In teaching hoodoo, i work from a cultural immersion model, placing the student within the culture and allowing the student to experience the breadth of cultural variations on certain culture-specific magical themes. I do not work from a top-down, hierarchical model, providing rules and regulations for the work.
The cultural immersion method of teaching conjure is difficult for some students to grasp, because unless they read this, it may not be what they expected when they signed up for the course.
A student's failure to grasp the concept of cultural immersion can crop up in a number of ways. The two most common, in my experience, are these:
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- (1) The student suffers a primary failure to connect with African American culture. The simplest mark of this failure is the student who delays or is unable to complete Homework #2 -- which asks them, if they are not African American, to interview a Black American about family customs, recipes, or lore. They may fail this homework in one of two ways:
(A) They don't know any African American people. Typically, these students can't or won't meet African Americans, or are afraid to talk to them, and so they cannot complete the assignment in a timely manner or at all.
(B) They focus on skin colour instead of on culture. Typically, these students turn in an interview with an African or Caribbean immigrant rather than a Black American, which will be rejected.
In order to counter this persistent form of failure, i make the names of students available to other students, so that they may meet one another and become friends, and i supply a variety of supplementary materials describing historical and contemporary African American culture, for students who need help placing hoodoo within a broader context.
- (2) The student assumes i am teaching them "spell-craft" only. Casual readers of my web site and new students in my course often ask me for -- or assume that i have given them -- a set of magical rules and regulations or a "how to manual" for conjure. However, although the web site, the "Hoodoo Herb and Root Magic" book, and the course book do contain many spells, and do, therefore, function somewhat as a form of grimoire or spell-book, within the course itself i teach conjure the way it was taught to me, by many people, over many decades, in a cultural framework that includes conflicting viewpoints, overlapping viewpoints, reinforcing viewpoints, anomalous viewpoints, majority viewpoints, minority viewpoints, consensus viewpoints, unusual viewpoints, and unique viewpoints, clearly stated as such. The student who fails to understand the breadth of magico-spiritual practices within African American culture may also fail to graduate from the course. This form of failure generally follows one of two paths:
(A) The student willfully rejects all portions of the course that do not teach "spells" or "recipes." Choosing to focus only on the "the spells" or "the recipes" given in the course book, students may not be taking full advantage of the course material because they overlook important cultural adjuncts to the course work.
(i) They do not read and study the personal testimonies and interviews located at southern-spirits.com.
(ii) They do not read or study the blues lyrics that mention hoodoo at luckymojo.com/blues.html.
(iii) They do not view the series of videos from Youtube titled "Your African American Video of the Day."
(iv) They do not follow the links to photos, book reviews, or online texts listed at the HRC Links page.
Such students generally never turn in homework at all, because they simply wanted "the spells." Eventually, after two years of failure to turn in homework, they will be listed as "inactive" or "non-matriculating" students and then, after five years with no homework, they will be listed as "failed students" or "drop-outs."
(B) The student may misunderstand the "cultural immersion" teaching method.
(i) At the one extreme of misunderstanding, some students think that the course is a workbook for a set of African American spells and recipes that must be to followed to a "T" lest the spells not work. They may turn in homework, but they will generally do so in a rote manner, sometimes quoting verbatim from one of my books or web pages when filling out the text portion of Homeworks 6, 7, or 8.
(ii) At the other extreme of misunderstanding, some students think that because the course book mentions and explains many variations of practice within African American folk magic, and draws in occasional parallels from other forms of folk magic that have contributed to the development of hoodoo in 20th century American urban areas, i am teaching them that "hoodoo has no rules and anything goes." These students may turn in homework that is inappropriate because it incorporates too many non-hoodoo elements (such as elements from African diasporic or neo-pagan religions, or non-American cultures).
Both extremes are false positions and neither reflects my intentions nor provides an accurate description of hoodoo as an African American magical-spiritual cultural practice. Unfortunately, students who fall at either of these extremes have actually turned in all their homework successfully and graduated, and they can thus legitimately call me their "teacher," but i will always hasten to correct any false impression they later give to others of what i believe and what i teach.
Return to the Introduction to cat yronwode's Hoodoo Rootwork Correspondence Course.
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