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Monday, August 26, 2013

The Art and Science of Spiritual Bathing in the Southern Folk Magic Tradition

What is Spiritual Bathing?

Spiritual Bathing is a hallmark of the Hoodoo Tradition, a term denoting African American folk magick which incorporates elements from both African and European religions in terms of its core beliefs.  In many magickal traditions, including Hoodoo, bathing is often done prior to performing a magickal operation to ensure that one is both physically and spiritually clean. However, in Hoodoo, a spiritual bath is often a magickal operation in and of itself. Baths are prescribed for a myriad of conditions, for example love, protection, cleansing, uncrossing, etc…

Origin and Development

Spiritual Baths were born out of a need for individuals to feel and be spiritually clean, as well as the draw those influences needed or wanted to address a specific issue in our lives.  In earlier times, people traveled over long distances to be treated by a Rootworker, often staying overnight.  The Rootworker would rise up before day break and prepare a bath for the client.  A bath was prepared in a wash tub, and when all was ready, the client was brought into the room.  After instructing the client on how to bathe, the Rootworker would leave the room.

When people migrated to the cities early in the 20th century, the Rootworkers adapted due to the fact that overnight stays were no longer necessary. Clients who were prescribed baths now given either a prepared bath in a gallon jug, or a packet of dried herbs with complete instructions on how and when to prepare and perform the bath as well as how to dispose of the water. 

Composition of Baths

If you perform a search for spiritual bath recipes online you will find a plethora of examples. However, most if not all, baths will be comprised of a variation of a Mineral (bath salts, saltpeter, bluestone, etc...), a Chemical (Ammonia, Pine-Sol, Condition Oils etc…), or an Herb (Lavender, Mint, Hyssop, etc...).

The ingredients used in a spiritual bath will correspond to one’s intention or goal. For example, if you wish to draw money you will use those minerals, chemicals, and/or herbs which are traditionally believed to draw money. The same goes with other types of goals as well.

When to Engage in a Spiritual Bath

As stated earlier, spiritual bathing is often done prior to performing a spell or working. In some cases, however, such as cursing--- a spiritual bath may be performed after a working for the purpose of removing one’s sin. In accordance with the tradition of observing times, there are three main factors to consider when deciding the time to perform a spiritual bath. They are:

  1. Moon Phase- To draw something to you, bathe when the moon is waxing, to draw something away from you, bathe at the waning moon.

  1. Day of the Week- To be successful in attaining one’s goal, it is believed that you should begin your work on the day that is traditionally associated with your goal. They are:

·        Sunday- Success and Wealth
·        Monday- Psychicism, spiritualism.
·        Tuesday- Lust and passion.
·        Wednesday- Heath and vitality.
·        Thursday- Gambling and luck.
·        Friday- Love and friendship.
·        Saturday- Protection and uncrossing. 

  1. Hour of the Day- To draw or attract, perform the bath when both clock hands are rising; to repel, bath when both hands are falling, and avoid those times when one hand is rising while the other is falling.  However, it should also be noted that the most traditional time of the day to perform a spiritual bath is early in the morning near sunrise.

In addition, there are other times when a spiritual bath may be called for such as after an illness (especially a prolonged one), at the start of the New Year, when the moon is New, on one’s birthday, etc…Women who still menstruate may or may not perform a spiritual bath after their cycle is completed each month as well.

The Mechanics of Bathing

A basic “Standing Up” bath consists of preparing your bath by steeping your recipe in water on the stove and then allowing it to cool to a tolerable level. The pot is then taken to the bathroom where you have stopped your drain and placed two white-candles either on the rim of your tub or on the floor outside your tub far enough apart for you to step in between. Remove your clothes, light the candles, and step inside your tub. The bath is poured over your head and allowed to run down your body as you make your prayer or petition (usually in the form of a Psalm).

The body is then rubbed down and away from ones self to drive out evil, negativity, crossed conditions, etc… It should be noted that if your goal is to draw something towards yourself, such as love, money or health, then you would rub upwards and toward yourself for attracting your wish to you.

Finally, step out of the tub backwards passing through the two white-candles and dressed in clean, white clothing. Capture some of your used bath water before un-plugging the drain and dispose of it at a crossroads by throwing it over your left shoulder towards the East and walk away without looking back.

Alternately, you may wish to take a “Soaking Bath”, which consist of filling your tub with water adding your bath, and placing your white-candles on the floor as before.  Sitting in the tub, pour the water over your head, however, you can do this several times if you like and recite your prayer or petition repeating as necessary. When you are done, you may simply soak in the water and meditate on your goal. When you are done, step out of the bath between the two white-candles and capture your bath water to be disposed of later before unplugging the drain.

Alternatives to Bathing

While spiritual bathing as described above is the most traditional form of cleansing and there are a few alternatives which include, but are not limited to, the following:

  1. Foot Washing- Washing of the Feet is an ancient practice found in the bible when Jesus washed the feet of his disciples as a sign of his humility as well as his respect and love for his fellow man.  It is a ritual that deeply resonates with the African American community, owning to the belief in foot-track magic, and is a common practice in the Hoodoo tradition.  Unlike a spiritual bath, which is a private rite; a foot washing is performed by a rootworker for a client. When performed properly the ritual has a profound affect on the rootworker as well as the client.
  2. Head Washing- Similar to a foot-washing, a head washing entails washing one’s head (and hair) with a tea or infusion of herbs for the purpose of cleanings one’s mind of evil, negative thought patterns, and by extension bad habits and other unwanted behaviors.
  3. Egg Cleansing- The egg-cleanings or “egg roll” is a ritual for cleansing oneself of evil which entails taking a fresh, raw egg and rolling over the body in a downwards motion and out a the extremities. This ritual is often performed with the recital of a prayer or Psalm (such as Psalm 51). When done, the egg is often cracked into a glass of water and the remains red for signs before being disposed of at either a crossroads or at the base of a strong tree. The Egg Cleansing can be performed alone or on your behalf by another individual who rubs the egg over your body.  
  4. Smoking With Incense- Similar to an egg cleansing, the person’s body is smoked with incense or a smudge stick (traditionally sage) to for spiritual cleansing and to drive out evil. In my personal practices I have burned sage in a fire safe bowl which I placed on the floor as I stood over it between my legs allowing the smoke to rise over my body. If you desire, you may place a white sheet over your body to hold the smoke it for a more comprehensive smoking of the body.
  5. Cleansing By Proxy- Sometimes a person my feel the need for a cleansing and may not be able to physically see a rootworker in person to have a cleansing performed such as the egg roll or being smoked with incense. In some cases a person may be able to perform a spiritual bath for themselves but would like a spiritual practitioner to back up their work by performing a cleansing by proxy. This is often done by making a doll baby of the individual which includes their personal concerns and performing a cleansing on the doll in the form of a spiritual bath, smoking in incense, or performing the egg roll. 
In Conclusion 

Spiritual Bathing is a very old practice that entails washing the body with a combination of minerals, chemicals, and / or herbs at specific times for specific purposes. The most common considerations for choosing your timing are the moon phase, day of the week, and hour of the day (traditionally near sunrise); although there are other times to consider as well. Spiritual Bathing may be performed to draw things towards yourself or to remove unwanted conditions and influences. Alternatives to spiritual bathing include washing of the feet, head-washing, cleansing with an egg, or smoke or cleansing by proxy. 


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