By Jim Miles
This tale not only involves voodoo, but also an exorcism, a truly bizarre combination.
During the fall shrimping season in 1983 the 73-foot shrimp boat Tornado ii, owned by Lawrence Jacobs and operated out of the tiny McIntosh County community of Valona, broke down or ran aground every time it left the dock.
Voodoo on the Shrimp Boat
Jacobs was readying the Tornado II for a long scallop mission to Florida when he found a curious object secreted in the bottom of a freezer in the boat. The package, tucked into the bottom of a large plastic cola bottle, was composed of bleached bones and weeds. Among the bones was “one long bone, about a foot long and about as big around as a pencil,” Jacobs said. “I’ve never seen a bone like it before.” A skull, perhaps a cat’s, was “stuck right up on top,” and the vegetation was “some kind of little straws or weeds or something you catch in your nets.
Jacobs, a native of McIntosh County, recognized this as a “conjure bundle” when he first saw it. Some believe such voodoo practices cast an evil spell, but Jacobs rejected “that stuff” and jettisoned the artifact overboard.
“I figured one of the other shrimpers had done it for a joke,” Jacobs said. “But then later, when we got to thinking about it and all our problems with the Tornado II, Gay (Lawrence’s wife) said we’d better get the boat blessed.” Gay had also been told that a spell had been cast on the boat.
Sometime later Gay was attending services at St. Andrews Episcopal Church in Darien when, “really just joking,” she told her prayer group that the Tornado II was in need of an exorcism.
“We had already asked (Reverend Wells Folsom) to come out and bless the boat,” Gay said, but after the preacher learned of the conjure bundle he asked his bishop for permission to perform an exorcism.
Father Folsom, admitting this was his first blessing of a shrimp boat, anointed the vessel with an oil blessed by the bishop, followed by a shower of holy water. The Reverend Folsom read scriptures and the deed was done. Lawrence, Gay, and their three adult children stood quietly on deck during the ten minute ceremony. Folsom gave the Jacobs’s a bottle of holy water to keep on the boat, and a son of the Jacob’s added a cross to the wheelhouse.
The exorcism “made a world of difference,” Lawrence stated. “We didn’t have anything but routine maintenance after that for months and months.”
While not an everyday topic of conservation in coastal Georgia, the practice of voodoo, known locally as mojo, is not uncommon. “Around here, people talk about it like they talk about the sunshine,” Lawrence said. He had heard shrimp boat captains talking on their radios “about putting a spell on someone or taking out a root, stuff like that.”
Voodoo Potion # 9
Father Folsom also served as priest of St. Cyprians Episcopal Church, which has a predominately black congregation. He had visited their homes and occasionally seen “fetish dolls” and knew for certain that love potions were bought and sold. He also heard that some McIntosh residents claimed the ability to divine the future by reading entrails of freshly killed chickens. He believed about 50 locals still practiced mojo, ninety percent of them black, although he found it difficult to get people to talk about the practice.
Folsom thought voodoo was brought to the Georgia coast by African slaves hundreds of years ago. Most of its practitioners were older, but some younger people were “taking up the habit”, drawn by mojo’s connection to African history.
Folsom took advantage of the controversy in McIntosh County to condemn voodoo/mojo. “It is harmful because it is included in Satan worship,” he stated. Folsom also referred to the shrimp boat curse and exorcism when he preached a sermon at St. Andrews about Jesus casting out demons.
Voodoo in Court
Brunswick criminal attorney Randall Clark has also encountered mojo in McIntosh and Glynn counties. While defending a woman charged with killing her husband, the husband’s mother entered his office for a lengthy talk. She left shortly after Clark stepped out of his office for a moment.
“Somebody told me later that the mother had sprinkled some ground-up chicken bone around my office so I’d lose the case,” Clark confided. He won, and joked that his office was vacuumed before each trial.
Hog Hammock is an isolated community of 100 black residents on Sapelo Island, where Cornelia Bailey was familiar with the practice of mojo. “A lot of us now are more sophisticated and it’s not practiced much anymore,” she stated, “but that doesn’t mean people don’t believe in it, at least somewhere in the back of their minds. Occasionally, you’ll hear a person say they put ‘mouth’ on someone, or they were going to ‘root’ someone,” both terms meaning the casting of evil spells.
Speaking of Sapelo, the island was once owned by millionaire tobacco king R.J. Reynolds. During a nasty 1960 divorce from his wife Muriel, Reynolds, on the witness stand in McIntosh County Superior Court, called Muriel a “nagging Salem witch” who believed in voodoo and witchcraft.
On a personal note, during my 30 year reign as a high school teacher I occasionally overheard conversations about spell casting. One time an upset student threatened to hex me. She was shocked when I told her to go right ahead. I don’t know if she did or not, but my life was unaffected.
Jim Miles is the author of two Weird Georgia books, seven books about Georgia ghosts and eight books about the Civil War. To see all of his books go to the Jim Miles Author Page on Amazon. Order autographed books or contact Jim directly at firstname.lastname@example.org