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Ritual Cleaning, Protection, and the "Indian Spirit"
in African American Culture
and Spiritual Church Practices



The inclusion of Native American imagery in hoodoo is an old hoodoo tradition that seems to date back to the early days of slavery, when Africans first met and admired Indians for their independence and herb lore. Augmented by late 19th century interests in herbal medicine, in which Natives were rightfully held to be the experts on North American medicinal plants, and supplemented by specific Spiritualist church beliefs concerning the role of Native spirits in message-bearing services, the Indian Spirit Guide is both a title for a line of products and an acknowledgement of the important of the First Nations of America.


Some tribes of Native Americans, notably the Cherokee, kept slaves. They actually purchased African slaves and employed them in their households. Cherokee notions of what constituted slavery were, however, far more liberal than the chattel-slavery of the English settlers, and so Africans could, in time, purchase their freedom and also marry Native Americans. During the same time period, many Natives were illegally captured and forced into chattel slavery by English colonists, where they then partnered with African slaves to produce enslaved children of mixed heritage. A third factor also led to the mingling of black slaves with Indians -- African slaves and their descendants who escaped from plantations and slave-keeping households would often join the nearest Indian band or tribe, and would, in time, come to think of themselves as Indians.

These complex patterns of intercultural mingling have led to many self-identified black Americans identifying as being of partially Native descent. Those whose family histories were well preserved can easily claim descent from Native tribes, of course, bur even those African Americans with unknown or broken family histories can sometimes be identified as part-native based on their physical features. Straight hair, bronze skin, high cheekbones, and a beaked nose are some of the facial landmarks most often self-identified as "Indian features." In and of themselves they do not constitute "proof" of Native ancestry, but within certain families, such mixed descendancies are taken for granted, with or without modern DNA test evidence to back them up.



The most common Native tribes with which black Americans identify are the Cherokee and the "Black Foot" tribes. The latter does not refer to the Blackfeet Indians of the upper Plains, but rather to a subdivision of he Cherokees. The terms one hears in family discussions are "Black Foot and Cherokee," "Black Foot Cherokee" and "Black Foot." All of these seem to refer to African slaves who joined the Cherokee tribe early on, in states like Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee. Other tribes, such as the Choctaw, Chippewa, Chickasaw, Saponi, also took in escaping slaves, purchased slaves, or otherwise met and intermarried with Africans in America.

The Cherokees and other tribes were heavily impacted by the incursions of white settlers (who also intermarried with them), and eventually it became United States government policy to "remove" them from lands that were being opened to white settlers. These ethnic cleansing operations were carried out beginning in the late 18th century, and resulted in Cherokees, and Cherokee-identified black and white mingled families settling in Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, and Missouri. In some cases, however, mixed African and Native families who were counted as Free Persons of Color or as white during census-taking chose to remain behind as black-identified or as white-identified, rather than moving westward as Native-identified.


The final mass-removal of the Cherokees and people of other Eastern tribes to Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) took place in the early 19th century. Again, families of mixed heritage were included in this deadly program of ethnic cleansing, which was known officially as the Indian Removal Act, and to those who survived it as the Trail of Tears.


All of this past history aside, the fact is that many black Americans carry family histories of Native descent, and insofar as they honour and respect their ancestors, they will proudly claim their Indian blood.

Remnants of cross-cultural goodwill abound to this day. For instance, in New Orleans, a famous black Mardi Gras Krewe dresses as Wild Tchiapatoulas Indians. Likewise, the Sonny Boy Products line of religious supplies contains several "Alleged Indian Grandma" and "Old Indian" brands.


Related to admiration of Native American herb-lore, but distinct from it, is the concept of the Indian warrior as a "Spirit" or "Spirit Guide." This imagery harkens back to the early days of the Spiritualist movement in the 19th century, an era during which trance mediums reported their conversations with deceased "Guides" of all kinds, including ancestors, religious figures, doctors, lawyers, and others. The spirits of Native Americans and deceased root doctors were actively engaged by church mediums on the part of sitters, who received valuable information and insights through this mediumship.

One notable example of this cross-cultural trend is the 175-year popularity of John George Hohman's "Pow-Wows or The Long Lost Friend", which, despite the Native-American-sounding title "Pow Wows, which seems to evoke Spiritualist practices, was a compilation of German folk magic (Catholic in origin, but continued in use by Pietist Protestants in America), which was eventually marketed to the Protestant, mostly Baptist, African-American community by Jewish spiritual supply vendors, who had their own multi-cultural reasons to utilize a book called "Pow Wows," for many black Americans identify as of partial Native descent.


Just a note about the tribal term "Black Foot" -- This is NOT the same as the Blackfeet tribe of the North Central plains (the Dakotas and Alberta province). The Black Foot group is a non-federally recognized sub-group of the Cherokee tribe which was originally located in Georgia, the Carolinas, Virginia, Tennessee, and Kentucky, and was later forcibly removed to Oklahoma.

The term Black Foot is used often to describe African slaves who ran away from their British or American owners and joined the Cherokees as the tribe fled westward to escape British and American invasion.

It also may describe Africans whom the Cherokees purchased as slaves (the Cherokee tribe kept slaves, although their rules concerning slavery were dramatically less severe than the British and American laws governing slavery at that time) and who were later freed or married into the Cherokee tribe or its remnants.



And, finally, the term Black Foot has been used to describe the biracial children, part African, part Cherokee, born to slaves or free persons of colour who lived with or married Cherokees.

Some of these African Americans became Spiritualists and one of them, Leafy Anderson, of Wisconsin, propagated mediumship and church services honouring the spirit of Black Hawk. She seeded Spiritualist churches from New York through New Orleans, and her Black Hawk services became popular throughout the Black Spiritualist churches during the 1920s and 1930s.



Black Hawk was a Native American Sauk and Fox tribe leader who lived from 1767 to 1838. In life he not only earned a reputation as a fierce and cunning warrior who resisted encroaching governmental oppression, but also as a man who could show mercy. He was introduced into Spiritualist and hoodoo practice in New Orleans sometime around or after the 1920s by the Spiritual Church Movement leader Mother Leafy Anderson, who had come to New Orleans from the upper Midwest. Mother Leafy Anderson grew up in Wisconsin where she probably became familiar with the local legends and stories of the historic Black Hawk, who lived and died.


Within the Spiritual Church Movement and Spiritualist churches in general, it is common for mediums to form relationships with discarnate Indian spirit guides.

Occasionally, after the death of his or her initial medium contact, a personal spirit guide may become a widely-acknowledged spirit who is accessible to many people, both within and outside the Spiritualist religion. As a Spiritualist, Mother Anderson accepted Black Hawk as her spirit guide, and upon her death, he became the spirit guide of her successor, Catherine Seals.

After the death of Mother Seals, Black Hawk made his presence known to many within the Spiritual Church Movement, and passed from the category of a personal spirit guide to that of a powerful working spirit who answers all who petition him for aid.


Black Hawk is often called on for spells for protection and warding off enemies and is called "a watcher on the wall" because he sends notice of breaches in one's spiritual perimeter defenses. Although he is most often called upon for protection and various types of control and defense work, and for justice in private matters and court cases, his spirit is also invoked by persons of partial or full Native American heritage as a way to connect with and honour their lost and missing tribal ancestors.

Root doctors within the Spiritual Church Movement who work with the spirit of Black Hawk traditionally place a bucket filled with earth or sand on his altar, within which stands a statue or statuette of an Indian. Offerings of fruit and of tobacco may be set before Black Hawk; his offerings do not generally include alcohol. He is given a special feast once a year, at which offerings of fruit figure prominently.


Certain Law Keep Away spells employ an old style Indian Head Cent -- a copper penny with the head of an Indian depicted on it -- as a "lookout" or "Indian Scout" to keep the Police, INS, social services, DEA, collection services, IRS, and others away. This Scout is identified by some with "Black Hawk."

TO KEEP OFF THE LAW: Nail a row of Indian Head Cents or "Scouts," into the threshold or around door frames. You can drill each cent and drive a nail through it, or hammer two nails beside each penny and then flatten the nails across each other to form an "X" over the coin -- which is said to "X-out the Laws."

A row of four Scouts is usually sufficient for a home, but nine may be employed where illegal business is conducted, and one old building in the South was found to have 1,500 of them nailed around all the doors and windows!

To keep your Scouts watching out for you, dress them once a week with Law Keep Away Oil. This is a real old-time spell; the U.S. government has not minted Indian Head Cents since 1909.


If this subject is of deeper interest to you, please check out these pages which i have written for the web site of The Association of Independent Readers and Rootworkers (AIRR). They will provide you with further detailed information.

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