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Entries in medicine show (1)


Mojo Working


About mojo "tobies," from Ann Anderson’s wonderful history Snake Oil, Hustlers and Hambones: The American Medicine Show:

In contrast to righteous melodrama, a decidedly non-Christian approach to the medicine-show game was favored by Southern pitchmen who specialized in the sale of tobies. These lucky charms, also known as mojo bags, mojo hands, or conjure bags, are in use even today. Tobies are integral to hoodoo, a body of folk magic that combines African, European and Native American lore.

Like many folk-magic traditions, hoodoo places a great deal of confidence in the mystical properties of certain roots, herbs and minerals. Mojo hands typically contain a root called “High John the Conqueror,” prized for its magical power. ...

Mojo hands containing High John the Conqueror root are believed to improve one’s love life, break jinxes, attract money, bestow luck, stop evil conditions, keep a lover at home, compel another to do one’s will, find and keep steady work, put an end to fearful thoughts, heal the guilty heart, break bad habits, win a court case, master dangerous situations, bless a new baby, and much more.

J.C. Julian worked in the oil fields near Seminole, Oklahoma, during the Great Depression. To supplement his income, he pitched tobies on the side. He appeared to be sincere about the value of his product:

“A toby helps people to be lucky. If you want something real bad, you don’t get what you want without some help. That’s where my tobies come in. I guarantee my tobies. But don’t never let nobody else touch your toby. If you do, the toby will lose its charm. ... The last time I got careless and left my toby home, I damn near got myself killed. I ought to have had better sense than to go to a dance sober and without my toby. If I hadn’t have been sober, I couldn’t of got drunk. And if I had had my toby with me, I wouldn’t of got in that fight. And even if I couldn’t of kept out of the fight, I wouldn’t of been the one to get all cut up.”

A typical sing-song, hypnotic toby sales pitch was street theater:

“Put up and built by the Seven Sisters at the Crackerjack Drug Store at New Orleans, Louisiana. My toby will bring you Honor, Riches and Happiness. It will help you Win in All Games. It will bring you Health and Wealth. It will Protect you against Evil Spirits and Witchcraft. Thieves nor Enemies cannot bother you. Now listen, everything you turn your hand to Prospers you and makes you Money. You succeed in your Trade, Job or Business. You got Seven Wishes to make with each Lucky Bag. Hold the Bag in your Left hand, blow your hot breath on it three times, and Make your Wish, and see if it don’t come to Pass before the Seventh day is gone. To hold your True Loved one. To get anyone you love. To Protect yourself against all Law. To Kill all Voodoo and Witchcraft. Buy a toby. Just one dollar. But it’s worth fifty.”

Tobies were outlawed in many states (including Oklahoma), but with an irresistible offer like that, business continued apace. Julian sold his bags to all kinds of people, but his best customers were poor folks. 

“Let me tell you right now it’s the dumb folks who don’t buy tobies to help them. Understand that right off! Poor folks need more luck than rich folks. That’s the reason they buy more tobies.”