Magic and the Traditions of the Deep South

The Deep South in the United States normally refers to the states of Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Alabama and Georgia. These areas are considered to be more socially conservative, and have a history which includes the frequent use of magic as well as embracing the African heritage that the slaves brought with them. New Orleans, Louisiana, is believed by many to be where Hoodoo was born. Even though this is a bit misleading, the religion has always been widely practiced in this region.

A well-known Voodoo Queen, Marie Laveau lived and worked in New Orleans during the 19th century. Even though acknowledged for her Voodoo workings, she was also quite powerful in Hoodoo because of her intimate connection with the spirits. She was particularly good at casting spells for love, prosperity, and power. Aunt Caroline Dye was another famous Hoodoo practitioner in the Deep South during the early 1900s. Her divination abilities often made her spells more powerful, and she was particularly respected by many famous and wealthy businessmen. They would consult her about decisions which affected their businesses and prosperity. Aunt Caroline never did readings about either love or war, but focused mainly on finances and power. 

shutterstock_412972846Different kinds of waters/colognes were used in magical rituals and general blessings in the Deep South, and many remain an active part of everyday life. The most popular of these were:

  1. Florida Water – Floral essential oils mixed in a water and alcohol base. The water is then used to bless and cleanse the home. It can also be worn to attract a specific desire.
  2. Karanga Water – Ylang ylang essential oil in water and alcohol base which is used in rituals or worn to attract love and prosperity. It can also be added to an offering bowl for the spirits.
  3. War Water – Iron rust was mixed with water and used to poison a victim or encourage arguments between themselves and their family. Spanish moss and herbs could also be added in order to make the water more potent.
  4. Hoyt’s Cologne – A special mixture that was worn to attract good luck in gambling.

Another tradition that was followed carefully in the Deep South was the hanging, or carrying around of mojo or Gris Gris bags. These were small sacks made out of any available cloth which were filled with items, such as crystals and herbs, meant to attract a specific desire to its owner. Gris Gris bags worked by including items which were meant to feed the spirits. They would express their gratitude by helping the owner achieve what it was they truly desired.

Similar traditions are still practiced in the Deep South and the culture is rich with magical memories. Still relatively conservative, the states in the south preserve their beliefs and continue to embrace their heritage.

Cerberus – The Hound of Hades

In ancient Greek mythology this massive dog became the guardian of the gates of the Underworld. Its job was to ensure that the shades of the dead could not leave, as well as prevent any living soul from trying to enter. The meaning of the name, sometimes spelt Kerberos, is death or daemon of the dark.  Sighting of this terrible beast invoked fear into even the bravest men and he is described as having three hound heads, a serpent for a tail, a mane of snakes and a lion’s claws.

Cerberus came from a family of terrifying monsters. His father, Typhon, was a multi-headed snake and his mother, Echidna, was half snake and half woman. In addition to Cerberus, his parents had three other children: Hydra – 9 headed water serpent, Orthus – 2 headed dog, who guarded the cattle of Geryon and the Chimera who had three heads: one of a lion, one of a goat and one of a snake.

Shortly after Cerberus hatched from an egg, Hades visited Echidna with a gift of gold jewellery which he wanted to use as payment for her son. Refusing to hand over her child for a simple treasure, she scorned the god’s gift. Hades left it with her anyway, secretly vowing that one day the hound would be his.

shutterstock_56594995When Cerberus grew older he came upon a shark trying to capsize a boat in which the beautiful maiden, Delia, was seated. He killed the shark, saving her, and the two immediately became good friends. One day as he accompanied her while she was healing animals, he was lured away. In his absence a monster, sent by Hades, killed Delia and left Cerberus devastated. Hades offered to make a deal with the hound, promising to return Delia’s spirit to him if he became guard of the Underworld for 1000 years. Failing to see any other way of getting his friend back Cerberus agreed and started to work immediately. 

During his extended period guarding the realm of the dead, there were only three people who ever got past Cerberus.

  1. Persephone – The goddess of innocence and Hades’ partner in ruling the Underworld was allowed to pass twice a year when the seasons changed.
  2. Orpheus – This musician put Cerberus to sleep with the beautiful music from his lyre. He then slipped past the hound and attempted to lead his wife’s soul from Hades. He would have succeeded as well, but gave into the forbidden temptation to look back and make sure she was following him.
  3. Hercules – The demi-god’s 12th and final task was to bring the hound to king Eurystheus. He approached Hades, asking for permission to take the beast with him. This he was granted provided that no weapons were used in the capture. Hercules used his strength to overpower Cerberus and took him to the king. The dog’s ferocious appearance terrified Eurystheus, who begged Hercules to take it back and in return he would be granted his freedom. Happy to oblige, Hercules did so and Cerberus became the only monster which the hero faced but never killed.

Rivers of the Underworld – The Styx and the Acheron (Part 2)

Last week I released an article about the first three rivers of the Underworld – you can read it by CLICKING HERE. In this article I present the final two to you – Styx and Acheron.

The 5 rivers that surrounded the Underworld eventually converged into a marsh in the middle of Hades. After a soul made its journey to the entrance it was always welcomed, but then doomed to remain there forever. The Underworld was named for the god that ruled there, and Hades was determined to have the largest possible collection of souls.

shutterstock_424045276The River Styx

The Styx was the Underworld’s River of Hate, and also features in our stories of the ancient Greeks the most as it was thought to be the final step between the living and the dead. The marsh where all the five rivers of the Underworld converged was also known as the Styx.

As a goddess in the form of a body of water, this river was very powerful and had legendary magical powers. Whenever a human was dipped into its waters they became either invincible or immortal. Achilles himself was held in the river as a youth, which was the reason he became physically impossible to defeat. His heel remained his only vulnerable spot, as this was where his mother gripped him while the rest of his body was under the river’s waters. In the end this seemingly small vulnerability was the reason that he was killed.

Even the gods had an unexpected level of respect for the River Styx and, when trying to be as sincere as possible, swore by it. In the unlikely event that this oath was broken, the god was required to drink the river’s water. This resulted in them losing their voice for nine years, after which they would spend another nine exiled from the council of the gods.

In order for the souls of the dead to make it to Hades, they needed to make a journey by boat with the ferryman, Charon. Modern stories have him transporting them across the Styx to their final destination. The original Greek versions, however, make reference of him rowing the doomed souls across The River Acheron, while those that were neutral remained sitting on its banks.

shutterstock_11972707The Acheron

This Underworld River of Woe was originally the son of Helios, who was changed into a river as punishment for giving the Titans a drink during their war with Zeus for dominion over the earth. Plato described the Acheron as the second greatest river in the world and detailed its flow beneath the ground, particularly through the desert, to form the border of the Underworld.

After the Trojan War, Odysseus lost his way while trying to return home. He visited the junction of the Styx and the Acheron, in order to summon spirits of the dead to guide him. When he poured sacrificial blood into the rivers, the shade of Teiresias (a blind prophet) appeared and gave him the directions that he needed.

As mortals, death is as much a part of our lives as eating and breathing are. In the same way, the five rivers of the Underworld were an essential part of its story. Many of the modern day concepts of the afterlife also tell about an eternal hell, where the unjust are punished until the end of time. In this way, it might be fair to say that the Greeks had a great influence over both the way that we view our lives, as well as our unpreventable deaths.


Rivers of the Underworld – Cocytus, Lethe and Phlegethon (Part 1)

The belief in some form of life after death has existed in most of the civilisations that have passed through this world and the Ancient Greeks were no different. They thought that when a person died their soul went on a journey, which ended in an eternity in the Underworld, Hades. This was a joyless place where each one lost its individuality, and wandered along in a sea of other pitiful souls.

There were 5 rivers: Cocytus, Phlegethon, Lethe, Acheron and the Styx, that surrounded the Underworld eventually converging into a marsh in the middle of Hades. After a soul made its journey to the entrance it was always welcomed, but then doomed to remain there forever. The Underworld was named for the god that ruled there, and Hades was determined to have the largest possible collection of souls.

In order for the soul to make this journey, it required a gold coin to pay for passage which their relatives would place under the dead person’s tongue. Those whose family forgot were forced to wander the earth instead of the halls of Hades’ underground domain. They spent this time roaming along the banks of the River Cocytus, unable to enjoy the pleasures of the living or move on to the misery of the dead. 

shutterstock_227070112The Cocytus (Kokytus)

This River of Wailing or Lamentation flowed into a cavern deep into Tartarus, which was another branch of the Underworld where those that were wicked during their time on earth were required to face an eternity of torture. Tartarus was also the home of the Titans’ prison, where they were banished after Zeus defeated them. 

The waters of the river have been described as a flowing black liquid, which had an overwhelming smell of sulphur. In addition, they are freezing and the wails of millions of heartbroken souls can be heard as the river flows along. Anybody unfortunate enough to be dipped in its waters during life would be consumed by unhappiness, with no more hope or the will to live.

The Lethe

This River of Unmindfulness (Ameles Potamos) flowed through Hades via a route which led around the cave of Hypnos. The spirit of forgetfulness, Lethe, was associated with the river (named after her) and the reason that whenever a person drank from its waters they lost their memory. This was one of the steps each soul was required to take before their entrance into Hades. 

shutterstock_669976The Phlegethon

Phlegethon means flaming, and this River of Fire, was described by Pluto as ‘a stream of fire which coils around the earth and flows into the depths of Tartarus.’ Phlegethon attracted the love of the goddess Styx, but she could not withstand the heat and was consumed by his flames. Love prevailed, however, and they were allowed to continue meandering beside each other for the rest of eternity. This is how the River Styx became a part of those that flowed around the Underworld. 


The Harpies – The Snatchers of the Ancient Greeks

As leader of the gods Zeus was in charge of issuing justice to those that needed to be punished in the Greek society. The harpies became known as the hounds of Zeus, because they were given the task of locating these wrongdoers and bringing them to face their punishments. The word harpy comes from the Greek word meaning snatcher, and they were given free rein to take those who needed to be taught a lesson. The harpies would transport many of them to the Erinyes, who lived in the Underworld and would issue out the appropriate punishment.

These snatchers were described as having the wings and body of a large bird, as well as human faces and crooked, sharp claws in order to catch their prey. The earliest depictions by Greek artists portray them as beautiful winged maidens, while many of the later writers made them seem foul and loathsome and possessing shrivelled, hideous faces. The term harpy is still used to refer to a particularly mean woman who insists on being a torment to others.

shutterstock_209914882Even though it is noted that there were more harpies the three most well-known were Aello (storm), Celaeno (black cloud) and Ocypete (swift wing), who were the daughters of Electra (the Princess of Argos). As can be guessed from the meanings of their names, Electra’s daughters were said to have the power to command the weather and would cause wind storms, rough seas and general bad weather whenever they saw fit.

There are different ways in which Zeus would seek his vengeance, and when King Phineas betrayed the gods by revealing their secret plan the harpies were given the task of tormenting him. While he resided on the island of Stophades there was constantly a buffet of food in front of him, and they would snatch away the pieces while he was trying to eat and taint anything they couldn’t consume themselves. In this way Phineas’ hunger would never be satiated. The king was eventually rescued from this terrible existence by the Argonauts, after he promised to reveal to them the path their journey would take.

The harpies were not only associated with punishment and justice but also with unexplainable bad luck. They would appear unexpectedly and destroy people’s hopes and dreams, just like the storms that they were able to command. Harpies appear on many Greek tombs which shows that they had a strong connection with the Underworld, where they would carry the souls of their victims.

Even though the harpies were greatly feared and seen as hideous, unfair monsters, they have also been depicted as strong women who brought about fear in men and the injustices that they may cause. The idea that they were beautiful maidens who eventually changed into old hags, shows that whenever something is greatly feared it will always be thought of as ugly even if this wasn’t the original opinion.

WIN a Signed Book

To celebrate the release of Crossroads, I’m giving away a very special prize – a set of all three signed books from the Guardians series! That includes Mercy, The Ferryman, as well as the new release Crossroads. And, it’s FREE to enter. All you have to do is go to Goodreads and click “Enter Giveaway”. Good luck!

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