The science behind the Mercury/Silver Dime Charm

I was inspired to look into and share the chemistry behind the silver dime charm this week. The first flash of  inspiration was my lesson in powders (I have been taking very informal classes in hoodoo recently and love it), and the  second was a post by Candle Smoke Chapel that they had a new etsy listing of silver dime charms. So thank  you both for the inspiration! Now on to the science!

The science behind the Mercury/Silver Dime Charm 

The mercury dime, or silver dime charm, if you are not familiar with it goes like this: If you wear a silver dime around your ankle and if you walk through a powder (ex: hot foot) the dime with absorb the hit and tarnish, keeping you safe.

Image from Lucky Mojo

For the sake of example let’s look at what happens if you are wearing a silver dime and walk through hotfoot powder. Hot foot powder is made primarily of sulfur and crushed hot peppers with the option of other nasties. The key ingredient here in terms of what is going to physically happen to your silver dime is the sulfur.  The sulfur in the powder will react with the silver on the surface of the coin, causing it to “tarnish” in a RedOx reaction. I found this awesome old school video about the reaction:

For the sake of repetition here is the reaction again:

2Ag(s)+S(s) -> Ag2S(s)

Sulfur (S) basically wants two more electrons… wants them REALLY BAD, and Silver (Ag) has an extra that it isn’t too attached to. Sulfur takes one electron from two silvers making it S(2-) and each silver Ag(1+) causing them to  the  two silver and the sulfur atom are now sharing, and create a black solid Ag2S, which is the tarnish you see on silver.

Silver doesn’t need solid sulfur to tarnish. In fact Hydrogen Sulfide gas that can be found in the atmosphere can also react with silver. H2S (hydrogen sulfide gas) can be the result of the decomposition of plants and animals, or some industry of some sort. In fact just about any sulfur compound can cause tarnishing including hardboiled eggs, mayonnaise, mustard and even rubber bands. If you have ever worn silver jewelry into a hot springs you will have also seen this same reaction.

In conclusion:

The roots of this charm seem to be the fact that several popular powders that are used when throwing against someone ( crossing powder, goofer dust, and hotfoot powder) have sulfur as a main ingredient. This sulfur reacts to the silver worn at the ankle by tarnishing through the reaction 2Ag(s) + S -> Ag2S(s).

This reaction is an example of an oxidation and reduction  (RedOx) reaction. For more on this type of reaction here is another video:

More Reading on Silver Dimes (and references)

–  Conjure Blog: Mercury (Silver) Dimes

New World Witchery: Coins

– Silver to Black – and Back (abstract) J. Chem. Educ., 2000, 77 (3), p 328A DOI: 10.1021/ed077p328A Publication Date (Web): March 1, 2000

Lucky Mojo: Silver Dimes

Continue Reading

Living one foot in the broom closet

So, I moved again, and this time into someone else’s space. That right it’s a care-taking house-sitting gig. Having witchy stuff all over the place in this situation is not advised. So while I was packing my witchy things up I did some thinking about what needs to go in the box-of-secrets, and what doesn’t. I thought I would share my results as a guide to living with a foot in the closet. (Totally 100% opinion and mine at that, and we all know… I am crazy.)

I have a box of witchy things now. My box is one of those nondescript plastic bins. I had to do some looking to get one that wasn’t see-through (ok the second store had them…). The following is a list of things that should and shouldn’t go in a nice box ‘o’ witchy secrets.

1. Books

If you have EXPLICITLY witchy books but them in the box! Your natural healing, and nature guides and normal/ generically new age enough to stay out. Also if you have fairy books and things like that, those are fun and secular enough to stay out. But the “witchy life” “witchcraft 101” “tarot reading” might want to be in the box. Tarot is one of those marginal things just because it is so popular. Home remedies and herbal use and care books can stay out too, just put the herb magic ones away.

2. Candles

Most normally colored candles are just fine. Everyone likes candles right? Who doesn’t have some candles around the house? But candles with symbols carved into them? Or decked out? Those should go in the box, but think of them on a case by case basis.

3. Oils

 Essential oils are A-OK for out in the open but witchy oils? Those should go in the box. I have a set of hoodoo oils and those are stored in my box but my essential oils I store in my bathroom (I use them for baths). Also bath salts, I use bath salts a lot for calming and cleansing, those are also in my bathroom.

4. Herbs (and curios)

If you have curios and herbs that are not normally used in cooking (small wasps nest maybe?) those should be packed away. However, I would say the majority of your herbs can be kept with your kitchen. I have a nice rack for my herbs, with labeled containers. In contrast the herbs my husband uses for cooking… well those are normally in what I call “dangerously unlabeled mystery containers”. I am serious, I labeled one “NOT PAPRIKA”… only have to make that mistake once! On that note, dried herbs are fine to have hanging around too. My mom likes to hang herbs around the kitchen (they are never used for cooking just for… who knows… decoration… smell… its a mystery to me!).

5. Incense

LEAVE IT OUT! As long as it doesn’t have crazy names.. just leave it out. Like candles it’s not something that is “unusual” so feel free to burn away, and keep it out.

 6. Miscellaneous accessories

Have some seriously witchy items? Alter cloths covered in pentacles, very witchy statues, carved knives, runes…? Those are going in the box. Remember that a lot of items you use can be dual purpose. You can have a simple alter cloth that can be stored with other linens and your ceremonial knife can be stored in your kitchen if its plane looking. You don’t have to use the items for anything else, but they can live among your normal everyday things.

I think this is a good spot to talk about your alter. Now, my family has always had a fireplace and a mantelpiece. On that mantle my family has always put trinkets and candles, and photos. Remember this sort of thing, is totally “normal” so feel free to have some things out. I would caution against anything overtly witchy. Most of us I think have items we have on our alters that are not overtly witchy. I have several things I have picked up over the years because they caught my eye. Remember that there is a reason it caught YOUR eye and is likely to catch someone else’s eye too. Expect anything you leave out to attract some attention and interest, and be ok with others touching it.

I googled mantelpiece and here are three of the top results that I think illustrate my point. None of these are tagged “Alter” but you can see how mantelpiece’s can become an alter easily.

candles, photos, trinkets… something like this could easily be an ancestor alter! 
candles, flowers, trinkets… again something simple that could be an alter in disguise
Look at this beautiful  mantelpiece! Family photos, and meaningful items, and candles. To be honest, this is what my alter ends up looking like…. things and photos that only have meaning to me anyways! 

On the topic of duel use items, think back into the mythology and lore of witches. Often the classic witches used things from around their witchy cabin, and the women we would now call witches, the wise women of the village always used items from around the house. Don’t feel like you have to have a “special broom” or a “special knife” that “look witchy”. If you are at a shop and a broom catches your eye and you LOVE it that is perfect fine. That broom can have special witchy meaning to you, and to everyone else be just a nice broom. You can always have a special witchy broom that is very witchy, but if you are living one foot in the closet, a simple one can be just as powerful. Also several places sell things like “decorative cinnamon brooms” that can easily be duel use as decor and witchy broom. Witches and wise-people are resourceful!

I am a firm believer that we can all be surrounded by our witchy things, and still be living one foot in the closet. Get creative in the book store and get reference books that are not overtly witchy, you never know if you might find some amazing information. Get items that catch your eye but are from more mundane sources. Keep everything else in a box that you use when you need. Anther fun thing you can do is, make secret hollow books! I have one that I keep my tarot cards in. It is always fun to be able to look at your bookshelf and know you have secrets hidden in the books.

Also one more thing… if you are worried about people going through your box…. WHO GOES THROUGH BOXES IN OTHER PEOPLES HOUSE!? Seriously… If someone in your life is THAT nosy you might have a different problem, a boundaries problem… and you should talk to them about that.

 I hope this post helps! Any questions, tips, comments feel free to hop in there!

 ~Kathleen

 P.S. my “witchy box” sorry for the shitty photos….

an important box masquerading as any old box

Full of my witchy goodness and yes that is my hollow book on the lower left… bookshelves are not 100% loaded yet so its still in the box.
Continue Reading

dual purpose everything.

Now, I have no citations for this post, this is all opinion. Disclaimer over, here I go!

Dual purpose tools. It is my opinion that the modern witchcrafting tools are derived from common everyday tools, herbs, and supplies. Things that were common to the area the witch lived, and common around the house. Everyone had a cauldron or some sort of large vesicle in the hearth, because that is how things were cooked. Mortar and pestle and knives were common place objects in the kitchen. Even the herbs and curios were plants, animals and things found in the environment. Witches were not rich, they were thrifty! They used the tools already around them! That is how I choose to view things, and how I run my practice. Use what you have, find what you need, no need to break the bank.
I would like to then talk to you about my latest project. Coconut bowls. I have been updating on twitter about the progress of my beauties but I wanted to run through some of the rational and uses for them.
I am currently finishing the inside with a food safe butcher block oil and finish. Why? Because it is important to me that they be dual purpose! These bowls can be used as, bowls, cups (as is done at the Kava bar), decor for the house, and offering bowls for my alter (their original purpose). So while I did not need to make them food safe to use them as offering bowls, since I would also like them to be water safe and food safe I took a few extra steps in finishing them.
My alter in fact is more of the garden window. My God and Goddess candles moonlight as either decor for the mantle or for the dining room table. My mortar and pestle while used for craft workings live in my kitchen, and my incense burner moves around the house. As a geologists I always have rocks out so they just sort of rotate through. My garden window is my favorite nook in my place, and yes I do move things around and pull out some special items when I do any workings… but, it is dual purpose. I currently have herbs and vegetable starts in the window soaking up the sun.
I would love to hear your thoughts on dual purpose tools!
Continue Reading