Hoodoo

Feb. 3, 2006

By Jacob Quinn Sanders
Portland Tribune

The foot-long cows’ tongues were hard to miss. The 18 or so needles stuck in one of them were harder to miss.

And the names of several undercover Portland police drug investigators written on pieces of paper stuffed inside slits in the tongues — almost impossible to miss.

Yet there they were, found Jan. 18 across from the main playground in Mount Tabor Park in Southeast Portland, leftovers from what authorities believe was a hoodoo ritual, a folk magic spell designed to keep enemies quiet during court cases for a period of nine days.

Seriously.

That last part about the spell was not so obvious at first, but it’s not the sort of thing given to staying secret for too long.

Actually, Portland Parks & Recreation workers figured it out within a couple of days with help from Multnomah County Animal Control officer Larry Crabb, one of several officers there trained in identifying ritualistic practices.

Well, help from Crabb, and also the Internet.

Seriously.

“He sent us over to this Web site, and sure enough there was a spell that looked exactly like what we had,” said Mark Warrington, safety manager for Portland Parks & Recreation.

Two park maintenance workers found the tongues at 8:45 a.m. along a trail across from the park’s main playground. Portland police officer Maury Mudrick was called at 9:15 a.m. “regarding a possible cow tongue with needles,” according to his report, and did not stay long, seeing no possible crime beyond littering.

At first, Warrington thought the needle-stuck meat was intended as an attack on dogs, which gave him flashbacks to the dozen dog poisonings in Laurelhurst Park in 2003.

A quick search on http://www.luckymojo.com turned up the hoodoo spell.

“Is that true?” said Eric Bosler, the Mount Tabor Neighborhood Association public safety chairman. “Yuck. I thought it was about the dogs. That’s really kind of gross.”

Hoodoo, a folk magic that is African-American in origin and that has its roots in 18th-century America, European mythology and Native American botany, is quite different from voodoo, a religion with seeds of African origin and roots in the Caribbean nation of Haiti.

“If there are prosecutors or witnesses against you, write their names,” the spell on the Web site reads. “If a police officer will testify against you, add his or her name as well. If you know their birth dates, add those too.”

Then there are two options: Turn the paper 90 degrees and write your name nine times over the names of those you wish to silence while chanting, or write the words “Shut up” or “Shut your mouth” nine times while screaming curse words.

After that, sprinkle cayenne pepper over the paper and draw squiggly lines through it with your fingers.

At this point, you have more options.

Cook the tongue with onion, salt and red beans while saying the 35th Psalm and eat the concoction, with the paper, so that you swallow your enemy’s words. Or drop the tongue in vinegar and ice, souring your enemy’s words. Or, if you prefer, freeze the tongue, which is supposed to freeze out a potential witness.

Where this gets a little more tricky is that Portland police believe this is all related to a specific drug case they declined to talk about with the media. They would only say they have made one arrest already, a Hispanic male on a charge of drug possession and drug distribution.

“I’ve found all kinds of things in parks,” Warrington said. “Nothing like the tongue, though. All the same, I’m really not that excited about it. I just hope it’s an isolated incident.”

He might not have to wait too much longer to find out. The spell would have worn off Jan. 27.

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