Material History of American Religion Project

Money Drawing Incense

Baby Skippy's Money Drawing Incense

We tend to equate religion with churches. But some of the most vital and interesting parts of American religious life are outside such institutions, in that area vaguely known as "popular religion." Often a mixture of beliefs and practices from a variety of religious traditions, and often dismissed as "superstition," popular religion is the practice of common people.

Baby Skippy's 3 Wise Men Alleged Money Drawing Incense is a good example of popular religion. The label acknowledges incense's biblical roots--and recommends reciting psalms while burning the incense--while "money drawing" sounds like a mixture of Catholicism, vodou practice, and capitalist acquisitiveness.

The traditional scholarly focus on documents tends to overlook popular religion, which uses material objects more often than texts. Material history and its use of objects helps draw attention to the practices of popular religion.

Timothy Fulop, dean of the faculty at King College, bought the incense at a Woolworth's in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Note that "Alleged" is in very small print.

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