Of course lye is a corrosive and has been used to break down dead bodies of all sorts. Distilled from wood ash, it can eat the skin off a person who treats it carelessly. This is probably why, in out modern “nanny” culture, lye is not quite as readily available as it once was. Even as recently as the 1930s and ‘40s, however, lye was a relatively common household item especially in rural areas. Its particular use was breaking down offal on the one hand and making soap and preparing fruit for canning on the other. In hoodoo homes, this caustic substance would also be used for protection.
The specific brand of lye known as Red Devil was favored for warding off evil. Because of the picture of a bright red devil on the box, the magickal implication was two fold. The devil would keep an eye out for evil and the lye would corrode it to nothing.
For such workings, four boxes of Red Devil Lye were purchased. The unopened boxes would be buried at the four corners of a house, barn or other valuable property with the devil’s visage facing away from the building. This precaution was taken not only to protect people, pets and livestock from intruders but also from the evil eye and “black magick”.
Red Devil Lye is still available, but it now comes in a plastic bottle that is unfortunately devoid of the devil. Finding old boxes of the brand, usually empty of lye, is still possible at flea markets and auctions, however. As an aside, there is a blues group from
who call themselves Red Devil Lye. Lowell, Massachusetts
Header: Plaza Market
c 1879, artist unknown San Antonio TX