Friday, July 19, 2013


Hoodoo and Numbers:   

Ingredients, Timing, Hours, and Duration

Numbers have some significance in hoodoo spellwork
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This morning, someone on my Conjure yahoogroup (which you are all invited to join!) asked an interesting question about the use of numerology and numbers in hoodoo.  I do find this topic interesting, have mused about it from time to time.

Traditionally, hoodoo doesn't involve numerology per se.  There is very little done with common numerological techniques, i.e., the reduction of numbers to significant single digits which are then analyzed, etc.

With that being said, however, numbers are not altogether missing in hoodoo, and there is traditionally often some correlation between some numbers and larger issues or desired outcomes. Numbers may be preferred in relation to the quantity of ingredients, the frequency of ritual performance, or the time of day.
Clover's three leaves mirror the Holy Trinity

One is relatively unusual in hoodoo, though of course a name may be written only once in some rites.  The most common form of this is when a name is inscribed on candle - one time, barber-pole fashion - or when the name is written once on a small piece of paper, dressed with a variety of substances depending upon the worker's intention, and inserted into the worker's shoe for the purpose of controlling that individual.

Two is relatively unusual as well, though of course there may be two candles, two lodestones, etc, each representing one half of a couple, for instance.  However, ritual preparations such as baths, and ritual items like mojo bags which contain only two ingredients are very unusual.  Most will contain at least three separate ingredients or substances.  Two o'clock is not particularly significant in terms of traditional spellwork timing.

The number three is very frequently used in hoodoo in various ways.  Most significantly, this reflects the holy Trinity of the Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost (or Spirit).  The Trinity is invoked ("In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit") on a near-universal basis, strongly reflecting the living Christian culture to which traditional hoodoo belongs.

Ritual baths virtually always require at least three, and fairly frequently just three, ingredients.  Similarly, mojo bags are generally constructed with at least three distinct elements.
Often the best time is NOW!
Further, three o'clock  (as well as nine o'clock) may be regarded as showing the horizontal axis - the plane of the world - at it's point of intersection with the vertical axis, the plane of spirit.  Traditional hoodoo spells may specify working at three o'clock in spells which require repetitive ritual timing, along with six, twelve, and nine o'clock.

Four is occasionally encountered in hoodoo, usually referring to the four corners the world or the four ends of the earth.  That four hasn't a more pronounced presence in hoodoo is a sign to me that Southern Native American tribes (to whom the number four is foundational and sacred) had a fairly limited influence on the basic beliefs and practices of hoodoo beyond, of course, contributing strongly towards hoodoo's understanding of the uses of and powers ascribed to native plants.  This is not to say that individual workers may not have learned from and perhaps incorporated other aspects of Native beliefs - we know that some did.  However,  this influence was not universal to hoodoo to the extent of having this number, so important to Native culture, be more emphasized.

A lucky, protective quincunx pattern
Five is the number of the quincunx, the corner-marked square with a mark in the center.  This correlates to the four corners or the four ends of the earth, with the worker or worked site at it's center.  This configuration is regarded as a mark of luck, power and protection, but can be employed in other ways as well.  For instance, one function of the quincunx can be to draw people from far away to return to the one employing it.  Overall, it has many functions in spell work.

Some spells are done at 6, 12, and 6:00
Six is sometimes seen in spell timing:  six in the morning, six in the evening; usually paired with noon and/or midnight.  In other words, an act may be required to be repeated at those times of day for the spell to be complete.  This requirement may last only one day, or it may go on for several more.

Seven is generally regarded as a lucky number, though it's appearance in hoodoo is usually limited to ingredients in a spell.   Spells may also be required to be done for seven usually consecutive days, though I have seen this less frequently than one might think.

The number nine is generally regarded as a number used for endings, diminishment, curses, and destruction of various sorts.  Nine also correlates to the West, where the sun sets; to the graveyard and thereby the spirit world; and to the waning moon, especially when nearest dark (moon phases are not necessarily used in hoodoo, but are not particularly uncommon, either).  Note that not all endings are curses, and not every diminishment is for an unkind or unwholesome purpose.

The Exhortation to the Apostles. James Tissot, 1886-94
Nine is also frequently encountered, both for good and for ill, in the timing of rituals:  going to the crossroads or to the graveyard for nine consecutive days or nights is common in traditional spells.

Eleven is encountered in hoodoo primarily due to it's connection with the holy apostles (minus Judas Iscariot). We see this in certain court case spells, for instance, where the eleven names are written on a leaf of sage and worn in one's shoe to a court appearance.

Here is an interesting spell, collected by Harry Middleton Hyatt, an Episcopal priest and avid folklorist, some 75 years ago from a rootworker who lived in Fayetteville, North Carolina.  This spell is unusual in that it requires ritual anointing of an object (the silky, flat bow from the inside back of a hat) for twelve days.  In hoodoo, the number twelve much more commonly refers to the time of day or night.   This spell appears in Volume 2, on page 1692 of Hyatt's Hoodoo, Conjuration, Witchcraft, Rootwork:

"Yo' kin take de bow out of de back of a man's hat an' take an' tie on dere left side, a woman can, or either a man kin do a woman's de same.  Tie it on de left side an' take an' yo' git a bottle of Hearts Cologne an' take an' anoint it fo' twelve mawnin's with dat.  An' whenevah dey anoint it fo' twelve mawnin's, den take it an' wear it on de right side fo' twelve mawnin's.  An' dat'll tie dis person [to you]."

The hat bow is located inside, on the interior band of the hat
Twelve noon and especially twelve o'clock midnight are significant in terms of spell timing.  Twelve noon is sometimes required, particularly in spells which are to be repeated during a day, for instance at six in the morning, twelve noon, and six in the evening.

Twelve midnight may also be part of this category, but it may also be encountered as a powerful liminal time to initiate work, including going to the crossroads or the cemetery.

Thirteen is not often seen and tends to be one of those idiosyncratic factors in hoodoo, with some workers using it and finding it beneficial and lucky.  I am amongst them.

Multiples of three and, rarely, of seven are sometimes seen in spells and in the timing of spells.

This brings up something that I have heard many folks repeat as if it is gospel.  It is not.  Some who are relatively new to hoodoo have the notion that a spell must show signs of working within three days, movement within three weeks, and that if it does not deliver your result within 3 months, it is not going to work.  Please understand that this is an example of one worker's personal and idiosyncratic belief rather than a universal truth in hoodoo.  Sometimes it will hold true, of course - but certainly not always.

Crossroads work is often done at 12 AM or before sunrise
For good or for ill, the world is more complex than that, and this is simply not a consistent enough measure by which to gauge your spell's effectiveness.  The truth is that there is a great deal of variability.  Some spells work as you perform them, that second, and the change you desire is immediately manifest (we all love those workings!).  Others may take many weeks and sometimes even months to come to full fruition.   Some may take even longer, though I generally suggest for your own good that you reserve those longer spells for ongoing and increasing success in your life, and for major undertakings involving the development of your own abilities and goals (like finishing college, for instance) rather than those spells which attempt to control others or deliver them, lovesick and panting, to your door. 

The concept of diminishment or increase is also seen in some written workings, which involve writing a goal or a word considered to have magical power over and over, each time increasing or decreasing it's appearance by one digit or letter, in accordance with one's purpose.  However, these types of written spells more frequently have letters than numbers, and are generally recognized as originating in cultures other than that of hoodoo.

Wishing you all well,

Dara Anzlowar                                                        Return to
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Photo of five-spot die courtesy Wikipedia
Photo of Tissot's painting courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum

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