EXPLORING THE OUTER EDGES OF SOCIETY AND MIND

Hidden Pathways to Everyday Magic – Supernatural Living in the American Marketplace

Posted in > SUPERNATURAL LIVING IN THE AMERICAN MARKETPLACE by David on September 24, 2019

‘It is the glory of the God to conceal a thing, but the honor of kings is to search out a matter.’ – Proverbs 25:2

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Entrance to the office at a tire shop just outside of Athens, Georgia

A flat on a rural highway and a closed tire shop in town had me wandering around northeast Georgia this week looking for an affordable solution to getting back on the road. Great reminder that when the regular patterns of our daily life are disrupted we get a chance to discover some of the hidden pathways of magic that exist all around us.

Frustration turned to fascination when I finally found a used tire shop a few towns over and walked in to discover that the owners had protective wards put up over every doorway in the place. The entrance to the office had a Gideon’s pocket New Testament, horse shoe and a pamphlet titled Conditions de Entrada al Cielo (Conditions for the Entrance into Heaven) secured to the frame. It was an immediate reminder of what I’ve been writing about lately in regard to the commonality of magico-religious practices.

The mediated image of folk magic presents an exotic appeal and mystery that is almost entirely missing when you dig in to its actual practice – for many people magico-religious beliefs and spiritual work are integrated fully into their every day lives in a way that is foreign to those who come to these practices from Neo-paganism, popular occultism, and other spiritual sub-cultures that are tied strongly to marketing, commercialism and identity politics rather than a continuation of traditional forms through contemporary means. (1)

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Grocery Store Grimoires

For the past few years I’ve been fascinating with the distribution of occult books in the seemingly mundane environment of the U.S. marketplace. (2)

If you poke around the magazine aisle – most grocery stores have books that give the basics for developing advanced intuition, out of body experiences, precognition, and similar human potentials. You may have missed them though, because they are almost always aimed at the Christian market – the most prevalent material is under the guise of  ‘spiritual warfare’ and ‘supernatural living’.

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One person’s Holy Ghost baptism is another person’s Kundalini awakening – some have prophetic dreams of Jesus and others call that precognition. The publication and mass distribution of Eben Alexander III’s book, Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife, is a secularized example of the grocery store grimoire phenomenon. The book was widely available as a bestseller and gave a very public presence to the current state of the debate around Near Death Experiences. However, Secular examples like Alexander’s book don’t have the same staying power or continuous market presence as the spiritual warfare and supernatural living material.

303dce7d6701e82232198d08b25105b8.jpgThe books included in photos above, which I took at a local grocery stores over the years, may be framed within a Christian worldview but this does nothing to lessen their mystique. Remember that ritual magic in large part comes from exorcism traditions and it’s merely a flip of intention to change an exorcism into a conjuration or invocation.

Folk magic and Charismatic and ecstatic forms of Christianity have long been intimately tied. What we seen today in the grocery store aisle might not have the same patina of age worn respectability that an occult classic like the Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses has, but when seriously applied a surprising amount of the practical use value remains intact.(0

As I was pondering these potentials I started to wonder how much of my speculation was a thought experiment, and how much was actually likely to occur. Were there really folks out there back engineering this spiritual warfare material and using it for more unorthodox purposes?

Apt to the research it was a ‘grocery store grimoire’ that gave me the answer:

“In the 1970’s a group of ministers who had experience dealing with demons began to hold lengthy conversations with them, seeking to obtain special understanding about things in the spirit realm. In the end this proved disastrous. The group went into serious doctrinal error and some of them died prematurely.”

– Derek Prince, end note in They Shall Expel Demons: What You Need to Know About Demons – Your Invisible Enemies (Chosen Books, 1998)

Ministers using allegedly possessed members of their congregation as mediums to channel discarnate spirits in order to gain forbidden knowledge – you’d be hard pressed to find a better example of unorthodox purposes.

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Santa Muerte at Walmart

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Grim Reaper T-Shirt at Walmart (Athens, GA)

In the course of my research into grocery store grimoires I was disappointed when the closest Walmart expanded their romance novel selection and nixed the Inspirational Books section. A set back more than made up for by the Men’s Clothing area – where la Santa Muerte still sits secure in the rotational display of discount t-shirts.

“But that’s just a cheap grim reaper shirt!”

Oh no my friend, it’s a gateway into supernatural living if you know anything about the popularization of Saint Death’s iconography in the black and grey market.

If you are a savvy entrepreneur in the Mexican market, looking to quickly capitalize on the growth of a popular tradition, or if you are an intent devotee looking to represent La Nina Bonita through your clothing, where would you start?

A few companies make Santa Muerte specific shirts, but these are not always easily acquired – so you grab the first thing that fits the bill within your environment. In Santa Muerte’s case this just happened to be shirts with illustrations of the Grim Reaper. Those outside the devotion see nothing more than a shirt from Walmart – those within know that here in the midst of the mundane la Madre Poderosa stands hidden in plain sight. (3)

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A Study in End-Times Biblical Prophecy

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Bible study invitation in the foyer of a local post office.

A trip to the post office can turn into an adventure in apocalyptic fervor when you encounter a delightful invitation to an End Times Bible Study.  In the hyper-textual landscape of popular religion you’re never far from the edge of the eschaton.

Flyers like this provide ephemeral strands stretching between the grocery store grimoires and the folks who read and practice them. The same cultural streams which focus on end-times biblical prophecy are very likely to be attentive to the import of spiritual warfare and exorcism.

Subtle markers on the boundaries of a secret landscape – these examples all hint at a interconnected, intwined and integral aspect within the daily lives of people who would balk at the idea that they are involved in some form of esoteric or occult practice. Secured by the othering of academic categories which ignore these living streams of mystery – they go about their normal days unseen.

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The House on Devil’s Pond Road

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The house on Devil’s Pond Road

I can’t tell you how many times I drove past this abandoned house thinking it was merely another one of the curious and crumbling memories that populate the landscape of rural Georgia. That is until a casual conversation with a local antique dealer about the efficacy of charms lead to a surprising revelation:

“Back in the 1930’s there was a woman practiced conjure a couple towns over. They say she held court from a throne formed by the twisted roots of an old oak tree down on Devil’s Pond Rd.”

The oak tree that the antique dealer mentioned is that sort of black vegetative splotch in front of the structure – it’s now broken and overgrown with vines – a striking symbol of how fragile these intimate traditions are. When the line of transmission is broken unless one is skilled in interpreting residual traces they drift away into rumors and forgetfulness.

After learning more about the site’s history I developed a series of sound pieces (available to stream above) to honor the conjure that once lived here – they are best enjoyed with ear phones while gazing at the photo to imbibe the residual transmissions of the house on Devil’s Pond Rd.

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Facts and Predictions for the Entire Year

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Lottery Dream Books at a convenient store just outside of Athens, GA

These simple manuals systematize a symbol set which can be slowly memorized and tied to intuitive responses. Once the supernatural cover story is dropped, what you essentially have is a folk version of the art of memory with the intention of accessing dream states and day to day synchronicities to heighten intuitive functioning. (4)

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Craigslist Conjurations

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Mother Powers advertisement from The Lucky Red Devil Combination Dream Book and Numerology Guide (Eagle Book Supply Inc, 2013)

Generalized psychic and metaphysical services are a mainstay in the Craigslist classified ads. Presenting an image reminiscent of the psychic hotlines that were promoted in commercials and infomercials during the 1980’s and 90’s the bulk of these advertisements offer standard super natural options for those seeking assistance from beyond the pale confines of everyday life.

With a bit of digging it’s occasionally possible to discover another class of advertisement, more rarefied offerings from a few unique individuals who have stepped outside of the common psycho-spiritual SEO. Ads like the ones I gathered back in 2014 from Miss Mary, who runs a number of advertisements in different cities.

To the uncritical eye they might seem to be repetitious – however, the true connoisseur of traditional spiritual work will recognize the poetic touches that make each ad unique. She uses a time honored formula that is reminiscent of older advertisements for such services. Miss Mary’s ad copy is similar to the Mother Powers advertisements in Lottery Dream Books, or the associated advertisements online for Sister Mary, here you can see the tradition carrying on into the digital world of Craigslist classifieds:

SPIRITUAL ROOTWORKER (BRUNSWICK, GEORGIA)

MISS MARY CAN HELP YOU ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD IN HOURS. ARE YOU IN HARD LUCK? DO YOU HAVE PROBLEMS THAT ARE WORRYING YOU? ARE YOU SUFFERING IN PAIN AND MISERY? DO YOU WANT TO GET LUCKY AND STAY LUCKY? IS YOUR HUSBAND OR WIFE SPENDING THE MONEY ON SOMEONE ELSE? HAS HE OR SHE LEFT YOU FOR ANOTHER? CALL MISS MARY NOW FOR HELP. ARE YOU HAVING TROUBLE WITH YOUR LEGS, BACK, STOMACH, HEAD, OR ARMS? IS YOUR HAIR FALLING OUT? MISS MARY WILL REMOVE BAD LUCK, EVIL, SICKNESS, PAINS AND NERVOUS CONDITIONS FROM YOU NOW. MISS MARY WILL TELL YOU HOW TO BE LUCKY AT HORSES, CARDS, BINGO, LOTTERY, DOGS, SLOT MACHINES, AND NUMBERS. CALL NOW FOR HELP. YOU WILL BLESS THE DAY YOU DID. MY WORK IS 100% GUARANTEED. CALL MISS MARY TODAY AND BE RID OF YOUR TROUBLES BY TOMMOROW.

MISS MARY POWERFUL ROOT WORKER (BRUNSWICK, GA.) 

MY POWERS ARE GUARANTEED. DO YOU HAVE BAD LUCK? NEED HELP? MISS MARY SOLVES ALL PROBLEMS. MONEY, LUCK, BUSINESS, HEALTH, NATURE, MARRIAGE, LOVE PROBLEMS, DRUG PROBLEMS, ALCOHOLISM. MISS MARY CAN REMOVE EVIL SPELLS OF ALL KINDS. VOODOO, ROOTS, HEXES. 100% SURE FAST RESULTS. CALL MISS MARY TODAY AND BLESS THE DAY YOU DID. MY MAGICAL POWERS ARE BEYOND YOUR IMAGINATION. CALL NOW FOR IMMEDIATE RESULTS.

POWERFUL ROOT WORKER (BRUNSWICK, GA.)

MISS MARY WILL READ YOUR ENTIRE LIFE WITHOUT ASKING YOU A SINGLE QUESTION. SHE HAS THE ABILITY TO HEAL BY PRAYER. ARE YOU SUFFERING? ARE YOU SICK IN ANY PART OF YOUR BODY? ARE YOU LOSING YOUR HAIR? HAVE YOU EVER STAYED AWAKE AT NIGHT THINKING ABOUT YOUR FUTURE? WELL THINK NO MORE MISS MARY IS HERE TO HELP YOU WITH ANY PROBLEM YOU MAY HAVE. MISS MARY WILL HELP YOU IN LOVE, MARRIAGE, ALCOHOL AND DRUG ABUSE, LAWSUITS, EVIL, DIVORCES, ANY PROBLEM IS NOT TO BIG OR SMALL. I WILL GIVE YOU LUCKY NUMBERS TO PLAY LOTTO, BINGO, HORSES, DOGS, SLOTS. CALL MISS MARY TODAY AND BE RID OF YOUR PROBLEMS TOMORROW. MISS MARY SOLEMLY SWEARS TO HELP YOU. CALL MISS MARY  TODAY AND BLESS THE DAY YOU DID.

0RDAINED PSYCHIC READER AND ADVISOR (BRUNSWICK, GA)

HAVE YOU BEEN HOODOOED? ARE YOU SICK IN ANY PART OF YOUR BODY? MISS MARY HAS GOD GIVEN POWER TO HELP YOU OVERCOME YOUR PROBLEMS NO MATTER HOW BIG OR SMALL. I WILL TELL YOU JUST WHAT YOU WANT TO KNOW ABOUT FRIENDS ENEMIES OR RIVALS, WHETHER HUSBAND, WIFE OR SWEETHEART IS TRUE OR FALSE, HOW TO GAIN THE LOVE YOU MOST DESIRE, CONTROL OR INFLUENCE THE ACTION OF ANYONE EVEN THOUGH MILES AWAY. WILL GIVE YOU LUCKY NUMBERS, I HAVE HELPED THOUSANDS THROUGH ALL WALKS OF LIFE. I WILL ADVISE YOU ON LOVE, MARRIAGE, BUSINESS, HEALTH, DIVORCES, LAWSUITS, LUCK, ALCOHOLICS, DRUG ADDICTIONS, HAPPINESS,SPELLS, SUCCESS AND EVIL INFLUENCES OF ALL KINDS. I WILL TELL YOU WHO YOUR FRIENDS AND ENEMIES ARE. GUARANTEES TO REMOVE ALL EVIL AND BAD LUCK!!! WHY SUFFER WHEN YOU CAN BE HELPED AND FREED FROM ALL YOUR TROUBLES!!! DON’T FAIL TO CALL MISS MARY TODAY YOU WILL BLESS THE DAY YOU DID!!! CALL MISS MARY AND SEE FOR YOURSELF WHAT MY POWERS CAN DO FOR YOU!!! DO NOT COMPARE ME WITH CHEAP, COMMON, ORDINARY INPERSONATORS MY WORK IS WITH GOD!!! CALL MISS MARY TODAY

SPIRITUAL READER AND ADVISOR (BRUNSWICK,GEORGIA) 

MISS MARY WILL READ YOUR ENTIRE LIFE WITHOUT ASKING YOU A SINGLE QUESTION. MISS MARY HAS THE ABILITY TO HEAL BY PRAYER. ARE YOU SUFFERING? ARE YOU SICK IN ANY PART OF YOUR BODY? HAVE YOU EVER STAYED AWAKE AT NIGHT THINKING ABOUT YOUR FUTURE? WELL, NOW YOU DON”T HAVE TO! THIS SPIRITUAL WOMAN WILL GUIDE YOU TO OVERCOME YOUR PROBLEMS NO MATTER WHAT YOUR PROBLEMS MIGHT BE. I CAN HELP YOU WITH LOVE PROBLEMS, MARRIAGE, OR BUSINESS PROBLEMS. I CAN GIVE YOU SURE HIT LUCKY NUMBERS. I WILL CURE ANY PROBLEMS THAT YOU HAVE. DON’T BE DISCOURAGED IF OTHERS FAILED YOU. MY WORK IS WITH GOD AND MY POWERS ARE GUARANTEED TO WORK. CALL ME AND FIND OUT FOR YOUR SELF HOW GREAT MY POWERS ARE. CALL MISS MARY AND BLESS THE DAY YOU DID.

MISS MARY ROOTWORKER (BRUNSWICK, GEORGIA)

LET MISS MARY REMOVE ALL EVIL SHADOWS AND SPELLS FROM YOU AND YOUR HOME. I USE LOVE POTIONS, SPELLS, DOLLS, HERBS, OILS AND CANDLES IN MY WORK TO REMOVE OR PLACE A VOODOO. DO YOU WISH TO CONTROL THE ACTIONS OF ANYONE YOU DESIRE MISS MARY WILL ADVISE YOU IN LOVE, MARRIAGE, BUSINESS, LUCK, HAPPINESS, AND MONEY. CALL MISS MARY TODAY AND BE HELPED AS THOUSANDS HAVE ALREADY DID. CALL MISS MARY AND BLESS THE DAY YOU DID.

Psychic Palm and Tarot Card Reader

I AM A LOCAL PALM READER HERE IN BRUNSWICK, GA. I HAVE BEEN HERE FOR OVER 30 YEARS I HAVE ALOT OF REPEAT CLIENTS THAT ARE VERY SATISFIED WITH MY READINGS I AM AVAILABLE FOR PRIVATE PARTYS IF YOU ARE HAVING A PRIVATE PARTY AND ARE INTERESTED IN HAVING A REAL LIFE PALM READER AT YOUR PARTY CALL ME FOR RATES MISS MARY

In ads like these we find spiritual workers who retain connections to long running traditions of folk magic and healing – reminding us again how common traditions of folk spirituality continue on despite the tendency to relegate these areas of human experience and expression to dead images of a curious past. (5)

For the full 53 page PDF – Craigslist Conjurations – Preliminary notes on Spiritual Services, Folk Magic and Digital Advertising – CLICK HERE

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Distributed by Keystone Laboratories

Gas stations and Craigslist ads aren’t the only place you can find these residual traces of conjure culture. Walking down the cosmetics aisle at a local Dollar General I ran into Ebony Glow, a soap from Keystone Laboratories that might look just like any other beauty product – however it turns out to be yet another gateway into supernatural living in the American marketplace.

The third picture shows a vintage Keystone Laboratories catalog from Tony Kail’s West Tennessee Museum of Southern Hoodoo History collection. As you can see the catalog features products familiar to anyone versed in American folk traditions such as our aforementioned Lottery Dream Books, votive candles, and conjure classics like the 6th and 7th Book of Moses. (6)

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Kali at the Gas Station

15844469_10154913417596670_8282549110676948160_oA quick stop a few years ago at the gas station in this photo lead to the discovery of a concealed Durga altar with representations of her maternal and wrathful aspects tucked away behind the counter and hidden from view by a box of blunt wraps and a display of energy supplements.

“Kali is often depicted in the posture called pratyalidha, with Her left knee advanced and her right leg drawn back. In this position Her left foot can prod Her Shiva into wakefulness. Pratyalidha and its opposite, the alidha stance (right knee advanced, left drawn back) both come from a Sanskrit root which means “lapped up, licked, tongue applied to, eaten.”

What She eats, with Her tongue, Her eyes, and Her very pose, is your Ahamkara Shakti, your energy of self. Since the chief expression of shakti in the physical body isprana, the life force, the power which keeps body, mind and spirit functioning together as a living unit, what Kali eats as you worship Her is your prana. Physical life, health and longevity require that ahamkara self-identify strongly with your organism to permit prana to enliven your body. Spiritual health requires ahamkara to relinquish most of this attachment, and Kali is happy to help you actively relinquish it.

The chief carrier of prana in the body is blood, so when you see blood dripping from Kali’s tongue you should see that blood as the prana of Her devotees, offered to Her to transmute. What She craves is your blood (your prana) that She may truly bring you to life. (7)

Unmediated and stripped of exotic framing this simple altar speaks to the powerful integration of applied spirituality in the every day lives around us.

The pure streams of magico-religious practice aren’t found in flashy packaging and artisanal facade – they’re found in hearts consumed by practices that reveal the presence of mystery in the midst of the everyday.

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View from the side of the road where a flat tire initiated today’s reflections on super natural living.

“The supernatural and occult imagination becomes the locus where the tension between the material world and the world of the spirit is realized and then dissolved.” – Peter Bebergal, Strange Frequencies: The Extraordinary Story of the Technological Quest for the Supernatural

All of the examples presented here represent a direct line of influence straight from folk traditions that have come to be popularized and mediated in the various occult revivals over the years.

Here in this varied selection of products and media we see ‘the supernatural and occult imagination’ become enlivened through empowered, contemporary and active traditions of belief that, despite their skeptical detractors, speak to the efficacy of supernatural living and demonstrate this efficacy with their subtle power and presence in the American marketplace.

Footnotes:

(1) https://davidmetcalfe.wordpress.com/2019/09/15/for-our-readers-that-shop-by-mail-fast-cash-money-oil-and-the-old-farmers-almanac/
(2) https://modernmythology.net/satans-target-your-mind-supernatural-living-in-the-american-marketplace-c6c38c616778
(3) https://skeletonsaint.com/2013/05/01/selling-holy-death-from-grim-reaper-to-skeletal-virgin-a-brief-look-at-commercializing-an-emerging-iconography/
(4) https://medium.com/@DBMetcalfe/gambling-with-psi-lottery-dream-books-and-other-money-making-mind-tricks-96622bcec051
(5) https://medium.com/@DBMetcalfe/craigslist-conjurations-an-exploration-into-the-interstices-of-spiritual-services-folk-magic-and-bd210e3f22e6 – and – https://www.academia.edu/13615817/Craigslist_Conjurations_-_Preliminary_notes_on_Spiritual_Services_Folk_Magic_and_Digital_Advertising
(6) https://memphishoodoo.wixsite.com/museum
(7) https://archive.org/details/DeviMahatmyamEnglishTransiteration/page/n33

 

They Will Not Have to Tell Me, I Will Know – Sheriff J.E. McTeer and the succession of a spiritual worker

Posted in > BLACK CADILLAC REVIEW by David on September 17, 2019

“They were sought out by the community for help to determine what is causing problems of all types from love to ghosts to just plain bad luck. Sadly, when things went wrong they also risked becoming a community scapegoat.

In every community in the U.S. since colonial days, there were people who acted in this sort of manner. It is interesting to note that I have found a lot of evidence of these sorts of practices here in southcentral Kentucky. When I have spoken publicly about the book people always come up to me to tell stories of their grandma’s magic, how they were cured by a healer and how they remember being treated with herbs and so forth.

By the way, I am not referring to the New Age folks in very recent times who have tried to adopt these techniques to what is called the Neo-Shamanic movement. This is the magic and folk wisdom that Grandma and Grandpa used to employ. ”

– Jack Montgomery, author of American Shamans: Journeys with Traditional Healers (1)

13775396_10154397329246670_5345376281602678814_nJ.E. McTeer was a sheriff in South Carolina who brought traditional practices into his work as a law enforcement officer during the mid-20th century. His book, 50 Years as a Low Country Witch Doctor, is an incredible testament of a man who bridged worlds and broke boundaries.

Here is a sheriff in the segregated climate of the southern U.S. who not only ignored social norms in order to foster a true sense of community – he embraced a way of life and practice that took him into the uncharted and liminal territories of the invisible world and the ‘closed societies’ of practice where he learned his craft.

When I last read the book one of the things that struck me most was his statements regarding his concerns that there would be no one to follow him in the role of community healer when he died:

“The only qualm I have is, who will succeed me?

There are many, many requirements. You must have the power to make yourself believed, but even more important , you must believe in yourself. Genetically, your cells should inform you, as your brain develops, if you have been endowed with ‘special gifts.’ If so, the road to your future has been decided for you…

These are the qualities I look for in a successor:

A person who is virtually retired and financially able and willing to help people. This person’s reward will be the satisfaction othat he or she has restored many lives to normalcy, and indeed, has saved some.

A great many people have come to ask me to teach them how I perform my cures. So far none have had the emanation of kinetic force which I know they must have in order to impart it into the mind of the one seeking help.

I have not given up. They will not have to tell me; I will know. I only hope it is soon, very soon.” (2)

13680791_10154397329316670_3001785398803621083_nThese are important considerations for all of those pursuing a path as spiritual workers.

Not only do you need focus and intention – but you need to be touched with the power of presence as well. Jack Mongomery, quoted at the beginning of this post, met McTeer and gives further credence to the legacy of this amazing man:

“I met and spent time with a famous root-doctor named James McTeer of Beaufort, S.C., who was known to treat clients from all over the world.

A former High-Sherriff, Mr. McTeer was an amazing man with a magnetic personality. It was a privilege to be in his company and witness his magical work.

After his death in 1979, the county named a bridge for him bearing a plaque that honors him as a “legendary lawman, author, spellbinder and raconteur.” (1)

In our violent and dissembled world the legacy of folks like J.E. McTeer is a powerful reminder that there is another way – and a reminder of the very real responsibilities that those on a true spiritual path need to reckon with. I don’t think McTeer’s found his successor yet, but I echo him in his hopes that they come “soon, very soon.”

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For more on the inspired life of the High Sheriff see: 

Quintessentially Lowcountry: Sheriff J.E. McTeer  – https://www.islandpacket.com/news/local/article33390648.html

(1) Jack Montgomery’s work American Shamans: Journeys with Traditional Healers explores the world of American folk healers, including his friendship with Lee Gande, a Hexenmeister in the Deutsch PowWow tradition – the quotes here come from an interview with The Amplifer.
https://www.bgamplifier.com/word/jack-montgomery-on-american-shamans/article_10df3ff6-0abe-5e65-9ead-4f8ba349e1a5.html
(2) J.E. McTeer, 50 Years as a Low Country Witchdoctor (Beaufort Book Co., 1976)

For Our Readers That Shop By Mail – Fast Cash Money Oil and the Old Farmer’s Almanac

Posted in > SUPERNATURAL LIVING IN THE AMERICAN MARKETPLACE by David on September 15, 2019

“Since 1792, The Old Farmer’s Almanac has spoken to all walks of life: planting charts for those who grow their own food; recipes for those who live in the kitchen; Moon and sunrise times for those who watch the skies; and forecasts for those who don’t like the question of weather left up in the air.” (1)

Image from iOS-99

Old Farmer’s Almanac display in the magazine aisle of a local Kroger supermarket (Athens, GA, 2019)

In most grocery stores across the United States you can pick up the latest copy of the Old Farmer’s Almanac, “North America’s most popular reference guide and oldest continuously published periodical“(2) – a staple of life in the U.S. for over two hundred years.

These nondescript little books discretely resonate with the luxurious possibilities of supernatural living in the American marketplace and they always catch my eye – so, when a good friend texted a photo from the 2020 edition with an advertisement for the Luck Shop, the next chance I had to take a look I did.

Your Master Spiritual Goods Supplier

Luck Shop advertisements are a familiar sight in the back pages of the Lottery Dream Books I pick up at local gas stations (3) – however it was a bit of a surprise to find “your master spiritual goods supplier…the largest and most comprehensive Mojo Store in the Midwest- Specializing in selling Spiritual Supplies and Cultural Heritage products through…retail store and mail order catalog, for over 90 years,”(4) in a booklet sold at Kroger.

It shouldn’t have been surprising – but I’d come to expect that such a direct connection to conjure culture had been pushed to the margins of the marketplace and was now only available in places like independently owned gas stations and other liminal haunts – not right in the magazine aisle of the local grocery store next to the greeting cards and Sudoku booklets.

Flip to Page 247, and there it is:

Image from iOS-101

LuckShop.com display ad in the 2020 edition of The Old Farmer’s Almanac

One of the things that captivates me when I find these portals into the world of supernatural living is the business dynamics that go into an advertisement or product like this making it into the mainstream grocery market.

Our Products are Your Platform

The Old Farmer’s Almanac Media Kit website advises that:

“Our products are your platform.

As one of the most trusted brands literally in the world, the OFA brings instant credibility to, and interest in, its partners. When you work with us, we connect you to our community using the tools that suit your company, your product, and your message best.” (5)

When you apply this corporate copy to a mojo supply shop advertisement magic happens.

How many people pass by these booklets everyday without realizing Fast Cash Money Oil is just a phone call away?

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“The Old Root Man’s Formula for Fast Money Drawing gets evil off of you or out of your body. Kills all jinx and bad luck around you. Uncrosses your home and everyone in it. Returns all evil back to the sender who put it on you, no matter the situation!” (6)

How many readers of The Old Farmer’s Almanac are looking for Rev. Moses Triple Strength  ‘Old Root Man’s Formula’ Liquid Evil and Jinx Killer?

The Media Kit states that the publication is aimed at “a cross-section of North America itself. From the small farmer in the Midwest to the suburban family focused on sustainability and connection to the environment, our community members have one thing in common: They seek to lead informed  lives honestly, valuing innovation, durability, reliability and trustworthiness.” It’s incredibly intriguing to figure out where The Old Root Man’s Formula fits into that mix. 

Has the LuckShop.com misjudged their ad spend?

Has the Old Farmer’s Almanac misjudged their market?

Or is the question of occult spirituality in the contemporary United States a bit more complex than the picture we see framed by the popular media and sub-cultures that have emerged around these topics?

A Trip to Miller’s Rexall in 2018 disabused me of any remaining assumptions I had over what place spiritual work has in contemporary culture.

Run Devil Run

lsDespite its well known status as one of the long standing landmarks of folk magic in the southern United States, stepping past the threshold of Miller’s Rexall Drugs new customers were greeted with  a standard pharmacy located in downtown Atlanta (7).  The store itself and its general set up was similar to any other urban pharmacy, it even had the same discount bin of random items at the front – the only difference is that the ills and maladies Miller’s provides curatives for don’t stop at indigestion and the common cold.

This surface normalcy is one of the things you don’t get a real sense for unless you visit a shop like this in person – and as Jack Montgomery, author of American Shamans: Journeys with Traditional Healer (Busca Inc., 2008), pointed out in a Facebook post when he and Memphis hoodoo scholar Tony Kail visited Atlanta a few years ago – Miller’s is one of the last of the original spiritual supply stores left in the U.S. – making opportunities to visit few and far between for most folks.

The mediated image of folk magic presents an exotic appeal and mystery that is almost entirely missing when you dig in to its actual practice – for many people magico-religious beliefs and spiritual work are integrated fully into their every day lives in a way that is foreign to those who come to these practices from Neo-paganism, popular occultism, and other spiritual sub-cultures that are tied strongly to marketing, commercialism and identity politics rather than a continuation of traditional forms through contemporary means.

Just a Few Blocks from the Courthouse

These practices are often not learned first from books, but from family members and neighbors – they are drawn from the needs of the community and a cosmological and metaphysical understanding that is woven into the very identity of the social structure itself.

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When I visited Atlanta, Miller’s Rexall and neighboring spiritual supply shop Rondo Distributing were both just a few blocks northeast from the imposing Fulton County Courthouse – and fitting the proximity to the county court house and Atlanta’s municipal buildings many of the products offered for sale focus on resolving court cases, getting out of jail and of course the much lauded items intended to make the law stay away. All of the items were on ready display along with innumerable other spiritual supplies – packed onto shelves organized for use rather than marketing.

Democratizing Access to the Numinous

Clients come in with a need and are directed towards products by a helpful sales staff, including, at the time, Doc Miller himself – just as they would be if they needed advice on how to cure a urinary tract infection from their local pharmacist. It just happens that their requests might also include jinx removal, protection from the evil eye, curse breaking, and so on. 

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These aren’t walk-in tourist kind of places – even today they are an active part of the community, serving a specific set of cultural needs that aren’t addressed anywhere else. Whether it’s fast-luck or keeping cops away, the needs addressed highlight the day to day concerns of the marginal communities served by the shop.

Places like Miller’s Rexall also provide a functional role in giving these communities the tools necessary to formulate their independence from the strong currents of control which issue from the dominant cultural institutions – a function similar to what Hugh R. Page, Jr. ascribes to the works of Henri Gamache, which just so happen to also be for sale in these stores:

“One of the distinguishing traits of these works is that they democratize access to the numinous through the abrogation of power typically vested in institutional hierocracies. By making readily available biblical texts, Judeo-Christian hermeneutical traditions, and selected data on indigenous religious rituals from around the world, these books provide non-specialists with the practical knowledge and expertise to create personal liturgies for healing and canons for appropriating the Bible that resist hegemony and promote individual and communal self-empowerment. Interestingly, all appear to be, in fact, pseudonymous works. “(8)

The stores act to centralize communities outside of the mainstream and official domains, as well as provide them with tools to shape and rewrite the narratives of disempowerment that are maintained by the dominant social institutions – and their waning status in the culture is a sign of transition. Miller’s and Rondo are in a city district set for rehabilitation, which will likely challenge the organic culture that keeps them alive, potentially leaving them little room outside of becoming museum shops or tourist attractions to survive.

Magic always lives on the margins – and as those margins shift, so do the occult outlets that serve them. Thankfully, for our readers that shop by mail in these trying times, seems that you can always pick up some Fast Luck Money Oil from the back pages of an Old Farmer’s Almanac.

Notes:

(1) https://www.almanac.com/content/about-us
(2) https://www.almanac.com/content/history-old-farmers-almanac
(3) https://medium.com/@DBMetcalfe/gambling-with-psi-lottery-dream-books-and-other-money-making-mind-tricks-96622bcec051
(4) https://www.luckshop.com
(5) https://www.almanac.com/sites/default/files/mediakit/20_21_almanac_media_kit.pdf
(6) https://www.luckshop.com/evil-and-jinx-killer
(7) Now under new ownership Miller’s Rexall has moved to a location in nearby Decatur.  See https://www.millersrexall.com
(8) Hugh R. Page Jr., Post-Imperial Appropriation of Text, Tradition, and Ritual in the Pseudonymous Writings of Henri Gamache –  from Esotericism in African American Religious Experience : “There Is a Mystery”, Eds. Stephen C. Finley, Margarita Guillory and Hugh Page Jr. (Brill, 2014)

For more insight into stores like Miller’s Rexall and the communities that they serve – the Shattered Reality podcast hosted an in depth conversation with Jason Mizrahi, manager of Original Products, a long running spiritual supply company located in the Bronx:

https://www.originalbotanica.com/