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.
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?
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.”
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.
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’!