with a high infant 
mortality to hunt about for teething aids. Nature 
made Africans black, and ethnocentrism, based upon 
this natural feature, always declares in the African 
story that all men were at first made black, but that 

1 Tillinghast, J. A., The Negro in Africa and America, p. 10. 

2 Ratzel, F., History of Mankind, vol. 3, p. 115. 
' See Race Problems of the South, p. 142. 

* For a more detailed discussion, see Ellis, A. B., Tshi-speaking Peoples, 
pp. 289-94. Nassau, R. H., Fetichism in West Africa, p. 15. Chatelain, H., 
African Folk-Life, J. A. F. L., vol. 10 (1897), p. 'S2. 

^ Tillinghast, J. A., The Negro in Africa and America, p. 106 ff. 



Practical and Emotional Background 5 

when Cain killed Abel he turned white from fear; ^ 
and in Maryland ^ and Mississippi, ^ at least, pre- 
cisely the same belief still survives. Notwithstanding 
the recognition of the inevitable character of the 
color code in the South, race pride hangs pictures of 
heaven, dusky with black angels, in many lowly Negro 
cabins, and buys Bibles containing pictures of these 
same black angels, at enormous profits to the pub- 
lisher. ^ Man notices that which affects him most, 
and interprets the world in terms of himself — thus 
physical qualities are at least to be kept constantly 
in mind in any discussion of superstitions. 

The African Potpourri. A Mississippi Negro, after 
ineffectually trying to dispatch his "techous" wife with 
an axe and an unloaded shotgun, came to "de second- 
han' sto','' to purchase a revolver with which to 
finish his ghastly errand. To his surprise the im- 
pecunious trader produced two splendid firearms. 
"Lawd, Mistah, Cindy ain' wurth no twenty-dollah 
killin','' he exclaimed. Then, looking at the weapons 
again, "Here I wus thinkin' you didn't hab nuthin' 
much, an' dere you Is wid dose two fine guns. De 
Scripture sho wus rite when hit sed, 'Bettah treat 
ebbybody rite 'caze you nebbah kin tell what dey's 
got.' " ^ In the case of the Southern Negro it is always 
more than difficult to tell "what dey's got" from the 
viewpoint of tribal origin. Roughly speaking, the 

1 Kingsley, M. H., West African Studies, pp. 384-85. Burton, R. F., 
Wit and Wisdom from West Africa, p. 124. 

2 Bergen, F. D., Animal and Plant Lore, M. A. F. L. S., vol. 7 (1899), 
p. 80. 

' 141. The.se numerals refer to the informants listed at the close of the 
text. Thus informant 141 will be found to be Hattie Harris, Columbus, 
Mississippi. 

* For an example of this latter form of exploitation, see Bok, E. W., The 
Americanization of Edivard Bok (21st ed., Scribners, 1922), p. 141. 

Ml. 



6 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

native peoples of Africa on the West Coast between 
the twentieth degrees of latitude north and south, may 
be divided into two classes, the Bantus and the Su- 
danese or Negritians. ^ The Bantus, occupying all of 
Southern Africa below the fourth degree of north 
latitude, "have a uniformity of language, tribal or- 
ganization, family customs, judicial rules and regu- 
lations, funeral rites, and religious beliefs and prac- 
tice." 2 The so-called Sudanese, on the other hand, 
are not at all a homogeneous people. From the Niger 
to the Senegal there is a regular patchwork of in- 
dividual, independent tribes having little in common 
as regards race, custom, or religion. ^ In this African 
hodge-podge the precise ancestry of particular Negro 
groups Is almost irretrievably lost. We know that 
such tribes as the Mpongive ^ and the Iboes ^ furnished 
many of the American slaves, at times leaving 
survivals of their language and customs in the New 
World. There are many indications that the same is 
true of the Yorubans ^ and Kroomen ^ and other 
tribes, but we have no guide as to the quota of slaves 
furnished by each. An analysis of the individual 
culture of each of these heterogeneous tribes is too 
broad a subject to be attempted in the present writing 
even If the data were complete. Furthermore such 
an analysis is by no means necessary. It Is of interest 
to know that the cannibalistic Fans did not reach the 
coast until about 1850, ^ that the tribes of Ashanti 



1 Dowd, Jerome., The Negro Races, vol. 1, p. xi and 78 ff. 

2 Nassau, R. H., Felichism in West Africa, p. L 

3 Kingsley, M. H., West African Studies, pp. 38-39. 

* Milligan, R. H., The Fetish Folk of West Africa, p. 43. 
^ Basden, G. T., Among the Iboes of Nigeria, p. 104. 
8 Ellis, A. B., Yoruba-speaking Peoples, p. 109. 

^ Griffith, T. R., On the Races Inhabiting Sierra Leone, J. A. /., vol. xvi 
(1887), pp. 300-304. 

8 Plutchinson, H. N., Living Races of Mankind, p. 347. 



Practical and Emotional Background 7 

and Dahomey were very militant, ^ that the Woloffs 
were very quarrelsome, ^ and that subjugation of the 
Congo tribes was almost impossible owing to the 
protective environment, ^ because these facts in- 
dicate that their contributions to the slave population 
were relatively slight. On the other hand the clever- 
ness of the Yorubans ^ and the more open environ- 
ment of the Tshis ^ seem to point to the fact that 
they may have contributed a special share to Negro 
superstitions without giving the least clue as to what 
this contribution may havfe been. 

For this reason we shall merely indicate some of the 
more universal African characteristics, putting especial 
stress upon those which seem to have survived under 
American contact. As a matter of fact, European 
lore had a decided advantage due to its universality 
in America, and hence its greater chance of perpet- 
uation. Purely local African lore would be apt to 
die out since its devotees in America were too few in 
number and too scattered to provide the constant 
repetition necessary for remembrance. Before the in- 
vention of writing, man had to be constantly reminded 
of his beliefs, else he forgot them. Even with the 
reduction of the manifold African languages to a 
common denominator through the adoption of English 
speech, only African beliefs of an universal nature 
would be likely to survive unless, perchance, many 
slaves from the same African locality were grouped 
together on a single plantation. Let us now consider 
a few of these broad African traits. 

^ Kingsley, M. H., West African Studies, p. 480. 
"^ Peschel, O., Races of Man, pp. 464-65. 

» Phillips, R. C, The Lower Congo, J. A. I., xvii (1888), pp. 215-16. 
* Frobenius, L., The Voice of Africa, vol. i, p. 148. Ellis, A. B., Yoruha- 
speaking Peoples, p. 32. 

' Ellis, A. B., Ewe-speaking peoples, pp. 8-9. 



8 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

Laziness, Humor, and Sexuality. Laziness is found 
both in Africa ^ and in America; in Africa being en- 
hanced by the enervating tropical environment. The 
high degree of energy and perseverance developed by 
some educated members of the Negro race in the South 
would seem to particularize this trait as that of any 
primitive folk not yet fully disciplined in foresight in- 
stead of a deep-rooted, inborn racial characteristic. The 
slavery-time environment of the Negro was not cal- 
culated to leave a traditional background making for 
habits of energy and foresight. Impulsiveness is 
another African - trait which is gradually being laid 
aside in favor of greater self-restraint. A lively sense 
of humor characterizes both African ^ and Negro, 
possibly having survival-value in that it prevents 
pining away under adversity. ^ Examples will be 
cited in connection with Negro jokes, but a splendid 
illustration of its balsamic utility was recently brought 
to my attention by the following reel: 

W'ite fo'ks lib in a fine brick house, 
Lawd, de yalluh gal do's de same; 
De ole nigger lib in de Columbus jail, 
But hit's a brick house jes' de same. ^ 

While a well regulated sex life is in part a result of 
cultural background, yet the sexual indulgence of the 
Negro, so open in Africa and in many parts of the 
rural South, may conceivably be a racial characteristic 
developed by natural selection in West Africa as a 
result of the frightful mortality. ^ 

1 Cruickshank, B., Eighteen Years on the Gold Coast of Africa, vol. 2, pp. 
252-54. 

2 Phillips, R. C, The Lower Congo, J. A. I., vol. 18 (1888), p. 218. 
^ Johnston, H. H., The Negro in the New World, p. viii. 

* Talley, T. W., Negro Folk Rhymes, pp. 244-45. 
6 143. 

* Tillinghast, J. A., The Negro in Africa and America, pp. 64-65. 



Practical and Emotional Background 9 

Other Traits. Despotism In West Africa seems to 
win loyalty, pride, and popularity, ^ possibly because 
a strong-minded master has spirit enough to resent 
aggression and self-reliance enough to protect his 
followers from outside annoyance. - The surprise of 
strangers at the respect commanded from the illiterate 
Negroes by a despotic "boss-man" ^ and the occasional 
employment of whipping as an effective means of 
control ^ indicate that remnants of this feeling may 
yet persist in parts of the South. Shortsightedness, 
indifference, and disregard of the future are traits 
common not only to Africans ^ and many Negroes, but 
to almost all undisciplined primitive peoples. ^ With 
the Ewe-speaking peoples "where any improvement 
in conditions is only likely to arouse the cupidity of an 
irresponsible chief (or the Southern slaveholder of 
later times), why seek to improve it.^ Hence we find 
a great indifference to the future. . . . The chiefs 
are arrogant and tyrannical and the people servile. 
The latter rarely go straight towards the end they 
wish to obtain, but seek to compass it by subterfuges 
and devious methods. Concealment of design is the 
first element of safety, and as this axiom has been 
consistently carried out for generations, the national 
character is strongl}^ marked by duplicity. The Negro 
lies habitually; and even in matters of little moment, 
or of absolute indifference, it is rare for him to speak 
the truth." ^ May not the organized hypocrisy of the 

1 Ihid. , p. 69. 

2 Phillips, R. C, The Lower Congo, J. A. I., vol. 18 (1888), p. 218. 

' See also, Bruce, P. A., The Plantation Negro as a Freedman, p. 35. 

^ Tillinghast, .J. A., The Negro in Africa and America, p. 180. 

' Bosnian, W., Description of the Coast of Guinea, p. 1Q;1. Kingsley, M. H., 
Travels in West Africa, p. 598. McDonald, G., The Gold Coast, Past a?id 
Present, p. 81. 

* See Lippert, J^ Kulturgeschichte der Mei^schheit, p. 37 ff. 

^ Ellis, A. B., Eu'e-speaking Peoples, p. 11. 



10 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

Southern Negro also be an adaptation forced upon him 
by conditions of Hfe? Sometimes this African pre- 
varication approaches closely that of the white Amer- 
icans. When the natives of Gabun are asked some- 
thing they do not want to tell they say "wz amie^'' 
(I don't know). Nassau says, "I have long ago learned 
that, mi amie, though only sometimes true, is not 
always a lie. It is equivalent to our conventional 
'Not at home,' or a polite version of 'Ask me no 
questions and I'll tell you no lies' . . . it is a 
kind of notification that the conversation had better 
be changed," ^ 

Vocational Characteristics. There is no particular 
point in going into elaborate details concerning the 
industrial organization of the West Africans, since it 
was practically all speedily displaced in America by 
European methods of livelihood. A thorough test 
was possible in this field ^ and this test showed American 
methods the superior adaptation to the new environ- 
ment into which the slave had come. Besides, the 
Africans were brought over to be industrially exploited, 
and the white master was careful to see that American 
farming practice was followed by the slave. He 
cared less about the amusements and religion of the 
Negro so long as they did not affect his working ability. 
But the American Negro remained still an agri- 
culturist in a rural environment, a fact which both In 
environment and occupation might be expected to tend 
to a closer preservation of African agricultural folk- 
beliefs. Even today almost three-fourths of the South- 
ern Negroes live in a rural ^ environment, and in this 

1 Nassau, R. H., Fetichism in West Africa, pp. IIO-IL 

2 Keller, A. G., Societal Evolution, pp. 128-168. 
« Negro Year Book (1921-1922), p. 391. 



Practical and Emotional Background 11 

relative isolation the more primitive type of super- 
stitions are generally preserved more easily than in 
an environment where outside contact is greater. 
That this is not always true is shown by the apparently 
greater prevalence of superstition with the New 
Orleans city Negro as compared with many of his 
rural kinsmen — a fact probably accounted for by the 
voodoo traditions of that city and the more frequent 
interchange of such ideas through a multitude of 
people all clinging to the same old beliefs. 

Briefly, the West Africans are mostly in a confused 
state of transition from the stage of purely nomadic 
savagery to that of settled agriculture. ^ They have 
no domestic draught animals and are ignorant of the 
plow, - their chief agricultural implement being a 
heavy knife or cutlass to cut down trees and dig holes. 
The women go around among the burned logs and tree 
roots and stick in their roots and shrubs whenever 
they can find space; and nature does the rest. ^ The 
chief form of division of labor with the Africans was 
according to sex, the woman doing the steady, monot- 
onous household work, and carrying on most of the 
agriculture, while the men turned to the more stren- 
uous and exciting occupations of hunting and warfare, 
also taking for the main part, a predominant place in the 
work of building houses, caring for the cattle, black- 
smithing and tailoring. * Beyond this there is little 
separation into difi^erent trades, except in a general 

1 Tillinghast, J. A., The Negro in Africa and America, pp. 25-26. 

2 Waitz, T., Anlhropologie der Naturvolker, bk. ii, p. 80. Cruickshank, B., 
Eighteen Years on the Gold Coast of Africa, vol ii, p. 272. 

^ Chaillu, P. B. du, Explorations and Adventures in Equatorial Africa, p. 125. 
See also, Cruickshank, B., Eighteen Years on the Gold Coast of Africa, vol. ii, 
p. 272. Tillinghast, J. A., The Negro in Africa and America, pp. 17 ff. 

^ See Winterbottom, T., Account of the Native Africans in the Neighbor- 
hood of Sierra Leone, p. 89. Johnston, Sir H. H., The Negro in the New 
World, pp. 23-24 and 318. 



12 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

sort of way, that of blacksmiths, weavers, shoemakers, 
and musicians, in some tribes, ^ with the addition of 
carpenters, dyers, and potters in others. ^ American 
slavery tended to destroy to some extent the sex 
division of labor, men and women alike being field 
hands, though the women still occupied the pre- 
dominant place as household servants. More in- 
dividual specialization was made possible, though 
trade and commerce, the industry liked best by the 
Africans, ^ was almost entirely supplanted by agri- 
culture. Most of the West Africans have private 
property in women, slaves and movables, but not in 
land; the idea of group or family responsibility giving 
rise to communal ownership as regards this pos- 
session. '* In general the succession of property is 
through the female line, ^ though among the Yorubans, 
who show a tendency towards individual ownership 
of property, the tie between father and child has been 
recognized and inheritance through the male line is 
common. ^ In America when the Negro was freed, 
private property was substituted for family property, 
and inheritance was shifted to the male line, but in 
most cases under slavery, the doling out of weekly 
rations to the family rather than to the individual 
kept the group idea still in the Negro's mind. 

^ Mollieu, G., Travels in the Interior of Africa to the Sources of the Senegal 
and Gambia, p. 59. 

2 See Johnston, Sir H. H., The Negro in the New World, p. 318. Til- 
linghast, J. A., The Negro in Africa and America, p. 37. Ratzel, F., History 
of Mankind, vol. 3, pp. 121-22. Waitz, T., Anthropologic, vol. 2, p. 96. 

' Ratzel, F., History of Mankind, vol. 3, p. 117 

^Kingsley, M. H., West African Studies, p. 436. Waitz, T., An- 
thropologic der Naturvolker, bk. ii, p. 80. Nassau, R. H., Fetichism in West 
Africa, pp. 22, 156 and 167. Ellis, A. B., Ewe-speaking Peoples, p. 217. 

^Nassau, R.H., Fetichis7ninWestAfrica,p.l3. Chatelain, H., Folk-Tales 
of Angola, M. A. F. L. S., vol. i (1894), p. 8. Kingsley, M. H., West African 
Studies, p. 428. Kingsley, M. H., Travels in West Africa, pp. 484-85. 

« Ellis, A. B., Yoruba-speaking Peoples, pp. 174-77, 217, and 302-03. 



Practical and Emotional Background 13 

Language a Unifying Force. Even more important 
than the substitution of raccoon and opossum for 
elephant and gorilla, or cotton and persimmon for 
palm and plantain in myth-making material, was the 
adoption of the English language in the place of the 
many heterogeneous tribal languages and dialects of 
Africa. Language is the vehicle in which social 
traditions ride on from one generation to another, and 
the possession of a common language at least enabled 
a universality of lore impossible to unconsolidated 
Africa. While the African tongue seldom speaks in 
the industrial life of the Negro today, yet in the more 
spiritual relations of play and religion, where the 
pruning-knife of the white man has been less severe, 
may be heard occasionally half-incoherent mutters 
reminiscent of jungle days. 

Mutilated English. The separation of this African 
element from the language of the Southern States is 
difficult because of the barbaric mangling of healthy 
English words by the tongue of the would-be Negro 
savant. The Negro meets with the "Christian and 
Deviled Egg Society" (Christian Endeavor and Aid 
Society) ^ and dwells upon "dem curious Cadillacs 
(Catholics) what woan' eat no meat on Friday," ^ 
He "resists" to "assist," "decopious" is "beautiful," 
a "refressiator" is a "refrigerator," ^ and he even runs 
at times into such impossibilities as "brown cheatom" 
(bronchitis) and "gumelastin" (gum elastic), leaving 
the puzzled folklorist at a "conclusive standstill," as 
the Negro would say, as to whether to run for an 
African dictionary or a Negro interpreter. Words like 

1262. 

2 278. 
'279. 



14 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

"allerkerchle" (apparently meaning "anvil dust") and 
"ponton" (a blue-gummed Negro, who is really a cross 
between a horse and a man) ^ are unclaimed virgins — 
mutilated figurines of fair England or dusky Africa, 
or perhaps inchoate dream images of the Negro slave 
himself. In the song, "Round the Corn, Sally," 2 the 
expression "iggle-quarter" may mean "eagle-quarter," 
and "ginny bank," "Virginia bank," but the term 
"count-aquils" is certainly enigmatical. I have often 
heard the Negroes speak of "ring-lights" and "fellom- 
city" in connection with their religious services. ^ One 
author speaks of the terms as unintelligible, * but an 
old conjure-doctor tells me that they represent in- 
scriptions from "Misapop" contained In the Union 
History of Christ, a book I have never been able to 
locate. (Among other things these Inscriptions, found 
on a stone which could only be overturned by a nine- 
year-old child, taught that woman could go to heaven 
without being converted — a fact known to all who read 
"Physiology.") According to him the term "ring- 
lights" means "blessings" while "fellom-city" means 
"peace." ^ Another better educated Negro tells me 
that the old slaves used the term "fellom-city" to 
mean "heaven" and "ring-lights" to mean the brightest 
lights there, « definitions which fit In well with the 
context as I have heard these terms used. 

True Linguistic Survivals. Nevertheless there are 
distinct African contributions to English speech, 
although often merely In the form of dialect, as where 

191. 

2 Allen, W. F., Slave Songs of the United States, p. 68. 

''141. 

* Southern Workman, vol. 23 (1894), p. 210. 

^91. 

^57. 



Practical and Emotional Background 15 

the nasality of the eastern coast Negro of America 
shows a close relation to the extremely nasal native 
language of the Guinea Coast region. ^ The term 
"voodoo" — or "hoodoo" as it is popularly called — 
seems to be derived from the vodu of the Ewes, a 
term used along with edro for gods and superhuman or 
supernatural agencies of all kinds. ^'Fodu appears to 
be derived from vo (to be afraid), or from vo (harm- 
ful)." - The term "goober" (peanut) is manifestly 
derived from gooba ^ or guha ^ by which this ground- 
nut {arachis hypongea) is known all over Africa. It 
is to be noted that this ground-nut is linked up with 
witchcraft. Among the Susu-speaking peoples of Sierra 
Leone it is a constituent of a charm designed to produce 
bad crops, ^ while with the Southern Negroes, Gullah 
Jack, one of the leaders in Denmark Vesey's In- 
surrection of 1822 and a sorcerer of note, advised his 
followers to eat only parched corn and ground-nuts 
before the battle, and to put a crab's claw in their 
mouths to prevent being wounded. ^ Today the 
Negroes say it is unlucky to eat peanuts when you 
are going away to play a game of any sort, ^ and peanut 
hulls scattered about the door mean that you will go 
to jail, s The African term Makara or Mbakara, in 
the sense of white man, is closely related to the Negro 
"buckra man" (poor white). ^ "Pickaninny" also 

* Johnson, Sir H. H., The Negro in the New World, p. 396. 

^ Ellis, A. B., Ewe-speaking Peoples, pp. 29-30. See also, Dana, M., 
Voodoo, Metropolitan Magazine, vol. 28 (1908), p. 537. Kennedy, L., Vodu 
and Vodun, J. A. F. L., vol. 3 (1890), p. 241. 

' Bacon, A. M., Proposal for Folk-Lore Research at Hampton, Va., J.A.F. L., 
vol. 6 (1893), p. 307. 

■* Owen, M. A., Voodoo Tales, p. 39 (note 2). 

* Thomas, N. W., Anthrop. Kept, of Sierra Leone, pt. 1, p. 50. 

* Brawley, B., Social History of the American Negro, pp. 135-37. 
' 401 and 182. 

8 141. 

' Burton, R. F., Wit and Wisdom from West Africa, p. 329. 



16 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

"appears to have been an African word used by the 
early American slaves for the word "baby." ^ The 
term "Gullah" is thought to be a corruption of 
"Angola." 2 In Louisiana the terms Counjai or 
Koundjo (a sort of Negro dance), ^ and grigri (noun 
signifies "charm" — verb means "to bewitch"), seem 
to be of African origin, the term gris-gris being employed 
in the Senegal as a general name for amulets. * 

Conservation of Verse. Many of these African 
survivals are found in rhymes, especially in voodoo 
songs, the rhythm being an aid to memory and clinging 
to the old words long after the original meaning has 
been forgotten. Both verse and religion are con- 
servative, and such unknown words by their very 
mystery occasion a sort of reverence on the part of the 
singer, similar to that evoked by the use of Latin 
in church services. One such survival is: 

Tig, tig, malaboin 

La Chelema che tango. 

Redjoum. 

In 1878 Lafcadio Hearn asked his black nurse in 
New Orleans the meaning of this refrain: "She only 
laughed and shook her head: 'Mais c'est Voudoo ca; 
je n'en sais rien.' " ^ Other such examples are the 
so-called Guinea or Ebo Rhymes, the former tongue 
showing a mixture of African and English, while the 
latter shows an addition of some foreign language, as 

1 Talley, T. W., Negro Folk Rhymes, p. 186 (note). 

2 Gonzales, A. E., The Black Border, p. 9. 

' Krehbiel, H. E., Afro- American Folksongs, p. 116. 

^ Newell, N. W., Reports of Voodoo Worship in Hayli and Louisiana, 
J. A. F. L., vol. 2 (1899), p. 44. 

^ Krehbiel, H. E., Afro-American Folksongs, p. 37. 



Practical and Emotional Background 17 

evidenced by the word, la used for "the." ^ Talley 
cites two such cases: 

Frog in a Mill ^ 

Once dere wus er frog dat lived in er mill 
He had er raker don la bottom o'-la kimebo 
Kimebo, nayro,*dilldo, kiro 
Stimstam, formididdle, all-a-board-la rake 
Wid er raker don la bottom o'-la kimebo. 

Tree Frogs ^ 

Shool!Shool!Shool! 

I rule! 
Shool!Shool!Shool! 

I rule! 
Shool! Shacker-rack! 
I shool bubba cool. 

Seller! Beller eel! 

Fust to ma tree'l 

Just came er bubba. 

Buska! Buska-reel! 

A Mississippi informant mentions the phrase lacka 
shoola, though she does not know the meaning. * 
In one of the Creole songs, the refrain Ouende, ouende, 
macaya is used after each line, and, in the Congo, 
ouende has the meaning "to go," "to continue to," 
"to go on," while the Creoles of Martinique use the 
term macaya to mean "to eat excessively" — giving 
the refrain the sense of "Go on! go on! Eat enor- 
mously!" ^ Other survivals in New Orleans are quimbe 
(Creole tchombe or chombo) (to take) and ouarasiy 

1 Talley, T. W., Negro Folk Rhymes, p. 247. 

2 Jhid., p. 167. 

3 Ibid., p. 168. 
«175. 

^ Krehbiel, H. E., Afro-American Folksongs, p. 39 ff. 

2 



18 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

ourasal used as a refrain to a song, although the 
meaning is not precisely clear. ^ Other apparently 
meaningless song lines with the Southern Negro are 
lee cum, lee cum, genikebukobuk, lee ki, used as a 
song in one of their animal folk tales ^ and the refrain, 
Toko onaman, toko, used as a refrain to one of the 
corn-shucking songs on an antebellum plantation in 
Alabama. ^ Onaman seems to be derived from oona 
or ona, which was used by the early slaves in both the 
singular and plural to mean "you" when speaking of 
friends as "Ona build a house in Paradise," ^ but of 
toho I could find no equivalent. The voodoos of 
Missouri know of the existence of a being called 
Samunga, who is called upon as follows when go- 
ing for mud of which to make "tricks" (charms or 
conjures) : 

Minnie, no, no Samunga 
Sangse see sa soh Samunga. 

Miss Owen thinks this may perhaps be the Gounja of 
the Hottentots. ^ Colonel Higginson says, "In my 
regiment there was a phrase, 'Lulla nigger talk,' 
referring doubtless to Angola, and there was a word 
my'o for the river of death in one of their hymns, 
which was probably African," ^ since in the Cameroon 
dialect mawa signifies "to die." ^ Again in one of 
the Creole songs there is the line, "Mo na me ouanga 
pour li" (I will make an ouanga for him), the term 

1 Ream, L., Gombo Zh(bes, p. 38 (note 1). 

2 Harvey, E. H., A Brer Rabbit Story, J. A. F. L., vol. 32 (1919), pp. 443-44. 

3 407. 

* Allen, W. F., Slave Songs of the United States, Preface p. xxv. 
6 Owen, M. A., Among the Voodoos, I. F. L. C. (1891), pp. 241-42. 
8 Higginson, Col. T. W., Letter in Southern Workman., vol. 23 (1894), 
p. 180. 

^ Allen, W. F., Slave Songs of the United States, p. 38 (note). 



Practical and Emotional Background 19 

ouanga being of African origin and applied to all 
things connected with the voodooism of the Negroes. ^ 
This term wongah {ouanga) in Louisiana, means a 
voodoo charm; ("wangateurs" are conjurers) ^ and is 
probably derived from the Ga term wong, "a 
charm." In a voodoo song mentioned by Mr. Cable ' 
the words tigui li seem to be the African tigewala, 
*'a maker of charms," or "medicine-man;" and the 
concluding sentence. Do se dan go-do, to be. Do dsi 
dank godo, "Oh, curved snake, may you be fat," 
i.e., "have a good meal." * The close association of 
these African terms with Negro voodooism even in 
advance would lead us to suspect that the voodoo 
practices are also African in origin. 

Other Possible Survivals. In a few other fields 
African expressions were remembered for a time after 
English was learned. A very old acquaintance of 
mine tells of Uncle Dennis, an African slave, who 
could count to five in his native language, ^'^bosa, boha, 
bio, banyon, buckanana.^^ ^ Many other strange terms 
have come to have an American Negro meaning, but 
were, I suspect, used once in Africa in the same or 
in a difi'erent sense. The term mojo is often used 
by the Mississippi Negroes ^ to mean "charms, amulets, 
or tricks," as "to work mojo" on a person or "to carry 
a mojo." In New Orleans the term iobe or toby 
is used in the same sense. ^ In Virginia "Gombre- 
work" means the work of conjuring or conjuration, 

1 Hearn, L., Gombo Zhebes, p. 16 (note 3). 

'277. 

^ Cable, G. W., Creole Slave Songs, Century Magazine, vol. 9 (1886), 
p. 820 (note). 

* Ellis, A. B., On Vodu Worship, Popular Science Monthly, vol. 38 
(1891), pp. 662-63. 

6 245. 

«1()3. 

^54. 



20 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

ingany or tingany means flour, and harberdidie 
means turkey buzzard. ^ Coonjine as used by the 
Mississippi River Negroes, refers to a peculiar motion 
of the body used apparently to lighten or hasten the 
labor of unloading; and hully-gully {hull da gull) or 
{oil ola) is the expression for "how many" in the 
children's game of guessing how many nuts a person 
holds in his hand. ^ Aw, a kind of expletive equiv- 
alent to "to be sure" (as "Cold aw," in response to a 
statement regarding the chilly weather), ckurray (spill 
or throw away), and tote (to carry), reflect a possible 
African origin, as do also such proper names as Cuffy, 
Quash, and perhaps Cudjo. ^ At times, African words 
remain with an altered meaning, as where the Negro 
word bonki (bone), meaning he-goat, is the same 
term used by the Woloffs for hyena. * 

Slave English. Apart from such isolated cases as 
these the African impress upon the English language 
was negligible. Everywhere English became the ac- 
cepted method of communication and English folk- 
beliefs and superstitions were given an enormous ad- 
vantage over the African forms. Possibly one reason 
for the fragmentary character of Negro folk-songs is 
the fact that the slave was not fully in possession of the 
English language when these songs were composed. ^ 
This difficulty is expressed well in one of the early 
slave prayers: 



1 Southern Workman, vol. 24 (1895), p. 78. 

2 Southern Workman, vol. 23 (1894), p. 26. 

" Allen, W. F., Slave Songs of the United States, Preface, p. xxv. 
^ Greber, A., Uncle Remus Traced to the Old World, J. A. F. L., vol. 6 
(1893), p. 247. 

^ Park, R. E., Journal of Negro History, vol. iv (1919) , p. 125. 



Practical and Emotional Background 21 

Make he good, like he say, 
Make he say, like he good, 
Make he say, like he good, like he God, 

which may be thus interpreted: "Make him good as 
his doctrine, make his doctrine as pure as his life, and 
may both be in the likeness of his God." ^ Such 
expressions as "de nineteen wile in his han' " (the 
anointing oil in his hand) ^ and "silly yan" (sweet 
lamb) 3 occurring frequently in slave songs show how 
often the Negro approximated the English sound 
without In the least getting the meaning. 

Language and Lore. While the lore of the whites 
and the blacks are by no means entirely distinct, the 
Importance of a mastery of English Is shown by the 
fact that, roughly speaking the greater the departure 
of the Negro from the standard English In dialect, 
the less the lore of the Negro Is like that of the white. * 
Where the slaves were herded together In large groups, 
and rarely came Into contact with any whites save their 
owner and overseer, they were observed to profit 
little by the Imitative faculty and to make little 
progress In mastering English. ^ Thus the smaller 
the plantation the greater the contact between whites 
and Negroes and the greater the chance for English 
folk-beliefs to enter the Negro mind. Also the planters 
who owned but few slaves were more likely to be 
uneducated and more superstitious — thus Increasing 
the possibility of transmission of English super- 
stitions. Always there Is a strain towards consistency 

^ Lyell, Sir C, A Second Visit to the United States of North America, vol. ii, 
pp. 15-16. 

* Krehbiel, H. E., Afro-American Folksongs, p. 218. 
»394. 

* Davis, H. C, Negro Folk-Lore in South Carolina J.A.F. L., vol. 27 (1914), 
p. 241 ff. 

^ Lyell, Sir C, A Second Visit to the United States of North America, vol ii, 
pp. 268-69. 



22 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

in the mores ^ — when the Negro acquired in part the 
language and outward culture of the white man there 
would be a tendency to acquire his folk-beliefs as well. 
For these and other reasons to be brought out later, we 
must not be surprised to find a good part of the Negro 
folk-beliefs to be of English or European origin. In 
1780 there were 1,500,000 whites and 43,000 slaves 
in New England, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. A 
greater chance for the interchange of folk-beliefs was 
thus afforded where the number of slaves was small, 
and when, not long after the Revolution, the Negroes 
were largely removed to the South ^ these New England 
folk-beliefs were doubtless carried with them and 
mingled with those of the South. 

African Marriage Customs. While the slave owner 
was not quite so concerned with the Negro's marriage 
customs as he was with his working customs, yet in 
the main a partial approximation of the white man's 
standards was attained. Generally throughout West 
Africa polygamy is the established form of marriage, ^ 
romantic love and kissing are unknown, * and wives 
are purchased in a purely business fashion with little 
display of feeling. ^ The dominant aifection in the 
home is the intense devotion of the African for his 
mother, ^ "more fights being occasioned among boys 

' See Sumner, W. G., Folkways, p. 5 ff. 

^Aimes, H. H. S., African Institutions in America, J. A. F. L., vol. 18 
(1905), pp. 15-18. 

2 TilHnghast, J. A., The Negro in Africa and America, pp. 60-61. Kingsley, 
M. H., Travels in West Africa, pp. 212 and 662. Kingsley, M. H., West 
African Studies, pp. 377-78. Talbot, D. A., Woman's Mysteries of a 
Primitive People, p. 96. Bosnian, W., Description of the Coast of Guinea, 
p. 169. 

* Ellis, A. B., Tshi-speaking Peoples, pp. 285-88. Kingsley, M. H., 
Travels in West Africa, p. 212. 

* Ellis, A. B., Tshi-speaking Peoples, p. 280. Ellis, A. B., Ewe-speaking 
Peoples, p. 199. For the betrothal customs, see Ellis, A. B., Tshi-speaking 
Peoples, pp. 235-36. ElUs, A. B., Yoruba-speaking Peoples, pp. 182-83. 
Ellis, A. B., Ewe-speaking Peoples, p. 201. 

* Wilson, L. Western Africa, p. 116. 



Practical and Emotional Background 23 

by hearing something said in disparagement of their 
mothers than by all other causes put together." ^ In 
much of Africa kinship is reckoned through the 
females. ^ 

American Survivals F ew. In the case of the South- 
ern Negroes there was some tendency to cling to this 
same regard for the mother, since in slavery times 
when a husband and wife were located on separate 
plantations, the children always belonged to the 
owner of the mother. Thus the influence of the 
mother was greater, a fact which has some importance 
in regard to the handing down of folk-beliefs. It is 
also rather noticeable that in the Negro folk-songs, 
mother and child are frequently sung of, but seldom 
father ^ — possibly pointing back to the African love 
for the mother and the uncertainty and slight con- 
sideration of fatherhood. A possible African survival 
lies in the practice of calling all old people "Uncle" 
and "Aunty" whether they are actually relatives or 
not. This may well point back to African conditions 
where an offspring stood closer to his maternal uncle 
than to his actual father. Though women are bought 
and sold as property in Africa, the girl has a certain 
element of choice, ■* and sometimes manages in the 
African folk-tale, by a proper display of wit, to get 
the man she desires. ^ The intense desire for children 
reflects the high rate of infant mortality. Many 
charms are used to promote fecundity, and a common 
wedding salutation is, "Mayst thou beget (or bear) 

1 Kingsley, M. H., West African Studies, pp. 373-74. 

'^ Bosman, W., Descriptions of the Coast of Guinea,p. 165. Winterbottom, T., 
Account of the Native Africans in the Neighborhood of Sierra Leone, p. 151. 
3 DuBois, W. E. B., Souls of Black Folk, p. 259. 

* Ellis, A. B., Tshi-speaking Peoples, p. 285. Ellis, A. B., Yoruba- 
sp caking Peoples, p. 185. 

* Koelle, Rev. S. M., African Native Literature (Kanuri Proverbs), p.-151 ff. 



24 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

twelve children with her (or him)." ^ Since women 
are regarded as property, adultery is simply a violation 
of a property right, punished much the same as theft. 
It may be defined as "intercourse with a married 
woman without the consent of the husband; for men 
can and do lend their wives, and the latter do not 
seem to have the right to refuse compliance." ^ 

Due in part to the negligence of the master in edu- 
cating the slave in the English concept of matrimony, ^ 
in part to the frequent breaking up of the slave family 
through the sale of one or more of its members, and in 
part, perhaps, to the natural sexuality of the Negro, 
many less advanced members of that race today are, 
to say the least, careless in their sexual life. But, in 
the main, English matrimonial customs gained the 
ascendancy. Kinship came to be reckoned through 
the male line instead of the female, and wife purchase 
was done away with, although there is occasionally 
in verse ^ a reference to buying a wife, which, however, 
may have been suggested by the fact that American 
Negro slaves were always bought and sold, causing 
them to consider themselves as articles of merchan- 
dise. One old Negress tells me of a slave who married 
a girl from a group of native Africans just received on 
the plantation. According to her statement, the 
young man was forced to obtain the consent of every 
member of the girl's group before he was allowed to 

1 Burton, R. F., Wit and Wisdom in West Africa, p. 167. 

2 Ellis, A. B., Ewe-speaking Peoples, p. 202. See also, Kingsley, M. H., 
West African Studies, pp. 434-35. Ellis, A. B., Yoruba-speaking Peoples, 
pp. 183-84. Ellis, A. B., Tshi-speaking Peoples, pp. 282 and 286. Chatelain, 
H., Folk-Tales of Angola, M. A. F. L. S. (1894), vol. 1, p. 272. For divorce 
customs, see Nassau, R. H., Felichism in West Africa, p. 10, and Ellis, A. B., 
Tshi-speaking Peoples, pp. 297-98. For the training of children, see Fro- 
benius, L., The Voice of Africa, vol. 1, pp. 156-58, and Ploss, H., Das 
Kind in Brauche u. Sitte der Volker, vol. 2, p. 343. 

^ See Lyell, C, Travels in North America in the Years 1841-42, vol. i, 
p. 146. 

< See Talley, T. W., Negro Folk Rhymes, p. 145 and 510. 



Practical' AND Emotional Background 25 

marry her, ^ a requirement which on the surface appears 
to point back to a very primitive condition of group- 
responsibility if not of group-marriage. 

Law and Government. Briefly noting the matter of 
African government, we find that practically the 
ground plan of African law is "the simple plan that 
they should take who have the power, and they should 
keep who can." ^ With some few exceptions ^ the gov- 
ernment is of a despotic type with most of the power 
residing in the chief of the tribe. * While having 
somewhat the nature of a cult bond, ^ the West African 
secret societies, such as the Egbo or Ogbondi, not only 
aid in preserving order and discipline, but even at 
times correspond to our mutual benefit societies or 
lodges. ^ In the case of law and government with the 
Negro slaves the despotism of the chief was sup- 
planted by that of the master, and the right of blood 
revenge was forbidden them. Under the cut-and- 
dried status of the slave we find almost no survival 
in this field, unless it be the so-called Negro "governor" 

'342. 

^ For more details, see Kingsley, M. H., Travels in West Africa, p. 536. 
Thomas, N. W., Anthrop. Rept. of Sierra Leone, pt. i, p. 70. Ellis, A. B., 
Tshi-speaking Peoples, p. 273. Ellis, A. B., Ewe-speaking Peoples, pp. 161-62. 
Ellis, A. B., Yoruba-speaking Peoples, pp. 164-65. 

' See especially, Bosman, J., Description of the Coast of Guinea (Pinker- 
ton), p. 405. 

* Kingsley, M. H., Travels in West Africa, p. 484. 

* Livingstone, D. , Missionary Travels and Researches in So uth Africa, p. 446 . 
^ For a more detailed discussion, see Gatschet, A. S., African Masks and 

Secret Societies, J.A.F. L., vol. 12 (1899), pp. 209-10. Ellis, A. B., Yoruba- 
speaking Peoples, pp. 107-11. Nassau, R. H., Fetichism in West Africa, 
pp. 12, 139, 145, and 147-48. Marriott, H. P. F., The Secret Societies of 
West Africa, J. A. I., vol. 29 (1899), pp. 21-25. Chatelain, H., Angolan Customs, 
J. A. F. L., vol. 9 (1896), p. 17. Beatty, K. J., Human Leopards, p. 25. 
Kingsley, M. H., Travels in West Africa, p. 531. Basden, G. T., Among 
the Ibos of Nigeria, p. 263. Marriott, H. P. F., Secret Society of West Africa., 
J. A. I., vol.29 (1899), p. 23. Ageebi, M., The West African Problem, in 
Spiller, G., Inter-racial Problems, p. 345. For a description of the opera- 
tion of African law in practical affairs, see Tillinghast, J. A., The Negro 
in Africa and America, p. 89. ElMs, A. B., Ewe-speaking Peoples, p. 223. 
Ellis, A. B., Tshi-speaking Peoples, pp. 303-04. 



.A 



26 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

who played a prominent role in New England slave 
festivals, more freedom being allowed them in that 
section. This "governor" was decorated with some 
of the emblems of royalty and the customs at this 
time were of apparent African type. ^ The Negro, 
however, does retain his intense passion for joining 
lodges and secret societies, most of which in America 
have the nature of mutual benefit organizations. 

Fewer Restrictions upon Self-gratification. The fet- 
ters of the white man have shackled but loosely the 
amusements and ostentations of the slave, except 
where these interfered with his working ability. Folk- 
beliefs and customs of purest African ancestry sport 
in this sphere, whereas in the domain of industry, 
marriage, and government they have been manacled 
even unto death. One will-o'-the-wisp flaunts itself 
at the very beginning as a sort of warning to the folk- 
lorist — the tendency of some Negroes, in common with 
certain whites, to attain pompousness by claiming 
relationship with nobility. I have run across far too 
many cases of old slaves claiming direct descent from 
African rulers to be willing to accept all such as- 
sertions at their face value. One has to be careful 
about such genealogies and also about the so-called 
African family traditions offered in support of them. 

Clothing and Ornamentation. The meager ^ clothing 
of the West African is used much more for ornamen- 
tation and the exaltation of personality than for 
protection or from a sense of shame. ^ The same is 

1 Aimes, H. S., African Institutions in America, J. A. F. L., vol. 18 
(1905), pp. 15-20. 

2 See Tillinghast, J. A., The Negro in Africa and America, p. 44. 

3 See Lippert, J., KuUurgeschichte der Menschheit, vol. 1, p. 365 ff. 
Le Cornpte, C. N. de Cardi, Ju-Ju Laws and Customs in the Niger Delta, 
J. A. I., xxix (1899), p. 60. 



Practical and Emotional Background 27 

also true of the stereotyped bodily scarification prac- 
ticed by many tribes. These scars served as a kind 
of tribal mark or coat-of-arms, and in some cases it 
was possible through these marks to trace back 
American slaves to their original African clans and 
tribes. ^ Much the same purpose was served by the 
little brass figures worn on the arms by members of 
the Ogbondi leagues. ^ 

In America the slave owner dictated the style of 
clothing given the slave, and, from his viewpoint, 
protection of the body rather than the gratification 
of vanity, was the deciding principle. Thus the 
native fashion was ruthlessly annihilated, and scar- 
ification was likewise tabooed, since the slave owner 
did not want his property to depreciate in value. 
In Africa, decoration of the hair reaches a high point, 
often consisting in mixing some plastic material with 
the hair and shaping the whole into a highly fantastic 
coiffure. ^ With the Negro woman of the South the 
hair is still a prime object of decoration as evidenced 
by the many elaborate coiffures and by the "Hair 
Dresser" signs on many a lowly Negro cabin; although 
there is a decided tendency to remove the kink, by 
odoriferous unguents of all kinds in imitation of the 
straight hair of the whites. Whether the source of 
vanity be copper or iron ornaments or houses ^ the 
West African cares more for quantity than for quality. 
This matter of quantity applies even to such things as 
bustles. "The size of this extraordinary appendage 
(the bustle worn behind by Gold Coast women) 

^ Lippert, J., KuUurgeschichte der Menschheit, vol. i, p. 396. 
^ Frobenius, L., The Voice of Africa, vol. i, p. 176. 
^ Lippert, J., KuUurgeschichte der Menschheit, vol. i, p. 381. 
* Chaillu, P. B. du, Explorations and Adventures in Equatorial Africa, 
p. 88. 



28 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

varies according to the consequence of the wearer, 
always increasing in proportion to her dignity." ^ 
The Joloffs prefer EngHsh copper coins to silver ones. 
"Because it requires a larger number, and a greater 
weight, to represent the same value in piasters, they 
imagine themselves so much the richer" ^ — much as a 
small boy prefers two nickels to a dime. Precisely 
this same sort of things holds true with the rural 
Southern Negro; huge gold plated ornaments are 
preferable to smaller ones of solid gold, and heavy 
round silver dollars are always more desirable than 
greenbacks. It is the size and showiness in jewelry 
rather than the fineness of design or quality which 
always attracts them. 

Grandiloquent Speech. Both in Africa ^ and in 
American the Negro seems to find a decided pleasure 
in altiloquent speech. Perhaps this bombast is partly 
due to the fact that the long and unusual word has a 
sort of awe-inspiring, almost fetishistic significance to 
the uneducated person, and with the Negro, at least, 
it indicated a desire to approximate the white man in 
outward signs of learning. As it is, the Negro is 
constantly being lost in a labyrinth of jaw-breaking 
words full of sound and fury but signifying nothing. 
A loquacious old slave in my locality always comes 
forth with, "Underneath de ole foundations whar 
imputations rivals no gittin' 'long," * when he es- 
pecially desires to impress his audience. Another 
Mississippi Negro, singing of the life of Moses, exhibits 

1 Cruickshank, B., Eighteen Years on the Gold Coast of Africa, vol. 2, p. 283. 

2 MoUieu, G., Travels in the {interior of Africa to the Source of the Sengeal 
and Gambia, p. 60. 

3 See Kingsley, M. H., Travels in West Africa, p. 434. 
*48. 



Practical and Emotional Background 29 

the following rare display of English grammar recorded 
exactly as sung: 

When Moses had grewed to a manhood 
To a Gypsun once he had slun. ^ 

I will admit however, that the vitalization of English 
displayed by a few earlier lines more than made up for 
any later desecrations. Thus: 

We kin almos' see de baby (Moses) 
Hide-an-seeking' 'roun' de throne. 

And in truth "we kin almos' " see the child. A 
secretary of a Negro church in a letter to a friend 
of mine, thanking her for an organ she presented to 
the congregation, regrets "to note that your affection- 
ating act found me in a unequipped attitude to ex- 
press to you our gratitude." Nevertheless he takes 
"this probability" to thank her, saying, "if my letter 
was made to elongate a mile in distance" it could 
contain but a small portion of his "countless grat- 
itude." 2 But not always is the work a mutilation. 
At times the creative impulse comes in and the "Spot- 
er-Wrinkle" Methodist Church of Hazlehurst, Miss., 
results, with true Biblical backing, ^ as does also the 
small town, "Balance Due," which derived its name 
from the "balance due" slips sent out monthly to the 
Negroes in their cooperative effort to buy land. ^ 

Courtship Formulas. In courtship the suitor with 
a retinue of grandiose words had a decided advantage, 
and many plantations had an old slave experienced in 

1 394. 

2 358. 

'See Ephesians, 5:27. 

^279. 



30 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

the words and ways of courtship to instruct "young 
gallants in the way in which they should go in the 
delicate matter of winning the girl of their choice." ^ 
In one difficult courtship the suitor went to sea and 
acquired long nautical terms in order effectively to 
''split dick" (talk dictionary) with the obdurate father 
who wished his daughter to have an educated husband. ^ 
An example of such wordy courtships from South 
Carolina is: "Miss Letty, I come fo' to cou't you, 
but I 'fraid fo' to ventu,' pervidin' if you have any 
dejection ma'am. I come wid a few current tickles 
an' a few current tags to mix my seed wid your 
generation, pervidin' if you have any dejection ma'- 
am.?" 3 Another such formula found in Mississippi 
and other parts South is, "Kin' lady, went upon high 
gum an' came down on little Pe de, where many goes 
but few knows." If such figurative speech is beyond 
the understanding of the fair one she may escape 
gracefully by saying, "Sir, you are a huckleberry 
beyond my persimmon." ^ Again if the tremulous 
suitor is in doubt as to the exact relation to the h}^- 
meneal altar of his prospective lady-love he may solicit 
this information In a euphemistic fashion by asking, 
"Deah lady, ef dere wuz three glasses a-settin' on de 
table, one full, one half-full, and de odder empty, 
which one wud you choose?" If she replies, "de full 
one," he will know she Is already married; "de half-full 
one," then she Is engaged to another; while "de empty 
one" tells him that her life Is empty of all others, ^ 

1 Banks, F. D., Plantation Courtship, J. A. F. L., vol. 7 (1894), p. 146 ff. 

^Southern Workman, vol. 25 (1896), p. 226. 

3 Parsons, E. C, Folk-Lore of the Sea Islands, S. C, M. A. F. L. S., vol. 16 
(1923), p. 135 (note 2). 

* 141. Also cited with other examples in Southern Workman, vol. 24 (1895), 
p. 15. 

M06. 



Practical and Emotional Background 31 

Animal Folk-tales. The most unaffected creatures 
of African thought, however, inhabit the realm of 
Negro animal folk-tales. Here was a line of slave- 
thought not merely unrestrained but even encouraged 
by the whites, since these stories were often clam- 
orously demanded by white children and stood the 
Negro nurse in good stead. In the rural environ- 
ment these animal stories still retained the same force 
and meaning they possessed in their rural African 
environment. Thus we have a great mass of such 
folk-tales coming directly from their African home. 
Perhaps originally in Africa these stories had a deeper 
purpose than merely providing amusement. Almost 
always the weaker animal by his superior wit wins 
out in the contest with more ferocious animals of 
superior strength. In a symbolic way this may have 
been originally a form of prayer or incantation whereby 
protection against these powerful denizens of the 
jungle was secured. This seems all the more likely 
since in Africa, as illustrated by the Benga tribe, the 
lower animals were believed in prehistoric times to 
have human speech and to associate with man even 
in marriage. ^ Some West Africans, ^ along with 
other savages, ^ seriously believe that apes can speak, 
but judiciously hold their tongues lest they should be 
made to work. On the Gold Coast "no one says he 
will kill his dog tomorrow if the dog is within hearing, 
lest it should run away. On the occasion of the 
Peace celebration the Government presented the people 
with a number of sheep, and by way of amusing their 
herd I told the sheep they had only one day to live. 

^ Nassau, R. H., Where Animals Talk, p. 165. The title is sufficient 
indication of the native belief regarding power of speech with animals. 
2 Taylor, E. B., Primitive Culture, vol. 1, p. 379. 
^ Klaatsch, A. A., Evolution, and Progress of Mankind, p. 89. 



32 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

The shepherd was quite indignant, as he was respon- 
sible for their safe keeping and told me the sheep would 
try to escape. One did. The shepherd explained it 
was really my fault." ^ Obviously animals with such 
powers of understanding might also be supposed to be 
afraid and to slink away when hearing stories relating 
to their downfall, though in Africa any such possible 
supernatural motive has at present been largely sub- 
ordinated to that of self-gratification. "The telling 
of folk-lore tales amounts, with the African Negro, 
almost to a passion. By day, both men and women 
have their manual occupations, or even if idling, pass 
the time in sleep or gossip; but at night, particularly 
with moonlight, if there be on hand no dances, either 
of fetish-worship or of mere amusement, some story- 
teller is asked to recite. This is true all over Africa." ^ 

Fossilized Customs. With the older Southern Ne- 
groes much the same idea regarding the human powers 
and actions of the animals in "olden times" is in vogue. 
"Dey sho could talk in dem days, w'ite folks, an' dey 
carried on dey's business an' dey's devilment jes' lak 
folkses" 3 — an expression which with these Negroes 
is not a mere saying or superstition but a belief, as 
firm as that in "Norah's Ark," for instance. These 
animals, regarded by the old slaves as being much 
larger in old times, ^ are probably the half-forgotten 
shadows of uncouth jungle-beasts. "De creeturs wuz 
mos'ly farmers in dem (olden) days;" ^ folks had to 
get things by "swappin' and traffickin' " on account of 

1 Cardinal, A. W., The Natives of the Northern Territories of the Gold 
Coast, p. 37. 

'' Nassau, R. H., Fetichism in West Africa, p. 330. 

'305, 307 and 9L See also, Harris, J. C, Uncle Remus, pp. 20-21, and 
Told by Uncle Remus, pp. 76 and 267 ff. 

< Harris, J. C, Told by Uncle Remus, pp. 31-40. 

*76zd., p. .51. 



Practical and Emotional Background 33 

the lack of money; ^ they "didn't hab no matches 
den . . . an' folkes hatter tote coals kivered wid 
ashes fur miles an' miles, if dey let de fire go out;" ^ 
all of these statements possibly refer to customs of 
African days. Elephants, lions, tigers, and other 
ferocious beasts stalk through these Negro folk-tales 
as they stalked through the African jungles in which 
the tales originated. "Old King Sun wuz mo' neigh- 
borly" in the olden days than now, ^ possibly because 
he was regarded as a deity taking a hand in the des- 
tinies of man. ^ Rather common, ^ though not of 
animal association, is the story of the old woman who 
sought to obtain the young man whom she desired by 
fulfilling his requirement of sleeping out on the house- 
top all night between two wet sheets. She froze to 
death about three a.m. and did not get her man after 
all. One informant adds that "always in de olden 
days when a pore pusson wuz fixin' ter marry a rich 
pusson de pore one had ter spend de nite on de roof," ^ 
and we immediately suspect a possible survival of 
some old African marriage-test or exposure custom. 

African Characters. With the Ewe people in Africa 
these folk-tales are merely stories of the adventures of 
beasts and birds to whom the natives ascribe the power 
of speech, and we have nothing of the nature of met- 
aphor or moral such as the fables of ^sop. "This form 
of myth is probably primary, the allegory and moral 
lesson being 'added when a more advanced stage of 
civilization is reached." ^ The leading topic of most 

1 Ihid., p. 77. 

2 Boyle, Mrs. V. F., Devil Tales, p. 161. 

' Harris, J. C, Told by Uncle Remus, p. 177. 

*See Ellis, A. B., Ewe-speaking Peoples, pp. 31-71. 

^ 141, and 91. See also. Parsons, E. C., Tales from Guilford County, 
N. C, J.A.F. L., vol 30 (1917), p. 194. 

"307. 

' Ellis, A. B., Ewe-speaking Peoples, p. 268. 
3 



34 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

animal tales is the victory of cunning and craft over 
stupidity or brute force, and in the Negro folk-tales 
not only the plots of the majority of the stories but 
even the principal actors are of African origin. Gen- 
erally in Africa, it is the jackal or fox, hare or tortoise, 
who is pitted against the lion, wolf, or hyena. ^ Only 
the spider, a great favorite in African folk-lore, ^ has 
been almost entirely dropped from the folk-tales of 
the Negro, and this may perhaps be due to a falling 
away of African religious beliefs, since on the Gold 
Coast the spider is regarded as the Creator of all men, 
and is supposed to speak through the nose as the 
local demons are said to do. ^ It also may be that 
the spiders of the South, being smaller and less terrify- 
ing than the African type, have caused that creature to 
lose its prestige. "Cunnle Rabbit"" (so-called by the 
African natives) is in reality not a rabbit at all, but the 
water deerlet or chevrotain, noted for its nimbleness and 
cunning. It is about eighteen inches long, slender and 
graceful in form, with a soft fawn-colored skin, and the 
daintest of legs and feet. This little creature is very 
difficult to capture and its shyness, fleetness and 
cunning have led the natives to invest It with a sort 
of veneration. It may be that the similarity of proper 
names have led the slave to Invest the American hare 
with the qualities of their Cunning Rabbit, since 
"it certainly requires a very friendly eye to see in the 
hare all the mental acumen accredited by the Negroes 
to Brer Rabbit." ^ 



iQreber, A., Uncle Remus Traced to the Old World, J. A. F. L., vol. 6 
(1893), p. 247. 

^ Ellis, A. B., Yoruba-speaking Peoples, p. 258. 

^ Burton, R. F., Wit and Wisdom from West Africa, pp.,. 133-34. 

* Cronise and Ward, Cunnie Rabbit, Mr. Spider and the Other Beef, pp. 
15-18. 



Practical and Emotional Background 35 

The Dog. Of all the animals standing low In the 
estimation of the African the dog Is the most des- 
picable. 1 While the dog fares better In American 
Negro folk-lore, he Is usually given a subordinate place 
and the fact that the worst possible form of cursing 
with the Southern Negro Is to declare a man to be 
related to a bitch seems to show traces of the former 
African disgust for this animal. 

African Origins. In general the simpler stories are 
the more likely to have had a separate origin, a case 
of parallelism, while the odd and complex stories are 
likely to have been disseminated from a common 
source. In the case of odd Negro folk-tales this center 
of origin must have been In the Old World, since the 
tide of migration has steadily been westward. ^ Harris 
himself says, "One thing Is certain, the animal stories 
told by the Negroes In our Southern States and In 
Brazil were brought by them from Africa. Whether 
they originated there or with the Arabs or Egyptians 
or yet more ancient nations must still be an open 
question." ^ Ruby A. Moore testifies directly to the 
fact that such was the case. "Most of them (Negro 
stories as told by Uncle Remus) are fables told me by 
my grandfather's sometime slaves when I was a child. 
Many of these Negroes had been brought over In 1858 
from the Galla district in the Congo Country of Africa, 
and as soon as they could make themselves understood 
by a gibberish that was a mixture of our language and 
theirs, their stories, fables, traditions, etc., began to 
be circulated among the other darkles." * 

1 Chatelain, H., Folk-Tales of Angola., M. A. F. L. S., vol. i (1894), p. 300. 
^Greber, A., Uncle Remus Traced to the Old World, J. A. F. L., vol. 6 
(1893), p. 245 ff. 

' Harris, J. C, Uncle Remus, Introduction, p. xii. 

* Moore, R. A., Siiperstitions from Ga., J. A. F. L.. vol. 7 (1894), p. 306. 



36 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

Coming now to some examples of African tales 
brought to America we see, first of all, the doubtful 
case of the fox who fooled the bear into using his 
long bushy tail for a fishing line. Something in the 
water caught it and bit it off, leaving the bear for- 
evermore with a short tail. So runs the Yoruban 
version, ^ and the common American version is like it 
except that the rabbit's tail is supposed to have frozen 
up in the ice and snapped off, ^ But this latter version 
is common in the tales of Reinhart Fuchs in Europe, 
except that the wolf is substituted for the rabbit, 
while with the Northern Countries the bear main- 
tains this position. ^ One of my informants gives a 
version closer to the African one in that the fox fools 
the rabbit into getting his tail frozen in the stream; 
then the owl tries to pull him out by his ears, stretching 
them to their present-day immoderate length; and 
finally gets him out by biting the rabbit's tail off close 
to the ice, leaving him with his little bob-tail. * In 
spite of the close similarity of these stories, the natural 
absence of ice in the African version and its presence 
in the American and European ones would lead us to 
doubt its African origin; Many European tales were 
absorbed by the Southern Negroes, and in these days 
of an education for Negroes, Cinderella and Daedalus 
and Icarus hobnob with Brer Rabbit and Brer Fox. 

Devil Tales and Others. Mrs. Virginia Frazer Boyle 
records some very interesting old slave stories related 
by an old nurse, in her book. Devil Tales. Concerning 
these she writes me that Dr. Paul Carus located all of 



1 Lomax, J. A., Stories of an African Prince, J. A. F. L., vol. 26 (1913), p. 6. 

2 Harris, J. C, Uncle Remus, pp. 120-24. Also informant 91. 

•'' Jacobs, J., Reynard the Fox, Introduction, pp. xvii-xviii and xxix. 
Campbell, J. F., Popular Tales of the West Highlands, vol. 1, pp. 280-81. 
♦7. 



Practical and Emotional Background 37 

their origins on the West Coast of Africa with the 
exception of the story about "The Devil's Little Fly" 
(found among Negroes in Georgia, Tennessee, Mis- 
sissippi and Alabama), which appears to be of As- 
syrian origin. ^ There is an African story of the devil 
in disguise marrying a proud girl who disdained all 
other suitors, ^ which shows many points in common 
with the Southern Negro version, although the mode of 
escape is different. In the Sea Island version ^ the 
devil is represented as having to undress in order to 
eat — a possible remnant of some African ceremonial 
food custom. The familiar story of Brer Rabbit 
telling the girls he was going to make a riding horse of 
Brer Fox, then actually so doing through pretense of 
sickness, * has its counterpart in the African story 
of Mr. Turtle making a riding horse of Mr. Leopard. ^ 
Again Brer Rabbit asks God (or an old witch) for more 
sense. God tells him to bring Him some snake's 
front teeth (or squirrels, or blackbirds in a bag, or 
some alligator teeth). Brer Rabbit does this in his 
usual sly manner, whereupon God tells him that he 
already has enough sense (or else knocks him in the 
head so that his eyes pop out, or lets a hound dog bite 
his long tail off). ^ This story has an almost precise 
agreement with the Woloff story where the Creator 
tells the hare to catch some sparrows in a calabash. "^ 

2 Cronise and Ward., Cunnie Rabbit, Mr. Spider and the Other Beef, pp. 
178-87. 

'Parsons, E. C, Folk- Lore of the Sea Islands, S C, M. A. F. L. S., vol. 
16 (1923), pp. 45-46. 

' 21, 74, and 362. 

^ Cronise and Ward, Cunnie Rabbit, Mr. Spider and the Other Beef, pp. 
70-76. 

«330. 

^ Parsons, E. C, Folk-Lore of the Sea Islands, S. C, M. A. F. L. S., vol. 6 
(1893), p. 249. See also, Cronise and Ward., Cunnie Rabbit, Mr. Spider 
and the Other Beef, pp. 40-49. Barker, W. H., and Sinclair, C, West African 
Folk-Tales, (London. 1917), pp. 29-31. 



38 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

With the Southern Negro, according to a South Caro- 
Hna version, ^ the rabbit and the wolf are working in 
the field together, Brer Rabbit slips away three times 
to eat the cheese they are saving for dinner, explaining 
his absence each time by saying that his wife had 
presented him with a child, the first one being named 
Startun, the next, Halfun, and the third, Doneun 
(the cheese all eaten). With the Africans it is the 
rabbit and the antelope digging a well, but the rabbit 
slips off to eat the food as before and his three hy- 
pothetical children are called Uncompleted-one, Half- 
completed one, and Completed-one. ^ With the 
African, the story then turns to the "tar-baby episode" 
(figure smeared with bird-lime), while the Negro story 
goes on to tell about the "tell-tale grease," which, 
however, also has an African origin. ^ With the 
Negro, Brer Rabbit tells the elephant (ruler of earth) 
that he has a cow that he wants pulled out of a mud- 
hole. Then he tells the whale (ruler of water) the 
same thing and has them pull against one another 
until both are dead. Brer Rabbit then becoming ruler 
of everything. ^ The Ibos have the tortoise fooling 
the buffalo and the elephant into such a struggle, ^ 
while others have the spider enticing the elephant and 
hippopotamus, " and still others, the tortoise against the 
rhinoceros and hippopotamus, ^ but the plot pattern 
with all Is essentially alike. Brer Guinea (or Rooster) 
sits up with his head tucked under his wing and his legs 
tucked under his feathers and tells Brer Rabbit that his 



U25. 

2 Dennet, R. E., Notes on the Folklore of the Fjort, pp. 90-93. 
' Parsons, E. C, Folk-Lore of the Sea Islands, S. C, M. A. F. L. S., vol. 16 
(1923), pp 12-14. 

* 305, and 326. 

* Basden, G. T., Among the Ibos of Nigeria, p. 277. 

* Cronise and Ward, Cunnie Rabbit, Mr. Spider and the other Beef, pp. 
117-23. 

7 Milligan, R. H., Fetish Folk of West Africa, pp. 214-15. 



Practical and Emotional Background 39 

head and legs were so cold that he had his wife chop 
them off for him. Brer Rabbit goes home and meets his 
death by having his wife do the same for him. ^ In 
Africa exactly the same episode takes place between 
the rooster and the rabbit. ^ The South Carolina 
Negro has the hedgehog beat the rabbit In a race by 
hiding Mrs. Hedgehog, who could not be distinguished 
from him, at the finish line, ^ while In Africa the snail * 
or frog ^ beats the deer, or the chameleon the ele- 
phant, " or the turtle the antelope, ^ by the same 
strategy. The American alligator acquired his scaly 
skin by being trapped In a fire by Brer Rabbit, * 
which Is a literal outline of the Rhodeslan story, 
except that the African version mixes people In with 
the plot. 9 

The Tar-baby Story. Possibly one of the best known 
Importations is the familiar tar-baby story, where 
Brer Rabbit Is trapped by slapping an- Image smeared 
with tar. In Africa, with the Ewes he Is then thor- 
oughly beaten for muddying up a spring which he 
would not help dig; ^ " or, as the Yoruban version goes, 
Is caught by slapping a trap and fools the other animals 
Into throwing him scot free Into an open field where he 
has told them he would be devoured by beasts of 

^307. For variants, see Parsons, E. C, Tales from Guilford County, 
N. C, J. A. F. L., vol. 30 (1917), p. 190 ff. Parsons, E. C, Folk-Tales Col- 
lected at Miami, Fla., Ibid., p. 226. Parsons, E. C, Folk-Tales from Students 
in Tuskeegee Institute, Ala., J. A. F. L., vol 32 (1919), p. 401. 

^ Boas, F. and Sinango, C. K., Tales and Proverbs of the Vandau of Portu- 
guese South Africa, J. A. F. L., vol. 35 (1922), p. 180. 

394. 

* Ellis, G. E., Negro Culture in West Africa, p. 199. 

* Basden, G. T., Among the Ibos of Nigeria, p. 274. 

6 Milligan, R. H., Fetish Folk of West Africa, pp. 214-15. 
^ Schwab, G., Bulu Folk-Tales, J. A. F. L., vol. 27 (1914), p. 277. Nassau, 
R. H., Where Animals Talk, pp. 95-98. 

8341. See also, Harris, J. C, Told by Uncle Remus, pp. 258-59. 
9 FuUer, Dr. C. C., In Talley, T. W., Negro Folk Rhymes, pp. 309-10. 
10 Ellis, A. B., Ewe-speaking Peoples, pp. 275-77. 



40 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

prey. ^ Commonly in America he is trapped by the 
tar image for muddying a spring and fools the captors 
into throwing him into the briar-patch where he was 
"bred and born," ^ although in one interesting Ar- 
kansas variant he is trapped while fishing in Brer 
Fox's fishing house and escapes when Brer Fox tries 
to melt the tar off" him in order to eat him. ' In 
another African case it is Mr. Spider who gets caught 
on an image smeared over with sticky gum from a tree. * 
Variants of the story appear in widely separate coun- 
tries. In the Bahama Islands an elephant devises the 
tar-baby; in Canada a Frenchman; in Brazil an old 
woman or man catches a monkey on a wax baby; 
in Mauritis and in one South African version the 
tortoise puts glue on its back and catches the hare or 
jackal, while in another South African version the 
jackal is caught in lime which a man put on a fence. 
If Mr. Jacob be correct there is also a similarity in the 
story in India of the Jataka, of Buddha and the 
demon with the matted hair ^ — all of which shows the 
story pattern to be one of tremendous antiquity. 
Perhaps Espinosa and Boas are right in considering 
Spain and Portugal as the center of origin, from which 
latter country these stories were carried to the Guinea 
Coast of Africa as early as 1480, and from thence 
brought over into Negro America by the slaves. ^ 

1 Lomax, J. A., Stories of an African Prince, J.A.F. L., vol. 26 (1913), p. 5. 
2 114, 31, 305, and 89. See Harris, J. C, Uncle Remus, pp. 7-11 and 16-19. 

2 27. For other variants, see Bacon, A. M., and Parsons, E. C, Folk- 
Songsfrom Elizabeth City County, Va., J. A. F. L., vol. 35 (1923), pp. 256-60. 

* Cronise and Ward., Cunnie Rabbit, Mr. Spider and the Other Beef, pp. 
101-11. 

^Graber, A., Uncle Remus Traced to the Old World, J. A. F. L., vol. 6 
(1893), p. 251. 

« Espinosa, A. M., A Folk-Lore Expedition to Spain, J. A. F. L., vol. 34 
(1921), pp. 127-42. Boas, F., Mylholoy and Folk-Tales of the North American 
Indians, J. A. F. L., vol. 27, pp. 374-410. Tozzer, A. M., Social Origins 
and Social Continuities, pp. 20-21. 



Practical and Emotional Background 41 

At any rate the African source seems to prevail over 
the Indian in the case of the tar-baby story, since 
neither the story nor tlie motif has a marked place in 
Hindu fiction; since it is not widespread there and has 
not been passed on to neighboring peoples like other 
Hindu stories; and since it is found more in Africa 
(22 cases) than elsewhere, though the field has been 
less explored than India. ^ 

While I have no cases of the tar-baby being used by 
the Africans to catch evil spirits, yet the Mississippi 
Negroes say that such an image would be bound to 
bring good luck, since the tar-baby was the only 
thing sharp enough to stop Brer Rabbit, ^ and there 
is the statement by an old Negro man that in 1861 
such a tar-baby was painted above the door of a 
blacksmith shop near Sumpter, S. C, to guard the 
shop against ill luck. ^ In certain localities in Georgia 
the tar-baby was regarded as a monstrous living 
creature composed of tar, who haunted lonely 
places about the plantation, insulting people beyond 
endurance so that they would strike him and give 
themselves into his sticky embrace. * 

Erroneous Nature-beliefs. These cases represent 
typical migrations of African animal folk-tales into 
America. Doubtless there are many more which will 
be identified when additional study of African sources 
are made, since there are other Negro tales with an 
African swagger to them which apparently show no 
counterparts in the folk-lore of other peoples. Many 

1 Brown, Dr. W. N., The Tar-baby Story at Hoyne, Scientific Monthly, 
vol. 15 (1922), p. 230 ff. 

"91. 

* Davis, H. C, Negro Folk-Lore in South Carolina, J. A. F. L., vol. 27 
(1914), p. 245. 

^ Pendleton, L., Notes on Negro Folk-Lore and Witchcraft in the South, 
J. A. F. L., vol. 3 (1890), pp. 291-92. 



42 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

tales have to do with the physical peculiarities of the 
various animals. For example, a stingy old woman 
wearing a red bonnet, a black blouse, and a white 
apron, was changed instantly into the familiar wood- 
pecker because she was too selfish to give a poor old 
man a piece of the cake she was baking. ^ Originally 
the frog had a tail but no eyes, and the mole eyes but 
no tail. They traded and both assumed their present 
day form. ^ Gradually this form of lore shades off 
into erroneous beliefs concerning animals and natural 
phenomena in general. These mistaken ideas of the 
Negroes (and many whites) regarding objects of nature 
and natural history are not arranged in story form and 
are not related for amusement, but simply constitute 
items of everyday folk-knowledge. Taken as a whole 
they are believed in more literally than are the folk- 
tales and show much more of the European influence 
in their making. Most of these erroneous nature- 
concepts cluster around snakes or other reptiles, 
possibly showing a distant relationship to the fetish 
snakes of African voodooism. 

Snakes. The "coach-whip" snake (sometimes called 
the "hoop-snake") usually runs in pairs. One of 
them binds the victim in his coils while his mate whips 
that unfortunate person to death. These snakes have 
a tail plaited in four strands like a whip (in reality the 
scale arrangement does look like a plait). It is of no 
use to pretend to be dead when caught by one of these 
snakes — the reptile sticks the tip of his tail into his 
captive's nose and can tell whether he is breathing 
or not. If the person is alive he is speedily beaten to 

1141. 

^Southern Workman, vol. 24 (1895), p. 78. 



Practical and Emotional Background 43 

death. ^ Others say that this snake seizes his tail in 
his mouth and rolls over and over like a hoop until he 
overtakes his victim. If the poor unfortunate feigns 
death the serpent thrusts the pointed end of his tail 
into the person's ear and pierces the ear-drum, forcing 
him to cry out from the pain. ^ These snakes will 
stand up on the tip of their tail and whistle like a man. 
If you whistle back they will answer, leading you on 
to your inevitable fate of being whipped to death. 
When you want to run away from such a snake, never 
run straight. The snake can not turn without "quirl- 
ing" (coiling) and that gives you time to get away. ' 
An old conjure-doctor told me very convincingly of 
the "horn-snake," which has a hard horn running off 
at right angles to the body close to the end of the tail. 
This snake also rolls over and over after a person like a 
hoop, then suddenly straightens out and hooks him 
with the horn. The venom is kept in this horn and so 
strong is this poison that on one occasion when he was 
hooked at by such a snake whose poisonous horn 
scarcely missed him and stuck into a green tree, the 
tree immediately died. ^ "Milk-snakes" (or black- 
snakes as some say) will charm children and suck 
cows dry. You can always tell when this has been 
done for the cows will then give bloody milk, poisonous 
to human beings. The cows will low for these snakes 
and the latter will wait for them in a certain part of 
the field. One cow died of grief after her "milk-snake" 
was killed. ^ In rare cases these "milk-snakes" even 



» 205. 

2 Davis, Henry C, Negro Folk-Lore in South Carolina, J. A. F. L., vol. 27 
(1914), p. 245. 

'Smiley, P., Folk-Lore from Va., S. C, Ga., Ala., and Fla., J. A. F. L., 
vol. 32 (1919), p. 381. 

*91. 

^141. and 57. Bergen, F. D., Animal and Plant Lore, M. A. F. L. S., 
vol. 7 (1899), pp. 86-87. 



44 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

nurse sleeping women. Other peculiar snakes are 
"spreading adders," which spread out as flat and as 
thin as a carpet when you approach, and look like the 
earth itself, and "king-snakes," which have a very 
powerful spine and can kill any other snake by wrap- 
ping themselves around that reptile and crushing 
every bone in his body. ^ All snakes except black- 
snakes can whistle, and moccasins can blow. ^ Some 
Europeans ^ say that a snake will not entirely die 
before sundown. The Negro has this same idea, * 
but extends it to wasps and hornets as well. ^ A 
lizard or garter-snake will shed its tail to escape from 
your hand. Later it comes back and gets the tail, 
or runs off with that member in its mouth, puts it 
back on, and is just as complete as ever. If you kill 
a "pilot-snake" look out for the rattler which soon 
will follow. ^ 

A wavy snake track in the dust of the road indicates 
that a poisonous snake has passed. Harmless snakes 
leave an absolutely straight track with no curves at all. ^ 
The smell of watermelon also tells one of a snake 
somewhere close by. ^ The eel is the male catfish ^ and 
has several amazing peculiarities. If you fry an eel 
thoroughly and then allow the meat to become cold 
it will become raw and bloody again. ^ " When a snake 
or eel is put into a frying-pan the feet will "come out" 

1 Smiley, P., Folk-Lore from Va., S. C, Ga., Ala., and Fla., J. A. F. L. 
vol. 32 (1919), p. 381. 

2 91, and 141. Southern Workman, vol. 25 (1896), p. 16. 

' Fogel, E. M., Beliefs and Superstitions of the Pennsylvania Germans, 
p. 220. 

^297. 

^ Davis, H. C, Negro Folk-Lore in South Carolina, J. A. F. L., vol. 27 
(1914), p. 245. 

^Ibid., and 91, and 141. 

^342. 

8 45, and 112. Wiltsie, H. M., In the Fields of Southern Folk-Lore, J. A. 
F. L., vol. 14 (1901), p. 206. 

* Davis, H. C, Negro Folk-Lore in South Carolina, J. A. F. L., vol. 27 
(1914), p. 245. 

" 91, and 292. Southern Workman, vol. 25 (1896), p. 16. 



Practical and Emotional Background 45 

(appear). ^ The "snake-doctor" or mosquito hawk is 
thought to be able to bring a dead snake back to life 
again, and in some places it is believed that the presence 
of this insect indicates that a snake is lurking near by. ^ 

Miscellaneous Beliefs. Besides these snake-beliefs 
there are many others of a miscellaneous nature. For 
instance, when a terrapin (cooter) or crawfish, grabs 
you he will never let go until it thunders. ^ You 
should never kill a turtle; he will come back and haunt 
you, ^ while if you kill a lizard his mate will come to 
count your teeth and you will surely die. ^ If a bat 
alights on your head he will stay there until it thun- 
ders. ^ The bite of the spring lizard is sure death, 
and the sting of the big "cow-ant" {Sphaerophthalma 
occidentalis) is likewise deadly poison. ^ Frogs are 
dangerous — they eat buckshot and coals of fire. ^ All 
the crabs are poor on a moonlight night, and all the 
"varmints" come ashore on the spring-tide (the highest 
of all tides). ^ If fire from a "lightning-bug" gets 
into your eye it will put it out. ^ » Apparently of English 
origin ^ ^ is the belief that if insects bite you in "dog 
days" the bites are worse and will take longer to heal. ^ ^ 
When a mule is dying the other mules in the lot with 

' 45, and Bergen, F. D., Animal and Plant Lore, M. A. F. L. S., vol. 7 
(1899), p. 88. 

2 141. Southern Workman, vol. 25 (1896), p. 16. 

3 292, and Davis, H. C, Negro Folk-Lore in South Carolina, J. A. F. L., 
vol. 27 (1914), p. 245. 

^404. 

* Hardy, Sarah M., Negro Superstitions, Lippincotts Monthly Magazine, 
vol. xlviii (1891), p. 738. 

« Price, Sadie, F., Kentucky Folk-Lore, J. A. F. L., vol. 14 (1901), p. 33. 

^ 141. Davis, H. C, Negro Folk-Lore in South Carolina, J. A.F. L., vol. 
27 (1914), p. 246. 

8 91. 

« Parsons, E. C, Folk-Lore of the Sea Islands, S. C, M. A. F. L. S., vol. 
16 (1923), p. 209. 

10 286. Bergen, F. D., Animal and Plant Lore, M. A. F. L. S., vol. 7 
(1899), 91. 

1 ' Lean 's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 242. 

J 2 257. 



46 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

him will neigh until the dead mule is carried away. ^ 
You can pick out a good mule, however, by turning 
the animal loose and letting him wallow. If he can 
roll all the way over he is a strong, healthy mule and 
worth a lot of money. ^ A colt born in May will 
always lie down while being driven through water. ' 
Plant lice come from the dew on cotton. ^ A rabbit 
when chased by dogs will return to its starting point, 
lick its four paws, make a jump and the dogs can no 
longer trace it. ^ A woman with child will expect the 
young one a day or so before or after the new moon ^ — 
a belief also found in Herefordshire. ^ 

Some Negroes have a very peculiar belief about the 
so-called "dog-finger." This finger is the first, or 
middle finger (opinions difi^er) of the right hand (one 
conjurer claims it is the index finger, ^ while another 
informant says the second finger of the left hand). ^ 
But at any rate this "dog finger" should never be al- 
lowed to touch a wound for fear of causing evil re- 
sults. 10 "De lef ban's de debbil's han' an' de dawg- 
finger's de conjure-finger." ^ ^ In Europe the fore- 
finger is esteemed poisonous, and therefore never 
used to apply anything to a wound or bruise, though 
stroking a wound with the ring finger will quickly 
heal it. ^ ^ Other Negroes believe that the earth is a 



1 289. 

^ 286, and Richardson, C, Some Slave Superstitions, Southern Workman, 
vol. 41 (1912), p. 247. 

' 297, and Thomas and Thomas., Kentucky Superstitions, p. 213. 

* Davis, H. C, Negro Folk-Lore in South Carolina, J. A. F. L., vol. 27 
(1914), p. 246. 

5 394, and Bergen, F. D., Animal and Plant Lore, M. A. F. L. S., vol. 7 
(1899), p. 83. 

6 288. 

'Leather, E. M., Folk-Lore of Herefordshire, p. 15. 

8 258. 

» 304. 
' » 286, and Southern Workman, vol. 23 (1894), p. 66. 
1148. 
^^ Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 403. 



Practical and Emotional Background 47 

huge mass of dirt with great hollow cavities just below 
the surface. If the top soil gets softened by repeated 
rains or other causes it will fall downward for a mile 
or two revolving as it falls. This so-called "earth- 
quake-hole" is then filled in with melted rock and the 
individual going down with the original top soil is 
buried under a mile or so of volcanic matter. ^ When 
the sun is eclipsed have a basin of water arranged so 
that the sun is reflected from the water to a mirror to 
your eyes. You will see the moon chasing itself 
around and around the sun. For an eclipse of the 
moon simply look at that body through a piece of 
silk. You will see a star running "roun' and roun' 
hit." - Go to the chicken-coop any night at three 
o'clock and you will hear the chickens sneeze. ^ If 
you hold your breath while a mosquito is biting you 
he will be unable to withdraw his bill and you can 
kill him. * Wild geese flying south make the initials 
of each state over which they pass. ^ Many Negroes 
believe that the male opossum with his forked sex 
organ copulates into the nose of the female who then 
blows the spermatic fluid into her pouch — a belief 
showing some degree of natural observation since it is 
true that the copulatory organ of the male is bifurcate 
and that the female licks her pouch just before par- 
turition to prepare it for the young, though, of course, 
intercourse and birth occur the same as with other 
mammals. ^ 



'105. 

2 141. 

3 Bergen, F. D., Animal and Plant Lore, M. A. F. L. S., vol. 7 (1899), 
p. 84. 

^91. 

* Thomas and Thomas, Kentucky Superstitions, p. 267. 
^ 74, and 326. Hartman, C, Traditional Beliefs Concerning the Gen- 
eration of the Opossum, J. A. F. L., vol. 34 (1921), pp. 321-22. 



48 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

In this same class of mistaken nature-beliefs is the 
idea, of European origin, ^ that no matter how hard 
it may rain the sun is bound to shine for a moment at 
least, every Saturday. ^ A dog coming into a house 
during a storm will "draw lightning," ^ while it is 
dangerous to be around a wet horse during an elec- 
trical storm for the same reason. * Bats flying into 
the house are sure to bring bed-bugs with them; you 
can see such vermin under the bat's wings. ^ When 
eggs are set under a hen they are usually marked to 
distinguish them from eggs which might be laid later 
in the nest. The Negroes say the marks put on the 
shell will be reproduced on the chicks. ^ The eggs 
will hatch in exactly the same rotation in which you 
put them into the nest — if you want all the chicks to 
hatch at once put all of the eggs in at once, not one at 
a time. ^ I have often observed the Mississippi 
Negroes taking the eggs from a guinea-hen's nest with 
a spoon, under the European ^ misconception that the 
guinea would abandon the nest if you touch it with 
your fingers. There is also the European ^ belief 
that on Christmas Eve at twelve o'clock (or on Christ- 
mas morning just before day) ^ ° the cattle all kneel in 
prayer. ^ ^ The Negroes also add that if any one is so 
foolhardy as to get up and see the cows pray that 

' Lean's Collectanea, vol. 1, p. 350. 

2 83. 

3 199. 
* 297. 
6 342. 

6 Bergen, F. D., Animal and Plant Lore, M. A. F. L. S., vol. 7 (1899), p. 84. 

7 57. 

^ Fogel, E. M., Beliefs and Superstitions of the Pennsylvania Germans, 
p. 180. 

' Hunt, R., Popular Romances of the West of England, p. 389. 
1" 286, and Work, M. H., Som£ Geechee Folk-Lore, Southern Workman, vol. 
35 (1905), p. 635. 

11141. Pendleton, L., Notes on Negro Folk-Lore and Witchcraft in the 
South, J. A. F. L., vol. 3 (1890), p. 202. 



Practical and Emotional Background 49 

person will die. ^ Possibly the belief that if you sit 
out under a pine tree on Christmas Eve you will hear 
the angels sing and will die shortly afterwards, - is 
a degeneration of the former belief. Other Negroes 
set New Year's Eve as the time when the stock unite 
in prayer. ^ 

Negro Jokes. Returning to another phase of pure 
self-gratification, we find Negro laughter feeding and 
flourishing upon simple jokes containing scarcely 
enough substance to nourish a commonplace grin on 
the face of unimaginative white listeners. A Negro 
barber "wuz so hard-up (penniless) dat he run out an' 
gib Brer Rabbit a shave an' a hair-cut an' collect 
fifteen cents 'fo' Brer Rabbit could budge a step." ^ 
The heavy-footed humor of the white man would be 
able to chase no more than a stale smile from such a 
story, but the Negro will tell and retell the narrative 
for fifteen minutes or so, arousing many an uproarious 
peal of laughter from the situation where one of their 
own race outwits the sly Brer Rabbit. In another 
case a goat butts a man in the head. The man's 
brains are taken out by the doctor to be fixed, but he 
carelessly leaves them lying around and they are 
stolen and eaten by a prowling cat. The physician, 
in a quandary, gets some dog's brains and sews them 
back in the place of the brains that were stolen. Later, 
when the man is asked how he is feeling, he replies; 
"Pse all right, 'ceptin' dat when I sees a rabbit I 
des can't keep frum barkin'." ^ Brer Buzzard oflFers 
to teach Brer Rabbit how to fly. He takes him up 

136. 

2175. 

3 18, and 401. 

* 307. 

5 129. 

4 



50 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

in the air and, telling him to let go, shakes him off 
his back. Brer Rabbit hits the ground with a whack 
and the other animals all laugh at him and taunt him 
at his attempt to fly. "Er course I kin fly. Didn't 
you all see me? De trubbl' wuz Brer Buzzard for- 
got ter tell me how ter Ian'." ^ 

Laughing at the White Man. If the value of humor 
lies in the indirect satisfaction of repressed desires, 
those who seek a sex basis for such expression should 
find much of interest in Negro jokes, but, unfortunately, 
the majority of such anecdotes will not bear retelling 
here. Accounts of the tricks used by unfaithful wives 
to deceive their husbands figure largely. But the 
Negro does love to laugh at the mishaps of his white 
master, as evidenced by such stories as that of the 
new field hand who did not understand the meaning of 
the dinner bell. His master found him in the field 
still working after the bell had rung, and angrily 
commanded him "to drop whatever he had in his 
hands" and run for the table whenever he heard it 
ring. Next day at noon he was carrying his master, 
taken sick in the fields, across a foot-log over the creek 
when the bell rang. He "dropped" the white man in 
the water and nothing was done to him for he had 
only done what his master had commanded. ^ Pos- 
sibly the opportunity of poking fun at the white race 
in an Indirect way Is the basis of the many Irishman 
jokes, so widespread among the Southern Negro, such 
as that one about the Irishman who couldn't tell a 
watch from a terrapin, and in consequence was laughed 
at for stamping a good watch to pieces under the 
impression that it was a terrapin, later having his 

1288. 
2 .307. 



Practical and Emotional Background 51 

heart gnawed out by a terrapin which he put into his 
pocket thinking it another watch. ^ Men wise in the 
world but ignorant of the country are always objects 
of ridicule, like the city sport who refused to shoot the 
deer he saw because he thought it was running so 
recklessly that if let alone it would kill its own self. ^ 
Escape from an embarrassing predicament is another 
favorite theme, illustrated by the escape of "de widder- 
wom.an frum de Hairy Man. De Hairy Man had 
cotched her in de woods an' wuz fixin' ter kill her," 
but she asks for a few moments in which to pray. The 
"Hairy Man" didn't know what prayer was, so the 
woman took advantage of this spiritual ignorance 
to call her dogs, who ate up her monstrous assailant, ^ 
In another case a hunter who had only one shell was 
suddenly confronted with a drove of ducks and a 
dangerous rattlesnake at his feet. While he was 
debating, his gun went off and killed "five thousand" 
ducks, his ramrod went down the snake's throat and 
choked him to death, and the unexpected enters in 
when the gun kicks the hunter into the river and 
he walks out with his boots full of fish. ^ But this 
story is too complicated and has a white man's turn; 
1 suspect the remarks I overheard from an old Negro 
while he was preparing his friend's body for burial 
are more typical, and certainly they appealed to the 
Negro sense of humor since a hearty laugh resulted. 
A former enemy of the dead man entered the room 
where the corpse was being washed, and Tony, looking 
up from his work, said maliciously, "Ef I wuz you, 

»305. 
= 307. 
U90. 
*165. 



52 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

Will, I'd she' slap ole Henry's face good an' plenty 
now ter make up fer dat time he whipped you up so 
bad." In another case I heard a group of Negroes 
laugh at a tailless cow. "Dat dere damned ole cow," 
chuckled the Negro farmer, "jes' kept on a-chawin' 
up my cawn. Didn't seem ter do no good ter beat 
her up so I tuk an' throwed an axe at 'er. Hit would 
a missed dat fool cow but she stuck out her tail ter 
run an' 'fo' Gawd, de axe cut hit slap off!" ^ 

Typical Riddles. Riddles are also favorites with the 
Negroes, expecially around the country firesides on 
winter evenings, and, while I have located no direct 
African survivals, there are some built according to 
the very common African plan of guessing the simile 
used, while others approach the form, apparently more 
common to European peoples, of deciphering the 
partial description. I cite a few which I obtained 
from South Carolina as representative, listing those 
which seem to have more of an African turn first: 

Black hen set on the red hen's nest? Ans. A black pot 
sitting on the fire. - 

The horse in the stable and the bridle outside? Ans. A 
potato in the bank and the vines outside. ^ 

I went way down the road and I saw a rabbit. I pulled its 
neck off and drank the blood. What was that? Ans. A 
bottle of whiskey. ^ 

1 Over one hundred and fifty typical Negro jokes are related in the fol- 
lowing selections: Bacon, A. M., and Parsons, E. C, Folk-Lore from Eliza- 
beth City County, Va., J. A. F. L., vol. 35, pp. 291-311. Parsons, E. C, 
Folk-Lore from the Sea Islands, S. C, M. A. F. L. S., vol. 16 (1923), pp. 65-150. 

2 120. 
3337. 
^381. 



Practical and Emotional Background 53 

White sends white to drive white out of white? Ans. A 
white man sends a white boy to drive a white cow out of a white 
cotton patch. ^ 

I run out my Wicky Wicky Wackom, 
I meet Tom Tackom 

I send Tom Tackom to run broom-smackom out of my Wicky 
Wackom. 

Ans. A dog to run a cow out of the cotton field. - 

Got an ear but does not hear.^ A7is. An ear of corn. ^ 

Round as a biscuit, busy as a bee, 

You can guess every riddle but you can't guess me. 

Ans. A watch. ^ 

A riddle, a riddle, as I suppose, 
A hundred eyes and never a nose. 
Ans. A sifter (sieve). ^ 

Chip cherry up, chip cherry down, 

No man can climb chip cherry up chip cherry down. 

Ans. Smoke. ^ 

What goes through the woods and never touches anything.'' 
Ans. Your echo. '' 

Humpty Dumpty sat on the wall, 

Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. 

All the king's horses and all the king's men 

Couldn't put Humpty Dumpty together again. 

Ans. An egg. ^ 



1.309. 
251. 
3 383. 
4321. 
6 163. 
6 50. 
7343. 

U20. See Parsons, E. C, Folk-Lore of the Sea Islands, S. C, M. A. F. 
L. S., vol. 16 (1923), pp. 151-75 for 187 representative Negro riddles. 



54 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

Why does a chimney smoke? Ans. Because it cannot 
chew. ^ 



Proverbs. Both Negroes and Africans have proverb- 
making as a part of their culture. Typical Woloff 
proverbs are: 

"Before heahng others, heal thyself." 

"He who covers himself with cotton should not approach the 
fire." 

"What goes in at one ear goes out by the other." ^ 

On the lower Niger they say, "Where there's smoke 
there's fire" ^—a. saying I have often heard with the 
Mississippi Negroes, but since the English are also 
proverb-making peoples one cannot be too sure as to 
origins. Other illustrative Negro sayings are: 

"Don't measure my quart by yo' ha'f bushel." ^ 
"A mile 'roun' de road shorter dan a ha'f-mile 'cross de field." ^ 
"A gruntin' woman and a screechin' do' neber wears out." ® 
"Lewellyn (hunger) kin only be beaten out er de house by 
chunkin' him wid braid." ^ 

"Neber cross a bridge 'fo' you gits to hit." ^ 

"Neber 'spise a bridge dat carries you safely ober." ^ 

"Ef you wants ter keep yo' milk sweet leab hit in de cow." ^ " 

Games. Most of the games played by Negro children 
are probably of English origin, since they are largely 
the same as those played by white children of the 

»130. 

* Burton, R. F., Wit and Wisdom from West Africa, p. 1 ff. 
' Leonard, A. G., The Lower Niger and Its Tribes, p. 75. 

* 141, and Showers, Susan, Alabama Folk-Lore, Southern Workman, \o\. 
29 (1900), p. 179. 

M07. 
«288. 

' Southern Workman, vol. 23 (1894), p. 210. 
»298. 
» 150. 
i«35. 



Practical and Emotional Background 55 

South and North. Games Hke hide-and-seek, hide 
the-switch, etc., are common; others, like "King 
WiUiam was King George's son," ^ show plainly their 
English origin. The custom of having colored Easter 
eggs and of "nicking" them (knocking two of them 
together, the cracked egg going to the lad with the 
harder egg) is common not only with the Negroes, * 
but with the whites in England and in other much 
more remote parts of the world, such as Egypt or 
Persia. ^ "The Easter egg with its red or yellow color — 
all sorts of colors are now common — is the emblem of 
life, or as Wuttke puts it, 'Das sinnbild des neu 
beginnenden naturlebens.' The rabbit, which is sup- 
posed to lay these eggs, is the symbol of fertility and as 
such is sacred both to Ostara, the goddess of spring, 
and to Hulda or Harke." * It is evident that the 
Christian Easter was early intermingled with pagan 
spring festivities, and that we have a reflection of this 
in the Easter customs of the Southern Negro and the 
whites as well. There are other games played by the 
Negroes (and whites), which are undoubtedly of 
English origin, as "In and out the windows," the 
words of which resemble closely the English game song, 
"Round and round the village." ^ Again the boyish 
practice of arranging the fingers so as to leave a 
space (called a "crow's nest") between them with the 
thumbnail waiting underneath, ready to jab into the 
finger of the first impetuous youth who accepts the 
dare and puts his finger into the hole, is plainly allied 

^141. For a description, see Davis, D. W., Echoes from a Plantation 
Party, Southern Workman, vol. 28 (1899), p. 57. 

2 141. 

' Brand, J., Popular Antiquities of Great Britain, vol. i., pp. 168-69. 
* Fogel, E. M., Beliefs and Superstitions of the Pennsylvania Germans, p. 16. 
^ See Gomme, Alice B., Dictionary of British Folk-Lore, Ft. i. Traditional 
Games, vol. ii, pp. 122-43. 



56 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

with the "corbie hole" of the Scotch lads. ^ Other 
games I have observed, like whip-lash (or pop-the- 
cracker) where a human whip, formed by holding 
hands is sharply swung, throwing the end ones into 
a wild rush; or "King George's Army," where the 
party is divided on the basis of their choice of some 
animal, or plant, or what not, into two sections and 
pitted in a pulling contest one against the other, are 
similar to games played in Africa to test strength, ^ 
although the reference to "King George's Army" in 
the chorus of the latter game seems to point to an 
English origin. Doubtless we have here cases of 
independent origins, since the plays are designed to 
make a sort of universal appeal. In the game "What 
time old witch .^" or "Chick-a-ma, chick-a-ma, craina 
crow" we have a possible survival not only of belief 
in witches but also apparently of cannibalism, since 
the "old witch" steals the children (chickens) from the 
leader and pretends to cook and eat them. ^ 

Survivals of African Music. Though outwardly 
yielding to the despotism of the master the real Negro 
rulership was vested in that great triumvirate, in- 
strumental music, dancing, and song. Even among 
the educated Negroes at Hampton and Tuskeegee 
today, music is the main disciplinary force employed. * 
McMaster in describing the slaves of the early eight- 
eenth century, says: "Of music and the dance they are 
passionately fond. With fragments of a sheep's rib, 
with a cow's jaw, or a piece of iron, with an old kettle 



1 Chambers, R., Popular Rhymes of Scotland, pp. 115-16. 
-Southern Workman, vol. 23 (1894), p. 85. 

3 281, aiidSouthern Workman, vol. 23 (1894), p. 86. Smiley, P., Folk-Lore 
from Va., S. C, Ga. Ala., and Fla., J. A. F. L., vol. 32 (1919), p. 376. 
^Johnston, Sir H. H., The Negro in the New World, p. 390. 



Practical and Emotional Background 57 

or a piece of wood, with a hollow gourd and a few 
horse hairs, they would fabricate instruments of 
music and play the most plaintive airs." ^ In Lou- 
isiana the jawbone and key were merely counterparts 
of that common African instrument of rhythm — a 
stick with one edge notched like a saw, over which 
another stick was rubbed. ^ "The instruments com- 
monly in use on the Gold Coast are drums, horns 
made from elephant's tusks, the duduben, a long 
wooden instrument played like a clarionet, and the 
sehnku, a species of guitar. Calabashes filled with 
shells are used as rattles to mark the time. Drums 
are made of the hollowed sections of trunks of trees, 
with a goat's or sheep's skin stretched over one end. 
They are from one foot to four feet high, and vary in 
diameter from about six to fourteen inches. Two 
or three drums are usually used together, each drum 
producing a different note, and they are played either 
with the fingers or with two sticks. The lookers-on 
generally beat time by clapping their hands." ^ Among 
the Cameroons "the drum is at once the primary and 
principal instrument, and serves the chiefs for signaling. 
Besides wooden trumpets there are others covered 
with hide. Stringed instruments are found here, both 
of the harp and lyre kind. . . . Among wind 
instruments we have pipes carved from wood, others 
made from a round fruit, buffalo-horns, which carry 
their sound a long way, and above all the well known 
hollow elephant's tooth, with a mouthpiece at the 
side, near the tip." '* "It would be easy to fill pages 



1 Haynes, G. E., The Trend of the Races, p. 73. 

2 Krehbiel, H. E., Afro-American Folksongs, p. 13. 
' Ellis, A. B., Tshi-speaking Peoples, p. 326. 

* Ratzel, F., History of Mankind, vol. 3, pp. 111-18. 



58 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

with traveler's notes on the drum playing and dancing 
of the African tribes to illustrate their marvelous 
command of rhythm. . . . African drums are of 
many varieties, from the enormous war drums, for 
which trunks of large trees provide the body and wild 
beasts the membranes which are belabored with 
clubs, down to the small vase-shaped instruments 
played with the fingers. The Ashantees used their 
large drums to make a horrific din to accompany 
human sacrifices, and large drums, too, are used for 
signaling at great distances. The most refined eiforts 
of the modern tympanist seem to be put in the shade 
by the devices used by African drummers in varying 
the sounds of their instruments so as to make them 
convey meanings, not by conventional time-formulas 
but by actual imitations of words." ^ Thus it appears 
that the drum is the most common African musical 
instrument, a fact which may account for the patting 
of the foot and the use of the banjo with its rattling 
distinct notes in the case of the American Negro. ^ 

Slave Dancing. Early slave amusements consisted 
largely of the dances that the Negroes had brought 
over from Africa, ^ and of these dances it would seem 
that the Calinda dance was originally a war dance of 
some kind, since Lafcardio Hearn saw it danced in the 
West Indies by men only, all stripped to the waist and 
twirling heavy sticks in a mock fight. * In the Voudou, 
Congo, and Calinda dances the orchestra consisted 
of the empty wooden box or barrel drum. ^ In fact. 



1 Krehbiel, H. E., Afro-American Folksongs, p. 65. 

2 See Talley, T. W., Negro Folk Rhymes, pp. 234, and 239. 

* Brawley, B., Social History of the American Negro, pp. 31-32. 

* Krehbiel, H. E., Afro-American Folksongs, p. 12L 
» Ibid., p. 67. 



Practical and Emotional Background 59 

apart from the jawbone of the mule which was used as 
a sort of fiddle by rattling a stick across Its teeth, the 
barrel drum with an oxhide stretched across one end 
was a favorite slave musical Instrument, as exem- 
plified by the Negroes of Louisiana, A man would sit 
astride the barrel and beat upon the hide with his 
hands, feet, and even his head in times of special 
excitement, while another slave beat upon the wooden 
sides with sticks. ^ The love of the dance is common 
to both Negro and African, but many of the dances, 
like the Calinda mentioned above, are more distinctly 
African than others. "Near Calhoun, Ala., there are 
Africans who came to this country after the Civil 
War. The leader in their 'shout' will hold his right 
hand to his face, his head bent to the right, and call 
out, 'Higha!' the circle rejoining: 

Leader: Higha! 
Circle: Malagalujasay! 
Leader: Higha! 
Circle: Lajasaychumbo! 

Um! Urn! Urn! 
Leader: Higha! 
Circle: Haykeekeedayo, ho! 

The women move slowly around the circle, the left 
foot somewhat in advance of the right, the right 
drawn up to the left as It Is moved on a few Inches at 
a time and in rhythm. The body is slightly bent, 
with the buttocks protruding. The men stand erect." ^ 
The Congo dance, formerly held by the slaves of New 
Orleans, showed, in its choice of a king, who wore a 

' Fortier, Alcee, Customs and Superstitions in Louisiana, J. A. F. L., 
vol. 1 (1888), pp. 136-37. 

2 Smiley, P., Folk-Lore from Va., S. C, Ga., Ala., and Fla., J. A. F. L., 
vol. 32 (1919), p. 378. 



60 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

huge pyramidal crown of gilt paper boxes, ^ some 
possible vestiges of former African customs. 

Holy Dances. In African music the dance served 
to stimulate religious feeling, military fervor, and 
sexual passion, ^ In America, with the slave, the 
military element was dropped, but the "Flower 
Dance," found near Appotomax, the "Roper Dance," 
in country districts of Alabama, and the "Rocking 
Daniel Dance," observed at Yamassee, Florida, ^ (and 
common among the Negroes in many parts of the 
South ^)testify to the use of the dance in creating 
religious frenzy. In many of the Negro churches of 
the South and in some of the more primitive ones of 
the North, dancing is one of the most important 
elements in the worship. While some of these church 
dances are decidedly lascivious and are used to appeal 
to sex under the guise of religion, there are others 
more distinctly used for secular purposes. These and 
the songs accompanying them are called "reels" and 
are distinctly tabooed to good church members, 
although in general in the black South it is considered 
perfectly proper to dance provided you do not cross 
your feet in so doing. "Hit aint railly dancin' 'less 
de feets is crossed." ^ 

Songs From the Soul. The white man most of the 
time sings from the song book, but the Illiterate Negro 
sings from the soul. In a fashionable Negro church 
choir here in Columbus, Mississippi, there is one old- 
time Negro who formerly could not refrain from pat- 

1 Flint, Rev. J., Flines Letters, p. 140. 

2 Ellis, A. B., Tshi-speaking Peoples, p. 326. 

^ Davenport, F. M., Primitive Traits in Religious Revivals, pp. 54-55. 

M4L 

U41. 



Practical and Emotional Background 61 

.ting his foot and swaying his body as he "bassed fo'th 
de glory-songs," though the other more cultured singers 
held their frozen pose of stilted propriety. Lately 
this old Negro has been acquiring some rudiments of 
an education, and it has been pathetic in a way to see 
how the training of the head has drawn the melody 
from the foot, until now nothing is left except a few 
shame-faced quivers when he half-forgets himself 
in song. Perhaps his efficiency has been increased, but 
"de worrisome look" on his face bespeaks a barren 
soul whose bulwark of melody erected against the 
cares of life has been torn down. Much of the hap- 
piness of the uneducated Negro is based upon his 
unrestrained surrender to this spirit of song. 

Jump-up Songs. Today "note-singing" and "book- 
singing" 1 are rapidly forcing the old-time 
"jump-up songs" into the land of forgotten things. 
Lovers of folk-songs have to push farther and farther 
into the rural districts to find anything more than 
lingering echoes of those incomparable slave melodies. 
Individual Negro composers pass out printed copies 
of their songs (the Mississippi Negroes call them 
"ballads") which are learned and sung even by rural 
congregations until today it is almost impossible to 
separate the old from the new. Even here the creative 
impulse of the "songster" is not ended — the "ballads" 
usually come without music and frequently a tune 
must be improvised, the lines often being altered to 
fit in with the new melody. Thus a Negro choir- 
leader of my acquaintance was asked to "chune- 

1 It is to be noted that the development of the Negro in this respect is an 
exact duplication of that of the white churches in the South. 



62 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

up" a "ballad" which a member of the congregation 
had received from St. Louis. The chorus of the 
original ran: 

Let us run to Jesus, every one, 
Let mother teach her daughter, 
Let father teach his son, 
To run to Jesus, every one. 

To make a ht associate for the new "chune" the chorus 
was altered to: 

Let us run to Jesus, ev-ery one. 
Let us run to Jesus, ev-ery one. 
Let us run to Jesus, ev-ery one. 

Let mothers teach their daughters. 

Let fathers teach their sons, 

To run, run to Jesus, ev-ery one. ^ 

In spite of the modern tendency to enjoy vacantly 
the thought-products of other minds, many illiterate 
Negroes still shift for themselves in things musical. 
As a matter of fact the ordinary Negro prayer is really, 
in a sense, a spontaneous song, since it is often sung 
as a sort of chant, and in moments of earnestness 
stilted phrases are laid aside and particular individuals 
are prayed for by name after humming over their 
particular besetting sins. Sorrow is expressed in the 
same fashion; in fact there are a large group of regular 
Negro church songs known as "mourns" because 
they are tuned in the sing-song fashion of prayer or 
grief. 2 I was once present at the occasion of the 
burning down of a Negro home. The little daughter 

1294. 

i^Sei, and 296. 




SONGSTERS OF NOTE 



Practical and Emotional Background 63 

of the house was sorrowfully watching the flames 
consume the family possessions, all the while wailing 
the most doleful dirge: 

Oh Lawd, Papa had some matches, 

Took an' lef 'em in de closet, Lawd, 

Rats chawed de matches, Lawd, 

Cotch'd all de clothes on fiah, Lawd. 

Us throwed on watah, Lawd, 

Couldn't put hit out, Lawd, couldn't put hit out! 

An' all Papa's things done hurned\ 

Again and again she chanted, giving various details of 
the catastrophe, but always ending up with the tear- 
ful refrain, "^w' all Papas things done burnedT^ Even 
in this case, however, the general scheme of the chant 
is much like that of a deacon's prayer, or the 
"mourn" of the convert who has just "come through" 
and chants over his trip to hell and heaven and his 
various experiences with the supernatural. Even the 
Negro minister in his moment of frenzy resorts to this 
same form of expression. In general, this sponta- 
neous expression of ideas in rhythm comes during times 
of stress and excitement, although I have heard one 
Negro, at least, working alone and singing, 

Ah'm gona git shot all to pieces 
About de gal ah loves! 

a piece which he claims to be original. Be it original 
or not it shows where his mind was and after all, who 
knows but what it might have been a time of stress 
with him. Another Negro friend of mine was singing: 

Ef yer wants ter hear er preacher sing, 
Jes' cut up er chicken an' gib him er wing. 



64 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

Suddenly he paused, seemed to be in deep meditation 
for a moment or so, then came out with: 

Ef yer wants ter hear er preacher pray 
Jes' cut up er chicken an' gib him er laig. ^ 

True, the versification is poor enough, but the creation 
was his own and the Negroes seem to be very proud 
of these rude compositions. In one case I heard a 
Mississippi Negro interrupted while singing: 

Nigger is you singin' dat song rite? 

Look-a-heah, man, dis yere viah song, en I'll sing it 
howsoevah I pleases. 

Widespread are the cases of such spontaneous song. 
A slave Negress sings to her baby an improvised song 
warning her runaway husband, hiding outside the 
window, to get away from the cabin where men were 
waiting to capture him; ^ and to the tune of "Pharaoh's 
Army" is recorded by the South Carolina Negroes the 
nefarious attempt of one Reuben Bright to burn 
Sidney Park Church: 

Rheuben Bright he had a scheme 

To burn Sidney Park with the kerosene, etc. ^ 

Negro folk-song-making still goes on as evidenced by 
the many verses relating to the sinking of the Titanic, 
such as the following from an old Mississippi Negro: 

It was sad when dat great ship went down — ship went 

down, 
It was sad when dat great ship went down — ship went 

down. 



1143. 

2 Talley, T. W., Negro Folk Rhymes, pp. 88-89. 

3 Davis, H. C, Negro Folk- Lore in South Carolina, J. A. F. L., vol. 27 
(1914), p. 252. 



Practical and Emotional Background 65 

Women, wives and little chillun los' their lives — los' 

their lives 
It was sad when dat great ship went down. ^ 

Other historical events impressive to the Negro were 
couched in rhyme, as: 

Grant ate the watermelon, 
Greeley ate de rind: 
Grant he got elected, 
Lef ole Greely way behind. ^ 

African Singing. Both in spontaneity and in the 
method of singing the verses the Negroes resemble 
the Africans. Miss Kingsley tells of a Negro woman 
who was expelled from a tribe in the Niger Delta for 
the unpardonable sin of bearing twins. "She would 
sit for hours singing or rather mourning out a kind of 
dirge over herself, 'Yesterday I was a woman, now I 
am a horror, a thing all people run from. Yesterday 
they would talk to me with a sweet mouth, now they 
greet me with curses and execrations. They have 
smashed my basin, they have torn my clothes!' and 
so on." ^ "The Tshi songs consist of a recitative with 
a short chorus. The recitative is often improvised, 
one taking up the song where another is tired. Fre- 
quently the words have reference to current events, 
and it is not uncommon for singers to note the pecu- 
liarities of persons who may pass and improvise at 
their expense. This is particularly the case when the 

^ 210. For other cases of improvised singing, see Odum, H. W., and 
Johnson, G. B., The Negro and His Songs, pp. 2-3, and 35 fif. Brawley, 
B., Social History of the American Negro, pp. 214-15. Allen, W. F., Slave 
Songs of the United States, Preface, pp. xvii-xviii. Perkins, A. E., Negro 
SpirituMs from the Far South, J. A. F. L., vol. 35 (1922), p. 223. 

232. 

3 Kingsley, M. H., Travels in West Africa, pp. 476-77. 



66 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro ; 

strangers are Europeans, as the latter do not as a rule 
understand Tshi, and the singers can allow themselves 
greater latitude than would be the case if their remarks 
were understood." ^ "The leader of a chorus is 
accorded much the same honor amongst the Ibos as 
that granted the minstrel in the ancient days in 
England. He must possess not only the musical gift 
but the poetic instinct also. He creates his theme as 
the song proceeds, and great ingenuity is displayed 
in fitting words to time and tune on the spur of the 
moment. Any unusual incident is seized upon and 
utilized as material by the leader, and . when this 
fails he has recourse to the retelling in song the ex- 
ploits of old. . . . Couplets appear to be most in 
favor with the Ibos, the leader chanting two lines as a 
solo and the full company joining in with a double- 
lined chorus. Occasionally one hears a four-lined song 
without solo or chorus, and there are a number of 
songs intended to be sung as solos." ^ Almost without 
alteration these descriptions might be applied also to 
the Southern Negro. 

Negro Song Structure. "Imaginary measures either 
of two or four beats, with a given number of words to 
a beat, a number that can be varied limitedly at will, 
seems to be the philosophy underlying all Negro 
slave verse construction." ^ The Negro is peculiar in 
that he habitually begins his song with the chorus 
instead of the verse, * and in that he alone of all in- 
strumental music composers has ever had the per- 



1 Ellis, A. B., Tshi-speaking Peoples, p. 328. For another example of 
spontaneous singing, see Mungo Park, Travels, pp. 197-98. 

"Basden, G. T., Among the Ibos of Nigeria, pp. 190-9L See also, 
Cruickshank, B., Eighteen Years on the Gold Coast of Africa, vol. 2, pp. 265-67. 

3 Talley, T. W., Negro Folk Rhymes, p. 231. 

* Ibid., p. 326. 



Practical and Emotional Background 61 

formers sing a few of the opening measures of his 
composition while the string division of the orchestra 
played its opening chords — a method which assists 
the hearers to a closer musical understanding and 
heightens the general artistic finish. ^ Many of their 
songs are built on the basis of "calls" and "sponses" 
(answers), the leader singing one part and the audience 
coming in on the refrain as:^ 

Leader (call): Oh where you runnin' sinnah? 
Audience (sponse): You can't hide, ^ etc. 

Some ^ describe this arrangement as possibly originat- 
ing from the meaningless "field calls" and "responses" 
of the slave Negro, which in turn go back to similar 
calls and responses in Africa, where they are used in 
calling for help when lost, or in indicating the approach 
of enemies, for instance. ^ In spite of frequent rep- 
etitions, the little variations in the words and tunes 
and in the arrangement of the verses with the Southern 
Negroes prevent monotony, the same song seldom 
following the same order of verses and refrain when 
heard at difi"erent times. ^ In a great many cases the 
Negro will repeat the same verse with the alteration 
of only one word, as, in the song: 

Doan' you let no gambler turn you 'round, 
Turn you 'round, turn you 'round, 
Doan' you let no gambler turn you 'round, 
Keep on to Galilee. "^ 



1 Ihid.. p. 237-38. 

2 See Ihid., p. 267 ff. 

3 104. 

* Talley, T. W., Negro Folk Rhymes, p. 275 ff. 

^Sheppard, W. H., In Talley, T. W., Negro Folk Rhymes, pp. 277-78. 
® Odum, Anna K., Some Negro Folk-Songs from Tennessee, J. A. F. L., 
vol. 27 (1914), p. 255. 
7 72. 



68 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

Here each verse is like the preceding except that the 
terms, "sistah, bruddah, liah, hypocrite, etc.," are 
substituted for "gambler." This construction was 
probably due to the inability of the slave Negroes to 
read or write and serves frequently as a useful earmark 
of the older songs. Such repeated verses were easily 
remembered and the dull repetition itself had a sort 
of tom-tom effect in bringing on the "sperrit" upon 
the half-pagan Christians. While the Creole songs 
originated chiefly in the masculine mind instead of 
with the woman, ^ cradle songs and lullabies, on the 
other hand, are more likely to be of feminine origin. 

Sovereignty of Religious Songs. It is a rather 
noticeable thing that, contrary to the case with most 
native peoples, it is the religious songs of the Negroes 
which have challenged the admiration of the world, 
while little or no secular music of special value is 
found among them. 2 This is a bit hard to understand 
as is also the aversion of the church-going Negro to 
singing secular songs (reels) even for the innocent 
collector of folk-songs. It is a sin to sing such songs, 
and only the "onconverted" or the "backslider" 
will readily supply them. Talley attributes this in 
part to the emotionality of the Negro, ^ and in part to 
the fact that the Negro centered his secular rhymes 
around his African religion, as evidenced by the large 
amount of animal lore in Negro rhyme, just as he 
centered his Jubilee Song words around his American 
Christian religion. ^ However, this would fail to 

1 Cable, G. W., Creole Slave Songs, Cent. Mag., vol. xxxi (1886), p. 813. 

2 Talley, T. W., Negro Folk Rhymes, p. 235. Some other good collections 
of Negro songs not cited here are: Curtis-BurUn, N., Negro Folk-Songs. 
HoUowell, E., Calhoun Plantation Songs. Religious Folk Songs of the 
Negro. (Hampton, Va.). Johnson, J. W., The Book of American Negro 
Spirituals. Scarborough, Dorothy, On the Trail of Negro Folk-Songs. 
Kennedy, R. E., Black Cameos and Mellows. 

^ Talley, T. W., Negro Folk Rhymes, p. 235. 
* Ibid., pp. 316-17. 



Practical and Emotional Background 69 

account for the present Negro taboo against all sec- 
ular songs, whether they deal with animal or fet- 
ishistic topics or not, leading us rather to the con- 
clusion that the Negro's attitude is merely a survival 
of the attitude of the early white churches from which 
he derived his first training. The rural Negro is less 
exposed to contact with modern civilization and his 
beliefs consequently change more slowly and give us 
an index of attitudes of the past. This seems all the 
more likely, since the Negro church-code also forbids 
such frivolities as checker-playing, baseball, and 
dancing, amusements formerly forbidden to white 
Christians. If former African objects of worship 
form the basis for the taboo it is strange that Negro 
folk-tales, dealing with animals, are not also tabooed. 

Rag-time and Ja7/L. There seems to be a general 
agreement that modern rag-time is a debased off- 
spring of Negro music. The rhythmical propulsion 
coming from the initial syncopation common to the 
bulk of Negro songs, and the frequent use of the five- 
tone or pentatonic scale seem to be the two most 
obvious elements which have been copied by com- 
posers and dance-makers who have wished to imitate 
them. ^ The word "jazz" has been variously associated 
with the Negro — by some regarded as African in origin. 
It is stated to be common "on the Gold Coast and in 
the hinterland of Cape Coast Castle. In his studies of 
the Creole patois and idioms in New Orleans, Lafcadio 
Hearn reported that the word jazz, meaning to speed 
things up, to make excitement, was common among 
the blacks of the South, and had been adopted by the 
Creoles as a term to be applied to music of a rudi- 

^ Krehbiel, H. E., Afro-American Folksongs, Preface, p. v. 



70 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

mentary syncopated type." ^ Others consider the term 
derived from "Charles" (nicknamed "Chaz"), a Negro 
drummer in Vicksburg, Miss., ^ while Comm. Sousa 
thinks it derived from the old-fashioned minstrel 
show where the performers "cut loose" and improvised 
or "jazzboed" the tune. ^ The term jazzbo would 
simply mean a command to the "bo" (a "buddy" 
or associate) to jazz, unless indeed the term be a 
corruption of jaw-bone — a favorite instrument among 
the early slaves. The vulgar word "jazz" was in 
general currency in low dance resorts ("Honky- 
tonks") thirty or more years ago, which would lead 
us to suspect a different origin, * although the prev- 
alence of animal names associated with jazz — such as 
turkey-trot, elephant-glide, camel-walk, fox-trot and 
bunny-hug — would seem to indicate a relation to 
Negro folk-songs. However, Mr. Lopez thinks these 
animal names are due to the fact that there is something 
"animal-like" in the emotional effects of jazz. ^ It is 
hard to make a definite assertion in the face of such 
statements — none of the old Mississippi ex-slaves 
whom I questioned remembered the term having been 
used in slavery times. At least, however, Negro music 
shows the characteristic jazz elements, and Negroes 
have been prominent in both the composing and 
playing of this type of music, while in the purchase of 
phonograph records they show a decided penchant 
towards jazz tunes — which, however, may also be said 
of the present day whites as well. Some of the Negro 



^ Quotation from the New York Sun. Finck, H. T., Jazz, Lowbrow and 
Highrow, Elude, vol. xlii, No. 8 (Aug. 1924), p. 527. 

2 Lopez, v., Elude, vol. xlii, No. 8 (Aug. 1924), p. 520. 

* Whitman, P., What is Jazz Doing lo American Music, Elude, vol. xliii. 
No. 8 (Aug. 1924), p. 523. 

* Smith, Clay, Etude, vol. xlii, No. 9 (Sept. 1924), p. 595. 

* Lopez, v. Etude, vol. xlii. No. 8 (Aug. 1924), p. 520. 



Practical and Emotional Background 71 

spirituals have found their way into white vaudeville, 
as was the case of "Ain't it a shame to steal on Sun- 
day?" which, picked up from Jubilee Singers in St. 
Louis, appeared in "Shuffle Along" in New York in 
1922. ^ The same is true of a recent popular song 
"It ain't a-gonna rain no more," ^ and I have heard 
the orchestra at a fashionable (white) wedding re- 
ception play "Nobody knows de trubbl' I've seen," 
an exquisite bit of melody ^ which possibly would not 
have been considered so opportune had the guests 
been acquainted with the Negro original. 

Education by Song. As we said before, rhymed 
knowledge is remembered knowledge, a fact which 
makes the rhyme of use to parents in instructing chil- 
ren. Many a white man runs through "thirty days 
has September" to find out the length of a particular 
month, and many a Negro lad washes his feet at night 
because of the rhyme about one lad who got a whip- 
ping for failing to observe this rite. ^ Unable to read 
the Bible, the illiterate slave sang the Bible, reducing 
to rhythm the exploits of Noah, Samson, David, 
Solomon, and other Biblical characters. I cannot 
resist the temptation of setting down word for word 
one characteristic Mississippi stanza relating to the 
plagues sent upon Pharaoh: 

McDumas came 'fo' de desert, 
Playin' a host uv a game uv bluff, 
Had frawgs up-on de kitchen, 
An' in de dinin' room wuz not enuf. 



1 J. A. F. L., vol. 35 (July-Sept. 1923), p. 331. 

2 For the original Negro version, see Talley, T. W., Negro Folk Rhymes, 
p. 269. 

' For words and music, see Krehbiel, H. E., Afro-American Folksongs, p. 75. 
* TaUey, T. W., Negro Folk Rhymes, p. 171. 



72 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

Dere wuz frawgs upon de mirror, 
Till dey wuz rushin' upon de leaves, 
Dey wuz comin' out er de people's pants-laigs, 
Dey wuz rushin' out er de people's sleeves; 
No doubt dey had frawgs fer dinnuh, 
Frawgs fer breakfas' an' frawgs fer tea, 
Dere wuz frawgs all a bondage 
Ober Ian' an' in de sea. ^ 

A graded Sunday School lesson might excel in accuracy 
of detail, but never could it approach this expository 
trip-hammer in relentlessly pounding the frog-episode 
past the forgetting point. When tempted to Indulge, 
the rhyme: 

Whiskey nor brandy, ain' no friend to my kind — 
Dey kilt my po' daddy an' dey trubbl'd my mind, ^ 

warned him of the consequences, and If he was in- 
clined to fish on Sunday, the rhymed story of "Fishing 
Simon" 3 and the talking iish caught on that day 
reminded his superstitious soul of the awful dangers 
awaiting him. Respect, obedience, and caution are 
summed up: 

Spik w'en yo spoke unter, 
Come w'en yo' call. 
Ef yo' jump 'fo' I show yo', 
Yo' git er bad fall. * 

There were "arithmetic rhymes" which mingled the 
multlphcatlon table with admonitions to "tend to yo' 
business"^ and "alphabet rhymes": 



1394. 

257. 

3 See Talley, T. W., Negro Folk Rhymes, p. 177. 
^ 57, and Owen, Mary A., Voodoo Tales, p. 226. 
s 57, and Talley, T. W., Negro Folk Rhymes, p. 12L 



Practical and Emotional Background 73 

A, B, C, 

Double down D 

Lazy chilluns gits hick'ry tea (a whipping), ^ . 

teaching both letters- and energy. "The Alabama 
Way" 2 warned the recalcitrant slave that there were 
worse places where he could be sold, while the 
following rhyme emphasized the importance of 
arithmetic: 

Naught's a naught 
Five's a figger. 
Five fer de white man, 
Naught fer de Nigger. 

Ten's a ten. 

Hit's mighty funny; 

Ef you cain't count good 

You don't git no money. ^ 

Rhythmic Lore. Many other purposes are served 
by these rhymes. The familiar spiritual, "Steal away 
to Jesus" was first sung as a notice to the other slaves 
on the plantation that a secret religious meeting would 
be held that night, ^ and wakeful pickaninnies at 
bedtime were scared into quietness by: 

Doan' talk — go ter sleep! 
Eyes shet an' doan' you peep! 
Keep still, or he jes' moans, 
"Raw Head an' Bloody Bones!" ^ 



1 llyi^^ p. 154. 

2 Talle'v, T. W., Negro Folk Rhymes, pp. 164, and 239. 
» 57, aiid 297. 

« Talley, T. W., Negro Folk Rhymes, pp. SOO-OL 
5 57, and Ibid., p. 174. 



74 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

the last line being a familiar expression used in England 
for the same purpose. ^ Another rhyme used in scaring 
children to sleep is: 

Baa, baa, black sheep, where's yo' lamb? 
Way down yon'er in de valley, 
De butterflies an' buzzards pick his eyes out 
An' de po' little sheepie cries, "Mammy," 

the idea being that the child must close his eyes to 
keep them from being likewise "picked out." ^ g^. 
perstitions were often put into verse form, — a fact 
which shows their importance to the Negro people. 
Connections were made between features and conduct: 

Blue gums an' black eyes: 
Run 'roun an' tell lies. 
Liddle head, liddle wit; 
Big long head, not a bit. ^ 

Many superstitions, such as hanging up a snake or 
turning his belly upwards to make rain, * and the 
hooting of the owl as a bad omen, ^ were arranged in 
such a form. Many of them, however, were of English 
origin and show clearly the conservatism of Negro 
verse and the value of his folk-lore in reflecting Con- 
tinental beliefs. Thus the Negro rhyme: 

De whis'lin' woman, and de crowin' hen, 
Nevah comes to no good en', ^ 

is evidently derived from the Northamptonshire proverb : 

^ Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 8. 

2 298. 

3 57, and Talley, T. W., Negro Folk Rhymes, p. 100. 
*b7, and Ibid., p. lOL 

'"57, and/6iVi., p. 149. 
•298, a.nd Ibid., p. 170. 



Practical and Emotional Background 75 

A whistling woman and crowing hen, 
Are neither fit for God nor men. ^ 

The Northumberland chant: 

Rain, rain, go away; 

Come again another day . . . ^ 

is Still used by the Mississippi Negro, as is also the 
Somersetshire rhyme: 

Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, ^ 
Bless the bed that I lay on. 

Similarly the Negroes sing: 

Rye baby buntin' 
Daddy's gone a-huntin' 
Ter fetch a littl' rabbit skin 
Ter wrap de baby buntin' in. ■* 

a version almost identical with the Scottish. ^ Some 
of these have a remarkable antiquity. The Negro 
sings of the frog who "a-co'tin' " rides, with a "sword 
an' pistol" by his side. ^ A 1630 Scottish version has 
it: 

Ye frog wald a-wowing ryd. 

Sword and buckler by his syd, 

although the song actually seems to date back as far 
as 1580. ^ 



' Henderson, W., Folk-Lore of the Northern Counties of England, p. 28. 

^ Chambers, R., Popular Rhymes of Scotland, p. 182. 

3 Ibid., pp. 149-50. 

*298. 

^57, and Chambers, R., Popular Rhymes of Scotland, p. 13. 

« Talley, T. W., Negro Folk Rhymes, pp. 203, and 57. 

'Chambers, R., Popular Rhymes of Scotland, pp. 55-60. For this and 
other survivals of European ballads in Negro folk-songs, see 'Scarborough ^ 
Dorothy, On the Trail of Negro Folk-Songs, pp. 33-64. 



76 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

Besides Biblical themes secular stories are told in 
verse : 

Bill Dillix says to dat woodpecker bird; 
"Wat makes yo' topknot red?" 
Says he, "I'se picked in de red-hot sun, 
Till it's done burnt my head." ^ 

The origin of the snake is explained in verse - as is 
also the split lip of the sheep (due to laughing too hard 
at the goat when the latter fell down), a verse also 
having a moral turn to it. ^ Humorous stories are 
also related, such as that one about the Negro who 
mistook a bear for a big louse* or the short letter: 

She writ me a letter 

As long as my eye, 

An' she say in dat letter 

"My Honey! Good-bye!" ^ 

Humor by exaggeration is common, as Illustrated by 
the verses below: 

Her face look lak a coffee-pot 
Her nose look lak de spout. 
Her mouf look lak a fiah-place 
Wid de ashes taken out. ^ 

Old Man Samson wuz a good ole man. 
Washed his face in a fryin'-pan. 
Combed his hair wid a sorghum-wheel, 
Died wid de toothache in his heel. '' 



1 Talley, T. W., Negro Folk Rhymes, p. 203. 

^ Ibid., p. 165. Including also the superstition that the snake's tail wiU 
not die before night. 

^ 57. See also, Ibid., p. 17. 

* Ibid., and Talley, T. W., Negro Folk Rhymes, p. 43. 

6 57, and Talley, T. W., Negro Folk Rhymes, p. 113. 

"375. 

^235. 



Practical and Emotional Background 11 

Even courtships were carried on in verse as the fol- 
lowing sample indicates: 

He: Is you a flyin' lark or a settin' dove? 
She: I'se a flyin' lark, my honey-love. 

A "settin' dove" is one who has already found her 
soul-mate and has settled down, while a "flyin' lark is 
a gal dat ain't made no 'ttachments, but is flyin' 
'bout lookin' fer a place ter res' her wary (weary) 
haid." ^ Some of these verses are so well preserved 
as to tell us of the "long white stockin's" worn by 
the masters in Colonial days. ^ 

Funeral Fun. Here ends our discussion of self- 
gratification. We might go on to take up such factors 
as intoxicants, condiments, art, and similar matters, 
but so little of this shows any trace of African sources 
that it is scarcely worth our while. The mores of self- 
gratification are not clear-cut nor individualistic in 
type, but adhere closely to the other societal divisions. 
Wherever pleasure is found or vanity satisfied there is 
self-gratification. For instance "the chief recreations 
of the natives of Angola are marriages and funerals." ' 
The African is intensely social and occasions of this 
sort as well as palavers, secret societies and other 
meetings oflFer a chance for gathering together in 
crowds and making an inconceivable hubbub, which 
to them is as much self-gratification as self-perpetuation 
or any other basic societal activity. Precisely the 
same thing holds true with the rural Southern Negro, 
as with other isolated folk, who have but little social 
intercourse. 



'406. 

2 Talley, T. W., 'Negro Folk Rhymes, p. 40. 

^ See Lippert, J., KxdUirgeschichte der Menschheit, vol. ii, p. 353 ff. 



78 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

Conclusion. From these preliminary cases it will 
be seen that the tendency is for the Negro to take 
over English practices in regard to the direct main- 
tenance and perpetuation of life, while in things relating 
to pleasure, his customs seemingly have more of an 
African turn. Perhaps the safest generalization we 
can make at present is that the greater the contact 
with the whites in any given field, the more the effects 
of European influence, while in other fields where 
white supervision was less stringent, the greater the 
African survivals in Negro lore and custom. In 
either case there are beliefs which seem to have no 
direct European or African parallels, and which may 
represent independent Afro-American developments, 
though we would hesitate about dogmatically classing 
them as such until more information regarding both 
European and African sources is forthcoming. For 
the remainder of this discussion our attention will be 
directed to those folk-beliefs and superstitions more 
or less directly connected with the supernatural. 



CHAPTER II 

BURIAL CUSTOMS, GHOSTS, AND WITCHES 

The Concept of Death. In general, the West African 
does not believe in natural death. The great number 
of deaths by violence and the lack of traditions telling 
him that all men must die leads to the common prim- 
itive idea that death is not the inevitable fate of man, 
but that it is due to the evil interposition of some 
outside agency. Among both Bantu and Negro races 
in Africa the rule is that death is regarded as a direct 
consequence of the witchcraft of some malevolent 
human being, acting by means of spirits over which he 
has by some means or other obtained control. ^ 

The Southern Negro thoroughly believes in natural 
death, but in many cases under my observation sudden 
deaths, especially deaths with attendant delirium, 
are attributed to witchcraft. - They sing: 

Oh Deat' he is a little man, 

And he goes from do' to do' . . :^ 

showing their idea of death as a spirit. There is also 
the idea that if two in the house are sick and one dies 
the other will immediately improve in health ^ — prob- 
ably meaning that the disease spirit has been satisfied. 

1 For details and exceptions, see Kingsley, M. H., Travels in West Africa 
I pp. 459, and 461. Winterbottom, T., AccouJit of the Native Africans in the 

I Neighborhood of Sierra Leone, vol. i., p. 235. Burton, R., E. Wit and Wisdom 

I from West Africa, p. 394. Nassau, R. H., Fetichism in West Africa, pp.239, 

I and 242. Nassau, R. H., Where Animals Talk, p. 235. 

I 2 See also, Bruce, P. A., The Plantation Negro as a Freeman, p. 121. 

\ M12. See also, Allen, W. F., Slave Songs of the United States, p. 12. 

^See Parsons, E. C, Folk-Lore of the Sea Islands, South Carolina, M. A. 
F. L. S., vol. 16, p. 213. Also 141. 



80 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

Whatever the mode of death, In both Africa and 
America, it is generally believed to be accompanied by 
the departure of the soul from the body; though in 
Africa, the dead man's mouth is propped open, he is 
loudly called upon to come back to his body, and other 
practices are resorted to in an attempt to keep the 
spirit from leaving. ^ 

European Acculturation. Returning to the American 
Negroes, we must not be surprised to find a great 
many of their funeral observances to be of European 
origin. One touch of Nature makes the world akin, 
and at the death of either slave or master the social 
barriers on the better plantations were temporarily 
relaxed under the common grief, and the Negro allowed 
to come into contact with the white man's beliefs. 
This was also possible with esteemed household serv- 
ants who were often allowed to come into contact 
with the sick even until death occurred; In fact even 
being ordered to carry out certain European observ- 
ances such as covering mirrors or stopping clocks. 
White supervision ceased at Interment, however, so 
that In a general sort of way those practices up to 
actual burial are European, while grave decoration 
and avoidance of the spirit are more African in type. 
I had a good chance for first-hand observation of these 
burial practices a short time ago when one of the 
Negro servants on the place died, being around from 
almost the moment of death until the body was safely 
interred. In fact, owing to lack of adequate trans- 
portation facilities I even drove a car full of mourners 
in the funeral procession, absorbing superstitions all 
the way along. 

1 See Kingsley, M. H., Travels in West Africa, p. 471. Ellis, A. B., Ewe- 
speaking Peoples, p. 157. 



Burial Customs, Ghosts, and Witches 81 

Dying in Ease. If a person dies hard it is a bad sign; 
he will haunt the survivors. Thus the first efforts 
are made to enable the dying man to leave this world 
with as little suffering as possible. The bed should 
never be placed "crossways uv de world" (north and 
south), but east and west, with the head towards the 
west. ^ This should make the departure less pro- 
longed, but if not, the pillow should be taken from 
under the head of the dying person. - A person can- 
not die on a bed containing feathers of a wild fowl; 
thus, when an individual is dying hard it is sometimes 
better to carry him to another mattress so that he will 
not suffer so much, ^ a belief decidedly of European 
origin. •* 

Prophylactic Measures. As soon as death occurs the 
mirrors and pictures in the room are carefully covered 
up or turned towards the wall, some say because the 
mirrors will tarnish and never be clear again, ^ others, 
because it is bad luck (generally death) ^ to get the 
reflection of the corpse in the mirror or even to see 
yourself in it before the body is taken out. ^ Other 
informants say a reflection of the corpse might per- 
manently hold in either the pictures or mirrors. * 
I have in my possession an old mirror with two de- 
fects in the silvering which an imaginative person may 
conceive of as resembling human eyes. The original 

145, and 61. Southern Workman, vol. 26 (1897), p. 18. 

2 341. 

3 112. 

* Brand, J., Popular Antiquities of Great Britain, vol. 2, p. 230. Lean's 
Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 574. 

5 339, 148, 342, 47, 289, 341, 253, 160, 142, 328, and 190. 

« Smiley, P., Folk-Lore from Va., S. C, Ga., Ala., and Fla., J.A.F.L., 
vol. 32 (1919), p. 382. 

' 99, and 357, and 320. 

*237, 61, and 152. A possible remnant of the primitive idea of the soul 
being located in the reflection. 



82 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

owner says, "Us didn't klvver hit up when May (his 
first wife) died, an' in jes' a day or so afterwards her 
eyes popped out on hit." ^ Another informant says 
the ghost will run you unless the glasses are covered. ^ 
The English version is that if you looked into the mirror 
at this time you would see the corpse looking over 
your shoulder. ^ The clock is also stopped lest it 
"run down to nothing" and can never be fixed so as 
to keep good time again. * Another informant says 
it will strike thirteen times if not stopped, meaning, 
of course, bad luck. ^ The English version is that the 
clock is stopped to show that with that particular 
man "time is over." ^ Distinctly European ' also is 
the Negro idea that when the head of the house dies 
some one must go out to whisper his death to the bees; 
unless this precaution is taken they will all leave or 
die. ^ The bees (makers of the sacred mead) were the 
messengers of the gods and were to take the news of 
the death to them. ^ Both Negro ^ " and European ^ ^ 
also notify the fruit trees when the owner of the 
orchard dies, lest all decay. 

Dying Whispers. Various omens are observed at 
the time of death. If the body remains limp for some 
time after death it is a sign that some member of the 

1377. 
230. 

'Henderson, W., Folk-Lore of the Northern Counties of England, p. 39 
and 4L Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 590. 
*41, 141, 67, 357, 387, 346, and 341. 
^83. 

* Henderson, W., Folk-Lore of the Northern Counties of England, p. 39. 
Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 590. 

' Henderson, W., Folk-Lore of the Northern Counties of England, p. 266. 
Leather, E. M., Folk-Lore of Herefordshire, Y). 2%. Gomme, G. L., Folk-Lore 
as an Historical Science, p. 162. 

* 141, and Thomas and Thomas, Kentucky Superstitions, p. 271. 
^ Gomme, G. L., Ethnology in Folklore, p. 127. 

10 188. 

' ' Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 583. 



Burial Customs, Ghosts, and Witches 83 

family will soon follow, ^ while the last person whose 
name is called by the dying will be the next to follow, ^ 
both beliefs being of English origin. ^ If a dying person 
hits you, you will surely die. To keep from dying, 
if such a person does hit or bite you, you must hit or 
bite him back in the same place. * The Missouri 
Negroes say that if a person dies on Easter Sunday, 
for seven consecutive weeks there will occur seven 
deaths. * If an old person be the first to die in a 
community in the year it is a sign of a lot of old people's 
deaths; if a young person, many young people will 
die. * When a person is dying, if there is a dog on the 
place the animal will always howl. "^ Some say all 
dogs must be kept out because they "wall their eyes" 
at this time. * 

Preparation for Burial. As soon as the person is 
dead and arrayed in his grave clothes, a dish of 
salt is put on his breast to prevent the body from 
"purging" or from "swelling." * In England the 
same practice is in vogue to keep evil spirits off, since 
salt is Christ's savour of the earth, ^ " or to prevent 
swelling or putrefaction. ^ ^ None of the kinsmen of 
the dead should assist in preparing the body for burial. * "^ 

1 378, 46, and 346. Also Southern Workman, vol. 23 (1894), p. 16. 
"^Southern Workman, vol. 23 (1894), p. 16. 

'Gregor, W., Folk-Lore of the Northeast of Scotland, p. 211. Lean's 
Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 571. 
«231. 
'99. 

6 92. 

7 289. 
»237. 
9 341. 

1 " Gregor, W., Folk-Lore of the Northeast of Scotland, p. 207. 

^ ' Simpson, Eva B., Folk-Lore in Lowland Scotland, p. 206. Henderson, 
W., Folk-Lore of the Northern Counties of England, pp. 39-40. Brand, J., 
Popular Antiquities of Great Britain, vol. ii, p. 234. 

12 141. 



84 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

The reasons for this are unknown to the Negro, but 
probably at first lay In the fear of leading the dangerous 
dead man to think they were pleased at his demise and 
were trying to hustle him oif. "Hit's wrong fer us 
ter holp wid Daddy's funeral," the children told me, 
and even refused to take into the house the funeral 
wreaths we brought, sending one of the visitors out 
for them. It is also thought to be bad for any one to 
work around a dead person until he is tired, ^ i.e. in a 
weakened condition where spiritual harm might result. 
Money should be placed upon the dead man's eyes to 
keep them from coming open, ^ but he should be 
buried without shoes, ^ and with the hair combed out 
and left loose — never plaited. Some say that if the 
hair is more elaborately dressed the devil would send 
his blackbirds to unplait it , and that these birds can 
be heard at their work inside the coffin even after it has 
been buried. ■* The water in which the corpse is 
washed should not be carried out until morning, ^ or, 
in the case I observed, not until the body has been 
removed — a usage directly contrary to that regarding 
other dirty water, none of which can be allowed to 
remain in the house overnight without bringing mis- 
fortune. ^ If the bed clothes are taken out of the 
house before the corpse goes out, you are "taking out 
another member of the family." ^ You should never 
sweep out the house before the corpse is removed for 
you would be the next to follow. ^ The possible 

1 Southern Workman, vol. 26 (1897), p. 18. 

2 286, and 150. 
3341. 

^ Southern Workman, vol. 26 (1897), p. 18. 
M5. 

^Southern Workman, vol. 23 (1894), p. 16. 
7396. 

« 109, 148, 141, and 155. Parsons, E. C, Folk-Lore of the Sea Islands, 
S. C, M. A. F. L. S., vol. 16 (1923), pp. 213-14. 



Burial Customs, Ghosts, and Witches 85 

origin of this taboo is shown by the Congo custom of not 
sweeping a house for a whole year after a death lest 
the dust should injure the delicate substance of the 
ghost. 1 

Stygian Sign-posts. There are various sign-posts 
pointing to the direction taken by the soul of the 
dead. If it rains while a man is dying, ^ or if the 
lightning strikes near his house, the devil has come for 
his soul. ^ Possibly this is the belief referred to in 
the old spiritual: 

I doan' want ter die in a storm, good Lawd, 
I doan' want ter die in a storm. 

If a person die with the mouth and eyes open he will 
go to the "bad place," ^ this no doubt being one reason 
for carefully tying up the dead man's mouth and press- 
ing his eyes shut almost before death has occurred. 
The European version is that if the eyes of the corpse 
remain open he is "looking after a follower" and 
another death will soon occur. ^ If you dream of a 
dead person moving in a hurry, that person has gone 
to hell; but if you see him in a pleasant state it is a 
sign he is in heaven. ^ While rain during death is a 
bad sign, rain soon after a person is buried is a good 
sign, indicating that that person has found eternal 
rest. '■ Perhaps this belief throws light upon the song 
Mr. Allen has trouble explaining in his "Slave Songs": 

1 Tylor, E. B., Primitive Culture, vol. i, p. 454. 

2 141, 47, and 341. 

'45, and Southern Workman, vol. 23 (1894), p. 16. 

<341, and 180. 

^Leather, E. M., Folk-Lore of Herefordshire, p. 119. Lean's Collectanea, 
vol. 2, p. 571. Meyer, E. H., Deutsche Volkskunde, p. 270. Hunt, R., 
Popular Romances of the West of England, p. 433. 

6 131. 

' 166, 188, and 189. 



86 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

Rain fall and wet Becca Lawton . 

Rain fall and wet Becca Lawton . . . ^ 

This was probably a plea for rain to indicate that the 
dead Becca Lawton had gone on to glory — a fact all 
the more probable since there is some vague tradition 
connected with the song, of grass not growing over 
the grave of a sinner. However, the Negroes are not 
all agreed about the belief; some say a rain just after 
burial Is a sign the person has gone to hell, ^ while 
sunshine after a person's death denotes eternal rest, 
but the English version associates rain with heaven. ^ 

Wakes. Some say that "ha'nts" won't bother you 
until the body Is burled — the man Is "not rallly dald 
ontil den" — that Is, the soul Is supposed to stay in the 
body until that time. * In the case of wicked men, 
however, the spirit Is supposed always to be lingering 
around on earth. ^ The most common view, never- 
theless. Is that the spirit of a man stays around the 
house (or visiting loved places and friends) ^ for three 
days after the man's death and then stays around the 
grave for three days more. After this It goes wander- 
ing. ^ This three-day Idea was probably derived from 
the Christian story of the resurrection, but during the 
three days (sometimes less) elapsing between death 
and burial, the body should never be left alone. Neigh- 
bors come and "set up" with the body — food Is served 
and melodies sung — the spontaneous expression of 
grief in rhythmic form at this time probably being the 

1 Allen, W. F., Slave Songs of the United States, pp. 21-22. 

2 324,405, 67, 61, and 219. 

* Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 591. 
< 306. 
6 354. 

6 141. 

^91. 



Burial Customs, Ghosts, and Witches 87 

beginning of many spirituals. ^ The older Negroes 
complain: "Wakes ain' what dey ustah be. We 
ustah sing an' pray all de nite long, but now de young 
folks dat 'tends 'em jes' tells annidotes all nite." ^ 
In other localities the body is placed on a "coolin'- 
board" and covered with an arrangement of sheets, 
the one over the face being raised when the mourners 
address the corpse. "Mourners may talk to the body 
to this effect: 'Mandy, you gone an' lef me. ... I 
may be nex' . . . Po' Mandy! . . . Po' John! 
.' A plateful of salt and ashes is placed under 
the coolin'-board . . . whatever disease the body 
has goes into the ashes and salt. 'Ashes takes up from 
de body de disease.' These ashes are carried to the 
grave; and at the words, 'Ashes to ashes and dust to 
dust,' they are thrown into the grave." ^ No one 
would think of leaving a "settin'-up" alone and the last 
one to leave such a meeting will be the first one to die. * 
This idea of a wake may be either European ^ or 
African in origin. 

Tke Funeral Procession. The African has an in- 
tense passion for burials — even pawning himself and his 
children into slavery if need be to give his relations 
a proper funeral. « The Southern Negro has much the 
same notion, paying dues to a lodge all his life or 
going head over heels into debt to see that he or his 
relations are laid away in style. No matter what the 
press of work may be, a funeral is always more im- 

^ Southern Workman, vol. 26 (1897), pp. 18-19. 

2 407. 

3 Smiley, P., Folk-Lore from Va., S. C, Ga., Ala., and Fla., J. A. F. L., 
vol. 32 (1919), pp. 382-83. 

^ 57. Southern Workman, vol. 26 (1897), pp. 18-19. 

^ For a description, see Brand, Popular Antiquities of Great Britain, vol. 
II, p. 227 ff. 

^ Kingsley, M. H., Travels in West Africa, p. 491. 



88 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

portant. A funeral is a great occasion with uneducated 
Negroes — a time for social gathering, and above all, 
the Negro loves a crowd. When the time comes for 
burial the corpse should be taken from the house feet 
first, else it would be looking back and beckoning to a 
member of the family to follow ^ — a belief European 
in origin, - as is also ^ the common Negro belief that If 
you put your hand on the corpse the ghost will not 
harm you ^ (or you will be afraid of no more dead 
people). ^ This may be the remnant of an old ordeal, 
since the wounds are supposed to bleed if the murderer 
touches the corpse. It is extremely bad luck to carry 
a corpse to the cemetery In his own vehicle — a hearse 
should always be hired. ^ The corpse should not be 
allowed to stop between the house and cemetery 
(with the exception of the church) — all gates being 
opened beforehand. "^ If the procession should stop 
another death will soon follow, ^ a mishap on the way 
probably Indicating that the corpse Is dissatisfied and 
regrets having to leave this world. A person who 
counts the carriages in the funeral procession does no 
more than count the days before his own death, ^ a 
belief of European origin. ^ "^ While it Is extremely 
bad luck to walk ahead of the corpse ^ Mt is even worse 
luck to meet a funeral procession face to face. Per- 



1346. 

2 Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 589. 

^ Ibid., p. 583, and Leather, E. M., Folk-Lore of Herefordshire, p. 120. 
Henderson, W., Folk-Lore of the Northern Counties of England, p. 40. 

M5, and Moore, R. A., Superstitions from Georgia, J. A. F. L., vol. 7 
(1894), p. 305. 

^61. 

«306. 

^346. 

«360. 

"67. 
1 " Fogel, E. M., Beliefs and Superstitions of the Pennsylvania Germans, 

p. 129. 

' ' 99, and 188. 



Burial Customs, Ghosts, and Witches 89 

sons should always turn squarely about on seeing 
such a procession and face the direction in which the 
hearse is going. ^ In the funeral procession in which 
I drove, I noticed that even Negroes meeting us in 
cars would stop their cars and turn squarely about in 
their seats until the procession had passed. The 
belief is of European - inception as might be gathered 
from its wide circulation. No sensible person would 
be so foolhardy as to pass (get ahead of) a funeral 
procession, ^ and a person crossing in front of such a 
line or going between the cars is simply "crossing his 
own grave," * If a bird flies into a church or a house 
during the procession it is a sign of seven consecutive 
deaths. ^ Even to see a funeral "signifies an unhappy 
marriage"; ^ the first one to drive a hearse will be the 
next to die; ^ a person following just behind the hearse 
should never drive white horses for the same reason; ^ 
and a baby carried in a funeral procession before it is 
a year old will die. ^ 

Negro Mourning Customs. The mourning begins in 
a perfunctory sort of way immediately after death 
occurs, gradually increasing in intensity until the 
body is finally laid away. There is always excessive 
flattery. Death claimed a husband whose relations 

1 141, 286, 341, 397, 251, 140, 149, 225, 359, and 374. Southern Workman, 
vol. 25 (1894), p. 16. Lee, C, Some Negro Lore from Baltimore, J. A. F. L., 
vol. 5 (1892), p. 112. Bergen, F. D., Current Superstitions, M. A. F. L. S., 
vol. 4 (1896), p. 133. 

2 Henderson, W., Folk-Lore of the Northern Counties of England, p. 27. 
Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 592. 

3 341. 

4 99. 

' Ibid. 
«85. 

''Southern Workman, vol. 28 (1899), p. 450. 

* Lee, C, Some Negro Lore from Baltimore, J. A. F. L., vol. 5 (1892), 
p. 112. 

" 141, and Thomas and Thomas, Kentucky Stiperstitions, p. 14. 



90 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

with his wife were just about to be severed by a divorce 
court. From the wails of the widow one would have 
\ postulated a turtle-dove married-life instead of the 
actual cat-and-dog affair. The testimony at the 
funeral and that at the divorce court were as wide 
apart as east from west. Mourning is an essential, 
and to be done well it must be spontaneously given 
in a sort of chant — really another case of spontaneous 
song. At a funeral I observed recently, one of the 
dead man's young daughters, sitting on the front seat 
of the church with the other members of the family, 
did not seem to be doing her full lachrymal duty. 
She was taken out by one of the good church members 
and roundly scolded, after which she contributed her 
full quota of noise and tears. The chant usually ends 
with a kind of refrain such as, "All dat I got done 
gone!" droned over and over again with eerie monot- 
ony. Sometimes there are convulsions, sometimes a 
weaving of the body to and fro in a serpentine dance, 
but always it is the women and not the men who are 
the mourners. The men usually sit dry-eyed and 
awed, content to let the women fare the departed on 
his way. 

Significance in Africa. One has only to read the 
accounts of African explorers ^ to realize the high 
degree of similarity as regards not only direct mourn- 
ing practice, but excessive flattery and the more pro- 
found display on the part of the women as well. The 
position of the African ghost in the other world de- 
pends largely upon the style in which the dead man 

1 See Nassau, R. H., Feiichism in West Africa, p. 216. Ellis, A. B., 
Yoruba-speaJdng Peoples, p. 157. Cardinal, A. W., The Natives of the 
Northern Territories of the Gold Coast, p. 108. 



Burial Customs, Ghosts, and Witches 91 

departs this world; thus great personal sacrifices are 
made in order to have an expensive funeral, ^ the 
length of the wake varying with the wealth and rank 
of the deceased. ^ Without a proper burial the ghost 
could not go to its final destination ^ but would linger 
around and wreak fitting vengeance on the survivors. ^ 
In Loanda, much of the deafening noise at funerals 
is for the purpose of driving away these evil spirits, ^ 
which are also appeased by sacrifices and abstinences 
of all kinds. ^ Among the Ibos a real burial and a 
later mock-burial are necessary to enable the dead 
man to rest in peace, ^ and in other localities, in case 
the person has died away from home, the rites will be 
held over a small fragment of his corpse or over some 
earth, water, or other substance from the locality in 
which his^ death occurred. * 

Clothes and Crepe. The Southern Negroes consider 
it proper for the relatives always to wear black to the 
funeral — the material to be borrowed if possible in- 
stead of being bought. Although an Arkansas in- 
formant says that black worn after the funeral will 
cause some one else to die, ^ the common Mississippi 
custom is for the widow to stay in mourning for about 
six months, wearing either black or white (generally 

^Kingsley, M. H., Travels in West Africa, p. 491. Burton, R. H., Wit 
and Wisdom from West Africa, p. 220. Chatelain, H., African Folk-Life, 
J. A. F. L., vol. 10 (1897), p. 33. 

2 Ellis, G. E., Negro Culture in West Africa, p. 69 ff. Ellis, A. B., Tshi- 
speaking Peoples, p. 239. 

^ Leonard, A. G., The Lower Niger and its Tribes, p. 142. 

* Basden, G. T., Among the Ibos of Nigeria, p. 119 ff. 

5 Chatelain, H., Angolan Customs, J. A. F. L. (1896), vol. 9, pp. 16-17. 

*See Ibid., and Thomas, N. W., Anthrop. Rept. on Sierra Leone, pt. 1, 
pp. 71-72. Lippert, J., Kulturgeschichte, der Menschheit, vol. ii, p. 236 ff. 

' Leonard, A. G., The Loiver Niger and its Tribes, p. 154. 

8 Burton, R. F., Wit and Wisdom from West Africa, p. 211. EUis, A. B., 
Tshi-speaking Peoples, p. 233. Basden, G. T., Among the Ibos of Nigeria, 
pp. 115-16. 

9 341. 



92 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

the former), and then changing to "second mourning" 
which consists of lavender trimmed with black. ^ In 
some cases the original primitive idea of mourning 
being a sort of disguise used for the purpose of avoiding 
the ghost, is quite evident. One informant directly 
says, "de wearin' uv black is 'tended ter keep de ghos' 
frum boddering you." ^ Crepe is generally placed 
upon the door, but in certain Georgia communities 
where there are an unusual number of deaths in the 
family a piece of black ribbon is tied to every living 
thing that comes in the house after the body has been 
taken out — even to dogs and chickens. ^ This is 
interesting in that it seems to be an attempt to pacify 
an avenging spirit which was the cause of the deaths. 
Somewhat similar to this is the belief that one of your 
family will die if you wear anything new (especially 
new shoes) * to a funeral. ^ Here the danger would 
seem to be that of exciting the envy of the dead man — 
somewhat analagous to one of the reasons for wearing 
sack-cloth and ashes in former times. Others say the 
new clothes will wear out quickly if worn for the first 
time to a funeral. ^ 

Multiple Funerals. Very common is the custom of 
holding several funerals for a person, although this 
does not seem to be at all analagous to the Ibo custom 
of second burials. In general a person has a separate 
funeral for each lodge or association to which he be- 
longs. ^ In the case of the last funeral I attended 

1112. 

2 198. In Africa, strips of cloth or an article of clothing belonging to the 
deceased are sometimes hung up to indicate the death of the owner. See 
Basden, G. T., Among the Ibos of Nigeria, p. 117. 

3 231. 
^318. 

" 109, and 203. 

" 172. 

' 155, 288, and 345 



Burial Customs, Ghosts, and Witches 93 

there were two services In the same afternoon — one 
preached by the Odd Fellows and the other by the 
Home Aid Society of the Church. A big preacher 
has his funeral preached (even after burial) in each of 
the churches under his pastorate, ^ and sometimes one 
for several anniversaries after his death. ^ At times 
the Negro will be buried the day after he dies and the 
funeral preached several months afterwards, ^ no doubt 
a result of part-time pastorates where a minister was 
not always available immediately after a death. In 
other cases there appears to be one funeral at the 
cemetery to which flowers are taken but no mourning 
worn, and another held some time later at the church 
at which the female relatives wear black. This 
second service is called "stirring up the dead." * Mr. 
Brannon thinks that the reason for this is that the 
rural Negroes cannot always get together on short 
notice for the funeral. Thus a modest burial is held 
and from six to nine months later a day is set, all the 
countryside assembles with dinner on the grounds, a 
preacher is called in who is a good eulogizer (whether 
he knew the dead man or not), and a general funeral 
service is held. The widow is the chief mourner — if 
she has married in the meanwhile her new husband 
chimes in with her. No monuments are placed on the 
grave until after this funeral sermon is preached. ^ 
In certain cases at the first funeral the dead man in 
his casket at the church receives the greetings and 
farewells of his friends just as if he were capable of 

1 112, and 47. 

2 306. 
3320. 
^279. 

* Brannon, P. A., Central Alabama Negro Superstitions, Birmingham 
(Ala.) Netvs, Jan. 18, 1925, p. 15. 



94 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

comprehending, ^ but in those cases falHng under my 
personal observation the Hd of the coffin was simply 
removed at the close of the sermon and the congrega- 
tion silently filed around, gave a coin to the usher at the 
foot of the coffin (the money to be given to the widow 
and children), and then took one final look at the face 
of the departed. They call this ceremony the "last 
respects," and apparently the money gift has some- 
thing of the nature of a sacrifice. I might add that 
the funeral sermons I have heard had some flattery, 
of course, but were jocular to an extreme, showing 
very little of the pharisalcal hypochondria of the 
whites, the mourning and solemn faces being restricted 
mainly to the direct relatives of the dead man. The 
others came for a good time. 

Grave Lore. The graves are dug east and west and 
the head of the man laid towards the west. An old 
Mississippi grave digger informs me that this is always 
the case. - A person should not sleep or be buried 
"crossways uv de world" and the head is towards the 
west, 3 ("so de dald won't hab ter tu'n 'roun' when 
Gabr'l blows de risin' trumpet in de east"), although 
one collector cites cases of burials with the head to 
the east so that the dead will rise, attributing it to 
the star In the east at the Saviour's birth. •* The 
grave should never be left open overnight lest it cause 
another death, but should be dug and closed on the 
day of burial. ^ The tools used in digging a grave are 

1 Kane, H. P., Reception by the Dead, J. A. F. L.. vol. 5 (1892), p. 148. 

' 2S6. The same is true in England. See Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 589. 

»38, and 342. SoiUhern Workynan, vol. 23 (1894), p. 16. Parsons, E. C, 
Folk-Lore of theSea Islands, S. C, M. A. F. L. S., vol. 16 (1923), pp. 214-15. 

^Smilev, P., Folk-Lore from Va., S. C, Ga., Ala., and Fla., J. A. F. L., 
vol. 32 (1919), pp. 382-83. 

* 141, 286, and 189. Thomas and Thomas, Kentucky Superstitions, 
p. 75. Southern Workman, vol. 26 (1897), p. 19. 



Burial Customs, Ghosts, and Witches 95 

left on the site for a day or so after burial, ^ the spades 
being, in certain localities, laid across the grave. ^ 
The Negroes say it is bad luck (or death ^) to move 
them, * the idea no doubt originally being that the 
ghost of the dead remained in that locality for a 
definite period of time. 

Graveyard Omens. Various omens are observed at 
the cemetery. If a horse neighs ^ or lies down ^ there 
during the service, or if the casket slips while being 
lowered into the grave, it is a sure sign that some one 
else will soon follow. To leave a grave before it is 
filled, or to be the first one to leave the cemetery, is 
another pointed invitation to death; ^ the European 
version being that the sex of the first person to leave 
the cemetery after the funeral forebodes the sex of 
the next person to die. * At the close of the service 
every one throws in a handful of dirt upon the box in 
a sort of exorcistic fashion as a tribute of respect to 
the dead, ^ although none of them seems to be able 
to give an exact reason for so doing. If the earth 
sinks in more rapidly than usual on a new-made grave 
it is a sign that another of the family will soon die, ^ " a 
belief common in Herefordshire. ^ ^ A person should 
never point at a grave for fear his finger (or his mother's 

> 112. 
2 346. 

^ Hardy, Sarah M., Negro Supei-stitions. Lippincotl's Monthly Mag- 
azine, vol. xlviii (1891), pp. 738-39. 

* Southern Workman, vol. 23 (1894), p. 209. 
"322. 

•151. 

^ 57, and 397. Southern Workman, vol. 26 (1897), pp. 18-19. 

* P^ogel, E. M., Beliefs and Superstitions of the Pennsylvania Germans, 
p. 126. 

"346, 32, 54, and 341. Smilev,P., Folk-LorefromVa.,S.C.,Ga.,Ala., and 
Fla., J. A. F. L., vol. 32 (1919), pp. 382-83. Southern Workman, vol. 23 
(1894), p. 209. 

^°81, and 286. Richardson, C, Some Slave Superstitions. Southern, 
Workman, vol. 41 (1912), p. 247. 

' ' Leather, E. M., Folk-Lore of Herefordshire, p. 119. 



96 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

teat) ^ will rot off, ^ and it brings bad luck to step over 
a grave. ^ Only the latter idea seems to be of European 
association. * In regard to the former, the Negroes 
say the finger will remain unharmed if you put it in 
water or into the ground. ^ Others tell me that 
pointing at a grave will cause you to die unless you 
spit on your fingers, ^ others claim a ghost will run 
you, ' or that you will get your finger cut off, but they 
all agree that it is a risky business. 

Dead Detectives. The living may be conquered or 
deceived, but the might of the dead-hand is well- 
nigh resistless. For instance if a person has been 
slain by an unknown murderer, bury the murdered 
man face downwards, and the murderer will not be 
able to leave the locality until the body is turned 
over. ^ Others say bury the body in a standing 
position, ^ or else bury the liver of the murdered man 
separately from the rest of the body. The murderer 
will be caught near the spot where the liver is buried. ^ ° 
In other ways the grave is made to yield its secrets. 
"Ef de murderer tech de daid body," so an old slave, 
who claims to have actually witnessed the performance, 
says, "de blood will sho rise in de cawpse to de place 
whar he teched." ^ ^ (The European idea is that 
blood will flow from the wound.) ^ ^ Others claim 



1 190 . 

2 206, and 141. 

3 286, 224, and 405. 

* Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 191. 

6 Parsons, E. C, Folk-Lore of the Sea Islands, S. C, M. A. F. L. S., vol. 16 
(1923), p. 211. 

6 250, and 274. 

7 61, and 108. 

8 279, 342, 135, and 189. 
9339. 

i»91. 
1 1 286. 

'2 Henderson, W., Folk-Lore of the Northern Counties of England, pp. 
40-41. Klaatsch, A. A., The Evolution and Progress of Mankind, p. 209. 



Burial Customs, Ghosts, and Witches 97 

blood will flow from the bones of the murdered man 
when touched by the murderer, no matter how old 
and bleached these bones may be ^ — while still others 
claim the bones will bend upon such a touching. ^ 
The intestines of the dead man will make a grumbling 
noise when the body is touched by the murderer, ^ 
and the blood shed on the floor will rise up again upon 
the touch of the murderer's foot no matter how much 
these stains have been scoured. * 

Troublesome Spirits. On the Gold Coast of Africa 
"it is a common practice to bring dirt from a man's 
burial place if he died far away from home, or better, 
to bring a piece of his clothes. Thus the returning 
spirit will find he has not been neglected by his family, 
and will therefore be disinclined to trouble them with 
sickness and misfortune." ^ Formerly in South Caro- 
lina, the Negro funerals were held at night with a 
funeral feast afterwards. "Every one was expected 
to bring from the graveyard and lay before the door a 
clod of earth, as proof that he had really been to the 
burial, on pain of being haunted by the 'sperrit' of 
the deceased. At one time the Negroes would burn 
no wood that had fenced in graves or burial-grounds 
." ^ These cases indicate that the ghost 
of the dead man is to be feared and that due steps 
should be taken to avoid, propitiate, or drive ofl^ the 
evil spirit. Many of these customs reflect at least the 
African theory if not the actual practice, though others 

191, and 397. 

2 141, and Southern Workman, vol. 24 (1895), p. 49. 

3397. 

^91. 

^ Cardinal A. W., Natives of the Northern Territories of the Gold Coast, 
p. 105. 

8 Waring, Mary A., Mortuary Customs and Beliefs of South Carolina 
Negroes, J. A. F. L., vol. 7 (1894), p. 318. 
7 



98 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

are doubtless of European origin, since there is after 
all, a general similarity in such practices all over the 
world. 

Ghost-dodging. Taking first the cases of avoidance, 
we find both In Africa and In America many such 
practices. The cult is inconsistent In that the ghost 
which Is considered all-powerful, is yet very easily 
fooled. In parts of South Carolina, all cups, pans, and 
buckets are emptied after a funeral because the spirit 
will remain on the premises If encouraged by free 
access to food and water. ^ The same practice Is 
found in Mississippi with the additional precaution 
that the food be thrown to the west, ^ possibly so that 
the spirit will leave with the setting sun. Many are 
the means of steering clear of these snooping manes. 
It is bad luck to call a coffin pretty ^ — you will soon be 
put in one like It; ^ a pregnant woman should not look 
into a grave or she will never "feel the baby" ^ (In 
England It Is said that the child will be pale). ® A sick 
person who looks upon a dead body will surely die; ^ 
and in South Carolina, ^ Georgia, ^ Alabama, ^ ^ Ar- 
kansas, ^ ^ Louisiana ^ ^ and Mississippi, at least, 
the belief is prevalent that a person should not wear 
clothes belonging to the dead. In Mississippi the 
reasons given are that the dead person will come back 

1 Hawkins, J., An Old Mauma's Folk-Lore, J. A. F. L., vol. 9 (1896), p. 
13L See also, Southern Workman, vol. 26 (1897), p. 19. 

2 141. 
"148. 

* 310, and 188. 

6 141. 

^Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 110. 

^ 102, and 341. 

« 141, and 381. 

9 264. 
1 397. 
'1341. 
»2 18. 



vY 



Burial Customs, Ghosts, and Witches 99 

for the clothes — one informant tells of a ghost pulling 
at one of its old dresses a friend was wearing ^ — or 
else, as one old slave puts it, "de clothes uv de daid 
rots away ez de body rots away/'^f Precisely this 
same idea prevails in England, ^ as might be guessecN 
from its wide spread in the Negro South. It is par-\.o'« 
ticularly stringent in the case of babies. When a Kj 
baby dies its clothes should never be put on the next 
baby, nor should the next baby be allowed to sleep in 
the dead baby's cradle, lest it also die. * A Negro 
believes that the departed has the power to haunt all 
objects which his body has touched — this belief 
making him afraid of temporary coffins used by 
undertakers. ^ A person should not be so foolhardy as 
to name a child for one who is dead — if he does so the 
child will die. ^'\ In the Sea Islands a dead mother will 
haunt the baby and keep him awake at night unless 
the baby is handed across the casket or across the 
mother's grave. ^ In another case in South Carolina 
the children march around the father's casket singing 
a hymn, after which the youngest is passed first over 
and then under the casket and the casket is taken out 
on the run upon the shoulders of two men. ^ In 
Norfolk, Virginia, after a death in the house, the 
position of the door-knobs is changed ^ so that the 

1306. 

2 286. 

' Leather, E. M., Folk-Lore of Herefordshire, p. 89. Lean's Collectanea, 
vol. 2, p. 585. 

U50. 

6 105. 

»112. See Southern Workman, vol. 24 (1895), p. 49. 

^ Parsons, E. C, Folk-Lore of the Sea Islands, S. C, M.A.F.L. S., vol. 16 
(1923). p. 213. 

8 Allen, W. F., Slave Songs of the United States, p. 101 (note). 

9 Bergen, F. D., Animal and Plant Lore, M.A.F.L. S., vol. 7 (1899), p. 15. 



100 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

ghost may not find its way In. In other localities 
a new addition Is made to the house to keep the ghost 
away (fool the ghost), expecially if the dead man has 
been very wicked. ^ Among the Ibos of Africa, when 
several children in one family have died one after 
another on reaching about eight to ten years, the 
next child to expire at this age Is buried face down- 
wards, "so that he may not see the way to be born 
again. It is thought that his spirit is one of those 
mischievous sprites who only reincarnate to bring 
grief to parents." ^ The Southern Negro in such a 
case, although he does not directly believe in rein- 
carnation, will also bury on its face the last child 
to die that those coming after will live. ^ The Geechee 
Negroes of Georgia also have this same usage, or else 
they sell the new-born child to some one for ten or 
twenty-five cents, and the child will then live * — 
without doubt a case of deceiving the spirits. 

In the case of the West Africans "nobody wars 
with ghosts" 5 but every one strives in every way to 
keep out of their path or at least to keep them well 
disposed. Many are their practices of avoidance. 
Mourning involves both disguise and propitiation; 
sometimes a whole African neighborhood goes into 
mourning, since failure to do so would be regarded as 
Indicative of a guilty connection with the man's 
death. ^ It Is considered dangerous for the young to 

1 274. ; 

2 Talbot, D. A., Woman's Mysteries of a Primitive People, p. 22L 

3 14L 

* Work, M. H., Some Geechee Folk-Lore, Southern Workman, vol. 35 
(1905), p. 634. 

^ Burton, R. F., Wit and Wisdom from West Africa, p. 173. 

* Nassau, R. H., Where Animals Talk, p. 27. For customs regarding 
mourning, expecially with widows, see Cardinal, A. W., Natives of the 
Northern Territories of the Gold Coast, p. 108. Kingsley, M. H., Travels in 
West Africa, p. 112, 487-88. 



Burial Customs, Ghosts, and Witches 101 

go near the graves of the old, ^ and In certain cases 
the house is entirely or partially deserted after a 
death. ^ The Mississippi Negro generally contents 
himself with an alteration in the house, but in one case 
I observed during the past year the fear of the former 
habitation was so great that it was necessary to put 
up an entirely new cabin in another locality in order 
to persuade the tenants to remain. Often in Africa 
the name of a survivor will be changed after a death 
to deceive the evil spirits ^ and great care is taken to 
cover up prosperity of any kind lest their envy be 
excited. * 

Gifts to the Dead. "A man's ghos' looks an' do's 
jes' lak de man hisse'f !" ^ Because of these human 
likes and dislikes the lingering "ha'nt" may be pro- 
pitiated and won over by gifts or flattery. A wide- 
spread practice of this sort in Georgia is that of placing 
bread and coffee under the house of the deceased to 
prevent his ghost from returning and haunting the 
living. 6 The funeral is a propitiation in a sense, and 
if these rites are postponed too long or forgotten 
altogether the neglected dead may return and demand 
a funeral. ^ In the case of one Negro hoodoo at least, 
bitter herbs and the hoodoo's drinking-cup were 
thrown in before the grave was filled in order to "lay 
the spirit." ^ When a person is murdered the clothes 

1 Thomas, N. W., Anthrop. Rept. on Sierra Leone, pt. 1, p. 71. 

2 Lippert, J., Kulturgeschichte der Menschheit, vol. ii, pp. 245-46. Bastian, 
A., Der Mensch, vol. ii, p. 323. Ellis, A. B., Ewe-speaking Peoples, p. 158. 

^ Cardinal A. W., The Natives of the Northern Territories of the Gold 
Coast, p. 72. 

* Basden, G. T., Among the Ibos of Nigeria, p. 271. Chatelain, H., 
Some Causes of the Retardation of Negro Progress, J. A. F. L., vol. 8 (1895), 
p. 183. 

5 48. 

6 172. 

''Southern Workman, vol. 26 (1897), p. 19. 
8 Boyle, Mrs. V. F., Devil Tales, p. 109. 



102 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

in which he was murdered should be buried in the 
coffin with him. ^ The old Sea Island "stick-lick" 
at funerals, where slaves fought with sticks across the 
grave, every lucky blow bringing a half-pint of rum 
to the successful one, - may be a survival of some ancient 
African funeral game. The Boston Herald of May 7, 
1887, cites a case of the Negroes on the Lower Mis- 
sissippi keeping up fires and queer dances around the 
grave of a dead pastor, trying to bring him back to 
life by the same conjuring methods employed in the 
interior of Africa. ^ It is also rather noticeable that 
the Negroes accuse the Jews of putting food and money 
in the coffin with the dead so that he can eat and buy 
things when he gets to heaven ^ — possibly a trans- 
ference of their former practices to a people with whom 
they are not very familiar. The Negroes talk of 
placing molasses at the foot of the grave and a pone of 
bread at the head so that the dead person can "sop 
his way to the promised land." ^ True enough this 
is partly humor, but with all people much humor 
consists of treating lightly topics which in reality are 
either half or wholly accepted. Others wittily suggest 
planting watermelon seed on the head of the grave so 
the juice from the melons will run down into the 
mouth of the dead person. ® An old Vicksburg Negress 
tells me of cooking a supper for the dead. Two people 
should cook it together, neither saying a word during 
the process. Get some dirt from the dead person's 
grave and set it in a saucer in the middle of the table. 



»2S6. 

2 Parsons, E. C, Folk-Lore of (he Sea Islands, S. C, M. A.F.L. S., vol. 16 
(1923), pp. 149-50. 

^ Negro Dances in Arkansas, J. A. F. L., vol. i (1888), p. 83. 

*286. 

» 306, 294, 291, and 341. See also, Talley, T. W., Negro Folk Rhymes, p. 26. 

•341. 



Burial Customs, Ghosts, and Witches 103 

Cook something, such as turnip greens, that the dead 
person Hked to eat, set the table for three and put up 
three chairs. Then bless the food without speaking 
to one another and start in silently to eat. Watch 
the third plate. Unseen hands will manipulate the 
knife and fork, greens will be taken from the dish all 
the time, but the chair will remain vacant. All will 
be well, but should you speak while your invisible 
guest is with you the wind will blow, the dogs bark, 
the chickens cackle, and thunder and lightning appear 
to frighten you. ^ 

An Alabama Negro says, "Unless you bury a person's 
things with him he will come back after them." ^ It 
is remarkable how closely this approaches the African 
custom. "In all the Vai towns, once or twice every 
year after the dead have been buried the remaining 
relatives visit the grave and carry with them rice, rum, 
palm butter, and so forth, which are placed near the 
grave. They then go through a kind of ceremony in 
which they chant Vai songs in honor of the dead. They 
believe that where the dead are it is necessary for them 
to have food to eat. They think that the dead also 
need clothes or something to wear, and so they carry 
to the grave white cloth. All these articles are left at 
the grave and it is thought that the spirit of the de- 
ceased will come for them. In thus providing for the 
dead they have the idea that if they do not so provide 
the spirits will be displeased and punish them for 
their neglect. . . . The object, therefore, of making 
sacrifices to the dead is to keep in the favor of the 

149. 

2 286. 



104 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

imaginary spirits thereof and thus prosper in life." ^ 
So great is this belief in the actuality of spirits of the 
dead and their malevolent tendencies, unless properly 
propitiated, that the Timne-speaking peoples offer rice 
on the graves to keep the dead men from catching 
their hoes or spoiling the rice crop, ^ while "in some 
districts on the Lower Congo, for several weeks after 
interment, palm wine is periodically poured down 
to the deceased through a small hole leading from the 
surface of the grave to the body. ^ The Louisiana 
Negroes on All Saints' Night, so I am told, cook food 
especially for the dead, but such food must be un- 
salted. God allows all spirits to return to earth on 
this night and they are supposed to eat the essence 
of the food. This food is left all night on the table. ^ 

Grave Decorations. One Mississippi Negress tells me 
that to keep the deceased from coming back again, the 
cup and saucer used in the last illness should be placed 
on the grave. The medicine bottles are placed there 
also — turned upside down with the corks loosened so 
that the medicine may soak into the grave. ^ Pre- 
cisely the same thing is found in South Carolina, ^ and 

1 Ellis, G. E., Negro Culture in\W est Africa, p. 87. For the sacrifice of 
human beings, furniture, implements, etc., see Lippert, J., Kulturgeschichte 
der Menschheit, vol. ii, p. 279 ff. Kingsley, M. H., West African Studies, 
pp. 175, and 452. Elhs, A. B., Ewe-speaking People, p. 117. Ellis, A. B., 
Tshi-speaking Peoples, pp. 157-58. Tillinghast, J. A., The Negro in 
Africa and America, pp. 50, and 53. Cronise and Ward, Cunnie Rabbit, Mr. 
Spider and the Other Beef, pp. 25, and 148. Thomas, N. W., Anthrop. Rept. 
on Sierra Leone, pt. 1, pp. 78-79. Burton, R. F., Wit and Wisdom from 
West Africa, pp. 220, and 379 ff. 

2 Thomas, N. W., Anthrop. Rept. on Sierra Leone, pt. 1, p. 31. 

3 Glave, E. J., Fetishism in Congo Land. Century Magazine, vol. 19 
(1891), p. 835. 

4 18. 

*45, and Brannon, P. S., Central Alabama Negro Superstitions. Birming- 
ham (Ala.) News, Jan. 18, 1925, p. 15. 

6 Parsons, E. C, Folk-Lore of the Sea Islands, S. C, M. A. F. L. S., vol. 
16 (1923), p. 214. 



Burial Customs, Ghosts, and Witches 105 

here, as all through the Black Belt, ^ broken crockery 
is used as the chief decoration for Negro graves. This 
seems to be a direct African survival, though Mr. 
Brannon seems to think it may have originated from 
somewhat similar American Indian practices. ^ 

In parts of the Congo "the natives mark the final 
resting-place of their friends by ornamenting their 
graves with crockery, empty bottles, old cooking-pots, 
etc., all of which articles are rendered useless by being 
cracked or perforated with holes. Were this pre- 
caution not taken, the grotesque decoration would 
be stolen." ^ Broken crockery, along with other 
articles, is used also in Angola. "* I have observed this 
sort of decoration all through the South. In South 
Carolina, bleached sea-shells, broken crockery and 
glassware, broken pitchers, soap-dishes, lamp chimneys, 
tureens, coffee-cups, syrup jugs, all sorts of ornamental 
vases, cigar boxes, gun locks, tomato cans, teapots, 
flower pots, bits of stucco, plaster images, pieces of 
carved stone-work from one of the public buildings 
during the war, glass lamps and tumblers in great 
number, and forty other kitchen articles are used. On 
the children's graves were dolls' heads, little china 
wash-bowls and pitchers, toy images of animals, china 
vases, pewter dishes and other things which would 
interest a child. ^ In Mississippi, so far as I have been 
able to observe, china and glassware have been the 

143. 

^ Ibid. , Central Alabama Negro Superstitions, Birmingham (Ala.) News, 
Jan. 18, 1925, p. 15. 

' Glave, E. J., Fetishism in Congo Land, Century Magazine, vol. 19 (1891), 
p. 825. Compare the picture of a Congo grave given on p. 827 of this article 
with those of Southern Negro graves elsewhere in this volume. 

* Chatelain, H., Angolan Customs, J. A. F. L., vol. 9 (1896), p. 17. 

^IngersoU, E., Decoration of Negro Graves, J. A. F. L., vol. 5 (1S92). pp. 
68-69. Bolton, H. C, Decoration of Graves of Negroes in South Carolina, 
J. A. F. L., vol. 4 (1891), p. 214. See also, Brannon, P. A., Central Alabama 
Negro Superstitions, Birmingham (.^la.) N'ews. Jan. 18, 1925, p. 15. 



106 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

chief decorations — no distinction being made between 
the graves of children and adults. Lamps are very 
frequently used for decoration. In Lee County, 
Alabama, in one small cemetery, over twenty-three 
were found, some with oil and chimneys, used to give 
light at the time of death. A Gullah Negro says they 
are used because they are pretty; Alabama Negroes 
say they "make light," or "lead the deceased on into 
glory." They are most often used with persons who 
died at night, those dying in the daytime often not 
being so honored. ^ In general, however, the glass Is 
broken — the Negroes say to keep it from being stolen, ^ 
or to indicate that some member of the family "has 
been broken," ^ although probably the original remote 
African Idea was to free the spirit from the article 
and let it go on to the next world to serve the dead 
owner. The Negroes mostly say that the practice is 
simply an old-time custom, the meaning of which they 
do not know, although one old slave advanced the 
idea that glass and china, since they will not rot, are 
used to indicate the graves where a tombstone Is 
lacking, as is the case with many Negro graves. * 
However, this does not seem to be the case in practice, 
since some of the graves (see illustration) are fenced In 
and have a tombstone as well, but nevertheless have the 
customary adornment of broken china. It may be 
barely possible that the custom might have once 
served to keep the spirit within the grave, although 
the sacrifice motive seems the more probable one. 
This former Idea is indicated by some Negroes them- 

1 Brannon, P. A., Central Alabama Negro Superstitions. Birmingham (Ala.) 
News, Jan. 18, (1925), p. 15. 
2.32. 
"226. 
<65. 




NEGRO GRAVES IN MISSISSIPPI 



Burial Customs, Ghosts, and Witches 107 

selves, who say that china placed on the grave will 
keep evil spirits away, ^ keep the man's spirit away, ^ 
or keep the ghost off until you kill hogs, whereupon he 
will return for some fresh meat. ^ The latter state- 
ment indicates that the wants of the ghost are the 
same as those of human beings. 

^''Layin' de Sperrit.^'' While positive methods of 
exorcism and coercion will be taken up at greater 
length in dealing with conjuration and with ghosts 
in general, yet to a certain extent the Southern Negro 
believes that by steps taken at burial the restless dead 
may be prevented from haunting the living. The 
corpse may be turned in the ground so that it will 
lie face downwards;* or a grapevine^ or rattan® 
stake (with a horseshoe beside it, so some say) may 
be driven into the breast of the grave; or the toes of 
the dead may be pinned together;^ or silver screws 
may be used in the cofhn. ^ In another case the 
Alabama Negroes take a lock of hair, a garment, and 
some personal possession of the dead person, place 
these in a hole bored in a tree and plug up the hole 
tightly. Thus the spirit of that person is secured and 
is prevented from returning to earth to "ha'nt." ^ 
Burial itself is, in a sense, the putting of the body 
beneath the earth where it will be less easy for the ghost 
to return and work harm. Thus, one Negro says, 
"Bury de daid man deep, 'caze den his ghos' can't 



1 150. 

M05. 

'311. 

M41. 

6 258. 

"141. 

'341. 

8 Moore, R. A., Superstitions from Georgia, J. A. F. L., vol. 7 (1894), p. 305. 

"407. 



108 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

git back ter ha'nt yer." ^ Much the same sort of 
thing is true with the Africans. Sometimes in West 
Africa the ground above the grave is pounded down 
hard, ^ thus making it more difficult for the spirit to 
get out. Unusual people or people dying unusual 
deaths are often given peculiar burials. Thus with 
the Timne people, "a person burnt to death must 
be buried in the road or the town will burn; a person 
who dies of snake-bite is buried at the entrance to 
the town, or the snake will come in; if a leopard kills 
any one he must be buried across a river or the leopard 
will come into the town." ^ Sometimes a body thought 
to contain a "dangerous soul" will be cut up or de- 
stroyed by burning. * 

The African Soul-concept. Obviously such cases 
indicate that all is not ended with death. Even in 
Africa a man has a soul or spirit which survives after 
death, or, as is often the case, leaves the body even 
during life. Remembering that African religion differs 
so much in character from one district to another that 
an absolute generalization is impossible, ^ let us con- 
sider some aspects of this native belief in a soul, or 
rather in souls, since the African, in his endeavor 
more readily to explain certain phenomena, very often 



1198. 

* Burton, R. F., Wit and Wisdom from West Africa, p. 396. Ellis, A. B., 
Ewe-speaking Peoples, p. L58. 

* Thomas, N. W., Anthrop. Rept. on Sierra Leone, pt. 1, p. 125. For 
other such cases, see Ibid., p. 49, and 124, and Cronise and Ward, Cunnie 
Rabbit, Mr. Spider and the Other Beef, p. 300 (note). Glave, K. J., Fet- 
ishism in Congo Land, Gentury Magazine, vol. 19 (1891), p. 835. Ellis, A. B., 
Tshi-speaking Peoples, p. 299. For general burial customs, see Kingsley 
M. H., Travels in West Africa, p. 479. Ellis, A. B., Ewe-speaking Peoples, 
p. 158. Basden, G. T., Among the Ibos of Nigeria, p. 113. Thomas, 
N. W., Anthrop. Rept. on Sierra Leone, pt. 1, p. 129. 

* Kinp;.sley, M. H., Travels in West Africa, i)p. 479-80. 

^ Kingsley, M. H., West African Studies, pp. 130-37, and 442. 



Burial Customs, Ghosts, and Witches 109 

assigns more than one soul to every individual. ^ Such 
a consideration is more important. In that light Is 
thereby thrown upon certain beliefs of the Southern 
Negroes regarding ghosts and spirits in general. 

Survivals of the ''^Dream-soul.'''' It is generally 
thought that the primitive concept of a soul arose 
largely through sleep, dreams, or allied phenomena, ^ 
and It is certain that the dream-soul plays an Im- 
portant role in the African spirit realm. The Ewe 
people believe that every man "has a second In- 
dividuality, an indwelling spirit {krd) residing in his 
body. . . . This kra existed before the birth of a 
man, probably as the successive kra of a long series 
of men, and after his death it will equally continue 
its independent career, either by entering a new-born 
human body, or by wandering about the world as a 
sisa^ i.e. a kra without a tenement. . . . The oc- 
currences in dreams are believed to be the adventures of 
the kra during its absence." ^ A man must be awak- 
ened quietly to give this dream-soul time to come 
back; otherwise he will become very ill and will have 
to go to the native doctor to obtain another kra. 
When a man wakes up in the morning with "that 
tired feeling" he says that his dream-soul has been 
out fighting and has bruised itself. ^ "A native goes 
to sleep and dreams some fearful dream, awakes, 
and feels himself spellbound. Up he gets and fires off 
a gun to frighten away the evil spirits." ^ A dying 
Gaboon Negro related how his dream-soul was stabbed 

1 Ellis, A. B., Tshi-s-peaking Peoples, p. 125 ff. Kingsley, M. H., West 
African Studies, p. 200 ff. 

2 Tylor, E. B., Primitive Culture, vol. i, pp. 440^5. 

3 Ellis, A. B., Tshi-speaking Peoples, pp. 1.5-16. 

* Kingsley, M. H., West African Studies, p. 200 ff. 

^ Dennett, R. E., Notes on the Folklore of the Fjort, p. 17. 



110 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

in the side by the dream-soul of his enemy, causing 
him his fatal sickness. ^ To a certain extent the 
Southern Negro's concept of the soul approaches that 
of his African forebear. There is in some cases ap- 
parently a definite belief in a kra or dream-soul. One 
Alabama informant tells me, "A dream is regarded as 
a real experience in which the soul of the sleeper goes 
to another world. So you must never awaken a 
sleeping person lest his soul fail to find its way back 
to the body." ^ Pointing to the same idea is the 
widespread belief that if you go to bed thirsty at 
night your soul will wander about and drink from 
all sorts of foul mud puddles, ^ or fall into the well 
and be drowned. * Some go so far as to say that a 
bucket of water should be left in the room so that 
one's spirit may drink, or else it may wander so far 
away in search of water that it can't get back and the 
sleeper, as a result, will never wake up. ^ Here we 
have reflected, not only the dream-soul idea, but also 
the typical primitive notion that death is due to the 
permanent absence of the soul from the body. An 
old Negro from Georgia, by virtue of the fact that he 
was born with a double caul, claims to possess two 
spirits — one that prowls around and one that stays 
in the body. Unless his mind was evil these spirits 
could keep him from harm. ^ The Sea Island 
Negroes have this same idea of an indwelling soul 
which conditions the bodily feelings — at least in the 

1 Milligan, R. H., The Fetish Folk of West Africa, p. 38. Ellis, A. B., 
Tshi-speaking Peoples, pp. 148-56. 

M88. 

' 141, and 286. Thomas and Thomas, Kentucky Superstitions, p. 142. 

M88, and 341. 

5 231. 

* Steiner, R., Braziel Robinson Possessed of Two Spirits, J. A. F. L., 
vol. 13 (1900), p. 226. 



Burial Customs, Ghosts, and Witches 111 

case of infants. When a baby is taken any distance 
from home, they notify the spirit by calling "Come 
baby!" or, "Come, Spirit!" The Spirit is also called 
at every crossroad. Otherwise the child would be 
fretful and cry all the time. ^ This idea applies in a 
less degree to grown people. Some of the old women 
refuse to close their cabin door even in cold weather 
for fear of shutting their spirit out and causing mis- 
fortune. Mischievousness in the case of one of the 
boys was thought to be due to the fact that his spirit 
was shut up somewhere. ^ 

The Srahman and Other Souls. In addition to this 
dream-soul, there is also in West Africa the soul that 
is immortal — the one that lives on in the ghost world. 
This soul, with the Ewe peoples, differs from the kra 
in that no immediate diiference in the body is evi- 
denced when the kra leaves, but if the immortal soul 
leaves, the body falls into a condition of suspended 
animation such as a swoon or trance, or, if the soul 
remains permanently away, into the state of death. ' 
After death this soul becomes a srahman, or ghost of 
the dead man, "The srahman, or ghost-man, only 
commences his career when the corporeal man dies, 
and he simply continues to exist in the ghost-world or 
land of dead men." ^ In addition there is the shadow- 
soul which may be injured by driving a nail in a person's 

1 Parsons, E. C, Folk-Lore of the Sea Islands, S. C, M. A. F. L. S., vol. 16 
(1923), p. 198. Towne, L. H., Pioneer Work on the Sea Islands, Southern 
Workman, vol. 30 (1901), pp. 400-01. Hawkins, J., An Old Mauma's 
Folk-Lore, J. A. F. L., vol. 9 (1896), p. 130. 

^ House, G. B., The Little Foe of all the World, Southern Workman, 
vol. 35 (1906), pp. 598-99. 

* Ellis, A. B., Ewe-speaking Peoples, p. 106. 

* Ibid., pp. 15-16. For other characteristics of this soul, see ElUs, A. B., 
Tshi-speaking Peoples, p. 125 ff. Kingsley, M. H., West African Studies, 
p. 200 ff. Ellis, A. B., Yoruba-speaking Peoples, p. 127. 



112 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

shadow; ^ and the ukpon or "bush-soul" — the soul 
that lives In an animal that Is away wild in the bush. ^ 
Often a man Is made very ill by his bush-soul being 
trapped and Injured by some unscrupulous wizard. ' 
With many of these West Africans the souls of the 
dead are thought to be later reincarnated in some 
human * or animal form. While there seems to be no 
definite belief In reincarnation with the Southern 
Negroes, yet some of them say that there is a birth 
for every death; when some one dies a baby will be 
born In the world to take his place ^ — an idea probably 
ultimately derived from reincarnation. Others reverse 
the arrangement and say that every time a girl baby 
Is born an old man will die, and whenever a boy baby 
comes Into the world an old woman will depart. ^ In 
one case a Negro preacher was using as a text the 
passage of Scripture telling how the child, whom the 
prophet Elisha ralsedj from the dead, sneezed seven 
times. ■^ "Ebber since den," he thundered, "when 
ennybody sneezes seven times, hits er sign dey's a 
ha'nt riz up frum de daid." ^ This looks somewhat 
like reincarnation, and such is certainly the case with 



iKingsley, M. H. , West African Studies, p. 200 ff. Burton, R. F., Wit 
and Wisdom from West Africa, pp. 389-90. 

2 Kingsley, M. H., West African Studies, p. 200 ff. Ibid., Travels in 
West Africa, p. 360- 

3 Malcolm, L. W. G., Short Notes on Soul Trapping in Southern Nigeria, 
J. A. F. L., vol. 35, (1922) p. 219. 

■^ See Basden, G. T., Among the Ibos of Nigeria, p. 119. Chatelain, H., 
Folk-Lore in an African's Life, Southern Workman, vol. 25 (1896), p. 165. 
Wilson, J. L., Western Africa, p. 210. Talbot, D. A., Woman's Mysteries 
of a Primitive People, p. 38. Cardinal, A. W., The Natives of the Northern 
Territories of the Gold Coast, pp. 66-67. Tylor, E. B., Primitive Culture, 
vol. ii, pp. 8-9. Burton, R. F., Wit and Wisdom from West Africa, p. 376. 

fi 141, and Parsons, E. C, Folk-Lore of the Sea Islands, S. C, M. A. F. L. S., 
vol. 16 (1923), p. 197. 

6 405. 

7 II Kings 4:35. 

8 384. 



Burial Customs, Ghosts, and Witches 113 

the idea prevalent in parts of the South, that the 
spirit of the dead man will come back to earth in the 
form of some animal, ^ 

Ghost-land. With the African, however, not all 
souls are born again; there are always plenty left over 
or temporarily out of a habitat to people a realm of 
ghosts. "The general consensus of opinion is that the 
world of spirits is peopled by the souls of dead human 
beings. . . . The locality of these spirits is not only 
vaguely in the surrounding air; they are also localized 
in prominent natural objects — caves, enormous rocks, 
hollow trees, dark forests." ^ The Yorubas believe 
that "animals also possess souls which, like the souls 
of men, go to Dead-land." ^ This concept of another 
world is also derived from sleep and dreams, and this 
shadow-world does not differ in kind from the earthly 
world, as shown by the following statement of an 
Ibo native: "We Ibo look forward to the next world 
being much the same as this, the only great difference 
being that we will not have our fleshy bodies, and that 
it will be one of perpetual gloom, for there will be no 
day there. This we know from dreams, in which 
it seems to us that, while we on this earth are in light, 
the spirits with whom we converse are always in dark- 
ness. In all other ways, however, we picture life there 
to be exactly as it is in this world." ^ Strictly pol- 
ytheistic, the African in his effort to explain natural 
phenomena by animism, locates a soul in practically 

2 Nassau, R. H., Fetichism in West Africa, p. 52 ff. 

^ Ellis, A. B., Yoruba-speaking Peoples, p. 133. 

* Leonard, A. G., The Lower Niger and Its Tribes, pp. 185-86. For varia- 
tions and other details, see Ellis, A. B., Tshi-speaking Peoples, pp. 157-58, 
and Ellis, A. B., Ewe-speaking Peoples, pp. 15-16, and 108. Kingsley, 
M. H., Travels in West Africa, p. 488 and 587. Bosnian, W., Description 
of the Coast of Guinea, p. 131. 

8 



114 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

everything. "The Tshi-speaking Negro does not limit 
the possession of a ghost, or soul, to man, but extends 
It to all objects inanimate as well as animate." ^ Thus, 
non-human ghosts and spirits play their part in the 
great African spirit environment. Miss Kingsley says: 
"Once I had to sit waiting a long time at an apparently 
clear bush path, because In front of us a spear's ghost 
used to fly across the path about that time In the 
afternoon, and if any one was struck by it he died. 
A certain spring I know of is haunted by the ghost of 
a pitcher." ^ But let us consider now the American 
Negro. 

Polytheism in the South. While the Southern Negro 
today is not professedly polytheistic, yet the Intensity 
of his beliefs in devils and angels and In secondary 
spirits of all kinds really gives him a sort of polytheistic 
Christianity. Jesus is an anthropomorphic spirit who 
comes riding along "wid er rainbo' 'cross his shoulder," ^ 
as one of their songs states. When a mule balks a 
ghost Is stopping him •* — a belief which also exists in at 
least some portions of Northumberland. ^ Spirits 
rustle the leaves on the trees « — in fact, one of their 



1 Ellis, A. B., Ewe-speaking Peoples, p. 17. For the location of spirits in 
rivers, lakes, trees, hills, portions of the sea-shore, and elsewhere, see Ellis, 
A. B.,, Yoruha-speaking Peoples, pp. 34-106, 275-301. Ellig, A. B., Tshi- 
speaking Peoples, p. 13, 34 ff, and 39 ff. Ihid., Ewe-speaking Peoples, pp. 31-77. 
Cardinal, A. W., The Natives of the Northern Territories of the Gold Coast, 
pp. 34-35. Koelle, Rev. S. M., African Native Literature (Kanuri Proverbs), 
p. 373. Burton, R. F., Wit and Wisdom from West Africa, p. 59. For a 
general classification, see Nassau, R. H., Fetichism in West Africa, pp. 66-70. 
Ellis, A. B., Tshi-speaking Peoples, pp. 17-18. For an explanation of this 
form of animism, see Tylor, E. B., Primitive Culture, vol. i, pp. 474-96, 
and vol. ii, pp. 204-29. 

2 Kingsley, M. H., Travels in West Africa, p. 522. 

^141. See also, Perkins, A. E., Negro Spirituals from the Far South, 
J. A.F.L., vol. 35, p. 224. 
"306. 

* Henderson, W., Folk-Lore of the Northern Counties of England, p. 231. 
«319. 



Burial Customs, Ghosts, and Witches 115 

verses refers to a "Mulberry witch" laughing; ^ the 
witch apparently being a sort of tree spirit. It is 
nothing peculiar to African religious thought, which 
puts a soul in everything, that an African pot should 
be able to run, 2 but when the American Negro, pro- 
fessedly Christian, tells of a pot or an ax running 
away ^, or of a swamp going to sleep and having 
bad dreams, * we evidently have a good example 
of ideas closely approximating former African doctrines. 
But only occasionally with the Negro does a ghost 
take an inanimate form, though I have heard of them 
even changing to logs. ^ In one case a ha'nt took the 
form of a wash-pot, jumped up the hill into a wagon 
and scared the driver to death. "Ha'nts kin te'k 
enny fo'm, w'ite folks, even a brickbat, clock, chair, 
er ennything." ^ Another ghost was accustomed to 
appear as a bundle, ^ while in another case a group was 
going across the fields at noonday when they suddenly 
saw a whole house coming after them. It passed so 
close by that it knocked their hats off, and neither 
house nor hats were ever seen again. * On another 
occasion a group of railroad Negroes heard the whistle 
and the sharp grinding of a locomotive almost upon 
them. They leaped for their lives — but the ghost- 
locomotive never appeared, though it was distinctly 
heard by all. ^ But whatever the theory, the actual 
ghost is seldom seen in this form. A haunted house 

1 Talley, T. W., Negro Folk Rhymes, p. 153. 

'^ Cronise and Ward, Cunnie Rabbit, Mr. Spider and the Other Beef, p. 156. 
» Harris, J. C, Told by Uncle Remus, p. 290, and 292 ff. 
*Ibid., p. 130. 
6 8. 
6 305. 

^ Babcock, W. H., Folk-Lore Jottings from Rockhaven, D. C, J. A. F. L., 
vol. 14 (1891), p. 172. 
8 288. 
« 253. 



116 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

is merely the location of a dead man's spirit, while 
haunted trees are generally feared, not for themselves, 
but for the spirit that lurks around them. Even dogs 
are reported to avoid trees upon which men have been 
hung; ^ while a certain tree in South Carolina is feared 
because a ghost appears near it in the shape of a small 
animal, perhaps a dog, then increases in size to the 
size of a sheep, and afterwards becomes successively 
metamorphosed into a calf, and an ox. ^ Ghosts as 
white spots, vapor, or balls of fire are more common. 
One girl woke up screaming in the night, saying that 
a ball of fire had struck her arm. She was unable 
to use that member for two or three weeks. ^ Such 
cases, however, are not strictly representative of Negro 
ghost beliefs, which, in the main, are more closely 
centered about definite dead folks. Let us consider 
in greater detail this more numerous class to which is 
assigned characteristics both African and European in 
nature. 

Negro ''''Ha'ntsr In all the squalid lore of mankind 
there is nothing more ghastly than those unearthly 
beings, who, for the most part, were at one time men. 
In Negro ghost-lore this hideousness is all the more 
patent, since the lovable fairy or brownie is completely 
subordinated to the goblin, incubus, or ogre, who seeks 
only the harm of mankind. These Negro ghosts 
gather together nightly in the graveyard, * though 
deserted houses, streams of water, garrets and even 
churches are often polluted by their presence, ^ which 
is made known by lights in the church, which, however, 

1 342. 

2 Waring, Mary A., Mortuary Customs and Beliefs of South Carolina 
Negroes, J. A. F. L., vol. 7 (1894), p. 319. 

8 76. 
*64. 
U50, 



Burial Customs, Ghosts, and Witches 117 

are extinguished upon the entry of a human. On 
dark, rainy nights especially, they like to prowl in the 
shape of persons. Catholic sisters, cows, clouds, dogs, 
etc., but most of the time having eyes like coals of 
fire. 1 Although more active on Friday nights, ^ on 
the last quarter of the moon, ^ and at midnight, * 
they do not hesitate to appear at twelve o'clock noon 
at times. Although almost invariably loathsome in 
appearance these specters are not always evil in their 
actions; sometimes when properly approached with 
courage they point out the location of concealed 
treasures. ^ The air is full of these uncouth monsters — 
one must be very careful not to brush against them. 
In case you are not one of those lucky (or unlucky) few 
who can see ghosts, you must look out for signs of 
their nearness. A rabbit (or black cat) ^ running 
across your path in the moonlight, ^ or better still, a 
warm current of air (at night) ^ is a sure sign of their 
presence 3 (it is their breath blowing on your back). i° 
Other ghost-minded folk claim that a cool wind on 
your back gives notice of a spirit behind you. ^ ^ The 
soft murmur of the forest trees when the wind is 
not blowing is the whispering of these comfortless 
creatures. ^ - If the shade is one of your former ac- 



1341. 

2 17. 

3 141. 

* 306. 
6 395. 

* Hunter, Rosa, Southern Workman, vol. 27 (1898), p. 57. 

' Pendleton, L., Notes on Negro Folk-Lore and Witchcraft in the South, 
J. A. F. L., vol. 3 (1890), p. 206. 

8 Steiner, R., Superstitions and Belief s from Central Georgia, J. A. F. L., 
vol. 12 (1899), p. 47. 

9 141, 238, and 341. 

1 268. , . 

1183. 

12 141, and Pendleton, L., Notes on Negro Folk-Lore and Witchcraft in the 
South, J. A. F. L., vol. 3 (1890), p. 206. 



118 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

quaintances, he will mention your name to his dingy 
comrades and break a stick to attract your attention; 
thus, whenever you hear a stick break in the thicket 
at night you may know it is a ghost trying to get your 
attention. ^ In fact, these uncanny bogies often let 
themselves be known only by the sounds they make; 
one Missouri family was forced to relinquish a haunted 
house, offered free to them, because inexplicable 
sounds of breaking dishes and tramping cattle on the 
floors below gave them no opportunity to slumber. ^ 
Never answer a strange voice in the night; a spirit (of 
some relative) ^ is calling you, and to answer it 
means death. * 

Brawny Specters. If any one should be so foolhardy 
as to mock a strange noise at night, the insulted goblin 
would snatch him out of bed. ^ Perhaps muscular 
strength may seem incompatible with such volatile 
construction, but one Vicksburg Negro learned to his 
sorrow that strength of arm does not depart with 
death. This suitor was forcing unwanted attentions 
upon a girl when suddenly the shadowy hand of the 
girl's dead father dealt the impetuous youth a mighty 
wallop on the jaw. Even today this tactless swain's 
mouth is lopsided. ^ A person should never turn his 
head when he feels a spirit slapping him; he would 
never be able to turn it back to its proper position. ^ 



157. 
2351. 

3 Smiley, P., Folk-Lore from Va., S. C, Ga., Ala., and Fla., J. A. F. L., 
vol. 32 (1919), p. 382. 

* 200, and 306. 

661. 

* 368. The Yoruba people of Africa have a proverb: "If a ghost shakes 
thy hand, thine arm shrinks." See Burton, R. F., Wit and Wisdom from 
West Africa, p. 143. 

754. 



Burial Customs, Ghosts, and Witches 119 

This fear of the departed is one reason why it is con- 
sidered a bit unwise to marry a widow too soon after 
her husband has become an unwilling "ha'nt." One 
impatient suitor in Arkansas called upon such a recent 
widow. As he entered her house his shoe flew off, 
a few more steps and off came his coat. Suddenly a 
ghost appeared, sitting in the woman's lap, and the 
suitor's ardor speedily cooled. ^ A fresh smell, like 
steaming coffee, indicates a lurking "ha'nt"; ^ and such 
"smells" are unduly attracted by sleeping with your 
feet towards the window, ^ or by having half a pumpkin 
in the kitchen. ^ Perchance this latter notion is a 
modification of our Hallowe'en pumpkin usages. 

Ectoplasmic Manifestations. Some ghosts look like 
thin vapor or headless men and women draped in white. 
When they walk there is an eerie sound like rustling 
silk or gently beating wings. They most often mourn 
in a stifled sort of way like the wind in the treetops, 
but occasionally there is the husky sobbing of a child 
and rarely a sinister scream. Muffled sounds, the 
suggestive rattle of a shutter, a board creaking, a 
chair rocking, or soft footsteps in an empty house — 
all such signs are indications of a sombre visitor from 
beyond the grave. ^ A man is not really dead until 
the body is buried. His soul stays in the body (all 
are not agreed on this) until this rite is performed and 
the dead man's haunt will not molest you until then. 
But should the dead man be an enemy of yours his 
avenging spook will soon be on your trail. ^ The ghosts 

1341. 
2112. 

=•33. 

* Waring, Mary A., Negro Superstitions in South Carolina, J. A.F. L., vol. 
8 (1895), p. 252. 
M50. 
•306. 



120 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

of wicked persons are red ^ or black, while good spirits 
are white. Bad spirits sometimes take the form of a 
black man without a head, or a black cat, dog, hog, or 
cow — the cow at times having only one horn standing 
out between her eyes (perhaps a Negro version of the 
fabled unicorn). Good spirits, on the other hand, 
appear as white doves, men and children (at times 
with wings), or else look like mist or clouds. The air 
from these good spirits will cure sickness. They are 
able to fly high, but the evil spirits remain close to the 
ground and lead men into ditches or briar-patches. ^ 
There are ghost forms of all sizes — from that of a 
gnat to a horse. The forms often seen are those of 
dogs, lambs, bears, and other animals, ^ although 
again they appear in human form but not able to 
walk upright, jumping after people on their hands and 
knees like rabbits, with their faces tied up in black 
cloths. * Arkansas Negroes tell various stories of these 
diabolical marplots. One Negro was chased by some- 
thing with a huge head and two tiny legs; another on 
horseback suddenly found an unbidden companion 
seated behind him. Every time the terrified rider would 
hit the horse the ghost would also hit the animal and 
the driver as well. Still another was tactless enough 
to throw at a small white spot he saw by the road one 
night. The spot increased so rapidly in size that it 
soon reached across the road and the field as well. 
In running around the church trying to escape the 

^Southern Workman, vol. 23 (1894), p. 210. 

^Steiner, R., Braziel Robinson Possessed of Two Spirits, J. A. F. L., 
vol. 13 (1900), p. 227. 

3 150. 

^Waring, Mary A., Mortuary Customs and Beliefs of South Carolina 
Negroes, J. A. F. L. (1894), p. 318. 



Burial Customs, Ghosts, and Witches 121 

white horror the unlucky man fell down and broke his 
arm. ^ 

Serious Business. Would that my pen could give 
some small idea of the deadly seriousness and sin- 
cerity with which these personal happenings are re- 
lated by the rural Negroes. Many times I have found 
myself wondering whether, after all, these less cultured 
folk were not in touch with influences to which the 
whites are impervious, so great is the earnestness of 
Negroes, whom I know to be trustworthy in other 
affairs, in picturing the chill horror of these nocturnal 
meetings. One old Negro woman lived in a house 
near the edge of the graveyard. One morning she 
looked out towards the well in the yard. Beads of 
cold perspiration appeared on her forehead. The well 
crank was turning and a bucket of water coming up 
though no human being was to be seen. An invisible 
hand seized the dipper and lifted it to about the 
position where a mouth would normally be. A ghastly 
whirring noise through the treetops — and all was as it 
had been. ^ Another Negro driving by the graveyard 
on a pitch-dark night was filled with nameless dread 
when his horse balked. He could see no one but was 
aware of a bulky form getting into the buggy with 
him — he could hear the springs creak and feel them 
settle under the weight. The horse moved on very 
slowly; nothing could persuade him to go faster. The 
unhappy man tried to sing, but could think of no 
other song than "Hark from the tomb a doleful sound." 
His unseen companion mocked him, "Hark! Hark! 

1.341. 

2 288. 



122 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

Hark!" He could feel the mouldy breath of the 
visitor on his shoulder. When the man and his 
ghoulish companion neared a store the horse stopped 
and the unseen visitor left him without a word of 
thanks. ^ Still another Negro met an old woman on 
three successive corners while walking straight along 
at night. The last time when he tipped his hat to her 
he became apprehensive and looked back after he 
had passed. Not a soul was to be seen. A loitering 
gait was quickly metamorphosed into a break-neck 
gallop. 2 Another Negro was startled out of his wits 
when a bunch of chains suddenly fell out of a tree near 
him on a lonely night. ^ Continental ghosts wear 
chains, but the English ghost, dead or alive, is free of 
them, * though the clanking of chains is sometimes 
heard with English animal-ghosts. ^ The Negro, bred 
in slavery, often invested his dead with the same 
accouterments worn by the living. 

Cadaverous Avengers. "De ha'nts '11 sho' git you ef 
you dances er do's wrong. Law'! Marse Newbell, 
dey kin even set yo' house a-fiah." ^ This indicates 
the way in which the imaginary environment is drawn 
upon to facilitate better discipline in the real environ- 
ment. The fear of an avenging "ha'nt" is often as 
powerful a deterrent with the would-be thief or mur- 
derer as the fear of the avenging noose. One man in a 
fit of anger killed his wife. To his horror he found 
that the print of her face where she struck the floor 
could not be erased. Her spirit would come back, 



^Southern Workman, vol. 23 (1894), p. 210. 

2 153. 

M36. 

^ Brand, J., Popular Antiquities oj Great Britain, vol. 3, p. 69. 

* Henderson, W., Folk-Lore of the Northern Counties of England, p. 238. 

6 306. 



Burial Customs, Ghosts, and Witches 123 

knock on the door, blow the light out, or flutter at 
the window. Often in the night, even until his death, 
he could hear the dull thud of her murdered body 
again falling to the floor. ^ Some grave-robbers dug 
up the body of a wealthy woman and stole her jewels. 
As they attempted to remove a diamond ring, to their 
consternation, the loathsome hands of the corpse 
closed upon them. They broke away and ran in 
terror, but the baneful specter stalked to her former 
house and pointed out these servants who had robbed 
her. Other mercenary bigots stole the two silver 
dollars holding down a dead man's eyes. That night 
the dead man came and asked for his money, which 
was thrown to him with due perturbation. ^ An old 
Negro slave tells me of his white master who shot a 
neighbor in a dastardly fashion. While waiting at 
the doorstep for this master one night, this old Negro 
heard two shots in the direction of the graveyard in 
which the murdered man was buried, and then the 
sound of galloping hoofs. His master's horse came 
running in with his owner lying limp across his back. 
The slave put the white man to bed; next morning he 
was sent to the cemetery to see if he could find any- 
thing dead there. A ghostly form had seized his 
master's bridle as he passed the cemetery, twice the 
rider had fired at it with silver bullets, but the ghost 
merely croaked, "You shot me once; I can't be shot 
again!" The slave looked near the scene of the 
shooting but found only a revolver with two cartridges 
discharged. ^ The same informant tells of even the 
rain having pity and turning to blood when it fell 

188. 

2341. 

3 286. See also, Backus, E. M., Negro Ghost Stories, J. A. F. L., vol. 9 
(1896), pp. 228-30. 



124 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

upon the roof of a lonely house on the roadside in 
which a poor old man was murdered. Another in- 
formant tells me of a man who asked to be buried in 
his own back yard. Two, four, then six horses were 
hitched to the hearse but they couldn't budge it 
towards the cemetery. Then two horses were hitched 
to the rear and easily pulled it to the back yard where 
the man was buried. ^ An economical housewife picked 
up a bone in the graveyard and took it home to make 
soup with it. That night a thin voice wailed over her 
bed, "I want my bone! I want my bone!" She paid 
no attention at first, but the voice gradually increased 
in volume until the whole house shook with, 'T WANT 
MY BONE! I WANT MY BONE!" "Take it," 
the frightened woman cried. All was then silent^ 
and next morning the bone was gone. ^ 

An ill-bred little boy cursed and swore at an old 
hired lady on the place because she was smoking his 
father's pipe. Shortly afterwards the old lady died. 
All went well until about three weeks later when the 
lad awoke one night shrieking that the old lady was 
after him. His parents went to the rescue but could 
see no one, though the sheets, quilts, and window 
curtains in the room were tearing themselves, a strip 
at a time, and tying themselves about the boy's neck, 
arms and legs, almost choking him to death. All they 
could do was to cut the strips as fast as they were tied 
until the invisible Something left for the night. Next 
morning at breakfast this same invisible misanthrope 
spit in every dish on the table so that the family were 
compelled to go without their meal. This happened 
many times afterwards, so that the family would 



'306. 

2337. 



Burial Customs, Ghosts, and Witches 125 

often eat away from the house. The woman continued 
to worry the lad until he became very ill. She would 
often appear in the form of a cat and would even tie 
him to the top of the house unless the cords were cut 
as fast as she tied them. People came from far and 
near to see the strange spectacle, and one circus owner 
offered to buy the lad to display in his show. Collard 
seed were strewn about the door with no effect. One 
man brought a pistol loaded with golden bullets. He 
was very boastful about what he was going to do, 
but when the "ha'nt" slapped him and nailed his hat 
on the top of the house he left on the run, leaving his 
pistol behind. The boy kept the pistol and finally 
succeeded in wounding the evil shade so that she 
never came back. He then recovered from his illness 
but his mind was forever affected by that gruesome 
experience. ^ 

Ghastly Associates. Whether the "ha'nt" be re- 
venging some direct wrong or not, there are many 
cases of the infliction of personal injury or death upon 
people who approach "ha'nts" too closely. Some 
boys in a buggy were driving along one Sunday after- 
noon when they saw a man out in the field hoeing 
cotton. They remonstrated with him about violating 
the Sabbath; the man stopped their buggy, whipped 
them all soundly, then quickly and utterly vanished 
into thin air. ^ Another time a little boy and girl saw 
a large rat run under the corn crib. They set the 
crib on fire and a voice came, "Don't do that! Don't 
do that!" That night they lay in bed asleep. About 
twelve o'clock there was a dreary mutter: "Come 

1 195. 

2 306. 



126 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

here, brother! Come here, sister!" A ghostly hand 
tore the shingles off the roof, an uncouth form hopped 
into bed with the two children and killed them both, i 
Dora May of Mobile, on a dare, went to a tomb at mid- 
night and thrust her hand into a hole in the grave. 
Something seized her arm with a cold, clammy grasp. 
She shrieked and strained but could not get away. 
Others tried to help her but could not pull her arm 
out. Terror finally overcame them and they all ran 
away, leaving poor Dora May alone in the graveyard 
all night. Next morning she was dead, and her arm 
had to be amputated to secure her release. A fanci- 
ful story, perhaps, but it is remarkable what a hold 
it has upon the Negroes of Mobile. ^ Ghosts have 
also been known to carry men up into the air until 
they disappeared entirely and forever from sight. ^ 
A dead father returned and broke up the dishes 
because his daughter was not obedient to her mother. * 
Even white people may appear. One authoress in 
Mobile, after her death was often "seed a-settin' on 
de bench in de garden wid er w'ite dress on. Alius 
she gits dimmer an' dimmer, an' finally goes away." ^ 
Women picking cotton, weird misshapen forms "dat 
je'k folkses outer dey's baids at nite," ^ white shadows 
in the midst of a whirlwind: these are some of the 
forms in which these ghastly denizens of the other 
world appear to appall those who believe in them. 
They are often guardians of buried treasure; one 
favorite theme is that of a haunted house, generally 
with treasure buried below it. People are offered a 



1 263. 

2 320. 

8 Southern Worktna?i, vol. 26 (1897), pp. 122-23. 

*341. 

6 320. 

«104. 



Burial Customs, Ghosts, and Witches 127 

huge reward to spend the night there, but extremely 
few are able to do so. ^ Generally a person who has 
died an untimely death leaves a dangerous, dissatisfied 
ghost. So great is the fear of some Mississippi Ne- 
groes for a certain haunted tree where a man was hung 
that they will go five or six miles out of their way 
at night to avoid passing that spot. ^ 

Mutilated Specters. In America, as in Africa, ^ 
these ghosts often take a mutilated form, probably 
representing those poor dissatisfied souls who are 
forced to lead a painful existence in the other world 
with some of their parts missing. Many are the 
apparently sincere stories I have heard related about 
meetings with these headless prowlers of the night. 
One reputable Negro nurse tells me of driving down the 
road at night when suddenly the horses shied at the 
figure of a man dimly outlined in the gloom (horses 
generally show a great sensitivity to spirits). On 
looking closely she saw that this silent figure had no 
head. ^ In another case a murderer chopped a man's 
head off; to his everlasting horror the head began to 
talk to him. Another man was decapitated in a 
railroad wreck. His headless body walked up and 
down the track asking if any one was hurt. ^ A 
wife died, making her husband promise not to sell any 
of the household furniture. A short time afterwards 
the unfaithful husband sold a pair of bedsprings and a 
mattress to a Negress, who, of course, was unaware 

1341. 

2.319, and 406. 

'See, Lomax, J. A., Stories of an African Prince, J. A. F. L., vol. 26 
(1913), pp. 7-8. Cronise and Ward, Cunnie Rabbit, Mr. Spider and the 
Other Beef, pp. 21-22. 

^342. 

^244. 



128 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

of the promise he had made. That night she and her 
sister went to bed, first jamming the ax under the 
door so that it could not be opened. In the middle of 
the night they woke up to see the ax mysteriously 
creeping from under the door. A woman clad in red 
flannel (the fetish color) walked in. She had a great 
long neck but no head. There she stood "a-turnin' 
dat long neck 'bout de room tryin' ter look at us. Us 
hollered fur us's brudder, he come runnin' in, an' dat 
ha'nt wuz gone!"^ Another Vicksburg Negro saw a 
little man walking across the fields with no legs, ^ 
while in other cases ^ headless men, armless men, and 
dismembered limbs, falling down the chimney one by 
one, and acting as if they had some real unison, are 
featured. Ghosts in the shape of "natchel men," 
unnatural men twenty feet high, * a person's relatives, 
vanishing sheets, men in black; ^ in these and many 
other forms the specters appear. 

The Mark of the Beast. Some say that spirits may 
come in any shape, as men, cows, cats, dogs, or other 
animals, but that they are always black. If a man 
leaves an unknown treasure buried, his ghost will 
come back colored red. ^ A man has two ghosts, an 
evil ghost, derived from the body and a "Holy Ghost" 
derived "frum de insides." "All ha'nts come frum 
daid people, 'caze dere mus' be a soul ter be a ghos', 
an' animals hain't got no souls. Sometimes ghosses 
look lak dawgs er cats, but dey's nutthin' but folkses 

1288. 

2 25. 

'Bacon, A. M., and Parsons, E. C, Folk-Lore from Elizabeth City County, 
Va., J. A. F. L., vol. 35, p. 290. 

«8. 

6 244. 

* 141, and Steiner, R., Observations on the Practice of Conjuring in Georgia, 
J. A. F. L., vol. 14 (1901), p. 178. 



Burial Customs, Ghosts, and Witches 129 

in dat shape." ^ I would not credit most Negroes 
with such close reasoning on the subject, but it is true 
that many goblins do appear in animal form. Dogs 
are the most common shapes taken; generally big dogs 
(big as a calf) ^ with big red eyes. ' There is one Negro 
verse: 

Ole Joe's dead an' gone, but his ha'nt blows de ho'n; 
An' his hound howls still from de top o'dat hill, * 

which shows that ghost hounds are not always as- 
sociated with metamorphosed human bodies but may 
represent the spirits of deceased dogs as well. One 
Mississippi slave tells me of seeing a little white pug 
dog that became bigger and bigger, until it was as 
large as a calf. ^ The specter hound or dog is a very 
common sprite in Lancashire, in one part being sup- 
posed to be a black dog without a head, ^ a form also 
common with the Mississippi Negroes. ^ Sometimes 
these dogs carry lanterns on their heads, ^ or else have 
big red eyes glowing like chunks of fire. Horses 
which have killed men during their lifetime, in some 
localities appear in a headless form after death. * 
Ghosts also appear as cats, ^ " which sometimes change 
into sheeted figures; ^^ donkeys "wid eyes ez big ez 

2 244. 

* Talley, T. W., Negro Folk Rhymes, p. 59. 

^ 32. See also, Babcock, W. H., Folk-Lore Jottings from Rockhaven, D. C, 
J. A. F. L., vol. 4 (1891), p. 172. 

' Hardwick, C, Traditions, Superstitions, and Folklore, p. 172. 
^306. 

8 Bacon, A. M^ and Parsons, E. C, Folk-Lore from Elizabeth City 
County, Va., J. A. F. L., vol. 35, p. 289. 

9 Bergen, F. D., Animal and Plant Lore, M. A. F. L. S., vol. 7 (1899), 
pp. 130-31. 

lo Smiley, P., Folk-Lore from Va., S. C, Ga., Ala., and Fla.. J. A. F. L., 
vol. 32 (1919), pp. 367-68. 

1 1 325. 
9 



130 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

buckets an' ears lak a man's coat"; ^ disappearing 
cows; 2 invulnerable turkeys; ^ and even insects. One 
Negro boy earnestly tells of a huge grasshopper ghost 
as big as a horse. This dreadful creature was clad in 
human clothes even down to shoes and hat, and went 
away whistling, jumping over cows and fences. * Mrs. 
Boyle assures me of the authenticity of her story 
where the half-insane plantation "maumer" conceives 
of the soul of a dead baby appearing in the form of a 
butterfly, ^ though in Ireland it is also thought that 
the soul sometimes appears in the form of this same 
insect. ^ Perhaps these animal ghosts may show 
some relation to the African "bush-soul" as well. 
The Gullah Negroes, especially on the Georgetown 
Coast, believe in "plat-eye," an antebellum ha'n 
associated with the new moon and the form of an 
animal, usually a dog. Generally the shape taken 
was that of a small dog (with fiery eyes), which grew 
larger and larger every minute. In one case, hoof- 
beats were heard and a great horse passed by. Then 
only a little dog was to be seen. ^ At other times 
these "plat-eyes" may float like wraiths along the 
marshes or unfrequented paths, or stoop like low hung 
clouds and envelop the victim. » In another case a 
murdered husband's ghost hopped out of the coffin in 
the form of a frog, changing to his own form, and 
going back into the cofiin again. ^ 

161. 
2 36. 

8 141. 

M04. 

' Boyle, Mrs. V. P., Devil Tales, p. 184 ff. 

* Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 558. 

7 Davis, H. C, Negro Folk-Lore in S. C, J. A. F. L., vol. 27 (1914), p. 248. 

« Gonzales, A. E., The Black Border, p. 183. 

»306. 



Burial Customs, Ghosts, and Witches 131 

Spookish Humor. Negro humor, with Its tendency 
to "laugh off" the fearful, often clusters around these 
spirit visitants, generally taking the form of reflections 
upon white men, the picturization of the abject terror 
of meeting ghosts, or the skill of the Negro in avoiding 
them. One story told me by an Arkansas informant 
is that of a slave-owner who used to put a sheet over 
his head and go out to scare his slaves. This man 
owned a monkey who was very imitative. One night 
the monkey watched him put the sheet over his head 
and slip out to scare people, whereupon the monkey 
slipped a sheet over his own head and, unobserved, 
followed his white master. The man hid behind a 
tree and when a Negro passed he jumped out to scare 
him. The Negro ran ; then the sheeted monkey jumped 
out from behind the white man, and the white man 
ran with the monkey after him, calling, "Run big Jim; 
little Jim ketch you!"^ With a few alterations this 
same theme is found at least in Alabama, ^ North 
Carolina and Florida. ^ Another man was running 
from a ghost. After running for a long time he said 
to himself: 

"I sho' hab been runnin' some" 
"Ain' we been runnin' though?" replied the ghost. 
"fFeV replied the man, "Hit won't be we in a few 
minutes." * 

Another man ran from a haunted house with a ghost 
at his heels. "So tired! So tired!" panted the man, 
and the ghost at his heels said the same thing. ^ Much 

1341. 
2397. 

' Parsons, E. C, Tales from Guilford County, N. C, J. A. F. L., vol. 30 
(1917), p. 17/?, and Folk-Tales Collected at Miami, Fla., Ibid., p. 227. 
*357. 
6 341. 



132 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

of the humor here is lost since it depends upon the 
realistic descriptions and vivid gesticulations of the 
story teller. Another man volunteered to spend the 
night in a haunted house. He sat down by the fire 
and made himself comfortable. Pretty soon an or- 
dinary cat appeared, looked at the man, and said, 
''Well, I can't do nuthin' 'til Martin comes." The 
cat then disappeared but presently a much larger cat 
came, repeated the same words, and vanished. Then 
a huge cat, as large as a tiger stalked in: "Well, I 
can't do nuthin' 'til Martin comes." "Well you kin 
tell Martin when he do come dat I done been here but 
I'se sho' gone!" quavered the scared man as he left 
through the window. ^ Much humor is also derived 
from tales of frightened Negroes who had mistaken 
opossums, billy-goats, dogs, donkeys, ^ cows, ' and 
other harmless animals for ghosts. Sometimes prowl- 
ing Negroes bent on some rascality will disguise them- 
selves as ghosts in order to scare off any possible 
investigators. ^ Perhaps this may account in part for 
the fact that so many of the ghost stories have such a 
realistic turn to them. 

English Phantoms. Most of the ghosts described 
here, with the possible exception of cows and horses, 
are to be found in Africa as well as in America, but 
one is by no means to suppose that they are neces- 
sarily of African origin. In England, from eighty to 
one hundred years ago, "the whole world was so over- 
run with ghosts, boggles, bloody-bones, spirits, demons, 
ignis fatuiy fairies, brownies, bug-bears, black-dogs, 

1 175, and 219. 

2 341. 
2 403. 

* Waring, Mary A., Mortuary Customs and Beliefs of South Carolina 
Negroes, J. A. F. L., vol. 7 (1894), pp. 318-19. 



Burial Customs, Ghosts, and Witches 133 

specters, spelly-coats (Scotch boggles, wearing gar- 
ments of shells which made a horrid rattling when they 
appeared abroad), scare-crows, witches, wizards, bar- 
guests, Robin-good-fellows, hags, night-bats, scrags, 
break-necks, fantasms, hob-goblins, hoboulards, bog- 
gy-boes, dobbys, hobthrusts, fetches, kelpies, war- 
locks, mock-beggars, mumpokers, jimmy-burties, and 
apparitions, that there was not a village in England 
that had not its peculiar ghost! Nay, every lone 
tenement or mansion which could boast of any an- 
tiquity had its boggle or specter. The churchyards 
were all haunted. Every green lane had its boulder- 
stone, on which an apparition kept watch by night; 
every common had a circle of fairies belonging to it; 
and there was scarce a shepherd to be met with who 
had not seen a spirit." ^ Out of this array, at least 
some British spooks must have retained their spectral 
association with the American colonists. 

The J ack-o'' -my- Lantern. This is especially true of 
the ig7iis fatuus, sometimes known as Jack-of-the- 
lantern, will-o'-wisp, Peg-a-lantern, Kitty-candlestick, 
Jacket-a-wad, and similar terms. The basic idea in 
European lore is that these wandering flames belong 
to the souls of persons well known and recently dead, 
and the Negro concept is not essentially diiferent. ^ 
The Scotch also believe in the will-o'-the-wisp, and in 
Ayrshire there is a child's rhyme: 



^ Denham, M. A., A Collection of Proverbs and Popular Sayings, Percy 
Society, vol. 20, p. 63 (note). 

^ Newell, W. W., The Ignis Fatuus. Its Character and Legendary Origin, 
J. A. F. L., vol. 17 (1904), pp. 36-90. 



134 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

Spunky, Spunky, ye're a jumpin' light, 
Ye ne'er tak hame the school weans right; 
But through the rough moss, and owre the hag. 
Ye drown the ill anes in your watery den! ^ 

In other localities in the west of England, it is those 
mischievous and unsociable sprites, the Pigseys, 
which appear like men, carrying lanterns at times, and 
leading people into bogs. Their power, however, may 
be broken by wearing one's coat inside-out. ^ The 
Southern Negroes are very familiar .with this apparition 
which they call Jack-o'-lantern, or Jack-o'-my-lantern, 
though the whites of the locality pay little or no 
attention to such beliefs, thus making this a bit of 
English lore preserved almost exclusively by Negroes. 
These Jack-o'-lanterns carry lights and would cer- 
tainly fool you into the swamp or river, ^ unless you 
turn your pockets wrongside out, * doubtless to show 
the avaricious spirit that you have nothing in them. 
Some of the Missouri Negroes speak of these goblins as 
"Waller-wups" and say that they resemble old women 
carrying a lantern. You are filled with an ir- 
resistible impulse to follow this light, which impulse 
is overcome only by flinging yourself down, shutting 
your eyes, holding your breath, and plugging up your 
ears. ^ Others consider this curiosity as a torch borne 
by the spirit of an old man ^ and say that any one 
foolhardy enough to desire a closer acquaintance may 
compel its approach by sticking a knife-blade into the 

1 Chambers, R., Popular Rhymes of Scotland, p. 184. See also, Brand, J., 
Popular Antiquities of Great Britain, vol. 3, pp. 395-411. 

2 Hunt, R., Popular Romances of the West of England, p. 82. 

3 Harris, J. C, Uncle Remus, p. 157. 

* 300, and 115. See also, Lee, C., Some Negro Lore from Baltimore, J. A. 
F.L., vol. 5 (1892), p. 110. 

^ Owen, Mary A., Voodoo Tales, pp. 274-75. 
«57. 



Burial Customs, Ghosts, and Witches 135 

ground, ^ a belief similar to that of the Scotch High- 
landers with reference to the "death-light." ^ Again 
one may dodge this ignis fatuus, by turning his back 
upon it and running for his life. It represents a demon 
"hot from hell"; one horseman who attempted to 
investigate closer paid the penalty of having himself 
and his horse consumed in flames. ' Some of the 
views of the Jack-o'-lantern are still more grotesque. 
In some of the Southern seaboard states it is regarded 
as "a hideous creature, five feet in height, with goggle- 
eyes and huge mouth, its body covered with long hair, 
which goes leaping and bounding through the air 
like a gigantic grasshopper. This frightful apparition, 
stronger than any man and swifter than any horse, 
compels its victims to follow it into the swamp where 
it leaves them to die." ^ Again one old conjurer tells 
me that the Jack-o'-lantern is nothing but a sort of 
firefly flapping around in an envelope of jelly which 
serves as wings. When the wings fly open you can 
see the light, when the wings are closed the light is 
invisible. ^ In addition to avoidance by turning the 
pockets wrong-side out the Jack-o'-lantern may also 
be driven off by carrying a new knife that has never 
cut wood. ^ 

The Origin of Jack. Various legends are in vogue 
among the Negroes to account for the origin of this 
creature. One illustrating the common theme, was 
told me by a root-doctor last summer. Jack sold 

1 Hawkins, H., An Old Mauma's Folk-Lore, J. A. F. L., vol. 9 (1896), p. 131. 
'^ Campbell, J. G., Witchcraft and Second Sight in the Highlands and 
Islands of Scotland, p. 170. 

* Pendleton, L., Notes on Negro Folk-Lore, J. A. F. L., vol. 3 (1890), p. 206. 

* Sykes, W., British Goblins, p. 18. 
'258. 

«57, and Davis, H. C, Negro Folk-Lore in S. C, J. A. F. L., vol. 27 
(1914), p. 248. 



136 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

himself to the devil at the crossroads one night at 
twelve o'clock. For seven years all power was given 
to him to do as he pleased, but at the end of that 
period his soul belonged to the devil. Old Satan 
called for him, but Jack was ready. He had tacked 
a piece of old shoe sole up above the door, and asked 
the devil to get it for him. The devil stood in a chair 
and reached for it. Jack then took a hammer and 
nailed the devil's hand fast, slipping the chair out 
from under him. Upon a promise of his freedom 
Jack then released old Satan. Finally Jack died. He 
went up to heaven, but those in charge would not let 
him in. He went down to hell, but the devil threw a 
chunk of fire at him and told him he was too smart 
for hell. Jack, deprived of a dwelling, was forced to 
pick up the chunk of fire and to spend all his time 
wandering about the earth luring people into swamps 
and mudholes at night. ^ The other versions ^ 
differ as to details, but agree in that Jack was forced 
out of hell and compelled to roam the earth. 

Flying Horses and Mermaids. We have thus far 
described the main varieties of Negro ghosts. Pos- 
sibly the flying horses might well be added to this 
list. Men who have seen them say that they look like 
brown horses but have wings and fly. Most of the 
time these "air-mares" are leading the wind and storm. 
They live mostly in cliffs, like eagles, along the water- 
courses. ^ If a horse is dying and hears the neighing 
of these flying horses before the end comes, he will 



1141. 

2 Newell, W. W., The Ignis Faluus, J. A. F. L., vol. 17 (1904), pp. 39-41. 
Jamison, Mrs. C. v., Ala. Legend Concerning the Will-o'-the-Wis-p, J. A. F. L., 
vol. 18 (1905), pp. 250-51. 

"306, and 91. 



Burial Customs, Ghosts, and Witches 137 

arise and be cured immediately. ^ The mermaids are, 
of course, common in England, - but in only very few 
cases have I found a belief in them among the Negroes. 
One of these mermaids was supposed to haunt a 
certain creek near my home, where she sallied forth at 
night to hop upon the radiators of passing cars. ' 
The association with automobiles led me to suspect 
a recent origin, and further investigation showed that 
the belief was brought over by a member of the 
American Expeditionary Force who had just returned 
from his trip over the seas. The old slave Negroes of 
my acquaintance seem to have little knowledge of 
such creatures, though perhaps the belief may be 
stronger among the coast Negroes. 

"Double-sighted^^ Folks. Not all people are able to 
see ghosts; sometimes it happens that one of two 
people walking together can see shadowy forms while 
his comrade cannot. One such case was related by a 
Mississippi Negro. A man and his sweetheart were 
walking together; in the road ahead the man kept 
seeing the figure of a woman, but the girl could see 
nothing. Nevertheless, she refused to go out again 
with a man who had this power. * Some say that only 
a person born with a caul can see ghosts ^ — a belief of 
English extraction. ^ On the Sea Islands such a 
"double-sighted" person may be prevented from seeing 
ghosts by dipping his fingers in tar, or by carefully 
keeping the caul. Should the caul be lost, another 

1104. 

* See Hunt, R., Popular Romances of the West of England, p. 148 ff. 
3 306. 

*289. 

* 17, 59, 65, and 189. Also Pendleton, L., Notes on Negro Folk-Lore and 
Witchcraft in the South, J. A. F. L., vol. 3 (1890), p. 206. 

* Henderson, W., Folk-Lore of the Northern Counties of England, p. 13. 



138 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

could be obtained from the "doctor shop" since the 
midwives often steal the cauls and sell them there. ^ 
The Louisiana Negroes say that when this "veil" is 
lost the individual can still see spirits but not talk 
to them. Should the caul become torn, the owner 
dies. When the owner is ill the caul becomes limp; 
when well, the caul is firm. Even deaf people with 
cauls can hear the spirits talk. ^ The seventh son, 
in the Sea Islands, is regarded as distinguished, ^ though 
in other localities seventh sons are said to be able to 
see ghosts or spirits * or to make good doctors. ^ 
People born like horses or dogs with "putty in their 
eyes" can also see spirits, ^ the same applying to a 
person whose eyebrows meet, ^ though another in- 
formant says that people with long eyebrows must 
cut them off to be able to see ghosts. * Again there is 
the idea that a person born on Christmas day can see 
spirits ^ — a reversal of the common English belief 
which denied such persons this power. ^ ^ All ani- 
mals, ^ ^ and especially cats, ^ ^ can see ghosts. For 
an ordinary person to see "ha'nts" he should look 
through the eye of a needle, ^ ^ or over the left shoul- 



1 Parsons, E. C, Folk-Lore of the Sea Islands, S. C, M. A. F. L. S., vol. 16 
(1923), p. 197 ff. 

2 17. 

3 Parsons, E. C, Folk-Lore of the Sea Islands, S. C, M.A.F. L. S., vol. 16 
(1923), pp. 197-98. 

* Thomas and Thomas, Kentucky Superstitions, p. 286. 

6 141. 

*91, and Hawkins, J., An Old Mauma's Folk-Lore, J. A. F. L., vol. 9 
(1896), p. 131. 

7 240. 

8 216. 
3 69. 

i"Denham, M. A., A Collection of Proverbs and Popular Sayings. Percy 
Society, vol. 20, p. 63 (note). 

11141, and Steiner, R.,' Superstitions and Beliefs from Central Georgia, 
J. A. F. L., vol. 12 (1899), p. 261. 

12 93. 

13 399. 



Burial Customs, Ghosts, and Witches 139 

der, 1 or under the upraised right arm - of a person 
who does possess this ablHty. Ghosts may also be 
seen by looking very steadily past the edge of a door- 
casing or anything of that sort, holding your head so 
that you can just see past the edge. ^ A person who 
can see spirits Is also able to give you that ability by 
rubbing his right hand over your face. * 

How to See Ghosts. Perhaps the simplest way for 
an ordinary person to see ghosts is to look back over 
his own left shoulder, ^ though the same result may be 
accomplished by looking through a mule's ear; ^ by 
punching a small hole in your own ear; ^ by looking 
Into a mirror with another person;^ by breaking a 
rain-crow's ^gg Into some water and washing your 
face in It; ^ or by breaking a stick In two. ^ " Some say 
that if you go to the graveyard at twelve o'clock in 
the day and call the name of any one you know, his 
spirit will answer you, ^ ^ though generally the pro- 
cedure Is more complicated. One of my conjure friends 
says to go to a graveyard at twelve o'clock noon or 
midnight and take with you a piece of mirror and a 
pair of new steel scissors. At exactly twelve o'clock 
hold up the mirror before your eyes and drop the 
scissors on the ground. Call upon that person with 

1 45, and 102. 

2 141. 

'Bergen, F. D., Animal and Plant Lore, M. A. F. L. S., vol. 7 (1899), 
p. 130. 

M36. 

* 108, 341, 339, 405, 141, and 198. 

«222. 

'302. 

8 141. 

^ Steiner, R., Ohservalions on the Practice of Conjuring in Georgia, J. A. 
F.L., vol. 14 (1901), p. 178. 
»«141. 

I'Work, M. H., So7ne Geechee Folk-Lore. Southern Workman, vol. 34 
(1905), p. 634. 



140 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

whom you desire to talk. You will see his reflection 
in the mirror and can ask him what you please. The 
blades of the scissors of their own accord will begin 
to work, cutting away any doubt or fear that might 
arise in your mind. ^ Another method used is to 
put half a dozen pure white dinner plates around the 
table at home, and then go to the graveyard at twelve, 
noon, and call the name of some dead acquaintance. 
His spirit will answer you at once. ^ Or else wipe oif 
a rusty nail and put it in your mouth. The spirits 
will crowd about you. ^ If you eat a little fat meat or 
grease at night you will be able to see witches, ghosts, 
and all sorts of half-visible occupants of the atmos- 
phere. ^ Whenever you talk to such ghosts, however, 
you must say all you have to say in one breath. If 
you so much as gasp, or make the least indrawing 
through the lips, your slippery companion is gone 
forever. ^ 

^''Fightin'' de Ghosses^ So absolute is the Negro's 
belief in these malign agencies that a great deal of his 
eifort is devoted to warding off or avoiding them. One 
most common way of getting out of the clutches of 
these evil calibans is to ask them, "What in the name 
of the Lord do you want?" ^ They will then go away 
and leave you, or, as others say, carry you to a place 
and tell you to dig until you find a pot of money. ^ 
In Herefordshire the phrase used in speaking to a 

191. 

2 141. 

"306. 

^ Babcock, W. H., Folk-Lore Jottings from Rockhaven, D. C, J. A. F. L., 
vol. 4 (1891), p. 172. 

8339, 341, 150, 406, and 189. Richardson, C, Some Slave Superstitions, 
Southern Workman, vol. 41 (1912), p. 246. 

M66. 



Burial Customs, Ghosts, and Witches 141 

ghost is, "In the name of God, who art thou?" where- 
upon the ghost will lead you to some hidden treasure. ^ 
Apparently the Negro ghost, like the African one, is 
not without his human attributes. One informant 
says, "If a ha'nt bodder you, ax him fer some money 
an' he'll sho' leab." ^ Religion is an excellent antidote 
against the wiles of these ghosts, as evidenced by 
mentioning the name of the Lord. One old man 
got lost in the woods. Dusk came and with it 
the ha'nts. The man preached, quoted scripture, and 
prayed, but the persistent ha'nts still remained. 
Finally in desperation he reached for his hat to take 
up a collection. At once the ha'nts fled. ^ In reality, 
however, the Bible is used to ward off ghosts. Get 
some one to read a verse from the Bible backwards 
to you (many Negroes cannot read). Fold the page^ 
place a knife and fork within it, and put it under your 
pillow. No ha'nt will enter your house. "* Reading 
the Bible backwards is supposed to prevent ghosts 
from entering; reading it forward, to keep them from 
harming one if they are already in the house. ^ It is 
worthy of note that in Europe witches are supposed to 
say their prayers backwards; the Lord's Prayer is 
said backwards to raise the devil; ^ and with the 
Gascon peasants the Mass of Saint Secaire is said 
backwards at midnight to cause a person to wither 
away and die. ^ 

1 Leather, E. M., Folk-L ore of Herefordshire, p. 33. Hunt, R., Popular 
Romances of the West of England, pp. 243-49. 
=^340. 
3 150. 
^93. 

6 Bergen, F. D., On the Eastern Shore, J.A.F.L., vol. 2 (1899), pp. 298-99. 
' Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 430. 

7 Frazer, J. G., The Golden Bough, pp. 53-54. 



142 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

Demons link arms with human beings In their 
distaste for evil smells. Burn some old shoes and 
sulphur, and spiritual visitants will be effectually 
driven off. ^ While whiskey on the person always 
attracts ghosts, ^ It is also a very useful thing to have 
when you are being chased by ghosts. Pour a little 
on the ground and the spirits will stop and drink it, 
giving you time to get away. ^ The Yoruban of 
Africa pours out palm oil on the ground when he 
prepares to cut down an Asorin tree, so that he may 
escape while the tree spirit Is licking It up. * Sweet 
milk with the Southern Negro Is also said to have the 
same power. ^ Ha'nts will not go where there is new 
lumber, ^ therefore new steps, ' a new floor, or any 
changes, such as a new mantel or a changed doorknob, ^ 
will keep ghosts away. Some Negroes paste news- 
paper on the wall for this same purpose, ^ though here 
the potency may be that ghosts, like witches, have to 
count every letter before working harm, rather than 
that paper represents new material. A horseshoe put 
up over the door (or in the fire) ^ " Is also an infallible 
armor against these Impish visitors, ^ ^ while others on 
passing a graveyard keep their fingers tightly crossed. ^ ^ 
Ghosts may be killed only by silver or brass bullets. ^ ^ 

^ 141, and Waring, Mary A., Negro Superstitions in South Carolina, 
J. A.F.L., vol. 8 (1895), p. 252. 
2 168. 
»306, 81, and 150. Southern Workman, vol. 23 (1894), p. 46. 

* Burton, R. F., Wit and Wisdom from West Africa, p. 243. 

* 93. 
"139. 

^ Richardson, C, Some Slave Superstitions. Southern Workman, vol. 41 
(1912), p. 246. 

8 141. 
8 191. 

1081. 

"131, 168, and 112. 

1^69. 

i«236. 



Burial Customs, Ghosts, and Witches 143 

Near Aiken, S. C, there Is an old Revolutionary 
battlefield. Whenever the Negroes pass there at 
night, so I am informed, they shoot off silver bullets 
in their pistols to frighten away the lurking ghosts, ^ 
In a Mississippi locality an old man was found dead 
by the roadside with a cat preying upon his body. 
Sixteen dogs were sent in to whip the cat, but he 
whipped them all and kept on with his ghoulish meal. 
Finally a silver bullet was fired at the animal and he 
was killed. ^ Turning the coat, trousers, hat, ^ or 
pockets, ** wrongside out. Is also a very effective means 
of keeping out of the clutches of these goblins, being a 
method used in Europe with reference to fairies. ^ 
Salt sprinkled thoroughly about the house ^ and 
especially In the fireplace;^ black pepper or a knife 
about the person ;8 or matches worn in the hair, ^ 
all bring dire perturbation to these umbrageous 
visitors. Precisely the same Is true of a rabbit's foot 
carried in the pocket, ^ " or of a black cat's tail hung in 
front of your house. ^ ^ When an unusually inde- 
fatigable spook is on your trail you may, as a last 
resort, overcome him by throwing some hair from a 
black cat over your left shoulder, saying: "Skit, 
scat, turn to a bat." Your nocturnal admirer will 



1 187. 

2 285. 

' Richardson, C, Some Slave Superstitions, Southern Workman, vol. 41 
(1912), p. 246. 

* 306, and Williamson, G., Superstitions from Loidsiana, J. A. F. L., 
vol. 18 (190.5), p. 229. 

* Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 188. 

* Derrickson, Mrs. S. D., Various Superstitions, J. A. F. L., vol. 5 (1892), 
p. 243. 

'152. 

«341. 

^ 141, and Thomas and Thomas, Kentucky Superstitions, p. 287. 
1 « 274. 
1133. 



144 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

then turn Into a bat and leave you alone. ^ Have 
your feet perfectly comfortable when passing through 
a graveyard and the dead will not talk to you. ^ Some- 
times a good hunting dog will "run sperrlts" at night 
but this may be absolutely prevented by tying a glass 
button about his neck. ^ Ha'nts, like witches, may 
also be kept away by planting mustard seed under 
your doorstep, ■* or by keeping a sifter under your head 
while asleep. ^ Some say that ghosts will not budge 
from a foot with fern seed In the hollow, * though one 
Informant recommends fern seed or sulphur to keep 
spirits away. ^ Again a haunted place is safely passed 
by throwing your hat behind you, walking around to 
the right, picking It up and hurrying by the place so as 
not to aggravate the haunts to follow. ^ The most 
peculiar method told me of driving ghosts from one's 
house Is as follows: "Ef you Is boddered by ha'nts, 
go out whar de billy-goats sleep an' git some uv their 
dung in a sack. Take disyere In yo' house, an' at ten 
o'clock dat night hab yo' husband or er fr'en' stand 
'cross de room frum you. Turn yo' backs ter each 
odder an' throw de dung ober your halds towards dat 
pusson behinst you. DIs will sho' drive dem ghosses 
away fer good, fer what's got a harder haid than a 
billy-goat .f"' 9 Whatever a person do, he should 
never be so foolish as to shoot at a ghost (except with 



1311. 

2 260. 

^ Steiner, R., Observations on the Practice of Conjuring in Georgia, J. A. 
F. L., vol. 14 (1901), p. 178. 

*93. 

6 81. 

« Boyle, Mrs. V. F., Devil Tales, p. 178. 

791. 

* Steiner, R., Observations on the Practice of Conjuring in Georgia, J. A. 
F. L., vol. 14 (1901), p. 178. 

9 141. 



Burial Customs, Ghosts, and Witches 145 

silver bullets). If he does this the ghost will "slap his 
haid around" and give him a crooked neck, ^ or else 
great balls of fire will appear. ^ 

Summary of Ghost-lore. From this sketch it is 
evident that the Negro has not entirely succeeded in 
localizing the cult of the dead In a well established hell 
or heaven. True enough, the white man has not 
entirely done so either, but ghosts are less terrifying 
to him and less attention is paid by him to keeping 
out of their clutches. In Africa, beings animate and 
inanimate possess spirits; the English tendency is 
to restrict ghosts to animate forms, thus leading us to 
look upon the few inanimate Negro ghosts as of African 
complexion if not of African origin. But there is now 
a tendency towards purely human ghosts with the 
inanimate ghosts almost entirely eliminated and with 
the animal ghosts linked up, for the main part, with 
human souls. With the English, these human souls 
have become more abstract and ethereallzed — they 
have ceased to be eldola and have become daimons — 
but with the Negro this etherealizing process has not 
by any means gone on to its full completion. Ghosts 
to him are, for the most part, the souls of definite dead 
folks, and even In the case of the abstract Jack-o'- 
lantern there is the effort to link him up with a 
hypothetical Jack. 

The Abse7ice of Fairies. One striking thing about 
Negro lore Is the fact that the familiar English fairies, 
elves, brownies, and other good spirits are conspicuous 
by their absence, except In the case of well educated 
Negroes who know about them from books but who do 

^61, and 341. 
2 61. 
10 



146 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

not seriously believe In them. Possibly the fairy Is a 
form too abstract to appeal to the Negro mind, which 
tends more towards the avoidance of the malevolent 
than the cultivation of the helpful. Furthermore, 
the slave owner used fear of the supernatural as a 
means of discipline, naturally stressing the horrible 
rather than the happy. Undoubtedly this accounts 
In part for the preponderance of the evil over the good, 
though the tendency among primitive peoples Is 
almost always to remember the wicked and to forget 
the good. 

But In regard to fairies again. It seems to me that 
the chief reason why they are lacking among the 
Negroes Is that they did not to any extent flourish 
among the white colonists. The belief In them, so 
far as I have been able to discover Is almost entirely 
lacking among the whites of the South. ^ Fairies, elves, 
brownies, and such beings, are dependent largely 
upon hoary traditions clustering around certain locali- 
ties; when the locality has been changed the fairies 
have been abandoned, and America is much too young 
for new beliefs of that sort to have arisen. Gomme 
says, "Witchcraft has been explained as the survival of 
aboriginal beliefs from aboriginal sources. Fairycraft 
has been explained as the survival of beliefs about 
the aborigines from Aryan sources." ^ The white 
contact with the Indians was too short for any beliefs 
of such a nature to arise in America, and the association 
with the Negroes was too intimate and free from 
mystery as to origins to allow the formation of such 
beliefs about them. Thus it has happened that few 
fairy beliefs have developed in America, while those 

1 Though traces of them still linger in isolated mountainous sections, so I 
am in formed. 

^ Gomme, G. L., Ethnology in Folklore, p. 63. 



Burial Customs, Ghosts, and Witches 147 

possible ones brought from England were discarded 
from the lore handed down to the Negroes in favor 
of more nocuous spirits. 

Witches. But witches — ah, they are diabolical en- 
tities and flock both from England and Africa in great 
hoards. Most whites of the South have practically 
given up such beliefs, but the Negroes portray in a 
modified form the England of three centuries or so ago, 
in so far as such ogresses are concerned. Sometimes 
these Negro hags take the conventional form of "a 
real old woman dressed in rags," ^ the female witch 
being supposed in some localities to have breasts 
located under her arms, and the skin around her neck, 
resembling a collar; while the male witch always 
hates to look a person in the face. ^ These witches, 
of course, can enter the house through any opening, 
large or small; ^ one Virginia witch on being married, 
asked her husband to unstop certain auger holes in 
the floor, doubtless wishing to use the apertures for 
exits. ^ In other localities the witch is supposed to 
be able to enter only through the keyhole, oozing her 
semi-fluid body through with a sort of whistling 
sound, ^ In England of the seventeenth century, "in 
every place and parish every old woman with a wrinkled 
face, a furred brow, a hairy lip, a gobber tooth, a 
squint eye, a squeaking voice, a scolding tongue, 
having a rugged coate on her back, a skull-cap on her 
head, a spindle in her hand, a dog or cat by her side, 

1341. 

2 Cross, T. P., Folk-Lore from the Southern States, J. A. F. L., vol. 22 
(1909), p. 251. 

3 141. 

* Cross, T. p., Folk-Lore from the Southern States, J. A. F. L., vol. 22 
(1909), p. 252. 

5 Southern Workrnan, vol. 23 (1894), pp. 26-27. 



148 Folk Bei^iefs of the Southern Negro 

was not only suspected but pronounced a witch." * 
In the case of the West Africans "witches and vampires 
are still in fashion among them, and belong to the 
good old-fashioned variety which come into your 
bedroom in the dead of night, sit on your chest and 
suck your blood. It is not unusual to hear even the 
more or less educated native complain that he has 
passed a most unpleasant" night because 'witches 
visited him'." - With the Susu-speaking peoples 
"witches are born, not initiated; they put inside a 
man's house 'medicine' in a pot, consisting of rice, 
groundnut, sesame and fundi, which is buried inside 
the door and causes him to get bad crops. A witch can 
live in a crocodile or leopard and seize people; four 
or five go into one animal and if the animal is shot, 
they die too." ^ In the Timne country "the witch is 
also believed to eat human beings, who go on living and 
breathing till the heart is reached; then they die. 
This killing is said to be done with the eyes only." * 
The Yoruba witch destroys people when asleep by 
sucking their blood, and the owl is the bird into which 
the witch passes when wishing to work evil. ^ With 
the Yoruba people "a belief in metamorphosis is 
universal, and it is not limited to a change to an 
animal form, since men and women are sometimes 
transformed into trees, shrubs, rocks or natural 
features." " This is especially true all over West 
Africa in the case of witches and wizards; leopards, 



* Brand, J., }\>piilar Anliquitics of Great Britarn, vol. 3, p. 2. For other 
charact(M-istics of the MiigUsli witt'li, see (^aini)boll, J. G., Witchcraft and 
Second Siqht in the lli(ihlamh and Islandtt of Scotland, pp. 1-53. Hueffer, 
O. M., The Book of W'itches, pp. SS-12(i. 

- Beatty, K. J., Human Leopards, ]). 110. 

' Tlioiuas, N. W., Anthrop. Kept, on Sierra Leone, pt. 1, p. 50. 

* Ibid., J). 4(5. 

* liurton, l^ v., Wit and Wisdoin fro7n West Africa, pp. 204-05 (note). 
" Elhs, A. B., Yorvba-speakin(j Peoples, pp. 122-23. 



Burial Customs, Ghosts, and Witches 149 

hyenas, lions, and serpents being common forms 
taken. ^ Apparently the English witch most commonly 
takes the form of a cat (particularly a black cat) ^ or 
hare, though she occasionally appears as a sheep, red 
deer, rat, gull, cormorant, or even as a whale. ^ 

Metamorphosis. Precisely this age-old belief in met- 
amorphosis is found with the Southern Negroes, 
though the whites of the South have very largely given 
it up. Many are the tales of witches who were in- 
jured when certain animals were harmed. One old 
witch took the form of a cat and tried to steal money 
from a man's pocket. The man chopped off the cat's 
paw with a hatchet. The next morning he found the paw • 
changed to a human hand and the wedding ring upon 
it showed the hand to belong to the wife of a certain 
man. Investigation led to the fact that her hand was 
missing and her husband left her. * This story exists 
in various versions throughout the South, ^ and il- 
lustrates clearly the belief in lycanthropy. In one 
case the witch fastens tin plates to her side and turns 
to a bird, but the plates fall off and she breaks into 
pieces on the ground — ^the pieces turning into moles. ^ 
In another case the witch takes the form of a cat and 
does good to all who treat the cat well — some Negroes 
paying particular attention to stray cats because they 

1 See Ihid., p. 134, and Nassau, R. H., Fetichism in West Africa, p. 71, and 
202. %Brinton, D. G., Iconographic Encyclopedia of the Arts and Sciences, 
vol. i, p. 321. Cardinal. A. W., The Natives of the Northern Territories 
of the Gold Coast, p. 37. Coudenhove, H., African Folk, Atlantic Monthly, 
Aug. 1921, p. 16.5. Ellis, A. B., Ewe-speaking Peoples, p. 103. 

^Eichler, Lillian, The Customs of Mankind, pp. 642-43. Hueffer, O. M., 
The Book of Witches, pp. 19-24. 

' Gomme, G. L. Ethnology in Folklore, pp. 49-50. Campbell, J. G., 
Witchcraft and Second Sight in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, pp. 30-45. 

^306, and Parsons, E. C, Folk-Lore of the Sea Islands, S. C, M. A. F. 
L. S., vol. 16 (1923), pp. 24-25. 

^ P'or other versions, see Bacon, A. M., and Parsons, E. C, Folk-Lore 
from Elizabeth City County, Va., J. A. F. L., vol. 35 pp. 283-84. 

6 Ibid., p. 284. ■ 



150 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

may be human beings In disguise. ^ One Georgia In- 
formant says, "Witches Hve In stumps, In hollow logs, 
caves, and such places. They change their appearance 
to all forms, from gnats to horses, but especially prefer 
the shape of large birds such as the buzzard. Their 
color Is dusty like old cobwebs." 2 The cat Is the 
natural companion of old people who spend a great 
deal of time at home and make friends with these pets, 
therefore, to my way of thinking, the cat Is the animal 
associated most closely with witches. In fact, a black 
cat Is said to be a witch, ^ according to the Negroes, 
though others so regard all cats and add that the color 
of the cat Indicates the color of the witch. ^ In 
Europe the chariot of the goddess Freya was drawn by 
cats. Cats and witches are constantly associated 
together In the folk-lore of the northern countries of 
Europe, and witches often take the form of a cat — 
especially a black cat, ^ as I have Indicated before. 
Literally, with the Negro, a witch may take any form. ^ 
After a witch has been "riding" you she usually crawls 
Into your grate. Look there and If you see anything, 
a frog, large beetle, or any other creature, "dat's de 
witch In dat ah fawm. Jam a fawk In de frawg an' 
you jams a fawk In de witch herse'f. Sometimes do' 
de witch looks jes' lak a shadder." ^ You may catch 



1 Smiley, P., Folk-L ore from Va., S. C, Ga., Ala., and Fla., J. A. F. L., 
vol. 32 (1919), pp. 364-65. See also, Bergen, F. D., Two Negro Witch 
Stories, J. A. F. L., vol. 12 (1899), p. 145. 

2 150. 

3 Steiner, R., Superstitions and Beliefs from Central Georgia, J. A.F.L., vol. 
12 (1889), p. 286. 

* 141, and Bacon, A. M., and Parsons, E. C, Folk-Lore from Elizabeth City 
County, Va., J. A. F. L., vol. 35 (1922), p. 284-85. 

8 Henderson, W., Folk-Lore of the Northern Counties of England, p. 170 ff. 

« But especially owls, bats, black cats, black dogs, or buzzards, see Harris, 
J. C, Uncle Remus, p. 153 ff. Cross, T. P., Folk-Lore from the Southern 
States, J. A. F. L., vol. 22 (1909), p. 251. 

U41. 



Burial Customs, Ghosts, and Witches 151 

a witch by putting a sifter face down before the door. 
Look there in the morning and you will see the witch 
in the shape of a ball of white smoke. ^ 

Ridden by Witches. The chief activity of the 
witch is riding folks, though occasionally there is 
that evil succubus who steals wives. ^ One informant 
regards witches as identical with conjurers: "Dey's 
sho' hoodoos, Marse Newbell, dey sho' is. Dey's 
done sold deir soul ter de debbil, (the old European 
view) ^ an' ole Satan gi' dem de pow'r ter change ter 
anything dey wants. Mos' gen'ally dey rides you in 
de shape uv a black cat, an' rides you in de daytime 
too, well ez de night." ^ You can always tell when 
such witches have been riding you; you feel "down and 
out" the next morning and the bit these evil fiends 
put in your mouth leaves a mark in each corner. ^ 
When you feel smothered and can not get up, *' ("jes' 
lak somebody holdin' you down") ^ right then and 
there the old witch is taking her midnight gallop. 
You try to call out, but it is no use; your tongue is 
mute, ^ your hair crawls out of its braids and your 
hands and feet tingle. ^ My old mammy was very sick 
one time. Something heavy was pressing upon her 
chest. A good woman touched her, the load was 
lifted, and a dark form floated out through the window. 
"Hit mus' 'er been a witch." ^ ^ When you find your 



147. 

2 Cross, T. P., Folk-Lore from the Southern States, J. A. F. L., vol. 22 
(1909), p. 251. 

3 See Hueffer, O. M., The Book of Witches, p. 69, and 107-11. 
"141. 

6 65. 

« 104, and 306. 

'30. 

8 341. 

9 155. 
10 112. 



152 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

hair plaited into little stirrups In the morning ^ or 
when It is all tangled up and your face scratched - 
you may be sure that the witches have been bothering 
you that night. In Virginia "the hag turns the 
victim on his or her back. A bit (made by the witch) 
Is then Inserted In the mouth of the sleeper and he 
or she is turned on all-fours and ridden like a horse. 
Next morning the person is tired out, and finds dirt 
between the fingers and toes." One man who was 
about to be ridden by a witch seized the bridle and 
forced It into the hag's mouth. She began to shift 
her shape rapidly but was severely bitten by her 
would-be victim. ^ In England the belief is that the 
witch enters the bedroom, puts a magic bridle on a 
person and changes him into a horse. She rides him 
all night and he returns all tired out in the morning. 
If a bridle be slipped over the witch she will be turned 
Into a horse. * There is one Negro song about an 
old woman who saddles, bridles, boots, and spurs a 
person, and rides him fox-hunting and down the 
hillsides, ^ but in general, the Negroes deny that the 
person ridden is actually changed into a horse. « But, 
horse or not, when a person talks or cries out In his 
sleep a witch Is surely after him. ^ Horses as well 
as humans are ridden; you can tell when the witches 
have been bothering them by finding "witches' stir- 
rups" (two strands of hair twisted together) In the 

1 345. 

^ Harris, J. C, Uncle Remus, p. 155. 

3 Cross, T. P., Folk-Lore in the Southern States, J.A.F. L., vol. 22 (1909), 
p. 252. 

* Henderson, W., Folk-Lore of the Northern Counties of England, pp. 155-56. 

^57. For complete song, see Meikleham, R., A Negro Ballad, J. A. 
F. L., vol. 6 (1893), p. 300. 

«141. 

'200. 



Burial Customs, Ghosts, and Witches 153 

horses' mane. ^ A person who plaits a horse's mane 
and leaves It that way is simply Inviting the witches 
to ride, 2 though they will seldom bother the horses 
except on very dark nights, and even then have a 
decided preference for dark colored horses. ^ In Eng- 
land * and Scotland, ^ such "fairy stirrups" are at- 
tributed to the pigsles (piskles) riding the animals. 

Vampires and Ghouls. The activities of the hags 
are not, however, restricted by the Negroes wholly to 
riding people. Vampires are not common, but one 
Negro tells of a young girl constantly declining while 
an old woman got better and better. This was be- 
cause the harridan sucked young folks' blood while 
they slept. "De chlUun dies, an' she keeps on a- 
llvln'." ^ Another Missouri "witcher-ooman has blood 
sucking children." ^ Ghouls are also occasionally 
found. In one story a man married a king's daughter 
who was a witch. She would not eat food like other 
people, but would crumble up bread with a quill and 
eat It like a sparrow. Often at night she would dress 
herself and go out to the graveyard. Her husband 
followed her on one occasion and hid behind a bush 
In the cemetery. "She would dig up that body an' 
cut off slashes of 'em jus' like meat, an' eat 'em." ^ 
Doubtless the story represents a survival of ancient 
cannibalism, and the fact that a king Is spoken of 

1 32, and 306. Harris, J. C, Uncle Rerrms, pp. 151-52. 

2 398. 
"35. 

* Hunt, R., Popular Romances of the West of England, p. 87. 
^ Campbell, J. F., Tales of the West Highlands, vol. 2, p. 82. 

^ Mrs. S. P. M., Voodooism in Tennessee, Atlantic Monthly, vol. 64 
(1899), p. 377. 

'Owen, Mary A., Voodoo Tales, pp. 210-11. 

* Parsons, E. C, Tales from Guiljord County, N. C, J. A. F. L., vol. 30 
(1917), p. 187. 



154 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

Indicates its foreign origin. One old conjurer tells 
me that these grave-robbing hags are called "ze- 
braws," ^ but the term is entirely enigmatical and 
may represent an African expression or a mutilated 
English term. The divining rod is sometimes spoken 
of as the "witches' stick," ^ showing that finding 
treasure Is also one hag activity. Witches are also 
supposed to afflict people with diseases and to transfer 
diseases from one person to another. ^ 

Driving off and Capturing Witches. Coming from 
two sources, the witch beliefs are too firmly accepted 
to occasion much disputation. The greatest variance 
among the Negroes is to be found In the great number 
of methods used in avoiding or driving off witches. 
The most common legend in this regard is that of an 
old witch who took off her skin, hung It on the wall 
and went out to ride some one. While she was gone, 
a man slipped In and sprinkled red pepper In the skin. 
The witch came back and tried to slip it back on. 
"What de mattah, skin.f" Skinny, doan' you know me.? 
Doan' you know me, skinny! Doan' you know me!" 
she cried in agony, hopping up and down until she was 
finally discovered and killed. " In various forms this 
same plot exists all through the South — in Georgia, ^ 
Missouri, ^ Virginia, ^ Louisiana, ^ North Carolina and 
the Sea Islands, as well as In the Bahamas. ^ The 



191. 
2341. 

338. 

«104. 

M51, and Harris, J. C, Uncle Remus, pp. 150-56. 

6 351. 

^ Bacon, A. M., and Parsons, E. C, Folk-Lore from Elizabeth City County, 
Va., J. A. F. L., vol. 35, p. 285. 

854. 

'For complete bibliography see Parsons, E. C, Folk-Lore of the Sea 
Islands, S. C, M. A. F. L. S., vol. 16 (1923), pp. 63-64. 



Burial Customs, Ghosts, and Witches 155 

belief is too widespread to be an Independent develop- 
ment; to the best of my knowledge It Is not found In 
Europe; but In West Africa there Is the widespread 
Idea that the witch leaves her skin behind on going 
out, 1 and among the Vals It Is thought that salt and 
pepper sprinkled In the room will prevent her from 
getting back Into her hide. ^ Slippery Indeed are these 
bat-like demons of the night. By drinking a certain 
liquid from an old greasy gourd and repeating a 
certain formula, some Negro witches were able to enter a 
locked store or even to rise In the air until they entirely 
disappeared from sight. ^ In avoiding or hindering 
such jinns as these, a person must keep several things 
In mind. In the first place he should never eat crickets 
or grasshoppers else he will himself turn into the very 
creature he is trying to avoid. ^ Again a person should 
never lie on his back while asleep ^ or eat too much 
grease ^ — such action invariably leading to the visits 
of these nocturnal monsters. Doubtless the con- 
nection between eating too much grease and seeing 
ghosts or witches has a real physiological basis; a 
heavy diet such as this is most conducive to night- 
mares. Finally, a person should remember to crush 
the egg-shells after the egg has been removed lest the 
witches use them for boats in which to sink ships. ^ 
Almost precisely the same belief is found In many 

1 Dayrell, E., Folk-Stories fro7n Southern Nigeria, West Africa, pp. 11-19. 
Milligan, R. H., The Fetish Folk of West Africa, p. 240. 

2 Ellis, G. E., Negro Culture in West Africa, p. 63. 

* Bacon, A. M., and Parsons, E. C, Folk-L ore from Elizabeth City County, 
Va., J.A.F.L., vol. 35, pp. 286-87. 
*168. 
6 233. 
6 365. 
^ Lee, C, Some Negro Lore from Baltimore, J. A. F. L., vol. 5 (1892), p. 112. 



156 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

parts of Europe. ^ Conjurers can tell a witch upon 
sight, but ordinary folks have to rely to some extent 
upon screech owls and dogs, which creatures always 
make a noise when a witch is approaching. ^ If you 
suspect a certain neighbor of being a witch, invite her 
to see you, give her a seat, and when she is not looking, 
stick a fork into the floor beneath her chair. If she 
is a hag her hag-spirit will be pinned to the floor and 
she will not be able to withdraw her bodily presence 
until the fork is removed. By such a method one old 
lady who came to stay for a few minutes was forced 
to stay all day. ^ In Herefordshire, it was said that 
a witch could be detected by hammering a tenpenny 
nail into her footprint. If really a witch, the woman 
would be obliged to retrace her steps and draw out the 
nail. * Any one who refuses to step over a broom, the 
darkies assert, is also a witch. ^ 

Brooms and Silver Bullets. This brings us to the 
methods of exorcising witches. Since a witch will 
not step over a broom, one sure way of keeping a 
witch from riding you (in Europe also) ^ is to place a 
broom across the door. ^ This is especially true of an 
old-fashioned sedge-broom, the efficacy here seeming 
to be that the hag must count every straw before she 
can enter. ^ Others maintain, at least in their stories, 



1 Simpson, Eva B., Folk-Lore in Lowland Scotland, p. 193. Fogel, E. M., 
Beliefs and Superstitions of the Pennsylvania Germans, p. 185. Lean's Collect- 
anea, vol. 2, p. 148. 

2 Harris, J. C, Uncle Remus, pp. 152-53. 
^Southern Workman, vol. 23 (1894), p. 47. 

■• Leather, E. M., Folk-Lore of Herefordshire, p. 53. 

^112, and Williamson, G., Superstitions from Louisiana, J. A. F. L., 
vol. 18 (1905), p. 230. 

* Leather, E. M., Folk-Lore of Herefordshire, p. 53. Fogel, E. M., Beliefs 
and Superstitions of the Pennsylvania Germans, p. 13S. Hardiwick, C, Tradi- 
tions, Superstitions and Folk-Lore, p. 116 ff. 

M02. 

8 Cross, T. P., Folk-Lore from the Southern States, J. A. F. L., vol. 22 
(1909), p. 252. 



Burial Customs, Ghosts, and Witches 157 

that a broom across the door will prevent the witch 
from budging once she is in the room. ^ In European 
lore the broom was sacred to Donar (Thor) and Woden 
because of its relation to lightning, ^ and the witch 
generally rode upon it on her nocturnal travels. ^ 
Witches will always be offended and slap you if you 
empty the bucket of drinking water (most Negroes as 
a matter of course have no plumbing system) before 
retiring. * Thus, at times, pails of water are placed 
about the kitchen for the witches, this keeping them 
satisfied and preventing them from riding some member 
of the family at night. ^ Again it is said that if a 
person who has just been ridden by a witch gets up 
quickly and pours some water into a flask before the 
witch has time to leave, the old woman who is the 
witch will come around the next day and reveal her 
identity. ^ Should you desire actually to kill the 
witch you may do so by shooting her ^ or the animal 
form she takes. ^ There are also cases in Yorkshire 
where a witch has taken the form of a hare (the most 
common disguise of a witch in all the northern countries 
of Europe) and has been killed when the hare was shot 
with silver bullets. ^ A Negro witch may also be 
injured by shooting at an image or silhouette of board 
representing the one to be punished, ^ " and silver is 

1 Bacon, A. M., and Parsons, E. C, Folk-Lore from Elizabeth City County, 
Va., J. A. F. L., vol. 35, pp. 248-85. 

2 Fogel, E. M., Belief s and Superstitions of the Pennsylvania Germans, p. 11. 

3 Heuffer, O. M., The Book of Witches, pp. 25-30. 
^233. 

^ Bergen, F. D., Animal and Plant Lore, M. A. F. L. S., vol. 7 (1899), 
p. 15. 

6 38. 

' 150. 

* Pendleton, L., Notes on Negro Folk-Lore and Witchcraft in the South, 
J. A. F. L., vol. 3 (1890), p. 202. 

^ Henderson, W., Folk-Lore of the Northern Counties of England, pp. 165-66. 
^''Cro.ss, T. P., Folk-Lore from the Southern States, J. A. F. L., vol. 22 
(1909), p. 253. 



158 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

again effectively used in catching witches by going 
out at night and putting a half dollar over the stable 
door. ^ 

Hags and Horses. This connection between horses 
and witches is further shown by the statement that 
witches are synonymous with nightmares and may 
be prevented from riding you by placing a fork under 
your pillow. ^ This connection with the horse is all 
the more strange since horseshoes hung over the doors, 
windows, beds and in other parts of the house, are 
supposed to be a sure way of keeping these unwelcome 
visitants away. ^ The Maryland Negroes say, "de 
witch got to travel all over de road dat the horseshoe 
been 'fo' she can git in de house, and time she git back 
it would be day." ^ A horse bridle put over the churn 
will free the butter from a witch's control. ^ In 
England also this connection between witches and 
horses is well marked, and may possibly reflect an 
ancient strife between men of Paleolithic times and 
new arrivals from the East in Neolithic times, who had 
domesticated the horse instead of using it simply for 
food. In many parts of England the horseshoe over 
the door is used to keep out witches. ^ The term 
"witch" seems to be derived "from the Dutch 'witch- 
elen,' which signifies whinnying and neighing like a 
horse; in a secondary sense, also, to foretell and proph- 
esy; because the Germans, as Tacitus informs us, 

1 L54. 

2 102. 

3 341, 344, and 288. Also Owen, Mary A., Voodoo Tales, Yi. U. 

^ Minor, Mary W., How to Keep off Witches, J. A. F. L., vol. 11 (1898), 
p. 76. 

^ 141, and Thomas and Thonaas, Kentucky Superstitions, p. 279. 

* Hunt, R., Popular Romances of the West of England, p. 432. Brand, J., 
Popular Antiquities of Great Britain, vol. 3, p. 2. Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, 
p. 446. 



Burial Customs, Ghosts, and Witches 159 

used to divine and foretell things to come by the 
whinnying and neighing of the horses." ^ Without 
doubt the fact that the horse has been used in the 
past as a fetish animal for auguries has led to its 
present-day association with witches, and also, pos- 
sibly to the fact that in New Orleans and in parts of 
Mississippi, at least, a hoodoo-doctor is spoken of as 
a "horse." - While the African does not use the 
horseshoe, he does employ charms of various kinds 
against witches. For instance, among the Vais, 
"people often go to the beri-mo (medicine-man) and 
get medicine which is put in a horn and placed on the 
outside of the door of the suspected witch; that is suf- 
ficient to keep the witch from entering the house and 
getting into his skin, which may be seen in the bed. 
They say the horn will fight the witch at the door 
until daylight, when they can catch the witch. The 
person suspected is actually in the house in bed, but 
they say that is only his skin, and cite instances when 
by this method they have caught witches." ^ 

Sharp Points and Salt. In the first part of the 
preceding paragraph it was stated that nightmares 
may be prevented from riding you by placing a fork 
under your pillow. One North Carolina version is 
that the fork should be placed back of your pillow with 
the tines upward. When the hag aims to throw her 
bridle-reins over your head they will catch on the 
tines of the fork; then you must throw the reins over 
her head. "The hag then immediately turns to a 
horse. You must lose no time in jumping upon her 
back and riding off to the nearest blacksmith, call him 

' Brand, J., Popular Antiquities of Great Britain, vol. 3, p. 2 (note). 

"Seep. 201. 

' Ellis, G. E., Negro Culture in West Africa, p. 63. 



160 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

up and have her shod; after this has been done you may 
take her home and put her in the stable or tie her up 
anywhere. In the morning she will return to her true 
shape, but the shoes will remain on her hands and feet 
and she will be in your power until you have them 
taken off." ^ This represents one interpretation, but 
the most usual version is that sharp things, such as 
forks, knives, scissors, or needles, placed around the 
bed serve to catch the witch's skin and prevent her 
from getting into it when she leaves. ^ One woman in 
Maryland stopped this witch-riding business by put- 
ting pins in a chair near the bed. "Witches have to 
set down befo' dey can git out de skin; dey can't 
ride you long as dey is in dey skin." This witch sat 
down on the pins, stuck fast, and was unable to 
remove her epidermis. She could not get up, nor was 
she allowed to leave until she had promised never 
to come again. ^ Salt and pepper are wonderful 
defenses apart from their ability to make a witch's 
skin untenable. These condiments, and especially salt, 
sprinkled under your pillow, ^ about your bed, ^ in all 
of the doors and windows, and on your back, ^ will 
surely save you from being ridden by these equine 
hags. Also rubbing your livestock with red pepper 
and salt will keep these same visitors from them. ' 
One man in Maryland, unknowingly married a snake, 
which appeared to him as a woman. He would not 
believe what his friends told him until he found that 



^Southern Workman, vol. 24 (1895), p. 49. 
2 J55 g^j^(j 341. 

» Mmor, Mary W., How to Keep Off Witches, J. A. F. L., vol. 11 (1898), 
p. 76. 
<67. 
6 112. 
«141. 
' 150. 



Burial Customs, Ghosts, and Witches 161 

in baking bread for her own use, she always left out 
the salt. Unknown to her he slipped a pinch of salt 
into the bread she was eating; immediately she turned 
into a snake and ran up the chimney where she was 
killed. 1 

Skin, Body, and Spirit. Thus far two hag theories 
have been indicated. The first is the theory of the 
skinless body; and harm may be wrought to the body 
by properly treating the skin. The other is the hag 
spirit, quite apart from the body, and capable of pro- 
jection, at the will of the owner, to a considerable 
distance from the body, but essential to the life of the 
body. This spirit, if caught or trapped, can be used 
to bring the hag to repentance; 2 this attribute prob- 
ably being the factor which allows certain witches to 
appear in two places at the same time. ^ A hag may 
be caught in a properly conjured bottle and if this 
bottle is then hidden in the ashes under the .fire, she 
will die in agony. * Some say that the bottle should 
be simply put down on its side with the mouth open. 
Whatever you find within the bottle in the morning — 
roach, cricket, spider, gnat, or other insect or animal — 
represents the witch, and whatever is done to the thing 
captured will be done to the witch as well. Another 
way to capture these hideous creatures is to grease a 
gourd inside and outside and set it down by your bed. 
The witch rides you without her skin and the gourd 
is so slippery that she slides right in, and you will find 
her there in the morning. ^ A still clearer illustration 



1 Bergen, F. D., Two Witch Stories, J. A. F. L., vol. 12 (1899), pp. 68-69. 

^Southern Workman, vol. 23 (1894), p. 47. 

3 Owen, Mary A., Voodoo Tales, p. 11. 

* Davis, H. C., Negro Folk-Lore in South Carolina, J. A. F. L., vol. 27 
(1914), p. 247 ff. 

6 141. 
11 



162 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

of this double spirit is shown by one method used, 
reminding us somewhat of African soul-trapping. 
"Take a bottle half full of water and hang it on the 
outer post of the bed, close to the head-board. Get 
a new cork, stick into it nine new needles and hang it 
over the bottle about an inch above its mouth. Having 
made these preparations you may go to sleep pre- 
pared to wake and do your part when the hag puts in 
an appearance. When your mysterious visitor ar- 
rives, you must bear her riding patiently, knowing 
that this ride will be her last. The decisive moment 
for you is when she at last leaves her seat upon your 
chest to make her escape before the morning dawns. 
One of the limitations placed upon this uncanny being 
is that after her night's fun Is over she must depart 
over the head-board of the bed close to the outer 
post. As her semi-fluid corporeal substance glides 
over she finds the cork hanging in which the nine new 
needles are set. Her fatal instinct for counting 
seizes her; she stops. Now is your time. Rouse 
yourself, reach quickly up over your head, and cork 
the bottle by so swift a movement that the hag can- 
not escape. She cannot with all her supernatural 
powers, work her way through the glass or through the 
new cork, defended by the nine needles. You will 
not be troubled with that hag again. But some day 
soon some old woman, faint and weak and nearly dead, 
will crawl into your house and entreat you to let her 
spirit out of the bottle or she must die. And if you 
are obdurate and continue to keep the bottle corked, 
the poor old thing will gradually waste away and die." ^ 



Southern Workman, vol. 23 (1894), pp. 46-47. 



Burial Customs, Ghosts, and Witches 163 

The Counting Instinct. The fatal counting In- 
stinct mentioned above is the basis for many other 
modes of exorcising these denizens of the air. Ap- 
parently the witch is forced to stop and count what- 
ever comes before her; even in the case of the broom 
across the door, part of the efficacy lies in the fact 
that all of the straws must be counted. The most 
common advantage that is taken of this counting 
impulse, in so far as the Negroes are concerned, is 
through the use of the sieve hung over the keyhole, ^ 
or put under the pillow. - The idea is that the witch 
must count all the holes in the sifter before she can go 
away. One Negro tried this and next morning found 
an old white woman holding on to his sifter. She had 
not finished counting when day broke and could not 
get away. ^ Another woman found a pile of jelly, 
representing the witch, within the sifter. ^ Others 
say that a witch can count but five. When she 
reaches that number she jumps through the hole in the 
sifter and is gone. ^ Perhaps this Maryland belief is a 
survival of African times where counting was done on 
the fingers and five was in actuality the extent of 
counting ability. Some place the sieve over their 
face with a three-prong fork under it to catch the 
witches if they try to get through the holes. ^ In 
Europe the witch is connected with the sieve but not 
in the same manner as among the Negroes. The sieve 
was used by the witches as a boat, though at first the 

1 324, and 370. 

2 240. 

3 286. 
^250. 

6 Minor, Mary W., How to Keep Off Witches, J. A. F. L., vol. II (1898), 
p. 76. 

^ Lee, C, Some Negro Lore from Baltimore, J. A. F. L., vol. 5 (1892), 
p. 110. 



164 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

witch-sailing was probably done In the air, since the 
sieve, among the Aryans, was a cloud emblem; the 
Implement by means of which water was filtered into 
raindrops. ^ Equally important in keeping witches 
away is the Negro practice of scattering mustard (or 
turnip) seed about the house. The witch has to 
count 2 or pick up ^ all these seeds before she can ride 
you. Generally she can be caught before this has 
been accomplished. One old slave tells me that she 
must pick the mustard seed up because they burn 
her. This will wake the house up and the family 
can catch the witch or at least find the skin she has 
shed 4. In North Carolina It is said that a witch carry- 
ing silver and gold with her does not have to stop to 
pick up the seed; ^ some say that witches have to carry 
money and lodestone with them in order to work a 
charm at all. « In South Carolina this small grain Is 
scattered In the form of a cross, and the witch Is 
supposed to devour every grain before going about 
her mongrel affairs. ^ Sand is also used Instead of 
grain; » In parts of Alabama sand is sprinkled on the 
floor during illness. The monster causing the disease 
spends so much time counting the grains that the 
person is relieved by natural treatment. ^ 



^ Hardiwick, C, Traditions, Superstitions and Folk-Lore, p. 108. 

^ 135, and Owen, Mary A., Voodoo Tales, p. 11. 

^ 141, and Williamson, G., Superstitions from Louisiana, J. A. F. L., 
vol. 18 (1905), p. 230. Lee, C, Some Negro Lore from Baltimore, J. A. F. L., 
vol. 5 (1892), p. 111. 

^'32. 

^ Parsons, E. C, Tales from Guilford County, N. C, J. A. F. L., vol. 30 
(1917), p. 189. 

6 155. 

^ Dana. M., Voodoo. Metropolitan Magazine, vol. 28 (1908), p. 535. 

8 264. 

' Brannon, P. A., Central Alabama Negro Superstitions, Birmingham 
(Ala.) News, Jan. 18, 1925, p. 15. 



Burial Customs, Ghosts, and Witches 165 

Similar to the use of the cross Is the open Bible 
placed beneath the pillow, i While the sacredness of 
the Bible adds extra power to the charm, the value 
lies In the fact that the witch must count every letter 
In the book before taking her midnight gallop. Some 
Negroes use any ordinary book, or simply throw a 
newspaper on the floor under the Impression that 
they win awake and find any attempted marauder 
counting the letters. 2 This counting motif also ap- 
plies to a hair-brush, put at the door, ^ to checkered 
cloth put on a chair near the bed ("Dem dere 
witches hab ter count evvy square an' day'll be done 
broke 'fo' dey finishes"), * and possibly to alligator 
teeth worn around the neck. Other unrelated methods 
of avoiding witches consist of wearing a bit of as- 
afcetlda around the neck, ^ or a hoodoo bag on the top 
of the head; 6 and in turning your coat inside out. ^ 
If a witch is riding you and you call for a knife, the 
witch will leave at once. ^ 

Conclusion. The beliefs relating to burial, ghosts, 
and witches show certain broad similarities both In 
Europe and Africa, and the Afro-American beliefs 
resulting from the contact of these two cultures 
seems to indicate a very slight predominance of Eng- 
lish influence. Recalling the sweeping changes In self- 
maintenance and self-perpetuation and the great 

^216, and 141. Hawkins, J., An Old Mauma's Folk-Lore, J. A. F. L., 
vol. 9 (1895), pp. 129-30. Southern Workman, vol. 23 (1894), p. 27. 

2 181. 

»273. 

M41. 

^ Ibid., and Hawkins, J., An Old Mauma's Folk-Lore, J. A. F. L., vol. 9 
(1896), pp. 129-30. 

6 341. 

' Steiner, R., Superstitions and Belief s from Central Georgia, J. A. F. L., 
vol. 12 (1899), p. 261. 

8311. 



166 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

number of African survivals in self-gratification, it 
would seem that greatly dissimilar customs are either 
completely changed or else scarcely altered at all; 
while customs showing a general similarity are blended 
so as to exhibit certain characteristics of both groups. 
In other words, those folk-beliefs and customs found in 
Africa alone either appear to be almost entirely re- 
placed by European beliefs or else to remain almost 
intact in their pure African form. On the other hand, 
those found in Africa and Europe, which are suf- 
ficiently alike to indicate either a remote common 
origin or else a case of parallelism. In their Afro- 
American form, exhibit the characteristics of both 
of the above countries. Like beliefs combine into a 
new mongrel form; extremely unlike beliefs refuse to 
mix, remaining almost entirely unchanged or being 
supplanted in their entirety. 

A study of Kentucky superstitions seems to show 
that "the only class of original contributions made by 
the Negroes to our stock of superstitions is that of 
the voodoo or hoodoo signs, which were brought from 
Africa by the ancestors of the present colored people. 
These have taken only slight root in the Caucasian 
mind." ^ Thus the author shows - that only the 
"hoodoo" beliefs are common to the Negroes alone, 
while other (European) superstitions are held more 
nearly by whites and blacks alike. This state of 
affairs is not entirely true of the South as a whole, 
though voodoo signs, aside from a few slight traces of 
European lore, seem in general a Negro contribution. 
We will now consider these beliefs with the ultimate 
view of determining why the Negro should retain 
them after many other African beliefs had been more 
or less altered or completely dropped. 



^ Thomas and Thomas, Kentucky Superstitions, p. 4. 
2 Ibid., pp. 283-85. 



CHAPTER III 

VOODOOISM AND CONJURATION 

Contributory Factors. Though the spirit of the slave 
was too often left fallow to the weeds and thistles, 
his flesh was cultivated to the state of highest pro- 
ductivity. The slave was property and yielded rich 
returns only when physically fit. For this reason the 
Negroes generally had proper medical attention, the 
doctor usually being paid a certain stipend a year and 
called whenever needed. ^ While this in itself would 
tend towards the substitution of rational cures for 
disease in the place of the magic and conjuration of 
the African medicine-man, yet the same master who 
protected his investment against disease germs also 
protected it against undue physical violence, and thus 
forbade a slave from inflicting bodily injury upon a 
fellow slave. This would lead invariably to indirect 
revenge or revenge by witchcraft. Lacking overt and 
natural means of obtaining justice, the slave turned 
to his conjure-bag and after the Civil War, when the 
treatment of disease was taken out of the hands of 
the master and given again to the Negroes, their desire 
to avoid expensive medical attention focussed their 
attention again on the all-powerful "root-doctor" or 
"hoodoo-man," as the healer of diseases. The Sea 
Island Negroes have their medicine-men or "guffer- 
doctors," - and, in the tobacco belt of Virginia, pro- 
fessional "trick-doctors" exist who make their living 

1 Tillinghast. J., The Negro in Africa and America, p. 133. Con- 
rad, G. B., Reminiscences of a Southern Woman, Southern Workman, 
vol. 30 (1901), p. 169. dsift 

-Johnston, Sir H. H., The Negro in the New World, pp. 470-71. 



168 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

solely from witchcraft. ^ From personal experience 
I can testify the same as holding true of Mississippi, 
Alabama, and Louisiana, and informants from other 
states indicate the condition as existing in all parts 
of the rural South. 

Reality oj the Belief. The Negro indicates this 
belief in conjuration even in his songs: 

Keep way f'om me hoodoo an' witch, 
Lead mah paf frum de po'house gate; 
Ah pines fer de gold'n harps an' sich, 
Oh Lawd, Ah'll jes' set an' wait. ^ 



Ole Satan am a hah an' a conjurer too: 
Ef you don't mind out he'll conjure you. 



Miss Owen mentions pneumonia as a disease that 
is attributed, by the Missouri Negroes, to conjur- 
ation. " I have seen insanity, boils, ill luck in hunting 
or courting, death, constipation, and what not laid at 
its door. In fact, I think one might safely say that 
any inexplicable or unexpected calamity, both in 
Africa ^ and in many parts of Negro America, is often 
blamed on witchcraft. In a rural Negro church near 
Columbus, Miss., there was a constant change of 
ministers because of the reliance of the congregation 
upon "jacks" (charms wrapped up in red flannel). 
A new minister was more quick-witted. He wrapped 
a large hunk of coal in red flannel, planked it on the 
pulpit one night and said: "Folks, dis yere de 
daddy-jack I'se got. Bring yo' baby-jacks on up." 

1 Bruce, P. A., The Plantation Negro as a Freedman, p. 115. 

2 279. 

3 141, 112, and 342. Allen, W. F., Slave Songs of the United States, 
p. 108. Odum, H. W., Negro Hymns, J. A. F. L., vol. 26 (1913), p. 376. 

■» Owen, Mary A., Voodoo Tales, p. 209. 

6 Milligan, R. H., The Fetish Folk of West Africa, p 122. 



VOODOOISM AND CONJURATION 169 

The members of the congregation were afraid not to 
do this. Thus the minister found out who had "jacks," 
destroyed their charms, and was able to hold his position 
without further trouble. ^ 

The Fetishistic Foundation. I recently attended an 
"all-day meetin' wid dinnuh on de groun','' at which a 
Negro church laid their corner stone some ten or 
fifteen years after the church had been completed. 
This was praiseworthy in that, in their poverty, they 
did not allow an expensive corner stone to postpone 
the active work of the church, but in our case it is 
advisable first to consider that corner stone of fet- 
ishism upon which much of the witchcraft of the 
Southern Negro depends. I have spoken before of 
the great West African imaginary environment thronged 
with ghosts and spirits. All of these ghosts and 
spirits are not of human origin, for a man may at- 
tribute a soul or double to an animal, tree, or rock by 
the same method by which he attributes one to man, 
i.e. by dreaming of it. These spirits are not auto- 
matically shunted off to a far-away heaven when 
death occurs, but they linger close enough to man to 
meddle ceaselessly in his affairs. By appropriate 
rites and ceremonies these spirits may be centered in 
almost any object, and there are endless ways, apart 
from the customary cult, whereby they may be used 
to serve more advantageously the needs of man. If 
the natives of the Gold Coast be typical, the African 
pays little attention to the periodic movements of the 
heavenly bodies. "All of the deities are of the earth, 
and their worship is born of fear of some possible 
ill, or of a desire for some possible good." ^ " . . . The 

1124. 

2 Ellis, A. B., Tshi-s peaking Peoples, p. 21. 



170 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

souls of those who perished are called upon to appear 
in wooden images and to be consulted as oracles; 
their spirits must be made serviceable; parts of their 
bodies are carried around to serve as amulets." ^ 
This intensely utilitarian use of religion is at the basis 
of what Is known as fetishism; there is no religion of 
fetishism, but fetishism is a stage through which pos- 
sibly every religion has passed during the course of 
its development. ^ 

Spirit and Object. The term "fetish" is an English 
word of Portuguese origin. It is derived from, feitico — 
"made," "artificial," and this term, used of charms 
and amulets worn in the Roman Catholic religion of 
the period was applied by the Portuguese sailors of the 
eighteenth century to the deities they saw worshiped 
by the Negroes of the West Coast of Africa. ^ Ul- 
timately It is derived from the Latin, factitus, In the 
sense of "magically artful." ^ Charms or amulets in 
West Africa are vocal (cabalistic .words or phrases), 
ritual (rites or ceremonies), and material, but the 
charms that are most common are material, the fetish. 
^^A fetish, strictly speaking, is little else than a charm 
or amulet, worn about the person, or set up at some 
convenient place, for the purpose of guarding against 
some apprehended evil, or securing some coveted 
good." ^ While, theoretically, there are two parts to 
a fetish, the object itself and the indwelling spirit, 
yet the African "most usually combines the two as 



• Gatschet, A. S., African Masks and Secret Societies, J. A. F. L., 
vol. 12 (1899), p. 208. 

2 Lippert, J., Kullurgcschichle der Menschheit, vol. 2, p. 364. 
^ Nassau, R. H., Felichism in West Africa, p. 80. 
^ Tylor, E. B., Primitive Culture, vol. ii, p. 143. Kingsley, M. H., 
West Ajrican Studies, p. 114. Ellis, A. B., Tshi-Speaking Peoples, p. 176 ff. 

* Nas.sau, R. H., Fetichism in West Africa, p. 78 ff. 



VOODOOISM AND CoNJURATION 171 

forming a whole, and this whole is (as the Europeans 
call it) the 'fetish,' the object of his religious worship." ^ 
Although at first there is always the notion of this 
spirit dwelling within the object, in some cases, owing 
to the institution of a new religion or the suppression 
of the priesthood, there is, in the course of time, "no 
one to simulate possession" and the idea of an in- 
dwelling god is lost, leading to a worship of the object 
per se. ^ But cases like this are rare; on almost every 
occasion among the West Africans, it is clearly the 
spirit and not the object itself which receives the wor- 
ship. According to a Gold Coast native, the fetishes 
are regarded as "spiritual, intelligent beings who make 
the remarkable objects of nature their residence or 
enter occasionally into images and other artificial 
representations which have been duly consecrated by 
certain ceremonies." ^ Here is set forth the common 
African view, which regards the spirit as the essential 
part of the fetish, while the object is merely the habita- 
tion in which it, temporarily at least, dwells. "A 
fetish is not necessarily always occupying the abode, 
natural or artificial, which it is supposed to favor as 
its habitation. ... It only comes and enters that abode 
when called by the priest by the tinkling of bells and 
by his dance. When thus summoned it will tempo- 
rarily occupy the body prepared and made acceptable 
for it. It may even come and rest there of its own 
accord, but for all intents and purposes, a fetish image, 
or rock, or tree, is nothing but an image, rock or tree, 
till the priest who is en rapport with the power or spirit 
which is known to have adopted one of these places as 
its abode, calls on it to come and enter it. Thus a 

1 Waitz, T., Anthropologie, vol. ii, p. 174. 

2 Ellis, A. B., Tshi-speaking Peoples, p. 193. 
' Kingsley, M. H., West African Studies, p. 171. 



172 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

'fetish' cannot be stolen or die. An odum tree may 
fall down which was sacred as the known abode of 
this power. When that happens all it means is that 
the spirit or power will go elsewhere. So, in war, if a 
fetish body (abode) is captured, that does not mean 
that the fetish is captured. It is temporarily lost, no 
doubt, but its own priests may be able to make an 
acceptable home for it once more." ^ In accordance 
with this same idea, the Ibos say, "When the spirit 
withdraws, or is driven out of a ju-ju (fetish), the 
material and visible parts are no more valuable, or 
worthy of honor than the shell of a nut after the kernel 
has been extracted." ^ Cases such as these show that 
the native is not foolish enough to worship blindly 
sticks and stones, but that it is the spirit dwelling 
within these objects which receives his reverence. 

Homes for Spirits. "Over the wide range of many 
articles used in which to confine spirits, common and 
favorite things are the skins and generally the tails of 
bush-cats, horns of antelopes, nut-shells, snail-shells, 
bones of any animal, but especially human bones; 
and among the bones are especially regarded portions 
of skulls of human beings and teeth and claws of 
leopards. But, literally, anything may be chosen — 
any stick, any stone, any rag of cloth." ^ In general, 
however, those things are fetishes which either have 
been closely associated with the dead — closely enough 
to receive the spirit of the departed; or those things 
which have some decided peculiarity in themselves, 
which peculiarity is best explained by the natives by 

> Rattray, R. S., Ashanli Proverbs, p. 29. Nassau, R. H., Fetichism 
in West Africa, p. 62. 

2 Basden, G. T., Among the Ibos of Nigeria, p. 215. Nassau, R. H., 
Fetichism in West Africa, p. 63. 

* Nassau, R. H., Fetichism in West Africa, p. 76. 



VoODOOISM AND CoNJURATION 173 

assuming that the object In question is inhabited by an 
indwelling spirit. In the former class are relics of the 
dead, ^ graves or caverns ^ (the latter probably in the 
beginning being used for graves), ^ dangerous objects 
and localities, ^ carrion animals such as the vulture, ^ 
snakes • (probably mistaken for worms, or else fetish 
because living in caves or holes near graves), ^ and 
similar animals or objects. * Some peculiar objects 
which have been regarded as fetishes by the West 
Africans are trees that rub together in the wind and 
make a squeaking sound, ^ the owl with his nocturnal 
habits, 1 and poisons of all kinds. ^ ^ To the Bulu 
natives an organ introduced by a missionary was "a 
fetish and full of talking spirits," while glasses worn by 
a certain missionary were regarded as a powerful 
fetish capable of turning natives into monkeys, ^ ^ 
Among other things regarded in a more or less fet- 
ishistic way are the whiskers from leopards, ^ ^ certain 
frogs, 1 ■* and the Ehoro (a hare or rabbit); ^^ but the 
type which most closely approaches that of the South- 
ern Negro seems to be the suhman, or individual deity, 
from the possession of which that individual gains 
prestige and from which he derives many charms or 
talismans. ^ ^ 



1 See Ihid., p. 159 ff. Milligan, R. H., The Fetish Folk of West Africa, 
p. 30. Ellis G. E., Negro Culture in West Africa, p. 52. 

2 Nassau, R. H., Fetichism in West Africa, p. 58 ff. 

3 See Lippert, J., Kulturgeschichte der Menschheit, vol. 2, p. 367 ff. 
^ Ellis, A. B., Tshi-speaking Peoples, p. 34 ff., and 62. 

^ Burton, R. F., Wit and Wisdom from West Africa, p. 85, and 326. 

* Kingsley, M. H., West African Studies, p. 483. 

^ See Lippert, J., Kulturgeschichte der Menschheit, vol. 2, p. 403 ff. 

8 See Ellis, A. B., Ewe-speaking Peoples, p. 178, and 180. Bundv, R. C, 
Folk-Tales from Liberia, J. A. F. L., vol. 32 (1919), pp. 406-07. 

^ Nassau, R. H., Fetichism in West Africa, p. 179. 
1" Ellis, A. B., Ewe-speaking Peoples, p. 51. 
^^ Nassau, R. H., Fetichism in West Africa, p. 263. 
1 2 Milligan, R. H., The Fetish Folk of West Africa, p. 75, and 122-24. 
1 ' Kingsley, M. H., Travels in West Africa, pp. 130^31. 
1^ Burton, R. F., Wit and Wisdom from West Africa, p. 229. 
^' Ibid., p. 2.55. 

'" For a complete description of this suhman, see Ellis, A. B., Tshi- 
speaking Peoples, pp. 98-104. 



174 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

Witchcraft and Religion. This class of individual 
deities approaches very closely what we would call 
witchcraft. But "witchcraft and religious rites in 
West Africa are originally indistinguishable." ^ Miss 
Kingsley agrees with this statement, and says, "there 
was no witchcraft whatever in West Africa, nothing 
having a true distinction in the native mind from 
religion." ^ In another place, speaking of the crowd 
of spirits with which the African universe is peopled, 
she says, "as they are the people who must be at- 
tended to, he (the native) develops a cult whereby 
they may be managed, used and understood. This 
cult is what we call witchcraft," ^ All of these spirits 
"are capable of being influenced, and made subservient 
to human wishes by proper incantations," ^ So prac- 
tical are the ends attained through the use of the various 
fetishes, and oftentimes so evil are the results sought 
that we call it witchcraft"; to the native it is not to be 
sharply distinguished from his everyday religion. "As 
the spirits can influence both natural elements and 
men, either for or against man, and as they can be 
propitiated by gifts and enlisted one against another, 
it is to these inferior spirits the African looks for 
preservation from harm and for success in his under- 
takings, that is, for happiness. . . . These (human) 
media are generally called in English, fetish-men, 
medicine-men, doctors, or priests. Though forming a 
sort of secret society and wielding great power in- 
dividually, they have no hierarchic organization, and 
exert, as a rule, no combined efforts as a class. The 

1 See article in Edinhurg Review, vol. 186 (1897), p. 221. 
^ Kingsley, M. H., West African Studies, pp. 157-58. 
3 Ibid., Travels in West Africa, pp. 442-43. 
^ Ibid., p. 445. 



VOODOOISM AND CoNJURATION 175 

fetish-man or medium is not a witch. Consulting and! 
enlisting spirits in self-defense or for blessings is 
considered a duty, not a crime. But the misuse of a 
spiritual influence for bringing harm, especially sick- 
ness and death, on one's fellow-creatures is the most 
heinous crime. It is almost invariably punished by 
death or banishment in slavery." ^ 

From this it would seem that witchcraft Is to a 
large extent simply spirit-power turned to evil uses, 
but the principle is the same as that of religion. We 
must remember that the African gods are not con- / 
cerned with moral practices. ~ With them the same 
spirit can be persuaded to work Indifferently good or I 
evil, while, with our more moral religion. It Is impossible j 
to conceive of God being called upon deliberately to 
take a direct hand In dastardly enterprises. With the 
African a distinction may be made between white and 
black art, but it Is simply a case of the same power being 
turned to different ends, just as fire may be used for 
warmth and protection or for burning a neighbor's 
barn. "So long as these fetishes are used simply for 
protection the owner Is a practicer of white art, but, 
when they are used to Injure others or force others to do 
certain things pleasing to the owner of the fetish, their 
possessor is said to practice black art. It is thia 
latter that keeps the African native in constant fearj 
At any hour his enemy may by witchcraft destroy his 
property, rob him of his friends, or take his life. All that 
an enemy has to do Is to get some of his victim's hair, 
his nails, or water In which he has bathed, and have a 
witch doctor make a concoction which, buried In front 



^ Chatelain, H., Some Causes of ^the Retardation of African Progress, J. A. 
F. L., vol. 8 (1895), p. 182. 

2 Kingsley, M. H., West African Studies, p. 159. 



176 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

of the victim's door or secretly hung in his room, will 
bring sure death. If the man dies, this black art has 
worked; if he fails to die then he himself has a fetish 
stronger than the spirit that was trying to induce his 
death. In this murderous superstition, the natives 
have an absolute confidence." ^ Besides witchcraft be- 
ing a kind of perverted religion it is also to a certain 
extent a hovering about of an old religion which the 
priesthood of the more modern religion is anxious to 
stamp out, causing these latter, to a certain extent, 
to look upon those who employ it as quacks or rival 
practitioners. ^ There is always a conservatism about 
religion, a clinging to the old — as shownby the Yoruban 
proverb, "Never did our fathers honor an orisha of 
this kind," ^ meaning that people should be careful 
about innovations. But gradually the older religious 
forms are almost forgotten and their use by a very few 
people is looked upon to a certain extent as witch- 
craft, mainly because it is odd and mystic. "Witch- 
craft acts in two ways, namely, witching something 
out of a man or witching something into him. The 
former method is used by both Negroes and Bantu, 
but is decidedly more common among the Negroes 
." 4 Besides the supplications to the spirit 
of the new moon and other higher spirits, and the 
various cabalistic words and phrases, ^ even such an 
intangible thing as the dance has a fetishistic nature, 
since the stimulation resulting from it, as from other 
more material intoxicants, is best explained by re- 



^ Weatherford, W. D., Negro Life in the South, pp. 123-24. See also, 
Nassau, R. H., Fetichism in West Africa, pp. 268-69. 

2 Kingsley, M. H., West African Studies, p. 162. See also, Lehman, A., 
Aberglaube unci Zauberei, pp. 2-7. 

3 Ellis, A. B., Yoruba-speaking Peoples, p. 223. 

^ Kingsley, M. H., Travels in West Africa, p. 461. 
« Ibid., p. 452. 



\^OODOOISM AND CoNJURATION 177 

ferring it to the influence of spirits. ^ Moreover at 
times, the dance has the nature of a visual prayer. ^ 
For example, "when the Gold Coast Negroes have 
gone out to war their wives at home dance a fetish- 
dance in imitation of battle, to give their absent 
husbands strength and courage." ^ The old-time gods 
might not understand the new-fangled language, but 
acting out victory shows them unmistakably that 
victory is what is wanted. But, reserving a more 
detailed discussion of these African charms for a later 
connection, let us now consider the matter of con- 
juration with the Southern Negroes of America. 

Origin of the Voodoo Cult. Most of the Negroes speak 
of conjuration as "hoodoo" — the Negro version of the 
familiar "voodoo" or "voudou." Some writers would 
derive the term from the followers of Peter Valdo, the 
Waldenses, or Vaudois {vaudois, a witch) of France — a 
sect later spreading into Hayti;^ yet the prevailing 
opinion today is that the term is of African origin, 
being derived from the vo (to inspire fear) of the 
Ewe-speaking peoples and signifying a god — one who 
inspires fear. ^ Fodu is not the name of an especial 
deity, but is applied by the natives to any god. "In 
the southeastern portions of the Ewe territory, how- 
ever, the python deity is worshiped, and this vodu 
cult, with its adoration of the snake god was carried to 

^ See Lippert, J., Kulturgeschichte der Menschheit, vol. i, pp. 613-14. 

^ Keller, A. G., Unpublished Lectures. 

' Tylor, E. B., Anthropology, p. 298. Frazer, J. G., The Golden Bough, 
p. 26. 

* See Newell, W. M., Myths of Voodoo Worship and Child Sacrifice in 
Hayti, J. A. F. L., vol. 1 (1888), pp. 16-30. 

' The Picayune's Guide to New Orleans (1896), p. 64. Ellis, A. B., Ewe- 
speaking Peoples, pp. 29-30. Ibid., On Vddu Worship, Popular Science 
Monthly, vol. 38 (1891), p. 65. Cable, G. W., Creole Slave Songs, Century 
Magazine, vol. 31 (Apr. 1886), p. 815. Kennedy, L., Voodoo and Vodun, 
J. A. F. L., vol.6 (1893), p. 307. 

12 



178 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

Hayti by slaves from Ardra and Whydah, where the 
faith still remains today. In 1724 the Dahomies 
invaded Ardra and subjugated it; three years later 
Whydah was conquered by the same foe. This period 
is (beyond question ^that in which Hayti first received 
the vodu of the Africans. Thousands of Negroes 
from these serpent-worshiping tribes were at that 
time sold into slavery, and were carried across the 
Atlantic to the western island. They bore with them 
their cult of the snake. At the same period, Ewe- 
speaking slaves were taken to Louisiana." In 1809, 
because of war between France and Spain, some of 
these Haytian planters with their slaves fled from 
Cuba, where they had sought refuge during the 
Haytian revolution, to New Orleans and made their 
residence there. These Africans, too, were faithful 
adorers of the serpent. Such were the principal 
sources of the voodoo religion in the United States. ^ 

African Survivals. In Africa Danh-gbi, the deity 
of the python, is esteemed as omniscient. He 
has a great order of priests and many wives, the kosio, 
who devote their lives to licentious dancing, and 
debauchery — a sort of religious prostitution. No hu- 
man sacrifice or cannibalism is found in this African cult. 
The indwelling spirit of the python enters the body of 
the priest and speaks through his mouth in a strange, 
unnatural voice. ^ Formerly in New Orleans, the two 
ministers of the serpent god — the king and queen, or 
master and mistress, or papa and mama — com- 
municated the will of the sacred serpent. These 

1 Ellis, A. B., On Vodu-Worship, Popular Science Monthly, vol. 38 
(1891), p. 651 ff. 

^ Ibid., p. 655. Nott, G. W., Marie Laveau, Times Picayune, New 
Orleans, Nov. 19, 1922, Magazine, Section, p. 2. 



VOODOOISM AND CoNJURATION 179 

ministers held office for life, and to disobey or resist 
them was an offense against the deity himself. ^ In 
New Orleans voodooism "was, in fact, a system of 
fetish idolatry. Its main feature consisted of the 
worship of the serpent, and 'Li Grand Zombi' was the 
mysterious power which guarded and overshadowed 
the faithful Voudou' and was held sacred. The 
serpent was kept by the priestess or queen of the 
voodoos in an exquisitely carved box on a table in 
her own bed chamber. Candles were kept continually 
burning around it and two voodoos were specially 
delegated to watch these lights night and day." 2 
Cable mentions, besides "Zombi," the additional even 
more solemn name, "Magnam," as associated with voo- 
doo. "Even in the midst of the Calinda dance . 
was sometimes heard, at the height of its frenzy, the 
invocation — 

Aie! Aie! 
Voodoo Magnam! 

The worshipers were not merely a sect, but, in some 
rude, savage way, also an order. The king and queen 
were the oracles of the serpent deity, and, of the two, 
the queen was by far the more important. She held 
her office for life, obtaining it not by inheritance but 
by election or its barbarous equivalent. ^ 

Marie Laveau. Marie Laveau was the last voodoo 
queen, and in my investigation of voodooism in 
New Orleans recently, I found many conflicting views 
regarding her. A member of the Historical Society 

1 Castellanos, H. C, New Orleans as It Was, p. 91. 
^ The Picayune's Guide to New Orleans (Nicholson & Co., 1896), p. 64. 
^ Cable, G. W., Creole Slave Songs, Century Magazine, vol. xxxi (1886), 
pp. 815-16. 



180 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

distinctly remembers her funeral, which was attended 
by large numbers of superstitious Negroes, all expecting 
supernatural occurrences. Some of these Negroes 
stated that Marie Laveau had a live snake which she 
kept under her bed and fed like a baby. When its 
mistress died the snake departed and the Negroes 
said it was the devil gone to claim her soul. An 
old Frenchman, a personal friend of Marie Laveau's 
states that a great deal at present said about her is 
pure fancy and fiction. She was simply a "griife," * 
so he says, a "procuress" and a hair-dresser, visiting 
the homes of her clients and using her intimate knowl- 
edge gathered there in dealing with related white 
customers. As a matter of fact, Marie Laveau, so he 
states from personal knowledge of her house, was 
afraid of snakes, but kept a small jointed wooden snake 
on her mantel along with other bric-a-brac to fool the 
superstitious. So great has been the web of fancy 
woven around this unique character that an original 
painting of her, which this antique dealer could not 
sell for ^2 just after her death, is now worth over 
3250. 2 

Miss Mary A. Owen, who has undoubtedly a more 
intimate knowledge of the Missouri voodoos than 
any other white person, mentions the power of the 
serpent in one of the charms used. , To bring a person 
to you, take several hairs from your head, name them 
for that person, and place them in a bottle of rain- 
water near the front door of your house. Within 
three or four days the hairs will swell and turn to 
snakes and the person named will start for that spot — - 

^ Explained as the offspring of a Negro and a mulattress with sometimes a 
little Indian blood. 
2 269. 



VOODOOISM AND CoNJURATION 181 

"for nothing can withstand the power of snakes." ^ 
At present, however, the serpent seems to be used 
mainly as an ingredient of charms with no thought of 
actual worship — its presence in the modern voodoo 
performances in New Orleans being, I gather, mainly 
for effect. 

Louisiana Voodoo Rites. The secret meetings of 
the voodoo society were held at night. Castellanos 
tells of the members divesting themselves of their 
usual raiment and putting on sandals, girding their 
loins with red ^ handkerchiefs, of which the king 
wears a greater number and those of finer quality 
than the ordinary member. He also has a blue 
cord about his waist and his head draped with some 
crimson stuff. The queen is dressed more simply, 
with red garments and a red sash. 

The ceremony begins with the adoration of the 
snake, placed in a barred cage upon an altar in front 
of the king and queen, and a renewal of the oath of 
secrecy. The king and queen extol future happiness 
and exhort their subjects always to seek their advice. 
Then individually the members come up to implore 
the voodoo god — to invoke blessings upon friends and 
curses upon enemies. The king patiently listens. 
Then the spirit moves him. He places the queen 
bodily upon the box containing the deity. She is 
seized with convulsions and the oracle talks through 
her Inspired lips. ^ She bestows flattery and promises 
of success; then lays down irrevocable laws in the name 
of the serpent. Questions are asked and an offering 

1 Owen, Mary A., Among the Voodoos, I. F. L. C. (1891), p. 244. 

2 Note the fetish color. 

^ Note the implication that the woman is more susceptible to hypnotic 
influences. 



182 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

taken; new work is proposed and the oath of secrecy 
again taken, sometimes sealed by the warm blood of 
a kid. 

After this the voodoo dance begins. The initiation 
of new candidates forms the first part of this ceremony. 
The voodoo king traces a large circle in the center of 
the room with a piece of charcoal and places within it 
the sable neophyte. He now thrusts into his hand 
a package of herbs, horse hair, rancid tallow, waxen 
effigies, broken bits of horn, and other substances 
equally nauseating. Then lightly striking him on 
the head with a small wooden paddle, he launches forth 
into the following African chant: 

Eh! eh! Bomba, hen, hen! 
Canga bafio te, 
Canga moune de le, 
Canga do ki la 
Canga li. 

At this the candidate begins to squirm and dance — 
an action called ^''monter voudouy If he steps out of 
the ring in his frenzy, the king and queen turn their 
backs to neutralize the bad omen. Again the candidate 
enters the ring, again he becomes convulsed; drinking 
some stimulant, he relapses into an hysterical fit. To 
stop this the king sometimes hits him with a wooden 
paddle or with a cowhide. Then the initiate is led 
to the altar to take the oath, and from that moment 
becomes a full-fledged member of the order. 

The king then places his foot upon the box contain- 
ing the snake. He seems to get a sort of shock which 
is transmitted to his queen, and through her to every 
one In the circle. Violent convulsions take place, the 



VOODOOISM AND CoNJURATION 183 

queen being the most violently affected. From time 
to time the serpent is again touched to get more 
magnetic power. The box is shaken, and tinkling 
bells on the side increase the general delirium already 
under way, aggravated by much drinking of spirituous 
liquors. "Then is pandemonium let loose. Fainting 
fits and choking spells succeed one another. A nervous 
tremor possesses everybody. No one escapes its 
power. They spin with incredible velocity, whilst 
some, in the midst of these bacchanalian orgies, tear 
their vestments and even lacerate their flesh with 
their gnashing teeth. Others, entirely deprived of 
reason, fall down to the ground from sheer lassitude, 
and are carried, still panting and gyrating into the 
open air." ^ 

Diabolic Festivals. A reporter of the New Orleans 
Times-Democrat for June 24, 1896, writes in essence 
as follows, concerning a voodoo festival held on St. 
John's Eve on Bayou St. John, near New Orleans: 
"The rites consisted in building a large fire, in a dance 
on the part of a central personage, the destruction of a 
black cat and its devouring raw. The scene concluded 
with an orgie, in which the savage actors ended by 
tearing off their garments." Such is the theatrical 
description given with various adornments, and with 
the words of a song said to be chanted on the occasion: 

Au joli cocodri — ■ 

Vini gro cocodri — 

Mo pas cour cocodri zombi! 

Yo! Ya! Columbo!^ 



1 Castellanos, H. C, New Orleans as It Was, pp. 92-95. See also, Dana, 
M., Voodoo, Metropolitan Magazine, vol. 29 (190fe), p. 536. 

2 Quoted in J. A. F. L., vol. 10 (1892), p. 76. 



184 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

An intelligent quadroon of Augusta, Georgia, tells of 
"a class of persons who can cast spells and make people 
sick. They all know each other. In New Orleans they 
hold meetings, at which spells are cast. These meet- 
ings are called together by the head man, on complaint 
of one of the band. They all dance or walk around a 
pot which is placed in the center of the room. As 
they dance, the imprecation is uttered against the 
person who is to be injured. Fire is placed in or under 
the pot." 1 Other New Orleans Negroes add that at 
these gatherings the dancers alternately shrink to 
about a foot in height and then expand to gigantic 
size. When the fire goes out they fall like dead people 
to the ground. ^ 

White men attended some of these meetings, as was 
the case with one held on St. John's Eve between 
Spanish Fort and Milneburg, near New Orleans. 
Coffee and gumbo were served, and the men had to 
remove their coats so as not to break the charm. A 
small tablecloth in the center of the room contained, 
In addition to cakes, beans, and corn, several bunches 
of feathers, candles, small piles of bones, and shallow 
Indian baskets filled with herbs. Dancing, gradually 
working into a frenzy, took place to the notes of a 
tomtom. Alcohol was spit upon the candles to make 
a flame and to fool the superstitious, but there were 
no snakes nor nakedness. ^ In 1806 a voodoo danCe 
was held in Algiers on St. John's Eve to invoke the 
powers to hold back a white girl's lover, preventing 
him from leaving for Baltimore as was his intention. 



1 Culin, S., Reports Concerning Voodooism, J. A. F. L., vol. 2 (1889), 
p. 233. 

2 Pitkin, Helen, An Angel by Brevet, pp. 181-82. 

' Historical Sketch Book and Guide to New Orleans (N. Y. 1884), p. 229 ff. 



VOODOOISM AND CoNJURATION 185 

The white girl's father discovered her, clad in her 
night clothes with bare feet and streaming hair, 
waving a wand while the voodoos, all the while 
chanting in an unknown tongue, danced wildly about 
a cauldron containing serpents and frogs. One of 
the women was sprinkling a powder in the flames, 
which diffused a deathly sickening odor. ^ The mother 
of one of my informants tells of an old Negro "auntie" 
tying a string about her neck and left wrist to prevent 
witchcraft when the voodoo queen passed them on the 
streets of New Orleans. "The Negroes of New 
Orleans used to have meetings presided over by this 
woman. These meetings were held out in the swamps 
along the river edge and always at night, and it is said 
that frightful, savage dances and other barbarous 
incantations took place at these gatherings." ^ p. La- 
rousse, in his Dictionaire Universal du XIX Steele, 
tells of one of these meetings in a large hall where the 
police found about fifty naked women. Two of the 
band were white and well known in the city. They 
were executing with frenzy the dance of the voodoo, 
while the high priestess devoted herself to incantations. 
"In the center of the room was a large vase containing 
a fetid mixture, and round about this, on three dishes 
of silver, many snakes calmly reared their heads. The 
scene was made brilliant by the light from hundreds of 
candles. In the four quarters of the hall stimulating 
perfumes burned on hearths." ^ Castellanos men- 
tions a police raid of about 1860 or earlier where a 
group of women clad only in white camisoles were 

1 Seymour, W. H., A Voudou Story, Times Picayune, New Orleans, 
July 3, 1892, p. 14. 

2 376. 

' Quoted in Dana, M . , Voodoo, Metropolitan Magazine, vol. 28 (1908), p. 530. 



186 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

found dancing this voodoo dance. Many white women 
of the highest walks of society were found among them. 
"These facts are beyond controversy, and the scandal, 
attested by thousands, was made the subject of town 
gossip for many a year." ^ 

One of the voodoo songs stated that the queen, 
Marie Laveau, knew all kinds of gri-gri or charms; 
that she had gone to school with the crocodiles and 
alligators; that she had a speaking acquaintance 
with the Grand Zombi, and that when the sun went 
down every evening in a little corner of the wild 
woods he would come out of the bayou to teach 
Marie Laveau all voudou mysteries. Still another 



ran 



'L' Appe vini, li Grand Zombi, 
'L' Appe vini pour fe grI-gri! ^ 

One of my informants, a white man of New Orleans, 
witnessed personally one of these voudou dances held 
between Spanish Fort and Milneburg, on St. John's 
Eve in 1877 or 1878. An iron pot was swinging on a 
tripod with gumbo cooking in It. Claret mixed with 
cinnamon and aromatic herbs was warmed and served 
with the gumbo, but neither in the food nor In any 
attendant worship was any snake to be seen. All 
participants were naked and Marie Laveau beat time 
while the men — all of them white — and "pretty 
yellow girls" danced around. Much immorality was 
in evidence around the deserted place. ^ A later 
account tells of a meeting of mixed whites and colored 

1 Castellanos, H. C, New Orleans as It Was, pp. 99-100. 

2 The Picayune's Guide to New Orleans (1896), p. 66. See also, Pitkin, 
Helen, An Angel by Brevet, p. 61. 

a 269. 



VOODOOISM AND CoNJURATION 187 

on the shores of Lake Pontchartrain for voodoo pur- 
poses. Dr. Alexander, a colored voodoo doctor, the 
successor of Marie Laveau, presided, and here again 
a large number of white women of respectable middle- 
class families were found almost completely disrobed, ^ 

Rites in Other Localities. The Missouri voodoos 
prepare for their snake dance by first rendering a 
rattlesnake torpid by feeding him a young rat, bird, 
or toad just before the dance begins. "The partici- 
pants, who are not all Voodoos by any means, have 
been on short rations or none for nine days; they are 
full of tobacco-smoke or whiskey, and their nerves 
are still further excited by fear of the snake and the 
god or devil he represents. They howl In any key, 
without words or rhythmic sounds, the same as they 
do at a religious revival or camp-meeting. Sometimes 
they circle wildly about, with their hands clasping 
those of the persons next to them; sometimes they 
jump up and down In one spot, while they make In- 
decent gestures or twine their arms about their own 
naked bodies. They keep this up until the greater 
number of them fall exhausted, when they have a 
rest, followed by a feast of black dog, and . . . kid." 
This snake dance Is supposed to give strength to the 
body. 2 Mrs. Boyle describes a voodoo dance where 
the chief figure used a cluster of rude shell castanets 
swung by a leather thong. At each revolution, 
accompanied by a high note In the wall, the rough 
edges of the shells cut deeply Into the steaming flesh, 
r Finally after three-quarters of an hour the leader fell 
exhausted, with blood trickling from her breast and 
shoulders. ^ 



1 J. A. F. L., vol. 3 (1890), p. 67. 

2 Owen, Mary A., Among the Voodoos, I. F.L. C, 1891, p. 237. 

3 Boyle, Mrs. V. F., Devil Tales, pp. 97-98. 



188 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

The ^^ Judas Eye^ Besides the making of charms 
and the employment of sinister drugs, those passing 
beyond the first rank in the society are able, It Is 
reported, to exercise "that concentration of mind 
and will which gives hypnotic mastery over the person- 
ality of others." The neophyte retires to long soli- 
tude and tortures himself In order to gain complete 
control. He must first dominate his own mind — 
and he makes his own will the great fetish power by 
which to control his fellows. ^ Personally I have often 
noticed the penetrating, unwavering eyes of the 
various conjure-doctors. ^ These hoodoos tell me that 
you should never take your eye off a person. Look 
him squarely In the eyes and ask what you deeply 
want. You will get It. ^ Another backs up this 
statement and suggests the wearing of an amulet of 
some sort on your watch chain to intercept evil glances 
and to divert a person's gaze while you meet his eyes 
squarely, thus giving you a decided advantage. ^ 
Somewhat general among the Southern Negroes Is 
the belief In the evil of "Judas eye," whereby a person 
Is able to harm you simply by looking at you. ^ Traces 
of this evil eye belief are found both in Africa « and In 
Scotland. ^ 

Initiations. There are four degrees of voodoo, of 
which little Is known beyond the first. In thi's the 
budding magician is taught the lore of dreams, the 
making of various charms and fetishes and the use of 



1 Dana, M., Voodoo, Metropolitan Magazine, vol. 28 (1908), p. 532. 

2 See frontispiece. 
354. 

* 258. 

S45. See also, Boyle, Mrs. V. F., Devil Tales, p. 107. 

* Burton, R. F., Wit and Wisdom from West Africa, p. 205 (note). 

^ Campbell, J. G., Witchcraft and Second Sight in the Highlands and 
Islands of Scotland, p. 59 ff. 



VOODOOISM AND CoNJURATION 189 

poisons, together with the remedies to be employed in 
counteracting them. ^ " 'To be strong in de haid' — 
that is, of great strength of will — is the most important 
characteristic of a 'cunjerer' or 'voodoo.' Never mind 
what you mix — blood, bones, feathers, grave-dust? 
herbs, saliva, or hair — it will be powerful or feeble in 
proportion to the dauntless spirit infused by you, the 
priest or priestess, at the time you represent the god 
or 'Old Master'." 2 Miss Owen says of voodooism: 
"Unlike the Aryan and Red Indian magic, based on 
fasting, contemplation and 'prayer,' it relies on daring 
that which is horrible and repulsive, and, above all, 
in a perfectly subjective iron zvill. It also acts greatly 
by the terror or influence inspired by the conjurer 
himself. And its cures and means are fouler and far 
more revolting than those of Indian 'medicine.' " ^ 
The initiation used by the Missouri voodoos to get 
this "strength uv haid" involves, first, the drinking 
of a pint of whiskey, into which has been put some 
bark (steeped in rainwater), gathered from two small 
saplings which rub together in the wind ^ (the higher 
you climb for this bark the higher will be your rank in 
voodoo craft). After this the initiate remains alone 
in meditation and fasting for nine days. The novice's 
dreams are all very prophetic at this time, and in them 
he will be made aware of some objects which are his 
particular fetish or medicine. After these nine days 
he presents himself to his "teacher," who is always a 
person of the opposite sex. ^ A second initiation 

^ Dana, M., Voodoo, Metropolitan Magazine, vol. 28 (1908), p. 530. 
2 Owen, Mary A., Among the Voodoos, I. F. L. C. (1891), p. 230 ff. 
' Owen, Mary A., Voodoo Tales, Introduction, p. vi. For one of their repulsive 
incantations, see Dana, M., Voodoo, Metropolitan Magazine, vol. 28 (1908), p. 533. 
* Compare Nassau, R. II., Fetichism in West Africa, p. 179. 
' Owen, Mary A., Among the Voodoos, I. F. L'.C. (1891), p. 230 ff. 



190 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

features the leaves from a weed pulled up at random at 
midnight (the more leaves on the weed the more 
exalted your place). These leaves are worn under the 
right arm for nine days, during which period the dreams 
of the wearer are very carefully observed. ^ The 
preparation for full membership in "The Circle" 
"consists in learning the 'Luck Numbers' (not lucky 
numbers), a simple feat, for seven is a lucky number to 
conjure or hoodoo by, but nine is better; three is a 
good number, but five is better. Four times four is 
the Great Number. Neither the devil nor his still 
greater wife can refuse to assist in the working of a 
charm with that number 'quoted in' . . . Ten is the 
unlucky number. At the first lesson the student 
receives a secret name by which he must call himself 
when he is working spells." - Perhaps this secret 
name is for the purpose of concealing his real identity 
from the devil whose aid he is invoking. 

New Orleans Today. Dana speaks of Voodoo as 
devil worship — an African fetishism of the basest 
sort. He thinks the voodoos are still banded into a so- 
ciety and that the cult is not declining but making head- 
way. 3 My investigations in New Orleans this summer, 
in which I posed as a real conjure-doctor and prescribed 
as well as received charms, cause me to think that 
such is not the case, and my many years of close ac- 
quaintance with the Negroes of Mississippi point to 
the same conclusion. Remnants of voodooism, in 
the form of spells, "tricks," conjuration and witch- 
craft of all kinds still persist, but the closest search 
fails to reveal any underlying organization; and real 



1 Ibid., p. 231 ff. 

2 Ibid., p. 232 ff. Voodoo Tales, p. 174. 

2 Dana, M., Voodoo, Metropolitan Magazine, vol. 28 (1908), p. 529, and 535. 



VOODOOISM AND CoNJURATION 191 

"hoodoo-men," who inspire the fear and patronage of 
countless superstitious clients, have confided to me 
that they have long wished to join the voodoo society, 
but years of residence in New Orleans have failed to 
bring to light the existence of any such. With the 
death of Marie Laveau "Voudouism all but disappeared 
from New Orleans. The little that is practiced today 
assumes a harmless form; a few chicken bones placed 
on a doorstep, a black cross-mark on the front board, 
a bright red powder sprinkled on the banquette; these 
are the last vestiges of the once-dreaded 'gris-gris.' " ^ 
So great was the number of voodoo imposters prac- 
ticing their profession among the Negroes of New 
Orleans that in July, 1886, the Board of Health was 
compelled to interfere with a view to their suppression. ^ 
Many are still there today, but they are 'ess open in 
their methods. I located several during my stay there 
the past summer, and several Negroes have testified 
to spending often as high as 3500 for their services in 
the treatment of ills — physical, mental, family or 
otherwise. Personally I was offered $2S for a cure I 
suggested for a weak back, although I eventually 
collected my reward in information rather than in 
money. One intelligent Negro cook who took me to 
one of the doctors, who, however, steadily refused to 
give up his information, told me of his extreme success 
in using charms to cure her brother of a "wandering 
mind." Castellanos, writing in 1895, says, "The 
prince of the occult science, styling himself Don Pedro, 
is now the recognized head of the sect, and his adepts, 
as I am told, are legion. The police have, however, 

* Nott, G. W., Marie Laveau, Times Picayune, New Orleans, Nov. 19, 
1922, Magazine Section, p. 2. 

2 Bruce, P. A., The Plantation Negro as a Freedman, p. 125 (note). 



192 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

nearly broken up his business, having compelled him 
to go Into hiding. He Is heard of sometimes through 
the medium of the press, as he advertises occasionally 
as a healing medium. The organization of the Vou- 
dous, as an organization, has been suppressed in a 
great measure by the efforts of our municipal author- 
ities." ^ Even In 1894, Fortier mentions much the 
same condition as prevails today: "Although this 
sect (Voudoux) Is nearly extinct, the Negroes are still 
very much afraid of their witchcraft." ^ Many people 
both black and white, today, still believe in the power 
of the "voodoo-doctor," but, so far as I could find out, 
their methods today are no different from the conjure 
methods of the ordinary "root-doctor" of the rural 
South, except that there Is a greater mixture of Cath- 
olicism with conjuration in New Orleans proper. 
That this belief In voodooism still survives is shown 
by an advertisement of a New Orleans clairvoyant: 

A wish obtained without voudouism; please call on Mme. 
Genevieve, etc. ^ 

Modern Voodoo Seances. In her Angel by Brevet, 
Mrs. Helen Pitkin (Schertz), gives two very interesting 
accounts of these modern voodoo seances. Although 
written In the form of fiction she assures me, personally, 
that they are scientifically accurate, being an exact 
reproduction of what she herself has seen or obtained 
from her servants and absolutely free from imagina- 
tion. This past summer I was absolutely unable to 



1 Castellanos, H. C, New Orleans as It Was, p. 99. See also, Pitkin, 
Helen, An Angel by Brevet, Introduction, p. 6. 

2 Fortier, Alcee., Louisiana Customs, p. 130. 

^ Holton, H. C, Fortune Telling in America Today, J. A. F. L., vol. 8 
(1895), p. 303. 



VOODOOISM AND CoNJURATION 193 

gain admission to such a performance, and Mrs. 
Pitkin tells me that with the exception of Sothern and 
Marlowe she has also been unable, in spite of her per- 
sonal acquaintance with these Wangateurs, to gain 
an audience for her friends. 

In the first seance she tells of a white girl calling 
upon a Negro voodoo-woman to obtain help in winning 
the man she loves. At the meeting, the girl is allowed 
to wear nothing black, and is forced to remove the 
hairpins from her hair, lest some of them be accidentally 
crossed, thus spoiling the charm. In the room were 
paintings of the various Catholic saints and an altar 
before which was a saucer containing white sand, 
quicksilver, and molasses, apexed with a blue candle 
burning for Saint Joseph {Veriquite). All the way 
through, there is this strange mixture of Catholicism 
and voodooism. The "Madam" kneels at the girl's 
feet and intones the "Hail Mary" of the Church, there 
is a song to Liba (voodoo term for St. Peter) and 
another to Blanc Dani (St. Michael). The money 
collected for the seance is put in front of the altar with 
the sign of the cross. 

After the "obi-woman" spewed wine upon all present, 
she sang and danced until the frenzy (spirit) came 
upon her. The white girl was asked to make her wish. 
She wished for the obstacles to her love to be removed. 
Gumbo and rice were served from the pot — which 
also contained snakes. Then the girl wrote her own 
name, her rival's name, and her lover's name on 
separate slips of paper. The slip containing her 
rival's name was put to soak in a dish of vinegar, 
salt, and pepper, while her name and her lover's 
name were dropped into a dish of burning whiskey. 

13 



194 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

A candle with seven notches in it was handed to the 
girl with the instruction to burn a notch each night 
for seven nights, repeating three "Hail Mary's" each 
time. She was given a pinch of the ^''poiv'' guine^^ 
from the saucer and told to put five grains in her mouth 
whenever her lover came near her, in order to soften 
him towards her. Also, when he first entered the house 
she was to make a glass of sugared water with bas- 
ilique and throw it into the yard with her back towards 
the street. Again she was to put ^^poiv'' guine''^ and 
clove in her mouth to get what she wanted from him; 
she must put a piece of his hair where the cistern 
water could splash on it; and she was to keep a piece 
of lodestone about her when he was near "to ambition 
him." 

Three knocks broke the silence of the room. '''Grand 
ZombiV was the shout. An orgy seized the Negro 
spectators; they whooped and danced and shouted. 
The "Madam" fell dazed and awoke as from a deep 
sleep. All knelt before the shrine and began the 
litany of the Blessed Virgin. The girl parted with 
five dollars more for the sake of a special nineteen-day 
intercession with St. Michael, and was ordered to go 
to St. Rock the following Friday to make a wish. On 
the same day (Friday) ^ she was to cut and sew some- 
thing belonging to her rival, who would then never 
live to wear it. She was also given some dust from a 
murderer's grave with the instruction to rub her 
rival's picture with it and to carry the picture upside 
down in her pocket, thus producing death. In case 



1 There is a widespread Negro belief that if a garment is cut out for a person 
on Friday that person will never live to wear it. 



VOODOOISM AND CoNJURATION 195 

of failure of these, the "Madam" assured the girl that 
she herself had laid wanga against her rival and 
that she must die. ^ 

In the other case, the girl applied to a W angateur 
to break a spell laid against her house and to cure a 
friend of fever. Here again were sacred pictures and 
colored candles provided by the "holy store"; green, 
white, and red being used ordinarily, but black being 
best to "put a cross on somebody." In the center 
of the room was a huge black candle, bristling with 
countless needles and pins, all threaded with black 
cotton. Now and then steel splinters would fall as 
the burning candle released them. An invocation 
to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, a song, ''''Vert 
Agoussou^'' and the meeting was on. The girl was 
given a candle blessed by the voodoo and told to burn 
it and make a cross ''''au nom du Pere'''' every time the 
church bell rang. 

Then came food — gumbo with lizards in it, a snake 
in a platter of oil (for voodoos only), congri beans and 
drink. A drum, made of a cured cat-skin, sounded. 
The doctor worked himself into convulsions and 
"CA<2r/o" spoke through him like a child. The doctor 
then advised a root tea for the sick girl, and promised 
to let loose six white pigeons for the crippled lad — the 
lad being cured as soon as they all crossed water. 
To dispose of the one who set the charm against her, 
the girl was advised to let a calf-tongue dry in the sun, 
stick it full of pins and needles threaded with black 
thread, and hang it in the chimney until absolutely 
dry. Thus her enemy would not be able to speak 
again; her tongue would dry as the calf-tongue dries. 



1 Pitkin, Helen, An Angel by Brevet, pp. 182-212. 



196 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

A magnet was given the girl "to draw luck." The 
blackened pins falling from the candle were also given 
her with the instruction to put them in the cemetery 
with a dollar and fifteen cents, thus causing her enemy 
to die. 

Graveyard dirt was thrown upon the company, a 
screech owl hooted outside, the doctor went off again 
into convulsions, seized a black cat which slunk through 
the room, choked it to death, tore the flesh open and 
sucked the warm life-blood (Mrs. Pitkin again as- 
sures me of the truth of this statement) and the 
meeting was over. ^ 

In Other Localities. Such beliefs are by no means 
confined to New Orleans, although there the Catholic 
element is more in evidence. In 1885 it was estimated 
that in Atlanta, perhaps a hundred old men and 
women practiced voodooism as a profession, telling 
fortunes, locating lost and stolen goods, furnishing 
love philters, and casting spells upon people and cat- 
tle. 2 Such incantatory beliefs are found in the 
Northern states as well, even in cities such as Phil- 
adelphia 3 and Pittsburg. ^ "The Obeah men of the 
West Indies have many clients in the United States, 
and a recent issue of the New York Age announced 
that the Negro quarter around 135th Street, New 
York, was overrun with fortune tellers and witch 
doctors, many or most of them from the West In- 
dies." ^ But these practices are simply remnants of 



' Pitkin, Helen, An Angel by Brevet, pp. 258-88. 

^Concerning Negro Sorcery in the United States, J. A. F. L., vol. 3 (1890), 
p. 28L 

^ Culin, S., Reports Concerning Voodooism, J. A. F. L., vol. 2 (1889), 
p. 223. 

* Cleveland News, Cleveland, Ohio, vol. 82, No. 284 (Nov. 11, 1923). 

* Park, R. E., Magic, Mentality and City Life, Pub. Amer. Soc. Society, 
vol. xviii (1924), p. 114. My own observations in Harlem lead to similar 
conclusions. 



VoODOOISM AND CoNJURATION 197 

what was once voodoo or its African equivalent, and 
known better to the Negroes as "hoodoo," "goofer," 
"tricking," "witching," "conjuring," or "handicap- 
ping," We now turn to a consideration of the nature 
of this modern Negro magic. 

The African Witch-doctor. One of the highest fac- 
tors In successful conjuration Is the conjure-doctor, ^ 
and in the case of the Southern Negro this Individual 
shows many traits In common with his African pro- 
totype. In Africa the native witch-doctor or medicine- 
man Is simply another kind of fetish, the man-fetish; 
and it is the spirit within the man and not the man 
himself, which is revered. Probably In the greater 
number of cases the medicine-man holds his office 
because of some peculiarity which is best explained by 
the hypothesis of an Indwelling spirit. 

The Man-fetish. In the Congo region a young man 
attracts attention because of his unusual success In 
fishing, hunting, warfare, or other activities. This 
success is accounted for by attributing It to some 
supernatural agency or to some charm possessed by 
the young man, who exploits this belief and imparts 
his power to others — for a consideration. Gradually 
he builds up his reputation. By a judicious use of 
charms procured from well-known fetish-men and by 
the use of his imagination, he gradually accumulates 
many charms — different herbs, stones, pieces of wood 
antelope horns and skins, and feathers, tied in artistic 
bundles. Finally he becomes a fetish-man himself. 
Almost invariably this Is the way the thing starts. - 

^ For a general discussion of medicine-men, see Maddox, J. L., The Medi- 
cine Man, pp. 22-71, 91-131. 

^ Glave, E. J., Fetishism in Congo Land, Century Magazine, vol. 19 (1891), 
p. 829. 



198 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

"The order of Fetish-men is further augmented by 
persons who declare that the fetish has suddenly 
seized on them. A series of convulsions and un- 
natural distortions establish their claim." ^ "Great 
endurance in dancing, and falling into convulsions 
are chief qualifications in the Gold Coast Fetishman." 2 
"Among the Gallas, when a woman grows tired of the 
cares of housekeeping she begins to talk incoherently 
and to demean herself extravagantly. This is a sign 
of the descent of the holy spirit, Callo, upon her. 
Immediately her husband prostrates himself and 
adores her; she ceases to bear the humble title of wife 
and is called, 'Lord'; domestic duties have no further 
claim on her, and her will is divine law." ^ The high 
priest of the Ibos induces this "possession" by starving 
for several days, by drinking nothing but water, by 
enforced constipation, and by immersing himself in 
the river from four to seven days at a stretch. He is 
then consulted regarding the future of the country. ^ 
I fancy any of us could prophesy under similar 
treatment. 

In other ways the priests or sorcerers try to create 
an atmosphere of "queerness" to be explained by 
spirit possession. Some will wear a black cat's skin 
around their neck, ^ others will study ventriloquism, 
sleight-of-hand, the medical properties of herbs, or 
spend their time unearthing family secrets with which 
to astonish their clients. ^ One Congo medicine-man 



1 Kingsley, M. H., West African Studies, p. 17L 

^ Cruickshank, B., Eighteen Years on the Gold Coast of Africa, vol. ii, 
p. 142. 

3 Frazer, J. G., The Golden Bough, p. 98. 

* Ibid., p. 23L 

' Cardinal A. W., The Natives of the Northern Territories of the Gold Coast, 
p. 30. 

* Ellis, A. B., T shi-speaking Peoples, pp. 127-28. 



VOODOOISM AND CoNJURATION 199 

had a charm which he said would whistle if it could 
cure the person applying for help. To the observer's 
surprise the medicine-horn apparently did emit a 
wheezy whistle when held out at arm's length by the 
fetish-man. However, when pressed for further in- 
formation (and paid for it), the medicine-man secretly 
showed the observer that he had made the sound by 
means of a perforated bean, which he had concealed in 
his nostril. ^ However, the indwelling spirit is not 
always induced by acquired peculiarities. In many 
cases a person is "born different," and to explain this 
difference or queerness the same old indwelling-spirit- 
explanation is brought forward. Thus in many tribes 
albinos ^ and even insane persons, ^ are regarded with 
special reverence. 

Professional Obligations. Among the Orimbunda, 
as in nearly all parts of Africa, the witch-doctor is an 
important personage. "He is feared by all classes, 
and often has more influence and power than the 
chief himself. Whenever anything is lost or stolen, 
they apply to the witch-doctor to find out where the 
object is, or who is the thief. As no one is supposed 
to die a natural death, the doctor is called in to discover 
the witch who caused the death. To him they go 
for all kinds of charms to protect themselves against 
all evils, or to cast a spell on some one whom they wish 
to injure; to him they also go for help in cases of 
sickness. He is also a diviner, reading both the past 
and future. At all spirit feasts, at the installation 

^ Glave, E. J., Fetishism in Congo Land, Century Magazine, vol. 19 (1891), 
p. 836. 

* Koelle, Rev. S. M., African Native Literature (Kanuri Proverbs), p. 401. 
Ellis, A. B., Tshi-speaking Peoples, pp. 48-49. Kingsley, M. H., Travels 
in West Africa, p. 513. 

^ Nassau, R. H., Fetichism in West Africa, p. 118 and 272. 



200 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

of a new chief, in preparation for war, and on almost 
every occasion, the witch-doctor plays a prominent 
part. He bears an influential position among his 
people, and his art is the source of a considerable in- 
come, for always before he begins operations, the pay 
must be brought and laid down before him. Thus 
it Is that he is loath to part with even a few of his 
charms, much less a full set." ^ Much the same thing 
is true of the witch-doctor in Sierra Leone. In their 
case "the practice of this profession is usually confined 
to certain families, the secrets of the profession being 
handed down from father to son. Only one member of 
the family practices at the same time, although he 
may have a number of assistants who are commonly 
members of the family. Some of these witch-doctors 
profess to be able to name and trace their ancestors 
back to a remote period." - These West African 
priests are applied to in almost every concern of life, 
from naming children Ho exposing thieves, adulteresses, 
and slanderers, not to mention the thousand and one 
bits of oblism for averting misfortune and procuring 
good luck. ■* In spite of the prestige of the witch- 
doctor, his occupation is not without its dangers. 
Miss KIngsley says, "It is risky work for them, for 
spirits are a risky set to deal with." ^ With this 
word of appreciation we again turn to a consideration 
of the Afro-American witch-doctor. 

The Southern Hoodoo-doctor. On the Sea Islands this 
personage is known as the "root-doctor," "wood- 
doctor," "nigger-doctor," "fortune-teller," "witchcraft- 



1 Dorsey, G. A., The Odnibanda, or Witch-doctor of the Orimhunda of 
Portuquese Southwest Africa, J. A. F. L., vol. 12 (1899), pp. 183-84. 

2 Beatty, K. J., Human Leopards, p. 24. 

2 t'llis, A. B., Ewe-speaking Peoples, p. 154. 

* Ibid., Tshi-speaking Peoples, p. 124. 

* Kingsley, M. H., West African Studies, pp. 178-79. 



; 








^ 


^-^ 


?«r 




i 






'^^Bm" 




MISSISSIPPI HOODO-DOCTORS 



VOODOOISM AND CoNJURATION 201 

woman," or infrequently as the "goofer-doctor." i 
The term "root-doctor" is common through the South, 
as is also "hoodoo-doctor." One Mississippi Negro 
mentioned the term "two-facer" as applied to con- 
jurers, 2 and with the prairie Negroes near Columbus, 
Miss., the term "horse" ^ is used for them just as it was 
used in old New Orleans to mean a voodoo priestess, * 
thus showing how elements of African culture may 
spread from one locality to another. The term 
"Wangateur" is also often used in New Orleans. ^ 
In Africa the witch-doctor is usually selected because 
of some physical or mental peculiarity which shows 
him to be possessed of a spirit. I have noticed that 
the American witch-doctor is also possessed of unusual 
mentality and often shows physical peculiarities as 
well. Miss Owen mentions a "Witcheh-man" as 
having a whopple-jaw, a hare-lip, a lop-side, a crooked 
leg, one eye like fire and the other eye dead. ^ Ed 
Murphy, a Mississippi conjure-doctor, who is held in 
awe by many of the Negroes of the locality, and to 
whom I am greatly indebted for voodoo-lore, has 
three birthmarks on his left arm (representing the 
Father, Son, and Holy Ghost), a "luck mole" on his 
right arm, he is "chicken-breasted" (which means that 
he can never have consumption), was born with a caul 
on his face, and has (so he says) kinky hair on the sides 
of his head and straight hair on top. His face (see 
frontispiece) shows considerable personality, and these 
traits, coupled with his habit of living off by himself 

1 Parsons, E. C, Folk-Lore of (he Sea Islands, S. C, M. A.F.L. S., vol. 16 
(1923), pp. 211-12. 

2 153. 

3 348. 

* Cable, G. W., The Grandissimes, p. 68. 

6 277. 

6 Owen, Mary A., Voodoo Tales, pp. 218-19. 



202 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

and attending to his own business, give him a tre- 
mendous influence with the Negroes of that locality. 
Another informant describes the "hoodoo" as always 
having a wizened face and red eyes. ^ Old folks 
(with their peculiar ways) are particularly liable to 
be hoodoos, ~ while one Louisiana conjurer was afflicted 
with a skin disease whereby he first became spotted 
and then changed in color to a sort of pinkish-white. ^ 
Often, besides extreme redness of eyes, the conjure- 
doctor is tall and dark. He is always in a deep study, 
looking at some distant object, and, so one informant 
says, in contradiction to my own observations, never 
looking a person straight in the eyes. They sleep like 
a cat, waking up at the slightest noise or pain, and 
telling their own fortunes to see if any one is trying to 
injure them. "One conjure-doctor is pictured as 
having the remarkable gift of turning as green as 
grass most, and when he was just as black as a man 
could well be; and his hair covered his neck and 
around his neck he had a string, and he had lizards 
tied on it. He carried a crooked cane (so does Ed Mur- 
phy). He'd throw it down and he would pick it up 
and say something, and throw it down, and it would 
wiggle like a snake, and he would pick it up and it 
would be as stiff as any other cane." Often they go 
around with a very sanctified air with leathern bags 
on their arms. * 

Other Peculiarities. In one Gullah district, Sabey, 
whom the Negroes feared because of his ability to 
throw spells, was "a queer, misshapen mulatto, al- 

1 15L Smiley P., Folk-Lore from Va., S. C, Ga., Ala., and Fla., J. A. 
F. L., vol. 32 (1919), p. 379. 

2 305. 

3 18. 

* Southern Workman, vol. 24 (1895), p. 118. 



VOODOOISM AND CoNJURATION 203 

most an albino, with green eyes and yellow wool 
lighting and thatching a shrewd and twisted, though 
good-natured monkey face," ^ "Pig-Tail Charley," 
the grandson of a witch, was "a po', peakedy, no- 
'count HI' young 'un, wid a whopple (awry) jaw, a 
blin' eye, an' a shriveled laig," but he played the 
Pied Piper in that the pigs listened to his whistle-call 
and followed him into a bluff which closed in after 
them. 2 Other Negroes, possibly because of seeing a 
side-show magician, or because of a confusion of 
"hoodoo" with "Hindu," describe the hoodoo-man 
as follows: "The hoodoo-man usually wears a turban 
on his head, wears a Turkish dress with bloomer pants. 
He never walks any place but always rides in a buggy. 
He is a very short, heavy-set man, and usually weighs 
about three hundred pounds. He always wears a 
moustache so that you cannot see his mouth, and has 
a very dark complexion." ^ Others say that hoodoo- 
men, who always have long hair and beards, always 
carry a loaded cane with which they tell whether you 
are honest or not. ■* Dr. H. Roger Williams of Mobile, 
Alabama, who has had many experiences with all 
types of conjurers, writes me as follows about the 
hoodoo-doctor: "He usually wears a long Prince 
Albert coat, that shows signs of having been in service 
many years. His hair is seldom, if ever, combed, his 
shoes, in many instances, are tied on his feet with 
white strings, eyes typical of sensuality, and his boast, 
the fact that he has never been to school a day in his 
life — knowing nothing but what he has learned of 



1 Gonzales, A. E., The Black Border, p. 107. 

2 Owen, Mary A., Pig-Tail Charley, J. A. F. L., vol. 16 (1903), p. 59. 

3 341. 
*345. 



204 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

God. His credentials show him to be an ordained 
minister, and he invariably introduces himself as 
Reverend Doctor. With absolute assurance in his 
tone of voice, he makes no effort to give a reason for 
anything, but dogmatically asserts his God-given 
power to heal all manner of diseases. 'Chile, her 
sickness ain't nat'ul, and edicated doctor's medicine 
is pintedly ag'in it!' is a common expression met with 
in the sick room as soon as a physician has left the 
room of a patient in a neighborhood where a hoodoo- 
doctor has once been, and often his skill is baffled by 
doubt." ^ Conjuration on the part of a blue-gummed 
Negro or a Negro with one eye black and the other 
blue is unduly effective and death usually results. ^ 
"A blue-gummed Nigger," so one old conjure-doctor 
says, "is a 'Ponton,' a cross 'twixt a horse and a man, 
and ef he bites you hit's shore death." ^ This idea 
of a bite from a blue-gummed Negro being fatal has 
considerable spread throughout the South, ^ In the 
animal world the woodpecker is looked upon as being 
always a conjurer, ^ possibly accounting for the fact 
that the constant tapping of this bird upon the roof 
of the house is regarded as an omen of death. ^ 

Visions and Metamorphosis. Nat Turner, who led 
the insurrection in Virginia in 1831, was mentally 
precocious and had marks on his head and breast 
which were interpreted by the Negroes who knew him 
as marking him for some high calling. As he worked in 



1397. 

2 141. Steiner, R., Observations on the Practice of Conjuring in Georgia, 
J. A. F. L., vol. 14 (1901), p. 177. 

391. 

4 345. Davis, H. C, Folk-Lore in South Carolina, J.A.F. L., vol. 27 (1914), 
p. 248. 

6 141. Owen, Mary A., Voodoo Tales, p. 54. 

8 141. 



VOODOOISM AND CoNJURATION 205 

the fields he saw drops of blood on the corn, and he 
also saw white spirits and black spirits contending 
in the skies. An eclipse of the sun in February 1831, 
was interpreted as the sign for him to go forward. ^ 
This matter of vision is not uncommon. Ed Murphy 
lies down on his back at night, folds his arms, and a 
whole troop of visions swing into sight. He can see 
his enemies coming; can see the future. He lives by 
himself a lot and meditates; does not like to be bothered 
by other folks. By looking through a clear pebble 
dipped in water he claims to be able to induce these 
visions — in much the same manner as crystal gazing 
with more advanced people. This "beauty rock," 
by the way, is the same sort of stone that David used 
to kill Goliath, thus bringing in a reign of peace. 
Carry one in your pocket and you, too, will have 
peace. ^ Ed Murphy is very religious — intensely so, as 
are most of the other conjure-doctors of my acquaint- 
ance — and is the "main-exhorter" at revival meeting 
time, his impressive personality scaring timid souls 
into the Kingdom as well as into the insane 
asylum. Mrs. V. F. Boyle informs me that this sort 
of thing is common, there being good and bad hoodoos, 
the good hoodoo often being part hoodoo and part 
preacher. ^ Often a hoodoo-doctor is supposed to have 
the ability of changing into animal forms. A scared 
Negro told me of seeing Ed Murphy change himself 
into a cow and then into a cat. * Ed does not deny 
doing it — such stories increase his prestige. Shadrach, 

' Brawley, B., Social History of the American Negro, p. 141. 

2 258. 

»42. 

M04. 



206 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

a hoodoo, had the power of getting out of his skin and 
taking an animal form, such as a screech owl. Often- 
times he lent his skin to the devil to go about in. ^ 

A Self-made Hoodoo-doctor. Such are the chief 
characteristics which Negro public opinion sets down 
as being those of the conjuring profession. Suffice it to 
observe that in almost all cases the conjure-doctor is a 
peculiar individual, set aside because of his very- 
peculiarity for dealings with the supernatural. Not 
always are the conjure-doctors Negroes; sometimes 
white women assume the role for the sake of the rewards 
to be gained by successful imposture. ^ After being 
asked to pay 320 for some trifling information by 
Negroes, whom I had good reason to believe, were 
hoodoos, I finally adopted the role of conjure-doctor 
myself, in order to be able to discuss the tricks of the 
trade as hoodoo to hoodoo without having to live the 
rest of my life on "half-rations." Even conjurers 
are not without their professional spirit, and I found 
them quite willing to swap clinical knowledge and even 
materia medica with one, once they believed him to 
be a "rale trick-doctor." No, I have no whopple-jaw 
nor blue gums, but I do have a startling collection of 
red flannel rags, rabbit's feet, lodestone and steel filings, 
an Egyptian idol, a "jack," graveyard dirt, voodoo 
charms from New Orleans, and some knowledge of 
Negro conjuration practices along with imagination 
enough to conjure up missing details when necessary. 
By a promiscuous display of this equipment I soon 
had patients seeking my aid, and my truly spectacular 
"tricks" soon convinced even the hard-shelled hoodoos 
that I was one of the gang. 

1 Boyle, Mrs. V. F., Devil Tales, p. 81 ff. 
^Southern Workman, vol. 26 (1897), p. 37. 



VOODOOISM AND CoNJURATION 207 

Professional Duties. One of the first things we 
conjure-doctors have to do is to diagnose the case, tell 
the person whether he is conjured or not (he usually 
is if some of the less ethical members of the profession 
get hold of him) and to find out who "layed de trick." 
The "trick" (charm) must be found and destroyed and 
the patient cured. If the patient wishes we must also 
be able to turn the trick back upon the one who set 
it. Besides this, a conjurer truly up in his profession 
must be able to lay haunts, and to locate buried treasure 
or a vein of water. The treasure trove may be found 
by taking a divining rod (a small branch with two side 
limbs running off in the shape of a "V"), driving a nail 
in the end of each branching twig and in the spot where 
they converge, holding these twig ends in the hands, 
and marching boldly over the suspected landscape. 
When you pass over the buried treasure the free end 
will be pulled suddenly towards the ground. Or, 
simpler still, you may put three pieces of brass in your 
right hand, keeping them well separated. Sniff oc- 
casionally and when you pass over the buried treasure 
you will find that the brass will automatically begin 
to smell. Water may be located by a similar rod with- 
out the nails; or if you observe a tree in the locality 
with the limbs longer on one side than on the other, 
the tree bending somewhat in that direction, you may 
be reasonably sure that a vein of water is located be- 
neath the surface of the earth on that side. ^ The 
divining rod idea is, of course, European. ~ 

Satisfied Patients. A notable thing about the con- 
jure-doctor is the fact that he usually satisfies his 

^ 141. Compare Steiner, R., Superstitious Beliefs from Central Georgia, 
J. A. F. L., vol. 12 (1889), p. 271. 
2 Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 346. 



208 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

patients. I tested this out on my own clients. When 
I made a "trick" I would charge 25 cents down, let 
the Negro keep the charm for a week, and if it satisfied 
him he was then to pay me 32 more. While I always 
excused myself from the $2 on the basis of special 
friendship, in very few cases was my client unwilling 
to pay the money. True there is often trickery. In 
one case an old Negro woman was taken sick. A 
scheming conjure-doctor at once buried a bottle 
containing human hair, graveyard dirt, and two 
small sticks in the path leading to her spring. He told 
her she was conjured and offered to find the conjure 
for 310. Roaming over the location with a little iron 
rod he located the charm he had buried, broke the 
bottle and buried it in the middle of the public road, 
giving the old woman some roots to chew. The woman 
gladly paid the 310 and, strange to say, recovered — 
illustrating the power of mind over body. Although 
the trick was exposed she still believes that she was 
conjured and that she was cured by the doctor. ^ In 
another case, a man had "a rising" on his arm. The 
conjure-doctor slipped a lizard into a poultice which he 
bound on the sore; and later, taking the poultice off, 
told the man he was conjured and had lizards in his 
arm. Although the hoodoo-doctor collected consider- 
able money in an attempt to cure the trouble, the 
patient finally died, thinking to the last that he had 
reptiles in his arm. ^ 

Like all other medicine-men, the conjure-doctor 
often uses his ready wit to keep his patient satisfied 
in case the charm does not work. A slavery-time 



' Steiner, R., Observations on the Practice of Conjuring in Georgia, J. A. 
F. L., voL 14 (1901), pp. 175-76. 
2342. 



VOODOOISM AND CoNJURATION 209 

"trick-doctor" gave one of the slaves a "hand" (charm) 
that was supposed to enable him to "cuss out" the 
master without being harmed. He tried this and was 
given a terrific whipping. On complaining to the 
trick doctor he was told, "I gl' you a runnin' han! (a 
charm which would give the possessor swiftness of 
foot). Why didn't yer run.?" ^ 

Common Sense Treatment. A little common sense 
mixed with the charm will often bring the desired 
result whether the charm itself works or not. A 
New Orleans "hoodoo-man" sold a suitor some "French 
Love Powder" (sugar of milk in this case) for $S. He 
was to sprinkle this upon whatever he gave to the 
woman, but he was always to take her something she 
liked and lots of it; he was never to cross the woman 
nor make her mad no matter how much she annoyed 
him or flirted with other men; he was to show her on 
every occasion that he was interested in her alone. 
A few months later the man came back singing the 
praise of the conjurer, and introduced to him the 
woman, who, by his wonderful love-powder was 
induced to become his wife. ^ A "conjure-woman" in 
Algiers, La., was given $S for a bottle of medicine 
(lemonade) to break a husband of quarreling. Her 
directions were for the unhappy wife to fill her mouth 
with the medicine whenever her good man began to 
quarrel and not to swallow it until he had ceased. 
Then she was to swallow the medicine and kiss him. 
So successful was this treatment that several wives 
came to the doctor upon recommendation for the same 
prescription. ^ 

1 Smiley, P., Folk-Lore from Va., S. C, Ga., Ala., and Fla., J. A. F. L., 
vol. 32 (19191, p. 365. 

2 397. 
^ lUd. 

14 



210 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

Evasive Instructions. In case the "trick" fails to 
work, there are always the mystifying instructions to 
aid the conjurers in evasion. For one love-charm the 
following was prescribed: Take nine "u" nails, a piece 
of graveyard dirt, one quart of vinegar, one quart of 
"May water" (water caught from the first rain in May), 
mix them together and boil them down to one-half 
quantity. Take it off the fire, let it cool and stand for 
nine days, then fill the vessel to its original quantity, 
using equal parts of vinegar and "May water." Let 
this stand for nine more days, then put into a jug and 
cork up tightly. For nine nights after sundown, go 
to the woman's house and sprinkle some of this around 
in her yard where she will walk over it. On the tenth 
night propose to her and she will accept you without 
fail (note that 28 days are allowed for events to take 
their natural course). The charm failed but the 
"joker" lay in the order for nine "u" nails. The poor 
suitor had used nine "new" nails — while the conjurer 
had advised nine "used" nails. If the "used nails had 
been employed the conjurer could still escape by claim- 
ing to have advised nine "new" nails. At any rate the 
suitor paid five more dollars for a box of "French Love 
Powder" that had been "smuggled over from France," 
and went on his quest still hopeful. ^ One conjure- 
woman in Algiers, La., claims to collect from fifty 
to two hundred and fifty dollars per week when business 
is good, often, giving as many as twenty-five Negroes 
"hands" to win in the same gambling game. She says, 
"It is amusing to see how easily satisfied they are with 
an explanation if they come back claiming to have 
failed, invariably paying a larger sum to get a better 
hand." 2 



1397. 



VOODOOISM AND CoNJURATION 211 

In Africa. Precisely the same sort of thing is found 
with the African witch-doctor. "The hunter going 
out, certain of success, returns empty-handed; the 
warrior bearing on his breast a fetish panoply, which 
he is confident will turn aside a bullet, comes back 
wounded; every one is some day foiled in his cherished 
plan. Do they lose their faith .f" No, not in the 
system— their fetishism — but in the special material 
object of their faith — their fetish — they do. Going 
to the oganga whom they paid for concocting that now 
disappointing amulet, they tell him of its failure. He 
readily replies: 'Yes, I know. You have an enemy 
who possesses a fetish containing a spirit more power- 
ful than yours, which made your bullet miss its mark, 
which caused your opponent's spear to wound you. 
Yours is no longer of use; it is dead. Come, pay me, 
and I will make you a charm containing a spirit still 
more powerful.' " ^ 

Out-hoodooing the Hoodoos. But this sort of decep- 
tion is not deliberate with all Negro conjure-doctors. 
Most of them I have seen, believe very firmly in the 
materials they prescribe and are willing to use charms 
prescribed for them. I shall never forget the time I 
had to imagine a special "trick" for backache for a 
conjure-doctor of New Orleans, who, in spite of his 
skill in treating others was not able to cure himself. 
In order to obtain important information regarding 
his methods it was necessary that I quickly produce an 
unusual charm to cure his ailing back — my remedy was 
an amazing mixture of voodoo, thin air. Scripture, and 
scientific fact. In brief, I told him that man was made 
of clay and that it would take clay to patch him up. 

^ Nassau, R. H., Fetichism in West Africa, pp. 85-86. 



212 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

The earthworms are the spirit of clay (this from an 
old Negro slave) and lively earthworms must be fried 
in fresh lard (the hog is a dirty animal). Mix some 
asafoetida or strong perfume (strong smell) with 
this, since strength is the thing you are striving for. 
Get some hair from a strong man (Sampson's strength 
lay in his hair), burn it and mix it with the ointment, 
stirring it always UP and repeating, "Sam-son! Sam- 
son!" with each stroke. Be earnest and concentrate 
on strength and power. Then get some bark from the 
north side (strong side) of a big oak tree (I helped him 
gather this myself), powder it and mix in the same 
way, saying, "Sam-son! Sam-son!" with each stroke. 
Finally, get a small strand of steel cable (strength and 
flexibility) and boil it in vinegar (strong taste). Keep 
all these ingredients separate until the new moon, then 
mix them, pounding an upturned dish-pan with a 
stick in the left hand (strong sound) while stirring it 
up with the right hand, saying, "Sam-son!" with every 
stroke. Let the mixture stand until the moon is full 
(thus getting the full strength of the moon in it), 
then stop it up tightly in a jar which is to be kept 
tightly wrapped in red flannel (strong color). Rub 
this on with a red flannel cloth, rubbing always from 
below, up, saying, "Sam-son!" as you rub it on. 
Every morning and night face the north with arms 
outstretched and feet well apart and concentrating on 
strength and Samson. Then I added a few worth- 
while items — dress as well as you can, hold your head 
up, save at least 32 each week, work hard and earnestly, 
bathe at least every other day, do a bit of kindness 
each day, be cheerful even if you have to force your- 
self to smile, and if you are not bettered, consult a 
first rate medical doctor and not a hoodoo. The 



VOODOOISM AND CoNJURATION 213 

"Negro-doctor" took these down literally (he could 
read and write) and then transcribed them in a number 
code, so that he could use them without fear of de- 
tection. I had a hard time getting rid of him. He 
told me his whole store of information and insisted on 
quitting his work and following me wherever I went 
about the city, declaring that already he felt better 
and feeling sure that the continued treatment would 
do him much good. I actually believe it will, and am 
sorry that I could not remain longer in New Orleans 
to check up on the case. He showed his gratitude by 
offering me 325 for the cure — my improvised charm 
was sufficiently complex to win his entire attention. 
Without doubt many of the conjuration practices 
originated in the brain of some quick-thinking hoodoo- 
doctor — in fact I have often seen this improvising 
going on myself, and apparently these products have 
the same efficiency as those hallowed by antiquity. 

Credulity of the Hoodoo-doctors. So great is the 
credulity of these Negroes, even the conjure-doctors 
themselves, that there is no excuse for failure. I 
tested this out in the case just mentioned. I had just 
purchased two small notebooks, both exactly alike. 
We were sitting on the levee at Algiers, just across 
from New Orleans, and for a time I busied myself 
jotting down the experiences and remedies of this 
conjure-doctor for whose backache I had just oifered 
a cure. When the conversation lulled, unknown 
to him I changed the notebook upon which I had been 
writing, for the unused one which I had concealed 
in my inner coat pocket. Then I told him I possessed 
the power of keeping him from seeing things I did not 
want him to see. "You have seen me writing in this 



214 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

book," I said, "now read what I have written." 
Making a pass at the Negro, I handed him the unused 
book. He opened it and saw only the blank pages. 
His jaw dropped, his eyes nearly popped out of his 
head — in fact I thought he was going to fall backward 
into the "Father of Waters." "My Gawd, white man, 
you's wonderful!" Later on when he was not looking 
I again brought out the book upon which I had been 
writing, snapped my fingers at him and again restored 
to him his ability to read. Perhaps such practices 
are not exactly ethical, but I won my man's respect and 
obtained information, besides testing out the extreme 
credulity of even the conjure-doctors themselves. 

Conjurers by Accident. So great is the fear of these 
conjure-doctors that it is extremely hard to get a 
Negro to testify against one in court, no matter how 
much the Negro has been swindled by him. ^ They are 
afraid not to keep the charm given them by the 
hoodoo-doctor on their person, for the idea prevails 
that the conjure-men will find it out in some way or 
other, and that they will "haint yo' till yo' leabe dis 
yere earth." ^ Steiner cites, in detail, cases where it 
was necessary for him to discharge good workmen 
simply because of their supposed conjuring and their 
demoralizing effect upon the other superstitious Ne- 
groes. In some cases accidental happenings almost 
force a man to become a conjurer. One Georgia Negro 
picked up a hat which had blown from another Negro's 
head and handed it back to him. Within a short time 
the owner of the hat died. The Negro who picked 
up the hat drank from a bucket at the well. Another 

1 397. 

2349. 



VOODOOISM AND CoNJURATION 215 

Negro followed him and shortly after died. Both 
these deaths were attributed to the innocent Negro — 
men would not work around him, he had to be dis- 
charged. He had accidentally earned the reputation 
of being a conjurer. He could not get a place to stay 
or cook, and was eventually forced to live far off from 
his fellows and, in actuality, to follow conjuring. ^ 

Symptoms of Conjuration. We turn now from a 
consideration of the "hoodoo-doctor" to a general 
consideration of conjuration itself — known variously 
as "hoodooing," "goofering," - "handicapping," ^ or 
"tricking." ■* The principles of thought upon which 
this form of magic is based are well set forth in Frazer's 
Law of Similarity and Law of Contact or Contagion. 
According to the former, like produces like, or an effect 
resembles its cause; the latter states that things which 
have once been in contact with each other continue to 
act on each other at a distance after the physical 
contact has been severed. ^ While we shall not follow 
this classification it could be conveniently applied to 
practically the whole of conjuration. Some hoodoos 
burn a kind of powder called "goopher dust," which 
represents the person being hoodooed, who is perhaps 
miles away at the time. This causes the conjured 
individual to lose his personality and to become sick 
or insane. One must have power to be able to make 
up a protecting "hand" or charm. Another conjurer 
or hoodoo outside the vicinity can work a cure for 
one so afflicted. ^ A person can tell when he is hoo- 

^Steiner, R., Observations on the Practice of Conjuring in Georgia, J. A. 
F.L., pp. 173-79 (1901), vol. 14. 

n4i. 
354. 

*306. 

^ Frazer, J. G., The Golden Bough, p. 11. 

« 152. 



216 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

dooed by the suddenness of the attack — sharp pains 
follow directly upon handling, stepping over, or swallow- 
ing the charm. The regular physician does no good; a 
conjure-doctor had better be called In at once. There 
are signs of lizards and snakes In the body — the 
regular food eaten does no good. The person makes 
strange noises; goes like a dog, cock, fox, cat, or other 
animal, and finally becomes Insane unless relieved. ^ 
One old Negro, whose sister was killed by a process 
of this kind and who had been conjured himself, says: 
"You kin tell 'caze you feels so diffe'ntly. Fer a 
while you eats a lot mo' dan you ustah eat, den you 
gits so you doan' want no vlttles no time. After 
dis you pines away an' dies." - Some say mosquitoes 
fly out of a conjured person's head. ^ 

No trouble in the world exhibits such fiendish and 
unearthly symptoms as does conjuration. A Mis- 
sissippi informant tells me of one old man who could 
conjure folks by taking a looking-glass and turning 
their mouths wrongside out, making their eyes as big 
as dollars. Folks so aflfected would "bark lak dawgs 
an' go walkin' 'long on dey's heels an' de backs er dey's 
hands wid deir bellies up towards de sky." ^ In 
another case a girl set a hoodoo for a suitor who had 
stopped coming to see her. Within a short time this 
desultory suitor suddenly dropped dead while working in 
the field. His flesh became "ridged up lak cotton- 
rows" and the other Negroes knew he had been tricked. ^ 
When you are conjured you feel like you have never 



^ Bacon, A. M., Conjuring and Conjure-Doctors, Southern Workman, vol . 
24 (1895), pp. 209-10. 

2 65. 

3 150. 
* 305. 
6 288. 



VOODOOISM AND CoNJURATION 217 

felt before In all your life. Uncouth thoughts take 
possession of your mind. If a rabbit has been used 
in working the hoodoo, you will become timid, and 
afraid of every one, just as the rabbit is timid. If 
you are in doubt as to your condition you can verify 
your misgivings by telling your fortune with cards. ^ 
When people "jes' aint actin' natch'l" their misconduct 
is explained by conjure. A devoted husband was 
trailing after another woman; "Solon's er good man, 
fur he's des hoodooed an' hain't 'sponsible." 2 When 
a sweetheart has been getting along with you all right 
and then suddenly, with no real cause, "breaks off," 
you may know that she is not responsible for what 
she is doing. She has been "handicapped," and in 
order to win her back it is necessary for you to consult 
a "root-doctor" and have the spell removed, unless 
you know how to take it off yourself. ^ 

African Charms. In Africa many articles are used 
in charm-making. Charms of lions' claws, teeth, lips, 
and whiskers are the best protectives against lions; 
an elephant hunter carries about with him the point 
of an elephant's trunk; the spine bones of serpents are 
strung into a girdle to cure backache * (probably be- 
cause of their flexibility). Like produces like. With 
the Timne-speaking peoples small things, such as rice 
husks and other rubbish, are put in a fish trap and 
hung high up, that the rice may stand high; a pot will 
be broken so that bad people may be "broken" in the 
same way; a blacksmith makes a straight knife for a 
sacrifice, that work and all other things may be 

1141. 

2 Boyle, Mrs. V. F., Devil Tales, p. 11. 

»54. 

''Nassau, R. H., Fetichism in West Africa, pp. 84-85. 



218 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

"straight"; and a broom will be hung over the door 
that the house may be "clean" and no bad sickness 
come in. ^ The Calabar natives will bury the placenta 
beside a palm tree planted at the birth of a child so 
that the tree will grow with the child. ^ The Gold 
Coast sorcerer is generally distinguished by his goat- 
skin medicine-bag. "Inside the bag are all kinds of 
apparent rubbish, some old bones, dirty little rags 
containing 'medicine,' weird-shaped stones, bits of 
iron, broken pottery, feathers, bits of skin, horn — a 
regular rag-and-bone merchant's collection. But the 
principal items are two or more smoothly-rounded 
stones little larger than a golf-ball, and a stick." ^ 
Great is the variety of these charms. In some cases 
water drawn with the back toward the river is used. * 
"Various articles are used in their composition, such as 
oil, leaves, beads, hair, finger-nails, toe-nails, etc. 
Most of the charms the women put on in Africa are 
merely small bits of paper with Mohammedan writing, 
wrapped in a piece of soft leather. The 'hoodoos' and 
'fetishes' are of more importance than the ordinary 
charms, and their composition is more complex, con- 
sisting of leaves, barks, roots, horns, and bones, either of 
man or beast, or of both, all carefully placed in a country- 
pot made of clay, and kept from every eye save that 
of the owner's and, perhaps, the near relatives. What 
is called 'gree-gree' is a fetish that is employed by its 
owner to revenge any wrong received by him." ^ 



1 Thomas, N. H., Anthrop. Rept. on Sierra Leone, pt. 1, p. 53. 

^ Burton, R. F., Wit and Wisdom from West Africa, p. 411, 

' Cardinal, A. W. , The Natives of the Northern Territories of the Gold Coast, 
p. 130. 

■* Burton, R. ¥.., Wit and Wisdom from West Africa, p. 344. 

* Cronise and Ward, Cunnie Rabbit, Mr. Spider and the Other Beef, pp. 26- 
27. For other representative African charms, see Beatty, K. J., Human 
Leopards, pp. 23-24. ElUs, A. B., Ewe-speaking Peoples, p. 94. Leonard, 
A. G., The Lower Niger and Its Tribes, pp. 499-500. Kingsley, M. H., 
Travels in West Africa, p. 462. Elhs, A. B., Tshi-speaking Peoples, pp. 103- 
104. 



VOODOOISM AND CoNJURATION 219 

Survivals in America. But let us consider again 
the American Negro. Cable writes of the New 
Orleans Negro: "To find under his mattress an acorn 
hollowed out, stuffed with the hair of some dead 
person, pierced with four holes on four sides, and two 
small chicken feathers drawn through them so as to 
cross inside the acorn; or to discover on his doorsill, 
at daybreak, a little box containing a dough or waxen 
heart stuck full of pins; or to hear that his avowed 
rival or foe has been pouring cheap champagne in the 
four corners of Congo Square at midnight when there 
was no moon— will strike more abject fear into the 
heart of many a stalwart Negro or melancholy quad- 
roon than to face a leveled revolver." ^ "The hollowed 
out acorn mentioned by Mr. Cable seems a copy of 
the cutch-nut charms of the Gold Coast whose chief 
use there, however, is to restrain the slanderous tongue 
. and the pouring out of champagne on a 
moonless night at the four corners of the court, the 
form of incantation to Shugudu, a malignant god, who 
will lend his aid to any one who on a dark night will 
pour a libation of rum into a hole dug in the ground, 
or bury a fowl alive." ^ In his Grandissimes Mr. Cable 
mentions again the pouring of oblations of champagne 
on the ground and the casting upon the floor of a little 
of whatever a person was eating or drinking to pro- 
pitate M. Assouquer (the voodoo imp of good for- 
tune). ^ "An Ashanti never drinks without pouring 
a few drops of the wine on the ground for the denizens 
of the spirit world who may happen to be about 
(also some for 'fetishes'). Food is constantly placed 

* Cable, G. W., CreoleSlave Songs, Century Magazine, April 1886, pp. 286-87. 
=' Ellis, A. B., On Vddvr-worship, Popular Science Monthly, vol. 38 (1891 ), p. 662. 
3 Cable, G. W., The Grandissimes, pp. 125, 177, and 296. 



220 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

aside for them." ^ In the West Indies "the favorite 
decoctions in use among witch doctors consist of 
bones, ashes, grave-dirt, human nail parings, mixed, 
perhaps, with asafoetida or any other substance having 
a pungent odor." ^ On the Gold Coast it is beHeved 
that a man may be harmed by a "medicine" made 
from the dust picked up from his foot-tracks, ^ and 
in Sierra Leone "many persons, even educated persons 
in Freetown, have a superstition about their hair 
being left about, and take precautions to have it 
disposed of in such a way that nobody can get pos- 
session of it. Strong 'medicines' are supposed to be 
made with human hair, and with this 'medicine,' 
injury can be inflicted on the person from whom the 
hair was obtained." * Other tribes have these same 
regulations; nails and blood falling into the same 
category. ^ The almost precise agreement with South- 
ern Negro practices need scarcely be mentioned. 

The Fetish Color. "Bosman (A.D. 1795) says that 
red was the royal color at Ardra (one home of the 
Vodu-worship), which is the probable reason for its 
being the favorite vodu color in Hayti." « Red 
flannel is almost always used by the American Negro 
in making his "tricks," but we cannot be too certain 
of its African origin. The Ibos say that "if a man 
sees red cloth in a dream, it means that one, either of 
his own immediate household, or near connection will 



1 Rattray, R. S., Ashanti Proverbs, p. 37. 

2 Park, R. E., Magic, Mentality and City Life, Publication American 
Social Society, vol. 8 (1924), p. 111. 

* Cardinal A. W., The Natives of the Northern Territories of the Gold 
Coast, p. 48. 

^ Beatty, K. J., Human Leopards, pp. 56-57. 

6 Milligan, R. H., The Fetish Folk of West Africa, p. 39. Kingsley, M. H., 
Travels in West Africa, p. 447. 

•Ellis, A. B., On Vodu-worship, Popular Science Monthly, vol. 38 (1891), 
p. 659. 



VOODOOISM AND CoNJURATION 221 

shortly die." ^ But in Europe, "red objects, such as 
the houseleek, the mountain ash, rowan-berries, the 
oak with its red bark, animals having a red color, even 
red objects, such as stockings, bands, garters, coats, 
wax tapers, and other things, were sacred to him (Thor 
orDonar). . . . It is probable for the same reason 
that red flannel underwear is worn to prevent rheu- 
matism (by the Negroes as well). Since Donar was the 
god of marriage and since everything red was sacred 
to him, the tying of a piece of red flannel around the 
leg to stop puerperal hemorrhage is a direct survival 
of the old paganism." ~ In Scotland there is also 
the saying: 

Rowan, ash and red thread 
Keep the devils frae their speed. ^ 

Cable mentions the fact that in New Orleans a red 
ribbon was worn about the neck in honor of "Monsieur 
Agoussou," the demon upon whom the voodoos called 
in matters of love, which demon especially loved 
that color. ^ Thus, while it seems more probable that 
the use of red is of African origin in the case of Negroes, 
since the Negro practices the voodoo rites associated in 
Africa with this color, we cannot be absolutely sure 
that there has been no European infiltration. In both 
Europe and Africa it may well be that the red color 
represents what was formerly sacrificial blood offered 
to the fetish in question. 

1 Leonard, A. G., The Lower Niger and Its Tribes, p. 146. 

2 Fogel, E. M., Beliefs and Superstitions of the Pennsylvania Germans, p. 8. 

* Dyer, T. F. T., English Folk-Lore, p. 10. See also, Lean's Collectanea, 
vol. 2, p. 270. 

* Cable, G. W., The Grandissimes, pp. 91-92. 



222 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

Pre-conjural Preparations. For skill in conjuring, a 
person should eat the brains of a snake or rat ^ or else 
devour a live frog. ^ An Alabama informant says, 
"If you want to be a conjurer go out with an old 
conjurer and he will call all the snakes, lizards, frogs, 
scorpions, snails, worms, and rats. You will have to 
lie down and let all these things crawl over you while 
you are looking at them. If you don't jump up you 
can be a conjurer." ^ If a person seeks roots in his 
work, he should get them whenever possible oif of 
high ground — the high always prevails over the low — 
and he should always get them in pairs, male and 
female. They work better that way, but a person 
should pick the proper time so that everything will be 
receptive for his work. Don't try any tricks on a 
bright cloudless day — the earth is all closed up then 
and nothing much can be accomplished. Wait until 
you see some thunderclouds coming up. The earth 
will begin to crack open — opening her mouth to 
receive the rain. The ants will be hurrying to and fro, 
looking for shelter. Then set your charm; everything 
is receptive and your success is assured. * 

^^Layin'' de Trick.'''' Most often, perhaps, the 
"charm" ("trick," "hand," "mojo," ^ "toby," « "gri- 
gri," ^ "hoodoo," or "wanga," » as it is variously called), 
is put in the path or on the ground where the person 
will come into contact with it or at least will step over 



^91, and Owen, Mary A., Voodoo Tales, p. 250. In parts of the French 
Congo, only witches will eat snakes or lizards. See Dennet, R. C, Notes 
on the Folklore oj the Fjort, p. 10. 

2 240. 

* 258. 

6 103, and 189. 

6 54. 

^269. 

« 277. 



VOODOOISM AND CoNJURATION 223 

it. Such a conjure is most advantageously put down 
on a young moon so that it will rise up and grow as 
the moon grows. In other cases the conjure is rolled 
up in a ball and hung from the limb of a tree where the 
person to be conjured will unknowingly brush up 
against it. i "One of the most effective ways in which 
conjuring is supposed to be done is to take a bunch of 
hair or wool, a rabbit's paw, and a chicken gizzard, 
tie them up in a cotton rag, and fasten the bundle to 
some implement which the man to be conjured is in 
the habit of using. As soon as he catches sight of it, 
all of his spirit leaves him, his eyes nearly bulge out of 
their sockets and a cold sweat breaks out all over him. 
Sometimes the trick or spell will last so long that he 
will grow weak and fall away to a mere shadow; of 
course he is then utterly unfit for work, and unless he 
is removed from the scene of his troubles, and his 
mind freed from the belief that he is conjured, he will 
soon die of pure fright." ^ 

Conjure material is sometimes put into a person's 
shoes. "One instance is of a girl who detects her 
father-in-law putting something into her shoes after 
she is supposed to have gone to sleep. She burns the 
shoes and so avoids the trick; the shoes in burning 
make a noise like a bunch of fireworks." Conjures 
may be set in sweet potatoes in the field, among chips 
in the woodshed, in perfume (a bottle of cologne 
presented to a girl by her unsuccessful rival puts her 
eyes out when she smells of it), or even on a carving 
knife, the first one to use it being the one to receive 

1 141. See also, Steiner, R., Braziel Robinso7i Possessed of Two Spirits, 
J. A. F. L., vol. 13 (1900), p. 228. 

2 Hall, J. A., Negro Conjuring and Tricking, J. A. F. L., vol. 10 (1897), 
p. 242. 



224 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

the harm. ^ A girl was given a bunch of roses on her 
wedding day and her attention was called to their 
sweet fragrance. That girl fell dead when going into 
the church. ^ A common method of conjure is by 
means of things put in a person's hat. "To conjure 
by means of a hat, take a toad, dry and powder, and 
put the powder in the hat, or the dried toad may be 
put up all over the door or under the steps. Toads, 
frogs, lizards, etc., must be all procured at night on 
the waste of the moon, as that will insure a wasting 
away of the body." ^ Even the wind may be the 
innocent bearer of "devilment." Find out the direc- 
tion of the wind and stand so that it will blow from you 
towards your enemy. Having dusted your hands with 
powdered devil's shoe string and devil's snuff, hold 
them up so that the wind will blow from them towards 
the man coming towards you. The dust will be carried 
into his eyes and your opponent will be at least tem- 
porarily blinded. My hoodoo friend uses this 
on white men with whom he is afraid to deal more 
roughly. * 

These ways all indicate means of introducing the 
conjure dust without actually getting it into a person's 
vitals. There are myriads of such ways — putting it 
into a person's bed or pillow, or sifting it through the 
roof, but after all the most effective way is to introduce 
it directly into his food or drink. No doubt a great 
deal of sickness due to such methods was the result 
of actual poisoning and not of conjuration at all, but 
to the rural Negro, as to the African, the two are iden- 



* Bacon, A. M., Conjuring and Conjure-Doctors, Southern Workman, 
vol. 25 (1895), pp. 193-94. 

2 Pitkin, Helen, An Angel by Brevet, pp. 71-72. 

' Steiner, R., Observations on the Practice of Conjuring in Georgia, J. A. 
F.L., vol. 14 (1901), p. 179. 

*258. 



VOODOOISM AND CoNJURATION 225 

tical. Often a conjure-doctor will put something in 
the spring or well from which the victim drinks, and 
it is believed that so long as the tricked one drinks 
from that spring he will be slowly but surely poisoned 
to death. ^ More will be said of these and other 
methods, but now we turn to the construction of the 
charms themselves, beginning first with those used 
by the New Orleans voodoos. 

New Orleans Charms. Marie Laveau used to make 
a "gris-gris" consisting of some saffron, salt, gunpowder, 
and pulverized dried dog manure, all wrapped in a 
piece of black paper, so my informant says. This she 
would slip into a person's parlor, bedroom, chair, or 
piano during her work in the house as hair-dresser. 
This charm contained nothing harmful in itself, but 
the superstitious people (white and black) would 
immediately rush to Marie Laveau to get a counter- 
charm for the one she had set herself. ^ An old voodoo 
servant in New Orleans had a charm made of very fine 
silken moss or horsehair arranged in the shape of a 
nest and held together by two crossed herbs (note the 
use of the cross symbol). It was kept sewed in the 
pocket of her dress and was supposed to ward off ill 
luck. Other charms she carried were a rabbit's foot, 
some gold ore, and a magnet. ^ Other voodoos 
would sprinkle salt on a person's doorstep according 
to a regular pattern or design. The damp salt would 
eat some of the varnish off the step and leave a per- 
manent mark which would scare the gullible people 
out of their wits. * Another more complicated charm 

* Hall, J. A., Negro Conjuring and Tricking, J. A. F. L., vol. 10 (1897), 
p. 241. 

2 269. 
3333. 

* 269. 

15 



226 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

is made as follows: "Take a dried one-eyed toad, a 
dried lizard, the little finger of a person who com- 
mitted suicide, the wings of a bat, the eyes of a cat, 
the liver of an owl, and reduce all to a powder. Then 
cut up into fine pieces a lock of hair from a dead 
(natural) child, and mix it with the powder. Make a 
bag of a piece of sheet that has been used as a shroud, 
put all the material into it and put it into the pillow 
of the intended victim when nobody is aware of your 
action. He will pine away and die. A few feathers 
run through the bag will expedite matters." ^ Notice 
here the use of relics of the dead and animals as- 
sociated with death and darkness — objects also treas- 
ured by the Africans as fetishes. Mr. Pelletier, 
Mrs. Cozad, and other people in New Orleans have 
told me that there was nothing mysterious about the 
"gris-gris" of the voodoos, the harm wrought being 
due to the power of suggestion on ignorant minds and 
to the introduction of actual poison, such as bella- 
donna, into the human system. This latter practice 
gradually became so widespread that the health 
authorities had to intervene and finally bring about the 
break-up of the organization. Dana mentions the 
use of sipher-wood and ground ivory-root from Liberia, 
the latter being able to exercise its evil efi"ects by 
touch alone and causing mental as well as physical 
breakdown; button-root; cresses from Angola; and 
Jamestown-weed (Jimson weed or stramonium), 
which is pounded up along with the dried head of a 
snake and the mixture used to produce a mysterious 
and baffling blindness. - Of these I am acquainted 

1 Wiltse, H. M., A Hoodoo Charm, J. A. F. L., vol. 13 (1900), p. 212. 
^ Dana, M., Voodoo, Metropolitan Magazine, vol. 28, pp. 531-32. 



VOODOOISM AND CoNJURATION 227 

only with the use of the Jimson weed, which generally, 
however, is pounded up and used externally as a 
poultice. 

Tapers, Feathers, and Coffins. Another less fearful 
New Orleans spell is worked by four nickels arranged 
In the form of a cross with a candle at the head and 
foot. ^ The lighted candle so often used by the New 
Orleans voodoos, to my mind, is simply a copy of the 
tapers burned by the Catholic population to their 
saints. Such lights seem to be used but little In other 
parts of the South. In this same city "perhaps the 
most peculiar of the many methods adopted to work 
upon the superstitious Negroes was the Insertion by 
apparently supernatural means, of balls of feathers 
Into pillows and beds. I have myself examined these 
creations and marveled at the skill displayed In their 
manufacture. The closest scrutiny failed to reveal 
rip or newly sewed seam in bed or pillow tick, and yet 
the balls were found buried in the mattresses and among 
the soft feathers of pillows. They were made of soft, 
highly colored feathers, brilliant and gaudy, scarlet 
and gold, bright blue and vivid green, and were about 
the size and shape of an orange." ^ One New Orleans 
Negress found some chicken feathers In her pillow 
very carefully shaped up with fine twine to resemble a 
rooster. She had a constant headache until the 
charm was removed. ^ Very common also was the 
practice of putting small black caskets, often with 
skull and crossbones upon the cover, in front of a 
person's door. Sometimes these would contain a 



^ Fortier, Alcee, Customs and Superstitions in Louisiana, J. A. F. L., 
vol. 1 (1888), pp. 138-39. 

^Superstitions of Negroes in New Orleans, J. A. F. L., vol. 5 (1892), p. 331. 
» Pitkin, Helen, An Angel by Brevet, pp. 227-28. 



228 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

small doll with pins run through the heart and with a 
burned-out candle at the head and another at the 
foot, ^ doubtless a case of sympathetic magic, indicating 
a desire that the person be "laid out" according to the 
Catholic rites. 

Other Charms. Cable mentions several voodoo 
charms including a bag containing a quantity of dog's 
and cat's hair, cut fine and mixed with salt and pepper, 
the true use of which required them to be scattered in 
some person's path; a piece of cornstalk scooped out in 
the middle and filled with parings from a nail near the 
knee of a horse, but with the pith left intact at each 
end; 2 and other apparatus consisting for the most 
part of a little pound-cake, some lighted candles' 
ends, and a little syrup of sugar-cane, pins, knitting- 
needles, and a trifle of anisette. ^ Another New 
Orleans good luck charm, which was supposed to be 
wet with rum every Friday (except Good Friday) 
after which the owner was to make the sign of the 
cross, contained about fifty black pepper seeds, spice, 
some glistening mineral like polished lead, but brittle as 
coal, flakes of dried herbs, crumbs of mouldy bread, 
a wisp of hair, the half of a white bean, and a tarnished 
brass medal of St. Benedict. The whole was wrapped 
in rose-colored flannel and was about an inch long and 
not so wide. ^ 

General Characteristics. Passing now to other locali- 
ties, we find in Missouri four degrees of voodoo charms, 
as explained by Miss Owen: 



1 269, and 333. Cable, G. W., The Grandissimes, p. 408. Pitkia, Helen, 
An Angel by Brevet, p. 62. For further variations and the use of a charmed 
loaf of bread, see Ibid., pp. 60-62 and 94-95. 

* Cable, G. W., The Grandissimes, pp. 405-06. 

' Cable, G. W., Creole Slave Songs, Century Magazine, vol. 9 (1886), p. 820. 

* Pitkin, Helen, An Angel by Brevet, pp. 357-560. 



VOODOOISM AND CoNJURATION 229 

Good Tricks. These are the hardest of all to make, and in- 
clude such things as "luck balls," "jacks," and similar combina- 
tions. The formulas here all begin with, "The God before me, 
God behind me, God be with me," and close with, "I ask it 
in the name of the Lord or God." 

Bad Tricks. These are all made in the name of the devil, and 
consist mainly of such things as woolen or fur bags or glass 
bottles filled with harmful material. 

All That Pertains to the Body. This class includes the use of 
nails, hair, teeth, or other parts of the body used in conjuring. 

Commanded Things. This class is comprised of such things as 
sand, or wax from a new beehive — things neither lucky nor un- 
lucky in themselves, but made so by commands. ^ 

In the case of the Mississippi Negroes my objection 
to this classification is that the parts are not mutually 
exclusive, the good and bad tricks covering the whole 
field. Little distinction is made between practices 
addressed to God or the devil, the main contrasts 
being inherent in the ends served by the particular 
trick. From the viewpoint of materials used, those 
charms made of things connected with the body are 
probably the most numerous. In Missouri all that 
pertains to the body may be used in conjuration and in 
the making of charms for good or ill, not always alone, 
but in connection with other things — such parts of the 
body as "nails, teeth, hair, saliva, tears, perspiration, 
dandruff, scabs of sores even, and garments worn next 
to the person" being the most frequently employed. 
A person may be saved or ruined by even so much as 
"one eye-winker or the peeling of one freckle." - 

1 Owen, Mary A., Aviong the Voodoos, I. F. L. C. (1891), p. 232 ff. 

2 Ibid., p. 235. 



230 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

Conjure-halls, Bottles, and Bags. Conjure-balls, 
snakes, and all kinds of reptiles are often found In the 
beds of those who have been conjured. A charm in the 
shape of a small rubber ball may be buried in the 
chimney corner, or poison may be put in a bottle and 
buried in the path (in some cases upside down). 
Poisonous balls of various kinds, filled with roots, 
herbs, and other mixtures are placed in the road. 
These charms have been made personal by the use of 
the hair or tracks of the intended victim and have no 
sffect on any one else. It is better to put the charm in 
the room, hand, bed, or path; but if the charm is potent 
enough, the yard or doorstep will do. "A black 
bottle containing a liquid mixture and nine pins and 
nine needles is a favorite charm. Sometimes the charm 
is a bundle containing salt, pepper and a silver five- 
cent piece; sometimes needles, pins, hairs and snake- 
heads. Again it is salt, red pepper, anvil-dust, and a 
kind of root that conjure-doctors always carry in their 
pockets. In the latter case, one informant tells us 
that 'when putting this down they have a ceremony 
and request the devil to cause this to have the desired 
effect,' specifying in the request the part of the body 
of the victim which it is desired to injure. 
Jelly-fish taken out of the water, dried, powdered, and 
put into small bags, are used for conjuring. In one 
case where search was made for the charm, there was 
found in the ground a tin cup, seven inches deep and 
three in diameter, called 'a conjure cup,' It contained 
little balls, some like lumps of tar, and some like 
sulphur and other different colors. When burned, 
these balls gave 'beautiful blazes'. . . . Bottles 
full of snakes were buried by the doorstep." In other 



VOODOOISM AND CoNJURATION 231 

cases a preserve jar was found In the garden containing 
a snake and several insects in addition to something 
else wrapped up in a cloth. "In one case where there 
was reason to suspect conjuring, a bottle filled with 
roots, stones, and reddish powder was found under 
the doorstep, and in the yard more bottles with beans, 
nails and the same powder. The man burned them 
up and got well." Again a package in the shape of a 
brick was found Inside a tin trunk. "Some of the 
simplest things are salt, pepper, pins, needles, black 
bottles and all kinds of roots." ^ "Have a vial, put 
into it nails, red flannel, and whiskey. Put a cork in 
it, then stick nine pins in the cork. Bury this where 
the one you want to trick walks." ^ One sort of conjure 
used in Alabama "Is a large snuff-bottle, containing 
vinegar and some other liquid ingredients, and another, 
a bag filled with coarse white sand and large red ants." ^ 
In Missouri the people sometimes conjure a person by 
placing keys, nails, or some kind of liquid In a vial 
beneath the steps of the door. * In some of the 
states a spell may be put upon a man by burying a 
"hair-ball" (one of the compact balls of hair often 
found by butchers in the stomachs of cows or oxen) 
under his doorstep. This object (powerful, because 
peculiar) may also be carried about as an amulet to 
protect one from spells. ^ 

Tricken-bags and Luck-balls. "Goofering Is walk- 
ing over a root-bag or goofer-bag. On the outside 

1 Bacon, A. M., Conjuring and Conjure-Dodors, Southern Workman, vol. 
24 (1895), p. 209. 

^ How to Conjure, Southern Workman, vol. 28 (1899), p. 112. 

3 Bergen, F. D., Animal and Plant Lore, M. A. F. L. S., vol. 7 (1899), 
p. 14. 

^203. 

^141. Bergen, F. D., Concerning Negro Sorcery in the United Stales, 
J. A. F. L., vol. 3 (1890), p. 286. 



232 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

is goofer-root, then cloth, then more root, then another 
layer of cloth, and Inside it is the goofer — strands from 
your hair, broken needles and graveyard dirt." One 
goofer-doctor dug up such a bag under a woman's 
step. He told the woman that her hair had been 
goofered and that she should always burn it. He 
sprinkled red pepper and salt on the goofer-bag and 
got rid of the person who set the trick by throwing it 
in a running stream. As the bag was carried away by 
the current so also was the one who set the trick 
carried away. As a matter of fact a woman did leave 
town. ^ Another "tricken-bag," according to Miss 
Owen, is prepared as follows: "Take the wing of a 
jaybird, the jaw of a squirrel, and the fang of a rattle- 
snake and burn them to ashes on any red-hot metal. 
Mix the ashes with a pinch of grave-dust — the grave 
of the old and wicked has most potency in its earth ^ — 
moisten with the blood of a pig-eating sow; make into 
a cake and stick into the cake three feathers of a 
crowing hen wrapped with hair from the head of one 
who wishes an enemy tricked. Put the cake into a 
little bag of new linen or cat-skin. Cat-skin is better 
than linen, but it must be tied with the ravelings from 
a shroud, named for the enemy, and then hidden under 
his house. It will then bring upon him disease, dis- 
grace and sorrow. If a whipporwill's wing is used 
instead of a jay's it will bring death." ^ The same 
author speaks of Aunt Mymee's "luck ball," called 
"Lil Mymee" (probably representing her soul or 
double), which contained a chicken's breastbone, 

1 Smiley, P., Folk-Lore from Va,, S. C, Ga., Ala., and Fla., J. A. F. L., 
vol. 32 (1919), p. 380. 

2 A wicked man in Africa would leave a wicked and dangerous ghost. 

3 Owen, Mary A., Voodoo Tales, p. 174. 



VOODOOISM AND CoNJURATlON 233 

ashes, and rags. The bag was slung under her right 
armpit with no clothes between it and the body to 
absorb its strength. Every once in a while the ball 
was given a drink, i.e. moistened with whiskey — a 
custom still practiced on the Guinea Coast of Africa. ^ 
A more complicated "luck ball" was one made for 
Charley Leland. This contained briefly, four lengths of 
white yarn doubled four times (four is a "luck number"), 
four lengths of white sewing silk folded in the same 
way (to tie your friends to you, while the yarn ties down 
the devils), and with four knots tied in the whole. Four 
such knotted strands were used, giving sixteen knots 
in all. These skeins were made up into a nest, whiskey 
spit upon them to keep the devils from getting through 
the knots, and into it was put tinfoil (representing 
the brightness of the little spirit who was going to be 
in the ball), red clover (representing the hair of the 
owner), and dust (to blind the eyes of his enemies). 
The whole was then wrapped in white yarn, whiskey 
being spit on it all the while. Then the conjurer who 
was making the charm named it "Charley Leland," 
and talked to it, having it answer him back by ven- 
triloquism. The directions were that the ball should 
be wrapped in tinfoil and a little silk rag, and then be 
slung under the right armpit in a linen bag. It must 
be taken out once a week and bathed in whiskey to 
keep its strength from dying. At any time "/i^" 
could be taken out and consulted or be confided in, 
and his approval or disapproval could be felt by the 
owner. ^ Such cases as these show clearly that the 
African idea of the fetish has persisted to some extent, 
at least, in America, the ball being supposed to have 

' Ibid., p. 169 ff. 
» Ibid., pp. 174-79. 



234 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

an Indwelling spirit which needed constant sacrifices 
in the shape of whiskey. While the indwelling spirit 
idea is not so clear-cut in all parts of the South as it is 
with the Missouri Negroes, yet without exception the 
hoodoo-doctors of my acquaintance recommend that 
the "tricks" be soused well with whiskey to bring them 
to their full power. 

Typical Negro ^^Hands.^' I have in my possession a 
"hand" made for me by Ed Murphy in teaching me 
some of the lore of conjuration. In this he placed a 
small sand-burr, which he called "seed of the earth," 
a piece of "Sampson's snakeroot" {Psoralea pedun- 
culata), and a piece of "devils shoe string" (Coronilla 
varia)— the three pieces representing the Father, Son, 
and Holy Ghost. These were wrapped first in a piece 
of black cloth (Father), folded always toward the 
maker ("Hit brings things to yer dat-ahway"), sewed 
with white thread (Son), and finally encased in a bag 
of red flannel (Holy Ghost). The whole should be 
thoroughly wet with whiskey or camphor at regular 
intervals and should be always carried with you. It 
brings things to you — the twine-like roots of "devil's 
shoe string" ties them close, and the folding of the 
cover towards you insures you good luck in gambling. ^ 
One "mojo" worn for good luck by an old Negro cook 
in the Mississippi Delta, included among other things 
such ingredients as a lizard's tail, a rabbit's foot, a 
fish eye, snake skins, a beetle, and a dime with a hole 
in it. 2 Other Negroes use a piece of moss wrapped 
in red flannel ^ or a rusty nail wrapped in the same 

1258. 
2 404. 
"213. 



VOODOOISM AND CoNJURATION 235 

flaming material. ^ Alex Johnson of Georgia was 
conjured in May, 1898. He says: "I felt the first 
pain, hoeing in the field; it struck me in the right foot 
and then in the left, but most in the right foot, then 
ran over my whole body, and rested in my head; I 
went home, and knew I was conjured. I looked for 
the cunjer, found a little bag under my front doorstep, 
containing graveyard dirt, some nightshade (Jimson 
weed) roots, and some devil's snuff; took the bag, and 
dug a hole in the middle of the public road where 
people walked, and buried the bag, and sprinkled red 
pepper and sulphur in my house. I have used fresh 
urine, pepper and salt to rub with; am going to get 
fresh pokeberry root on the next new moon, make a 
tea, and rub with it. My foot feels hot, the cunjer 
put a fire in them; am going to find a new root-doctor, 
and find out who worked on me, have the spell tuk off 
of me, and put on the person who spelled me." 

Other Ingredients. Other conjurers produce suf- 
fering and pain, but not death, by using a conjure-bag 
made of snakeroot, needles, and pins, tied up with 
pieces of hair of the person to be conjured and enclosed 
in a bag of red flannel. ^ Other conjure-bags contain 
such things as lodestone, red-pepper, devil's snuff, 
graveyard dirt, and similar substances, all wrapped in 
red flannel. Sometimes it is sprinkled in the path in- 
stead of being put in a bag. My old Negro mammy 
complained that she saw a jealous fellow-servant 
sprinkling some sort of stuff in her path. She took her 

^ Tillinghast, J. A., The Negro in Africa and America, p. 156. For a 
very complicated Arkansas charm, see Dana, M., Voodoo, Metropolitan 
Magazine, vol. 28 (1908), p. 530. 

^ Steiner, R., Observations on the Practice of Conjuring in Georgia, J. A. 
F. L., vol. 14 (1901), pp. 177, and 179. 



236 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

broom and swept It up before her, taking care not to 
step over it. Thus she was not harmed, but the other 
servant died that same year. ^ Mrs. V. F. Boyle 
writes me of a hoodoo-bag she obtained from a Negro 
criminal who had been sentenced for life: "We opened 
it in the Century office. It was made of red flannel 
and had in it a lock of hair, a pinch of dirt (graveyard, 
or course), the parings, evidently, of a great toe nail, 
a rusty coffin nail, and something which we decided 
must have been the end of a baby's finger. There 
was also a tiny bunch of some kind of feathers, around 
which the hair was wrapped." She states that such 
bags were often used by the Memphis jockeys and 
roustabouts — the jockeys thinking that their horse 
could not possibly win if the bag was stolen. ^ Gon- 
zales tells of a GuUah woman who believed "in the 
potency of the dried frog, the blacksnake skin and the 
kerosene-soaked red flannel rag, as charms to pull a 
bashful wooer up to the scratch, to put a 'spell,' 
resulting in sickness or death, upon an enemy, or for 
any other purpose suggested by the mind of the one 
preparing the charm." ^ A chief of police in a small 
Mississippi town, who has had much experience with 
Negro conjurers, tells me that the bags sold are often 
for the express purpose of driving out all evil spirits. 
Generally the conjure-bag is about the size of an English 
walnut, 4 containing various things but generally hair, 
a mutilated coin of foreign (peculiar) make, and a 
piece of ore. It is nearly always wrapped in two or 

»112. 

242. 

* Gonzales, A. E., The Black Border, p. 91. 

* Generally in Mississippi a pear-shaped bag from one to two inches long 
and half an inch thick. In central Kentucky they range from four to six 
inches in length. See Thomas and Thomas, Kentucky Superstitions, p. 284. 



VOODOOISM AND CoNJURATION 237 

three different colored goods, always has red flannel 
with the goods, and the outer covering is sometimes of 
leather. Frequently these bags are highly scented 
with cheap perfume and are hung on a string from two 
to four inches long, i 

So great is the amount of materials used in con- 
juring that druggists throughout the black South 
report a large sale of such things as snakeroot, sas- 
safras, lodestone, brimstone, asafoetida, resin, and blue- 
stone, to the colored people for the purpose of hoodoo- 
ing. Anvil dust is also greatly valued as conjure- 
material. One educated blacksmith of Columbus, 
Miss., tells me that people are constantly coming into 
his shop to get the black flakes that fall from the hot 
iron when it is pounded, although they always look 
ashamed and give a fictitious reason as to why they 
want it. 2 "Great power is attributed also to a 
chicken's breast-bone. It is commonly believed among 
Negroes that if one be hidden beneath a doorstep with 
appropriate ceremonies, the dweller in the house will 
die." ^ Hair, hairpins, and powder put in front of a 
person's doorsteps will cause sores to break out on 
him. * A most usual method, however, is to get some 
of a person's hair, nails and tracks and sprinkle them 
in the path where he will be sure to step over them. ^ 
I saw one Mississippi Negro boy who was forced to 
run around and around in a circle because some one 
had hoodooed him by means of his tracks. His aunt, 
he says, died from a similar treatment. ^ Scrape some 

1255. 

257. 

'Dana, M., Voodoo, Metropolitan Magazine, vol. 28 (1908), p. 531. 

*267. 

'65. 

•353. 



238 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

"gumelastin" (gum elastic) from a piece of old rubber 
belting, mix these scrapings with some Jimson weed 
seeds, and slip it into a man's food. It will kill him 
before night ^ (Jimson weed is poisonous). Red paint 
(perchance a survival of former blood sacrifice) put 
on the doorsteps will cause sickness. One Negro 
woman got a terrible beating when discovered in an 
act of this sort. ^ One old plantation Negro in Mis- 
sissippi put some red paint on the side of the barn and 
the hands refused to enter to care for the stock, 
thinking it was some sort of "angel paint" that would 
trick them. ^ Ravelings from a hangman's rope are a 
choice ingredient for a hoodoo-bag, * but this is hardly 
of African origin, since the Africans are not much 
given to this form of punishment, and since we find 
parts of the rope by which a man was hanged valued 
as a prosperity-charm in Scotland. ^ In Arkansas 
there are cases of conjuration by putting a lighted 
candle under a person's house, or even by the use of 
such an intangible substance as smoke, « while in 
various parts of the South a person may be harmed by 
securing a piece of his garment and "burying hit 
'g'inst dem." ^ Salt is also very widely used in con- 
jure. Thrown into a person's tracks it will keep him 
from returning; 8 tied into your skirt it will make a 
gossip's teeth ache if she talks evil of you;^ a shoe 
filled with salt and burned will "call luck" to you every 



19L 

2353. 

»137. 
<42. 

^ Gregor, M., Folk-Lore of the Northeast of Scotland, p. 214. 
•341. 

^ 141, and Bergen, F. D., Concerning Negro Sorcery in the United States, 
J. A. F. L., vol. 3 (1890), pp. 285-86. 

*81, and Thomas and Thomas, Kentucky Superstitions, p. 149. 
«Lee, C, Negro Lore from Baltimore, J. A. F. L., vol 5 (1892), p. 111. 



VOODOOISM AND CoNJURATION 239 

time. ^ If you want to go somewhere and your folks 
won't let you, put salt in their shoes. The witches 
will keep them asleep and you can do as you please. ^ 
These salt beliefs seem to be mainly of European ^ 
origin, especially the association of ill luck with the 
spilling of salt. One Negro hoodoo valued the mineral 
because, when put upon a snail (slug), it performed the 
magical feat of turning him to water. ^ 

Conjures Made to Order. It is difficult to generalize 
upon the matter of hoodooing, since the charms are 
seldom made twice in the same manner; the materials 
used and the way of putting them together depending 
almost entirely upon the momentary whim of the 
individual conjurer. Thus a female conjure-doctor 
from Algiers, La., says: "Anything that will arouse the 
curiosity of an ignorant superstitionist can be used as a 
'hand' or 'conjure-bag.' Sometimes I take a small 
piece of lodestone, or at other times a little dirt corked 
up in a bottle, explained to be 'graveyard dirt,' at 
other times the foot of a rabbit, at times a wishbone 
of a chicken, or, if I have time, I just make up a package, 
sewed neatly in a red flannel covering, which they 
buy and pay for with enthusiasm." ^ I have tested 
out this improvised diablerie by suddenly picking out 
random objects, such as corn-root or a bit of mock- 
orange {Madura aurantiaca) wood (things which I 
knew were not generally used in conjuration), and 
asking the conjurer their value. Immediately comes 
the reply: "Cawn-root, hits used fer to draw folks 

^ Pitkin, Helen, An Angel by Brevet, p. 83. 

«341. 

' See Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 135. 

*91. 

5397. 



240 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

to yer, 'caze dey all laks cawn," ^ or "Dat dere mawk- 
o'ange sho' breaks folks up, 'count er hit bein' so hard. 
Slap a han' uv it un'er some married-folks' po'ch an' 
'fo' Gawd hit'll sho' harden dey's hearts 'g'inst one 
'nuther!" ^ Literally anything which in the imagina- 
tion of the conjurer may symbolize peace, happiness, 
solidarity, strife, or any other virtue or vice, or which 
may be used to attract or drive away the powers 
making for good or evil, may be logically used in the 
fabrication of these charms. Some common ma- 
terials in addition to those previously mentioned, are 
fur from a graveyard rabbit's back, red pepper,' 
asafoetida, copperas or bluestone, pine resin, gum 
arable,^ the lining of a chicken's gizzard, powdered 
blue glass, ^ a chicken's spur, ashes, ^ camel's hair 
(obtained from the animal by the possessor of the 
bag), 7 coon- root {Hepatica triloba), tobacco,^ rusty 
nails, briar root, a toad's foot, a snail shell, a rabbit's 
tail ^ or foot; white meal or flour sprinkled in a path; ^ ° 
sulphur, alum, mayapple, clover, ^ ^ lizards, toads, 
ground-dogs, scorpions or snakes, either slipped alive 
into a person's food, or else put there in a powdered 
form (sometimes only the heads are used); a cloth 
containing pins and needles; the victim's own hair 



1394. 

2 258. 

3 150. 
*43. 

6 15. 

* Thomas and Thomas, Kentucky Superstitions, p. 284. 
^ Davis, H. C, Negro Folk-Lore in South Carolina, J. A. F. L., vol. 27 
(1914), p. 247. 

«J. A. F. L., vol. 3 (1890), pp. 282-83. 

9 Jones, C. C, Negro Myths, p. 152. (Cited in J. A. F. L., vol. 3 
(1890), p. 285. ) 

»"Hall, J. A., Negro Conjuring and Tricking, J. A. F. L., vol. 10 (1897), 
p. 241. 

1 ' Dana, M., Voodoo, Metropolitan Magazine, vol. 28 (1908), p. 531. 



VOODOOISM AND CoNJURATION 241 

baked into a cake and fed to him; ^ a splinter and a 
hoodoo-bag knotted with a red rag to the right hind 
leg of a live frog; ^ devil's snuff; an old pipe of a conjure- 
doctor; ^ and a hen's egg with gunpowder stirred into 
the contents. * Even this formidable list is only 
partial; other examples will be given in a later 
connection. 

j4 European Case. Most of these charms seem to 
savor of Africa, but not necessarily so in all cases. 
"It is said in Devonshire that you may give it (the 
ague) to your neighbor by burying under his threshold 
a bag containing the parings of a dead man's nails, 
and some of the hair of his head; your neighbor will be 
afflicted with the ague till the bag is removed."^ 
This indicates the occurrence of similar practices in 
Europe, but the cases are few and it is probable that 
most of the hoodoo charms are African in origin, 
since they are seldom accepted by the illiterate whites 
of the South as are most beliefs of English origin. 



1 Bacon, A. M., Conjuring and Conjure-Doctors, Southern Workman, 
vol. 24 (1895), p. 193 ff. 

^ Pendleton, L., Notes on Negro Folk-Lore and Witchcraft in the South, 
J. A. F. L., vol. 3 (1890), pp. 205-06. 

* Steiner, R., Observations onl the Practice of Conjuring in Georgia, J. A. 
F.L., vol. 14 (1901), p. 177. 

* Bergen, Fanny D., Concerning Negro Sorcery in the United States, J. A. 
F. L., vol. 3 (1890), p. 285 ff. 

* Henderson, W., Folk-Lore of the Northern Counties of England, p. 118. 
16 



CHAPTER IV 

VOODOOISM AND CONJURATION— Continued 

Images. Though the individual conjurers are usually 
psychic nomads when it comes to their particular 
method of making and laying a trick, yet there are 
certain broad fundamentals upon which they are all 
agreed. For instance, all of them would probably 
acknowledge the fact that images may be effectively 
used in hoodoo work, though this is by no means 
saying that they would all prepare their images of 
the same material or use them in precisely the same 
or similar ways. "A colored man got angry with a 
woman and tricked her by the following complicated 
charm: He took some blue cloth and cut out several 
chickens, and sewed them up after filling them with 
some kind of dust and a lot of needles and pins. He 
covered these with feathers so that they looked pre- 
cisely like real chickens, and then sewed them up in his 
victim's bed." ^ Most generally a human image is 
used. A good piece of sympathetic magic is the 
following Mississippi method of disposing of a person 
even when he is absent: On the change of the moon 
take a newspaper and cut it out in the shape of a 
person, naming the image after the man you wish to 
kill. Stick a brass pin in this image working it down 
from head to foot (so as to "bear him down"). 
Then get a small box "sech ez thread comes in" and 

' Bacon, A. M., Conjuring and Conjure-Doctors, Southern Workman, 
vol. 24, p. 194. 



VOODOOISM AND CoNJURATION 243 

lay the man out in It like a man in a coffin. Just as the 
sun is going down, dig a hole in the cemetery and bury 
the box. Your enemy will surely die — "goes down 
wid de sun." Or else you may dispose of him by 
getting some of his old dirty clothes and corking them 
up tightly in a brown jug. Bury this jug in the grave- 
yard on the breast of the grave. In nine days your 
enemy will be dead, but the process may be hastened 
somewhat by burying in the back yard a new half- 
gallon bucket filled with ashes from his grate. ^ In 
rural districts of Georgia reputed witches may lay 
a spell by baking an image of dough representing a 
person, and sticking pins into it, thus causing the 
victim to suffer pain. Such a witch may be disarmed 
"by making her image in dough, tying a string around 
its neck and leaving it to rise. When it is baked she 
is strangled so that she can do no more mischief for 
a year, at the end of which time another bread doll 
may be made to continue the influence." ^ Mrs. 
Boyle tells me of Ellen, her old nurse, who sought 
revenge for some reproaches of Mrs. Boyle's mother 
by making a rag image of her and sticking pins in it, 
"calling over and over again my mothers' name." 
There were two other such images which she had seen. 
"One was of myself, dressed in scraps of one of my 
own dresses, and stuck full of needles. This I was 
warned of by another servant, who said that she was 
afraid to touch it, but that I would find it between my 
mattresses where it was manipulated every morning 
when the mattresses were turned and that I would 



1141. 

2 Moore, Ruby A., Superstitions of Georgia, J . A. F. L., vol. 9 (1896), 
p. 227. 



244 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

never get well until it was destroyed. It was." ^ Not 
infrequently the voodoos would "make a rude image 
of the one on whom the hoodoo is to be cast, modeling 
it of wax or of mud from the mouth of a crayfish's 
hole. This is pierced again and again with a pin or 
with a thorn of honey-locust, while the wizard 
repeats his incantations." 2 Other Negroes use images 
of butter as well as wax or clay. ^ The use of such 
images, however, is as likely to be of European as of 
African origin. "In Devonshire witches and malev- 
olent people still make clay images of those whom they 
intend to hurt, baptize the image with the name of 
the person whom it is meant to represent, and then 
stick it full of pins and burn it. In the former case 
the person is racked with rheumatism in all his limbs; 
in the second he is smitten with raging fever." * In 
Lowland Scotland sorcerers harmed their enemies by 
making waxen images of them and piercing these 
images with pins till their human representatives 
dwindled and died. ^ 

Photographs. The use of photographs resembles 
somewhat the use of images and is probably of 
European origin, photography itself being, of course, 
unknown in Africa. To call your inconstant sweet- 
heart back, turn his photograph upside down for nine 
days. ^ Most common, however, is the idea that a 
photograph hung upside down will cause headache, ' 

142. 

2 Dana, M., Voodoo, Metropolitan Magazine, vol. 28 (1908), pp. 532-33. 

3 38. 

* Henderson, W., Folk-Lore of the Northern Counties of England, p. 192. 

* Simpson, Eva B., Folk-Lore in Lowland Scotland, p. 192. For other 
cases, see Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, pp. 411-12. 

6 82, 141, and 76. 

' 57, and Smiley, P., Folk-Lore from Va., S. C, Ga., Ala., and Fla., J. A. 
F. L., vol. 32 (1919), pp. 380-81. 



VOODOOISM AND CONJURATION 245 

death, ^ or insanity. - Insanity may also be produced 
by putting a person's picture under a leak in the 
roof where the water can drip on it, ^ and death by 
nailing a person's picture on a green tree and shooting 
it for nine mornings, * or by burying the photograph 
in the graveyard ^ — when it fades the person dies. ^ 

Roots. All conjurers would agree that roots and 
herbs constitute worthy materia medica, but a complete 
list of those used by the profession as a whole would 
form a pharmacopoeia in itself. I will simply list a 
few of them shown me by different conjurers ^ in 
our rambles through the woods: 

Cruel Man of the Woods (Poltandra alba) — Wrap roots in 
red flannel. Will harm your enemies if they try to harm you. 

Angel's Turnip {Apocymum androscemifolium) — Wrap in red 
flannel — brings good luck. 

Devil's Shoe String {Coronila varia) — Cut root into small 
pieces, put camphor or whiskey on it and rub on your hands — 
will give you control over any woman. "Dress" inside of hands 
with it and back of hands with devil's snuff", grab your enemy 
by the arm when he comes for you and he will be blinded. Carry 
a bit in your pocket, no snake will bite you; lay a piece in a man's 
path, he will never have any more money (he tried it on a white 
man); use it for a gambling "hand." 

Plant of Peace {AriscEma triphyllum) — Take the leaves, 
rub on hands — will blind enemies. Use to make "hands" to 
bring security and peace — to protect you from enemies. 



1 141, and Southern Workman, vol. 23 (1894), p. 16. Thomas and Thomas, 
Kentucky Superstitions, p. 170. 
271. ■ 
»161. 
*335. 
'^275. 
«267. 
^258, 91, 141, 54, and 48. 



246 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

King of the Woods {Aralia racemosa) — (Three leaves repre- 
senting the Trinity) — Fine for making any sort of conquering 
"hands." Mix with sarsaparilla and coon-root and steep into a 
tea. Will cure almost anything. 

Samson Snakeroot (Psoralea pedunculata) — Chew to soften 
hearts. Use in any hand or trick. Steep into a tea for "cramp- 
ing, lame back, or lost manhood." 

Toadstool {Mushroom) — Cut off the top, dry it, and wet with 
camphor or whiskey. Rub on limbs to cure sprains and rheu- 
matism and to protect from conjuration. 

Grapevine — Hit a man with a piece of grapevine and he will 
lose the use of his limbs. 

Ten Fingers — Get a leaf from this plant and measure the 

middle finger on your left hand with it. Then tear the leaf off, 

wrap it up, and keep it in your pocket. It will give you control 
over any one. 

Blood of Christ — Mix roots with sugar, spice, and blue- 
stone. Wrap (towards yourself) in red flannel. Brings peace 
and safety. 

Other familiar roots in my "medicine-case" are 
"Adam," "Eve," "queen of the valley," "purpose 
of the earth," "bowels of Christ," "shame-weed," 
sarsaparilla, "JImson weed," "black haw," "coon- 
root," sumac, "red shanks," and "smart-weed." 
These may be put together to form Innumerable 
variations. It Is futile to try to list them, but I will 
try to give some representive types In connection with 
other topics. 

Graveyard Dirt. Graveyard dirt Is another "specific" 
of the hoodoo-man. To be most effective It must be 
procured from the very coffin of the dead person on 
the waste of the moon, at midnight, ^ and a silver coin 



'91, and 258. Steiner R., Observations on the Practice oj Conjuring in 
Georgia, J. A. F. L., vol. 14 (1901), p. 178. 



VOODOOISM AND CoNJURATION 247 

should be left on the grave to keep the spirit from 
bothering you ^ — a practice also common in the Ba- 
hamas. Some say that such dirt should be obtained 
the day after burial, but, whether this be true or not, 
the stuff is certainly effectively used as conjure- 
mixture. Rub it on your hands and you can conjure 
a person by shaking hands with him; sprinkle it under 
his house or about his yard and that person becomes 
sleepy and sluggish and gradually wastes away, or 
else he will immediately run away and leave town. ^ 
If he stays, the dirt will harm him for a long time, for it 
gradually sinks down to its former level (that's 
why it is taken from the top of the coffin) making a 
hole in the ground and working on the person all the 
way down. ^ Sprinkled into a person's food it causes 
heavy sickness, ^ but bound on a dog-bite it cures the 
bite and rots every tooth in the dog's head. ^ A clod 
of such dirt heaved at any enemy is more effective than 
the Irishman's brick. « It is a powerful mixture and, 
like fire or money, is used for good or evil. When in 
pain get some of this graveyard dirt from the breast 
of the corpse, cook it with lard, and make into a sort of 
pancake. Sprinkle this with turpentine and bind 
like a mustard plaster to the place that pains you. You 
will surely be cured. ^ This may be true — earth holds 
heat and makes a good poultice, while turpentine has a 
known curative property. On the other hand, you 

1 141, and 91. Parsons, E. C, Folk-Lore of the Sea Islands, S. C, M. A. 
F. L. S., vol. 16 (1923), p. 211. 

2 141, and 91. Steiner, R., Observations on the Practice of Conjuring in 
Georgia, J. A. F. L., vol. 14 (1901), p. 18Q. 

3 141, and 91. Steiner, R., Braziel Robinson Possessed of Two Spirits, 
J. A. F. L., vol. 13 (1901), p. 228. 

* 258. Southern Workman, vol. 28 (1899), p. 112. 

^Southern Workman, vol. 23 (1894), p. 66. Also infoimant 91. 

«203. 

'258. 



248 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

may harm your enemy beyond repair by getting a 
rabbit's tail, scorching it, mixing with red pepper and 
graveyard dirt, and putting it where he will come into 
contact with it. ^ Even as far north as Philadelphia 
it is believed that graveyard dirt may be used in the 
cellar to make a house -haunted. ^ The Mississippi 
slave Negroes would pull up the grave-board from the 
head of the tomb and whittle a few shavings from it, 
letting them fall on the grave itself. These shavings 
were then picked up, together with a little of the grave- 
dirt, boiled in water, and strained. This decoction 
mixed with whiskey and given to an enemy was sure to 
cause his early death by consumption. ^ A very 
widespread belief is that if you put graveyard dirt on 
your feet or into your shoes when the dogs are after 
you they will not be able to follow your track — a belief 
especially held by the slave Negroes at a time when 
bloodhounds were used to trace down fugitives. * 
A New Orleans Negro tells me of what he claims to 
be an actual experience. He had escaped from jail 
and the bloodhounds on his track had chased him 
through the woods until he was almost tired out. 
Suddenly he came upon a little graveyard. An old 
slave had told him of the use of the dirt in this way. 
Digging in the left hand side of the grave he got some 
dirt. Walking backwards he sprinkled this in his 
tracks then turned around and threw the last bit over 
his left shoulder. To his amazement "dem dere 
dawgs stopped daid at de graveyard. Didn' bay no 
more. Turned 'bout an' went on home." ^ 



114L 

2 N. Y. World, Oct. 11, 1884. Quoted in J. A. F. L., vol. 3 (1890), p. 184. 

3 141. 

^273, 286, 394, and 378. Southern Workman, vol. 23 (1894), p. 46, vol. 33 
(1904), p. 52. 
S54. 



VOODOOISM AND CoNJURATION 249 

Another informant recommends a more complicated 
mixture. Take some cow manure, dry it, and mix 
with snuff. Add to this two bottles of turpentine 
and some hairs from the end of a dog's tail. "Dress" 
your feet with this compound and the dogs will never 
follow you. 1 The Negroes generally go barefooted and 
the turpentine might after all be sufficient to throw the 
dogs off the scent. A dog may also be prevented from 
chasing you by putting red pepper in your shoes, ^ 
and graveyard dirt on your person will absolutely keep 
dogs from biting you. ^ While this use of graveyard 
dirt may be of African origin, I am inclined to look to 
European sources because of the fact that it is wide- 
spread — though it is not particularly believed in by the 
whites. I have found no African cases, possibly 
because of incomplete records, but in Scotland, grave- 
mould was thrown in the mill-race to stop the mill- 
wheel, and in Ireland, clay or mould from the graves 
of priests boiled with milk was used in the cure of 
disease — the dirt, of course, being a substitution for 
the corpse itself. ■* 

Reptiles in the Body. The New Orleans voodoos 
today, so I am told, use the snake in the main, only 
to work harm — to put people out of this world. To 
do this they get a poisonous snake and kill him when 
he is straighened out (if you kill him when coiled he 
will bite himself as you strike him and the poison will 
be discharged). Cut off his head with the poison still 
in the fangs, hang the head up in the chimney until it 



1141. 

2 208. 

' 141. Work, M. H., Some Geechee Folk-Lore, Southern Workman, vol. 35 
(1905), p. 635. 

* Gomme, G. L., Ethnology in Folklore, p. 113 ff. 



250 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

is perfectly dry, powder very finely, and slip into a 
person's food or drink. The powder inside the person 
will finally develop into full-grown snakes, which will 
destroy him unless removed. ^ There are European 
cases of reptiles within a person, ^ and while the belief 
is very little found among the white people of the South, 
it is so frequent among the Negroes that it seems more 
than possible that it is mainly of European origin. Such 
may easily be the case — the white belief in witches has 
declined amazingly while the Negroes still hold to the 
idea — and such may also be the case with internal 
reptiles. In spite of the fact that several doctors have 
given the opinion that it would be impossible for reptiles 
to live in the human stomach, yet several reputable 
white people have told me of unfortunate people made 
ghastly sick for months at a time because of accidentally 
swallowing a small snake or lizard while drinking from 
a spring or stream, and of their continued illness until 
the reptile was finally removed, in most cases, alive. ^ 
Possibly the presence of tapeworms and other intes- 
tinal parasites in the South, along with the use of the 
open woods or privy has something to do with the idea 
of snakes in the body, but at any rate the notion is most 
widespread. On the other hand the idea may have 
first arisen through the resemblance of the intestines 
to snakes. 

The central theme is that snake-dust (the dust made 
by pulverizing a dried snake, lizard, frog, or spider) put 
into a person's food or drink will grow to full sized 



154. 

"^ Campbell, J. F., Popular Tales of the West Highlands, vol. ii, pp. 382-84. 
Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 179. 

3 41, and 266. See also, Southern Workman, vol. 25 (1896), p. 16. 



VOODOOISM AND CoN JURATION 251 

reptiles within that person. ^ Variations from this 
theme consist in using only the powdered fangs ^ or fat ' 
of the snake; in shaking the dust upon the person 
through cracks in the ceiling or putting it in his shoes; * 
and by the use of snake's blood (in sweet milk) instead 
of snake-dust. ^ The current Negro belief (probably 
of European origin) « is that horsehair placed in water 
will soon turn to snakes. An extension of the idea is 
that snakes may be put into a person by getting some 
hair from a male horse, chopping it up finely, and giving 
it to the person in milk. ^ In another case the feat was 
accomplished by cooking a "ground-puppy" and 
feeding it to the enemy. ^ In Chestertown, Md., as 
many "ground-puppies" or "ground-dogs" (some com- 
mon species of salamander) as possible are put into a 
wide-mouthed bottle and buried under the threshold 
of the person to be conjured, at the same time making 
crosses with four fingers on the earth above the 
buried bottle. "After a time the 'ground-puppies' 
will burst the containing bottle, and then they will 
find their way into the stomach of the person against 
whom the spell is directed, and kill him." ^ Others 
think the conjurer simply works a spell upon his victim 
and turns his intestines into snakes or lizards or what- 



1 112, 15, 220, Steiner, R., Observations on the Practice of Conjuring in 
Georgia, J. A. F. L., vol. 14 (1901), p. 180. Steiner, R., Braziel Robinson 
Possessed of Two Spirits, J. A. F. L., vol. 13 (1900), p. 228. Bergen, F. D., 
Animal and Plant Lore, M. A. F. L. S., vol. 7 (1899), p. 14. 

2 141. 

M68. 

* 91, and 286. Thomas and Thomas, Kentucky Superstitions, p. 274-75, 
283-84. Pitkin, Helen, An Angel by Brevet, pp. 216-17. 

6 141. 

* Since it is found among the rural whites of Illinois. 86. 
M36. 

^Pitkin, Helen, An Angel by Brevet, pp. 345-46. Bergen, F. D., Animal 
and Plant Lore, M. A. F. L. S., vol. 7 (1899), p. 14. 

* Bergen F. D., Concerning Negro Sorcery in the United Stales, J. A. F. L., 
vol. 3 (1890), p. 286. 



252 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

ever the conjurer wishes. ^ Another conjurer tells me 
that anvil-dust (he calls it "Allerkerchie") is mixed 
with a person's food or put in his hatband. That, in 
his food, will "rot his guts and make snakes inside of 
him," while that, on his hatband, will make him go 
entirely blind. ^ The reptile-dust is the common 
mode, however; and kept in a little vial in my conjure 
collection always won respect and opened wary 
mouths. An educated former slave of Mississippi tells 
me of a certain man who, desiring another man's wife, 
baked a spider, beat it into a powder, and slipped it Into 
the husband's food. The man went absolutely crazy 
and was sent to the insane asylum, where they said 
that some old "antediluvian stuff " had been used 
against him and he could not be helped. Another 
friend of his was tricked by an enemy who gave him a 
powder, made from maggots, crickets, and roaches, in 
a glass of whiskey. He held the glass in his right hand 
and in a short time that hand began to swell. The 
regular doctor could not help him, so one night he 
decided to investigate the matter himself. Great was 
his astonishment, on slitting open the palm of his hand 
with a small knife, to find that the inside of his hand 
"was alive with small black-headed worms." He rushed 
to the conjure-doctor, who told him not to worry 
about this common occurence, and gave him a syrup 
to take. On taking this "the worms came jumping 
out of his flesh like 'skippers' from a piece of rotten 
ham." 3 In a Georgia case a person was conjured by 

U52. 

291. 

3 84. 



VOODOOISM AND CoNJURATION 253 

drinking some whiskey. She went immediately to a 
hoodoo-doctor and this doctor took a frog and a lizard 
out of her. ^ 

Reptilian Complications. "In many cases snakes 
and lizards are seen running up and down under the 
flesh, or are even known to show their heads from the 
sufferer's mouth. One example is given of a woman 
possessed by a lizard that would run up and down her 
throat and holler when she would be a-talking." 
Another case is of a man whose food did him no good. 
The conjure-doctor told him that he had been conjured, 
and that inside of him were a number of small snakes 
which ate up the food as fast as he consumed it. Another 
woman, who had lizards crawling in her body, was obliged 
to eat very often to keep the lizards from eating her. 

This possession by reptiles of various kinds seems 
to be a part in almost every evil wrought by the con- 
jurer. Sometimes when direct evidence of these 
reptiles fails to appear during the life of the patient, 
a post-mortem brings them to light and establishes the 
truth of the doctor's diagnosis. ^ Often the snake or 
lizard shows its presence by running up and down the 
back or arm; ^ a nervous twitching in the arm of one 
Negro was attributed to a snake in that member; * and 
several reputable Negroes have testified to me that 
they have seen snakes come crawling out of the nose, 
mouth, or ears of dying men. ^ A Mississippi chief of 
police tells me, "I recently had a negro woman in the 
city jail who believed that she had been hoodooed by 

167 

^ Bacon, A. M., Conjuring and Conjure-Doctors, Southern Workman, 
vol. 28 (1895), p. 210. 
U5 
4 353. 

« 8, 153, and 286. 



254 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

a conjure-bag artist. She was screaming and hollering, 
and had worked herself into such a high nervous tension 
that it was necessary for me to call a doctor to quiet 
her. She imagined that she had lizards and various 
other things creeping under her skin and flesh. She 
would get down and crawl over the floor and apparently 
was suffering great agony." ^ Another informant tells 
of a case of a woman who was saved by taking a live 
lizard from her mouth, 2 and an educated ex-slave 
testifies that he actually saw such a performance. A 
boarder of his was taken sick suddenly with a terrible 
"griping" in the stomach. Getting the regular doctor 
did her no good, but the conjure-doctor said she had a 
snake in her stomach. Taking a little fresh sweet milk 
in a pan, he had the woman lie down flat on her stomach 
with her mouth over the pan of milk. Very soon a 
small snake about the size of a pencil came creeping out 
of her mouth and crawled into the milk (snakes like 
milk — some of them suck cows). The doctor (a 
woman) caught it and slipped it into a small vial. She 
would not let any one else handle it, but there was no 
chance for deception; although my informant thinks it 
may have been a large "stomach-worm" instead of a 
snake. At any rate the sick person was immediately 
cured. ^ Tea made from snakeroot and silk-root will 
drive out the snakes from the body so conjurers say; ^ 
as will also a tincture made by soaking May-apple root, 
or snakeroot, in whiskey; ^ or else a tea made of "red 
shanks" {Ceanothus Americanus) roots. « It is true 

1 255. 
2 153. 

3 84. 

4 65. 

^ Bergen, F. D., Concerning Negro Sorcery in the United States, J. A. 
F. L., vol. 3, p. 286. 
"258. 



VOODOOISM AND CoNJURATION 255 

that an excess of gastric juice in the stomach will 
produce a gnawing and scratching irritation similar to 
that which a lizard would create, ^ and it may be this 
which leads the snake-fearing Negro to imagine reptiles 
within him. But once he gets this notion into his head 
often nothing will cure him but the pretended 
removal of the "varmint" gnawing at his vitals. There 
are many cases of almost miraculous cures of this sort, 
some of which I will cite in a later connection. 

^'Lockin^ de Bowels.'''' Another common bit of 
Negro conjuration is the "locking of the bowels" by 
plugging some of a person's excreta into a tree. Bore 
a hole in a large tree, insert some of your enemy's 
excreta into the hole and plug it up tightly. Within 
a short time that person will be dead from constipation 
unless the plug is removed. ^ One skeptic tried this 
out on his dog and reports, "I sho' done los' a line 
houn'." 3 Some say the hole should be bored on the 
west side of the tree so that the person will grow 
weaker and weaker each time the sun goes down;-* 
others claim that the feces should be taken up in a 
snail's shell and inserted in a hole on the north side 
of the tree where all the cold winds and frost will 
cause intense pain and cramping to the victim. ^ 
Still others cook the excreta first in an old skillet 
(thus causing fever), put it into a tin snuif-box, force 
the box into the hole in the tree so that a cow or other 
animal will not accidentally knock it out. Treated 
in this way the victim dies an unusually hard and 
painful death. " Another conjurer puts vinegar in 

^ Cabot, R. C, Social Service and the Art of Healing, pp. 162-67. 

M04. 

3 326. 

*54. 

»258. 

«141. 



256 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

with the dejecta and drives a rusty nail in the bung. 
"Ez de vinegah wu'ks so will his guts wu'k, and 
de nail will burn lak hot fier." ^ In most cases 
relief can be obtained only by removing the plug — 
the Georgia Negroes say the tree must be burned 
as well. 2 Often, however, the tree cannot be 
located, and a more eflPective remedy is as follows: 
Get some seed from a green gourd, steep into a tea 
and give the patient a spoonful of this three times 
a day in a silver spoon. Within a short time the 
plug in the tree will pop out under this treatment and 
the man will recover. ^ Even animals, as we have indi- 
cated, may be thus acted upon. One Negro minister 
admits ignorance of conjuration with the exception of 
one item learned as a child. When you see a dog begin- 
ning to defecate, hook your two forefingers together 
and pull hard. The dog will be absolutely unable to 
relieve his natural wants so long as you keep pulling. * 

The ''''Black Cat Bone.'''' A final very common belief 
is that wonders in conjuration may be worked by 
the use of a so-called "black cat bone." Here we 
have a good example of the fact that the very wide- 
spread beliefs are almost all of European origin. 
The black cat is, of course, a European fetish animal, 
though his antiquity apparently dates back to Egyp- 
tian civilization, mummified cats being found in 
many of the tombs. ^ The superstition about the 



19L 

* Steiner, R., Observations on the Practice of Conjuring in Georgia, J. A. F.L., 
vol. 14 (1901), p. 179. 

8 141. 

M03. 

^ Eichler, Lillian, Customs of Mankind, p. 643, and 596. 



VOODOOISM AND CoNJURATION 257 

bone also is found among the Germans of Canada 
where contact with the Negroes has not taken place, 
thus pointing plainly to an European source. ^ In 
New Orleans this bone is obtained by boiling a black 
"boar" (tom) cat until the meat has completely left 
the bones. When this has been done, take the bones 
together with a small mirror and go to some cross- 
roads in the woods wbere no one will see you. Stand 
directly between the forks with your back to the straight 
road holding the mirror up before you so that the road 
behind is reflected. Then hold your mouth open 
and pass the bones, one by one, through it, looking 
into the mirror all the time. When you get to the 
right bone the mirror will become dark — you cannot 
see a thing in it. Don't be afraid; hang on to that 
bone — it is the "black cat bone" and by putting it 
into your mouth you can make yourself invisible at 
will. But the trouble is that a man who does this 
automatically "signs up wid de debbil. He kin hoodoo 
an' do ennything he wants in disyere world, but he 
sho' done tuk his part outer de Kingdom." 2 On the 
Sea Islands the same procedure is used except that 
here the bones are simply held up one by one before 
the mirror and the one that does not show a reflection 
of itself is the proper one. Here it is used to bring 
a person money, ^ as is also often the case with the 
Mississippi Negroes, ^ In still other cases all the 
bones are thrown into running water and the one 

1 Wintemburg, W. J., Items of German-Canadian Folk-Lore, J. A. F. L., 
vol. 12 (1899), p. 49. 

2 54, and 66. 

3 Parsons, E.G., Folk-Lore of the Sea Islands, S. C, M.A. F. L. S., vol. 16 
(1923), p. 209. 

*306. 



17 



258 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

that refuses to sink is the chosen one. ^ Others say 
the cat should be cooked in a graveyard and the 
bones thrown into running water. The one that 
will go upstream is the proper one. ^ In other cases 
the cat is simply put in the oven and cooked until 
the flesh and bones are all consumed. The only 
bone left will be jumping about in the spider, and 
this is the bone that will ward'off evil. ^ In another 
case it is said that, after boiling the flesh from the 
bones, if you pick them up one at a time, when you 
get to the right one the cat will holler. * The Geechee 
witch 5 gets her power by carrying a bone procured in 
this manner, and "I will use my black-cat bone" 
is said to be a common expression of a jealous lover 
to his rival. ^ While the chief power of such a bone 
is that of making a person invisible, ^ it will also 
enable you to marry your choice, ^ will bring you 
good luck all your life, ^ and, in fact, some say, will 
fix you so that you can do anything whatsoever. ^ " 
My brother tells me of watching some Negroes "pinch 
down" a heavily loaded box-car. While the laborers 
were straining away, one of the men was telling them 
how much a black cat bone would expedite matters — 
the car could then be moved with one finger. ^ ^ This 

iQL 

2 36, 360, and 208. 

' 141. Davis, H. C, Negro Folk-Lore in South Carolina, J. A. F. L., vol. 
27 (1914), p. 247 ff. 

4 61. 

^ The English witch was supposed not to sink when thrown in water. 

* Work, M. H., Some Geechee Folk-Lore, Southern Workman., vol. 35 
(1905), pp. 634-35. 

^ 312, and 342. 

8 311, and 391. 

»341. 
i»168. 
1 1 267. 



VOODOOISM AND CoNJURATION 259 

case approaches pointedly the specific practical ends 
of conjuration, and we turn now to a consideration of 
these definite purposes, some of which have already 
been indicated in our discussion of the methods of 
conjuration. 

Practical African Witchcraft. Before considering the 
uses of conjure with the American Negro, It Is well 
to know something of the extent to which African 
religion, especially that section which we would call 
witchcraft, permeates and affects the affairs of daily 
life. Perhaps the most concise way of showing this Is 
simply to list some representative practical applications 
of fetishism. Among other things the West African 
makes use of the supernatural as follows: 

To detect witches and wizards. ^ 

To prevent and cure disease. ^ 

To ward off witchcraft. 

To cause or to prevent rain. 

To protect a house from fire. 

To protect a person from evil spirits. ^ 

To protect property against theft. * 



1 Winterbottom, T., Account of the Natives in the Neighborhood of Sierra 
Leone, vol. i, p. 235. For the nature of these witchcraft ordeals and the 
power given to the witch-doctor in consequence, see Kingsley, M. H., 
West African Studies, pp. 490-91. Kingsley, M. H., Travels in West 
Africa, pp. 464, and 466. Burton, R. F., Wit and Wisdom from West Africa, 
p. 400. 

^ Disease is thought to be due to an evil spirit in the body. Prevention is 
simply keeping this spirit away, while cures by ill-tasting substances, noise, 
evil odors, poultices, heat, suction, massage, and such Uke, are all designed 
to make the body an uncomfortable habitation for the spirit. See Leonard, 
A. G., The Lower Niger and Its Tribes, p. 263. Kingsley, M. H., West 
African Studies, pp. 180-86. Beatty, H. J., Human Leopards, pp. 24-25. 
Milligan, R. H., Fetish Folk of West Africa, p. 223. Tylor, E. B., Primitive 
Culture, vol. 2, p. 148. 

^ Leonard, A. G., The Lower Niger and Its Tribes, p. 265. 

* Cronise and Ward, Cunnie Rabbit, Mr. Spider and the Other Beef, p. 166. 
Ellis, A. B., Ewe-speaking Peoples, p. 92. Basden, G. T., Among the Ibos 
of Nigeria, p. 38. Ellis, G. E., Negro Culture in West Africa, pp. 93-94. 
Ellis, A. B., Tshi-speaking Peoples, pp. 103-04. 



260 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

To protect an individual or village against violence or 

poison. ^ 
To prevent people talking scandal about one. ^ 
To gain riches and honor. ^ 
To gain entry into locked dwellings. 
To cause insanity or blindness. ■* 
To cause sickness or death. ^ 
To collect debts. ^ 
To discover thieves or murderers. "^ 
To punish unknown criminals. ^ 
To give strength to athletes. ^ 
To weaken enemies. ^ " 
To give protection in warfare. ^ ^ 
To give aid and protection in hunting. ^ ^ 
To assist in fishing, journeying, and trading. ^ ^ 
To reserve a place for fishing, feasting, or getting water. ^ * 
To stop a drunkard from drinking. ^ ^ 
To enforce food taboos. ^ ^ 



^Dennett, R. E., Notes on the Folklore of the Fjort, pp. 17-18. Basden, 
G. T., Among the Ibos of Nigeria, p. 220. Glave, E. J., Fetishism in Congo- 
land, Century Magazine, vol. 19 (1891), p. 825. 

2 Ellis, A. B., Tshi-speaking Peoples, pp. 103-04. 

^ Beatty, K. J., Human Leopards, pp. 23-24. 

* Ellis, A. B., Ewe-speaking Peoples, p. 94. 

' Leonard, A. G., The Lower Niger and Its Tribes, pp. 499-500. Kingsley, 
M. H., Travels in West Africa, p. 462. 

* Thomas, N. W., Anthrop. Kept, on Sierra Leone, pt. 1, p. 81. 

^ Le Compte, C. N. de Cardi, Ju-Ju Laws and Customs in the Niger 
Delta, J. A. L, vol. 29 (1899), pp. 51-52. Burton, R. F., Wit and Wisdom 
from West Africa, p. 153. 

8 Chatelain, H., Folk-Tales of Angola, M. A. F. L. S., vol. i (1894), p. 260 
(note 97). 

' Basden, G. T., Among the Ihos of Nigeria, pp. 129-30. 

i<*Koelle, S. M., African Native Literature (Kanuri Proverbs), p. 172. 

^ ' Basden, G. T., Among the Ibos of Nigeria, pp. 203-04. 

^^ Leonard, A. G., The Lower Niger and Its Tribes, pp. 267-68. Koelle, 
S. M., African Native Literature (Kanuri Proverbs), p. 178. Frazer, J. G., 
The Golden Bough, p. 45. 

^* Nassau, R. H., Fetichism in West Africa, p. 173 ff. Kingsley, M. H., 
West African Studies, pp. 135-55. 

1^ Dennett, R. E., Notes on the Folklore of the Fjort, p. 118. 

^* Phillips, R. C., The Lower Congo, A Sociological Study, J. A. I., vol. 17 
(1888), pp. 228-29. 

1 « Milligan, R. H., The Fetish Folk of West Africa, p. 118. Bell, W. C., 
Umbundu Tales, Angola, Southwest Africa, J.A.F. L., vol. 35 (1922), pp. 127-28. 
Kingsley, M. H., West African Studies, p. 108, and 174. Schwab, Bulu 
Folk-Tales, J. A.F. L., vol. 27 (1914), pp. 270-71. 



VOODOOISM AND CoNJURATION 261 

To protect women from violation. ^ 

To detect unfaithful wives. ^ 

To promote fecundity. ^ 

To produce sterility in an enemy. * 

To cause a woman to bear twins. ^ 

To aid in childbirth. ^ 

To keep children healthy. ^ 

To win a person's love. ^ 

To create or dissolve brotherhood. ' 

To bind oaths or covenants. ^^ 

To break such oaths. ^ ^ 

These cases bear out Miss Kingsiey's statement 
that with the West African, "charms are made for 
every occupation and desire in life — loving, hating, 
buying, selling, fishing, planting, traveling, hunting, 
etc., and although they are usually in the form of 
things filled with a mixture in which the spirit nestles, 
yet there are other kinds; for example, a great love 
charm is made of the water in which the lover has 
washed, and this, mingled with the drink of the loved 
one, is held to soften the hardest heart. Human eye- 
balls, particularly of white men, are a great charm" ^ - 
(possibly because they are often regarded as the site of 



^ Ellis, G., E., Negro Culture in West Africa, p. 37. 
^ Ibid., p. 122, and Beatty, K. J., Human Leopards, p. 25. 
3 Chatelain, H., African Folk-Life, J. A. F. L., vol. 10 (1897), p. 24. 
^Talbot, D. A., Woman's Mysteries of a Primitive People, p. 173. Car- 
dinal, A. W., The Natives of the Northern Territories of the Gold Coast, p. 48. 

* Le Compte, C. N. de Cardi, Ju-Ju Laws and Customs in the Niger 
Delta, J. A. /., vol. 29 (1899), p. 56 ff. (In the Niger Delta both mother 
and twins are put to death). 

6 Ellis, A. B., Tshi-speaking Peoples, pp. 222-23. 

^ Kingsley, M. H., West African Studies, p. 113, and Ellis, A. B., Yor- 
uba-speaking Peoples, p. 113. 

* Kingsley, M. H., Travels in West Africa, pp. 448-49. 

^ Burton, R. F., Wit and Wisdom from West Africa, p. 360, and 399. 
^"Nassau, R. H., Where Animals Talk, p. 242. Beatty, K. J., Human 
Leopards, pp. 25-26, and Ellis, A. B., Tshi-speaking Peoples, p. 197. 
^^ Beatty, K. J., Human Leopards, p. 25. 
1 2 Kingsley, M. H., Travels in West Africa, pp. 448-49. (Italics my own). 



262 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

the soul and can look out for dangers). In the Niger 
Delta medicines are prepared to cause or to prevent 
rain, to protect a house or person from fire, to prevent 
a dying man from losing his speech in the case of sudden 
and unexpected death, to prevent the spells of witch- 
craft, to prevent women from becoming barren and to 
protect those who are pregnant, and to protect a person 
from evil spirits or spirits of the dead. ^ " . . . 
For the needs of life, day by day, with its routine of 
occupations, whose outgoings and incomings are known 
and expected, the Bantu fetish worshiper depends on 
his regular fetish charms." He "keeps these amulets 
and mixed medicines hanging on the wall of his room 
or hidden in one of his boxes. But he gives them no 
regular reverence or worship, no sacrifice or prayer, 
until such times as their services are needed. He 
knows that the utilized actual spirits (or at least their 
influence), each in its specific material object, is safely 
ensconced and is only waiting the needs of its owner to 
be called into action." 2 

Where Ghosts Are Real. In the case of these West 
African folk, "religion is not with them as with civilized 
peoples, a matter outside one's daily life; it is a subject 
which affects and influences in some degree almost every 
action of their daily life, and which is closely inter- 
woven with all of their habits, customs, and modes of 
thought." 3 It is hard for us to conceive of the actu- 
ality of this spirit environment to the native. An 
African, talking around a bush fire or in a village 
palaver house, will often turn around and say, " 'You 

1 Leonard, A. G., The, Lower Niger and Its Tribes, p. 265. 

2 Nassau, R. H., Fetichism in West Africa, p. 173 ff. 
* Ellis, A. B., Tshi-speaking Peoples, p. 9. 



VOODOOISM AND CoNJURATION 263 

remember that, mother!' to the ghost that to him was 
there." ^ In the gold-producing districts, as for 
instance, at Essaman in Warsaw, the gold is believed 
to be brought up from the bowels of the earth by a 
local deity, who thus rewards his people for their 
worship and for the offerings made to him. Owing to 
the crude methods of mining it is not infrequent that 
people are buried alive by the falling earth. In such 
cases no attempt is made to rescue the buried men, for 
it is thought that the deity is claiming them to help 
bring up gold from the depths below. Gold-digging 
is limited to three months in the year to give the god 
plenty of time to bring up more gold. Should the 
supply prove scanty, two or three slaves are sacrificed 
to the god to propitiate him and to provide him with 
assistants. ^ "To the African there is perhaps no gap 
between the conception of spirit and matter, animate or 
inanimate. It is all an affair of grade — not of essential 
difference in essence. . . . You will see him 
before starting out to hunt or fight, rubbing medicine 
into his weapons to strengthen the spirits within them, 
talking to them all the while.'''' ^ In Sierra Leone bread 
is rubbed on a cutlass before farming, so that the 
children may not wound themselves. ^ Because of 
sickness and deaths, the natives will change the location 
of their villages, running away" from the malevolent 
spirits ^ just as they would run from actual enemies, and 
in one of their folk-tales we have a case of a man flogging 
a shot to make it go and kill a deer. ^ One traveler in the 

1 Kingsley, M. H., West African Studies, p. 63. 
"^ Ellis, A. B., Tshi-speaking Peoples, pp. 69-70. 
3 Kingsley, M. H., West African Studies, pp. 129-30. 

* Thomas, N. W., Anthrop. Rept. on Sierra Leone, pt. 1, p. 52. 

* Nassau, R. H., Where Animals Talk, p. 192. 

« Ellis, G. E., Negro Culture in West Africa, p. 189. 



264 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

Congo had little success in shooting for a day or so. 
The natives wanted him to stick the gun barrel in the 
fire to drive out the Moloki (evil spirit) which was 
keeping the gun from performing Its usual duty. ^ 
Cases such as these ^ show an acceptance of a real 
spirit environment amazing to more civilized peoples. 
Since this imaginary environment extends everywhere 
it plays a part In all aifairs of life. Holding this in 
mind, let us now consider the practical uses of con- 
juration with the American Negroes. 

Negro Love Charms. One of the great ends sought In 
the case of these Southern Negroes Is to win the fickle 
heart of man or woman and to hold It once It is won. 
A reputable Negro physician Informs me that very 
frequently he Is urged to extend his medical practice 
and to make a "hand" to bring back a wandering wife 
or to soften a flinty heart. •'' On the counter of one drug 
store, operated by white people, but located In the 
heart of the Negro district of New Orleans, I saw a 
big can labeled LOVE POWDERS. The owner 
was suspicious and could not be prevailed upon to tell 
me what It contained, but from the talk of the Negroes 
in the locality, I gathered that courtship, after all, was 
not purely a matter of pretty words and flowers. In 
fact, very often the unwilling object of the heart's 
desire may be won over by these "good love powders" 
obtained from the drug store ^ or provided by the 



^ Glave, E. J., Fetishism in Congo Land, Ceinury Magazine, vol. 19 {1S91), 
p. 834. 

2 See also, Jones, T. J., Education in Africa, p. 124. Leonard, A. G., 
The Lower Niger and Its Tribes, pp. 255-56. Bosman, W., Description of 
the Coast of Guinea, p. 135. Marshall, Sir J., On the Natives of the Gold 
Coast, J. A. /., vol. 16 (1887), p. 182. 

3 167. 

* 15, and 35. 



VOODOOISM AND CoNJURATION 265 

lioodoo-doctor. ^ Mrs. Pitkin mentions such powder 
as being made into a cake, though its power wears 
off after ten years. Vinmoin (a root obtained at 
the drug store) rubbed on any part of the persons' 
body will also win his love. - She also tells me of her 
husband, who owns a chain of drug stores in New 
Orleans, having daily requests for love powder, male 
(pink) and female (white) to be used to make such cakes. 
On her trip to Africa she noticed much vervein (lemon 
verbena) growing around the doorstones, particularly 
in the streets of the Dancing Women in Biskara. There 
it is used to attract lovers just as the New Orleans 
Negroes make a tisane of this basilique to sprinkle their 
sidewalks for the same purpose. In the New Orleans 
voodoo performances, if love be the text of the cere- 
monies, blue candles, a bride doll, and apples are the 
chief things used. ^ Love powders were mentioned in 
the old English chap-books, indicating a European 
origin. ^ A bit more complex is the frog charm. Kill 
a frog, dry him thoroughly in the sun (or put him in an 
ant's bed) until the flesh is all removed from the bones. 
Among the bones you will find one that looks like a 
fish-hook, another like a fish scale. To win the desired 
person, hook the bone looking like a fish-hook in her 
garments when the girl (or man) is not looking. She will 
immediately develop a strong liking for you. In case 
her extreme devotion proves too irksome, flip the bone 
looking like a fish scale at her as she walks away. Her 
love for you will immediately disappear. ^ A New 

1171. 

2 Pitkin, Helen, An Angel by Brevet, pp. 218-22. 

3 277. 

* Ashton, J., Chap-Books of the Eighteenth Century, p. 83. 
^ 170. See also, Smiley, P., Folk-Lore from Va., S. C, Ga., Ala., and 
Fla., J. A. F. L., vol. 32 (1919), p. 380. 



266 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

Orleans conjurer suggests getting some hair from the 
"mole" of the woman's head and some from her private 
parts. When you are sleeping with her, slip out of bed 
and, unobserved, place the hair in a crack in the wall 
or floor near the bed. As long as it remains there your 
wife will never leave you. ^ Ed Murphy suggests the 
chewing of "heart's root" to soften a person's heart, 
either in making trades or in courting, ^ while Frank 
Dickerson thinks "shame-weed" (the sensitive plant 
— a species of vetch) root Is better. Chew this latter, 
spit it on your hands and shake hands with the person 
whom you want to win. ^ Or prick your finger (the 
third finger on your left hand) * with a pin, take some 
of the blood and write your name and your sweet- 
heart's name on a piece of paper. Draw a heart around 
the names and bury the paper under your doorstep. 
Your absent lover will return to you at once. ^ Else, 
simply rub lizard dust on your lover's head. ^ Or, if 
you like, you may win a person's affections by giving 
him wine in which your nail trimmings have been 
soaked. ^ 

Winning and Holding. Hair and tracks are often 
used. Get as many hairs from the girl's head as she is 
years old, and carry them in the upper left vest pocket; 
or pick up some dirt from her foot track, mix it with the 
dirt from your own, tie in a piece of red flannel, and 
wet with the juice from a red onion. Carry this in 
your left vest pocket, and she will surely be yours. » 

1 54. 

2 258. 

3 9L 
*9. 
*79. 

* Pitkin, Helen, An Angel by Brevet, p. 84. 

'38. 

« 141, and Southern Workman, vol. 24 (1895), p. 78. 



VOODOOISM AND CoNJURATION 267 

Simpler still is to take up the girl's tracks, put them in 
your sock, and bury it under your doorstep;^ or you 
may wear a little of her hair in your shoe for a day or so 
and then take it and bury it in the same manner, ^ or 
simply bury six strands of your lover's hair beneath 
your door, ^ To bring a man and woman together, 
get some hair from the head of each, take this into the 
woods and look for a young sapling that grows up in a 
fork. Take your axe, split the tree a little at the fork, 
and put the hair into the split place. When the wood 
grows back over the hairs the two will be eternally 
united. * Girls sometimes win an indisposed lover by 
putting his tracks under their bed, and make things 
hot for an undesirable suitor by putting his tracks in 
an ant-bed. ^ Again you may put some of your blood 
on candy and give it to the girl to eat. « In Charleston, 
S. C, the girl wears a piece of beef under her arm for 
two days, then squeezes the juice out of it into a bottle 
of alcohol which Is sprinkled upon the man's coat. ' 
If you feel that your wife (or woman) is about to leave 
you, get one of her old menstrual bandages and wear 
it for a "toby" (hand) for a long time. Then sew it 
into the waistband of your trousers and wear those 
trousers often. She cannot leave you if you do this. » 
Other items used in making love charms are the skin 
of a "copper-belly" moccasin wrapped around a smoke- 
dried toad to which two rusty horseshoe nails have 



136. 

235. 

3 192. 
<54. 
«168. 
• 170. 

^Smiley, P., Folk-Lore from Va., S. C, Ala., Ga., and Fla., J. A. F. L., 
vol. 32 (1919), p. 380. 
854. 



268 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

been added; ^ a cake made of amaranthe seeds and 
pounded new wheat; and a white dove's heart swal- 
lowed raw with the point downward. ^ 

''^Shaming Yo^ Fairer.^'' "Shame-weed," besides 
being "chawed" to soften hearts, is used in other ways 
to shame a recalcitrant "fairer." ^ The roots dried, 
powdered, and sprinkled in the woman's path will make 
her ashamed of what she is doing. Better than plain 
powdered root, however, is the root mixed with "snail- 
dust" (dried and powdered snail) and "snail-water" 
(the secretion from a snail when sprinkled with salt). 
When a man approaches her she "closes up" like a 
sensitive plant or leaves him like a snail going into its 
shell. * Pound together a silver dime, some steel dust 
-and graveyard dirt. Let the mixture sit for three days, 
then tie it up in a red flannel bag and carry it in your 
pocket. Put three small files under your "woman's" 
porch or walk — and then be absolutely unconcerned 
with her. Go out a lot at night — ignore her. No 
matter how much she has been "runnin' 'round" she 
will be ashamed of herself and come back to you. Your 
■charm has tied her to the house and gives her new 
interest in you. ^ A scared Negro at home told me of 
how he saw Ed Murphy stop a man on the street and 
tell him that he was downcast because his wife would 
not talk to him nor take money. The man admitted 
that this was true. Ed Murphy took a five-dollar 
bill from the man, handed it back to him, and told him 



1 Gonzales, A. E., The Black Border, p. 93. 

2 Bergen, F. D., Animal and Plant Lore, M. A. F. L. S., vol. 7 (1899), 
pp. 77-78. Seealso, Dana, M., Voodoo, MetropolitanMagazine,\ol.2S (1908), 
p. 534. 

' This term is used along with "rider" in the sense of "woman" or sweet- 
iieart and is doubtless a corruption of the English "fairest." 
*9L 
•54. 



VOODOOISM AND CoNJURATION 269 

to offer it to his wife. She took it, began to talk, and 
they were reconciled. ^ "Devil's shoe string" mixed 
with "snail-water," tracks from a woman's right foot, 
gunpowder, and brimstone, and "planted" around the 
house will keep any woman at home. ^ 

Home-breaking. Sometimes it happens that a person 
of evil intentions desires to break up a man and his 
wife. To do this he should get some tracks of the man 
and wife, taking them up while the ground is damp. 
Roll this damp earth up in a brown paper sack, putting 
some whiskers from a cat and dog along with it. Then 
tie up the sack and let it stand until the earth is dry. 
Throw the whole into the fire and the couple can no 
more get along together than cats and dogs. ^ In 
another country district in Mississippi the same effect 
was produced by simply putting dog's hair in the tracks 
of the man and cat's hair in the tracks of the woman. 
In this case a cure was secured by digging up the tracks 
and hair and burning the latter. "The spell of 'picked- 
up tracks' can be destroyed only by fire." * Another 
hoodoo-doctor of Mississippi states the case to me a 
little more elaborately. You should take up the 
woman's tracks on a piece of paper. Sprinkle dog 
bristles on it, telling the dog to bite it; cat bristles, 
telling the cat to scratch it; gunpowder, telling the 
powder to flash it; sulphur, telling it to smoke it; and 
lodestone, telling it to carry it. Fold it from sunrise 
to sunset (east to west) and throw it over your right 
shoulder into running water, telling them to go. This 

» 153. 

291. 

"141. 

* Moore, Ruby A., Superstitions of Georgia, J. A. F. L., vol. 9 (1896)> 
pp. 227-28. 



270 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

will surely break up any union, no matter of how long 
standing. ^ The same effect may be produced more 
simply by burying a file under the step, 2 or by throwing 
dried toads' feet in behind the couple when they walk 
off from you. ^ Other Negroes wish to be able to slip 
off from their wives at night without being detected 
and go to Ed Murphy for "hands" whereby this feat 
may be accomplished. * 

'^Good-by, Enemy.'''' Although this "sneak-away- 
conjure" is not so common, the tricks whereby an 
enemy may be driven off are very widespread. One 
unique way of doing this is to take a dried snail shell 
("a great mystery") and scoop up some dirt from a 
man's tracks, scooping from heel to toe. Then plug up 
the mouth of the shell containing the dirt with cotton, 
and wet the edges with whiskey. To make him leave 
and to cause him ill luck in all he undertakes, bury the 
shell on the bank of a running stream, with the mouth 
of the shell pointing down-stream. If, on the other 
hand, you wish him to follow you, scoop up his track 
from toe to heel, plug it up in the same fashion with 
cotton, and carry it with you always. You will have 
to be careful though — if the man appears to sicken 
(you have his spirit penned up in the shell) loosen the 
cotton a little at the edges so that he can get air. ^ 
Still a simpler method of making him follow you is to 
tie up some of his tracks, hair, or nails, in a red flannel 
bag and carry them with you. ^ 

A more common method of driving off an enemy is 
to twist some of his hair (or a rabbit's tail in case you 

iliL 

^ How to Conjure, Southern Workman, vol. 28 (1899), p. 112. 

U41. 

* 306. 

5 258. 

•65. 



VOODOOISM AND CoNJURATION 271 

cannot get hair) ^ around a ten-penny nail and start 
it into a tree. Every morning tap the nail a little 
further into the tree until by the ninth morning it is 
driven all of the way in. By this time the enemy will 
have departed. ^ Some say this procedure will run a 
person crazy, ^ as will also putting a strand of his hair 
in a bottle of whiskey, * or wearing his hair in your 
shoes. ^ You may paralyze your enemy and keep him 
from walking if you wish, by tying up his tracks in a 
cloth and putting it over your door. ^ 

Running Water, Running Men. Most common of 
all is the use of running water to make running men. 
Some simply suggest throwing a person's tracks into 
running water, ^ (first putting them in a burnt cow's 
horn), 8 but most of the charms are more complicated. 
One conjurer tells me to get one of the man's old shoes 
and to tack a piece of new board on the bottom of the 
sole. Cut off the lower quill of two buzzard feathers, 
telescope these quills together, shove them inside the 
shoe, down to the toe and pack in thoroughly with cotton. 
Throw this shoe into running water, coming away with- 
out looking at it. Your enemy will leave. ^ Many are 
the charms of a similar sort where running water is 
used to drive people oif or to run them crazy. I was 
crossing over on the ferry from New Orleans to Algiers 
this summer with a hoodoo-doctor, when he showed me 
a small photograph of a Negro man, crumpled it up, and 

1141. 

2 91. 

3 275. 
* 267. 
^79. 

6 111. 

'135, 238, and 341. 

8 335. 

»141. 



272 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

threw it into the current. He said that man was his 
enemy, but that he was safe now — the enemy would 
have to keep moving away so long as his picture was car- 
ried down stream by the current. Some put the person's 
hair in the gill of a fish which is then returned to the 
stream. As the fish swims, the person wanders. ^ 
Others simply spit in the river if the current is running 
opposite to the direction in which the enemy lives. ^ A 
further twentieth century application of the moving 
motif consists of impelling a person to move by tying 
one of his stockings to a freight train. ^ Track-taking 
is possibly the most common — one lady whose tracks 
had been thrown in running water walked until 
she died. * A neat modification is to take dust only 
from the heel of the track, leaving the rest undisturbed. 
The person so treated will walk with a staggering gait 
as if his heel was actually injured. ^ 

Many are the devices for getting rid of a person — 
either by making him move or by shoving him off into 
the Great Beyond. If you never wish to see a person 
again, sprinkle red pepper in his tracks, ^ or sweep the 
room immediately after that person has gone, ^ or throw 
salt after the person. * To make a person leave, put 
black pepper on your stove; ^ to make him die, bury 
some of his dirty clothes, ^ " or put some of his hair in a 
hollow tree. ^ ^ 



1247. 

2 405. 

3 252. 
*6l. 
*175. 
«405. 
M75. 

* Pitkin, Helen, An Angel by Brevet, p. 180. 

"265. 
'•'34L 
"364. 



VOODOOISM AND CoNJURATION 273 

Calling the Absent. Conjure Is a "bringer" as well 
as a "sender." To bring your wife home, get some 
dried "devil's shoe string," some dust from her right 
foot track, and a piece cut from the hollow of her right 
stocking. Mix these together and "plant" them near 
your house. She will surely come home no matter who 
is "tricking her away." ^ A New Orleans "doctor" 
says to get a strip of red flannel about a foot long and 
three inches wide together with nine ^ new needles. 
Name the flannel after the absent person — you must 
he very deeply in earnest. Fold the flannel three times 
towards yourself, so that half of it is folded, saying with 
each fold, "Come (fold) on (fold) home (fold)" (or words 
to similar effect). Then turn the other end toward your- 
self and make three more folds : "Papa (fold) wants (fold) 
you (fold)." Then stick the nine needles in the cloth 
in the shape of a cross, working each one towards your- 
self and sticking each three times through the fabric, say- 
ing with each shove such phrases as: "Ma (stick) ry 
(stick) Smith (stick). Won't (stick) you (stick) come? 
(stick) etc." After you have done this get some "Fast- 
luck" and "Jockey Club" from the drug store and 
sprinkle on the flannel every morning for nine mornings, 
thinking earnestly of that person's return all the while. 
We know but little about the efl^ects of mental telepathy, 
but the hoodoo-man swears that by that time she will 
have returned. ^ Ed Murphy also says this will work, 
but suggests as a simpler method that a person urinate 
on a piece of red flannel, rub it thoroughly on his hands 
and sit down immediately and write the absent one to 
come home. "She is sho' bound ter come." * 



191. 

* Note the frequent occurrence of "nine" as a conjure number. 
»54. 

«258. 

18 



274 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

Insanity Charms. Insanity is closely connected with 
conjuration, the queerness of the symptoms giving 
rise to the belief that some one has "fixed" the per- 
son. One way of producing this Insanity is by the 
use of running water. Take up a person's track, 
put It on a piece of paper with cat's and dog's hair 
on one side and nine grains of pepper on the other. 
Sprinkle gunpowder and brimstone on this and 
wrap It up from east to west. Put it in a gourd, cork 
tightly and throw into running water. Your enemy 
will surely go crazy at sunrise. ^ Hattie Harris says to 
put the tracks into the gourd with two buzzard feathers 
and to throw it Into running water at midnight. ^ Some 
say " hair combings" nailed to a tree will give you a 
headache, ^ but a hair slipped Into a slit In a tree and the 
bark allowed to grow over It will run a person crazy 
forever, * as will also a hair from the mole of the head 
tied around a new ten-penny nail which is to be burled 
head down, point up, under the doorstep. ^ I cannot 
give the principles In this case, but a white man, so the 
Negro hoodoo tells me, hired him to get rid of an enemy, 
another white man. The conjure-doctor put three new 
nails and some quicksilver In the path where the victim 
would pass, and plugged up in a tree some of the wet 
dirt where that person had urinated. The conjurer 
also rubbed "AUerkerchle" « on his hands, so that any 

191. 

2 141. 

'Cross, Tom P., Folk-Lore from the Southern Slates, J. A. F. L., vol. 22 
(19Q9), p. 253. 

4 141. Owen, Mary A., Among the Voodoos, I. F. L. C. (1891), p. 244. 

*Steiner, R., Observations on the Practice of Conjuring in Georgia, J. A. 
F. L., vol. 14 (1901), p. 180. 

' None of the druggists had ever heard of this term, but from the descrip- 
tion I think it was ether or chloroform. Frank Dickerson says it is anvil- 
dust. 



VOODOOISM AND CoNJURATION 275 

personal enemies would be blinded if they came for him 
and he would be able to escape them. I do know in 
this case that the white man against whom the conjure 
was set did become insane and is now in the asylum. 
This should be sufficient answer to those who say white 
people cannot be conjured. ^ I know of other cases — 
there are plenty of them in New Orleans, as I discov- 
ered 2 — where white people have sought the aid of con- 
jure-doctors. Even the Negroes say that any one who 
believes in conjuring can be conjured — a truly enlight- 
ened Negro is as immune as an educated white man, 
while the illiterate white is as susceptible if he believes 
in it, but at an advantage inasmuch as conjuration does 
not fall so often in the class of white superstitions. 
Perhaps the best explanation of the immunity of the 
whites is that given me by a Negro "jokester" not long 
ago when he facetiously remarked: "Some folks sez 
a white man caint be cunjered 'caze he's got a spechul 
blue vein in his arm, but I thinks hit's 'caze he's got a 
blue-steel spechul in his hip pocket." 

'^Dustin' Hats.''' Another common end of con- 
juration is to produce blindness. This is usually 
accomplished by "dusting hats," i.e., putting a special 
powder on a man's hatband so that it will run down 
into his eyes when he perspires. Possibly the pre- 
caution of blowing this powder away has led to the 
Georgia belief that if you put on your hat and don't 
blow in it you will have the headache. ^ Dust from a 
powdered rattlesnake or old rattlesnake "shed" (skin), 
sometimes mixed with dirt from the head of the grave; * 



^Hall, J. A., Negro Conjuring and Tricking, J. A. F. L., vol. 10 (1897), 
p. 243. 

2 See here, Pitkin, Helen, An Angel by Brevet, Cable, G. W., The 
Grandissimes. 

3 274, and 312. 
«141. 



276 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

"devil's snuff;" ^ and similar substances are used, 
and blindness, insanity, or sickness, ^ results. Robert 
Carr of Columbus, Mississippi, is blind in one eye. 
The white doctors can do nothing to help him, but he 
knows it is due to the deviltry of an old man whom he 
caught sifting powder on his hatband just before the 
blindness occurred, Hattie Harris suggests that the 
afflicted person may be immediately cured by an eye- 
wash made of alum, wild honey, and fresh sweet- 
milk. ^ Her method of producing blindness is to use 
frog-dust and salt in the hat. ^ In another case a 
dried and crumbled snake skin is put between the 
leaves of a book so that when the book is opened it 
will fly up into the reader's eyes and blind him. ^ 

Softening Hearts. Root-chewing for various pur- 
poses is widespread; the central theme being to soften 
a person's heart and make him susceptible to your 
pleading. In slavery times the master's angry passions 
were soothed and the slave escaped a whipping in 
this manner. ^ One Negro tells me of a horse trader 
being approached by chewing a root and spitting a 
circle around him, ^ and another got a raise of pay 
from his employer by the same method and the help 
of another root placed in his shoe. ^ The house of an 
old conjurer of my acquaintance was about to be sold 
for taxes. This Negro plugged up his mouth with 



1258. 

2 306. 

3 141. 

* Steiner, R., Observations on the Practice of Conjuring in Georgia, J. A- 
F. L., vol. 14 (1901), p. 177. Also informant 141. 

'35. 

' Southern Workman, vol. 23 (1894), p. 46. For a somewhat similar prac- 
tice in Africa, see Ellis, A. B., Tshi-speaking Peoples, pp. 103-04. 

'397. 

"54. 



VOODOOISM AND CoNJURATION 277 

some sort of root (often Samson snakeroot is used) ^ 
and went to a white man to get help. At first the 
white man refused, but the old Negro kept spitting at 
his feet until he finally relented and paid his taxes for 
him. 2 Some recommend chewing gum whenever you 
are trading in order to secure a bargain. ^ 

Job-getters. Such roots are often used along with 
"job-getting hands," though often the "hand" alone 
Is sufficient. One Negro saw a conjurer make such a 
"hand" by sewing up anvil-dust and needles in red 
flannel. The Negro, who had lost his job, was also 
given a root to chew and was charged 31-50. ^ This 
is about the usual fee, for a hand of this kind, although 
I have known fees to be as low as fifty cents and have 
heard of them being as high as ^100. Another hand 
used in getting jobs is made of steel filings sprinkled 
upon lodestone (to draw the person to you) and tied 
up in the customary red flannel. Wear this over 
your heart, look your man straight in the eye, ask him 
for a job, and concentrate upon getting it. He may 
ignore you at first but you are sure to win out in the 
end. ° 

Dodging the Law. The conjure-bag is often "de po' 
man's lawyah" though often the client does not save 
much, since the fees of these talismanic attorneys 
are generally high, one conjurer claiming to have 
secured ^40 from a white man for obtaining the release 
of his brother. ^ Sometimes such releases are secured 
even after the person has been convicted and is in the 

1 Ibid. 

2 153. 

3331. 

*57. 

654. 

«91. 



278 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

"calaboose." ^ An old Negro woman, who was teach- 
ing me something of root-lore, had me dig out some 
splinters from the north side of a large pine tree which 
had been struck by lightning. "When enny of yo' 
folks has trubbr wid de law, Marse Newbell, jes' 
you heat up dese splintahs in er skillet. When dey 
gits good an' hot tech a lighted match to 'em and 
burn 'em to ashes. Put does ashes in a brown papah 
sack. De night 'fo' de trial comes off go outside at 
twelve o'clock and look up at de moon, but doan' say 
nuthin'. Get up early next mawnin', go down to de 
cotehouse 'fo' ennybody gits dere an' sprinkle dem 
ashes in de doorway. All dat comes in will come yo' 
way an' dat-ah law-suit will be torn jes' lak de light- 
nin' tore de tree." ^ Ed Murphy suggests roots of the 
"peace plant" parched and pounded into a fine powder. 
"Dress" yourself with some of this, mix some with a 
little quicksilver, and scatter before the courthouse 
door. You are bound to "come free." ^ 

Talismanic Watchdogs. In Africa charms are widely 
used to protect property, and the same is true in the 
South. "Any house or plantation known to have a 
charm of the proper kind in charge of it, is seldom 
molested by thieves or petty marauders." " If a 
Negro steals watermelons, a snake made of indigo and 
placed at the place where he enters the patch will 
conjure them for him and he will not return. ^ Powder 
or graveyard dirt sprinkled along the fence-rail will 

^306. See also, Dana, M., Voodoo, Metropolitan Magazine, vol. 28 
(1908), pp. 534-35. 

2 141. 

3 258. Much the same thing is true in Africa. See, Beatty, K. J., 
Human Leopards, pp. "Z^-^^l. 

" Tillinghast, J. A., The Negro in Africa and America, p. 55. 
6 213. 



VOODOOISM AND CoNJURATION 279 

accomplish the same thing. ^ "If a Negro finds a coat 
or article of dress lying nicely folded with a stick 
lying on it, he will not touch it for fear of cunjer." 
On one occasion Mr. Steiner could not get the Negroes 
to touch some cotton left in the field and thought 
to be conjured, until he had touched it himself. 2 
True, the reverse is sometimes the case — the conjure- 
demon is as often a thief as a policeman. In my 
home town in Mississippi two Negroes were selling 
hoodoo-bags, and in so doing getting personal in- 
formation regarding their customers — particularly in- 
formation concerning the size and location of their bank 
accounts. At the end of the interview the customer 
was asked to sign his name in order to make the charm 
more effective, the signature was then applied to a 
bogus check, and the superstitious darkeys lost a 
large percentage of their bank deposits. ' 

Circean Detectives. Again the surreptitious conjure 
or "jack" will turn detective and go on the trail of 
thieves or murderers. While the term "jack" is 
commonly used by the Negroes to mean trick or hand, 
strictly speaking, it is a piece of loaded cane or some 
object of a similar sort which is used for divination. I 
have never been able to obtain one from other members 
of the profession, but they all seem to recognize and 
respect a "jack." I improvised one out of an old alumi- 
num salt-cellar with lead in the bottom, arranged so as 
to right itself automatically when overturned. The 
whole was wrapped in newspaper and tied in red flannel 



1141. steiner, R., Superstitions and Beliefs from Central Georgia, 
J.A.F.L., vol. 12 (1899), p. 262. 

^ Steiner, R., Observations on the Practice of Conjuring in Georgia, J. A. 
F. L., vol. 14 (1901), p 178. 

'255. 



280 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

to resemble an egg. When thrown on the ground it was 
supposed to point in the direction of stolen goods or 
towards the guilty person himself. The hoodoos all 
said it would work, (they did not know the insides) 
and it gave me quite a bit of prestige. I also fabri- 
cated some "walking-jacks" — a buckshot placed in a 
small capsule encased in red flannel — which would 
"walk" when put on an inclined surface. I suppose 
the power of these comes from the fact that to the 
ignorant Negro they seem to be alive. One root- 
doctor told me very gravely that I should put them 
on top of a cup of mercury in order to make them 
truer in their predictions. ^ Another "jack" consists of 
a piece of red cloth in the shape of a finger, filled with 
black dirt and coal with a dime in the center. It is 
supposed to guide a person when he is lost, ^ and, hung 
on a string, is supposed to revolve around and around 
if the answer to the question put to it is favorable. ' 
Gne Mississippi slave-owner used a loaded cane to 
detect thieves. This "jack" was supposed to rise up 
and work harm when the guilty man appeared, in 
case the slave did not confess of his own accord. 
Usually the threat was sufficient and the guilty slave 
confessed. * "In slavery times the 'fortune teller' had a 
phial for a jack, filled with roots and water, also sul- 
phur. Had a string tied around the neck of the 
phial. You want to tell if you are going to get a 
whipping. You go to him. He gets his jack, catches 
the string between his thumb and forefinger and uses 
words like this: 



1258. 

2 66. 

3 100. 
«345. 



VOODOOISM AND CoNJURATION 281 

By some Peter, 
By some Paul, 

And by the God that made us all. 

Swearing his jack, then he says to him, 'jack, don't 
tell me no lie, if massa gwine whip John or Jane, 
now tell me, jack.' If jack turns to the right, massa 
was'n' gwine whip John or Jane, if he turns to the left 
■'You sure whipped.' If massa' hadn' gwine made up 
his mind what he would do, jack would stand and 
quiver. If the fortune teller got angry with jack and 
cursed him, jack would jump up and down, then he 
would tell them to come back in the morning and jack 
would tell all about it." ^ I have in my possession a 
gray cocoon, containing a live worm (apparently a 
sort of caddis worm encased in a cocoon of pine needles), 
which Ed Murphy gave me as a choice possession. 
He says it is a live piece of trash and is worth a for- 
tune. The cocoon is placed on a sheet of paper. 
Soon the worm crawls away taking the husk with him — 
the direction he takes indicates the direction of stolen 
goods or of a suspected thief. If he crawls toward 
the west, ordinarily it is a sign of rain or storm, to- 
wards the east, fair weather. ^ Another way of locating 
a thief is to put a rooster under a pot and let all suspects 
touch the pot. When the thief touches it the rooster 
will crow. ^ There is a Negro story of a clever slave- 
owner who tried this out on his slaves, after some 
chickens had been stolen, telling them in advance 
that the rooster would crow when the thief touched 
the upturned pot. He ordered them all to touch the 



^Southern Workman, vol. 23 (1894), p. 46. 
2 258. 

' 91. Lee, C, Some Negro Lore from Baltimore, J. A. F. L., vol. 5 (1892), 
p. 110. 



282 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

pot, but the rooster did not crow. Then he made 
them all show their hands — all had their fingers black- 
ened with soot, with the exception of one man. That 
one was the thief who was afraid to touch the pot, ^ 
In another case two chairs are placed back to back in 
such wise that a sifter resting between them, edge on 
edge, is balanced so lightly that a breath will serve to 
disturb its equilibrium. The diviner (not necessarily 
a hoodoo) stands some distance away from the chair 
and sifter and with lifted hands chants slowly: 

By Saint Peter, by Saint Paul, 
By the Lord who made us all, 
If John Doe did thus and so, 
Turn, sifter, turn and fall. 

If the person is innocent the sifter remains motion- 
less; if an accomplice, it merely trembles; if guilty 
it turns and drops. Negroes have great faith in such 
tests and often confess rather than submit. "Sub- 
stitute a rawhide shield on two upright spears, and a 
Voodoo incantation for the Christianized chant and 
you have the rite as it is practiced today on the Guinea 
Coast." 2 To tell when an absent person is coming 
home, heat a shovel red hot and lay upon it three 
smooth pebbles ("beauty rocks") in a row. If the 
one closest to you cracks first, the person is coming 
home the next day, if the middle one is the first to pop, 
it will be a little longer before he comes, while if the 
farthest from you bursts first, it will be a long time 
before he arrives. ^ 



1288. 

2 Hardy, Sarah M., Negro Superstitions, Lippincott's Monthly Mag- 
azine, vol. xlviii (1891), p. 738. 

3 141. 




MAKING A HAND 



Voodoo ISM and Conjuration 283 

Gambling, Debt-getting, and Other Charms. Many 
and varied are the practical services of conjuration. 
I have spoken before of the "gambHng hand" made by 
Ed Murphy. Another one consists of the heart 
taken from a Hve leather-wing chinch bat and tied to 
your right (card-shuffling hand) wrist where it cannot 
be seen. ^ "Hands" to drive off witches are common ^ — 
being sought from voodoo-doctors even by well edu- 
cated Negroes of Philadelphia. ^ Almost every prac- 
tical exigency of life is met by these charms or spells. 
A conjure friend of mine helped out a white man who 
was in love with a girl at a certain woman's college. 
The man wanted the girl to leave the dormitory in 
order to have an engagement with him. The con- 
jurer put down nine eight-penny nails in the shape of 
a cofhn at the college gate and in a few minutes the 
girl joined her lover. Within a short time they were 
married. ^ Forgetful debtors may be spurred into 
payment by means of these tricks. ^ Dust some nails 
thoroughly with some powdered "shame-weed" (make 
debtor ashamed of not paying), dried wasp stingers 
("sting his mind to moving"), and dirt-dauber's nests 
(make him "itching to see you"), and drive them into a 
locust tree in the shape of a cross (the cross "draws 
from all directions"). Within a very short time your 
debtor will come up and pay you in full. « Another 
conjurer simply drives five eight-penny and four ten- 
penny nails in the form of a cross into a tree in front 

1170. 

2 306. 

^ Dana, M., Voodoo, Metropolitan Magazine, vol. 28 (1908), p. 535. 

^258. 

6 306. 

•91. 



284 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

of the debtor's house. ^ One white collector frightened 
a Negro woman into paying a debt long past due by 
making a double crossmark in her yard with his um- 
brella and spitting into this cross. The woman quickly 
paid him in order to get him to "spoil out the conjure" 
which he did by simply erasing it with the toe of his 
shoe. 2 In the past, whipped slaves could bewitch 
their master so that his wife would feel every cut 
given to them, so that the master would grow weaker 
and weaker and finally die, and so that when he tried 
to whip his slaves none of the blows would touch them. ^ 
"GuUah Jack (one of the leaders in Denmark Vesey's 
Insurrection in South Carolina in 1882) was regarded 
as a sorcerer, and as such, feared by the natives of 
Africa, who believed in witchcraft. He was not only 
considered invulnerable, but that he could make others 
so by his charms (consisting chiefly of a crab's claw to 
be placed in the mouth) ; and that he could and certainly 
would provide all his followers with arms." * 

Discipline and Train-stopping. One voodoo serv- 
ant in New Orleans, so her mistress informs me, 
maintained an absolute discipline over the under 
servants by means of her charms and spells. Now 
that she is dead the fear is gone and it is much harder 
to keep the same servants to their former efficiency. ^ 
"One voodoo doctor in Chicago was a notorious 
•doctor of the cult. He was known as 'Old Man.' 
He had under his absolute control a number of ne- 



1258. 

2 Brannon, P. A., Central Alabama Superstitions, Birmingham (Ala.) 
News, Jan. 18, 1925, p. 15. 

3 Parsons, E. C, Folk-Lore of the Sea Islands, S. C, M. A. F. L. S., vol. 
16 (1923), pp. 61-62. 

* Brawley B., Social History of the American Negro, pp. 135-37. 
6 128. 



VOODOOISM AND CoNJURATION 285 

grasses. These, by his directions, infested a certain 
street as footpads and were the source of much trouble 
to the police, for their belief in voodoo rendered them 
wholly fearless." ^ Last summer a young Negro was 
telling me of a suitor who called to see the daughter of 
a hoodoo-woman. She lived about a mile from the 
station and the boy had to catch the eight o'clock 
train back to town. At eight o'clock he had forgotten 
about leaving until the train blew for the station. 
"You wants ter ketch dat train, doan' you.?" the old 
woman said. "Well doan' bother none, I'll hoi' it 
back twenty minutes." She cast a charm of some 
sort, and sure enough the train pulled In twenty min- 
' utes late, although it had already blown for the station. ^ 
A somewhat similar case is afforded by that old slave, 
"Old Jule," who resisted every eifort to send her 
away by using her power to make the steamboat turn 
around or run backwards all night. ^ A planter 
found a voodoo charm or ouanga (wongah) containing 
three cow-peas and some breast feathers of a barn-yard 
fowl, all folded in cotton cloth and wrapped tightly 
with thread. He proposed to take it to New Orleans, 
but his slaves said, "Marse Ed, ef ye go on d'boat 
wid dat-ah de boat'll sink wl' yer. 'Fore d'lord It 
will.' " ^ 

Other Practical Applications. A cherry tree that 
had never even blossomed before, had to be propped 
up to keep it from breaking with fruit the spring 
after a hoodoo drove five rusty nails into Its heart, 

^Dana, M., Voodoo, Metropolitan Magazine, vol. 28 (19Q8), p. 534. 

2 153. 

^Southern Workman, vol. 26 (1891), p. 37. 

* Cable, G. W., Creole Slave Songs, Century Magazine, vol. 31 (1886), p. 820. 



286 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

and buried something tied up in a rag at its roots. ^ 
The power of snake charming also seems to be quite 
generally attributed to conjure-doctors. "One is told 
of who claimed that he could turn a horse to a cow, 
and kill a man or woman and bring them to life again 
by shaking up his little boxes. He could also whistle 
in the keyhole after the doors were locked and make 
them fly open." ^ In Louisa County, Va., a Negro 
was employed to fire a sawmill engine, but in spite of 
his best efforts something went wrong with the boiler. 
He urged his employer to lend him three dollars to go 
to Spottsylvania County and get a "conjur" doctor to 
give him professional advice as to the trouble. The 
doctor assured him that the engine was certainly • 
tricked and nothing could be done until the boiler was 
thoroughly cleaned, and a mysterious powder inserted 
before the fresh water was poured in. Naturally the 
mill ran well at first, after the boiler was thoroughly 
cleaned, and great was the joy of the fireman, but his 
elation was very short-lived, since the mineral deposits 
in the water caused the same complication as formerly. 
Of course the Negro did not lose faith in the doctor. 
He blamed other things. ^ A white man of my own 
acquaintance took advantage of superstition to get 
rid of some undesirable Negro tenants living too close 
to his residence. Wrapping up some chicken bones 
and sticks in a bit of red flannel he laid the charm on 
their doorstep. Before he even arose the next morning 
the Negroes were packing up their things to depart. ■* 

1 Boyle, Mrs. V. F., Devil Tales, p. 169. 
''Southern Workman, vol. 24 (1895), p. 118. 

3 Earnest, J. B., Jr., The Religious Development of the Negro in Virginia, 
p. 136. 
*70. 



VOODOOISM AND CoNJURATION 287 

One hoodoo set a trick and caused a Negro's cow to 
"lose her cud." A new cud was made to the cow's 
great rehef, by taking "a Httle roun' bone — one what 
fits in a jint ef I kin fin' one — nex' I gets a piece of ole 
greasy dishrag an' kivers hit wid dat, tyin' hit good wid 
a string." ^ 

Preventives of Conjuration. It is a long lane from 
heart-winning to "cow cuds," but in almost every 
practical episode of life along the way conjure is 
operative. Evidently we have here a force, second in 
utility only to West African religion itself, by which 
mankind can (or thinks he can) achieve almost every 
desired end — a force which is closely interwoven with 
his daily life and one which deserves his earnest at- 
tention. But this power, like African religion, is not 
moral, but is capable of indifferently working harm as 
well as benefit. Thus it behooves its troopers to look 
to their armor as well as their arms, and we turn now 
to a consideration of the preventives and cures of 
conjuration. Fortunately this matter of armament is 
simplified in that for the most part one and the same 
substance serves alike for shield and sword. 

Red Flannel and Silver. Red flannel is used for and 
against conjuration and is an almost universal cure 
for "rheumatiz" (rheumatism with the Negroes in- 
cludes almost every strange ache or pain, many of 
which are laid at the door of conjure). A voodoo- 
woman of New Orleans - and an old Negress of Charles- 
ton, S. C, ^ wore red flannel underwear winter and 
summer to prevent any ill luck from conjure or rheu- 



1171. 
2 128. 
»187. 



288 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

matism, while red flannel bands about the wrist are 
very much in evidence throughout the Negro South. 
Perhaps silver, however, is the most universal pre- 
ventive of conjuration. A silver d"me worn about 
the ankle or neck or placed in the shoe will prevent 
any trick from exerting its influence against you ^ — 
this being one of the common charms given by Marie 
Laveau. ^ Some Negroes openly say that such a coin 
keeps off evil spirits, ^ showing the close association of 
conjuration with former fetishism. Frank Dicker- 
son says only a silver ball will do the work (he carries 
one himself), ^ while others suggest a copper coin in 
the shoe, ^ a silver ring about the finger, or a goose- 
quill filled with quicksilver worn below the knee. ^ 
In New Orleans, a voodoo-doctor advised an old 
Negro woman who had been poisoned to file half of a 
silver dime away and take the filings in her food. 
The other half was to be held under her tongue when 
she took food with her friends for fear they would 
poison her. ^ An old Negro cook of ours in Mississippi 
had much the same treatment, which is also common in 
Georgia. ^ Swallow a dime and you will never be 
conjured. ^ One Negro estimates that about half the 
Negroes in Columbus, Miss., use silver coins for 
counter-charms, either tied to their ankles or put in 



1 81, 155, and 288. Thomas and Thomas, Kentucky Superstitions, p. 284 

2 269. 
375. 
*91. 

'Smiley, P., Folk-Lore from Va., S. C, Ga., Ala., and Fla., J. A. F. L., 
vol. 32 (1919), p. 380. 

« Bacon, A. M., Conjuring and Conjure-Dociors, Southern Workman, 
vol. 24 (1895), p. 211. 

7333. 

«Steiner, R., Observations on the Practice of Conjuring in Georgia, J. A. 
F. L., vol. 14 (1901), p. 179. 

•267. 



VOODOOISM AND CoNJURATION 289 

their shoes. ^ Such a dime will stay bright as long 
as all Is well, but if any one is trying to set a trick 
against you, - or if any of your friends are not true 
to you, 3 the silver will at once turn black. 

Silver seems to play a considerable part in Negro 
folk-lore. Ghosts may be killed only with silver 
bullets, 4 and the spirit may be kept in the grave by 
screwing the cofhn lid down with silver screws. ^ In 
one Sea Island folk-tale, where a woman had unknow- 
ingly married the devil and gone with him to hell, she 
sees her mother rise from the grave and turn to a silver 
knife and her father to a silver dish. ^ In one old 
spiritual, "Lean on the Lord's Side," there is, in reference 
to Daniel, one line, "De silver spade to dig his grave," ^ 
all of which cases show silver as a fetish metal, an 
association which seems, oflFhand, to be more European 
than African. No doubt the unusual shiny appearance 
of the metal is the peculiarity which first gave it 
this fetish quality. 

Pepper, Salt, and Frizzly Chickens. Red pepper is 
another effective and widespread charm for making 
and breaking hoodoo, combining sharpness of taste 
with the fetish color. Red pepper in the shoes, « 
(some say put in the heel of the shoe) ^ or hung over 
the door ^ " is a sure counter-charm. In one case an 



1141. 

»13, 65, and 400. 

3 289. 

^306. 

M05. 

« Parsons, E. C, Folk-Lore of the Sea Islands, S. C, M. A. F. L. S., vol. 16 
(1923), p. 46. 

M41. Allen, W. F., Slave Songs of the United States, p. 100. 

*112, and 141. Steiner, R., Observations on the Practice of Conjuring in 
Georgia, J. A. F. L., vol. 14 (1901), p. 179. 

* Thomas and Thomas, Kentucky Superstitions, p. 284. 
loSl. 

19 



290 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

epidemic of sneezing at a Negro ball was traced to 
red pepper In one of the dancer's shoes. ^ Possibly it 
Is also this fear of conjure which is at the basis of the 
notion that red pepper put Into new shoes will keep 
them from hurting the feet. ^ A red onion carried in 
the left hand Is also used at times to prevent con- 
juration and diseases. ^ Salt scattered about the 
house is also good. ^ This mineral should be the 
first thing taken Into a new house; the salt box should 
be set on the kitchen table (poison most likely to be set 
there), and salt should be sprinkled all over the entire 
house. ^ The New Orleans Negroes scrub their steps 
with powdered brick-dust to remove a conjure set 
there. ^ Sucking a ball of alum, ^ rubbing your limbs 
with graveyard dirt, ^ or "planting" graveyard dirt, ^ 
sweeping your house ^ " — all these are equally effective 
in keeping off harm from conjuration. A "frizzly 
chicken" is a veritable hoodoo watchdog, for with one 
of these on the premises a person can rest in peace; 
it will scratch up every trick laid down against its 
owner, ^ ^ but if you find one scratching about your 
house It Is a sure sign you have been conjured. ^ - Some 
suggest black cats for this purpose as well as frizzly 

1 Mrs. S. P. M., Voodooism in Tennessee, Atlantic Monthly, vol. 64 (1899), 
pp. 377-78. 

252. 

' 141. Richardson, A. C, Some Slave Superstitions, Southern Workman, 
vol. 41 (1912), p. 248. 

4 81, 112, and 288. 

6 141. 

^ Pitkin, Helen, An Angel by Brevet, pp. 59-60. 

M.S. 

8 67. 

9 150. 
i''6. 

1^171, 141, and 339. Thomas and Thomas, Kentucky Superstitions, 
p. 284. Cable, G. W., Creole Slave Songs, Century Magazine, vol. 31 (1886), 
p. 821. Richardson, C, Some Slave Superstitions, Southern Workman, vol. 
41 (1912), p. 248. See also, Southern Workman, vol. 24 (1895), p. 78. 
12355. 



VdODOOISM AND CoNJURATION 291 

chickens. ^ In Africa among the Vais if a frizzly 
chicken Hves in a town, the town cannot burn; and it is 
considered good luck to eat such a chicken. ~ The 
Southern Negro says that such a chicken comes out 
of the egg backwards, ^ and is the devil's own — some 
Negroes refuse to kill them at all. * 

Horseshoes and Candles. A horseshoe always brings 
good luck. It keeps off ghosts, witches, or hoodoos. 
A hawk cannot catch a chicken if he sees a horseshoe — 
his legs will cross and he cannot pick the chicken up 
in his claws. ^ More will be said about the horseshoe 
later, but it is often used to protect against conjura- 
tion. ^ The horse itself seems to have a keen sense 
for detecting hoodoo bags. "A small red flannel bag 
filled with pins, small tacks, and other things, and 
buried under a gate-sill made a horse refuse to enter 
the gate. After working over the horse for an hour, 
the driver looked under the sill, found the charm and 
removed it, and the horse walked quietly in at the 
gate." ^ Candles, too, are regarded as a protection 
against spells. "Many a fire has been started by a 
superstitious Negro who has set a lighted candle 
underneath his bed." ^ 

Miscellaneous Preventatives. Cleaning house breaks 
up conjure, ^ as does also a change of home or room. ^ " 



1112. 

2 Ellis, G. E., Negro Culture in West Africa, p. 167. 

3 298. 

* Davis, H. C, Negro Folk-Lore in South Carolina, J. A. F. L., vol. 27 
(1914), p. 245. 

5 171. 

* Bacon, Miss A. M., Conjuring and Conjure-Doctors, Southern Workman, 
vol. 24 (1895), p. 211. 

^ Ibid., p. 209. 

'Dana, M., Voodoo, Metropolitan Magazine, vol. 28 (1908), p. 531. 
' Steiner, R., Superstitions and Beliefs from Central Georgia, J. A. F. L., 
vol. 12 (1899), p. 263. 

* " Thomas and Thomas, Kentucky Superstitions, p. 284. 



292 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

Another Informant suggests a smooth stone worn in 
the shoe as a counter-charm ^ — an object employed 
in other locaHties as well. ^ An old slave means of 
avoiding conjuring in the foot was to make a plus sign 
(the cross again) on the inner sole of the shoe every 
morning before leaving the house. ^ Others suggest 
that a spell be broken by giving up your sweetheart or 
lover, or by smoke-drying a scorpion, pounding it up, 
and drinking the powder with whiskey. ^ A human 
bone procured from a grave by the person himself is a 
sure preventive of hoodoo, ^ and, "in excavating an 
Indian mound on the Savannah River, Georgia, the 
Negroes working, took each a metacarpal bone to 
protect them against cunjer." ^ 

Gradually the preventives became more complicated. 
Wear your underclothes wrongside out — perhaps a 
survival of the time when the single garment worn 
was turned wrongside out to deceive the spirits. Put 
saltpeter in the soles of your shoes or take two needles 
and make a cross with them in the crown of your hat. ' 
A little piece of root from the "peace plant" kept in 
your pocket or worn in the shoe is good, ® as is also the 
root from "Betsy bug's heart," when it is kept in 
your pocket with some silver money. An old conjurer 
showed me some of this — the silver had turned black 
as if it had been scorched, but it is said to keep off 



1141. 

2 Bacon, A. M., Conjuring and Conjure-Doctors, Southern Workman, 
vol. 24 (1895), p. 211. 

2 Richardson, C, Some Slave Superstitions, Southern Workman, vol. 41 
(1912), p. 248. 

* Thomas and Thomas, Kentucky Superstitions, p. 284. 

691. 

*Steiner, R., Observations on the Practice of Conjuring in Georgia, J. A. 
F. L., vol. 14 (1901), p. 178. 
754. 

8 141. 



VOODOOISM AND CONJURATION 293 

every trick in tlie country. ^ Salt, red pepper, and 
saltpeter, mixed together and sewed up in red flannel, 
make a good counter-charm against handicapping. ^ 
*'A bag, made of red flannel, filled with nails, lodestone, 
and hair will ward off the devil" ^ — that is to say, 
one great purpose of "hands" is to protect against 
other "hands." One Negro servant took some hair 
from the children of the household and wrapped it 
about the prongs of a forked stick. She would spit 
on this and twirl it about a couple of times to ward off 
possible harm. * In conclusion, I cite a few random 
practices told me by a Mississippi informant, showing 
the bizarre methods sometimes used. Sprinkle pepper 
on some fresh rabbit brains and eat them raw. You 
will then be as lucky as Brer Rabbit and will be able 
to step over every trick just as he does. Or mix some 
mutton suet with powdered bluestone and quinine. 
Rub this salve on the bottom of your feet every morn- 
ing before you go out and no one can ever harm you 
"because "de lamb am so innocent." Else dry out a 
piece of fresh beef gall in the kitchen. On the first of 
each month cut off a piece about the size of a pea, roll 
it in flour, and swallow. No one can conjure you 
for that month (possibly because the bitter gall drives 
off spirits). If you want to put things in your shoes, 
cut a piece of newspaper exactly to fit the sole of your 
shoe and slip it into place. Sprinkle nine grains of 
red pepper on top of it. No hoodoo can ever harm 
you, because he would first have to count every letter 
on the paper and by that time you would be gone. * 



191. 


254. 


3 405. 


^404. 


^41. 



294 Folk Beliefs of the Southern' Negro 

Diagnosing Conjuration. Conjuration, naturally, is 
susceptible to diagnosis and treatment. Some of the 
symptoms have already been considered. These, of 
course, are observed, but often a person is warned of 
attempted hoodooing in a dream. If you dream about 
a rattlesnake, the conjure-doctor has put something 
down for you; if the snake tries to bite you, but does 
not succeed, you have escaped the trick laid down; 
a rattlesnake indicates dangerous conjure, a little 
chicken snake in a dream, only slight sickness. If the 
snake is curled up ready to strike, the conjure-doctor is 
very angry with you, but if the snake is lying down 
quietly, the conjure-doctor is just thinking of you. ' 
This identification of the snake with the hoodoo- 
doctor (or with an enemy, as is most generally the case) 
may be of significance, since there is at least the pos- 
sibility that while the snake has been dropped from 
actual voodoo worship, yet he still remains as a dream 
symbol of danger. Besides these dream warnings 
"some Negroes are said to be able to find 'hoodoo 
tracks' in ashes of the fire, which show that some kind 
of disaster is coming to the house." ^ 

Finding the "^Hand.^^ The actual diagnosis is made 
by observation of the symptoms or by putting a piece 
of silver into the hand or mouth of the sufferer. If the 
silver turns black there is no doubt that the person 
has been conjured. ^ Since the livelihood of the 
"doctor" depends upon giving treatments, at least 
an attempt is made to convince every patient that he 
is tricked and needs special treatment. Sometimes 



1 Southern Workman, vol. 27 (1898), p. 37. 

2 Thomas and Thomas, Kentucky Superstitions, p. 285. 

3 Bacon, A. M., Conjuring and Conjure-Doctors, Southern Workman, 
vol. 24 (1895), p. 210. 



VOODOOISM AND CONJURATION 295 

the conjure-bag is located and destroyed as a method 
of treatment — a feat not so difficult since it is often 
the conjurer who has himself buried the bag. "An 
old man once was ill with palsy, as they thought, and 
after spending much money employing medical doctors 
and getting no relief, he was advised to change treat- 
ment. He employed a conjurer, who came with his 
'walking boy' (a bottle with a string tied to its neck, 
deeply colored, that you may not see what the doctor 
puts in it — something alive, you may know, which 
enables it to move or even flutter briskly, and this 
makes you certain of whatever fact the doctor is trying 
to impress) in hand, ordered a man to bring a hoe and 
dig where he would order him to, that he might earth 
up the thing that caused the man's illness. After he 
had walked over and around the yard several times 
with the 'boy' suspended, it was thought by many that 
he would not be able to find the buried poison, but as 
they were about to give up their pursuit, the 'boy' 
fluttered and kicked as though he would come out of 
the bottle. Then the doctor ordered the man to dig 
quickly, for the 'trick-bag' was there. On the order 
being obeyed the poison was found. It was rusty 
nails, finger and toe nails, hair and pins sewed up in a 
piece of red flannel." Strange to say, the patient 
soon recovered. ^ "The blood of a fat chicken is 
supposed to be the best possible locator of tricks, 
though a duck, or even a turkey at the season would 
not be despised. The fact that the fowl afterwards 
serves as a savory meal for the impecunious 'doctor' 
may, to some extent influence the choice. The chicken 
is duly killed and some of the blood sprinkled in the 



^ Cures by Conjure-Doclors, Southern Workmari, vol. 28 (1899), p. 315. 



296 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

palm of the left hand of the doctor. With the fore- 
finger of the other hand he strikes the blood, and the 
direction in which the blood spurts is supposed to 
locate the 'trick.' " ^ At other times cards are cut to 
locate the conjure-bottle, and in one case after the 
roots were found the conju re-doctor took a flat-iron and 
drew on a piece of brown paper the image of the person 
who put the roots there. ^ In still another case an 
old man was able to tell a woman exactly the spot in 
her yard where the trick was buried without even 
visiting the place, which was twelve miles away. ^ 

'^Turnin'' de Trick. ''^ If the person desires, the trick 
may now be turned against the person who planted it. 
Ed Murphy did this by laying the trick he had dis- 
covered in a piece of paper, sprinkling quicksilver 
over it, and setting the paper on fire. The trick 
exploded and made a hole in the ground a foot deep 
as it burned up — his enemy soon died. * "It is said 
that if any one tricks you and you discover the trick 
and put that into the fire, you burn your enemy, or if 
you throw it into the running water you drown him." ^ 
One Negro tells me of how his father left the house 
because needles and red flannel had been buried be- 
neath it. "He should have thrown sulphur about the 
house, or, to turn the trick against the one who set 
it, have thrown it into running water." ^ Hattie 



1 Davis, D. W., Conjuration, Southern Workman, vol. 27 (1898), p. 252. 

2 Bacon, A. M., Conjuring and Conjure- Doctors, Southern Workman, 
vol. 24, p. 211, and 225-26. 

3 Ihid., pp. 210-11. 
< 258. 

* Bacon, A. M., Conjuring and Conjure-Doctors, Souther?i Workman, 
vol. 24 (1895), p. 211. (Giving several illustrative cases.) 

6 57. See also, Owen, M. A., Among the Voodoos, I. F. L. C. (1891), 
p. 244. 



VOODOOISM AND CoNJURATION 297 

Harris, with her seemingly Inexhaustible lore, cites 
several means by which a trick may be turned against 
a person, or whereby the original conjurer may be 
discovered. Sweep off a clean place in the back yard 
and on that clear spot leave a rooster and two hens 
under a clothes basket all night. Next morning 
collect their droppings and put them into a bott e of 
water, leaving it in a "careful place" for three days. 
Then go at night and make three crossmarks on the 
door of the person whom you know has tricked you. 
The trick will be turned against him In less than three 
days. If the conjurer Is a woman, a simpler way of 
turning the trick on her Is to get some of her fresh 
menstrual bandages and bury them in the cemetery 
on the breast of a grave. To discover who has 
tricked you get some clay from the outside of one of 
those old-fashioned stick-clay chimneys on the north 
side of a cabin, and beat this clay up with bluestone. 
Every morning for nine mornings take a pinch of 
this mixture and throw It towards the east. The 
person who set the trick will come and tell you that 
some one else had set It, but you will know that person 
to be guilty. To drive the conjurer out of town, make 
up a hickory fire and let It burn down to coals. Take 
up two live coals on a shovel and lay one dead coal 
aside by Itself. "When de roostah crows for mid- 
night (dat is de end uv day) chunk one piece uv de 
live coal (dat is yo'self) towards de souf (towards 
de warm country); throw de odder live coal to de east 
(nutthin' kin git obber fiah); an' throw de daid coal 
(dat's yo' enemy) towards de norf (dat's de col' 
country). 'Fo de week be out he'll be a-leavin' dese 
parts." In case it is not known who set the trick, the 



298 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

guilty one may be forced to confess by the same 
procedure except that the coals are to be thrown at 
ten o'clock instead of midnight — the dead ember to 
the north and all the others to the south. "You turns 
de trick on him dis-a-way an' you's sho boun' ter hear 
f'um him." ^ 

Curing the Conjured. "Hoodooed persons sometimes 
can be cured by a medicine the doctor gives them, 
or by doing some kind of queer things that he tells 
them to do." - A tea, so one informant says, made of 
the lining of the gizzard of a frizzly chicken pounded 
up with "prince's feathers" {Amarantus hypochon- 
driacus, I think) will relieve a trick every time. ^ If 
you can whip the person who hoodooed you with a 
piece of grapevine (Hattie Harris says bring the blood 
with a rattan stick) you'll break the spell. Mrs. Boyle 
writes: "We had a cook who had a lizard in her arm 
and kept a piece of grapevine all summer behind the 
door in the kitchen, 'Layin' for de 'oman who 'dooded 
her.' " ■* Others say you must knock the blood out of 
a hoodoo to prevent him from harming you ^ — the same 
belief is found in Lancashire with reference to witches. « 
"If the pain is in your limbs make a tea or bath of red 
pepper into which put salt and silver money. Rub 
freely and the pain will leave you. If sick otherwise, 
you will have to get a root-doctor, and he will boil 
roots, the names of which he knows, and silver to- 
gether, and the patient must drink freely of this, and 

1141. 

2341. For illustrative cures, see Bacon, A. M., Conjuring and Conjure- 
Doctors, Southern Workman, vol. 24 (1895), p. 210. 

3 141. 

M2. 
6 61. 
* Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 444. 



VOODOOISM AND CONJURATION 299 

he or she will get well. The king root of the forest is 
called 'High John, the Conqueror.' All believers in 
conjurers quake when they see a bit of it in the hands 
of any one," ^ Fish-bone is also good for cunjer when 
swelling has occurred. - A cure, which my informant 
tells me was derived from the Indians, consists of clay 
from around the mouth of a crawfish hole, mixed with 
dirt from a red ant's hole and thoroughly wet with 
whiskey or camphor. To this add water in which 
angle-worms have been boiled. Rub the conjured 
person with this and his trouble will soon vanish. ^ 
"May-butter" * (made on the first day of May), mixed 
with saltpeter and the yolk of an egg, and rolled into 
small pills, will cure any case of poisoning (conjuring). 
Its power lies in the fact that "de cow bites off de top 
an' bottom uv ebby herb dat grows in de woods an' 
in May-butter you gets de bes' uv ebby plant." ^ 
In England it was used as a salve to cure various 
grievances. ^ 

Another informant says to get nine needles, nine 
brass pins, and nine hairs from your own head. Cork 
these up in a bottle with some of your urine and set 
the bottle in the back of your fireplace. "Den earnes'ly 
ax de Lawd ter help yer obbercome dat trick what's 
sot agin' you." When the bottle bursts, all your 
ailments will leave you. "^ Water in which silver has 
been boiled is effective in most cases. ^ In another 



1 Remedies to Cure Conjuration, Southern Workman, vol. 28 (1899), p. 112. 

2 Steiner, R., Observations on the Practice of Conjuring in Georgia, J. A. 
F. L., vol. 14 (1901), p. 179. 

3 141. 

M55. 

6 91. 

* Lean's Collectanea, vol. 1, p. 362. 

M41. 

8 150. 



300 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

case my informant claims the hoodoo-doctor gave a 
conjured woman a little bundle of sticks (roots) with 
the instruction to wet them every morning and pray 
to the sun, asking the Lord to take away the spell. ^ 
Cases like this are rare and may indicate the last rem- 
nants of a former African sun-worship. ^ Again the 
conjure can be relieved only by catching the cat from 
which the conjurer obtained the hairs used in setting 
the trick; 3 while the New Orleans Negroes some- 
times dispose of the little voodoo coffins by throwing 
them, together with fifteen cents, in the middle of the 
river and calling upon "grand Zombi." * 

The Power of Faith. It is hard to convey to the 
modern materialist the intense reality of voodoo 
beliefs to the average illiterate Negro. The astonishing 
thing to those who are not acquainted with the almost 
unbelievable actuality of the spirit environment to 
primitive people is the fact that voodoo so often works. 
Reputable physicians everywhere recognize the power 
of faith in human affairs, and it is due to this over- 
powering belief in conjuration that the hoodoo-doctor 
so often accomplishes what he sets out to do, whether 
it be witching things into, or witching things out of a 
person. Dr. William S. Sadler, Sr., attending surgeon 
in one of Chicago's larger hospitals, writes: "I have 
come to look upon a sincere religious faith as a natural 
cure for nerves. So far as this curative role is con- 
cerned, the creed, faith, or religion is not as important 
as it is that the patient should wholly and sincerely 

1 405. 

2 Ellis, A. B., Ewe-speaking Peoples, pp. 31-71. 

^Atlanta Constitution, Nov. 1885. Quoted in J. A. F. L., vol. 3 (1890), 
pp. 281-82. 

* Pitkin, Helen, An Angel by Brevet, pp. 181-82. 



VOODOOISAI AND CoNjURATION 301 

believe in it. It is the patient's faith that cures, not 
the shade of doctrine to which he has given his spiritual 
allegiance." ^ And, in another place, "there is only 
one method by which any outsider can work a cure, 
and that is through the mind of the (neurotic) patient. 
If he can make the sufferer have faith that he is going 
to be cured he will be cured; and it won't make any 
difference whether it is done by sugar pills, a surgical 
operation, baths, massage, or standing the patient 
on his head in the corner! It is the patient's faith in 
the method, not the method itself that will heal 
him. ... I have achieved many cures in this 
fashion myself." ^ While we do not fully understand 
the psychological processes involved in such cures, 
yet the power of faith is recognized by the medical 
profession, and with the Negroes I am convinced that 
in a great many cases such cures do actually occur. 
From this viewpoint voodoo would seem a sort of 
primitive faith-healing or faith-harming, admirably 
adapted to the needs and temperament of the illiterate 
Negro. The Negroes themselves recognize this fact. 
Many of them have told me, "W'ite folks, hoodoo 
cain't tech you ef you doan' believe in hit, but hit 
sho' lam's de gizzud out uv you ef you does believe." 
Faith in the remedy actually hastens the cure — whether 
the remedy be a scriptural promise or a hoodoo charm — 
and faith in the harmful produces, to a certain extent, 
the harmful, as when a person, believing in the power 
of snake-dust put into his food, begins to feel actual 
symptoms of snakes growing within him. In my own 

1 Sadler, Dr. William S., Ways to Work Out Your Own Mind Cure, Amer 
can Magazine, vol. xcviii (1924), p. 129. 
2 /bid., p; 41. 



302 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

conjuring experience I have seen one old Negress 
definitely helped by a "hand" I gave her to cure 
chills and fevers; another relieved (so she testifies) 
of rheumatism; and a third, a bashful swain, given more 
courage in courtship. In the case of this love charm, 
given to the retiring "Simp," there was a rather in- 
teresting sequel. My brother writes that "Simp" had 
a quarrel with one of the Negro workmen who "cussed 
him." Whereupon "Simp" drew out his red flannel 
love charm and made a crossmark upon his opponent's 
arm, telling him that he was "marked for life." His 
enemy had faith in the power of "sech doin's" and 
left the place running. He has not yet returned. ^ 
Again, the principal of a Mississippi Negro school 
writes me: "Some years ago a young woman on the 
place, I presume she was twenty-one, came in great 
agony and wanted us to release her from a spell she 
supposed her grandfather had thrown over her to 
make her do what he wanted her to do. I argued 
with her, telling her that he could have no power 
over her except as she allowed him to have. That it 
was all in her own mind. But she would not be 
convinced and went away in great agony." * Such 
examples illustrate clearly the power of faith in hoodoo, 
and I will now cite some typical cases obtained from 
my own informants, showing the potency of the 
healing touch of this great physician. 

Reptiles Removed. One of the plantation Negroes 
near Columbus, Mississippi, had a terrific backache. 
The "horse" told him that he had a snake in his back. 
Laying the man on his stomach (so that he could not 

1287. 
220L 



VOODOOISM AND CONJURATION 303 

see him) he made some cuts on his back and pretended 
to extract a small green snake. To this day the Negro 
believes that the snake was taken from him — but, 
best of all, he immediately recovered and went back 
to work. ^ In West Africa, in one case of illness, the 
fetish-doctor made several incisions on the breast of 
the patient, and after a series of howls and incan- 
tations, applied his lips to the incision and sucked out 
of the body of the patient those objects which had been 
witched into him. When such objects as goat's horns, 
roots, pebbles, broken pottery — all entirely out of 
place in a human anatomy — had been removed the 
patient was left in a fair way to recover. ~ A New 
Orleans Negro "ate, ate, ate," all of the time. He had 
reptiles in him — could see them running up and down 
under his skin. He had to eat a lot to keep the snakes 
from eating him, but with all his eating he dwindled 
down to skin and bones. The conjure-doctor had 
him hold out his hand and on the back of it he stuck 
a little "picture-stamp" face downward. Although 
the boy had been able to sleep but little before, he now 
fell into a deep slumber. When he awoke he began to 
eat heartily. The doctor came and pulled the "stamp" 
off the back of his hand, rubbed him a little, and made 
the sign of the cross on his breast. The boy vomited 
up several snakes and from that time on was 
perfectly well. ^ 

A colored minister tells me of a woman who thought 
she had lizards running up and down under her skin. 
"Dar hit goes! Dar hit goes!" she would cry and go 
into a frenzy tearing at her arm or leg. A Negro 

1348. 

2 Milligan, R. H., Fetish Folk of West Africa, p. 223. 

3 54. 



304 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

hoodoo-woman was called in. This woman already 
had a lizard hidden in her sleeve, and, waiting for the 
frenzy to come upon the patient, she gently massaged 
her arm, pretending to work the lizard down the 
patient's arm to the finger-tips. Then she gave a 
sudden fling and "slung de lizzud outer her sleeve 
out on de flo.' " "Dar hit goes! Dar hit goes!" the 
curious onlookers cried, and fled. The woman was 
from that moment cured. ^ A young Alabama doctor 
was treating a woman who thought she had "something 
alive" in her stomach. He met with no success and 
finally turned the matter over to an older doctor who 
understood better the beliefs and prejudices of the 
Negro. This canny doctor gave the patient a large 
dose of powdered ipecac and when she began to vomit, 
let fall a live frog. 'Tt fell with the vomitus, hopping 
out of the receptacle and as she saw it, she began to 
shout, 'Thank God, thank God! I knew it was down 
there!' and heedless of the fact that she was soiling her 
floor, vomiting as she scampered around, she did 
not stop until she had caught the frog, which she 
preserves to this day to show her friends what came 
out of her." She was at once cured. ^ When the 
Negroes of one Mississippi slave-owner were conjured 
and their limbs swelled he advised them to hold their 
limbs in smoke made by burning wool from a black 
sheep. In almost every case they speedily recovered. ^ 
"Uncle Poosa" of Alabama — a slave brought directly 
over from Africa — conjured the other Negroes with 
pieces of snake skins, bits of kinky, wooly hair and 

1103. 

"^ 397. For a similar case in Virginia, see Earnest, J. B., Jr., The 

Religious Development of the Negro in Virginia, p. 137. 
"345. 



VOODOOISM AND CoNJURATION 305 

Other things. While such practices by a native 
African point directly towards an African origin for 
hoodoo, yet in almost every case the would-be evil 
was checkmated by "bread pills" handed out by the 
owner of the slaves. ^ 

Hoodooing for Science. Dr. H. Roger Williams 
of Mobile, Alabama, tells me of an interesting ex- 
perience of his in this connection: "Not many miles 
from Mobile I was called to treat a man who was suf- 
fering from an abscess of the knee, resulting from an 
injury of long standing. Seeing that there was nothing 
to do but hasten suppuration and apply the lance, 
I administered to the patient, giving instruction as to 
what must be done in the interval of my coming back 
on the morrow. When I returned the following morn- 
ing, I found the house crowded with eager, anxious 
watchers. I redressed the limb, noticed the solemn head- 
shaking of doubt expressed by many of those gathered, 
and as I emerged from the house, saw one reverend- 
looking gentleman standing at the corner of the 
house, whom I knew to be none other than a hoodoo- 
doctor, especially invited to come and examine the 
patient by sympathizing friends. I made no comment, 
but knew that it would take at least three or four 
days for me to prove that scientific treatment would 
cure the patient, and the question confronting me 
was, would not that hoodoo-doctor step in at the 
psychological moment, and, opening the abscess by 
pressure, substantiate his claim that the patient's 
Illness was unnatural. 

1407. 



20 



306 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

Something must be done to offset the hoodoo- 
doctor. I set my brow to thinking, and a solution 
was made that afternoon. I had a patient whose 
brother had been given as a Christmas present a 
game called 'Tumlin,' consisting of a board through 
which was a number of holes, together with two 
aluminum capsules in each of which was a lead marble. 
Slanting the board and allowing the capsules to be 
placed at the top, the weight of the lead marble would 
roll to the lower end of the capsule, causing it to roll 
over continuously until it either rolled off the board 
or into one of the holes. I gave the boy the full 
price of his whole toy, just for one of the capsules and 
its contained marble. With the lead marble In the 
capsule I saturated a piece of flannel cloth with some 
oil of mustard, beat up some garlic into a pulp, wrapped 
the garlic in the flannel cloth around the capsule, 
rolled the wet cover In powdered red pepper, and 
securely sewed all In another flannel cover of red. 

When I went to see my country patient the next 
day as usual, the crowd watching entered the sick room 
as soon as I did. Walking straight to the bed of the 
sick man, I threw the 'jack,' for such they are called, 
into the bed. With the momentum from my hand, 
together with the constant motion of the excited 
patient, the jack kept jumping first in one direction, 
then In another, to the consternation of all present. 
By the time I could sit down by the bed and get my 
jack, excitement had reached a high pitch. Without 
a smile, I said to the sick man, 'This is the only living 
jack in this section of the country. It has more power 
and more life than any jack to be found. Keep it 
under your pillow. Three times a day, take it thus. 



VOODOOISM AND CoNJURATION 307 

and rub it between your hands.' Here I, pressing the 
jack between his hands that the odor of the things be- 
neath its coverings could ooze through, ordered him to 
rub his hand across his breast and near the portion of his 
leg where I had the poultice. As a matter of course 
this gave him a smarting sensation everywhere his 
hand touched, and all the crowd stood awed at what 
they beheld. 'Now! said I,' talking to him in confiden- 
tial tones, just loud enough to be heard, 'there are a 
great many people who are going around the country 
trying to sell jacks, but if any of them come here and 
touch your bed, I will know it when I return tomorrow, 
for they will neither be able to tell it or see what 
happened to them!' So saying, I dressed the knee and 
took my departure. From that day, I am told, that 
hoodoo-doctor had never been seen in that neighbor- 
hood. Thus I, having run him off by outdoing him 
with his own tricks, was left free to draw the abscess 
to a head, lance it and get the patient well. After 
the patient had thoroughly recovered, I cut the 
covering from the jack, exposed my little trick that 
had so baffled the 'God-given wisdom' of the hoodoo- 
doctor, and from that day to this, that community 
has no belief in the foolishness of hoodooism." 

Headaches, Bites, and Hoodoo. Ed Murphy, so 
another Negro told me, was passing a house one day 
when a Negro woman called him in to give her some- 
thing for her headache; Ed simply put his two hands 
on her head and her headache immediately vanished. ^ 
I asked Ed about this. He replied that it was ab- 
solutely true. It seems that there are two parallel 
seams (sutures) running broadways of the top of the 

1 153. 



308 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

head — one near the front and one near the back — and 
one seam running lengthwise along the middle of the 
head. Headache Is caused by these seams getting 
too wide. To cure it, simply take the hands and press 
the seams back together, pressing first from front to 
back and then from side to side. This is how he 
cured that woman. ^ A reliable Negro servant at 
home tells me of how her child was bitten by a blue- 
gummed Negro, a bite which is generally considered 
fatal. She went into the hen house and got some 
fresh, green chicken manure which she rubbed on the 
place where her child was bitten. The child was not 
harmed, but every tooth in the blue-gummed Negro's 
head rotted out. ^ In another Mississippi town a 
Negro girl employed by a reputable white family was 
hoodooed by a jealous rival. She lay sick in bed and 
her employer sent a white doctor to see her. The 
doctor reported that he could not do a thing for her 
because she had made herself believe that she was 
going to die, and unless she got the notion out of her 
head she would die. A Negro workman advised her 
employer to consult a hoodoo-doctor in the locality, 
who, he said, could take off any sickness for five dollars. 
On coming to the home, this conjure-doctor looked 
at the girl, lay down in the path and rolled over and 
over on the ground towards the steps, muttering to 
himself. Then he called for a shovel, saying that the 
hoodoo was by the steps. Digging In the earth he 
located a bottle filled with horsehair, old teeth, and 
rags. He took the charm and told the girl she was 
safe and would get her lover back. Next morning the 



1258. 

2342. 



VOODOOISM AND CoNJURATION 309 

sick girl called for a hearty breakfast and was soon at 
work again. ^ In another case, so I am told, a woman 
was sick with fits. The regular doctor did her ab- 
solutely no good. A conjure-doctor came and gave 
her some medicine,, saying that she would soon ask for 
the very food that had poisoned her. She woke up 
next morning and asked for turnip greens and corn 
bread. After giving her some more medicine she got 
completely well. ^ 

Fooled to Life. Finally, there is one remarkable 
case told me by a white plantation owner near Colum- 
bus, Miss., a case which illustrates clearly the results 
of faith in the conjure-bag, and which shows that it is 
the faith, and not the materials making up the conjure- 
bag, which is the important factor. A Negro woman 
on his plantation thought she had been tricked. For 
a long time she had lain in bed without showing any 
improvement, and it seemed that she was about to 
die. As a last resort the planter got some skin from a 
turkey's knee (a scaly covering looking like a snake 
skin) and tied it up in a red flannel bag along with 
some hair and lodestone. He visited the sick woman 
and, without being seen, slipped it into a chink above 
her door. Then he suggested to one of her friends 
that the conjure-bag might be hidden about the room. 
A thorough search brought the bag to light. Great 
was the anger against the supposed conjurer and great 
the rejoicing that the bag had been found. The bag 
(along with $S) was taken to a "horse" to have the 
spell removed. Within three days the woman was 
up and about, and great was her amazement when the 

1171. 
U57. 



310 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

subterfuge was revealed to her about a year later. ^ 
These cases, which could be multiplied almost in- 
definitely, - show clearly the grip of superstition upon 
the Southern Negroes. Conjuration is constantly 
having a hand in the practical affairs of life. Re- 
serving further analysis for a later connection, we 
merely call attention to the fact that the African 
influence greatly predominates over the European, a 
fact quite in keeping with our earlier conclusion that 
dissimilar beliefs either remain intact or are entirely 
eliminated. 



1348. 

2 See, for instance, Smiley, P., Folk-Lorefrom Va., S. C, Ga., Ala., and Fla., 
J. A. F. L., vol. 32, p. 379. Bacon, A. M., Conjuring and Conjure-Dociors, 
Southern Workman, vol. 24 (1895), p. 210. Packwood, Mrs. T. H. C, Cure 
for an Aching Tooth, J. A. F. L., vol. 13 (1900), pp. 66-67. Bergen, F. D., 
Concerning Negro Sorcery in the United States, vol. 3 (1890), p. 282. 
Mrs. S. P. M., Voodooism in Tennessee, Atlantic Monthly, vol. 64 (1899), 
p. 375 ff. McCullough, J. E., The Human Way, p. 59. 



CHAPTER V 

POSITIVE CONTROL-SIGNS 
MINOR CHARMS AND CURES 

Distinction Between Signs and Hoodoo. The length 
of the past two chapters on conjuration should not 
be taken as an index of its relative importance, since 
it was only by dint of patient investigation that the 
facts presented were scraped together. While hoodoo 
is possibly the most picturesque form of Negro oc- 
cultism, yet an exact knowledge of its usages is re- 
stricted to a relatively small number of persons, 
chiefly men, although women are not entirely ex- 
cluded. "Signs," on the other hand, constitute the 
largest body of Negro magical beliefs and number 
among their devotees mainly women, although men 
are by no means counted out. "Signs" are generally 
what a person is thinking of when he speaks of Negro 
superstitions, although the term as used by the Negro 
is somewhat more inclusive than the English term 
"omens," taking in not only omens but various small 
magical practices and taboos as well. The distinction 
between hoodoo and "signs" is not clear-cut even to a 
Negro. Perhaps it lies more in the number of ad- 
herents than in any inherent quality (hoodoo being 
more exclusive), though as a general rule the hoodoo 
charm is more complex. Again, few of the conjura- 
tion spells seem to have exact European parallels, 
while many or most of the signs seem to be of European 
origin. This is quite to be expected, although not 



312 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

generally recognized by those whites who poke fun at 
the Negro because of his so-called "African super- 
stitions," since the Negro women, who are the chief 
bearers of these European beliefs, were the ones most 
closely associated with the household life of the Southern 
planter. Naturally the Negro mother would hand 
down these beliefs to her children, and mainly to her 
girls, who were more closely connected with her in the 
home and to whom the beliefs, dealing largely with 
things connected with household work, were more 
appealing, I once heard a Negro preacher remark: 
"Some folks sez er 'oman haint got no place In de 
secret society; but, Lawd, de 'oman's laundry's on de 
outside er dat man in dere an' her cookin's sho In his 
insides." He might have added also that the woman's 
superstitions were in the head of that man in the 
lodge. 

Positive and Negative Control-signs. In spite of these 
distinctions, however, signs and hoodoos agree in that 
both, for the most part, are beliefs in causal relation- 
ships which modern science shows to be incorrect. 
Some of these signs which allow of human control are 
positive In nature; that is, they indicate methods by 
which an individual may obtain desired results. 
Thus, "If you bite a butterfly's head oflf you will get a 
new dress." Other directed or domesticated signs are 
negative In type. They Indicate unhappy results 
which are to be avoided, constituting in reality a set 
of taboos. 1 An example of this class is: "If you point 
at a grave your finger will rot off" — a statement which 
Is really a warning not to point at graves. Many of 



1 Compare with Frazer's "negative magic." See The Golden Bough, p. 19. 



Positive Control-Signs and Cures 313 

the former type are classed simply as good luck signs, 
while those of the latter are often indicated as bad 
luck. The formula I have derived for all of these 
^'control-signs" is: "If you (or some one else) behave 
in such and such a manner, so and so will happen" — 
a formula applying to conjuration as well. 

Prophetic Signs. Further removed from conjuration 
and for all purposes identical with our English signs 
or omens, are those undomesticated causal relation- 
ships in which the human individual has no free play. 
Thus "if a dead tree falls when the wind is not blowing, 
it is a sign of death." Here man has no control and 
submits helplessly to the decrees of nature. This 
large class of "prophetic signs" includes, mainly, 
omens of good and bad luck, weather signs and dream 
signs, and the general formula is, "If something 
(outside of your control) behaves in such and such a 
manner, so and so will result." In the present chapter 
those causal relationships will be considered which are 
positive in type, subject to human direction, and which 
result in good luck, although I shall from time to time 
break the classification for the sake of assembling 
together all the beliefs clustering around certain specific 
objects. 

Charms and A?nulets. Prominent among these pos- 
itive beliefs is the idea that the wearing of certain 
charms or amulets about the person will produce 
desirable results of all kinds. Of course the "hand" 
or "trick" falls in this class, but, as I have said before, 
its use is restricted to few persons relatively, while 
those other amulets have a widespread distribution. 
A leather strap worn about the wrist, ankle, or waist 



314 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

will give a person strength;^ relieve rheumatism or a 
sprained wrist; ^ or, worn about the neck, prevent 
whooping cough. ^ In Africa, the mother ties a string 
around the waist of her child as a fetish for health. * 
A buckeye carried in the pocket will surely bring one 
good luck, ^ as will also mole-paws worn around the 
neck. ^ The silver coin, so effective in warding off 
conjuration, is equally effective in bringing good luck 
when tied around the leg ^ or worn in a necklace about 
the neck. ^ A silver ring is also efficient, as is also a 
ring made of a horseshoe nail or a ring with Chinese 
writing on it ^ — all of which I have seen worn by 
Mississippi Negroes for this purpose. The red foot 
of a jay bird kept on the person is said to achieve the 
same result. ^ ° Nutmeg worn about the neck is said 
to be very lucky. ^ ^ 

Sometimes the globular head of the femur of a pig 
will be kept for good luck; ^ ^ at other times the little 
ball growing on "he-garlic" is carried with the ad- 
ditional admonition to eat as much garlic as pos- 



1174. 

2.57, and 141. 

3 Bergen, F. D., On the Eastern Shore, J. A. F. L., vol. 2 (1899), p. 296. 

^ Milligan, R. H., The Fetish Folk of West Africa, p. 220. 

* 274, and 288. Southern Workman, vol. 35 (1905), p. 635. (Ohio Whites). 
From time to time we will indicate where Negro beliefs, not definitely 
known to be of Enghsh origin, are found among the whites of Northern Ohio. 
The settlers in this section of Ohio are mainly of New England extraction and 
have had relatively Httle contact with the Negroes, thus giving a strong 
presumption in favor of an European origin, for that particular belief. The 
informant in all cases is Mrs. N. N. Puckett, Willoughby, Ohio. 

6 153. Bergen, F. D., A7ii7nal and Plant Lore, M. A. F. L. S., vol. 7 
(1899), p. 12. 

7 357. 

* 141. Pendleton, L., Notes on Negro Folk-Lore and Witchcraft in the 
South, J. A. F. L., vol. 3 (1890), p. 203. 

9 341. 
1 « Ibid. 
1 1 189. 

»2 141. Bergen, F. D., Animal and Plant Lore, M. A. F. L. S., vol. 7 
(1899), p. 12. 




NUTMEG, RED FLANNEL, AND SILVER 



Positive Control-Signs, and Cures 315 

sible. * Whoever carries the right eye of a wolf fas- 
tened inside his right sleeve remains free from all 
injuries, ^ and an Irish potato in the pocket keeps off 
harm ^ as well as cures many diseases. At times the 
peculiar nature of the charm is so evident that one 
almost senses the primitive idea of an indwelling 
spirit, although this idea in most cases is not clearly 
acknowledged by the Southern Negro. Thus a black 
stone with natural lettering on it is very lucky, ^ as is 
also the "swimming bone" (that bone which will 
float when dropped into water) of a frog. ^ An antique 
dealer in New Orleans showed me an old Egyptian 
lamp with which he has much amusement with the 
Negroes. He would tell them that if they prayed to 
it they could get what they wanted. The Negroes 
believed him absolutely and considered it a very 
valuable relic. ^ One old conjure-doctor in Mis- 
sissippi told me that the Indian arrowheads often 
found in the locality were not made by man at all, 
but were fashioned by God out of thunder and light- 
ning. To use one for good luck, strike a spark from 
it with your knife (if the sparks fly readily you will 
know that you have a good knife) and let the spark 
fall upon a piece of powdered punk. Let the punk 
smoulder into ashes, which are to be wrapped in a 
piece of newspaper and carried with you always for 
good luck. ^ Of the rabbit's foot and horseshoe charms 
I shall have more to say later, but they are often used 



154. 

2 241. 

3341. 

^ Owen, Mary A., Voodoo Tales, p. 68. 

6 Owen, Mary A., Among the Voodoos, I. F.L. C. (1891), p. 234. 

6 269. 

' 258. 



316 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

in composite charms as where a rabbit's tail, a piece 
of red pepper, and a mole foot are worn about the 
neck for long life and health; ^ or where the left hind 
foot of a graveyard rabbit, a buckeye, a horse chest- 
nut, and a luck bone from a pig ham are put together 
for good luck ^ — this class, of course, approaching more 
nearly conjuration, but of possibly too widespread 
acceptance to be classed under that head. Negroes 
actually use these charms a great deal. Continued 
use dulls the idea that there is anything mystical or 
magical about them and they are not generally regarded 
as part of the dreaded hoodoo. In fact, hoodoo be- 
liefs derive much of their power from the fact that 
they represent the unusual; something not clearly 
understood and used by every one. Perhaps many 
"signs" are products of the conjurer's imagination 
standardized by group usage. 

Animal Taming. The common way of keeping 
the dog or cat at home is to cut the tip of his tail off 
and bury it under the doorstep. ^ Others say that 
hair cut from the tail and buried is sufficient, ^ while 
others suggest putting the hair between two sticks 
before burying it. ^ Hair from the top of the head 
and the end of the tail, buried at the door facing the 
east, will make the animal return even if he has been 
stolen. ^ Others suggest wearing a meat skin in the 
bottom of your shoe for two days and then feeding it 

1240. 
2 150. 

3 155, 288, and 340. 
<9. 

^ 141. Davis, H. C, Negro Folk-Lore in South Carolina, J. A. F. L., vol. 
27 (1914), p. 247. 
6 204. 



Positive Control-Signs, and Cures 317 

to the cat; ^ dipping all four paws of the animal to- 
gether into a tub of water and then throwing him on 
the bed; ^ or buttering the paws of the cat, which animal 
will then remain to lick the butter off. ^ The latter 
usage seems to be of European ^ origin. Again the 
Negroes will put sugar in the animal's food to achieve 
this result, ^ while urine ("chamber-lye") put in food 
or drink and given to a wild animal will immediately 
tame it; or, given to a person of the opposite sex, will 
at once win his love. ^ Somewhat diiferent is the 
Negro idea of scratching the back of the chimney with 
the cat's front feet and then throwing the animal over 
the head of the bed, or, in the case of a dog, measuring 
the dog's tail with a stick and then burying the stick 
under the doorsteps. Unwanted guests such as flies 
and fleas, on the other hand, may be driven off by 
using china-berry leaves. ^ 

The Feminine Touch. It is to be noticed also 
that many of these signs are closely connected with the 
household and are of feminine affiliation, though this 
relationship is not so pronounced as with the negative 
"control-signs." Nevertheless some positive beliefs 
are of particularly feminine Import. Thus If your 
pot (or rice) ^ boils over, rub your stomach ^ or back ^ " 
or scratch on the wall ^ ^ and It will stop. To make a 



»102. 

2 141. 

^ Ibid., See also, Davis, H. C, Negro Folk-Lore in S. (!., J. A. F. L., 
vol. 27 (1914), p. 247. 

^Leather, E. M., Folk-Lore of Herefordshire, p. 24. 

M4. 

« 224. 

^331. 

8 339. 

9 286, and 390. 
1 357. 

' > 222. 



318 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

guest leave, place a broom upside down behind the 
door;i tie a string around your dog's neck and he 
won't eat much; - feed him gunpowder and he will be 
"sharp" 3 or strong;^ while cutting off his tail will 
make him smart. ^ If you want to keep a chicken 
from flopping all about when you have wrung its neck, 
lay the fowl on the ground and draw a circle about it 
with your finger. It will not be able to flop outside of 
this circle. ^ Not all beliefs are -so connected with the 
household, however. Thus, if a watermelon thief 
has left the stem of the melon behind him, throw it 
into the creek and the thief will die;' to make your 
hair grow, cut some of it off, wrap around a piece of 
grapevine and plant — if the vines take root and grow 
your hair will grow with them ^ — and, to kill a dog 
that bites you, put some of the blood from the bite 
on a piece of red flannel and burn. ^ To avoid a whip- 
ping, walk backwards and throw dirt over your left 
shoulder. ^ " Finally, tie a string around your little 
finger when you go to town and you will receive a 
gift you are not expecting; ^ ^ spit in your hands when 
you are trading and you will always get the best of 
the bargain; 12 and whenever you come to a place 
where a horse has wallowed, make a cross in the wallow 
and spit in the cross to bring yourself good luck. ^ ^ 

163. 

n22. 

^297. 
M45. 
6 112. 
6 322 

^ Parsons, E. C, Folk-Lore of the Sea Islands, S. C, M. A. F. L. S., vol. 16 
(1923), p. 209. 

^Southern Workman, vol. 24 (1895), p. 78. 
9 264. 
1 » 402. 

1 1 267. 

12 100. 

1^75. 



Positive Control-Signs, and Cures 319 

The Cross Symbol. This use of the cross symbol 
is closely akin to conjuration. If you want to stop a 
path across your field, make crossmarks In It — the 
crossmark will "cross de one what steps over hit." ^ 
Negroes may step around the "X" marks, but they 
won't step over them. - "Goofer" (In this case, bad 
luck) may be Invoked against an opponent (In a game 
of marbles, for Instance), simply by pronouncing the 
word, or by adding a mark or crossmark on the ground 
and spitting In or near It. ^ Primitive people use the 
sign of the cross far too often to allow us to assume a 
Christian origin, but It Is often used by the Negro to 
ward off bad luck, Its original effectiveness probably 
being attributed to the fact that It pointed towards 
all four cardinal points; hence allowing nothing to 
get by It. The spirit was supposed to get Into the 
angle of the cross and, not having the Intelligence of a 
human being, have difficulty In extricating himself. * 
The crossroad also figures considerably In Negro 
and European lore. For Instance, when animals are 
dying oif rapidly from some disease, a well one sacri- 
ficed alive at the forks of a road will cure the rest. ^ 
A North Carolina Negro was caught sacrificing a 
chicken this way, and he tried to get his employer to 
burn a live mule at the forks of the road to stop a 
livestock epidemic. ^ In Cornwall, England, a healthy 
calf Is sometimes sacrificed to break up the cattle 

1 141. 

^Steiner,R., Superstitions and Beliefs from Central Georgia, J. A. F. L., 
vol. 12 (1899), p. 262. 

' Davis, H. C., Negro Folk-Lore in South Carolina, J. A. F. L., vol. 27 
(1914), p. 247. 

* Work, M. H., Some Geechee Folk-Lore, Southern Workman, vol. 34 
(1905), p. 696 (note). 

^91. 

^Haskell, J. A., Sacrificial Offerings among North Carolina Negroes, 
J. A. F. L., vol. 4 (1891), pp. 267-69. 



320 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

plague;^ but, owing to the prevalence of sacrifice in 
Africa, ^ we would be inclined to suspect at least some 
influence from that source. Bats are sometimes used 
by the Yorubas for sacrifice and, with them, sacrifices 
to avert impending evil are always exposed in a place 
where several roads meet, giving rise to a native 
proverb, "The junction of the road does not dread 
sacrifices." ^ Possibly this custom of sacrificing at 
the crossroads is due to the idea that spirits, like men, 
travel the highways and would be more likely to hit 
upon the offering at the crossroads than elsewhere. 
Even more foreign to European thought is the Southern 
Negro custom of going out into the yard and chopping 
up the ground with an ax when a storm threatens. 
This is supposed to "cut de storm in two" and so stop 
it. ^ Others stick a spade in the ground to split the 
cloud, ^ or simply place an ax in the corner of the 
house. ^ In Africa the Northern Gold Coast natives 
consider rain to be in the possession of a man of the 
tribe, who, if the rain is too abundant, mounts his 
roof and threatens the rain with a knife or other 
implements. ^ 

Controlling the Rain. Rain-making charms are com- 
mon in the Negro South as they are in other illiterate 



1 Hunt, R., Popular Romances of the West of England, p. 213. 

^ See Tillinghast, J. A., The Negro in Africa and America, p. 53. Kingsley, 
M. H., West African Studies, p. 489, and 50L Beatty, K. J., Human 
Leopards, Preface p. v, and pp. 6-7. Ellis, G. E., Negro Culture in West 
Africa, p. 87. Nassau, R. H., Fetichism in West Africa, p. 91. Thomas^ 
N. W., Anthrop. Rept. on Sierra Leone, pt. 1, p. 58. Burton, R. F., Wit 
and Wisdom from West Africa, p. 297. Ellis, A. B., Tshi-speaking Peoples, 
p. 82. Rattray, R. S., Ashanti Proverbs, p. 37. 

^ Burton, R. F., Wit and Wisdom from West Africa, p. 287. 

* 141, and 404. 

B341. 

6 13. 

^ Cardinal, A. W., Natives of the Northern Territories of the Gold Coast, 
pp. 26-27. 



Positive Control-Signs, and Cures 321 

agricultural sections where rain is essential for a liveli- 
hood. Rain may be produced by crossing two matches 
and sprinkling salt on them;^ by sweeping down the 
cobwebs in the house; ^ or by building a fire in a stump 
on a cloudy day. ^ Possibly the most widespread 
practice, however, is that of hanging up on a fence 
or bush a snake that has been killed. * This is sure to 
produce rain within twenty-four hours, ^ or else rain 
may be produced by simply turning the snake on his 
back, belly up ^ — the same applying among the low- 
country Gullah Negroes to a dead frog as well. ^ To 
stop rain, kill a snake and do not turn it over;^ or, 
in New Orleans, put one or more umbrellas out in the 
rain. The longer these are left the better. ^ Fair 
weather may always be secured by sleeping with a 
flower under your pillow. ^ ° 

Snakes. In considering the use of snakes to pro- 
duce rain, it is worthy of note that such reptiles play a 
large role in Negro signs, and possibly represent a 
remnant of former voodoo snake worship. If you 
rub a snake "shed" (skin) in your hand, you will not 
drop and break any dishes; ^ ^ if you swallow the heart 
of a blacksnake, it will make you ill-natured, long- 
winded ^ ^ or valiant, so the Maryland darkeys say; 

1333. 

2 91. Southern Workman, vol. 25 (1894), p. 15. 

3 6. 

* 155, 288, 113, and 189. Davis, H. C, Negro Folk-Lore in S. C, 
J. A. F. L., vol. 27 (1914), p. 246. 
6 341. 
6 324. 

' Gonzales, A. E., The Black Border, pp. 91-92. 
8 155. 

« Bergen, F. D., Current Superstitions, M. A. F. L. S., vol. 4 (1899), 
p. 114. 
1033. 
1 1 285. 

12 Bergen, F. D., Animal and Plant Lore, M. A. F. L. S., vol. 7 (1899), 
p. 87. 

21 



322 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

while its blood taken warm with whiskey will enable 
you to do more work than any one else; ^ the skin of a 
blacksnake worn about the waist, leg, or body, will 
make you strong and supple, - while tying the hair 
up with eelskin will make it grow, ^ although the skin 
itself will "breed lice." "* If you catch a rattlesnake 
and rub the rattles on your eyes you can always see a 
rattlesnake before he sees you. ^ You may kill a 
blacksnake which crosses the road ahead of you by 
simply making a crossmark, in which case some one 
else will kill him; ^ or else you, yourself, may break his 
back by making a crossmark across his trail in the dust 
and spitting in it. ^ When you kill a snake around 
your house, burn him and you will be bothered no 
more. ^ It is especially desirable to kill the first snake 
you see in the spring, since you will thereby prevail 
over your enemies all the year. ^ Dreams of snakes 
are a sign of enemies, as I shall show later, while 
catching a snake on the end of your fishing line is 
indicative of enemies trying to entrap and kill you. ^ " 
The widespread idea of killing the first snake to kill 
your principal enemy seems to be European in origin. ^ ^ 

Poultry and AgriculUire. In setting eggs if you 
desire all the chicks to be hens, let a woman carry the 
eggs to the nest in her lap; if you desire roosters, carry 

'Ibid., p. L59. 

2 141 and Ibid., p. 76. 

' Ibid. 

M41. 

5 Southern Workman, vol. 27 (1898), p. 37. 

6 135. 

'310. 

»17. 

9 141, 112, 189, 224, and 341. Southern Workman, vol. 23 (1894), pp. 15-16. 
10 Bergen, F. D., Animal and Plant Lore, M. A. F. L. S., vol. 7 (1899), 
p. 37. 

1 ' Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 32. 



Positive Control-Signs, and Cures 323 

them to the nest in a man's hat. ^ Others say to set 
the hen in the morning for roosters, and in the afternoon 
for pullets. 2 In parts of Georgia they say that if 
you set a hen on thirteen eggs all will hatch but one, ' 
while in the northern counties of England it is con- 
sidered lucky to set a hen on an odd number of eggs. * 
To stop a hen from setting, douse her in a tub of cold 
water. ^ Hawks may be kept from catching your chick- 
ens by sticking a poker in the fire; ^ by threading egg- 
shells, from which chickens have recently hatched, on a 
piece of straw (or putting them in a covered tin bucket) ^ 
and hanging them in the chimney. » Others use a stone, 
known as a "hawk stone" which is placed in the 
fireplace. ^ 

Other positive signs have to do with agriculture. 
One old Negro mammy told me that she purposely 
made her step-daughter as angry as possible and 
then put her at once to planting peppers, the idea 
being that peppers, to grow, must be planted by 
an angry person. ^ » Others say a red-headed or a 
high-tempered person should plant them. ^ ^ For large 
vegetables let children plant them, the vegetables 
growing with the children; ^ - or plant them in a squat- 
ting position and get up and walk away without 
looking back. ^ ^ It is good luck to plant on Good 

1 188, and 341. 

2304. 

3357. 

* Henderson, W., Folk-Lore of the Northern Counties of Engla?}d, p. 84. 

5 102, and 246. 

6 2. 

''Southern Workman, vol. 33 (1904), p. 51. 

8 141. 

9 Showers, Susie B., Alabama Folk-Lore, Southern Workman, vol. 29 
(1900), p. 180. 

1 342 

"Price, Sadie E., Kentucky Folk-Lore, J. A. F. L., vol. 14 (1901), p. 33. 

12 112. 

13 141, and Southern Workman, vol. 23 (1894), p. 209. 



324 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

Friday ^ (beans, as some say) ; ^ and watermelons 
should be planted May 1st, before day, by poking the 
seed in the ground with your fingers. ^ If you are 
setting out a tree and name it after a large person it 
will grow to be a large tree. ^ These signs extend 
to other farm products, such as cattle. If a cow kicks 
a great deal, rub her side with milk, ^ or a young cow 
may be "gentled" by pouring milk on her back, ® or 
milking the first stream of milk on her right foot, ^ 
but none should be allowed to fall on the ground for 
that would make her milk dry up. * 

Lost Things, Clothes, and Wind-making. Apparently 
of European » origin is the belief that a lost article may 
be located by spitting in the palm of the hand, hitting 
the spittle with the finger (thumb or fore-finger some 
say) ^ " and noting the direction in which the largest 
amount of spittle goes. ^ ^ Sometimes the following 
rhyme is used when striking the spittle in the left 
hand: 

Spit, Spit, I've lost my pin, 

Tell me what corner I'll find it in. ^ ^ 



1 100, 218, and 224. 

2342, and Thanet, Octave, Folk-Lore in Arkansas, J. A. F. L., vol. 5 
(1892), p. 124. 

3 141. Davis, H. C, Folk-Lore in South Carolina, J. A. F. L., vol. 27 
(1914), p. 245. 

* 141. Work, Monroe, H., Some Geechee Folk-Lore, Southern Workman, 
vol. 35 (1905), p. 635. 

6 396. 

6 112, 342, and 286. 

^267. 

*Lee, C, Some Negro Folk-Lore from Baltimore, J. A. F. L., vol. 5 
(1892), p. 111. 

^ Fogel,E. M., BeliefsandSuperstitionsofthePennsylvaniaGermnnSjip. S71. 
1 396. 

11141. Davis, H. C, Negro Folk-Lore in S. C, J. A. F. L., vol. 27 
(1914), p. 247. 

12 Bergen, F. D., Animal and Plant Lore, M. A. F. L. S., vol. 7 (1899), 
p. 18. 



Positive Control-Signs, and Cures 325 

Equally widespread is the idea that if you bite a 
butterfly's head off you will get a new dress ^ (or 
suit) 2 just like the butterfly. ^ Others add that the 
butterfly's head must be thrown backwards over the 
left shoulder in order to fulfill the necessary con- 
ditions, 4 Again the Sea Island Negroes will "scratch 
the boat's mast and whistle for wind," ^ the idea of 
whistling for wind at sea being distinctly European. ^ 

Aids to the Lovelorn. Love charms are particularly 
common and seem to be mainly small bits of con- 
juration practice which have come into popular use. 
Hair from your lover's head placed under the band of 
your hat, ^ worn in your purse, ^ or in your pocket 
nearest your heart, ^ buried under your lover's door- 
step, ^ " or nailed to a tree or post, ^ ^ will make that 
person love you; but, inserted in a green tree, it will 
run the owner crazy. ^ ^ Xhe bow from your sweet- 
heart's hat is equally effective ^ ^ in love affairs, worn 
in your shoe ^ "* or in your stocking (if you lose it he 
will beat you to death), ^ ^ tied around your leg, ^ ^ or 
thrown into running water (if thrown into stagnant 
water he will go crazy) . ^ ^ Else you may write a note and 

1 112, and 141. Southern Workman, vol. 23 (1894), p. 16. 

2 398. 

3 J25. 

* 189", and 341. 

6 Davis, H. C, Negro Folk-LoreinS.C, J. A. F. L., vol. 271(1914), p. 246. 
^ Leari's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 163. 

7 341, and 224. 

8 247. 

9 168. 

240. 

1 238. 

2 224. 

3 169. 

* 181, and 224. 
6 238. 
6 341. 
M88. 



326 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

slip it in the hat band of the desired person, ^ or pick up 
that person's track and lay it over the door. ^ Others 
suggest the boy kissing his elbow in order to win a 
girl, 3 or putting a letter from his lady love in a can 
and throwing it into running water. ^ If a boy can 
contrive to have his eyes meet those of his girl and rub 
bluestone in his hands at the same time she is his 
forever. ^ If you pass between two persons of the 
opposite sex you will marry both of them. « 

Your Future Mate. Many are the love divinations 
employed, possibly one of the most common of which 
is the old Enghsh ^ charm of placing a green pea pod 
which has nine peas in it over the kitchen door under 
the impression that the first person of the opposite 
sex who enters » (within nine days) ^ will be your 
future mate. Others hold that the coming in of an 
unmarried person of the opposite sex is simply indica- 
tive of your marriage that year. ^ « One woman tells 
me of taking off her right shoe in the spring upon 
hearing the first dove of the year and finding a strand 
of the man's hair she was to marry, ^ ^ and others seem 
to find this charm equally eflPective. ^ ^ In England ^ ^ 
and Scotland, ^ " it is the cuckoo instead of the dove, 



1111. 
2357. 

3 252. 
M31. 
1*36. 
6 397. 

^ Leather, E. M., Folk-Lore of Herefordshire, p. 61. Brand, J., Popular 
Antiquities of Great Britain, vol. ii, p. 99. Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 382 . 

8 91. 

"188. 
10 12. 
11141. 

1^2 204. Lee, C, Some Negro Lore from Baltimore, J. A. F. L., vol. 5 
(1892), p. 110. 

1 3 Dyer, T. F. T., English Folk-Lore, pp. 57-58. 

1 ^ Gregor, Rev. W., Folk-Lore of the Northeast of Scotland, p. 83. 



Positive Control-Signs, and Cures 327 

but the general pattern of the beHef Is about the same. 
Some Negroes vary this by saying that if you get up 
early in the morning and walk nine steps backward 
before breakfast, you will find some of your lover's, 
hair;^ though a Texas Informant says that you must 
look under the heel track of your last step to find the 
hair, adding that married people who fail to find hair 
will not marry again. ^ 

Throw a piece of "love vine" (or "love tangle" — 
possibly dodder) over your left shoulder (towards 
your lover's house) ^ without looking back. If it 
grows, that person will marry you. * Or take a new 
shirt or dress and shake it at the new moon, looking 
closely at the moon and walking backwards. You 
will see your future husband or wife there. ^ A 
Georgia informant says to show the new moon a half 
dollar and say, "New Moon, true Moon" and you will 
see your future husband. ^ In Scotland "the young 
women in Galloway, when they first see the new moon, 
sally out of doors and pull a handful of grass, saying: 

New mune, true mune, tell me if you can, 

Gif I hae here a hair like the hair o' my guidman. 

The grass is then brought Into the house, where It is 
carefully searched, and if a hair be found amongst it, 
which Is generally the case, the color of it determines 
that of the future husband." "^ A Negro version is 
that a girl on seeing the new moon should repeat: 

1267. 

2 224. 

3 61. 

^ i41, and Southern Workman, vol. 24 (1895), p. 78. 

•■Ml. 

•357. 

' Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 373. 



328 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

New moon, pray tell me, 

Who my husband is to be; 

The color of his hair. 

The clothes he is to wear, 

And the happy day he'll wed me. 

The man she dreams of that night is to be her husband. ^ 
Other Negroes say that if you look in a well (through 
a mirror) ^ on the first day of May you will see your 
future mate; ^ or, as others put it, you will see anything 
else that is going to happen before the year is out, * 
or simply your coffin, ^ A departure consists of re- 
flecting the sun's rays Into the well with a mirror, 
whereupon you will see your future mate in the re- 
flected rays. ^ Others suggest putting your handker- 
chief over growing wheat on May 1, In order to see 
your husband's name;^ while again It is suggested 
that you throw a snail over your shoulder on that 
day to be lucky all the year. Such a snail placed on 
a slate will trace out your future partner's name. ^ 
While I have thus far located no exact European 
parallel to these beliefs, yet "In the entire heathen 
calendar no day was more sacred than May 1, for it 
was dedicated to Donar (Thor)," ^ and there Is a 
duplication of the Negro ^ " Idea of washing your face 
In the dew collected on May 1, to make yourself 
beautiful. ^ ^ 



1380. 

2 85. 

3 188. 

n38, and 141. 

6 339, and 341. 

6 380. 

7 176. 

8 23. 

^ Fogel, E. M., Beliefs and Superstitions of the Pennsylvania Germans, 
p. 10. 
10141. 
11 Brand, J., Popular Antiquities of Great Britain, vol. i, p. 218. 

Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 396. 



Positive Control-Signs, and Cures 329 

Put the "pully bone" (breastbone) of a chicken 
(pulled with some one under the table with your 
eyes closed) ^ up over your door. The first gentleman 
to enter will be your future husband. ^ My old 
mammy has also told me of the familiar English ^ 
belief that whoever, in pulling a wishbone apart, 
gets the largest half, may have anything he wishes. ■* 
At least partially European is the idea of going around 
the house at nine o'clock on Hallowe'en with a hand- 
ful of salt, whereupon some one will call the name of 
your future husband or wife;^ and possibly the idea 
of looking into a tank of water to see the one you are 
going to marry ^ is a modification of looking into the 
well on May 1. More nearly like conjuration, how- 
ever, is the custom of placing a wooden chip into a 
glass of water and placing it under your bed. During 
the night you will dream of crossing a stream, and the 
one that assists you will be your future husband. ^ 
If it rains while the sun is shining go outdoors and 
look under a brick to find a strand of your future 
husband's hair. * A final complicated charm ^ was 
told me by a Negro of Columbus, Miss. "To see your 
future wife, pull off all your clothes at night and turn 
them wrongside out, hanging them on the foot of the 
bed. Then kneel and say your prayers backwards 

1127. 

2 302, and 352. 

3 Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 332. 
«246. 

6 222. 

6 341. 

7 339. 

8 12. 

^ For other complicated love divinations, see Bullock, Mrs. Waller R., 
The Collection of Maryland Folk-Lore, J.A.F. L., vol. 11 (1898), p. 9. Bergen, 
F. D., On the Eastern Shore, J. A. F. L., vol. 2 (1899), p. 300. Bergen, F.D., 
'Current Superstitions, M. A. F. L. S., vol. iv (1896), p. 46. 



330 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

and get in bed backwards, entirely naked. You will 
see your future husband or wife before morning."* 

Wedding Days and Colors. The days of the week 
have the following significance as relates to weddings: ^ 

Monday — a bad day. 

Tuesday — a good day. You will have a good husband 
and (he) will live long. 

Wednesday — a grand day. You will have a good hus- 
band and will live happily, but will have some trouble. 

Thursday — a bad day. 

Friday— a bad day. 

Saturday — no luck at all. 

Sunday— no luck at all. 

May brides will die ^ while June brides will get rich. ■* 
Colors are significant as follows: ^ 

Marry in green, your husband will be mean, 
Marry in red, you wish yourself (soon will be) dead, 
Marry in brown, you will live (far from) in town, 
Marry in blue, your husband will be true (or you will 

live true). 
Marry in black, you will wish yourself back (foretells 

bad luck), 
Marry in gray, you will stray away (will live far away), 
Marry in pink, your love will sink, 
Marry in white, you have chosen all right. 

A bride is also supposed to wear "something old and 
something new; something borrowed and something 
blue," in order to have sure happiness in her married life. ® 

1170. 

2 Combined data from 95, and 141. See also, Bergen F., Current Super- 
stitions, M. A. F. L. S., vol. iv (1896), p. 61. 

3 67. 
^208. 

* Combined data from 186, 209, 95, 158, and 224. 
6 380, and Ohio Whites. 



Positive Control-Signs, and Cures 331 

These marriage beliefs, of course, pertain more 
specifically to the women than the men, and lead us 
again to the opinion that perhaps the former's share 
in the transmission of control-beliefs has been greater 
than the latter's. For further light on this subject of 
feminine influence I shall for a time break the clas- 
sification in order to bring together those folk-beliefs 
relating to childbirth and to children, although, in 
the main, these causal relationships will be found to be 
harnessed and subject to human control, though not 
all of a positive nature. 

Contraceptives. Contraceptives form an interesting 
part of Negro medical lore, more expecially since the 
root-doctor is the one who most often provides them. 
Drink a mixture of gunpowder mixed with sweet 
milk, or swallow nine bird-shot — these are sure to 
prevent conception. If you lie perfectly motion- 
less during coitus or turn on your left side immediately 
after the act, the same results will be obtained. Else 
you may hold a brass pin ^ or a copper coin ^ under 
your tongue during the same period. If you desire 
never to have a child, go and get some "black haw" 
roots, digging them from the north and south sides of 
the plant (crosswise of the world). Brew this into a 
tea, dropping in a small piece of bluestone while it is 
boiling, and strain carefully before you bottle it. 
In another bottle put some tea prepared from "Red 
Shanks" roots {Ceanothus americanus) mixed with 
red pepper and a teaspoon of gunpowder. Every time 
the moon changes take a little from each bottle and 
you will forever remain childless. ^ Or you may make 



1397. 
254. 

M41. 



332 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

a tea of dogwood root which Is to be taken and followed 
by chewing some dog-fennel root and swallowing the 
juice. This will not only prevent conception but 
will also produce abortion if conception has already 
occured. ^ Other suggestions for abortions are a yarn 
string saturated with turpentine worn around the 
waist for nine days, or else a teaspoon of turpentine 
each morning for nine mornings. ^ Somewhat more 
complicated is the vaginal douche made of tea from 
cocklebur roots mixed with bluestone. This will 
produce menstruation and wash the foetus out of the 
womb, but the user must be careful lest she harm her- 
self. To prevent taking cold afterwards she should 
rub herself from head to foot with vaseline mixed with 
quinine and sew herself into her undergarments until 
she is wholly cured. ^ 

Pre-natal Influences. The customary beliefs about 
pre-natal influence are found. One pregnant woman 
hit a dog on the foot — her son had one hand shaped like 
a dog's paw. ^ Another put her hand on her neck 
just after her pet dog had bitten some one. The 
baby's neck was marked with a little dog. The notion 
exists that eating twin apples or any kind of twin 
fruit will cause you to bear twins, ^ an idea found 
also among the Ibos of Africa. ^ 

Childbirth. In order to make the delivery of the 
child easier, as soon as the mother begins to show 
signs of pregnancy she should grease her hips and 
stomach with "dish-washing grease," keeping this up 

2397. 

3 141. 

*IUd. 

5 36. 

® Talbot, D. A., Woman's Mysteries of a Primitive People, pp. 20-23. 



Positive Control-Signs, and Cures 333 

until the child is born. Tea made from the clay of 
dirt-dauber's nests, ^ or from ashes, will also relieve 
and hasten labor, as will also the striking of the woman 
upon the buttocks. If the after-birth is retarded, let 
the patient flow into a bottle, ^ or let her stand over a 
bucket of hot coals, upon which feathers have been 
put, until she has been thoroughly smoked. ^ The 
after-birth (placenta) must be burned — otherwise the 
woman is liable to bleed to death ^ or at least will 
not recover so rapidly. ^ In the Sea Islands, dark 
cloth is always used for vulva dressings, the idea being 
that white makes it flow too much. One way of stop- 
ping the hemorrhage, however, is to apply cobwebs 
and soot. ^ Or else heat a piece of alum and mix it 
with sugar, sprinkling the mixture on absorbent 
cotton. Push this in the vulva to the womb with the 
third finger of your right hand. This will stop the 
flow in two hours, but to hasten the process give the 
patient cold tea made from bark taken from the north 
side of a cherry-tree. ^ Sugar, by the way, is generally 
applied by the Negro midwives to the vulva dressings 
under the impression that it hastens the curative 
process, and they usually anoint their hands with 
lard, before attempting to deliver the child. ^ In 
the Sea Islands burned cotton or lard is used to dress 



1141. 

2 Parsons, E. C, Folk-Lore of the Sea Islands, S. C, M.A.F. L. S., vol. 16 
(1923), p. 197. 

3 141. 

*397. 
6 167. 

6 Parsons, E. C, Folk-Lore of the Sea Islands, S. C, M. A. F. L. S., vol. 16 
(1923), p. 197. 
M41. 
8 167. 



334 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

the navel cord, ^ and almost everywhere the linen 
bandage used must be scorched before applying, a 
practice having some distinct sanitary advantages. ^ 

Confinement and After. When a mother is confined, 
the ashes are not taken up until some time after the 
birth of the child. ^ "You must not sweep under the 
bed, nor turn over the quilts or pillows In the bed 
where the child was born, nor must you take up the 
ashes in the fireplace for a whole month, or the mother 
will take a cold from which she will never recover. 
Her hair must not be combed for a month, or all of it 
will drop out and never grow again." ^ The ashes 
are simply piled up by the side of the grate during this 
period, which varied from a month to the day a mother 
steps out of the door ^ (or until the child Is nine days 
old). ^ It is noticeable that on the Sea Islands the 
child Is named on the ninth day, ^ a fact which might 
seem to indicate that the spirit of the child is not 
entirely localized in the body until the child is named, 
and hence this spirit is liable to be injured by sweeping. 
The setting of a definite day for naming the child is 
hardly widespread enough, however, to justify such a 
belief with any degree of certainty. An old Mis- 
sissippi slave says that the child will die if you name 
him before he Is a month old ^ — seeming to indicate the 



1 Parsons, E. C, Folk-Lore of the Sea Islands, S. C, M. A. F. L. S., vol. 16 
(1923), p. 197. 

2397. 

* 167, and 342. Richardson, C, Some Slave Superstitions, Southern 
Workman, vol. 41 (1912), p. 247. 

*345. 

6345. 

«397. 

^ Parsons, E. C, Folk-Lore of the Sea Islands, S. C, M. A. F. L. S., vol. 
16 (1923), p. 198. 

» 286. Southern Workman, vol. 23 (1894), p. 210. 



Positive Control-Signs, and Cures 335 

fact that the spirit should have a chance to famiUarize 
itself with the locality before it is definitely pegged 
down. This conjecture is strengthened by the fact 
that when the child is a month old he is taken all around 
the house and back in the front door, then given a 
thimbleful of water. ^ The meaning of the practice 
has been forgotten although one informant claims the 
thimbleful of water is to keep the baby from slob- 
bering. 2 • On the Sea Islands, where the Negroes 
are more primitive, the child is carried around on the 
ninth day, the day he is named, ^ and the thimbleful 
of water is omitted. Since the Sea Island Negroes 
have had less European contact we would be inclined 
to regard the belief as African, although in parts of 
Europe it is considered ill luck "to turn the bed on 
which a child has been born, within a month of the 
birth." ^ We must nevertheless recall again the Sea 
Island practice of calling the spirit of the child when 
taking the child from home, lest he be fretful, ^ a usage 
which shows at least the idea of a child's soul not yet 
thoroughly attached to the body. Another point 
in naming is the Negro belief that a child will become 
very wealthy if the initials of his full name spell a 
word. ^ In parts of England baptismal names of 
children are sometimes deliberately chosen with regard 
to this point. ^ 

To the Manner Born. The incidents connected with 
the birth of a child are to a certain degree prognostic 
of his future. A child born with the face down is 



147. 
2342. 

' Parsons, E. C, Folk-Lore of the Sea Islands, S. C, M. A. F. L. S., vol. 
16 (1923), pp. 198-99. 

* Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 121. 

6 See p. 110. 

« 141, 293, 370, and 393. 

^ Leather, Ella M., Folk-Lore of Herefordshire, p. 113. 



336 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

born to be drowned, so the Charleston, S. C, Negroes 
say. ^ One born "foot fo'mos' " cannot be kept in 
bonds or In jail — "the sperit" will loose him. The 
same is true of twins, although In this case It is the 
other twin Instead of the spirit who looses the one in 
trouble. ^ One Mississippi informant adds the require- 
ment that a boy twin, to have such power must favor 
(resemble) his mother, and a girl twin, her father. ^ 
A child born with a "veil" (caul) over his face will 
have good luck, will be able to communicate with 
ghosts, and tell fortunes, ^ a belief prevalent in Eng- 
land. ^ It is claimed that in the Carolinas and in 
Virginia, the Negroes .believe that a child born with his 
fists tightly clenched is bound to be a thief; ^ and in 
Alabama, if a child is born with teeth, it is the sign of 
ill luck in his life. ^ A child born on the 26th of any 
month will become very rich; ^ a child born on Friday 
will be hanged; ^ a March baby will be very fickle; ^ ° 
and a baby born on the gray-quarter of the moon will 
"sho' be in de calaboose a'fore he gits one an' twenty." ^ ^ 
If a child is pretty when it is little, it will be ugly when 
it is grown, while an ugly baby will be a pretty adult. ^ ^ 



1 Smiley, P., Folk-Lore from Va., S. C, Ga., Ala., and Fla., J. A. F. L., 
vol. 32 (1919), p. 382. 

2 Parsons, E. C, Folk-Lore of the Sea Islands, S. C, M. A. F. L. S., vol. 
16 (1923), p. 197. 

3 141. 

4 397. 

* Leather, Ella M., Folk-Lore of Herefordshire, p. 112. 

6 Chandler, J., The Ninth Coleman. The Designer, vol. 61 (1924 ),p. 14. 

7 364. 

8 184. 

9 189. 
i''61. 

1 1 33 

12 61, and Ohio Whites. 



Positive Control-Signs, and Cures 337 

A bright child is not expected to live long, ^ a belief 
apparently European, ^ as is also the Negro ^ idea that 
the seventh child will be the wisest. ^ 

Food and Clothing. During the nursing period 
peas, ^ or tea made from green hanging moss will 
increase the flow of milk. Camphor may be rubbed 
on the breasts to dry up the milk after weaning, or 
some old, rusty nails may be hung about the neck, 
dangling down between the breasts. Throw these 
nails in the fire or in an old ants' nest, and when the 
ants go down the milk will dry up. ^ Else mistletoe 
worn around the neck and dangling between the 
breasts will produce the same result, ^ remembering 
that mistletoe has a semi-sacred character throughout 
many parts of Europe. ^ Twelve new needles hanging 
between the breasts on a strand of white thread will dry 
up the milk if you take the precaution of throwing 
some mint leaves under your bed. ^ The mother's 
milk not appearing until three days after the birth 
of the child, the Negroes insist on the child having 
food at once, and slip a piece of fat, greasy, bacon in 
the child's mouth soon after birth "ter clean out his 
system." ^ ^ There is also the idea that the infant's 
clothes should be put on over his feet for a month, ^ ^ 

163. 

^ Fogel, E. M., Beliefs and Superstitions of the Pennsylvania Germans, 
pp. 56-57. 
3 246. 

* Fogel, E. M., Beliefs and Superstitions of the Pennsylvania Germans, 
p. 56. Henderson, W., Folk-Lore of the Northern Counties of Englond, p. 2&2. 

M41. 

* Parsons, E. C, Folk- Lore of the Sea Islands, S. C, M. A. F. L. S., vol. 
16 (1923), p. 198. 

'91. 

* Frazer, J. G., The Golden Bough, p. 702. 

9 141. 

1 » 297, and 298. 

1 1 Richardson, C, Some Slave Superstitions, Southern Workman, vol. 14 
(1912), p. 247. 
22 



338 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

and, while one old mammy assured me: "Dat-ah ain' 
no sign — hit's jes' de handiest way ter put de clothes 
on," ^ the idea of bad luck is probably involved, 
however, since in parts of Europe it is considered ill 
luck to put an infant's clothes on the first time over the 
head. They should be drawn over the feet. ^ In 
Mississippi the Negroes will not wrap a newborn, baby 
in new clothes. This would make him die (excite 
the envy of the spirits) while old clothes will surely 
bring him good luck, ^ a view, English * in origin. 

Nails, Hair, and Associates. Widespread, however, 
is the idea that cutting off a baby's nails before he is a 
year old will make him roguish or a thief. ^ The nails 
should be bitten or torn off. ^ Others say that cutting 
the nails will deform the baby or cause him to have 
fits, ^ but the most widespread view is the old English ^ 
one that he will be a thief. Cutting his toe-nails will 
make him pigeon-toed. ^ If you cut the baby's hair 
before he is a year old he will be tongue-tied, ^ "^ or 
before he begins to talk he will never talk. ^ ^ The 
English version is that he will be a thief. ^ ^ Equally 
European ^ ^ is the common Negro idea that a child 

1342. 

2 Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 116. 

3 15, 141, and 200. 

^ Leather, E. M., Folk-Lore of Herefordshire, p. 111. 

5 16, 81, 112, 155, and 397. 

633, and Southern Workman, vol. 23 (1894), p. 15. 

^ 141. Moore, R. A., Superstitions from Georgia, J. A. F. L., vol. 7 

(1894), p. 305. 

8 Henderson, W., Folk-Lore of the Northern Counties of England, p. 9. 
Gregor, W., Folk-Lore of the Northeast of Scotland, p. 9. 

9 235. 

10 150. 

1 1 204. 

12 Leather, E. M., Folk-Lore of Herefordshire, p. 113. 

1 ' Henderson, W., Folk-Lore of the Northern Counties of England, p. 13. 



Positive Control-Signs, and Cures 339 

stepped over won't grow or thrive. ^ You must step 
backwards over him to avoid any trouble. ^ 

Not so patently European is the idea that an infant 
will have a disposition similar to the one who first 
takes him out of doors. ^ European, * however, is 
the belief that rocking an empty cradle will make the 
baby die ^ (or cross). ^ Rocking an empty chair will 
also make the baby die ^ or be mean. ^ Never measure 
an infant or he will die ^ — another superstition having 
an European ^ ^ parallel — while a child on the day that 
it is two years old is exactly half as tall as it will ever 
be. 1 1 

Babies and Brooms. The broom has various con- 
nections with children, possibly with the idea of 
sweeping away evil spirits, although its European 
association with witches may be the element causing 
it in some cases to have opposite results, as where it 
is said that sweeping under a baby's feet will cause him 
to become lazy and run away. ^ ^ Sweep the baby (or 
the baby's feet) ^ ^ with a broom every morning and he 
will grow faster. ^ ^ Sweeping him with a broomsedge 

1320, and 141. Bergen, F. D., Current Superstitions, M. A. F. L. S., 
vol. iv (1896), p. 23. 

2 285, and 317. Davis, H. C, Negro Folk-Lore in South Carolina, J. A. 
F. L., vol. 27 (1914), p. 246. 

^ 91, 139, and 397. Moore, R. A., Superstitions from Georgia, J. A. 
F. L., vol. 7 (1894), p. 305. 

* Henderson, W., Folk-Lore of the Northern Counties of England, pp. 10-11. 

*91, 288, and 391. Williamson, G., Superstitions from Louisiana, J. A. 
F. L., vol. 7 (1894), p. 229. 

6 73. 

7 391. 
«370. 

' 141. Moore, R. A., Superstitions from Georgia, J. A. F. L., vol. 7 
(1894), p. 305. 

^"Fogel, E. M., Beliefs and Superstitions of the Pennsylvania Germans, 
p. 55. 

1 1 Thomas and Thomas, Kentucky Superstitions, p. 14. 

12 342. 

1 3 335". 
1*341. 



340 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

(the old style) broom will remedy bow-legs. ^ If you 
want the baby to learn to walk more quickly put him 
on the floor and sweep dirt around him, 2 or, as others 
say, set the baby behind the door for nine mornings 
and sweep all the dust off the floor into the baby's 
lap. 3 Or else you may wash his limbs in "pot- 
liquor." ^ In the Sea Islands and in Mississippi, 
according to one informant, ^ when a child is slow to 
walk you should bury him naked in the earth to his 
waist, first tying a string around his ankle. ^ The 
same informants also speak of carrying a child to the 
doctor to have his tongue clipped when he is slow to 
talk. While sweeping is sometimes used beneficially, 
one should never sweep the room while the child is 
asleep. The idea is that you will sweep him away, ^ 
and this seems to be possibly a half-remembered 
notion of the African "dream-soul" which leaves the 
body during sleep. 

Birthmarks and Thrush. Strictly English ^ is the 
idea that a birthmark may be removed by licking it 
for nine successive mornings, although the Negro 
addenda of fasting and being silent during the licking 
seems a new development. ^ Another informant ^ ° told 
me of two other decidedly unique cures. One is to 
rub the birthmark with a fresh hen's &gg every morning 

1112. 

2 288. 

392. 

M57. 

891. 

« Parsons, E. C, Folk-Lore of the Sea Islands, S. C, M. A. F. L. S., vol. 
16 (1923), p. 199. 

M83. 

* Leather, E. M., Folk-Lore of Herefordshire, p. 78. 

•57. Bergen, F. D., Animal and Plant Lore, M. A. F. L. S., vol. 7 
(1899), p. 74. 
lOHl. 



Positive Control-Signs, and Cures 341 

just before sunrise for nine mornings, and then to bury 
the egg under the doorstep. Stranger still Is the Idea 
that the birthmark may be removed by rubbing It 
with the thing It most resembles. If the mark re- 
sembles an apple, for Instance, rub apple on the mark 
every day and feed the marked person apples until he 
Is surfeited with them. The birthmark will then 
disappear. "Thrash" (thrush) may be cured by sus- 
pending nine live wood-lice from the neck of the 
afflicted child. ^ Catnip Is good for the same affliction, ^ 
but possibly even more common Is the old English * 
Idea that the disease may be cured by a person who 
has never seen his father, blowing Into (or kissing) * 
the baby's mouth. ^ 

Fretfulness. A fretful child may be quieted by 
holding him (or his face) out In the rain for a few min- 
utes ^ — a possible remnant of child exposure. Or else 
you may blow smoke on the mole of his head (the 
fontanel). The smoke will go right through, get the 
child drunk, and put him to sleep. Milk drawn from 
the mother, smoked, and given to the child will have 
the same effect. ^ On the Sea Islands the Inner bark 
of a white root called "quiet root," boiled In with the 
child's food, is used for a crying child, * while in parts 
of Alabama the baby Is put down In the doorway of 



1 112. Hawkins, J., An Old Mauma's Folk-Lore, J.A.F. L., vol. 9 (1896) , 
p. 130. 

2 288. 

^ Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 515. 

M31. 

5 16, 208, and 342. Also Work, M. H., Some Geechee Folk-Lore, Southern 
Workman, vol. 34, p. 634. 

6 141, and 91. Hawkins, J., An Old Mauma's Folk-Lore, J. A. F. L., 
vol. 9 (1896), p. 130. Parsons, E. C, Folk-Lore of the Sea Islands. S. C, 
M. A. F. L. S., vol. 16 (1923), p. 198. 

M41, and Parsons, E. C, Ibid. 

» Ibid. 



342 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

the house and all the dirt swept up from the various 
rooms is quickly swept over him. ^ Tea made from 
the inside of a chicken gizzard is good for sick babies, 2 
while stomach trouble (colic) may be cured by hanging 
a string of burdock around the child's neck. ^ 

Stuttering. Frightening the child makes him knock- 
kneed, ^ while tickling him (under his feet) ^ causes 
him to stutter, ^ this latter belief being found in Europe 
also. ' This stuttering may be cured, however, by 
giving the baby a drink out of a bell or by breaking a 
gall in the child's mouth. ^ It would seem that this 
latter remedy might have some actual value in leading 
the child at an early age to form an association between 
stuttering and bitterness which might cause him ac- 
tually to improve his style of speech, although the 
original purpose was, no doubt, to use the ill-tasting 
substance to drive out the evil spirit which caused 
the stuttering. 

Other Ills. Again there is the European ^ belief 
that if the baby never falls out of bed it will be a fool; ^ ° 
and if you make a baby a cap before it is born it will 
never live to wear it ^ ^ — this latter apparently being 
due to fear of attracting the attention of disease- 
spirits and linking up with the dressing of the child 
first in old garments. It will give the young child 

i"6L 

2 155. 

3 16. 

4 341, and Ohio Whites. 

6 61. 

^ 139, and 141. Moore, R. A., Superstitions from Georgia, J. A. F. L., 
vol. 7 (1894), p. 305. 

^ Fogel, E. M., Beliefs and Superstitions of the Pennsylvania Germans, 
p. 42. 
8 341. 

^ Eichler, LiUian, Customs of Mankind, p. 667. 
1 16, and 397. 
' 1 288. 



Positive Control-Signs, and Cures 343 

colic to allow any one to kiss him in the mouth, so my 
old mammy says, ^ and a child should not be allowed 
to look an old person directly in the face for fear of 
having bad luck. - Feed the child out of the pot or 
skillet and he will never run away from home, ^ an 
Idea which may be a survival of days when the common 
pot represented the kitchen-ware and table-ware 
combined, and supping from it the sign of family 
unity. If you make fun of a little baby (or of any 
afflicted person) * you will yourself have the thing that 
you ridicule in him. ^ If you wash the inside of a 
baby's hand you will wash his luck away, ^ a super- 
stition having its exact European counterpart. ^ Never 
hand a young baby to a person over a fence — it is 
extremely bad luck, ^ as is also the bad practice of 
setting the baby's shoes up higher than himself. ^ 
If the mother eats turnip greens while the baby is 
young the baby will die, ^ " possibly due to some sup- 
posed connection between turnip greens and mother's 
milk. If you allow the child to learn to crawl back- 
wards he will rule his father, ^ ^ and you should never 
chew the baby's food and put It Into his mouth for 
fear of giving him colic. ^ ^ 

For Future Greatness. All through the Negro South 
is found the old English ^ ^ belief that a baby must be 

1112. 

2 141. 

3 342, and 373. 
^9, and 112. 

^ Thomas and Thomas, Kentucky Superstitions, p. 10. 
« 141. Southern Workman, vol. 28 (1899), p. 449. 
' Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 114. 

8 57, and 288. 

9 81. 

1 47, and 133. 

^1141. Richardson, C, Some Slave Superstitions, Southern Workman, 
vol. 41 (1912), p. 247. 

12 341. 

1 ^ Henderson, W., Folk-Lore of the Northern Counties of England, p. 10. 
Dyer, T. F. T., Domestic Folk-Lore. p. 8. Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 101. 



344 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

taken upstairs before downstairs in order that he may 
rise in the world. ^ If he is already on the highest 
story, his head must be held just inside the loft, as a 
substitution for the upward journey. ^ Some say the 
child will not grow unless this is done, ^ and the same 
bad luck applies to taking the child downhill on his 
first journey from home. ^ 

Mirrors and Hats. A baby should never be allowed 
to look into a mirror (before he Is a year old) ^ or he 
will have trouble in teething; « will be cross-eyed^ 
(especially if he sees his father for the first time in a 
mirror);* or ugly;^ or, if you stand him before the 
mirror before he is old enough to talk, he will "talk 
tongue-tied" or not at all. ^ « The English version is that 
the child should not be allowed to look Into a mirror 
(before he is a year old) ^ ^ for fear of bad luck. ^ ^ How- 
ever, the Negroes say that crossed eyes may be brought 
back into line by sprinkling blood from a black chicken 
on the back of the child's neck. ^ ^ 

If a baby puts on a hat that Is too large for him, ^ * 
or a man's hat ^ ^ (belonging to a father or elder 



1 16, 342, 385, 189, and 397. 

2 Waring, Mary A., Negro Superslilions in South Carolina, J. A. F. L., 
vol. 8 (1895), p. 252. 

3 118. 

* 91. Hawkins, J., An Old Mauma's Folk-Lore, J.A.F. L., vol. 9 (1896), 
p. 130. 

5 Bergen, F. D., Current Superstitions, M. A. F. L. S., vol. iv (1896), 
p. 24. 

« 153, 200, 16, and 155. 

^ 141, 56, and 354. Owen, Mary A., Voodoo Tales, p. 67. Williamson, 
G., Superstitions from Louisiana, J. A. F. L., vol. 18 (1905), p. 229. 

8 240. 

9 206. 
i»36. 

1 1 Henderson, W., Folk-Lore of the Northern Counties of England, p. 13. 

12 Leather, E. M., Folk-Lore of Herefordshire, p. 113. 

1 3 244. 
1M6. 

1 6 206. 



Positive Control-Signs, and Cures 345 

brother), ^ or a yarn cap before he Is a month old, - or 
any hat before he teethes, ^ he will likewise have 
trouble in teething. Kissing a young baby in the 
mouth * or holding a baby out of a window ^ will 
produce the same result. 

Tooth-cutters. It is reflective of the high rate of 
infant mortality with the Negroes that a great mass of 
their folk-medicine centers around this matter of 
teething. The fact that many of these superstitions 
having to do with children are of English origin is also 
suggestive of the fact that the Negro women engaged 
in household work, particularly in nursing children, 
represent perhaps the greatest point of personal con- 
tact between whites and blacks so far as the trans- 
mission of superstition from one race to the other is 
concerned. 

Some years ago, while digging for gravel in Missis- 
sippi, we turned up a mole. One of the hands grabbed 
the animal instantly, saying that he needed his paws 
to help his baby boy cut his teeth. This idea of a 
necklace of mole feet (or the right fore-foot) ^ hung 
around the baby's neck to aid teething is one of the 
very widespread beliefs. ^ In England it is a little 
bag with mole's feet in it to cure toothache ^ and a 
moleskin about the neck to assist teething. ^ The 
association between moles and trouble with the teeth 



196. 

2 81. 

S287. 
U74. 
6 Hawkins, J., An Old Mauma's Folk-Lore, J. A. F. L., vol. 9 (1896), p. 130, 

6 141. 

^ 32, 189, 199, 75, 1, 397, and 289. Moore, R. A., Superstitions of Georgia, 
J. A. F.L., vol 9 {189Q), p. 22Q. Owen, Mary A., Voodoo Tales, pp. 6Q-Q7. 

8 Dyer, T. F. T., English Folk-Lore, pp. 156-57. Leather, E. M., Folk- 
Lore of Herefordshire, p. 82. 

* Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 514. 



346 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

is close enough to assume a probable European origin 
for the belief. Another common charm for teething 
is fresh rabbit's brains rubbed on the child's gums, ^ or 
dried and worn around the neck in a black silk bag, ^ 
or a rabbit's ear rubbed on the gums, ^ or the skin 
from a rabbit's belly, tied around the child's neck. ■* 
This idea of a rabbit's brain rubbed on the gums to 
aid teething ^ or a brain of a hare given to quiet a 
fretful child ^ is found in Europe as well. Besides 
rabbit's brains, the Negro uses a necklace of rattle- 
snake rattles, ^ or hog teeth, ^ or alligator teeth, ^ or a 
necklace of spices, ^ " or "tread-saft" (horse nettle — 
Solanum carolinense — strung on a thread and left on 
until they wear out), ^ ^ or china berries, or calamus 
root, ^ 2 or beads of elderberries, ^ » or a necklace of elder 
twigs, ^ ^ or six plain buttons strung around the baby's 
neck, ^ 5 or a penny about the neck, ^ ^ or a leather 
string, ^ ^ a frog, ^ » or a nutmeg ^ ^ around the neck, or 

1 132, 16, 112, and 406. Southern Workman, vol. 23 (1894), p. 66. 

2 Owen, Mary A., Voodoo Tales, pp. 66-67. 

3 Hawkins, J., An Old Mauma's Folk-Lore, J. A. F. L., vol. 9 (1896), 
p. 130 

* 57. Lee, C, Some Negro Lore from Baltimore, J. A. F. L., vol. 5 (1892), 
p. 111. Bergen, F. D., Animal and Plant Lore, M. A. F. L. S., vol. 7 (1894), 
p. 70. 

^ Lammert, G., Volksmedizin und Medizinischer Aherglauhe in Bay em 
p. 126. 

^ Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 211. 

"> 57, and 200. Bergen, F. D., Animal and Plant Lore, M. A. F. L. S., 
vol.7 (1899), p. 13. 

8 61, and 157. Southern Workman, vol. 23 (1894), p. 66. 
"Hawkins, J., An Old Mauma's Folk-Lore, J A. F. L., (1896), vol. 9, 
p. 130. 
1 » 288. 

1 1 141. Davis, H. C, Negro Folk-Lore in South Carolina, J. A. F. L., vol. 
27 (1914), p. 246. 
1 2 150. 
1 3 364. 

1* 141. Owen, Mary A., Voodoo Tales, pp. 66-67. 
i'*341. 
1 6 106. 
1 ' 278. 

18 Smiley, P., Folk-Lore from Va., S. C, Ga., Ala., and Fla., J. A.F.L , 
vol. 32 (1919), p. 379. 

19 189, and 341. 



Positive Control-Signs, and Cures 347 

a grasshopper's nest, ^ or a "sawyer-bug" (Monoham- 
mus confusor) tied around the neck (when the bug dies 
the tooth comes out), ^ or some buzzard feathers, ^ or 
some dog teeth In a Httle bag. * Mrs. Parsons also 
cites the Sea Islands case of washing the gums with 
milk from a dog or tea made from rabbit droppings. 
"Rabbit Is quick, dawg too, bof quick." ^ A final 
remedy is that of cutting a sprig of some green bush, 
naming It after the baby, and hanging it upside down 
in the corner of the room. When the baby frets from 
teething just point at the bush and his pains will 
cease at once. ^ 

New and Old Teeth. To "call de new teet' back" 
the teeth shed were put Into a corncob and flung over 
the house. ^ Others say the shed teeth should be care- 
fully put way, for if a dog should tread on one the 
child would have a dog's tooth In Its place. ^ The 
English version requires the dog to eat the tooth. ^ 

In conclusion of baby-lore, although scattered beliefs 
concerning children will be given in other connections, 
there Is that caution to mothers not to put their babies 
on the bed of a young married couple unless they 
desire that couple to have a child of their own within a 
very short time. ^ " This great mass of beliefs relating 

1141. 

2 Lee, C, Some Negro Lore from Baltimore, J. A. F. L., vol. 5 (1892), 
p. 111. 

3 76, and 100. 

* Parsons, E. C, Folk-Lore of the Sea Islands, S. C, M. A. F. L. S., voL 
16 (1923), pp. 198-99. 

fi lUd. 

«397. 

^ Parsons, E. C, Folk-Lore oj the Sea Islands, S. C, M. A. F. L. S., vol. 
16 (1923), pp. 198-99. 

8 141, and Southern Workman, vol. 23 (1894), p. 66. 

8 Frazer, J. G., The Golden Bough, p. 39. Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, 
p. 162. 

1" 312, and 397. Ohio Whites. 



348 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

to infants illustrates very clearly the importance of 
the woman as a carrier of folk-beliefs. We now turn 
our attention to a few of the control-beliefs concerned 
with moon-lore. 

Harnessing the Moon. Very general is the belief 
that if you show money (new money ^ or greenbacks 2) 
to the new moon you will have money all the month. ^ 
Others * repeat the English ^ formula of turning the 
money in their pockets on first seeing the new moon, 
for the same purpose. Others show money to the 
moon, throw five kisses to that planet and make five 
wishes. The wishes will "come true" before the month 
is over. ^ Others add that one should pray to the 
moon for good luck when so doing. ^ Still others 
make a low curtesy to the new moon and say three 
times, "Howdy, Mos' Moon," in the hope of plenty ^ — 
three curtseys are made to it in wishing in Europe. ^ 
"De moon is sho' er great accumulatah." ^ " "Show 
hit ennything you got an' you'll hab lots er dat thing 
'fo' de month is out, 'caze whatebber dat is hit'll grow 
wid de moon." ^ ^ "Ef you wants something you aint 
got, borry hit f'um a fren' an' show hit ter de new moon. 
You'll sho' hab dat thing fo' de end of de month." ^ ^ 
Whatever you are doing when you see the new moon 



1341. 

2 141. 

341. 
4397. 

^ Leather, E. M., Folk-Lore of Herefordshire, p. 16. Henderson, W., 
Folk-Lore of the Northern Counties of England, p. 86. Dyer, T. F. T., 
English Folk-Lore, p. 36. 
«310. 
MOO. 

» 112. Hawkins, J., An Old Mauma's Folk-Lore, J.A.F. L., vol. 9 (1896), 
p. 131. 

^ Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 182. 
10 141. 
11106. 
12 141. Southern Workman, vol. 33 (1904), p. 51. 



Positive Control-Signs, and Cures 349 

you will be doing all the month, ^ but if you point at 
the moon it is a sign of death. - To bleach your hair 
in the sun or moon means that you will have better 
health. ^ Wishes alone may be made to the new moon 
and will come true, * provided you do not tell them, ^ 
and, still others say, provided you kiss the person 
nearest you. ^ This latter, with the Negroes, ^ as well 
as with the Scotch, * is a good omen. 

The idea of things in general increasing or de- 
creasing with the moon seems to hold wide sway. 
In Africa on the Gold Coast, "at the new moon, 
people sometimes take ash, and putting it into their 
palms, blow it towards the crescent saying, T saw you 
before you saw me.' Otherwise they say that the 
increase of the moon would bring about their own 
decrease in strength." ^ Conjures, as we said, in 
the case of the Southern Negro, are set oftentimes with 
the dark or light of the moon to cause things to waste 
away or to grow. Shingles laid on during the increase 
of the moon will swell or curl up, ^ " and all tonics 
should be given at the full moon. ^ ^ The same prin- 
ciple holds with planting. Some suggest planting all 
seed on the increase of the moon, ^ ^ but the general 
Negro rule seems to be to plant root crops, such as 

1 122, and 123. 

2 113. 

3 Speers, Mary W. F., J. A. F. L., vol. 26 (1913), p. 191. 

* 176, and 339. 
''340. 

6 370. 
M59. 

* Gregor, W., Folk-Lore of the Northeast of Scotland, p. 151. 
^Cardinal, A. W., The Natives of the Northern Territories of the Gold 

Coast, p. 23. 

1 ° 141. Davis, H. C, Negro Folk-Lore in South Carolina, J. A. F. L., vol. 
27 (1914), p. 245. 

1 ' 141. Parsons, E. C, Folk-Lore of the Sea Islands, S. C, M.A.F. L. S., 
vol. 16 (1923), p. 213. 

12 Moore, R. A., Superstitions from Georgia, J. A. F. L.. vol. 7 (1894), 
p. 305. 



350 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

potatoes on the dark (or dull) of the moon, while 
plants such as corn, peas, or beans, growing on top of 
the soil, should be planted on the light of the moon to 
flourish properly. ^ On the Sea Islands peas or peanuts 
should be planted at full moon, or the pods will not 
fill up, corn and cotton should be planted at the same 
time since they bear up on top, and potatoes, bearing 
fruit in the ground, on dark nights. Here, too, the 
tide is also taken into consideration. Watermelons 
and potatoes are planted at the flood-tide, and churn- 
ing is done on the flood-tide to make the butter come 
quickly, "wid de tide." ^ 

Soap should be made ^ and hogs killed when the moon 
is large. Meat killed on the dark of the moon will 
draw up when cooked, or be tough, ^ or not give any 
lard, ^ while meat killed when the moon is large will 
swell. ^ This idea of meat swelling or decreasing with 
the moon was common in England ^ and Scotland ^ 
even as early as 1664. ^ The Negro refuses to castrate 
his hogs until the almanac says the signs are 
favorable. ^ ^ 

New Yearns Day. Passing now to some Afro- 
American lore regarding New Year's Day, we find 
again a great prevalence of European beliefs. The 
Negroes consider it lucky to eat black-eyed peas and 

1 141, and 289. Speers, Mary W. F., J. A. F. L., vol. 26 (1913), p. 190- 
Davis, H. C, Negro Folk-Lore in South Carolina, J. A. F. L., vol. 27 
(1914), p. 245. 

2 Parsons, E. C, Folk-Lore of the Sea Islands, S. C, M. A. F. L. S., vol. 
16 (1923), p. 209. 

3 Moore, R. A., Superstitions from Georgia, J. A. F. L., vol. 7 (1894), p. 305. 

n55. 

6 289. 

8 159. Parsons, E. C, Folk-Lore of the Sea Islands, S. C, M. A. F. L. S., 
vol. 16 (1923), p. 209. 

''Leather, E. M., Folk-Lore of Herefordshire, p. 15. 
^ Gregor, W., Folk-Lore of the Northeast of Scotland, p. 151. 
^ Brand, J., Popular Antiquities of Great Britain, vol. iii, p. 142. 
i»144. 



Positive Control-Signs, and Cures 351 

hog's head on New Year's Day, ^ some saying that 
you will have plenty to eat all the year, ^ or that you 
will have as many dollars as you have peas to eat. ^ 
In fact there is a Negro folk-rhyme, 

Dose black-eyed peas is lucky, 
When e't on New Year's Day, 
You alius has sweet 'taters, 
An' 'possum come yore way," * 

showing clearly the strength of this belief. 

In a sense. New Year's Day is prognostic of the 
whole year. In both England ^ and Afro-America ^ 
the idea prevails that empty pockets on New Year's 
Day means a year of poverty, while even a handful of 
something means plenty throughout the year. If you 
do something on New Year's Day you will do that 
thing throughout the year. ^ A whipping on New 
Year's Day and you will be whipped all the year; ^ 
go off on New Year's Day and you will be going all 
the year;^ work that day and you will work all the 
year. ^ ° Much the same idea prevails in England, 
where it is considered unlucky to sell whiskey on 
credit on that day, ^ ^ or to allow anything to be taken 
from your house before something has been brought 

1 141, 152, 189, and 341. 
2 12, and 224. 

3 357, 

4 57. " Talley, T. W., Negro Folk Rhymes, p. 201. 

^ Henderson, W., Folk-Lore of the Northern Counties of England, p. 55. 
Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 235. 

6 141. 

' 106, and 341. 

8 61. 

9 206. 

1 " Parsons, E. C, Folk-Lore of the Sea Islands, S. C, M. A. F. L. S., vol 
16 (1923), p. 209. 

"• 1 Hardiwick, C, Traditions, Superstitions and Folk-Lore, p. 63. 



352 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

in. 1 In the Negro South if you stumble on the first 
day of the year it is bad luck; ^ if you leave the house 
before seven that morning you will hear of somebody's 
death; 3 while the first twelve days of January are 
considered as representing the twelve months of the 
year. * If it rains on New Year's Day it will surely 
be a rainy year. ^ 

The Watery Grave. Another branch of Negro lore 
partially English in origin is that of locating drowned 
bodies. Commonly, fodder (set on fire) ^ is thrown into 
the stream and is supposed to come to a stop over the 
spot where the body rests. ^ Or else some of the old 
clothes of the drowned man may be thrown into the 
current with the same result. ^ The body of the drowned 
will float on the ninth day or may be brought to the 
surface sooner by firing guns over the place where 
the body lies. A loaf filled with quicksilver, floated 
down-stream, will stop over the location of the body. * 
These three latter beliefs are English in origin. ^ " 

General Good Luck. Signs and the practical needs 
of life are as closely associated in the affairs of the 
Negro as are "cawn braid an' 'lasses" in his cupboard. 
True, there are definite acts which give certain set and 
specific results, but often there are lazy individuals 
who do not care "ter monkey wid no littl' foolish- 

1 Ihid., p. 62. 

2 57, and Southern Workman, vol. 23 (1894), p. 15. 

3 360. 
*341. 

U19, andOl. 

"286. Parsons, K C, Folk-Lore oj the Sea Islands, S. C, M. A. F. 
L. S., vol. 16 (1923), p. 213. 

7 91. 

8 91, and 41. 
»91. 

'"Henderson, W., Folk-Lore of the Northern Counties of England, pp. 
43-44. Leather, E. M., Folk-Lore of Herefordshire, p. 10. 



Positive Control-Signs, and Cures 353 

ness" for each and every separate activity, but prefer 
instead a sort of "shotgun-sign" bringing good luck in 
general. One easy way is to set the good luck genius 
to work while you sleep by putting your shoes with 
the toes pointing to the bed,^ though all Negroes are not 
agreed on this, since another informant says, "Always 
place your shoes, when you retire, under the side of 
your bed, set right and left as you wore them, with the 
toes pointing out, not under the bed, if you want to get 
up well and happy in the morning." ^ More zealous 
suitors of Dame Fortune move on Sunday, ^ or push 
an ordinary straight pin back into their garments when 
it is about to fall out, ^ while to those with even greater 
assiduity, seven years of good luck result from finding 
out the number of bounces in a rubber ball. ^ In 
this Eden of general good luck even the Negro "song- 
ster" warbles his melodies. The following old rhyme, 
referring to the fact that it is good luck to catch a 
bat in your hat, providing you don't get bedbugs 
by so doing, is typical: 

Bat! Bat! Come un'er my hat, 
An' I'll give you a slish o' bacon, 
But don't bring none yo' ole bedbugs, 
If you don' want to git fersaken. ^ 

"Horse-dotting" or "stamping" is a gainful occupation 
with the Negroes, and consists of touching the index 
finger of the right hand to the tongue when seeing a 
white horse, transferring the spittle to the palm of the 

242. 
3341. 

* 141. 

* 396. 

6 Talley, T. W., Negro Folk Rhymes, p. 202. 

23 



354 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

left hand where It Is "pounded In" with the right fist. 
In Mississippi a hundred "dots" results In the finding 
of money — a white mule counting for ten "dots" 
while a white horse counts only one. In Georgia the 
Idea Is that "stampin' er mule" gives you good luck, ^ 
while the Baltimore Negroes say that If you count one 
hundred red horses and begin with a red mule the 
first person with whom you shake hands will be your 
future mate. ^ In Leeds a gray horse Is considered 
good luck, 3 and In Herefordshire a person who crosses 
his thumbs and wishes on seeing a white horse will 
surely obtain his wish. ^ More will be said regarding 
the sacred nature of the horse In connection with 
horseshoe lore, and white, being the unusual color, 
is generally looked upon with especial reverence. 

Wishing. The elusive wish Is "treed" by turning 
over three times In bed on hearing the first whlppoor- 
wlll of the year, ^ or, as the more meticulous say, by 
going outdoors and rolling over three times In the 
direction of the call. ^ Some substitute the mourning 
dove for the whippoorwill, '' while the lazy man simply 
"makes his wish" on the first whippoorwill, without 
the attendant gymnastics. ^ Wishes made the first 
night spent in a strange house always come true. ^ 

Fishing and Hunting. In old England "to cast auld 
schone after an individual or after a company was an 

1312. 

2 Lee, C, Some Negro Lore from Baltimore, J. A. F. L., vol. 5 (1892), 
p. IIL 

' Lean's Collectanea, vol. 1, p. 444. 

■^ Leather, E. M., Folk-Lore of Herefordshire, p. 23. 

* Showers, Susan B., Alabama Folk-Lore, Southern Workman, vol. 29 
(1900), p. 180. 

8 141. 

7 155. 
» 378. 
9 141, and Ohio Whites. 



Positive Control-Signs, and Cures 355 

ancient superstitious mode of expressing a wish for the 
safety or prosperity of the person or party leaving the 
house." 1 Doubtless this same idea is operative when 
a member of the household slyly whacks the departing 
Negro fisherman in the back with an old shoe as he 
leaves the house. In order to be thoroughly effective, 
however, in bringing luck on the fishing trip, the 
thrower of the shoe must return to the house without 
looking back and without a word of explanation. ^ 
Again the fisherman himself will throw a shoe back- 
wards towards the house on leaving, ^ or will carry 
money on a fishing trip for good luck. ^ The Negro ^ 
custom of spitting on the bait to attract the fish is 
common in many parts of the world. ^ A good hunter 
out-thinks his prey by eating the brains of the game he 
slays 7 ("ef you eats rabbit you will sho be sly an' 
cunnin' ") ; ^ while a person desiring to learn to swim 
will find the swim-bladder of a fish swallowed raw 
much more effective than any amount of instruction. ^ 

The Future. The sable fortune-teller extracts the 
last iota of material satisfaction from his cup of coffee, 
then waves the cup three times over his head and 
turns it upside down in his saucer to find the coffee- 
grounds big with predictions of the future. ^ " One 
wife found a cross (trouble) pointing towards a clear 

1 Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 13. 

2 141. 

* 57. Work, M. H., Some Geechee Folk-Lore, Southern Workman, vol. 
341 (1905), p. 697. 

*30. 

6 141. 

6 Bergen, Fanny D., Some Saliva Charms, J. A. F. L., vol. 3 (1890), 
p. 57. 

^ 45, and 197. 

8 339. 

9 141, and 204. Southern Workman, vol. 23 (1894), p. 66. 
10 381. 



356 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

space (water) on the north (the direction of a neigh- 
bor's plantation to which her husband had gone). 
Across the clear space was another cross (trouble 
again) with an eagle (luck) on the other side. But 
between the cross and the eagle was a woman; the whole 
indicating that a woman on the neighboring plantation 
would come between her and her husband, but that the 
wife would win out in the end. ^ Others prefer hy- 
dromancy, and look into the well on Hallowe'en Day 
at eleven o'clock to know their future, ^ or else peer 
over the well-curb through a smoked glass when the 
moon is in an eclipse to see their corpse. ^ To those 
who "know de signs" nothing is unknown. The wise 
hunter whose smoky, black powder load prevents him 
from perceiving whether or not his shot reached their 
rightful destination will look into his gun barrel. If 
he sees blood there he knows the game was hit. ^ 

Practicality of ^'Signs.^^ Every possible contingency 
is brought under the supposed control of man. Beauty 
comes from eating chicken gizzards, ^ or drinking pot- 
liquor;^ long life from eating uncooked bread; ^ and 
happiness from wearing a smiling face each day until 
ten o'clock, ^ or from kissing some person on Sunday. ^ 
An unwelcome visitor is best kept from returning by 
sweeping behind him as he leaves the house ^ " or by 
putting red pepper in his tracks, ^ ^ while a congenial 

1 Boyle, Mrs. V. F., Devil Tales, pp. 5-6. 

2 252. 
=•177. 
M02. 

" 45, and 218. Southern Workman, vol. 23 (1894), p. 66. 

«157. 

MIO. 

8 341. 

9 235. 
1061. 
1175. 



Positive Control-Signs, and Cures 357 

crony may be immediately summoned without tele- 
phone by spitting on a piece of wood which happens 
to fall from the fireplace and naming it after that 
person. ^ Should you desire an immediate reply to a 
letter no "R. S. V. P." is necessary. Simply place 
your stamp on the letter upside down. ^ The pen of 
the tiresome scribe, on the other hand, may be entirely 
stayed by burning off each end of a letter received from 
him and returning the scorched fragments to the un- 
lucky admirer. ^ A scarcity of hog feed is best made 
up for by cuttin,g off the hog's tail, * the nourishment 
formerly required by that appendage apparently going 
to the rest of the body, and keeping the pig up to his 
standard fatness. No snake-bite will kill a dog whose 
*'dew-claws" have been cut, ^ and he who has self- 
control enough to keep his tongue out of the cavity left 
by an extracted tooth will in time find a beautiful 
gold tooth adorning that gap ^ — a superstition purely 
European in origin. ^ A person desiring long, straight 
hair should use a tonic of "May-water" ^ or wrap strings 
around his wisps of hair from root to end ^ — the latter 
being the customary way of dressing pickaninnies' 
hair almost throughout the South. A girl who desires 
to become a boy has merely to kiss her elbow, ^ ° the 
same rule applying to a boy who desires to become a 
girl. ^ 1 Few provinces, either here or hereafter, are 

1341. 
2395. 
3402. 

* 340. 

* 91, and Moore, R. A., Superstitions from Georgia, J. A. F. L., vol. 7 
(1894), p. 305. 

6 298. 

^ Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 126. 

«235. 

"286. 
10 148, and 341. 
11112. 



358 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

left untouched by these "signs." Fear of thunder Is 
overcome by catching some rain-water before it hits 
the ground, ^ and even the devil himself may be 
brought into view by throwing a red-hot iron into the 
middle of a whirlwind. ^ 

Folk Remedies. We turn now to that mixture of 
herbs and hoodoo constituting Afro-American medicine. 
True it is that some of these remedies are of real 
medicinal value, but such are not clearly distinguished 
by the rural Negroes from the quite useless charms 
which are used, and, as often as not, the charms are 
mingled in with the curative herb itself, "jes' ter make 
sho' " of the desired result. Often quite as much 
attention is paid to the mode of administration as to 
the drug itself, which reminds one of the African 
treatment of disease, where no distinction is made 
between the therapeutic action of the drug and the 
mode of its administration. In fact, the administration 
is judged by the Africans to be the most important 
part, "both mode of administration and the drug 
itself deriving all their efficiency from a spirit claimed 
by the magician to be under his control, which is in 
some way pleased to be associated with the particular 
drug and those special ceremonies." ^ This idea of 
the curative effect of medicine being due to an indwell- 
ing spirit is clearly illustrated when the natives refer 
to a medicine which does a person no good, as a med- 
icine which refuses "to hear" rather than one which 
refuses "to cure." ^ One Congo medicine-man showed 



^Southern Workman, vol. 24 (1895), p. 49. 

2 141. 

3 Nassau, R. H., Fetichism in West Africa, p. 106. 

* Schwab, G., Bulu Folk-Tales, J. A. F. L., vol. 27 (1914), p. 274. Koelle , 
S. M., African Native Literature (Kanuri Proverbs), p. 187, (note 2). 



Positive Control-Signs, and Cures 359 

great skill in massaging some imbedded gunshot 
bullets out of a wounded native, but the spectators 
were more impressed by the irrelevant and absurd 
rites than by the knowledge and dexterity of the 
operator. Even where herbs of known medicinal 
value are employed, the fetish-man, in order to main- 
tain his reputation, invests the treatment with such 
elaborate magical surroundings as to make the herbal- 
mixture subservient to the charm of fetish agencies. ^ 

Germs and Ghosts. In several cases the Southern 
Negro approaches closely this African idea of disease 
being caused by evil spirits and being cured by driving 
oif these spirits. Various means are employed to 
dodge or drive away these mephitic banshees. For 
instance, a person who feels a chill coming on will run 
as fast as he can to keep the chill from catching him. ^ 
My elderly aunts tell me of an old Negro of their 
acquaintance who used to wear two cow horns on 
a band around his head to cure the roaring in his h'ead 
and to keep oif ghosts. When he became too warm 
and put off the contrivance the evil spirits would 
come upon him at once. ^ One Negro hoodoo-doctor 
relieved a person by burning a compound in the room, 
sprinkling vile-smelling powders on the bed, and 
opening the window "to let the devil out." Small 
balls of feathers found in the sick man's pillow were 
wet with kerosene, burned, and the ashes buried. ^ 
In general, however, the idea of disease being due to an 

1 Glave, E. J., Fetishism in Congo Land, Century Magazine, vol. 19 
(1891), p. 835. 

2 91. See also, Southern Workman, vol. 23 (1894), p. 66. 

3 242, and 281. 

* Hardy, Sarah M. Negro Superstitions, Lippincott's Monthly Magazine, 
vol. xlviii (1891), p. 736. 



360 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

indwelling spirit has been forgotten by the Negro, 
although the practices formerly designed to remove 
this indwelling spirit still exist, indicating that practices 
often outlive the theory with which their origin is asso- 
ciated. For that matter, both the Negro and primitive 
man in general, for the most part, look at magic only on 
its practical side — with them magic is always an art, 
never a science. ^ Certain actions produce certain 
results: A Georgia woman cures pain by drawing a 
mystic symbol on the ground,. ^ another woman might 
use a hot poultice. The latter we would say has real 
medicinal value, but to the Negro the two are not in 
essence distinguished, since only the practical ends 
and not the theory are considered. 

Rheumatism. With the possible exception of trouble 
in teething, which we have already discussed, the great 
Negro ailment seems to be rheumatism. Another 
reason, however, for the multitudinous cures concocted 
for this latter disease probably lies in the fact that 
"rheumatism" is a very inclusive term with the Ne- 
groes, taking in almost every unfamiliar ache from a 
crick in the neck to tertiary syphillis. A buckeye 
{JEsculus glabra) carried in the (left) pocket ^ is generally 
supposed to work a cure for rheumatism as well as for 
piles, * a belief apparently English. ^ A raw potato 
carried in the pocket will have the same effect, ^ the 
potato petrifying as the malady is drawn from the 

1 Frazer, J. G., The Golden Bough, pp. 11-12. 

2 Moore, Ruby A., Superstitions in Georgia, J. A.F. L., vol. 5 (1892), pp. 
230-31. 

* 156, 289, 288, and 345. Also, McCullough, J. E., The Human Way, 
pp. 58-59. 

^ Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 50©. 
6 1, 156, and 341. 



Positive Control-Signs, and Cures 361 

body. 1 This cure-all is also English in origin. ^ 
Brass and copper are great enemies of rheumatism, 
often worn as earrings or finger rings, ^ but generally, 
as I have often observed with the Mississippi Negroes, 
as bracelets of brass or copper wire, worn about the 
wrist or ankle. * A snake skin (claimed in Europe also 
to be medicinal), ^ especially the skin of a rattlesnake, 
dried and tied around the wrist or leg is good for 
rheumatism. ^ Worn around the waist it will pro- 
long life, ^ sometimes being mixed with grease from a 
cow's hoof, s It may be that the flexibility of the 
snake was the quality which first suggested its use to 
cure stiffness. Grease stewed from a black dog is 
also helpful, ^ though some say it should be put on 
in the dark of the moon to be most efi'ective. ^ ° The 
black dog is the animal of unusual color and hence 
fetishistic; the buzzard is a carrion bird and fetish 
because of his association with the dead. Oftentimes 
a buzzard will be stewed down and the grease used for 
rheumatism or stiff joints. ^ ^ Some folks say that 
the limbs should be wrapped in red flannel after the 
grease has been applied ^ ^ — red flannel being in 

1278. 

2 Dyer, T. F. T., English Folk-Lore, p. 21. Leather, E. M., Folk-Lore 
of Herefordshire, p. 80. Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 509. 

5 13, and 141. Bergen, F. D., Current Superstitions, M. A. F. L. S., 
vol. 4 (1896), p. 96 ff. 

* 150, and 312. 

^ Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 397. 

8 91. Smiley, P., Folk-Lore from Va., S. C, Ga., Ala., and Fla., J. A. 
F. L., vol. 32 (1919), p. 379. Owen, Mary A., Voodoo Tales, p. 227. 

^37. Bergen, F. D., Animal and Plant Lore, M. A. F. L. S., vol. 7 
<1899), p. 13. 

8 91, and 133. 

9 341. 

1 Owen, Mary A., Voodoo Tales, p. 250. 
11214, 341, and 280. 
1 2 345, and 406. 



362 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

itself both a cure and preventive of rheumatism, ^ 
and being at times worn in a simple strip around the 
wrist. 2 Perhaps after all there may be something in 
the invisible light rays screened off or attracted by 
red flannel which may be of some value in curing 
the trouble. For rheumatism, asthma, and "jerking 
fits" (epilepsy) two wing feathers of the buzzard are 
effective if burned under the nose and the smoke in- 
haled. ^ A coin, especially a (silver) dime, worn about 
the neck * or ankle will surely stop rheumatism. ^ 
The use of the same charm to prevent conjuration 
would seem to indicate that both conjure and rheu- 
matism are in the same category, possibly causally 
related. Some Negroes wear a penny in the toe of 
each shoe to cure the disease. ^ 

Many other rheumatism specifics are to be found 
in Negro leechcraft. A ball of asafoetida worn around 
the neck;^ a mole squeezed to death in your hand;* 
a churchyard snail soaked in vinegar for seven days, 
rolled in meal, and worn about the neck;^ collard 
leaves and vinegar, ^ " or vinegar and clay ^ ^ — all these 
are equally palliative. This reference to clay reminds 
me of a story told me as a child by an old slave conjure- 
doctor who is now dead. One winter night when he 
was racked with rheumatism, an angel appeared to 



^ Davis, H. C, Negro Folk-Lorein South Carolina, J. A. F. L., vol. 27 
(1914), p. 246. 

2 232. 

3 141. Parsons, E. C, Folk-Lore of the Sea Islands, S. C, M. A. F. 
L. S., vol. 16 (1923), p. 213. 

^341. 

^ 150, 320, 364, and 406. 

6 189. 

^289. 

8 280. 

"33. 
1 179. 
1167. 



Positive Control-Signs, and Cures 363 

him in a vision informing him that man was made of 
dust and that it would take dust to patch him up when 
he was aihng. Earthworms are the Hfe of dust, 
therefore fry the earthworms in lard and use the 
mixture as a salve. He did so and, according to his 
story, was immediately healed. ^ After that he used 
the salve for every complaint from headache to bunions 
and in consequence lived to about the age of ninety. 
There is no flaw in the logic of his argument, but I 
have since come to doubt his vision because fried 
earthworms seem generally to be a favorite ingredient 
of rheumatism cures, possibly because of their snake- 
like appearance. Some cook clay, lard, and angle- 
worms together for this purpose; ^ others put the 
earthworms into a bottle with clay, and cook it. By 
this process the worms are said to be converted into 
lard which is to be used as a salve. Or else frog lard 
mixed with salt, pepper, and turpentine, is very 
effective, or even fish grease will help out. ^ 

Backache. For backache (generally called rheu- 
matism) let a child who has never seen his father walk 
across your back, ^ or, as others say, the seventh 
daughter of any one. ^ Rolling over twice towards 
the first dove (or whippoorwill) ^ you hear during the 
year will likewise stop and prevent such pain. '' Rub- 
bing the part with an eelskin is effective, ^ while in 

1107. 

2 141. Bergen, F. D., Animal and Plant Lore, M. A. F. L. S., vol. 7 
(1899), p. 75. 

391. 

« 286. Southern Workman, vol. 33 (1904), p. 52. 

s McCuUough, J. E., The Human Way, pp. 58-59. 

6 286. 

' Southern Workman, vol. 30 (1904), p. 58. 

*141. Davis, H. C, Negro Folk-Lore in South Carolina, J. A. F. L., 
vol.27 (1914), p. 246. 



364 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

Europe (Freiburg) a dried eelskin is tied around 
a joint for the same purpose. ^ With the Negro a 
live toad-frog will bring a cure ^ — in Devonshire the 
toad is burned and the ashes carried about the neck 
in a silk bag. ^ Gall from animals rubbed on the 
body will also relieve rheumatism. ^ Probably the 
original idea was that its bitterness would drive the 
disease spirit from the affected parts. A bath in white 
sassafras root tea is good,^ as is also red oak bark 
tea, ^ or tea made of mullein flowers, '' or a tea made 
of poke root, alum, and salt, boiled together and used 
as a linament. « Some say Epsom salts dissolved in 
water also makes a good linament. ^ A poultice of 
Jamestown-weed will cure both rheumatism and 
headache. ^ " 

Chills and Fever. Next to remedies for rheumatism, 
cures for chills and fever seem to occupy the largest 
place in Negro folk-medicine. Cut a notch in a piece 
of wood for every chill you have had, blow on it, and 
throw it into a running stream where you never expect 
to pass again. Go on home without looking back 
and you will have no more chills. Or bore a hole 
deep into the sunny (south) side of an oak tree, blow 
your breath into the hole, and plug up the aperture 
tightly. The tree will die but your chills will be cured. ^ ^ 

1 Fogel, E. M . , Beliefs and Superstitions of the Pennsylvania Germans, p. 328. 

2 152. 

'Henderson, W., Folk-Lore of the Northern Counties of England, p. 170. 
4 341. 
6 141. 

6 91. Parsons, E. C, Folk-Lore of the Sea Islands, S. C, M. A. F. 
L. S., vol. 16 (1923), p. 212. 
^288. 

8 324. 

9 188. 

i" Davis, H. C, Folk-Lore in South Carolina, J. A. F. L., vol. 27 (1914), 
p. 246. 

"Speers, Mary W. F., J. A. F. L., vol. 26 (1913), p. 191. 



Positive Control-Signs, and Cures 365 

Hattie Harris prescribes a knot in a piece of string 
for every chill you have had, the string to be worn 
about the waist; ^ others say (walking backwards) ^ 
the string should be tied to a persimmon tree. ^ If 
you wish, you may cut out as many knots (eyes) from 
a potato as you have had chills and give it to a hog 
who "will eat up the chills" with the potato. " Or 
cut off your toe-nails, put them in a sack and tie the 
sack to the hind leg of a frog. » Somewhat less pleasant 
is the tying of a live frog to the patient's big toe, the 
chill then going out of the patient into the frog. « 
This transferrence of disease in general to an animal or 
to some other person is found also in Africa. In 
some cases there the sick man's ailment is simply 
transferred to a live fowl, "which is set free with it, 
and if any one catches the fowl, the disease goes to 
him." ^ Or, in Calabar, if you are about to die, the 
medicine-man can give you the soul "of one who is 
likely to live long, bestowing yours in its place, so 
that you live and he dies." ^ 

However, so numerous are the various remedies that 
the Negro seldom has to resort to the seedy practice 
of inflicting harmless animals with his chills and fevers. 
Red pepper or salt in the shoes will prevent and cure 
chills as well as conjuration, and briars strung around 
the neck will cure chills and fever ^ — the latter being 
hard to explain unless in the beginning there was an 

1141. 

2341. 

391. Steiner, R., Sol. Lockhart's Call, J. A. F. L., vol. 13 (1900), p. 67. 

*204. 

6 341. 

^Southern Workman, vol. 23 (1894), p. 66. 

^ Tylor, E. B., Primitive Culture, vol. ii, p. 48. 

* Burton, R. F., Wit and Wisdom from West Africa, p. 362. 

^Southern Workman, vol. 24 (1895), p. 49. 



366 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

actual disease spirit to be kept off. Red pepper 
rubbed up and down the back "warms up de system," ^ 
as does also a new domestic sack half full of salt into 
which nine grains of red pepper and four buckeyes 
have been put. Wear this around your waist and you 
will never again be bothered with chills. ^ Else you 
may take bitter-weed tea ^ or wash in water that was 
heated in the sun. •* In Mississippi ^ and Alabama ^ 
it is believed that if one carries buckeyes in the pocket 
he will have no chills through the year. Take a live 
bedbug, ^ or a grasshopper from which all the legs 
have been pulled, wrap him up in a piece of dough and 
swallow alive. This is a sure cure. ^ An old con- 
jurer tells me of his original "chill cure," which con- 
sists of snatching up three different kinds of weeds, 
any sort that happen to be handy, pinching off the 
middle root of each, tying them together and leaving 
them to dry. When they are thoroughly dry the chill 
will have gone. This old Negro chill-specialist also 
recommends a tea made from willow roots and sprigs 
into which has been put nine drops of turpentine and 
nine of camphor. Sweeten with sugar and take. ^ 
Tea made from red or black snakeroot is a fine general 
tonic for chills, fever, and malaria. The roots should 
be obtained in the spring when the sap is high. ^ " Or 
bathe the patient in a tea made from red oak bark. 



iQL 

2 157, and 14L 

3 267. 
<331. 
5 297. 

« Bergen, F. D., Some Bits of Plant Lore, J.A.F. L., vol. 5 (1892), p. 20. 
7 91, and 141. 

^Southern Workman, vol. 23 (1894), p. 209. Possibly an attempt to 
please the gods by reverting to an old type of food. 
991. 
1 54. 



Positive Control-Signs, and Cures 367 

eight drops of turpentine, and a handful of salt. If 
the person has fever, wrap him completely (or his 
forehead) ^ in leaves from the "Palm of Christian," ^ 
This "Palm of Christian" is the palma Christi (Ricinus 
communis), or castor oil plant, the term literally 
meaning the hand of Christ, possibly so-called because 
of its connection with the healing castor oil. 

Other good febrifuges consist of smartweed (a 
species of Polygonum) tea, ^ or tea from mullein 
leaves, life-everlasting, * dog-fennel, ^ Jerusalem-oak, ^ 
bitter weed ^ (probably Ambrosia artemesicsfolid), or 
hog's hoof. ^ Typhoid fever may be cured by taking 
a bath in steeped peach leaves, while a young black 
chicken split open and applied bloody and hot to the 
chest also cures fever. ^ 

Sore Throat. Of European ^ ° origin is the idea 
that sore throat may be best "doctored" by tying the 
sock that you have worn all day around your throat 
with the sole of the sock turned towards your skin. 
Lose it accidentally in the night to avoid taking more 
cold. ^ ^ Others say salt ^ ^ or warm ashes ^ ^ should 
be put into the stocking, and some insist upon using a 

1341. 

2 141. Parsons, E. C, Folk-Lore of the Sea Islands, S. C, M. A. F. L. S., 
vol. 16 (1923), p. 212. 

'91, 341, and 258. 

^ 91. Parsons, E. C, Folk-Lore of the Sea Islands, S. C, M.A.F. L. S., 
vol. 16 (1923), p. 212. 

^67. 

6 150. 

^208. 

8 161, and 208. 

9 150. 

1" Leather, E. M., Folk-Lore of Herefordshire, p. 81, Lean's Collectanea, 
vol. 2, p. 512. 

» 1 141. Southern Workman, vol. 23 (1894), p. 66. 

1 2 400. 

139. 



368 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

dark stocking. ^ The patient is given the alternatives 
of eating salt and gargling with salt and pepper, ^ 
or of using a tea of black pepper and vinegar in the 
same manner. ^ Otherwise he may suck a kerosene 
lamp-wick, ^ or rub his neck on a stump where a hog 
has rubbed. ^ I am unable to see the original sig- 
nificance of licking the fire tongs or pot hooks the full 
length from back to point, or of licking an ordinary- 
table fork in the same manner after having first made 
a crossmark on it, but one of my hoodoo friends informs 
me that this is a remarkable panacea for sore throat. ^ 
A simpler remedy is to hold your throat tight and 
swallow three times. ' 

^^Fallen-Palate.'''' Many of the Negroes think that 
sore throat, and fever as well, is caused by the falling 
of the palate, ^ and this complication is always giving 
them concern. There is supposed to be a hair on the 
crown (and sides as well) ^ of the head which supports 
the palate, and the usual remedy when the "palate 
draps" is to pull this "palate-lock" up quickly, twist 
the wisp of hair up tightly and tie with a string ^ ° (or 
piece of cloth). ^ ^ At my father's manufacturing plant 
in Mississippi the Negro hands frequently have to 
"lay oflF" a day or so to cure "fallen-palate." An old 

1208. 

2 9L 

3 188. 
M62. 
6 239. 

6 91. 

'267. 

* 141. Bergen, F. D., Animal and Plant Lore, M. A. F. L. S., vol. 7 
(1899), p. 78. 
"141. 

i»232, and 397. Davis, H. C, Negro Folk-Lore in S. C, J. A. F. L., 
vol. 27 (1914), p. 246. 

1 1 Brannon, P. A., Central Alabama Negro Superstitions, Birmingham 
(Ala.) News, Jan. 18, 1925, p. 15. 



Positive Control-Signs, and Cures 369 

Negro woman In the quarters is a regular "fallen- 
palate" expert and effects a cure by giving the hair on 
the top of the patient's head a sudden yank, at the 
same time striking him sharply in the back of the neck. 
The flagging palate snaps back into place. ^ If one 
does not like the hair pulling business he may be cured 
by touching a spoonful of pepper and salt to the tip 
of his morose member. It hops back to Its accustomed 
place and there remains. - This latter remedy seems 
to be of European origin since it is found among the 
rural whites of Illinois. •'' 

Colds and Other Respiratory Diseases. Colds are 
somewhat akin to sore throat and the Negro, some- 
what out of his ethnic habitat, is peculiarly sus- 
ceptible to respiratory disorders of all sorts. Before 
going out with a low-neck dress in the winter time, a 
girl should put a little cold water on her chest just 
before leaving the house, to avoid catching cold. ^ 
If the cold-demon has already fastened his insidious 
talons upon you, you may drive him away (or even 
cure pneumonia) ^ by taking hog's hoof tea, " or pine- 
top sweetened with honey; ^ although a tea made 
from sweet-gum {Liquidambar styraciflua) balls is 
equally good. ^ Mullein leaves made into tea » or 
put into the shoe, ^ ° pinestraw tea, ^ ^ dollar leaf {Pyrola 

1287. 

"-Southern Workman, vol. 23 (1894), p. 66. 

3 86. 

M88. 

6 397. 

«341. 

'400. 

8 341. 

9 267. 

10 13, and 331. 
» 1 208. 



24 



370 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

rotundifolia) tea, ^ or a drink of ice-water or hot lemonade 
just before going to bed - are also common treatments 
used. 

If you prefer, you may burn some old cotton rags 
(with sugar ^) and sniff the smoke, ■* or, for catarrh? 
burn and sniff some wool rags, immediately there- 
after inserting a teaspoonful of sweet milk with one 
grain of salt in it, into the nostrils. ^ For those of a 
more unctuous nature the familiar goose-grease may 
be rubbed on the chest. ^ A necklace of small mashed 
onions about the neck will cure diptheria ^ — doubtless 
at first by stinking out the disease spirit. Asthma, 
croup, and colic are relieved by twisting some of a 
person's hair about a nail, driving the nail part way 
into a tree, cutting the lock of hair from the head, and 
then driving both nail and hair deeply into the tree. 
Within eighteen days the patient will be cured. » 
Others simply place the hair in a hole in the tree to 
cure asthma, or else dry some Jimson weed leaves, 
burn them, and inhale the smoke. ^ Consumption 
("brown cheatom," or bronchitis) may be cured by 
drinking hot blood from the heart of a young heifer; ^ "^ 
by swallowing a rattlesnake heart live and hot; ^ ^ 
by gravy stewed from a black cat; ^ ^ grease from a 
black dog, ^ ^ taken three times a day with a little 



166. 

2 35, and Ohio Whites. 

3 14L 

'^Southern Workman, vol. 23 (189.5), p. 66, and Ohio Whites. 

5 141. 

6 26. 

^ Davis, H. C, Negro Folk-Lore in South Carolina, J. A. F. L., vol. 27 
(1914), p. 246. 

8 387. 

9 363. 
i«91. 

11 Owen, Mary A., Voodoo Tales, p. 250. 

1 2 180. 

13 Owen, Mary A., Voodoo Tales, p. 250. 



Positive Control-Signs, and Cures 371 

honey; ^ the hind leg of a fat dog eaten; ^ or grease from 
a buzzard smeared on the chest. ^ 

Whooping Cough. Whooping cough may be con- 
veniently classed as a child's disease, and It Is Interest- 
ing to note that we have here again an English turn 
to the cures, although the parallel Is not entirely 
exact. This lies In the association of the horse with 
the cure of the disease. With the Negro, mare's 
milk (drawn from the left side) ^ Is widely used;^ 
horse manure Is put on the chest, or the child allowed 
to play all day In the stable to Inhale the odor;^ or 
the child Is taken to drink water out of a vessel just 
used by a white horse. ^ In England three spoonfuls 
of milk drawn from the teats of the she-ass and mixed 
with hairs from her back and belly. Is allowed to stand 
for three hours and then given to the child in three 
doses, the ceremony being repeated for three mornings. 
Or else the child is taken Into a stable where there Is a 
tainted atmosphere, or Is allowed to inhale the breath 
of a piebald horse. ^ In addition to these equine 
cures the Negroes also use oil from the hog's hoof;^ 
a black velvet band around the neck as a preventive; ^ " 
or a tea made from white ants, i ^ A child who has 
not seen his father is allowed to breathe into the 
afflicted person's mouth in hopes of a cure. ^ - One 

1141. 

2 91. Thomas and Thomas, Kentucky Superstitions, p. 100. 

3341. 

<91. 

6 341. 

«Smilev, P., Folk-Lore from Va., S. C, Ga., Ala., and Fla., J. A. F. L., 
vol. 32 (1919), p. 379. 

7 67. 

* Leather, E. M., Fokl-Lore of Herefordshire, p. 82. Lean^s Collectanea, 
vol. 2, pp. 500-02. 

^Southern Workman, vol. 23 (1894), p. 66. Informants 57, and 141. 
1" Thomas and Thomas, Kentucky Superstitions, p. 131. 
''Ibid., and 91. 
12341. 



372 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

informant suggests that the child's head be held over 
a "commode" (toilet) to stop the cough. ^ 

Hiccoughs. I rather suspect a European parallel 
to the beliefs found among the Negroes and common 
to the whites of both North ^ and South, ^ that hic- 
coughs may be cured by holding your breath and taking 
nine swallows of water. ^ Nine grains of pepper for 
nine mornings, ^ or nine shot held in the mouth are 
equally serviceable. Some put a straw in the top of 
their hair; ^ others recommend thinking of one's 
lover. ^ 

Toothache. Toothache is a universal ailment, es- 
pecially among the Negroes, who seldom see a dentist 
and who live largely on a sugar (molasses) diet. The 
fabled white teeth of the Negro, so dentists of the 
South tell me, are more idealistic than actual, par- 
ticularly as regards the older Negroes with their 
snaggled, discolored, uncared-for tusks. Perhaps it is 
the contrast with a black skin that causes us to accord 
them a snowiness greater than they possess. The 
Negro likes gold crowns, and I have often seen them 
with gold shells fitted over perfectly sound teeth 
simply for the glitter offered. 

The root-doctress who advised splinters from the 
north side of a pine tree that had been struck by 
lightning, to get a person out of jail, also claims that 
if one picks an aching tooth with one of these splinters 
and throws the sliver into running water, his toothache 

198. 

2 295. 

3 292. 

* 152, and 157. Southern Workman, vol. 23 (1894), p. 66. 

6.341. 

« 150, and 172. 

'341. 



Positive Control-Signs, and Cures 373 

will immediately be carried away. ^ Generally it is 
considered unnecessary to throw the splinter into 
water — pick your teeth with it and your toothache 
goes. 2 This is true of both Negroes and Europeans, ^ 
and reflects "the Donar (Thor) cult, just as do the 
teeth of the boar and the mouse, for they are the 
symbols of the lightning flash." ^ There are also 
those toothache cures afforded by picking the teeth 
with a bone from the backbone of a rattlesnake, or by 
putting the finger of a dead person in your mouth ^ — 
in Staffordshire the tooth of a dead person is carried 
in the pocket for this purpose. ^ One old Negro had a 
toothache that refused to be cured. The root-doctor 
took some cotton, put half of it into the patient's 
tooth and half, including some of the patient's hair, 
into a hole drilled into a oak tree. The patient, 
according to the testimony of a white acquaintance, 
soon recovered. ^ Simpler still, and just as effective, 
is the plan of drinking water after a horse; ^ of 
anointing the jaw with oil from a hog's jowl — the 
latter being good for mumps as well;^ of taking tea 
made from red oak bark taken from the right side of 
the tree;^" or of smoking life-everlasting leaves dried 
and crumbled. ^ ^ Others put chicken manure on the 
afflicted tooth. ^ 2 



1 141. 

2 156. 

' Fogel, E. M ., Beliefs and Superstitions of the Pennsylvania Germans, p. 309. 

< Ibid., p. 10. 

^Showers, S. B., Alabama Folk-Lore, Southern Workman, vol. 29 
(1900), p. 443. 

6 Dyer, T. F. T., English Folk-Lore, p. 156. 

'' 128. For an even more peculiar Alabama cure, see Bergen, F. D., 
JSome Bits of Plant Lore, J. A. F. L., vol. 5 (1892), pp. 20-21. 

8 381. 

^ 57, and 141. Southern Workman, vol. 23 (1894), p. 66. 

1 208. 

1 1 267. 
i 2 172. 



374 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

Shingles. "Shingles" {Herpes zoster) is another 
disease in which European parallels appear. The 
cure is blood from a black cat rubbed upon the af- 
flicted part. 1 Others say that the blood should be 
put on a lump of sugar and swallowed, ^ while others 
suggest that the tail of the cat be cut completely off 
and rubbed around the body of the patient. ^ In 
England the version is that blood from the tail of a 
black cat should be used, and the disease is attributed 
to a snake coiling about the body. If it should en- 
circle the body, should the head and tail meet, the 
patient will die ^ — a fear I have often heard expressed 
by an old childhood Negro nurse. 

Wens and Goiters. The touch of a dead man's 
hand, so the English ^ say, will cure a wen, and I have 
seen one Negro woman testify at length how a wen 
on her arm was removed by this same method. ^ In 
Kentucky a wen on the neck is cured by placing a 
string around the neck of a deceased friend and then 
wearing it about your own neck. '' A goiter may be 
removed by rubbing an Qg% on the neck of one so 
afflicted and then burying the G^g^',^ or by wearing a 
horsehair or a live frog ^ about the neck. ^ " 



1 57. Bergen, F. D., Animal and Plant Lore, M. A. F. L. S., vol. 7 
(1899), p. 68. 

2 141, and 341. 

3 155, and 288. 

^Dyer, T. F. T., English Folk-Lore, p. 147. Tylor, E. B., Primitive 
Culture, vol. i, p. 307. 

* Henderson, W., Folk-Lore of the Northern Counties of England, p. 122. 
Leather, E. M., Folk-Lore of Herefordshire, p. 84. 

«141. 

' Thomas and Thomas, Kentucky Superstitions, p. 131. 

»1. 

» 156. 
»«162. 



Positive Control-Signs, and Cures 375 

Earache. Earache may be cured by putting the 
blood from a Betsy bug into the ear, ^ or by taking the 
head off a wood beetle, called "Old Granny Bess," 
and dropping the one drop of blood that comes out, 
into the aching ear. "- Possibly the two bugs are the 
same with different terminologies. Or get some hair 
from a young girl and place it in your ear for similar 
results. 3 An abscessed ear may be cured for life by 
taking off the head of a cockroach, splitting it in half 
and pressing the juice into the ear, after which the 
liquid is held in place with a little cotton. ^ A good 
salve for earache is obtained from the familiar stewed 
earthworms, ^ 

Sprains and Cramps. An eelskin worn about the 
wrist gives sure relief from pain there ^ — in Europe 
they are worn to prevent a sprain of the wrist, ^ 
although their more common use, when worn about 
the leg, is to prevent cramps while in swimming. * 
One old conjure-doctor of my acquaintance con- 
stantly wears a plaited red flannel string about his 
wrist to cure sprains, ^ while an Arkansas informant 
recommends clay from a dirt-dauber's nest. ^ " For 
cramps, a brass ring; ^ ^ tea from red coon-root ^ ^ {^He- 
patica triloba) ; or a dime about the ankle ^ * are all 

1 112, and 320. 

'^Southern Workman, vol. 23 (1894), p. 66. 

'387. 

"Smiley, P., Folk-Lore from Va., S. C, Ala., Ga., and Fla., J. A. F. L., 
vol. 32 (1919), p. 379. 

* Davis, H. C., Negro Folk-Lore in Sauth Carolina, J. A. F. L., vol. 27 
(1914), p. 246. 

8 381. 

' Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 512. 

8 Dyer, T. F. T., English Folk-Lore, p. 164. Henderson, W., Folk-Lore 
of the Northern Counties of England, p. 123. 

9 65. 
i«341. 
'1381. 
' 2 258. 
»»67. 



376 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

equally effective. Persons subject to cramps should 
turn their shoes bottom upward under the bed at 
night or wash their feet in salt water. ^ 

Nosebleed. Nosebleed may be cured by putting a 
bunch of keys (or a nutmeg) ^ down the back ^ or by 
placing a little piece of plain white paper between the 
upper lip and the upper gums. ^ This latter, in pressing 
upon the small capillaries near the nose, may be of 
actual value in stopping the flow of blood, but at any 
rate, both beliefs are of European origin. ^ Nose- 
bleed, with the Negroes, may also be stopped by making 
a cross of two matches in the hair of the head, ^ and 
sprinkling salt over them. ^ A minie-ball beaten 
flat and shaped into a heart, if perforated and worn 
around the neck will also effectively charm against 
nosebleed. * 

Wounds. The best traumatic for a nail stuck in 
the foot consists of a piece of fat meat and a penny 
bound upon the place where the nail went in. The 
penny is used to prevent blood poisoning. ^ Sugar 
and turpentine are also good, ^ ° or the rusty nail 
which was stuck in the foot may be greased and set 
away, whereupon it will draw out the poison from the 
wound. ^ 1 This latter is apparently derived from the 
European practice of oiling and polishing the weapon 

1387. 

2 387, and 341. 

3 292, 387, 397, and 398. 
^ 152, and 156. 

'" Fogel, E. M., Beliefs and Superstitions of the Pennsylvania Germans, 
pp. 300-01. 
« 387. 
7 397. 

^Southern Workman, vol. 23 (1894), p. 66. 
MOO. 

i''392, and 297. 

1 1 286, and 297. Showers, S. H., Alabama Folk-Lore, Southern Work' 
man, vol. 29 (1900), p. 443. 



Positive Control-Signs, and Cures 377 

which caused the wound, based on the Idea that the 
wound will thereby heal more quickly. ^ Other 
Negroes suggest driving the nail into the (north) ^ 
side of a .tree, ^ or applying some mashed Jimson 
weed leaves or snake oil to the wound; * while holding 
the nail wound over the smoke from burning wool 
scraps, ^ or cedar mixed with shoe soles, ^ will smoke 
the soreness out. The tarry drippings from a burning 
piece of "fat (heart) pine" dropped on scorched wool 
and applied also have curative power. "^ The Negro 
generally goes about bare-footed, which of course 
makes nail wounds in the foot of very frequent 
occurrence. 

For ordinary wounds, calf liver tied over the injury 
is sufficient, ^ but sweet milk is sometimes used. If 
the cut is made on the growth of the moon it will 
leave a big scar, while a cut made on the wane of the 
moon will heal up and leave almost no scar at all. ^ 
Cobwebs and soot are used to stop bleeding, ^ ° the 
former being a favorite remedy in Scotland ^ ^ and 
Heidelberg. ^ ^ Another common Negro ^ ^ belief, found 
also in Scotland, ' * is that a sore may be cured by 
letting a dog lick it. A fever blister (cold blister) 
may be cured by kissing a dog. ^ ^ 



1 Henderson, W., Folk-Lore of the Northern Counties of England, p. 125. 
Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 406. Frazer, J. G., The Golden Bough, p. 42. 

2 112. 

3 189. 
^41. 
6 288. 
«91. 

' 155. 

8 Ibid. 

8 54. 

» 150, and 397. 

* Gregor, W., Folk-Lore of the Northeast of Scotland, p. 147. 

2 Fogel, E. M., Beliefs and Superstitions of the Pennsylvania Germans, p. 292 . 

3 341. Thomas and Thomas, Kentucky Superstitions, p. 15. 
'' Gregor, W., Folk-Lore of the Northeast of Scotland, p. 127. 

^6 45, and 342. Thomas and Thomas, Kentucky Superstitions, p. 104. 



378 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

Snake bite. Again the practice of going barefooted 
makes the rural Negro pecuHarly liable to snake bites. 
One European ^ remedy used is a chicken split open 
and bound warm to the bitten place. If ijie flesh of 
the fowl turns dark the virus has been drawn from the 
bite; if it does not turn color the poison has been 
absorbed by the bitten person. The Negro remedy 
is the same except that a black hen is usually spec- 
ified. 2 Somewhat more rational is the application 
of soda and old-fashioned lye soap to the bite, or the 
sucking of the bitten place. This sucking, however, 
should be done only by a person with red gums (the 
bite of a blue gummed Negro is considered almost as 
poisonous as the snake bite itself) who must chew a 
bit of tobacco before he starts sucking. ^ Others say 
to kill the snake and tie it around your foot, * or to 
dig a hole in the earth and bury the bitten foot. ^ 
Mud, snuff, or tobacco applied to a bee or wasp sting 
will speedily remove the smarting. ® 

Boils and Headaches. Boils or risings are best 
relieved by the application of a poultice of mashed 
elderberry {Sambucus canadensis) leaves ^ or of mashed 
Jimson weed. * If you object to poultices, bury a 
dish-rag under the doorstep and your rising will 
vanish. ^ One who squeezes a mole to death in his 
hand has the power to scatter a rising by simply rub- 



1 Dyer, T. F. T., English Folk-Lore, p. 137. Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2 
p. 486. 

2 288, 341, and 382. Smiley, P., Folk-Lore from Va., S. C, Ga., Ala., 
and Fla., J. A. F. L., vol. 32 (1919), p. 379. 

3 141. 

^267. 

6 219. 

« 76, 208, and Ohio Whites. 

7 258. 

8 141. 

»341. 



Positive Control-Signs, and Cures 379 

bing the affected parts, ^ a belief of European origin. ^ 
Horse-radish ^ or Jimson weed will also cure headache 
if bound on the aching part. Or else one may burn 
an old shoe and sniff the smoke; ^ or tie a nutmeg 
about his neck; ^ or wear a string tied around the 
head with a knot in front in the middle, "to draw de 
pain." ^ An eelskin around the head is worn in 
North Lincolnshire for this purpose. "^ Peach leaves 
around the head, ^ or urine applied to the mole of 
the head will also effect a cure. The urine soaks right 
on through and relieves the pain. ^ Salt on the mole 
of the head will bring about a cure as will squeezing 
the head from front to back. ^ " Parched collard 
leaves tied around your head, ^ ^ or dried peach leaves, ^ ^ 
are also good. 

Ringworm and Warts. Ringworm {Tinea tonsurans) 
may be cured by washing in calf slobber, ^ ^ or by the 
touch of a posthumous son. ^ ^ Wart cures are large 
in number and resemble in some respects the English 
variety. Cross pins over a wart and hide the pins 
where no one can find them; stick a needle through 
the wart and hide the needle; find a bone, turn it over 



M5, and 141. Lee, C, Some Negro Lore from Baltimore, J. A. F. L., 
vol. 5 (1892), p. 111. 

^ Gregor, W., Folk-Lore of the Northeast of Scotland, p. 123. 

^ 141. Southern Workman, vol. 23 (1894), p. 66. 

* Ibid. 

^156. 

'Parsons, E. C, Folk-Lore of the Sea Islands, S. C, M. A. F. L. S., 
vol. 16 (1923), p. 212. 

' Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 498. 

8 150. 

9 141. 

10 184. 

1 » 82, and 75. 
12 66. 
1^341. 

1*286, and Hawkins, J., A?i Old Mauma's Folk-Lore, J. A. F. L., vol. 9 
(1896), p. 130. 



380 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

and throw it away, walking off without looking back 
— in all of these cases the wart on the body will surely 
come off. ^ Or pick the wart with a needle until it 
bleeds, put some of the blood on a bean leaf, and hide 
it under a stone where no one will step over it. Walk 
away backwards and the wart will soon go away. ^ 
Else deposit the blood from the wart in a grain of corn 
from which you have picked the soft part of the 
kernel. Do up the corn in a bundle and place it in the 
fork of the road. Whoever picks up the bundle will 
get the wart. ^ Tie as many knots in a bit of string as 
there are warts, and bury it where water from the eaves 
of the house will drip upon it; rub each wart with a pea 
and bury the peas, unobserved, in the garden; rub the 
warts with grains of corn, wrap the corn up in a package 
and drop in the road. Whoever finds the package 
will get the warts. * If the wart is a seed wart, pull 
out the seed, tie it up in a piece of paper and drop it 
in the street. ^ Or steal a dish-cloth and hide it to 
make the wart disappear. ^ Decidely English ^ is the 
Negro belief that the wart may be removed by rub- 
bing it with a piece of fat meat which is then to be 
buried. When the meat decays the wart will leave. ^ 
Other English authors mention this cure as well as 
that of tying a knot in the string for each wart and 
burying the string ^ and that of rubbing the wart with 
some object, generally a pebble or a cinder, and then 



1289. 

2 128. 

3 141, and Southern Workman, vol. 23 (1894), p. 66. 

^Hawkins, J., An Old Mauma's Folk-Lore, J. A. F. L., vol. 9 (1896), 
pp. 130-31. 

^Southern Workman, vol. 23 (1894), p. 66. 

6 150. 

' Gregor, W., Folk-Lore of the Northeast oj Scotland, p. 49. Leather, E. M., 
Folk-Lore of Herefordshire, p. 84. 

« 156. 

* Hunt, R., Popular Romances of the West of England, pp. 411-12. 



Positive Control-Signs, and Cures 381 

throwing the object away in a bag, the one finding the 
bag getting the warts. Here again the crossroads 
are the favorite places for depositing the bag, and 
there is also the crossing of the wart with pins which 
are to be buried or thrown over the left shoulder. ^ 
The Negroes also say that warts may be removed 
when you see the new moon by rubbing some sand on 
them, turning your back to the moon, throwing the 
sand over your right shoulder and going away without 
looking at the moon. ^ "Stump water" (water in a 
hollow stump concentrated by evaporation in the 
sunlight) will also cure if it is rubbed three times on 
the wart. ^ The breath of a child who has never seen 
his father is also effective. * The European ^ belief 
that touching a frog or getting toad urine on your 
hands causes warts is also quite common in Missis- 
sippi at least. A "kernel" anywhere about the body 
may be cured by making a crossmark on the place 
with soot,^ while corns may be removed by using 
laundry soap ^ or lemon juice, ^ by applying a pearl 
button which has been dissolved in lemon juice, * 
or by rubbing a grain of corn on the callous and feeding 
it to the oldest fowl in the yard. ^ " 



1 Ibid. Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 517. Henderson, W., Folk-Lore 
of the Northern Counties of England, pp. 108-09. 

2 Work, M. H., Some Geechee Folk-Lore, Southern Workman, vol.34 
(1905), p. 634. 

' Brannon, P. A., Central Alabama Negro Superstitions, Birmingham 
(Ala.) News, Jan. 18, 1925, p. 15. 

^342. 

^ Fogel, E. M., Beliefs and Superstitions of the Pennsylvania Germans, p. S25. 
The West Africans say that touching a toad will make your hand bitter. 
See Koelle, Rev. S. M., African Native Literature (Kanuri Proverbs), p. 6. 

6 75. 

'331. 

8 267. 

9 155. 

10 286. Hawkins, J., An Old Mauma's Folk-Lore, J. A. F. L., vol. 9 
(1896), p. 130. 



382 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

Eye Trouble. While eye trouble may not be so 
common among people who do but little reading, the 
sty is often found and may be cured by stealing a 
dish-rag from some one's kitchen, rubbing it on the 
sty, and throwing it over your left shoulder. ^ There 
is a common little couplet often used: 

Sty, sty, leave my eye, 

Go to (or catch) the next one passing by. 

To be effective, this must be said in the fork of the 
road, 2 at midnight, ^ or at a crossroad after you have 
thrown a stick over your left shoulder, * or on a bridge. ^ 
Else you may go to a fork in the road early in the 
morning before any one has made a fresh track and rub 
your eye with some of the dust from the road, ^ or call 
some one a liar when he tells you there is a sty on your 
eye ^ (perhaps in the beginning to confuse the disease 
spirit whose presence was causing the sty); or pass a 
solid gold band ring over the sty a few times, * the 
latter being of European ^ origin. In England the 
boring of the ear lobes is supposed to strengthen weak 
eyes, ^ *' while others cut their finger nails on the full 
of the moon to effect a cure, and some Negroes rec- 
ommend wearing (brass) ^ ^ earrings for the same 
purpose. 1 2 While March is an unlucky month, the 



1141. 

2 160, and 190. Southern Workman, vol. 23 (1894), p. 66. 

335. 

M50. 

5 156. 

8 175. 

^208, and 331. 

8 76. 

^ Fogel, E. M., Belief sand Superstitions of the Pennsylvania Germans, p. 297. 
1 " Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 402. 
11192. 
12 239. 



Positive Control-Signs, and Cures 383 

first snow that falls during that period Is good for 
sore eyes If taken before the sun has shone upon It. ' 
One old Negress I know of In Mississippi has a bottle 
of this which she greatly values, since March snows 
are not so frequent In her latitude. ^ In Heidelberg 
It Is the water from the first snow In winter that Is 
used, ' though In other localities, rain water col- 
lected In the month of June or on Holy Thursday Is 
employed to cure the same malady. * • The older 
Negroes save May rain water as a sort of general cure- 
all, several Negroes telling of running bareheaded In a 
May shower to secure this sanatory eflfect. ^ My 
most famous conjure-doctor says any running water 
will do, since water "purifies Itself every five yards." 
Hold a clean bottle with the mouth upstream until 
It fills up. When things get "troublesome" wet your 
hands with this water and "dress" yourself. It Is 
especially good for sore eyes. ^ A tea made from 
white sassafras root will cure blindness, ^ and an 
object, both in Europe ^ and in Afro-America, ^ may 
be removed from one eye by rubbing the other one. 
Salt water, ^ " or soda and molasses ^ ^ are used to cure 
sore eyes, while the left eye should be moistened with 
water In case it jumps. ^ - Weak eyes may be cured by 
bathing them with the afflicted person's own urine; ^^ 



1336, and Southern Workman, vol. 23 (1894), p. 15. 

2 141. 

^ Fogel,E. M., Belief s and Superstitions of the PennsylvaniaGermans , p. 270. 

* Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 495. 
^ 267, and 286. 

«258. 

' Davis, H. C, Negro Folk-Lore in South Carolina, J. A. F. L., vol. 27 
(1914), p. 246. 

* Fogel, E. M., Beliefs and Superstitions of the PennsylvaniaGermans, p. 273. 
9 246. 

1 » 208. 
11331. 
12 175. 
1 3 172. 



384 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

while the smarting resulting from getting onion juice 
in the eyes may be stopped by standing in the hen- 
house for a moment. ^ 

Fits and Scrofula. Fits of all kinds may be cured by 
making a pone of corn bread with water in which the 
patient has washed, mixing in it the paring of finger 
and toe nails and a lock of the patient's hair. Wrap 
it in some of the patient's soiled clothing and throw it 
into a river at midnight in the dark of the moon. ^ 
Or else the first time that the child or person has a 
fit, tear oflF the shirt of the patient and burn it up. 
No more fits will return. ^ Hysterics (and colds) 
may be cured by running your finger in between all 
of your toes when you first pull off your stockings and 
smelling of it, ^ a belief probably of European origin, 
since it is found among the Pennsylvania Germans. ^ 
Scrofula is perhaps best treated by tying a live frog 
about your neck, ^ although a more complicated cure 
is prepared as follows: Get some roots from the China- 
berry tree and some poke root {Phytolacca decandra). 
Boil these together, putting in a piece of bluestone 
and carefully straining. Salve the sores with this 
mixture and then anoint them with a feather dipped 
into pure hog lard. This brings the sore to a head; 
press out the core and you are cured. ^ 

126L 

2 Bergen, F. D., Animal and Plant Lore, M. A. F. L. S., vol. 7 (1899)^ 
p. 72. 

^ 141. Bergen, F. D., Current Superstitions, M. A. F. L. S., vol. 4 
(1896), p. 96. 

^241. 

* Fogel, E. M., Beliefs and Superstitions of the f ennsylvania Germans, p. 268. 

8 341. 

M41. 




SOME OP MY INFORMANTS 

(Note the "mojo" around the neck of the lower center figui'e) 



Positive Control-Signs, and Cures 385 

Venereal Diseases. Gonorrhea, or "clap," seems to 
be the venereal disease most clearly recognized by the 
rural Negro, syphilis apparently being classed as a 
*'rising" or as "rheumatism," according to the symp- 
toms displayed. Strange to say, gonorrhea is perhaps 
more often attributed to straining or to lifting some 
heavy load ^ than to sexual irregularities; possibly 
the undue strain might be sufficient to hasten the appear- 
ance of the outward symptoms of the disease. Teas 
made from "red shanks" root, from sarsaparilla, 
and from sumac are possibly most frequently used. 
One root-doctor directs that the "red shanks" tea be 
divided into two bottles. Into one is put a small 
piece of alum and the patient takes it internally; 
into the other is put a small piece of bluestone and the 
mixture is used to bathe the affected part. ^ Blue- 
stone is often used along with an ointment, of which 
lard is the base, in connection with "red shanks" tea, ' 
and it may be that the astringent action does actually 
stop the discharge and work an apparent cure. 

Female-complaint. While disease in general Is not 
confined to womankind alone, yet, with the Negroes, the 
great mass of folk-medicine is in their hands rather 
than in the hands of the men. The women are the 
great practitioners, the folk-doctors — the old Granny 
with her "yarbs an' intmints" does much to keep 
alive these folk-cures and to make these beliefs in 
general much more a feminine possession than the 
context would seem to indicate. Nevertheless, some 
of the cures are designed for more definitely feminine 
ills. 



1 55, and 167. 

2 258. 
391. 



25 



386 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

Some of these remedies I mentioned in the section 
dealing with childbirth and children. Remedies to 
ease menstrual pains are also very common. I cite 
here some Illustrative types collected indirectly from 
a reputable Negro root-doctor. ^ Boil some peach 
leaves In a vessel with a handful of salt. When they 
reach about the consistency of turnip-greens, pour 
them into a small tub and put In a tablespoonful of coal- 
oil and eight drops of turpentine. Bathe the af- 
fected parts with this and relief will be obtained at 
once. Or take some "rabbit-tobacco" (white plantain) 
leaves and steep, mixing In some corn meal which has 
been thoroughly browned. Strain the mixture and 
bathe with It. It will quickly stop "flooding." Or 
else bathe the stomach with kerosene oil or take in- 
ternally a tea made of "ground-pine" {Lycopodium 
dendroideum) roots. Tea from red oak bark used 
internally and as a douche Is also good; while tea 
from bark from the cherry tree, If taken while cold, 
will stop the flow almost at once. 

Miscellaneous Ills. If your foot has "gone to sleep" 
wet your second finger with spittle and make a cross 
on it to wake It up - — a remedy formerly used in Eng- 
lish hospitals. ^ For chicken-pox, go Into the chicken- 
house and let the chickens fly over you, * or simply 
push the patient backwards Into the henhouse. ^ 
Fried mice given to children will keep them from 
wetting the bed, ^ "but de mice mus' be parboiled 



114L 

2 157, and 267. Southern Workman, vol. 23 (1894), p. 66. 

' Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 58. 

M31. 

5 Hawkins, J., An Old Mauma's Folk-Lore, J.A.F. L., vol. 9 (1896), p. 130. 

6 Bergen, F. D., Animal and Plant Lore, M. A. F. L. S., vol. 7 (1899), 
p. 78. 



Positive Control-Signs, and Cures 387 

fust," says one informant. ^ In Europe, three roasted 
mice are used. - Piles may be cured by tea from the 
bark of the red oak tree or by devil's snuff mixed with 
fresh lard, the latter being good for bed-sores as well. ' 
For night-sweats put a pail of water (with sliced onions 
in it) ^ under the bed. ^ 

After you have extracted a splinter from your flesh, 
there will be no pain if you put the splinter in your 
hair, ^ or, if you eat the splinter after it has been ex- 
tracted you will never get another one in. ^ Every- 
where on the Gold Coast of Africa there is a some- 
what similar custom of biting the thorn that has 
entered one's flesh." ^ Holly leaf tea, ^ corn shuck 
tea, 1 " or simply warm water, ^ ^ will cure measles. For 
mumps, the standard remedy is fresh marrow from a 
hog's jowl rubbed on the jaw. ^ ^ Yov burns, a piece 
of fat meat is applied to the burned place ^ ^ or elder 
blooms and bark are made into a salve. ^ * Cancer is 
probably not differentiated from other sores. I have 
located only one cure. Boil some green plantain weed 
{Plantago major) and mix with lard into a salve. Then 
get some bark from seven different kinds of trees 
(the kind does not matter so long as they are all 
different) and boil into a tea. Wash the sore with 



1141. 

^ Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 503. 
U41. 

M. 

*286, and Thomas and Thomas, Kentucky Superstitions, p. 115. 
'341. 

* Cardinal, A. W., The Natives of the Northern Territories of the Gold 
Coast, p. 47. 
'288. 
i''331,341, and387. 

1 1 235. 

12 26, and 341. 

13 293. 
1 * 155. 



388 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

this tea and smear the ointment on with a feather. 
This will cure your cancer every time. ^ For a 
swelling of any sort use mullein tea or a mixture of 
cream of tartar, vinegar, and rusty nails applied as a 
lotion. 2 

Indigestion may be cured by drinking hot water; ^ 
by taking ten drops of turpentine in a glass of water; * 
by taking Samson snakeroot tea;^ by wearing a 
penny about the neck;*' or by taking a bath in hot 
water. ^ Vomiting may be stopped by turning up- 
side down under the bed the glass from which you 
take your medicine. ^ Frostbitten heels are best 
ministered to by smoking them with pine-top, ^ or 
by rubbing the heel with a roasted turnip; i° while a 
black eye may be eased by the application of a poultice 
of raw Irish potatoes. ^ ^ Heart trouble is best dealt 
with by wearing a brass finger-ring ^ ^ or a silver ring 
about the neck, ^ ^ while moles may be removed by 
having some one give them to the new moon. ^ ^ 

Elderberry flowers stewed in lard make a good salve 
for red bug {Tetranychid or harvest tick) bites. ^ ^ For 
scarlet fever, a tea made of steeped sheep (or chicken) ^ ^ 

1141. 

MOO. 

3 321, and 387. 

M88. 

6 175. 
ei92. 

7 381. 

8 321. 
»184. 

1 » 208. 

11167. 

1 2 239. 

1 3 100. 

1^341. 

1* Davis, H. C, Negro Folk-Lore in South Carolina, M. A. F. L., vol. 27 
(1914), p. 246. 

i« Smiley, P., Folk-Lore from Va., S. C, Ga., Ala., and Fla., J. A. F. L., 
vol. 32 (1919), p. 379. 



Positive Control-Signs, and Cures 389 

manure is best. ^ Buzzard's grease is said to cure 
smallpox. 2 To break your husband of drinking, 
skin a live eel, put the skin in some liquor and give it 
to him. He will never drink again. ^ To cure 
your chickens of cholera make a tea of dog fennel and 
alum and give it to them. * A nutmeg worn around 
the neck will cure neuralgia ^ (see illustration, p. 314); 
wash your face in dew every morning for nine mornings 
to cure tetter; ^ dollar-leaf tea is good for bad breath^ 
and peach leaf tea for worms. ^ Besides these teas, 
horehound and sage are also used by the Negroes, ® 
and in one of the Negro secular songs, "The Sick 
Wife," the following lines occur: 

She squall out: "Sam bring me some mint." 
Make catnip up an' sage tea. ^ ° 

We have something of the idea in Negro folk-medicine 
that it takes like to cure like, or, as the Negro puts it, 
"Hit take dawg ter cure dawg." Thus an old Negro 
granny would force even more whiskey down the 
throat of her tipsy son in hopes of permanently curing 
him. 1 ^ This is observed in other treatments. For 
dyspepsia, the inside lining of a chicken gizzard is 
efficacious; for a cut made by an oyster shell, bind an 
oyster on the wound; for a dog bite, bind on some of 

1141. 
2 341. 

^Southern Workman, vol. 24 (1895), p. 49. 
M41. 

6 267, 141, and 326. 
6 208. 
^66. 
»331. 

^ Davis, H. C, Negro Folk-Lore in South Carolina, J. A. F. L., vol. 27 
(1914), p. 246. 

i"Talley, T. W., Negro Folk Rhymes, p. 55. 
11157. 



390 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

the hair of the dog that bit you. ^ In Devonshire 
there is apparently a somewhat similar behef since 
they beheve that if any one is bitten by a viper the 
best cure is to kill the viper and to apply his fat to 
the bitten place. ^ 

Panaceas. A few general or more or less universal 
cures might be mentioned. If you are sick and having 
hard pains, place an ax in bed with you. It will cut 
the pains. ^ Undoubtedly, treatment by whipping or 
striking the afflicted person was originally for the 
purpose of driving out the disease spirits. In one 
case an old woman doctor whipped a girl's lap with 
pawpaw switches to drive out the bad blood ("black 
blood") from her muscles. •* An old conjure-doctor 
told me that if a disease cannot easily be cured it is 
sometimes better to wait until the sick man speaks and 
then to smack him in the mouth with a piece of beef 
"melt" (spleen). ^ Red sassafras tea is good to purify 
the blood and will help out in almost every ailment. ® 
"Barb-iron," a sort of short moss growing mainly at 
the foot of oak trees, can be used for cures. Set the 
plant in a shallow vessel of water; it will grow there, 
and whenever you have any kind of trouble, bathe 
yourself with this water to drive it away. The water 
in which cross-vine {Bingonia crucigerd) has been soaked 
has the same healing power. The. same informant 
suggests Samspn snakeroot and red coonroot mixed 
with camphor or whiskey as the best universal lini- 
ment. "^ Pepper grass (probably Lepidium virginicum) 



' Southern Workman, vol. 23 (1894), p. 66. 

2 Henderson, W., Folk-Lore of the Northern Counties of England, p. 128. 

3 180. 

* Snyder, H., Paradise Negro School, Yale Review, vol. ii (1921), p. 166. 

'-91. 

6 141. 

'258. 



Positive Control-Signs, and Cures 391 

or poke-berry {Phytolacca decandra) makes a good 
laxative. ^ Jimson weed boiled into a pulp makes a 
good general salve, ^ while a poultice of cow manure 
will cure all serious pains. ^ Pure, fresh clay mixed 
with clean water and applied will draw all the aches 
and pains from you as it dries. ^ Water poured on the 
head of a sick person will help his cure, ^ while the 
Arkansas Negroes say a rabbit's stomach dried, pow- 
dered, and eaten, will cure most diseases — especially 
the "conjure-sickness." ^ The water in which a new- 
born baby has been washed makes a good lotion for 
almost any complaint, ^ or a woolen string, greased 
with tallow and worn around any part of the body, 
will stop the pains in that part. ^ Ordinary lime water 
makes a general tonic; ^ a silver coin tied around the 
ankle falls into the same category; i" and, finally, 
there is that old English ^ ^ practice of kissing the 
hurt place, this being particularly applied to children. ^ ^ 

Prevention of Disease. The Negro theory of pre- 
vention of disease is closely allied to the African or 
early European one of using odoriferous substances, 
which at first, no doubt, were intended to keep the 
disease spirit away. Asafoetida is eaten, ^ ^ or, as is 
more frequently the case, is worn in a little bag about 

'288. 

2 26. 

3 155. 
^258. 
*382. 

« Bergen, F. D., Animal and Plant Lore, M. A. F. L. S., vol. 7 (1899), 
p. 70. 
' 155. 

8 397. 

9 235. 

1 » 54. Parsons, E. C, Folk-Lore of the Sea Islands, S. C, M. A. F. L. S., 
vol. 16 (1923), p. 212. 

1 ' Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 487. 

12 112. 

13 341. 



392 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

the neck. ^ In parts of Europe asafoetida is sometimes 
carried in the pocket as a preventive of smallpox. ^ 
Sulphur wrapped in a bit of cloth and worn about the 
neck is also good, ^ while a red onion carried in the 
left pocket will ward off diseases of any kind. ^ In 
Europe a sliced onion was put in a sick room where 
infection was feared, under the belief that it "acts 
as an absorbent." ^ 



1 171, 189, 342, and 387. Also Davis, H. C, Folk-Lorein South Carolina, 
J. A. F. L., vol. 27 (1914), p. 246. 

^ Fogel, E. M., Beliefs and Superstitions of the Pennsylvania Germans, p. 270. 
3320. 

* 100, and 141. Richardson, C, Some Slave Superstitions, Southern 
Workman, vol. 41 (1912), p. 248. 

* Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 640. 



CHAPTER VI 

NEGATIVE CONTROL-SIGNS 
—TABOOS 

Negro Taboos. Thus far our "signs" into which 
human control enters have arranged themselves about 
the formula, "If you (or some one else) behave in such 
and such a manner, so and so will happen." These 
signs have been mainly positive in nature; that is, they 
have indicated means of obtaining ends desirable to 
the operator. We now turn to the negative signs or 
taboos — a class of control-signs adhering to the same 
formula but resulting in ill luck or undesirable con- 
sequences which are to be avoided. The Negro does 
not in general distinguish these from the uncontrolled 
or prophetic signs which would compare with our 
English omens. 

Etiquette With a Vengeance. Many of these taboos 
have to do with matters of etiquette and seem to be 
in reality a linking of unpleasant results with un- 
couth manners in an attempt to frighten the young 
into a quicker acquisition of American good-breeding. 
Naturally such an association stimulates the memory 
and tends towards a negation of the ill-mannered prac- 
tices, lest unhappy results follow. If you eat too fast, 
you will marry too young; ^ it is bad luck to sing while 
eating, ^ for you will be disappointed ^ (however, at 
first this may have been due to fear of attracting 

1365. 

2 52, and 186. 

395. 



394 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

envious spirits); and if you take the last piece of bread 
on the plate, you will not get a wife. ^ This latter idea 
is illustrative of the fact that many of our apparently 
meaningless social usages once had a very real purpose 
behind them. The English version was that you will 
not be married that year if you take the last portion of 
food from a dish, but the underlying idea was that 
always the last portion was to be left for the fairies. 2 
Thus it was not mere ill-breeding to break the con- 
vention, but actually dangerous, since the fairies would 
be offended. It Is not so clear why the Negro should 
call It bad luck to sit in the house with his hat on;^ 
or to lick his plate, though in the latter case the fear 
is that "Santa Claus will cut your tongue off" — a 
threat apparently made by mothers to discipline their 
children. If one eats with his hat on he will not get 
enough, * and It is considered bad luck to whistle in 
the house, or to "sass" the old folks. ^ This latter 
idea may have at one time had a real meaning, since 
the old folks were "almost ghosts," and hence worthy 
of good treatment lest their spirits avenge the dis- 
respect and actually cause bad luck to the offender. 
The fact that such beliefs are used for the purpose of 
discipline is indicated by the testimony of Negro 
mothers and by such statements as the following 
from a South Carolina informant: "I dreamed that a 
girl was throwing water on me. It was because I 
would not help cook supper." ^ There is also a vague 
Idea of bad luck implied in the school-taught taboo: 



1311. 

'^Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 151. 

3 177. 

^373. 

*372. 

«77. 



Negative Control-Signs — Taboos 395 

"If you don't see a dentist don't show your teeth," 
as interpreted by a Georgia informant. ^ Again there 
is the beHef that it is bad luck to offer your left hand 
to a person in shaking hands, - or bad luck for two 
people to eat out of the same plate. ^ Uncouth to us, 
but refined enough from the rural Negro point of view, 
is the admonition: "Don't spit anywhere except under 
the benches when at church; if you do your teeth will 
loosen." ^ 

Feminine Lore. Sweeping. More women observe 
these taboos than men, and they center largely around 
feminine occupations. To illustrate this let us consider 
first some of those beliefs having to do with house- 
hold activities, or with articles feminine in association. 
One must always be careful how he handles a broom. 
A few strokes after dark and "you'll sho' sweep out some 
member uv de fam'ly." ^ Others say that such 
indiscretion will sweep you out of a home, ^ though 
perhaps the greater percentage have forgotten the 
exact significance of this unseemly act and simply 
say "bad luck." ^ This would seem to indicate that 
where "bad luck" alone is expressed as the resultant 
of certain actions the belief in question is beginning 
to be forgotten and is in process of decay. If an 
assiduous housewife "jes' mus' " sweep the house at 
this time the dirt should be piled in the corner and 
not be carried out before morning. * The same taboo 



1373. 

2 175. 

3 208. 

n75. 

^ 141, and 189. Williamson, G., Superstitions from Louisiana, J. A. 
L., vol. 18 (1905), p. 229. 

«246, and Southern Workman, vol. 28 (1899), p. 449. 
^ 81, 106, 341, and 244. 

8 246. Smiley, P., Folk-Lore from Va., S. C, Ga., Ala., and Fla., J. A. 
, L., vol. 32 (1919), pp. 381-82. 



396 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

applies to sweeping the hearth or carrying out ashes 
after dark ^ — the hearth being originally the center 
of the household and the danger, no doubt, being that 
of disturbing the ancestral spirits who would likely be 
hanging around after dark. The evil may, however, 
be averted in the latter case by sprinkling salt before 
you as you walk. - It is a sign of death to shake a 
table cloth out of doors after sunset, ^ and bad luck to 
throw scraps or waste food out doors after dark. * 
This latter belief was probably due to the fear of 
attracting those dangerous vagabond spirits which 
especially liked the darkness. The European version 
is that you should never sweep the kitchen after 
sunset or you will sweep out your luck. ^ It is es- 
pecially bad luck to sweep out your house on Friday 
night, ^ or on New Year's morning. The Negroes say 
that the latter will cause some one in the family to die 
before the year is out, ^ the English version was that 
you sweep your luck away. ^ The Missouri Negroes 
say that the sweepings every morning should be 
burned instead of being thrown out;^ the English 
swept the dust inward from the front door and carried 
It out in a basket or shovel to prevent bad luck. ^ ° 
If you leave the dirt in the middle of the floor it is a 
sign, so the Negroes say, of some one coming. ^ ^ 

1 141, 159, and 246. Southern Workrnan, vol. 24 (1895), p. 78. 

2 6. 

^ 57, and Southern Workman, vol. 24 (1895), p. 155. 

«332. 

^ Fogel, E. M., Beliefs and Superstitions of the Pennsylvania Germans, 
p. 109. 

® 91. Lee, C, Some Negro Lore from Baltimore, J. A. F. L., vol. 5 
(18^j2), p. 110. 

^73. 

8 Lean^s Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 176, and 236. 

9 159. 

1" Henderson, W., Folk-Lore of the Northern Counties of England, p. 87. 
Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 76. 
1 1 288. 



Negative Control-Signs — ^Taboos 397 

Carelessness with fire is foolhardy, but carelessness 
with a broom is rank danger. Even a slight stroke on a 
person's foot will soon send him away from home, ^ 
the same wanderlust developing from sweeping under 
his feet ^ or under the chair in which he is seated. ^ 
Perchance the original notion was that part of an 
individual's spirit-substance or personality was disas- 
sociated from his body in this way. Even if a person 
brush his own shoes off with a broom he will run away, * 
although some say sweeping under a person's feet 
prevents marriage ^ and sends a person to jail « rather 
than simply making him run away from home. Touch- 
ing or striking a person with a broom will make him 
lazy, ^ land him in jail ^ (unless he spits on the 
broom), ^ or get him into trouble, or ^ " into an un- 
favorable controversy. ^ ^ If a man whips his wife 
with a broom she will surely leave home, ^ ^ or if a 
person is hit with an umbrella he will surely go to 
jail. ^ ^ Of course such actions are used at times with 
deliberate intent, as where a person wishing to travel 
will sweep his feet nine times, ^ ^ but the customary 
viewpoint is that of avoidance rather than use for 
desirable purposes. Stepping over a broom (or mop) ^ ^ 

1 97, and 189. 
2327. 
3 216. 
^320. 

6 364, and 320. 
679. 

7 286, 111, and 150. Southern Workman, vol. 28 (1899), p. 450. 

8 188, and 357. 

9 63, and 164. 

1 « 224, and 396. 

11159. 

1 2 388. 

1379. 

1M3. 

16 189. 



398 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

brings bad luck, ^ non-marriage, ^ or a trip to jail. ' 
Never sweep under a sick man's bed unless you just 
want him to die. •* Possibly it was originally thought 
that the sick man's soul, for the time, at least, was 
absent from the body and in danger of being injured. 
It is bad luck to move a broom from one house to 
another; ^ those frugal individuals who insist on taking 
their old brooms with them in moving are always 
dissatisfied with their new home. He who desires 
luck will never sweep a house just before he moves out 
of it, ^ though other luck-chasers take just the op- 
posite view. ^ It is bad luck to sweep the yard with 
the house-broom;* sweep the chimney back and you 
will make your mother cross; ^ sweep off a table with a 
broom and you'll surely have a quarrelsome home. ^P 
Finally it is extremely bad luck for two people to sweep 
in the same room at the same time. ^ ^ Other broom- 
superstitions have been mentioned in connection with 
witches — perhaps this European association has much 
to do with the superstitious character of this feminine 
article. 

Hair and Nails. Turning now to other beliefs, 
mainly, if not entirely, of feminine association, we 
take up the question of prohibitions relating to hair 
and nails. You should never count the teeth in a 



181, 141, 341, and 224. Also Parsons, E. C, Folk-Lore of the Sea 
Islands, S. C, M. A. F. L. S., vol. 16 (1923), p. 210. 

2 110. 

3 229, and 106. 

* 224, 183, and 238. 
6 152, and Ohio Whites. 

6 141. 

noo. 

»385. 

"373. 
loiTT. 
1196. 



Negative Control-Signs — ^Taboos 399 

comb, they will all break out. ^ If you drop a hair- 
pin and do not pick it up, you will lose a friend. ^ 
Some (old) people try to save every strand of hair and 
every finger and toe nail, because they say that when 
they die they will have to show them before they can 
get into heaven. ^ These hair combings are some- 
times kept in a paper sack and the teeth and nails in a 
small box, both of which are buried with the individual 
when he dies. ^ 

In the main, however, the hair combings and nail 
trimmings are totally destroyed because of the harm 
which could be wrought should they fall into the hands 
of an enemy. Some say, "Hair combings must not 
be thrown away, else the hair will not grow; nor should 
these combings be kept, else they will 'come to worms' 
and the hair will not grow again. Therefore you should 
be sure to burn all the combings. ^ It is bad luck to 
throw hair combings out of a window ^ — the bad luck 
feared generally being hoodoo;^ for, as we have said 
before, if you place a lock of your enemy's hair in 
running water he will lose his mind, or if you place 
some of a person's hair under your doorstep he will 
never be able to keep away from you. * Another 
widespread notion of this type is that if hair combings 
are picked up by a bird and used in constructing a 
nest the owner of the hair will have headache, ^ or a 



1 286, and Southern Workman, vol. 28 (1899), p. 450. 

2 155. 

»311. Bergen, F. D., Animal and Plant Lore, M. A. F. L. S., vol. 7 
(1899), p. 65. 

* 141. 

5 57. Bergen, F. D., Animal arid Plant Lore, M. A. F. L. S., vol. 7 
(1899), p. 651. 

^91. Moore, R. A., Superstitions from Georgia, J. A. F. L., vol. 7 
(1894), p. 305. 

7 341. 

* 112, and Thomas and Thomas, Kentucky Superstitions, p. 82. 
9 63. 



400 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

"wandering mind" — at least while the bird is sitting 
on the nest. ^ In Scotland ^ and England ^ the belief 
is that a headache will result from such action. Other 
Negroes think that the person will lose her hair ^ 
if such happens, or else go crazy. ^ Some even sug- 
gest rheumatism as an alternative. ^ ' 

If a kinky-haired Negro touches a straight-haired 
Negro's head the hair of one of them will come out. '' 
Again, if two persons are fixing a third person's hair, 
the younger of the two will die* (first), ^ and one 
informant says that in addition to this the older will 
fall into the well. ^ ^ Gratitude is not always to be 
expressed, for thanking a person for combing your 
hair is sure to bring bad luck, ^ ^ generally the calamity 
of having all your hair come out. ^^ A chronic "worrier" 
will soon find his hair turning gray, ^ ^ but she who looks 
into the mirror while combing her hair will soon 
obtain the much desired straight locks. ^ ^ Quite com- 
mon is the European ^ ^ idea that combing your hair at 
night will make you forgetful. ^ ^ Sometimes this is 



^ 141, and 189. Williamson, G., Superstitions from Louisiana, J. A. F. L., 
vol. 18 (1905), p. 229. Speers, M. W. F., J. A. F. L., vol. 26 (1913), p. 190. 

2 Gregor, W., Folk-Lore of the Northeast of Scotland, p. 26. 

' Leather, E. M., Folk-Lore of Herefordshire, p. 88. 

*329. 

^ 141, and Bergen, F. D., Animal and Plant Lore, M. A. F. L. S., vol. 7 
(1899), p. 65. 

«93. 

^ Thomas and Thomas, Kentucky Superstitions, p. 82. 

8 119, 67, and 364. 

9 224, and 370. 
10 63. 

11 112, and 356. Moore, R. A., Superstitions from Georgia, J. A. F. L., 
vol. 7 (1894), p. 305. 

12 61, 188, and 310. 

1 3 364. 
1 * 235. 

i^Fogel, E. M.,1 Beliefs and Superstitions of the Pennsylvania Germans, 
p. 341. 

i«342, 112, 141, 12, 159, and 123. Lee, C, Some Negro Lore from 
Baltimore, J. A. F. L., vol. 5 (1892), p. 110. 



Negative Control-Signs — Taboos 401 

used, like a toddy, for the deliberate purpose of for- 
getting troubles. ^ 

Some say that it is good luck to cut the hair and 
nails during the waning of the moon ^ — a common 
belief in Devonshire;^ others claim that the hair will 
be slow to grow if cut at this time, but that it should 
be cut on the new moon so as to grow with the moon, * 
a belief having also in Worcestershire ^ an English 
parallel. The day on which your hair or nails are 
trimmed has a significance for good or evil. It is 
very bad luck, for instance, to trim your hair on the 
first day of March. ^ The signs of the various days 
of the week so far as nail cutting is concerned are as 
follows: 

Monday. Cut them for news — or sickness — or money before 

the week is out. 
Tuesday. Pair of new shoes. 
Wednesday. Travel soon. 
Thursday. Pair of new shoes — or sickness. 
Friday. Get some money — or have toothache. 
Saturday. See your lover on Sunday. 
Sunday. The devil will have you all the rest of the week. '' 

There is considerable variation besides that indicated 
in the verse above. Thus, apart from the idea of the 
devil having you all the week (or all Monday) « as a 
penalty for cutting your nails on Sunday, Sunday 

1 Southern Workman, vol. 23 (1894), p. 46. Also 141. 

2 112. 

3 Dyer, T. F. T., English Folk-Lore, p. 48. Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2. 
p. 246. 

* 141, 218, and 35. Southern Workman, vol. 24 (1895), p. 155. 
^ Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 248. 

^Southern Workman, vol. 23 (1894), p. 15, and informant 57. 
' Arranged from data obtained from 78, 208, 6, 239, 29, 267, 364, 235, 
and 395. 

8 61. 

26 



402 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

nail trimming is supposed to result in bad luck, ^ a 
fight, 2 somebody making you ashamed ^ (that same 
day), * or the losing of a pint of blood by some ac- 
cident during the next week ^ (or "yo^ will sho' see 
blood 'fo' Monday"). « All through England such 
action was considered ill luck ^ as expressed by the 
rhyme: 

He that on the Sabbath morn 

Cutteth either hair or horn 

Will rue the day that he was born. ^ 

The complete English versions approximate closely 
those of the Negroes showing how persistent a belief 
may be when expressed in verse form: 

Cut your nails on a Monday, cut them for news (or health), 
Cut your nails on a Tuesday, a pair of new shoes (or wealth), 
Cut your nails on a Wednesday, cut them for health (or news). 
Cut your nails on a Thursday, cut them for wealth (or a pair of 

new shoes). 

Cut your nails on a Friday, cut them for woes (or sorrow), 
Cut your nails on a Saturday, a journey to go (or see your 

sweetheart tomorrow). 

Cut your nails on a Sunday, you cut them for evil. 
For all the week long you'll be ruled by the devil. ^ 

Some Negroes say, "The finger nails should never be 
cleaned after dark. It is believed that if the dirt 



18L 

2 189. 

3 183. 

n34. 

5352. 

6 364. 

^ Henderson, W., Folk-Lore of the Northern Counties of England, p. 10. 

8 Leather, E. M., Folk-Lore of Herefordshire, p. 88. 

9 Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 267. The versions in parenthesis are 
taken from Denham, A. M., A Collection of Proverbs and Popular Sayings, 
Percy Society, vol. 20, pp. 12-13. 



Negative Control-Signs — ^Taboos 403 

accumulated under the nails were removed then all 
which the crop had produced during the day or all 
which the party had accumulated by trade or 
otherwise during the daylight hours would be lost, 
the theory being that the accumulation of dirt has a 
connection with the accumulation of property. It is 
perfectly all right to wash the hands and manicure the 
nails, but it must be done before sundown, or at 
least before the 'dusk' comes." ^ If you cut your 
finger nails while sick in bed you will remain in bed 
until they grow out again. ^ Differing radically from 
the accepted view, some of the Negroes say that it 
is bad luck to trim the nails on any day but Friday, 
except it be the first day of the year or month. ^ It 
is rather hard to see why Friday should be considered 
a lucky day to trim nails since it is otherwise regarded 
as unlucky and since the European ■* version regards it 
as an unlucky day for nail trimming. 

Ominous Friday. Breaking for the moment the 
feminine classification, let us consider some of the 
Negro beliefs relating to this most unnatural day. 
To begin with, it is considered ill luck to start on a 
journey on that day; in fact, to make any sort of move 
on Friday, ^ (or Wednesday) « will surely result in 
dire consequences. Accidents are the direct resultant 
of willfulness in the matter of beginning work on 
Friday. ^ You must finish whatever you start on that 

1 Brannon, P. A., Central Alabama] Negro Superstitions, Birmingham 
(Ala.) News, Jan. 18, 1925, p. 15. 

2 13. 

3 112. Southern Workman, vol. 23 (1894), p. 15. 

* Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 262. 

^ 113,224, and 356. Williamson, G., Superstitions from Louisiana, J. A. 
F. L., vol. 18 (1905), p. 229. 

«331. 

^ 112, and Davis, H. C, Negro Folk-Lore in South Carolina, J. A. 
F. L.,vol. 27 (1914), p. 246. 



404 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

day or you will never finish it. ^ So real are these 
beliefs that one Negro overseer, when ordered to com- 
mence a certain bit of plowing on Friday, would go 
out in the evening before and run one or two furrows 
so as not to begin the work on the unlucky day. ^ 
All through England ^ and Scotland, * as well as on the 
Continent, ^ Friday was held to be an unlucky day 
to begin any new work. "Friday was a day on which 
the fairies seemed to hold revel above ground, raid 
houses in open daylight, and investigate the very 
dishes preparing for dinner." ^ The Negroes claim 
it bad luck to plant on Friday — your seed will never 
come up. ^ The Creoles had a proverb, ^'Cila qui 
rit vendredi va pleure dimanche'" ("He who laughs on 
Friday will cry on Sunday"). ^ If you wash clothes 
on the last Friday of the year you will wash away one 
of your family ^ (or bring bad luck). ^ " The same holds 
true of washing on the first Friday of the New Year ^ ^ 
or the last Friday before Christmas. ^ ^ The English 
have the same penalty, but Good Friday is the un- 
lucky day. 1 3 

Unlucky Thirteen. With the Negroes, Friday is 
always an unlucky day, ^ ^ especially Friday the 13th. ^ ^ 



1 151, 171, 189, and 362. 

2 Haskell, J. A., Sacrificial Offerings among North Carolina Negroes, 
J. A. F. L., vol. 4 (1891), pp. 267-68. 

^ Denham, M. A., A Collection of Proverbs and Popular Sayings, Percy 
Society, vol. 29, p. 11 (note). Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 262. 

^Gregor, W., Folk-Lore of the Northeast of Scotland, p. 149. 

^ Fogel, E. M., Beliefs and Superstitions of the Pennsylvania Germans, pp. 
260-61. 

* Simpson, Eva B., Folk-Lore in Lowland Scotland, p. 101. 

^289. 

*Heam, L., Gombo Zhibes, p. 15. 

"364. 
1 « 202. 
1 ' Southern Workman, vol. 23 (1894), p. 15. 

12 141. 

" * Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 564. 
1 * 392. 
1 » 401. 



Negative Control-Signs — Taboos 405 

Thirteen seems to have its usual unluckiness. ^ "If 
a person is born on the 13th, marries on the 13th, and 
dies on the 13th it is going to be hot for him." ^ If 
thirteen (or eleven) ^ eat at a table, one of that 
number will die * — an English belief, probably a 
remembrance of the thirteen at the Paschal Supper 
and the fate of Judas. ^ The thirteenth of the month 
is always considered unlucky with the Negroes whether 
it be Friday or not. ^ 

The Perils of Sewing. Returning again to the folk- 
beliefs relating to more specifically feminine affairs, 
we find, in the case of sewing, one widespread notion 
that you should never sew a dress while it is on you 
without holding a small stick in your mouth. Failure 
to have this stick in your mouth will result in death, ^ 
bad luck, « or some one talking about you or telling 
lies on you ^ — one lie for every stitch taken. ^ " In 
West Africa "one dare not sew his cloth while it is on 
his body lest his relative die." ^ ^ In England the 
version is that you will be ill spoken of. ^ ^ Here we 
have a case of remarkably similar superstitions in 
countries as widely separated as England and Africa, 
and, as illustrated in other cases, both influences 



1288. 

2 314. 

3 304. 
*63. 

^ Henderson, W., Folk-Lore of the Northern Counties of England, p. 33. 

6 80. 

M88. 

8 58. 

9 73, 152, 214, and 234. Also Work, M. H., Some Geechee Folk-Lore, 
Southern Workman, vol. 34 (1905) pp. 696-97. 

1 " Richardson, C, Some Slave Superstitions, Southern Workman, vol. 41 
(1912), p. 248. 

1 1 Cronise and Ward, Cunnie Rabbit, Mr. Spider and the Other Beef, 
p. 25. 

i^Gurdon, Lady E. C, County Folk-Lore of Suffolk, vol. i, p. 128. Dyer, 
T. F. T., Domestic Folk-Lore, p. 82. Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 58. 



406 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

persist side by side in the Afro-American beliefs. The 
prevention of evil by putting a small splinter of wood 
in the mouth seems to have been an independent 
American development. 

Other superstitions thread themselves into the 
sewing basket. If rats cut your clothes do not allow 
any one who is kin to you to mend them. ^ If you mend 
them yourself you will die ^ or at least have bad luck. 
Always get some one outside the family to do the 
repairing for you. ^ Never make a new garment for 
a sick person lest he die; ■* nor should you press or sew 
after hearing of a death for fear of bad luck. ^ It is 
likewise bad luck to sew new pieces on an old garment. ^ 
You should never sew, wash, or iron on New Year's 
day for fear of causing some member of your family 
to die. ■' If you sew up a torn or ripped mattress some 
member of your family will die, ^ and the penalty is the 
same for putting on a person's new clothes before 
he puts them on himself. ® A dropped pair of scissors 
should be closed before picking them up ^ ° — an 
English belief ^ ^ — though other Negroes claim that it 
it unusually bad luck to leave the scissors uncrossed 
(closed), the remedy for such an oversight being 
three stitches taken on green cloth. ^ ^ This latter 
idea is probably due to the fact that open scissors 

^ 141, and 189. Lee, C, Some Negro Lore from Baltimore, J. A. F. L., 
vol. 5 (1892), p. 110. 

2 274. 

3 286, and Southern Workman, vol. 33 (1904), p. 52. 

* 144, and 364. Southern Workman, vol. 28 (1899), p. 450. 
5 267. 

^ Thomas and Thomas, Kentucky Superstitions, p. 166. 
' 151. 

8 352. 

9 148. 
i"141. 

1 1 Leather, E. M., Folk-Lore of Herejordshire, p. 87. 
1233. 



Negative Control-Signs — Taboos 407 

represent the all-powerful cross. Never Iron the hem 
(or tail) 1 of a man's shirt unless you want him to be 
quarrelsome. ^ One should never cut out a garment 
on Friday or he will never finish it. ^ But if the 
garment is cut out on that day you must be sure to 
finish it the same day under penalty of never finishing 
it, or of its owner never living to wear it out. * 

Wash-day. Washing clothes is another feminine 
occupation around which many taboos cluster. It is 
bad luck to leave rags or clothes hanging on your 
fence or clothes line on New Year's eve, ^ and there is 
also the English ^ belief that if you wash clothes that 
day you "will wash one out of your family." ^ Wet 
clothes should never be carried through a house* or 
from one house to another. ^ If you let your dress get 
wet in front while you are washing, it is a sign that you 
will marry a drunkard. ^ ° Not necessarily feminine 
is the belief that if you wash even your finger tips in 
water used by another you are sure to have a quarrel 
with that person. ^ ^ The same belief is found in 
Europe ^ ^ even to the Negro practice of preventing 
the misfortune by making a crossmark and spitting 
over it. ^ ^ Others reverse the formula by saying, 

1310. 

2 331, 

3 188^ and 189. Ohio Whites. 

^ 320, and Ohio Whites. 

MOl. 

^ Lean's Collectanea, vol. 1, p. 373. 

no6. 

8 401. 

1 238, and 310. 

^^141, and 352. Richardson, C, Some Slave Superstitions, South- 
ern Workman, vol. 41 (1912), p. 248. 

1 2 Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 157. Henderson, W., Folk-Lore of the 
Northern Counties of England, p. 84. Leather, E. M., Folk-Lore of Here- 
fordshire, p. 87. 

^^57. Lee, C, Some Negro Lore from Baltimore, J. A. F. L., vol. 5 
(1892), p. 111. 



408 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

"wash together, friends forever," but claiming that if 
two friends use the same towel at once their friendship 
will be broken. ^ 

The Imp of the Kitchen. Signs and seasonings sit 
side by side in the unwritten Negro cook book. The 
proper technique demands that jellies, butter, sauce, 
soap, and similar preparations always be stirred to the 
right. Otherwise they will not "make." ^ The 
better-advised gastronome insists that all food, and 
especially cake, must be stirred clockwise if you want 
it to turn out well. ^ The Scottish version is that 
the food must be stirred in this way to prevent "bowel 
complaints." * Any tough old cock of the roost may 
be reduced to exquisite tenderness by sticking a nail 
into him before he is cooked. ^ Sopping out the 
frying pan is a sign that you are going to run away, ^ 
while burning egg-shells brings sorrow. ^ It is bad 
luck to break bread in another person's hand ^ — you 
will "fall out" (quarrel) ^ or the younger person will 
die first. ^ ° It is also bad luck to eat out of another 
person's hand. ^ ^ If you let the bread fall in taking it 
from the stove it is a sign of death, * ^ while turning 
a loaf of bread upside down at any time will bring bad 



1 Williamson, G., Superstitions from Louisiana, J. A. F. L., vol. 18 
(1905), p. 229. 

2 Moore, R. A., Superstitions from Georgia, J. A. F. L., vol. 7 (1894), 
p. 229. 

^ 141, and 112. Davis, H. C, Negro Folk-Lore in South Carolina, J. A. 
F. L., vol. 27 (1914), p. 246. 

* Gregor, W., Folk-Lore of the Northeast of Scotland, p. 30. 

6 349. 

«206. 

' 91. Superstitions of Negroes in New Orleans, J. A. F. L., vol. 5 (1892), 
p. 330. 

8 273. 

9 286, and Work, M. H., Some Geechee Folk-Lore, Southern Workman, 
vol. 34 (1905), p. 697. 

i«315. 
1 1 273. 
> 2 188. 



Negative Control-Signs — Taboos 409 

luck 1 or cause ships to sink, ^ the latter behef being 
English in origin. ^ She who spills dishwater will 
lose her sweetheart, " while a life of singleness awaits 
those careless ones who let their liishwater boil ^ 
(you are boiling your friends away). ^ The eco- 
nomical housewife never leaves the skillet on the fire 
after the bread is done lest the act should make bread 
scarce ^ — though the usual interpretation is that such 
procedure will burn up the skillet. » One should 
never lend or borrow salt or pepper for fear of breaking 
friendship; ^ but if a person has already borrowed salt, 
it is extremely bad luck to return it. ^ " This belief 
is also found in England. ^ ^ Hard times result from 
sweeping corn into the fire, ^ - and bad luck from 
throwing in salt or bread ^ ^ — some say it is a sin to 
throw food of any kind into the fire, ^ " though burning 
onion peels will bring good luck ^ ^ (drive off spirits). 

Household Lore. The imp of misfortune flits from 
kitchen to bedroom, to parlor, to porch, laying his 
fretful hands upon all who dare violate his household 
decrees. Sitting on a table brings disappointment, 



195. 

2 Lee, C, Some Negro Lore from Baltimore, J. A. F. L., vol. 5 (1892), 
p. 112. 

' Henderson, W., Folk-Lore of the Northern Counties of England, p. 89. 
Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 151. 

* 141. Williamson, G., Superstitions from Louisiana, J. A. F. L., 
vol. 18 (1905), p. 229. 

5 188. 

6 331, 

^ Southern Workman, vol. 28 (1899), p. 449. 

8 286. 

^Southern Workmaji, vol. 28 (1899), p. 450. 
1 » 286. 

1 1 Henderson, W., Folk-Lore of the Northern Counties of England, 
p. 89. Leather, E. M., Folk-Lore of Herefordshire, p. 86. 
1231. 
i='75. 

'■'91. Davis, H. C, Negro Folk-Lore in South Carolina, J. A. F. L., 
vol. 27 (1914), p. 248. 
16 196. 



410 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

some say, ^ though most Negroes Insist that it is a sign 
that you want to marry ^ and cannot ^ — indicating 
that you will be an old maid. ^ Others stoutly main- 
tain that such behavior will make you lean, ^ but the 
English version is that you want to be married. ^ 
It is also bad luck to sit on a trunk ^ — "it brings 
disappointment and will draw all your luck away." * 
Putting your hat on the bed is an almost universal 
Negro sign of bad luck ^ — "sad disappointment" ^ ° — 
unless it is placed with the bottom side up, which re- 
moves any misfortune. ^ ^ Putting the hat on a trunk ^ ^ 
or table ^ ^ also brings bad luck or disappointment as 
does hanging your hat on a chair, ^ * or placing a mir- 
ror, 1 ^ shoe or umbrella ^ ^ on the bed, or a lamp on 
the foot of the bed. ^ ' If a friend place her umbrella 
on your bed you will soon be enemies. ^ ^ Some of 
these signs may have developed as disciplinary factors 
making for greater household orderliness. 

Chairs, Lamps, and Clocks. It is bad luck to turn a 
chair around on one leg;^^ such action will cause 



1 141, and Parsons, E. C, Folk-Lore of the Sea Islands, S. C, M. A. F. 
L. S., vol. 16 (1923), p. 210. 
2 280. 
3371. 
* 61, and 288. 

6 364. 

^ Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 305. 

7 81, 336, and 356. 

8 141. . 

9 179, 288, and 249. 
"112, and 396. 

364, 189, 61, and 100. 
2 189, and 229. 

321. 

183. 
^6, 335, and 401. 
^ Pitkin, Helen, An Angel by Brevet, p. 70. 

386. 
8 91. Superstitions of Negroes in New Orleans, J. A. F. L., vol. 5 (1892), 
p. 330. 
1 s 139. 



Negative Control-Signs — Taboos 411 

some one to die, ^ turn some one out, - cause all the 
cows to go dry, ^ or create a fuss ^ — the latter being 
the European version. ^ With the Negroes the evil 
may be prevented by turning the chair back the other 
way. ^ Rocking an empty chair will surely cause 
bad luck, ^ or the death of a member of the family ^ 
("you is sho' rockin' somebody outer de fam'ly"). ^ 
It is bad luck to burn two lamps in one room, ^ " or to 
have two lights on one table. ^ ^ In Europe it is having 
three candles burning in the room or on the table 
which is considered unlucky. ^ ^ It is bad luck to keep 
a clock in your house if it is not running, ^ ^ or to keep 
two clocks running in one room. ^ * 

Edged Tools and Other Things. Bring an ax or hoe 
through the house ^ ^ on your shoulder, ^ ^ and great 
calamity will befall the inmates. Some Negroes will 
never put a hoe or ax on their shoulder for fear of bad 
luck. 1 ^ Some say that if you carry a hoe or spade 
through the house you will dig a grave soon.^^ To 
avoid such bad luck, walk out backwards with the 



^63. Davis, H. C, Negro Folk-Lore in South Carolina, J. A. F. L., 
vol. 27 (1914), p. 246. 

2 222. 

3 62. 

^ 141. 

^Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 158. Fogel, E. M., Beliefs and Super- 
stitions of the Pennsylvania Germans, p. 89. 

6 261. 

7 189, and 243. 

8 152. 

"341. 

i»113, and 203. 
1 1 332. 

^^ Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 144. 
1 3 169. 
1*148. 

16 32, 358, and 171. 
16 259, and 81. 

I'Steiner, R., Superstitions and Beliefs from Central Georgia, J. A. 
F. L., vol. 12 (1899), p. 262. 
1 8 189, and 320. 



412 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

implement. ^ It Is also hazardous to carry a spade 
out of your home by the front door. ^ The English 
version is "terribly bad luck" to enter a house with a 
shovel or any edged tool on the shoulder. ^ Even 
the Shropshire ^ belief that it is ill luck to carry any- 
thing on your shoulder in the house is repeated by the 
Negroes. ^ It is ill luck to carry a bucket of water 
into the house on your head;^ you should always 
unload your head before entering. ^ No water must 
be taken out of the pail during the time it is on the 
head of the person carrying it, this being extremely 
bad luck. ^ It is also ominous to raise a parasol in- 
doors. ^ The Heidelberg version is, "Es gibt strelt," ^ " 
but one Alabama Negro declares It is a sign that a 
coffin Is soon to be brought in for one of the family. ^ ^ 
The evil genius declares it ill-starred to carry water 
back to the well In a bucket, ^ ^ and bad luck to leave an 
ironing board up or a trunk open at night. ^ ^ For 
various other slips this calamitous basilisk impartially 
deals his penalties. For whistling in the house, bad 
luck; ^ * for lying across two chairs, "you sho' measurin' 



^ 141. Lee, C, Some Negro Lore from Baltimore, J. A. F. L., vol. 5 
(1892), p. 111. 

2 173. 

3 Leather, E. M., Folk-Lore of Herefordshire, p. 119. Fogel, E. M., 
Beliefs and Superstitions of the Pennsylvania Germans, p. 98. Lean's Col- 
lectanea, vol. 2, p. 148. 

* Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 177. 

6 169. 

^286, and Williamson, G., Superstitions from Louisiana, J. A. F. L., 
vol. 18 (1905), p. 229. 

''Alabama Folk-Lore, Southern Workman, vol. 33 (1904), p. 52. (Ohio 
whites.) 

8 Brannon, P. A., Central Alabama Negro Superstitions, Birmingham 
(Ala.) News, Jan. 18, 1925, p. 15. 

9 24, 81, 62, 186, 110, 141, 334, and 224. Davis, H. C, Negro Folk-Lore 
in South Carolina, J. A. F. L., vol. 27 (1914), p. 246. 

^" Fogel, E. M., Beliefs and Superstitions of the Pennsylvania Germans, 
p. 104. 

1 1 229. 

12 17. 

1^91. 
1*391. 



Negative Control-Signs — Taboos 413 

yo' grabe;" ^ for sitting on an ironing board, failure to 
secure a mate, the same penalty being imposed for 
turning over the chair in which you are sitting; ^ 
for sitting back to back with another person, the death 
of the younger; for eating while lying down, ^ or 
for singing in the bed, ^ bad luck; and for putting eggs 
in your father's and mother's bed, "dey will quarrel." ^ 
To avoid broken fortune one should always leave the 
house by the same door by which he entered ^ — 
possibly a half-memory of the time when houses had 
only one door. The superstition, however, is appar- 
ently of European origin, ^ as its rather widespread 
prevalence would lead us to suspect. 

The Trail to a Whipping. It is a sign of trouble to 
mark on the back of a chimney. ^ Some say that 
your back will be marked in the same way by whip- 
ping; ^ one old slave Negro says this applies to marking 
on any parts of the house and adds that "in slavery 
times" (in a tone of reproach as regards the modern 
generation) the mothers would in actuality whip their 
children for doing anything of that sort. ^ " Another 
informant adds that if you write on the back of a 
dish some one in your family will die. ^ ^ 

1243. 

2357. 

^Southern Workman, vol. 24 (1895), p. 78, and 155. Informant 141. 

«243. 

'^341. 

*45, 81, 189, 141, and 341. Also Hawkins, J., An Old Mauma's 
Folk-Lore, J. A. F. L., vol. 9 (1896), p. 131. Richardson, C, Some Slave 
Superstitions, Southern Workman, vol. 41 (1912), p. 247. 

' Fogel, E. M., Beliefs and Superstitions of the Pennsylvania Germans, 
p. 364. Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 93. 

* 184. Alabama Folk-Lore, Southern Workman, vol. 33 (1904), p. 52. 

937. 
i«286 
1163. 



414 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

Coffee-drinking and Mirrors. The inexorable code 
of spirit-etiquette decrees that he who drinks all the 
coflfee from his cup will cry later. ^ Perhaps this may 
be analagous to the English practice of leaving the 
last bit of food for the fairies, though another inform- 
ant claims that if you leave water in a cup after 
drinking, another person can look into the cup and read 
all of your secrets. ^ Fortune smiles upon the wise 
person who puts the sugar in the cup before he pours 
the coffee or tea, but frowns upon those who ignore 
this decree. ^ Such ruinous action will drown some 
one, or, as some say, "drown the miller." ^ It is bad 
luck for two or more persons to look into a mirror at the 
same time; ^ one (the youngest) ^ will die, ^ or they will 
see a ghost. ^ The European version is that one will 
be disappointed. ^ A sick person should never look 
into a mirror 1 ° lest he die; ^ ^ and there is also the 
English ^ 2 idea that it is unlucky to place a mirror in 
water. ^ ^ The Negroes also count it unlucky to look 
into a mirror after sundown. ^ ^ 

Peanuts and Policemen. Relating to the household, 
and, hence, in the main of feminine concern, is the 
idea that peanut hulls should not be thrown around the 



1 91, and Thomas and Thomas, Kentucky Superstitions, p. 152. 

2 286, and Work, M. H., Some Geechee Folk-Lore, Southern Workman, 
vol. 35 (1905), p. 634. 

3 141. 

* Southern Workman, vol. 28 (1899), p. 450. 

^286, and Work, M. H., Some Geechee Folk-Lore, Southern Workman, 
vol. 34 (1905), p. 96. 
6 138. 
^ 91, and Thomas and Thomas, Kentucky Superstitions, p. 172. 

8 91. 

^ Fogel,E. M., Beliefs and Superstitions of the Pennsylvania Germans, p. S5. 

10 341. 

1 1 267. 

12 Leather, E. M., Folk-Lore of Herefordshire, p. 87. 
1^91. 

i<331. 



Negative Control-Signs — Taboos 415 

doorstep for fear of bad luck ^ in the shape of a fuss ^ 
or a call from the policeman. ^ Necessarily modern 
and of American origin is the application of the belief 
in a new setting, i.e., peanuts dropped on the floor of 
an automobile while you are riding will cause it to 
break down. * It is also considered a bad omen for 
one to come indoors eating peanuts. ^ 

Dangerous Carpentry. If a new window is cut in an 
old house some member of the family will die ^ or, 
as one informant suggests, you will soon move out ^ 
(the European version is death). ^ This is especially 
true if you saw out the new window and let the sawed 
boards fall inside the house, ^ although the bad luck 
may be turned aside by throwing your apron through 
the window and jumping out after it. ^ ^ This same 
idea of death also applies to cutting a new door in the 
house, 1 1 especially if the old doorway is closed up. ^ ^ 
In fact, adding any new part to an old house ^ ^ (or 
garden) ^ * will cause death, it being considered "a 
sin" to use new lumber on old dwellings. ^ ^ If you 
move into an unfinished house, some one of the family 
will become ill or die before the year is out. ^ ^ Pos- 



129. 

279, and 341. 

' 141, and Thomas and Thomas, Kentucky Superstitions, p. 223. 

^341. 

5 224. 

6 112,' 148, and 189. Southern Workynan, vol. 24 (1895), p. 78. 

7 341. 

^ Fogel, E. M., Beliefs and Superstitions of the Pennsylvania Germans, p. 117. 
"61. 

10 341. 

1 1 288. 

12 122. 

13 381. 
1^331. 

1^91. Davis, H. C, Negro Folk-Lore in South Carolina, J. A. F. L., 
vol. 27 (1914), p. 248. 
16 100, and 331. 



416 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

sibly the original thought behind these behefs was that 
the wandering soul of one of the inmates might become 
confused by the alterations and fail to find its way back 
to the body, thus causing death. 

The Rules of Sleep. Again, this ubiquitous house- 
hold spirit prescribes an elaborate bedroom code. 
One should never sleep with his head to the foot of the 
bed unless he wants shortly to be carried from the 
house feet foremost, ^ Only the foolish sleep "cross- 
wise of the world" (north and south), since bad luck is 
the inevitable result of such action, ^ a belief directly 
opposed to the European idea that such is lucky. ' 
You should never get out of bed backwards lest you 
shorten your days, * and a person who is unduly cross 
is liable to be greeted with, "You sho' done got up on 
de wrong side er baid dis mawnin','' ^ a saying of 
European origin. ^ With the Negro, the left side Is 
the "wrong side;" get up from the right side for good 
luck. ^ If you sleep in the moonlight you will go 
crazy ^ — another belief from Scotland; ^ while if you go 
to bgd hungry you sin. ^ ° Cut flowers should never 
be kept in a bedroom at night; they will cause sickness 
and death, ^ ^ and a sick person whose bed is moved, ^ ^ 
or who is moved from one house to another, ^ ^ will 



1 9L Williamson, G., Superstitions Jrom Louisiana, J. A. F. L., vol. 18 
(1905), p. 229. 

2 267, and 286. 

^ Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 21. 
* 280. 

6 112. 

'Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 21. 

7 66, and 175. 

8 33. 

^ Gregor, W., Folk-Lore of the Northeast of Scotland, p. 152. 
K'341. 

11276. (Ohio whites). 

1 2 150. (Possibly because he is separated from his spirit). 
1361. 



Negative Control-Signs — Taboos 417 

die soon. One should never get up late on Monday 
morning, under penalty of being late all the week. ^ 

Signs at Sunrise. In some cases special attention is 
paid to actions upon rising, especially those before 
breakfast or sunrise. If you drink water before 
breakfast you will have a chill ^ and if you sing before 
breakfast you will cry before supper, ^ as indicated 
by the following Negro folk-rhyme: 

Doan' sing befo' breakfast, 
Doan' sing 'fore you eat, 
Or you'll cry befo' midnight, 
You'll cry 'fore you sleep. ^ 

This is the characteristic English version, ^ and the 
Negro idea that he who gets up merry in the morning 
will soon be angry ^ is at least partially reproduced in 
the European saying, "Laugh before breakfast, you'll 
cry before supper." ^ Other Negroes claim that singing 
before sunrise means a whipping before night, » or 
that such indiscretions will surely cause the hawks 
to catch your chickens. ^ 

Miscellaneous Domestic Beliefs. Still clustering 
around the household is the idea that it is bad luck to 
pass a person on the steps, ^ " a view decidedly English in 

1219. 

2 168. 

3 42, 141, and 189. Parsons, E. C, Folk-Lore of the Sea Islands, S. C, 
M. A. F. L. S., vol. 16 (1923), p. 210. 

*57. Talley, T. W., Negro Folk Rhymes, p. 186. 
' Henderson, W., Folk-Lore of the Northern Counties of England, p. 85. 
«246. 

''Lean's Collectanea, vol. 1, p. 491. 
8 183. 
957. 
1093, and 141. 



27 



418 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

origin. ^ Walking under a ladder is bad luck, ^ re- 
sulting in sickness in the family ^ — the English penalty 
being non-marriage. ^ The Negro, however, averts 
this bad luck by burying a penny beneath the ladder * 
—a possible remnant of former sacrifice to the ill-luck 
spirit. If you shake hands with some one through a 
window you will never see him again, ^ or across a 
fence, bad luck, ^ or death. ^ Sitting in a window 
or spitting out of the window always brings trouble. ^ 
One should never stand a h(^e by the house he is living 
In ^ " lest It cause a death in the family, ^ ^ and If a 
person leaves a hoe standing up in the field, when he 
stops hoeing In the evening, he will not sleep a wink 
that night. ^ ^ Step across a person's feet and he will not 
grow any more unless you step back, ^ ^ though some 
extremists go so far as to say that stepping over a 
person's leg will cause that member to turn to a stick 
of wood. ^ ^ Shaving at night is unlucky, since they 
shave you at night when you die, ^ ^ while a family 
reunion means the death of some one in the family. ^ ^ 



1 Leather, E. M., Folk-Lore of Herefordshire, p. S7. Hunt, R., Popular 
Romances of the West of England, p. 432. Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 169. 

2 19L 
'17L 

* Brand, J., Popular Antiquities of Great Britain, vol. 2, p. 167. Lean's 
Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 162. 

*33. 

6 341. 

^ 141. Work, M. H., So7ne Geechee Folk-Lore, Southern Workman, vol. 
34 (1905), p. 697. 

8 341. 

9 66. 

1 » 250. 
1 1 274. 
12 102. 

i» 155, 189, 288, 357, and 341. 

i< 141, and Southern Workman, vol. 28 (1899), p. 449. 
iB^Qj-k, M. H., Some Geechee Folk-Lore, Southern Workman, vol. 31 
(1905), p. 696. 
1 « 63. 



Negative Control-Signs — Taboos 419 

Death in the family also results from keeping a tomb- 
stone in the house, ^ and a whipping, from bringing a 
switch home. - 

Cattle and Poultry. Milking is another item generally 
connected with the mistress of the house so far as the 
Negroes are concerned. A cow milked on the ground 
will soon go dry, ^ the same misfortune resulting when 
milk is thrown into the fire, * when a fork is placed in 
milk ^ (some say this will make the cow kick) ^ or but- 
ter, ^ or when a knife is put in milk. * Again it is 
the housewife who most commonly looks out for the 
poultry. If one sets a hen in May all the little chickens 
will die; ^ the Scottish expression is, "May chickens 
are aye cheepin','' the taboo being the same. ^ " The 
Negroes also claim that eggs should never be taken 
from the nest at night. ' ' 

Festa^s Creed. Fire-tending has always been the 
work of woman with the partial exception of those 
favored communities where the grate has been sup- 
planted by the furnace. Needless to say, with the 
majority of the Negroes a dusky Vesta still presides 

4 372. 

^ 298, and 373. 

^286. Williamson, G., Superstitions from Louisiana, J. A. F. L., vol. 
18 (1905), p. 229. 

'Hawkins, J., An Old Mauma's Folk-Lore, J. A. F. L., vol. 9 (1896), 
p. 131. 

8 102, and 318. 

9339. 

10 127, 233, 239, and 331. 

11 286, and Soiithern Workman, vol. 33 (1904), p. 52. 

1 2 288. 

^ ' Gregor, W., Folk-Lore of the Northeast of Scotland, p. 142. 
1*53. 



420 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

over this source of light and heat, and warms to life 
many hazy memories in this most conservative of all 
the household spots. The ignorant one turns a stick 
of wood around in a fireplace after it has started burn- 
ing and suffers bad luck. ^ The wise person, on the 
other hand, averts this mishap by spitting on the end 
of the stick of wood ^ or by throwing salt upon it. ^ 
All informed people know that it is bad luck for 
children to play in the fire, ^ there being the old Eu- 
ropean ^ result of wetting the bed, ^ and only the most 
foolish mother will whip a child who burns another, 
lest the burnt child die. ^ It is bad luck to carry fire 
to fire, and if one is forced to carry fire from one room 
to another he should be sure to spit upon the fire. » 
In Herefordshire it is also considered unlucky to carry 
fire from room to room. ^ Sitting on a log that is 
burning will give your mother a weak back, ^ ° while 
sitting with your back to the fire will result in your 
own demise. ^ ^ A person must exercise discretion as 
to the kind of wood he uses in his fireplace. As a 
general rule wood that pops or crackles loudly in 
burning should not be used. Sassafras wood pops and 
sputters, and burning it in the house will surely cause 
the death of some one present. ^ - One informant, 



1 73, 81, and 40L 

2 102. Southern Workman, vol. 24 (1895), p. 78. 

3 141. 

^334. 

* Fogel, E. M., Beliefs and Superstitions of the Pennsylvania Germans, 
p. 359. 

«112. 

^ 141, and Southern Workman, vol. 28 (1899), p. 450. 

* 112. Lee, C, Some Negro Lore from Baltimore, J. A. F. L., vol. 5 
(1892), p. 110. 

^ Leather, E. M., Folk-Lore of Herefordshire, p. 86. 
1 « 280. 
1 ' 267. 

12 112, 148, and 342. Thanet, Octave, Folk-Lore in Arkansas, J. A. 
F. L., vol. 5 (1894), p. 124. 



Negative Control-Signs — Taboos 421 

however, urges that this taboo is due only to fear of 
the sparks popping out on the floor and burning the 
house. The same taboo appHes to persimmon wood 
(if you throw it in a man's fireplace he will soon move 
away), ^ dogwood (strife), sweet-gum, poplar ("jes' 
ez de wood pops so will ole Marster pop his whip on 
yo' back"), 2 or ash. ^ Some Negroes will not burn 
the wood of a tree that has been struck by lightning. * 
On the Gold Coast of Africa no one would think of 
putting out a fire started by lightning or of helping a 
victim struck by it. ^ A passing acquaintance in 
Asheville recently informed me that the North 
Carolina Negroes also consider it unlucky to burn 
apple wood. 

Tree Planting. There are certain other wood-taboos, 
not so closely connected with the household and hence 
not so specifically feminine in association, which 
center mainly around tree planting. If you plant a 
cedar tree, for instance, and it lives, you (or some one 
in the family) ^ will die ^ (when the tree is large enough 
to shade a grave, ^ or, if planted on a grave, when it is 
large enough to shade you). ^ It is even considered 
bad luck to bring cedar into the house; ^ ° the cedar 

1141. 

^ 91. Work, M. H., Some Geechee Folk-Lore, Southern Workman, vol. 35 
<1905), p. 635. 
3 390. 

* 141. See also, Price, S. F., Kentucky Folk-Lore, J. A. F. L., vol. 14 
(1901), p. 33. Work, M. H., Some Geechee Folk-Lore, Southern Workmmi, 
vol. 35 (1905), p. 635. 

^ Cardinal, A. W., Natives of the Northern Territories of the Gold Coast, 
pp. 26-27. 

«286. Parsons, E. C, Folk-Lore of the Sea Islands, S. €., M. A. F. 
L. S., vol. 16 (1923), p. 210. 

^288. 

* 141. Williamson, G., Superstitions from Louisiana, J. A. F. L., vol. 
18 (1905), p. 229. 

»341. 



422 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

probably deriving its fetishistic atmosphere from the 
fact that everywhere in the South it is used as a 
favorite tree for graveyards, possibly because it is an 
evergreen and hence symbolic of immortality. On 
the Sea Islands it is believed that if you plant an orange 
tree you will die the first year that it bears, ^ the same 
applying in other localities to a walnut tree, ^ to a 
willow planted before your door, ^ or to fruit trees in 
general. ■» 

Marriage. Besides these various superstitions more 
or less closely connected with the house and household 
duties, there are other hoary memories which compan- 
ion the woman of the house. One of the first to strike 
our attention is the English or Scottish ^ belief that 
if you serve as a bridesmaid three times you will never 
marry. ^ If you cry when some one in your family 
marries it is bad luck. ^ It is bad luck to postpone 
a wedding ** or for a newly married couple to ride on a 
train which carries a corpse. ^ If you let any one 
take oif your ring you will break friendship;^" in 
Scotland it is considered ominous ever to part with the 
wedding ring. ^ ^ The Negroes claim that if you wear 
any one's wedding ring you will never marry, ^ ^ while 
wearing a ring on your middle finger will cause some 



1 Parsons, E. C, Folk-Lore of the Sea Islands, S. C, M. A. F. L. S., vol. 
16 (1923), p. 210. 

2 100. 

3 112, and 141. Work, M. H., Some Geechee Folk-Lore, Southern Work- 
man, vol. 35 (1905), p. 635. 

n08. 

^ Gregor, W., Folk-Lore of the Northeast of Scotland, p. 92. Lean's 
Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 81. 

«95. 

' 356. 

«189. 

9 386. 
1 « 188. 

' 1 Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 185. 
' 2 396. 



Negative Control-Signs — Taboos 423 

one to make you ashamed before your wedding is 
over. 1 If you kiss a boy before you marry, you will 
never care very much for him, ^ while if you make a 
mistake and kiss a boy on the nose it is a sign that he 
will never be your husband. ^ A boy should never 
give a girl a letter in her left hand; it will break their 
friendship. " If you burn up your letters you will 
never marry the writer ^ — you will break up friendship 
and "burn up yo' love," " though one informant recom- 
mends this process as a way of "gettin' an old lover 
off yo' min'." ^ It is also said in marrying, "Change 
the name and not the letter, you marry for worse 
and not for better," ^ undoubtedly a European belief 
since it is found among the whites of Ohio ^ and 
Illinois. 10 

Special Feminine Taboos. During certain physiolog- 
ical periods there are special taboos applying to 
women. Should a woman step over melon vines 
during menstruation they will bear no fruit, ^ ^ The 
Negro women of Pulaski County, Va., refuse to 
handle food at this time, under the assumption that 
they would spoil the cooking. If they assisted in 
making cucumber pickle the pickles would get soft; 
likewise cake-filling would refuse to harden. Wine 
would never become clear if handled at this time, no 
matter how often it was "wracked off." Cider would 



1402. 

291. Alabama Folk-Lore, Southern Workman, vol. 33 (1904), p. 52. 

3371. 

MOO. 
6 95 

« 189, and 341. 

« 63, 405, and Ohio Whites. 

"295. 
i"86. 

1' 141, and Davis, H. C, Negro Folk-Lore in South Carolina, J. A. F. L. 
vol. 27 (1914), p. 246. 



424 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

not change into vinegar because the "mother of vine- 
gar" is killed. ^ The same general idea is found in 
Europe, ^ although among the TImne people of Africa 
a menstruous woman is forced to observe certain 
taboos, among which are cooking for her husband or 
planting anything. ^ 

Turning Back. The large number of typically fem- 
inine beliefs thus far cited show clearly the influence 
of the woman In the passing on of current super- 
stitions. For the balance of the discussion I shall not 
make the masculine-feminine distinction so absolute, 
but merely Indicate the general trend as we go along. 
Whether these remaining superstitions pertain spe- 
cifically to womanly aifairs or not, it has been my 
observation as a collector that the women believe in 
them and observe them far more assiduously than do 
the men. One very common assumption Is that it is 
bad luck to turn back (at the crossroads) * after you 
have started anywhere, without first making a cross- 
mark in the road ^ and spitting In it ^ (moving back- 
wards all the way). ^ Others evade the bad luck by 
turning back three times ;^ or by going back into the 
house and saying something, ^ or by sitting down for a 
time before going out again. ' o One European mode is 



1 59. 

^ Fogel, E. M., Beliefs and Superstitions of the Pennsylvania Germans, 
PP.350-5L 

' Thomas, N. W., Anthrop. Rept. on Sierra Leone, pt. 1, p. 76. 
4 331, 

5 106," and 224. 

6 141, 306, 234, and 259. Bergen, F. D., Current Superstitions, M. A. 
F. L. S., vol. iv (1896), p. 134. Work, M. H., Some Geechee Folk-lore, 
Southern Workman, vol. 34 (1905), p. 69.5. 

' Smiley, P., Folk -Lore from Va., S. C, Ga., Ala., and Fla., J. A. F. L., 
vol. 32 (1919), p. 381. 

» Parsons, E. C, Folk-Lore of the Sea Islands, S. C, M. A. \F. L. S., vol. 
16 (1923), p. 210. 

9 188. 
'"362. 



Negative Control-Signs — Taboos 425 

to return through another door if you must come 
back into the house again. ^ Never look back when 
you are starting anywhere " 'less you jes' lookin' fer 
trubbr." 2 

Hands Behind Head. Some of these taboos are 
apparently meaningless, and doubtless their origin 
dates back to some similar African beliefs which have 
thus far not come to my attention. Too widespread 
to be a mere matter of chance, and apparently lacking 
a European parallel, is the idea that locking your 
hands back of your head (or walking with them clasped 
behind your back) ^ has drastic consequences — failure 
to marry, 4 bad luck ^ (to your parents),^ death, ^ 
or "piling up trouble." ^ "At Charleston, S. C, old 
people would say to a child who clasped his hands be- 
behind his neck, 'You mournin' your mother away!' 
or 'yer mammy is goin' to die'." ^ Other informants 
take the view that you are praying for your mother 
to die ^ " or cursing your parents. ^ ^ 

Walking Backwards. Somewhat akin to this belief, 
and perhaps even more prevalent, is the notion that if 
you walk backwards you are cursing your parents ^ ^ 
(or your mother, ^ ^ or grandmother). ^ * So strong was 



1 Fogel, E. M., Beliefs and Superstitions of the Pennsylvania Germans, 
p. 364. 

2 229. 
^83. 

* Ibid. 

5 173, 286, and 320. Southern Workman, vol. 28 (1899), p. 450. 

6 110. 

7 372. 

* Hardv, Sarah M., Negro Superstitions, Lippincott's Monthly Magazine, 
vol. xlviii (1891), p. 739. 

9 Smilev, P., Folk-Lore from. Va., S. C, Ga. Ala., and Fla., J. A. F. L., 
vol. 32 (1919), p. 378. 
1 » 352. 

1 1 308. 

1 2 67, 54, 32, 233, 148, and 341. Southern Workman, vol. 33 (1904), p. 52. 
» 3 324, and 396. Smilev, P., Folk-Lore from Va., S. C, Ga., Ala., and Fla., 

J. A. F.L., vol. 32 (1919), pp. 378-79. 
1*331. 



426 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

this belief in slavery times that one old slave tells me 
how the mothers would snatch up their children and 
whip them for walking backwards. ^ Others "have 
forgotten the sign" but taboo the act as bringing bad 
luck, - while still others regard it as a sign of death ^ 
("you are measuring the length of your grave"). * 
One old conjure-doctor, with the usual religiosity of his 
class, offers as his explanation the fact that Christ 
commanded all people to go forward, hence making it 
wrong to go backwards, ^ but the unusual spread of 
the belief and the special variants applying to the 
mother, the parent especially loved by the African 
child, makes an African origin appear more likely. 
It is also considered bad luck to ride backwards. ^ 

Teeth-sucking. Closely tied up with these two be- 
liefs is the conviction that sucking your teeth at a 
person (the upper teeth brought against the lower 
lip and sucked) is a sign of disrespect, ^ and this too is 
an act for which the old slaves used to whip their 
children. ^ They say in South Carolina that it is 
wrong because the devil sucks his teeth ^ whenever he 
loses a soul, and would follow you to heaven's gate. ^ " 
In this case, however, the African origin is not so 
conjectural, for the Timne-speaking people regard 
sucking the teeth at a person as an insult which no 



1 84. 

2 173, and 216. 

3 102. 

* 352. 

*91. 

ei3. 

'84, and 91. 

8 141. 

9 Parsons, E. C, Folk-Lore of the Sea Islands, S. C, M. A. F. L. S., vol. 
16 (1923), p. 57. 

1" Smiley, P., Folk-Lore from Va., S. C, Ga., Ala., and Fla., J. A. F. L., 
vol. 32 (f919), pp. 378-79. 



Negative Control-Signs — Taboos 427 

lad should allow to go unpunished. ^ Probably in 
time the African origin of clasping the hands behind 
the head and walking backwards will be noted as well. 

Shoe-lore. Putting the left shoe (or stocking) - 
on before the right will bring bad luck, ^ a dogma 
which has its exact English parallel, * and which applies 
among the Negroes to taking off the shoes as well. ^ 
One should never put his shoes higher than his head; ^ 
it keeps his luck away, ^ or means that he will 
never wear them again. ^ One old slave disagrees, 
and claims good luck for elevated shoes. ^ However, 
putting your shoes under your bed will cause them to 
hurt your feet ^ " or will give you bad luck in general. * ^ 
The unnatural practice of walking around with one 
shoe off means bad luck, ^ ^ a hard time in life, ^ ^ 
sickness, ^ * a whipping, ^ * or the measuring of your 
mother's grave. ^ ^ Of apparent European origin is 
the belief that if a young man gives his sweetheart a 
pair of shoes she will walk away from him, ^ ^ though 

' Cronise and Ward, Cunnie Rabbit, Mr. Spider and the Other Beef, 
pp. 222-23, 294. 

2 141. 

*91, and 392. Waring, M. A., Negro Superstitions in South Carolina, 
J.A.F. L., vol. 8 (1895), p. 252. 

* Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 168. Gregor, W., Folk-Lore of the North- 
east of Scotland, p. 31. 

^62. 

* Lee, C, Some Negro Lore from Baltimore, J. A. F. L., vol. 5 (1892), 
p. 110. 

M41. 

8 349 . 

9 286. 
1 » 356. 
11141, and 152. 

1 2 286. 

13 Work, M. H., Some Geechee Folk-Lore, Southern Workman, vol. 34 
(1905), p. 696. 

1M84, and 331. 

1^148. 

1 * 57, and Thomas and Thomas, Kentucky Superstitions, p. 168. 

1 ' Ibid., and p. 54. 

i 



428 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

in Europe the girl is supposed to be the giver. ^ If you 
wear unmatched shoes you will walk in trouble, ^ 
while if you tie one shoe before you get the other one 
on, your feet will get sore. ^ Some say that when you 
once lace one shoe before putting the other on "you 
lacin' de debbil in hit." " 

The Elusive Fish. Various fishing taboos are In 
evidence, and under present day conditions it is the 
women fully as often as the men who are the anglers. 
One well rooted notion is that stepping over a fishing- 
pole destroys luck, ^ a belief having a Scottish parallel, ^ 
though the Negro goes a step further and prevents the 
bad luck by stepping backwards over the pole. ^ 
Perhaps it is the European idea that if you swear you 
will catch no fish ^ which is at the basis of the Negro 
verse: 

Wen you don't speak sof 

Yo' baits comes off; 

An' de fish jes swim away, 

reflecting an old antebellum superstition. ^ 

Donfs for the Farmer. Besides the beliefs re- 
lating to planting in the light or dark of the moon, 
there are other opinions having to do with planting 
and with plants in general. It is bad luck to plant 
only half a row or to skip a row, ^ " the usual penalty 

1 Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 80. 

2 373. 

=> 175,' and 267. 
M89. 
6 384. 

^Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 143. 

^ 286, and Davis, H. C, Negro Folk-Lore in South Carolina, J. A. F. L., 
vol. 27 (1914), p. 246. 

* Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 138. 
8 Talley, T. W., Negro Folk Rhymes, p. 214. 
1 « 288. 



Negative Control-Signs — Taboos 429 

being the English ^ one of a death of a member of the 
family, ^ which may be prevented, however, by going 
back and finishing the row. ^ "If peas, watermelons, 
or cucumbers are planted on 'bloom day,' the plant 
will have all blooms and no fruit." " The Negro 
belief that transplanting parsley will cause a death in 
the family ^ (or the death of one's children) ^ is of 
European origin;^ the Greeks strewed parsley on the 
graves of the dead, and, in Devonshire, transplanting 
parsley is a serious offense against the guardian genius 
who presides over parsley-beds. « Pointing your finger 
at growing fruit will cause it to drop from the bough, » 
while burning up the cobs from which you shell your 
seed corn will cause the sun to burn up the growing 
corn. Seed corn is always shelled in the field and the 
cobs left on the ground or buried. ^ ° Somewhat 
analagous is the butter bean belief. Butter bean hulls 
are always thrown in the road. "These Negro people 
nearly always have a garden, and on the fence of the 
garden always raise butter beans. The hulls of the 
shelled beans (lima beans) are never burned because if 
such were the case the crop of the Negro would not 
be fruitful. They are never fed to the cows or the 
hogs who would eat them with rare relish, because if 
this is done while the next year's plants are growing 
the stock will get into the garden and eat up the vines 
while still bearing. They are never thrown into the 

^ Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 570. 

2 224, and 286. Alabama Folk-Lore, Southern Workman, vol. 33 (1904), 
p. 52. 

3 102. 
* Ibid. 
M05. 

« Williamson, G., Superstitions from Louisiana, J. A. F. L., vol. 18 (1905), 
p. 230. 

' Lean's Collectanea, vol. 1, p. 496. 
8 Dyer, T. F. T., English Folk-Lore, p. 3. 
9 112, and Southern Workman, vol. 23 (1894), p. 16. 
1 213, and 358. 



430 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

garbage because they must be thrown into the road In 
order that next year's vines will produce. In some 
localities this idea of reproduction extends to the 
field crop, in others to cattle, and in still others, even 
more closely personal, to the family of the persons 
themselves, many believing that the wife would not 
bear children if this were not done." ^ 

The Borrowed Hat. We have already mentioned the 
fact that putting on another person's hat will give one 
the headache - unless he first blows into the hat. ^ 
Doubtless we here have a reflection of the fear that 
harm may result from powder put on the hatband. 
If a person borrows a hat from a diseased person and 
sweats around the hatband when he Is wearing it, he 
will take that disease. * Putting two hats on your 
head at once will bring you a whipping ^ (or a "double 
whipping"). ^ It is also bad luck to wear your hat 
wrongside out or to put your coat over your head. ^ 

Money and Trade. Negroes think that pennies and 
two-dollar bills are unlucky, ^ though with the latter 
the bad luck may be averted by tearing off one corner 
of the bill. 3 Some Negroes, however, disagree with 
this, saying that a two-dollar bill carried in the pocket- 
book will always bring good luck. ^ ° Somewhat akin 
to the London "handsel" (where trades-people kiss 



^ Brannon, P. A., Central Alabama Negro Superstitions, Birmingham 
(Ala.) News, Jan. 18, 1925, p. 15. 
2 357 _ 

3 188^ and 208. 

*91, and Steiner, R., Superstitions and Beliefs from Central Georgia, 
J. A. F. L., vol. 12 (1899), p. 267. 
6 148, and 317. 

® 141, and Thomas and Thomas, Kentucky Superstitions, p. 166. 
-< 273. 

8 315, and 373. 
"207. 
*»141, ixnd Alabama Folk-Lore, Southern Workman, vol. 33 (1904), p. 52. 



Negative Control-Signs — Taboos 431 

and spit upon the first money they receive in a morning, 
putting it aside in a pocket by itself) ^ is the refusal 
of some Negro merchants to open a charge account for 
the first customer Monday morning, the idea being 
that people would be asking for credit all the week. ^ 
There is also the notion that it brings good luck to 
receive a nickel early Monday morning, ^ and thrift 
is encouraged by the saying, "Ef you sees a penny an' 
does not save hit you'll sho' want fer hit sometime." * 

Friendship Hints. For two persons walking to- 
gether to go on opposite sides of the same tree ("split 
a tree") is bad luck;^ it cuts their mother's grave or 
divides their friendship. "^ Two Negroes walking 
together also think that their friendship will be cut in 
two ^ or bad luck will result ^ if a person cuts in 
between them. You should never present your sweet- 
heart with a gift that has a point or cutting edge, 
such as a pencil, pen, knife, or stick pin, or there will be 
a severing of affections between you. ^ The folk- 
belief is of European origin ^ ^ and is probably at the 
basis of the Kentucky Negro's idea that bad luck 
follows a man giving a woman an umbrella, ^ ^ though 
it is hard to see why some Georgia Negroes think the 
giving of handkerchiefs also causes a loss of affection. ^ - 

^ Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 47. 
290. 

^ 112, and Thomas and Thomas, Kentucky Superstitions, p. 209. 
*341. 

5 264, and 369. (Ohio whites). 

* 141, and Work, M. H., Some Geechee Folk-Lore, Southern Workman, 
vol. 34 (1905), p. 695. 
' 251. 
«189. 

9 141, 152, 240, and 341. 
1 " Henderson, W., Folk-Lore of the Northern Counties of England, p. 88. 
Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 159. 

^ ' Thomas and Thomas, Kentucky Superstitions, p. 143. 
1 2 276. 



432 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

If you have your fingers covered with rings you will 
never catch a sweetheart. ^ If you cry after one when 
he leaves you it is a sign that you will never see him 
alive again, ^ and there is also the old Scottish ^ belief 
that it i« dangerous to watch people out of sight, the 
possibility being that you will never see those persons 
again. ^ Never tell a sick person good-bye, lest he 
become worse and die. ^ If you mistreat your best 
friend you will marry a widow, ^ and if you are going 
"a piece o' de way" with a person and come to a ditch 
of water you must cross it with him or you will have 
bad luck. ^ 

Personal Etiquette. There are many other items of 
bad form connected with the association of human 
beings. For instance, one should never pass things 
over a person's back lest he give that person the back- 
ache;* while telling your signs to white people will 
bring on bad luck, ^ though in general this belief is 
not much observed. Taking white flowers to a sick 
person is bad luck, ^ " while shutting a gate which 
some one has opened is said by a few to result in 
disappointment. ^ ^ Once, while 'possum hunting with 
a group of Negroes I sat down to rest while all the 
others were standing. One old Negro remonstrated, 
saying that to do so was very bad luck. ^ ^ It is an 

166. 
2 127. 

' Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 156. 
* Cable, G. W., The Grandissimes, p. 86. 
6 224. 
6 373. 
7 135. 

8 286, and Southern Workman, vol. 28 (1899), p. 450. 
9320. 
lOHl. 

1 1 182. , 

12 221. 



Negative Coxtrol-Signs — Taboos 433 

insult to write to any one with red ink, ^ while if any 
one marks on you with a pencil you will receive the 
same number of "licks" on your back. ^ When one 
pickaninny hits another across the back with a switch 
the one receiving the blow begs the other to hit him 
again in the same place to take off the "cross." Un- 
less this is done he will surely get a whipping before 
night. 3 Walking over a crack will break your mother's 
back, ■* while stepping in another person's tracks will 
give you bad luck, ^ headache ^ (if you walk in your 
mother's tracks), ^ or the backache. ^ Again you 
should never let a very old person point his finger at 
you unless you are simply courting trouble. ^ Other 
items are more distinctly personal. Thus, walling 
your eyes will let people know you are jealous, 
while having your wisdom teeth extracted will result 
in death. ^ ° One should never look into a well at 
noon lest bad luck befall him ^ ^ — one woman did so 
and saw a funeral procession. Within three days there 
was a death in her family. ^ ^ It is bad luck to burn 
up a deck of cards ^ ^ or to wear an opal or moonstone 
if the gem is not your birthstone. ^ * Never point 
your finger at a grave or at the moon lest that mem- 

^. 

2 367. 

'Hardy, Sarah M., Negro Superstitions, Lippincott's Monthly Maga- 
zine, vol. xlviii (1891), p. 379. 
* 158, and Ohio Whites. 
<> 206. 

« 315, and 373. 
' 207. 

8 141, and Alabama Folk-Lore, Southern Workman, vol. 33 (1904), p. 52. 
9 308. 
loei. 

1 1 57. 

12 Work, M. H., Some Geechee Folk-Lore, Southern Workman, vol. 34 
(1905), p. 696. 

I'Sl. 

1 * 63, 405, and Ohio Whites. 

28 



434 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

bef rot off. ^ If you see a star fall and tell some one, 
you will have bad luck;^ you should never speak of' 
or point at a shooting star, * though one Informant 
reverses this and claims that It brings good luck. ^ 
Counting the stars brings bad luck ^ — some say a 
sty on the eye. ^ In Yorkshire it is thought sinful to 
try to count the stars or to point at them; ^ the Negroes 
say that they will fall if you do. * If you carry your 
books on your head you will forget your lesson. ^ " 
It is bad luck to lean up against a brick wall while it is 
lightning, ^ ^ and sitting on a rock at any time will 
make your head hard. ^ ^ It Is a sign of misfortune to 
look over your left shoulder, ^ ^ while measuring your- 
self will cause your death. ^ * If you brag about any- 
thing, or, as one Informant picturesquely puts it, 
"if you indulge your self-congratulation because of 
some achievement," you must knock on wood or your 
luck will turn. ^ ^ 

The ^^Spring-keeper.'''' In South Carolina they say 
that If you drink out of the spring at night you will 
surely go blind; ^« while In Mississippi and elsewhere 
there Is the Idea that you may drink up the "spring- 
keeper" (described as much like a crawfish or a water- 



1400. 

2 243. 
"9. 
^91. 

5 14L 

6 405. 
^357. 

* Henderson, W., Folk-Lore of the Northern Counties of England, p. 88. 

»219. 

''122. 

1386. 

2373. 

3 276. 
*286. 

5 6, 58, and Ohio Whites. 

^Southern Workman, vol. 34 (1894), p. 209. 



Negative Control-Signs — Taboos 435 

lizard — my Mississippi friends speak of it as a "spring- 
lizard") and cause the spring to go dry. ^ This seems 
to be a survival of the idea that every spring had its 
guardian spirit or keeper, possibly in an animal form, 
an idea strengthened by the Negro belief that killing 
a bullfrog near the spring will also make it go dry. ^ 
One old slave suggests drinking through a strainer at 
night lest you drink up the "spring-lizard" and become 
very sick, ^ while others report cases of people getting 
live spring-lizards in their insides in this way. * 

Animal Taboos. There is, in fact, a whole group of 
taboos centering around animals, ^ some of which will 
be discussed in a later connection. Besides the con- 
sequence of killing a bullfrog near a spring the killing 
of any ordinary frog will cause you to stump your toe; ® 
will cause you to die in rags (the same applying to 
killing cats or dogs); ^ or will make your cows go dry. * 
In England it is bad luck to kill the Daddy-long-legs 
or harvestmen; ^ the Negroes say this will make your 
cows die, ^ " or that it will give you bad luck even to 
step over this insect. ^ ^ It is also bad luck to kill a 

1 112, and Southern Workman, vol. 25 (1896), p. 15. 

2 102. 

3 286. 

< 41, and 298. 

^ Some of these may be derived from the African taboos on totem animals. 
See Frobenius, L., the Voice of Africa, vol. i., p. 154, and 196-97. Ellis, 
A. B., Ewe-speaking Peoples, p. 100. Ellis, A. B., Tshi-speaking Peoples, 
pp. 166-67, 206-12. Dennett, R. C, Notes on the Folklore of the Fjort, 
p. 10. Brinton, D. G., Iconographic Encyclopedia of the Arts and Sciences, 
vol. i, p. 321. 

6 13, 141, 186, and 268. 

M5, 112, 157, and 342. Southern Workman, vol. 28 (1899), p. 450. 

*62, 91, and 189. Moore, R. A., Superstitiojis from Georgia, J. A. 
F. L., vol. 7 (1894), p. 306. 

* Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 204. 

^"91. Moore, R. A., Superstitions from Georgia, J. A. F. L., vol. 7 
(1894), p. 306. 
1141. 



436 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

dove, ^ a "snake-doctor" (a kind of dragon fly), ^ 
or a "lady-bug" (one of the genus Epilachna) . ^ If 
you kill a lizard you will become ragged ;* if you 
kill a turtle he will come back and haunt you; ^ while 
killing a wren will cause your limbs to get broken. ^ 
If you talk to a buzzard when it is flying over you it 
will vomit on you, ^ while crossing the road where a 
snake has crossed will give you the backache unless 
you turn around and walk backwards over the spot. ^ 
Never whistle in the woods for fear of attracting 
snakes. ^ If you let a chicken die in your hand it will 
give you the "trembles" or "quivers" (paralysis), ^ ° 
while walking over ground where a horse has recently 
wallowed will bring death to the family. ^ ^ Mocking 
an owl will cause a member of your family to die, ^ ^ 
while mocking a whippoorwill is a sure sign of a whip- 
ping, 1 ^ or of your house burning down. ^ * 

The Power oj the Petticoat. Conclusion. This com- 
pletes the discussion of those "signs" subject to human 
control and ending in either good or ill luck. The 
part woman plays in the passing on of these beliefs has 
been graphically illustrated, especially as regards those 
beliefs of a negative variety, the "don'ts" rather than 

1141, and 173. Davis, H. C, Negro Folk-Lore in S. C, J. A. F. L., 
vol. 27 (1914), p. 247. 

2 91, and Davis, loc. cit., p. 245. 

3 Parsons, E. C, Folk-Lore of the Sea Islands, S. C, M. A. F. L. S., 
vol. 16 (1923), p. 210. 

^332. 

6 404. 

« 141, and Southern Workman, vol. 28 (1899), p. 450. 

^341. 

* 141, and Alabama Folk-Lore, Southern Workman, vol. 33 (1904), p. 52. 

9 219. 
' » 342. 
11194. 
1 2 239. 

1^141, and Alabama Folk-Lore, Southern Workman, vol. 33 (1904), p. 51. 
1 * 199, and Southern Workman, vol. 23 (1894), p. 210. 



Negative Control-Signs— Taboos 437 

the "do's." This fact would seem to Indicate that 
woman is the passive agent, intent on avoiding bad 
luck, rather than the active agent deliberately seeking 
to bring her desires into realization. This is all the more 
evident when we take conjuration into consideration. 
Most of the conjurers, though not all of them, are 
men. In conjuration we have a more active exhibition 
of original creative thought. There Is more variation 
in the formulas from locality to locality because the 
conjurer often deliberately manufactures charms on 
the spur of the moment. I have personally made 
weird charms of red flannel, curiously carved peach 
kernels, a rabbit's foot wrapped In a hoodoo-bag, and 
similar combinations, all strung together on a copper 
wire, and had conjurers tell me what a perfect 
Trinity arrangement it represented and specifically 
how It could be used for certain results. I have already 
mentioned other chance Ingredients to which conjure- 
doctors on the spur of the moment have attributed 
phenomenal qualities, the whole indicating a high 
degree of Inventive genius. 

The minor "signs," on the other hand, show much 
more agreement from locality to locality, and are 
mainly in the hands of women. Here again we have 
man indicated as the variable element and woman as 
the conservative element. Conjuration represents 
mainly an African survival, while "signs" are, in large 
part, of European origin and passed on to the Negro 
women by the white women who have conserved them, 
thus making them both widespread and uniform. 
Doubtless the number of these beliefs of European 
origin is even greater than indicated by direct reference; 



438 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

since many Northern whites hold to such beliefs and 
since our survey of English folk-lore has been by no 
means exhaustive. The point of contact apparently 
has been chiefly through the household servants, 
since a large percentage of the beliefs center around 
domestic service and around children. All of this 
indicates that the men have held more to the old 
African beliefs but produced more variations within 
the culture-pattern; while the women take over more 
readily the new lore, due to their more constant con- 
tact with European culture, but follow the pattern 
carefully with but little individual variation. As a 
general rule the most widespread beliefs in America 
seem to be those which formerly had a wide distribution 
either in Europe or in Africa. Doubtless the clinging 
of the male to the old African forms is due to the 
greater fear and respect these forms command, his 
desire to be more spectacular, and his relative lack of 
contact with the new English lore, Negro women 
were brought into contact with Anglo-Saxon women 
and the belief was spread from the susceptible to the 
susceptible; while the Negro man was associated more 
with the white man where neither pupil nor teacher, 
as my experience in collecting lore has shown me, is 
as much given to the expression of superstitious 
thought. Thus it is that the Negro woman in her 
constant association with children has become the 
main keeper and sower of the seed of false generali- 
zation. Educate the Negro women to a true under- 
standing of scientific laws, and superstition will be 
well on its way to extinction, conjuration, with its 
limited number of followers, dying a natural death. 




TWO VOLUMES OF FOLK-LORE 



CHAPTER VII 
PROPHETIC SIGNS OR OMENS 

Nature of Prophetic Signs. In this class of "signs" 
we approach more nearly the familiar English signs 
or omens. The expression is still that of causal 
relationship, but the action is accidental or outside of 
personal control and is indicative of results soon to 
occur. Chance, or some other individual, sets in 
motion the causes and you suffer the consequences. 
The general formula is: "If something (outside of 
your control) behaves in such and such a manner, 
so and so will result." Here again the classification 
is not absolutely clear cut; some of the omens may be 
counteracted by proper behavior on the part of the 
individual upon whom they act, while in other cases 
the classification will be enlarged to take in "control- 
signs," for the sake of getting together in one place 
all of the material relating to certain particular objects. 

The Swish of Skirts. Many of these signs cluster 
around things feminine in association, though not to 
the same extent as in the former class of beliefs. Yet 
the women are, after all, the chief observers of these 
signs whether they relate directly to things feminine 
or not. One widespread feminine belief is that if you 
accidentally drop a dishrag, some one is coming to 
visit you, ^ or, in its more general form, some one 

'141, and 341. Moore, R. A., Superstitions from Georgia, J. A. F. L., 
vol. 7 (1894), p. 306. 



440 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

hungry is coming. ^ Even In this case, however, the 
omen may be averted; If you do not want the In- 
dividual to come, put the dropped dish-rag In molas- 
ses. 2 A dropped spoon or piece of silver vies with the 
doorbell as an announcer of company, ^ and just 
as the shrewd housewife can tell the sex of the visitor 
by the sound of the door knocker, so too does the 
omen-expert know that a fork dropped means a male 
visitor while a dropped knife means a woman coming. * 
Still others limit the sign to the dropping of a knife 
only and to a bumblebee coming In through the 
window, ^ a belief found In Herefordshire as well, ^ 
while In other parts of England a dropped fork Is 
considered ominous of visitors provided It sticks up 
In the floor. ^ A dropped spoon with the Negroes is a 
bad omen (disappointment) ^ If you pick It up, but 
the luck may be changed by having some one else 
pick It up for you. ^ If the comb is dropped while 
you are combing your hair a visitor Is coming; ^ ° while 
a piece of meat dropped from your mouth at the table 
is a sign of death. ^ ^ Two forks Inadvertently set at 
one place mean two husbands ^ ^ (or a wedding before 
Christmas). ^ ^^ This also applies to two teaspoons in 



1 133, 246, 288, 336, and 370. Williamson, G., Superstitions from 
Louisiana, J. A. F. L., vol. 18 (1905), p. 230. Lee, C, Some Negro Lore 
from Baltimore, J. A. F.L., vol. 5 (1892), p. 110. 

233. 

3 173. 

* 152, 233, and 288. 

5 141. 

8 Leather, E. M., Folk-Lore of Herefordshire, p. 85. 
^ Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 318. 

89. 

9 159. 

10 61. 

11 112, and Thomas and Thomas, Kentucky Superstitions, p. 149. 

12 152, and 371. 
i!'264. 



Prophetic Signs or Omens 441 

one saucer, ^ this latter being the characteristic 
English version. ^ If a Negro, without thinking, 
takes another helping of bread when he already has a 
piece of bread on his plate a hungry visitor will soon 
be arriving ^ — another belief of European ^ origin. 
If a picture falls off the wall the house is haunted, ^ 
or, more generally, a sign of death ^ — this latter belief 
being European. ^ Others restrict the sign to a 
family portrait, ^ while still other Negroes say that it 
must be a picture of some one already dead and the 
picture must fall on its face. ^ Connected also with 
household equipment is the widespread Idea that if 
you accidentally trip a chair over In getting up you 
will never marry i " — at least not within a year. ^ ^ This 
latter has its European ^ - parallel, as have most of the 
more general Negro beliefs connected with the house- 
hold. 

The Fatal Mirror. This same principle is Illustrated 
by the very prevalent notion that the breaking of a 
mirror leads to seven years of trouble. ^ ^ Others say 
that the number of pieces will indicate the number 
of years of bad luck you will have, ^ " but the English 

1141. 

2 Leather, E. M., Folk-Lore of Herefordshire, p. 114. Lean's Collectanea 
vol. 2, p. 327. 

3 164. 

* Fogel, E. M., Belief sand Superstitions of the Pennsylvania Germans, p. 84. 
^ Thomas and Thomas, Kentucky Superstitions, p. 285. 
6 141, 189, 341, and 379. 
^ Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 555. 
8 358. 
991. 

1 " 108, 168, and 288. 
1162. 

^^ Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 321. 

13 141, 336, 341, and 397. Also Lee, C, Some Negro Lore from Balti- 
more, J. A. F. L., vol. 5 (1892), p. 111. Williamson, G., Superstitions from 
Louisiana, J. A. F. L., vol. 18 (1905), p. 229. The belief may be a survival 
of the piimitive idea of the soul being connected with the reflection, the sou! 
being injured when the mirror is broken. 

1^ 91, and Thomas and Thomas, Kentucky Superstitions, pp. 171-72. 



442 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

version is that seven 3^ears of bad luck will result, 
also adding that it is unlucky to place a mirror in 
water. ^ The Negroes not only disregard this belief 
regarding ill luck coming from placing a mirror in 
water, but even go so far as to prescribe the placing 
of the fragments of the broken mirror in running 
water as a means of avoiding the ill luck (the trouble 
will pass away in seven hours), ^ the running water 
being supposed to "wash de trubbl' away." ^ Other de- 
fenses against this ill-luck demon consist of burying the 
broken fragments at the foot of a green tree, ^ of 
taking a drink from a lake, ^ or of simply burying the 
broken pieces — this latter applying especially to a 
mirror broken on Sunday. ^ 

Salt-spilling. Possibly because of the use of salt 
as a means of preserving a dead body, this mineral is 
regarded as being more or less fetishistic in nature. 
There Is also the possibility, it seems to me, that salt, 
being one of the earliest articles of trade and often 
Imported, might have acquired during this period a 
certain quality of mystery lacking in ordinary domestic 
products. At any rate, spilling salt is bad luck — 
anger ^ or a quarrel ^ — one should throw some over his 
left shoulder ^ or into the fire, ^ " or taste a little of It 



1 Leather, E. M., Folk-Lore of Herefordshire, p. 87. See also, Knowlson, 
T. S.,, The Origins of Popular Superstitions, pp". 163-64. 

2 189. 

3 159, 362; and 396. 

n41. 

*33. 

«334. 

^ 141. Moore, R. A., Superstitions from Georgia, J. A. F. L., vol. 7 
(1894), p. 306. 

*341, and 336. Williamson, G., Superstitions from Louisiana, J. A. 
F. L., vol. 18 (1905), p. 230. 

9 176, and 404. 
i»3g7. 



Prophetic Signs or Omens 443 

before he speaks ^ to avert this bad luck. Like most 
other salt beliefs, these seem to be of European origin, 
both as regards a quarrel following the spilling of salt 
and the throwing of salt over the left shoulder to avert 
ill luck. 2 On the other hand the spilling of rice or 
sugar is regarded by the Negroes as an omen of good 
luck. ^ 

The Flame of Fate. In the embers of the hearth 
smoulder other beliefs of feminine association. If a 
log falls off the fire it is a sure sign of company coming; * 
others go further and say that when a stick burns 
through into a long and a short piece, the piece that 
falls out on the floor indicates whether it is a long or a 
short person who is coming. ^ This belief in general 
seems to be European in origin. ^ Some Negroes 
say this falling log is a sign of bad luck, but that the 
bad luck may be avoided by putting the log back in 
the same position that it occupied before falling. ' 
Others say that the popping of the fire indicates a 
quarrel in the family, ^ this belief possibly having 
something to do with the taboo against burning certain 
woods that pop a great deal, although the belief is 
widespread that sparks popping out ^ (into your 
lap) 1 ^ are a sign of money coming. Other informants 

1213. 

2 Fogel, E. M., Beliefs and Superstitions of the Pennsylvania Germans, 
p. 363. Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 154. Knowlson, T. S., The Origins 
of Popular Superstitions, pp. 167-68. 

3 336. 

* 141, 246, 316, 206, and 332. 
' 146. 

^Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 317. 

^ 91, and Thomas and Thomas, Kentucky Superstitions, p. 132. 
« 141, and 44. 

^ 57, and Superstitions of Negroes in New Orleans, J. A. F. L., vol. 5 (1892), 
p. 330. 
10141. 



444 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

claim that a letter ^ is coming and add that the "whiz- 
zing of the fire" indicates a funeral in the immediate 
family. ^ Once in a while you will also find the old 
English ^ belief that a flake of soot hanging from the 
grate bar indicates the visit of a stranger. * 

General Household Omens. The clock is another 
household utensil that ticks off signs as well as hours. 
If a broken clock suddenly strikes, ^ or if a clock strikes 
between the hours or suddenly stops (these two latter 
beliefs are English) Mt is a sure sign of death, ^ es- 
pecially if there is any one in the house seriously ill. ^ 
Also there is the European ^ belief that if the clock 
strikes thirteen times it is a sign of death. ^ " If a 
very young child, without being told, picks up a broom 
and starts sweeping the house, you might as well 
prepare for a visitor, ^ ^ the idea apparently being that 
an innocent child can see things in the future that 
grown-ups cannot, and knows that the house must be 
tidied up for the company. The sudden cracking of 
a skillet on the fire is an omen of good ^ ^ or bad ^ ^ 
luck — the Negroes differ as to which. If your drinking 
glass breaks the person nearest you will die; ^^ if the 
furniture ^ ^ or looking-glass ^ ^ suddenly cracks, or if a 



1 336. 

2 336, and 304. 

* Brand, J., Popular Antiquities of Great Britain, vol. 3, p. 183. Lean's 
Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 318. 

491. 

6 53, and 189. 

^ Leather, E. M., Folk-Lore of Herefordshire, p. 118. 

M41. 

8 Southern Workman, vol. 26 (1897), p. 18. 

* Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 551. 
«63. 

61,81, and 123. 
141. 

3 Boyle, Mrs. V. F., Devil Tales, p. 6. 
341. 
63. 

^Southern Workman, vol. 26 (1897), p. 18. 



Prophetic Signs or Omens 445 

dish suddenly breaks in your hand ^ it is Hkewise a 
sign of death. If a lamp goes out when full of oil it is 
a sure sign of bad luck, - and the wise man will 
hastily grab such a failing lamp and blow it out so 
that it will not become extinguished of itself ^ — the 
same idea applying in European lore. * A person who 
stumbles at the steps in going to some one's home will 
know that he is not wanted there, ^ while he who falls 
while going upstairs will not be married within a 
year ^ — the European version being the direct op- 
posite; he will be married that same year. '^ If a sick 
person falls down a step, ^ or if any one falls out of 
doors, ^ it is an omen of death. Three chairs ac- 
cidentally placed in a row indicate callers;^" ivy 
running over a dwelling-house is bad luck;^^ while 
letting your biscuits burn is a sign of anger. ^ ^ 

Shoes and Clothing. Happenings to the apparel 
are indicative of various things — the apparel mentioned 
is perhaps more often female than male, and the women 
are again the fondest believers in such lore. The 
Negroes say that losing your apron (or belt) ^ ^ is losing 
your best friend; ^^ the European idea is that your 
lover is thinking of you. ^ ^ Shoe throwing at wed- 

1 196. 

2 81. 

'177. 

* Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 144. 

^395. 

6 22. 

^ Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 321. 

8 341. 

9 22. 
i»126. 

11 141, and Work, M. H., Some Geechee Folk-Lore, Southern Workman, 
vol. 35 (1905), p. 635 

1 2 264. 

1 3 246. 

1^79, 13, and 335. 

1 * Leather, E. M.J Folk-Lore of Herefordshire, p. IH. Gregor, W., Folk- 
Lore of the Northeast of Scotland, p. 87. Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 328. 



446 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

dings is common mainly among the more educated 
Negroes, possibly because, to the slavery-time Negro, 
weddings were not matters of much ado, and also 
because of the fact that shoes are not worn any too 
often by the rural population. Besides this, old 
shoes are too often begged to be cast away in any such 
silly fashion. But even though the Negro wedding- 
bells are not accompanied by the barbarous patter of 
shoes, yet these articles of dress talk in more ways than 
that demanded by the rural Negro who brought his 
new shoes back to "de dry-goods sto' " because their 
squeak was too muffled to attract the attention of the 
congregation as he paraded them down the aisle of the 
church. "Dese heah shoes doan' talk loud 'nuif, 
w'ite folks. Ah la'ks 'em all right, but de folks 
ska'cely know'd I had er new pair. Hain't you got 
no louder kind. ^"— all of which goes to show the 
triumph of vanity over utility in the clothing line. 
Sometimes the Negroes say that if your shoe strings 
come untied your sweetheart is thinking of you;^ 
but, generally the interpretation is that when your 
right shoe comes untied, some one is "talking good" 
of you, but if it be your left shoe, then some one is 
speaking evil of you. ^ In this and other things the 
Negro almost invariably regards the right side as 
being the lucky side, while the left side is the unlucky 
one. If your shoes wear out in the toes before the 
heels wear out you will be poor, ^ but if the heel wears 
out first you will steal. * It is small wonder so many 

^ 141. Thomas and Thomas, Kentucky Superstitions, p. 55. Lee, C. 
Some Negro Lore from Baltimore, J. A. F. L., vol. 5 (1892), p. 110. 
2 13, 106, 173, and 246. 
3 207. 
*371. 



Prophetic Signs or Omens 447 

Negroes go barefooted when shoes force one Into the 
sorry alternative of poor-house or jail. It is good 
luck accidentally to put on a garment wrongside out, ^ 
but you must wear it that way until twelve o'clock. - 
Doubtless the original idea was that of deceiving the 
bad luck spirits, but the belief itself is plainly of 
European nativity. ^ If the hem of a woman's skirt 
turn up and she spits on it (or kisses it) * she will 
surely get a new dress. ^ If a button on the front of 
your clothes flies off, trouble; ^ if you tear a dress the 
first time that you wear it, some one will lie about you 
before night; ^ while if you break your necklace while 
dressing for a party, it is a bad omen and you should 
not go. ^ If you find a hairpin, you have found a 
friend;^ if the points of this hairpin are towards you, 
you will catch a beau, ^ '^ or if you will hang the hairpin 
on a nail, you will receive a letter. ^ ^ A hairpin sud- 
denly dropping out of your hair lets you know that 
your lover is thinking of you. ^ - 

Eyes Thai See Ahead. There is a group of widely 
diffused signs having to do with various parts of the 
body in which the "right and left" motif plays a 
commanding role, the right, here again being con- 
nected mainly with good and the left with evil. It is 

1 62, 173, 110, and 228. Williamson, G., Superstilions from Louisiana, 
J. A. F. L., vol. 18 (1905), p. 229. (Ohio whites). 

2341. 

3 Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 28. Fogel, E. M., Beliefs and Super- 
stilions of the Pennsylvania Germans, j). 100. 

^340. 

5 111, 341, and 357. 

6 335_ 

' 112, and 342. Alabama Folk-Lore, Southern Workman, vol. 33 (1904), 
p. 52. 

8 230. 

9 35, and Ohio Whites. 
•»127. 

' I 370. 

12 112. 



448 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Nero 

worthy of note that this idea occurs also In West 
Africa, the Duallas of the Cameroons speaking of the 
left hand as the "female" hand because it is the 
"inferior hand." ^ In Calabar there is a proverb: 
"The dust of the grave touches me, or causes a flut- 
tering sensation in the neck or back of the shoulders 
when one feels wearied when digging a grave." This 
is "supposed to forewarn a man of his death. This 
spasmodic and fluttering sensation in any part of the 
body, or knocking the foot against anything, is a 
warning that something is about to happen. The 
first sensation does not always presage evil; some- 
times a fluttering of the vein or skin is deemed a token 
of good; when the uduri-uden, a part of the leg on 
which the paddle rests, gives the sign, it shows the 
paddler that he must go into his canoe." ^ In the 
South the Negroes say that If your left eye twitches 
(or itches) it Is a sign of bad luck, while the jumping of 
the right eye is a good omen. ^ Other indications are 
that an itching of the right eye means that you will 
see something pleasant, while the left foreshadows an 
unpleasant sight;* the right eye, happiness, and the 
left eye, sorrow ^ (or anger) ; ^ the right eye, you will 
see a gentleman, the left eye, a lady, ^ while still 
others say that it is indicative of the fact that your 
creditors are after you. ^ Still others attribute a fuss 

^ Burton, R. F., Wit and Wisdotn from West Africa, p. 455. 

2 Ibid., p. 348. 

2 13, 81, 246, and 189. Also Parsons, E. C, Folk-Lore of the Sea Islands, 
S. C, M. A. F. L. S., vol. 16 (1923), p. 210. Southern Workman, vol. 23 
(1894), p. 16. Speers, Mary W. F„ J. ^. i^. L., vol. 26 (1913), p. 191. 

^23, and 141. Lee, C, Some Negro Lore from Baltimore^ J. A. F. L., 
vol. 5 (1892), p. 111. 

* 125, 288, 336, and 341. 
«106. 

' 101. 

* Richardson, C, Some Slave Superstitions, vol. 41 (1912), p. 248. 



Prophetic Signs or Omens 449 

in the family to the itching of the left eye. ' Some 
make the matter more involved by saying, "If your 
left eye jump, if your mother's first child was a boy, 
it is bad luck; if a girl, good luck. If your right eye 
jump, if your mother's first child was a boy, it is good 
luck; if a girl, bad luck." ^ Others alter the whole 
proposition: "When yo' right eye quivvahs dat sho' 
means bad trubbl', but if yo' lef eye quivvahs on 
New Year's Day, den you sho' gwine lose one uv yo' 
fambly in less dan two months time." ^ In slavery 
times an itching of the left eye meant a whipping 
within twenty-four hours. * In European lore the 
itching of the right eye was associated with things 
pleasant, and the left with seeing something evil, * 
though in parts of Scotland an itching of either eye 
signified tears and sorrow. ^ 

Follow Your Nose. An itching of the nose (at the 
end) ^ signifies company coming ^ (the characteristic 
English version), ^ though some Negroes go still 
further and interpret the itching of the right nostril 
to designate a man and the left a woman coming to 
see you, ^ ° while others reverse it and attribute the 
left to the man and the right to the woman * ^ — a 
view found also in Devonshire. ^ ^ In either case the 
company may be prevented from coming by an up- 

^36. 

* Smiley, P., Folk-Lore from Va., S. C, Ala., Ca., and Fla., J. A. 
F. L., vol. 32 (1919), pp. 381-82. 

=•141. 

* Southern Workman, vol. 23 (1894), p. 46. 

' Fogel, E. M., Beliefs and Superstitions of the Pennsylvania Germans, p. 97. 
8 Gregor, Rev. W., Folk-Lore of the Northeast of Scotland, p. 27. 

8 61J292, 321, and 341. 

' Brand, J., Popular Antiquities of Great Britain, p. 174, vol. 3. 
1 335, 

» 1 131,' and 246. 

^^ Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 28;'5. 
29 



450 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

ward rubbing of the nose. ^ Others say that an 
itching left nostril means a woman talking about you, 
and the right, a man, ^ though here again the sex is at 
times reversed by some. ^ Others attribute trouble, 
sorrow, * quarrels, ^ or the receiving of a letter, ^ to the 
itching of the nose — in the Northern counties of 
England "it is a sign that you will be crossed, or vexed, 
or kissed by a fool," ^ while in other parts of Europe 
it is the sign of receiving a letter. ^ 

Ears That Talk. If the ear burns, some one is 
talking about you;^ the right ear, some one is saying 
good things about you ; the left ear, some one is speaking 
evil of you ^ ^ — this being the most general European 
version. ^ ^ The Negro, however, "goes the English- 
man one better." To make the "back-biter" bite her 
tongue, in case the left ear is itching, he will spit on 
his finger and make a crossmark on that ear, ^ ^ or 
else a woman whose ear is itching may tie a knot in the 
corner of her apron to make the gossip's teeth ache 
until the knot is untied. ^ ^ 

The Itching Palm. If your right hand itches you 
will get some money, if your left hand, a letter. ^ * 



161. 

2 Richardson, C, Sovie Slave Superstitions, Southern Workman^ vol. 41 
(1912), p. 248. 
3321. 
<23. 
5 150. 
«69. 

' Hendersoii, W., Folk-Lore of the Northern Counties of England, pp. 84-85. 
^ Fogel, E. M., Beliefs and Superstitions of the Pennsylvania Germans, 
p. 82. 

^341. Davis, H. C, Negro Folk-Lore in South Carolina, J. A. F. L., 
vol. 27 (1914), p. 248. 

1" 13, 132, and 159. Parsons, E. C, Folk-Lore of the Sea Islands, S. C, 
M. A. F. L. S., vol. 16 (1923), p. 248. 

11 Henderson, W., Folk-Lore of the Northern Counties of England, p. 85. 
1^141. Lee, C, Some Negro Lore from Baltimore, J. A. F. L., vol.5 
(1892), p. 111. 
1^13. 
' " 13, 106, 125, 159, 288, and 341. 



Prophetic Signs or Omens 451 

In most cases, however, it is necessary to spit on your 
itching right hand and thrust it into your pocket, ^ 
or scratch on wood ^ in order to make the desired 
wealth come, while others add that you must be 
careful not to tell any one. ^ By still others the itching 
of the left hand is interpreted to mean the receiving of 
money; the right hand, shaking hands with a stranger * 
(or your best friend). ^ Elsewhere the itching of the 
right hand means receiving money, the left hand, 
paying out money. ^ This seems to be the general 
English version, ^ although in Germany the hands 
seem to be reversed. ^ 

Feet, Arms, and Face. If your foot itches it is a sign 
that you are going to walk on strange land ^ (provided 
your foot is clean).!" Others hold that such itching 
indicates a speedy call to the cemetery, ^ ^ though 
another version is that the itching of the right foot on a 
journey indicates that you are going where you are wel- 
come, the left foot, where you are unwelcome. ^ ^ One 
informant says that an itching right foot signifies that 
you are standing over a grave. ' ^ The English version 

' Cable, G. W., The Grandissimes, p. 86. Richardson, G., So7ne Slave 
Superstitions, Southern Workman, vol. 41 (1912), p. 248. 

2 189. 

»364. 

^52. 

^ Lee, C., Some Negro Lore from Baltimore, J . A. F. L., vol. 5 (1892), 
p. 110. 

« 189, and 397. 

' Henderson, W., Folk-Lore of the Northern Counties of England, p. 85. 
Brand, J., Popular Antiquities of Great Britain, vol. 3, p. 177. 

* Fogel, E. M., Beliefs and Superstitions of the Pennsylvania Germans, 
p. 86. 

9 159, and 246. Also Parsons, E. C, Folk-Lore of the Sea Islands, S. C, 
M. A. F. L. S., vol. 16 (1923), p. 210. 
1 « 260. 

1117, 141, 336, 382, and 395. Work, M. H., Some Geechee Folk-Lore, 
Southern Work77iaH, vol. 35 (1905), p 634. 

12 78. 

13 189. 



452 r\)LK Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

is tluit such itcliing points to a walking over strange 
ground. ' Accidentally stumping the right foot pre- 
dicts gcH^l luck, but if the left foot is stumped you are 
sure to ha\c bad luck. - Bad luck upon stumping the 
left foot may be averted by turning around ^ (twice * 
or seven times). '» This must have been to deceive 
the ill luck spirit, since the Negroes say this "cuts de 
bad luck o^."' Retracing one's steps on stumping 
the left ti>c will avoid the ill luck (throw the spirits 
off your track) but one should never do this when the 
right toe is stumped. •■' Others say that the stumping 
of the left toe on a visit is a sign that you are not wanted 
at that place' If you should happen to strike 
your left elbow while leaving the room on an under- 
taking of any kind, go back. Bad luck will surely 
overtake you, ** though good luck comes from kissing 
the bumped arm. ■' An itching of the lips indicates 
that some one is talking disrespectfully of you;'" if 
the right side of your face burns it is a sign of bad 
luck; ' ' and if the crown of your head itches you may 
expect to be advanced to a more honc^rable position 
in life. ' " When youv ilcsh jumps (c^uivers) it is a 
sign of death, ' •* especially if it be the flesh of your 
left arm. ' * 



* Lam's Collcdanea, vol. 2, p. 287. Also Iloiulorson, W., Folk-Lore of 
the Northern Counties of Encjlaiid, p. 85. Loathor, I'L INI., Folk-Lore of 
Herefontshire, p. 88. 

M41, 2U), :V2;\, ami IVM. Parsons, E. C, Folk-Lore of the Sea Islands, 
S. C, M. A. F. L. S., vol. 1(> (1923), p. 210. 
» 22, 216, and 2C8. 
M02. 
»6(>. 
•191. 

'224. •,VM\, 'MV\, and 37(>. 
'57, and Southern Workman, vol. 23 (1894), p. 16. 

• 224. 

1 23. 

' » 236. 

1 1 23. 

' » .301 . 
' * 246. 



Prophetic Signs or Omens 453 

Sneezing Signs. Sncc/ing superstitions arc wide- 
spread in Afro-America as well as in almost all other 
parts of the world, primitive or civilized. Sneezing 
is regarded as a bad omen by the T'.we tribes of Africa 
because it indicates that the indwelling spirit is about 
to quit the body, affording an opportunity for a home- 
less spirit to enter in and cause illness. ' A similar 
belief leads the Calabar natives to exclaim, "Far 
from you!" when a person sneezes, with an appropriate 
gesture as if throwing off some evil. '^ The Southern 
Negro says that if you sneeze with food in your mouth 
it is a sure sign of death. ^ There seems to be no 
European parallel to this belief and 1 rather suspect 
an African origin; the dangerous spirits, attracted by 
the food, being more likely to approach the person and 
to enter the body while a person is eating. 'I'his seems 
all the more likely since the Negroes say that the 
death may be avoided by spitting out the food and 
rinsing the mouth thoroughly with water, " while 
If the food Is swallowed, death Is certain ** — all the more 
so if it is molasses (sweet food and hence attractive to 
spirits) one is eating. « It Is also considered bad luck 
to yawn at the table. ^ A very common English 
sneezing rhyme is: 

Sneeze on Monday, you sneeze for danger, 
Sneeze on Tuesday, kiss a stranger, 
Sneeze on a Wednesday, sneeze for a letter, 



' Burton, R. F., Wil and W iadom from West Africa, j) . .'iTIi. 

^ Mills, A. B., Ewe-Npeaking I'dopien, j). 90. 

"SI, 57, 282, 148, :}4I, :i4<), iiiid :«0. Lee, C, HomK Negro Lore, from 
Ballimore, J. A. F. L., vol. fj (1892), p. HI. Souihern Workman, vol. 2 4 
(1895), p. 155. 

M41. 

M). 

•404. 

' 189. 



454 Folk Beliefs of the Soltherx Xegro 

Sneeze on a Thursday, something better, 

Sneeze on a Friday, sneeze for sorrow. 

Sneeze on a Saturday, see your sweetheart tomorrow. * 

W ord for word the same rhyme is found with the 
^lississippi Negroes - thus showing the tenacity of 
|X)pular behefs expressed in verse form. Other in- 
formants add a final two lines: 

Sneeze on Sunday, if its meek. 

The devil will have you the rest of the week. ' 

The Xegro South is a fossil bed of European folk- 
lore — perhaps further investigations will bring to 
light these last two lines in England, though there is 
always the possibility of a native American develop- 
ment. This latter line is apparently important; all 
that one Georgia informant is able to remember of 
this verse is, "If you sneeze on Sunday, you'll catch 
the devil on a ^Monday." ^ Sneezing early in the 
morning indicates that you will see your lover that 
day, '" or, as others say, simply that company is coming. * 
If you sneeze seven (or nine) ' times in succession you 
will die. * 

Hair. Strictly European ^ is the idea that a person's 
longevity may be tested by throwing his hair 
combings into the fire. If they flame up and 



^■^ Lenrts CoUectarvea, vol. 1, p. S48. See also, Henderson, W., Folk-Lore 
of the Xortfiem CourUies of England, p. 92. 
*278. 

» 6, and 3.39. 
*233. 
*.36. 

* 141. Williamson, G., Superstitiong from Louisiana, J. A. F. L., 
vol. 18 (19a5;, p. 2.30. 

'311. 

* 110. 

* Henderson, W., Folk-Lore of the S'orthern Counties of England, p. 84. 
Leather, E. M., Folk-Lore of Herefordshire, p. 88. Lean's CoUeclanea, voL 
2, p. .330. 



Prophetic Signs or Omens 455 

burn quickly that person will live for a long time, 
while if they smoulder away slowly he will soon die, ^ 
though some Negroes reverse the usual readings. ^ 
If a person be smoking and his pipe suddenly blazes 
up it is likewise a sign of death; ^ while if a person 
accidentally spits on himself, some one Is lying about 
him. ^ If the hair comes out in unusually large 
quantities when combed it is the sign of sickness, ^ 
but gray hairs at an early age are indicative of future 
riches ^ or of old ideas. ^ 

Features and Fate. These signs connected with the 
human body gradually lead over into the judging of 
character by physical peculiarities. Perhaps the clas- 
sification here is not as exact as it might be, but these 
expressions of character seem to be more closely re- 
lated to causal relationships aloof from human control 
than to the mistakes in natural science which have 
already been considered. Thus a wide space between 
the front teeth indicates a liar, ^ a person who cannot 
keep a secret, ^ a nagging person, ^ '^ or a person that is 
to live far away from the home folks. ^ ^ The European 
idea is that such a person will be wealthy and will 
travel. ^ "^ A person whose eyebrows meet is a "close 

1 112, and 141. Lee, C, Some Negro Lore from Baltimore, J. A. F. L., 
vol. 5 (1892), p. 110. 
2397. 

3 100. 

M89. 
o 23. 

« lib, and 189. 

' 159. 

«152. 

3 385. 
»"91. 
1136. 
^^ Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 126. 



456 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

preserver" (a miser) ^ or a deceitful individual, ^ 
beliefs slightly akin to the European ones of being a 
fortunate fellow or one who will be hanged, though 
in the Icelandic sagas such a person was considered as 
a hamrammer or a werewolf. ^ Small ears denote 
roguishness or stinginess,* large ones generosity;^ 
this latter idea being found in Europe, ^ as is also ^ 
the idea of "cold hands, warm heart," ^ Coarse hair 
designates a good-natured individual, fine hair a 
quick tempered one, ^ while a hairy chest means 
riches. ^ "^ To the follower of anthroposcopy, even the 
color of the eyes has a meaning; a Negro baby with 
gray eyes can see visions; ^ ^ and there is a Gullah verse: 

Blue gum, yalluh eye, 
Black nigguh, berry sly; 
Yalluh eye, blue gum, 
Black nigguh, lub rum. ^ ^ 

^'Twin toes" (toes joined by a web) are considered 
good luck both in the South ^ ^ and in England and 
Scotland. ^ * Long fingers indicate musical capacity. ^ * 



1 91, and 14. 

2 297. 

^ Henderson, W., Folk-Lore of the Northern Counties of England, p. 84. 
Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 125. 

^342. 

M26. 

® Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 307. 

^ Fogel, E. M., Belief s and Siiperstitions of the Pennsylvania Germans, p. 363. 

8 188, and 290. 

M26. 
*"141, and Davis, H. C, Negro Folk-Lore in South Carolina, J. A. 
F. L., vol. 27 (1914), p. 248. 
1 1 364. 

' 2 Gonzales, A. E., The Black Border, p. 136. 
1 3 289. 

' * Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 301. Gregor, W., Folk-Lore of the North- 
east of Scotland, p. 26. 
1U4 and 218. 



Prophetic Signs or Omens 457 

A perspiring nose denotes meanness, ^ while a woman 
whose dress-front is always wet with perspiration is 
sure to be a tattler, - A sloe-footed woman is always 
hard to get along with, ^ and a left-handed person owes 
the devil a half day of work. ^ A mole on the left side 
of the face is a sign of poverty, ^ while a Negro with 
dark, pink finger nails is sure to be deceitful. ® Tiny 
white specks appearing under the finger nails are called 
"gifts" and signify the coming of a present of some 
kind both in the South ^ and in England. * The 
English version of the significance of the particular 
fingers on which the white spots appear is: 

Thumb — a gift. 

Fore — a friend. 

Middle — a foe. 

Ring — a letter (or sweetheart) to come. 

Little — a journey to go. ^ 

One Mississippi Negro version is: 

Thumb — loss. 

First finger — cross. 

Second finger — gain. 

Third finger — gift. 

Little finger — "sweetum" (sweetheart). ^ " 

Other Negroes say that the number of white spots 
under your finger nails betokens the number of friends 

1370. 
291. 

"322. 
<36. 
*371. 
«61. 
M41. 

^ Brand, J., Popular Antiquities of Great Britain, vol. 3, p. 178. Gregor, 
W., Folk-Lore of the Northeast of Scotland, p. 126. 
* Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 292. 
i«278. 



458 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

you have. ^ In England yellow spots on the nails of 
fingers indicate coming death. ' There they are some- 
times called "death-mould;" the Negro calls them 
"death-moles" or "death-mules," and sometimes says 
they are blue spots instead of yellow ones, ^ but always 
the sign is death. * A bump on the tongue (called a 
"pip") is a "lie bump" and indicates untruthfulness;^ 
the same belief being prevalent in Europe and other 
places even as early as 270 B.C. " A fever blister or 
cold sore on the lip (on a Monday or Thursday) "^ 
indicates that that person has been courting too much. ^ 
A tooth falling from a person's mouth gives notice of 
death; ^ as does also the swallowing of a tooth. ^ ° When 
a man's sound teeth ache his wife is pregnant. ^ ^ If 
a girl resembles her mother "she sho' is bawn fer bad 
luck." ' ' Even mental states may be superstitious 
semaphores. One Georgia Negro very characteris- 
tically says: "Should you be the subject of a deep 
depression of spirit, contrary to your usual con- 
stitutional buoyancy and liveliness, it is a sign that 
you are about to receive some agreeable intelligence." 
Preferences, as well, are earmarks of the future; if 
a young girl likes to cook with green wood she will 
marry a young man, but if she prefers dry wood she 
will be wedded to an old one. ^ ^ 



1246. 

^ Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 555. 

3 286. 

^81, 112, and 141. 

M81. 

^Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 296. See also, Fogel, E. M., Beliefs and 
Superstitions of the Pennsylvania Germans, p. 89. 

' 240, and Ohio Whites. 

8 290. 

» 405. 
' « 136. 
1114. 
1 2 272. 
1 3 108. 



Prophetic Signs or Omens 459 

Love and Wedding Ofnens. This brings us to va- 
rious love and wedding omens. The tactless swain 
who writes you with a pencil lets you know that his 
love for you is getting cold. ^ A flock of birds flying 
over the church at the time of a wedding forecasts a 
happy future for the married couple. ^ If it rains 
on your wedding night you will shed as many tears as 
there are drops of rain, while rain on the day after 
marriage marks many sorrows for the bride. ^ Others 
say that a rain on the wedding day means an untrue 
mate, * while still others interpret rain on the wedding 
day to mean death for the man first, while rain on the 
following day indicates that the bride will die first. ^ 
Bright sunshine on the wedding morn is good luck; 
cloudy (or rainy) ^ weather, bad luck; ^ while a "muddy 
(rainy) wedding" means a slovenly wife. ^ In Europe 
"happy is the bride that the sun shines on;"^ a rain 
while returning from church signifies a life of bickering 
and unhappiness; while a rain in the morning points 
to the groom burying the bride — a rain in the afternoon 
indicating the opposite. ^ o With the Negroes the first 
newly-wed to sit down ^ ^ or the first one to "step off" 
after they are married ^ - will be the first to die. It is 
also considered extremely bad luck to drop the wed- 



113. 

*91, and 141. Thomas and Thomas, Kentucky Superstitions, p. 66. 
<93. 

5 22, and Southern Workman, vol. 23 (1894), p. 46. 

6 63. 
'57. 

8 13, and 342. 

^ Chambers, Popular Rhymes of Scotland, p. 343. 
1 " Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 88, and Informant 69. 
1 1 22. 
12 141, and Southern Workman, vol. 23 (1894), p. 46. 



460 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

ding ring during the ceremony, ^ and if a baby cries 
at a wedding the couple will not be happy. ^ 

Cross-eyed Folks. Other omens are centered around 
human beings and their activities. It is bad luck to 
meet a cross-eyed woman, ^ especially the first thing 
in the morning, ^ or worse yet, on Monday morning, 
since this signifies bad luck all the week. ^ Others 
say that a cross-eyed person can bring harm only to 
those of the same sex as themselves, ^ but almost all 
Negroes shy at meeting cross-eyed persons and es- 
pecially at looking them in the eye, "^ this latter 
apparently being a remnant of the evil-eye super- 
stition. If you sit in church beside a cross-eyed 
lady your beau will not escort you home, but the ill 
luck from meeting such a person may be averted by 
crossing your fingers ^ or legs, by turning around three 
times, by spitting in your hat, ^ by spitting on the 
ground and grinding the spittle into the earth with 
your heel, ^ "^ or by looking at your nails. ^ ^ In Europe 
it is also considered ill luck to meet a squinting woman, 
but the misfortune is averted by speaking to her. ^ ^ 

The Deadly Female. With the Negroes men are also 
given the preference on New Year's day. For a 



163. 

2 189. 

3 90,251, and 327. 
4 152, and 224. 

6 320, 189, and 61. 
6 63. 

^ 141, 286, and 288. Smiley, P., Folk-Lore from Va., S. C, Ga., Ala., 
and Fla., J. A. F. L., vol. 32 (1919), pp. 381-82. Work, M. H., Some 
Geechee Folk-Lore, Southern Workman, vol. 34 (1905), p. 696. 
8 176, and 189. 

8 91. Bullock, Mrs. W. R., The Collection of Maryland Folk-Lore, J. A. 
F.L., vol. 11 (1898), p. 8. 
i°404. 
11189. 
1 2 Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 193, and 201. 



Prophetic Signs or Omens 461 

dark man to be the first to enter your house on that 
day Is a sign of good luck, ^ but for a woman to be the 
first to enter bodes bad luck, especially with your 
chickens. ^ In Lancashire and elsewhere a dark man 
is preferred to a light one as the first visitor on New 
Year's day, a possible remnant of long past strife 
between the dark haired Celtic tribes and the blond 
Teutons ^ — and almost everywhere the coming of a 
woman first is considered most unlucky. * In some 
cases the Negroes considered it unlucky to meet a 
(black) ^ woman the first thing Monday morning 
under pain of bad luck all the week ^ or under pain 
of having men company all the week. ^ "If you meet 
a woman first when going to business, turn back ten 
steps and then go on to keep from being disap- 
pointed." ^ If you meet a red-headed woman a gray 
mule is on behind, ^ while meeting a one-legged person 
is always an ill omen. ^ ^ 

Other Human Omens. If two persons happen to say 
the same thing at the same time, the first one to make 
a wish will get it. ^ ^ Others say that you must kiss 
your hand five times and make a useful wish for each 
kiss, ^ 2 while still others claim one of the two will get a 

1106. 

2 183. 

' Hardiwick, C, Tradition, Superstition and Folk-Lore, p. 63. 

^300. Brand, J., Popular Antiquities of Great Britain, vol. 1, p. 20. 
Henderson, W., Folk-Lore of the Northern Counties of England, pp. 55-56. 
Fogel, E. M., Beliefs and Superstitions of the Pennsylvania Germans, p. 98. 
Leather, E. M., Folk-Lore of Herefordshire, p. 90. 

6 141, and 224. 

6 79, 189, and 141. Smiley, P., Folk-Lore from Va., S. C, Ga., Ala., and 
Fla., J. A. F. L., vol. 32 (1919), p. 381. 

'79. 

8 189. 

9 327. 
1 « 206. 

1 1 339, and Ohio Whites. 
12310. 



462 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

letter, ^ provided her companion pinches her. ^ If you 
hear a person talk and do not see the person, you will 
go on a long journey, ^ and if a person appears on the 
scene when you are talking about him, that person 
will live for a long time; ^ but should that person put 
his hands upon you while you are talking about him 
you will die. ^ The idea of long life for a person who 
appears when talked of is found in European lore as 
well. ^ It Is good luck to meet the same person on the 
way both to and from any place. '^ If some one steps 
on your heel that person is going to take your sweet- 
heart away from you. ^ If you blot your paper while 
writing to a person, that person is thinking of you;^ 
if you drop your money while going to the store, the 
thing you desire to purchase is not there; and if you 
fall out of bed, it is a sign that your mother will run 
you out. 1 " If sudden cold chills run up and down 
your back, it is a sign that a rabbit (or squirrel) ^ ^ is 
running over your grave. ^ - The English version is 
that a person is walking over your future grave. ^ ^ 
A bell apparently ringing In your ear points to death ^ ^ 
in the direction from which the sound seems to come. ^ ^ 



1 100, and 336. 

2 6. 

3 207. 

*41, and 233. 

^ Moore, R. A., Superstitions from Georgia, J.A.F. L., vol. 7 (1894), p. 306. 

^ Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 563. 

' 141, and Thomas and Thomas, Kentucky Superstitions, p. 229. 

8 288. 

3 399. 
i"373. 
1 1 402. 

1^131, and 141. Also Work, M. H., Some Geechee Folk-Lore, Southern 
Workman, vol. 35 (1905), p. 634. 

1' Henderson, W., Folk-Lore of the Northern Counties of England, p. 85. 
Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 304. 
1 « 164, and 188. 
1^99. 



Prophetic Signs or Omens 463 

If some one calls you three times In your sleep you will 
surely die, ^ the same being the penalty for answering a 
mysterious voice of any kind. - In England it is said 
that a call in the voice of some absent person signifies 
death. ^ The sediment of the sugar in the form of 
froth rising to the top of a cup of coffee indicates 
money coming ^ — another belief of European extrac- 
tion. ^ If you drop your book you will miss your lesson 
for that day, no matter how hard you have studied. « 
Such a mishap may be averted, however, by stamping 
the book before you pick it up, '^ or by getting some one 
else to pick it up for you. ^ If a match in your hand 
burns entirely up without breaking, it is a sign that 
your sweetheart loves you. ^ I have already men- 
tioned the matter of lucky numbers; I might add, how- 
ever, that, as a general rule, even numbers are considered 
lucky 1 ^ and odd numbers unlucky. ' ^ 

The Wise Old Moon. Moon-lore is important, 
not only in agriculture but in other matters as well. 
It is always considered bad luck to see the new moon 
through the tree-tops ^ - — many "entanglements" will 
follow 1 ^ in the shape of whippings, ^ " sickness, ^ ^ or 
death in the family. ^ ^ If the disc is seen free from all 

1 133. 

''306. Thomas and Thomas, Kentucky Superstitions, p. 288. 

' Henderson, W., Folk-Lore of the Northern Counties of England, p. 30. 

^57. 

^ Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, j). 318. 

6 87, and 123. 

^ 141, and Thomas and Thomas, Kentucky Supersiitions, p. 15. 

8 215. 

8 164^ 179, and Ohio Whites. 

10 141. 

11 11. 

1M3, 106, 217, 224, 234, and 297. 

1^404. 

1 ' 364. 

1 * 122. 

16 36. 



464 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

obstructions, however, it is good luck. ^ Informants 
vary as to the lucky shoulder over which to look at the 
moon. Some insist that joy or good luck results from 
first seeing it, clear, over the right shoulder, ^ while 
anger and disappointment (lasting until the change of 
the moon) ^ come from seeing it over the left shoul- 
der. * Others, however, are equally Insistent that 
seeing the new moon over the left shoulder means that 
you will have good luck, ^ or that you will see your 
sweetheart within twenty-four hours. ^ The Eu- 
ropean version agrees that It Is bad luck to see the 
new moon through branches, but Insists that the left, 
and not the right shoulder is the unlucky one. ^ If you 
see the new moon through the crack of a house you 
will see somebody next day you did not see that day. » 
The number of stars within a lunar halo indicates the 
number of one's friends who are going to die soon;^ 
while a shooting star stands for a soul that has just 
gone on ^ " (the European says, "a death warning"). ^ ^ 
If a comet appears it is a sign of war ^ ^ and famine, the 
same being also the case when the "elements are red"; ^ ^ 
the former belief being found likewise in Europe. ^ * 

The Voice of the Elements. One Negress informs 
me that while In Birmingham, Ala., she saw a small 



1141. 

2 141, and 162. 

3 159. 

* Moore, R. A., SuperstitionsfroniGeorgia, J . A . F . L ., vol. 7 (1894), p. 205. 

*404. 

"278. 

"> Dyer, T. F. T., English Folk-Lore, p. 37. Fogel, E. M., Beliefs and 
Superstitions of the Pennsylvania Germans, p. 131. Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, 
p. 182. 

8 285. 

9 Hawkins, J., An Old Mauma's Folk-Lore, J.A.F. L., vol. 9 (1896), p. 131. 
109. 

1 ^ Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 556. 

1271, and 179. 

»»67. 

1 * Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 325. 



Prophetic Signs or Omens 465 

whirlwind which ended up in front of a certain house. 
The next week some people were arrested in that 
house for stealing. Thus, she states as a certain and 
original "sign," that the direction taken by a whirl- 
wind indicates the direction of a thief. ^ Thus far I 
have not been able to locate this superstition else- 
where; perhaps many signs have arisen from such 
hasty generalizations, as, for instance, the belief that 
the location of a whirlwind indicates the spot where a 
quarrel will soon occur. - A little rain with large 
drops is said to be a "death-rain," ^ that is, a sign of 
death;* it is also a sign of death when the rain falls 
crosswise instead of straight down. ^ After a hard 
rain you will find money if you look closely enough. ® 
If a thunderstorm comes when a person is critically 
ill that person will surely die. ^ In many parts of 
Europe it is said that a green, hot, or black Christmas 
makes a fat churchyard. ^ The Negroes have much 
the same idea; a warm Christmas, many deaths, ^ 
while others pay attention to the brightness or the 
cloudiness of the day. One Negro servant was given 
Christmas Eve and Christmas day as holidays. She 
came to work Christmas morning (it was raining) and 
when questioned by her mistress she replied: "Why yo' 
see, hit's lak dis': When us haves a brite Chrismus 
hit's de sign white folks is gwineter die, an' heaps uv 
'em, an' when us haves a dark Chrismus hit's de sign 



1141. 

2 61. 

»61. 

«399. 

MOO. 

6192. 

'189. 

^Lean's Collectanea, vol. 1, p. 367, 371, and 383. 

9 67. 



30 



466 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

niggers is sho' gwineter die. Us allers haves a meetin' 
(after a rainy Christmas) ter pray fer de niggers de 
Lawd is gwineter call durin' de yeah, an' I knowed 
I'd hab ter hab termorrow so I jes' cum ter work 
terday." ^ The following beliefs are more miscellaneous 
in type. Three rocks in a row indicate a buried 
treasure near by; ^ if most of the cotton blossoms are 
white in the morning you will have a good crop, if 
red, a poor one;^ if you see the shadow of an animal 
before you see the animal himself you will see some- 
body you do not want to see; ^ while letting the first 
fish of the day fall back into the water means that 
few fish will fall to your lot that day. ^ 

Animal Harbingers. This brings us to the matter 
of animal signs, which serve right and left as omens 
of good or of bad luck. Exactly the same thing is 
true in Africa, Certain notes from the prophet- 
bird at the beginning of a journey are sufficient to 
reverse the best laid plans, while other notes send the 
travelers on with every assurance of success. ^ Similar 
is the great king-fisher (Usari), whose cry on the right 
of the hearer indicates good, but on the left, evil. ^ 
When animals behave contrary to their usual nature 
it is often considered as an omen — probably because 
it is peculiar, hence fetish. "The crowing of a cock 
in the middle of the night is considered by West 
Africans a bad omen, and the animal is forthwith 



1349. 
233. 

3 141. 

*352. 
6 150. 

^ Croriise and Ward, Cunnie Rabbit, Mr. Spider and the Other Beef, 
p. 175 (note). 

^ Burton, R. F., Wit and Wisdom from West Africa, p. 381. 



Prophetic Signs or Omens 467 

killed." 1 "... A hen crowing like a cock in 
the morning means the death of a woman; some 
people kill the hen. If a hen crows several times, the 
owner offers it anything it will eat and gives it away 
after praying; then only one person will die." ^ All 
of these animal actions are carefully observed. "The 
rat Benda, running across your path from left to right 
is good; from right to left fairly good; should it appear 
from the left and run ahead in the direction that 
you are going, 'Oh! that is very good!' but should it 
run towards you, well, the best thing for you to do is 
to go back, for you are sure to meet with bad luck!" ^ 
The voice of the Obin-ugua, a large white bird whose 
note resembles the canoe chant, can turn the tide, so 
the natives of old Calabar believe, * and the Yorubas 
say that "when the Ogboya (an animal about the size 
of a cat) strikes its tail thrice on the ground in any 
town, that town will be deserted." ^ This behavior 
of animals is even associated with natural phenomena, 
since the Vey people say that when it rains while the 
sun is shining it is a sign that a leopardess has just 
given birth to young. « 

Cats. Perhaps the most common animal omens 
among both whites and colored of the South are those 
relating to cats, and especially to black cats. Aunt 
Vinie, an old Negress, claims black cats to be man- 
kind's greatest enemies. She claims that they are 
the cause of most of the unhappiness, failures, sick- 

1 Ibid., p. 105. 

2 Thomas, N. W., Anlhrop. Rept. on Sierra Leone, pt. 1, p. 90. 
' Nassau, R. H., Fetichism in West Africa, p. 195. 

'' Burton, R. F., Wit and Wisdom from West Africa, p. 377. 
^ Ibid., p. 300. 

« Bergen, F. D., Current Superstitions, M. A. F. L. S., vol. iv (1895), 
p. 156. 



468 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

nesses, and deaths in the world, and that careful 
precautions must be taken to throw off their hoodoos. ^ 
As one might suspect from the wide prevalence of 
these beliefs and from their uniformity, in contrast 
to the decided variations of conjuration beliefs, they 
are mostly of European origin. Frigg was the Ger- 
manic Venus, and as the wife of Wodan, drives in a 
chariot drawn by cats, the cat being sacred to her. ^ 
Besides, the cat, like the boar, was an Aryan person- 
ification of storm and tempest, and hence associated 
with witches who were mainly wind makers. ^ Ac- 
cording to a common English ^ (and Negro) ^ ex- 
pression, a black cat is said to be a witch. Many of 
the Negro cat beliefs are found in England. A person 
should never take a cat with him when moving to 
another house, ^ and it is ill luck to meet a black cat, ^ 
though the misfortune may be averted by throwing 
an old iron nail at the animal. ^ 

In considering the Negro beliefs concerning cats, 
we shall not restrict ourselves entirely to omens, but 
include some of the directed cat-signs as well. Most 
common of all is the English belief, mentioned above, 
that it is extremely unlucky for a black cat to cross 
your path ahead of you ^ — some say that this is be- 
cause a black cat is a haunt and can put a spell on 



1116. 

2 Fogel, E. M., Belief sand Superstitions of the Pennsylvania Germans, p. 12. 

' Hardiwick, C, Traditions, Superstitions and Folk-Lore, p. 164. 

^Newell, William W., Negro Superstitions . of European Origin, J. A. 
F. L., vol. 12 (1899), pp. 294-95. 

'Steiner, R., Superstitions and Beliefs from Central Georgia, J. A. 
F. L., vol. 12 (1899), p. 268. 

* Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 199. 

7 Ibid., p. 193. 

* Gregor, W., Folk-Lore of the Northeast of Scotland, p. 124. 

8 5, 102,224,379,246,41,189, 106, 173, and 336. Bergen, F. D., Animal 
and Plant Lore, M.A.F. L. S., vol. 7 (1899), p. 25. 



Prophetic Signs or Omens 469 

you. 1 Others claim bad luck only if the cat crosses 
from right to left, good luck if from left to right, ^ 
although by others the positions are reversed. ^ Still 
others say that if the cat merely goes across the road 
in front of you it is sickness, but if he should cross 
then turn and go back again to where he started, it 
is death. The evil in either case is averted by spitting 
on the ground and making a crossmark with the, 
fingers. ^ Others say that a simple crossmark is 
sufficient, provided you turn back. ^ One Negro from 
Kentucky, while riding in an automobile down the 
main business street of Cleveland, Ohio, made a 
crossmark and drove all the way around the block 
to avoid meeting a black cat ahead, ^ Other ways 
of avoiding the misfortune are to turn around and 
walk backwards over the spot where the cat crossed 
the road;^ step off the sidewalk and walk on the side 
until you pass the spot where the cat crossed;^ or 
raise your umbrella. ^ If a (black) ^ ^ cat, however, 
follows you home ^ ^ or "takes up" at your house it is a 
sure sign of good luck ^ ^ — the same belief obtaining 
in England. ^ ^ In old Ireland such a cat was con- 

1384. 

2 133. 

3 182. 

me. 

^32, and Smiley, P., Folk-Lore from Va., S. C, Ga., Ala., and Fla., 
J. A. F. L., vol. 32 (1919), pp. 381-82. 
«90. 
^ 37, 288, 310, and 397. 

8 41. 

9 155_ 

10 288^ and 341. 

11104, and 206. See also, Lee, C, Some Negro Lore from Baltimore, 
J. A. F. L., vol. 5 (1892), p. 112. 

12 341, 173, 112, and 141. Work, M. H., Some Geechee Folk-Lore, 
Southern Workman, vol. 35 (1905), p. 635. Smiley, P., Folk-Lore from 
Va., S. C, Ga., Ala., and Fla., J. A. F. L., vol. 32 (1919), pp. 381^82. 

1 * Leather, E. M., Folk-Lore of Herefordshire, p. 24. Lean's Collectanea, 
vol. 2, p. 15. 



470 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

sidered a good spirit. ^ Other Negroes, however, 
regard a black cat following you as a sign of trouble, ^ 
especially if the cat appears on your back doorsteps 
at meal time. An individual seeing such a cat will 
leave the table, saying: 

Cat, cat, go thy way, 

I'll eat no dinner on this day, 

thus preventing possible illness. ^ No doubt at first 
this was a renunciation sacrifice (fasting) to the spirit 
represented by the black (peculiar color, hence fetish) 
cat. 

One old slave tells of seeing children die because the 
cat sucked their breath;^ the idea is widespread^ and 
of English ^ origin, as is also ' the Negro ^ belief that a 
cat allowed in the same room with a corpse will prey 
upon the dead body. Some Negroes reverse the 
former idea and say it is good luck to sleep with a 
cat. ^ Black cats are often regarded as "han'ts" 
raised from the dead;^*^ they have nine lives (an Eu- 
ropean belief) ^ ^ and if one of those lives is taken 
the cat will forever haunt you ^ ^ or at least 



^ Fogel, E. M . , Beliefs and Superstitions of the Pennsylvania Germans, p. 69 . 

2341. 

3 116. 

^286. 

6311. Smiley, P., Folk-Lore from Va., S. C, Ga., Ala., and Fla., J. A. 
F. L., vol. 32 (1919), p. 383. 

«Dyer, T. F. T., English Folk-Lore, p. 107. Gregor, W., Folk-Lore 
of the Northeast of Scotland, p. 123. Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 113. 

' Brand, J., Popular Antiquities of Great Britain, vol. 2, pp. 232-33. 

8 112, and 406. 

9 141. 

1 384. 

^^ Lean's Collectanea, vol. 1, p. 433, and Dyer, T. F. T., English Folk- 
Lore, p. 104. 

1^64, and 354. Thanet, Octave, Folk-Lore in Arkansas, J. A. F. L., 
vol. 5 (1892), pp. 123-24. 



Prophetic Signs or Omens 471 

bring you bad luck. ^ In Scotland it is believed to 
be bad luck to shoot a cat, ^ but some Negroes go 
further and call it bad luck to touch a dead cat, ' 
or to move a live one from place to place. * If you 
kick a cat you will have rheumatism, ^ while the 
devil will get you if you drown a cat. ^ Doubtless 
the idea that the cat has nine lives is due to his tena- 
cious grip on life. One Negro tells of cutting a black 
cat in two with a new axe. The man then left to work 
in the field all day long, but when he came back in the 
evening, the head part of the cat came walking out on 
two legs to meet him and had to be killed again. ^ 
Mrs. Boyle tells of "ole Cinder Cat" who could be put 
in a tar barrel and burned without even so much as 
scorching her tail. ** If the house cat follows you 
out every time you leave the house you will forever 
remain single, ^ while if a cat "washes his face" and 
looks around, the one he looks at will have trouble ^ " 
or will marry. ^ ^ I have already mentioned the use of 
the black cat in curing certain diseases — a white 
man from Alexander, La., claims to have cured his 
chronic rheumatism by wearing a black cat hide, 
dried in the autumn sun, around his waist as a belt. ^ ^ 



1 173, 260, and 398. 

" Gregor, W., Folk-Lore of the Northeast of Scotland, p. 123. 

^ 141, and Bergen, F. D., Animal and Plant Lore, M. A. F. L. S., vol. 7 
(1899), p. 24. 

^Steiner, R., Superstitions and Beliefs from Central Georgia, J. A. F. L., 
vol. 12 (1899), p. 268. Williamson, G., Superstitions from Louisiana, J. A. 
F. L., vol. 18 (1905), p. 229. 

*308. 

«235. 

^91. 

8 Boyle, Mrs. V. F., Devil Tales, p. 10. 

Mil. 

11 3i5_ 

12 Cross, T. P., Folk-Lore from the Southern States, J. A. F. L., vol. 22 
(1909), p. 255. 



472 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

Brer Rabbit. Caesar ^ mentions the fact that certain 
peoples in Britain were forbidden to eat the flesh of 
the hare, a taboo apparently of great antiquity, since 
the bones of this animal are conspicuous by their 
absence among the debris of the ancient Swiss lake 
dwellings, and the kjokkenmodings, or shell mounds, 
of Denmark. One of the Saxon forms of the goddess 
Freyja had hares for train-bearers, and another walked 
at night in the fields of Aargan, accompanied by a 
hare of silver-gray color. Boadicea, queen of the 
Iceni, used a hare as an augury before fighting and 
defeating the Roman soldiers. The expression "as 
mad as a March hare" doubtless is due to the habits 
of this animal during the vernal equinox, ^ and rather 
widespread in European lore is the idea that it is an 
omen of bad luck for the hare to cross the road ahead 
of you, ^ though it is good luck if he runs along ahead 
of you. ^ As if this were not enough proof of the 
fetishistic nature of the rabbit, in various parts of 
Europe a hare's foot (or parts of the foot) is carried 
for cramps ^ or rheumatism. ^ All of this leads us to 
believe that there was at least a substantial European 
contribution to Negro rabbit-lore, though the African 
element cannot be entirely denied, at least in so far 
as folk-tales are concerned. 

If Brer Rabbit crosses the road ahead, going to the 
left, the Negroes look out for bad luck; to the right. 



1 Gomne, G. L., Folklore as an Historical Science, p. 286. 

^ Hardiwick, C, Traditions, Superstitions and Folk-Lore, pp. 113-14. 

^ Ibid., and Brand, J., Popular Antiquities of Great Britain, vol. 3, 
p. 201. Leather, E. M., Folk-Lore of Herefordshire, p. 23. Lean's Collect- 
anea, vol. 2, p. 195. 

* Fogel, E. M., Beliefs and Superstitions of the Pennsylvania Germans,^. 108. 

^ Dyer, T. F. T., English Folk-Lore, p. 164. Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, 
p. 492. 

« Ibid., p. 509. 



Prophetic Signs or Omens 473 

good luck. ^ Some say that a rabbit crossing the road 
from either direction in front of you is a bad sign — while 
crossing behind you is good luck — "you have passed 
the trouble." ^ The bad luck may be avoided by turn- 
ing around and walking backwards over the spot where 
he crossed the road ahead of you, ^ this being at first 
doubtless a method of fooling the spirits by reversing 
the foot-tracks so that they could not follow. Others 
say that nine steps backward are efficacious only 
when the rabbit is going slowly; if he is running fast 
the only thing to do is to turn around and make for 
home. "* On the other hand, you may take nine steps 
backward and whirl around ; ^ or else s imply turn around 
three times. ^ Or you may make a crossmark on the 
ground and spit in it, (turning your hat upside down for 
a time), ^ or make your cross and put your hat on the 
left side of your head. ^ Others prescribe that you 
simply put your hat on backwards. ^ These are 
probably methods of disguise, while the Alabama 
custom of taking off the hat and saying, "Good morn- 
ing, Mr. Rabbit," 1 °. has more of the nature of pro- 
pitiation or flattery. This may be also the case with 
pulling a thread from your coat and dropping it in the 
road when the rabbit crosses, ^ ^ while spitting over 

1 217, 234, 250, 224, and 101. 

2 Steiner, R., Superstitions and Beliefs from Central Georgia, J. A. 
F. L., vol. 12 (1899), p. 262. 

3 Ibid., and 91, 141, and 234. Speers, M. W., J.A.F. L., vol. 26 (1913), 
p. 190. 

4 37. 
6 61. 

6 274. 

7 42. 

^Alabama Folk-Lore, Southern Workman, vol. 33 (1904), p. 52. 
9 33, and 102. 
loBrannon, P. A., Central Alabama Negro Superstitions, Birmingham 
(Ala.) News, Jan. 18, 1925, p. 15. 

11 57, and Parsons, E. C, Folk-Lore of the Sea Islands, S. C, M. A. F. 
L. S., vol. 16 (1923), p. 210. 



474 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

your left shoulder to avoid bad luck ^ is no doubt 
exorcistic. A rabbit crossing your path on Saturday 
morning is a good luck sign, ^ but ill luck from such an 
occurence at other times may be effectively avoided 
by keeping a rabbit's foot in your pocket. ^ 

The Rabbit's Foot. Europeans until quite recently 
valued a rabbit's foot and carried it about the person 
as a charm. ^ This is true of the Negroes (and many 
whites) as well, and they have a little story about 
Brer Rabbit disposing of the last witch in the world 
by putting pepper in her vacated skin. Thus Brer 
Rabbit is just "bawn ter luck" and his left foot will 
surely bring luck to you. ^ Some Negroes claim that 
the right hind foot of a rabbit is the proper one to 
carry ^ and have the following rhyme to back up their 
statements : 

•Ole Molly Cottontail, 
Won't you be shore not to fail, 
To give me yo' right hin' foot? 
My luck, it won't be fer sale. "^ 

Among most Negroes, however, it is the left hind foot 
of a graveyard rabbit, ^ killed in the dark of the moon, ^ 
though the left hind foot of an ordinary rabbit is by 
no means despised. Others add that such a grave- 

1 334. 

2301. 

3 278. 

^ Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 439. 

* Backus, E. M., Tales of Ihe Rabbit from Georgia Negroes, J. A. F. L. , 
vol. 12 (1899), pp. 109-12. 
6 341, and 386. 

' 57, and Talley, T. W., Negro Folk Rhymes, pp.. 8-9. 
« McCulIough, J. E., The Human Way, pp. 58-59. 
9 Owen, Mary A., Among the Voodoos, I. F. L. C. (1891), p. 234. 



Prophetic Signs or Omens 475 

yard rabbit must be killed by a cross-eyed person. ^ 
In New Orleans these rabbit-foot charms, mounted 
in silver or gold, are conspicuously displayed in the 
windows of prominent jewelry shops up and down 
Canal Street. The managers of these stores assure 
me that the sales are enormous. The one I purchased 
had with it a printed slip containing a graphic il- 
lustration of the rabbit in the act of being shot and the 
following inscription: "This little luckie is the left 
hind foot of a graveyard rabbit killed in the full of the 
moon by a red-headed, cross-eyed nigger at 12 o'clock 
at night, riding a white mule." The peace of many a 
rustic graveyard must have been broken by the 
midnight roar of artillery to supply the huge numbers 
of rabbit's feet these New Orleans jewelers have. 
A large rabbit is more effective than a small one. ^ 
The phenomenal success of General Fitzhugh Lee of 
Virginia, in his gubernatorial race, was attributed by 
the Negroes to the fact that he carried a rabbit's foot 
and a bottle of stump water; ^ and Grover Cleveland 
in his race for President was given the foot from a 
rabbit killed on the grave of Jesse James, the famous 
outlaw, ■* the idea being that the more wicked the 
person who is dead the more elfective the charms 
associated with his remains. Some insist that the 
rabbit's foot be carried in the right hand pocket to 
bring the best luck. ^ Others say that you must have 



142. 

2 Brannon, P. A., Central Alabama Negro Superstitions, Birmingham 
(Ala.) News, Jan. 18, 1925, p. 15. 

3 Bergen, F. D., Animal and Plant Lore, M. A. F. L. S., vol. 7 (1899), 
p. 125. 

* Concerning Negro Sorcery in the United States, J. A. F. L., vol. 3 
(1890), p. 283. 

6 Bergen, F. D., Animal and Plant Lore, M. A. F. L. S., vol. 7 (1899), 
p. 12. 



476 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

a foot "fixed" by the conjure-doctor, ^ and it is deemed 
wise to pour whiskey on your rabbit's foot once in a 
while to keep it in good working order. - Some also 
•claim good luck from carrying a squirrel's tail, ^ and 
good luck from a squirrel crossing your path * (the 
European version), ^ though others consider it ill 
luck for a squirrel to cross your path. ^ If a flying 
squirrel gets into your house you will lose some member 
of the family before the month is out. ^ 

Horses. Horse-lore is of some importance to the 
Negro, especially in reference to horseshoes and 
witches, and is apparently of European origin, or 
possibly in part a native American development, 
since the horse is scarcely known in West Africa. If 
a horse neighs twice after midnight when his master 
is sick the master will die. ^ If you see a gray mare it 
is a sign of death, ^ while the next woman you see, 
after seeing a white horse, will have red hair. ^ " Finding 
a horseshoe is a sign of good luck, ^ ^ provided you throw 
it over your left shoulder and then take it home and 
nail it up over the door. ^ - Others say that you should 
spit on it, throw it backwards over your shoulder and 
make a wish; ^ ^ this being the European version, with 
the added caution that you keep the wish a secret. ^ * 



1306. 

2 26. 

3339. 

MIL 

* Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 196. 

6 217. 

M02. 

8 314. 

M21. 
1 " 152. 

11191, and 370. 
12 152. 
13341. 
1* Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 281. 



Prophetic Signs or Omens 477 

It Is especially good luck to find the horseshoe with 
the open end towards you, and the number of nails 
in the shoe indicates the number of years that you will 
have good luck. ^ If you find a quarter in a horseshoe 
you will find a large sum of money, - but finding a 
broken horseshoe brings ill luck which may only be 
averted by throwing the fragment over your left 
shoulder and spitting, ^ A horseshoe nailed up over 
your door will keep "evil spirits" away;^ my old 
mammy had two of them wrapped in "silver paper" 
(tinfoil). One she kept over her door and the other 
under the steps to keep witches out of the house, the 
silver making them even more effective. ^ A horse- 
shoe hung in an apple tree will make it hold its fruit 
well. ^ One conjure-doctor of my acquaintance 
carried a horseshoe magnet all the time, claiming it 
"picks up all de trubb'ls an' keeps 'em out yo' way." ^ 

Horseshoes. In Europe the horse and the horse's 
head were sacred to Wodan. ^ Horses seem also to 
have been feared (as with American Indians), or 
worshiped or prized by the Celts, for places are named 
after them. Penmarch in Brittany, means horse- 
head or hill. Ardincaple in Scotland, means the 
mare's height, and there are many other places with 
similar names. In Gaelic tales, horses are frequently 
mentioned, and more magical properties are attributed 
to them than elsewhere in popular lore. ^ Again, 

1173. 
2 192. 
»33. 
*61. 

8 112. 

•122. 
'91. 

* Fogel, E. M., Beliefs mid Superstitions of the Pennsylvania Germans, 
pp. 9-11. 

* Campbell, J. F., Popular Tales of the West Highlands, vol. i, Intro, 
p. Ixxix. 



478 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

however, the magic of iron is observed as being most 
effective against the fairies who shoot stone arrows, 
and its use is thought possibly to represent a dim 
memory of ancient strife between men of the stone and 
iron ages. ^ Others think the horseshoe charm pos- 
sibly derived from the crescent of the moon, - though 
the natives of North Africa and elsewhere use phallic 
charms shaped much like the horseshoe to ward off 
the evil eye. ^ However, one must not too quickly 
assume an exclusive European origin for horseshoe- 
lore. The smith in Africa, ^ as in many other parts of 
the world, is regarded, because of his skill and various 
idiosyncrasies, as a mystical character;^ and it is 
noticeable that the Negro rather shrinks from the 
craft of blacksmithing. ^ 

Dog language. Passing now to dog-lore, which also 
has a more or less univ^ersal character, we find again 
many European survivals. In England the howling 
of the dog is an omen of death, ^ though the dog may 
be hushed by pulling off your left shoe and turning 
it about, or by turning the shoe upside down at the 
bedside. '^ In other parts of England the same pro- 
cedure is observed except that the sole of the shoe is 
spat upon and the foot placed in the place where you 
sat. ^ The Negro also regards the howling of the dog 



1 Ibid., pp. Ixviii and Ixix. 

- Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 182. For a good general survey of horse- 
shoe-lore over the world, see Lawrence, R. M., The Folk-Lore of the Horse- 
shoe, J. A. F. L., vol. 9 (1896), pp. 282-92. 

3 Eichler, William, Customs of Mankind, pp. 634-35. 

* Weeks, J. M., Ainong the Congo Cannibals, p. 122. 

' Lippert, J., Kulturgeschichte der Menschheit, vol. ii, p. 215 ff. 

* Bruce, P. A., The Plantation Negro as a Freedvian, pp. 232-33. 
Chamberlain, A. F., Fear of Fire, J. A. F. L., vol. 17 (1904), p. 77. 

^ Leather, E. M., Folk-Lore of Herefordshire, p. 24. 

^Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 401. 

» Dyer, T. F. T., English Folk-Lore, pp. 101-02. 



Prophetic Signs or Omens 479 

as an omen of death, ^ especially if he barks continually 
without cause, ^ or howls in the back yard, ^ or Is 
restless and noisy during the night. * The dog, with 
his keenness of scent and his widespread domestication, 
is especially picked out everywhere as a creature 
sensitive to lurking spirits, especially the spirit of 
death. 

If a dog (or cat) ^ wallows on his back (in front of 
your door) ^ you should stop him at once. He is 
''measuring for somebody's grave" ^ and unless he is 
stopped somebody will soon die. ** Some say that if 
he lies on his back in the house with his feet up some 
one in that house will die, while if he lies in this manner 
in the yard the neighbor who lives in the direction 
towards which his head is turned will die. " If a dog 
crawls along on the ground on his stomach he is also 
"measuring for somebody's grave" and had better be 
stopped. 1 A dog digging a large, long hole in the 
ground is also indicating a death in the neighborhood, ' ' 
and when he lies with his head in the house and his 
rear outside the door it means a death in the family, 
though the reverse position merely indicates company. ^ ^ 
If a dog jumps over a cradle when the baby is there 

1125, and 141. Diivis, H. C, Negro Folk-Lore of S. C, J. A. F. L., 
vol. 27 (1914), pp. 246-47. 

2 228. 

'341. 

^23. 

' 320. 

« 236. 

^ 112, 141, and 224. .See also, Lee, C, Some Negro Lore from lialti- 
more, J. A. F. L., vol. 5 (1892), p. 111. 

* 35, 32, 151, and 183. Alabama Folk-Lore, Southern Workman, vol. 33 
(1904), p. 51. 

^57, and Smiley, P., Folk-Lore from Va., S.C., Ga., Ala., and Fla., J. A. 
F. L., vol. 32 (1919), p. 382. 

'" Richardson, C, Some Slave Supersiilions, Southern Workman, vol. 41 
(1912), p. 247. 

1 1 141, and Bergen, F. D., Animal and Plant Lore, M. A. F. L. S., vol. 7 
(1899), p. 27. 

^^ Southern Workman, vol. 23 (1894), p. 210. 



480 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

the child will have bad luck. ^ If a dog sniffs at one's 
trouser leg and urinates on it, it is a sure sign of good 
luck, - but if a dog jumps in one window, passes 
straight through the house and out the other window, 
it means death. ^ You should always keep a strange 
dog that follows you home;^ in Europe they say 
that such is an omen of wealth. ^ It is bad luck to 
kick ^ or kill a dog, ^ and any time a dog on his own 
initiative jumps a rabbit you may know that he will 
be sure to catch him before sundown. ^ 

Miscellaneous Animal Omens. The lowing of a 
cow is a sign of death, ^ especially when it occurs 
continually, ^ " or in front of your house, ^ ^ or, as is most 
commonly said, late in the night. ' ^ When rodents 
cut any of your clothes it is a sign of death ^ ^ or moving 
— most of the Negroes taking the latter view, ^ * es- 
pecially if it is quilts that the mice have cut. ^ ^ If 
a rat climbs in your chair at night it is a sign that you 
are going to marry, ^ ^ while a rat running across the 
hearth means a "bad enemy." ^ ^ When the "ground- 

^Ihid. 

2 258. 

3 346. 

* 141, and 341. Smilev, P., Folk-Lore from Va., S. C, Ga., Ala., and 
Fla., J. A. F. L., vol. 32 (1919), pp. 381-82. 

* Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 15. 
6 313. 

^ 61. The Africans consider it bad luck to kill an Ajako, a dog-like 
animal. Burton, R. F., Wit and Wisdom from West Africa, p. 229. 
8 355. 
'133. 

1 288. 

1 1 308. 

1^26, 32, and 113. Also Alabama Folk-Lore, Southern Workman, vol. 33 
(1904), p. 52. 
1 3 J25. 

^* Southern Workman, vol. 23 (1894), p. 16, and vol. 33 (1904), p. 52. 
1U41, and 274. 
16 314. 
^''Superstitions of Negroes in New Orleans, J. A. F. L., vol. 5 (1892), p. 330. 



Prophetic Signs or Omens 481 

puppies" ("puppy-dogs," "water-dogs," or coral-colored 
lizards) bark after you it is a sure sign of death. ^ 
If a rattlesnake runs from you it is also a sign of death 
in the family. ^ A mole burrowing around your 
house is likewise a death omen, but you can drive the 
mole away by mixing some bluestone, new salt, and 
hot ashes, and putting them at the entrance to his 
burrow, telling the mole to go away. ^ In Europe 
a mole burrowing near the foundation of a dwelling 
means moving within a short time, but if the mole 
burrows entirely around the house it is death. ^ A 
toad found in the house means death with the Ne- 
groes ;5 if found in the water, marriage.^ When 
bats come into the house you are going to move out. ^ 

The Feathered Prophet. Bird-lore is second only to 
animal-lore in popularity among the Negroes. Taking 
first the owl as the bird around which most of these 
bird-beliefs cluster, we find a little more variance 
from locality to locality and from the English beliefs, 
inasmuch as the owl, unlike the cat, horse, or dog, is 
not a domestic animal associated with the household 
where the diffusion of English beliefs occured. How- 
ever, many of the characteristics of Hel were trans- 
ferred to the Germanic Frigg, and, as such, the owl is 
her messenger, and the hooting of an owl prognostic 

^280, 381, and 341. Davis, H. C, Negro Folk-Lore in South Carolina, 
J. A. F. L., vol. 27 (1914), p. 246. 
2 123, 125, 127, 9, and 310. 

3 141. 

* Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 567. 

* 91. Alabama Folk-Lore, Southern Workman, vol. 33 (1904), p. 41. 

« Bergen, F. D., Animal and Plant Lore, M. A. F. L. S., vol. 7 (1899), 
p. 38. 

''Southern Workman, vol. 33 (1904), p. 51. 



31 



482 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

of death. ^ In Europe ^ and In Africa ^ the hooting of 
an owl near a house is Indicative of the death of one 
of the inmates. This almost universal superstition is 
doubtless due to the nocturnal habits of the bird and 
his strange half-human cry, and possibly represents a 
remnant of the belief of the late Middle Ages that 
such birds were evil spirits coming to devour the souls 
of the dying. ^ Thus coming from a double source, 
it is no small wonder that the hooting of the owl is 
regarded by the Negro as a death omen. ^ Some say 
that the omen holds only when the owl hoots in the 
daytime;^ others apply it only to the house of a sick 
person; ^ while still others claim the hoot of an old owl 
denotes the death of an old man and that of a young 
owl, the death of a child. ^ 

Shutting the OwV s Mouth. To avoid the ill luck or 
to make the owl hush up, stick a knife in wood;^ 
squeeze your wrist (this will choke the owl to death) ; ^ ° 
turn your pockets wrongside out ' ^ — possibly at first 
a disguise or a sacrifice of what was in the pockets, 
though the Negroes say that it puts sand in his eyes; ^ ^ 
turn some shoes upside down under the bed ^ ^ so that 

^Fogel, E. M., Beliefs and Superstitions of the Pennsylvania Germans, 
p. 12. 

2 Leather, E. M., Folk-Lore of Herefordshire, p. 25. Knowlson, T. S., 
Origins of Popular Superstitions, p. 17L 

3 Ellis, A. B., Tshi-speaking Peoples, p. 203. Ellis, A. B., Ewe-speaking 
Peoples, p. 5L 

* Lippert, J., Kulturgeschichte der Menschheit, vol. ii, p. 403. 
5.341, 336, and 224. 

« 112, and 141. Alabama Folk-Lore, Southern Workman, vol. 33 (1904), 
p. 51. 

^ 189. WilUamson, G., Superstitions from Louisiana, J. A. P. L., vol. 
18 (1905), p. 229. 
8 108. 

9 155, and 288. 
i»171, and 289. 

1^112, and 224. Alabama Folk-Lore, Southern Workman, vol. 33 (1904), 
p. 51. 
1 2 233. 

i»342,' 320, 358, 404, and 407. Also Smilev, P., Folk-Lore from Va., 
S. C, Ga., Ala., and Fla., J. A. F. L., vol. 32 (1919), p. 383. 



Prophetic Signs or Omens 483 

his claws cannot grasp the limb;i put salt ^ or a 
shovel ^ (or a horseshoe) * in the fire to burn his 
tongue 5 (or strangle hlm);^ or tie a hard knot in the 
(right-hand) ^ corner of your bed sheet, ^ handker- 
chief, or apron, to choke him to death. ^ These 
represent the main ways of stopping the hooting of 
the owl, but there are almost countless variations. 
Lock your little fingers together and pull hard; ^ " put 
a hairpin over the lamp chimney ^ ^ (possibly a variant 
of the iron thrust into the fire) ; turn your socks ^ ^ or 
clothes ^ ^ inside out; put one shoe with the toe pointing 
under the bed and the other shoe with the toe pointing 
out; 1 * lay a broom (an old-fashioned sedge broom) ^ ^ 
across the door;i^ cross two sticks and put them in 
back of the chimney to break the owl's neck; ^ ^ point 
your finger at the owl; ^ ^ turn a chair down at the foot 
of the bed;i^ open your pocket knife;-" turn the 
skillet bottom side up;^! or name the tree in which 

1 57, and Southern Workman, vol. 23 (1894), p. 46. 

2 91, 141, and 150. Smilev, P., Folk-Lore from Va., S. C, Ga., Ala., 
and Fla., J. A. F. L., vol. 32 (1919), p. 382. 

3 32, and 407. Harris, J. C., tfncle Remus, p. 155, and 177. Lee, C, 
Some Negro Lore from Baltimore, J. A. F. L., vol. 15 (1892), p. 110. 

*42, 112, and 141. Alabama Folk-Lore, Southern Workman, vol. 33 
(1904), p. 51. 
6 57. 

6 233. 

7 141. 

8 75, 189, and 171. 

9 233. 
"150. 

1 150, and 199. 
275. 

3 Smiley, P., Folk-Lore from Va., S. C, Ga., Ala., and Fla., J. A. F. L , 
vol. 32 (1919), p. 382. 
76. 
342. 
«219. 
' 108. 
■ 373. 
'61. 
2 332. 
21407 



484 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

the owl is resting. ^ Almost always the uniformity of a 
belief over a wide area designate;S a European origin; 
here we find wide diversity and apparently no Eu- 
ropean parallels (though the hill whites of Georgia 
put the poker in the fire). While I have no evidence 
from African sources for this opinion, this seems to 
indicate a general African belief which varies from 
tribe to tribe, or else it may represent individual 
attempts on the part of particular conjurers to deal 
with this oracular bird. It is rather remarkable that 
the Negro, probably because of his stronger faith in 
the omen, tries to fight against fate while the European 
helplessly accepts the owl's verdict as final. This Is 
true of the Negro with reference to almost all omens. 
He opposes the bad luck by counter-acts and charms, 
and attempts to avoid the inevitable. The theory 
of an African origin for these exorcistic owl-beliefs is 
strengthened by the fact that these beliefs only in 
rare cases are shared by the Southern whites; probably 
they represent old conjure practices of an African 
turn which have gained a wide foothold by meeting a 
common need. 

In some localities It is said that if an owl hoots when 
you are leaving the house on some errand, you must go 
on back home or bad luck will befall you;^ If you 
hear an owl when coming home, prepare some extra 
food — a stranger is surely coming. ^ Others say that 
an owl hooting on your right side is good luck, * but 
if he hoots on your left side, bad luck. ^ In this latter 



196. 

2 141. Williamson, G., Superstitions from Louisiana, J. A. F. L., 
vol. 18 (1905), p. 229. 
3 141. 

^ 76, and 310. 
U89. 



Prophetic Signs or Omens 485 

case you must turn your right side toward him and 
walk backwards to avoid the ill luck. ^ It is bad luck 
to mock an owl; - if you do so you will get a whipping ^ 
or your house will burn down, ^ Owls are said to be 
"old people" and must not be molested in any way; ^ 
if you kill one you will become ragged. ^ 

Poultry. Another almost universal object of super- 
stition is the cock, possibly because of his nocturnal 
crowing. In parts of Scotland the cock was believed 
to have the power of seeing evil spirits, and often in 
the night he would descend from his roost in that part 
of the kitchen where the peat was kept and drive off 
some foe, invisible to man. ^ One very widespread 
Negro cock superstition is that if the rooster crows in 
the front door (or in the house) ^ it is a sign of com- 
pany (the preacher » or a stranger) ^ " coming. ^ ^ The 
direction in which the rooster looks after crowing, 
indicates the direction from which that person will 
come. ^2 If a rooster simply stands with his head in 
the house a stranger is coming; ^^ but if he comes en- 
tirely in the house somebody is coming from a journey. ^ * 
If he crows while in the house it is an omen of death. ^ ^ 



iWork, M. H., Some Geechee Folk-Lore, Southern Workman, vol. 35 
(1905), p. 635. 

2 169. 

3 141. 

*227. 

M12, 141, and 376. Alabama Folk-Lore, Southern Workman, vol. 33 
(1904), p. 51. 

6 91. Southern Workman, vol. 24 (1895), p. 78. 

^ Gregor, W., Folk-Lore of the Northeast of Scotland, p. 140. 

8 101. 

3 334. 
10 112. Parsons, E. C, Folk-Lore from the Sea Islands, S. C, M. A. F. 
L. S., vol. 16 (1923), p. 210. 

1 1 148, 341, and 381. 

12 36. 

1 3 246. 

1^141. Lee, C, Some Negro Lore from Baltimore, J. A. F. L., vol. 5 
(1892), p. 110. 
1 5 148, and 306. 



486 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

In European lore a cock crowing on the threshold or 
with his face to the door, indicates the coming of a 
stranger. ^ In Arkansas if a rooster comes to the 
back door and turns his back to the door it is a sign 
of trouble. - 

In other ways the crowing of the cock is considered 
ominous. If a rooster crows after sundown you will 
have trouble ^ or "hasty news." ^ Others say hasty 
news comes from a rooster crowing at noon, ^ while 
still others maintain that the crowing of a rooster at 
any time has this indication. ^ Again it is said that 
the crowing of a cock before midnight indicates a 
"hasty death," ^ though others derive the death omen 
only from a rooster crowing between sunset and dark. 
If he crows twice at this time a death will occur in two 
days; three times, a death in three days. ^ One 
Georgia informant says that if the rooster crows three 
times at night and does not get a reply it is a sign of 
death. ^ The English version is that death is in- 
dicated by his crowing at the dead of night ^ "^ (the 
West African also considers this a bad omen) ^ ^ or 
before midnight; his crowing in the afternoon merely 
announcing the arrival of a visitor. ^ - The sneezing 
of a rooster is a sure sign of death with the Negroes, ^ ^ 



^Henderson, W., Folk-Lore of the Northern Counties of England, p. 92. 
Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 318. 

2 34L 

^ 246, and Work, M. H., Some Geechee Folk-Lore, Southern Workman, 
vol. 35 (1905), p. 635. 

4 159, 243, and 341. 

^ 112, and Thomas and Thomas, Kentucky Superstitions, p. 265. 

«2, and 288. 

'99. 

8 320. 

9 356. 

^ " Henderson, W., Folk-Lore of the Northern Counties of England, p. 33. 
^ 1 Burton, R. F., Wit and Wisdom from West Africa, p. 105. 
' 2 Leather, E. M., Folk-Lore of Herefordshire, p. 25. 
13 91. 



Prophetic Signs or Omens 487 

and his crowing on the fence a sign of a quarrel with 
your neighbor. ' If he crows about eleven o'clock 
it is a sign that the devil is laughing ;2 if on Sunday, 
you will kill him on Monday, ^ The crowing of a hen 
at any hour is a sign of bad luck * or death, ^ especially 
if it be a black hen, ^ "You'd bettah jes' twis' her 
haid off right now 'er somethin' bad'll sho' happen." ^ 
The Negroes also quote the old English rhyme: ^ 

A whistling woman and a crowing hen 
Never come to any good end. ^ 

In Herefordshire, as in Mississippi and Africa, ^ " a 
crowing hen is regarded as being very unlucky and 
must be killed at once, ' ^ Other fowl-omens current 
among the Negroes are: if two roosters fight after 
sundown, a death, if two hens, a visitor; ^ ^ if two 
hens fight (at other times) a sign of two women fight- 
ing; 1 ^ and if you hear the chickens early in the morning, 
a quarrel will result. ^ ^ 

Wild Birds. Bird-lore in general forms no incon- 
siderable part of the Negro folk-beliefs. A woodpecker 
drilling on your house is a sure prophecy of death ^ ^ — 
"a sign of the screws being bored in the coffin of one 

»341. 

2 154. 

3 35.5. 
M81. 

6 81, and 159. 
•= 125. 

' 62, and 224. 
8 42. 

9 141, 298, and 220. 
^ " Thomas N. W., Anthrop. Rept. on Sierra Leone, pt. 1, p. 90. 

1 1 Leather, E. M., Folk-Lore of Herefordshire, p. 26. 

12 194. 
> 3 238. 
1 4 J22. 

i^57,''ll2, 22, 189, .341, and .346. 



488 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

of the Inmates of that house." ^ Others say that It Is 
simply a sign of moving. - If a mourning dove 
(turtle dove) mourns around your house there will be 
a death In the family within a few days ^unless you tie 
a knot In each corner of your apron to drive the dove 
away. ^ If two persons are walking together and hear 
a mourning dove It Is an ominatlon that one of them 
win soon die; If the first dove heard In the New Year Is 
behind you, you will die that year. ^ If you are going 
up hill when you hear the first dove in the spring you 
will get something; if downhill, you will lose something. ^ 
Another Informant takes the view that a mourning dove 
about the place means that you will soon move, and the 
direction in which you hear the first dove of the year 
indicates the direction in which you will soon be 
traveling. ^ If you are walking when you hear the 
iirst dove of the year you will be healthy; if lying 
down you will be sick ^ — though others substitute the 
first whippoorwill for the first dove. ^ In Europe If 
you hear the first cuckoo of the year while in bed it 
means illness or death. ^ ° The Negroes also claim the 
wailing of the whippoorwill (around your house at 
night) 11 is an omen of death. ^ - If a wild bird flies 

193. 

2 141. 

3 260. 

''ST, and Smiley, P., Folk- Lore from Va.,S. C.,Ga., Ala., and Fla., J. A. 
F. L., vol. 32 (1919), p. 382. 

s Work, M. H., Some Geechee Folk-Lore, Southern Workman, vol. 35 
(1905), p. 635. 

691. Lee, Some Negro Lore from Baltimore, J. A. F. L., vol. 5 (1892), 
p. 110 
M41. 
8 204. 

»91, and Southern Workman, vol. xxiii (1894), p. 15. 
1 " Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 546. 
1135. 

i^Davis, H. C, Negro Folk-Lore in South Carolina, J. A. F. L., vol. 
27 (1914), pp. 246-47. 



Prophetic Signs or Omens 489 

into the window it is a death omen ^ (one informant 
says good luck) - while a bird building a nest in the 
house indicates the death of a friend before the eggs 
hatch. 3 The former sort of death sign is all the more 
certain if the room contain a sick person, ^ while if a 
bird flies through an open hallway the direction he 
takes indicates the course which will soon be taken by 
pall-bearers carrying a coffin from that house. ^ In 
either case the death may be avoided, so the Missouri 
Negroes say, by spitting on the floor, drawing a circle 
around the saliva, walking around the circle with your 
back to it, and then spitting a second time. ^ Others 
maintain that the bird must fly through the house to 
bring death, ^ this being the common English ver- 
sion. ^ The Negroes add that if a bird alights on your 
head or shoulders ^ or If a bird sits on your window sill, ^ ° 
it Is an omen of death. If a bird flies across your path 
from right to left It is also a bad sign. ^ ^ 

The Buzzard. If a buzzard alights on your house it 
indicates that you are a thief. This is true because 
"de buzzud am a subtractor uv de air an' kin smell 
enny stolen meat you hab hid in de house." ^ ^ This 
was a real fact in slavery times — the remains of the 



1 93, 189, 357, and Oliio Whites. Lee, C, Some Negro Lore from Balti- 
more, J.A.F. L., vol. 5 (1892), p. 112. Boyle, Mrs. V. F., Devil Tales, pp. 6-7. 

2 141. 

3 100. 
M52. 
5 346. 

8 Bergen, F. D., Animal and Plant Lore, M. A. F. L. S., vol. 7 (1899), 
p. 17. 

'283, and 381. 

8 Cowan, J. L., Welsh Superstitions, J. A. F. L., vol. 15 (1902), p. 152. 

Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 557. 

975. 

1 » 204. 

1 1 125. 

1291. 



490 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

purloined pig or lamb would be concealed in the loft 
by the slave and the putrefaction brought on in the 
warm climate would soon make that fact known to 
Brer Buzzard. ^ Others say that a buzzard alighting 
on the house is a sign of the death of one of the in- 
mates. 2 If you see a buzzard's shadow before you see 
the buzzard you will see some one you are not ex- 
pecting. ^ A flock of crows about a house is a bad 
sign * — a raven flying over and then returning, in- 
dicates death. ^ In Europe the crow was regarded as 
a bird of ill-omen, even as far back as Virgil's time, ^ 
and the flight of a crow over the house ^ or a crow 
alighting on the house ^ was an omen of death. Others 
claimed that one crow denoted a funeral, two, a 
wedding. ^ "Wodan had a raven which he sent out 
each day to gather news for him, and the same bird 
was the messenger which summoned his heroes to 
Walhalla, therefore when a crow crosses one's path it 
is an omen of bad luck or death." ^ " 

The Friendly Redbird. Crows and buzzards are not 
only carrion birds, but also birds of peculiar black 
markings — hence fetish. The redbird is also a pecul- 
iarly marked bird, and it is to his lore that we now 
turn. Strange to say, many of these beliefs have to 
do with love and kisses. Should a girl see a redbird 



1 Richardson, C, Some Slave Superstitions, Southern Workman, vol. 41 
(1912), p. 247. 

2 188. 

3 267. 

^ 141, and Bergen, F. D., Animal and Plant Lore, M. A. F. L. S., vol. 7 
(1899), p. 32. 

^ Richardson, C, Some Slave Superstitions, Southern Workman, vol. 41 
(1912), p. 247. 

6 Dyer, T. F. T., English Folk-Lore, p. 80. 

' Leather, E. M., Folk-Lore of Herefordshire, p. 25. 

* Gregor, W., Folk-Lore of the Northeast of Scotland, p. 136. 

" Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 335. 

i^Fogel, E. M., Beliefs and Superstitions of the Pennsylvania Germans, 
p. 11. 



Prophetic Signs or Omens 491 

and name it after her sweetheart she will see him 
before sunset, ^ or should she throw a kiss (or nine 
kisses) 2 at the bird, she will see her sweetheart at that 
same time the next day. ^ Watch the direction in 
which the redbird flies; your lover is surely in that 
direction. If the bird flies in your front yard your 
lover is coming to see you that same night, * (or there 
is going to be a fuss). ^ "Wishing on the redbird" is 
done sometimes simply upon seeing him, ^ but generally 
it is necessary to throw a kiss (or nine kisses, ^ or 
"five kisses each containing six wishes") ^ for your 
wish to come true. ^ If you throw (three) ^ " kisses 
at the bird, so others say, you will get a letter "f um 
yo' bes' gal or fellah," ^ ^ or you will see a stranger ^ ^ 
(some say simply seeing a redbird is a sign of a 
stranger ^ ^ or relative ^ ^ coming). A bluebird coming 
to your house also indicates the coming of a stranger or 
the return of a long absent friend, ^ ^ while a robin 
alighting on your house is a sign that your beau is 
near. ^ ^ 

Insects. Insects, while unimportant as to size, are 
of considerable importance in their augural powers. 
A spider found on your person is good luck; ^ ^ the same 

1151. 

2 17. 

3 139. 
M41. 
"67. 

6 33, and 91. 

M7. 

8 310. 

961. 

67. 
1352. 
2 175. 
3354. 
M89. 
U41. 
6 402. 
' 301. 



492 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

being true of a spider spinning down before your face. 
This latter indicates the coming of a letter, and, if you 
will wrap up the spider in a piece of paper and carry 
It in your purse, it will bring a sum of money. ^ In 
England, a spider on the clothes ^ or swinging from the 
roof 3 is a sign that you will receive money. Perhaps 
the most widespread Negro spider-omen, however, 
Is that if a spider "webs downwards" a visitor Is 
coming * — the color of the spider indicating the color 
of the visitor.,^ If the spider continues to web down- 
wards the visitor will surely come; If It goes up, the 
visitor has been prevented from coming ^ (or a death 
will occur in the family). ^ If a lightning bug flies in 
the house It Is good luck ^— a stranger, ^ or a friend ^ " 
will come soon. If a yellow bee sings to you It Is good 
news; a black bee, bad news. ^ ^ Crickets in the house 
indicate good luck ^ ^ — never drive them away from the 
fireplace. ^ ^ They are also regarded as lucky in 
Dumfriesshire. ^ * A row of ants crawling in your 
house, 1 ^ especially In your fireplace, ^ ^ indicates that 
you will soon move out, while a swarm of green flies 



1159. 

2 Dyer, T. F. T., English Folk-Lore, p. 132. Also Lean's Collectanea, 
vol. 2, p. 52. 

' Henderson, W., Folk-Lore of the Northern Counties of England, p. 83. 

* 133, 141, 151, 208, and 288. 

* 254. 

8 141. Bergen, F. D., Animal and Plant Lore, M. A. F. L. S., vol. 7 
(1899), p. 39. 

' 175. 

»341. 

9 102, and 141. 
1 » 192. 

1 1 267, and 332. 

12 141, and Parsons, E. C, Folk-Lore of the Sea Islands, S. C, M. A. F. 
L. S., vol. 16 (1923), p. 210. 

^^ Southern Workman, vol. 24 (1895), p. 78. 

1 '' Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 14. 

1 6 92. 

16 91, and Southern Workm,an, vol. 24 (1895), p. 78. 



Prophetic Signs or Omens 493 

coming in is also a bad sign. ^ If a single green fly 
comes in and buzzes all over your house some prying 
individual will soon be nosing over your possessions, ^ 
but if a single large fly comes into the room and then 
flies out it is an omen of good news. ^ A white span- 
worm on your body is measuring for your shroud; 
a green span-worm for your bridal robe, foretelling 
both long life and happiness. ^ The ticking of the 
"death watch" (the ticking noise made by a small 
wood-boring beetle — Anobiuvi domesticum — in the wood- 
work) is an omen of death both in the South ^ and in 
England ^ and Scotland. ^ One Missouri informant 
says, "dem dere de'f watches is hear'd mos' when a 
pusson is low sick." When the ticking stops the 
person will die. ^ 

Plants. Plant omens are not so common, but some 
have been reported. If collards go to seed the year 
that you plant them it is a sign of death in your 
family. ^ There is also the European ^ ° belief that the 
blooming of a tree twice in the same year is an omen 
of death. One informant claims to have seen this 
work out, but says that it can be prevented by picking 
off the second blossoms and carrying them away. ^ ^ 
Flowers blooming out of season are also a bad sign. ^ ^ 

1246. 
2 148. 

344. 

* 57, and Bergen, F. D., Animal and Plant Lore, M. A. F. L. S., vol. 7 
(1899), p. 42. 

6 141, and Davis, H. C, Negro Folk-Lore in South Carolina, J. A. F. L., 
vol. 27 (1914), pp. 246-47. 

^ Henderson, W., Folk-Lore of the Northern Counties of England, p. 30. 

' Gregor, W., Folk-Lore of the Northeast of Scotland, p. 203. 

8 346. 

9 Work, M. H., So7ne Geechee Folk-Lore, Southern Workman, vol. 35 
(1905), p. 635. 

1 " Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 558. 

11141. 

1 2 400. 



494 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

An evergreen tree dying in the yard is a sign of death ^ 
— a behef apparently of European origin. ^ If a tree 
falls without any one's cutting it, it is a death-omen, ^ 
especially if it be a green tree and falls in the summer 
when the wind is not blowing. * 

Pins. Found things often have their meanings, 
especially in the case of pins which, of course, represent 
domestic articles associated chiefly with women. Here 
again we have a strong European background — 
almost always this is the case with articles of this 
sort. "If you see a pin and pick it up, all the day 
you'll have good luck." ^ In England there is the 
same identical rhyme with the addition: 

See a pin and let it be (lie), 
All the day you'll have to cry. ^ 

The Negro thinks it is especially good luck to find a 
pin with the point towards you (sharp luck), while it 
is bad luck (blunt luck) to find one with the head 
towards you. ^ Neither kind of luck operates, how- 
ever, unless you pick the pin up. * If the pin is lying 
crosswise to you (with the side towards you) some- 
thing will cross your path before the day is over. * 

1 Work, M. H., Some Geechee Folk-Lore, Southern Workman, vol. 35 
(1905), p. 635. 

2 Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 558. 

3 282. 

* 17, and 45, and Hawkins, J., An Old Mauma's Folk-Lore, J. A. 
F. L., vol. 9 (1896), p. 131. 

^ 341, and Parsons, E. C, Folk-Lore of the Sea Islands, S. C, M. A. F. 
L. S., vol. 16 (1923), p. 210. 

6 Dyer, T. F. T., English Folk-Lore, p. 270. 

^ 141, 288, and 289. Steiner, R., Superstitions and Belief s from Central 
Georgia, J. A. F. L., vol. 12 (1899), p. 263. Williamson, G., Super- 
stitions from Louisiana, J. A. F. L., vol. 18 (1905), p. 299. 

8 132. 

"392. 



Prophetic Signs or Omens 495 

It is also unlucky for another person to hand you a 
pin with the point towards you. ^ In Europe, also, 
a pin on the floor with the head towards you means 
bad luck. ^ It is bad luck, so the Negroes say, for 
another person to take a pin from your dress. ^ 

Things Found. The Mississippi Negroes will care- 
fully keep a piece of found money as a "luck piece" * 
— finding a penny means that you will find more. ^ 
To find a glove and pick it up, bad luck; « to find a 
handkerchief and pick it up, you will cry. "^ If you 
find a button on Monday, ^ or find three buttons at 
any time, ^ it is good luck. If you find a brown 
chicken feather, stick it in your hair and you will have 
money, finding a red string is danger, but untying 
your shoes will avoid it; finding a black string indicates 
that somebody is going into mourning; while an old 
shoe found in the yard means visitors. Put the shoe 
on for luck. ^ " The finding of the four-leaf clover is, 
with the Negroes, ^ ^ as with the Europeans, good luck. 

In all of these cases the Negro's chief European 
acquisitions are connected with those varieties of 
animals, insects and plants associated with the house- 
hold, and mainly those with which the whites and 
blacks were in contact together. Thus the horse, dog, 
and cat beliefs are largely European, while the cow, 

163. 

2 Fogel, E. M., Beliefs and Superstitions of the Pennsylvania Germans 
p. 109. 

' Thomas and Thomas, Kentucky Superstitions, p. 161. 
* 141, and 287. 
6 33. 

6 81. 

^92. 

8 81. 

9 254. 
1 33 

11100, 141, 173, and 341. 



496 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

left almost entirely to the Negro's care, has less dis- 
tinctly European lore associated with it. Clearly 
the spread of superstitions from European to Negro 
took place more in the household than on the outside. 

Dream-signs. There are several beliefs connected 
with dreaming in general, which might well be related 
before we take up specific dream-omens. If you tell 
your dream before sun-up ^ or before breakfast ^ 
(this latter being the European version) ^ it will come 
true. Others say that singing before breakfast will 
make your dreams, good or bad, come true. * Friday 
night dreams (told Saturday after sunrise) ^ will come 
true. ^ Some take an opposite view and say that 
telling any dream before sunrise will prevent it from 
coming true ^ or will give you bad luck. ^ If you sleep 
with an apron under your head on Friday night you 
will dream of the one you will marry, ^ while washing 
your face and hands before going to bed and leaving 
them undried, ^ " or putting a finger ring under your 
pillow, ^ ^ will give you the same information. You 
may also dream about your future mate by sticking 
nine pins into the blade bone of a rabbit on a dark 
night, and sleeping with it under your pillow for nine 
nights. ^ 2 If you dream while sleeping under a new 

1 13, and 188. 

2 141, and Williamson, G., Superstitions from Louisiana, J. A. F. L., 
vol. 18 (1905), p. 229. 

3 Fogel, E. M., Beliefs and Superstitions of the Pennsylvania Germans, 
p. 74. 

* 404. 

6 208. 

«13. 

'341. 

8 208. 

9 67. 
i»341. 

11111, and 370. 
12 204. 



Prophetic Signs or Omens 497 

quilt, that dream will come true. ^ Name each 
corner of the room after a lover the first night you sleep 
in a new house; the person that you dream about will 
be your future mate. ^ In Europe also, your dream 
the first night in a new house is supposed to come true. * 
The Negroes say that a dream when the east wind is 
blowing will come true, ^ or you can make any dream 
come true by sleeping with your pillow in a vertical 
position, ^ but should you dream of evil things which 
you do not wish to happen, throw a little salt in the 
fire. ® If you turn over (on your left side) ^ when you 
are dreaming you will forget your dream, ^ and if you 
go to bed with something on your mind you will 
dream about that thing. ^ If a man dreams about his 
sweetheart on Monday night and eats onions on 
Wednesday evening, his sweetheart will stop loving 
him. ^ " If you dream about somebody and wake up 
crying you are going to be glad. ^ ^ 

Snake-dreams. Without doubt the most widespread 
dream-sign is that a vision of snakes indicates the 
presence of an enemy, ^ ^ a fact which might have some 
significance to that school of psychology which in- 
terprets dreams largely as sex symbols. If you fail 
to kill the dream-snake your enemies are very powerful, 

1 155. 

2 168. 

^ Fogel, E. M., Beliefs and Superstitions of the Pennsylvania Germans, 
p. 76. 

* Bergen, F. D., Current Superstitions, M. A. L. F. S.^ vol. iv (1896), 
p. 74. 

'^373. 

6 252. 

'121. 

« 122, and Ohio Whites. 

9 341. 
» 240. 

11189, and 341. 
1 2 39, and 130. 

32 



498 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

but if you kill the serpent you will conquer. ^ The 
color of the snake, indicates the color of your enemy, ^ 
though some say that a black snake always represents 
the devil. ^ In England a nightmare of fighting with 
and conquering serpents denotes victory over your 
enemies, •* but among the Ibos of Africa a dream of 
snakes also indicates enemies. ^ Here it may be a 
survival of lycanthropy. The dream is regarded as 
being the real adventures of the dream-soul, and in 
Mashona-land a person is thought to be able to change 
himself into a serpent to avenge himself on some 
enemy, ^ thus making a dream of serpents a dream of 
real enemies. While it is well-nigh impossible to 
explain why serpents should so universally be the 
symbol for enemies, yet this belief coming from two 
distinct sources might well be expected to persist in 
the Negro South. 

Visions of Death and Burial. The signs relating to 
dreams of the dead have a similar distribution. In 
this case the chief interpretation among the Negroes 
is that a dream of the dead is a sign of rain, ^ a belief of 
distinctly English origin. ^ The Negroes add that a 
dream of ghosts falling in the well means approaching 
death, ^ while others claim that a dream of the dead 
means that you will hear from the living. ^ ° Again a 



1 106, 141, 260, 341, and 361. See also, Smiley, P., Folk-Lore from 
Va., S. C, Ga., Ala., and Fla., J. A. F. L., vol. 32 (1919), p. 381. 

2 238, and 386. 

3 354. 

^ Ash ton, J., Chap-Books of the Eighteenth Century, p. 81. Brand, J., 
Popular Antiquities of Great Britain, vol. 3, p. 133. 

* Leonard, A. G., The Lower Niger and Its Tribes, p. 147. 
^ Nassau, R. H., Fetichism in West Africa, p. 71. 
^ 61, 106, 109, 152, 183, 327, 341, and 381. 

8 Leather, E. M., Folk-Lore of Herefordshire, p. 244. Gregor, W., 
Folk-Lore of the Northeast of Scotland, p. 29. 

9 61. 

10 63. 



Prophetic Signs or Omens 499 

vision of a lady's death points to the death of a man, 
and vice versa. ^ A dream of a new-made grave is a 
sign of your suffering for the wrongdoings of others, ^ 
while looking into an empty grave signifies unpleasant 
tidings. 3 A dream of fresh dirt indicates trouble * 
or sickness, ^ while seeing some one covered with mud 
betokens a speedy meeting with a lover, though a 
dream of walking in mud points to a loss of confidence 
in a trusted friend. ^ To dream of a casket is a sign 
of death ^ (or marriage) ; ^ to see yourself dead, 
long life ^ and good luck. ^ " Some say a dream of 
talking with the dead marks a boldness of courage and 
a clear conscience. ^ ^ Others say that if the dead ask 
you for anything in your dreams and you give It to 
them they will soon call for you ^ - — or if you dream of 
giving away anything "you have given away a person 
in your house." It is an omen of death. ^ ^ While a 
dream of the dead generally means rain, it is a wide- 
spread belief that a dream of dying or a funeral In- 
dicates a wedding, and a dream of a wedding, a fu- 
neral. 1 ^ In England a dream of marriage also indicates 
death. ^ ^ One old slave Negro says this is true because 

1 133, and 243 
2 85. 
=•76. 
*79. 
5397. 
8 76. 
n33. 
»228. 
9313. 
1 " 334. 

1 1 350. 

12 130. 

135 

1*141, 132, 81, 224, 39, 130, 331, 155, and 341. See also, Smiley, P., 
Folk-LorefromVa.,S.C.,Ga.,Ala.,andFla.,J.A.F.L., vol. 32 (1919), p. 381. 

1^ Leather, E. M., Folk-Lore of Herefordshire, p. 118. Henderson, W., 
Folk-Lore of the Northern Counties of England, p. 84. Ashton, J., Chap-Books 
of the Eighteenth Century, p. 82. Brand, J., Popular Antiquities of Great 
Britain, vol. 3, p. 132. 



500 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

"ez de man an' 'oman is united ez one in marriage so 
will dis body leab de earth ter be ez one wid Gawd." ^ 
Other Negroes claim that a vision of your own marriage 
indicates happy times; the marriage of some one else, 
sickness. ^ 

Dreams of Meat. A dream of fresh meat signalizes 
death. ^ This is especially true if it is pork that you 
dream of; ^ a dream of killing hogs indicates a death. 
"When you dresses de hawg dat's de body you's 
fixin' fer burial." ^ Another Negro says that he 
knows this sign is true for he dreamed of "lots an' 
lots un fresh po'k one night, an' de nex' mawnin' I 
hear'd er de death uv a fr'en' uv my father's." ^ Others 
say that a dream of salted "side meat" means the death 
of an old person, of pork, the death of a child. ' A 
dream of beef is interpreted by some to mean the death 
of a white person, ^ by others the death of a Negro, ® 
while still others say that a dream of meat of any 
kind means discouragement instead of death. ^ ° 

Eggs. A dream of eggs is variously interpreted as 
good luck, ^ ^ success, ^ ^ gain, ^ ^ confusion, ^ * a wed- 
ding, ^ ^ or as a sign that you love children. ^ ® If the 

1200. 

2 76. 

3 334, 364, and 381. 
* 46, and 264. 
'200. 

e 147. 

n4i. 

8 346. 

*91. See also, Work, M. H., Some Geechee Folk-Lore, Southern Work- 
man, vol. 34 (1905), p. 696. 
35. 
1130. 
•334. 
' 378 
'■« 321,' 336, and 224. 

219. 
«341. 



Prophetic Signs or Omens 501 

eggs you dream of are unbroken there will surely be 
a fuss, but if any of them are broken "den de fuss 
done broke." ^ Other informants interpret a dream 
of broken eggs as meaning a (lover's) ^ quarrel. ^ 
Others say that a dream of unbroken eggs means 
wealth, but of broken eggs, sorrow; ^ while again, 
unbroken eggs mean trouble and broken eggs, peace. ^ 
In any case the fuss or ill luck may be averted by throw- 
ing salt in the fire ^ or by breaking an egg before you 
speak to any one. ^ To dream of eggs in your lap with 
none falling out is a sign of wealth. ^ In Europe a 
dream of eggs indicates a quarrel. ^ In Herefordshire 
a dream of spoiled eggs indicates a death in the family. ^ " 

Other Common Dream-signs. Dream-signs on the 
whole have little agreement from locality to locality, 
though there are some exceptions to this rule and some 
signs of apparent European origin. Such is the old 
European ^ ^ belief lingering with the Negroes that to 
dream of muddy water betokens death. ^ ^ Again a 
dream of fish indicates an increase in the family, ^ ^ 
though some limit this sign to fish seen in clear water, ^ " 
or to catfish seen in muddy water. ^ ^ In Scotland a 

1 91, and 141. Southern Workman, vol. 23 (1894), p. 209. 

2 13. 

3 189. 

<264. 

5 241, and 200. Moore, R. A., Superstitions' from Georgia, J. A. F. L., 
vol. 7 (1894), p. 305. 

8 141, and Southern Workman, vol. 23 (1894), p. 209. 

^81. 

8 341. 

^ Fogel, E. M., Beliefs and Superstitions of the Pennsylvania Germans, 
p. 75. Gregor, W., Folk-Lore of the Northeast of Scotland, p. 2Q. 
1 Leather, E. M., Folk-Lore of Herefordshire, p. 257. 
1 ^ Fogel, E. M., Beliefs and Superstitions of the Pennsylvania Germans, p. 75 . 
1291, 141, 189, 407, 33, 224, 106, and 397. See also. Showers, Susan B., 
Alabama Folk-Lore, Southern Workman, vol. 29 (1900), p. 180. 
1 ' 141, and 297. 
1 * 132. 
1^61. 



502 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

dream of fresh fish means the arrival of children into 
the world. ^ Other Negroes interpret the dreaming 
of fish to mean bad luck, ^ sickness, ^ or death. * 
A dream of money means trouble ^ or death ^ — some 
claim a vision of small change indicates good luck and 
a dream of large money, bad luck, ^ though others 
take exactly the reverse position. ^ Of European ^ 
and also African ^ ° incidence, and hence widely dis- 
tributed, is the idea that a dream of losing a tooth 
(or having a toothache) ^ ^ indicates coming death. ^ ^ 
One informant says that the loss of a jaw tooth in a 
dream indicates the death of a brother or sister, while 
the loss of a front tooth is no sign at all. ^ ^ Likewise 
of English ^ ^ origin is the belief that "a dream of fruit 
out of season means trouble (or a quarrel) ^ ^ out of 
reason." ^ ^ 

Representative Specimens, Although I have collected 
several hundred additional dream-signs, they differ 
so widely from locality to locality and each belief has 



1 Gregor, W., Folk-Lore of the Northeast of Scotland, p. 29. 

2 133. 
»150. 
^75. 

5 188, 224, and 391. 
«63. 

7 81, 141, and 313. 

8 200, 189, 130, and Work, M. H., Some Geechee Folk-Lore, Southern 
Workman, vol. 34 (1905), p. 696. 

® Ash ton, J., Chap-Books of the Eighteenth Century, p. 81. Brand, J., 
Popular Antiquities of Great Britain, vol. 3, p. 132. Henderson, W., Folk-Lore 
of the Northern Counties of England, p. 84. Fogel, E. M., Beliefs and Super- 
stitions of the Pennsylvania Germans, p. 76. Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 299. 

1 " Thomas, N. W., Anthrop. Rept. on Sierra Leone, pt. 1, pp. 86-87. 

11341. 

1 2 81, 341, 152, 61, 63, 336, 189, and 78. See also. Smiley, P., Folk-Lore 
from Va., S. C, Ga., Ala., and Fla., J. A. F. L., vol. 32 (1919), p. 381. 

13 141. 

1^ Gregor, W., Folk-Lore of the Northeast of Scotland, p. 29. Lean's 
Collectanea, vol. 1, p. 487. 

1*91, and Work, M. H., Some Geechee Folk-Lore, Southern Workman, 
vol. 34 (1905), p. 696. 

1 « 334. 



Prophetic Signs or Omens 503 

such a limited following that I see no special point 
in discussing them here. Instead I am merely listing 
a few at random as representative. ^ 

DREAM SIGN 

Absent person that person will soon return. (46) 

Abused quarrel with business associate. 

(397) 

Accident unexpected meeting. (397 and 35) 

Activity (great) losses in business. (46) 

Ax danger and death. (397) 

Baking (woman baking bread)-good crops. (46) 

Ball (dancing at a) will receive money. (46) 

Bank be deceived. (46) 

Barn (putting grain into) gain a law suit. (46) 

Basin (full) money, (empty) debts. (46) 

Beans quarrel. (46) 

Bear (fighting) persecutions, (running) 

happiness. (46) 

Bees (In a swarm) death, (stinglngyou) 

betrayal, (making honey) honor, 
(killing a bee) great losses. (267) 

Bell (ringing of a) misfortune. (46) 

Bitten death.(155) 

Chicks quarrel. (247) 

Chickens (roosters and hens 

fighting) man and woman visit you. (37) 

Church success in life. (184) 

Cooking good dinner next day. (391) 

Cotton (field of) death. (184) 

Dagger you will be killed. (33) 

Eagle (on head of bed) death. (341) 

Flowers receive money . (1 75) 

Heaven good luck and honor.(334) 

Hell bad luck. (334) 

Hill (climbing one) success In life. (141) 

1 For convenience the informant's number will be cited after the belief 
rather than in the footnotes. 



504 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

DREAM SIGN 

Insanity (your own) friends are false. (184) 

Journey (a long one) inherit money (100) or will not 

travel. (121) 

Judgment good health. (1 1 1) 

Killing friendship (364) or death.(382) 

Ladder (descending a) good luck. (286) 

Lantern death. (100) 

Moon your father's death. (85) 

Nails (cutting your finger nails) disappointment. (87) 
Newspapers you will gossip about your neigh- 
bors. (207) 

Onions trouble with servants. (334) 

Party anger (289) or long life and 

health.(391) 

Piano death. (243) 

Pins go crazy. (243) 

Procession (a large one) death. (20) 

Sun mother's death. (85) 

Rabbit (running one) good luck. (312) 

Roses somebody loves you. (341) 

Running good luck. (385) 

Shoes (lost) death. (130) 

Shooting death. (5 and 282) 

Stealing bad health. (334) 

Talking sickness of relatives. (85) 

Tar a travel by water.(207) 

Vegetables well-behaved children. (1 75) 

War lose your job. (33) 

Washing death. (209) 

Worms lose your mind. (33) 

I suspect that this wide variation is due to the fact 
that even a stupid person may be original In his 
dreams. Some happening will follow an unusually 
vivid dream and the dreamer will establish a causal 
relationship between the two. Thus one Negro tells 
me: "I dreamed about my father got killed that night; 



Prophetic Signs or Omens 505 

on that morning my cousin was killed, just like I saw 
my father got killed." ^ With him at least a dream of 
killing has become an omen of death, and without 
doubt numerous other dream-signs have arisen in 
the same fashion. 

Weather-lore. Passing now to weather-lore, we find 
various animals and birds prominent on the staif of 
the folk weather bureau. When animals — dogs or 
cats, 2 old folks, ^ horses, cows or stock in general ^ — 
play or run and make unnecessary racket they are 
simply posting a forecast of bad weather. Precisely 
the same thing is true in England, except that old 
folks and house animals are mainly omitted; the 
actions of stock are carefully noted, especially those of 
pigs. When hogs are crying, and running up and down 
with hay or litter in their mouths, a storm is surely at 
hand. ^ This idea of hogs running and "hollering," 
carrying branches in their mouths, or "piling trash" as a 
sign of rain or cold weather, is a very widespread Ne- 
gro belief. ^ Both in Scotland ^ and among the Negroes 
this is coupled with the belief that hogs can see the 
wind (in the form of flames of fire). ^ If a person 
wishes to see the wind, so the Negroes say, he must 
drink some sow's milk;^ or put a little of the water 



1382. 

2 23. 

3 6, 36, and 166. 

n02, 35, 173, 313, and 382. Evans, J. H., Weather-Lore., Southern 
Workman, vol. 25 (1895), p. 16. 

5 Brand, J., Popular Antiquities of Great Britain, vol. 5 (1895), p. 16. 

6 84, 57, 123, 233, 278, and 316. Also Alabama Folk-Lore, Southern 
Workman, vol. 3 (1904), p. 51. Ibid., vol. 24 (1894), p. 155. 

^ Gregor, W., Folk-Lore of the Northeast of Scotland, p. 130. 

8 141. Waring, Mary A., Negro Superstitions in South Carolina, J. A. 
F. L., vol. 8 (1895), p. 252. 

957, 141, and 102. Bergen, F. D., Animal and Plant Lore, M. A. F. 
L. S., vol. 7 (1899), p. 137. Backus, E. M., Animal Tales from North 
Carolina, J. A. F. L., vol. 11 (1898), p. 291. 



506 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

that runs out of the corner of the pig's eye into his own 
eye;^ or drink goat's milk; 2 or cut his eyelashes. ^ 
Cows ^ and mules can also see the wind, for often- 
times when one is driving a mule towards the wind the 
animal will balk, turn around, and go back. A poisoned 
or hoodooed person can also see the wind. One 
well-educated old slave tells me that a friend of his 
who was so hoodooed reports that the wind has the 
appearance of blue smoke. '" Not only were pigs, 
according to English lore, supposed to see the wind, 
but they were also sacred among the Gauls, eating the 
acorns in the sacred oak groves of the Druids. Even 
now among the Scotch Highlanders there is a strong 
prejudice against eating pig's flesh. ^ The boar's 
head continues to be a prominent object among the 
traditionary dishes of Christmas festivities. In the 
Aryan mythology the wild boar represented the 
ravages of the whirlwind that tore up the earth; in all 
Indo-European mythologies this animal is connected 
with storm and lightning. Small wonder that in 
Lancashire ^ and among the Negroes he is supposed to 
be able to see the wind. 

Four-footed Forecasters. In other ways the animals 
play their part In mantology. When you hear a cow 
cough it is a sure prediction of rain, ^ and when the 
cows hold their heads up and "scent" towards the north 



114L 

2 240. 

' 141, and Thomas and Thomas, Kentucky Superstitions, p. 79. 

^ Bergen, F. D., Animal and Plant Lore, M. A. F. L. S., vol. 7 (1899), 
p. 137. 

6 84. 

^ Campbell, J. F., Popular Tales of the West Highlands, vol. i, Intro, 
p. Ixxxvi. 

^ Hardiwick, C, Tradition, Superstition and Folk-Lore, p. 69. 

«322. 



Prophetic Signs or Omens 507 

it means cold weather ^ (in Scotland this sniffing 
pointed to rain 2). If a mule shakes himself with his 
harness on, it will rain in less than twenty-four hours. ^ 
The cat is a household animal, and again we find many 
weather-beliefs of European origin centering about 
him. One such belief is that if a cat "washes his 
face" it is a sign of rain ^ — a belief found in many 
parts of England ^ and Scotland. ^ The Negroes say 
that if a cat washes his face sitting towards the fire it 
will snow. ^ If this animal sits with his back to the 
fire, beware of cold weather;^ while if he lies with 
his back to the fire, bad weather. ^ In both Eng- 
land ^ ° and Afro-America ^ ^ when a cat sneezes it is a 
sign of rain. The croaking of the frogs is likewise a 
sign of rain — a belief somewhat widely spread among 
the Negroes, ^ ^ especially in regard to the croaking of 
tree-frogs ^ ^ — and the West Africans of old Calabar have 
a proverb: "The frog calls for rain, rain comes." ^ ^ 
The low country Gullah Negroes have this same idea 
with reference to the roaring of the alligator. ^ ^ When 
the squirrels begin to store their nuts early in the fall, ^ ^ 

1278. 

2 Gregor, W., Folk-Lore of the Northeast of Scotland, p. 133. 

3 176. 

* 141, and 151. See also, Parsons, E. C, Folk-Lore of the Sea Islands, 
S. C, vol. 16 (1923), pp. 210-12. 

* Leather, E. M., Folk-Lore of Herefordshire, p. 24. Brand, J., Popular 
Antiquities of Great Britain, vol. 3, p. 187. 

8 Gregor, W., Folk-Lore of the Northeast of Scotland, p. 125. 

7 52. 

« 274, and 341. 

"148. 
1 " Dyer, T. F. T., English Folk-Lore, p. 106. 
11141. 

1237,219, and 298. 
13 17, and 341. 

1 * Burton, R. F., Wit and Wisdo7n from West Africa, p. 407. 
1 s Gonzales, A. E., The Black Border, p. 118. 
i«159. 



508 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro , 

or when the opossums have unusually thick fur ^ there 
will be an "extra cold" winter. 

Aches and Insects. Even human beings, as animals, 
are not without their personal warnings. We have 
noted the fact that the playing of old folks indicates 
a storm or change of weather, but more widespread 
than this belief is the old English ^ adage that the aching 
of a corn, ^ toe, ^ or limb, ^ is a sign of rain. When the 
feet burn ^ or the left foot itches ^ it is also a rain-, 
sign, while if your "flesh jumps" it is an indication of 
general bad weather. ^ Even insects serve as bar- 
ometers — when flies are especially bad it is a sure sign 
of rain, ^ while finding spider webs spread on the 
ground or finding ant holes with the doors open in- 
dicates fair weather ^ ° — beliefs also found among the 
whites of Illinois. ^ ^ When the locusts sing, bad weather 
is coming; ^2 ^nd if the "dirt-daubers" build close to 
the ground there will be a dry year, but if they build 
high up look out for lots of rain. ^ ^ 

Birds and Weather. No form of ornithomancy is 
more interesting than that having to do with the 
relation of birds to weather. Chickens, the most 
domesticated of such birds, have the greatest amount 
of lore clustering to them. If the cock crows while it 

^. 

2 Brand, J., Popular Antiquities of Great Britain, vol. 3, p. 242. 
3 152, 294, and 334. 
^207. 
6 192. 

6 150. 

7 66. 

8 112, and Southern Workman, vol. 23 (1894), p. 46. 
9 322, and 331, and Ohio Whites. 

^"288, and Evans, J. H., Weather-Lore, Southern Workman, vol. 25 
<1896), p. 16. 
1186. 
1 2 1.50. 
1 => 290. 



Prophetic Signs or Omens 509 

is raining, good weather, ^ but if he crows before mid- 
night you may expect a change of weather. One old 
Negress even went so far as to gather in her clothes 
from the line on a bright moonlight night upon the 
crowing of the cock, but, sure enough, it did rain before 
morning. ^ This sign is especially true if the cock 
crows when first getting on the roost after sundown, ' 
and in England there is the old rhyme: 

If the cock crows on going to bed, 
He's sure to rise with a watery head. ■* 

If the cock flies upon the fence and picks his feathers 
during a rainstorm it will soon "fair off," ^ as is also 
the case, in general, when chickens pick their feathers 
after a rain, « though in England such preening at any 
time indicates foul weather. ' If chickens dust them- 
selves 8 or huddle all together in a bunch, « the Negroes 
say that it indicates rain. The same is also true if 
chickens lie on their sides in the sun, but if they run 
for shelter when it first starts to rain it will not rain 
long, though if they stay out it will be a lengthy rain. ^ » 
The latter part of this belief is of European origin. ^ ^ 

Wild Birds. Wild birds are not, however, without 
their lore. To see a "rain-crow" (cardinal grosbeak), ^ ^ 



1 223. 

2349. 

3 141, and Southern Workman, vol. 23 (1894), p. 46. 

«Dyer, T. F. T., English Folk-Lore, p. 92. Denham, M. A., A 
Collection of Proverbs and Popular Sayings, Percy Society, vol. 20, p. 18. 

'105. 

e 339. 

'Dyer, T. F. T., English Folk-Lore, p. 93. See also, Gregor, W., 
Folk-Lore of the Northeast of Scotland, p. 142. 

8 141. 

991. 

10 162. 

1 1 Fogel, E. M., Beliefs and Superstitions of the Pennsylvania Germans, pp. 
225-26. 

1 2 Showers, Susan B., Alabama Folk-Lore, Southern Workman, vol. 29 
(1900), p. 180. 



510 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

or, especially, to hear one call, ^ is a sure sign of rain. 
In Europe the "horse-crow" tells of rain, 2 though 
some Negroes attribute this power to the caw of the 
ordinary crow;^ seven crows flying South is an in- 
dication of cold weather, * while a large flock of wild 
geese or ducks flying north indicates the coming of 
spring; flying south, winter; ^ flying west, a storm. ® 
Sea birds seen flying early towards the sea indicate 
moderate winds and fair weather. "^ A kildeer (plover) 
crying in the morning or evening indicates cold 
weather. ^ His cry is supposed to call up the wind, and 
to kill him would awaken a violent storm, so the 
Negroes of the Maryland coast say. ^ Swallows 
flying low in the summer time indicate rainy weather ^ ° 
— a belief apparently of English origin. ^ ^ Very wide- 
spread is the belief among the Negroes that when the 
buzzard flies very high it Is a sure sign of rain ^ ^ or 
storm, ^3 as indicated In the old rhyme: 

Oh, Mr. Buzzard, don't yo' fly so high, 
Yo' can't get yo' livin' flyin' in de sky. ^ * 

The mourning of the dove Is a sign of rain, ^ ^ and the 
direction from which you hear the first dove call in the 

1 45, 157, and 342. 

* Lean's Collectanea, vol. 1, p. 429. 

2 61. 
^30. 

s 35, and 37. 

«336. 

^ Evans, J. H., Weather-Lore, Southern Workman, vol. 25 (1896), p. 16. 

* 141, and Southern Workman, vol. 24 (1894), p. 155. 

^ Babcock, W. H., Folk-Lore Jottings from Rockhaven, D. C, J. A. 
F. L., vol. 4 (1891), p. 171. 

i»23. 

^ ^ Brand, J., Popular Antiquities of Great Britain, vol. 3, p. 194. 

^2 112, and 141, Evans, J. H., Weather-Lore, Southern Workman, vol. 25 
(1896), p. 16. 

13 150. 

1^ Bergen, F. D., Animal and Plant Lore, M. A. F. L. S., vol. 7 (1899), 
p. 47. 

16 173. 



Prophetic Signs or Omens 511 

year Indicates the direction from which most of the 
rain for that year will come. ^ A flock of blackbirds 
flying south ^ or domesticated ducks or geese flying 
about the barnyard ^ indicates rain, while geese 
cackling at night In the winter tell you of cold 
weather. * When domesticated pigeons make un- 
necessary cooing in going in and out of their cote they 
are telling you of a change In the weather. ^ When a 
peafowl calls It is a sign of rain, ^ and when a peacock 
crows and struts around in the morning you have the 
same sign. ^ If turkeys go to roost with their heads 
all turned In the same direction you will have stormy 
weather, ^ while if they roost high In a tree, rain. To 
hear a small owl hooting Indicates cold weather; ^ 
likewise the chirping of a flock of jay birds; ^'^ while 
to hear a woodpecker on January the third points to a 
very mild winter. ^ ^ 

Months and Days. This last belief indicates that 
the characteristics of certain months are of value in 
predicting future weather conditions. In England a 
dry March makes the clay lands bear an abundant 
crop of corn — thus the saying, "A dry March never 
begs its bread." ^ ^ It Is rather remarkable that pre- 
cisely the same saying Is found among the Negroes, ^ ' 

1 112, and Southern Workman, vol. 33 (1904), p. 51. 

244. 

»189. 

*44. 

6 23. 

«233. 

M73. 

8 57. 

^ Evans, J. H., Weather-Lore, Southern Workman, vol. 25 (1896), p. 16. 
10 83. 
11141. 

i^Denham, M. A., A Collection of Proverbs and Popular Sayings, Percy 
Society, vol. 20, p. 31. Lean's Collectanea, vol. 1, p. 358. 
i'81. 



512 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

though environmental conditions, of course, are dif- 
ferent. If it snows in March after the trees have 
budded, the next winter will be an extremely hard 
one — in fact the weather-signs in March, June, and 
August should always be carefully watched, since they 
indicate the weather for the rest of the year. ^ The 
eighth day of June gives the key to the next forty days. 
If it rains on that day, forty days of rain; if the sun 
shines, forty bright days. ^ When the first snow 
of winter comes you should count the time since the 
last new moon; the number of days indicates the 
number of snows you will have that year. ^ An 
English ^ belief is that if the sun shines through the 
apple trees on Christmas day there will be plenty of 
fruit. 5 On the tenth of March if you hear the 
"flying horses" in the air it is an indication of good 
crops. ^ 

Vegetable Weather-prophets. Botanomancy as ap- 
plied to weather is not without its importance. If a 
tree falls, you are sure to have bad weather, ^ and 
when the trees begin to shed their .leaves early you 
may be sure that an early and hard autumn is com- 
ing. 8 If the bark of the trees is very tight in the fall 
there will be a long and cold winter, but if the bark is 
loose the winter will be "open and fair." ^ When 
nuts are plentiful and coons fat a cold winter is on its 

1141. 

2 152. 

3 81. 

■• Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 218. 

*81. 

*91, and Alabama Folk-Lore, Southern Workman, vol. 33 (1904), p. 51. 

^246. 

8 67. 

9 159. 



Prophetic Signs or Omens 513 

way, 1 the same also being indicated by heavy shucks 
on the corn. ^ If the fire snaps and sparkles slowly 
and continuously ("treads snow") ^ it is a sign of 
cold weather or snow, •* this being the only evidence of 
pryomancy in weather-lore I have been able to locate. 

Reliable Weather Signs. Some of these weather signs, 
though developed in superstition, have scientific 
value. This is especially true of those having to do 
with conditions of excessive humidity. Thus the 
Negroes very widely believe that if the smoke falls 
towards the ground instead of rising upward, ^ or if 
the soot falls into the fireplace or on the roof, ^ it is a 
sign of rain. This is true, since it is the excessive 
humidity of the atmosphere that causes the phe- 
nomena. ^ The same condition ^ is the scientific 
basis for the Negro belief that moisture collecting on 
the outside of a cold glass of water ^ or an iron ves- 
sel ' " is a sign of rain. This same principle might 
possibly apply to the case of a Negro who had a long 
hair in his eyebrow. Whenever this hair fell down 
over his eyes he predicted rain, ^ ^ and it may well be 
that the excessive humidity is what caused the hair to 
become limp and fall. ^ ^ The same explanation ^ ^ ap- 

M5. Lee, C, Some Negro Lore from Baltimore, J. A. F. L., vol. 5 
(1892), p. 111. 

233. 

2 141, and Evans, J. H., Weather-Lore, SouthernWorkman,vol. 25 (1896), 
p. 16. 

* 341. Compare Brand, J., Popular Antiquities of Great Britain, vol. 
3, p. 183. 

i* 23, 268, 358, and 341. 

6 192, 401, and 405. 

' Humphreys, W. J., Some Useful Weather Proverbs, Year Book, U. S. 
Department of Agriculture, 1912, p. 381. 

» Ibid. 

9 246, and 336. 
1" Evans, J. H., Weather-Lore, Southern Workman, vol. 25 (1896), p. 16. 
1 1 405. 

12 Humphreys, W. J., Weather Proverbs and Paradoxes, p. 76. 

1 3 Ibid. 
33 



514 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

plies to a rope becoming tight ^ and possibly to shoes 
suddenly becoming squeaky, ^ both of which are re- 
garded as omens of rain. There is also the old Eu- 
ropean •■' belief that a fog lying close to the ground in 
the morning indicates fair weather (as is also the case 
with a heavy dew), * while if the fog lifts early it will 
soon rain, ^ all of these beliefs having some scientific 
value. ^ Less scientific is the basis for some of the 
other beliefs. For example, two (or three) ^ big 
frosts are followed by a rain ^ or storm. ^ In aus- 
tromancy we find the idea that a hard wind all 
evening from the northwest indicates frost, while a 
heavy wind from the southeast, changing suddenly 
to northwest, is a sure sign of snow. The same in- 
formant told me that a wind blowing the waves on a 
pond from south to north indicated rain, from north 
to south, fair weather. ^ ° If a whirlwind goes towards 
a pond or any other water it is an indication of rain. ^ ^ 
To see the sun "drawing water" as it sets is also an 
indication of rain. ^ - If it rains before seven it will 
stop before eleven ^ ^ (the English version), ^ ^ though 
other Negroes say, "thunder before seven, rain before 
eleven," ^ ^ or "thunder before the seventh, rain before 



1126. 

2 252. 

' Lean's Collectanea, vol. 1, p. 352. 

^ Evans, J. H., Weather-Lore, Southern Workman, vol. 25 (1895), p. 16. 

*398. 

^Humphreys, W. J., Weather Proverbs and Paradoxes, pp. 47-49, and 
56-59. 

^ 332. 

8 288. 

^ Evans, J. H., Weather-Lore, Southern Workman, vol. 25 (1896), p. 16. 
i«141. 
1161, and 57. Southern Workman, vol. 24 (1894), p. 155. 

1 2 83, 173, 341, 379, and Ohio Whites. 

13 341. 

i^Gregor, W., Folk-Lore of the Northeast of Scotland, p. 154. Lean's 
Collectanea, vol. 1, p. 394. 
1 5 233. 



Prophetic Signs or Omens 515 

the eleventh." ^ One Informant told me that if It 
rains before twelve It will cease at once or get worse. ^ 
Thunder In the morning ushers In stormy weather, ' 
while thunder In mid-winter Indicates extreme cold 
coming'' (with Illinois whites as well), ^ the latter 
belief having some scientific basis. ^ A rainbow seen 
in the morning points to a storm on its way, while one 
seen in the evening points to good weather the next 
day, 7 both beliefs being true to facts. ^ Other Negroes 
take the modified Biblical view that a rainbow seen 
after a rain Indicates that there will be no more rain 
for a long time, ^ while two rainbows seen at once 
vaticinate dry weather, ^ o though one Informant 
says that a rainbow indicates rain the next day. ^ ^ 
Lightning in the north Is monitory of rain within 
twenty-four hours, ^ ^ while lightning in the west is a 
sign of a drouth. ' ^ 

Moon and Stars. The heavenly bodies, especially 
the moon, give us many warnings of the kind of weather 
to expect. The horny moon seems to be thought of 
as a sort of bowl holding water. If it Is "on Its back" 
(the points straight upward) dry weather will result, 
but If the point Is down ("Is on Its point") it is 



1223. 

2310. 

3 141, and Evans, J. H., Weather-Lore, Southern Workman, vol. 25 
(1896), p. 16. 

n59. 

5 86. 

^ Humphreys, W. J., Weather Proverbs and Paradoxes, p. 66 ff. 

' Evans, J. H., Weather-Lore, Southern Workman, vol. 25 (1896), p. 16. 

^ Humphreys, W. J., Weather Proverbs and Paradoxes, p. 33 ff. 

9379. 
10341. 
11336. 

1 2 336, 40, and 398. 

13 13. 



516 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

"spilling water" and rain will surely come. ^ One 
informant says that the new moon on its back tells of 
rain or snow. ^ Both the former ^ and the latter * 
interpretations are found in England. The Negroes 
say that a ring around the moon indicates bad 
weather ^ and that the rain is just as many days away 
as there are stars in the ring ^ (or that there will be 
that many days before clear weather). ^ While, of 
course, the number of stars within the halo does not 
Indicate the exact number of days before a rain, yet 
in a general sort of way there is some scientific truth 
in the proposition. The rings referred to are the 
lunar coronas, those small colored halos encircling 
a body when seen through a mist. The larger the 
water droplets, the smaller the corona (the fewer the 
stars within it) and the nearer the rain. A large 
corona indicates smaller droplets and a rain further 
removed. ^ The belief itself is of European origin. ^ 
A circle around the moon containing more than five 
stars is said by the Negroes to indicate cold weather; 
less than five stars, warm weather. ' ° When the moon 
changes and seems to lie in the south it is a sign of 
warm weather; in the north, cold weather. If the 



1 155, 286, and 345. Southern Workman, vol. 33 (1904), p. 51. Evans, 
J. H., Weather-Lore, Southern Workman, vol. 25 (1896), p. 16. 

3 Dyer, T. F. T., English Folk-Lore, p. 39. 

* Lean's Collectanea, vol. 1, p. 383. 
M59. 

8 122. Evans, J. H., Weather-Lore, Southern Workman, vol. 25 
(1896), p. 16. 

^ 141. Davis, H. C, Negro Folk-Lore in South Carolina, J. A. F. L., 
vol. 27 (1924), p. 245. 

* Humphreys, W. J., Some Useful Weather Proverbs, Year Book, U. S. 
Department of Agriculture, 1912, p. 377-78, and 380. 

*Fogel, E. M., Beliefs and Superstitions of the Pennsylvania Germans, 
p. 241. Gregor, W., Folk-Lore of the Northeast of Scotland, p. 152. Dyer, 
T. F. T., English Folk-Lore, p. 38. 

'"57. and Southern Workman, vol. 24 (1894), p. 155. 



Prophetic Signs or Omens 517 

pointer of the seven stars, or the large end of the 
milky way points to the south there will be warm 
weather; to the north, cold weather. ^ 

The Sky. Another belief with a scientific basis Is 
that a red sky at sunset Indicates fair weather, ^ while 
a gray sky Indicates rain. ^ The red tint at evening, 
or, better still, yellow or green, shows less condensation 
and hence fair weather, while the gray sky Is, of course, 
due to the presence of water vapor, and. In reality. 
Indicates the possibility of rain. ■* Other Negroes 
say that a red sky at sunrise Indicates stormy weather, 
while a gray sky heralds fair weather, ^ thus completing 
the European rhyme: 

Evening red, and morning gray 
Helps the traveller on his way; 
Evening gray and morning red, 
Brings down rain upon his head. ^ 

Again the Negro says that If the sun rises glittering It 
Is the sign of a hot day. ^ A ruddy sky In the north 
at evening is predictive of stormy and boisterous 
weather, ^ while a red streak extending from east to 
west overhead at sunset denotes cold, windy weather. ^ 
Others say that a red sky at sunset in the winter is a 
sign of frost on the coming day. ^ ° If clouds cross the 

1 Evans, J. H., Weather-Lore, Southern Workman, vol. 25 (1895), p. 16. 

237, 220, and 141. Evans, J. H., Ibid. 

3 122,243, and 301. 

* Humphreys, W. J., Some Useful Weather Proverbs, Year Book, U. S. 
De-partment 0/ Agriculture, 1912, pp. 376-77. 

5 91, and Evans, J. H., Weather-Lore, Southern Tforfcmon , vol . 25 (1896), 
p. 16. 

^Lean's Collectanea, vol. 1, p. 353. 

M23. 

8 23. 

9 Evans, J. H., Weather-Lore, Southern Workman, vol. 25 (1896), p. 16. 
in23. 



518 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

sun going towards the west It is the sign of rain, ^ 
while if they are going towards the east, fair weather. ^ 
Dark clouds in the south indicate rain, ^ but if there 
is enough blue sky in the west to make an old woman's 
apron it will "fair off" * — a belief similar to that 
found with the Illinois whites. ^ If it is raining and 
the sun sets fair in the evening It will be fair in the 
morning, ^ but if it is clear at sunrise and afterwards 
becomes cloudy It will surely rain. ^ If It clears off 
at night It will rain soon. * "Sun-dogs" In the sky 
foretell rain the next day. ^ 

Sunshine and Rain. Various signs are derived from 
the phenomena of rain falling while the sun Is shining. 
Some say that It will rain (the same time) ^ " the next 
day; ^ ^ but possibly the most grotesque Interpretation 
Is that the devil Is whipping his wife ^ ^ around the 
stump ^ ^ with a frying pan. ^ ^ Some say that you must 
stick a pin In the ground and place your ear close to 
the pin to hear this whipping going on; ^ ^ or else kneel 
down and stick a needle in the wall, then get up and 
pull the needle out with your mouth. You can then 
hear the devil's wife "hollering." ^ ^ Or, simpler still, 

»17. 

2 61. 

3 67. 

. ^ 126, and 312. 

6 86. 

8 265. 

'173. 

8 288. 

8 173. See also, Evans, J. H., Weather-Lore, Southern Workman, vol. 25 
(1895), p. 16. Gregor, W., Folk-Lore of the Northeast of Scotland, p. 152. 
1 17, and 288. 

i^llO, and 173. This belief has scientific value. See Humphreys, 
W. J., Weather Proverbs and Paradoxes, p. 557. 

1 2 379. 

1 3 298. 
1 ^ 135. 

1 5 392. 

1 6 274. 



Ppophetic Signs or Omens 519 

you can simply cross a knife and fork and go behind 
the door, to see this dastardly deed being done. ^ 
The European version is that when it rains when the 
sun is shining it will rain about the same time the 
next day, or else the devil is beating his wife behind 
the door with a shoulder of mutton. ^ 

Conclusion. It will be noticed that the European 
influence is most evident in the case of those omens 
centering about the household. In the case of weather- 
lore, however, we have a class of beliefs observed by the 
men about as much as, or perhaps more than, the 
women. This would seem to be due largely to the 
fact that such bits of occupational-lore were handed 
down to the Negro agriculturists (male and female) 
as a real part of farm training. To the early slave- 
holders, and especially to the ignorant overseers, the 
lore connected with agriculture was almost as im- 
portant as the farming methods themselves; they were 
deemed so essential to self-maintenance that both lore 
and methods were handed down alike in the training 
of the field hands, while other folk-beliefs were not 
considered so important. 



1 141. 

2 Lean's Collectanea, vol . 1, p. 396. 



CHAPTER VIII 

CHRISTIANITY AND SUPERSTITION 
CONCLUSION 

Supplements to Christianity . Thus far have we 
come in our study of acculturation from African 
origins to Afro-Anxerican present day reahties. Apart 
from a few Hnguistic contributions here and there, 
these Africans have contributed httle to the whites, 
by far the greater amount of material passing from 
whites to blacks, which seems to indicate that when an 
advanced and a backward people come into contact, 
the culture of the backward people is the most af- 
fected. This is to be expected under the more or less 
rigid caste system which has governed the association 
of the two races; the blacks were looked down upon as 
cultural inferiors and all things negroid were tabooed 
to the socially ambitious whites. On the other hand, 
to the Negro, the white man stood as a model to be 
emulated in all things, from superstitions to straight 
hair. In short, the socially inferior predominately 
imitates the socially superior. Nevertheless, in this 
would-be European conservatory, certain exotic Afri- 
can growths continued to bloom. These survivals 
consist almost entirely of matters relating to self- 
gratification and to the supernatural. These are, of 
course, the spheres where the Negro, to a certain 
extent, at least, has been left to his own devices. 
But any survivals of African religion have become, to 
the whites, superstition; showing that the difference 



Christianity and Superstition 521 

between superstition and religion is something purely 
in the mores — the same belief being religion to one 
folk and superstition to another. ^ Religion among 
the Southern Negroes is so full of what the whites 
call superstition that it would be impossible to dis- 
entangle the two did we not have our present concept 
of Christianity as a standard. But these superstitious 
supplements that the Negroes have made to Chris- 
tianity give us an index of the meaning of superstition 
itself, and it is of value to note the exact nature of this 
intermingling of African beliefs, European folk-lore 
and American Christianity, together with some unique 
interpretations which the Negroes themselves have 
developed in America. 

Negro Religion Uniform. Except in the matter of 
sects there is but little variance in the religious beliefs 
of the Negro — all the differences in religion in Africa 
from tribe to tribe have been merged into the unity 
of Christianity. But these sectarian differences are 
not to be ignored. The Negro sings of being a Baptist 
or Methodist, even after he's "daid an' gone," ^ and 
even when the slaves were war contrabands the common 
sorrows were not sufficient to break down sectarianism 
enough for the Baptist contrabands to assist in singing 
a hymn started by a Methodist. ^ Differences of 
opinion along minor matters are often sufficient to 
cause a split in the Negro church. But, taking things 
as a whole, the general, local, town, family, and in- 
dividual deities of the Africans * have been replaced, 
in the main, by the general Christian Deity of the 

1 See here, Lehman, A., Aberglaube und Zauberei, pp. 7-9. 

2 Hollowell, E., Calhoun Plantation Songs, p. 19. 

3 Livermore, Mary A., My Story of the War, p. 267. 
* Ellis, A. B., Tshi-speaking Peoples, pp. 17-18. 



522 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

American Negroes. It is true that the individual still 
clings to certain personal charms or luck-pieces and 
that certain families or communities fear certain col- 
loquial ghosts, but, taking the group as a whole, so 
far as actual worship is concerned, the Christian God 
receives the mass of attention. This merging of the 
many tribal religions of Africa into one general religion 
in America would, of course, give the Negro a certain 
group unity here, which, assisted by similarity of 
language, blood, and culture, traits lacking in Africa, 
would also tend towards a more rapid amalgamation 
and exchange of superstitions. 

Polytheistic African Religion. Nevertheless, in spite 
of this outward acceptance of Christianity, the South- 
ern Negro often displays traits strangely like those in 
Africa. The West African has nothing analagous to 
our Christ, a God-man connecting man with the 
great over-God, and this idea appeals to him when 
presented by Christianity, or Islam. ^ Unlike our- 
selves, the African is not monotheistic. ^ There are 
many spirits and "they are all to a certain extent 
limited in the nature of their power; there is no one 
spirit that can do all things; their efficiency only runs 
in certain lines of action." ^ That certain tribes do 
believe in a Great God, a Maker or Creator, is attested 
by many observers, but they all agree that little 
attention is paid to Him. "Under the slightly varying 
forms of Anyambe, Anyambic, Njambi, Nzambi, 
Anzam, Nyam, or, in other parts, Ukuku, Suku, and 



1 Kinglsey, M. H., West African Studies, p. 127. 

2 Tillinghast, J. A., The Negro in Africa and America, p. 150. 
^ Kingsley, M. H., Travels in West Africa, p. 445. 



Christianity and Superstition 523 

so forth, they know of a Being superior to themselves, 
of whom they themselves inform me that He is the 
Maker and Father. . . . While this is all true, 
their knowledge of God is almost simply a theory. 
It is an accepted belief, but it does not often influence 
their life. ... In practice they give Him no 
worship." ^ With all Bantu coast tribes this god is a 
non-interfering and therefore a negligible quantity. 
Having made all men, animals, and plants. He takes 
no further interest in them, and the attention of the 
folk is turned rather to that great host of malevolent 
spirits with which the universe is peopled. - With the 
Ibos, Eka Abassi, a female deity, is the mother of 
their highest god, the Thunder God, and of all created 
things. All babies are sent by her and when one dies 
a non-violent death she has taken him back. ^ 

Survivals in America. While the Southern Negro 
believes much more firmly in a single deity than does 
the native African, yet his intense recognition of 
ghosts, witches, angels, devils, and other secondary 
supernatural beings, gives his religion a decidedly poly- 
theistic turn. Very often the Negroes will temporarily 
lay aside their religion and attain ends by means 
strongly suggestive of African fetishism. Nassau, 
in telling some American Negroes of the African 
fetishism, found to his surprise that they admitted the 
same thing in their locality. * Things associated with 
the dead are often used. The hand of a dead friend will 
bring prosperity; his big toe will keep away disease. 

1 Nassau, R. H., Fetichism in West Africa, p. 36-38. 

2 Kingsley, M. H., Travels in West Africa, pp. 442-43. 

^ Talbot, W. A., Woman's Mysteries of a Primitive People, pp. 8-11. 
* Nassau, R. H., Fetichism in West Africa, p. 275. 



524 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

The toe of an enemy can be used as a charm for con- 
juring enemies. 

Wid dis bony toe, I'll bring de woe 
'Fo' daylight in the mornin'. ^ 

Mrs. Virginia Frazer Boyle writes me of a human 
finger found in a Negro conjure-bag, ^ and in New 
Orleans the Creole Negroes on November 1, gather 
graveyard dirt from various cemeteries under certain 
-conditions (mainly silence) under the impression that 
the wish made while getting the dirt will surely come 
true. ^ The vulture is a fetish bird in parts of Africa * 
and the Georgia Negroes say that if you throw a kiss 
at a buzzard and wish for something you will surely 
get it. ^ The GuUah Negroes of South Carolina use 
the term "Bline Gawd," (Blind God) to signify a 
"personal idol or fetish of African suggestiveness whose 
aid is invoked to further the desires of its owner," ^ 
while a Princeton family found their Negro cook with a 
•chicken's breastbone, some hair, and a piece of coal 
wrapped in a small velvet bag — a combination reported 
to be an "ages-old fetish in Guinea." ^ The Negro 
Christian Deity is like the African gods in that he is 
distinctly anthropomorphic. ^ 

African Concept of Sin. The concept of sin is 
another point of difference between the West Africans 

1 Bergen, F. D., Animal and Plant Lore, M. A. F. L. S., vol. 7 (1899), 
p. 22. 

2 42. 

^ Superstitions of Negroes in New Orleans, J. A. F. L., vol. 5 (1892), pp. 331- 
32. 

* Burton, R. F., Wit and Wisdom from West Africa, p. 85. 

6 106. 

6 Gonzales, A. E., The Black Border, pp. 290, and 133. 

^ Dana, M., Voodoo, Metropolitan Magazine, vol. 28 (1908), p. 531. 

^ See for instance, Perkins, A. E., Negro Spirituals from the Far Soiith , 
J. A. F. L., vol. 35 (1923), p. 224. 



Christianity and Superstition 525 

and the white Americans. "With people in the con- 
dition in which the natives of the Gold Coast now are, 
religion is not in any way allied with moral ideas, 
whose source is indeed essentially distinct, although 
the two become associated when man attains a higher 
degree of civilization. Sin, I use the word in the sense 
of an offense committed against a god, is amongst the 
natives of the Gold Coast limited to — first, insults 
offered to the gods; secondly, neglect of the gods. 
Murder, theft, and all offenses against the person or 
against property are matters in which they take no 
interest, except in the case, when, bribed by a valuable 
offering, they take up the quarrel in the interest of 
some faithful worshiper." ^ Thus the African con- 
cept differs: "Sin to him not being what it is to us, 
a vile treason against a loving Father, but a very ill- 
advised act against powerful, nasty-tempered spirits." ^ 
In still another respect there is a difference. The 
Bantus have a proverb, " 'Swedo a Yalakendi na 
moto umbaka' (death begins by one person). This 
meant that they should all be watchful, lest danger 
come to them all by indiscretion of a few." ^ This is 
the idea of a frenzied spirit, offended by the deeds of a 
single person, lashing out blindly in his rage with an 
earthquake, or famine, or some other calamity, and 
bringing disaster to the whole community. In ac- 
cordance with such a belief every person is forced 
to be his brother's keeper, or else suffer for sins that he 
has not committed, for on the Gold Coast, * as in almost 



^ Ellis, A. B., Tshi-speaking Peoples, pp. 10-11. 

2 Kingsley, M. H., West African Studies, p. 159. 

3 Nassau, R. H., Where Animals Talk, pp. 127-28. 
* Ellis, A. B., Tshi-speaking Peoples, p. 112. 



526 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

all of West Africa, the majority of spirits are malignant, 
and every misfortune is ascribed to their action. 
Even a slight offense is likely to break the bounds of 
their fury and a person cannot be too careful in seeing 
that these deities, which are so unconcerned about the 
relation of man to his fellow-man, should not become 
offended through the stupid omission of some rite or 
ceremony connected with themselves. In all things 
the West African gods are not at all concerned with the 
relation of man to man, but only with the relation of 
man to god. 

Religion and Morality. Like the West Africans, the 
Christianity of the Southern Negro is not closely 
connected with morality. An Arkansas Negro con- 
sidered it all right to conjure inasmuch as he had 
" 'surrance er salvation," ^ and most of the conjure- 
doctors with whom I have come In contact are 
unusually religious and ostentatious In their church 
obligations — some of them even being ministers. An 
old Negro testified In meeting that he cursed some, 
had stolen some, had drunk whiskey some, and had 
done other things some, but could thank God that he 
had never lost his religion — this attitude is fairly 
typical of many of the lower churches of the South. ^ 
Many petty amusements, ^ such as dancing, fiddling, 
baseball, picnics, and even checker playing, are 
tabooed by the church, while other more serious 
moral breaches, such as unchastlty, theft, and lying, 
are more or less overlooked. This repressive attitude 

1 /. A. F. L., vol. 1 (1888), p. 83. 

2 Earnest, J. B. Jr., The Religious Development of the Negro in Virginia, pp. 

' For a list, see Morals and Manners among Negro Americans, Atlanta 
University Pub. No. 18 (1914), p. 90 ff. 



Christianity and Superstition 527 

may be a remnant of the African fear of exciting the 
envy of dangerous spirits by too much frivolity and 
pleasure. Or else, In part, It may be due to the fact 
that the developing Negro church unconsciously re- 
cognized the futility of attempting to repress the more 
deep-seated natural tendencies, and so began its 
disciplinary career by controlling the less essential 
first. Besides It has not been so long since the more 
conservative Southern churches reversed their con- 
demnation of amusements now highly esteemed — and 
the Negro to a certain degree merely clings to the 
precepts of his first teacher. 

Slave Religion. There are some who say that in 
Negro Christianity we find, not African tradition, but 
the African temperament giving rise to a new and 
original form of Christianity. ^ "In the past, with 
rapidity, the Negro has adopted the religions of the 
Caucasians — sacred animals and tribal totems, demi- 
gods, and nature-spirits, the phallism, fetishism, and 
magic of the earlier Mediterranean faiths, conveyed to 
Negro Africa by the Libyan, Hamite, and HIma; 
then later, Mohammedanism; Christianity; free- 
masonry; faith-healing." - We may indeed question, 
however, the "rapidity" of this process, and observe 
that Christianity Is not the same with all people, but 
that it is modified and reshaped to fit in with their 
secular mores. While the salvation of many be- 
nighted African souls was one argument used to 
justify early Portuguese slave trade, ^ yet this soul- 
saving passion did not always prevail In the days of 



1 Park, R. E., Journal of Negro Hisionj, vol. iv (1919), p. 122. 

2 Johnston, Sir H. H., The Negro in the New World, p. 24. 

' Earnest, J. B., Jr., The Religious Development of the Negro in Virginia, 
p. 21. 



528 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

early American slavery. Down to the latter part of 
the seventeenth century the belief was prevalent in 
America that the Negro was merely a beast, ^ and 
even as late as 1902, from a Bible House in St. Louis 
was published The Negro a Beast, or In the Image of 
God — a book which had an enormous circulation 
among the poorer whites of the South. ^ Burnaby, 
writing in 1759, mentions the fact that the Virginians 
scarcely considered the Negro as being of the human 
species, ^ and Evans, while visiting in North Carolina, 
was startled to be asked concerning the supposed pres- 
ence of a tail and absence of a soul with the African 
Negroes. ^ While I have heard similar queries ad- 
vanced regarding the human qualities of the Southern 
Negro, they are, of course, passing into decay. In the 
earlier days, however, they doubtless exerted a consid- 
erable influence in inhibiting the soul-saving efforts 
of the whites where they thought no soul existed. 

Some of the slaves were Mohammedans, even down 
to relatively recent times, and it is worthy of note 
that in most cases they are described as being superior 
to the other Negroes ^ — possibly because of their 
strangeness which would lead them to have a sort of 
fetishistic control. In other cases, however, the Negro 
slaves looked upon the new African arrivals with much 
the same contempt with which the whites regarded 
Negroes in general ^ — a fact which would tend to make 
the Negro arrivals take on the outward signs of white 



1 Ibid., p. 13. 

"^ Brawley, B., Social History of the American Negro, p. 325. 

^ Quoted in Journal of Negro History, vol. i (1916), p. 399. 

* Evans, M.S., Black and White in the Southern States, pp. 60-61. 

* Lyell, Sir Chas., A Second Visit to the United States of North America, 
vol. i, p. 266. Conrad, Georgia B., Reminiscences of a Southern Woman, 
Southern Workman, vol. 30 (1901), p. 252. 

8 Lyell, Sir Chas., Ibid., p. 267. 



Christianity and Superstition 529 

// 
culture as soon as possibles In many cases, however, 

no deliberate effort was made to give the Negro slaves 

religious training. ''On some plantations they were 

allowed to have their own meeting places, but my 

informant remarks that it was hard to see how her 

father's slaves learned anything about Christianity 

since few of them could read and write and there was 

no one to teach them. ^ * In another case an old slave 

tells of having no churches but meeting for worship 

and prayer in the fence corners. He tells of the 

master whipping one old slave, who prayed for the 

master all the time he was being whipped. His master 

was touched and allowed him to preach to the men 

on the plantation with the result that hundreds were 

converted. ^ 

Negro Church a Social Center. The first Negro 
church in America was a Baptist Church at Silver 
Bluff, South Carolina, founded some time between 
1773 and 1775. ^ Since that time there has been a 
remarkable development along these lines. The Negro, 
with his sociable nature, is always ready to "jine" 
anything, and the church offers him a field — pos- 
sibly the only field — in which he is independent of the 
white man's control, ^ and free to develop an insti- 
tution for Negro needs. Not only did the church 
serve social ends, many entertainments, concerts, 
suppers, socials, fairs, literary and debating exercises, 
cantatas, plays, excursions, picnics, surprise parties, 
and other social gatherings, being held by the members; * 

1 145. 

2 286. 

' Brawley, B., Social History oj the American Negro, p. 66. 

■* Evans, M. S., Black and White in the Southern States, p. 117. 

* Du Bois, W. E. B., The Philadelphia Negro, pp. 203-^5. For a more de- 
tailed discussion of the Negro Church, see Puckett, N. N.. The Negro Church 
in the United States, Social Forces, vol. 4 (1926), p. 581 ff. 

34 



530 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

but it was the center about which scattered Negro 
rural communities grew up, ^ and served as- a nucleus 
around which social ideas and policies might be 
developed towards a definite objective. ^ Since the 
church has been very largely the great focal-point of 
Negro social life, the societal development of the Negro 
has largely centered'around this organization, although 
in time it may be that the school will supplant it. 
With them, as with the Africans, religion is closely 
connected with the activities of daily life. 

Emotional Religion. Religion was the societal or- 
ganization through which the native emotionality 
of the Negro, repressed by the monotonous toil of 
slavery, could find expression. Here his personality 
found relief and outlet, and through his emotional 
ecstasy and his faith in the hereafter he found for- 
bearance and endurance. ^ Brawley recognizes the 
fact, common in most rural sections of the South, that 
the appeal is primarily sensuous and that the Negro 
is thrilled not so much by the moral as by the artistic 
and pictorial elements. ^ The Negro himself testifies 
to this emotional appeal in his songs: 

Of all de folks I like de bes' 
I love de shouting Methodist, 

while the old folks regret the "powerful coldness" of 
the more modern Negro church with its lessened 
emotionality. ^ 



1 Washington, B. T., The Rural Negro Community, Annals American 
Academy Political and Social Science, vol. xl (1912), p. 83. 

2 Stone, A. H., Studies in the American Race Problem, pp. 330-31. 
' Haynes, G. E., The Trend of the Races, p. 77 ff. 

■• Brawley, B., Social History of the American Negro, p. 381. 
* Barton, W. C, Old Plantation Hymns, p. 19. 



Christianity and Superstition 531 

Before the revival service "an air of intense excite- 
ment prevails; the Negroes are expecting strange and 
occult happenings." ^ Several years of experience 
with Negro labor in Mississippi has taught me to expect 
a serious "laying off" of "hands" during this revival 
period, and Earnest mentions the fact that the Ameri- 
can Tobacco Company had to "lay off its hands" be- 
cause of the religious frenzy of the great revival in 
Norfolk in 1911.2 

Praise-houses. Everywhere before the service there 
is a long period of singing, tapping of feet on the 
floor, and rhythmic swaying of the body. This seems 
in itself to produce a sort of hypnotic eifect, leading 
to a breakdown of rational inhibitions and to a free 
display of emotions — the Negroes themselves say that 
the spirit will not descend without song. ^ On the 
Sea Islands, especially, where many of the Negroes 
had never seen a white face and where clothing was 
absent or at a minimum in the case of the young, 
superstitions reigned almost supreme, * and here we 
find perhaps the richest survivals of the slavery time 
"shout." This generally takes place in the "praise- 
houses" — most of the Negroes becoming converted 
here rather than in the church itself. ^ Even as late 
as 1912, Weatherford reports on St. Helena Island, 
S. C, seven churches and nearly a hundred praise- 
houses scattered over the island, in which services 
were held every Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, and 

1 Snyder, H., A Plantation Revival Service, Yale Review, Oct. 1920, p. 169. 

2 Earnest, J. B., Jr., The Religious Development of the Negro in Virginia 
p. 167. 

^ Snyder, H., A Plantation Revival Service, Yale Review, Oct. (1920), p. 172. 

* Southern Workman, vol. 30 (1901), pp. 185-86, and vol. 29 (1900), 
p. 388. Towne, Laura M., Pioneer Work on the Sea Islands, Ibid., vol. 30 
(1901), p. 399. 

5 Park, R. E., Journal of Negro History, vol. 4 (1919), pp. 122-23. 



532 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

Sunday night. ^ The slavery time "shout" consisted 
of moving about in a ring, shuffling the feet along inch 
by inch, sometimes dancing silently, but more fre- 
quently singing spirituals. "The foot is hardly taken 
from the floor, and the progression is mainly due to a 
jerking, hitching motion, which agitates the entire 
shouter, and soon brings out streams of perspiration." 
It is possible that the whole ceremony is a relic of 
some native African dance. ^ Mrs. Parsons reports 
much the same sort of things going on today on the 
outskirts of Beaufort. ^ 

The Emotion-expert. In this emotional religion per- 
haps the chief personage, the emotion-expert as it 
were, is the preacher. He it is who with one hand 
exalts his tense audience to the very Glory of Glories 
and with the other wallows them in the swamp-mud 
of despond, playing upon the whole gamut of their 
feelings until the real is overwhelmed and forgotten 
in the unspeakable bliss or pain of the imaginary. 
Like the fetish-man of Africa, his authority depends 
partly upon his supernatural call to preach. Sol 
Lockhart was taken up in a fiery west wind while 
ploughing; he saw a ladder reaching into heaven and 
a church with Sol Lockhart behind the pulpit. Later 
on, his mule started talking to him; he saw an empty 
red coffin, the spirit of God in the shape of a bird, a 
man in a long white robe; buildings of white stone in 
heaven, and a dead head all torn up with rotten teeth. * 

' Weatherford, W. D., Present Forces in Negro Progress, p. 30. 
^ Allen, W. F., Slave Songs of the United States, Preface pp. xii-xv. 
» Parsons, E. C, Folk-Lore of the Sea Islands, S. C, M. A. F. L. S., 
vol. 16 (1923), pp. 205-06. 

^Steiner, R., Sol Lockhart' s Call, J. A. F. L., vol. 13 (1900), pp. 67-70. 



Christianity and Superstition 533 

"Aunt Cindy" had a somewhat more materialistic 
foundation for her divine power. She was a "preacher- 
woman" who could do miracles, her chief one being 
to walk on the water — or rather upon a staging ar- 
ranged beneath the slimy green water of the bayou. 
All went well until some mischievous boys sawed a 
part of her staging away. She went through into 
the bosom of the pond, but even then her power was 
not irrevocably lost — the Negroes merely thought 
that her faith had failed her in the middle of the water. '■ 
Booker T. Washington noticed that the call to preach 
generally came just when a person was beginning to 
learn to read, and that these convulsive spirit voices 
have stilled somewhat with the opening up of more 
industrial occupations. ^ 

The Sermon. Mighty is the power of the word in 
the hands of an illiterate vendor of emotions. The text 
was, "Who is worthy to drink the cup .?" The following 
is an extract from the sermon: "Now I want you to get 
the bird called the Curiosity that can fly sixty-seven 
hundred thousand miles in a minute, and he carried 
him in the valley and he said that the cup foamed so 
wrathy and the wrath looked so bitter and won't 
drink it up, 0-o-oh, no-o (groans)." » During the 
heat of the sermon every pause is punctuated by a 
long drawn out "Ah-h-h" which not only gives the 
preacher time to think up something to -say next, 
but also, through Its dull repetition, has a sort of 
tom-tom eifect upon the nervous system — even upon 
that of an educated white observer trained In emotional 



1404. 

2 Washington, B. T., Up from Slavery, p. 82. 

' Southern Workma7i, vol. 24 (1895), p. 61. 



534 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

control. One minister of my acquaintance introduced 
an effective variation this summer, as follows: "Wal' 
brethern — oh mah Lawd — look et ole Norah — oh mah 
Lawd — buildin' on de Ark — oh mah Lawd— folkes a- 
laughin' at him — oh mah Lawd— 'fo' long de rain 
came — oh mah Lawd— didn't have no shelter — oh 
mah Lawd — no place ter sot a fiah — oh mah Lawd — 
etc." Borne on the wings of the frenzy the preacher 
rhythmically propels his audience to the dizzy threshold 
of heaven, swooping suddenly for a whiif of the brim- 
stone in order that they may appreciate more poignantly 
the heights he has reached. If the speaker is slow 
but willing, the leader may ask the audience to "mourn 
him, up, chillun!" Beginning with a soft rhythm the 
chant increases in intensity and "amens" until the 
minister finds images with astounding rapidity, speaks 
in rhythm, gives full movement to head, arms, feet, 
eyes and face, and loses his self-consciousness in 
ecstasy. ^ In this way the crowd can make or break 
a preacher — sweep him along on a thundering crest of 
eloquence or chili him into stammering silence. The 
preacher must give the crowd what it wants, which 
leads me to believe that efforts to lift Negro religion 
out of the grasp of sensuous emotion must ultimately 
lie, not primarily in the education of the ministry, 
but in the education of the congregation. 

"y^ Sli-pperance uv de Tongue.^'' It matters not what 
the illiteracy of the minister so long as he can play 
upon the feelings and think with the tongue. One 
old Negro preacher could not read. "De Scripture 
sez," he quoted, "ebby tub mus' stan' on hit's own 



^ For an example, see Davenport, P\ M., Primitive Traits in Religious 
Revivals, pp. 50-5 L 



Christianity axd Superstition 535 

bottom." If caught drinking, "De Scripture sez hit 
ain't no harm ter drink a leetle perviding ef you goes 
off by yo'se'f an' doan' bodder nobody." When 
caught in a misquotation (the Negroes called it "a 
lie") he would reply, "De Scripture sez a slipperance 
uv de tongue ain' no strain on de backbone." ^ Another 
Negro announced his text from "de two-eyed chapter 
of de one-eyed John," meaning the second chapter of 
first John. He had mistaken the Roman numerals 
"I" for the capital letter "I"— hence "I" would be 
one "i", "11", two "i's" and so on. - I heard one 
sermon preached on Mark 5:1-13, where Christ sent 
the devils from a man into a herd of swine, the man's 
name being "Legion" on account of the large number 
of demons within him. This sermon was a tirade 
against the terrible sin of saying you had " 'ligion" 
(confused with "legion") when you meant "religion." 
When you say you have " 'ligion" you mean you have 
the thousand demons in you, but "re" means "again" 
and "re-ligion" means you are born again or saved. 
Almost always in my observation the Negro preacher 
prefers to deal with narrative events of Biblical heroes, 
and Snyder, also noting this preference for mytho- 
logical texts, especially parts of the Old Testament, 
states that the plantation Negro's mind seems to be 
in the myth-making stage. ^ This tendency towards 
the mystical is shown by the addresses recently given 
in a Mississippi Negro tent-meeting. Among them 
were "The Mark of the Beast and the Mystic Number 
666 of Rev. 13:18." "The Sealing of the 144,000," 

141. 
2 384. 

^ Snyder, H., A Plantation Revival Service, Yale Review, Oct. 1920, 
p. 172. 



536 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

"What is the Seal"? "When Hell Burns Out What 
Follows"? and similar subjects. 

^'Comin Thru^ Du Bois says that the preacher, 
the music, and the frenzy are the three things char- 
acterizing slave religion. ^ The frenzy would seem to 
be an outgrowth of the other two, and indeed it could 
scarcely be otherwise. After the minister, more or 
less immoral, perhaps, but with great personal mag- 
netism, has seared his audience with a hell as red and 
fiendish as the cover of a conjure-bag, the troubled 
members of the church silently surround the filled 
"mo'nahs' bench" — a series of benches in front, gen- 
erally arranged in the shape of a square with the side 
towards the pulpit open. Some one prays — a fervent 
personal prayer, aimed at individual mourners, throw- 
ing the pitiless light of truth on their sins: "Oh Lawd 
(pray, Sistah, pray) — dere's ole High-Pocket Tony 
(Lawd, Lawd, he'p him) — shootin' craps all de time 
(hab mussy, Lawd) — playin' baseball when he oughter 
be hearin' Thy Word (hab mussy, Lawd) — lyin' an' 
cussin' (pray on, sistah) — bring him to us, Lawd, 
pleeze we ax Thee, Lawd, bring him to us (amen, 
Lawd, amen,), etc." ^ Then a song perhaps: 

Oh whar you runnin', sinnah, you cain't hide! 
Oh whar you runnin', sinnah, you cain't hide! 
Oh whar you runnin', sinnah, you cain't hide! 
You cain't hide, sinnah, — you caint hide! 
You is bound fer de judgment — you cain't hide, etc. 
De rocks will be melted— yoM cain't hide, etc. 



1 Du Bois, W. E. B., The Souls of Black Folk, pp. 190-9L 

2 Negro prayers are usually extremely personal, practical, and full of 
flattery, very much like the African variety. For examples of African prayers, 
see Ellis, A. B., Ewe-speaking Peoples, pp. 72-73. Nassau, R. H., Fet- 
ichism in West Africa, pp. 97-98. Tvlor, E. B., Primitive Culture, vol. ii, 
pp. 367-68. 



Christianity and Superstition 537 

The mourner is already weakened by days and nights 
of fasting and praying. The thundering refrain, "l^o^ 
cain't hide, sinnahV accompanied by a pounding and 
stamping of feet ("Ef you doan' stamp in de 'Hgion 
hit woan' git no further dan de ceiHn'"), ^ pierces his 
weary heart. The "exhorters," including the powerful 
preacher and various and sundry awesome conjure- 
doctors, lay hands upon the kneeling "mo'nahs" 
and urge them to "take de Lawd." Prayers and 
songs follow one another until way into the night in 
endless succession. The sinner is reminded that 
"Ebbybody got ter lay down an' die." His sins are 
pointed out: "Doan' let Him ketch you on de ballroom 
floor"; a way is shown: "So glad — done got ovah!"; 
and he is warned "Doan' you let no liah turn you 
'roun', etc." - The power of mass suggestion is too 
great — I am almost convicted myself, even though 
only on the outskirts of the crowd — the "mo'nah," 
often only a child, untutored in the repression of 
emotions, and wearied by days of fasting and prayer — 
often in the graveyard — "comes thru," leaps from his 
seat and rushes wildly into the night shouting his 
gladness to the stars. Later on he will tell of his 
vision and be baptized — he may forget the excitement 
of that moment and revert to his old sin — no matter, 
he is safe in the folds of the church. ^ On the Sea 
Islands much the same program is followed, except 

1404. 

2 The songs quoted here are some I collected from the Negroes of Lowndes 
County, Miss. They have countless other revival songs rich with threats 
and promises among which, "Jesus gona make up my dyin'-baid," "Gawd 
gimme a light — gwinter let hit shine," "Wonder where's dat gamblin' man?" 
and "Go to de wilderness," stand out most prominently in my mind. 

^ The materials for this description were taken from various Negro rural 
churches near Columbus, Miss. 



538 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

that here dream-signs are probably a Httle more 
closely observed, and the "candidate" has a little white 
cloth or string tied around his head to mark him off 
from the rest. ^ During the intense heat of the 
revival service members of the congregation, whether 
already in the church or not, frequently go off into 
convulsions, stagger upright in their seats, shrieking, 
and hurl themselves struggling into the arms of those 
behind them, or go spinning down the aisles with 
eyes closed and arms outstretched. My experience 
has been that the women are much more superstitious 
and much more subject to these trances than men, a 
fact which other observers have likewise noticed. ^ 

Resemblance to Africa. In Africa, ordinary people 
who are naturally shy, under stress of religious excite- 
ment dance boldly in public, speak incoherently, and 
are thought by the Ibo people to be possessed by a 
spirit, ^ just as the American Negro convert claims 
possession by the Holy Spirit. Ellis gives us a de- 
scription of the testing-out ceremony for new priests 
among the Ewes, differing only in degree from those I 
have seen applied to Negro "converts" in America. 
"Drums struck up. . . . After a time one of 
the new priests who was sitting down, began to tremble 
and roll his eyes. A god was beginning to take pos- 
session of him. . . . the trembling increa J, 
and soon the priest was shuddering as if in an ague fit. 
Every portion of his body seemed to shake, the head, 
arms, legs, abdomen, and pectoral muscles, all quiver- 

1 Parsons, E. C, Folk-Lore of the Sea Islands, S. C, M. A. F. L. S., vol. 16 
(1923), pp. 204-05. 

^Barton, W. E., Old Plantation Hymns, p. 41. Bruce, P. A., 
Plantation Negro as a Freedman, p. 27. 

^ Leonard, A. G., The Lower Niger and Its Tribes, pp. 227-28. 



»\'Y 




POSSESSION BY THE SPIRIT 
(A Mississippi baptismal service) 



Christianity and Superstition 539 

ing violently. . . . Next, with open mouth and 
protruding tongue, and with eyes wildly rolling, he 
worked himself, still seated and quivering violently, 
into the middle of the arena. There he suddenly 
leaped into the air, extending his arms over his head, 
and the quivering ceased. His eyes were closed, his 
tongue hung from his mouth, and with the slow, 
uncertain gait of a drunken man, he walked backwards 
and forwards." ^ Here again it was the old people, 
and particularly the old women, who were the most 
impressed and who had the most faith in the genuine- 
ness of the whole proceeding. - 

White Examples. This emotional phenomena, in- 
cluding visions, is not restricted by any means, to 
Negro races. In the Scotch-Irish Kentucky revival 
of 1800 the "singing ecstasy"; "falling exercise"; the 
"jerks"; the "barking exercise," wherein all the 
votaries gathered on all fours, growling and snap- 
ping at the foot of a tree as the minister preached 
— a practice which they designated as "treeing the 
devil"; "strains of heaven" (visions); and the "holy 
laugh," on the part of the whites, ^ show the experiences 
to be common to all individuals with whom the artificial 
discipline of culture is but little developed. Even the 
Puritans had similar visions, and "the Greek Rhap- 
sodists, according to Plato, could not recite Homer 
without almost falling into convulsions." * So great 
is this hypnotic religious power that in one case in 
Tennessee a Negro church member who had stolen 

^ Ellis, A. B., Tshi-speaking Peoples, p. 131 ff. 

^ Ibid., p. 137. 

' Davenport, F. M., Primitive Traits in Religious Revivals, pp. 60-86. 

* Faduma, O., The Defects of the Negro Church, p. 16. 



540 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

and sold a donation gathered for a minister, Including 
also a pair of steers and cart owned by an old woman, 
by means of preaching and singing, persuaded the 
congregation, even down to the old woman herself, 
to forgive him for the theft. ^ 

Negro Visions. Many and varied are the visions 
related by these converts when "confessing" or "testi- 
fying" before the congregations. In some cases a 
little white man chops open the breast with an ax, 
takes out the heart, pours out the black blood, washes 
It pure In the purple stream, and closes In the opening. ^ 
In other cases the person tests out his religion by asking 
that a speck of cloud be removed suddenly from the sky 
or that a cloud be created. Others ask that simple 
things like crickets or stars (In the daytime) be made 
suddenly to appear, or that the Lord let them hear 
some one moan. If these requests are Immediately 
granted the person Is sure that salvation has been 
granted him. Other visions are more complicated — 
such as seeing the devil and the fiery furnace, or, In 
another case, the Lord telling a woman that He 
"would be her teddy 'till the big bear came." ^ In 
other cases the Negroes are told to go to the graveyard 
and pray and look for signs during the whole night * — 
a process which, by adding terror to the strain of wake- 
fulness and hunger, would tend more rapidly to weaken 
the nervous system to the "vision point." An Ala- 
bama witness tells of a woman convert's vision: "Ah 



1 Davenport, F. M., Primitive Traits in Religious Revivals, pp. 52-53. 

2 Ibid., p. 15. 

'341. The term "teddy" is used by the Negroes to indicate a suitor 
of second choice — the "big bear" is the preferred suitor. 

< 117, and 308. Smiley, P., Folk-Lore from Va., S. C, Ga., Ala., and 
Fla., J. A. F. L., vol. 32 (1919), p. 369. 



Christianity and Superstition 541 

wuz tu'k by a strand uv my hair and shuck over hell, 
and all de hair broke and Ah wuz about to fall in hell. 
Ah looked down and there Ah see'd a black man, and Ah 
know'd dat wuz de debul, and Ah sed, 'Lawd, hab 
mussy!' And jes' as dat-ah black man wuz tryin' ter 
ketch me on his pitch-fork, Ah see'd a littl' w'ite man 
and Ah know'd dat wuz Jesus, and Ah sed, 'Sabe me, 
Lawd!' And dat littl' w'ite man tu'k and kicked dat 
black man in de haid and he fell back in hell, and dat 
w'ite man tu'k me in His arms, and Ah know Ah's got 
de 'ligion, caze Ah felt lak Ah nebber felt befo'I''^ 
One Louisiana woman says in describing her "speri- 
ence": "I had a long road ter trabbl.' I see'd myse'f 
hangin' obber ole hell by de strands uv mah hair. 
I sho' thought I wuz gone fer good, but den a littl' 
ole w'ite man came in ole hell an' lif me out wid his 
lily-w'ite ban's. I had six wings hitched on ter me an' 
I sho' flew 'way f'um dat-ah place. 'Nudder time I 
see'd myse'f laid out on a table. Dat same littl' 
w'ite man wid de lily-w'ite hands cut me plum' open, 
tu'k mah heart out, an' rinsed hit in drippin' blood 
ontil hit wuz w'ite ez snow." ^ A Georgia convert 
told of God being a little white man about two feet 
high with pretty hair, ending her testimony by mourn- 
ing and singing "Ain' dat pretty hair.? Ain' dat 
pretty hair.'*" Another told of the devil chasing him 
over the cotton rows. ^ A Mississippi woman was 
taken up into heaven on a milk-white horse and 
girdled with a golden girdle. Another man was told 
by the Lord to get lower and lower. He kept on 
"humblin' hisse'f" until finally he got under the very 

1397. 

= 185. 

3 111. 



542 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

feet of Jesus — then "ligion*" came. ^ In parts of 
Georgia they say that if a person has not hung over hell 
on a spider web that that person has not been con- 
verted. 2 One Negro was picked up into heaven in a 
white cloud, where the Lord spoke to him in the form 
of a flaming circle. ^ Still another was accompanied 
by an old woman without a head, in her quest for 
religion. ^ Charity Sherrod, an old Mississippi slave, 
was called by voices in the night. The devil often 
appeared to her in the form of a dog, and while working 
in the "new ground" a whole pack of spirit-hounds 
("hell-hounds") chased her. Her dead grandmother, 
whom she had never seen, appeared and told her her 
name, a fact which she later verified by her father. 
A white lamb appeared at her side. She traveled to a 
river, began to sink while crossing, the devil almost 
grabbed her, but the Lord asked for her ticket and 
took her on to heaven. '" 

'"''Mrs. God.'' One Negress went to heaven and 
^^saw Jesus's wife,'"' and found Jesus plowing with a 
golden plow. She saw Jesus's bed, and also had dinner 
with them. They had turnip-greens for dinner. When 
she passed the plow it said, "booh!" ^ Another old 
woman went up to heaven and asked for "Mr. God." 
"Mrs. God was sitting behind the door patching Mr. 
God's pants." " Cases such as these show us that the 
golden streets of the Negro have at least a small 
sprinkling of common earth, and that their heaven is 

1345. 

2 240. 
»118. 
*341. 
5324. 
e341. 
'276. 



Christianity and Superstition 543 

at least somewhat related to the African other-world, 
which is built entirely in terms of this world. ^ Wives, 
turnip-greens, plows, and pants may seem to us out of 
harmony with pearly gates, golden harps, and thinly 
draped angels, but the more primitive man can under- 
stand the hereafter only in relation to the here. It 
is to be noticed, however, that these visions apply 
only to the more illiterate Negroes (and whites). 
The educated ones rapidly give up the idea and adopt 
a type of religion more like that of the educated 
whites. - In fact, one may find all types of Negro 
churches, varying in emotionality from the ecstatic 
rural church to the colder educated congregation, 
with all stages in between. 

The ^''Foot-wash''' and "//o/y Dances'' The Negro 
is inclined to take the Bible literally, and many are the 
practices resulting from this interpretation, or from 
doctrinal points laid down by various ministers who 
thereby cater more effectively to the emotional de- 
mands of their congregations. In many parts of the 
South the "foot-wash" is still observed, ^ in which 
service the members show their humility by washing 
one another's feet. In the many cases the service 
is followed by the "shout," including, of course, danc- 
ing without crossing the feet. The Negroes sing of the 
"Rocking Daniel" dance; "Takes a little bit of man to 
rock Dan," ^ and one of my informants tells me that 
this type of dance is sometimes of a sensual nature 

^ See, for instance: Kingsley, M. H.^ Travels in West Africa, p. 587. 
Milligan, R. H., Fetish Folk of West Africa, p. 241. Ellis, A. B., 
Ewe-speaking Peoples, p. 108. 
^193, and my own observations. 

' 141, and Southern Workman, vol. 25 (1896), p. 82, and 101-02. 
*57. 



544 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

where men and women dance together. She has 
heard of the "Flower Dance," but has never seen one 
going on. ^ The Sanctified people have a good deal 
of apparent jig dancing going on in their services, as 
well as the "Holy Kiss." The "Holy Rollers," of 
course, also have their peculiar form of worship, 
involving, I am informed, some gross immorality at 
times. In his religious affairs the Negro often shows 
the African tendency to make no absolute distinction 
between man and beasts. This is shown by the 
Alabama "sheep-calling" Baptists when the members 
hide in the bushes and answer, "Ba! Ba!" to the 
to the "Coo-oo sheep! Coo-oo-sh'p-Cooshy-coo-oo 
sheep!" of the pastor dressed as a shepherd, finally 
following him inside and partaking of the sacramental 
black bread for the unbeliever and white bread for 
the "true sheep." ^ In another case a man was 
ploughing on Sunday when his mule and dog started 
talking to him. He never ploughed again on that 
day. 3 

Christianity and Culture. These cases illustrate 
some of the outstanding points in the Negro's Chris- 
tianity. Some superstition is found, of course — it is 
found with backward white Christians as well, for,, 
to a certain extent the Negro's religion is simply a 
recapitulation of that of the Southern whites. Chris- 
tianity was too involved for the Negro to have grasped 
it bodily upon his arrival in this country, even if he 
had had the opportunity for so doing. American super- 

1 141. See Davenport, F. M., Primitive Trails in Religious Revivals, 
pp. 54-55. 

2/6zd.,p. 48. 

3 Parsons, E. C, Folk-Lore of the Sea Isla7ids,S. C, M. A. F. L. S., vol. 16 
(1923), p. 71. 



Christianity and Superstition 545 

stitlons, however, were more in line with his African 
reHgious beHefs, and, encouraged partly by his 
owners, who found this a ready method of control, 
the slave adopted some which still adhere to Negro 
religion. The contact for such spread of superstitions 
came mainly through the household servants (estimated 
as including about one-fourth of the total slave popula- 
tion). 1 Superstition is of some value as a disciplinary 
force, but when culture changes, the objects of discipline 
need also to change — thus the Negro largely took 
over Anglo-Saxon folk-beliefs while clinging to a great 
number of his own folk-tales, which indeed were 
appreciated by the white children — the main members 
of the household with whom he came constantly into 
contact. The weaker the self-maintenance and gov- 
ernmental organization, the more the spirits are needed 
to supplement the efforts of impotent man. The slave 
was sure of his living and his master saw to the pro- 
tection of his life. He had no property in his own 
name. The aleatory element and the uncertainties of 
life were probably less pronounced than in Africa, 
which all meant that such of his religious beliefs as he 
brought over would tend to be forgotten or to be 
placed on a somewhat lower plane — the plane of 
superstition rather than of religion. The absence of an 
organized priesthood in America would also make it 
harder for such beliefs to endure. The mere fact that 
a people profess to be Christians does not necessarily 
mean that their Christianity is of the same type as 
our own. The way in which a people interpret 
Christian doctrines depends largely upon their secular 
customs and their traditions of the past. There is 

' Tillinghast, J. A., The Negro in Africa and America, p. 126. 

35 



546 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

an infinite difFcrcncc between the Christianity of the 
North and South in America, between that of city 
and country, and between that of whites and colored, 
due in the main to their different modes of hfe and 
social backgrounds. Most of the time the Negro 
outwardly accepts the doctrines of Christianity and 
goes on living according to his own conflicting secular 
mores, but sometimes he enlarges upon the activities 
of God to explain certain phenomena not specifically 
dealt with in the Holy Scriptures. Thus the Sea 
Island Negroes, not fully content with the Biblical 
justification of the color-code, say that in the begin- 
ning God gave man two bundles wrapped up, one big 
and one small. He gave the Negro first choice and 
he greedily chose the biggest bundle, whicii contained 
a hoe and plough and ax, forcing him to do all the 
manual work in the world. The little bundle of the 
white man contained a pen and ink, and he consequently 
was given the indoor work. ' Besides being a slave 
explanation of the existing social order, this story 
has also a moral turn in that it shows the evil results 
of greediness, and, incidentally, the reverence of the 
Negro for writing. 

Christ'uuiity in Africa. Before taking up more 
specifically the Negro interpretation of Christianity 
it is interesting to note some of the ^■icissitudes of our 
religion in Africa. We find, for instance, that ''most 
of the Wolofs profess themselves Mohammedans, the 
rest Catholics, which arc alike heathen at heart, only 
the former have charms with texts fn^n the Koran 
which thev cannot read, and the latter, medals and 



' Davis, H. C, Negro luilh-Lorc in South Carolitta, ./. .1. F. L., vol. 27 
(1914), p. 244. 



Christianity and Superstition 547 

scapulars of the 'Seven Dolours' or of the Trinity, 
which they cannot understand. Many old rites still 
flourish, the household gods are not forgotten, and for 
the lizard, most popular of tutelar deities, the cus- 
tomary milk bowl is daily replenished." ' Real ad- 
vance in civilization must be founded upon advance 
in self-maintenance, - and many reliable investigators 
deplore the eflforts of some missionaries in attempting 
to build up a civilization by simply changing a religion. •■♦ 
Indeed harm is at times wrought in that the natives 
"have had the restraint of fear removed from their 
minds in the mission schools without the greater re- 
straint of love being put in its place." "* Part of this, 
however, is no doubt due to the fact that the white 
man, with whom Christianity is closely associated 
in the mind of the savage, has also linked up his name 
with other less reputable activities. Thus, in Liberia 
there is a rum factory which the natives call "The 
Good Jesus Factory" — "Christianity and rum being 
closely associated In the minds of the natives." ■' "It 
is In no way unbelief which makes difficult the work 
of missionaries among savages. They believe every- 
thing which Is explained to them as a revelation, 
but it does not grasp and Influence their life in the 
desired way. They distinguish it, as many reports 
testify, always as the revelation of a strange god to 
strange men; it is not their revelation."*"' The Tshi 
people attributed the great superiority of the whites 

' Keane, A. H., Man: Past and PreNcnt, p. 49. 
2 Keller, A. G., Societal Evolution, p. 141 ff. 

' Thomson, J., Notes on the African Tribes of the British Empire, J. A. I., 
vol. xvi (1887), p. 184. Ellis, A. B., Ewe-speaking Peoples, p. 12. 
^ Kingsley, M. H., Travels in West Africa, p. 659 and 069. 
'' Afro-American Encyclopedia, p. 227. 
" Lippert, J., Kullurgeschichte der Menschheil, vol. i, \y. 101. 



548 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

to the fact that they were protected by a deity of 
greater power than any of those to which they them- 
selves offered sacrifice. Thus they gladly accepted 
the white man's God, but simply added Him to their 
already numerous family of deities. Even then He 
is considered too distant to interfere ordinarily in 
human affairs, and, except in times of special calamity, 
is ignored rather than worshipped. ^ 

The Devil in Africa and America. The Africans 
cling to their tendency to worship the malevolent 
even after they have heard of Christianity. One 
bishop asked them why they persisted in worshiping 
the devil instead of God. The reply was, "God is 
good, God is love and don't hurt anybody — do as you 
please, God don't hurt you; but do bad and the devil 
will get you sure! We need not bother about God, 
but we try to keep on the good side of the devil." ^ 
The Southern Negro likewise gives the devil as a 
personage considerably more attention than is paid 
him by the present whites, though in the past both in 
Britain and in the Early Colonies ^ as well as in other 
parts of the world ^ this personage was greatly feared 
if not actually respected, seeming to show that the 
Africans were not alone in their emphasis of the ma- 
levolent element in religion. Let us now consider this 
and other addenda made by these Negroes to Chris- 
tianity. In the main, the Negro shows his principal 
departures by adding on beliefs not included in the 
white man's conception of Christianity, and by seeking 

1 Ellis, A. B., Tshi-speaking Peoples, pp. 24-30. 

2 Race Problems of the South, p. 143. 

^ Ashton, J., The Devil in Britain and America. 

* Carus, P,, The History oj the Devil and the Idea of Evil. , 



Christianity and Superstition 549 

through Christianity the achievement of ends not 
sanctioned by the estabhshed canons. In the former 
class we find that behef which has already been men- 
tioned, that rain while the sun is shining indicates 
that the devil is whipping his wife (behind the door ^ 
or around the stump) - for not having turnip greens or 
cornbread for dinner. ^ Somewhat akin to this is 
that every Friday the jaybird (redbird * and mocking 
bird) ^ visit hell to take kindling, « sand, ^ or a drop of 
water ^ to the devil. Some say that this grain of sand 
is a ransom for the souls in hell, who cannot be released 
until all the sand on the surface of the earth has been 
carried below; ^ while others take the view that the 
jaybirds sold themselves to the devil at one time for 
an ear of corn, and are obliged to take sticks and sand 
to him every Friday to make his fire hot, ^ ^ for, as one 
of the Calhoun children explains, "the wicked will 
always burn in torment as long as there is any sand 
there." ^ ^ One Negro folk-rhyme, however, gives the 
impression that the devil uses the sand to blind people: 

Did you ever see de devil wid his iron handled shovel, 

A-scrapin' up de san' in his ole tin pan? 

He cuts up mighty funny, he steals all yo' money, 

He blinds you wid his san'. He's tryin' to git you, man 1 ^ ^ 



1 132, and 141. 

2 141. 

3 404. 

M02, and Southern Workman, vol. 23 (1894), p. 15. 

5 Showers, Susan B., Alabama Folk-Lore, Southern Workman, vol. 29 
(1900), p. 180. 

6 Price, Sadie F., Kentucky Folk-Lore, J. A. F. L., vol. 14 (1901), p. 53. 
'Lee, C, Some Negro Lore from Baltimore, J. A. F. L., vol. 5 (1892), 

p.m. Also informant 342. 

8 352. 

9 Southern Workman, vol. 24 (1895), p. 78. 

10 42. 

1 1 Two Negro Tales Concerning the Jay, Southern Workman, vol. 27 (1898), 
p. 17. 

1 2 51, and Talley, T. W., Negro Folk Rhymes, p. 93. 



550 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

Other Negroes, notably in Maryland, hold that the 
jaybird is a sort of sin-reporter, making a trip to hell 
every third day to tell the devil about the people's 
sins. 1 The devil is also to a certain extent associated 
with the hog, the mischievousness of this animal being 
due to the fact that the devil jumps from time to time 
through his hind feet. - 

Negro Devil-forms . To the Negroes the devil is a 
very real individual, generally anthropomorphic, but 
capable of taking almost any form at will. He walks 
constantly upon the earth, always interfering with 
human affairs. Sometimes he is invisible, as where 
an old slave woman heard the "bomp-bomp-bomp" 
of the devil's footsteps while she was trying to convert 
a sick sinner, though no one was visible. ^ So hypo- 
critical is this evil one that he will borrow a person's 
skin while that person is sleeping and masquerade about 
in the disguise of that particular individual. * Most 
of the time, however, when going about on the earth, 
the Negro devil has the appearance of a gentleman, 
wearing a high silk hat, and a frock coat, and having 
an "ambrosial curl" in the center of his forehead to 
hide the single horn which is located there. Mrs. 
Virginia Frazer Boyle tells me that when she was 
first taken to church by her father and mother she used 
to scan the congregation eagerly for a man with that 
"ambrosial curl" and one with the "evil eye", which her 
old Negro nurse had told her were to be found in 



1 Bergen, F. D., On the Eastern Shore, J.A.F.L., vol. 2 (1899), pp. 229-300. 

231,0. 

3 324. 

^ Boyle, Mrs. V. F., Devil Tales, p. 209. 



Christianity axd Superstition 551 

every crowd, even in church, ^ In most cases this 
Negro devil has cloven feet, - a characteristic also 
credited to him in European circles. ^ Possibly the 
black cat is the animal most chosen by the Negro devil 
for impersonation; some go so far as to say that all 
black cats represent the devil in disguise, ^ "settin' up 
dere 'fo' de fiah larnin' folks' business an' schemin' 
up ways ter tempt 'em." ^ One Negro killed such a 
cat by hanging it with a greased rope; he had all sorts 
of bad luck until a hoodoo treated him and set fire to 
his cabin. When nothing was left but ashes, there, 
in the midst of the hot coals, sat this same black cat, 
but the man's troubles were over; his soul and body 
were free. "^ Nevertheless the devil is not limited to 
this particular form but may appear as a rabbit, 
terrapin, serpent, housefly, grasshopper, toad, bat, or 
yellow dog at will. '^ To the Mississippi Negroes he 
often appears as a black billy-goat;^ a view strictly 
in keeping with his custom at the English witches' 
Sabbath. ^ In New Orleans it is thought by some 
that snakes and black cats are incarnations of the 
devil. When the Ames crevasse occurred, multitudes 
of snakes were left upon the subsiding water and the 
Negroes refused to kill them. ^ ^ A curious combination 
of Scripture and devil-lore is found in the Georgia 
142. 

2 141, and Boyle, V. F., Devil Tales, pp. 114-15. 

3 Chambers, R., Popular Rhymes of Scotland, p. 61, and Lean's Col- 
lectanea, vol. 2, p. 431. 

*54. 

5 65. 

6 Bovle, Mrs. V. F., Devil Tales, p. 178 ff. 
' Ibid., pp. 89, and 107-31. 

8 141, 286, and 404. 

^ Brand, J., Popular Antiquities oj Great Britain, vol. 3, p. 10. 
1" Bergen, F. D., Animal and Plant Lore, .1/. A. F. L. <S'., vol. 7 (1899), 
p. 86. 



552 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

belief regarding the graveyard snake. Tliis snake is 
mostly black with yellow splotches on the back. It 
lives all the time in the graveyard where it grieves and 
mourns. When the devil in the form of a serpent 
succeeded in tempting Adam and Eve he laughed 
until he split himself; the spirit part of him goes about 
tempting folks and helping hoodoos, but the material 
part lives in the graveyard. The skin of a graveyard 
snake worn about the waist will enable you to conquer 
your enemies; the hand anointed with grease from 
such a snake can always steal things without being 
observed. "Hoodoo folks is mighty fond er eating 
snakes, 'case hit makes dem wise an' cute; but dey 
don't dar ter eat er grabeyard snake, 'case dey ud be 
eatin' de debbel hisself, an' he couldn't he'p 'em no 
more." Make an image of a person out of graveyard 
snake-oil mixed with flour or sand, bake it good by an 
open fire, and you can give a person pains in any part 
of his body by sticking pins in the image. You have 
him "snake-hoodooed," and that is the worst kind of 
hoodoo. Satan himself may be summoned to help 
you in your black art by getting a button off a grave- 
yard rattler, sewing it up with a piece of silver in a 
little red flannel bag, and wearing it over your heart. 
Say a verse out of the Bible backwards at twelve o'clock 
on the crossroads on a moonlight night, and old Nick 
will come running up to meet you. '■ 

The Faust Legend. This idea suggests somewhat the 
European Faust legend, and, indeed there are many 
variants of the theme in many parts of the Negro 
South. Ole Satan is a conjurer; a belief expressed 
even in religious songs: 



1 Backus, Mrs. E. M., and Leitner, Mrs. E. H., Tales from Georgia, J. A 
F. L., vol. 25 (1912), p. 133. 



Christianity and Superstition 553 

De debbil am a liah an' a conjurer too, 

Ef you doan' look out he'll conjure you, etc. ^ 

Being a mighty conjurer himself, it stands to reason 
that he is the proper one to teach others the black 
art. But conjuring represents an African survival, 
and it is worthy of note that part of this former religion 
was not entirely abandoned but merely given a sub- 
ordinate part in the new system; i.e. attributed to the 
evil element in the cult. In accordance with this 
belief that the devil is a master in the black art, one of 
the first things a person should do when wanting to 
become a witch is to go to a crossroads and pray to the 
devil for nine days and nine nights. ^ Strange to say, 
playing the fiddle or banjo is thought to be a special 
accomplishment of the devil, ^ and such instruments 
are tabooed to good church-folk, though the piano or 
accordion may be used with impunity. Some go so 
far as to say that playing the violin is actually an 
audacious communication with Satan himself. ^ Take 
your banjo to the forks of the road at midnight and 
Satan will teach you how to play it. ^ One old slave 
was taught by the devil at home, but was not able to 
play reels until he had mastered the tune, "Gimme 
Jesus." ^ It is worthy of note that in the West 
Highlands the fairies were supposed to teach men to 
play the pipes. ^ Among the Negroes this playing of 

1 112, 141, and 342. Allen, W. E., Slave Songs of the United States, p. 108. 
Odum, H. W., Negro Hymn, J.A.F. L., vol. 26 (1913), p. 373. 

2 250. 

5 Boyle, Mrs. V. F,, Devil Tales, pp. 114-15. 

* 284, and Negro Su-perstitions Concerning the Violin, J. A. F. L., vol. 5 
(1892), pp. 329-30. 

* 141, and Thomas and Thomas, Kentucky Superstitions, p. 291. 
Xee, C, Some Negro Lore from Baltimore, J. A. F. L., vol. 5 (1892), p. 110. 

«32. 

'Campbell, J. F., Tales of the West Highlands, vol. 12, p. 311. 



554 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

the banjo is incidental to forming a regular contract 
with the devil — the Faust motif. A New Orleans 
conjurer described the procedure to me as follows: 
If you want to make a contract with the devil, first 
trim your finger nails as close as you possibly can. 
Take a black cat bone and a guitar and go to a lonely 
fork in the roads at midnight. Sit down there and 
play your best piece, thinking of and wishing for the 
devil all the while. By' and by you will hear music, 
dim at first but growing louder and louder as the 
musician approaches nearer. Do not look around; 
just keep on playing your guitar. The unseen musician 
will finally sit down by you and play in unison with you. 
After a time you will feel something tugging at your 
instrument. Do not try to hold it. Let the devil 
take it and keep thumping along with your fingers as 
if you still had a guitar in your hands. Then the 
devil will hand you his instrument to play and will 
accompany you on yours. After doing this for a 
time he will seize your fingers and trim the nails until 
they bleed, finally taking his guitar back and returning 
your own. Keep on playing; do not look around. 
His music will become fainter and fainter as he moves 
away. When all is quiet you may go home. You 
will be able to play any piece you desire on the guitar 
and you can do anything you want to do in this world, 
but you have sold your eternal soul to the devil and 
are his in the world to come. One of this informant's 
acquaintances sold himself to the devil in this way. 
He could then do anything. Put him in a refrigerator- 
car and lock the door with a "Yale lock"; the man 
would meet you as you walked away. He could make 
himself so small that no jail bars could hold him, and, 



Christianity and Superstition 555 

through his power of invlsibihty could take anything 
he wanted from the stores without fear of detection. ^ 
There are other cases of contracts formed with the 
devil, " and in one case the contract was broken by a 
duel with the devil in which the shape of the cross was 
cut on the devil's breast. ^ Others say that the devil 
always gets his own, even if the person locks himself 
in his room: "When de debil find de doo' locked he 
des float in fru de cracks an' jeck his teef out, and pull 
him fru de keyhole." * There are also the character- 
istic English folk tales of some haughty woman marry- 
ing the devil in the shape of a handsome man, but 
escaping later by throwing down various things to 
stop the devil. ^ 

Minor Devil-beliefs. There are many other minor 
beliefs connected with the devil. For instance, if the 
fire burns with a blue flame "hit's makin' anger, and de 
debil is sho' comin'. Bettah chunk some salt in dar 
ter dribe him away." ^ In Old England it was said 
that when an apparition appeared the candles in the 
room always burned with a blue flame. ^ The devil 
is always most active at the waning of the moon, * 
but old shoes, particularly the soles, buried on Monday 
morning will keep him down through the week. ^ 



154. 

- Skinner, Charles M., Myths and Legends of our Own Land, vol. 2, pp. 94- 
96. 

3 Boyle, Mrs. V. F., Devil Tales, p. 59 ff. 

M2. 

^ Cooke, Elizabeth J., English Folk-Tales in America, J. A. F. L., vol* 
12 (1899), pp. 126-30. Pendleton, L., Notes on Negro Folk-Lore and 
Witchcraft in the South, J. A. F. L., vol. 3 (1890), pp. 202-03. 

« 91, and Bergen, F. D., Current Superstitions, M. A. F. L. S., vol. 4 (1896), 
p. 147. 

' Brand, J., Popular Antiquities of Great Britain, vol. 3, p. 69. 

« Owen, Mary A., Voodoo Tales, p. 180. 

'Bergen, F. D., Current Superstitions, M. A. F. L. S., vol. 4 (1896), 
p. 142. 



556 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

A person must never cross the trail of a snake without 
makins: a crossmark in it and snittiui^ there; otherwise 
the devil will surely follow him; ' but if a person really 
desires to see the devil all he need do is to put his 
shirt on wrongside out and look into a well, or else 
throw a brick-bat into a whirlwind. - A left-handed 
person owes the devil a day's work;-' cutting your 
finger nails on Sunday indicates that you will spend 
the rest of the week with Satan ;^ while dreaming of 
that gentleman is ominous of sickness and trouble 
in your famih'. -^ People buried with their hair 
carefully dressed will have it unplaited by the black- 
birds sent by the devil. ^ Even wicked animals seek 
the help of Satan. When Brer Wolf was trying to 
catch Sis Pig's little ones he called upon Satan to 
help him. Satan pulfed and blew at Sis Pig's house; 
Sis Pig looked and saw his breath like red smoke. 
That's the reason pigs can see the wind today in the 
shape of red smoke. " 

Christ and Other Sacred Characters. Turning to the 
more sacred personages in Scripture, we find their 
simple Biblical attributes greatly embellished by the 
Negroes. Jesus, while on earth, was always ''mighty 
fond of cuUud folks." In one case He visited an old 
colored lady's house, and found her very miserable 
because the rats and mice were destroying everything 
she had. "Woman, behold your God," He said, and 



1 Bergen, F. D., Animal and Plant Lore, M. A. F. L. S., vol. 7 (.1899), p. 17. 

»341. 

»110. 

* 270. 
»00. 

• 1-41, and Southirn Workman, vol. 20 (1S07), p. IS. 

^ Backus. Emma M., Animal Tales from Xorth Carolina, J. A. F. L., vol. 
11 (1S9S), pp. 290-91. 



Christianity and Superstition 557 

throwing His right-hand glove on the floor, He turned 
it into a cat. Cats were not present in the ark; they 
were made later of Jesus's glove and that's why it's 
unlucky to hurt one and a sin to kill one. ^ The 
hickory-nut tree has its bark all loose and pointing 
downward because Zaccheus was up that tree when 
Christ called him. He slid down so fast that he 
scraped the bark loose forever. "De Bible say hit 
wuz a sycamine tree, ^ but dat's jes' de same ez our 
scaly-bark er hick'ry-nut." The same informant goes 
on to say that February has but twenty-eight days 
because Job in his suffering asked that the day of his 
birth be dropped from the calendar. He was born 
from the twenty-ninth to the thirtieth of February 
and these two days were dropped from the calendar 
except on leap-year when the Lord tacks on an extra 
day to give the devil another chance. ^ 

Holy Herbs. Sacred names for plants are common, 
being in the main restricted to those plants used for 
beneficial purposes. Devil's snuff, the powder from a 
dried puff-ball, is poisonous and used generally for 
harm. ^ Ed Murphy uses this in "conjuring up 
devilment," but he has a great many others of sacred 
nomenclature which he uses for cures. I rather 
suspect him of original development in some of these 
names, since they are not understood by other Negroes 
in the locality and since I have not located them else- 
where in the South. Ed is a big exhorter in the 
church and, considering his inability to read, has 

1 McLennan, Marcia, Origin of the Cat; a Negro Tale, J. A. F. L., vol. 9 
(1896), p. 71. 

^ Compare Luke 19:4. 

3 258. 

M41. 



558 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

mixed his Scripture and soothsaying remarkably well. 
The "bowels of Christ" is apparently a species of 
saliva, with leaves entirely green at first but becoming 
red or brown around the edges as they mature, finally 
becoming entirely red. They represent the bowels 
of Christ on the cross, and stewed in lard and mixed 
with kerosene, or turpentine make a most excellent 
salve for all diseases. "Angel's turnip" {Apocynum 
androscsmi folium) root carried in a red flannel bag is 
"a sure bringer of good luck," while the leaves of the 
"peace plant" {Ariscema triphylum) have much the 
same uses. This plant has two or four leaves running 
off roughly in the shape of a cross. Here is the way 
it was created: "When Jesus wuz totin' de cross up 
de hill ter Calvary de Scripture sez a damsel sed: 

Mus' Jesus bear de cross alone 
An' all de worl' go free? 
No, dere's a cross fur ebby one 
An' dere's a cross fur me! ^ 

Well Jesus he stop den an' de peace plant sprung up. 
Hit wuz her cross an' when it hab four leaves de odder 
two stands for peace and good will." The "king of the 
woods" {Aralia racemosa) has three leaves representing 
the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Its root is fine for 
making jacks, and a tea made of it and coonroot will 
cure anything. - I was not able to get a specimen of 
the "blood of Christ," but my root-doctress tells me 
that wrapped in red flannel (always wrapping to- 
wards yourself) along with sugar, spice, and bluestone, 

^ A familiar Negro hymn. Verses of church songs are freely quoted and 
often command precisely the same reverence as verses of Scripture. 

2 258. 



Christianity and Superstition 559 

its root will surely bring you peace. ^ Christ was 
hung upon a cottonwood tree. The trees know this 
and are always trembling because they are afraid. ^ 

God and the Lizard. Such lore applies even to an- 
imals. An old ex-slave told me the following. "One 
day Brer Lizzud an' Deacon Frawg wuz tryin' ter 
get thru a crack in a split-rail fence. In dem days 
Brer Lizzud sot up lak Deacon Frawg do now. Ole 
Deacon Frawg sez, 'Ah'll git thru dishyere crack ef 
de Lawd spares me.' He tried hit an' squeeze thru 
all right. Brer Lizzud wuz mo' uppity. Sez he, 
*Ah'll git thru dishyere crack whedder de Lawd spare 
me or no.' He tried hit, but, kerflip, came a lawg 
down an' mash him flat. Dat's why de lizzud be 
flat terday and crawls de dus' on his belly, while de 
frawg sets up an' hops." ^ Some Negroes will not eat 
lamb because the lamb represents Christ; ■» others say 
that the dove and the eagle are the only two birds 
that will go to heaven " (the dove representing the 
Biblical fetish bird, the eagle, the American fetish). 

Fetishistic Christianity. From time to time ^ I have 
indicated that, while voodoo practices as a whole tend 
to stand aloof from European lore because of their 
pronounced difference, yet in some cases they recog- 
nize a certain general kinship in certain elements of 
European Christianity and a fusion or partial fusion 
results. "Practices that were originally imported 

1141. 

2 Davis, Mrs. N. E. M., The Cottonicood Tree: Louisiana Superstitions, 
J. A. F. L., vol. 18 (1905), p. 251. 

332. 

* 11. 

6 Bergen, F. D., Animal and Plant Lore, M. A. F. L. S., vol. 7 (1899), 
p. 84. 

6 See p. 186 ff., 193ff., 205, and 257, for iu.stauce. 



560 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

from Africa tend to assimilate and fuse with related 
practices and traits of the European and Hindu cul- 
tures wherever the Africans have come into contact 
with them. Obeah men in the West Indies use the 
candles, the little shrines, or 'chapels,' as they call 
them, and various other portions of the ritual of the 
Catholic Church." ^ This fetishistic concept of Chris- 
tianity is well illustrated by the results of Roman 
Catholicism in the Congo. "Its baptism was only an 
outward one, the heathen natives gladly accepting it 
as a powerful charm. For each and all his heathen 
fetishes the priest simply substituted a Roman Cath- 
olic relic. The ignorant African, while he learned to 
bow to the Virgin, kept on worshipping also fetish. 
The Virgin was only just another fetish. The Roman 
Catholic priests were to him only another set of 
powerful fetish doctors. They commanded that, in- 
stead of the orunda, the parents should enjoin their 
children to observe some particular devotion, such as 
to repeat many times a day the rosary or the crown, 
in honor of the Virgin; to fast on Saturdays; to eat 
no flesh on Wednesdays, and such other things as are 
used among Christians." ^ "All worldly prosperity in 
Africa depends upon the possession of proper fetishes. 
They are therefore quick to conclude that we have 
very powerful fetishes; and it is inevitable that before 
long they should conclude that the Bible is the mis- 
sionary's fetish. At Efulen, among the Bulu, when we 
had been there but a short time, a band of men setting 
out upon the war path with their guns upon their 



* Park, R. E., Magic, Mentality and City Life, Publications American 
Sociological Society, vol. 18 (1924), p. 111. Italics my own. 
2 Nassau, R. H., Fetichism in West Africa, pp. 211-12. 



Christianity and Superstition 561 

shoulders, marched up to our hill and asked if we 
would give them a Bible to take with them to make 
their guns shoot straight and procure their success. 
One day Dr. Good missed a Bible. It had been stolen. 
He heard nothing of it for a month; after which he 
was one day walking through a native village where the 
people, expecting to go to war the next day, were 
preparing a very powerful fetish or 'war medicine' 
by boiling together in a pot several of their most 
reliable fetishes; and in the boiling pot he found his 
Bible." 2 Such cases show us again very clearly that 
the same set of facts may be interpreted very diiTerently 
by different people, depending upon their general 
culture-pattern. Our interpretation of Biblical facts 
depends upon that general complex of customs which 
we call our civilization, and even Christianity differs 
among different peoples. 

Christianized Voodooism. This same employment 
of elements of Christianity for fetish purposes is 
found with the American Negroes. I am informed 
that Marie Laveau was a devout Catholic; she kept a 
little shrine and colored candles burning in her room, 
had a priest with her just before she died, - and even 
went so far as to conduct the ritual of the original 
voodoo creed so as to make it conform to the worship 
of the Virgin and of other saints. ^ One modern voodoo 
woman, though the order has been largely broken 
up, refuses to receive visitants on Saturday because 
that is the day of '7« Sainte Fierge.^^ She also closes 
her establishment on Good Friday and in Lent, in 

1 Milligan, R. H., Fetish Folk of West Africa, pp. 130-31. 

2 269. 

^ Castellanos, H. C, New Orleans as it Was, pp. 97-98. 

36 



562 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

the latter case " 'cause de sain' too busy to work 
wid her." ^ Much of modern voodoo Is really an 
appeal to the saints for furtherance In some extra- 
Chrlstlan undertaking. Take, for Instance, the method 
recommended to me by a voodoo-doctor of New Orleans 
last summer to conquer one's enemy: mix a pound of 
sugar and some powdered coonroot In a newspaper, 
put this Into a vessel, go Into a room by yourself, and 
set the vessel on the fire. You must be In a very 
reverent frame of mind, putting your whole heart Into 
what you are doing. When the mixture begins to 
smoke hold your limbs in the vapor, repeating rever- 
ently the following formula: "Oh Lord, Good Shep- 
herd, help me, Robert Bryant. St. Michael, conquer 
so-and-so (your enemy or a woman who Is following 
you too closely). Oh Lord, Good Shepherd, help me, 
Robert Bryant. St. Patrick, drive away these devils 
from me, Robert Bryant. Oh Lord, Good Shepherd, 
help me, Robert Bryant. St. James, protect my 
body from all accident. Oh Lord, Good Shepherd, 
help me, Robert Bryant. St. John, let all of my 
bad spells and troubles go from the sunrise to the 
sun setting. Give me good luck and help me to be 
successful. Oh Lord, Good Shepherd, help me, Robert 
Bryant." These rites must be held three times a day, 
the most Important part being that you believe in what 
you are doing and In its power to cure you. "St. 
Michael Is used to conquer, St. Patrick to drive away 
evil, St. James to protect, and St. John to give you 
good luck." 2 The Missouri voodoos have much the 
same Idea. In preparing a luck-ball for Mr. Charles 

1 Pitkin, Helen, An Angel by Brevet, p. 179. 
254. 



Christianity and Superstition 563 

G. Leland this formula was used: "The God before 
me, God behind me, God be with me. May this ball 
bring all good luck to Charles Leland. May it bind 
down all devils, may it bring them under his feet. 
May it bring him friends in plenty, may it bind them 
to him. May it bring him honor, may it bring him 
riches, may it bring his heart's desire. May it bring 
him success in everything he undertakes. May it 
bring him happiness. I call for it in the name of 
God." ^ No good Christian thinks of using prayer 
when accosting a strange woman, but one New Orleans 
hoodoo tells me that to be most successful in courtship 
of this sort one must use the "Main Power." "Speak 
ter de Lawd 'fo' you speak ter de 'ooman. Den look 
de 'ooman straight in de eye, and speak ter her ear- 
nes'ly. If she don't notice you let her alone for a while, 
speak ter de Lawd again, den speak ter her in de 
same way. Be in deep earnest, smiling, and wid a 
good disposition. De third time you speaks ter her 
she is bound ter go wid you." ^ 

The Lucky Saint Joseph. One of the most graphic 
illustrations of the way in which Roman Catholic 
symbols receive a voodoo interpretation is in the use of 
the "lucky Saint Joseph." This Saint, as generally 
used by the Roman Catholics of New Orleans, consists 
of a little gilt figure of Saint Joseph with the Child, 
enclosed in a small brass case about an inch in height. 
The Saint is placed upside down in the case and is 
carried for good luck or even as a charm for getting a 
good husband. ^ The New Orleans Negroes also 



1 Owen, Mary A., Among the Voodoos, I. F. L. C, 1891, pp. 232-33. 

254. 

* See also, Pitkin, Helen, An Angel by Brevet, p. 217. 



564 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

carry this lucky Saint Joseph, but in their case, lacking 
the spiritual background, they look upon it in much 
the same fashion as a rabbit's foot, horseshoe, or any 
other less sacred charm. ^ I was anxious to see how 
the Mississippi Negroes, who were not acquainted 
with this type of fetish, would react to it; consequently 
I purchased an even dozen of the images for fifty 
cents and handed some of them out to my hoodoo 
friends in return for information, giving them, of 
course, the common Roman Catholic view in regard 
to Its efficacy. In every case the image received due 
respect, but the Negroes were not satisfied to obtain 
mere good luck. One Negro with a wounded hand 
carried it religiously about with him In hopes of a cure, 
first encasing It in a little red flannel bag. ^ Another 
conjurer responded in a way that showed clearly that 
many of the conjuring methods are simply Individual 
developments. Filling the case with whiskey he 
plunged the Saint In head downward, then wrapped It 
all in red flannel. Before making a "hand" for any 
one he would wet the Image with camphor and rub It 
in the palm of his hands until he could notice a brassy 
smell. Then he would rub his roots well over this smelly 
spot before putting them into the "trick." Thus some 
of the power of the "Good Man of the World" or the 
"Protector," for such he christened Saint Joseph, 
was transferred to that particular charm. In one 
case he cured a woman of "rheumatlz" by rubbing the 
image up and down her back — I say "cured" because 
I checked up on the case and found that the person In 
question was really able to return to her work after a 

154. 
2303. 



Christianity and Superstition 565 

long absence due to this trouble. ^ The originality 
of another conjurer expressed itself in "dressing" 
the image with lodestone and raw camphor, mounting 
it on a semi-spherical lead base, and using it as a jack. 
It was supposed to answer questions, to bow in the 
direction of stolen goods or hidden "tricks," and to 
fall towards the right cards when he was using this 
method of telling fortunes. ^ With no intention of 
sacrilege, these little images won me much confidence 
that would have been hard to obtain otherwise, and the 
experiment showed clearly that certain sections of 
voodoo and Christianity are not too incompatible 
to mix. 

Religion and Conjure. In fact, as I have said before, 
almost all the conjurers of my acquaintance have been 
even more religious than ordinary Negroes — some of 
them being ministers. ^ Almost all of them mix scrip- 
tural quotations promiscuously with conjure prescrip- 
tions, and some of them run especially to the Trinity 
idea in mixing roots and in regard to body markings. 
In using the "jack" the formula: 

By some Peter, 

By some Paul, 

And by the God that made us all, "* 

shows unmistakably the use of Christian personages 
for what we would call profane purposes. The church 
and the voodoo society are not entirely separated, 
remembering that the church is the main social center. 

1 258. 

«91. 

»42. 

* Southern Workman, vol. 23 (1894), p. 46. 



566 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

In Missouri a "fire-dance" was held just after a re- 
vival meeting, and the voodoo circle often met in the 
church itself. ^ In another case a group of voodoo 
initiates were secretly meeting in the church when a 
stranger entered, hypnotized them all, and stole their 
money and valuables. ^ All the way through there is 
the use of Christian derivations to prevent conjuring, 
keep off ill luck and to cure diseases. Some Negroes 
say, "De 'ligion uv de Lawd Jesus Christ will keep 
off all conjure." ^ In many places I have mentioned 
the use of the cross symbol, which, however, may be of 
possible African origin in part. Conjurers make a 
cross on a person's breast to remove snakes from within 
him; two needles crossed in the crown of your hat 
prevent any "trick" from harming you. * Cures are 
wrought "in the name of the Lord." God is called 
upon to bless the conjured person, and downfall 
invoked upon the work of the devil. ^ A "beauty- 
rock" (supposed to have been used by David in slaying 
Goliath) will bring peace to you;^ and even in the 
event of a lawsuit the names of the twelve Apostles 
written on large sage leaves and worn in the shoes will 
surely bring a favorable outcome. ^ Ask a ghost, 
"What in de name of de Lawd does you want.''" or 
simply say, "Lawd hab mussy on me," * and the most 
frightful specter will vanish at once. Some Negroes 



1 Owen, Mary A., Among the Voodoos, I. F. L. C, 1891, pp. 239-40. 

2 Dana, M., Voodoo, Metropolitan Magazine, vol. 28 (1908), p. 531. 
'261. 

^54. 

^ Bacon, A. M., Conjuring and Conjure-Doctors, Southern Workman, vol. 
24 (1895), p. 210. 
« 258. 
'241. 
» 357. 



Christianity and Superstition 567 

refuse ever to have a doctor, claiming that God is all 
the doctor they need, ^ a view reflected by the following 
verse I heard an old Negro woman singing at a revival 
meeting: 

I know Jesus am a medicine-man, 

I know Jesus kin understan'; 

I know Jesus am a bottle uv gold, 

Hit takes jes' one bottle ter cure a sin-sick soul.."^ 

While the reference is to spiritual cure, many of the 
Negroes apply it to physical cures as well. Members 
of the Trinity are at times conceived of as being much 
like African spirits. For instance, some Negroes fear 
to sweep out the house after dark for fear of "sweeping 
out de Holy Ghos'." ^ The element of propitiation 
enters in as shown by the belief that failure to pay the 
preacher on Sunday will result in a "long dry spell." ■* 

Biblioviancy . Reading the seventh chapter of Rev- 
elations will cut off your bad luck and help you to 
succeed, while opening the Bible at Genesis and reading 
a few passages at random before beginning to tell 
fortunes with cards will give you a general idea of 
your luck to come. ^ Bibliomancy is found in other 
connections; for instance, there is the old European^ 
idea of a casual opening of the Bible for some passage 
throwing light on the future. The Negro generally 
makes a wish, then opens his Bible. If he happens 
on the words, "and it shall come to pass," then he 
believes his wish will be granted. ^ Again there is 

2 103. 

=272, and 386. 
•189. 
M41. 

' Lean's Collectanea, vol. 2, p. 344. 
'397. 



568 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

the practice of reading the Bible backwards to keep 
ghosts away, ^ but such practices are not common 
due probably to Negro Illiteracy. It is perhaps more 
common to place a Bible with a crossmark made 
upon It under one's pillow to keep the witches from 
"riding you"; 2 In Scotland a Bible was carried as 
protection from fairies. ^ 

Superstitious Conversion. It has been pointed out 
earlier in the chapter that much of a secular nature Is 
Included In the process of "getting religion," Negro 
revivals minister to self-gratification almost as much 
as to religion, and In the process of Intense emotional 
Intoxication leading to the vision there is much super- 
stition. Some "candidates" are Instructed to spend 
the night In the graveyard, rolling on the ground, 
praying, fasting, and mourning. In order to get religion 
more quickly; ** while one little girl saw a "ha'nt," 
a headless woman. In this "coming through" process. ^ 
God and his angels can and frequently do talk to good 
Christians. Dead relatives also hold conversation 
with them, especially when the Christian is ''How 
sicF'' " (In a vision-seeing condition). Small omens of 
various sorts are observed In an effort to determine 
one's status in the world to come. If a baby cries 
at baptism the devil is going out of him; ^ in England » 

1286. 

2 112, 141, and 231. Also, Steiner, R., Observations on the Practice 
of Conjuring in Georgia, p. 178, J. A. F. L., vol. 14 (1901). 

^ Campbell, J. F., Popular Tales of the West Highlands, vol. 2, pp. 59 
and 66. 

U17. 

5 341. 

«306. 

7 16, and 397. 

* Henderson, W., Folk-Lore of the Northern Counties of England, p. 8. 



Christianity and Superstition 569 

and Scotland ^ precisely the same belief was held, 
infants at times even being pinched to be sure that 
the devil would leave. The Negroes also add that 
no matter how bitter the weather may be when a 
person is baptized (usually in a river or pool in the open) 
he can never catch cold; - but if a person chokes while 
being baptized it is a sign that he has never been 
truly converted. ^ If the lightning strikes near by * 
■or if it rains ^ when a person is dying, or if a person die 
with his mouth and eyes open, ^ he has surely gone to 
hell; but if it rains just after a funeral the man's sins 
have been washed away ^ and he has gone on to heaven, ^ 
the same being true of a person who dies with a smile 
on. his face. ^ A Christian on dying hears sweet 
music, but a sinner hears only a terrible noise ^ " — a 
view not so dissimilar from deathbed scenes I, as a 
youth, have heard depicted from the pulpits by 
sensational white evangelists. Look in a good person's 
pillow after his death and you will find a crown ^ ^ — a 
falling star indicates that such a person's soul has 
gone on to heaven. ^ - 

Dreams and Religion. Dream omens are not without 
their merit; the religion of the antebellum Negroes 
consisted largely in the kind of dreams they had, 
dreams of white being of good omen, while dreams of 

1 Gregor, W., Folk-Lore of the Northeast of Scotland, p. 12. 

2 9j and 278 

» 286, and Southern Workman, vol. 23 (1894), p. 16. 
<45, and Southern Workman, vol. 23 (1894), p. 16. 
547. 
«341. 

7 404. 

8 166. 

9 127. 

10 341. 

1 1 Ibid. 
^2391. 



570 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

black pomted to evil. ^ A white man in your dreams 
represents the Lord, and a black man the devil, ^ 
while a dream of a black man just after joining the 
church shows that your confession was prompted by 
the devil. ^ To dream of falling indicates a need for 
more prayer; * of dogs running, you are not true in 
your religious confession;^ and if you dream of fish 
it is a sign that you have sinned. ^ Others add that 
whenever a Christian does wrong he will dream that 
the devil is after him. ^ On the other hand a dream 
of clear water lets you know that you are on "the right 
side of God." ^ You can tell the location of a dead 
person's soul by a dream of that person. If he is 
moving in a hurry in your dream he has gone to hades, 
but if you see him in a pleasant state his abode is in 
heaven. ^ A dream of a preacher is a sure sign of good 
luck. ^ ° If a person dreams of an angel coming towards 
him he will soon receive glad tidings; but if the angel 
fails to approach, that person's life is evil and the 
dream is a warning to him to reform. ^ ^ Besides dreams^ 
other minor signs are related more or less directly to 
religion. If a person's left foot itches on Sunday 
that person has conjured God on Saturday night at 
midnight; ^ ^ if you lose a tooth you will have to look 



^ Stokes, Rev. A. J., The Negro of Ayitebellum and Reconstruction Days, 
Home and Foreign Fields, vol. 8 (1924), p. 247. 

2 38L 

U32. 

^341. 

6 132. 

«33. 

'192. 

«181. 

»131. 
»«33. 
' » 46. 
1 2 240. 



Christianity and Superstition 571 

for it on the Day of Judgment; ^ and thunder denotes 
an angry Creator. - 

Aleatory Self-maintenance . This completes our con- 
sideration of the intermixture of superstition and reli- 
gion among the Negroes. Superstition at any time 
would seem to be those beliefs not receiving the sanction 
of the more advanced mores of that generation. In 
self-maintenance where a test is possible, they are 
represented by those beliefs counter to the scientific 
laws of that day and time; while in religion, where a 
test is not so readily possible, they are merely those 
beliefs differing widely from the commonly accepted 
creed. ^ But faulty methods of self-maintenance tend 
to be rapidly selected out, while in religion, where 
there is less opportunity for a thorough test, outworn 
beliefs persist. ^ But these religious or semi-religious 
beliefs have to do with the aleatory element as con- 
cerned with self-maintenance, primarily; self-perpetua- 
tion, secondarily, and to some small degree, with self- 
gratification as well. One cannot easily say whether 
such and such a thing, a rabbit's foot, for instance, 
affects a person's luck in making a living or not, thus 
a reliance upon that particular thing will persist long 
after industrial methods per se have been brought 
thoroughly up to date. Practices are more enduring 
than theories — a person will put flowers on a grave 
though he no longer believes in a malevolent spirit 
requiring propitiation. We have a feeling that it is 

1286. 

-Richardson, C, Some Slave Superstitions, Southern Workman, vol. 41 
(1912), p. 247. 

^ For the distinction between magic and miracle, see Lehman, A., Aber- 
glaube und Zauberei, pp. 7-9. Cams, P., History of the Devil and the Idea oj 
Evil, p. 262 ff. 

* See Keller, A. G., Societal Evolution, p. 128 flf. 



572 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

better to do things that way. A man may work his 
crop all day in accordance with the latest scientific 
methods of farming. On the way home a black cat 
may cross his path. He may make a crossmark in 
the road and spit in it for fear some stroke of chance, 
a hail storm or a cyclone, may upset all that he has 
done that day. Thus man has to contend with two 
separate and distinct things — he has to deal, in the 
first place, with known laws which produce certain 
results, and in the second place with the unknown or 
fortuitous as touching upon the particular problem 
in hand. In short, he is concerned with primary and 
secondary self-maintenance, with understood self- 
maintenance and with inexplicable or aleatory self- 
maintenance. He must set in motion processes which 
he knows will work out to his own advantage and he 
must see to it if possible, that the adventitious does 
not come in and disturb these processes or cause them 
to produce results other than anticipated. Scientific 
farming is the primary self-maintenance; spitting in 
the crossmark after seeing the black cat, the aleatory 
self-maintenance. This division is not necessarily 
absolute for all stages of societal growth. The savage 
without knowledge of natural law, had mainly aleatory 
self-maintenance, while the more civilized man tends 
to recognize everything as controlled by law and is 
passing to a stage of absolute primary self-mainte- 
nance. ^ But with the less enlightened in a modern 
society, both processes go hand in hand, and it is 
with aleatory self-maintenance, aleatory self-perpetua- 
tion, and self-gratification, that superstition has most 
to do. 



1 See in this connection, Kellar, A. G., The Luck Element, Scientific 
Monthly, Feb. 1917, pp. 145-50. 



Christianity and Superstition 573 

Primitive and Civilized Religion. When the African 
slave first landed on our shores he had only what we 
Americans would call pure superstition. Later there 
was a blending of superstition and Christianity, as he 
gradually assimilated the white man's creed and cred- 
ulences. For perhaps the majority of Negroes and 
whites today, superstition and Christianity are grad- 
ually becoming separated, though each continues to 
exist, independent of the other. For the average highly 
educated Negro, as well as the educated white, Chris- 
tianity alone exists in the final stage, with superstition 
entirely discarded. But why was it necessary for the 
slave to add superstition to his early religion.'* Evi- 
dently there was something in Christianity which did 
not quite meet all of his needs at that time. 

Aside from matters of creed, possibly the most 
outstanding differences between Christianity and the 
West African religion, or any other very primitive 
religion for that matter, is that the primitive religion 
is more of an everyday affair. In former chapters ^ 
emphasis was laid upon the reality of the spirit environ- 
ment to the West African and the obvious way in 
which it ministered to almost every exigency of his 
practical life. Religion, self-maintenance, self-perpet- 
uation, and self-gratification are very closely entwined 
since religion deals with the aleatory element as applied 
to each of these societal fields. It is the effort to prevent 
the "dead hand" from interfering with the affairs of 
life; if possible to get the controlling ghost to help 
rather than to hinder. Vln modern Christianity there 
is a tendency to deal with the hereafter rather than 



1 See p. 91, 109 ff., 169 ff., and 259 ff. 



574 Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro 

the here-and-now, though this was not always the case, 
especially during the Middle Ages where Christianity 
was called upon to stop plagues, halt storms, prevent 
earthquakes, and in other ways to assist directly in 
everyday life. ^ ' The modern scientist no longer se- 
riously believes that Christianity can be applied to 
growing crops, to making rain, to winning brides, or to 
the thousand and one miscellaneous affairs of everyday 
life. More and more, natural law steps into these 
matters and Christianity becomes more of a Sunday 
affair, or at least something not related in a causal 
way to daily commonplaces. No devout Christian 
would think of praying that his enemy die or that he 
himself should be a good gambler, and matters like farm- 
ing or commerce have almost passed out of the sphere of 
the supernatural. The educated man is able to meet 
these practical needs through a better understanding of 
natural law, but the Negro slave was ignorant, knew 
little of natural law, and was accustomed to depend 
much upon religion to aid him in controlling his large 
sphere of the unknown. I have mentioned the fact 
that Negro prayers, like African prayers, are very 
practical. Among the GuUah Negroes of South Caro- 
lina "each individual expects, and in his prayers, 
almost exacts, from Father and Son a personal service 
involving not only benefits for himself but harm to those 
who despitefuUy use him. 'Me Jedus (Jesus) help 
me fuh fool de man! Uh put me finguh een de man' 
eye, en' 'e nebbuh ketch me,' " or else, " 'w'en de man 
ketch me een 'e house 'en 'e hab 'e razor een 'e han', 



^ See White, A. D,, History of the Conflict of Science with Theology in 
Christendom, vol. i, pp. 323-415, and vol. ii, pp. 1-167. Cams, P., The 
History of the Devil and the Idea of Evil, pp. 262-305. 



Christianity and Superstition 575 

Gawd, tangle' de man' foot, en' help me fuh git 'way'." ' 
Christianity alone was sufficient to d