Hoodoo in Theory and Practice by catherine yronwode
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The Lucky Heart Company of Memphis, Tennessee is one of the oldest surviving manufacturers of beauty products for the African-American market. Like many other such companies it was founded during the years immediately after World War One by Jewish American chemists and pharmacists, in this case members of the Joseph Menke and Morris Shapiro. LeRue Marx was the company's shief chemist, and for a number of years, Marcus Menke, a relative of Joseph Menke who later went on to found the Clover Horn Company in Baltimore, Maryland, was employed as a salesman. The Shapiro family still owns the company. During the 1920s and 1930s Lucky Heart added a line of supplies for hoodoo root workers, including dressing oils, self-lighting incense, and scented sachet powders.
According to Lucky Heart's former chemist and warehouse manager LeRue Marx, the Lucky Heart line of dressing oils, self-lighting incense powders, and scented sachets was made on the premises in Memphis but many of the curios sold by Lucky Heart -- especially the herbs, roots, and minerals -- were repackaged from bulk shipments purchased from Morton Neumann's Chicago-based Famous Products Distribution. Famous Products was the wholesale operation that lay behind both Neumann's hoodoo-oriented King Novelty Company and his cosmetics manufactory, Valmor Beauty Products, which sold perfumes, skin bleaches, and hair straighteners for African-Americans under the brand names Sweet Georgia Brown, Madame Jones, and Lucky Brown.
At the height of World War Two, Lucky Heart won a very profitable contract to manufacture insecticidal powders for the U.S. Army. As 1944-1946 era advertisements in the black-owned Chicago Defender newspaper make clear, fulfilling this contract temporarily put a halt to Lucky Heart's manufacture of beauty products and spiritual supplies. After the war, cosmetics production was resumed, but the hoodoo supplies eventually fell by the wayside and are no longer part of the Lucky Heart catalogue.
During the 1930s and early 1940s, The Shapiro Family's Lucky Heart products, like Neumann's King Novelty and Valmor brands, were marketed through a system of agents (a system described in greater detail in the page on hoodoo history). Striking evidence of this agent system was given to me by Chris Warnock, a traditional astrologer and root-worker who transcribed an extract from pages 55 and 56 of "Drums and Shadows: Survival Studies Among the Georgia Coastal Negroes," originally published in 1940 by the Savannah Unit of the Georgia Writer's Project of the WPA and republished in 1986 by the University of Georgia Press. The FWP author's attitude is condescending toward hoodoo, but the material is worth reprinting nonetheless, because of the information it contains:
Mattie Sampson, a robust young Negro woman, told us that she does an active mail order business as representative of the Lucky Heart Company, the Sweet Georgia Brown Company [Valmor], and the Curio Products Company. She supports herself comfortably by means of selling her credulous neighbors good luck perfumes, roots, lodestones, and similar charms. "Duh chahms an good luck puhfumes an powduhs do deah wuk independent of any additional hep," Mattie said. "Ef anybody believe a puticuluh chahm is wut dey need, well, dat chahm will do duh wuk."
"Mos of muh customuhs depen on special chahms tuh bring em good luck," the young woman continued. "Dey nevuh puhmit deah supply tuh give out but awduh it ovuh an ovuh. I have sevral bes selluhs. One is duh Mystic Mojo Love Sachet. Dis is sometimes call Quick Love Powduh an is guaranteed tuh make yuh populuh, successful, an happy. Yuh use it tuh attrac a pusson an tuh make dat pusson ad-myuh an love yuh. A lill uh dis powduh is wone in a bag aroun duh neck aw rubbed on duh body. But ef yuh prefuh, yuh kin sprinkle it in duh dressuh draw aw in duh bottom uh duh shoes.
"Mystic Mojo Incense is anudduh one uh muh bes selluhs. On duh box it says dis is duh same incense used by duh Hindus an Arabs an Tuks, an also duh Egyptians, an Chinese. In every box is five diffunt culluhs, each one fuh a diffunt puhpose." From a box which Mattie had on hand we took down the directions: "Work the magic spell now. Just hold Mystic Mojo in hand and light match to tip. Perfumed with rare fragrance and exotic sandalwood, myrrh and incense. Price 25 [cents]. Sweet and strong."
Mattie also constantly reorders a product known as Magnetic Lodestone in Holy Oil. "Dis is used," she explained "tuh drive away evil spirits an bad luck an tuh bring yuh luck in love, an business, an gamblin games. Den deah's Five Finguh Grass. A lot uh duh people heah are sked of witches an spirits visitin em at night. Dey hang Five Finguh Grass ovuh deah bed aw doeway tuh protee duh whole house. Some of em use Black Cat Incense an Powduh."
In addition to supplying first-hand information on the Lucky Heart company, this simple 1940 interview reinforces a number of topics which define the unique characteristics of African-American hoodoo and identify it as a distinct system of magic:
1) Hoodoo practitioners tend to not feel the need to "empower" or "charge" charms or biological curios in the way that Hermetic and Wiccan practitioners do. ("Duh chahms an good luck puhfumes an powduhs do deah wuk independent of any additional hep.") This goes along with the fact that there are very few chants or incantations in hoodoo, and minimal attempts to focus power into natural objects, which are considered to be already powerful in their own right.
2) Again, as in Harry M. Hyatt's 1930s interviews, we see the use in hoodoo of Five Finger Grass -- a plant of European origin. This usage i have long attributed to Morton Neumann's distribution into the black community of John George Hohman's "Pow-Wows or the Long-Lost Friend," a book of German folk-magic, where Five Finger Grass is prominently mentioned. And here we have a real link, not just my speculation, because Mattie Sampson was an agent for Sweet Georgia Brown products, one of several brand lines manufactured and distributed by Morton Neumann, which means we KNOW she had access to the "Pow-Wows" book!
3) Although the interviewer missed it, there is a clear reference to foot-track magic, a distinctly African component of hoodoo. ("sprinkle it ... in duh bottom uh duh shoes.")
4) As can be seen by the labels on this page, Lucky Heart's Mystic Mojo line also included Mystic Mojo Love Drops. The label, with its turbaned Hindu gazing into a crystal ball (in which a bride and groom can be seen) is similar to that used on another Lucky Heart formula, Hindu Double Mystic Love and Luck Oil. Both designs probably derived from King Novelty's Mo-Jo Brand line of products, which depict a similar totemic figure. Compare King Novelty's Mo-Jo Brand Oil label at the bottom of the web page about mojo hands.
Finally, for those interested in 20th century drug stores that also carried hoodoo supplies for their African-American customers, a further extract from my interview with LaRue Marx, regarding his father's Memphis pharmacy business, appears on the web page about Hoyt's Cologne.
Illustrations of labels, packaging, catalogue pages, advertisements, and agents' flyers for Valmor, King Novelty, Lucky Brown, Lucky Heart. Clover Horn, and other cosmetics and spiritual supply companies of the pre-World-War-Two era, plus further text-based information on the interplay between occultism and hoodoo in the inter-war period, can be found on these "Hoodoo in Theory and Practice" pages by cat yronwode:
Thanks to Chris Warnock for locating and transcribing the passages from "Drums and Shadows: Survival Studies Among the Georgia Coastal Negroes," and to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt for engineering the Federal Writers' Project, which recorded much information about American life that might otherwise have gone undocumented. And, hey, thanks to Willie Eason for his great song, "Franklin D. Roosevelt, A Poor Man's Friend," which beautifully recounts Roosevelt's work to promote the equality of African-Americans during his four terms in office.
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