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"Hoodoo - Conjuration -
Witchcraft - Rootwork"
by
HARRY MIDDLETON HYATT

Harry Middleton Hyatt was an Anglican minister who collected folklore as a hobby. Raised in Quincy, Illinois, Hyatt received his M.A. and D.D. at Kenyon College and Oxford University. He served as assistant rector at the Church of the Holy Spirit in New York City from 1951 to 1965. After his retirement in 1965, he returned to his home-town of Quincy, Illinois.

As a folklorist, Hyatt began this work in his own home-town, and then proceeded onward to collect magical spells throughout the South. His two major works in this field were "Folklore From Adams County Illinois" (1935) and "Hoodoo - Conjuration - Witchcraft - Rootwork" (1970). In addition, Hyatt was also a genealogist who published two books on his own family, "The Millers of Millersburg Kentucky" (1929) and "Descendents of John Walton of Baltimore Co. Maryland and Harrison Co. Kentucky" (1950).

The bulk of the Hyatt collection is currently archived at the UCLA Center for the Comparative Study of Folklore and Mythology and in the Quincy [Illinois] University Department of Special Collections.

"FOLKLORE FROM ADAMS COUNTY ILLINOIS"

"Folklore From Adams County Illinois" (FACI) contains hundreds of simple spells, folk-magical beliefs, herb-based medical remedies, riddling rhymes, and folkloric tales. It consists of 10,949 entries on 723 pages, including an index. It was self-published by Hyatt in two editions, the first in 1935, and the second in 1965. Both editions were released under the imprint "Memoirs of the Alma C. Hyatt Foundation." Alma C. Hyatt was his wife. The second edition contains a lengthy illustrated appreciation of the then-late Alma Hyatt, in which Mr. Hyatt explains to the world what an inspiration she was to him.

The section of "Folklore From Adams County Illinois" that deals with witchcraft is the most useful part of the book. It is comprised of brief quotes from unnamed local folks to whom Hyatt assigned cultural ascriptions (e.g. "Irish," "German," "Negro," etc.) so that one can place the speakers in the traditions from which they come. Unfortunately, as Hyatt explains in his preface, the material was edited and "omission of Negro dialect means that colored folk speak the same language as their white neighbors" with the exception of "a small vocabulary peculiar to themselves [of which] examples occur frequently in the text." Even more inexplicably, all "lore definitely Jewish was excluded [and] the same is true of three or four Indian [Native American] sayings." Furthermore, Greeks and Italians living in the area, according to Hyatt, "are newcomers, and have not been approached for folk-lore." Such egregious editorial deletions blemish what would otherwise be a balanced representation of folk-magical practices in Illinois at that time, but if one keeps these exclusions in mind, "Folklore From Adams County Illinois" is still a valuable document. The lengthy section on African-American hoodoo spells, and the unique quality of these spells, is what led Hyatt to undertake his later, more massive, work of hoodoo folk-magic collection in the South.

I am often asked what the differences are between the 1935 and 1965 editions of "Folklore from Adams County Illinois" (FACI). Basically -- they are different, period. The 1935 edition is easier to read (it is a typeset octavo volume), but the 1965 edition is MASSIVE -- presented in typewriter type, like the later "Hoodoo - Conjuration - Witchcraft - Rootwork" books, and matching them in size and binding. Additionally, the 1965 FACI is the only place where you can learn more about Hyatt himself -- for it contains a section printed on glossy paper in which he describes his life and his relationship with his wife Alma, who was his muse and financial supporter throughout his long years of dedicated folklore collecting.

The other question often asked is "Why do i need to read FACI when it is not about hoodoo?"

False premise!

A great deal of FACI is in fact about hoodoo.

FACI represents the largest attempt ever to catalogue ALL the beliefs of ALL the people living in one region (Adams County Illinois, like the title says). There are oversights -- Hyatt refused to collect material from Jews or Native Americans, for reasons that defy rationality at this point -- but there were plenty of black people in Adams County, and Hyatt collected all of their hoodoo beliefs, spells, and practices in FACI, and labelled them "Negro" for ease of extraction by researchers.

It was Hyatt's realization that Negro magical beliefs differed greatly from his own English American culture's beliefs that led him to go South and work on "Hoodoo - Conjuration - Witchcraft - Rootwork", the largest collection of folklore from one cultural group in America.

But FACI is not only important because it served as Hyatt's introduction to hoodoo -- it is also the most thorough and factual record of Irish, English, German, and other white European magical beliefs in America ever assembled, and, as such, it deserves a place on the shelf of any American Neo-Pagan, Wiccan, Fam-Trad or Pow Wow Magic practitioner.

"HOODOO - CONJURATION - WITCHCRAFT - ROOTWORK"

"Hoodoo - Conjuration - Witchcraft - Rootwork" (HCWR) is a 5-volume, 4766-page collection of folkloric material gathered by Hyatt in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia between 1936 and 1940. Supplementary interviews were conducted in Florida in 1970.

The "Hoodoo" collection consists of 13,458 separate magic spells and folkloric beliefs, plus lengthy interviews with professional root doctors, conjures, and hoodoos. All but one of Hyatt's 1600 informants were African-Americans, but several narrations by European-Americans (collected for his earlier book, "Folklore From Adams County, Illinois") were also included. Hyatt recorded the material on Edison cylinders and a device called a Telediphone, often without the full knowledge of the participants. He then transcribed and annotated it for publication. Occasionally his equipment failed or was not available and he took hand-written notes instead. The 1930s field recordings have since been destroyed, with the exception of a few cylinders that Hyatt had pressed onto 78 rpm records. The Florida interviews of 1970, recorded on cassette tapes, have survived.

As if to overcome the ham-fisted linguistic editing of Negro dialect that marred "Folklore From Adams County Illinois," this time Hyatt transcribed the speech of his informants semi-phonetically. What may look to modern eyes like "racial stereotyping" or making fun of Southerners was actually his sincere attempt to catalogue variant regional pronunciations. If you read several spells, you will see that he did NOT impose upon his informants one single stereotyped "black dialect" or "Southern dialect" but in fact conveyed, as accurately as he could, the true sound of each person's speech. Reading the spells aloud and noting the location where each informant lived will help you comprehend this. I do not intend to apologize for Hyatt's technique, and i hope that future scholars will not do so either.

The publication of this material was accomplished between 1970 and 1978, again under the imprint "Memoirs of the Alma C. Hyatt Foundation." The first two volumes were issued as a set in 1970, and said to be complete, but then, after a few years, three more volumes were released. Hyatt died before the sixth volume, an index, was prepared.

The contents of "Hoodoo - Conjuration - Witchcraft - Rootwork" are about as follows (numbers in parentheses are page number):

MY DEBT TO HARRY M. HYATT

Like almost everyone who has followed in Hyatt's shoes, i owe him a debt for his dedication and perseverance in collecting so much magical lore and making it available to all. Although i began my own research into hoodoo in the early 1960s, before the reprint of FACI or the first volumes of HCWR were published, i found Hyatt's work invaluable from the time i first read it. I have made some use of his material to bolster my own presentations, and, for those who are interested, here is a list of Hoodoo in Theory and Practice web pages that contain quoted passages from Harry Hyatt's research:

Aunt Caroline Dye of Newport, Arkansas
Bluestone and Mexican Blue Anil Balls
Body Fluids: Menstrual Blood, Urine, Semen
Crossroads Rituals
Devil's Shoestring
Foot Track Magic
Goofer Dust
Hoodoo History and Definition of Terms
Hoyt's Cologne
Hyatt's African-American informants
Madam Myrtle Collins of Memphis, Tennessee
Nation Sack
Protection Spells
Salt
Secrets of the Psalms
Silver Dimes

As you run across Hyatt material at this site, please note:

1) All the transcribed spells quoted in Hoodoo in Theory and Practice are from the 1936-1940 "Hoodoo" sessions unless otherwise noted.

2) The number at the beginning, if any, is Hyatt's spell number. (Interviews were not numbered.)

3) Code numbers at the end of a spell are Hyatt's identification of the informants and the number of the recording cylinder itself.

4) Any words in (parentheses) in the text were spoken aloud by Hyatt during the interviews and any words in [brackets] were his written commentary to the publication. MY OWN further comments, if any, appear in {italics in curly brackets}, and most of them consist of additional information or corrections to Hyatt's characteristic transcription errors (e.g. his invariable mis-transcription of Hoyt's Cologne as "Hearts Cologne" or "herts perfume").

5) I have occasionally broken some of the book's run-on paragraphs into shorter chunks, for easier reading.

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