New Release Excerpt: Hoodoo for Everyone

Posted by – October 07, 2022
Categories: Excerpt New Release Spirituality & Religion

Reflections on Hoodoo

Welcome to Hoodoo for Everyone, where I will do my best to introduce you to this beautiful folklore magic of hoodoo! Hoodoo is the African American folklore tradition created right in the Southern United States by enslaved Africans. In that tradition enslaved Africans needed, and I mean really needed, freedom, liberation, and in my words, deliverance. Before there were honey jars, red brick dust, goopher dust, and many other things you may have read are hoodoo, there was the need to be free. A serious freedom that meant life or death.

Hoodoo workers originated from healers that resided on the plantations. Some of them were folk doctors, rootworkers (called so because of the roots they dug up from the ground to use in their practice), medicine women, and midwives (those that cared for the pregnant or lactating enslaved Africans and their infants) who could work in the house and came from Africa with an understanding of these traditions. They would make salves out of animal fats, teas out of plants and tree bark, and pain remedies from animal parts (like horse hooves). They used boneset to ensure broken bones were healing and onions and garlic to cure colds and flu, among other things—anything to get enslaved Africans back to work in the fields.

Hoodoo workers were sought after, revered, and feared. An interviewee from the book African American Slave Medicine by Herbert Covey tells us that “hoodoo and conjure workers were the most feared and held power of the slaves in those days. They would hold a secret meeting place where you could get charms to harm your enemies. The conjure worker would be working when it was dark by the light of the moon and wave their arms and hands and speak to the moon. In a kettle they would put snakes and things (no one ever knew everything) and they would all join dancing around the fire and beating the drums faster and faster. They would chant and pray until they fell into a heap.”

Doesn’t sound like “light and love” to me. Does it to you? This is my belief of hoodoo. It is for those that require swift urgency when you can go to no one else. When your mortgage is late, when an illness isn’t going away, when your spouse or partner is leaving, when you are being evicted, when your community is being shot at, when your lives are at stake. This is what hoodoo is for—it’s not pretty. It isn’t meant to be. So you will not read what you normally hear about hoodoo in this book. I will give you my own experience in hoodoo through my story and the stories of the updated hoodoo people, places, and objects. This is not the hoodoo you may have read about or have seen on social media. This is hoodoo that I have created for those of us who have been hurt, abandoned, misunderstood, or cast aside because we are not traditional or conforming. These are updated hoodoo foundations.

One thing that hoodoo workers, plantation owners, and overseers could agree upon is keeping the body clean. In the enslaved African’s quarters there was soap, and there were quarantine areas where the newly enslaved could be isolated from the existing ones to ensure disease prevention. They would use castor oil, vinegar, whiskey, rum, and animal fat to ward off infections, diseases, and illnesses. This, of course, wasn’t because they truly cared about their “workers” but because they needed to protect their human investments. In ritual work this is mirrored in the cleansing of objects, tools, altars, and most importantly, us as spiritual containers. Before we begin any hoodoo or conjure practice, we are asked—and really required—to be clean. If you didn’t have soap, then you could wash with salt or lye or vinegar. If you didn’t have that, then you would go to a running creek (never stagnant water) and bathe (never where the animals drank or relieved themselves if it could be avoided). I cannot imagine the cold of having to bathe in a creek in the Southern winters—the thought of it makes my bones ache. Our shared ancestors endured this just to be clean.

That said, let’s get your hands washed. Start with your favorite soap, salt, vinegar, lemon, essential oils—whatever you want to use. Use the warmest water you can (I won’t ask you to recreate the pain of bathing in cold water like our ancestors did). Then come back and begin reading again. Remember that this is the ritual. Before you use a sacred text or practice hoodoo work or start any spell, start with a clean body. This means washing your hands before you read any sacred texts and cleaning the space that you will work on before you start. This means cleaning your thoughts of any impurities (except for the energy that you need to either attract or banish) as much as you can and have focus on what you want and need to be delivered from.

I’ll wait.

Okay, now that we’re back, let’s start with an introduction to how this book was birthed.

This book happened after I was celebrating my first one, The Hoodoo Guide to the Bible, with my wife. We were discussing my childhood. My family roots go back to Mississippi, Texas, and Kansas. From the South to the Midwest, we began as enslaved people and became freed people and then sharecroppers, lawyers, educators, ministers, authors, artists, and social media influencers. My greatest memories have been expressing and experiencing the faith that I learned to cultivate in our church home in Kansas. It was a very well-known evangelical church. I was baptized and saved there. Being saved is a ritual process where you proclaim that you will be a witness to God and that you will serve and be obedient to God’s laws for the rest of your life. It was something that my family expected us all to do, and if we didn’t, we would expect to be shunned and talked about until we succumbed. I did as I was trained. So did my mother. My mother’s mother. Her mother’s mother. And so on. Our lineage in that church went back almost seventy years. Even today, when I go back to my hometown in Kansas, I will, out of respect, visit the church. I am acknowledged by the current pastor. I am honored that the organist is playing the keys of the organ that has a brass inscription on it that reads “In Memory of Essie Mae Brown.” Essie Mae Brown was my great-aunt (daughter of Gran Gran). To this day, I pay tithes there from time to time to ensure our ancestors keep our family safe. Tithing is a ritual that is taken from the Bible: “You must without fail give a tenth of everything your seed produces in the field year by year” (Deuteronomy 14:22). This translated into anything that you produced monetarily. Anything that you were gifted (like your physical and spiritual talents) was included in this. For example, in hoodoo, when I receive funds electronically, I still move 10 percent of it to a savings area that I use for some type of service to others. It is not my money but Spirit’s money to donate, to share with others, to use to uplift someone other than me.

Do I believe in everything I was taught in the Bible and at church? No. I am and was conflicted by the hurtful things that the teachings included, like scripture that did not always shine the best light on my understanding of a caring deity. Our pastors taught us from the Old and New Testament. These stories of slavery, murder, and tragedy were intertwined with stories directly adjacent to stories of forgiveness, love, and tolerance. I couldn’t grasp how this religion could embrace this self-hatred and sacrifice and call it love. As I grew up and went to school, I learned more about the history of our country and how enslaved people built this country but were shunned and executed. My inner conflict grew larger still when I began to develop feelings for both girls and boys. During cheerleading practice I enjoyed the scent of my best friend’s bubble gum and her hair. When we finished winning a football game, I wanted to date the biggest quarterback on the team. In choir I was attracted to the androgynous tenor dressed in a suit and tie that sang “Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)” by Phil Collins.

On Sundays and Wednesdays after school, I went to the Young People Willing Workers training courses that were taught by Black Pentecostal pastors, deacons, and their wives. I was instructed that to love a deity meant obedience. Obedience didn’t just stop with the deity. It also meant obeying the church’s covenants, our parents, our government, and our teachers at school. I studied and obeyed. I watched my sense of self change slightly. I wanted to be more like the women that I saw in movies like Heathers and Pretty in Pink. These women looked nothing like me, but I still saw more in them than I saw in the mirror.

When it came to my magical expression, any visions and dreams that I had that came true were to be used exclusively for the church and our church members. My grandmother’s gifts of sight and spirituality were passed down to me from my mother, and my conjure and ability to call ancestors to do things on my behalf was from my father’s side of the family. My father’s side of the family was known as “backwoods,” meaning they did work for evil. They would go into the swamps and dig out roots that they would boil and serve as medicine. They didn’t take prescriptions like most of my family; they used teas and oily salves that they would spread over themselves when they needed to have something fixed. I think that is why it is so easy for me to be different now—I grew up with this being my normal.

I could see the future, I spoke in tongues, and I read the Bible. I read it for a different reason than others in my flock. I read it because I wanted to use some of the powerful words that appeared in the stories to make my own words sound better. Something about the words gave the stories more power. In our training we were told that we were required to study the Bible because God demanded it and one day he would test us on it, kind of like the SATs. I did not want to fail, so I read. I read so much that I found stories where there were strong women that led and won wars. I read the stories about love, sex, diversity, freedom from enslavers, and drama and wondered if I was reading a different Bible than the congregation. Perhaps. It was probably because I was told a long time ago by my great-grandmother on my dad’s side that I could always tell a different Bible tale if I didn’t like the one read to me. That’s what I would do with the Bible and how I started changing words around in the Bible without any fear. I would read between the lines of the story or make up my own that met my needs. I guess I was doing exactly what my ancestors did generations before me—making do with what I’ve been given to get what I want.

When I was with my dad’s family, I was brought up practicing “the work” or “workin’ the roots” or “laying a trick.” We never called it hoodoo; it was just something we did. We cleaned the carpets and bathroom floors with eucalyptus water each time we mopped to keep the house positive. When we burned ourselves on the stove, our granny would put margarine or butter on the burn and pray over it, telling us it was healed and sending us outside to play like nothing happened. We ate black-eyed peas each New Year’s Day to give us good luck. When my grandfather argued with us, my grandma would give him coffee with sugar, and there would be little messages underneath the sugar bowl to remind him to stay sweet. When I gave birth to my daughter, my great-grandma put one thimble of Lysol in my bathtub to encourage my stitches to heal. Before I married my first husband, my gran gran had a vision that he wasn’t the one for me and tried to warn me. I married him anyway.

My practice of hoodoo reflects who and what I believe in now, but that doesn’t mean I do everything the way I was taught back when I was a child. For example, some hoodoo work requires a small offering of urine or blood (human or animal) to ensure the spell is bound to you and will work faster and stronger. I know that the bacteria and other pathogens in such items that are applied to the body or consumed could result in infections and disease, so I don’t include them. Sacrificing red ants, which is traditional in conjure spells to increase the anger of a situation (like making someone uncomfortable enough to move or quit their job) is common, but killing red ants for a spell seems wrong to me ethically; instead I choose to use hot peppers and sulfur. Instead of wiping urine into my baby’s mouth to eliminate thrush, I may take the infant to the doctor for a quick checkup, or I may use plain yogurt to wipe that baby’s mouth, because now we know a bit more about the benefits of yeast.

In hoodoo eggs and animals are sacrificed (like in other cultures and religions). This is fine as well, but as a practicing hoodoo worker I do not use this. Instead I use herbs, roots, intention, faith, and direction to obtain the same results. I use photographs that I take with my phone to bring in the power of the herbs instead of foraging those that I know are facing extinction (High John the Conqueror root comes to mind, and there are others).

I use the Bible to perform rituals and incantations, and I customize the text, rewriting it to match my needs (changing pronouns and phrases without diluting the message) and eliminating parts of the Bible I no longer want to see or pass along in my own rituals.

If I know anything about working with ancestors and guides, I know that being yourself, your true self, in your work gives you the best results. In my truth, this means that changing up and upgrading hoodoo techniques from the olds-ways hoodoo (which some may call black-belt hoodoo) to a newer understanding is natural and would be what our ancestors would want. My book walks you through my journey and gives you a myriad of ways to upgrade your hoodoo techniques to a more modern approach. Now that you know the background of my book, I can’t wait to tell you even more.