Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Potions 101

One of the coolest things about writing Skeptophilia has been the connections I've made with other skeptics.  The friendly comments, and (even better) the suggestions for topics, have been a continual source of cheer for me, far outweighing the outraged rantings of various woo-woos I've offended, not to mention the occasional death threat.

I've recently (and more or less by accident) achieved quite a following amongst some of my current and former students.  I certainly don't believe in proselytizing during class; not only would this be unprofessional and ethically questionable, given that they are a captive audience, I have always preferred keeping my own views about most things out of the scope of my lectures.  It's far better, I've found, to present the facts of the matter, and give students the tools to think critically, and allow them to make up their own minds.  But it was inevitable that a few of them would discover Skeptophilia, and once that happened, the news spread, leading to the formation of what I think of as a sort of junior branch of Worldwide Wacko Watch.

One particularly enthusiastic young man that I only met this year has taken it upon himself to become something of a research assistant, ferreting out crazy stories and loopy websites in his spare time, and sending them to me.  And just yesterday, he found a real winner, that has all of the hallmarks of a truly inspired woo-woo website: (1) a bizarre worldview, (2) no evidence whatsoever, and despite (1) and (2), (3) complete certainty.

So allow me to present for your consideration the Lucky Mojo Free Spells Archive.

The first fun bit about this site is that it's run and maintained by someone named "Cat Yronwode."  Having a background in linguistics, I have deduced that the latter combination of letters is an attempt to spell "Ironwood" in a vaguely medieval fashion, but who the hell knows for sure?  In any case, Ms. Yronwode has requested that the spells contained therein not be copied, because some of them are copyrighted material, and I have honored this, so if you want more details about exactly how to concoct the magic potions described below, you'll have to take a look at the site yourself.  (Who knew that pagans could be so legalistic?  I didn't.  But better to play along with her request than to find myself hexed with, for example, "Confusion Oil #3."  Heaven knows I'm confused enough, most days.)

In any case, what the "Lucky Mojo Free Spells Archive" turns out to be is a set of recipes for magic potions, and instructions in their use.  Thus we have the following:
  • "Seven Holy Waters" -- allegedly invented by Marie Laveau, the "Witch Queen of New Orleans."  Contains whiskey, which I've never found to be especially water-like, but given that the word "whiskey" comes from the Irish "uisge beatha," meaning "water of life," we'll just let it slide, because arguing with both the Witch Queen of New Orleans and the entire nation of Ireland seems like a losing proposition.  In any case, it's supposed to bring you peace, and is "very old-fashioned and Catholic."
  • Three different recipes for "Money-drawing Oil."
  • Two recipes for "Love Bath," one of which is called "Courtesan's Pleasure," and about which I will not say anything further in the interest of keeping this blog PG-13 rated.
  • Something called "John the Conqueror Oil."  Made, predictably enough, with "John the Conqueror root."  We are warned to "beware commercial John the Conqueror and High Conquering Oil" because they "rarely have the root in them," especially if it was made in a factory.  This made me ask, in some astonishment, "There are factories for making this stuff?"  Notwithstanding that I'm supportive of anything it takes to keep Detroit solvent, you have to wonder how you could mechanize making magic spells.  Don't you have to be all pagan and ritualistic and druidic and so forth while you're making up potions?  I just can't imagine that you'd get the same results from cooking up your potions in a cauldron in the woods as you would if you made them using electric blenders, pressure cookers, conveyor belts, and so on.  At least one has to hope that the machinery is operated by certified witches.
  • "Haitian Lover Oil," "for men only," about which we are told that it is "not to be used as a genital dressing oil."  Okay, we consider ourselves duly warned.
  • "Damnation Powder."  Used to hex someone you don't like.  "To be used with extreme caution."   Don't damn anyone lightly, is the general advice, which seems prudent to me.
  • And the best one:  "Harvey's Necromantic Floorwash #1."  Just the name of this one almost made me spit coffee all over my computer.  But hey, I guess even necromancers need to scrub the linoleum in their kitchens every once in a while, right?
So anyway, there you have it, a concise formulary for concocting magic spells and potions.  All of which puts me in mind of one of my heroes, depicted below:

If you are, like me, a Looney Tunes fan, you might remember that he got out of this particular fix by chanting such powerful spells as "Abraca-pocus" and "Hocus-cadabra."  It worked, but I bet he'd have defeated his vampire captor even more quickly had he had access to some "Damnation Oil," or even better, "John the Conqueror Root."


  1. I think you should design a badge for your junior Wacko Wardens. It could feature an interrobang, or a cracked lightbulb, with a Nessie curled around the outside.

    1. You have no idea how thrilled they would be. I can't even describe.

    2. Seriously. They could display it on their FB pages.

  2. Thanks for figuring out the Ironwood thing. I was trying to figure out if it was something spelled backwards or a word jumble.

    I especially like the part in the intro where she discusses the MS Word authorship of a document. Somehow, it just spoils the mystic factor for me. Shouldn't this stuff be written in blood on a scroll somewhere? Or in that book from Charmed? Although, some feel that Bill Gates is evil.

    And, while we're discussing Looney Tunes potions, I'd like to see your "Abraca-pocus" and raise you a "Hyde and Go Tweet"