The Waters We Witch For

Water Witching (dowsing) Wands and their Familiars.  This compass is used in my tradition of witchcraft to represent the art of navigating nature with our spiritual senses, and the guides who dwell along the roads we take.  Frog and Driftwood and Water; Mole and Apple and Earth; Crow and Willow and Wind; Moth and Persimmon and Fire.  Illustration by Andrew G. Jimenez.

I am no water witch.  It is not my element, it rarely appears in my natal chart; I fear the open water and am terrified of unseen depths.  I love a bath but loathe the mystery that lies beyond the abyss.  I am a child of wind, fire, earth.  But... where magic is concerned, water is a great inspiration; I am a under the protection of La Sirene, she who knows well my fear of water, and my love for magic.  She does not begrudge my inherent fear of the open sea.  She knows I am a daughter of beaches and shores and river people on every side of my ancestry.  She knows the rushing waters between mountain and sea is my place of work; especially where the waters weave off into swamps, marshes, wetlands and estuary mucks.  That's where water and I may meet in peace and congress.

There are a great many waters in folk-magic, witchcraft and occult lore.  Like a mirror, or a pool of ink, it becomes a conduit for the living, the dead and everything beyond that.  Water is transcending of worldly things and a birth fluid that ushers in life, and often leads to annihilation.  It is from the water we emerged.  We release water from our bodies as urine, spit, sweat, tears-- all of these fluids make for key ingredients in some of the most powerful charms and spells imaginable.

We need waters to live, we need water to cool ourselves, we need it for sanitation... it is probably the most popular element among practitioners (something I understand but don't personally resonate with).  What is it about the waters of our small world that give us so much inspiration?  So much power?  It gives.  It is the giver of immediate relief, like the earth often is-- it is not as aloof and wayward a lover like the wind (though water is as fickle and wandering)  or searing, passionate force of destruction like fire (though it is just as overwhelming and consuming).  And so, thought I do not love water the way I love warm, dry air, I have come to know water as a necessary component to my works. 

There are quite a few kinds of water that can be used in the work we do as witches, sorcerers and folk-magicians, and to each of them, a spirit, a nature of things.  Some waters are made gifted by the nature of their placement, or their collection.  Some waters, like those of springs and sea tend to be considered more naturally gifted with power, while others are only made sacred by the circumstances of their treatment, or made powerful by the time of their collection, the tide of the year.  And some magical waters are manufactured through simple alchemies.  What makes a water magical?  Is it "powerful" because it has been touched by moonlight or soaked with earthworms?  What is it about the ability for water to absorb and transfer that makes it so easy to give meaning to? Who knows really.  There's more mystery to water than I really understand, so much history behind its use in ritual and in life.  I'm less concerned with the why and more of the "if"-- if it works for my needs, than why not? I use quite a bit of different waters in my practice, some more than others.  Like all things, the diversity of magic in the realm of water is a gift to any magician.

Some Curious Waters of Note

Stump/Spunk Water-  What do you need a cure for?  Freckles (why would you, they're perfect!), rheumatism? Warts? Bad hair? Skin-complaints?  Stump Water is the panacea of the afflicted and blighted.  The gambler's magical wash, the sanctifier of rabbits feet and conjure-bags, the water that accumulates in the hollow or impression of stumps and logs offers a unique magic and is deeply entrenched in American folk medicine.  Stump Water, like Unspoken Water, is gathered with specific rites and taboos observed: moonlight, silence, backwardness-- it is all meant to give an efficacious punch of flavor to this talisman, which can be carried in a bottle on the person, or used to anoint a talisman of great power; specifically a graveyard rabbit's foot.

"To stop a "haunt" walking, boil prickly pear roots in stump water and sprinkle in the yard with the water."
(CLD)

Holy Water- oh, the great water of purity, consecrated in the name of some divine entity, some god of grace and morality.  The holy water of the Church has qualities of banishment and exorcism, and can be used to bring a searing cleanliness to all it touches.  It may drive out some classes of demon and may even harm some witches.  Mostly, holy water drives away what some call "evil".  I don't believe in true good or true evil, so I have very little use for holy water, but I appreciate that there are magicians who really believe in a great evil and that it can be banished with this kind of water.  As a witch, I'm not even remotely affected by holy water (my devils aint scared of shit) and nothing around me is either; my banishing water is simple sea-water.  To each their own.

Easter-Water- Cora L. Daniels describes this as water taken up before sunrise on Easter Morning from a running stream, which is then bottled and kept for good luck, prosperity and health.  It is used in Catholic traditions as a holy water, mixed with consecrated oils or herbs and is supposed to keep year-round.  My only experience with Easter water is recent; my work with Christo-Pagan friends has led me down the road of their holy waters and I'm rather fond of this revived tradition.  Might not be my flavor of magic but man do I love when people find power anywhere they can.

Saining Water- this bit of Scottish magic became pretty popular with the resurgence of Western European traditional witchcraft practices.  The silvered water, used to bless newborns, the hexed, the cursed and to heal the ill. Sprinkling saining water with a branch of juniper has become a common practice among modern witches.  Silver is one powerful metal in the realm of Western occultism, and this is particularly true in traditions of American magic; it is the killer of witches and their familiars, the bane of the graveyard haunts and a powerful anti-evil charm that was supposed to inherently drive away all supernatural and otherworldly entities.

Unspoken WaterThe Journal of American Folklore and the Frank C. Brown Collection reference unspoken water as that which is collected from the creek, brook or river beneath a bridge over which the living and dead have passed.  When collected in silence and under certain auspicious, the water was reported to be able to heal maladies and purify the afflicted.

Corpse Water- contrary to first intuition, the water in which a fresh corpse has been washed has purification qualities, and can be washed over porches or sprinkled before doorways to purify the space from evils and drive off the hungry damned by placing the water of tender grace about the place.  When the mortuary water is collected from funereal rites, it has the power to drive off the dead and create a boundary of blessing.  When the water is washed from the skin of the disgraced and mistreated dead, it can be used to bring a hex upon the foe who is sprinkled in this water.

Putrid/Black Water- this differs from Corpse Water in that it is blackish/brownish from the rot and decay of putrefaction.  This rot water or sip-of-decay is made from the process of death and decomposition accelerated by the presence of rancid water.  Bloating and rotting corpses instead of the fresh dead may produce this water, or plant matter left to rot in muck water.  It is a perfect tool for sealing in death (in a black bottle) or bringing disease and plague when washed over a foe's porch, car or furniture.

May Dew- the drought of beauty, collected on May's Eve or May Day morning (depending on who tells the tale).  The dew collected from Venusian herbs; specifically the hawthorn, when added to washes for the face were once supposed to bring beauty and charm to the person who uses it.  May Dew must be collected in early morning light, from only the most beautiful of spring's blossoms or freshest of green grass.  Just a few drops on the tongue or rinsed over the face was supposed to be enough to make a person not just beautiful, but lucky in love too.

Well & Spring Water- the water that comes from a natural spring is fresh, tasty and often extremely rich in minerals, which is why so many people swear by it.  It is the water of springs that washes the hands of witches before their work.  And, it is the water of the common well that youngsters were thought to divine their futures by with mirror and shadow.  Holding a hand mirror, leaning backwards over a well, a youth was supposed to catch a glimpse of a long-awaited loved one reflected in the waters surface and in the glass of the mirror.

Luminary (Sun, Moon, Star) Water- of these, it is the Moon Water and Sun Water that seem best known, but the water can be made in the light of other spheres-of-influence who shine in the sky.  Where I live, Venus, Saturn and Mars have times when they shine like the brightest star in the sky, and capturing their essence in water can work in a small, distant way.  It is not as powerful as Moon Water, but Venus Water can have unique loving qualities that bring a sense of sensual sexuality to a charm/talisman.  It can be as simple as leaving a bowl of spring water under the moon's light, asking the water to capture her spirit in its cold reflection.

Luck Water- Water which is collected from a glass bowl in which a Resurrection Plant has greened.  Taken on the day of its full unfurling, it is sprinkled on the front porch of places of commerce/businesses.  There are a few different kinds of resurrection plants, most popular are the two varieties of "Rose of Jericho" which are commonly sold in Hoodoo shops and Botanicas.  I've met quite a few other witches who make luck water with different money plants, but I think the reason why Resurrections are the standard is because they represent plenty from nothing; greenness after drought, growth after desiccation.  As they unfurl, the water is supposed to become charged with with the power of their rejuvenation.

War Water-  A jar full of swamp water, muck water, puddle water and rusting nails, urine and other putrid and corrupted matter is an excellent elixir for hexing an enemy, for bringing ruin to a foe.  A little sprinkled on their porch will slow their steps, and if poured about their property, will bring ruin and rot.  You can read more about it in Cory Hutcheson's New World Witchery: A Trove of North American Folk Magic.  War waters can be physically dangerous; mixing different chemical compounds together in a sealed jar has the unfortunate habit of causing explosive reactions in some instances.  But then again, a witch looking to crack a bottle of war under an enemy's porch would probably appreciate a nice bang to their work...  It's not recommended to try, nobody needs to die with a Darwin award for occult mishaps.

Flesh Water/Urine-  You have no idea how useful the water released from the body can be.  It can seal a witch's bottle, ensnare a lover, curse an enemy, bring protection to the home, bring disaster to an enemy, and add a personal mark to any spell.  To use the the water of the flesh in a spell is a personal and powerful thing; think carefully before adding so much of yourself to a charm.  It seems a little gross to modern witches but folk magicians know better than to discount the waters of the body in any form-- from spit to tears to urine, our body provides waters with symbolism, with their own magical signature.

Lightning Water/Storm Water-  my relatives in Florida were my first exposure to this idea; leaving a jar of tap water out on the porch during the thunder and lighting storms.  The water was supposed to be charged with the electric vibrations and wild energy of the thunder and lightning, and would be used to bring a spike of power to a situation, and would protect the home from great evils.  Water collected from a lighting-struck stump was a notoriously powerful type; there is always a touch more magic to those things that are lighting struck, especially trees, as they are considered "charged" by this experience, touched by the hand of the Sky gods.

River Water- Rivers are transitionary places, natural crossroads where sea and land may meet, and are holy places for initiation rites for witches.  A charm meant to hex and wither is best released in the waters of a river.  Rivers, creeks and brooks appear throughout the folklore of the American South as places where rain could be raised by conjure-folk pouring pitcher water into the rivers, as places where witches could be initiated after casting in black-cat's bones, or wetting knotted handkerchiefs.  In my region, rivers are powerful places of plenty, the realm of food and family and fortune.  For my work, a river is the place where all things meet-- a liminal space of movement that tends to work well for my work honoring the Mountain gods (from whom the river comes) and the Sea spirits (to where the river goes).

Sea Water-  Well what more could you need to banish so-called evils and heal impurity?  The first womb of life is the sea; the place from which life emerges, the great primordial soup to which we owe so much, and its salty waves are a thing of purity. Churning in the darkness of the waves is mystery and restlessness, but also the salt of purification and  removal.  Many witches collect their salt right from the sea (when the law allows), allowing the water to evaporate, leaving only the salt and all its wonderful impurities.  While sea-salt in some tap water can be good enough for a basic wash, the sea is a more powerful bet.  Just a splash, and a baptism may take place; just a splash and a curse will be swept away, out to sea, to die as most things do, in time.  Salt water can rebirth a lost soul, or capture one too.

Muck/Swamp Water- if you need a base water for hexing potions and bottles, a good amount of muddy muck water will do the trick.  It used to be believed that even dreaming of muddy water is an omen of sorrows.  It works to stop-up and dirty-up those who pursue you, and can help facilitate disease spells when washed over the porch of an enemy or broken in a jar in their yard.

Pin/Needle Water- the water left over from boiling pins and needles to avert evil is useful because most practitioners speak their incantations against a troublesome enemy or difficult spirit as they boil the nine needles, naming their for.  The water that remains afterwards can be used as an anti-witch floor wash.  I've been using this water for a while now and find it useful to get irritating magical folk off my back.

Worm-Water- water made from soaked earthworms was reportedly used to heal superficial pains. The worms were deposited into a bucket and soaked overnight.  I've only seen this one mentioned in a few places, and I've been gifted a small jar of some from a friend, but I haven't put any of it to work.  Paulsen quotes this incantation which accompanied the charm:
"Earthworms who slip through earth below
Secrets of sorcery ye know,
When the good foot doth o'er you tread,
or when it passes overheard
Transfer its power and its merit,
Now I pray you to this spirit,
To do such virtue as it may,
And let this headache pass away!"

-The Complete Book of Magic and Witchcraft, Kathryn Paulsen, p-111

Black-Cat Boil-  old folk magic in America is rife with the sacrifice of black cats, moles, toads and graveyard rabbits.  The black cat is thought to be a conduit for initiation into witchcraft, and one of the most popular methods of initiation with the cat was to boil a black one live in water, and then take it's floating bone into your mouth.  But what of the water?  I imagine the boiled water can be used as an anointing for new witches, or used to feed one's working tools to give them power, invisibility and devilish strength.

Mountain Marsh Water- the water that is collected from the swamps of some Cascade and Olympic marshes/swamps.  Wetlands are immensely powerful, they absorb so much destruction and power, mitigating the effects of mudslides and floods and acting as a place of both birth and death for the land.  Here in Washington, the marches, wetlands and swamps of the mountains belong to invisible tribes of otherworldly and unseen beings.  I say it is best not to take water from their swamps, or the whispers will follow you home and tell you the most horrifying secrets...


For more, take a look... in a book... 
Cory T. Hutcheson,  New World Witchery: A Trove of North American Folk Magic
Cora L. Daniels, Encyclopedia of Superstitions, Folklore and the Occult Sciences of the World
Kathryn Paulsen, The Complete Book of Magic and Witchcraft
Zora Neale Hurston, Mules and Men
Newbell Niles Puckett, Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro
B.A Botkin, Treasury of Southern Folklore
Journal of American Folklore
Frank C. Brown Collection of North Carolina Folklore

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