Hoodoo in Theory and Practice by catherine yronwode
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I wish to comment on how i, as a rootworker, treat the mentally and physically ill, and people suffering from legal, social, and emotional crisis, from a hoodoo root-worker's perspective. I give half-hour to hour-long free consultations about how to do spiritual work at the rate of one per day (five per week) to those who make appointments to speak to me, and i consider those people my clients, even though i am not directly doing rootwork for them. Many come to me through usenet or my web site and are not customers of my Lucky Mojo Curio Co. shop.
Never treat clients as rubes or yokels to be wowed by your recitation of meaningless reassurances and pat magical phrases. This is what i call "The Dr. Coue Method" of curse lifting. (Dr. Emil Coue was a self-help teacher who recommended the placebo-mantra, "Every day, in every way, i'm getting better and better.") Placebos work 30% of the time, according to numerous medical studies. That is an interesting fact, but a 30% cure rate is not a good percentage of favourable outcomes. As a practitioner, i am looking for something above the 70th percentile, at least, and hopefully higher than that.
What i do is invest both the client and the curse with respect, assess the extent of the curse, and then treat the curse, not with a one-size-fits-all placebo, but with a series of specifically targeted actions, both magical and social. Here are my recommendations:
You are dealing with a person whose curse is going to depend in great part on what his or her culture has led him or her to expect a curse to be. If an Asian man tells you he is cursed, the nature of his experience will be quite different than if a Greek woman says she has been cursed. If you do not understand the form of the curse that the client is experiencing, you will not be able to help lift it. Your personal belief in the curse is not as important to the client at this point as your understanding of the form the curse takes. If you fail to understand that, you will have wasted the client's time, and he or she will simply go away saying that you did not or could not help.
This is not the place to write a catalogue of the world's vast variety of culturally-normative forms of curses and the symptoms that result therefrom. A survey of all of the already-extant ethnographic studies in the matter of curse-beliefs would be the work of a doctoral dissertation, as would any attempt to thoroughly investigate the curse-structures of one given culture, but i trust you catch my drift here: If a black woman from the South tells you that her husband is wandering and confused in his mind, you ask about the woman's mother-in-law; if a Mexican man says he feels sad and depressed, you ask when was the last time he suffered a fright in a lonely place; if a Turkish woman says that her little girl is crying a lot, you ask if a stranger praised the baby lately.
Unless you know what is happening to people, you cannot help them. You need to deeply understand their culture's account of the sacred things in order to know how things go out of harmony in that culture, and then how to produce a cure within that culture's spiritual and magical paradigm.
With respect to the question of whether or not a person has been cursed or instead suffers from OCD and is troubled by intrusive fears that he or she is jinxed or crossed, this is not something that can be diagnosed over the internet any more than a physical illness can be. I have written a longer article about the question "am i cursed" and provided some traditional folk magic remedies that you can read online at my web page on Uncrossing spiritual supplies.
I do believe that mental illness can be inflicted by magic. Most of my Southern clients call a person with this condition "confused in his (or her) mind." They are fully conversant with medical terms like "depressed" or "mentally ill" so this is not a case of illiteracy or lack of sophisticated terminology -- "confused in his mind" MEANS "made mentally ill through root-work."
Here is a typical example of how this works: I had a call from a client in Georgia. Her ex-lover and current friend -- a man she still knows and likes but is not seeking to regain via a love-spell -- is "confused in his mind." He has fallen in with a bad woman, a woman "from Louisiana" (code for "she uses that stuff") who "has him confused in his mind."
They all three work at the same company and see each other daily and now the man "just sits and stares, and his job performance is suffering." The way the client shifts from a standard English workplace term like "job performance" to "confused in his mind" tells me that she is sure that magic is the cause of his problem.
I ask her what she thinks the woman has done. "She's put roots on him or she's gave him something [code for menstrual blood in his drink]. He's not right in his mind. He talks one way and does the other; i ask him, says, 'Is you happy with her?' and he just stares at me. Says, 'i don't know.' He don't hang out with his friends no more, neither women or men. He just sits there and stares. He can't tell what's wrong. He can't speak. She's fixed him."
The woman wants a healing for her friend, but first seeks confirmation from a professional such as myself that he really is confused in his mind. A few more questions determine that this is indeed the case. I explain to her that i no longer do long-distance work for clients, but i can sell her the things she will need to perform an uncrossing spell. She says that she is not gifted and does not have the skill to take this thing off of him. So i give her the names and numbers of two reputable root workers i know. She will now broach the subject to the man himself -- she does not want to work behind his back -- and if he agrees to a treatment, she will either carry him to a root-worker i have recommended in Louisiana, or she will work by telephone with a spiritual consultant i have recommended in Florida.
A similar case is presented when a customer tells me of a friend who is depressed and wants to know what can be done to help through magic. I first try to determine whether the depression is life-threatening (that is, is suicide is a possibility); whether it is the result of a recent loss, separation, or death; or whether there are other factors, such as bi-polar disorder, chronic depression, or drug abuse. If the situation is not a crisis that requires immediate local intervention (which i cannot perform over the telephone) i then recommend a form of simple magic spell that i have found helpful when spiritually aiding depressed people, which you can read at my web page on Blessing spiritual supplies. I also offer to set lights for the depressed person on the Blessing altar in my shop, at not cost, if the client will send me a photo and the name of the person to be blessed. Finally, if the depression seems to be severe and has been of long standing, i conclude by urging the caller to intervene and seek local professional help for their friend.
Knowing the forms that curses take within each culture will help you to sort the truly afflicted from the mentally ill. If a person's description of a "psychic attack" seems drawn from horror movies or role-playing games, or is a jumble of the curse-systems of several cultures that have been popularized in "spooky" books about witchcraft, or if they tell you that they have been seeking a cure for their curse for 20 years or more, you might be well advised to wonder if they are they are suffering the magical equivalent of hypochondriasis or if they are chronically mentally ill.
If, however, they present as oriented, alert-yet-troubled, coherent in speech, with curse-symptoms that are appropriately culturally enframed, and they can provide a specific onset and time-line for the curse, you can proceed on the assumption that they are not mentally ill. If their cultural paradigm includes use of physical objects in cursing and they provide examples of physical evidence that a curse is being engaged against them (powders thrown for them, artifacts left at their premises or stolen therefrom), you can be pretty sure that someone is working against them. Ask them if they know who might be doing the work; if the answer is socially appropriate within their culture's curse-paradigm, again you will have accumulated evidence that they are probably not mentally ill.
Once you understand the nature of the curse with respect to the magical paradigm of the culture in which the client lives, you can go on to step three, which is to make a quick assessment of the client's social, medical, and legal needs. This is because the client's social, medical, and legal needs must be addressed before, during, and after the curse-lifting.
As a rootworker, shaman, witch, conjure, or whatever your culture calls you, you must have at your fingertips a working knowledge of local, state, federal, private, and charitable programs for helping people with a variety of social, medical, and legal needs. If you don't have this knowledge, acquire it. If you do not, you are not going to produce results. Again: The client's social, medical, and legal needs must be addressed before, during, and after the curse-lifting.
What i tell you three times is true: The client's social, medical, and legal needs must be addressed before, during, and after the curse-lifting.
Finally comes the curse-lifting itself. If you will have taken the time to understand the cultural paradigm in which the curse was cast, you will also, presumably, have the knowledge of how to proceed against that kind of curse, within the magical traditions of that cultural paradigm.
I am not a psychiatrist, so i am only guessing, but my guesses have been good, actually. I recommend a psychiatric evaluation and sometimes they listen to me. Sometimes they don't and leave in a huff. For those with milder mental illness, such as depression or obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), i also recommend a psychiatric evaluation and speak encouragingly of the new SSRI drugs, which have helped several of my friends with depression. Depressed clients usually respond well -- and the idea that a virtual stranger can see they are in trouble mentally is often enough to shake them up and cause them to get help.
I have found it useful to get past my own embarrassment about the subject of mental illness when talking to clients and customers. People so often use mental illness as a sarcastic insult ("Stopped taking your meds, i see," "Shut up and eat your Prozac") that we forget that mentally ill people are often aware of their diagnosis, having been told many times, perhaps since childhood, about their medical condition.
Back in the 1990s, i had such a telephone client, who had extreme obsessive-compulsive symptoms. She had read my web site and believed that someone had stolen her bodily concerns and was using them against her. She asked intelligently about the subject the first time, then repeated, then three-peated, then just began babbling the same questions over and over ("Do they really DO that with your hair? I mean, they can DO that with your hair, can't they? That's so sick -- why do they DO that with your hair? Oh my God, they DID that to me with my hair! But why do they DO that with your hair? Do you think they DID that to me with my hair? Oh God, that's so sick!").
After the fourth or fifth go-round i said, "Ma'am, you seem to be having trouble with the thought that someone has hexed you with your hair -- it's an unwanted and intrusive thought, but you keep coming back to it. Has anyone ever told you that you might have a medical condition that takes the form of a chemical imbalance in your brain that leaves you unable to finish a thought?"
Bingo! -- she said, "Oh! I used to take 40 milligrams of Paxil daily for that, but i stopped two weeks ago because i didn't like the side-effects. I should go back to my shrink, shouldn't i? Oh, God, i got off my meds, and now i'm obsessing about my hair, aren't i? Should i go back to my shrink? You think i should get back on Paxil! Oh God, that means i'm obsessing about my hair again. Am i obsessing -- or -- yes, i'm obsessing, but -- i mean, is it that obvious to you?"
I told her that yes, she seemed to be obsessing and in my opinion, she needed to call her therapist after getting off the phone with me. She thanked me and hung up. No sale for me -- but that was not the point -- she needed help and i directed her to the help she needed. I don't know what happened to her next -- but i did the best i could do, and since then i have not been as shy as i used to be about suggesting the possibility of mental illness to the client, at least when it is as obvious as in that case.
The client calls back over and over, often at odd hours (shortly before closing time is a favourite) and repeats the same tale each time:
You will have to decide at some point whether the repetitiveness of the calls is indicative that magic is not helping the client because there are counter-spells in place or because the client is actually suffering from undiagnosed mental or physical illness. Be aware that not all magic spells work -- and also be aware that not all mentally or physically ill clients tell the truth. Generally, when a client becomes a "pest" through over-calling, you can begin to suspect loneliness (using you as a social outlet), OCD contamination phobia (inability to get rid of negative intrusive thoughts), or (rarely) paranoid schizophrenia.
The client identifies herself as currently suffering from or having in the past suffered from a mental illness:
What she herself identifies as "a mental illness" would call for further questioning from me. I would want to know her diagnosis, her medications, her status regarding professional care at this time (under treatment, non-compliant, in remission, etc.) .The client refers frequently to her own habitual "errors in judgement" or "mistakes" or "fuck-ups":
"Errors in judgement" that she's made could be anything, but if there is a pattern of her mentioning these past "mistakes," i would ask her some questions about why she thinks this is the case, to enable me to differentiate as best i could any true errors she had made from her possible obsession about making errors (e.g. as in OCD) or, alternatively, her simply having a bad case of low self-esteem.The client says she has been arrested several times and/or is facing legal problems at the time of calling:
Having been arrested "several times" is fairly meaningless unless i knew the charges and dispositions of the cases. I myself have been arrested for growing marijuana and served hard jail time, as well as having been arrested for participating in peaceful political demonstrations, with dismissed charges, as is customary when the arrests are simply being used to clear an area of protestors. I realize that many people conceal their arrest records and i would consider her truthfulness of interest, because it might signify a great commitment to honesty, but it also might be significant if combined with a self-declared mental illness. I would want to know what the arrests were for, especially if she were coming to visit me, because i am not willing to open my home to thieves, psychotics, or violent people. Even if the arrests were for non-violent crimes and did not involve theft, i would still rate my own need for emotional safety above my hope to be of service to humanity, and would make my judgements accordingly.The client says she has placed herself in "unsafe living situations" with exploitative and/or violent people:
Enduring "unsafe living situations" and being exploited are meaningless concepts without further details. Drug addicts and mentally ill people do this all the time -- but so do impoverished people and young people abandoned by or on the run from their families. I have done this myself in the past, out of sheer economic necessity, when i was a teen escaping from my sexually abusive family home. So in itself being exploited is not a red flag for mental illness -- but i would ask to know why this happened and how the situation is going to be or was resolved. As far as living with violent people is concerned, this is a sign of true trouble. Often the underlying cause is a combination of financial and emotional dependency on the father or father-surrogate to one's children. The client in these cases is more likely to be weak and resourceless than mentally ill, and will likely require emergency intervention by family, friends, or the social services system.The client says she has, in the past, sought out several spiritual leaders from various traditions, whom she now regrets giving money to:
Someone who has sought out several spiritual leaders from various traditions, whom she now regrets giving money to is a matter that would call for more details before i could make an assessment. I myself *almost* fit that description -- but miss it by one experience, because "several" is three or more: i joined Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's Transcendental Meditation Society in 1967 (when i was 20 years old) and promptly left it and felt like a fool for having been such a "believer"; later, in 1975, my then-lover and i travelled 2,000 miles to have darshan with Swami Muktananda (mostly at my partner's insistence) and i regretted doing that within less than a day of meeting the guru. But i just took those events in stride and i rarely mention them unless the topic comes up. So, if a person told me long, emotionally-invested tales of "several" such past events, i would try to determine is she had a condition i call "spiritual shopping" -- a repetitious search for spiritual solutions to a deeper problem of some sort, in which the "pay-off" (ala Eric Berne's "Games People Play") is *to continue to be spiritually unsatisfied* -- and if i thought that was the case, i would disengage quickly, because i don't want to be a sacrificial lamb on anyone's bizarre altar of cumulative "spiritual journey" experiences.The client says she has consulted a number of telephone psychics or psychic tarot readers and has spent between 400 and 4,000 dollars on tarot card readings or "dual casting of spells" (an internet specialty) and that i am now her "last hope."
Because there is no formal life-long association made in hoodoo between the client and the root-worker, as there is between the Voodoo client and the clergy and congregants of a peristyle, quite often the hoodoo client drifts from one root-worker to another. This is especially true of the obsessed client with OCD contamination phobias and the depressed client suffering from a broken heart who cannot let go of the ex-lover. There are also fake psychics ready to prey on such people, and often i see a client after she has been further damaged by these fake readers. If the client tells a long tale of running from one psychic reader or rootworker to another, i explain her that before i can work with her, i want her to read my page describing Psychic Readers, Root Workers, and Black Gypsies and see if the descriptions applies to her situation. If she reads the page and calls back, we go on from there, and i make it clear that i will simply be helping her learn to cast her own spells or recommending a rootworker to her; i will not become her "personal psychic."
It may be cogent to note at this point that i have lived in communes with one or two mentally ill people before, and while it was no picnic, they are human beings too and deserve fair dealing, and they can often make contributions to society.
I would not be sanguine that a mentally ill person could learn to be a rootworker ministering to *others*, because that takes considerable emotional astuteness and patience, which the mentally ill often lack -- and i would make any short-comings in those area very clear to mentally ill prospective students, so that they would understand that there might be some things that i do, such as working for or with clients, which they might themselves be able to do, because of their handicap. However, if the person simply wanted to learn what i know, i might take them on as a student or apprentice despite mental illness, if the *type* of mental illness was compatible with learning.
To place this on the plane of reality and not theory, if they had depression, OCD, or were bipolar, i think they would capable of learning hoodoo, but if they were schizophrenic, i would probably refuse to become involved due to the severity of that condition and the irregular periodicity of remission and relapse.
I have often drawn a line and broken off contact with very uncontrolled people -- both the mentally ill and substance abusers -- refusing to even sell them spiritual supplies by mail until i know that they are getting effective treatment. It can be painful to broach this to a client, but if i feel they need professional help, i will tell them that.
OCD Crisisin my opinion, magic is a subtle art which requires great focus, and the time to start practicing it is NOT when you are facing a crisis but when you have strength of purpose, good health, and some spare time to devote to learning the theory and techniques of the school of magic that most appeals to you.
Those suffering from OCD may be in the midst of a bout of contamination phobia or religious scrupulosity, fearing they are ritually or spiritually "unclean."
Depressive-Obsessive Love Crisis
Depressed people may be grieving obsessively about a broken love affair, and have fixed on the hope for immediate reconciliation and/or vicious revenge through magical means, even though they no longer have any way to contact their ex-lover.
Lover Has Just Walked Out Crisis
These are the weeping women, often pregnant or with smnall children, who break my heart because they usually need a lot more help than just getting their no-good man back. There are almost always economic issues, almost always the man has cheated on them, and almost always he has dumped them for another woman who is either not pregnant (yet) or who weighs less or has more education or a better job than they do.
Schizophrenics sometimes seek out spiritual workers when they are on the verge of a psychotic break.
Chronic Illness Crisis
Some people who are otherwise mentally sound suffer from incurable chronic illnesses -- especially genetic auto-immune disorders that wax and wane in severity over the course of their lives -- and after conventional medicine has failed them, they may come to believe that they have been cursed or jinxed, or that magic is their last resort for a cure.
It is my experience as the owner of an occult and spiritual supply shop, who meets hundreds of seekers per year, that those who come to magic as a last resort or during a time of emergency or weakness -- whether they are seeking love, money, health, or revenge -- are generally going to be unable to muster the will power and concentration needed to perform effective magic. Thus, in my opinion, the crisis client is probably not in the strongest position to use magic at this juncture in his or her life.
I am not saying that it would be entirely unproductive or useless to start practicing magic during a crisis, but the truth is that most people who become proficient with magic to the point of self-identifying as magicians, witches, mages, wizards, witch-doctors, or hoodoo practitioners, got an early start (usually in their teens) and have worked with the tools and techniques of magic for many years.
Diabetes / High Blood Pressure / Heart Disease
These diseases are endemic in the African American community, alas. If a person is complaining of being jinxed because of low energy, lethargy, things going wrong with no reason, and so forth -- and the person has the physical profile for untreated hypertension and diabetes, i ask specific health-related questions and if the answers come up indicative of those diseases, i tell them that they must go to a doctor.
Alcohol, Cocaine, and Other Drug Abuse
Usually a relative calls me for help; i always inquire into health and safety issues for dependent family members as well as for the addict and supply local contacts for treatment, women's shelters, etc.
Legal Aid / Child Custody
If someone asks for court case magic or mentions that they are involved in a child custody case, i also make sure they have adequate representation and help them get legal aid if necessary. If a person asks for Court Case work but is obviously being screwed over by an incompetent public defender, i provide the service asked for, but also give a long, serious talk on how to better interact with the criminal justice system. For a sample of i deal with these issues, read my web page on Court Case spiritual supplies).
Mental Illness:Above all, if you undertake to work with a problem client, i urge you to be prepared to take some time dealing with the issues that are raised. Be frank in stating your interest in taking a multi-pronged approach to the client's problems. Don't abandon a problem client unless or until you believe that he or she is not being helped by you or poses a threat to you -- but be prepared to cut ties to a client if you can reasonably determine that he or she is using you and/or using magic as a crutch to avoid seeking necessary psychiatric, medical, legal, social help.
With my mentally ill clients who wish to undertake magical treatments, i find that a combination of spell-craft, prayer, modern drugs (anti-depressives or anti-psychotics, as diagnosed by a medical doctor), and behavioural conditioning (the latter is especially useful for people with OCD) works best.
For clients with medical problems who wish to undertake magical treatments, i recommend a combination of spell-craft, prayer, and modern medicine as having the best chance of success.
Alcohol, Cocaine, and Other Drug Abuse:
As with medical conditions, i recommend a combination of spell-craft, prayer, and rehabilitation therapy as having the best chance of success. If the client is the person with the problem, i recommend joining a church for support and/or seeking help through a local rehabilitation program, whether public, private, or grass-roots such as Alcoholics Anonymous. For clients who approach me because their friend, lover, partner, or family member has a substance abuse problem and they wish to undertake magical treatments on behalf of the loved one, i suggest that in addition to performing spell-work, they also get supportive counseling (from a church, a public social worker, a private family counselor, or in a grass-roots support group such as Alanon) and be prepared to abandon the relationship if their friend, lover, partner, or family member proves intractable to treatment. As a last resort, if they must leave or cut ties with the problem person for the sake of their own safety or well-being, i recommend that they continue to burn Blessing candles and to pray on behalf of the person, but to not look back.
Legal or Social Problems:
For clients with legal or social problems who wish to undertake magical treatments, i direct and help them to obtain adequate social services in combination with prayer and spell-craft as offering the greatest hope for a beneficial outcome.
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