It’s taken me awhile to sort out this particular blog exactly the way I wanted it.
I’ve mentioned in a few different places in my blog and my website that I practice Italian folk magic, Italian-American folk magic to be specific actually. While this particular flavor of spirituality isn’t as well known or popular (for the moment being) it is very much alive and actually seems to be on an upswing of people wanting to learn more about it.
So, to make this post informative and useful, I’ve decided to break it down into the services I offer, which correspond to my own personal knowledge based on what has been passed down to me from my family, and also some information that I’ve learned from others.
The BEST book on this subject in English is Italian Folk Magic: Rue's Kitchen Witchery by Mary-Grace Fahrun (I also wrote a review for the book on amazon if you want to check that out), I also absolutely have to recommend www.italianfolkmagic.com/ one of the best blogs out there on this subject!
I’d also like to take a minute just dedicate this modest post to my grandparents, Jack (who passed away a few years ago), and Carmela (who passed away this past December). They told me almost every story, joke, song, or piece of folklore that I currently know about my family. So, I really just wanted to give credit where credit is due, these traditions were either directly given to me by them, or they inspired me to research more. Love you guys.
I actually wrote an entire post on Dream Interpretation which can be read here https://stephenpatrickmedium.weebly.com/blog/dream-a-little-dream
Interpreting dreams, dreaming true, mediumship through dreams, and dreaming of lucky numbers seems to be a skill people in my family have a bit of a knack for. My grandma taught me about interpreting dreams for numbers, and also passed down to me some my great grandma’s (her mother) interpretations of dreams. My grandpa also told me that his mother (my other great grandma), in addition to being a healer (which I will mention in a bit), had a dream book that she had brought with her from Sicily, and people would come to her to consult with her book when they had dreams.
I tend to occasionally consult a few of my favorite dream books, but I also use my family’s system as a guide when asked to interpret dreams. There’s a whole section in the book Italian Folk Magic on the subject, and if you can find a used copy of How to Dream Your Lucky Lotto Numbers by Raoul Maltagliati check that out, it’s Italian system (in English). Of course, as I mentioned in my other entry, my family (and most other Italian American families) has zero issues with using American style Dream Books in English, so those are arguably just as traditional if you want to work in an Italian-American system.
Working with the Saints:
While I work with several different Saints that I’ve developed a relationship with over the years, a few of them are part of my family’s ancestral spiritual tradition, meaning the devotion came over from Italy with my family.
Ironically, the main devotion in my own family isn’t actually to a “Saint” but is rather to the collective group of spirits known as “the Holy Souls ” or the “Blessed Souls” this essentially honors the dead who reside in Purgatory. Purgatory being a Catholic concept where a spirit is cleansed of sin in order to enter a state of grace and reside in Heaven. Of course, in folk tradition (at least from my experience) this isn’t always the case, and they are more often seen as just helpful spirits that exist in a somewhat ambiguous “spirit world” rather than the cleansing fire of Purgatory.
The next devotion extremely popular in my family is to Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, whose intercession and prayers are linked to the Holy Souls, offering them peace and elevation from their state of transformative penance in the spirit world.
Another would be the Infant of Prague, I’ve actually recently become the current caretaker for my family’s life sized statue of the holy infant since my grandma has passed away this past December.
I’ve written about St. Joseph before in a post here, discussing his importance to Italians in general, but he’s also a very dear and loved Saint in my own family and my own spiritual path.
There’s also whole host of others: St. Gerard Majella, St. Therese, St. Anthony, St. Lucy, St. Rosalia, St. Januarius (San Gennaro), etc
When it comes to working with the Saints for clients (or anyone) in an Italian folk magic concept, it’s usually to gain a blessing from a particular saint for a specific reason. For example, if someone came to me and wanted their cards read about the health of their child and also wanted a special protection for them (specifically using Italian-American folk magic), I would most likely give them either a prayer card, medal, or rosary that I’ve worked on and blessed under the guidance of one of the Saints I work with, i.e. St. Gerard Majella if it was for the protection and wellbeing of a child.
I’ll also regularly do Novenas, Rosaries, or other various devotions to certain Saints around their feast days.
Probably the most well known aspect of Italian folk magic and folklore is the “malocchio” or the evil eye. Preventing it and curing it are so important that there is an entire host of traditions from every corner of Italy on how to deal with it. Most families have their own prayer or ritual for how to deal with it, and though they generally have somewhat similar frameworks, they are all unique. I’ve actually heard some Italian people use the word “malocchio” to literally sum up the entire practice of Italian folk magic in general.
In my own family, my great grandma on my father’s side (my grandpa’s mother) was particularly active at dealing with the malocchio, she couldn’t work in a conventional job at the time due to a disability, and being a widow, she helped support her family through her healing skills and baking skills, she sold bread, and she could cure people from the malocchio (and also interpret dreams, as I mentioned above.)
Through my own family, I know three different prayers and rituals to get rid of the malocchio. It’s interesting to be able to compare and contrast them, and I personally don’t feel one is better than another. If I need to pick a style, I usually consult with the spirits to see which is best for the situation.
There are many different forms of Italian cartomancy. Tarot Cards though basically universal at this point, started out as Tarocchi cards in Italy. There is also the wonderful La Vera Sibila deck, as well as a plethora of folk methods of reading cards and regional decks, like the Scopa deck. I’m personally a big fan of the Neapolitan version of the Scopa cards.
However, in my own family, American playing cards take center stage, they hold an almost quasi-sacred role in my family. Playing cards were present in every house, at every important event, and at every stage of life I can remember. They’re used for games, magic tricks, fortune telling, and as offerings. I regularly will leave playing cards at graves for family members as offerings due to their importance in my family.
The method I use when I read playing cards in an “Italian style” is actually one that I picked up from an antique book from when I was younger. It’s a pretty simple way to cut the cards and mostly involves dealing them out a few different times in rows. The key (as with any form of divination) is to just let yourself be guided by your spirits and be open to seeing the messages in the cards.
For the month of January 2019 I will be offering 20% off Tarot Readings.
The New Year is the perfect time to set some time aside to contemplate your plans, dreams, and ambitions for the days ahead. Cleanse away your old baggage on New Years Eve and kick off the New Year with a fresh, and focus on positivity and manifesting your abundance and dreams!
I actually wrote this post a few years ago but decided I wanted to expand a little bit upon it so enjoy!
Awhile back I came across an article on the internet that listed a bunch of different style Spirit Boards (i.e. “Ouija Boards”), I shared this to my personal facebook page because I absolutely love Spirit Boards. Not surprisingly, most of the comments were about how terrible Spirit Boards are. (I posted this on my facebook page again, lets see if it happens again!) Spirit Boards are unfortunately one of the most controversial tools used in mediumship today, despite the fact that they were once considered to be an essential tool for spirit communication.
The concept of a spirit board developed through a combination of two forms of physical mediumship: ‘table-tipping,’ where the alphabet was spoken allowed during a seance and the spirits would ‘tip’ the table when the correct letter was chosen, and “planchette writing” where a small wooden board would be used to produce automatic writing (early versions sometimes had small wheels on them, and would have a space for a pencil to be attached). These tools were combined to make an easier method, where the planchette could be moved by the spirits to point to letters pre-written on a small board.
In 1890 businessman Elijah Bond designed and patented a spirit board he termed the “Ouija Board.” This patent would eventually be acquired a few years later by William Fuld, who is truly responsible for the popularity of the Ouija Board and is considered the “Father of the Ouija Board.” Through a hugely successful marketing campaign he turned the concept of a “Ouija Board” into a household name.
Early Spiritualist literature promoted the uses and benefits of spirit boards for developing mediumship. In Spirit Mediumship by Rev. E. W. Sprague he lists these methods among forms of physical mediumship, and in Genuine Mediumship by William Walker Atkinson, he actually mentions Ouija Boards by name, stating, “Ouija Boards are sold at a moderate price, and will be found a valuable adjunct to any spiritualist circle.” He also gave instructions on how to use them, also explains how the reader can create their own at home.
Unfortunately, with its mass production the spirit board became removed from it’s spiritual purpose and became to be seen as a parlor game to entertain and frighten people. This lead to misuse and misunderstanding, which then ended up causing these simple boards to be surrounded in urban legends and Hollywood Horror pop culture.
I remember asking for a Ouija Board for probably my eighth or ninth birthday. I remember mostly playing around with it and looking at it, but having very little desire or interest to conduct a seance, I mostly just wanted to own it because I thought it was fun looking and ‘spooky’. It wasn’t until I was in high school that I would seriously begin to practice and use one. I used it as a way to practice physical mediumship and communicate with my spirit guides: both in solitary sittings by myself, and also fairly often with a good friend of mine who was also interested spiritualism and spiritual phenomena (and is also a fantastic medium!).
Thankfully due to a new generation of freethinking Spiritualists, the taboos surrounding Spirit Boards are slowly beginning to be overcome, and the practice is making a bit of a resurgence. It may take awhile for the image to recover from all the damage done, but it seems that the Spirit Board is finally being restored back to its rightful place as a Spiritualist tool of healing and spiritual development.
I’ve wanted to write this for awhile.
Before I actually begin: this is going to be specifically about my own personal devotion to Santa Muerte, not me teaching about her or anything like that. So, if you find yourself wanting to learn more about Santa Muerte I highly recommend reading Devoted to Death: Santa Muerte, the Skeleton Saint by R. Andrew Chesnut.
Again, because of the nature of this post I’m not going to go into a ton of detail about who she is and about her history, but to offer an extremely brief explanation: Santa Muerte (Saint Death) is a female skeletal folk-saint from Mexico.
When I was 16 I stumbled into a Botanica in Indio, California. Looking back on it, it’s more likely that I was drawn in there by spirits rather than it just being random. I was in a small section of the city tagging along on an errand that wasn’t even for me, and I saw a small storefront that would have blended in with all the others if it wasn’t for a life sized statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe and a slightly smaller statue of St. Jude in the window. I remember actually thinking that it was a store that sold art.
I went inside and that pretty much set the course of my life from then on. I was absolutely mesmerized by everything there: the scents, smells, shelves of candles, incense, statues, etc. It was like I walked into a place I had only ever dreamed of existing. I visited the store probably three times that week, and the first object I bought from there was a small statue of Santa Muerte after having asked the owner of the shop about how to properly pray to her.
Back in 2006 there was barely any decent information available in English at the time about Santa Muerte. I don’t recall actually even owning a book in English about her until around 2008. The few things I could find available to read at the time were mostly articles here and there on the internet, but I mostly learned from just asking around locally: I asked the owners of the botanicas I went to (after discovering one, I discovered several more) and the people that ran the stands at the public market that sold spiritual supplies. I actually also bought a few booklets and chaplets in Spanish and just went to work on slowly translating portions of them with my somewhat limited knowledge of Spanish and a Spanish-English dictionary.
My devotion to her at first was mostly like any of my other saints that I prayed too. However very quickly, she took a much more central role in my own spirituality as well as spiritual work that I performed for others. When I was approached by clients or friends for spiritual work or readings, she tended to be the first spirit to stand in to offer assistance in whatever was asked. She would give me instructions for works in dreams, such as where I needed to go to get a particular herb or powder for a certain kind of work. She also began to assist me by pointing out and guiding me in the direction that my spiritual path was going, opening the way to learn more about Spiritualism, Espiritismo, and a few other related traditions.
All while this was going on for myself she started to become more and more popular in the United States, which has been pretty fantastic to witness. I went from being mostly alone, to having this vast open network of other people that wanted to write about her, work with her, pray to her, and discuss her. While I’m not a huge fan of some of the products and trends that are out there, there are also some pretty great resources now available due to her rise in popularity.
I honestly can’t even begin to list the things that she’s done for me. She’s been my guide, a consistent spiritual lighthouse for me for over a decade now. She’s saved my life at least twice that I know about. She’s gotten me several amazing jobs, and so many other wonderful things.
In the past few years I found out that she’s become fairly popular here in Rochester, something I hadn’t guessed would happen. Apparently the products and amulets that are sold at one of the Botanicas here that are specifically for her are among the most popular, and I’ve seen several of the more New Age/Metaphysical oriented stores here sell spiritual supplies for her, particularly statues and incense.
Though rarely asked, I do perform readings, consultations, and spiritual work with her solely as a Santa Muertero. I keep a few tools of divination that I have dedicated to use solely for consultations under her guidance, and I can also perform pretty much all of my regular services from the standpoint of working specifically with her, such as cleansings, working with candles, etc.
I recently felt moved that I needed to share my devotion to her publicly as a personal testimony. While I’m fairly open about my devotion to Santa Muerte when asked, I tend to not set my devotion front and center when discussing my spirituality with others. I’ve found that her devotional practices (and by extension my devotion to her) has been a complex thing for me to explain to people, because while she has many different paths of devotion the fact of the matter is that devotion to her is not quite a full blown religion: it lacks an official initiation or baptism (though some traditions have this) and is very much still a tradition of Mexican folk Catholicism. All of this being said, I’d like to commit to changing my own approach to being open regarding her, as it’s only fair that a spirit so important to my personal path be rightfully acknowledged as such.
A point I would like to include, as it’s come up fairly recently in a few different discussions that I’ve had with people. While it’s very, very well known that Santa Muerte has many different paths, in my own journey with her, she is first and foremost the Curandera par excellence. This is essentially how she’s shown herself to walk with me, and how she has wanted me to walk with her. She’s the Healer and Herbalist, grounded in the damp wet earth, both the source of healing herbs, and where our bones will one day rest, after she has guided our souls to the world of Spirit. That is really, truly, the core of my own relationship with her.
So, I’d like to say, thank you: thank you so much Madrina, Godmother, for all you have done, and continue to do for me, and for others.
“He lifted up his eyes and saw certain trees by the road with an almost infinite number of birds; whereat St. Francis marvelled, and said to his companions: "Ye shall await me here on the road, and I will go and preach to the birds my sisters"; and he went into the field and began to preach to the birds which were upon the ground; and anon those which were in the trees came to him, and all of them stood still together until St. Francis finished preaching.” The Little Flowers of St. Francis
One of my favorite aspects of American Spiritualism, is that it’s near universally accepted that animals have spirits and souls. Although Spiritualists aren’t alone among the world religions in affirming this, American Spiritualism has really embraced the idea of accepting animals as family members, complete with animal friendly services, funerals for pets, allowing public prayer for family pets in services, and the belief that animals can come through in mediumship just as well as any loved one.
These beliefs go back to the early Reform Movements and the Victorian era where companion animals, and the animal welfare movement and vegetarianism became popular among the middle class, especially Spiritualists. Spiritualism offered an alternative religious tradition to the prevailing traditions of the day, where animals tended to be viewed as property or things rather than individual creatures capable of thought and emotion.
An early work of popular Spiritualist inspired literature Animal Ghosts Or, Animal Hauntings and the Hereafter by Elliott O'Donnell presented both traditional folkloric ghost stories involving animals as well as those submitted by individuals who encountered spirit visitations from beloved pets as well as farm animals.
More recently, popular beliefs such as the ‘Rainbow Bridge’ the blissful garden of the afterlife where pets and owners are reunited are heavily influenced by the peaceful Spiritualist idea of Summerland a land of eternal spiritual ‘summer’ where souls are in communion with God.
The Spiritualist community of Lily Dale, NY is an excellent example of Spiritualist kindness to animals. The Lily Dale Spiritualist Camp had a pet cemetery built very early on for it’s animal residents, cats are safe to walk the streets, squirrels are as well fed as any household pet, and within the last few years a dog park was built.
It’s therefore really no surprise that St. Francis of Assisi the “little poor man” who preached to the birds, universally loved, has entered into Spiritualism via this love of animals, and all of creation. Not only was St. Francis extremely aware of the presence of God as Creator in the laws of nature, he was very much in tune with his brothers and sisters the animals, and has become somewhat of a spirit guide for pets and animals among Spiritualists.
The famous Prayer of Saint Francis is found in the NSAC Hymnal set to music, and a small shrine to him is located in the center of the Lily dale pet cemetery. Many Spiritualist churches will also have a special pet blessing service on or near his feast day in October.
Though this love of St. Francis tends to transcend denominations, he’s truly found himself among friends with Spiritualists.
The Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Hey everyone! as you can see I've changed quite a bit around on my website here.
As I've recently moved away from the South Wedge neighborhood it seemed a bit silly to keep my old name, so I've changed it over to something a bit more simple: my name!
I'm still in the process of updating the website and changing things around, but I will go back to posting regularly again and keeping things up to date.
Nice to be back and here's to a wonderful new chapter!
Dear St. Joseph, kind and loving, Stretch to us a helping hand; Guide us through life's toils and sorrows, Safely to the distant land. -Traditional Hymn to Saint Joseph
For my readers that are more familiar with denominations of Spiritualism such as the National Association of Spiritualist Churches, the veneration of Saints may seem to be a new introduction into American Spiritualism. While these Churches might make use of some Christian practices (a bible verse here or there, or singing ‘Amazing Grace’), most of the few Christian practices done in these Spiritualist Churches are Protestant in origin, and are very seldom Catholic.
The veneration of Catholic Saints in American Spiritualist Churches actually began extremely early in the Spiritualist movement. As the movement rapidly spread throughout America it reached areas that were largely Catholic in religious affiliation particularly Francophone areas of the county such as Louisiana, especially in New Orleans.
In early records of Spiritualist societies we see many instances of automatic writings where Catholic saints (and also biblical figures) would be channeled by mediums as spirit guides to give their wisdom and guidance to those in need. Saint Vincent De Paul, for instance, was a favorite Spirit Guide among creole Spiritualist societies in New Orleans. (Check out the book A Luminous Brotherhood: Afro-Creole Spiritualism in Nineteenth-Century New Orleans by Emily Suzanne Clark)
The Spiritualist veneration of Saint Joseph in the United States largely goes back to New Orleans in the 1900s, where the mass immigration of Sicilians brought their passionate love and veneration for their patron, Saint Joseph. Saint Joseph has been especially loved by Sicilians since the middle ages, where legend says during a terrible drought his intercession was sought to bring rain, thus saving the island from famine.
The Sicilians, grateful to their beloved saint, promised that they would hold a feast every year in his honor. In the 1900s-1930s there was a mass immigration of Sicilians to the United States, and many entered the port of New Orleans, bringing their spiritual traditions to the city. Today, this feast is still practiced around the United States by Sicilian communities, and in New Orleans the St. Joseph’s Day parade is second only to Mardi Gras.
His popularity as a Saint in New Orleans soon spread among Catholics, both Italian and African-American. Devotion to him eventually spread into the New Orleans Spiritualist Churches, an African-American Spiritualist denomination. In the 1900s, Sicilians were not considered to be white by the vast majority of Americans, and were even looked down upon by other Italians as being non-Italian. Many Sicilians prefered to join these Spiritualist denominations, as opposed to the Catholic churches where they largely felt ostracised; they were already familiar with spiritualist phenomena, coming from a spiritual background filled with wonder-working Saints, ecstatic visions, and communication with spirits of the dead, and were largely welcomed by African-American Spiritualists.
The famous Mother Leafy Anderson of the Eternal Life Christian Spiritualist Church of New Orleans had at least two Italian women among her disciples who started their own Churches, and the great Mother Catherine Seals of the Temple of Innocent Blood counted many Sicilians and Italians among her followers, including the miraculous healing of a young Italian girl:
“I was also told about a little Italian girl who was unable to walk and Mother Catherine cured her. Her parents brought her to the shrine and Mother Catherine kept telling the child to walk and she left her place and walked to Mother Catherine.” -The Spiritual Churches of New Orleans by Claude F. Jacobs, Andrew J. Kaslow
This unique blend of traditions brought St. Joseph, and all his traditions to the New Orleans Spiritualist Churches, and by extension many of the Churches that were branches from them.
Saint Joseph Feasts
The practice of holding a feast to Saint Joseph entered almost immediately into the New Orleans Spiritualist Churches. After a service would follow a huge feast where people would cook all sorts of food in honor of St. Joseph. People could take this opportunity to ask St. Joseph for favors, or to fulfill a promise they made to him in exchange for a favor granted. Blessed bread baked into amazingly beautiful shapes, and candied fruit is often handed out, believed to have lucky properties. His main is feast day is on March 19th, and a second day dedicated to him as “St. Joseph the Worker” is on the 1st of May.
Saint Joseph as Patron Saint of a Good Death
In Catholic devotional traditions Saint Joseph is actually the patron saint of a ‘good death’ that is, he is believed to have died peacefully, without pain, suffering, or sin, surrounded by angels, in the arms of Jesus and Mary and passed on directly to heaven. He is regularly prayed too when someone is transitioning into Spirit in order to gently aid their soul into their next phase of being.
“Hail, St. Joseph, spouse of Mary, Blessed above all saints on high, When the death-shades round us gather, Teach, oh, teach us how to die.” -Hymn to Saint Joseph
Saint Joseph as a Spirit Guide
In both Spiritualism as well as Folk Catholicism, to have clairvoyant experiences or mediumistic dreams involving Spirit Guides, Saints, or Angels is fairly normal. Many devotees of St. Joseph (or any Saint) will often have such personal experiences. St. Joseph himself is largely associated with having prophetic dreams, and is often prayed to for developing the ability to dream. In several Spiritualist traditions St. Joseph will often come through in mediumship to offer advice, wisdom, compassion, or healing to whatever soul is in need.
“The angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.” Gospel of Matthew 1:20
Saint Joseph the Worker, and Real Estate Agent
Saint Joseph is probably one of the most “down to earth” Saints imaginable. He is always seen as a laborer, a carpenter in particular and has a particularly intense love for the poor working class. Due to his association with being a carpenter, and the biblical references to him having to find shelter for Jesus and Mary, he is considered the perfect Saint to ask for in finding a new home, and selling a home.
“The angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt” Gospel of Matthew 2:13
Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem Gospel of Luke 2:4
See all the moving?
An interesting tradition that has caused the creation of several kits, where you can buy a tiny statue of Saint Joseph that is buried in the yard or a house or property in order to ensure it is sold in a timely and prosperous fashion.
Devotion to St. Joseph:
A simple yet wonderful devotion to St. Joseph is praying a set of Psalms associated with him as recommended by the fantastic prayer book The Raccolata. The Psalms are: 99 , 46 , 128 , 80 , 86 . The Psalms in brackets are the numbering according to Protestant bibles (King James Version, etc) otherwise the numbering of these Psalms are according to Catholic bibles. I also chose to select them from the Douay Bible because the Psalm translations are closer to the Latin Psalms given in The Raccolata:
Psalm 99: Sing joyfully to God, all the earth: serve ye the Lord with gladness. Come in before his presence with exceeding great joy. Know ye that the Lord he is God: he made us, and not we ourselves. We are his people and the sheep of his pasture. Go ye into his gates with praise, into his courts with hymns: and give glory to him. Praise ye his name:for the Lord is sweet, his mercy endureth for ever, and his truth to generation and generation.
Psalm 46: O clap your hands, all ye nations: shout unto God with the voice of Joy, For the Lord is high, terrible: a great king over all the earth. He hath subdued the people under us; and the nations under our feet. He hath chosen for us his inheritance the beauty of Jacob which he hath loved. God is ascended with jubilee, and the Lord with the sound of trumpet. Sing praises to our God, sing ye: sing praises to our king, sing ye. For God is the king of all the earth: sing ye wisely. God shall reign over the nations: God sitteth on his holy throne. The princes of the people are gathered together, with the God of Abraham: for the strong gods of the earth are exceedingly exalted.
Psalm 128: Often have they fought against me from my youth, let Israel now say. Often have they fought against me from my youth: but they could not prevail over me. The wicked have wrought upon my back: they have lengthened their iniquity. The Lord who is just will cut the necks of sinners: let them all be confounded and turned back that hate Sion. Let them be as grass on the tops of houses: which withered before it be plucked up: Wherewith the mower filleth not his hand: nor he that gathereth sheaves his bosom. And they that have passed by have not said: The blessing of the Lord be upon you: we have blessed you in the name of the Lord.
Psalm 80 Rejoice to God our helper: sing aloud to the God of Jacob. Take a psalm, and bring hither the timbrel: the pleasant psaltery with the harp. Blow up the trumpet on the new moon, on the noted day of your solemnity. For it is a commandment in Israel, and a judgment to the God of Jacob. He ordained it for a testimony in Joseph, when he came out of the land of Egypt: he heard a tongue which he knew not. He removed his back from the burdens: his hands had served in baskets. Thou calledst upon me in affliction, and I delivered thee: I heard thee in the secret place of tempest: I proved thee at the waters of contradiction. Hear, O my people, and I will testify to thee: O Israel, if thou wilt hearken to me, there shall be no new god in thee: neither shalt thou adore a strange god. For I am the Lord thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt: open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it. But my people heard not my voice: and Israel hearkened not to me. So I let them go according to the desires of their heart: they shall walk in their own inventions. If my people had heard me: if Israel had walked in my ways: I should soon have humbled their enemies, and laid my hand on them that troubled them. The enemies of the Lord have lied to him: and their time shall be forever. And he fed them with the fat of wheat, and filled them with honey out of the rock.
Psalm 86 The foundations thereof are in the holy mountains: The Lord loveth the gates of Sion above all the tabernacles of Jacob. Glorious things are said of thee, O city of God. I will be mindful of Rahab and of Babylon knowing me. Behold the foreigners, and Tyre, and the people of the Ethiopians, these were there. Shall not Sion say: This man and that man is born in her? and the Highest himself hath founded her. The Lord shall tell in his writings of peoples and of princes, of them that have been in her.
March is national Women’s History month and also marks the anniversary of Spiritualist Movement.
Leah Fox is often written off from the history of Spiritualism as the ‘other Fox sister.’ If she isn’t completely ignored in books, she will often be accused of having been manipulative over her younger sisters.
Leah, in my opinion, is one of the most interesting figures of the Spiritualist movement, not only as one of the three fox sisters, but her important role in the shaping of the religious aspect of the Spiritualist movement. When her sisters were old enough to be on their own and were out essentially being famous, Leah lead a much quieter life, performing private seances for guests at her home in Rochester (and eventually NYC).
Leah was not the typical Victorian woman, and this may be the primary reason that she has been recorded by history in a more negative light than her sisters. While her sisters could be written off as ‘tragic young women’ Leah was a more imposing figure: an independent woman. She was married three times, she was a single mother, she provided for her own family primarily through her skills as a music teacher, and was a very popular medium in her own right.
Leah wrote her own record of the Spiritualist movement, which is still in print, though not a hugely popular read these days. The work is titled The Missing Link in Modern Spiritualism by Leah Underhill (her married name). Although the work clearly states that it is not an autobiography, the work is very much written from Leah’s perspective. It discusses the events at Hydesville, as well as Leah’s own account of what occured in Rochester as a result, the events that became of it, their family history of spiritualist phenomena, and many, many interesting accounts regarding the early history of the Spiritualist movement.
An interesting point in the work that is largely left out of many works on the Fox Sisters is that Leah seemed to be keenly aware of the religious and spiritual dimension of this movement. Leah, seemed to understood that the movement was much larger and more important than a money making opportunity but rather a ‘new truth.’
She wrote: “the movement was not in our hands nor under our control. It had an object, and we, as reluctant and humble instruments, were in the hands of other and higher wills and forces, from whom it had proceeded, by whom it was directed, and, so to speak, engineered. We have since come to understand that all these events and incidents, perplexing and distressful as they were to us, were but the birthroes of a new truth, which was destined to revolutionize this world, and establish a communication between here and the hereafter; of the Earth and of the Spirit."
On a personal level, Leah described an event that she experienced at one of the first seances in her home in Rochester in the terms of a spiritual conversion:
“We were truly converted, and as the dear old Methodists used to say, “born again.” We could then realize that we had something to live for, something to hope for, in that sacred hour when each one in our humble group “lay at the feet of Jesus,” willing to be guided and directed in the paths of truth and duty.
Leah, unlike her two younger sisters, never denied the truth of Spiritualism. She continued as a medium (though in mainly private seances) her entire life, and also raised her children with Spiritualist beliefs.
Leah’s presence as a medium in Rochester lead to the forming of some of the earliest Spiritualist Circles in the country, one of the first being her own, which included her friends Amy and Isaac Post (I wrote a blog about them, check it out!). Isaac’s famous book of automatic writing actually includes a section in the back that records communications delivered through Leah in Seances. These early seances eventually lead to the formation of Spiritualist societies and Churches that we have today, and for those of us who live in Rochester, Plymouth Spiritualist Church can directly trace itself to this early Spiritualist Circle, that had Leah as it’s Medium.
I’d suggest to anyone reading this that’s interested, to take the time to read Leah’s own work in her own words, rather than the words of others.
One of the most wonderful books about Italian-American (more specifically, Sicilian-American) life I’ve ever read is Mount Allegro: A Memoir of Italian American Life by Jerre Mangione. The work is an autobiographical account of the author’s younger years growing up in a Sicilian family within the Italian community here in Rochester, NY.
As it's a memoir, it's extremely readable and not an academic or difficult read. Even if you aren't Italian, you'll probably still find most of the stories extremely relatable, and usually pretty funny. For those interested in Italian-American folk magic, the book also contains several fascinating passages about Italian-American folk beliefs and practices, recorded by the author that were practiced here in Rochester by members of the Italian-American community during the author's childhood.
To tempt you into reading it, and to share some interesting tidbits, here are a few short passages from the book:
“A pair of locked horns to drive away the evil spirits hung over the doorway of Uncle Nino’s home, as well as our own. And when my mother or aunt dropped anything, she chanted:
If it was a fork, she was positive someone was gossiping about her or some other member of her family, and if it was a knife that fell, it was a sign that someone was about to call.
Whoever the caller was, he could not enter the house without passing underneath the locked horns over the doorway, thereby losing whatever evil he might be trying to smuggle in.”
"Sarina told Saint Joseph about Pietro, what a good man he was and that he was dying, and how four doctors had been able to do nothing for him except make him poorer. Then she promised the saint that if he brough about Pietro's cure, she would go begging alms from house to house, and that on Saint Joseph's Day she would give a banquet in his honor with the money she collected.
Saint Joseph did not fail her. Despite the dire predictions of the three licensed physicians, Pietro survived his illness without an operation. Within a few weeks he was as good as new. Sarina, true to her word, tied a black shawl around her head and, looking very pious indeed, went begging for alms. It was considered lucky to give money to a cause like hers and, long before she called on all her relatives, she obtained the funds she needed for the banquet."
“When my cousin Rosina went crazy, there was so much grief among my relatives that some of them forgot their disdain for superstitions and began to say that Rosina’s madness was undoubtedly caused by a fattatura….A fattatura was far more deliberate and insidious than the evil eye, for it presupposed the services of a witch with a professional knowledge of black magic”
These are only a few of many fascinating spiritual practices mentioned through out the book, there's actually at least two whole chapters of the book that discuss those matters almost entirely. You can find the book for sale online (used or new) on Amazon or Barnes and Noble.
Books on authentic Italian folk magical practices are very difficult to find, and are often more academic than they are practical. So I wanted to share this wonderful little treasure of a book with those who are not familiar with it, as it’s very easy to miss. The book is How to Dream Your Lucky Lotto Numbers, written by Raoul Maltagliati, an occultist from Florence, Italy. The book was printed in 1994, and was printed again in 2000. It’s unfortunately out of print, but is thankfully fairly easy to find used online.
The book contains Maltagliati’s teachings (in English) regarding dreams and numerology as it was taught to him by his teacher, Gennaro Esposito, a traditional Dream Interpreter from Naples, Italy. It’s a pretty simple book: the dreams are organized by subject, you look up the dream you wish to interpret, and there will be both an interpretation as well as a lucky number that you can bet in a lottery. This is an extremely traditional and old way of working with dreams in Italian folk magic, while it may not be as whimsical as some people would hope; small dream books such as this one were (and still are) very commonly used among Italians and Italian-Americans.
Maltagliati also discusses the importance of having a portafortuna, or good luck charm such as il cornu (the horn), mano cornu (the horned hands), or il gobo (the hunchback) which will give the wearer a better edge in games of chance, and life in general (a subject I plan to write about soon!).
Part of the reason I absolutely love this little book is that dream interpretation is the only full system of divination that my family brought to America from Italy that survived near intact and is still believed by virtually everyone in my family. This little book allows anyone that’s Italian-American or interested in Italian American folk magic, to have a wonderful connection to an authentic practice that is simple and available in English.