Goofer dust is a traditional hexing material and practice of the African American tradition of hoodoo from the South Eastern Region of the United States of America.
It can generically refer to any powder used to cast a spell, especially if harmful in nature, but specifically refers to a concoction of natural ingredients that can be used to cause harm, trouble or even kill an enemy. Some historical sources, such as some of the interviews conducted by Harry M. Hyatt indicate goofer dust can be synonymous with graveyard dirt.
In practice, it was often used to create illness in victims, such as swelling of the legs or blindness. Recipes for making it vary, but primarily include graveyard dirt and snakeskin. Other ingredients may include ash, powdered sulfur, salt, powdered bones, powdered insect chitin, dried manure, herbs, spices and "anvil dust" — the fine black iron detritus found around a blacksmith's anvil. The result usually varies in color from "a fine yellowish-grey" to deep "black dust" depending on the formula, and it may be mixed with local dirt to conceal its deployment.
It is sometimes used in love spells of a coercive nature, the severity of which range from the goofer dust being used to provoke helpful spirits to coax the target into love, to the more extreme "love me or die" spells. Rarely, it has been used in gambling spells.
Uncommonly, Goofer Dust has been used as a protection spell. By using graveyard dirt from a loved one of the practitioner, along with salt and pepper and other ingredients, the normally offensive functions of Goofer Dust become protective functions (it also can be made protective by having it blessed by a Voodoo Priest with holy water as this creates a contradiction with the fact that the spirits in the graveyard dirt cannot cross running water, expelling them).
The word goofer comes from the Kikongo word "kufwa," which means "to die." Among older hoodoo practitioners, this derivation is very clear, because "goofer" is not only an used as an adjective modifying "dust" but also a verb ("He goofered that man") and a noun ("She put a goofer on him"). As late as the 1930s, goofering was a regional synonym for voodooing, and in North Carolina at least, the meaning of the term was broadened beyond spells of damage, illness, and death to include love spells cast with dominating intent.
A euphemistic word for goofering is "poisoning," which in this context does not refer to a physical poison but to a physical agent that, through magical means, brings about an "unnatural illness" or the death of the victim. Even more euphemistic is the special use of the verb "hurt," which is often defined as "to poison," with the tacit understanding that "to poison" really means "to goofer." The more general verbs "fix" (meaning to prepare a spell) and "trick" (meaning to cast a spell) are also applied to goofering.
In popular culture
Goofer dust was referenced to protect against hellhounds in the television show Supernatural (U.S. TV series), Season two, episode eight "Crossroad Blues". This is not only an uncommon use for goofer dust; in fact, it seems to be an error on the screenwriters' parts, as most popular references to goofer dust in African American blues music refer to its killing powers
Whether or not the writers of the series were aware of that fact is uncertain. The use is possible but uncommon.
King Diamond during the song "Sarah's Night" on the "Voodoo" album sings that the character Salem uses graveyard dust (referred to as goofer dust) to send the spirits of dead people into Sarah's head .
The Richard Pryor show featured performances by the O'jays and singer-dancer Paula Kelly. in sketches, Pryor holds a press conference as the first black president, leads a voodoo healing ceremony and tends bar at a galactic watering hole.
- Haskins, James. Voodoo and Hoodoo: The Craft as Revealed by Traditional Practitioners (Scarborough House, 1978), p. 208
- e.g. "Getting sick and tired of the way you do; good, kind mama, gonna poison you; sprinkle goofer dust all around your bed — wake up in the morning, find your own self dead." – from the song "I Don't Know" by Willie Mabon. Similar verses have been recorded from the 1920s to the present by many other blues and jazz musicians.