Black Hens... eggs, feathers, feet.. Oh, and some blood...

Monday, August 22, 2011

Black Hens have a curious place in both conjure and Appalachian folk magic, and I first became interested in their use when I was in my pre-teens.  My grandmother and great aunt loved to tell stories about growing up deep in the hills of Appalachia.  One such story involved an old Appalachian medicine woman and a black hen.  My grandmother was in her early teens at the time, and she came down with her first case of Shingles.  At the time they lived far back in the mountains and a doctor was not readily available, nor would one have been a lot of help.  However, everyone, especially the children, knew about the old *witch* woman who lived even farther back, mainly because they were told to stay away from that part of the woods.  So naturally, my grandmother, being much like me, didn't.  She persuaded her younger sister, my aunt, into accompanying her back to the old woman's house.  She cried and begged and told my aunt that she would die of the pain, until finally she agreed to take her.  So they snuck off towards her house one day.  They knew roughly where it was located because my great-grandfather had warned her of it on trips out to check his moonshine still.  "Watch your step," he would tell her, "That witch woman lives out there. Even the animals there are hers"  So, my aunt and grandmother headed "out there."  They said it did not take them long to find the place.  It was only a few hundred yards off their trail.

My grandmother said she was most surprised by the fact that the woman looked "normal."  I think they expected her to be grotesque in some fashion, with a long nose, a hunch back, and unruly hair.  Instead, she just looked like an ordinary old woman.  However, my grandmother did note that the woman's house smelled "funny."  Both sweet and dirty at the same time, like berries and hot, dry dirt.  The old lady didn't really act surprised to see them.  Simply asked the girls why they had come to visit and looked my grandmother over.  My grandmother told me that the woman looked at her sores, her eyes, her throat, and then felt around her head, wrists, hands, and feet.  Then, she instructed the girls to wait three days and slaughter a black hen.  They were to pour the blood over my grandmother's sores and also sprinkle some around their property.   The old woman told the girls that after three days the sores would be gone, and my grandmother and aunt both swore that they were. 

I was so fascinated by this story when I was younger that I didn't think to ask "Why?"  Why had the woman instructed them to use the blood of a black hen?  My aunt told me that she was very specific about those two points.  It must be a hen, and it must be black.  I never thought to ask "How?"  How was this suppose to help?  I think that I never imagined that they would know the answers.  I think part of me found the story too strange to be factual.  Now I've that I've witnessed much stranger, I can look at the story with a sense of intrigue rather than shock.  So, I decided to ask my aunt, my grandmother having passed years ago, why?  Why did the old woman tell you to use black hen's blood.  My aunt laughed and said, "The old woman believed that your grandmother had been cursed." 

One use of black hens in southern conjure and appalachian folk magic is to undo tricks layed against a person or their property.  Because foot-track magic is very popular among African American derived traditions, its easy to see why hens would become a popular tool of protection for conjurers in rural areas.  Foot-track magic is preformed by either placing something; a powder, water, or the like, such as War Water, in the path of the target so that they step on it and are thereby *infected* through their feet, or by using the dirt from a person's foot-track or a related item, such as a sock,  in a working intended to harm the subject in some way.   The *infected* person much then cleanse or remove the trick that was layed inorder to remove the hex or prevent future damage. In rural areas, hens roaming a persons yard are very good at *cleaning* up these tricks.  Hens are more commonly chosen for this task then roosters because they tend to scratch more.  The hens scratch and peck and remove the trick that was laid from the targets property.

The black hen is often associated with "the black man" or "the devil," sometimes also known as "Old Scratch." This European derived devil is not the Satan of Christianity, but rather a Teutonic wood-spirit that can be both benevolent and malicious, and frequently plays the trickster.  In Central and Eastern Europe, this devil under varies names, including Krampus, accompanies St. Nicholas during his Christmas gift deliveries.  In addition, this devil, as "the black man" has a strong connection to crossroads were it is believed that a person can make a pact with him if he is willing.  I have heard of conjurers keeping a black cock feather on their altar in tribute to "the man," or "the black man."  Now, just as "the devil" can be both malicious and benevolent, so can the use of black hens be. 

Conjurers use black hen products, such as feet, eggs, and feathers for various purposes, both protective and harmful.  Black hen eggs can be used to remove negativity from a person by rolling the whole, uncooked egg over their body.  This egg absorbs the ngative energies and then can be disposed of in one of a number of ways; at a crossroads, in running water, or by breaking the egg at the base of a tree.  To cause harm with an black hen egg, it is used in a form of foot-track magic.  A hoodoo will drill a small hole in the top of the egg and add various ingredients, such as powders and herbs, that are relavent to their working.  Then, this egg would be thrown against the target's door or on their walkway so that they would step in the mess.

Black hen feathers can also be used for both malicious and benevolent purposes.  I have read that black hen feathers can be used to lay tricks against a target, whereas black cock feathers can be used to remove those tricks because the hen is submissive to the rooster.  However, it is appropriate to use hen feathers for *sweeping* or purifying a place or person in most situations.  A simple way of doing this is to make a whisk  from the feathers and sweep it over your clients body from head to feet or around your house.  At right is a very simple black hen feather whisk that my husband made recently.  You may even use a whole wing, if one is available to you.  In addition, black hen feathers can be burnt and their ashes added to purification powders, which can then be sprinkled around your property for cleansing.     

Chicken feet are often use as a protective talisman in Southern conjure.  They can be worn, carried, or placed in doorways and windows or on walkways and gates to symbolicly *scratch up* any negative work or energy intended for the owner or property.  They can be fixed as an active form of protection where they *scratch* back at the person who intended you harm.  Also, they are used in cleansing work much like the whisk. For this purpose, the worker would use the chicken foot to physically *scratch* themselves, their client, or the area, removing negativity and any tricks that have be laid. 

Whether your purpose is to protect or cause harm, if you live in a rural southern area black hens can be an easy, relatively cheap tool for your hoodoo arsenal.  Talk to local farmers, visit the local farmers market, or the local fair.  Most breeders and farmers will be politely accommidating with very few questions.  They'll assume you have one quirky reason or another for specifying black hen products, they may even have their own beliefs or ideas about these hens and others.   Listen to them. :) After all, it's the nature of Southerners to be superstitious, and supersitions often hold truths. :) 

Happy Workings!


Septorinoplasti drew said...

Pretty nice post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I've really enjoyed browsing your blog posts. In any case I’ll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you write again very soon!

Jonalyn Kiew said...

i came from the Philippines and was absulotely agree about it . thanks

Unknown said...

When u say black hen are you referring to female hen or a young male hen???

James Davis said...

I was always told that a rooster was used for dirty work because it's a fighter.

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