Hoodoo is a word that in a general colloquial context may refer to witchcraft or spellcasting in general, for example, someone may refer to witchcraft as hoodoo or say that someone who has been bewitched has been “hoodooed”. However, in a more specific context, Hoodoo refers to African American folk magick tradition that evolved from a blending of the Central and Western African cultures from which many natives were taken for the American slave trade and the European Christian lore of their American masters to produce a uniquely African American folk magick tradition.
First: Culture and Semantics
A Hoodoo practitioner is not a Witch. Both Witchcraft and Hoodoo are magical and spiritual practices based in traditional folkways. They have similar practices but their roots are different. The word “witch” and its roots in historic African tradition means something quite different from what it means to those of European descent. Europeans looked at traditional African practices, named it Witchcraft and called it evil and turned it into something shameful, which led to cultural upheaval. European-based magic-users may wish to reclaim the name “witch” from their heritage based on a perceived ancestral memory of wise women of power, but African-based practitioners may be more inclined to reject the colonialist tag.
There are many different titles one can apply to African and African-American folk magick workers. Generally, Hoodoo practitioners are referred to as rootworkers or conjurers. Some specific traditions or individuals may have their own titles. Some may even choose to self-identify as a witch and that is their choice. It never hurts to ask.
The word Hoodoo is also often used synonymously and incorrectly as a synonym for Voodoo. They are not the same, though their roots are closer to each other than either are to Witchcraft. Voodoo is a highly codified religion (though there are regional variations) combining Roman Catholic practices with West African practice. Hoodoo is loosely codified, more Protestant and more Central African.
Hoodoo is considered a religion by many though some consider Hoodoo a practice and claim a separate religion which they practice within the context of hoodoo (or vice versa) or as a separate practice. However, hoodoo functions within a cosmology that recognizes a creator God, as the ultimate hoodoo doctor, identifies the Bible as its most important grimoire and talisman and recognizes Moses as a conjurer who hoodooed the Israelites right out of Egypt. There are few hoodoo spells that don’t involve the recitation or inscription of a Bible verse.
Hoodoo spells usually involve the creation or use of physical objects, including floor washes, incense, powders to be sprinkled into shoes or along someone’s path, foods and drinks to be eaten, baths and beauty products, bags to be carried or hidden about the house, burning candles, etc. made from the usual herbs, especially those native to the Americas, stones and bodily fluids, but also everyday objects and mass-marketed products such as toilet water (especially Florida Water), beauty products and cleaning products, especially those who bore significant images, such as Red Devil brand lye as well as more exotic items such as joss paper. These are used in spells generally to increase or decrease someone’s luck, as well as to draw love, money, and the usual things.
Hoodoo is a very syncretic tradition that takes what works and discards what doesn’t and it has grown and changed over the centuries. As Christianity was embraced and made part of Hoodoo, so was Jewish mysticism and Western occultism, and in turn, many Western traditions have adopted elements of Hoodoo. I believe many of the magical uses for native American plants in modern witchcraft were absorbed via Hoodoo.
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