A row of little potions with colorful names and indescribable fragrances: Uncrossing Oil, Black Cat Oil, Four Thieves…where did they come from, and what are they used for?
Most of these oils have their origins in American root work, Hoodoo, or Conjure. They were developed by magick workers in rural and minority communities, and the recipes were often passed down by word of mouth. Families might hang on to a formula for generations, or an apprentice of the magickal arts could learn them from an elder teacher.
Conjure oils are often partially descended from—and yet distinct from—Western high magick. It’s not hard to see the shadow of the old medieval grimoires hanging over many of these formulas. And yet, poor country folks didn’t normally have access to the recipes recorded in obscure books by European occultists. And if they did, they wouldn’t have been able to source the rare, expensive, and mostly Old World ingredients in those recipes.
Instead, they used what they could get their hands on from their own gardens and kitchens. The result was some very powerful homegrown formulas, some of which have been around for decades, even centuries. Practitioners use these pre-blended oils to anoint the body for specific purposes, dress candles and charms, bless, curse, cleanse, and basically perform all varieties of spells and fixes.
Oftentimes, even the contents of the oil bottles have a lineage. A new batch of oil will be started from the last of the previous batch. Or an initiate’s first batch will be “seeded” from the master (or mama) bottle owned by the initiating priest or priestess.
Needless to say, there are no official recipes for these traditional oils. Each brand is a different. Like a really good gumbo, part of the charm of formula oils is not knowing exactly what’s in there. These folk magick concoctions pre-date the current craze for essential oils and natural bath products, when every ingredient must be listed on the label and explained for the buyer.
When buying oils from a root worker or crafts person, try and resist the temptation to ask what’s in it. People can get really, really sensitive about being asked for their recipes. And that’s understandable. Sometimes a little bottle can contain a guarded initiatory secret, or years of trial and error. As a merchant, I ask the maker about common allergens (especially nut oils) or animal ingredients in the products I carry…otherwise, I let it be.
Too much information can spoil the magick. So, rather than providing recipes for each oil, this article gives general notes about what they smell like, what the correspondences are, and how and why they work. (This is far from a complete list. It’s just a sampling of some of the magickal blends on the market.) That way, you can decide which types of traditional oils are right for your craft. We also touch on the history and usage of each oil. It’s fascinating information whether you work regularly with magickal oils, or are just curious to learn their stories.
Making your own? Refer to a recipe to get the gist of each oil. Afterward, don’t be afraid to (mindfully) tweak recipes according to your needs. All the cool Witches do it. Now, here are eight popular oils, de-mystified (but hopefully not de-magicked):
Uncrossing Oil is used to shake off jinxes, hexes, and plain old bad luck. Being “crossed” means feeling magickally out of sorts. Being down on your luck, off your game, hitting a wall, losing your mojo—everybody knows what that feels like. Uncrossing magick is sometimes necessary to get the good vibes flowing again.
Sometimes crossed conditions are due to negative energies attached to a person or their home. But often, the root cause of the condition is actually internal. Blocked energy, fear of success, bad thoughts or habits—all of these things can trip you up and make you into your own worst enemy. Uncrossing yourself gets you back on your own side. It sends a loud and clear message that you’re ready to have your groove back, thanks. An uncrossing ritual is one of the most powerful forms of magick—sometimes, it’s the only way to fix the problem.
How to use Uncrossing Oil: Uncrossing Oil is a central element of many uncrossing rituals. There are many, many variations on the theme of uncrossing. Try anointing your feet with Uncrossing Oil to get yourself back on the right path. Incorporate it into your candle-burning rituals, especially purification, protection, and reversing spells. Combine Uncrossing Oil with sea salt and sprinkle in the four corners of your home to clear out negativity. Pour on haunted or cursed items before disposing of them. Because uncrossing is a form of psychic cleansing, Uncrossing Oil is a fine addition to purifying baths or floor washes.
What’s in Uncrossing Oil: Most Uncrossing Oils contain garden plants with a high spiritual vibration and/or a reputation for cleansing. Verbena, Hyssop (and its relative, Mint), Lavender, and Rose are common ingredients. Their aromas help break up stagnant energy patterns, impart a holy aura to places and people, and basically function as mood-lifters to get the magick back on track.
However not all uncrossing oils can smell very nice! Sometimes, the energies and correspondences of each ingredient are more important than making your ritual space smell like a day spa.
Come To Me Oil: Come To Me is an old Hoodoo formula for drawing a lover. It is one of the most popular magickal oils, naturally.
Traditionally, Come To Me Oil is used in love spells with a specific target (that is, someone that you already know). However, it may be employed for love-drawing in general—to find a new person to romance or to overcome a sexual dry spell. Technically, the object of desire does not even have to be a person. The experienced magick worker can harness their own sexual energy to achieve almost any objective…and Come To Me Oil can be used to attract whatever you desire.
How to use Come To Me Oil: Come To Me Oil is a top choice for anointing love spell candles and figure candles. Choose one candle to represent yourself and another your intended partner, dress them with oil and burn them together. Visualize your partner in your arms while reciting Psalm 23 or the erotic passages from the Song of Solomon (traditional), or any love poem that turns your crank.
If you’re looking for a new love, wear Come To Me Oil as a personal perfume. Stir a few drops into your bathwater before going out in order to be noticed by an attractive stranger. For best results, perform Come To Me magick when the Moon is waxing to full.
What’s in Come To Me Oil: Come to Me Oil is usually composed of voluptuous sweet florals, sometimes with Catnip or Honeysuckle to help lure the intended lover. Patchouly or Musk may be included to amp up the desire factor. The simplest version I’ve seen is Rose oil tarted up with a dash of Cinnamon and spice.
Van Van Oil
A traditional New Orleans Voodoo oil, Van Van is worn as a sort of all-purpose lucky oil, protective ointment, and bayou Witch’s signature fragrance. It’s hard to describe, but once you’ve smelled it you would recognize it anywhere. Says cat yronwode, “At one time, it is said, a person could not walk down a street in the Algiers district (of New Orleans) without smelling the scent of Van Van oil.”
Variations of Van Van have been around for at least 100 years, and probably longer. Some of its pungent herbs and Oriental grasses are natural insect repellants. This advantage would have been noticed in the humid South, and surely enhanced Van Van’s reputation for shaking off evil.
Classic Van Van has a fresh, lemony fragrance with green notes and an underlying herbal muskiness. Despite what you might guess, Van Van Oil does not (usually) contain Vanilla. One of the traditional ingredients in the formula is the herb Vervain (or Verbena). “Vervain,” when pronounced in an American Creole dialect, sounds something like “van van.”
How to use Van Van Oil: There are about a bazillion magickal uses for Van Van Oil. Use it to anoint lucky charms and magickal tools. Dress candles. Cleanse and bless. Mix into floor washes and room sprays to banish negativity. Splash some into a cleansing bath to boost your mojo before any spellworking.
With its zingy freshness and lucky vibe, Van Van Oil is a premier fragrance of the planet Mercury. Use in Mercury-type workings: Luck, business opportunities, and communication. Put it in your Mercury retrograde toolkit to help shake off the blahs when Mercury’s acting wonky.
What’s in Van Van Oil: Lemongrass and/or Lemon Verbena form the backbone of Van Van Oil. Citronella (a cousin of Lemongrass) and Ginger also appear in some recipes. Patchouly or Vetiver can be added for an earthy base note. When making your own batch, it’s common to infuse the bottle with luck-drawing objects—pieces of Lodestone or Pyrite, a lucky horseshoe or clover charm, etc.
Black Cat Oil
Black Cat Oil is another traditional New Orleans preparation. It is a lucky oil, particularly for Witches, tricksters, charmers, and loners—that is, people of a feline nature. European tradition says that a black cat is unlucky, but in Afro-American folk magick, black cats are considered good luck and the wise man or woman’s helper.
Black Cat Oil is a component of gamblers’ lucky charms. It also lends power to spells for second sight, stealth and luck. In rootwork stores and botanicas, you will sometimes see figure candles in the form of a cat. They usually come in red, green, or black and may be used for a variety of purposes—red for seduction, green for prosperity, black for banishing and reversing spells. Black Cat Oil is an obvious choice for dressing one of these candles.
How to use Black Cat Oil: Use Black Cat Oil as an anointing oil to boost witchy powers and slip away from bad luck. Invisibility, enthrallment, clairvoyance, charisma—all of these fall into the domain of Black Cat magick. Work Black Cat Oil spells during the waning or dark moon.
What’s in Black Cat Oil: Black Cat Oil is usually amber to dark in color. Its aroma is complex due to the mélange of exotic ingredients. (The best way to describe it is that it smells like a Witch shop.) Ingredients may include Sage (or Clary Sage), Myrrh, Bay leaves, Grains of Paradise, lodestone filings, and various carrier oils.
One of the traditions surrounding Black Cat Oil is that the master bottle it is blended in must contain a bone from a black cat. Old books on magick detail all kinds of gruesome ways the bone can be obtained. Later, mail order businesses would sell raccoon bones painted black as the fabled Black Cat Bone. As legitimate black cat bones are hard to come by, some practitioners will substitute the hair of a black cat. (This goes without saying…but please avoid animal cruelty when making or buying your Black Cat Oil.)
The oldest recipe on this list, Abramelin Oil’s recipe appears in the late medieval grimoire The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage. It was originally used by Jewish Kabbalists as a holy anointing oil. The formula was later seized upon by members of the 19th-century Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Today, it shows up in modern high magick traditions (notably Thelema), and has also trickled down into the altars of Pagan and folk-magick conjurors.
Abramelin Oil has deep symbolic meaning. Abramelin the Mage writes that the oil can confer all kinds of magickal boons, including gifts of treasure-finding, invisibility, and flight. Aleister Crowley regarded it as the highest of anointing oils and used it liberally throughout his magickal career. Crowley says, “The Holy Oil is the Aspiration of the Magician; it is that which consecrates him to the performance of the Great Work; and such is its efficacy that it also consecrates all the furniture of the Temple and the instruments thereof.” Much of ceremonial magick is based on controlling spirits and elementals—holy tools (like Abramelin Oil) are supposed to help give the magician the authority to do so.
How to use Abramelin Oil: Consecrating altar tools, evoking or communing with not-nice spirits, anointing the body for Great Work-y high magick stuff. Abramelin Oil is highly stimulating and purifying. When applied to the brow or other chakras, it creates a warming sensation that enhances focus and energy flow for ritual.
What’s in Abramelin Oil: Abramelin’s recipe calls for Myrrh, Cinnamon, Cassia (a close relative of Cinnamon), and either Galangal or Calamus root (a huge controversy). These ingredients are then macerated in Olive oil and stored in an altar cabinet. The recipe is similar to one for holy anointing oil in the Old Testament (Exodus: 30:22-25).
Because of possible mistranslations of the German manuscripts, nobody’s sure whether it’s Galangal or Calamus root that belongs in Abramelin Oil. Plenty of recipes conflate the Cinnamon and Cassia ingredients (doubling up on Cinnamon because proper Cassia is hard to find). Crowley cheekily substituted essential oils for the macerated herbs—fine for Thelemites, but many purists prefer to muddle and soak as prescribed in the older recipes.
The common DNA running through the Abramelin family is Cinnamon. All versions smell strongly of Cinnamon. (And essential oil-based mixes will burn the heck out of your skin, as any Abramelin-soaked neophyte will flinchingly attest.)
Road Opener Oil
Open doors create new opportunities. Along with uncrossing, road opening is one of the most versatile kinds of magickal spells. There are few problems that can’t be lessened by a good road opening ritual.
Unlucky in love? Open a road. Bored at work? Open a road. Broke? Sad? Stuck? Wish you could just catch a break? Open a road, and be ready for what new vistas you will encounter.
How to use Road Opener Oil: Road Opener Oil belongs in any spell for a new beginning. Put it on job or loan applications. Anoint your shoes, your car, tools of your trade—whatever object will (literally or figuratively) move you to the next place in life.
What’s in Road Opener Oil: Road Opener Oils are usually blended from scents that are fresh and clean. Solar essences like Orange and Lemon lend intense positive energy. Verbena or Sandalwood raises the spiritual vibration of the mix. Latin American recipes always include a sliver of Abre Camino (a native root whose name literally means “road opener”). Other formulas include a pinch of Five Finger Grass (Cinquefoil) for the five blessings of health, money, love, power, and wisdom.
Do As I Say Oil
Do As I Say Oil is used to bend others to your will so you can reap some advantage. To some practitioners this is considered black magick—to others it is business as usual here on Earth.
There are many variations: Commanding or Controlling Oil, Follow Me Boy (or Girl), and (my personal favorite label) Bend Over Oil. Commanding oils run the gamut from mild persuasion and seduction to the so-called “zombie” oils, which are rumored to have the power to erode free will completely.
How to use Do As I Say Oil: Use Do As I Say Oil to gain the upper hand in a relationship, either business or personal. Anoint a ritual candle—red for power or lust, black for more nefarious magick. Use on a poppet or photo of your intended target. One of the slyest uses of Do As I Say Oil is to sneak it onto places you know the object of your spell will step or touch. If you transfer it to your target’s hand with a handshake, it is said that they will be unable to break an agreement with you.
What’s in Do As I Say Oil: Most recipes for Do As I Say Oil mention Calamus. This is the obscure root that appears in the original formula for Abramelin Oil—which makes Do As I Say Oil a distant cousin of that old formula for dominating spirits.
Calamus root is used in Hoodoo to sweetly get your way. Secondary ingredients may include Patchouli, Licorice, Mandrake, Sweet Almond, Bergamot, and Orris. Every commanding oil formula is a little bit different. Generally speaking, a sweet-smelling commanding oil is best for persuasion and seduction. Baneful and spicy herbs imply coercion.
Four Thieves Oil
The legend of the Four Thieves supposedly goes back centuries ago, when Europe was in the grip of the Black Plague. All through the city, people were dying from the dreadful contagious disease. Meanwhile, a gang of four spice traders were getting rich robbing houses and pawning the possessions of the dead and afflicted. Strangely enough, the four thieves never got sick.
Eventually, the story goes, the burglars were apprehended by the authorities. They were ordered, on pain of death, to reveal the secret of their immunity. The health potion was revealed to be a blend of herbs that warded off the plague. Four Thieves Oil (and Four Thieves Vinegar) has been hailed as a cure-all ever since. Today, the blend is used for magickal purposes as much as medicinal. Because most of the components are commonplace pantry herbs, it’s not unusual to walk into a Witch’s kitchen and see a homegrown vial of Four Thieves a-brewing on the countertop.
How to use Four Thieves Oil: For a quick protection spell, draw a pentagram on your body with Four Thieves Oil. Mix into floor washes and baths. Place invisible sigils with the oil over window sills and door jambs. Anointing your doorknob with Four Thieves Oil is said to foil burglars and swindlers.
What’s in Four Thieves Oil: A bouquet of aromatic herbs, often including Cloves, Lemon, Cinnamon, Eucalyptus and Rosemary. Some recipes include Peppercorns, Garlic, and Chilis. Many of these ingredients have antimicrobial and infection-fighting properties, which certainly contributed to Four Thieves’ reputation as a warding potion.
Disclaimers and disclosures: All anointing oils are for external use only. (Ingesting them can seriously mess you up.) Oils may cause allergic reactions or skin irritation in some people—perform a skin test and/or consult a doctor if you have concerns. No outcome is guaranteed from the use of any ritual oil.
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