Red bricks can be seen all over New Orleans, from the old brick streets to the brick graves in the Cities of the Dead. New Orleanians have found a variety of esoteric uses for them-- they are the preferred writing implement for marking 3 cross marks on the grave of our infamous Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau and they are used in pulverized form at the front door to keep away evil. It comes as no surprise that red bricks would also be used in the makeshift shrines seen around the city in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina.
But where did this practice come from? One can only surmise; but, the fact of the matter is that red ochre clays have been used medicinally and ritualistically since the earliest of times. For example, medicinal use of red ochre clay is described in the Ebers Papyrus from Egypt, dating to about 1550 B.C. (Ferguson, 2006). And, ochre pigments were used by Cro-Magnon artists who painted prehistoric cave paintings in southern Europe between 32,000 and 10,000 years ago.
Residues of red ochre clays have been found in burial contexts all over the world from Paleolithic peoples in Europe to Late Holocene peoples of the Americas. Red ochre paint was used to imbue the newly departed with symbolic blood. For example, a human burial ground was found at Caplen Mound on Galveston Island, Texas which had a clam shell covered with a thin layer of red ochre. The shell was found within the grave and is assumed by archeologists to have functioned as the receptacle which held the paint used during body preparation rituals (Campbell, 1957).
Many suggest that the origin of the use of red brick dust can be traced to traditional African irosun powder. Irosun powder is red dust produced by termites from the barwood (Pterocarpus osun) and camwood (Baphia nitida) trees. Termites eat the outer white portion of the wood, leaving the heartwood to produce the reddish powder called osun. Irosun powder is used in Ifá for divining purposes; it is sprinkled on the divining tray by the diviner and figures of Ifá are marked on the tray in the powder (Bascom, 1991).
Red Brick Dust in New Orleans Voodoo
In New Orleans, the most commonly known use for red brick dust is its application in pulverized dust form to the front steps of the home as a means of keeping evil away. It is said that red bricks were taken from the Dumaine Street Brickyard—the earliest place in New Orleans in which Voodoo rituals occurred—and were used in rituals and floor washes. The last reference to the Dumaine Street Brickyard in print was in connection with Voodoo Queen Sanité Dédé in 1825. Since that time, red bricks remain plentiful and can be procured all over the city.
The use of red bricks has been mentioned in a number of writings. In the The Life and Works of Marie Laveau, for example, Raul Canizares (2001) talks about hex-proofing the home Orleans-style:
Orleanians since before the time of Marie Laveau swear by the power of red brick dust to ward off evil. Simply get an old red brick, hammer it to dust, and spread the dust around the front of your house, using a broom. Keep a pan of water that has been treated with a ball of Indigo bluing (anil) behind your front door, and draw crosses using cascarilla behind every door of the house. Add a couple of drops of urine from a child and use the mixture as a floor wash, this will complete making your home hex-proof. (Canizares, 2001, p. 23).
It should come as no surprise that Robert Tallant (1984) has something to say about red brick dust as well. He writes about it in his book Voodoo in New Orleans:
Zozo LaBrique, a well-known New Orleans street character, an apparently half-demented creature, who peddled buckets of brick dust. She was fixed, they say, by Marie Laveau because the latter wanted to rule the Voodoos alone. It has long been a custom among some New Orleans housewives to scrub their front steps with brick dust, a tradition having a definite connection with Voodoo—the washing away of an evil omen placed on the house by an enemy. It is true that now many people will tell you that they do this only for reasons of cleanliness; yet, that was its original meaning, and many stoops in the poorer section of the city have a well-scrubbed, whitish appearance, showing that brick dust has been used. Zozo LaBrique sold her dust for a nickel a bucket, and when she died a small fortune in those coins is said to have been found in her disreputable quarters. (Tallant, 1984, p. 47).
The use of red brick dust as first line of defense in the home is not the only way it is used in the context of New Orleans Voodoo. For example, Milo Rigaud (2001) in Secrets of Voodoo describes how vévés are traced on the ground using several different kinds of flour and assorted powders-- cornmeal, ashes, coffee grounds, brick dust, powdered bark and roots—while the vévé itself comprises the various symbols of the mysteries petitioned during Vodou ceremonies.
how to use red brick dust
In addition to its use in protective works, red brick dust has been used in a variety of different ways to exploit its powerful protective properties. Here are a couple of ways in which red brick dust is used in New Orleans Hoodoo.
To Conjure a Person
To conjure a person, fill a bottle with red brick dust, a piece of devil’s shoestring, 9 navy beans, and 9 rusty nails. Top off with white lightning (moonshine), shake well while uttering a few choice words, then throw in the sewer. This conjure is sure to make a person very sick.
To Swell a Man
To swell a man and keep him from bragging, take a red brick and dress nine black candles on which the target’s name has been etched with a rusty nail. Write the same name on a piece of paper with Dragon’s Blood ink and place it face down on the brick. Tie the paper securely to the brick with twine. Light one candle per day for nine days. After the last candle has burned, throw the brick along with the candle remains in the canal or the sewer. “Just like the brick soaks up the water, so that man will swell” (Hurston, 1935).
To Nullify Evil
To nullify an evil work, sprinkle some red brick dust on top of the crossed object.
Red Brick Floor Wash
Make a wash with red brick dust. Wash doors and windows to keep out enemies.
Red Brick Dust Candle Fix
Add a pinch of red brick dust to candles for protection.
Red Brick for Safe Travel
Keep a chunk of red brick in the trunk of your car for protection and safe travel.
Red Brick Dust Barrier for Protection
Use red brick dust in your windows and doorways to keep out enemies.
Shake the Devil Off Powder
Powder to prevent from being crossed: crush up red brick dust and dragon’s blood and sprinkle around the home. This can also be added to floor washes and used to dust candles and petition papers.
* This article is excerpted from the book Red Brick Dust: A Traditional New Orleans Conjure Curio by Denise Alvarado, In press.
shop for red brick products
Red Brick and Bay Mineral Elixir
Known for its protective properties in New Orleans Voudou, red brick dust has been used for centuries to form a protective barrier around the home to prevent evil spirits from entering. Traditionally placed across the threshold of doorways and windows, red brick dust is a powerful ancestral mineral that can be traced to the use of irosun powder in Africa. Irosun powder is used in Ifá for divining purposes; it is sprinkled on the divining tray by the diviner and figures of Ifá are marked on the tray in the powder. In Yoruba, irosun powder is used to consecrate the pot of Ogun, the Yoruban orisha of iron and technology. Whether in its Old World application or New World interpretation, red brick dust embodies some powerful mojo.
Bay leaves are used in Southern rootwork for a wide variety of purposes including protection, health, success, psychic powers, wisdom, clarity of thought, insight, warding off evil and the evil eye, driving away enemies, victory, healing, purification, and strength. In New Orleans, Bay leaves are considered to be among the most powerful of protective herbs.
* Our Gemstone and Botanical Elixirs are gemstone and plant-infused perfume oils and not intended for internal consumption.
Red Brick Dust/Polvo de Ladrillo Rojo
$9.95 - $14.95
In traditional New Orleans Voodoo, red brick dust is one of the most powerful and popular minerals used for protecting the home. After scrubbing the front porch with Chinese Wash or a mixture of urine and Essence of Van Van, red brick dust would then be spread across the threshold to keep bad energy and enemies from entering. Spread some of Voodoo Mama's Red Brick Dust across all thresholds of your home, including windowsills and doorways to keep evil away and to form a protective barrier.
Voodoo Mama's Red Brick dust is ground by hand from old bricks gathered from a local ghost town in the Southwest combined with red bricks from New Orleans. This ghost town is notorious for its paranormal activity and mystical energy. A classic wild west boomtown, it's history embraced bootleggers, opium dens, copper mining, prostitution and gambling and attracted people from all over the world in droves seeking riches and a freer life. After the bricks are collected, they are smudged with sage to insure they do not retain any negative attachments. After they are smudged, they reside for a period of seven days on my Marie Laveaux altar with offerings to receive the blessings and protection from the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans.
In addition to being used by itself as a protective barrier, Red Brick Dust can be added to floor washes, used to fix candles, added to mojo bags and gris gris, and added to doll babies for its protective qualities. According to oral tradition, it can be sprinkled over any evil conjure to nullify its effects.
To learn more about red brick dust, check out the article What is Red Brick Dust and How Do You Use It? on the Conjure Digest blog.
Red Brick Dust Candle Fixin' Blend
Designed as a versatile blend of herbs, roots, minerals, powders and oils for fixing candles for spellwork, Voodoo Mama's Red Brick Dust Candle Fixin' Blend is used by folk magic practitioners to fix candles, dress job applications, petitions, amulets, and talismans, and add to mojo bags, gris gris, and to fix and stuff doll babies. Red Brick Dust Candle Fixin' Blend from Creole Moon is perfect for fixing candles for the purpose of protection, defense, cleansing, and blessings.
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If you should wake up in the morning and find a little black coffin on your front porch, what would you do? Would you open it? What if you opened it and found a doll inside that had your photo attached to it?
That’s exactly what happened to Commissioner Zenaida Denizac of Deltona Florida in the summer of 2008. As her husband headed out to her mailbox early one morning, he stumbled upon a black plastic dish that contained a creepy, wax covered voodoo doll with a photo of his wife’s face attached to it. It was burned, covered in black powder and stuck with pins all over its body.
You might say you aren’t superstitious, and that you don’t believe in magick and Voodoo. Commissioner Denizac did. "These are faceless cowards, people with small minds, trying to deviate me from the job I was appointed to do," Denizac said on the news. "I'm not afraid. I'm still going to speak my mind. Nothing is going to shut me up."
Still, the doll was considered a threat to the safety and wellbeing of the Commissioner by authorities, prompting beefed up security and a full-blown investigation. No one believes in this Voodoo stuff, though, despite the fact that folks looked over their shoulders for a few serpents and rainbows for weeks following the incident...(excerpt from the Voodoo Doll Spellbook, Alvarado, 2014).
Coffin conjure - and little black coffins in particular - are a signpost of New Orleans' brand of Voodoo. A powerful form of psychological warfare, coffins have been used to intimidate unwanted neighbors to move and to bring about the unnatural and untimely deaths of enemies.
Coffins can also be used for transformative works as well. Much like the symbolism of the Death card in the tarot, death does not always indicate the actual physical expiration of a human being. It could symbolize the cessation of a bad habit or the end of a time of misfortune, or it could mean the transformation from one condition to another, usually improved, state of being.
Coffin conjure typically involves the use of special curios, powders, oils and herbs and our Coffin Conjure section includes these items. Coffin nails, graveyard dirt, goofer dust, herbes of the dark arts, little coffins and doll babies are among the two headed conjurer's arsenal.
voodoo doll lamentation
This is a trippy little movie I put together about 8 years ago...it's got a bunch of coffin dolls in it for those who may be interested.
Music courtesy of Studio Voodoo.
American Rootwork Association
The Art of Conjure
Hoodoo & Conjure Journal
New Orleans Voodoo
Sweet Tea and Conjure
Voodoo Muse Online Magazine