Shell Powder & Chalk

I wanted to share with you one of my favorite magical ingredients, which I’ve always referred to as shell powder, or at least that’s what I called it when I started making it nigh on thirty years ago, and the habit done stuck. However, since that time I’ve learned that people who practice hoodoo, Santeria, conjure, and a number of other ATR magical systems call it cascarilla powder.

Although cascarilla powder has its roots in the West African diaspora, it has started to gain popularity in quite a few neoPagan magical practices – probably because it’s stupid easy to get your hands on. YOU CAN MAKE IT IN YOUR KITCHEN YOU GUYS. In addition to being super easy to make, it’s also handily versatile, and can be incorporated into multiple magical workings of various types.

Shell powder – super easy and useful!

Made from ground-up eggshells, cascarilla – which is pronounced cask-a-REE-ya – powder is used in a number of folk magic traditions for protection, cleansing, and purification. You can certainly buy some at your local botanica, but I like to make my own, because for me, the act of finding/saving/drying/powdering the shells is part of the magical process.

Did I mention it’s ridiculously easy?

Cascarilla Powder

There’s a ton of great info on cascarilla out there on the Interwebz, so I’m not going to reinvent the wheel, but there are a couple of key points you should know.

As I mentioned, cascarilla was originally from West Africa. The folks over at Original Botanica have a great explanation of how it evolved from a plant-based item into one derived from eggshells. “Among other beliefs, the people of this region brought to the New World the concept of sacred white earth they called efun. They believed this substance could provide an individual with protection against evil. Cut off from their ancestral lands, they sought an alternative that could achieve the same effects. This came in the form of an herbal powder called cascarilla. The finely ground outer bark of this large, tropical shrub was already known among the Caribbean natives for its medicinal properties that included reducing fevers, operating as an expectorant, and even clearing flatulence. In fact, the word cascarilla refers to any kind of outer skin or husk. Cascarilla also happened to possess a nearly white color. Over time, Santeria practitioners transitioned from using this herbal powder to using crushed egg shells. These were easier to come by, and the symbolism of the life-giving egg also made it very attractive.”

Magical Properties

Eggs themselves have a number of magical applications – they’re signs of fertility, life, transformation, and so forth. So – how does the shell translate into protection and purification? Well, look at it this way. If the shell is the barrier between the inside of the egg and the entire outside world, why can’t it create a barrier between you/your stuff/your property and all the things you don’t want to get in?

Essentially, it creates a shell that negative energy can’t pass through, just like any other sort of protection magic does.

Basic Shell Powder Recipe

To make your own shell powder – or cascarilla powder, if you feel like you need to call it that – you’ll need (wait for it) eggshells. Certainly, you can use shells from eggs you are baking and cooking with.

Rogue goose eggshells come in handy for shell powder!

If you can find empty eggshells in the wild, that’s an awesome alternative. I actually like to collect the empty shells from the goose eggs near my apartment complex’s pond in the spring. Why, you may ask? Because geese are territorial as hell – one actually chased me last week when I got too close to the nest – and that makes their eggshells perfect for a wee bit of home protection magic.

Regardless, collect your eggshells, and rinse them out (if you find them in the wild, there may be goop inside them, so consider yourself warned). Once they’re clean on the inside, you need to dry them. I generally put them in the oven at a low temp – maybe 300° – for about 15-20 minutes. You want them to be dry and brittle, but not burned.

Once they’re dried out, let them cool, and add them to your mortar and pestle to grind up until you’ve got powder. Yes, you can do this in a coffee grinder if you want, but I genuinely like the meditative aspect of the grinding process by hand.

To use it, sprinkle the powder around whatever it is you want to protect or purify. You can also use it to dress a candle, add to a mojo bag, or blend it in with other magical ingredients for an added bit of oomph.

Shell Powder Chalk

Once you’ve made shell powder, you can also make chalk – and I love this, because then you can DRAW things with it! Protection symbols and whatnot on your sidewalk, walls, doors, etc. To make chalk, you’ll need to start with some of the above shell powder. You’ll need one part hot water, one part white flour, and three parts shell powder (a part is whatever you want it to be – teaspoons, cups, gallons, have at it!).

Combine the hot water and the flour together and mix them thoroughly, and then mix in the shell powder. Mix it until you’ve got a thick, sticky paste – it’s not unlike Sculpy clay when it’s done. Shape your shell paste into sticks or chunks, and then wrap them up tightly in a paper towel for a few days. By the end of a week, they should be completely dry.

Another option, if you’re not sure about your chalk rolling abilities, is to gather some of those little white paper condiment cups from your local fast food joint. Pack the cup tightly with the shell paste, wrap in a paper towel, and once it’s dried out, just peel the paper cup away.

Other options? Add dried herbs or magical oils for a variety of purposes, and use that stuff to draw all over the place.

Whatever you decide to call it – shell powder, cascarilla, that white stuff in a ketchup cup – it’s going to come in handy, so get crackin’!

Review: Byron Ballard’s Staubs & Ditchwater

This is a review which originally appeared on my About Paganism site – the content has recently gone away (because book reviews generally don’t garner a ton of page views) but since I’ve been delving deeper into Appalachian folk magic recently, this is a good time to re-share it.


Book Review:

Staubs and Ditchwater: A Friendly and Useful Introduction to Hillfolks’ Hoodoo, by Byron Ballard.

I first met Byron Ballard in March 2012, when I visited Asheville, North Carolina, to cover the story of the Buncombe County School District and their religious materials policy. She’s one of those people who makes everyone feel comfy and welcomed, with her earth-mother vibe and say-what-you-mean-mean-what-you-say personality. When I heard she was writing a book about mountain magic, I was thrilled. As someone whose ancestry is deeply rooted in the hills of western Kentucky, I’ve always been fascinated by the concepts of magic as found in Appalachia, borrowing much of its roots from the folk magic of the British Isles and other far flung places.

Staubs and Ditchwater: A Friendly and Useful Introduction to Hillfolks’ Hoodoo is a perfect primer for those practitioners who are interested in looking at magic from a practical and traditional standpoint. The book is divided into six chapters, each focusing on a different aspect of mountain magic, and accompanied by brilliant essays detailing Ballard’s own experiences, both as a practitioner of magic and as an Appalachian woman.

She makes the important distinction, early on, that the witches in her own family never saw witchcraft as a religion – it was a practice, and a skill set to be cherished.

Chapter One delves into the tools of the trade – tools which include imagination, intuition, and the ability to read and interpret the signs that the natural world is sending you. Chapter Two takes things a step further and looks at the material tools that some folks like to use – a basket of herbs, upcycled Mason jars, and poppets, to name a few. Here’s where the chapter really grabbed me, though – the mention of working with Allies.

By Allies, Ballard is referring to assistance from both the spirit world and the mundane. Whether it’s your ancestors, the spirits of the land, or other people in your community who practice folk magic, it’s good to have some backup on hand. I’ve always thought of this as a sort of magical wolfpack – if you’ve got allies, as Ballard points out, you’re never really alone. She points out the importance of teamwork: You are there to share what you know, to compare notes, to learn in a way that is humble and respectful… Don’t be a jerk.

In Chapter Three, the notion of stockpiling supplies is addressed. If you have the land and the wherewithal, grow your own herbs, and store grease and oils and other bits of useful material. Learn how to use them in a way that is practical and reasonable, and you can’t go wrong. In the absence of the opportunity to grow your own, Ballard encourages you to barter or buy from other practitioners – after all, if you need a particular candle, and the only place that has it is the local Spanish marketa where the brujas shop, then hie thee to the marketa. This chapter also includes a valuable compendium of different types of water and its magical uses. Did you know that stump water holds the magical essence of the tree in which it steeped? Me either!

Chapter Four explores divination and omen-reading – and points out the difference between the two. An omen, specifically, is something natural that you’ve observed – a trio of crows sitting in your tree, perhaps, or a swarm of insects landing on your window. Divination, on the other hand, is the art of looking at the future to see what’s around the corner – and there are a number of different methods. Ballard reminds us that if you’re going to read omens, it’s crucial that you learn about the natural world where you live. Because snakes in the driveway in April might be perfectly normal in your neck of the woods, but a very odd occurrence indeed three states away.

Ballard shares some of her own home-grown recipes and goodies in Chapter Five – be sure to read this part, because she takes time to explain the symbolism behind the methods. In other words, not just “do this,” but “if you do this, here’s WHY.” Good stuff indeed.

Chapter Six wraps things all up, in Ballard’s folksy, come-sit-by-the-fire-and-have-some-tea way of storytelling. Staubs and Ditchwater: A Friendly and Useful Introduction to Hillfolks’ Hoodoo is more than just a book on magic – it’s a conversation with a wise old friend, like chatting with someone you’ve known all your life. Well worth reading, and more importantly, worth reading again.

Visit Byron online at My Village Witch.