by Charles Webb
A while back I wrote an article entitled Delta Hoodoo I Ching Casting about “hoodoo meets Chinese folk magic” in general, and a conjure inspired method of I Ching divination casting in particular.
This piece is a follow-up to that article and describes spell casting using this combined playing card/I Ching approach…among other things.
For those who have not read the first article, here’s a little background…
My introduction to the conjure woman I have come to know as the Chigger Witch began in Chinatown in San Francisco several years ago.
I hailed a cab and got in the back seat. The cab driver looked over the seat at me and asked me where I wanted to go in the thickest Mississippi accent that I had heard in many years.
I grew up in West Tennessee, so I recognized the accent, but, as I said in the first article about this, coming from a Chinese cab driver in Chinatown was unusual to the point of being almost impossible to process.
During the ride things edged into high weirdness territory, but first, some history…
After the civil war, Mississippi plantation owners in search of cheap labor encouraged Chinese to migrate to the delta from California.
When this arrangement did not work out, the Chinese, most of whom were originally from the Sze Yap district of south China and well versed in commercial enterprises, opened small grocery stores that catered to the underserved ex-slave sharecroppers of the area.
Snubbed by the white population, these Chinese eventually intermarried and culturally mingled with the African American community members who were their customers. This cultural mixing included folk medicine and folk magic practices from both groups.
The cab driver’s great grandfather was one of the Mississippi delta grocers. Their small general store, miles from a town of any size, flourished in the 1920s and 30s.
His son married an African American woman from a family of root workers and the back part of the store became a conjure apothecary and “office” for her, and later for the cab driver’s mother as well.
The cab driver had left Mississippi to live with relatives in San Francisco and was working his way through UC Berkeley when I met him.
As we became friends, a whole new world of hoodoo history emerged, some of which I am able to share in these brief articles.
The cab driver’s (he asked that his name not be made public) mother was half Chinese and half African American. In those days (1950s-60s) in Mississippi, people with mixed Chinese – African American ancestry were often referred to as “chiggers”…these days, the “C” word rather than the “N” word.
The cab driver’s mother came to be known by the white community, in the county where their store was located, as the “Chigger Witch”, an appellation that she, at first, found insulting and hateful, but that she later embraced…as we shall see…
Now, as many readers probably know, the term “chigger” also refers to a form of tiny spider (also known as berry bugs and red bugs), which is common in the rural south….
“Chiggers are tiny members of the arachnid family. Although they are extremely small in size, their bites pack a powerful punch. They’re so tiny that you probably won’t notice when they jump from that tall blade of grass onto your skin. You won’t feel it as they hitch a ride right into your home. When you eventually do feel them, however, they can make you itch like you’ve never itched before.” – healthline.com
As is well known, Chinese folk traditions, martial arts, astrology, etc. all make extensive use of animal models and allies, as do Native American shamanic traditions, which are closely intertwined with African American root work and conjure.
The cab driver’s mother was well versed in these interlocking traditions and practices and made good use of them as the “Chigger Witch”.
The cab driver said that after his mother became aware that the white community was making fun of her “Chigger Witch black slant-eyed face” and the way she dressed, she would disappear for hours into the fields and forest alone.
He followed her one day and found her sitting in the middle of a circle in a corn field formed by a pattern of flattened stalks. She was sitting cross-legged on a blanket with her shoes and stockings off.
In front of her was a spread of playing cards…all hearts. The cards, her bare arms, legs and feet were covered with hundreds of tiny red bugs, which were moving in slow motion swirls and streams.
The heart shaped spots on the cards and the red bugs seemed to move and merge with each other. The cab driver was transfixed by this bizarre scene for awhile, and then made his escape without being discovered.
Later, when his mother returned home, he was relieved to see that the hoard of chiggers that had covered his mother’s arms and legs had not bitten her…at all.
Within a few days, the talk of the county, the news reports, the small town papers, etc. could speak of nothing else but the “almost biblical plague of chiggers”. The infestation lasted for a few weeks and then subsided, only to return at least once a year during the most stiflingly hot months of the summer.
With each recurrence, the cab driver would look knowingly at his mother and grin. She would grin back and simply say…
“Chigger kung fu!” They both would laugh.
The white people of the county stopped calling the cab driver’s mother the Chigger Witch but she decided to apply the name to herself, and became well known in the region as a woman of power.
Many came to her for assistance in love or money matters or for dealing with “problem people”.
At one point, several members of the county government gained an audience with her to ask if she could do anything about all the chiggers. She replied that she was sorry…that chiggers were not something she knew anything about.
The Chigger Witch often combined what she called tree conjure with card conjure for the love and money categories, as has been done for hundreds of years in many cultures.
“Wishing trees” are widely used in China to this day, as they are in Scotland (driving coins into cracks in tree trunks), India, Turkey, etc. The Christmas tree is part of this tradition.
If someone came to the Chigger Witch with a situation in which they wanted love or money to grow, she would often dress a card for them (hearts for love, diamonds for money, usually an eight…the luckiest number for the Chinese), using their initials or name plus an I Ching hexagram, drawn in the middle.
One, for example, the eight of hearts pictured, the #54 (in traditional sequence) hexagram, The Marrying Maiden (slow, steady long term growth of relationship), is drawn in the center of the card.
The card is then taken into the forest and a sapling is found. With a hatchet, or large knife, a fork in one of the branches or the trunk is cut and the dressed card is wedged into the slit.
The slit in the branch is then bound closed with rawhide. The tree grows around the embedded card as it matures…the card merges with the growth of the tree. Sometimes the card is buried within the roots of the tree and will “take root” as the tree grows.
This working is similar, although much more powerful, to carving two sets of initials connected by a plus sign into a young tree and coming back years later to observe the growth.
Another working the Chigger Witch often suggested in situations of romance was to have the young woman bake a pie for the young man, but before pouring in the pie filling, carve a positive hexagram, that she would prescribe, into the bottom of the unbaked crust. The young man would then eat the girl’s desire and it would become a part of him.
On the negative side, a favorite method of getting even with somebody on behalf of a client, would be to dress a card, probably the four of spades (the four is very unlucky in Chinese tradition, black spots and spades unlucky in hoodoo), draw a negative hexagram in its center, write the offending person’s name on it four times, then tear the card up and mix it with salty water in a jar.
The mixture would then be taken to a farm that had hogs and mixed into the hog slop. The hogs would then gobble down the spell, etc., etc., etc…
This working is called “passing (person’s name) through the pigs”.
A variation on this would be to prepare the jar as before, then dump it into the pit of a public outhouse or honey wagon.
This working is called “showing (person’s name) the town”.
The Chigger Witch passed away in 2004. Her cab driver son has just begun to tell her story.
About The Author:
Charles Webb is a San Francisco based filmmaker, practitioner of various of the occult arts and founder of the reality handling method Cinemorphics, (Alchemical Conjuration Technique – A.C.T.). His latest book, “Quick-Knife Hoodoo”, is available at Amazon.
featured image – author’s own composition
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