Gangsters and Grimoires: A News Commentary

Via Witchvox comes this story from the New York Daily News:

A federal judge Thursday unsealed a handwritten incantation that Bonanno crime boss Vincent (Vinny Gorgeous) Basciano stashed in his shoe to put a curse on prosecutors, FBI agents and mob turncoats during his 2006 racketeering trial.

The story goes on to give the text of the incantation:

The spell goes: “Before the house of the judge, three dead men look out the window, one having no tongue, the other no lungs, and the third was sick, blind and dumb.”

What’s the origin for this incantation?  Another news story finds the incantation on Joe Peterson’s Esoteric Archives.  Though it doesn’t say so, the text in question is charm 34 in the Romanus-Büchlein, an eighteenth-century book of magic that proved quite popular in Germany since the 15th century.  Adolf Spamer’s annotated edition of that book only discusses the charms in a selective fashion, but this one has a number of pages devoted to it, detailing a wide variety of appearances of this incantation across Germany over the course of centuries.  It also notes that the most recent discovered use of the charm was in 1849; I’m willing to bet that this has more to do with the infrequency that users are caught rather than any overall lack of usage.

Still, it’s unlikely that the charm came straight from the Romanus-Büchlein.  Despite its popularity in Germany, the book has barely had any influence on the American scene.  Rather, I think this edition was taken out of a book that long-time readers of this blog will be familiar with already:  John Georg Hohman’s Long-Lost Friend from Reading in 1820.  You can find that very incantation here in an online version.   Hohman’s book, on the other hand, not only became highly popular in the Pennsylvania Dutch community, but also among hoodoo practitioners, as Catherine Yronwode has shown.  I think that most copies of the book were bought by people trying to use it as a talisman against harm, but it was certainly a commonly-available resource for many.

One final comment:

Basciano’s lawyers say it was merely Santeria witchcraft meant to drive away bad vibes.

Is it Santeria?  I’m not certain.   I certainly have heard of practitioners of Afro-Caribbean religions using grimoires as part of their practice, though it’s usually the Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses that get the attention.  Or maybe the lawyers just didn’t know where it came from, or perhaps associating the spell with an alternative spirituality of broad acceptance in NYC was seen as beneficial to their client.  Honestly, I don’t know.

If I hear anything else, I’ll let you know.

Published in: on December 26, 2007 at 6:12 pm  Leave a Comment  

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