The Witch's Bone: Black Cat and Hexing Tradition

The Witch-Bone

Warning: disturbing content relating to animal folklore and witchcraft 

All it takes, in the eyes of some of our early American ancestors, is the bone of a black cat to make a witch. It's a simple initiation into the dark works through the terrifying and terrible magic of witch bones. As folklore in the South would put it, a witch bone was used to "control cattle, horses, or women as user wishes”, it could also grant desires, invisibility and unlock doors.  The “witch bone” in American folklore was a marvel, it could be used to control animals at will- particularly horses (mirroring the Toadman tradition of England), and, even to fly.  Interestingly enough, it was obtaining a witch bone that could make a person into a witch according to our folklore.  The toad-witches and toad-masters of English supernaturalism have witchbones which provide them with their power.  The witches of the New World were said to have witch bones of a black cat most often, which provides them with their power.  There's much to be fascinated by with this particularly cruel, but common bit of Americana. Its cross-cultural parallels are pretty wide-ranging, and its method of obtainment, a boiling cauldron of horror.
"Carry black-cat bones and you will have the powers of a magician"- Ray Broadus Browne, Alabama Folklore, Folklore Studies (1957)

Different cultures have their own folklore regarding the possession of a bone or object of power from an animal.  These days we think of lucky rabbit's foot or gator’s teeth when we think of this tradition of magic, but moles, like toads and cats, were also perfectly suitable victims of magicians, shamans, witches or others looking to obtain substantial mystical power.  In the case of the mole, it was the paw or organs taken, not the bones, but the concept is the same: killing for power. Possession of a sacred object, including a bone from some sacred witching animal, is a staple of witchcraft across the cultural spectrum.  I for one, am both horrified and intrigued by this magic- but then again, I love cross-cultural parallels in magic, it only serves to bolster my sense of identity as a mixed pagan and an American.  One thing about witches that is universal is our association with animals, and of all the animals in the world associated with witchery, the black cat is probably top-dog.
"Amulets of animal bone appear to be both ancient and worldwide.  The magical power of the black cat bone and its associated rituals have been documented, in nearly identical forms, in Hungary, Finland, and Ireland, as well as countries colonized by Europeans, including the United States, Canada, the Philippines, and the Cape Verde Islands. The English "Toadmen" tradition is strikingly parallel.  When the proper bone from a toad is recovered through rituals very similar to those of the black cat, its owner acquires a variety of uncanny powers, including the abilities to become invisible, cure various ailments, and attract good fortune."-  by Anand Prahlad, African American Folklore: An Encyclopedia for Students: An Encyclopedia for Students (p.31)

Though witch bones appear throughout a wide range of Southern folklore, the earliest instances found of black cat bone magic appear to center around German Canadian, African American, and Afro Caribbean sources and is featured in hoodoo and conjure charms. It’s likely that witch bone lore in America is at least in parts, a synthesis of European, Indigenous and African magical superstitions put together. Most of the lore we've collected and studied comes to us from sources in New England, the Midwest (specifically German settled areas) and the Southeast among black communities, where there’s a long tradition of syncretic superstitions practiced by whites, blacks and others alike. "There is a superstition among the Southern negroes that a particular bone in the tail of a perfectly black cat, when carried by any person, renders them invisible. The animal must be placed in a pot alive, and boiled."- C.L Daniels, Encyclopedia of Superstitions, Folklore, and the Occult Sciences of the World

In Southern folklore, a lucky cat bone is a common ingredient in hoodoo charms as well as a known protective charm for the holder.  It wasn’t considered a safe or benign magic, no, the black cat bone had a history of drawing fear and apprehension, especially in rural African American communities who saw the bone as potentially very powerful.  

"The power of a witch or a wizard to banish at will is obtained from some bone of a black cat."-Frank C. Brown, The Frank C. Brown Collection of NC Folklore: Vol. VII: Popular Beliefs and Superstitions from North Carolina, Part 2

The black cat witch bone was purportedly used as an auspicious charm in addition to being regarded as a witch’s relic.  There’s a few theories as to why cats appear most prominently as the source of a witch bone: cat’s standing association with witchcraft and magic, their history as being creatures of the otherworld, their being known as companions for the lonely and elderly, the idea that witches can shape-shift, fly or hex people in that form...  The cat itself was believed in early American folklore to have a specific bone in its body that was auspicious and powerful.  A black cat, from the perspective of African American folklore, was particularly useful in this regard as they were perceived as more “otherworldly” and “evil”.  As you can imagine, the old witches weren’t said to wait until their cats died to get the bone, rather, they took the bone after killing the cat. That was rather the point.

"The Black Cat Bone, on the other hand, is a much more sinister object, at least in the manner in which it is purportedly collected.  According to folklore the black cat has within its body a single bone with magical properties, properties transferable to the man or woman who possesses it."- Journal of the Folklore Institute

The idea is; that one could kill a witch by obtaining and destroying her bone- the bone granted to them by their pact with otherworldly forces which contained not only their power but their life force.  Witch bones were much like magic roots and lodestones in that way, a magical object with a life of its own- perhaps even possessed by a spirit or devil- which gave luck and power to the holder. As always in American witchlore, what can make a witch can also destroy her, and so the witch bone is a double-edged magic; it may give you initiatory powers, but in the hands of your enemy, your bone could be your undoing. The general idea is, if the witch is made by the bone and it is the resting place of her power which she had traded her immortal soul to obtain, then by taking that power away and breaking it, she would be rendered impotent or dead; "Take the witch's magic black cat's bone away from her, and she cannot cast any more spells."- Joseph D. Clark, Joseph Deadrick Clark, Beastly Folklore (1968). This applies to a witch’s knots, roots, silver bullet, lodestone or mojo bag- that which gave her power can be used to destroy him as well.  That’s the nature of witchlore- there’s always an ironic loophole.

Boiled Cat and Dried Toad

There were a few ways you could become a witch by obtaining a witch-bone according to folklore, and none were very pleasant. If you wished to be a witch or magician with the powers of conversation, eloquence, divination, healing and legal acumen, you would smother the mole. If you wanted to have the power to speak to horses and change skins or draw love to yourself, you would stake the toad;

"46. Shut a toad in a box bored full of holes, place near an ant hill, and leave it until the toad dies and the ants clean the bones. A certain hook-shaped bone is to be taken as a love charm. If this is fastened in the sleeve of a girl she will marry you. -Pennsylvania."- Memoirs of the American Folk-lore Society

And, if you wanted the power of protection and wealth, you would cut the foot off the rabbit, and if you wanted to gain the power of luck, flight, and invisibility, you would boil the cat. The mole, toad, rabbit, and cat are all allies to the witch of old, and their sacrifice was said to grant power to the one who did the deed. An unpleasant aspect of our practice to be sure and the folklore of obtaining cat bone was particularly gruesome...

"To become a witch, drop a live black cat into a black kettle of boiling water.  (If I remember correctly, the time specified was midnight.) When the flesh has separated from the bones, collect all the bones, take them to the river, and drop them in. No matter how swift the water is, one of the bones will rise and float up the stream.  This is the witch-bone, and as long as you keep it, you are a witch."- The Frank C. Brown Collection of NC Folklore: Vol. VII: Popular Beliefs and Superstitions from North Carolina, Part 2

Much like the toad-witching of England, the cat-witching of America required some gruesome actions that are, thankfully, unacceptable today.  

“-and the Devil took her in: told her, like he done the others, all about how to be a witch-- boillin’ a black cat at sun-up on the east side of a mountain to get the witch bone shootin at the sun with a silver bullet, and washin’ your hands in a spring nine times with strong lye soap and sayin every time you rinse,

“I wash my soul as free from grace,
as my two hands are free of grease!”
-Richard Chase, American Folk Tales and Songs

Despite the horrors of how witch bones are obtained in folklore, they’re an incredibly fun bit of magic with some real applications for modern witches.   Like most old folk charms, there are possible ways to adapt these old charms for the modern world and our modern sensibilities. But where our ancestors were concerned, a witch bone was serious business and had to be obtained through some specific, icky, formulas.  Witches of old were said to drown the cat, or burn it- and whatever bone survives is your witchbone, however, the formula tends to be a little more involved than that:

"Zora Neale Hurston, In Mules and Men: Negro Folktales and Voodoo Practice in the South (1935), explains the importance of the black cat bones in hoodoo and describes a ceremony for selecting the correct bone by boiling the cat and passing the bones through her mouth until one tasted bitter (221).  Puckett describes a similar ceremony where the person should pass the bones through the mouth while looking into a mirror." -Lynn Moss Sanders, Howard W. Odum's Folklore Odyssey: Transformation to Tolerance Through African American Folk Studies

  Fire played a role in witch bone selection; supposedly the witch bone does not burn during the selection process and that is its signature. Water plays a role in this tradition of magic, as the medium that reveals the true bone to the witch- either by way of rushing river, boiling pot or saliva from the mouth.

"--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." Puckett, Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro

A graveyard was an ideal place for this magic, for an animal caught there was considered to be a powerful spell additive. When the bones are separated from the flesh, they are cast into the river and the bone that floats is the witch. Or, according to some Southern folkore, "When this has been done, take the bones together with a small mirror and go to some cross-roads in the woods where no one will see you." This secret working of dark magic in a liminal space such as a graveyard or a crossroads is prevalent in witchlore of the Americas. The utilization of a mirror, an object of deep superstition and malefic regard had its place in witch bone magic just as water and fire. Newbell Niles Puckett continues, "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." As you do this, you are to pass the bones over your tongue, and when you've reached the right bone- rather than a bitter taste as Zora described, one would see the mirror go dark. This darkness is the sigil of the witch bone obtained. Midnight also plays a role in this magic (as it does in most American folklore), as it is the ideal time in which to obtain a lucky bone after casting cat bones into running water, simply by boiling the cat and saying, "I now give my body to the King of Bedlam."

The Invisible Bone & The Cat's Revenge

"Take a black cat and carry it alive down to a spring of running water; next take a pot and fill it with water and put it over a fire to boil.  When the water begins to boil, put the black cat in it alive and let the cat boil until all the meat has been boiled from its bones.  When this has been done, pour the contents of the pot into the spring, and the bones of the cat will go up the stream instead of down the stream.  The person who has done this will begin to see the devil and all of his imps." Journal of American Folklore

When I think of the witch bone in the modern era, I’m not interpreting the lore literally.  Rather, I see the “bone” in a figurative sense; a talisman or amulet of some kind which provides spiritual aid to the practitioner who obtained it. That's because a bone isn't the only spirited object that witches form alliances with or are initiated by in North American witchlore; a sacred root, lodestone or mojo bag could provide the same witching power as well.

Maybe we symbolize and personify this force in the shape of our bones, or talismans of power, but the true place from which a witch’s power is delivered is sourced from the otherworld and flows through that puncture, that portal within us that stores all of our creativity, imagination, and willpower.  Obtaining the bone of a toad or cat won’t necessarily make you a witch in my opinion, but they were once known to act as mediums for facilitating between you and the spirit world in a way that may otherwise be more difficult. Your witch bone may be a silver talisman, or alraun, or mojo bag full of mysteries, or maybe it is hidden inside you from the beginning. Objects of power come in a great many shapes and forms, at different times of your life.  They’ll present themselves, they’ll put themselves in your way and automatically draw you to them.  However...

Witch bones are different; they’re the kind of magic you seize by the hand with a choking grip. It is witchcraft that is wrestled away from the life of another creature.  This is a difference in magic, the kind of distinction that gives rise to the notion of black vs white magic. I don’t believe in moral duality- a witch ought to know better than that, but there is a big difference between being gifted your power and seizing power for yourself.  I make no judgments of either path: witches will witch. Frankly, obtaining a witch bone can be adapted to a more modern moral palate; there are other ways of gaining a powerful ally like a witch bone than through boiling a cat or staking a toad. However, you or anyone else chooses to go about obtaining your so-called “witch-bone”, be wary, lest this piece of yourself is discovered and taken- breaking you and your witchcraft to pieces, rendering you dead of power and without a soul. Think on that before you start the boiling pot...


References...
  • African American Folklore: An Encyclopedia for Students: An Encyclopedia for Students by Anand Prahlad
  • The Frank C. Brown Collection of NC Folklore: Vol. VII 
  • Journal of the Folklore Institute, Volume 16 by Indiana University
  • Seneca Myths and Folk Tales by Arthur Caswell Parker
  • American Folk Tales and Songs by Richard Chase
  • Howard W. Odum's Folklore Odyssey: Transformation to Tolerance Through African American Folk Studies by Lynn Moss Sanders
  • Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro by Newbell Niles Puckett
  • Mules and Men: Negro Folktales and Voodoo Practice in the South by Zora Neale Hurston
  • Type and Motif-Index of the Folktales of England and North America by Ernest W. Baughman

Favored 2018 Indie Tarot


    2018 was the year of line-drawing occult art.  Trends come and go but line-art and etching-style occult art never go out of style for us witches.  Black and white is the new style du jour in the tarot community, and I expect it's going to last a bit.  Like many of you, I'm a little tired of the hyper-colored, digital art extreme that tarot took in the mid 2000's so I'm enjoying this return to traditional, monochromatic simplistic designs.  The last few decks I've reviewed (Ophidia Rosa, Absurd and Mildred Payne) were all moving towards this new edge in tarotcraft, relying on less color and more illustration.  Well, 2019 is here and I've got some decks from last year that you are sure to add to your collection once you've seen them.

    For me, there were four stand-out decks from 2018:  The Bianco Nero, The Line Defined, The Moon Void and The Marigold Tarot (which I'm leaving out because it already received it's own review HERE).  I was a backer for Marigold and Line Defined on kickstarter, which is honestly one of the best ways to stay ahead of the crowd when it comes to up and coming tarot decks, artists and editions.  The Bianco I discovered at a pagan fair over the summer and the Moon Void fell into my lap while binging on tarot reviews.

Let's take a look at my Top Tarot Decks of 2018


3. Bianco Nero Tarot

Likes: the slim card-stock- I'm seeing a trend of fatter, heavier card-stock and I don't love it when it comes to shuffles, but the Bianco is slim, smooth and skinny enough to move in my hands like butter.  The illustrations are classic and realistic, beautifully detailed, with a ton of hidden symbolism.
Thoughts: Mr. Marco Proietto, make another deck just like this one, but with my adorable face on every card.  You'll sell millions!


2. The Line Defined Tarot

Likes: the rough gold edging, the detailed lines, the symmetry and balance; I love how life and death are depicted in every card.
Thoughts: This was a worthy backing, I think this artist could make a few really fascinating decks.


1. The Moon Void Tarot
Likes: Every card is full of self expression and I love the splashes of red here and there to break up the monotony of the black and white.  It's both feminine and soft without losing its edgy modernism, I adore it.
Thoughts:  None, buy this deck.

2019 Up-and-Coming Nods
The Philly Tarot


Follow HERE
Bruuuuhhhhh you have no idea how much this deck just tickles my patriotic fancy, but most importantly (and real the reason I'm backing and buying his deck) is Frank from It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia will be gracing the World Card.  I literally need nothing else in life but this card.  The art looks great and the theme is a combination of pride and humor, but nothing will sell a deck like Danny DeVito.  Philly Tarot, shut-up and take my money.

The Witch's Bullet: Hairball and Hexing Tradition


Witch Balls & Witch Bullets

"They kill cattle by shooting them with balls of hair, stunt the growth of children, make cows go dry, prevent the formation of butter and soap, and inflict a variety of personal injuries and domestic misfortunes."- Journal of American Folklore

 I'm not normally one to espouse the use of harmful charms, but I do respect their history and their value. Nothing is more witchy than a good hex, and the New World has a particular tradition of cursing and hex charms that are ever so interesting to reclaim in our modern practices. Our baleful charms are those involving dolls, knots, needles, powders, potions, and yes, even hairballs.  

"Witches are supposed to shoot animals with little hairballs, which pass through the hide and lodge, without leaving any hole."
- Cora L. Daniels, Encyclopedia of Superstitions, Folklore, and the Occult Sciences of the World

There are two kinds of “witch balls”: those of Western European origin, made of glass, designed to negate or redirect the influence of an evil spirit or a witch, and, those of New World make which are balls of cattle or horsehair rolled with an adhesive substance into a small ball which is then used in cursing spells.  One is to avert witchcraft, the other is an expression of malicious witchcraft, or, counter-magic, or, an apotropaic charm.

"A small bunch of hair from a horse or cow is rolled between the two hands into a small round ball, and this ball is used as a bullet.  In whatever part the ball hits the picture, in the corresponding part of the victim, a wound is inflicted." -Journal of American Folklore

Actual accounts of witch-bullets being used to harm people and livestock have been recorded throughout the last few hundred years, with reports detailing physical evidence of injury and even naming some of those witches, conjurers, and sorcerers accused of practicing this magic.  Conversely, the average non-witch folk charmer often resorted to hairballs as an anti-witch charm. "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."- Newbell Niles Puckett, Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro (1926)

Effingham County Illinois folklore regards witch balls as a charm that can be shot against a witch. And just as silver bullets (another traditional charm with European parallels whose real-life applications seem to appear mostly in American gun magic folklore) were used to both create and destroy witches the simple hairball could have this power.

"Among their evil acts, they would transform unwitting sleepers into horses and ride them, bewitch cattle to stop them from giving milk, and kill or injure victims by throwing witch balls, made of hair from cows or horses, at pictures of their victims." -Jeffrey E. Anderson, Conjure in African American Society

Where the hair-balls are concerned, witches in Kentucky, Illinois and Indiana folklore, were said to roll these little hairballs into bullets to be used in a form of sympathetic magic in which the balls were shot at pictures or depictions of one’s enemy.  It was believed that if one were to die from this magic, a ball of hair would be found within the victim. These differ greatly from the famed bezoars, which were said to have valuable, beneficial qualities. "Randolph notes witch balls described as being the size of a marble made of black horsehair, and another one made of black hair and beeswax that was rolled up into a hard pellet.  The belief is that a hairball (or witch bullet) could be thrown or shot at a person by a witch. This hairball (or bullet) would be found on the body of anyone killed by this method."-Gerald Milnes, Signs, Cures, & Witchery: German Appalachian Folklore (p. 168)

Mentions in both story-telling and in recorded reports stretch throughout the South and Midwest, cited most frequently in the Carolinas, Virginia, Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Delaware, Tennessee, Iowa, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and even Michigan.

“The concept of supernatural shooting was common to all, but the notion that witches fired balls or bullets seems to have developed from Native American conceptualization of European technology within a supernatural framework of disease, which then was passed back to the European colonizers.”-Owen Davies, America Bewitched (p.41-42)


Cattle-Killer


"Conjure balls, snakes, and all kinds of reptiles are often found in the beds of those who have been 'conjured'."- Journal of American Folklore

Conjure balls were not unlike witch bullets, with more parallels to West African hex charms- these usually took the form of small bundles or mud balls filled with hair, rags, and pins. The purpose of this magic is to cause living things within or internal turmoil, leading to death most often if not treated by a witch-doctor. Where conjure balls were concerned, it was regularly described as a ball of earth gathered from the homestead of the victim, hair (the specific number was usually not referenced but one Indiana bit of lore suggests seven or nine pieces were to be used), red knotted rag and the tips of nails, combined together and thrown at a house, above a door or in the path of a victim.
"The 'cungur bag' may contain many articles, but additional value is given if it contains camel's hair procured from the camel by the possessor of the bag."- Journal of American Folklore

Or, the ball was described as an actual bundle in red cloth full of similar items, items which will cause great illness both physically and spiritually. In parts of Louisiana conjure traditions, the conjure ball is worn on the person and its ingredients are not always known, as it is prepared by an experienced conjurer or witch-doctor.  In Texas folk medicine, a conjure ball was to be worn on the person as an apotropaic anti-witch charm.  This form of Afro-diasporic magic permeated the lore of hoodoo, voodoo and conjure and found parallels in the Western-European American and Southeast Indigenous projectile magic traditions. "A spell was usually worked by means of a conjure ball buried in the victim's path.  Bent pins and human hair seem to have been the commonest ingredients, though they were reported to contain snake's tongues, lizard tails, ground puppy claws and so on down the gruesome gamut."-Frank C. Brown, Frank C. Brown Collection of North Carolina Folklore: Popular Beliefs and Superstitions from North Carolina

This form of sympathetic magic became a staple part of witch-lore throughout much of the South, Southeast, and Midwest, and was exclusively tied to the act of cursing by or against witches- something that became a popular superstition in agrarian Afro-American communities and is steeped into rural white American folktales as well.   "Mr. Stephenson writes that in Northampton County, North Carolina, conjure-bags sometimes contain, along with locks of hair and rocks, dirt from the tracks of the person to be injured."-Tom Peete Cross, Witchcraft in North Carolina
Witch balls, like so many other traditions of magic in America, represent the synthesis of mystical beliefs shared between three very different cultures thrown together at a tremendously difficult time in history, in philosophy, in faith.


Elf-Shots: "Those Arrows That Fly in the Dark "

"The elf-shot, so deadly to man and beast during the Middle Ages, finds a close parallel in the missiles used by the modern witch.  Among the white population of the Allegheny Mountains witches kill cattle by shooting them with balls of hair and in western Maryland "witches' bullets" of pith of hair are often found in the bodies of deal animals."- Tom Peete Cross, Witchcraft in North Carolina.

Not too much unlike the notion of elf-shots from European folklore (a feature which made its way to Scottish, Irish and German-American communities) which were invisible missiles fired by fairies and the like at livestock. Each was very different from the other in origin and material, but the intention was the same; hex-craft.
"-Anglo-Saxon references suggest elf-shot was generally attributed to internal injuries from invisible, magical, projectile weapons wielded by unseen malevolent elves, or witches." -Michael D. C. Drout, J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: Scholarship and Critical Assessment


Though an elf-shot was not inherently a facet of witchcraft, nor associated with hairballs, the concept would have been a familiar bit of folklore to Irish, Scottish and English settlers in the New World, which would have made recognizing the significance of “the magic evil invisible ball that kills cattle” recognized by African and Indigenous groups a familiar supernatural experience.  An elf-shot was a hidden arrow, a sharp prick of some unseen missile launched from the fairies. The effect of a fairies arrow was much like that of the conjure ball and the witch-bullet- when shot at a victim, it caused death without leaving scarcely a mark on the flesh.  All that was said to be left behind was a triangular stone.

"Using Elf Shot is one of the many ways that witches and fairies overlap and it is truly a fearsome power."-Morgan Daimler, Traveling the Fairy Path

As hysteria amassed and the distinction between all that was fairy and all that was occult became ever blurred, the association between fairies and witches, their familiars and the devils themselves became ever deeper.  While I don’t personally believe the wee folk are classified with demons, devils and are not analogous to witches, I do respect the history of association between people with power and the other crowd. After all, famed witch Isobel Gowdie whose surrounding lore shaped some of our perceptions of Old World witchcraft traditions, herself claimed in her trial to have consorted with fairies at the sabbath and learned their art of deadly darts.

“Isobel claimed that her sabbath experiences included the learning of maleficent spells and the performance of harmful magic  She described stealing crops from fields, milk from cows, and fish from fishing boats; raising winds, killing people with elf arrows and increasing the sickness of a local minister with whom she and her company had a grievance.”-Emma Wilby, Cunning Folk, and Familiar Spirits: Shamanic Visionary traditions in Early Modern British Witchcraft and Magic (p.88)


Shooting a Ball at Reality


There’s much to criticize in how the New World developed its unique traditions of folk magic, but there’s a lot to celebrate too, so much to enjoy about the combination of beliefs that made survival for everyone’s heritage in the New World possible.  It’s more blessing than a burden, this Afro-Euro-Indigenous combination of folklore and magical currents. Even things seemingly at odds will inevitably find some commonalities. And something as mean as a curse, has been a place of common ground. Witch-bullets have become one of those charms whose origins show a synthesis of beliefs, a recognition between peoples regarding a universal problem: witches.  And for some reason, our ancestors often agreed that witches fired shots at their victims, and in America, we do it with hairballs.

...More likely than not, our dear ancestors, who had far less understanding of medicine than we have, attributed an accumulation of hair in the stomach to that of a witch's bullet, not understanding the commonality of such an occurrence in many mammals, and so a person or livestock or pet who was found to have a hairball within it, was thought to be cursed by a witch.  The reality is most people or animals that would have suffered from hairballs in their stomachs were likely inhaling or eating materials, fibers which they could not naturally break down, people working in industries with lots of wool and textiles, people suffering from trichophagia, animals who groom themselves by licking, and of course, the witches’ themselves; cats. We know much more now about the nature of hair found in the stomach, but aside from the cold hard science, we can enjoy the spiritual value and supernatural history of this tradition of witchlore.

Modern ways to implement this practice would be to use witch-balls in their apotropaic design, to protect you, the wearer, from spiritual attacks just as those of the Bell witch haunting were said to have done. If you're not averse to cursing, follow the old formulas of shooting the ball at an image of the enemy or at their house, or in their steps. Types of hair commonly mentioned for use are horse, cow, buffalo, black dog, and black cat as well as the hair of your enemy for curses, the hair of the dead for the same, or, the hair of yourself for protection if you intend to keep the charm on you. If it were my bullet, I'd use the hair of a black rabbit... for that extra kick of swiftness.

However we came by our notion of hairball bullets, it’s a magical tradition shared in by witch and non-witch Americans alike, and ain't that grand?

References and Resources..

  • Frank C. Brown Collection of North Carolina Folklore: Popular Beliefs and Superstitions from North Carolina by Frank C. Brown
  • Faiths and Folklore, Volume 1 by John Brand
  • Witchcraft in Illinois: A Cultural History by Michael Kleen
  • The Silver Bullet, and Other American Witch Stories by Hubert J. Davis
  • America Bewitched by Owen Davies
  • Signs, Cures, & Witchery: German Appalachian Folklore by Gerald Milnes
  • Conjure in African American Society by Jeffrey E. Anderson
  • Traveling the Fairy Path by Morgan Daimler
  • Journal of American Folklore
  • Witchcraft in North Carolina by Tom Peete Cross
  • History of Effingham County, Illinois edited by William Henry Perrin
  • Texas folk medicine: 1,333 Cures, Remedies, Preventives & Health Practices by John Q. Anderson
  • Indiana Folklore and Oral History, Volumes 13-15 by Published at Indiana University by the Folklore Institute and the Oral History Research Center, 1980
  • The Louisiana experience: an introduction to the culture of the Bayou State by Mary Alice Fontenot, Julie Landry

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