Praying to Saints and Folk Magic: Santa Marta di Betania

Santa Marta di Betania (Saint Martha of Bethany) was sister of Santa Maria di Betania (Saint Mary of Bethany) and San Lazzaro (Saint Lazarus). Her name is from the Judeo-Aramaic "Marta" (Lady, Mistress) which is similar to the Latin title "Domina" (Lady, Mistress). Indeed, Santa Marta was depicted as the lady or mistress of the Bethany household in the gospels. Santa Marta offered service to Jesus and his apostles by giving him lodging, food, and hospitality in her house. As such, she was referred to as "hostess of our Lord Jesus Christ."

St. Martha of Bethany is the patron saint of servers, waitresses, waiters, housekeepers, homemakers, housewives, servants, hotel-keepers, innkeepers, bed and breakfast operators, cooks, dieticians, domestic workers, domestic servants, housemaids, hotelmaids, manservants, butlers, laundry workers, travelers, hospitality, hostesses, and single laywomen.

She was also known as "The Lord's Worker and Servant," "Wonder Worker of Southern Gaul," "Auxiliatrice," and "Domina." Her veneration was and continues to be strong in parts of France, Spain, and throughout much of Latin America. Her feast day in the Roman Catholic Church is July 29. In the Eastern Church, her feast is held on June 4.

Frequently, she is depicted with either a ladle, cooking pot, keys, or broom. She is sometimes depicted with an aspergillum, instead of the ladle, and a jar of holy water, rather than a cooking pot. Some modern statues depict her with a distaff or torch. Since there is no official record of the manner of her death, she does not carry a palm or wear a martyr's crown. She is usually shown with a dragon at her feet or beneath her foot. Some images show her holding a large serpent or holding a rope or girdle tied to a dragon or serpent.

St. Martha, herself, is depicted as swarthy skinned, light skinned, or dark skinned. Her hair may be covered or uncovered and may be light brown or black. Her clothing is often green and white, and these are the colors most associated with her. However, she has been depicted all in white, in green with a red cloak, in brown and green, in clothes with gold gilt trim, in blue, and in purple. The style of her clothing can be 10th century, 13th century, or visualized in 1st century biblical or Mediterranean garb. The reason for the variety is that Martha's appearance was never described in the gospels, therefore, different people have taken artistic license in depicting her in a manner they thought appropriate.

St. Martha is the patron saint of Tarascon, France, Marta, Italy, and Villajoyosa, Spain. In 1538, Villajoyosa was attacked by Berber pirates. According to legend, the saint sent a flash flood which wiped out the enemy fleet, thus preventing the corsairs from reaching the coast. She has many churches in the USA, in California, Louisiana, Texas, Rhode Island, etc, including Martha's Episcopal Church in Bethany Beach, Delaware.

In the fishing village of Marta, Italy, Santa Marta is honored on her feast day with fireworks and a procession.

The keys, broom, ladle, and cooking pot all relate to St. Martha as a saint who assists with domestic matters and household concerns.

There they made him a supper; and Martha served: but Lazarus was one of them that sat at the table with him. John 12:2
An important aspect of her veneration as a saint is the phrase, "Martha served," in the above verse.

Food banks, soup kitchens, and domestic abuse shelters are named after St. Martha. These are all human service oriented operations which render aid to those who need it. Among the Latin titles of this saint is Auxiliatrice, which means "helper (female), assistant, aide." In service to her spiritual master, she kept everybody fed and cleaned their clothes, unlike her sister who concerned herself mostly with less worldly matters. Santa Marta showed her devotion through practical, ordinary, daily tasks. Hence, Santa Marta has become a saint invoked for help in physically important daily existence and practical needs. Her service and help to others is part of her service to God.

According to legend, St. Martha left Judea after the ascension and traveled to France. Martha first settled in Avignon with her sister and her brother, possibly around 48 ce--although some traditions claim they left earlier to flee Roman authorities.

There are a number of stories relating to her long life in France, which is why she is known as the "Wonder Worker in Southern Gaul." She is believed to have lived to around 79 or 80 years old.

One legend credited the saint with raising a young man who drowned near Avignon. He had tried to swim across the Rhone to hear the saint's words as she spoke about the Resurrection and the Life. Out of compassion, Saint Martha prayed: "O Adonay Lord Jesu Christ which raisedst sometime my well beloved brother Lazarus, behold my most dear guest to the faith of them that stand here, and raise this child. Amen."

In the 13th century, Jacobus de Voragine compiled a collection of hagiographies in Legenda Aurea (Golden Legends) and including several Provencal traditions about Saint Martha.

It is in the Legenda Aurea, that the legend is recorded that the woman who cooked for Jesus eventually subdued, overcame, or dominated a dangerous dragon.

The dragon was known as the Tarasque or Tarascurus, who terrorized the town of Nerluc along the Rhone between Arles and Avignon. The creature was living in a swampy section of the woods and would frequently eat townspeople and their children. Due to Voragine's Legenda Aurea, St. Martha joined the ranks of other holy individuals overcoming dragons, including St. George, St. Margaret, and St. Michael the Archangel, as well as Daniel (Daniel 14:22-26 in the Vulgate).

There is more than one version of this legend. Voragine's work described that she cast holy water on the fire-breathing Tarasque with her ladle. Having thus subdued the monster, she bound the dragon with her girdle. Several versions indicate she brought it back to the townsfolk, who killed the beast. Other versions of this legend indicate it died immediately after she subdued it. Some retellings of the legend are more graphic than others. Apparently, there is a version in Spanish in which she succeeded in rescuing a child alive. One particularly gruesome version has her locating the Tarasque while it was still feasting on a half-devoured child, its latest victim.

The French town of Nerluc is now known as Tarascon. A church there is dedicated to Saint Martha. The town of Tarascon, on the last weekend of June, holds an annual festival, established in 1474, to celebrate the saint's defeat of the dragon with the "Procession de la Taraque." A young girl leads a dragon on wheels through the town.

The story of the Tarasque or Tarascurus is why St. Martha is still depicted on numerous saint medals with a dragon at her feet. The dragon in her iconography symbolizes over coming difficulties, usually through perseverance, courage, and faith.

The second important aspect to the veneration of St. Martha is the dragon subdued at her feet. The dragon may be depicted as being tied with a rope, a girdle, or colorful ribbons.

The iconography of St. Martha and the dragon has led to her veneration as "Marta Dominadora" in Santeria and Espiritismo. "Marta Dominadora" can be a powerful ally when it is necessary to dominate a problem or to bind someone who is threatening others. In some USA hoodoo spells, she is now invoked as "Martha the Dominator." In Italy, she can be called as "Marta Dominadore" or "Marta Dominadora." In Dominican Vudu, she can be called as "Santa Marta la Dominadora."

Santa Marta can be petitioned in overcoming difficulties in practical matters, like finances. Some 21st century practitioners of magic systems in the USA suggest burning green candles to Marta Doninadora/Martha the Dominator to petition her for overcoming bad luck in business. She can likewise be petitioned to in order to overcome difficulties, particularly difficulties the petitioner encounters while in service to someone else. She can be petitioned to firmly put her foot down on problems. Frequently, she is a gentle, though firm, protector of anyone who must deal with an intolerable situation, or deal with someone who abuses authority or power.

In USA hoodoo, some practitioners will create a Martha the Dominator jar in order to be able to dominate a problem or situation.

There are several prayers used to petition St. Martha for help. (See links at bottom.) Several practitioners refer to the "Novena to St. Martha of Bethany" or the "Nine Day Prayer of Martha the Dominator." Both are essentially the same prayer. Generally, a peitioner will light a candle to St. Martha and recite the prayer for nine Tuesdays in a row. There is also a version where the petitioner lights a Mediteranean style oil lamp. This oil lamp recalled the oil lamp of one of the wise virgins in scripture, and the oil lamp, dedicated to St. Martha, is also traditionally lit for nine Tuesdays in a row.

There is a traditional devotion to pray to St. Martha nine consecutive Tuesdays prior to July 29, her feast day.

Her special day is Tuesday, or Martedi. Most Catholic influenced systems suggest that her favored colors are white and green--but some folks will burn candles of other colors like red and purple for specific requests. I remember one person suggesting burning a green novena candle with a red ribbon tied around the jar. Frequently, a bowl or cup of water is set near St. Martha's petition candles as an offering.

Though she is the patron saint of cooks, no special food is associated with St. Martha or with her feast day. Perhaps that tradition is due to the legend which described St. Martha as abstaining from meats, eggs, cheese, and wine, while she kept a household with other honorable lay women.

However, the Catholic website, Fisheaters, suggested a cup of True Tarragon Tea to honor Sante Marte.

True Tarragon Tea

1 teaspoon dried French tarrgon
1 teaspoon dried peppermint
1 cup hot water

Steep herbs in hot water for 4 minutes. Remove herbs. Drink hot or cold.

Tarragon, whose Latin name is Artemisia dracunculus sativa, has an anise-like flavor and has been used as an herbal tea for sleep, digestion, and female menstrual complaints. The herb is commonly known in English as "dragon's wort," in French as "herb au dragon," and in Italian as "dragoncello." It is widely used in Tuscan cooking. It could be chewed for toothaches and was believed to cure venomous bites.

There is a Spanish tradition in which Santa Marta is offered a fresh, hot cup of black coffee, which seems appropriate for the patron saint of waitresses.

A recipe for an oil dedicated to St. Martha the Dominator, Marta Dominadora, or Marta Dominadore contains licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra), spikenard (Nardostachys jatamansi), sweet flag (Acorus calamus), and Myrrh (Commiphora myrrha). Traditionally the ingredients were supposed to be hand ground in a mortar and pestle and then soaked in olive oil.

Since tarragon, aka dragon's wart/dragoncello (Artemisa dracunulis), had a licorice scent, I wonder if tarrogon has ever been used instead of licorice root in making an oil dedicated to this powerful saint?

The herb, hyssop, is also associated with St. Martha, because one version of her legend said she used a hyssop branch as an aspergillum when she sprinkled the dragon with holy water. Another tradition associates rosemary with St. Martha, possibly because sprigs of rosemary could be used as an aspergillium.

Some saints have their own special chaplet or prayer beads, but St. Martha is not one of them. Any standard Marian rosary can be dedicated to St. Martha by attaching the saint's medal to the crucifix. One would simply recite the standard Marian Rosary prayers, while adding a special prayer to petition St. Martha's aid.

Other Folklore About "Marta"

In Italian folklore, a very popular spirit was known as La Bella Marta (beautiful Martha). According to Leland in Etruscan Magic and Occult Remedies (1892), Bella Marta is also known as La Madre del Giorno (Mother of the Day). La Bella Marta of Tuscan lore is a beautiful woman whose paese della fate is located inside a tree. In the folktale, Bella Marta and the Young Contadino, La Bella Marta can be petitioned for good luck, particularly in games of chance.

This 19th century association of Bella Marta with games of chance is interesting. In more than one 21st century American magical system, Marta Dominadora/Martha the Dominator is invoked to "overcome bad luck" or "overcome obstacles blocking good luck." Green candles to Marta Dominadora/Martha the Dominator are often lit for this purpose.

In particular, Bella Marta is associated with playing cards, dice, and games of chance. I presume that means Bella Marta is associated with also overcoming bad luck, like the Hispanic Marta Dominadora or the American Martha the Dominator.

Leland believed he had collected a lore of a fata called Bella Marta rather than the saint, Santa Marta di Betania, and that ultimately Bella Marta had derived from a pre-Christian Goddess, Mater Matuta.

However, I think the Italian folklore collected by Leland related to a beautiful Santa Marta, dwelling somewhere in the Italian forests or fields. In fact, I wonder if there is a lost Italian legend that Santa Marta crossed the mountains into Italy from France.

Another interesting link possibly between Bella Marta and Santa Marta is St. Martha was a patron saint of lay women. In other Catholic cultures, St. Martha is sometimes invoked in certain love spells.

In the folklore collected by Leland, Bella Marta can be invoked by a woman to help her dominate a man in order that he would become her husband. This petition is pure love magic. The petitioner provides a lock of the man's hair, tied in a handkerchief, promising a candle, lit nightly in Bella Marta's honor if she will help the woman making the petition.

Beautiful Martha! Beautiful Martha! Beautiful Martha!
Thou art beautiful as a star.
I come to behold you once more,
Once more to kneel before you,
That I may adore you better.
Midnight has struck,
I am kneeling before you
Kneeling in a fair garden,
Where thou, beautiful Martha, art queen.
I bring thee a handkerchief;
In a comer thou wilt find
The hairs of my beloved,
And thou, oh Martha, cause
What thou wilt that my trouble may pass to my good,
Cause him to marry me,
May he never love other women
Grant me this grace,
And thou shalt have
Every evening a lighted candle.
This thou wilt surely grant me,
Beautiful Martha, I thank thee!" (pp. 145-146)

Bella Marta! Bella Marta! Bella Marta!
Tu sei bella come una stella,
Io ti vengo a rimirare,
E da te mi vengo ad inginnochiare
Per poter ti meglio pregare.
La mezza notte e ora suonata,
E da te sono inginnochiata,
In mezzo ad un bel giardino,
Che tu Marta Bella ne sei regina,
Io ti porto un fazzoletto
In una punta troverai,
I capelli del mio amor
E tu bella Marta fannecio
Che vuoi, purche il mio bene
Tu faccia tribolare,
E mio marito tu lo faccia diventare,
E che altra donna non possa mai amare:
Se questa grazia mi farai,
Tutte le sere una candela
Accesa tu l'avrai,
Questa grazia certo tu mi ai fatto,
Bella Marta ti ringrazio; (p. 145)

Leland also recorded an incantation that actually invoked "Donna Marta," whose house was in the infernal realm. This aspect of Bella Marta di casa dell' inferno was invoked in a forest at midnight for darker deeds relating to domination love magic. (Interestingly, you will later read there is apparently a parallel to an infernal spirit, Marta, who appears in 17th century Spanish prayers.)
Good evening, O Lady Martha
I do not call thee Martha called of heaven,
I call upon the Martha named of bell.
Take these fine cloths
In the presence of . . . (here the name is given).
Once he was so much my friend,
Now he is so much my foe;
May enemies and friends
All seem the same to him
Save me, his shining star.
I beat five fingers for him on the wall,
Five souls do I conjure,
Five priests, five friars,
Five damned souls,
Into the soul, into the life
Of . . .
May they pass into the life
Bear this into his thoughts,
Drag him by beard and hair,
Drag him by remembrances of me!
If you will do this for me,
Three signs you will give me-
A knocking at the door,
A dog barking,
A man whistling.
Should'st thou favourable be,
These three signs thou'lt grant to me! (p. 146)

Buena notte o Donna Marta,
Non chiamo la Marta di casa del Paradiso,
Ma chiamo quella di casa dell' inferno,
Prenditi dei panni belli
Alla presenza de . . .
Prima mi em tanto amico,
Ora mi e tanto nemico,
Amici e nemici,
Tutti gli sembrino, brutta gente,
Fuor che io la sua stella rilucente,
A stella stella da levante oscie,
Da lui portante:
Cinque dita per lui io batto al muro.
Cinque anime io scongiuro,
Cinque preti, cinque frati,
Cinque anime dannate,
All anima, alla vita
Del tal. . . .
In vita ne anderete,
In pensiero la porterete,
Per la barba e capelli lo piglierete,
Col pensiero da me la strascinerete;
Se questo mi farete,
Tre segni mi darete,
Ports, picchiare,
Cane abbiare,
Unno fistiare;
Se questo mi farai,
Tre segni mi darai! (pp. 146-147)

To examine some interesting parallels from folk magic in Spain, I have included the following.

Luis Abbadie posted on the Traditional Stregheria elist on Saturday, June 21, 2008 a translation of three 17th century prayers from a Spanish text by Rafael Martín Soto, Magia e Inquisición in the Ancient Kingdom of Granada; Arguval, Spain, undated (maybe 2000), pages 111-112. (I requested and was granted permission to share this information back in 2008, but have only just gotten around to organizing all the material for this page. Thank you again to Luis Abbadie.)

This first Spanish prayer is a classic example of a Catholic folk prayer requesting the saint to assist in overcoming a problem as St. Martha had overcome the serpent or dragon.

Lady Saint Marta, worthy thou art and saint, by our lord Jesus Christ cherished and loved, of our lady the Virgin, visit and guest, by the mounts of (...) thou entered, with the brave serpent thou met, with the hisope [hyssop] of blessed water thou sprayed it, with a holy girdle thou bindeth, upon it thou climbeth and rode, up to the king's gate thou arrived, to the pagans thou said. Pagans, here I bring thee the brave serpent, which ate by day and killed children (...) and bound. As this is true, so thou bringeth me what I ask of thee.
These next two prayers parallel the Italian prayer to Donna Marta, who has an infernal nature. In these 16th century Spanish prayers, the Marta who was invoked is specifically "...Marta, not the good and saint but the bad and bedevilled, the one who rules in hell..."
At the air I set myself and `so-and-so' I see aproach, with a noose around thy neck and a dagger through thy heart, calling out `so-and-so' make good on me. I do not want to make good on you, that three friends I have who may make good on thee: one the shadow, another the colombra, and the other one Marta, not the good and saint, but the bad and the bedeviled, the one who rules in hell, who in the sea-waves tolls, dances and sings.
This Marta "...the bad one I say, not for the saint, the one that goes through the airs..." is an aspect that can be invoked for dark deeds. I would surmise this is a form of folk prayer of which the Catholic church did not approve; however, it may have been a very active and widespread tradition. According to Judika Illes in The Encyclopeida of Mystics, Saints, and Sages, 2011, p 467, this figure in Spanish lore is known as Marta la Mala, meaning "Martha the bad." Here is another prayer which Luis Abbadie posted on the Traditional Stregheria elist on Saturday, June 21, 2008, which is also a translation of three 17th century prayers from a Spanish text by Rafael Martín Soto, Magia e Inquisición in the Ancient Kingdom of Granada; Arguval, Spain, undated (maybe 2000), pp 111-112.
Marta, Marta, to the bad one I say, for not the saint, the one that goes through the airs, the one who was chained, and for her did our father Adam sin, and all of us sinneth; from the demon of the well to that of the repose, to the one of the weight and the one who releases the prisoner, and the one who is company to the hanged man; to the limping devil, to the one from the slaughterhouse and the one from the meathouse; may thou all come together, and into the heart of so-and-so thou go in, war unto blood and fire thou present him, that it cannot halt until he comes to seek me out; Limping demon, bring him to me soon; demon of the pass, bring him to me quick.
A widespread tradition of Marta, as a powerful saint or spirit who could defeat and overcome dragons and other obstacles dating back to 17th century Spain, could certainly explain some of the 21st century veneration that still surrounds St. Martha.

In 21st century Espiritismo, Saint Martha is frequently invoked in magic spells to dominate and command or compel another person such as a husband, lover, or boss.

In spite of what Leland wrote, " is difficult to connect the Martha of the Bible or the Provencal conqueror of the Tarascon with any such aiding and abetting of amores ..." (p 149) there is a very strong tradition in Espiritismo as well as hoodoo relating to St. Martha controlling lovers and husbands.

One such 20th century hoodoo example can be found in Anna Riva's Golden Secrets Of Mystic Oils 1990.

While annointing a green candle, the hoodoo practitioner recited: "St. Martha I dedicate this candle to you that you may grant my needs and help me conquer my difficulties. For you nothing is impossible." The name of a lover who had abandonded the practitioner was written in special ink and set beneath the candle. After lighting the candle,the practitioner recited the following: "I ask the intercession for my plea. Grant that [lover's name] will return to [practitioner's name] and the time will be short between now and then. Until [lover's name] has returned, I ask that he suffer the aches I have suffered and that he is by my side again. I ask this in faith, for as you did conquer dragons and wild beasts, you can control [lover's name] and fulfill my request. In the name of justice and love, I ask this. Amen." This candle was relit for several days until the lover returned.

The above petition to the saint is very similar to an example of 21st century prayer to Santa Marta used in Santeria:

English version:

Santa Marta virgen de Caramanchel, by this oil I put into this candle, I dedicate it to you so that you can remedy my necessities, help me in my miseries and help me to conquer all my difficulties just like you conquered the wild beasts that are at your feet. There is nothing impossible for you, give me health and work so that I may overcome my necessities and miseries. So my mother give me what I ask you to relieve my pain for the love of Jesus. Virgin Santa Marta, you entered the forest, frightening the wild beasts and bound them, and with hyssop tamed them, and my mother if this is true, give [name] back to me.

Spanish version:
Santa Marta virgen de Caramanchel vas a consumir hoy, por la llama con que se enciende en esta vela y por el algodón con que se limpiaron los santos óleos, te enciendo yo esta vela para que remedies mis necesidades, socorras mis miserias y me venzas todas las dificultades como venciste la fiera brava que tienes a tus pies, para ti no hay imposibles, dame suerte y dinero para cubrir mis miserias y necesidades. Así madre mía concédeme lo que te pido para aliviar mis penas por el amor de Jesús. Santa Marta virgen que en el monte entraste, las fieras bravas espantaste con tus cintas las ataste con el hisopo las amansaste, así madre mía si esto es verdad concédeme que (Su Nombre) regrese a mí.

Apparently, Bella Marta was petitioned for exactly the same purpose in 19th century Italy.

Finally, here is an example of a 21st century Dominican Vudu prayer which recalled aspects of the French legend of the beautiful virgin Sainte Marthe, who bound the Taraque with the ribbons or girdle of her dress.

Great Santa Marta La Dominadora, Martha the Dominator. You who entered the mountain, and tied up the beast with your ribbons. I beg of thee to tie up and dominate [name of person]. Saint Martha, let him/her not sit in a chair, nor lie in a bed, nor walk on his/her feet, until he/she is at my feet, begging for forgiveness. Holy Martha, hear me, hear me great Marta help me for the love of God...
copyright 2011 Myth Woodling
St. Marta the Dominator Oil

1. Grind spikenard root shavings, sweet flag, licorice root and myhrr resin together.
2. Cover with olive oil.

Saint Martha the Dominator oil is used for happy home spells, domination spells, and protection spells.

--Judika Illes, The Element Encyclopedia of 5000 Spells, 2004 (p 1056)

Useful Prayers: Novena to St. Martha of Bethany
Useful Prayers: Prayer to St. Martha the Auxiliatrice
Useful Prayers: Prayer to Glorioso Santa Marta
Useful Prayers: Prayer to St. Martha for Protection
Useful Prayers: Prayer to St. Martha
Useful Prayers: Short Prayer to Santa Marta Bella
Useful Prayers: Prayer to St Martha Patron Saint of Waitresses
Santa Marta Wonder Worker in Gallia
Bella Marta and the Young Contadino

External links:

"Martha, as active saint, is the one to whom the townspeople apply for help. And it is only Martha, in the canon of female saints, who actively pursues a dragon in order to subjugate it to her will." --Martha M. Daas, From Holy Hostess to Dragon Tamer: The Anomaly of Saint Martha, Oxford Journals November 24, 2007, acessed February 10, 2011.

Youtube: Saint Martha. Have you worked with her before? Video by denmelip1978 6/1/09.

Martha and the Dragon Legenda Aurea: Stories about the Saints in Latin.

"Al parecer si hay 2 sta marta" Horoscopo, 10/24/06.

St. Martha Patron Saint of Waiters & Waitresses, plastic saint figure sold by Archie McPhee.

St. Martha Rosary 16 different bead colors available , Catholic Faith

St Martha Single Decade Rosary Hospitality, ebay.

Vincent Bridges, Paganism in Provence, 2004, accessed 9/19/12. An interesting historical interpretation.

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