There's always wonderful information to find in the old love charms, and cross-culturally there seem to be a great deal of shared themes, from common correspondences to complex symbolism, there's links between love magic practiced all over the world, and the love spells common to contemporary witchcraft reflect the evolution of witchcraft across Europe and America. Love spells, however, aren't all created equal. A simple charm may call for as little as a bit of doves blood ink and a piece of paper, others need a bit more grit; the seed of a lover, spit of a witch, tears of the jilted, blood of an adulterer,... flesh of a fresh body? Myself, I prefer love charms without a personal aim, the kind that draws more love and beauty to life, not the kind that dabbles in the free-will market or entails desecration of human remains. Call me soft, but I prefer the positive erosian current. My own practice aside, there is so much interesting, funny and downright grisly legends, poetry, folklore and cannon in the history of witchcraft pertaining to the use of corpses, spirits and necromantic magic in the working of love charms. I've never quite understood how the use of human remains benefit spells of romantic desire, personally, but I do have to say the connection is vast and the practice, ancient.
In Roman and Greek magic, erotic spells and chthonic gods were often put together, as was the case in the Greek Magical Papyri in which Hekate and Hermes were invoked along side Aphrodite and Selene to aid in forms of erotic magic. Greek witches in literature are well acquainted with erotic/sexual magic; Deianeira's love charm of semen, oil and blood (Diodorus); Andromache's abortifacient magic (Euripedes); Amaryllis's knot-magic, suffumigation of erosian and chthonic herbs (Virgil), to name a few.
Hellenistic bucolic poet Theocritus' Idyll 2: Pharmakeutria (The Witch or The Spell): 3rd century BC, words of Simaetha: "Moon, shine brightly. For I shall sing gently to you, goddess, and to chthonic Hecate, at whom even dogs tremble as she comes across tombs of the dead and the black blood. Welcome frightful Hecate, accompany me to the completion of my task. Render these drugs no less powerful than those of Circe, Medea or blonde Perimede."-translation by Daniel OgdenSecondary translation: Theoi Greek Mythology
So shine me fair, sweet Moon; for to thee, still Goddess, is my song, to thee and that Hecat infernal who makes e’en the whelps to shiver on her goings to and fro where these tombs be and the red blood lies. All hail to thee, dread and awful Hecat! I prithee so bear me company that this medicine of my making prove potent as any of Circe’s or Medea’s or Perimed’s of the golden hair.
Necromancy to draw youth, beauty and sex were a staple of the old witches of Thessaly from literature and poetry excerpts, acquainted with the rite of drawing down the moon, gathering baleful herbs, human bones and corpse talismans. Sometimes she is a sympathetic figure seeking to fix the sorrows of unrequited love, other times she is a hilariously described hag obsessed with sexual needs. She bewitches with dolls, lengthy spells and of course, rummages through battlefields and graveyards for the dead. Witch Pamphile blended death with her love magic creating philtra and enchantments for her erotic purposes with flesh and bone:
She frequents this place secretly, since it is so useful for her magical crafts. First she organized her laboratory of death with her usual equipment. It was full of every sort of spice, metal tablets with undecipherable inscriptions, and preserved pieces of shipwrecks, and it included an array of quite a few parts from mourned and even from buried corpses. Here there were noses and fingers, there nails from the crucified, flesh still clinging to them. Elsewhere she kept the gore of the slain and mutilated skulls twisted from the jaws of wild animals. - Apuleius, The MetamorphosesThe tradition of the witch as love charmer evolved in Italy, and became part of the folk magic of magicians and witches in Naples. And like their predecessors, the Italian witches in contemporary craft turn to necromancy/nekuia as part of their workings.
Witches are much sought after in affairs of the affections between lovers, and between husbands and wives, and to restore love between parents and children. They use an "acqua della concordia" and an "acqua della discordia." To bring back an unfaithful lover the witch goes at night to the cemetery, digs up with her nails the body of an assassin, with her left hand cuts off the three joints of the ring finger, then reducing them to powder in a bronze mortar, she mixes it with "acqua benedetta senza morti," bought at the chemist's. The lover is to sprinkle the road between his house and his sweetheart's with this water, and this will oblige the beloved one to return.- Italian Witchcraft, Charms and Neapolitan Witchcraft (Folklore History Series), VariousThis hearkens back to the mythos of the great witches of literature and satire who came before us, Horace's Thessalian veneficum; Folia, Sagana, Veia, Erichtho, who took to concocting a love potion with the innards of an abducted, violated, tortured boy. This tradition of necromancy that is commonplace in traditional practices of witchcraft in Italy and in most of Europe. English witches were also accused of necromantic undertakings to aid their spells, presumably love spells among them. In the American traditional craft of Hoodoo and rootwork, materia of corpses is still employed of magical workings, love charms among them (many of which call for semen, urine, spit, pubic hair, or the flesh of dead animals).
In the American Southwest, the historical incidences of native medicine and witch-doctors being sought after for love philters seems to be mostly a product of Spanish influence. The isolation of early Hispanic settlers in that large region along side the Indigenous population (Navajos, Pueblos, Apache etc) created a very distinct variety of witchcraft from region to region, just as Southern magic is something altogether different from magic elsewhere in the world. Having spent my childhood influenced by this world, around santera, brujeria, curanderos and root-workers, palm-readers, medicine women , and folk-healers, I can say honestly that just as is the case in most mystic-spiritual arts, death and deathly objects are used to draw at the current of love and eroticism; old pagan gods of sacrifice and blood are still appeased with the burning of ancient copal and the drinking of the poison/aphrodesiac datura, love spells are still flavored with death, a style balance that touches the nature of practitioners. However, I never personally witnessed the employment of a love spell that included human remains in Southwestern magic even though the tales of general witchery are vast and was fairly well documented. These days, Santa Muerte is even called upon to aid in love spells, the element of death still present. I'd love to learn more about the use of corpses and bodily secretions in Mexican magic.
Nothing says, "I love you... to death" like a combination of poisons, body fluids and the carcass of some stranger! The current of love flows strongly with the threads of death entwined, though HOW the presence of decay (particularly that of a stranger) can influence a spell in the direction of stimulating desire and sensuality, it was perhaps the erotic delusions of the poets themselves that drove them to describe the witch as such, and if this is true then I cannot say how much of life imitates art or vis versa. Either way, the witch in folklore and maybe still some today include ghastly fetishes and cadavorous materia magica (human and animal) in their love magic and even draw upon the aid of underworldly gods for success. I'm fairly certain the need will never be great enough to dig up some stranger and take their knuckles in order to get laid, but anyone worth it ought to appreciate the effort and historical value.
Aint love grand?
References and Further Reading:
Greek Magical Papyri
Hoodoo Herb and Root Magic: A Materia Magica of African-American Conjure, Catherine Yronwode
Magic, Witchcraft and Ghosts in the Greek and Roman Worlds: A Sourcebook, Daniel Ogden
Homer's The Odyssey
Italian Witchcraft, Charms and Neapolitan Witchcraft (Folklore History Series)
The Sorceress, Jules Michelet
Idyll 2: The Witch, Theocritus
The Metamorphoses of Apuleius
Devoted to Death: Santa Muerte, the Skeleton Saint, R. Andrew Chesnut
Witchcraft in the Southwest: Spanish and Indian Supernaturalism on the Rio Grande, Marc Simmons
Argonautica, Apollonius Rhodius