a cache of usenet and other text files pertaining
to occult, mystical, and spiritual subjects.


Coon Can

To: alt.lucky.w,alt.religion.orisha,alt.magick.tyagi
From: catherine yronwode 
Subject: Coon Can (was Re: African Divination systems)
Date: Tue, 19 Sep 2000 10:02:02 GMT

Barry Carroll  wrote:

> Subject: Re: African Divination systems [Eoghan's book list] 
> Cat--
> the Stephen Skinner book seems especially interesting.
> my knowledge of the African traditions if very thin.
> the close connection between divination and gaming came 
> to my attention recently when i picked up a book called Gambling 
> Way by Katherine Gabriel . i found this book while looking for 
> something to put the meso-american ritual ball game into a bigger
> context.
> Gambling Way is a look at gaming traditions among indian groups 
> in north america including Mexico. its primary source is Games of 
> the North American Indians. this 846 page American Bureau of 
> Ethnology publication by Frank Cushing and Stewart Culin came out 
> in 1907 and was the result of a 15 year reseach project.
> the project only examined games played by adults, not those played 
> by children.
> the intro to the BAE publication made the point that among the > 
> groups studied,
>         "games of all classes are intimately connected 
>         with religious beliefs and practices and have a 
>         devotional aspect and cases of divinatory significance"
> it was typical that both field games as well as those played on a 
> table or similar layout were organized so that the playing surface  
> represented a cosmological image,
>         "including divisions reflecting directional 
>         schemes,totems,seasons, colors, numerology and 
>         celestial bodies". 
> in legends accompanying the origin of ritual games a common motif 
> is a contest which pits a culture hero [or a pair of them,usually 
> brothers or twins] and assorted animal helpers against an entity 
> with supernatural power over nature. victory by the culture hero 
> [or heroes] results in benefit for humanity by freeing the bounty 
> of nature that was held in thrall [such as rain or wild game].
> ritual games are typically a re-enactment of such a mythic event 
> by which humanity sustains itself and excercises control over its 
> destiny.
> the connection between gaming and divination is clearest 
> in games using dice or similar counters.  the dice used in north 
> america were often two-sided rather than the 6 sided type most of 
> us know best and were thrown in clusters like coins in an i-ching 
> reading. i was surprised to learn that cowrie shells, for example, 
> were used in a face-up or face-down manner.
> when used in combination with a board or layout which is a 
> cosmogram loaded with symbolic correspondances, the same action 
> of chance which results in a gambler's winnings may be used 
> in a different context to reveal divine will.
> an example of such a dice game is 'patolli', a game of the Aztecs
> and other groups in northern mexico. this is the 'parchesi-like'
> game referred to in a recent National Geographic article about 
> the "pecked crosses" -- because of the resemblance those figures 
> share with  the board that patolli was played on.
> the range of patolli  and its varients extended up into the 
> american southwest where it was played well into the post-conquest 
> era.
> another game, a field game, worth mentioning is chunkey or 
> chungke', which was played by groups the the southeastern US from 
> the period of the mound-builders on through the Chactaws early in 
> the 20th century. the play involved chasing a small rolling hoop or 
> stone disk with a hole in the center and successfully pinning it. 
> apparently many of these perforated stone disks have been found at > mound sites.this game was played on a court,
> 'the chunk yard'. in historic times it featured a tall pole at the 
> center acknowledged to represent a world tree.
> an illustration of a chunk yard provided by Culin also shows two 
> smaller poles standing near one edge of the field. their positions 
> and spacing suggest to me that they may have functioned [in 
> combination with the center pole] as sighting devices to mark  the 
> solstice sunrises  when observed from a mound shown in position at 
> the opposite end of the yard. from the same mound the large center 
> pole could have easily marked the equinoxes.
> tho there is no mention of their function in the text it, seems 
> appropriate that a ritual game might be played in a yard that also 
> served as an observatory. this seems especially true since the text 
> does mention that such games were sometimes linked to seasonal 
> events.
> PS
> Cushing and Culin actually did a wordwide survey of games because 
> Culin was a difusionist who felt that new world dice games were too 
> similar to those played in india and southeast asia to be a matter > of independant origin.
> re Africa:
> Culin notes that groups from the upper Nile to Capetown
> did not gamble [there were a few other pockets around the world]
> while those of east Africa and the congo basin were avid gamblers.
> i wonder how this compares with the types of divination methods 
> employed in these regions?
> native people of western North america were among the world's
> most avid gamblers.

Thank you, Barry, for a most intersting post!!! 

Unbeknownst to you, your brief "PS" re: the distribution of gambling in
Africa sheds some new light (new for me, anyway!) on why, from slavery
times to almost the present, white Americans have derogatorily
characterized black Americans as inveterate gamblers. As you know,
1920s-30s era blues songs about gambling abound, and there were also
many mocking (and self-mocking) 19th and early 20th century minstrel
songs about African-Americans as rabid gamblers. All those songs about
playing coon can in Crow Jane Alley, all those Policy Wheel blues, those
"dream lucky" blues, those lucky rabbits feet, lucky hand roots, lucky

In the newsgroup alt.religion.orisha, where that bibliography of books
on African divination systemns originated, Eighan Ballard and i have had
an ongoing discussion about the essential CONGO nature of
African-American culture -- as contrasted with contemporary academic
views that it derives from West Africa and with contemporary "black
Muslim" notions that there is an essentially "Arabic" wuality to the
black experience. Your brief mention of the Congo as an epicenter of
deep interest in gambling points out to me once more -- as if i need the
reminder :-) -- just how fundamentally different the Congo slave's
worldview was from that of his or her European master. The popular
humourous white image of "shiftless darkies" kneeling in an alley
shooting craps is very poignant in that context -- and two of the
now-obsolete names attached to this game -- "coon can" and "African
golf" -- indicate how strange, how "foreign," and how BLACK their
intense interest in gambling must have seemed to white Americans.  

Thanks for giving me something to think about. I may have to ponder this
for a while... 

cat (eighter from Decataur) yronwode 

Hoodoo in Theory and Practice --

The Arcane Archive is copyright by the authors cited.
Send comments to the Arcane Archivist:

Did you like what you read here? Find it useful?
Then please click on the Paypal Secure Server logo and make a small
donation to the site maintainer for the creation and upkeep of this site.

The ARCANE ARCHIVE is a large domain,
organized into a number of sub-directories,
each dealing with a different branch of
religion, mysticism, occultism, or esoteric knowledge.
Here are the major ARCANE ARCHIVE directories you can visit:
interdisciplinary: geometry, natural proportion, ratio, archaeoastronomy
mysticism: enlightenment, self-realization, trance, meditation, consciousness
occultism: divination, hermeticism, amulets, sigils, magick, witchcraft, spells
religion: buddhism, christianity, hinduism, islam, judaism, taoism, wicca, voodoo
societies and fraternal orders: freemasonry, golden dawn, rosicrucians, etc.


There are thousands of web pages at the ARCANE ARCHIVE. You can use ATOMZ.COM
to search for a single word (like witchcraft, hoodoo, pagan, or magic) or an
exact phrase (like Kwan Yin, golden ratio, or book of shadows):

Search For:
Match:  Any word All words Exact phrase


Southern Spirits: 19th and 20th century accounts of hoodoo, including slave narratives & interviews
Hoodoo in Theory and Practice by cat yronwode: an introduction to African-American rootwork
Lucky W Amulet Archive by cat yronwode: an online museum of worldwide talismans and charms
Sacred Sex: essays and articles on tantra yoga, neo-tantra, karezza, sex magic, and sex worship
Sacred Landscape: essays and articles on archaeoastronomy, sacred architecture, and sacred geometry
Lucky Mojo Forum: practitioners answer queries on conjure; sponsored by the Lucky Mojo Curio Co.
Herb Magic: illustrated descriptions of magic herbs with free spells, recipes, and an ordering option
Association of Independent Readers and Rootworkers: ethical diviners and hoodoo spell-casters
Freemasonry for Women by cat yronwode: a history of mixed-gender Freemasonic lodges
Missionary Independent Spiritual Church: spirit-led, inter-faith, the Smallest Church in the World
Satan Service Org: an archive presenting the theory, practice, and history of Satanism and Satanists
Gospel of Satan: the story of Jesus and the angels, from the perspective of the God of this World
Lucky Mojo Usenet FAQ Archive: FAQs and REFs for occult and magical usenet newsgroups
Candles and Curios: essays and articles on traditional African American conjure and folk magic
Aleister Crowley Text Archive: a multitude of texts by an early 20th century ceremonial occultist
Spiritual Spells: lessons in folk magic and spell casting from an eclectic Wiccan perspective
The Mystic Tea Room: divination by reading tea-leaves, with a museum of antique fortune telling cups
Yronwode Institution for the Preservation and Popularization of Indigenous Ethnomagicology
Yronwode Home: personal pages of catherine yronwode and nagasiva yronwode, magical archivists
Lucky Mojo Magic Spells Archives: love spells, money spells, luck spells, protection spells, etc.
      Free Love Spell Archive: love spells, attraction spells, sex magick, romance spells, and lust spells
      Free Money Spell Archive: money spells, prosperity spells, and wealth spells for job and business
      Free Protection Spell Archive: protection spells against witchcraft, jinxes, hexes, and the evil eye
      Free Gambling Luck Spell Archive: lucky gambling spells for the lottery, casinos, and races