Friday, May 29, 2020
Playground Witchcraft!
By Brandon Bowlin (Blogger)
Published July 24, 2008

Playground Witchcraft!

Yes, I said it.

You damned right! Girls on the playground are scary as hell! You know I'm right! You play these weird games with numbers and counting! At recess! Recess! A time when we're supposed to be getting AWAY from numbers and all that!

And everything you do is accompanied by chanting! Double Dutch, regular jump rope, tetherball…there is always some chant involved. Some ritual music with counting in unison and conjuring some sh#t. Like the three witches in Shakespeare's Macbeth. It's not singing! Not harmonizing! No, it's a steady scary-ass monotone drone, that, only from little girl's throats, can raise the dead!

True when we're lil' big heads we all sing sing-alongs. Christmas songs and tunes.

"Itsy bitsy spider when up the water spout…."

"Dashing through the snow…"

"A B C D E F G…"

Even Barney

"I love you, you love me…"

But then something happens. When the full scale androgyny of toddlerhood wears off and chromosomes break to their perspective corners, girls start huddlin' up and recitin' curses! Yeah, they LOOK like harmless games from afar,,,but if you get in close and really listen the sh#t is terrifying.

Am I lying?

Ok then dig this…You ever notice the scary movie device of using girls chanting a lil song or game? Think about it. The craziest films that have ghosts or demonic little kids or some kinda horrible EVIL always has chanting girls with a tiny piano!

As a kid I once saw this movie with Elizabeth Montgomery in it. She played a woman who killed her parents. In it, girls chanted a song. I sang it in the house;

"Lizzie Borden Took that ax

Gave her mother forty whacks.

When she saw what she had done,

Gave her Father forty-one"

My mother said, "Where did you get that from?"

"The TV" I said.

"We used to sing that in jump rope," she said.


A scene of horrific murder. A blood splattering homicide makes it to the top ten in skip rope hit parade? What kinda grizzly play is that? Which kid said, "Oooo let's do one on that woman that killed her parents…yeah, we all wanna do THAT!"

How about this one:

Ring around the rosie

A pocket full of posies

Ashes, Ashes

We all fall down.

That, my friends, is a cute tune about the black death in Europe! A “ring around a rosie” was what the sore you'd get would look like. It was a deep pustule with a red ring around it. A “pocket full of posies” was based on the ineffectual cures they had then. It was believed that if you carried certain dried flowers and herbs you'd be immune to the plague. “Ashes, Ashes” is about the burning of the bodies. Usually dragged out into a large field where body fluids and more fleas would make it back to the village and they'd "all fall down" i.e. die.

And some lil’ heathen bride to be put that horrific episode to song.

Get my point?

Let's Play

Ok so now let's talk about Patty Cake. Believe it or not, I did a report on this some time ago. I asked at least 30 women about it. Not being a "male" game and being very much a part of the incantations, I knew very little about it. First of all I don't recall it ever being called Patty Cake. For the life of me I believe it was called something else. I asked all of the women and they had varying opinions. Most of them were Black. What I got was that the general exercise of the game is Patty Cake but each chant was given its own title and rhythms. Mary Mack was one of my niece's favorites.

Every region (big city) had its own way of doing it. In LA they did it mostly straight ahead. Adding girls straight across. Two, Four, Six…this would lead to an over/under style which, when you add enough girls, is dope as hell. Chicago apparently did it in a circle as does New York. New Orleans had a line like soul train and the girls could walk down it and hit on either side. The more crowded the city the greater the probability that there was a circle or octagon or something that eventually could be the framework for a pentagram!

Hand patterns were another issue. At first it looked like clapping “once” was the basic, but as I watched some could get tremendously complex. Two claps then a hit. One clap hit twice then two more claps then a hit. If you watch the repeating patterns you can get a slight grip on the hits. Then it all makes sense. The songs themselves mean nothing to say…the meter of each line is the key. Where the accent or syllable hits is where a clap or hit is. To understand the repetition you have to know how long the song is. It's not just about knowing the song because most are short. It's about knowing where the METER is and when you'll repeat. I know this sh#t is too deep right? Not really.

Because HERE’S the deep part…

This game is an heirloom and, like streetball, has malleable rules that don't seem to have an origin. Big sisters or cousins, other girls and friends all contribute to this game. It's like the one thing that all women do. Plus, they control and continuously contribute to it. Each generation, somehow, learns a form and plays it. The songs change and even the patterns but the play…the play goes on.

No, I doubt sistas play Lizzie Borden anymore, but the rhythm is still there!

Go ahead and ask any group of older sistas. Let 'em talk long enough and they'll get to playing it! I've seen it over and over…They start reminiscing and get to playing.

Mary Mack

Too Tall

And one about a Sailor who went to Sea Sea Sea where, towards the end, there is some lewd-ass hip thrust that, quite frankly, should get EVERYBODY locked up, seven years old or not!

Really though, it was a great window into the mind of women. Most that I talked to didn't even know of the significance such play has in their culture. I know y'all got sports and games that are better compared to streetball, but I thought that this was female unique as it requires a connection to that thing, that woman-child thing we know nothing about. The best we can do is to try and impress you away from practicing your spells. It's almost like we know that sooner or later you'll turn that magic on us and get us to do whatever you want to. That you'll develop into this creature that we need so much that we'd cry and steal and kill and build and live to be with…regardless of our "strength".

And THAT is truly scary.


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