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Hoodoo

A presentation for "The Moot with No Name by Stephen Grasso, 4th August 2004
My talk is about the syncretic folk magic of the American south. Hoodoo, rootwork and conjure sorcery, and their place in contemporary occultism. The magic I practice is about speaking with Spirits, walking between worlds, making fetish items and weird potions, and getting things done practically and physically within the world. The first bit of magic I e er did when I was a kid was to accurately predict three winning horses for my dad at the racetrack. All three horses came in and my old man, !uite bemusedly, ga e me a ten"pound note for the tip. Inad ertently kick"starting my career in occultism and setting the tone for my subse!uent e#periments in magic I didn$t get into this stuff to in oke anybody$s new aeon, or kick"start a self"indulgent magical current, or pretend to be some sort of ascended and enlightened post"human being, any such high flown endea ours. %luntly and simply, I got into magic to be able to bring tangible benefit to both myself, and importantly, the people around me that I care about. Hoodoo practice deli ers the goods on that front. Hoodoo is ostensibly the folk magic of the Southern American states, but it can also be considered a melting pot of the world$s sorceries. &ike a big pot of 'reole jambalaya, it$s a mi#ture of all sorts of different unlikely ingredients that work well together. Its main components are African folk magic, (uropean folk tradition, and )ati e American Herbalism. It shouldn$t be confused or conflated with any of the African *iaspora religious traditions such as Haitian +oodoo, 'uban Santeria or %ra,ilian 'andomble or -mbanda. Although there$s a degree of cross"fertilisation in ol ed as many hoodoo practitioners also make ser ice to the .ods of these traditions, the &wa and /risha, and sometimes in ol e them in their work. Hoodoo had its heyday in America during the late 01th and early 23th century. The bulk of its lore is African in origin and it was practiced mostly, although not e#clusi ely, within black communities in the South. If you listen to pre"war blues music of the 23s and 43s it$s steeped in hoodoo tradition, from the myth of 5obert 6ohnson cutting a deal at the crossroads, to Memphis Minnie$s recording of $Hoodoo &ady$. The music of the period is a catalogue of references to folk magic. 5obert 6ohnson$s output alone yields up tracks such as $Stones in my passway$. 7hich is a reference to the hoodoo practice of jin#ing someone by laying out a series of stones in the shape of a cross in their path, often with a button belonging to the target placed in the centre as a sympathetic link. In the track $'ome on in my kitchen$, 5obert 6ohnson sings about stealing a nickel out of his woman$s $nation sack$, which is a kind of mojo bag specifically prepared by female practitioners and carried by women. African folkloric practices such as crossroads magic, foot track magic, crossing and uncrossing, the creation of gris"gris bags, and the use of baths and washes are all at the core of hoodoo practice. I$ll talk a bit about each of these8 9oot track magic in ol es working sorcery using the dirt from someone$s footprint placed in a bottle, or else placing a sprinkling powder such as goofer dust or gra eyard

dirt inside someone$s shoes or in a place they$re likely to walk through. to the utilisation of magical formulas such as the Sator Arepo Tenet /pera 5otas s!uare. lucky hand. This ranges from the kind of magic practiced by :cunning folk: in (urope such as homespun methods for seeing the face of your future husband. A mojo bag might be constructed to bring luck in gambling. opener of doorways and master of paths. and magic is worked. hoodoo makes great use of American botanical items such as high john the con!ueror root and de ils shoestring. . An uncrossing is a method of remo ing crossed conditions. which is then added to a persons bath water for a ariety of purposes. There$s also a fair helping of (uropean and =abbalistic influences present in hoodoo. with many di erse and sometimes unlikely influences coming into the mi#. in order to learn the strange new language of roots and herbs indigenous to the Americas. to draw in money or for any number of purposes. in order to administer a curse. It functions like a prayer in a bag. He is sometimes syncretised with the persona of the pagan teutonic de il.oological items. which could mean anything from an actual curse someone has put on you. Although in hoodoo his worship is often a stage remo ed from its African religious conte#t. It might contain objects such as lodestones. hair from a black cat. and many early 23th century mail order suppliers of hoodoo materials also stocked popular works such as :Albertus Magnus$ (gyptian Secrets:. to attract lo e or se#. power is gained. that you carry on your person concealed out of sight. howe er it$s also a multi"ethnic blend of practical sorcery techni!ues. *eals are made at the crossroads. toby or wanga bag. a sil er dime. to a destructi e beha iour pattern. Much of the botanical lore is )ati e American in origin. The &ord of the crossroads. 9or e#ample. minerals or . also known as a mojo bag. contains a wealth of ariations on these formulas and many more besides. Harry Middleton Hyatt$s e#hausti e fi e olume compendium of oral history HoodooConjuration-Witchcraft-Rootwork. These African folkloric practices are central to hoodoo sorcery. Hoodoo also soaked up and utilised a lot material from what might be called the Anglo". such as the remo al of bad luck. dirt from the crossroads. or simply referred to as :the black man at the crossroads: as in the 5obert 6ohnson myths. to a run of bad luck. An uncrossing operation is like a souped"up banishing ritual or psychic deto# that purges your system of crossed conditions. consisting of inter iews with rootworkers and hoodoo docs recorded between 014. or whate er items might be appropriate to the working at hand. /ften these herbal mi#tures might be added to water and used to wash the floor of a house or place of work to bring blessings or impro e business. a racoons penis bone. as African magicians taken from their homeland during the sla e trade communicated and shared information with the disenfranchised original occupants of the )ew 7orld. (llegua or (shu. is an amulet in the form of a small cloth bag filled with arious herbs. alligator teeth. The use of baths and floor washes in hoodoo generally in ol es straining a mi#ture of herbs into water like a tea.ermanic :wonder"book: tradition. 'rossroads magic is a remnant of worship of the 7est African trickster deity known ariously as &egba. and 01<3. A gris"gris bag.

The psalms became a key component of hoodoo practice mostly due to the popularity of the te#t Secrets of the Psalms by . a ailable in general stores in a ariety of colours. The general theme of Selig$s book is that the words of scripture contain magical power. and that by ibrating the names of .amache.ar ey and the 5astafari notion of the transported black nation as being the lost tribe of Israel. or the long lost friend:. As an aside. *uring the 01th century candles became a mass produced item. This new way of working with candles in hoodoo practice spread throughout the southern states and by the late 01<3s had become an essential part of the hoodoo workers repertoire. The modus operandi in hoodoo was ery much " if it works.od.3s reggae track by The Maytals that I ha en$t heard called :Si# and Se en %ooks of Moses:.eorge Hoffman$s :>ow 7ows. 1th and 03th %ooks of Moses: written by Henri . This penchant for %iblical source materials and psuedo"6ewish mysticism led the popularity of books such as :The .odrey Selig.amache. and suchlike. the recitation of arious psalms combined with certain actions could ensure such results as a release from prison. :the great +oodoo Man of the %ible: with command o er snakes and great sorcery at his disposal. use it. Selig was a member of a late 0@th century . . which are often utilised outside the conte#t of the original rites and rituals they came from and incorporated directly into hoodoo workings on their own merits. Such as the use of arious seals and sigils from western sources such as the $=ey of Solomon$. The %ible itself was often considered a primary source for magical lore.:The %lack >ullet: and 6ohn .olden *awn. The bulk of this te#t is in a similar ein but is of particular interest due to the lengthy foreword. that links African tribal beliefs with ancient 6ewish and (gyptian practices. certain magical effects could be accomplished " a theory that$s not a million miles away from the principles of western !uaballa.amache$s work is a te#tbook of instructions on :how to burn candles for e ery purpose:. Henry . Interestingly. containing arious seals and incantations that added some /ld Testament fire and brimstone to popular hoodoo practice.erman millenarian sect called the $Monks of the 7issahickon$. and so on. the leader of the jews. . an end to malicious gossip. written by .amache was also the author of another influential hoodoo te#t called the Master Book of Candle Burning. The use of candles in hoodoo practice probably came out of )ew /rleans where the 5oman 'atholic tradition of lighting oti e candles to the Saints had begun to merge with the folk magic and traditions of African"Americans li ing in the 'ity.th and @th %ooks of Moses: amongst hoodoo practitioners in turn led to the publication of the :Ath. wash me and I shall be whiter than snow:. as utilised by ceremonial magic groups such as the . 9or instance. there$s also a strong element of 'hristian and 6ewish mysticism present in hoodoo. His theories were possibly influenced by the socio"political writings of Marcus . was a black African sorceror. According to Selig$s te#t.th and @th books of Moses:. A collection of Middle (astern and (uropean magical formulas attributed to the author of the first fi e books of the %ible. passages from the %ible. a successful business. there is actually a . the use of the herb Hyssop as a purifying agent in hoodoo uncrossings originates from the passage in >salm ?0 that says8 :>urge me with Hyssop. help in court cases. . safe childbirth.amache asserts that Moses. The popularity of :The .

The mysteries of honouring the dead were the pro enance of the (gungun Societies in 7est African Boruban culture. /ther differences in colour usage may be deri ed from traditional African colour attributions. as a means of re"connecting to ancestor worship. a married couple. and re ersible candles with a different colour wa# inside and outside. 9or the practice of magic. (spiritismo pro ided a new and accessible technology for speaking with the dead. Spiritism also pro ided a more acceptable means of practising the ancestral religions openly. /ne of the most notable differences between hoodoo candle magic and the kind that has become popular in mainstream occultism is the emphasis on the use of condition oils. . 9ollow Me %oy /il. sometimes mass"produced and bought through mail order specialists " condition oils are e#tracted from arious roots and herbs and applied to the candles prior to burning. or a male or female effigy. There are glass encased se en day de otional candles with magical inscriptions or pictures of the Saints on their e#terior " the wa# sometimes mi#ed with appropriate herbs. I 'an. Spiritist practices found their way into hoodoo. hoodoo workers might house their spiritual contacts in Spirit 6ars or a Spirit %o# " a hoodoo ariation on the mysterious Spirit cauldron in the religion of >alo Mayombe. Hoodoo candles are a ailable in many different shapes and si. due to the general fashion for all things spiritualist during the late 01th century. A hoodoo worker might keep a Spiritist altar consisiting of a white sheet draped o er a table. It became ery popular amongst practitioners of Santeria in 'uba. 9iery 7all of >rotection and %lack Arts /il. Similarly. There are candles in the shape of black cats. There are double action candles with the wa# di ided into two different colours for setting multiple influences in motion. /ujia boards became a ailable from hoodoo mail order suppliers. skulls.es. but others differ. condition oils are named fairly directly after what they do. and used to speak with the dead. Bou 'an$t /il. in much the same way that the /risha ride the celebrants during a Santeria ceremony. =iss Me )ow. the cross. These de ices might be used in combination with hoodoo methods of candle burning to accomplish a ariety of effects. Another influence on hoodoo is spiritism. a crucifi# and glass of fresh water placed on it. feeding the spirits with candies or other small offerings to entice or coerce them into lending their power to the operation. These concoctions are also used to dress amulets and mojo bags or to anoint the hoodoo workers forehead to make a link a between the candle burning and the practitioners will. All of which can be dressed with condition oil and readily incorporated into sympathetic magic.7hilst the core of hoodoo candle burning is similar to the style of candle burning popularised by authors such as 5ay %uckland and fairly pre alent in 7iccan and new age practice. the de il. 'andles are a ailable with notches showing you where to nod out the working at the end of the night. 9ast &uck. The medium conducting a Spiritist sCance became possessed by the ancestors or spiritual guides. for instance money drawing magic would re!uire a green candle probably due to the colour of -S dollar bills. Some of the colour correspondences follow the western planetary attributions. amongst many other. There are se eral distinct differences. so that it burns e enly o er se en or nine days. Spiritism was founded by 01th century 9rench author Allan =ardec and is an offshoot of Spiritualism. Sometimes cooked up by the practitioner. In hoodoo practice. for instances where you want to remo e a jin# and then send it back. so we ha e8 5un *e il 5un /il. or espiritismo as its known in &atin America. Spiritual guides would be called in a mediumistic fashion and asked to inter ene in workings or to relay messages from beyond. with a white candle. but this body of knowledge was lost to many Africans following their dispersion throughout the new world.

strange objects found in dark alleyways. The process of collecting ingredients can be thought of as a two"way dialogue between the practitioner and the uni erse. :All night long: annointing oils. 9rom my own e#perience of working with hoodoo. is a professional magician offering a range of ser ices to his or her community. Items won from a lengthy. It has parallels with the ser ices pro ided by cunning folk in %ritish Society from the medie al period to the early 01th century. and re ersible double jin# candles. It$s an instincti e magic that grows organically out of what you$re doing. dirt collected from old &ondon power spots.Hoodoo practice is about getting things done. and as such could be considered an early modern permutation of the shamanic role. but I think the actual mechanism of rootwork and hoodoo practice certainly demand a closer look by anyone interested in sorcery and results magic " from either a practical or academic perspecti e. or the arious pop"science and pop"psychology endorsed methods of contemporary sorcery. it tends to encourage a le el of engagement with your en ironment and openness to creati ity that is often missing from a lot of contemporary practice. and more often than not seem to get o erlooked as tacky huckster"ism or the in ention of snake oil salesmen peddling their wares. Much more cultural cache is gi en to the psuedo"masonic rituals of ceremonial magic. hoodoo practice and many of the methods that it employs tend not to get much e#posure in contemporary western occultism. *on$t get me wrong. along with items that I$ e drifted for. &iterally walking the streets of the 'ity. It$s ali e and within the world. looking for ingredients to go into the magic. It could be argued that when late 23th century currents such as chaos magic got rid of the bubbling cauldrons and eye of newt. also stock a large supply of hoodoo materials. hoodoo is tacky. 'urious plants growing between pa ing stones. Howe er. creepy items seen in charity shop windows. an entire language of ingredients begins to de elop out of your practice " a personal hoodoo Duabala made out of the things that e#ist in the streets where you li e. and that !uesting process is where I think a lot of the interesting stuff happens. Many of the botanica$s in &ondon. root doctor. they were throwing the baby out with the bath water. %ut it$s also a fascinating. In my own work I might use a combination of traditional hoodoo ingredients ac!uired from a supplier. with its banishing aerosol cans. All functioning as totemic items feeding into the magic. or the spirits. I think that the more commercial end of hoodoo has its own le el of alidity and cheesy store bought items can play a part in general practice. There are se eral mail order suppliers in e#istence that sell hoodoo paraphernalia internationally and many of the books mentioned earlier remain ery much in print. uncrossing baths. trick worker. alid and particularly potent form of magical practice. sprinkling powders. It$s not sorcery that takes place within a safe centrally heated flat. that primarily supply the Santeria community and practitioners of African Traditional 5eligions in the capital. It$s not cobbled together on a wet afternoon o er a cup of tea and a copy of 'rowley$s @@@. but it is ery much ali e and well within certain communities in the 20st century. conjure worker. under the guidance of ally spirits. Bou ha e to go out and walk the streets to get what you need. The physical process of making up gris"gris bags. discarded bus tickets. or howe er you may wish to frame it. difficult or possibly dangerous hoodoo drift take on a numinosity . condition oils and the like introduces an element of creati ity largely missing from a lot of approaches to results magic. / er time. The hoodoo practitioner.

and ritually sewn up on the altar. wrapped together in a red cloth. &ooking for a rare bookE Sigil. where would you go to get something fairly plausible such as lodestones or magnetic sandE &earning where to find your ingredients re"shapes your understanding of the 'ity and its psychogeography at a magical le el.e fits all$ solution to e ery magical endea our. etcF (ngaging with these processes takes you on an initiatory journey.that transforms them from unusual or e en mundane objects into holy relics and powerful totemic items. from whose writings the sigil method is ultimately deri ed. and by being really precise with the language you$re using to co er as many ariables as possible. >laced between 2 red candles dressed in :9ast &uck: /il and a white candle dressed in :+an +an: /il. and I think there$s power in that. 'at stuck up a treeE Sigil. becomes more than the sum of its parts if you ac!uired it by following a fragment of map found at the crossroads to a dodgy bar in the (ast (nd. each one a potent symbol of your desire. but that approach has its boundaries and limitations when it comes to practical application. Howe er it does ha e its limitations that are rarely addressed. where a combination of a song on the radio and an o erheard con ersation inspired you to pri. you can work magic with a sigil drawn on a post"it note in felt"tip pen. @.e the totem object off a fruit machine " resulting in si# enraged skinheads and a terrifying chase across &ondon. Sure. practising hoodoo " with all its paraphernalia. Some magicians seem to tie themsel es up in knots o er the wording of the spell. It taps into something primal. To my mind. spirit communication and lucky mojo " feels like what magic$s meant to feel like. The process you go through in constructing items such as gris gris bags and condition oils is as much a part of the magic as the items themsel es. 7ant to sort out a troublesome neighbourE *o a Sigil. *rums beaten. let alone a 5acoon$s penis boneE 9or that matter. or construct your own hooded robe. 9or e#ample. Spirits called. the oils themsel es created by hand. 7ords of power read o er them. A bit of plastic with the word :win: written on it added to a gris"gris bag for success. 9or instance. weird stuff in jars. which can sometimes lead to an o er"intellectualisation of the processes at work " a phenomena !uite remo ed from the ideas of artist and occultist Austin /sman Spare. 1 or 04 hoodoo ingredients. I think that hoodoo sorcery addresses a lot of the limitations of contemporary results magic. such as :I want a bag of crisps: is reduced to an abstract glyph and then ritually charged during an altered state of consciousness " has e#perienced a rapid growth in popularity o er the last ten years due to its accessibility and ease of practice. I think comparisons can be made with the stern admonitions in medie al grimoires to go out and forge your own magical sword. Howe er the only way to really refine and target a sigil is by tinkering with the initial statement of intent. The sigil method is often approached as if it were a $one si. mi#ed from ingredients collected on pre ious drifts. Magic worked. 7ant to promote world peaceE Sigil. )eed a new jobE *o a sigil. what sort of situations might you find yourself in if you were hunting for something like 9our Thie es +inegar in &ondon. ( en the action of collecting store bought items can be considered as part of a !uesting process. and working sorcery in hoodoo seems to function as a more accessible backyard formula for setting in motion that kind of process. the sigil method " whereby a statement of intent. .

in order to administer grassroots occult assistance to the body of people that might loosely be considered your community. you could make up a mojo bag to gi e to the person as a protecti e amulet. taking it to a place of power in the city and marking out a circle in protection oil. is a profession. what$s that all aboutE It$s almost to the point where people are getting so hung up o er their statement of intent that their getting a lawyer in to ha e a look o er it prior to charging. /r you could ask for some of their personal concerns and construct a doll of them. to the point that a lot of magicians seemingly don$t know how to direct and target results magic towards real life situations that they might encounter. where someone was looking for ad ice on magic to protect a friend from an abusi e partner. If someone has chronic bad luck. the caster shall not be liable for any karmic damages arising in contract. e#tradimensional or otherwise from this sigil. 9or instance. *oing stuff for other people. if someone needs a job. In the same situation a hoodoo practitioner would ha e any number of possible approaches to e#plore. 6ust stopG In contrast to this. /r any combination or ariation on the abo e. To do otherwise would be like the surgeon who studies medicine for ten years only to perform minor operations on himself. >ro iding a ser ice to those who need it. barbed wire and stinging nettles. you prepare an uncrossing bath for them. with a few warnings to get the statement of intent right. >ossibly the world$s second oldest profession. I came across a situation recently on an occult web forum. If you$re operating from the hypothesis that magic works and tangible results can be accomplished through the medium of sorcery. /r you could get a photo of the abusi e partner and burn a purple candle on it. How does the magic that you practice relate . I$ e come across people who ha e this whole other sigil that functions as a kind of :legal disclaimer: that they then append to whate er sigil they$re firing to try and co er themsel es for any unforeseen e entualities8 :The content of this sigil does not necessarily reflect the true will of the practitioner.9or instance. 9or instance. you make up a money"drawing bag and gi e it to them. place it in a jar with inegar and other materials. then bury it in his front garden late at night. Bou ne er !uite do the same working twice. /r wrap an item of his clothing around a high john the con!ueror root. you mi# up some hot foot powder and sprinkle it under their desk. hoodoo allows you to take a ery hands"on approach to sorcery. dressed in 'ommanding oil. If someone is bothering you at work. ( ery situation where magical inter ention might be re!uired has to be closely e#amined and responded to on its own terms. or the barrister who only e er represents himself in court. The e#tent of the suggestions they were gi en were just ariations on the sigil method. then I think you really ha e to consider the social implications of that statement. / er the last ten years this old school $get your hands dirty$ approach to results magic seems to ha e been suffering a bit of a decline in popularity. There$s no one si. The role of hoodoo worker. as I interpret and try to aspire to. )ot out of some lofty altruistic sense of duty. It$s about becoming ery good at results magic. but because it$s the ob ious application of those particular skills.e fits all formula. just in case there$s anything in there that the butterfly effect might misinterpret. or from any action or decision taken as a result of charging this sigil: I mean. and ha e the ability to tailor the selected method to the specific situation at hand. 7hilst the practitioner endea ours to make sure that this sigil is accurate and contains nothing prejudicial to the position or reputation of any party.

Some plausible reasons why people seem to shy away from functioning in this sort of capacity are a lack of confidence in their own magical abilities and perhaps a s!ueamishness about getting in ol ed magically in a li e situation and making a load of mistakes. And there$s no space for power trips or self aggrandisement when your skills are constantly being put to the test on a weekly basis. when not to act. the only way to gain confidence and e#pertise in applying magic effecti ely and with precision within the world around you. Bou could argue that there$s no time for all the theoretical dilettante shit that characterises much of contemporary occultism. shamanism. If you can make stuff happen. :All that $ser ing the community$ stuffE It$s a calling isn$t it. as if shamanism is a completely separate :system: of magic entirely di orced from :chaos magic: or :Thelema: or whate er fla our people happen to identify with. is by gaining e#perience in the field " by engaging magically with the world and all that it in ol es. healing the sick. and I$m interested in why that is. using the magic to look out for friends and family when they$re ha ing a rough time. no time for magic as an entertaining hobby or di erting little parlour game.directly to the world around youE How do you integrate it into your life and adapt that potentiality for change to the en ironment you are a part ofE 9or instance. is part of a hoodoo workers stock"in"trade. It strikes me that a lot of people don$t seem to e en think about sorcery in these terms. keeping the local arts centre open. nowt to do with me:. sorting out the bunch of kids that bricked your ne#t door neighbours window. Making things worse. The hardest part of the job is often knowing when to act. finding lost property. then at least think about finding something tangible and practical to do with it. If you$re going to be spending countless hours of your life studying and practising magic. then using that ability to inter ene in situations that really desperately need some kind of inter ention. Bou might well get your fingers burned one or two times. is not some magical mystical :shamanic: ocation. %ut these e#periences. I think that$s a load of bollocks. Bou learn them by doing. stopping a small business from going under at the hands of corporations. are often where the real learning gets . The world seems to be at a crisis point. how much pressure to apply and where to apply it. e en becoming in ol ed in local community problems at a magical le el. on a different shelf in the occult bookstore mate. using this stuff to try and make a difference in whate er small way that you might be able to. These are skills that you can$t get out of any book. There$s more to the hoodoo worker skill set than knowing how to stick pins in dolls and knock together a :&et$s get it on: mojo bag. how many people here tonight that identify as practising witches or magicians or whate er. as unpleasant and potentially fraught as they might be at the time. I think there$s almost a tendency to sho e the whole issue of :doing magic for other people: into a bo# marked :shamanism: and forget about it. All of which are alid concerns. but the ability to na igate the arious grey areas of a comple# real life situation. If you want a hobby take up knitting or fisting. and inad ertently trigger the occasional magical crisis that you ha e to then try and resol e. or relate their practice directly to the world around them. regularly use their magic to acti ely engage with the problems that might be going on around themE Helping people you care about. Similarly. There$s no better way to sharpen up your sorcery skills than to put them to the test in a real world situation where a tangible outcome denotes success or failure. It$s just taking responsibility for your skills and what you can do. gi ing di ination. and act decisi ely and with confidence to bring about a positi e resolution. Meddling in something that should be left well alone.

is worth closer e#ploration by anyone in ol ed or interested in contemporary occultism. 5espect. and remains the best resource for information on hoodoo on the web and in print. .rasso$s work isit his website8 Molota ia A large glass of the best rum in the house to Catherine Yronwode.com pro ided most of the historical background for the first half of this presentation. whose work. The role of hoodoo worker can be looked on as an initiatory journey in itself. 9or more of Stephen .done. with its own distinct challenges and rewards " and to my mind. research and stunningly brilliant website luckymojo.