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Horror Mystery and Lore

A Voodoo Practice: Mysteries of Zombification

Digging Up the Origin of Zombies

Hand reaching into the darkness
Photography by Lalesh Aldarwish

While zombies have been on the pop culture radar pretty heavily for several decades now, the history of this undead phenomenon has a history deeply rooted in the Haitian Voodoo religion—in fact, the belief in zombies is still a relevant aspect of New Orleans Voodoo. In our western society, we rely heavily upon our knowledge of what is presented to us in movies and television, but the zombie culture we know and love evolved from a very real magical tradition. Original zombification didn’t involve leaks from biological factories, like what happened in Train to Busan (2016), or an airborne virus as was the case in AMC’s The Walking Dead (2010)—it involved a spiritual, magical, and chemical process that arose through voodoo ritual which required the calling of several voodoo spirits (Loa).

Where we see zombies being portrayed as people who have died then coming back to life, the voodoo tradition it is actually a person who is under the powerful influence of psychoactive drugs. These drugs are usually administered to the unfortunate person by a bokor, the voodoo equivalent to a sorcerer or witch doctor. After being dosed with these psychoactive drugs, the victim essentially goes into drug-induced paralysis which mimics death so profoundly that it is rumored that people have been buried alive after being zombified. This is the case in one of the original, classic zombie films The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988), where the main antagonist, is buried alive while fully cognizant—which, needless to say would be incredibly terrifying.

The Process of Zombification

Skulls piled on the ground
Photography Renato Danyi

There is a lot of disagreement about whether or not the person who is to become a zombie is actually deceased or not—some believe that the process revives the recently dead into mindless, soulless automatons, while others insist it’s just the effect of psychoactive drugs that leaves the victim in a state of deep, chemical-induced paralysis, which mimics death to the point that even vital signs are not measurable. Within the Voodoo religion, only bokors have the power to create and control zombies, while the methods and ingredient amounts changes from each individual bokor, the process follows the same pattern. Some processes use voodoo dolls, blood and hair from the intended victim, and others use a “zombie” powder—this powder is a concoction of varies herbs and animal parts, most of which are poisonous, as well as human remains.

This powder can then be administered through ingestion or injection and begins to take effect immediately. Immobility, slowed vitals, and reduced oxygen intake occur within minutes which results in the death-like paralysis where the victim is still fully conscious of their surroundings. Once officially declared dead, the victim is buried alive and within eight hours, the bokor digs up the body to keep the victim from actually dying from asphyxiation. Other procedures follow, which result in a mindless and easily controlled zombie which does the bidding of the bokor who created it. The person remains a zombie until the bokor passes away and is no longer capable of administering the drug that maintains the victim’s zombie-like state.

Clairvius Narcisse the Real Haitian Zombie

Creepy old, overgrown cemetary

Photography by NeONBRAND

Zombification is often referred to as either a solely magical or physical experience, but in truth it is a mixture of both, it’s essential for a person to have a belief in voodoo and the ability to be turned into a zombie in order for the process to work in its entirety. This was the case for Clairvius Narcisse, the man who claimed to be a zombie, but returned home after eighteen years and his story was finally told.

In 1962, Narcisse was admitted to the Albert Schweitzer Hospital in Deschapelles, Haiti. He complained of fever, body aches, and ‘general malaise,’ but after being admitted he began to spit up blood. His condition declined rapidly, until two days later when he was officially pronounced dead by two separate physicians. Narcisse’s sister, Angelina, was present when he was declared dead and then notified the rest of the family, a day thereafter his body was buried, and ten days after that a concrete memorial slab was placed atop the grave by his family.

What most the family didn’t know is that Clairvius had actually been pulled out of the grave and resuscitated. He was given the zombie concoction and kept in a zombie-like state for two years, working as slave labor in a region of the country that was much farther north. This was all done at the behest of his brother, after refusing to sell his portion of the family estate to him. After two years of being a zombie, his master had been killed, then he and all of the other zombie-slaves were released from their chemical induced state of submission. Clairvius stayed away from his home for the next sixteen years, knowing that his return would make his brother aware that he was no longer being controlled by another. Once his brother passed, he finally returned home, where he approached his sister Angelina in a local marketplace and introduced himself by his childhood nickname which she and a few other intimate family members alone were aware of.

Investigating the Haitian Zombie with Hamilton Morris

The following six-part Vice production follows the investigation of The Haitian Zombie, with Hamilton’s Phramacopeia, in order to find the truth behind the folk magic and legends of this walking dead phenomenon; Hamilton follows the scientific trail to the origin of the poisons that are said to cause Zombification in order to bring them back for formal chemical analysis.


Please watch the following footage with discretion–there are scenes and images that some viewers may find disturbing.

These videos are meant to be educational in nature.


Part One

This first episode goes into the initial introduction, including the nature of what Zombification entails.

Hamilton’s Pharmacopeia Season 01 Episode 05

Part Two

The following video contains graphic footage included in a voodoo ritual, in which an animal sacrifice is made for the Loa, please be advised it may be considered disturbing to some viewers.

Hamilton’s Pharmacopeia Season 01 Episode 06

Part Three

In this third episode, Hamilton goes to find a Bokor in order to witness the process of Zombification, but results in angering the Bokor and being told the deal is off.

Hamilton’s Pharmacopeia Season 01 Episode 07

Part Four

Hamilton goes to find the main ingredient of Zombie powder, in this fourth episodes, which is a species of puffer fish.

Hamilton’s Pharmacopeia Season 01 Episode 08

Part Five

In the fifth part of Investigating the Haitian Zombie, Hamilton meets up with another Bokor who possesses the Zombie powder that they have been searching for and witnesses a real zombie.

Hamilton’s Pharmacopeia Season 01 Episode 09

Part Six

The final installment of the investigation into Haitian zombies, they travel back to the Bokor who showed them what they had been searching for to come through with the final product they paid for.

Hamilton’s Pharmacopeia Season 01 Episode 10

Knowing what we have learned from different sources, about the process of Zombification, can it truly be said that it is a purely chemical process? These videos in particular have all but debunked the rationale that it can all be chalked up to a chemical reaction, so some aspects of this spiritual process is often contributed to the powerful belief in their magical practices. What do you think about the phenomenon of Zombification? Let us know in the comments below.

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Lifestyle

African American Folk Magic: Hoodoo, Conjure, and Rootwork

Voodoo or Hoodoo?

hoodoo kitchen set up, traditional ingredients
Photography by Clem Onojeghuo

There is a lot of confusion between what hoodoo and voodoo are—many believe they are one and the same, but as was discovered through the articles on voodoo, they are two separate entities. Louisiana and Haitian Voodoo are the two branches of the voodoo religion practiced by many, whereas hoodoo is not a religion at all. Hoodoo, conjure, and rootwork are all terms used to describe African American folk magic that originated from West Africa. While folk magic practices are wide-spread among the southern United States, they are highly focused within the state of Louisiana. Practitioners of folk-magic are referenced according to their own personal practice—hoodoo, conjure, and rootwork practitioners are called Hoodoos, Conjurers, and Rootworkers respectively—there are of course variations therein, such Root Doctors and Root Healers.

Another important difference is what can be observed when considering how people react toward either of these practices; voodoo is often regarded with disdain and fear, whereas those who practice hoodoo are more frequently thought of as healers or wise herbal doctors. It’s quite interesting to see the different reactions between the two practices, considering the similarities in origin and practice. Hoodoo is a practice derived from West African, Native American, and European sources; rootworkers often refer to what they do as “working the roots,” as it references the roots, or origin, as well as the significance of plants and herbs in this spiritual and magical practice.

Beliefs and Practices

Woman lighting sage bundle, warding off evil spirits
Photography by Brittany Colette

There is a tendency among rootworkers to believe in the indispensable power of their own being, along with the tools that are used within the practice—religion can be considered one of these tools. Despite not being a religious practice, there are very general prayers and religious symbols that can be found intertwined within hoodoo rituals. Not being bound to any one religious practice, it is worth noting that many rootworkers are in fact Protestant Christians or Catholics, while others may have a broad range of belief systems. Petitioning saints and deities, along with prayer are important tools for many, but not all rootworkers opt to incorporate these techniques into their rituals.

Much like voodoo, hoodoo does occasionally get an association with the darker aspects of the human spirit; punishment, revenge, and justice are all valid reasons within hoodoo to perform rituals, just as much as promoting spiritual wellbeing, healing the sick, and love works. The thing that people don’t tend to see is that practices are not simply good or evil—there is no black and white when it comes to magical spiritual practices, as the very nature can vary as wildly as that of a person. The intention behind all magic-related spiritual practices is to enact change within the world in which they live.

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Featured Horror Mystery and Lore

Hexing, Cursing, and Crossing: The Truth Behind Baneful Magic

In antiquity, the distinction was made between “white,” and “black,” magic (excuse the quotes, those terms are the most recognizable, although I personally reject the concept of colors in magic). In The Book of Black Magic and Pacts, we’re told that, “Esoteric Medicine, which consisted in the application of occult forces to the healing of disease in man, and included a traditional knowledge of the medicinal properties resident in some substances disregarded by ordinary pharmacy, produced in its malpractice the secret science of poisoning, and the destruction of health.” Every witch knows that it’s not always black and white—many times there are shades of gray.

Baneful magic has existed as long as magic has existed—that is to say, as long as we as a species have believed in helpful magic, we have believed in harmful magic. Hexes, curses, and crosses are but a few of the names that baneful spells within witchcraft or magic culture are referred to as. So why is there such a huge culture of misinformation surrounding baneful magic? Why do people label it as being “black” or “dark”? Well—to be quite frank, it’s simply the result of a bad reputation and possibly a little ignorance. It’s unfortunate that noted authorities like Waite are still being trusted when their beliefs and assertions are so far outdated, but they do give us a good idea of how far we’ve come.

To say his belief that, “White Ceremonial Magic is … an attempt to communicate with Good Spirits for a good … purpose. Black Magic is the attempt to communicate with Evil Spirits for an evil purpose,” would be a ridiculous oversimplification.

Traditions of Baneful Magic: What’s the Difference?

There is a common saying within the community of magic practitioners, that “a witch that cannot hex, cannot heal.” This always seems to strike a foul mood in practitioners who are adamant that magical practices can only include fluffy, happy vibes and should only exist to help people and not to interfere with free will, nor should it be used to harm anyone. The overall concept is that magic itself is not good, nor is it evil. Just like a knife is not in itself good or evil. The operator of the equipment decides how to use it—so if a construction worker decides to knock down an orphanage instead of the building set to be demolished, you’re not going to blame the wrecking ball. So, let’s explore the differences between the different types of baneful magic.

Hexing

Hexing, when it comes right down to it, is a baneful spell—this is a spell cast by a practicing witch—that is intended to cause a specific, non-beneficial result on an intended target. In metaphysical literature, it’s quite common for the word “hex” and “curse” to be used interchangeably, but for the purposes of this article, we’ll be using the word “hex”. That is to say that hexes are inherently evil, as many witches who practice baneful magic typically have a good reason for casting such spells.

An example scenario that a witch might cast such a spell for, is when a mother is fighting for custody of their children through the court system, but the father (and intended target) has a history of domestic violence, drug abuse, or worse. The mother has done everything within their power to secure the safety and future of their children, but somehow the father still has a pretty good chance at winning custody. In this circumstance, a witch could target the father’s lawyer to do poorly in his court performance, which might help turn the tables in the favor of the mother—or—the witch could target the father to have all of his lies exposed.

What is a curse to one person is a blessing to someone else. It just depends on where you happen to be sitting. That’s why the ethical lines are so blurry.

Hexing is a tool that a witch can use to interfere with free will in situations that call for it—of course, there are also individual witches out there who are just nasty people and love nothing more than to watch people suffer. Overwhelmingly, people generally fall into the good category and don’t go out of their way to ruin people’s lives. There is also the lesser-known fact that practicing baneful magic takes an incredible amount of energy and will often leave a witch feeling exhausted, irritable, or even sick. I can tell you from personal experience that the worse the intended hex is, the worse a witch will feel afterward.

Dark Witch in the Woods
Dark Witch in the Woods

Cursing

There are two schools of thought when it comes to what a curse is. Some people believe that a curse is simply, wishing bad things upon someone who has slighted you in some way. This could be as silly as, “I hope you step in water whenever you put on fresh socks,” in an effort to ensure the person is forever uncomfortable—or it could be something much more serious. As a general rule, however, curses are not actually spells—they are manifestations of intentions, with no specific ritual attached to it. Now, some witches may disagree with this definition, but I’d like to reiterate that hex and curse can be used interchangeably. Most often, the layman knows curses as they relate to the grievous incidents that surround certain objects, projects, or historic events.

Famous Curses

There are also curses that have played significant roles in history; we can look at practically any culture on earth and find a curse that is commonly believed to be true. These curses can range from the ridiculous to the significant, but one thing is certain, they get a lot of attention by those who believe in the supernatural and paranormal.

The Curse of King Tut (or the Curse of the Pharaohs)

Tutankhamun is famously known to have been a pharaoh of Egypt during the 14th century, but when the tomb at the base of his pyramid was opened in February 1923, no one could have known the tragedy that would follow. Perhaps this curse is a result of a hysteria over the death of the archaeological team’s lead sponsor just two months after the discovery of Tutankhamun’s mummy. At the time, it was believed that he had died from King Tut’s curse, when the reporters from Britain made the baseless claim—as it was found that he had actually died from an unidentified bacterial infection. However, when other members of the archaeological team died soon after, the curse was revived; ever since there have been movies inspired by the terrifying prospect of being cursed by the mummy of Tutankhamun.

The Curse of the Hope Diamond

When French gem dealer Jean-Baptiste Tavernier purchased a large diamond in the 1660s it was believed that the 112-carat monstrosity had been stolen from the head of an idol in India. The legend followed that the priests of the temple where the idol had been vandalized cursed the precious stone upon its theft. Some believe that it was Tavernier himself that had stolen the diamond from the Hindu goddess’s statue, and the legend of its curse was spread by newspapers and jewelers alike. Its original owner after Tavernier acquired it, was King Louis XVI of France, who gave it to both Princess de Lamballie and Marie Antoinette to wear. Both women along with King Louis XVI were met with the guillotine during the French Revolution and so the curse of the Hope Diamond was born.

After the first three to possess the jewel met such a gruesome death, it was believed that anyone who was unlucky enough to possess it would also die in mysterious ways. Allegedly even jewelers who kept it at their shop met this unusual fate. Henry Philip Hope came into possession of it in 1839 and died the same year, but eventually, it came into the possession of American heiress Evelyn Wash McLean in the 1910s. McLean ended up dying and ownership defaulted to a jewelry company in the U.S. that sold it to the Smithsonian in 1958. To this day, the famously cursed jewel remains on display in the United States through the Smithsonian Institution. Many who want to be more logical about so many deaths would believe that this curse was actually a product of greed, an attempt to make the jewel that much more valuable.

The Kennedy Curse

The assassination of President Kennedy was the lynchpin that marks the beginning of the curse of the Kennedys. Robert Kennedy was also assassinated five years later, Senator Ted Kennedy somehow survived a plane crash only to drive off a bridge later on. Robert Kennedy’s son died as the result of a drug overdose and his second son died in a skiing accident. Then, JFK Jr. died in a plane crash with his wife and sister, and finally the wife of RFK Jr., Mary Kennedy committed suicide. Talk about a family curse!

The Curse of Rosemary’s Baby

Often when movies like Rosemary’s Baby are said to be cursed, it’s typically as a result of a marketing strategy; a means to boost ticket sales and they’re later found to be a simple publicity stunt. There are many who believe that all the negative happenings surrounding the production of the movie wasn’t just a little bad luck.

Ira Levin Reputation Tanked

Despite the book’s adaptation into the feature film and lingering popularity over the last five decades, author Ira Levin’s reputation, career, and personal life were all but ruined. Religious institutions around the world were not pleased at what they perceived to be Levin’s attacks on organized religions, with the Catholic Church even asserting his book was blasphemous. Levin’s wife left him the same year that the film was released and as a result of his poor luck, he became more terrified and paranoid as time passed. Not just that, but due to his reputation as a blasphemer, he had to publicly denounce Satanism on a regular basis and his later attempts to salvage his career with a sequel to Rosemary’s Baby failed miserably.

The Fall of Castle

William Castle, the man who initially picked Levin’s novel up to purchase the rights to the film ended up becoming the producer for the project. Unfortunately for Castle, not only did he develop severe kidney stones, but his mental health also suffered due to the volume of hate mail he received as a direct result of being associated with the film. He later made claims that he hallucinated demonic scenes from the movie while he was under anesthesia during his surgery. His reputation never recovered.

Death, Substance Abuse, and Assault

Numerous other stories are related to the curse that is believed to have surrounded Rosemary’s Baby, one truly famous story involves the film’s composer Krzysztof Komenda, who fell into a coma after a falling accident. Some link his coma to that of Rosemary’s friend within the film, Hutch who was targeted by a witch’s curse. Like Hutch, Komeda never recovered from the coma but instead died the following year. John Lennon was another popular death associated with the curse of the film, since he was assassinated just outside of The Dakota in 1980, the building featured as Rosemary’s prison within the film. Another famous story that is linked to the curse, is the murders of Roman Polanski’s wife Sharon Tate, as well as their unborn child. Victims of the Manson Family and their leader, Charles Manson.

Crossing

Crossing comes from a separate tradition altogether—it’s not technically considered part of the witchcraft tradition, since voodooisants, hoodoos, and folk magic practitioners don’t generally consider themselves to be “witches”. Being cursed with Zombification might not exactly be something that conjure, one wishes for, but as opposed to other ways in which folk magic practitioners practice baneful magic it might be one of the least painful ways to suffer. Crossing within folk magic cultural practices might be similar to curses and hexes in theory, but it’s wellknown that regular “black” magic doesn’t hold a candle (pun intended) to the type of crossing that is done within voodoo, conjure, hoodoo, and folk magic. This is in part due to the fact that crossing often involves personal talismans, like blood, hair, and fingernails which amp up the power of any magical working.

Final Thoughts

As in the article presented by the Scientific American, what really makes people wary of so-called “black” magic, is the “bad is black” effect. “[It] only underscores the importance of finding ways to combat the various ways that our inherent biases can influence perceptions of guilt and innocence.” This essentially submits that anything with the label of “black” is automatically associated with being bad. What should really be taken away from this article, is that hexing, cursing, and crossing are used (much of the time) in a way that vindicates the practitioner of any wrongdoing.

As a witch that practices baneful magic, I don’t often advertise the fact, I prefer to not have to debate, argue, or even calmly explain my own beliefs and practices. Nor do I feel that anyone outside of the practitioner has much of a right to know the whys or hows. I would never divulge on whom these practices might be focused! Witchcraft and any other magical practice is a very personal thing—so, if you’re the target of someone who is claiming that they’ve done black magic on you, or that they’ve cursed you, you can in most cases, discount their claims. No magical practitioner worth their salt goes around telling their targets that they’ve done work on them. You can rest assured that those who claim they’ve cursed, hexed, or crossed you simply want you to believe they have and effectively scare the shit out of you.

And with that, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes…

A witch ought never to be frightened in the darkest forest … because she should be sure in her soul that the most terrifying thing in the forest was her.”

Terry Pratchett, Wintersmith

Work Cited

Dhruv Bose, Swapnil. “Dissecting the Curse of Roman Polanski’s Horror Classic ‘Rosemary’s Baby’.” Far Out Magazine, 24 Nov. 2020.

Farnstrom, Mary. “A Voodoo Practice: Mysteries of Zombification.” Puzzle Box Horror, 2 Apr. 2020.

Farnstrom, Mary. “African American Folk Magic: Hoodoo, Conjure, and Rootwork.” Puzzle Box Horror, 12 Feb. 2020.

Farnstrom, Mary. “Oddities of the Bayou: Religions and the Occult.” Puzzle Box Horror, 12 Feb. 2020.

Farnstrom, Mary. “Punishment for Grave Robbing Epitomized in Short Horror Film, Toe (2020).” Puzzle Box Horror, 5 Apr. 2020.

Farnstrom, Mary. “Rosemary’s Baby Review: Terror in Plain Sight.” Puzzle Box Horror, 24 Jan. 2021.

Freuler, Kate. Of Blood and Bones: Working with Shadow Magick and the Dark Moon. Llewellyn Publications, 2020.

Farnstrom, Mary. “The Utterly Wicked Truths About ‘Dark’ Magic.” Puzzle Box Horror, 11 Sept. 2020.

Grewal, Daisy. “The ‘Bad Is Black’ Effect.” Scientific American, Scientific American, 17 Jan. 2017.

“The Distinction between White and Black Magic.” The Book of Black Magic and Pacts: Including the Rites and Mysteries of goëtic Theurgy, Sorcery, and Infernal Necromancy, by Arthur Edward Waite, Weiser, 1984, pp. 13–15.

Categories
Horror Mystery and Lore Scary Movies and Series

Hoodoo, Horror, and The Skeleton Key

The Skeleton Key Movie Poster

A tragically underrated Southern Gothic style horror movie, The Skeleton Key (2005) has been given a bum reputation; a movie that is often overlooked movie within the horror genre, it’s actually worth watching at least once. Caroline Ellis (Kate Hudson) is a confident, yet sweet-natured hospice nurse living in New Orleans who grows frustrated with the general lack of compassion and care that her patients receive from the home at which she works. This frustration leads her to find a new opportunity wherein she becomes a live-in nurse for Ben Devereaux (John Hurt), an elderly man whose health has rapidly declined directly following a stroke. The wife, Violet (Gena Rowlands) seems reluctant to have Caroline there, insisting that she isn’t the right fit for the job.

After a discussion with the family estate lawyer, Luke (Peter Sarsgaard), Violet finally agrees that since no one else will take the job, she’ll just have to settle for Caroline. After moving in, it becomes evident that there are disturbing things going on within this neglected mansion in the Bayou. Caroline only becomes aware of these peculiarities after the mute, wheelchair-bound Ben is found trying to escape the house during a storm. She begins to explore the house and comes across strange artifacts in the attic, where she was told Ben had been when he had the stroke that left him partially paralyzed. Suspicions further rise after she learns of the house’s mysterious past from Violet—that it originally belonged to a family that had lynched two African American servants that had a hoodoo room in the attic where Ben supposedly had his stroke.

Violet tells Caroline that the house still belongs to them, insinuating that their ghosts punished her husband for going into their sacred space, but that she refuses to let anything happen to herself. Caroline seems to never fully trust what Violet has to say and decides to investigate further by going to an authentic hoodoo shop to see what it’s really all about and find out if it’s possible for someone to recover after they believe that they’ve been cursed. Her distrust of Violet leads her to perform her own secret hoodoo ritual to try to reverse the state that Ben is in—which results in Ben regaining some ability to speak, immediately asking Caroline to help him get away from Violet.

Caroline walking down the hallway in The Skeleton Key
The Skeleton Key (2005)

It becomes increasingly clear to Caroline that Violet has been performing hoodoo on Ben and her growing belief that hoodoo is real causes her to try to rescue Ben from Violet’s evil clutches. When she’s unable to flee with Ben, she’s caught by Luke and it’s revealed that he has been Violet’s accomplice all along. The culmination of the movie comes when Caroline is somehow able to call 9-1-1, then her friend, where she proclaims that the hoodoo is, “all real,” before the line is cut. She inadvertently traps herself inside of a magic circle where it’s made clear that Violet is actually the female servant Mama Cecile and shortly thereafter, she turns on the recording of the Conjure of Sacrifice, which effectively switches their bodies.

It turns out that Papa Justify had previously been inhabiting Ben’s body and had taken over Luke’s body and after switching bodies with Caroline, Mama Cecile force-feeds Caroline (now in Violet’s body) a potion which induces the paralytic state that Ben had been in. The whole thing had been a trick to get Caroline to believe in the power of hoodoo—because after all, you must believe in hoodoo for it to work on you. Once emergency services arrive in the morning it’s also revealed that Violet had left the house to Caroline so that Mama Cecile and Papa Justify could remain in the home and continue their body-swapping plot as long as they desired.

Categories
Featured Horror Mystery and Lore Lifestyle

The Utterly Wicked Truths About “Dark” Magic

The occult, by definition, boils down to an involvement in the supernatural, mystical, or magical beliefs, practices, phenomena. In the sixteenth century, the term occult sciences was used to refer to astrology, alchemy, and natural magic. In the nineteenth century, occultism emerged in France and began to be associated with various esoteric groups therein connected to Éliphas Lévi and Papus, then in 1875, it was introduced into the English language by esotericist, Helena Blavatsky. During the twentieth century, the term was used to describe a wide range of different authors and their particular eccentricities—finally, during the twenty-first century, it is commonly used to describe a certain esotericism and the several different categories that it encompasses, including but not limited to spiritualism, theosophy, anthroposophy, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, and New Age practices. Then again, to be fair, the occult has been used since the twentieth century to also reference a more broad category of supernatural, including the beliefs in vampires, fairies, UFOs, and parapsychology.

When it comes down to it though, what is most often thought of when the occult is considered? The occult is this unknowable magical thing that is mostly considered to have a nasty nature about it—but that’s not always the case, while the occult in the broadest sense it can be more than just witchcraft and esoteric cults; far be it for this witch to say what every other practitioner of the esoteric arts does in their own craft, I can only speak from my own experience.

What is Dark Magic?

There is a misconception about dark magic–even those that practice magic may believe that dark magic, some people refer to it as “black” magic, is always a malevolent thing–this isn’t even remotely true, although there are two sides to that coin. There are many practitioners of dark magic who don’t even appreciate the connotation that what they practice is inherently negative or malevolent at all. Here we refer to it as dark magic because it is the most recognizable way to refer to this type of magical practice, so what we really mean when we are discussing dark magic is any type of magic that is not regarding the free will, emotional, mental, or physical state of the recipient. Now you might be thinking that those parameters automatically make this magic negative or malevolent, but love spells, legal justice spells, and so much more fall under this umbrella, as it benefits the caster, but not necessarily the target. Curses, hexes, jinxes, and other negative forms of magic may also be–as an example, cursing an addict to no longer be able to stand the thought of drug use–that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, now is it? In this writer’s opinion, dark magic can be anything that the practitioner casts that they use an excess of emotion–something that mentally, emotionally, and physically drains them of any existing energy that they may possess.

This is especially true of curses, hexes, and other unsavory forms of magic … It has … to do with the emotion that fuels them: that raw, untamed emotion goes way beyond peel-me-off-the-ceiling anger and can only be termed as livid pissed. And livid pissed is exactly what we are by the time we get around to even consider such things. The old adage of adding fat to the fire doesn’t even begin to cover it when fueling magic with this sort of emotion. In fact, it’s more like adding a hefty dose of jet fuel to a hearth fire. There’s going to be more than a minor flare-up. There’s going to be an explosion to end all explosions. And anyone who thinks that a simple [magical] shield is going to deflect that sort of energy definitely has another thing coming.

Dorothy Morrison, Utterly Wicked: Hexes, Curses, and Other Unsavory Notions

Fallacies of Dark Magic

Dark Magic Practices
Photography by Eduardo Cano

Dark Magic, or as it is more often (and inappropriately) referred to as “black magic,” is not at all what it seems to be. There is an argument that there is no “color” in magic, but even within the practice, there are references to different colors of magic–black, grey, white, green, etc. ad nauseam. To be honest, if you’ve been a part of the witchcraft community for almost two decades, you’d find the use of color within magic as a tad bit pretentious. Those who practice the darker aspects of magic tend to refer to it as baneful magic–it’s honest and unpretentious and it says exactly what it means.

Whatever you’ve experienced, be cautious before you utter: someone cursed me! I cannot honestly tell you how many times I have heard this uttered from someone who was down on their luck–to be completely honest it is the most unlikely reason for someone having bad luck, sometimes bad things just happen. While it may be possible that a witch is pissed off enough to have cursed you, more often than not the best curse is someone’s conscience–that’s not a curse, it’s just your own ethical code telling you to take a look at what you’re doing to other people or, more likely, yourself.

Recount the related problems you’ve experienced to the present, and try to pinpoint the time they began … Then look for any semblance of reason for their occurrence … give some serious thought to what led you to … the conclusion that a hex had been tossed your way … look for reasonable explanations … Because if you can find plausible reasons for any of the … trials and tribulations connected to the time period, it could be that a curse may not be the culprit at all … It’s quite possible that you, yourself, are at fault.

Dorothy Morrison, Utterly Wicked: Hexes, Curses, and Other Unsavory Notions

Are you sure that I haven’t been cursed? Yes, we’re pretty sure, and mostly because this author has personally cursed someone before–cursing, crossing, or hexing someone is definitely not as easy as it seems. It takes energy that is derived from our personal emotional, mental, and physical reserves. Most of the time, even if we’re really angry at someone, we realize that the nasty person that we’re angry at isn’t worth the time and energy it takes to do any dark work. If you’re an awful person though, we might take the time and sacrifice the energy, but that’s a personal choice.

… Cursing someone takes an inordinate amount of energy. Your energy. Energy that you’ve stored for other things, like the simple business of everyday living. And cursing someone effectively is going to wipe out all your reserves. But even if that weren’t the case, it’s important to remember that you’re going to be transferring that energy to the person on the other end of your magic. So, there’s a good chance that you’re inadvertently going to pick up some of that person’s energy along the way too. Do you really want that nasty stuff on you? Probably not.

Dorothy Morrison, Utterly Wicked: Hexes, Curses, and Other Unsavory Notions

Another thing I have heard in my time of practicing witchcraft is that blood magic is evil magic. That is absolutely not true–blood magic is just more powerful and potent magic. If a witch is practicing blood magic that usually means they know what they’re doing. If we’re using our own blood it means it is going to affect us personally, if we’re using someone else’s blood it means that they are going to be personally affected.

You Can’t Get Cursed if You Don’t Believe is probably the most laughable thing I have ever heard in my life–because if it were true there wouldn’t be any instances of curses at all. If you found out that someone was cursing you and you decided that you just didn’t believe, it would be quite ineffective, right? Truly, if you don’t believe it curses, it actually is more effective to let the person know in some way that they have been cursed. There is nothing more effective than using someone’s imagination against them.

Dark Magic Among the Different Practices

There are so many different religions and secular occult practices that have darker leanings–while not all of the practitioners utilize the darker aspects of these religions or occult practices, they are still there and they are still very legitimate practices.

Voodoo, Hoodoo, Rootwork, Conjure, Appalachian Folk Magic, & Santeria

These are four different titles for some very similar practices–Voodoo, is perhaps the exception among the bunch, as it is based within a religious practice and the occult practices that are utilized are done so within the context of that religion. Hoodoo, rootwork, and folk magic are unique in the fact that they are not necessarily tied into a religion but can be practiced by anyone and everyone–so long as they have the proper knowledge to utilize the techniques that are a learned aspect of these decades-old traditions that are typically passed down through familial lines. While many of these occult practices exist solely in the southern United States, such as Louisiana, Florida, Georgia, etc.–there are also the folk magic practices that are known as Appalachian folk magic which occur throughout the Appalachian Mountains.

Voodoo, Vodou, and Vodun are the variations upon the spelling of the same practice–it really just depends upon where the religion is practiced. It’s a religion that practices a sort of folk magic, but differing from other types of folk magic, it is entirely tied into the Christian or Catholic faiths. Voodoo also ties in African folk magic, however, by adding in the veneration of spirits or loa. If you’re looking for a movie that most accurately depicts voodoo, even if it is a bit campy and over-the-top, take a moment to watch The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988). You’ll get the feel of voodoo without having to delve too deeply into it. If you’re looking to get revenge on someone, while we certainly don’t recommend jumping into something as complex as Voodoo and getting in over your head, crossing is what you’re after when it comes to the Voodoo religion. It usually utilizes personal objects or bodily fluids–that’s an entirely different topic on its own.

If you’re looking to make someone bend completely to your will, you’re probably thinking of Haitian zombification. Zombies are some of the darker aspects of the Voodoo religion–as a whole, the religion doesn’t typically approve of zombification, you can learn more about the practice in one of our older articles.

Voodoo Dolls and Doll Babies are always portrayed in a negative light in Voodoo, but that’s not entirely undeserved, it’s definitely not as alluring to think about making a voodoo doll out of love for someone. When we think of voodoo dolls we immediately think of that idealization of acting out your anger and frustrations out on your target. We definitely believe that they are worth investigating more thoroughly before anyone might utilize such a technique for revenge.

Within Hoodoo, Conjure, Rootwork, & Appalachian Folk Magic you’ll find a lot of diversity, but a surprising amount of similarities considering the different terms to refer to this type of practice. This practice is generally considered separate from any religious practice, but isn’t exempt from including it either. Hoodoo, conjure, and rootwork are primarily practiced in the Southern United States, as well as the Caribbean and some other regions. Appalachian Folk Magic is quite similar to the hoodoo, conjure, and rootwork practices, but this particular folk magic practice only naturally occurs in the Appalachian Mountains.

The religion of Santeria is quite complex–the beliefs are more difficult to follow because a lot of the details of the practice are hidden to those who are not inducted into the religion. It has a poor reputation due to the newspaper articles that deteriorate the image of Santeria as a whole.

Satanism and Daemonolatry

Satanism is one of the most misunderstood occult practices, but it is also an umbrella term that encompasses quite a few different practices and religions. The witchcraft that follows along with the different practices of Satanism are not at all like what they show in the movies, in fact, the practices are generally a surprisingly vanilla expression of magical practice.

Daemonolatry is more of a practice that is considered separate from satanic practices–it is a less religious practice and can be compared to hoodoo the same way that satanism can be compared to voodoo.

Witch giving sacrifice
Photography by Halanna Halila

Traditional Witchcraft

You don’t have to be any of the above mentioned practitioners in order to practice baneful magic–you can be of pretty much any magical background (except for, possibly, Wicca) and practice magic that is aimed to harm another person.

If you’re looking for more information on stuff like this, leave us a comment and let us know!