The International Folk-Lore Congress of the World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago, July, 1893/Voodooism
MARY ALICIA OWEN
BY MARY ALICIA OWEN.
I shall not begin this paper as the little boy does his greeting on the morning of April 1st, with "look behind you!"—for my eerie acquaintance, the Voodoo "conjurer," is not behind you, a shadowy figure of your Southern neighbor's past. In substantial flesh and almost superhuman power for mischief, he stands, a verity of the present, shoulder to shoulder with you and me, instantly ready, at the instance of his own hate or another's hire, to jostle us from our place and despoil us of our goods and health. Here he is, grinning at conscience, mocking at law, jeering at all virtues but self-control. Utterly heartless, abnormally conceited, trained by self-torture to the highest pitch of endurance, he might be a menace to civilization were there not one talisman that sends him cowering as did the seal of Solomon the genii. The one talisman that wards him from his dupes is the star of our nineteenth century magician—the policeman—the star, not he who wears it; he is but as other men when he takes it off. Why the star has become a talisman, no Voodoo will, or possibly can, tell. If any one in this city knows, it is your Police-Detective Wooldridge, who has already given to the world through the agency of the press reporter an interesting account of Chicago's famous Voodoo, "Old man" Allen, and his troublesome followers, the Polk Street footpads, a band of negresses "rendered absolutely fearless by their belief in Voodooism."
Who is the founder of Voodooism?
Old Grandfather Rattlesnake.
"In the old, old times, the oldest times of all,"—I am quoting Alexander, the highest Voodoo I ever knew—"Old Sun took a notion to make some live things. He squatted down on the bank of a great river and began to make all sorts of birds, creatures, and folks from clay. He stopped a moment and tore a fragment from his body and flung it into the weeds. It came hissing forth after a while, a great rattle-snake, and watched him at his work. When Old Sun's work was done—that is, all except the making of people, for his first attempt of that sort was a failure—he breathed life into his creatures 'without going to the trouble of stepping in circles or saying words.' When each began to move with its own peculiar motions, and cry out in its own peculiar voice, the delighted creator bent over his work, breathing flames of joy, and all caught fire. At this juncture, the watching snake bored a hole in the moist earth and saved himself from harm. After Old Sun had put out the conflagration. Grandfather came out to console his parent and thereby obtain a hold on his affections, but Turtle, erstwhile the despised one, was before him. Turtle's hair was singed off, his eyelids were shrivelled, his eyes were weakened by the smoke and heat, but he was unmistakably alive, and stronger from his baptism of flame.
"'Hello, my child! do you still live?' cried Old Sun.
"'Oh, yes! my big fine daddy, oh, yes! oh, yes! but my back is dried hard as a gourd in the fall, and my innards is all swivelled up like the grass. Can't you spit on my back, my daddy so fine; can't you spit on my back and cool me off?'
"'Oh, yes, child, yes! I can cool you off; oh, yes; child, yes! I can cool you off; but if I spit on your back to cool you off, you will live so long you'll forget your own name.'
"'Oh! I won't mind that, my old daddy so fine; oh! I won't mind that, my old daddy so fine. If you can make out, oh! why shouldn't I? oh! if you can make out, oh! why shouldn't I? So just spit on my back and cool me off.'
"So then Old Sun spat and cooled him off, and the sacred spittle gave poor homely Turtle a great increase of vitality, a gift his irritated creator had no thought of bestowing upon him before the great fire, for you must know that Turtle was Old Sun's first experiment at forming man. Old Sun 'was not any too well pleased' with Turtle's appearance when first moulded, but when the clay image became instinct with life, and the large-bodied, small-limbed, hairy, awkward creature weakly 'wabbled around' (I am quoting) on his hind legs, the august creator flew into a passion and slapped the work of his hands over on all fours, saying (I am again quoting the exact language of my informant), 'There! you fool, CRAWL! you ain't fitten to walk.'"
Well! to abridge a long story in unimportant particulars, Old Sun, having "swallowed his spite" at Turtle, and being, like some other high-tempered individuals, exceedingly kind and obliging when not in a rage, asked what gift this blinking "last of creation" desired.
Turtle meekly replied that he wished a fine plumy tail such as the burned-up creatures had had. Old Sun was about to make it when Grandfather Eattlesnake stepped up and suggested that a plumy tail would get all torn and draggled. Old Sun resented the interference but accepted the suggestion and gave Turtle a plain appendage suited to his method of locomotion.
When Turtle, with the double purpose of again cooling his back and avoiding participation in a mighty "fuss," had jumped into the water and disappeared, Rattlesnake endeavored to "claim kin" and "act smart" with the great Sun. Old Sun attempted to annihilate this unwelcome addition to his family, but Grandfather was a part of him and could not be destroyed. He therefore had to content himself with driving the uncreated one into the hole from which he had emerged, there to remain until creation should be finished. Grandfather obeyed perforce, but he "hilt his head up and peeked." The knowledge he gained surreptitiously he employed to good advantage after Old Sun had recreated all things but Turtle, and climbed up into the sky to keep from causing another conflagration.
At the second creation, Old Sun made mates for everything but Grandfather Rattlesnake, so Grandfather married an ash-tree. Growing discontented with this union, when other pairs had young and he and Ash-Tree had none, he retired to a cave and "worked his mind" for a long time. When he came forth he had perfected Voodoo, as he proved by making a wife like himself from the dead branch of a tree. After he had plenty of children, the Grandfather was satisfied, and did nothing to show his might as a conjuror for along time. Then he "got hoppin' mad" and began to "work his mind," and get power again. The cause of this was that the jealous Ash-Tree poisoned many of his children, and the other creatures refused to allow their families to associate with the survivors. When he felt himself full of strength and poison, he called his enemies about him, he organized from them a Voodoo circle, taught them dances, taught them the healing properties of fire, taught them the fascination and cunning of the snake, told them his origin and the rites necessary in consequence, taught them the use of poisons and medicines. This he did to mock them, for at the end of his discourse he "thought death to them all."
After the death of the enemies, another circle was organized.
Long, long after, as my chroniclers state. Old Grandfather Rattlesnake saw in his trances that he must go away. Before he went, he made a solemn promise to "fling hisself outen his hide," as any high Voodoo can, and return at intervals to strengthen his adherents. This promise, I am solemnly assured, has been kept. Whenever a bride to his liking has been made ready—a terrified little "goat without horns" who is thrown into convulsions from fright and overdoses of whiskey and wormwood, and declared to be in an ecstacy—he has manifested his presence by emitting odors like boiled gooseberries. An ordinary rattler, as we know, has the odor of grasshoppers.
The little virgin above mentioned and the white kid slaughtered in her presence are both spoken of as "the goat without horns," and are both said to " seem to be something they stand for." What does this mean? There is a great, shadowy "boogger" in the form of a hornless goat, which is said to appear sometimes for the purpose of receiving a passing soul, but this surely cannot be the thing which the bride of the snake represents, and as for the white kid, it is merely the girl's ransom. As she lies twisting and shivering on the ground, the kid is killed and eaten as she would have been killed and eaten in "the old time."
Another puzzler in the Pantheon over which Old Sun and Grandfather Rattlesnake preside is the Old Boy, as he is familiarly called, an old devil whom we would consider an estray from the theology of the camp-meeting, did he not have along with him his handsome, jealous wife, the queen of the wuller-wups or will-o'-wisps, the patroness and friend of Old Rabbit. The Old Boy, in spite of his many adventures and blunders, might be overlooked were he not the husband of his beautiful, terrible, vengeful wife who makes it her business to serve out venom to the snakes. One year, we are told, all the snakes were harmless in consequence of her irate spouse, who is powerful enough when he rouses himself, taking possession of the "cunjer-bag" containing her "tricks" and poisons. The ownership of this bag goes to prove, if all other testimony were wanting, that she is a veritable Voodoo, as does Old Rabbit's incantation, accompanied by the strewing of red clover, in the tale of the "Silver Luck-Ball." Like all other conjurors, she seems not always able to bring good fortune to herself—witness, the weather proverb, "When rain falls from a sunny sky, the Old Boy is beating his wife." That she sometimes "hits back" we have proof in the story of:
THE JOKE FISH-HAWK PLAYED ON THE OLD BOY.
I really must give it in dialect; it loses its character in grammar-school English:
"One time in de old time, de Ole Boy, he ez so on common wid some mo' common folks, he hed er fuss with he ole ooman, an' dat time she comed out ahead, pintedly. Dey fussed an' dey cussed, an' dey fit an dey clawed, an' den huh strenk kinder gun out, an' she runned out de do' an' riz up on de rocks, an' he loped arter huh wid de noshin ter smack 'er jaws w'en 'e ketched 'er, but, Ian' she des tahn right roun' in 'er tracks, an' up wid er rock an' hit 'im fa'r an' squar' on de shin, wid er ker-bim! dat mos' bustid de bone. Truf tell, dat laig am a-pesterin' de ole mon yit, kase 'e kyamt cunjer off de huht an' de misery dat he own ole ooman mek. No suh! No! kase she de bigges' man o' de two pun 'casion, e'en ef he hev got dat sneakin', tattlin' Blue-Jay a-spyin' an' a-kyarin' news an' debbilmint fob 'im. No, suh! he kyarn't cunjer um off. Howsomeddevveh, hit am er heap betteh now dough 'e hitch yit in 'e walk w'en dey's fallin' weddeh a-comin,' an' dat's mighty bad, ez dis hyeah niggeh know by de twis' in de marrer ob he own bone wut smell de rain w'en he nose kyarn't. Wy, des las' week sez I ter Mandy sez I, 'Mandy, borry de loan ob my ole yoller ombrell, my chile, kase hit's gwinter rain.' I knowed hit, dough de sky wuz cl'ar, kase my cunjered laig buhn lak er red-hot trace-chain wuz run thu hit—dat laig dat wuz' cunjered 'fo' I larnt how by er lil niggeh dat up an' died 'thout tellin' wut de trick wuz so's I c'd tek hit off."
"I thought, uncle, this was to be a fish-hawk story.
"So 'tis! so' tis! ef e'er I gits de charnce ter tell de tale, but how dat gwine be, ef yo' grabs de wuhd right outen my mouf, arnser me dat, now? Shuh! Shucks! ez I wuz des a-sayin' w'en yo' flustrate me so, one day w'en de win' wuz in de east an' de rain wuz drap sorter drizzle-drozzle an' den quit, dat shin huht so mighty bad dat de Ole Boy' low dat 'e kyarn't ten, ter bizniz nohow.' E riz up, 'e did an' den 'e grunt an' set down 'gin, an' throw hisse'f back an' look 'cross de lake de w'ich 'e wuz asettin' on de aige ob. Den 'e lif up de laig sorter easy an' 'e rub hit some sorter serf an' den 'e e—e—ease hit down offen de well one, an' 'e projec' how 'e gwine ter cross dat lake. Troof tell, dey wuz er m-ighty likely witch-gyurl on turr side de watteh an' he got er wuhd dat 'e hone ter say in huh yeah. In co'se, 'e could a-cunjered huh 'cross de watteh unter 'im, but dat won't do tall, kase 'e ole ooman am mighty onreasonable 'bout de gyurls.
"Well den! 'e set an' study an' study, an' 'e rub 'e laig some mo' an' cuss, but dat don' he'p out none. 'E hone mighty hahd foh de sight o' dat gurl, but 'e ain't hone hahd 'nuff ter hanker arter kickin' out dat lame shin twell 'e swim 'cross dat ice-cole watteh.
"Den 'e see er big fish-hawk a-sailin' eroun' an' a-peekin' in de watteh, an' 'e ax 'im howdy.
"'Howdy yo'se'f,' say Fish-Hawk, mighty s'prise.
"'Po'ly, my fr'en', po'ly. Ise hed er tech o' de rheumatiz all dis winteh an' spring.'
"'I spoge hit sech er light tech dat yo' ain't tuck de trouble ter cunjer hit off.'
"'Nuh,' say de Ole Boy, a-rollin' er blade o' grass in he fingehs an' a-chawin' hit up an' a-spittin' hit out ergin soster look sorter kinder keerless, "'tain't skusely wuth w'iles ter cunjer hit off ur dose hit, an', sidesen dat, Ise a-studyin' de kimplaint, but hit pester me des now, kase why I wanter git 'cross dis hyeah pond, an' I don't feel lak a-wettin' ob my laig.'
"'Ef yo' ain't too proud,' sez Fish-Hawk, a-bowin' an' a-scrapin' twell de breeze ketched 'im in he tail-feddehs an' mighty nigh flung 'im inter de lake, "shuh!—ow!—drat de win'!—Souse me, Misteh Ole Boy, de win' pesteh me so dat I plum fegit whahbouts I is. Ef so be dat you ain't too proud, I feel mighty Sot up ef yo' lemme tote yo' 'cross.'
"''Deed, my fr'en', dat's er mighty kine off eh, but Ise sholy 'fraid Ise too heaby.'
"'No, no, Misteh Ole Boy, no, no, suh! Ise sho yo' ain't."
"'Ise 'fraid I spile yo' fishin'-pahty, pun 'count ob makin' yo' too late.'
"'Dat ain't nuttin' 'tall. Ise er ole han' at de fishin' an' ef I lose one day 'tain't nuttin' ter de pledger o' sarvin' yo', Misteh Ole Boy.'
"Well suhs! dey kep' a-drorin' off an' a-comin' on dataway twell mos' sundown. Den de Ole Boy see hit time ter close in, kase dat gal's mammy mek 'er come in de house 'fo' dahk, so 'e git on do back o' Fish-Hawk and staht 'cross.
"Ole Fish-Hawk, he fly low, an' dey go smoove an' slow twell dey git 'way out o'er de lake at de place whah de lil ilun uster wuz. De ilun wuz all out a' sight at dat time, 'cept des one big, holler stump ob er oak dat wuz a-stannin' up ez tall ez de Co'te House. Fish-Hawk, he bat de eye an' grit de bill w'en 'e see dat. 'E fly low an' 'e fly slow, twell 'e wuz right 'bove de stump an' den 'e stop an' ballunce hissef pun 'e wing.
"'Wut yo' stop fob, my son?' ax de Ole Boy.
"'Pear lak I see er flsh-nes' in de bottom ob dat stump,' say Fish-Hawk.
"'Nemmine um now, my son. Des git me 'cross ter de Ian' fust, an' den come back fob fish-nestes.'
"'Des ez yo' say," arnser back Fish-Hawk, turrble p'lie. 'Hyeah we go!'—an' dey do go sho 'nuff, kase Fish-Hawk duck 'e haid an' hunch 'e wing, an' dat land Ole Boy haid- fust in de stump wid nuttin' a-stickin' out but 'e two footses.
"Den Ole Fish-Hawk, he skaddle off des ez hahd ez e'er 'e could clip, an' 'e packed up all 'e plundeh an' 'e moved clean outen de kyentry."
"And the Old Boy?"
"Him? Oh! 'e des kicked eroun' twell 'e turr shin wuz lame too, an' den 'e bust thu de bottom ob de stump an' spit out de mud an' de splintehs so's -"e could cuss free, an' den 'e swum back home. 'E wuz dat mad an' flustehed dat 'e ain't wunst thunk twell de nex day dat 'e could a-cunjered hisse'f out right off."
"Fish-Hawk? Oh! he's a-runnin' yit. Dey wuz er heap mo' run den fun in dat Joke ob hissen."
This Old Boy, sometimes spoken of as Old Master, the husband of Old Mistis who carries the snake venom, evidently is not the Old Master, the snake-king, the Grandfather whose aid is invoked in such incantations as this:
Hear, Old Master! hear! hear! Or at his victuals. By the fire at night. Or at his work, By the dead black hen, Or with his wife, By the bloody throat. Or with his friends or kin. By the goat in the pot. Or trying to take pleasure, By the bleeding hand. Or any place he can go or hide. By the whiskey on the ground, Slit him By the bitten tongue, And burn him By the bloody mouth. And waste him By the black dog with his tongue And cut him pulled out. And wear him By the black cat with her bleeding And tear him haunch skinned. As these creatures We call, we whoop, we beg and scream Were slit To get strength, to get power And burned To put the trick on this man And wasted Known by name of Kichard Roe, And cut So that he can get no peace in his And worn bed. And torn.
To this is sometimes added, send him sickly girl-children, double-jointed and knock-kneed; and let him not die, but live and mourn.
This invocation is said over fire and snake.
Here is another, which may be to the Old Boy. It is mumbled as a pin or honey-locust thorn is driven into a little wax figure, or rude likeness to the human form, made of mud from the mouth of a crayfish's hole:
"Old Master, now is the time to keep the promise you made. Curse him as I curse him, spoil him as I spoil him. I ask it in the name of the god."
In this case there is strength in numbers. The words must be repeated four times four times four (4 x 4 x 4), the "great," or invincible number.
One Voodoo told me that he believed that the Old Boy's wife was the sister to Old Grandfather Rattlesnake, a relative whom he "cunjered" into being, but my informant could not or would not adduce any proof of this.
A more important female deity is the moon.
In the old, old times, we are told, when Old Grandfather Rattlesnake was still visible to his followers, it was the custom of the Voodoos to build great fires, as much for illuminating purposes as to develop strength of body. Now Old Sun hated Grandfather, and dreaded the power of his sorcery; so he took all the fire and pent it up in a rock and set a very terrible woman boogger, with a knife in her hand, to guard the rock. The darkness of the night was so very dense that it was necessary to have some sort of luminary for the hours when Old Grandfather and his circle worked and Old Sun slept. The Frog offered herself as the light of the night, and was accordingly skinned and set in the sky. For illumination she answered very well, and in addition exhibited her power as a witch by controlling the growth of plants and animals and the movements of waters. This was well, but it was ill that her silvery light was cold and did not strengthen the body like fire. Fire must be obtained, but how? Again a frog volunteered: this time, a male. Thereupon, Old Grandfather raised by the power of his magic a very terrible storm, with rushing winds and great waters pouring, and awful thunderbolts striking, and while the attention of the boogger who guarded the rock where Fire hid was taken up with the rage of the elements. Grandfather, by the power of a cunjer-stone which he spat from his royal jaws, split the rock. A great spark flew out. Frog at once seized it in his jaws and started, "with leaps as long as the leap of flame to dry grass," to a place outside the storm, where heaped leaves, and twigs, and branches covered with gum, were made ready to receive the fire. The flash of light was perceived by the boogger. She turned and saw the fire fiaming in the rift and the fire dancing as Frog leaped. She closed the rift, she pressed the sides of it shut with her hands, then, she ran after Frog. She almost caught him. He jumped into a river. She lifted her knife as he swallowed the fire to save it from the river, and brought it down with great force to split him in halves and allow the spark to be quenched by the water; but only his tail was cut away, his beautiful bushy tail, finer than Fox's. He spat the fire into the fuel made ready, and all the Voodoos danced with joy.
Here the story very improperly ends, with no mention of a reward bestowed on this humble Prometheus.
Let us recapitulate:—The great gods of Voodoo are Old Grandfather Rattlesnake, who in America takes the place of the Green Serpent of African tradition, though according to Mr. Leland the sacred snakes of Dahomey are brown or yellowish-white; Old Sun; the Old Boy; the Old Boy's wife, who has no name, but is sometimes spoken of as Old Mistress; and the Moon,—if a god and his wife are one, four deities, the sacred number.
Below these are innumerable hosts of "hants," "booggers," "rubber-devils," "free-jacks," and the immortal sorcerers. Old Woodpecker, Old Rabbit, Old Blue Jay, Old Wolf, Old Perarer-Chicken, Old King Catfish, etc.
Voodooism is of these, but what is its inner nature? It is hypnotism, it is telepathy, it is clairvoyance—in a word, it is Will. Its motto is, "Control yourself perfectly and you can control the rest of the world—organic and inorganic," or as Alexander expressed it, "Make up your will strong against yourself, and you will soon have it strong enough to put down everything and everybody else." He added that no conjurer needed tricks, balls, or luckstones for himself if he had a strong head and good learning. He ought to be able to look a man dead, or make him see things that were not before him, or do what his heart despised. "I'm the snake man," he boasted, "and my enemies are flapping, squeaking birds." This has an imposing sound, but it is a matter of fact that Alexander wore a luck-ball for thirty years. The time was, he said, when he needed it, and after he had gone through all the degrees and ordeals of Voodoo he wore it for "old times' sake." The degrees he referred to are four. The primary instruction in the use of poisons, remedies, in the significance of dreams and in the names of the various materials of the charms into which the "power" of the sorcerer is most easily attracted, is but preparatory. "Any fool," said Alexander, "can know the way to mix sulphur, salt, alum, may apple, clover, feathers, needles, blood, or rags the color of blood—four things together—and he may say the great number, four times four times four, over them with strong words, but he can't throw his own spirit made up strong from Old Grandfather into them."
On another occasion, he told me that some tolerably successful conjurers had their power from others and not from within, but they were very "low down." He illustrated his meaning by a tale of a young woman whom he had known in Arkansas. She had a great wolfskin-bag full of rabbits'-feet, luckstones, snakes' fangs, jaws of lizards and squirrels, toads' bones, frogs' ashes, black hens' feathers and bones, black lambswool saturated with the sweat from the back of an angry toad, bats' hearts, doves' hearts, mole-skins, wax and clay images, candy made of brown sugar mixed with putrid liver, mud from the edge of a swamp, obeah poison and a half-dozen each of the little bags, bottles, and balls known as "tricks." From this collection, which must have resembled a famous one kept by Old Rabbit inside three wooden boxes, she gained some strength, and, having a good deal of natural cunning, she made up some "tricks" of alum, snakeweed, river sand, and hair, and sold them at a profit which should have gone to the pockets of the true professionals. She was a Voodoo believer though not a priestess, so instead of "plum ruinatin," her without warning, Alexander remonstrated. She replied with "some sass," but afterwards invited him to her cabin. He went, willed her to sleep, made her tell in her sleep where the bag was hidden, took it out and burned it. Prom that moment she was helpless, and he was so indignant at the remembrance of her former insolence that he refused to make a real witcher-woman of her.
If he had granted her petition how would he have proceeded?
He would have commanded her to hide herself and fast for many days, at the same time keeping her thoughts, not on her deprivation, but on the great glories that would be hers when she attained high rank; he would have commanded her at other times to fast and go cheerfully among people as if she fasted not; he would have commanded her yet again to eat to satiety of pleasant food and then to eat of offal, of filth, of live catfish, of any substance loathsome to the eye or palate; he would have commanded her to go sleepless, to go cold and weary, to burn and cut and bruise and lash herself and think not at all that she suffered, to drink awful potations of whisky or blood, or that which may not be named, and to swallow tobacco smoke; he would have commanded her to walk in cemeteries, in dense woods, beside bean-hills, through lonely streets, at night when the moon was on the wane and ghosts were strongest and most threatening;—in short, he would have commanded her to try her courage by every test that precedent or imagination could supply, and he would have had her dance till her feet were bleeding and her brain frenzied, at the dances of the Snake, the Fire, the Moon.
If she had faithfully and successfully executed these commands for weeks or months or even years, until she had stifled every womanish, or, if you please, every human qualm, then he or one of a score of his under-teachers would have said to her that now she was ready to conquer others as she had conquered herself, and the final advice would have been, "Never obey any one, never know any will but your own except when you are helping another Voodoo against a common enemy, make every one give in to you. Never change your purpose once it is fixed; if you do, you will form a habit of scattering power, and will bring against yourself Old Grand-father Rattlesnake, who never changes, never forgets."
From that time she would have met the Circle, not as a pupil, but either as an assistant or a rival, as circumstances demanded.
The Circle is a society for the dissemination of knowledge, and the trial of strength. The knowledge is principally biographical, with a fine flavor of autobiographical boastfulness. The members meet when the moon is dark, or when her light is hidden by clouds, and talk of their own and one another's exploits, and give and receive news of the Voodoos scattered from New York to Florida. These wise men and women wander widely, and convey from town to town, and state to state, a vast amount of curious history, not only of their affairs but of their clients, white as well as colored, and prominent people with and without closet-skeletons. The rapidity with which news is carried from one end of the country to the other is amazing. I am at a loss to understand how it can be done. The iron horse travels swiftly for them, as he does for us, on his beaten track; but not all their tracks, by any means, are beaten. The water snake and the swallow are fit emblems of the Voodoo traveller going his secret way and leaving no more trace than the snake does on the pool, or the bird on the air. The man of mystery has a swift foot, but he cannot outspeed the locomotive and the telegraph, and yet, sometimes his messages anticipate steam and electricity. Telepathy is one of their agents, but that, I am assured, is never quite reliable for more than one vivid impression.
Clairvoyance is another agent, as I have before stated.
Hypnotism is the Voodoo's pastime, as well as his power. In the Circle he and his brethren make a game of it by willing one another from where they would be to where they would not. A—.M—. related to me an experience he had, which made the trial of strength more than an amusement. In the latter part of May, 1891, the members of the Circle were in a church loaned them by the sexton, as it was a nice, quiet place where police would not be likely to seek them. They were entertaining themselves by "willing." One man would stand in the front of the building and will one from the group at the back to come to him. By turns, every one except Alexander was willed from his place. Suddenly, a strange black man rose up from a dim corner, willed them all to him, put them to sleep, and went off with the contents of their pockets. In 1893, when they were assembled in the same place to choose a successor to Alexander, who, died in January of that year, the same man appeared and subjected them to the same treatment. He was entirely unknown to all of them. When I asked my informant if he were sure that a man and not a ghost appeared, he naively replied that one never felt like sleeping in the presence of a ghost. He continued that this was undoubtedly a travelling Voodoo king, that the Circle would soon hear from him again.
Alexander boasted of many such exhibitions of his "strength" in Circles scattered about the country. It was reported that he was very sore over his defeat by the unknown, and sourly declared that the visitor was "some lowdown Arkansas nigger who sneaked in and prevailed by surprising the folks and scattering their will."
I pitied the old conjurer, though I considered his mortification uncalled for. To cause sleep is not the test of the trained scholar. Though the humblest of students I have done this myself even when I desired exceedingly that my discourse should be heard. On the contrary, my one claim to power consists in my ability to rouse an audience with this brief line from an incantation:
"I have finished."