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Hoodoo (folk magic)

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Title: Hoodoo (folk magic)  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Evocation, Hoodoo, Anna Riva, Draja Mickaharic, John the Conqueror
Collection: African-American Cultural History, American Folklore, Christianity and Syncretic Religions, Folk Religion, Hoodoo, Supernatural Legends
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Hoodoo (folk magic)

Hoodoo (also known as "conjure", "rootworking", "root doctoring", or "working the root") is a traditional African American folk spirituality that developed from a number of West African, Native American and European spiritual traditions and beliefs.


  • Roots of hoodoo 1
  • The hoodoo conceptual system 2
    • Moses-as-conjurer 2.1
    • Bible-as-talisman 2.2
  • Practices 3
  • Cultural influences 4
    • Europe 4.1
  • Differences between hoodoo and voodoo 5
  • In popular culture 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8

Roots of hoodoo

Hoodoo has some spiritual principles and practices that are similar to spiritual folkways in Haitian, Jamaican, and New Orleans traditions. It is believed Hoodoo evolved in the Mississippi Delta where the concentration of slaves had been dense. Hoodoo then spread throughout the Southeast as well as North along the Mississippi as African Americans left the Delta beginning in the 1930s.

Hoodoo is an ever-evolving process, continuously synthesizing from contact with other cultures, religions, and folkways. What is notable about the hoodoo folk process is the use of biblical figures in its practices and in the lives of its practitioners.[1] Most practitioners of hoodoo integrate this folkway with their Christian religious faith. Icons of Christian saints are often found on hoodoo shrines or altars.

The word hoodoo first was documented in American English in 1875 and was classified as a noun (the practice of hoodoo) or a transitive verb: "I hoodoo you"... with a potion that causes healing, a parapsychological power, or some harm.[2][3] In African American Vernacular English (AAVE), hoodoo is often used to describe a paranormal consciousness or spiritual hypnosis, a spell. But hoodoo may also be used as an adjective for a practitioner, such as "hoodoo man".

Known hoodoo spells date back to the 1800s. Spells are dependent on the intention of the practitioner and "reading" of the client.[4]

Regional synonyms for hoodoo include conjuration, witchcraft, or rootwork.[5] Older sources from the 18th and 19th century sometimes use the word "Obeah" to describe equivalent folk practices.[6]

The hoodoo conceptual system

According to Carolyn Morrow Long, "At the time of the slave trade, the traditional nature-centered religions of West and Central Africa were characterized by the concept that human well-being is governed by spiritual balance, by devotion to a supreme creator and a pantheon of lesser deities, by veneration and propitiation of the ancestors, and by the use of charms to embody spiritual power. [...] In traditional West African thought, the goal of all human endeavor was to achieve balance." Several African spiritual traditions recognized a genderless supreme being who created the world, was neither good nor evil, and which did not concern itself with the affairs of mankind. Lesser spirits were invoked to gain aid for humanity's problems.[7]

Since the 19th century there has been Christian influence in hoodoo thought.[6] This is particularly evident in relation to God's providence and his role in retributive justice. For example, though there are strong ideas of good versus evil, cursing someone to cause their death might not be considered a malignant act. One practitioner explained it as follows:

"[In] Hoodooism, anythin' da' chew do is de plan of God undastan', God have somepin to do wit evah' thin' you do if it's good or bad, He's got somepin to do wit it . . . jis what's fo' you, you'll git it."[8]
"([In] Hoodooism, anything that you do is the plan of God, God has something to do with everything that you do whether it's good or bad, he's got something to do with it.. You'll get what's coming to you)"

Not only is God's providence a factor in hoodoo practice, but hoodoo thought understands God as the archetypal hoodoo doctor. On this matter Zora Hurston stated, "The way we tell it, hoodoo started way back there before everything. Six days of magic spells and mighty words and the world with its elements above and below was made."[9] From this perspective, biblical figures are often recast as hoodoo doctors and the Bible becomes a source of conjurational spells and is, itself, used as a protective talisman.[10]


Paralleling God-as-conjurer, hoodoo practitioners often understand the biblical figure Moses in similar terms. Hurston developed this idea in her novel Moses: Man of the Mountain, in which she calls Moses, "the finest hoodoo man in the world."[11] Obvious parallels between Moses and intentional paranormal influence (such as magic) occur in the biblical accounts of his confrontation with Pharaoh. Moses conjures, or performs magic "miracles" such as turning his staff into a snake. However, his greatest feat of conjure was using his powers to help free the Hebrews from slavery. This emphasis on Moses-as-conjurer led to the introduction of the pseudonymous work the Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses into the corpus of hoodoo reference literature.[12]


In hoodoo, "All hold that the Bible is the great conjure book in the world."[13] It has many functions for the practitioner, not the least of which is a source of spells. This is particularly evident given the importance of the book Secrets of the Psalms in hoodoo culture.[14] This book provides instruction for using psalms for things such as safe travel, headache, and marital relations. The Bible, however, is not just a source of spells but is itself a conjuring talisman. It can be taken "to the crossroads", carried for protection, or even left open at specific pages while facing specific directions. This informant provides an example of both uses:

"Whenevah ah'm afraid of someone doin' me harm ah read the 37 Psalms an' co'se ah leaves the Bible open with the head of it turned to the east as many as three days."[15]


The purpose of hoodoo was to allow African Americans access to supernatural forces to improve their lives. Hoodoo is purported to help people attain power or success ("luck") in many areas of life including money, love, health, and employment. As in many other spiritual and medical folk practices, extensive use is made of herbs, minerals, parts of animals' bodies, an individual's possessions and bodily fluids, especially menstrual blood, urine, saliva, and semen.

Contact with ancestors or other spirits of the dead is an important practice within the conjure tradition, and the recitation of Psalms from the Bible is also considered spiritually influential in hoodoo. Due to hoodoo's great emphasis on an individual's spiritual power to effect desired change in the course of events, hoodoo's principles are believed to be accessible for use by any individual of faith. Hoodoo practice does not require a formally designated minister.

Home-made powders, mojo hands, oils, and talismans form the basis of much rural hoodoo, but there are also some successful commercial companies selling various hoodoo products to urban and town practitioners. These are generally called spiritual supplies, and they include herbs, roots, minerals, candles, incense, oils, floor washes, sachet powders, bath crystals, icons, aerosols, and colognes. Many patent medicines, cosmetics, and household cleaning supplies for mainstream consumers have been aimed also at hoodoo practitioners. Some products have dual usage as conventional and spiritual supplies, examples of which include the Four Thieves Vinegar,[16] Florida Water,[17] and Red Devil Lye.[18]

Hoodoo is linked to a popular tradition of Bottle Trees in the United States. According to gardener and glass bottle researcher Felder Rushing, the use of bottle trees came to the Old South from Africa with the slave trade. Bottle trees were an African tradition, passed down from early Arabian traders. They believed that the bottles trapped the evil spirits until the rising morning sun could destroy them. The use of blue bottles is linked to the "haint blue" spirit specifically. Today, glass bottle trees are a popular garden decoration throughout the South and Southwest.[19]

Cultural influences

Over time, African Americans began to incorporate many elements from the dominant European culture, after having little access to tools, botanicals, and ceremonies they were used to. Thus, it is difficult to establish the regional/cultural origins of many practices. For example, the use of an effigy, often called a "voodoo doll" in popular culture, to perform a spell on someone is documented in European culture.[20][21]


Europe's greatest identifiable influence on hoodoo is the presence and use of European or European American Pow-Wows; or, Long Lost Friend, a collection of magical spells originally published in 1820 for Pennsylvania-Dutch Hexemeisters.[22] Pow-wows were introduced to hoodoo through catalogs on magic geared toward the African American community in the early 20th century. The spells in this book are woven throughout with Christian symbolism and prayer, which made it a natural addition to the similar symbolism of hoodoo. Mirroring the hoodoo concept of the Bible-as-talisman, the book itself proposes to be a protective amulet: "Whoever carries this book with him is safe from all his enemies, visible or invisible; and whoever has this book with him cannot die without the holy corpse of Jesus Christ, nor drown in any water, nor burn up in any fire, nor can any unjust sentence be passed upon him. So help me."[23]

The Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses is a European grimoire that is purportedly based on Jewish Kabbalah. It contains numerous signs, seals, and passages in Hebrew that are supposed to be related to Moses' ability to work wonders. Though its authorship is attributed to Moses, the oldest manuscript dates to the mid-19th century. Its importance in hoodoo practice is summarized as follows:

"I read de "Seven Books of Moses" seven or eight yeah a'ready ... de foundation of hoodooism came from way back yondah de time dat Moses written de book "De Seven Book of Moses."[24]

Differences between hoodoo and voodoo

Hoodoo shows evident links to the practices and beliefs of Fon and Ewe spiritual folkways. The folkway of Vodun is a more standardized and widely dispersed spiritual practice than hoodoo. Vodun's modern form is practiced across West Africa in the nations of Benin, Togo, and Burkina Faso, among others. In the Americas, the worship of the Vodoun loa is syncretized with Roman Catholic saints. The Vodou of Haiti, Voodoo of Louisiana, and Vudú of Puerto Rico, Cuba, and Dominican Republic are related more to Vodun than to Hoodoo.

In popular culture

Many blues musicians have referred to hoodoo in their songs. Popular examples include "Louisiana Hoodoo Blues" by Ma Rainey, "Hoodoo Lady Blues" by Arthur Crudup, and "Hoodoo Man Blues" by Junior Wells. The Bo Diddley song "Who Do You Love?" contains an extensive series of puns about a man hoodooing his lover. He also recorded an album titled Got My Own Bag of Tricks (1972), a reference to a mojo hand or trick bag. In Chuck Berry's song "Thirty Days" he threatens an ex-lover, telling her that he "...talked to the gypsy woman on the telephone [...] she gonna send out a world wide hoodoo...". Woody Guthrie wrote the lyrics for "Hoodoo Voodoo", a song later performed by Wilco and Billy Bragg. Creedence Clearwater Revival made reference to it in their hit song "Born on the Bayou" with the lyrics, "And I can still hear my old hound dog barkin', chasin' down a hoodoo there...."

  • Zora Neale Hurston recorded many hoodoo practices and tales.
  • John Berendt describes the alleged business relationship between James Arthur Williams and a conjure-woman called "Miz Minerva" who was married to "Doctor Buzzard" in his non-fiction novel Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, in which hoodoo practices play a significant part.
  • Author Ishmael Reed, in his novels Mumbo Jumbo, Yellow Back Radio Broke-Down, and others, makes great use of Hoodoo, including characters who are practitioners. Reed also published a number of Hoodoo poems.
  • Gloria Naylor's novel Mama Day uses hoodoo as both explanation for natural occurrences, and gateway into the magical past of African American slaves on the island of Willow Springs.
  • Author Charles W. Chesnutt makes significant use of Hoodoo in his 1899 short story collection The Conjure Woman. The collection focuses on an ex-slave named Julius McAdoo, who recounts stories in which African slaves use hoodoo as a means of resisting and avenging themselves against white plantation culture.
  • Eve's Bayou
  • The Princess and the Frog
  • The X-Files episode "Theef", the story of a "Hoodoo Man" who seeks revenge against the medical doctor who he believes killed his daughter. It is a good example of how Hoodoo crosses ethnic and cultural lines and how it is not a form of religious worship such as Voodoo but a system of magical practices. The hoodoo "Conjure Man" could be black, native American or as the legend of the famous "Doctor Buzzard" points to, white.
  • Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers centers on a series of cult Voodoo murders, the investigation of which delves heavily into both Voodoo and Hoodoo lore.
  • In Mystery Case Files: 13th Skull, Hoodoo is identified as "good magic", the opposite of Voodoo.
  • Supernatural episode, "Playthings", Hoodoo mentioned throughout as a possible cause for a string of murders in a particular house.
  • The Skeleton Key


  1. ^ Smith, Theophus H. 1994. Conjuring Culture: Biblical Formations of Black America. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 3.
  2. ^ Hoodoo might also be an adjective. For example, in the Creedence Clearwater Revival song "Born on the Bayou", the line "I can still hear that old hound dog barking, chasin' down a hoodoo there", refers to a hoodoo doctor, someone who is sought by others as a mentor or a minister.
  3. ^ Merriam Webster Online
  4. ^ Mystical Hoodoo with Mother Mystic
  5. ^ Hyatt, Harry Middleton. 1970–1978. Hoodoo--Conjuration--Witchcraft--Rootwork. 5 vols. Hannibal: Western
  6. ^ a b
  7. ^ Long, Carolyn Morrow. "Spiritual Merchants: Religion, Magic and Commerce." University of Tennessee Press. Knoxville: 2001.
  8. ^ Hyatt. Hoodoo. vol. II. p. 1761.
  9. ^ Hurston. 1935. Mules and Men. pp. 183.
  10. ^ Smith. 1994. Conjuring Culture. p. 6. See also, Hurston's, Mules and Men. In the appendix she lists the "paraphernalia of conjure", the last on the list being the Christian Bible.
  11. ^ Hurston. Moses: Man of the Mountain. p. ??.
  12. ^ One observer at the time called The Sixth And Seventh Books "the Hoodoo Bible". Yvonne Chireau. Black Magic: Religion and the African American Conjuring Tradition. University of California Press, (2006) ISBN 0-520-24988-7
  13. ^ Hurston. Mules and Men. p. 280
  14. ^ Selig, Godfrey. Secrets of the Psalms
  15. ^ Hyatt. Hoodoo. vol. 1. p. 417. Quoted in Smith. Conjuring Culture. p. 14. n. 8.
  16. ^ Felix, Talia (2010). The Conjure Cookbook. Createspace. p. 32.  
  17. ^ Felix, Talia (2010). Voodoo Conjure. Createspace.  
  18. ^ The Devil
  19. ^ "Hometalk Discusses Bottle Trees". Hometalk. 2014-05-26. Retrieved 2014-05-29. 
  20. ^ For an English example, see Scot, Reginald. 1584. The Discoverie of Witchcraft. 1972 edition. New York: Dover Publications. p. 47. ISBN 0-486-26030-5
  21. ^ Cherokee anthropologist, Alan Kilpatrick, provides a related example of this idea in The Night Has a Naked Soul: Witchcraft and Sorcery Among the Western Cherokee. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press. pp. 92-93. ISBN 0-8156-0471-8. Kilpatrick explains a practice the origin of which is not traced; a Cherokee conjuror takes the saliva of an intended victim and places it in the earth "where the worms live." Thus, the person's saliva is a symbolic stand-in for the intended victim.
  22. ^ Hohman, John George. 1820. Pow-Wows; or, Long Lost Friend. 1971 reprint edition. Pomeroy: Health Research Books.
  23. ^ Hohman. 1820. Pow-Wow. pp. 63 and 84.
  24. ^ Hyatt. Hoodoo. vol. I. pp. 1758–1759.

External links

  • Hoodoo, Rootwork, Conjure, Obeah at DMOZ
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