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November 04, 2009


Karma Zain

I respectfully but strongly disagree that talc is cheap filler and that pure herbs are better. We're talking about traditional hoodoo powders, not personal preference. Actually, talc is a mineral, and there is a long African-derived tradition of many "old school" powders having a mineral ingredient (including, as you hint, goofer dust and hot foot powder). I believe the inclusion of talc is in alignment with the inclusion of clay in many very old formulae, on those lines - there is a reason besides "filler." (One of the reasons is that a base powder gives essential oils a much more long-lasting base onto which to bind than pure herbs would be, thereby allowing sachet powders to stay potent *longer* in a pre-mixed condition - essential oils are critical ingredients in most powders, just as if not more important than the trace amounts of herbal matter itself in sachet powders. (Obv. Love Me powder and Hot Foot powder are not in the same category on that count.)

Furthermore, there is a long tradition, once pharmacy and mail-order options became more widely available, of dual cosmetic/spellcraft items. Sachet powders fall into this category, as do certain hair ointments, tinned balms and liniments, and aftershaves. Sachet powders are sachet powders because they can be worn safely on the skin and blown into the air to be dispersed. Ignoring the talcum base means ignoring the cosmetic side, and that is a tradition much older than me and you put together.

Now, I personally don't use talc because I have health reasons not to. But my powders absolutely do have a non-herbal base -- they absolutely are not pure herb -- because I make hoodoo powders, and there are many reasons for hoodoo powders to have a non-herbal base. Talcum is not just cheap filler in hoodoo - there is a reason for it, and more than one. Some powders use bases other than talc (sometimes the base is just local dirt, if you want to disguise your goofer dust on your enemy's step) and there is a reason for that too, as you hint at.

Hoodoo powders weren't created to burn on candles and charcoal, and they weren't created to make potpourri with - they were created to safely, discreetly, and non-oilily get certain key ingredients in contact with a certain target or target, be that target the person wearing a Love Me powder or a neighbor who needs to walk in Hot Foot powder. And they were created to be able to deploy by blowing into the air.

The upside of my non-talcum base is that you can still blow it into the air and sprinkle it, and it works much better for drawing shapes on altars than talcum powder does.

The downside is that it is heavier and grittier than a cosmetic, and very very many of my customers and clients are women of a certain age who are accustomed to using talc for things, because it's been done for generations. They call me really really flustered sometimes when my powders don't act like they're supposed to act.

This is one of those areas that is changing as the uses of powder change in our culture, particularly among women, and more people now have access to the herbs they'd need to make their own powders. It's now possible for anybody to make their own. But this is a fairly new development, and it's changing things. So a pure herbal powder made at home is actually a stunning innovation. A talcum-based sachet powder is deeply traditional.


Well, I respectfully still say its a cheap filler...and won't be moved on the point. ;) Whether it started as a filler or because it has also been used by some as a cosmetic item (if you find my other arguments on this, you will locate in a few places where I reference the origins of supply house and drugstores,) is not so much my point. I've said in the past even that its been going on probably for over 100 years that people use talc. I think you and I could add an additional us on there and still have room left over for how long its been going on since we're about the same age. ;)

This isn't to say I don't see your point, value your input, and am VERY VERY happy that someone at the least has brought for the first time a reasonable argument to the table. ;) Normally its "But it is cheaper, and it blows better, so there." (I've heard even less reasonable arguments, but that's the common one.) So, before I move on... I THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU for NOT just to throwing a hissy fit at me for my opinion on powders, and actually doing me the favor of bringing a valid argument as to why talc is an ingredient of worth or historical merit. I am entirely sincere there. I like intelligent disagreements, and its nice for a change to have someone bring one to me.

So, allow me to defend my stance of severely anti-talc-ness (is that even a word?)...

First and foremost I obviously cannot argue that the inclusion of talc in many items (magical or no) as a cosmetic ingredient has been around for a long time because I know it has, although the forms I most oft saw it in were dusting a baby's rear end, or embedded in things such as pressed powders or eyeshadows etc as one ingredient of many. Still, yep, its been there as a cosmetic ingredient... But it should be mentioned that I first became aware that people sometimes use talc on their crotch to stop them from "sticking to their pants" (as it was put to me,) when I was almost 20 and saw it for the first time. Since I am from that frozen tundra known as New Hampshire, this concept was alien to me for the first 2/3 of my life. I can't recall a Gold Bond, a Johnson's Baby Powder, a Shower to Shower powder (or any non-brand name talcum) within the homes of any friend or family member who did not have a diaper-wearer in it prior to then. While that may be just selective memory, I was the kid who went and looked in your bathroom cabinets and was that kid til probably I went to college at almost 19. Speaking of friends now, I haven't gone through another's bathroom since I was about 19, but most personal products are on the upstairs bathroom counter in friend's houses and I haven't seen it there either (though I have seen some friend's...very personal items out on their counters...and no I don't mean girlie products...more like...intimate things of a lubrical nature,) so, while I may be putting on airs and speaking out my ass, I'm going to just guess the use of talc is not common in my area for dusting. Why? Is it that northerner's don't sweat? Hell, I've got enough of a Scottish heritige to say I sweat so much that Noah would be building an ark under my armpit if antiperspirant was never created. I sweat when its cold. Of course we sweat. ;) BUT, that aside, its just not common to dust shoes or chests or arms or body areas here where I live. This is likely one root of my problem with talcum in general. Its not that its alien to me, its just not a common product, and I would not be surprised to find several others in my area where the same would and could be said.

But there you go - Hoodoo was born in the south. ;) So, on that you may have me aced because I can't argue that southerners of yore used it very often and maybe still do. I remember the shock of watching a guy pull his elastic waist boxers away from his belly in a crowded dorm and puff powder down there while we all asked what in the eff he was doing.

So, in that, the use of talcum as a dusting powder to help with stickiness/sweat is of course unfamiliar to me due to my geographical location and its traditions. I also know that there seems to be a strong link between ovarian and testicular cancers with people who dust their crotches with talc, so this is a further reason for me to dismiss the use of it in powders today. As for clay, as I was taught regarding the clays of my sculpture years that unfired dry clay can create a dust which never leaves the lung (not all clays, but for the sake of argument, I don't know which past that its not green clay,) so while I do know of the use of clays in powders and potions of yore, there is not a lot of good river clay here for me to gather nor would I ever have felt right using it for my reasons stated above. In that, you may also have me aced. A good rootworker would use the natural things around him or her as much as possible. I am northern, and therefore many ingredients I use today are ingredients I need to order rather than locate, but this does not mean that if you look at some of my formulary you would not notice that it has a distinctly New England side with a few of the ingredients. My teachings would therefore also reflect a northern flavor.

Now, I am getting somewhere. ;) So, while I agree that dirt and river-clay is very much a classic powder ingredient, I still say...talcum is a later inclusion, and one that I feel does not fit anymore. I feel it is often used by people as nothing more than cheap filler (let's be honest with ourselves, as I know supply houses which are even considered good and trustworthy who do not have any scent, oil, or even an herb if you sift through the mix,) and if they want to give me an argument as well-thought and solid as the one you have just given me, then I might actually respect the use of talc more than I do.

I had known, 5 or 6 years ago, an incredibly kick-ass root lady in her middle years who used cornstarch in place of the talc for the reason she could color the cornstarch and avoid the cancer-link of talc. Her theory was one borne of wanting to use a colored powder of similar lightness and not anything to do with clay or talc as a cosmetic. I have found several rootworkers (and very RESPECTABLE rootworkers of varied ATR traditions) who have told me similarly that talc is there to properly COLOR the powder. :S Now, maybe its just me and my damn yankee self here, but since when did I want a dark purple streak on my bosom or staining orange-red on my throat or that odd green streak on my resume as is common to happen with particular powders? Many of the colored ones stain or are obvious - at least those I've seen. How is that cosmetically solid? How is that quiet and private?

So, let's dismiss the use of colored talc on that. I can't honestly believe that putting a giant colored streak on your body or on a document or on anything was being uber secretive. If you don't want to agree with me there, don't. I don't care. The colored talc was a bad idea.

BUT, that doesn't negate the use of talc by itself, does it? I mean talcum powder, in its pure undyed form, is relatively secret. Its light, fine, and blends well. The next argument brought to me was that talc provided a good base for BLOWING the powder. This argument is a good one, and is, to some degree, the most solid I'd heard for some time...however, as you'd mentioned, dirts were a big ingredient traditionally, and dust can also be blown well. Or, I was also told that talc is the mineral replacement to rice powder, which was also used to make a powder able to be blown.

Then there is the "wearing" of powder. Dust, rice powder, and talc in their au naturel (undyed) forms can be worn, but see that's where things get foggy for your old pal Cat.

When I was taught of powders I was told that "back in the day" the way to powder particular items was to burn them into an ash. While I think we can both agree this practice has been recorded (I would have to look after I'm done posting but will try to find a link to a particular text of the late 19th/early 20th century recording this practice,) I am also big enough to conceed that perhaps I was mis-taught to believe this was one of the original method of making a powder with particular herbs it would be hard if not impossible to powder. Burning to ash is also how I was told certain personal ingredients (hair, fingernails, etc,) could be added. I did have some interesting formulae brought to me that included ingredients which, depending on the formula, I have since altered, which were items suchas dust from a foot track, or court dirt, or church dirt. Depending on the formula, I may have omitted or kept this (or may advise someone to add this to a powder I make as obviously if the foot track is 2000 miles from me and 2 miles from you, you can get the foot track, lol.) Talc, however, was not common as an ingredient. Coloring anything was not at all in any original formula I had learned from the source/s I value most. Again, perhaps this is all due to my opinion, background or perception, but it gives some in that it was formulae pre-dating me, so I might draw conclusions that it was how things are done. So far as I was taught, the TRADITIONAL formulae of powders (pre-dating pharmacy-era,) were ashes and dirts and things which we can both agree have been powdered for years either because that was their natural form (suchas with salts, though many salts are ground, too,) or because they were sold as such (for example, pepper.) I was also taught that a pepper mill and coffee grinder could be employed to grind herbs, so...frankly, I don't think its far fetched to believe some of our fore-rootworkers utilized pepper mills and coffee grinders. ;) I agree they visited apothecaries, hardware stores, pharmacies, and the general store...even using ingredients that we could not find today (is it copper nitrate? The uber toxic bluing?) in their formula.

So, I mean, which pre-dates which? Was COLORED talc-base common before they days of mail order and pharmacy suppliers? Could I not argue that COLORED talc has no place traditionally, and that, even if a practice outdates me or you or even my mother or her mother, that its still not one that is disagreeable to me and one which was pre-dated by a practice which did not use unnaturally colored powders? Can I not argue that talc bought from where-ever-the-hell is not as strong as pure herbal powders? Even if the finely ground herbal powder is new, is it not stronger? I feel it is.

And so if we stick a pin into colored powder use as being more modern, can I then not say that our fore-rootworkers still used other items such as clay gathered from a certain place in the river, or perhaps dirt from a certain area, or ash of a certain thing rather than talc? While it may have the basis in some tradition, could I not argue that earlier Hoodoos did not use talc? Is the talc gathered from a specific talc mine? I mean...if its based on the use of clays and dirts, those clays and dirts are gathered from specific areas...so...where does one gather talc of a similar bend? Seems to me the addition of talc, then, was a later invention to make it either a cosmetic (as you mentioned,) or because its a lot easier to order a bulk amount of talc, add some oil (and hopefully herbal matter,) than it is to gather dirts appropriately. While one tradition may pre-date me, another tradition may pre-date that tradition. Further, while something may have basis in a tradition, that does not mean its not used as a filler (or as the entire powder) by more than one supply house today.

I mean, you CAN wear a dirt or dust or an ash as a powder without smelling like dirt or looking like crap. I don't know as I'd call it cosmetic, per se, but it can be used as a dusting on the self.

Also, I don't use my powders as an incense. I've given recipies that COULD BE USED as incense and anointing herbs on a candle, but my incense includes fine wood-shavings and salt-peter. That I don't give everyone that formula when offering spells does not mean that's not how I do it. ;) I see how one could draw the conclusion, but to let you know, Miss Cat does know how to make the self-lighting stuff (though I use too much salt-peter.) ;)

In conclusion (sorry about being so long-winded) this is why I feel talc is nothing more than a cheap filler. If we have the technology to omit it, then why not omit it? If we want to be uber-super-traditional, why not go back to the days when we didn't use talc at all? Perhaps you're right that this is more of my personal preference and my own prejudices. I'm big enough to admit to that, even if I'm willing to make a huge argument against talc here. Maybe I should STFU, but judging from the length of my reply to you, that's not likely that I will at any time in the forseeable future be doing so. ;) To me, I could add a ritual oil to talc and dust myself, but this does not make for a really kickass powder. That some people prefer it that way is fine, and I suspect they are relieved not to use my product. ;)

That being said, if any other rooties want to come in here and give me arguments over a few paragraphs which basically say to use au naturel powders to disguise them, in a paragraph which was not about the historical nature of talc or colored talc, or really so much about using powders - though did include my prejudice AGAINST the use of them and my feelings that talc is a cheap filler, please do not bother. This was about leaving ritual items somewhere, not ritual powder and its history. I can respect Karma for defending the use of talc and discussing its background and roots in tradition, but I believe the defense on both sides has been heard, and it has little to do with the article or question being answered. I believe its best to leave it at what has been stated by us both.

That being said, I will remove the "pure herb" reference to you Karma, and sorry for any trouble I may have caused in wrongly implying that this was your method of powder creation. :) Also, one more thanks for a totally kickass valid argument and not just throwing obscenties and emotional dramas at me for saying something you didn't agree with. As always, you rock and I sincerely think you are perhaps one of the most awesome rootworkers alive today. :D


Karma Zain

More here :-)


You even made me sorta kinda admit to being wrong in the slightest of ways but not totally. ;)


What if the target lives in another country and the spell requires leaving some remnants to their property. Can the spell work with its energies alone?


I guess that depends on the spell/charm being worked. I can't really say without more information. Sorry. :S

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