African American Folk Magick
Hoodoo, also known as Conjure and African American Folk Magick is an amalgamation of several different magickal folk systems. The roots of Hoodoo embedded itself in the southern United States by enslaved Africans. America deprived slaves of their religion. It became illegal for them to practice any beliefs from their homeland. They refused to completely abandon their religion so they had to make do with what they had in this new land.
The slaves took the African spiritual framework which was the basis for their religion and incorporated various elements into it as a way to disguise their true religion. These elements were from Native American Shamanism, Catholicism, Appalachian Pow Wow Magick, European Witchcraft, Jewish Qabalah and Gypsy Magick. Taking all of these traditions along with their own native religion they created the magickal system we have today known as Hoodoo. Practitioners of Hoodoo are called Rootworkers.
Many customs practiced in modern day witchcraft are uniquely Hoodoo, customs such as the crafting of mojo/gris-gris bags, the fixing of honey or sugar jars, bottle trees, and the carrying of a lucky rabbit’s foot. These are popular Hoodoo practices that have permeated other magickal systems. The practice of Hoodoo continues all over the United States by people from various religions.
Hoodoo vs Voodoo
There are many misconceptions about Hoodoo, also called Conjure and it’s practices. First of all Conjure is not Voodoo. This is a common mistake. Conjure incorporates many elements of Voodoo into its practices. It is a folk magic. Conjure can be practiced by anyone of any religion. Voodoo, on the other hand, is it’s own religion. Its roots lie in West and Central Africa. This religion which traveled west with the slaves via the transatlantic slave trade aboard the ships. Voodoo rooted itself in the new world in Haiti where it continues to flourish to this day.
Although two separate systems, Hoodoo and Voodoo do share some common traditions. The veneration of saints is practiced in both magickal systems. In order to hide their native religious practice from the slave owners, the enslaved Africans began to hide it in plain sight. Catholicism, although a part of mainstream Christianity shared some common ground with the slaves religion. The use of altars, incense, candles, figurines all were familiar to the Africans. The catholic altars became hoodoo shrines. Saints are worshipped in the church, but were substituted for the African Orisha or deities. Saint Peter became Ogun; Mary, the mother of God became Oshun and so forth.
- Hoodoo and Voodoo are the same thing. No, hoodoo and Voodoo are quite different. Millions of people practice the religion of Voodoo. It has its origins in west and central Africa. This folk magick followed the route of African slaves west to the Caribbean mainly to Haiti. It is on the other hand a type of folk Magick that is practiced by people of many different religions. Conjure is a unique blend of Voodoo, Santeria, Catholicism and Native American Shamanism. It is commonly practiced in the southern United States. The practice is done by the descendants of African slaves, but it is quickly spreading to other cultures.
- Hoodoo is Satanic. It’s not satanic. People that practice Conjure come from many different backgrounds and religions and they bring to Conjure what they practice in their lives.
- The practice of Conjure is black magic. Conjure is not black magic. It is not dark magic. It’s just magic. Your intent when performing Conjure is what makes it so-called good or so-called bad.
- Afro centric people are the only ones to practice Hoodoo. At one time, this may have been true. but now Conjure has gained wide acceptance from people of all ethnicities and backgrounds.
- Only women practice Hoodoo. Both genders practice it. Rootworkers and two-headed doctors can be male or female
- It is used only to do harm. Conjure can be used to curse or to bless, to draw or to repel.
- Hoodoo can cure all problems. No magickal system can promise that. Hoodoo’s main areas are love, luck, money and protection
- Hoodoo is an archaic and dying practice. There has actually been a resurgence in Hoodoo practice.
- Hoodoo is not natural like Wicca. Conjure works with nature just like Wicca.
- Only people in the USA practice Hoodoo. It is practiced in various places around the globe.
Rootwork and the Boneyard
The practice of Hoodoo is called conjure or Rootwork. Rootwork gets its name from the use of herbs and roots in spell work. There are many types of spell work in Hoodoo magick. The most common kinds of conjure are spells for love, luck, money and protection. These are the basics of Conjure. Return a lost love? Increase my luck? Make me a money magnet? Protection from the law? There’s a bit of conjure for that.
African Americans especially in the South suffered the effects of living under Jim Crow. Having no means of receiving justice through normal channels when facing law enforcement, Blacks turned to spirituality for help. When praying in the church wasn’t enough and when prayers to God needed a boost, rootwork was called for. Rootworkers, are called conjure doctors, two-headed doctors and gypsy women would perform spell work for those who had no where else to turn. Spells were performed to bring about justice in the court, keep a husband faithful, protect children, etc. This work was usually performed in private homes or in the boneyard (graveyard). Work done in the graveyard was performed in secret at night. Graveyard dirt would also be collected for later use in spell work. A how to on collecting graveyard dirt can be found here.
Payment for spell work was usually on the barter system. It was not unusual to get food and favors as payment for work done in Conjure.
The American South has been heavily influenced by Hoodoo culture. Elements of hoodoo can be found in the food, décor, fashion, speech, etc of the southern states. Many southern superstitions are tenets of Hoodoo. Do you hold your breath when driving past a graveyard for fear of a wandering spirit jumping in your body? When it rains and the sun is shining, do you stick a pin in the ground to hear the devil beating his wife? Do you eat black eyed peas on New Years Day? Then you do Hoodoo.
Blue bottle trees to trap bad spirits. Haint blue porch ceilings to stop bad spirits from crossing into your house. Hang a mirror by the front door to deflect evil spirits. Many of the traditions followed in the South have a basis in Hoodoo.
Hoodoo uses simple magick. One such magick is the utilization of train tracks. Railroad tracks litter the country carrying people and good back and forth. This movement creates energy. That energy can be manipulated for use in conjure magick.
To send someone away fast dispose of your spell items on the railroad track to expedite them from your life. The passing trains will carry their energy away. The very train track itself is useful. Iron spikes that secure the railroad down, when shaken loose over time can be employed in spellwork. These spikes because they are made of iron can be used for protection and “nailing down” your property. Iron clips along the track can be used in knot and binding magick . Dirt along the track can be gathered for conjure. The railroad ties can also be used for magickal purposes. Slivers of wood from the rail ties can be used in candle magick and mojo bags. The list is endless with railroad magick.
Crossroads in Hoodoo
A crossroad is a physical location where two roads cross forming an X or T formation. It is a sacred place in magick where this world and the spiritual world intersect. The center of the crossroad acts as a portal to the spiritual plane. On this plane deals can be brokered, offerings left and promises made. The keeper of the crossroads goes by many names, but in Hoodoo he is called Papa Legba or Elegba. He is a trickster deity akin to Loki in Norse Mythology. Deals made with this deity at the crossroads comes at a price. The price for acquiring favors, money, riches, skills, etc is that of your soul.
According to folklore, if you walk along the crossroads after midnight you will be met by a mysterious black man. This man will strike a deal with you. He will grant your desire if you promise to hand over your soul to him when you die. This selling of one’s soul to the “devil” became popular especially in the south. One such famous person who is said to have sold their soul in this way was Robert Johnson.
Robert Johnson was a blues player South. He wanted to be the greatest blues guitarist to ever live. On a crossroad in Clarksdale, Mississippi he struck a deal with a mystery man there. The man offered to tune his guitar and make him a skilled musician for the price of his soul. He later said he sold his soul to the devil when asked why he could play so well. He became the king of the Delta blues.