Conjure Woman's Cat

"We didn’t have long to wait. Eulalie brought the deacon’s chair out on the porch, aligned it carefully at the top of the steps and sat down in it with her hands in her lap. She was dressed for church, a dark floral pattern dress with a wide-brimmed hat perching at a jaunty tilt on top of her granny knot. She wore a brass pendant, the sixth pentacle of Jupiter, highly polished and drawing down the light that conjured the cross within circle into the sun." - Eulalie and Washerwoman
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The verse in Hebrew around the edge comes from the Psalms and the names of the four angels governing the elements (Seraph, Cherub, Tharsis, and Ariel) are inscribed on the arms of the cross. This pentacle was especially used for protection from earthly dangers--which is why Eulalie was wearing it at the time.

Eulalie's pendant is real and it and similar pendants can be purchased on Amazon and other sites today. Hoodoo practitioners were not only devout Christians, but strongly believed in the magic found in the Bible, the power of the Psalms, and in the esoteric Key of Solomon the King and the Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses.

These books, ascribed to but probably not written by Moses and Solomon, were purchased by mail order and merged into the hoodoo folk magic system. The books are available on line today in a fancier format than they were during the days of the curios catalogues that advertised ancient secrets of all kinds
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Eulalie and Washerwoman

the story begins...

So Eulalie woke precariously from the blues of her dreams into the jaundiced light of the kerosene lantern when a frightful pre-dawn bedlam was visited upon our back porch by a man named William Ochlockonee Tate, a blue-nosed hinny named Minnie, and a Florida water moccasin named Nagaina.  I’m Lena, the cat. Before my conjure woman was awoken by Minnie’s flailing hooves, I dozed blamelessly behind the pot marigolds until they were kicked into the yard.


Willie was in a hurry; as it turned out, the twelfth and thirteenth missing men gave him cause. Minnie had carried him out of the longleaf pine forest behind the house at a fast gallop. Nagaina, who patrolled the grounds between Coowahchobee Creek and the front gate, perceived the quickly rising heat of hinny and human as a threat, coiled her 5.8 cat-lengths of darkness around a porch post and showed Minnie her wide open white mouth.


Minnie spooked, but Willie held on as Minnie’s rear hooves dragged through the ashes of the cook fire knocking over the cast iron pot. The remaining embers spun outward like the spent wishes of dying stars. Since Willie’s urgent profanity was ineffective, Minnie’s front hooves carried both hinny and rider onto the porch where there were collisions with water bowls, the sofa, an open bottle of shine and the pot marigolds. While the porch and its awning were well made, they weren’t meant for such frantic abuse and shook like the world was ending until Eulalie grabbed the teetering lantern, stepped back into her altar room and shouted, “In Solomon’s name, desist.”


In the resulting hush, I heard the sweet voice of the creek singing a song about Joe Moore and the silver dimes.


“Gently, gently,” whispered Willie as Minnie backed off the porch.He dismounted, smiling cautiously. Nagaina slid beneath the porch and I didn’t twitch a whisker.


“Willie Tate, what Beelutherhatchee nonsense are you up to?” She held up a blue sachet. “In all that ruckus, your right ear tangled in the string and pulled my protective bag of basil off the lintel while Minnie’s left ear knocked the Morton’s Salt thermometer off its post.”


Willie was breathing hard, looking more and more like a plant withering away for lack of water in those late autumn days when death and winter waited on doorsteps, and when he sat down on the far end of the sofa out of Eulalie’s reach, he was slow about it and took time to light a Kool and create a smoky cloud as ashen as his skin.


“CW, two more men gone missing from the 13th Street neighborhood.”


“Who?”

“The Alexander brothers,” said Willie. “We were going out for turkey this mornin’. Martin wanted to try out his new wing bone call and his new truck. Robert wanted to try out his new shotgun.  I got there early and found the house as empty as Jesus’ tomb.”


“Lord have mercy, Willie, they’re probably down to the River District Sing this weekend.” She took an extra breath before saying what I expect she didn’t want to say. “Or, they forgot.”


“They wouldn’t forget. The sing isn’t until next weekend,” he said with an authoritative blast of mentholated smoke. “I knocked on the door and got no answer. I lifted up the bird bath where they hide the front door key and found this page torn out of the Cooper book of Sacred Harp songs.”

Willie unfolded a wide page that looked like it had been hastily torn out of the hymn book.

“‘The Weary Souls,’” she read. “A fitting song, perhaps. Willie, this scribbling at the top of the page. Do you recognize the handwriting?”

“Martin’s,” he said. “When he writes, ‘we’re not yet resting in the Lord’s everlasting arms,’ he’s talking about all the missing men. They got bad troubles. As the song says, they’re sayin’ goodbye. He left this clue for me because he knew I’d look for the key.”


Eulalie's Pendant

Typical curio catalogue ad for ancient Bible knowledge.

Amazon Author's Page

Eulalie and Washerwoman Audiobook Review


Narrator Tracie Christian's spirited style is ideal to portray the fantasy world of conjure woman Eulalie Jenkins and her shamanistic cat, Lena, who live in Florida in the 1950s. Christian captures Eulalie's shock when she learns that Jewish merchant Lane Walker, who's always traded fairly with the local African-Americans, is being forced to give up his store to the Liberty Improvement Club, which forbids serving blacks. Lively descriptions of Eulalie reading possum bones and casting spells; tender scenes with her old beau, Willie Tate; and feline Lena's communication with Eulalie via secret thought speech add to the local atmosphere. - S.G.B. © AudioFile Magazine2017

Folklore

Eulie and her cat fight racism, the Klan and corrupt city officials in two folk magic novels set in the longleaf pine woods of the Florida Panhandle.

In magical realism novels such as Conjure Woman's Cat and the sequel Eulalie and Washerwoman, (October 14, 2016) include folklore gathered from myths, legends and traditional Florida storytelling play an important role. One thing that distinguishes magical realism from straight realism is that the old stories are always regarded as true rather than fanciful.  Eulalie and Washerwoman, for example, mentions the mythical Florida conjure man named Uncle Monday who had the ability to turn himself into an alligator. Uncle Monday was one of Zora Neale Hurston's oral history stories collected for the Federal Writers Project in the 1930s.


The old stories are part of our heritage. As a writer, I find them essential in establishing a "sense of place" where the story is set as well as an important way of getting to know the people who live there. If you're interested in old stories, or in writing about them, you can easily find them by doing Google searches with keywords like "Florida Folklore," "Myths and Legends of Illinois," or "Ghost Stories of St. Louis."


Most states have non-profit and/or government-related folklore projects, archives, storytelling events, and publications. For years, I thought folklore would ultimately die out, but I think the recent upsurge of interest in studies, wisdom, and worldviews of indigenous peoples and a re-discovered appreciation for the land and its consciousness might just help us keep the old stories alive and meaningful even though the world is ever changing.  If you live in Florida, take a look at the Florida Folklore Society's Facebook page. See also the American Folklore Society.

Malcolm R. Campbell Florida Folk Magic

Malcolm R. Campbell


Malcolm R. Campbell grew up in the Florida Panhandle and found secret worlds between the Apalachicola and Ochlockonee Rivers where panthers, limpkins and cottonmouth moccasins called the gods and devils by their names.