Sweet Gum Balls, Witches Balls, Witches Burrs

I grew up in a land without sweet gum trees. It was a beautiful place where shoes were optional in the summer and most of the tree seed pods that fell in our yard were fun things you could turn into helicopters or pull apart and stick to your nose. In fact, I had never seen, felt, or heard of sweet gums until well into my thirties when we bought our current property here in southeast Virginia.

I've certainly learned a lot about sweet gums since then though ... mostly because I've searched high and low for ways to get rid of the stinking "gum ball" seed pods they drop everywhere.

Sweet Gum Trees

The sweet gum trees we have are quite tall and very prolific. As a matter of fact, I'd go so far as to say way, way, way too prolific. We have sweet gum balls E-V-E-R-Y-W-H-E-R-E ... so many that you can't swing a dead cat around here without hitting a little sweet gum seedling that recently sprouted. And you definitely can't walk around near our little piece of "woods" barefoot ... if you do, you'll be sorry. Very sorry.

Now, don't get me wrong. I have no problem with the trees themselves. Sure, sweet gum trees aren't as majestic as oaks, or as pretty as birch, or as tasty as maple (syrup anyone?), but they are ok. And they can be rather pretty in the fall when their leaves turn yellow and then into nice purple-red colors.

Gum Balls, Witches Balls, or Witches Burrs

Sweet gum seed pods, though, are a different story.

They are pure evil.

Just look at the one in my photo above. If you look at it long enough, you can start to see it's evil eyes, it's crooked nose, and it's open mouth and fangs. At least that's what I see... but maybe I've stepped on one too many of these gum balls in my bare feet (OUCH!!) or stepped on too many of them just to have them roll under my feet and propel my body in ways and directions it wasn't meant to go until I fell (hard) to the ground, landing on more of the spiny little buggers.

I have nothing other than disdain for them. Have I mentioned I think they are pure evil?

But, apparently in some circles, there is a demand for sweet gum balls.

Yes! Some people actually want these things!

My mother told me that "crafters" just love sweet gum balls and buy them to use in all kinds of craft projects. I checked it out and was amazed to find that people actually pay money for sweet gum balls! Yes, there are people selling sweet gum balls on eBay and etsy, and I would have to assume that there are people buying them there too.

If, only if, I were a craft person (I'm not), I'd be in heaven! A quick search and there are days upon days of DIY craft projects listed online that include sweet gum balls. I'm sitting on a crafters gold mine here people!

But even more fascinating than the fact that crafters are willing to actually pay money for "gum balls" is their apparent use in Hoodoo. Now, I'll admit I had no idea what 'Hoodoo' was when I read about it along with sweet gum balls. But, when some of these people referred to sweet gum balls as "Witches Balls" or "Witches Burrs", I figured it would be interesting to look into further ... it is almost Halloween after all!

According to Wikipedia, Hoodoo is a traditional African-American folk spirituality that developed from a number of West African, Native American and European spiritual traditions. Hoodoo practices include folk remedies and magic spells that make use of physical objects believed to have spiritual or supernatural powers.

Sweet gum balls ("Witches Burrs" or "Witches Balls") are apparently a traditional American Hoodoo magical item. They are considered a powerful protection amulet and are used for protection on altars, in witch bottles and in spirit bags.

Now, I don't know much of anything about how well gum balls might work for 'spiritual protection', but just looking at the sweet gum balls, it's easy to see how people might think they have magical repellant powers ...after all, put some around and they'll sure keep me away!

p.s. No dead cats were swung around here to support my hypothesis of the prolificacy of sweet gum trees!

Oct 17 2013
Posted in: Trees & Shrubs

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June 29, 2015

Lovely article :)

Thanks for sharing Your experiences!

Indeed, the Sweet Gum tree's seedpods are used in magick, and spiritual work for protection, but also more than just for that! They are also believed to hold power to break hexes, or deflect them back to the source, much like a mirror would, when appropriately used.

Another use they find in magick, is that they are believed to focus and augment spiritual power of the spells and rituals.

The seedpods from Your childhood ... probably some of the Acer ( Maple ) species, right? Love those things :)


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