Hoodoo in Theory and Practice by catherine yronwode
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The other day, i was asked, "Is it true that many of the old-time hoodoo practitioners were Christian?"
A simple "Yes" might seem to be the proper reply to this basic question, but in fact, the answer must be longer, deeper, and more complex. Here's why:
The idea that "many of the old-time hoodoo practitioners were Christian" certainly is true, but it is also the kind of unconsciously dismissive and distancing concept that enrages me. This is not the fault of the questioner, and i am not attempting to single anyone out for criticism, but i am very much part of a LIVING tradition, and i am extremely sensitive to the fact that i am continually being forced into the unwanted defensive position of having to counter (mostly internet) attempts by (mostly Anglo-Saxon American) people to cast African American culture into the past.
"The old hoodoos were" and "hoodoo practitioners used to" are DEADLY phrases in my opinion, because they disrespect the living, unbroken tradition of African American culture and the culture-bearers who have maintained this Black tradition, usually out of sight of (mostly White) mainstream, anti-magical, consumer-oriented, mass-marketed, military-industrial, entertainment-mediated socio-political scrutiny. If you stood where i stood, you would see thousands of contemporary, vibrant, living African American hoodoo practitioners (both on the internet and on the streets) who not only are Christians, but are connected through family ties to this LIVING tradition.
Hoodoo oral tradition has never been "broken" in the way that Celtic American folk magic was, or that Braucherei has been. Its adherents flew under the radar simply due to the segregation politics of the 20th century, but that quality of being "hidden in plain sight" kept hoodoo vibrant, modern, adaptive, and regional in development, moving with the demographic flow of African American people from rural to urban environments, and continually being reinvigorated by infusions of new concepts and tools of practice.
So, having moved this discussion into the PRESENT TIME, i can address the original assumption: YES, most African Americans are Christians, and therefore most practitioners of hoodoo are Christians. To parse this more finely, most African Americans are Protestant Christians, and the predominant denomination is BAPTIST. This single denomination has such pre-eminence in African American communities nationwide (with the exceptions of Maryland and Louisiana [where there are significant numbers of Roman Catholic African Americans], and urban areas [which support Spiritual Church Movement [Black Spiritualist] churches]), that for all practical purposes, one could say that hoodoo is the folk magic of Black American Baptists -- in the same way that one could say that Braucherei is the folk-magic of Pennsylvania German American Amish-Mennonite-Pietist-Dutch-Reformed-Church Protestants.
I teach as i was taught, for my purpose is transmission, not creation de novo -- and for the most part i was taught by Protestant Christian conjure workers. In other words, what i have learned is that hoodoo is not a religion, but it is the folk-magic of a community of generally religious people.
If you are not familiar with the predominance of Protestant versus Catholic traditions in African American society, i suggest that you review the data at BlackDemographics.com, a site that summarizes a number of polls, studies, and demographic reports on African American religious affiliations. The figures arrived at by the several demographic studies are in disagreement by a few percentage points, so i will give the ranges:
Now, once you understand that my mission is transmission, and that i will teach you what i myself was taught, not something that i have made up or something that is artificially "eclectic" or "all-inclusive," then you will have a clear understanding of what i teach with respect to hoodoo and religion.
Importance of religion in African American society:
- 82% of Blacks (vs. 55% of Whites) say that religion is "very important in their life."
- 82% of Blacks (vs. 67% of Whites) are church members.
Frequency of Christianity in African American society:
- 82% of African Americans are Christians.
- 45 - 50% of African Americans consider themselves Baptist Christians (e.g. Southern Baptist, American Baptist, Free-Will Baptist, Missionary Baptist, and other African-American Baptist denominations).
- 9 - 15% of African Americans consider themselves denominationally unidentified "generic" Christians (e.g. they call themselves Christian, Protestant Christian, Evangelical Christian, Born Again Christian, Fundamentalist Christian, Independent Christian, Christian Spiritualist).
- 7 - 12% of African Americans consider themselves Mainline Christians (e.g. Methodist, United Methodist, African Methodist, African Methodist Episcopalian, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Anglican, United Church of Christ, Congregational, Reformed, Dutch Reform, Disciples of Christ, Moravian, Quaker).
- 6 - 7 % of African Americans consider themselves Pentecostal Christians (e.g. Pentecostal, Assemblies of God, Full Gospel, Four Square Gospel, Church of God, Church of God in Christ, Holiness, Sanctified, Nazarene, Salvation Army).
- 4 - 6% of African Americans consider themselves non-denominational Protestant Christians (e.g. they call themselves "Non-Denominational Protestant Christian").
- 4 - 6% of African Americans consider themselves Catholic Christians (e.g. Roman, Greek, Eastern Rite).These numbers total a range from 76 - 96%, but the ranges derive from different studies and the averaged total should work out to about 82% of all African Americans considering themselves Christians -- with 96% of those African Americans who identify as Christians further identifying themselves as Protestant Christians. In other words, approximately 78% of African Americans consider themselves Protestant Christians, and 4% of African Americans consider themselves Catholic Christians.
Frequency of non-Christian religions in African American society:
- 6 - 7% of African Americans consider themselves Muslims (e.g. Shiite, Sunni, Black Muslim, Nation of Islam).
- 1% of African Americans consider themselves of a "new" or "other" religion (e.g. New Thought, Religious Science, Unitarian-Universalist, Deist, New Age, Eckankar, Wiccan, Pagan, Druid, Native American Religion, Kemetic, Santeria, Lukumi, Palo, Rastafarian, Voodoo, Scientology, etc.).
- Less than 1% of African Americans consider themselves Jews (e.g. Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, Hasidic, Liberal).
- Less than 1% of African Americans consider themselves members of Asian religions (e.g. Buddhist, Hindu, Taoist, Baha'I, Shintoist, Zoroastrian, Sikh).
Frequency of non-religiosity, agnosticism, and atheism in African American society:
- 6 - 11% of African Americans consider themselves of "no religious affiliation" (e.g. Humanistic, Ethical Culture, Agnostic, Atheist, Secular).
- 1 - 2% of African Americans surveyed refused to answer questions about religion or responded "i don't know" when asked their religion.
You will also now understand the answer to the frequently asked question, "Why are people using the Psalms and Jesus' name so often in hoodoo work?"
The answer is, "People are using the Psalms and Jesus' name so often in their work, because 'their work' is the folk magic of African American people, 82% of whom are Christians."
I am often asked, "What spirits do you work with in hoodoo?" My best answer must be that these are a mixture of beliefs and retentions from the cultures which contributed to African American folkways. The five most important would be
Syncretism does exist in hoodoo, but you must understand that one person's interest in -- or tolerance of -- syncretism can and will vary greatly from another's. Speaking now only of African American conjure during my lifetime, i have seen good, professional, Bible-believing root doctors and spiritual church sisters who displayed lucky Buddhas, trunk-up elephants, angel-baby statues, menorahs, zodiacal wheels with animals on them, Indian spirit guides including Black Hawk, and ancestor photographs around their homes or reading parlours. None of these are sanctioned by the theology of conventional Protestant Christianity, yet the root workers felt comfortable displaying them.
"Why mention angel-babies or ancestor-photos under the heading of 'Syncretism'?" i hear some Christians ask ... Long story short, the angel-baby is generally taken to be, or represented as, the Heaven-dwelling soul of an infant or child who died young, but there are conflicts in how different Christian denominations interpret Bible verses concerning what happens to souls after death.
Compare Psalms 115:17 - "The dead praise not the LORD, neither any that go down into silence" and Psalms 146:4 - "His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish" -- versus Luke 16: 22-23 - "And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; and in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom."
In other words, the Bible leaves us with questions as to whether all judgements and dispositions of the dead are conducted immediately after death as in Luke, which would allow for the existence of angel-babies, or whether the dead unconsciously "sleep" as in Psalms until the day of one final judgement (the Great Judgement Day, as described in the Book of Revelations) which would not allow for the existence of angel-babies.
These seeming contradictions drive Bible fundamentalists and inerrancy theologists into frenzies ... but my point is that, no matter what their own church's "official" doctrine on these matters may be, many syncretic root workers speak to and with the spirits of the dead, and represent them via photographs of deceased family members and statuary of angel-babies.
If, at this point you are wondering, "But what about Legba and Bawon Samedi and Ellegua?" i would simply ask you to return to the top of the page and start over.
This frequently asked question, and its variants, "How do i choose which saint to use?" and "How do i use saints in hoodoo?" are not impossible to answer, but they are somewhat obscure. Remember, institutionally speaking, Protestant Christians do not venerate or "work with" Roman Catholic saints, although they may invoke the aid of angels and other spirits.
Hoodoo is not organized around any form of Catholic saint veneration, except among the small minority of practitioners who happen to be Roman Catholics (perhaps 2 - 4 per cent of the overall population of African Americans).
In order to understand what it means to "work with saints" one needs to know what a saint is, or, more precisely, who the saints are.
In Christian usage, the word "saints" means different things to different people depending upon the doctrines of their denominations.
Saints in the Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, and Lutheran Churches
To Roman Catholics, Orthodox Christians, Anglicans, and Lutherans, saints are beings who are either
Although few hoodoo practitioners are Catholics, our shop, the Lucky Mojo Curio Co. does serve people from all over, and so, in addition to our line of hoodoo goods (and Hindu goods, and Buddhist goods) we do manufacture and supply an extensive line of hand-made Catholic saint magical oils, Catholic saint candless, Catholic saint incense powders, Catholic saint bath crystals, Catholic saint sachet powders, and Catholic saint soaps for the convenience of our Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, and Lutheran customers. We also maintain a convenient List of Patron Saints at the Lucky W Amulet Archive.
- Jewish archangels (e.g. Saint Michael) or
- People now dead who have been officially canonized by the church hierarchy (e.g.Saint Nicholas) and who may have paronage over certain nations, occupations, and life situations.
Saints in the Baptist Churches
To many Protestants, saints is a term that refers to members of the church, both those who are currently living and those who have died in a state of faith and grace, as described in this old Baptist hymn. Please play this video:As you watch, you can sing along. Here are the lyrics:Shall We Gather At The River http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y-pf-Jx19LcNow, as you can see, the idea of "canonized" saints is not present in this Baptist concept of sainthood. Basically, the believer or adherent understands the word "saint" on its original terms, being derived from sanctus, Latin for "sacred" or "holy." The Saints are the spirits of the blessed ones, those whose will gather in God's presence after death.Shall We Gather At The River Words & Music: Robert Lowry 1864 Shall we gather at the river Where bright angel feet have trod With its crystal tide forever Flowing by the throne of God? Yes, we'll gather at the river The beautiful, the beautiful river Gather with the saints at the river That flows by the throne of God On the margin of the river Washing up its silver spray We will talk and worship ever All the happy golden day Ere we reach the shining river Lay we every burden down Grace our spirits will deliver And provide a robe and crown At the shining of the river Mirror of the Saviour's face Saints, whom death will never sever Lift their songs of saving grace Soon we'll reach the silver river Soon our pilgrimage will cease Soon our happy hearts will quiver With the melody of peace
Saints in the Sanctified Churches
In addition to this Baptist sense of the term "saint" to mean a living or dead person who has been or will be taken to Heaven, there is an entire branch of Protestant Christianity, popularly called the Sanctified Churches, in which all members are considered saints (remember, "saint" comes from "sanctus" as in "holy" or "sanctified"). These Sanctified Churches are particularly well known in the Black community in the USA and Jamaica, among Holiness, Pentecostal, Apostolic, Church of God in Christ, and other denominations. I want you to watch these five youtube videos:In Sanctified Churches, all of the members are saints, as is noted in the commentary to the fourth video above.1.The Sanctified Church Preachers in Praise, Holy Convocation 2010 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=73lu3rOUqqI
2. What Type of Church Is This? A Holy Ghost, Santified Church http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=73z2VMLbeDw
3. Elder Mark Moore Preaching In a Sanctified Church http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=stOqj_28mUo
4. I Go To a Sanctified Church http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IGYlUstBQoI
5. Ignited Praise Dance / Shouting in Church, Jewell Dominion http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xg9556BioF4
Here are two more videos, with lyrics:
In the following lyrics, popular in the Jewell Dominion churches of the USA, as well as in the Sanctified churches of Barbados and Jamaica (see video #2 above), you will see the same idea expressed in an extremely direct manner:"What Kind of Church is This?" by the Living Waters Praise Team http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rFeKUdGvEcEHere is another version of this popular Sanctified Church songWhat kind of church is this? This is a Holy Ghost church! What kind of church is this"? This is a Sanctified Church! What kind of church is this? This is a Holy Ghost church! It is a hand-clapping, foott-stompning, Body-rocking, devil chasing, True blue, red hot, Holy Ghost Sanctified Church!In this version we learn that living members, such as the singer herself, are saints of the church:Dr Carolyn Showell Singing - What Kind Of Church Is This? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qcGWkpUgp7oWhat kind of church is this"? This is a Sanctified Church! What kind of church is this"? This is a Sanctified Church! This is a hand-clapping, foot-stompning, Tongue-talking church of the Living God What kind of saint are you? A Sanctified Saint! What kind of saint are you? A Sanctified Saint! A hand-clapping, foot-stompning, Tongue-talking saint of the Living God!
Saints in Hoodoo
With these three quite disparate Christian definitions of "saint" now firmly in mind, i would like you next to understand that hoodoo is the folk-magic of a group of people who are primarily Protestant, and not Catholic or Orthodox, hence the idea of "working with saints" (in the sense of "canonized" saints) is extremely uncommon in hoodoo practice. Working with ancestors and other spirits of the dead -- some of whom are "saints" in the Baptist and/or in Sanctified Church sense -- is more common, obviously.
The idea of "working with (canonized) (Roman Catholic) saints" has entered in through the open door of the internet. The internet has brought many Latin American Catholic folk-magic practitioners of brujeria and curandismo into contact with Anglophone practitioners of magic and these Catholics have made the naive assumption that all folk-magic in America is the Anglophone equivalent to Latin American Catholic folk-magic.
About 1/4 of the inhabitants of the USA are Catholics, and many of them think that hoodoo is a universal form of magic accessible to all, which, despite its origins among Protestant African Americans, they think they can modify to suit their own religious traditions.
In a sense they are right. They can do this. There are no "hoodoo police" stopping them from working with Catholic Church approved spirits.
But in another sense they are wrong -- because in hoodoo, there is no ecclesiastical system of canonization and thus no set traditions of working with Catholic theological concepts at all. The false presumption that there are "hoodoo saints" has been continually countered and opposed, both by African Americans themselves, and by those who are part of the hoodoo community but came from other cultures (people such as myself -- born Jewish, and able to easily distinguish between Baptists and Catholics).What kind of saint are you? A Sanctified Saint! What kind of saint are you? A Sanctified Saint! A hand-clapping, foot-stompning, Tongue-talking saint of the Living God!
Saints in Free-Fall
Most of the "Catholic Church hoodoo" you see on the internet -- and it does appear on the internet with great regularity -- is being brought in by people who grew up outside the traditional hoodoo and conjure practices of Black Protestant America. Many of these newcomers, in my experience with them as customers and clients, are actually unaware that hoodoo is the folk-magic of a primarily Protestant group of African American people. Most of them are White and/or Latino.
It gets even more messy when folks from outside the Christian tradition throw themselves into the mix and ask if they, as specifically "non-Christian" people, can "work with" a class or group of spiritual entities whom they define as "saints" but who are actually, historically and traditionally and contemporaneously outside the mainstream of hoodoo theology. These folks are usually White Pagans or White initiates into African Diasporic Religions such as Santeria, Palo, Lukumi, Ifa, Quimbanda, and the like. They love hoodoo -- but they callously obliterate its traditions, without a care in the world, calling down a mass-array of saints to guide their work.
"Sure," i tell them. "Go ahead. You can also work with Polynesian deities, Taoist immortals, Hindu devas, Haitian loas, Lukumi orishas, and Shamanic animal spirits. It's your world, ultimately, that you live in, not mine or anyone else's." But under my breath i mutter, "That ain't hoodoo." And of course i don't take them on as students in my Hoodoo Rootwork Correspondence Course.
Do not confuse the welcoming attitude of a shop such as mine -- the Lucky Mojo Curio Company -- with the mass-conversion of an entire people to a new religion. African Americans are mostly Baptists.
In other words, i STRONGLY DISAGREE with internet statements such as "It seems like hoodoo practitioners are developing relationships with the Roman Catholic saints." My experience is the opposite. Not only have i witnessed a deep lack of knowledge of, familiarity with, or even courtesy interest in saintly Catholic entities among both White and Black Protestant Christians in general, i have also witnessed what amounts to a strong aversion, amounting to a forceful rejection, of Catholicism within the popular Black Baptist denominations (e.g. Primitive Baptist, Missionary Baptist, National Baptist) in specific -- and i see and hear it every day.
I speak with confidence, with decades of ongoing and continual sales records to back me up: Black Americans in general, and hoodoo practitioners in particular, are not adopting the veneration of Roman Catholic saints.
What i believe is happening is that White Catholics (specifically White Irish Catholics and Anglophone Latin American Catholics in the United States), with cultural blinders firmly in place, are "dabbling" with African American Protestant hoodoo in culturally insensitive ways, and they are deluding themselves -- often due to their lack of real, present, face-to-face contact with Black Americans -- that by their internet posts they can somehow remake African American culture in their own image.
At the Lucky Mojo Curio Company, we are "The Little Shop Where All Are Welcome," and when customers express an interest in the study or practice of hoodoo, we direct them to aisles two and three of the shop (about 1/2 of our floor- space), where they will find the accoutrements and spiritual supplies of African American hoodoo folk-magic. For all other religious traditions (Catholic, Buddhist, Bon, Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, Taoist, Animist, Pagan, Neo-Pagan, Kemetic, and Native American combined!), we direct customers to see aisle one (about 1/4 of our floor space). The remaining 1/4 of our floor space -- aisle four -- is the divination tools and book department, and the same pattern repeats in this department, with 2/3 of the books and divination tools being devoted to hoodoo and 1//3 of the books and divination tools being representative of world folk-magical and folk-religious traditions.
And even these floor-space models do not tell the true story of our sales records.
No disrespect to our Catholic friends, but i believe that if any of them were to run a store where they could meet with and discusses the practice of hoodoo with African Americans on a daily basis, they would change their minds within one week.
THERE IS A REASON THAT HOODOO CONDITION OILS AND CANDLES ARE NAMED BY CONDITION, NOT BY SAINT NAMES. Think about it.
Ask me how many bottles of Money Drawing Oil we sell compared to Saint Expedite Oil. Ask me how many Healing candles we sell compared to Saint Jude candles. The sales tell the story.
Most practitioners of Hoodoo are Protestant Christians, and of those, most are Baptists. Catholic practitioners of hoodoo are a relatively small minority simply because the percentage of Black Americans who are Catholics is small relative to the Black population as a whole.
There are historical reasons for this that everyone who is interested in studying hoodoo should understand: African American hoodoo did not develop in the largely Catholic French-speaking, Spanish-speaking, and Portuguese-speaking colonies of the Caribbean and South America, but instead grew up in the English-speaking and primarily Protestant colonies of North America.
This history explains why hoodoo so closely resembles the African diasporic obeah folk magic of the former British colonies of Jamaica, the Bahamas, Trinidad, and Tobago -- and is so different from the African diasporic folk magic of Catholic French-, Spanish-, and Portuguese-speaking Haiti, Cuba, and Brazil. There are overlaps and resemblances between the African portions of the work in all these regions of the African diaspora -- but the religious differences of the practitioners are great, and the cultural admixtures from slave-owners, indentured servants, and Native peoples are highly different in each region. To give but one example, the Black folk magic of Cuba carries within it elements of the White Catholic folk magic of Spain, while the Black folk magic of Georgia carries within it elements of the White Protestant folk magic of England and Ireland with admixtures of Native Cherokee belief and customs.
The Protestants generally, and the Baptists specifically, do not harbour either a dogmatic belief in, nor a cultural veneration for, saints. So, when talking of saints in hoodoo, we are speaking of a relatively small and localized phenomenon, centered only on areas of the American South where Catholicism and Catholic-influenced portions of the Spiritual Church Movement have thrived. These are the rural and urban areas of Louisiana (formerly a Spanish, and later a French colony, before the Louisiana Purchase) and small urban areas of Baltimore, Washington DC, Chicago, Philadelphia, and New York, where immigration and cultural mixing are prevalent. By contrast little to no Catholic influence will be found in the regional hoodoo of Atlanta, Georgia or Greenwood, Mississippi. The folks there (both Black and White) are mostly Protestants.
The folk Catholicism of American Black Catholic practitioners of hoodoo resembles closely the folk Catholicism of their Mediterranean Catholic fellow-immigrants -- that is, Spanish, Portuguese, French, and Sicilian folk Catholicism. Their legends of the works and efficacy of Saint Anthony, Saint Michael, Saint Christopher, Saint Expedite, Saint Martha the Do minator, and others tend to closely resemble the folk Catholic beliefs and practices of Southern Europe. One addition to the typical Mediterranean roster of folk saints is the African American Catholic veneration of the Black Peruvian saint Martin de Porres, adopted during the early 20th century. Because of his race, this saint's fame spread rapidly throughout all African diasporic communities in the Americas, without derivation from a European cultic center.
In order to study and practice working with the saints in hoodoo, your first step, as a Catholic, would be to familiarize yourself with European Catholic beliefs. The online Catholic Encyclopedia at newadvent.com is a great primary research tool. More handy would be a "Dictionary of the Saints." There are several such books, and they are all available through standard book outlets. A quick online guide can be found at my own web page, "Patron Saints for Various Occupations and Conditions."
After you understand the symbolic association between saints and specific life situations and know when their feast days are, you can follow up with a study of the details of folk Catholic beliefs regarding the saints, including such non-canonical folk-knowledge such as what colours of candles they like, or what food offerings they prefer.
Having done that, you can see how both the canonical and the folkloric practices customs were adapted for use by Free Persons of Color in the USA during the 19th century, by Freedmen after Emancipation and Reconstruction, and how they have developed more recently among modern African American Catholics during the 20th and 21st centuries.
Gaining knowledge and learning specific practices are largely matters of inquiry among contemporary folk Catholic adherents. One book that serves well for this purpose is "The Magical Power of the Saints" by Ray Malborough, which supplies some beliefs, customs, and prayers from New Orleans. It is not an exhaustively complete work, but it was the first of is kind and has proven its popularity over many years.
I hope this helps.
Wicca is a religion that was developed in the mid 20th century, primarily in England at its outset, although it soon spread to the United States, Canada, and other English-speaking nations. By the late 1960s it was found in most European and North Aerican countries, at which point it began to schism, leading to many "denominations" (usually called lineages or traditions), such as Gardnerian Wicca, Alexandrian Wicca, Dianic Wicca, and so forth.
The original premise of Wicca was that it was a revival of ancient pre-Christian religious practices of the native peoples of England, Scotland, Ireland, and other parts of Europe.
Wicca is considered to be one of the Neo-Pagan religions -- that is a religion that revives or re-invents a religion that went extinct when Christianity became the dominant state-supported religion in many nations of Europe.
Other Neo-Pagan religions include Druidry, Asatru, British Traditional Witchcraft, and Heathenism -- and there are more.
The magic of the original pagans who lived in the region where Wicca was invented was called witchcraft. Witchcraft was not originally a religion per se; it was the magic of the people of that area. Because witchcraft was not a religion, its name is generally not capitalized, by the way, unless it is a part of the name of a religious group.
As a religion, Wicca in its early days tended to shun the practice of witchcraft or Anglo-Saxon folk-magic. In fact, many Wiccans will tell you that it is wrong to cast spells at all -- especially if you do not have the consent of the one upon whom you are casting the spell. However, in more recent years, some branches of Wicca have decided to include witchcraft and spell-casting in their teachings.
Now it is important to understand that while not every religion includes a form of magic, some religions do include magic as part of their activities. I call these "magic-friendly" religions. For example, Hinduism is magic-friendly, and so is Chinese Taoism. Jewish folk magic has survived alongside Judaism for centuries, making Judaism a magic-friendly religon as well.
Wicca, however, had spent so long a time claiming that magic was not part of the religion, that when Wiccans decided to practice magic, they had little continuous, unbroken traditions of spell-casting to study or learn from. Therefore a number of Wiccans, such as Lady Sheba (Jessie Wicker Bell) and Charmaine Dey (June Zabawski), who were European (White) Americans, turned to the nearest folk magic they could find, which was African (Black) American hoodoo. And they adopted it as "their" magic, so that the magic that many young Wiccans practice, unlike the magic of other European-derived Neo-Pagan religions, often carries elements of hoodoo within it -- and in fact, it is becoming quite common for young Wiccans with no knowledge of history to believe that African American conjure is something that their own tradition has always endorsed or taught, despite the long history of racial division that has separated their families from those of Black people. One way to demonstrate that this belief is unfounded and false is to ask them to cite folk songs about hoodoo. They cannot do so. There are hundreds of African American blues and folk songs with lyrics about hoodoo (and i have compiled a representative sampling of them on a CD called cat yronwode's Hoodoo Jukebox, which you can purchase from my shop) -- but there are no equivalent songs about hoodoo in the European (White) American folk music tradtion. People sing about what they know about. If White folk musicians had known about hoodoo, they would have written songs about it -- but they did not.
Meanwhile, hoodoo is the folk magic of Black Christians, most of whom are Protestant Christians. Many Africans who were brought to America as slaves came from magic-friendly religious cultures, and when they converted to Christianity in America, they retained their approving interest in magic and continued to practice it. This was true of Christians in other nations where magic survived when Pagans received Christian religious conversions.
Hoodoo is not a religion in itself, but it is almost always practiced in a religious context -- and that context is, far more often than not, African American Protestantism. There are Black Spiritualists, Black Catholics, Black Muslims, and Black Jews in America -- and even a number of Black Wiccans -- but the hoodoo tradition is part and parcel of American Black culture, and that culture is primarily Baptist.
So, sure, Wiccans can practice hoodoo if they want to -- no one is stopping them -- but they are guests at the feast, because hoodoo is primarily the folk magic of Black American Christians. If a Wiccan feels the need to warp hoodoo in such a way as to make it accord with Wiccan beliefs and religious practices, there are no "hoodoo police" to give them a ticket.
Just be aware, as you pray to Hecate or Bridgid or Thor or Cernunos or The Lady, that most root doctors also pray and also thank deities -- namely, God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, otherwise known as Jehovah the Lord, Jesus the Saviour, and the Holy Spirit.
Will switching deities out while practicing hoodoo "have any negative effect on the work?" Probably not. Some Wiccans may shun you and some hoodoo practitioners will think that you are not a very polite guest in their culture.
Are Wicca and hoodoo very different? Yes. One is a fairly newly developed Neo-Pagan religion that worships a God and Goddess (or, in some lineages, only a Goddess) that was developed by the modern White descendents of Christian Europeans in an attempt to revive their ancestors' pre-Christian religion. The other is a retention of African folk magic combined and blended with Northern European folk magic, Native American folk magic, and Jewish folk magic and practiced by members of the Christian religion that worships an originally Jewish (Middle Eastern) God.
It's a wide, wild, and wonderful world, isn't it?
Here -- let's have some gospel music after all of that:
Elder Burch and Congregation - My Heart Keeps Singing http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sNbNldA0W_s
Modern books and internet groups purporting to educate the public about hoodoo often contain an egregious error, namely, they are falsely propagate the misconception that hoodoo, the folk magic of African American Christians, somehow involves knowledge of or outreach to orishas and lwa, the deified spirits which are at the center of liturgical veneration in a variety of Afro-Caribbean religions, such as Santeria, Quimbanda, Lukumi. Voodoo, Palo Mayombe, Palo Monte, Kimbisa, and the like. This error, to be bluntly frank, is based in a belief that skin colour alone -- rather than political history, community culture, personal upbringing, family descendancy, locational mores, and religious tradition -- is the major determinant factor in assessing the folk-magic of a large immigrant population of mixed-descendancy people.
The skin-colour-as-cultural-determinant error represents a form of peculiarly confused thinking that should be identified and eliminated from any course of study (formal or informal) of folk-magic in general, or African-American folk-magic in particular.
Both White people and Black people fall into this error of logic -- and, quite often, for differing reasons. That is, they follow different paths to arrive at the same false conclusion.
To many Whites in America, all "blackness" is the same, and since these White folks know that "the slaves came from Africa," they assume that the more "African" a tradition appears to be, the more "authentic" it is. To a certain extent, i have seen some well-meaning White people even use this belief to avoid confronting the harsh history of enslavement of Black Americans. By reaching into a mythical past to achieve contact with Black African deities, they are in a sense "mending" their own White culture's history of abuse of Black people. But as fascinating as this may be, we must remember that hoodoo is not a purely African form of magic. It is African-AMERICAN, and, as with other African American forms of expression, such as jazz and blues and gospel music, it is syncretic and most of its practitioners are Christian. By skipping over the AMERICAN part of hoodoo history, in favour of a substituted CARIBBEAN or AFRICAN form of worship, the White ATR practitioners who seek to integrate hoodoo into their ATR practices are missing the entire point of the work. It comes from the USA. It comes from the South. It is Christian.
Black American followers of the ATRs who seek to appropriate Christian hoodoo come to a similar conclusion, but their path is generally one of seeking to accord more respect to their Black ancestors (sometimes even falsely characterizing all of their White ancestors as "rapists") and damning the Christian religion of their immediate ancestral lineage as an imposition, which they then seek to strip away. The act of tearing away and discarding all trace of Protestant American Christianity from their lives is a distinct part of their spiritual journey, as they are called back to African ways of religious practice. It is spiritually empowering to go "back to Africa," but to apply purely African ways of working to the practice of African American roootwork is, alas, based on a lie, because the Black rootworkers of America have, for as long as 500 years now in some regions, been practicing a syncretic form of Christian folk magic that makes use of identifiable elements of European Christian and Jewish folk magic, as well as some Native American inclusions. The work of these near and distant ancestors was not purely African, no more than the DNA of their descendants is purely African. To deny the inventiveness, brilliant magical works, or dedication to the practice of conjure embodied in African AMERICAN ancestors is to disrespect them, the lives they lived, and the choices that they made.
Finally, we have the immigrant Caribbean practitioners of ATRs and ADRs -- those whose families came up in regions that had once been Spanish, Portuguese, or French colonies, where Roman Catholicism was virtually the state religion for centuries, and where African religions were practiced in secret, or in highly syncretic Afro-Catholic forms. Upon reaching the USA, such folks often have noted the similarity between the remnant African ways of working roots and the remnants of African magic they retained in nations like Belize, Cuba, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, or Brazil. Once in America, the tendency of these ATR adherents has been to cast off some of the impositions of Catholic saint veneration under which their ancestors worshipped the orishas or loas -- but if they want to purchase magical supplies , they will go to a hoodoo shop just as often as to a Hispanic botanica. There is a simple historical reason for this: From the beginning of the 20th century onward, American hoodoo manufacturers, book publishers, and suppliers have sold their magical goods overseas, especially into the Caribbean region. Long time familiarity with hoodoo spiritual supplies and various forms of spell-casting among immigrant ATR members is thus common -- even though a religious connection to Protestant Christianity is not often found.
Since the coming of the internet during the 1990s i have noticed an increasing number of followers of the ATRs, like Catholics and Neo-Pagans, exhibiting a high-handed way of grabbing what they want from African American culture and claiming it as their own. This is especially true of recent converts to the ATRs, many of whom have come from a non-African or non-Afro-Caribbean background. The internet has shown me all too many White, Hispanic, and Black ATR adherents and initiates who want hoodoo's down home magic spells, but not its traditional ways of working. They want conjure's foot track magic, but not its Devil's Shoe String roots. They want to learn the art of hoodoo candle magic but not hoodoo Bible magic. Most of all, they want to sacrifice animals to empower their work, even though any Baptist can tell them that this is not necessary because "Jesus paid the price."
Again, there are no "hoodoo police" to stop anyone's ATR mix-and-match eclecticism, but the lack of respect for real and present Black American ancestors which passes as exaggerated respect for far distant and often poorly understood African ancestors is pretty obvious when viewed by someone such as myself, who came to hoodoo "just as i was," an outsider both to the skin colour AND the socio-religious culture of African American history.
The best way i can put it is this: I have been taught by hundreds of home practitioners and professional spiritual workers in America, and i have travelled this country many times to meet with and learn from African American elders, and in all my growing-up years, i never saw a hoodoo lady bend the knee to Eshu or Eleggua. Those lines diverged hundreds of years ago, and hoodoo developed within a different socio-religious culture.
Yes, members of ATRs (both Black and White) can and do adopt elements of hoodoo magic for their own use. But they, just as much as Hindus, Jews, Wiccans, or Hispanic Catholics, are VISITORS to this basically Protestant Christian magical tradition and, as visitors, they ought to mind their manners, embody true respectfulness, and not go grabbing and claiming the cultural treasures that other folks developed independently of them over many hundreds of years within a different religious context.
In conclusion, i would like to note that i have no dog in the fight among academics who study the history of African slavery from the 1500s through the early 19th century. Some of these scholars state that Catholicism was the institutionalized religion of the Kingdom of the Congo from as early as the 1600s, some contend that Islam was a widely practiced religion in certain areas of Africa from which slaves were captured, some throw their weight behind the obvious truth that during the era of slavery, indigenous religions (ATRs) were the norm in Africa among rural people who had had little contact with Europeans or Arabs. NONE of these scholarly positions, nor the subsequent disagreements among these scholars, have any bearing upon what i am studying and teaching, which is the practice of hoodoo folk magic among Black citizens of the United States. I deal only with hoodoo as i found it in during my lifetime, as it was documented before my birth in both the American South and North, and as it exists today -- the cultural treasure of Black American Christian folk magic.
For more information on this topic, please see the chapter of my free online book
"Hoodoo in Theory and Practice"
titled "History of Hoodoo".
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