Hoodoo (spirituality)

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Hoodoo
Hoodoo spiritual supplies and candles
TypeSyncretic: African diaspora religions
RegionUnited States
Mainly the Carolina Lowcountry and Sea Islands of the Gullah Corridor
LanguageEnglish and Sea Island Creole
MembersUnknown
Other name(s)Lowcountry Voodoo
Gullah Voodoo
Rootwork
Conjure

Hoodoo is a set of spiritual practices, traditions, and beliefs created by enslaved Africans in North America that were held in secret from slaveholders.[1] Hoodoo evolved from various traditional African religions and practices, and in the American South, incorporated various elements of indigenous botanical knowledge.[2] In the Gullah South Carolina Lowcountry, Hoodoo is also known as "Lowcountry Voodoo."[3][4] Following the Great Migration of African-Americans, Hoodoo spread throughout the United States. Practitioners of Hoodoo are called rootworkers, conjure doctors, conjure man or conjure woman, and Hoodoo doctors. Regional synonyms for hoodoo include conjure or rootwork.[5]

Etymology[edit]

The first documentation of the word Hoodoo in the English language appeared in 1870.[6] It's origins are obscure but it's believed to originate as an alteration of the word voodoo - a word that has its origin in the Ewe and Fon languages of Ghana and Benin - referring to divinity.[7][8] The Akan word odu meaning medicine is also considered to be a possible etymological origin.[9][10][11] Another probable etymology is the Hausa word hu'du'ba / hu3'du3'ba1 which means resentment and retribution.[12][13]

Origins[edit]

Background[edit]

Approximately 20 million enslaved Africans from various ethnic groups were transported to the Americas from the 16th to 19th centuries (1500 to 1880s) as part of the transatlantic slave trade.[14] The transatlantic slave trade to the United States occurred between 1619 and 1808, and the illegal slave trade in the United States occurred between 1808 and 1860. Between 1619 and 1860 approximately 500,000 enslaved Africans were transported to the United States.[15] The ethnic groups brought to the United States during the years of the slave trade were Kongo, Igbo, Akan, Mandé, Yoruba, Fon, Ewe, and Fulbe, among many others.[16][17] After the arrival of diverse African ethnic groups to the United States, Hoodoo was created by enslaved African Americans for their spiritual survival as a form of resistance against slavery. "Because the African American community did not have the same medical or psychological aids as the European American society, its members were forced to rely on each other for survival." As a result, free and enslaved African Americans relied on Hoodoo for their protection.[18] Diverse African ethnic groups from West and Central Africa all worked on the same plantations. These diverse African ethnic groups in the United States over time merged into one larger ethnic group called African-Americans who are the creators of Hoodoo. The practice of Hoodoo unified enslaved Africans of diverse origin in America. Despite this ethnic diversity on American plantations, West and Central Africans all brought from Africa their own forms of conjure that developed into the practice known as Hoodoo; what united them was their use of conjure for liberation. For example, the practice of the ring shout[19] in Hoodoo unified diverse African ethnic groups on slave plantations. Counterclockwise circle dancing was (and is) practiced in Central and West Africa to communicate with the ancestors and for spirit possession.[20] Enslaved Africans in the United States united under the ring shout, and this unity of diverse Africans in America created an African American identity.[21] Moreover, author Tony Kail conducted research in African American communities in Memphis, Tennessee and traced the origins of Hoodoo practices to West and Central Africa. In Memphis, Kail conducted interviews with Black rootworkers and wrote about African American Hoodoo practices and history in his book A Secret History of Memphis Hoodoo. For example, Kail recorded at former slave plantations in the American South, "The beliefs and practices of African traditional religions survived the Middle Passage (the Transatlantic slave trade) and were preserved among the many rootworkers and healers throughout the South. Many of them served as healers, counselors and pharmacists to slaves enduring the hardships of slavery."[22] Sterling Stuckey, a professor of American history who specialized in the study of American slavery and African-American slave culture and history in the United States, asserts that African culture in America developed into a unique African-American spiritual and religious practice that was the foundation for conjure, black theology, and liberation movements. Stuckey provides examples in slave narratives, African-American quilts, Black churches, and the continued cultural practices of African Americans.[23]

Central African influence[edit]

The Kongo Cosmogram (Yowa Cross) represents the human life cycle of death and rebirth of the soul, and the rising and setting of the sun. The Yowa cross is the origins of the crossroads in Hoodoo.
Kongo Yowa Cosmogram

The Bantu-Kongo origins in Hoodoo practice are evident. According to academic research, about 40 percent of Africans shipped to the United States during the slave trade came from Central Africa's Kongo region. Emory University created an online database that shows the voyages of the trans-atlantic slave trade. This database shows many slave ships primarily leaving Central Africa.[24][25] Ancient Kongolese spiritual beliefs and practices are present in Hoodoo such as the Kongo cosmogram. The basic form of the Kongo cosmogram is a simple cross (+) with one line. The Kongo cosmogram symbolizes the rising of the sun in the east and the setting of the sun in the west, and represents cosmic energies. The horizontal line in the Kongo cosmogram represents the boundary between the physical world (realm of the living) and the spiritual world (realm of the ancestors). The vertical line of the cosmogram is the path of spiritual power from God at the top traveling to the realm of the dead below where the ancestors reside.[26][27] The cosmogram, or dikenga, however, is not a unitary symbol like a Christian cross or a national flag.[28] The physical world resides at the top of cosmogram and the spiritual (ancestral) world resides at the bottom of the cosmogram. At the horizonal line is a watery divide that separates the two worlds from the physical and spiritual, which the element of water has a role in African American spirituality.[29][30] The Kongo cosmogram cross symbol has a physical form in Hoodoo called the crossroads where Hoodoo rituals are performed to communicate with spirits, and to leave ritual spiritual workings or "spells" to rid of negative energies.[31] The Kongo cosmogram is also called the Bakongo cosmogram and the "Yowa" cross. The Yowa cross symbolizes a fork in the road. This fork in the road is spiritual (a supernatural crossroads) that symbolizes communication between the worlds of the living and the world of the ancestors that is divided at the horizontal line. Counterclockwise sacred circle dances in Hoodoo are performed to communicate with ancestral spirits using the sign of the Yowa cross.[32][33] Communication with the ancestors is a traditional practice in Hoodoo that was brought to the United States during the slave trade originating among Bantu-Kongo people.[34][35] In Savannah, Georgia in a historic African American church called the First African Baptist Church, the Kongo cosmogram symbol was found in the basement of the church. African Americans punctured holes in the basement floor of the church to make a diamond shaped Kongo cosmogram for prayer and meditation. The church was also a stop on the Underground Railroad. The holes in the floor provided breathable air for escaped slaves hiding in the basement of the church.[36] In an African American church in the Eastern Shore of Virginia, Kongo cosmograms were designed into the window frames of the church. The church was built facing an axis of an east-west direction so the sun rises directly over the church steeple in the east. The burial grounds of the church also show continued African American burial practices of placing mirrorlike objects on top of graves.[37] The Kongo cosmogram sun cycle also influenced how African Americans in Georgia prayed. It was recorded that some African Americans in Georgia prayed at the rising and setting of the sun.[38]

On another plantation in Maryland archeologists unearthed artifacts that showed a blend of Central African and Christian spiritual practices among enslaved people. This was Ezekial's Wheel in the bible that blended with the Central African Kongo cosmogram. The Kongo cosmogram is a cross (+) sometimes enclosed in a circle that resembles the Christian cross. This may explain the connection enslaved Black Americans had with the Christian symbol the cross as it resembled their African symbol. Also, the Kongo cosmogram is evident in hoodoo practice among Black Americans. Archeologists unearthed on a former slave plantation in South Carolina clay bowls made by enslaved Africans that had the Kongo cosmogram engraved onto the clay bowls. These clay bowls were used by African Americans for ritual purposes.[39] The Kongo cosmogram symbolizes the birth, life, death and rebirth cycle of the human soul,[40] and harmony with the universe.[41]

Slave dance and music

The Ring shout in Hoodoo has its origins from the Kongo region with the Kongo cosmogram (Yowa Cross) and ring shouters dance in a counterclockwise direction that follows the pattern of the rising of the sun in the east and the setting of the sun in the west, and the ring shout follows the cyclical nature of life represented in the Kongo cosmogram of birth, life, death, and rebirth.[42][43][44][45] Through counterclockwise circle dancing, ring shouters built up spiritual energy that resulted in the communication with ancestral spirits, and led to spirit possession. Enslaved African Americans performed the counterclockwise circle dance until someone was pulled into the center of the ring by the spiritual vortex at the center. The spiritual vortex at the center of the ring shout was a sacred spiritual realm. The center of the ring shout is where the ancestors and the Holy Spirit reside at the center.[46] The ring shout tradition continues in Georgia with the McIntosh County Shouters.[47]

In 1998, in a historic house in Annapolis, Maryland called the Brice House archeologists unearthed Hoodoo artifacts inside the house that linked to Central Africa's Kongo people. These artifacts are the continued practice of the Kongo's Minkisi and Nkisi culture in the United States brought over by enslaved Africans. For example, archeologists found artifacts used by enslaved African Americans to control spirits by housing spirits inside caches or bundles called Nkisi. These spirits inside objects were placed in secret locations to protect an area or bring harm to slaveholders.[48] The artifacts uncovered at the James Brice House were Kongo cosmogram engravings drawn as crossroads (an X) inside the house. This was done to ward a place from a harsh slaveholder.[49] Nkisi bundles were found in other plantations in Virginia and Maryland. For example, Nkisi bundles were found for the purpose of healing or misfortune. Archeologists found objects believed by the enslaved African American population in Virginia and Maryland to have spiritual power, such as coins, crystals, roots, fingernail clippings, crab claws, beads, iron, bones, and other items that were assembled together inside a bundle to conjure a specific result for either protection or healing. These items were hidden inside enslaved peoples dwellings. These practices were held in secret away from slaveholders.[50]

In Hoodoo a crossroads is where two roads meet to form an X. The crossroads in Hoodoo originates from Central Africa's Kongo cosmogram.

In Kings County in Brooklyn, New York at the Lott Farmstead Kongo related artifacts were found on the site. The Kongo related artifacts were a Kongo cosmogram engraved onto ceramics and Nkisi bundles that had cemetery dirt and iron nails left by enslaved African Americans. The iron nails researchers suggests were used to prevent whippings from slaveholders. Also, the Kongo cosmogram engravings were used as a crossroads for spiritual rituals by the enslaved African American population in Kings County. Historians suggests Lott Farmstead was a stop on the Underground Railroad for freedom seekers (runaway slaves). The Kongo cosmogram artifacts were used as a form of spiritual protection against slavery and for enslaved peoples protection during their escape from slavery on the Underground Railroad.[51]

In Talbot County, Maryland at the Wye House plantation where Frederick Douglass was enslaved in his youth, Kongo related artifacts were found. Enslaved African Americans created items to ward off evil spirits by creating a Hoodoo bundle near the entrances to chimneys which was believed to be where spirits enter. The Hoodoo bundle contained pieces of iron and a horse shoe. Enslaved African Americans put eyelets on shoes and boots to trap spirits. Archeologists also found small carved wooden faces. The wooden carvings had two faces carved into them on both sides which was interpreted to mean an African American conjurer who was a two-headed doctor. Two-headed doctors in Hoodoo means a person who can see into the future, and has knowledge about spirits and things unknown.[52] At Levi Jordan Plantation in Brazoria, Texas near the Gulf Coast, researchers suggests the plantation owner Levi Jordan may have transported captive Africans from Cuba back to his plantation in Texas. These captive Africans practiced a Bantu-Kongo religion in Cuba, and researchers excavated Kongo related artifacts at the site. For example, archeologists found in one of the cabins called the "curer's cabin" remains of an nkisi nkondi with iron wedges driven into the figure to activate its spirit. Researchers found a Kongo bilongo which enslaved African Americans created using materials from white porcelain creating a doll figure. In the western section of the cabin they found iron kettles and iron chain fragments. Researchers suggests the western section of the cabin was an altar to the Kongo spirit Zarabanda.[53][54][55] On a plantation in Kentucky called Locust Grove in Jefferson County, archeologists and historians found amulets made by enslaved African Americans that had the Kongo cosmogram engraved onto coins and beads. Blue beads were found among the artifacts, and in African spirituality blue beads attract protection to the wearer. Enslaved African Americans in Kentucky combined Christian practices with traditional African beliefs.[56]

Brooklyn Museum 22.198 Cane / This cane is from the Arts of Africa collection. Bantu-Kongo people in Central Africa and African Americans in the United States crafted similar canes.

The word "goofer" in goofer dust has Kongo origins, it comes from the "Kongo word 'Kufwa' which means to die."[57] The mojo bag in Hoodoo has Bantu-Kongo origins. Mojo bags are called "toby" and the word toby derives from the Kongo word tobe.[58] The word mojo also originated from the Kikongo word mooyo. The word mooyo means that natural ingredients have their own indwelling spirit that can be utilized in mojo bags to bring luck and protection.[59] The mojo bag or conjure bag derived from the Bantu-Kongo minkisi. The Nkisi singular, and Minkisi plural, is when a spirit or spirits inhabit an object created by hand from an individual. These objects can be a bag (mojo bag or conjure bag) gourds, shells, and other containers. Various items are placed inside a bag to give it a particular spirit or job to do. Other examples of Kongo origins of the mojo bag is found in the story of Gullah Jack. Gullah Jack was an African from Angola who carried a conjure bag (mojo bag) onto a slave ship leaving Angola for the United States. In South Carolina, Gullah Jack used the spiritual knowledge he had with him from Angola and made conjure bags for other enslaved people for their spiritual protection.[60][61][62] Other Bantu-Kongo origins in Hoodoo is making a cross mark (Kongo cosmogram) and stand on it and take an oath. This practice is done in Central Africa and in the United States in African American communities. The Kongo cosmogram is also used as a powerful charm of protection when drawn on the ground, the solar emblems or circles at the end and the arrows are not drawn just the cross marks which looks like an X.[63][34]

Other Bantu-Kongo practices present in Hoodoo are the use of conjure canes. Conjure canes in the United States are decorated with specific objects to conjure specific results and conjure spirits. This practice was brought to the United States during the transatlantic slave trade from Central Africa. Several conjure canes are used today in some African American families. In Central Africa among the Bantu-Kongo, ritual healers are called banganga and use ritual staffs (now called conjure canes in Hoodoo). These ritual staffs of the banganga conjure spirits and healing for people. The banganga healers in Central Africa became the conjure doctors and herbal healers in African American communities in the United States.[64][65] The Harn Museum of Art at the University of Florida collaborated with other world museums to compare African American conjure canes with ritual staffs from Central Africa and found similarities between the two, and other aspects of African American culture that originated from Bantu-Kongo people.[66]

Bakongo spiritual protections influenced African American yard decorations. In Central Africa, Bantu-Kongo people decorated their yards and entrances to doorways with baskets and broken shiny items to protect from evil spirits and thieves. This practice is the origin of the bottle tree in Hoodoo. Throughout the American South in African American neighborhoods, there are some houses that have bottle trees and baskets placed at entrances to doorways for spiritual protection against conjure and evil spirits. An African American man in North Carolina buried a jar under the steps with water and string in it for protection. If someone conjured him the string would turn into a snake. The man interviewed called it inkabera.[67]

Bantu-Kongo burial practices by African Americans were found in Florida. Researchers noticed the similarities of grave sites of African Americans in Florida and those of the Bakongo people in Central Africa. Headstones with a T shape were seen in Black cemeteries and at grave sites in the Kongo region. The T shape headstone peculiar to black cemeteries in north Florida during the 1920s through the 1950s corresponds to the lower half of the Kongo cosmogram that symbolizes the realm of the ancestors and spiritual power. In Bantu-Kongo spirituality the spirit realm is in the color white. African Americans decorated the graves of their family members with white items such as white conch seashells. Seashells represent the watery divide located on the horizontal line of the Kongo cosmogram that is a boundary between the realm of the living and the realm of the dead. By placing seashells on graves, African Americans were creating a boundary (barrier) between the recently deceased and them, keeping the spirit in the realm of the dead below the Kongo cosmogram.[68][69] The practice of placing seashells on top of graves in African American cemeteries continued beyond the 1950s, and was found in Archer, Florida. Researchers found other continued Bakongo burial practices in black cemeteries in Florida. In the Kongo region, Bakongo people placed broken objects on top of graves so the recently deceased can travel to the land of the dead. The broken items symbolize the person's connection to the world of the living was broken by their death, and they need to return to the realm of the dead. This practice was found in African American cemeteries in Florida and among the Gullah Geechee people in the Sea Islands in the United States.[70][71] The conjure practices of African Americans in Georgia was influenced by Bakongo and other West African ethnic groups when a slave ship the Wanderer illegally imported 409 enslaved Africans to Jekyll Island, Georgia in 1858.[72]

Yale University professor, Dr. Robert Farris Thompson, has done academic research in Africa and in the United States and traced Hoodoo's (African American conjure) origins to Central Africa's Bantu-Kongo people in his book Flash of the Spirit: African & Afro-American Art & Philosophy. Thompson is an African Art historian and found through his study of African Art the origins of African Americans' spiritual practices to certain regions in Africa.[73] Academic historian Albert J. Raboteau in his book, Slave Religion: The "Invisible Institution" in the Antebellum South, traced the origins of Hoodoo (conjure, rootwork) practices in the United States to West and Central Africa. These origins developed a slave culture in the United States that was social, spiritual, and religious.[74]

West African influence[edit]

A West African gris-gris bag, the origin of the mojo bag (conjure bag) in Hoodoo[75]

Another African origin in Hoodoo is the mojo bag. The mojo bag in Hoodoo has West and Central African origins. The word mojo comes from the West African word mojuba. Mojo bags are called gris-gris bag, toby, conjure bag, and mojo hand.[76] Another West African influence in Hoodoo is Islam. As a result of the transatlantic slave trade, some West African Muslims that practiced Islam were enslaved in the United States. Prior to their arrival to the American South, West African Muslims blended Islamic beliefs with traditional West African spiritual practices. On plantations in the American South enslaved West African Muslims kept some of their traditional Islamic culture. They practiced the Islamic prayers, wore turbans, and the men wore the traditional wide leg pants. Some enslaved West African Muslims practiced Hoodoo. Instead of using Christian prayers in the creation of charms, Islamic prayers were used. Enslaved black Muslim conjure doctors Islamic attire was different from the other slaves, which made them easy to identify and ask for conjure services regarding protection from slaveholders.[77][78] The Mandigo (Mandinka) were the first Muslim ethnic group imported from Sierra Leone in West Africa to the Americas. Mandingo people were known for their powerful conjure bags called gris-gris (later called mojo bags in the United States). Some of the Mandingo people were able to carry their gris-gris bags with them when they boarded slave ships heading to the Americas bringing the practice to the United States. Enslaved people went to enslaved black Muslims for conjure services requesting them to make gris-gris bags (mojo bags) for protection against slavery.[79]

The West African Yoruba origins are evident in Hoodoo. For example, the Yoruba trickster deity called Eshu-Elegba resides at the crossroads, and the Yoruba people leave offerings for Eshu-Elegba at the crossroads. The crossroads has spiritual power in Hoodoo, and rituals are performed at the crossroads, and there is a spirit that resides at the crossroads to leave offerings for. However, the spirit that resides at the crossroads in Hoodoo is not named Eshu-Elegba because many of the African names of deities were lost during slavery; but the belief that a spirit resides at the crossroads and one should provide offerings to it originates from West Africa. The Yoruba crossroad spirit Eshu-Elegba became the man of the crossroads in Hoodoo.[80] Folklorist Newbell Niles Puckett, recorded a number of crossroads rituals in Hoodoo practiced among African-Americans in the South and explained its meaning. Puckett wrote..."Possibly this custom of sacrificing at the crossroads is due to the idea that spirits, like men, travel the highways and would be more likely to hit upon the offering at the crossroads than elsewhere."[81] In addition to leaving offerings and performing rituals at the crossroads, sometimes spiritual work or "spells" are left at the crossroads to remove unwanted energies.[82][83][84]

In Annapolis, Maryland, archeologists uncovered evidence for West African and Central African practices. A Hoodoo spiritual bundle that contained nails, a stone axe and other items was found embedded four feet in the streets of Maryland near the capital. The axe inside the Hoodoo bundle showed a cultural link to the Yoruba people's deity Shango. Shango was (and is) a feared Orisha in Yorubaland, because he is associated with lightning and thunder, and this fear and respect towards thunder and lightning survived in African American communities. Folklorist Puckett wrote..."and thunder denotes an angry creator." Puckett recorded a number of beliefs surrounding the fear and respect for thunder and lightning in the African American community. In Hoodoo objects struck by lightning hold great power. However, the name Shango and other African deity names were lost during slavery. Therefore, the name Shango does not exist in Hoodoo, but just the name the Thunder God. Enslaved and free blacks in New York were known among the whites in the area to take an oath to thunder and lightning. During the 1741 slave conspiracy in New York, African American men took an oath to thunder and lightning.[85][86][87]

A river baptism in New Bern, North Carolina. Some African Americans prayed to African water spirits when they baptized church members.

Hoodoo also has Vodun origins. For example, a primary ingredient used in goofer dust is snakeskins. Snakes (serpents) are revered in West African spiritual practices, because they represent divinity. The West African Vodun water spirit Mami Wata holds a snake in one hand. This reverence for snakes came to the United States during the slave trade, and in Hoodoo snakeskins are used in the preparation of conjure powders.[88] Puckett explained that the origin of snake reverence in Hoodoo originates from snake (serpent) honoring in West Africa's Vodun tradition.[89] It was documented from a former slave in Missouri that conjurers took dried snakes and frogs and ground them into powders to "Hoodoo people." A conjurer made a powder from a dried snake and a frog and put it in a jar and buried it under the steps of the target's house to "Hoodoo the person." When the targeted individual walked over the jar they had pain in their legs. Snakes in Hoodoo are used for healing, protection, and to curse people.[90] Water spirits, called Simbi, are also revered in Hoodoo which comes from West African and Central African spiritual practices. When Africans were brought to the United States to be enslaved, they blended African spiritual beliefs with Christian baptismal practices. Enslaved Africans prayed to the spirit of the water and not to the Christian god when they baptized church members. Some African Americans prayed to Simbi water spirits during their baptismal services.[91][92]

The West African Igbo origins are also evident in Hoodoo. Ambrose Madison, a prominent planter in colonial Virginia and grandfather of U.S. President James Madison, died at his plantation (Mount Pleasant, later renamed Montpelier) as a result of an unknown illness. According to research from historian Douglass Chambers, it was believed by Ambrose Madison's family that he was poisoned by three of his Igbo slaves. The evidence that Igbo slaves poisoned Madison is limited; however, the book does offer some information about Igbo people in Virginia. According to academic research, the majority of West Africans imported to Virginia during the slave trade were Igbo.[93] The Igbo people's spiritual practice is called Odinani that was brought to the United States during the transatlantic slave trade. Igbo people had their own herbal knowledge and spiritual practices that shaped Hoodoo in the United States. Communication with ancestors is an important practice in Hoodoo that originated from West and Central Africa. The Igbo people believe family members can reincarnate back into the family line. To ensure this process proper burial ceremonies are performed. Igbo people and other ethnic groups in West Africa have two burials for their family members one physical and one spiritual. Burial ceremonies of African Americans was influenced by the culture of Igbo people's belief in the care and respect for the dead and ancestors. If family members were not given a proper burial the soul suffered in the afterlife. African Americans in Virginia practiced the two burial ceremonies of their dead that was influenced by the Igbo people. The first burial is physical which is placing the body in the grave, and the second burial is spiritual which involves celebrating the person's life before they died and mourning the loss. These practices ensured relatives would return to the ancestral realm or reincarnate back into the family.[94][95][96] Hoodoo practices also include how African Americans bury their dead. The pouring of libations over an ancestor or recently deceased family member's grave is a way to honor and elevate their spirit. This practice is done in Virginia and other African American communities in the United States which originated from West Africa.[97] Other spiritual practices of African Americans in Virginia can be traced to the Igbo people. The conjure (Hoodoo) practices of Black rootworkers in Virginia was documented in slave narratives. For example, some Black conjure doctors used conjure canes to contact spirits. The conjure cane documented in Virginia had a snake wrapped around it. Black rootworkers and Igbo woodcrafters in Virginia carved snakes onto their canes.[98] Some African Americans in Virginia are descendants of Igbo people, and their conjure practices are similar.[99] For example, pythons (snakes) are revered among the Igbo because they are messengers of God and represent divinity. This snake reverence among Igbo people was brought to Virginia during the transatlantic slave trade.[100][101] Other conjure practices traced to the Igbo people is the practice of burying jars and other items to cause misfortune on people. All the person had to do was to walk over it and the magic caused a negative effect in their life. This practice of hiding spiritual items to cause misfortune was found in other parts of Africa.[102]

At Stagville Plantation located in Durham County, North Carolina archeologists found artifacts made by enslaved African Americans that linked to spiritual practices found in West Africa. The artifacts found was a divining stick, walking stick, and cowrie shells. Stagville Plantation was owned by a wealthy slaveholding family called the Bennehan family; they enslaved 900 African American people. Stagville was one of many large slave plantations in the American South. Inside the Bennehan house, a walking stick was found placed in between the walls to curse the Bennehan family. An enslaved person secretly placed a walking stick to put evil spirits on their enslavers, putting a curse on the family for enslaving them. The walking stick was carved into an image of a West African snake spirit (deity) called Damballa. Cowrie shells were found on the site and was used by enslaved African Americans to connect with the spiritual element of water "to ensure spiritual guidance over bodies of water." In West Africa, cowrie shells were used for money and corresponds to African water spirits.[103]

Other African cultural survivals among the Gullah people is giving their children African names. Linguists noticed identical or similar sounding names in the Gullah Geechee Nation that can be traced to Sierra Leone a country in West Africa. Some African Americans in South Carolina and Georgia continue to give their children African names. This is done for spiritual and cultural reasons. The spiritual reason is for their ancestors to provide their children spiritual power and spiritual protection. The cultural reason is so their children will know what region in Africa their ancestry is from.[104][105]

The practice of carving snakes onto "conjure sticks" to remove curses, evil spirits, and bring healing was found in African American communities in the Sea Islands among the Gullah Geechee people. Snake reverence in African American Hoodoo originated from West African societies.[106] Another practice in Hoodoo that has its origins from West Africa is to moistened conjure bags and luck balls with whiskey (rum). It is believed that conjure bags and luck balls have a spirit, and to keep its spirit alive conjurers feed them whisky once a week. The practice has its roots from the Guinea Coast of Africa.[107] The practice of foot track magic in Hoodoo has its origins from Ghana. A person's foot track is used to send someone away by mixing their foot track with herbs, roots, and insects, specific ingredients used in Hoodoo to send someone away, and grind into a powder and place the powder in a container and throw it into a flowing river that leaves town and in a few days the person will leave town.[108][109]

A Ghana Sankofa Symbol was etched onto the memorial wall at the African Burial Ground National Monument in New York City.

Archeologists in New York discovered continued West-Central African burial practices in a section of Lower Manhattan, New York City which is now the location of the African Burial Ground National Monument.[110] Archeologists and historians noted about 15,000 Africans were buried in a section of Lower Manhattan that was named the "Negroes Burial Ground." Over 500 artifacts were excavated showing continued African traditions in New York City's African American community. Some of the artifacts came from West Africa. Only 419 Africans buried were exhumed, and from their discoveries archeologists and historians found African cultural retention in African Americans burial practices. At the site, 146 beads were found and nine within that number came from West Africa. The other beads were manufactured in Europe but were used by enslaved and free people for their burial practices incorporating an African spiritual interpretation to European beads. For example, many of the Africans buried including women, men, and children had beads, waist beads, and wristlets. Beads in African society bring protection, wealth, fertility, and health to the wearer. In West Africa, African women wear beads around their waist for beauty. At the African Burial Ground, archeologists found beads wrapped around the waist of the burial remains of enslaved African American women. Also, about 200 shells were found with African remains. Beads, shells, and iron bars are associated with the Yoruba deity Olokun a spirit that owns the sea. Shells are associated with water and help the soul transition in the afterlife, because seashells help the soul move from the realm of the living into the realm of the dead (ancestors) which is associated with water. Other artifacts found at the African Burial Ground were shiny objects and reflective materials. These were used by Africans to communicate with spirits, because shiny and reflective materials were able to capture the "flash of the spirit." Between 1626 and 1660s, the majority of Africans imported to colonial New York were from the Kongo Angolan region, because New York was colonized by the Dutch. Historians and archeologists found Kongo related artifacts at the African Burial Ground such as minkisi and Nkisi bundles buried with African remains. These Nkisi and minkisi bundles became the conjure bags in Hoodoo.[111] After 1679, the majority of Africans imported to colonial New York were from West Africa because colonial rule of New York shifted from the Dutch to the English in 1664. West Africans imported to the colony were Akan, Yoruba, Fon, and other ethnic groups. These diverse African ethnic groups brought their traditional cultures with them and adorned their dead with adornments made from American materials but had an African design and meaning to them. Archeologists found Ghanaian burial practices such as funerary clay pipes at the African Burial Ground. For example, funerary clay pipes with a Ghanaian design called ebua was found with the remains of an African American woman.[112] In addition, archeologists excavated conjure bags (mojo bags) at the site. The conjuring bundles had crystals, roots, beads, feathers, animal parts, and other items to communicate with spirits and for protection. Other artifacts found at the site that linked to West Africa researchers suggests was the finding of an Akan Sankofa Symbol found on a coffin.[113] The Akan Sankofa Adinkra symbol means to remember ones ancestors, and look to the future while not forgetting the past.[114] In addition, West African spiritual beliefs mixed with the Christian faith, and free and enslaved West Africans started their own African Methodist Episcopal Zion Churches in New York City.[115][116][117] The African Burial Ground reserved a location called the Ancestral Libation Chamber for people to perform spiritual ceremonies to pay their respect for the enslaved and free Africans buried at the monument. African Americans and other African descended peoples continue to travel to the African Burial Ground from across the country and around the world and perform libation ceremonies to honor the 15,000 plus African people buried in New York City.[118][119]

The Ashanti people in West Africa also had their own cross symbol that influenced African Americans interpretation of the Christian cross. African American spirituality was influenced by the culture of the Ashanti people. Baptismal services of African Americans during and after chattel slavery was similar to the Ashanti peoples water immersions in West Africa where African water spirits are called. In African American baptismal services and in West African water immersions both wear white clothing and are taken place at rivers where the water spirits reside. However, in Black communities, baptismal services (water immersions) there was a blend of Christian, West African, and Central African influence of African American baptismal services.[120]

Powers Bible Quilt 1898 / Harriet Powers sewed biblical imagery and African symbols into her quilts.

Other West African influences in African-American spirituality is seen in quilt making. African American women made quilts incorporating West African crosses and the Bakongo cross of the Kongo cosmogram. For example, an African American woman named Harriet Powers made quilts using Bakongo and other West African symbols. On one of Harriet Powers quilts was a cross with four suns showing Bakongo influence quilting the Kongo cosmogram onto her quilts. Other African symbols were seen in Powers quilts. However, scholars suggests Harriet Powers cross symbols may also be a West African cross, as West Africans also had crosses as symbols, but the meaning and use of crosses in West Africa was different from the Bakongo people in Central Africa. Fon influence and artistic style was seen in Powers quilts as well. Harriet Powers was born enslaved in Georgia in 1837, and scholars suggest Powers may have been of Bakongo or Dahomean descent.[120][121] African American quilt making and designs originated from West Africa. Adinkra symbols and other African symbols are sewed into fabrics for spiritual purposes. Quilt makers in the African American community also sewed mojo bags and placed roots, bones, and other items inside bags for protection. Another example, was Louiza Francis Combs. Louiza Francis Combs was born in Guinea and came to the United States in the 1860s. Her quilts incorporate West African features of "a red striped pattern, patchwork, and two broad asymmetrical panels." This pattern design is similar to the Mande peoples religious concepts that evil spirits travel in a straight path, and to protect ones self from evil spirits broken lines and fragmented shapes are sewn into fabrics and quilts.[122] Some of the meanings of the African symbols sewed into quilts were held secret. Scholars suggests some of the African American women who made quilts might have been in a secret society that retained the true spiritual meanings of the symbols seen in their quilts. Only initiates trained in quilt making received the spiritual meanings of the African symbols. Some of the symbols mention the crossroads, the Kongo cosmogram, and the ancestors. Certain colors are used in quilts to protect from evil and invoke ancestral spirits. Scholars conducted an interview with an African American quilt maker in Oregon and have found Yoruba inspirations in her quilts. Her quilts looked similar to the Egungun regalia patterns of the Yoruba people in West Africa, where she incorporated "striped-piecing techniques that pay tribute to her ancestors."[123]

Haitian influence[edit]

Zora Neale Hurston, an African-American cultural anthropologist and Hoodoo initiate, reported in her essay, Hoodoo in America, that conjure had its highest development along the Gulf Coast, particularly in New Orleans and its surrounding rural areas. These regions were settled by Haitian immigrants at the time of the overthrow of the French rule in Haiti by Toussaint Louverture. Thirteen-hundred Haitians (of African descent, along with their White ex-masters) were driven out, and the nearest French refuge was the province of Louisiana, then under Spanish control. African Haitians brought with them their conjure rituals modified by European cultural influences, such as Catholicism. While some retained Haitian Vodou practices, others developed their own regional Hoodoo. Unlike the continental North American slaves, slaves in the Caribbean islands were encouraged to make themselves as much at home as possible in their bondage, and thus retained more of their West African customs and language.[124][125]

The Haitian Revolution and the conjure used during the revolution inspired other slave revolts in the United States. For example, in 1822 a free black named Denmark Vesey planned a slave revolt in Charleston, South Carolina that was modeled after the Haitian Revolution. "Denmark Vesey, a carpenter and formerly enslaved person, allegedly planned an enslaved insurrection to coincide with Bastille Day in Charleston, South Carolina in 1822. Vesey modeled his rebellion after the successful 1791 slave revolution in Haiti. His plans called for his followers to execute the white enslavers, liberate the city of Charleston, and then sail to Haiti before the white power structure could retaliate." Denmark Vesey's co-conspirator was an enslaved Gullah conjurer named Gullah Jack. Gullah Jack was known to carry a conjure bag with him at all times for his spiritual protection. For the slaves spiritual protection, Gullah Jack gave them rootwork instructions for a possible slave revolt planned by his co-conspirator Denmark Vesey. Gullah Jack instructed the enslaved to eat a peanut butter-like mash, eat parched corn meal, and carry crab claws for their protection. The plan was to free those enslaved through armed resistance and the use of conjure; however, Denmark Vesey and Gullah Jack were not successful because their plan was revealed and stopped.[126][127]

Botanical developments[edit]

James Hopkinsons plantation slaves planting sweet potatoes

African Americans had their own herbal knowledge that was brought from West and Central Africa to the United States. European slave traders selected certain West African ethnic groups for their knowledge of rice cultivation to be used in the United States on slave plantations. The region of Africa ethnic groups were taken from for rice cultivation was called the "Rice Coast." African countries in the Rice Coast are Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Liberia. These areas were suitable for rice cultivation in Africa because rice grows in moist semitropical environments, and European slave traders selected ethnic groups from these regions and enslaved them in the United States in the Sea Islands an area that is moist and similar to tropical areas for rice cultivation.[128] During the transatlantic slave trade a variety of African plants were brought from Africa to the United States for cultivation; they were, okra, sorghum, yam, benneseed (sesame), watermelon, black-eyed peas, and kola nuts.[129] "West African slaves brought not only herbal knowledge with them across the Atlantic; they also imported the actual seeds. Some wore necklaces of wild liquorice seeds as a protective amulet. Captains of slaving vessels used native roots to treat fevers that decimated their human cargo. The ships’ hellish holds were lined with straw that held the seeds of African grasses and other plants that took root in New World soil."[130] African plants brought from Africa to North America were cultivated by enslaved African Americans for medicinal and spiritual use for the slave community, and cultivated for white American slaveholders for their economic gain.[130][131] African Americans mixed their knowledge of herbs from Africa with European and regional Native American herbal knowledge. In Hoodoo, African Americans used herbs in different ways. For example, when it came to the medicinal use of herbs, African Americans learned some medicinal knowledge of herbs from Native Americans; however, the spiritual use of herbs and the practice of Hoodoo (conjuring) remained African in origin.[132] Enslaved African Americans also used their African knowledge of herbs to poison their enslavers.[133]

During slavery, some enslaved African Americans served as community doctors for Blacks and whites, despite many white Americans were cautious of black doctors because some enslaved Africans did poison their enslavers. Enslaved Africans found herbal cures for animal poisons and diseases that helped black and white Americans during slavery. For example, African traditional medicine proved beneficial during a smallpox outbreak in the colony of Boston, Massachusetts. An enslaved African named Onesimus was enslaved by Cotton Mather who was a minister in the colony. Boston was plagued by several smallpox outbreaks since the 1690s. Onesimus "introduced the practice of inoculation to colonial Boston" which helped reduce the spread of smallpox in the colony. Onesimus told Mather that when he was in Africa, Africans performed inoculations to reduce the spread of diseases in their societies.[134][135] An enslaved man was given his freedom when he discovered a cure for a snake bite using herbal medicines.[136]

Enslaved African Americans most oftentimes treated their own medical problems themselves using the herbal knowledge they brought with them from Africa and some herbal knowledge learned from regional Native Americans. Many slaveholders were ignorant on how to treat their slaves medical conditions, and some slaveholders did not care for the health of their slaves just their labor. What made it more difficult for enslaved people were laws passed on the prevention for enslaved African Americans to provide medical care for themselves. Slaveholders passed preventative medical laws on their slaves because they feared enslaved people would poison them with their herbal knowledge.[137] In 1748, Virginia passed a law to prevent African Americans from administering medicines, because white Americans feared African American folk practitioners would poison them with their herbal knowledge. However, some whites Americans in Virginia continued to rely on African American herbal doctors because their cures were better than the white doctors.[138] In addition, in 1749 in South Carolina the General Assembly passed a law prohibiting slaves from practicing medicine or dispensing medication. In South Carolina the punishment was death if an African American was caught using medicines.[139] Slaveholders feared a possible slave revolt and being poisoned by their slaves, so much so that white Americans refused to provide enslaved African Americans medical knowledge. Any European medicines incorporated by African Americans came from African Americans curiosity, and not from slaveholders or other white Americans teaching enslaved African Americans herbal knowledge during slavery. Many of the medicines used by white Americans were chemical, while African Americans used the natural herbs and roots and made them into teas.[140] Among enslaved people there was a spiritual belief to refuse to plow a field in a straight path. Some enslaved people believed in the West African Mande concept that evil spirits travel in a straight path, and to protect from evil spirits, enslaved African Americans deviated from plowing fields in a straight path to break lines for spiritual protection against malevolent spirits.[141]

African American farmer in corn field, Alachua County, Florida in 1913

Enslaved African American women used their knowledge of herbs to have miscarriages during pregnancy to prevent slaveholders from owning their children and to prevent their children being born into slavery. Enslaved African Americans only trusted their own doctors and not white doctors, because enslaved doctors cures were better than white doctors. African American enslaved and free learned the local flora, and knew what plants to use for treating illnesses. Enslaved herbal doctors were the primary doctors on slave plantations, and some of them also practiced conjure.[142][130] Before and after the Civil War, African Americans adjusted to their environments and learned the local flora from indigenous peoples, books, and their study of plants. [143] Europeans also brought their own plants from Europe to the United States for herbal cures in America which African Americans incorporated European herbs into their herbal practice.[144]

Zora Neale Hurston conducted research in African American communities and documented the herbal practices of Blacks. African American rootworkers sometimes served two roles, a herbal doctor or conjure doctor. African American herbal doctors used their knowledge of herbs to treat diseases, such as heart disease, arthritis, cold, flu, and other illnesses. African American conjure doctors used herbs to remove curses, evil spirits, and bring good-luck, and sometimes there were a few African American rootworkers that did both.[145] Traditional herbal healing remains a continued practice in the Gullah Geechee Nation. Gullah people gather roots from their backyards and gardens and make medicines to heal diseases and treat illnesses.[146] In northeast Missouri, historians and anthropologists interviewed African Americans and have found continued West African herbal traditions of using roots and herbs to treat illnesses. The knowledge of how to find herbs in nature and make them into teas and tonics continued in African American communities. The remedy most commonly used in black communities in northeast Missouri to ward and fight off catching a cold was carrying a small bag of Ferula assafoedita; the folk word is asfidity, a plant from the fennel family.[147]

African American midwives were the primary care for pregnant Black women and nursing mothers during and after slavery. By the mid-twentieth century, licenses were required for all women to become a midwife. Prior to certification, segregation laws prevented black women from entering hospitals that provided medical care for white people. Also, many African Americans did not trust white medical doctors, because some were known to conduct medical experiments on Blacks. African American women midwives provided medical care for nursing and pregnant Black women in their communities by treating them with herbal medicines. In addition, many African American midwives practiced Hoodoo. Hoodoo and midwife practices were combined in African American communities. During childbirth, African American midwives spiritually protected the house because it is believed that evil spirits might harm a new born spirit being born into the world. Protective charms were placed inside and outside of the house, and Black midwives prayed for spiritual protection for the mother and new born baby.[148]

Cosmology[edit]

God[edit]

Since the 19th century there has been Christian influence in Hoodoo thought.[149] 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."[150] A translation of this is, "In hoodooism, anything that you do is the plan of God, understand? 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."

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.[151][152]

God as conjurer[edit]

Some rootworkers use Christian imagery on their Hoodoo altars

Not only is Yahweh's providence a factor in Hoodoo practice, but Hoodoo thought understands the deity as the archetypal Hoodoo doctor.[153] From this perspective, biblical figures are often recast as Hoodoo doctors and the Bible becomes a source of spells and is, itself, used as a protective talisman.[154] This can be understood as a syncretic adaptation for the religion. By blending the ideas laid out by the Christian Bible, the faith is made more acceptable. This combines the teachings of Christianity that Africans brought to America were given and the traditional beliefs they brought with them. This practice in Hoodoo of combining African traditional beliefs with the Christian faith is defined as Afro-Christianity. Afro-Christianity is Christianity from an African American perspective. In Hoodoo, the divine can be commanded to act through the use of mojo bags, prayers, spiritual works or "spells" and laying tricks. One does not have to wait on God, but can command the divine to act at will through the use of Hoodoo rituals. This is what makes African American Christianity in Hoodoo different from other forms of Christianity. By seeing God in this way, Hoodoo practices was preserved in and outside the Black church. Also, ghosts and haunts can be controlled in Hoodoo because they emanate from God. Rootworkers control spirits through the use of Hoodoo rituals by capturing spirits using the spiritual tools used in Hoodoo. The difference between Afro-Christianity and European American Christianity is that spirits can be controlled by using the herbal ingredients in nature, because the herbs and nature have a spirit, and if the spirits of nature and the divine can be influenced so can other spirits such as ghosts.[155] During the 1930s, some observers of African American Christianity (or Afro-Christianity) saw how church services of African Americans was similar to Voodoo ceremonies. The possession during a baptismal service at a black Spiritual church was no different from a possession in a Voodoo ceremony, as the body movements, babbling in sounds, eye rolls, and other body jerks were similar. However, in Black churches it is called touched by the Holy Spirit, in Voodoo ceremonies African spirits mount or possess participants, but the response of possession is the same.[156]

The origins of Afro-Christianity began with Bantu-Kongo people in Central Africa. Prior to Bakongo people coming to the United States and enslaved on plantations, Bakongo (Bantu-Kongo) people were introduced to Christianity from European missionaries and some converted to the Christian faith. Bantu-Kongo people's sacred symbol is a cross called the Kongo cosmogram (+) that looks similar to the Christian Cross.[157] A form of Kongo Christianity was created in Central Africa. Bantu-Kongo people combined Kongo spiritual beliefs with the Christian faith that were nature spirits and spirits of dead ancestors.[158] The concepts of Kongo Christianity[159] among the Bakongo people was brought to the United States during the transatlantic slave trade and developed into Afro-Christianity among African Americans that is seen in Hoodoo and in some Black churches. As a result, African American Hoodoo and Afro-Christianity developed differently and was not influenced by European American Christianity as some African Americans continued to believe in the African concepts about the nature of spirits and the cosmos coming from the Kongo cosmogram.[160]

A recent work on hoodoo lays out a model of hoodoo origins and development. Mojo Workin: The Old African American Hoodoo System by Katrina Hazzard-Donald discusses what the author calls

the ARC or African Religion Complex which was a collection of eight traits which all the enslaved Africans had in common and were somewhat familiar to all held in the agricultural slave labor camps known as plantations communities. Those traits included naturopathic medicine, ancestor reverence, counter clockwise sacred circle dancing, blood sacrifice, divination, supernatural source of malady, water immersion and spirit possession. These traits allowed Culturally diverse Africans to find common culturo-spiritual ground. According to the author, hoodoo developed under the influence of that complex, the African divinities moved back into their natural forces, unlike in the Caribbean and Latin America where the divinities moved into Catholic saints.[161]

Moses as conjurer[edit]

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."[162] 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.[163]

Bible as talisman[edit]

Gutenberg Bible, Lenox Copy, New York Public Library, 2009. Pic 01

In Hoodoo, "All hold that the Bible is the great conjure book in the world."[164] 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.[165] 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 spiritual works 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.[166]

Author, Theophus Harold Smith, explained in his book, Conjuring Culture: Biblical Formations in Black America, that the Bible's place is an important tool in Hoodoo for African Americans' spiritual and physical liberation.[167] The bible was used in slave religion as a magical formula that provided information on how to use herbs in conjure and how to use the bible to conjure specific results and spirits to bring about change in the lives of people, which is a continued practice today.[168]

For example, enslaved and free blacks used the Bible as a tool against slavery. Enslaved and free blacks that could read found the stories of the Hebrews in the Bible in Egypt similar to their situation in the United States as enslaved people. The Hebrews in the Old Testament were freed from slavery in Egypt under the leadership of Moses. Examples of enslaved and free blacks using the Bible as a tool for liberation were Denmark Vesey's slave revolt in South Carolina in 1822 and Nat Turner's insurrection in Virginia in 1831. Vesey and Turner were ministers, and utilized the Christian faith to galvanize enslaved people to resist slavery through armed resistance. In Denmark Vesey's slave revolt, Vesey's co-conspirator was an enslaved Gullah conjurer named Gullah Jack who gave the slaves rootwork instructions for their spiritual protection for a possible slave revolt. Gullah Jack and Denmark Vesey attended the same church in Charleston, South Carolina and that was how they knew each other. However, Nat Turner was known among the slaves to have dreams and visions that came true. In the Hoodoo tradition, dreams and visions comes from spirits, such as the ancestors or the Holy Spirit in the Christian faith. Relying on dreams and visions for inspiration and knowledge is an African practice blended with the Christian faith among enslaved and free African Americans. After Nat Turner's rebellion, laws were passed in Virginia to end the education of free and enslaved blacks, and only allow white ministers to be present at all church services for enslaved people. White ministers preached obedience to slavery, while enslaved and free black ministers preached resistance to slavery using the stories of the Hebrews and Moses in the Old Testament of the Bible. There was a blend of African spiritual practices in both slave revolts of Vesey and Turner. Vesey and Turner used the Bible, and conjure was used alongside the Bible.[169]

Nat Turner's mother came from a slave ship from Africa. Research has not determined what part of Africa Nat Turner's mother is from. However, Turner's mother had a profound spiritual influence in his life. His mother taught him about African spirituality that was evident in his life as he used visions and celestial interpretation of planetary bodies to understand messages from spirit. Turner believed the eclipse of the sun was a message from God to start a slave rebellion. This practice among the enslaved population created a Hoodoo Christian Church or Hoodoonized version of Christianity on slave plantations, where enslaved Africans escaped into the woods at night and practiced a blend of African spirituality with Christianity. Hoodoo countered European American Christianity as enslaved African Americans reinterpreted Christianity to fit their situation in America as enslaved people. For example, God was seen as powerful and his power can help free enslaved people. This created an "invisible institution" on slave plantations as enslaved Africans practiced the ring shout, spirit possession, and healing rituals to receive messages from spirit about freedom. These practices were done in secret away from slaveholders. This was done in the Hoodoo church among the enslaved. Nat Turner had visions and omens which he interpreted came from spirit, and that spirit told him to start a rebellion to free enslaved people through armed resistance. Turner combined African spirituality with Christianity.[170][171]

Conjuring the Spirit of High John[edit]

Mojo Workin: The Old African American Hoodoo System also discusses the "High John the Conqueror root"[172] and myth as well as the "nature sack."[173] In African American folk stories, High John the Conqueror was an African prince who was kidnapped from Africa and enslaved in the United States. He was a trickster, and used his wit and charm to deceive and outsmart his slaveholders. After the American Civil War, before High John the Conqueror returned to Africa, he told the newly freed slaves that if they ever needed his spirit for freedom his spirit would reside in a root they could use. According to some scholars, the origin of High John the Conqueror may have originated from African male deities such as Elegua who is a trickster spirit in West Africa. By the twentieth century, white drugstore owners began selling High John the Conqueror products with the image of a white King on their labels commercializing Hoodoo. Zora Neal Hurston documented some history about High John the Conqueror from her discussions with African Americans in the South in her book, The Sanctified Church. Some African Americans believed High John the Conqueror freed the slaves, and that President Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War did not bring freedom for Blacks. According to one woman, Aunt Shady Anne Sutton interviewed by Hurston, she said: "These young Negroes reads they books and talk about the war freeing the Negroes, by Aye Lord! A heap sees, but a few knows. 'Course, the war was a lot of help, but how come the war took place? They think they knows, but they don't. John de Conqueror had done put it into the white folks to give us our freedom." Anne Sutton said High John de Conqueror taught Black people about freedom and to prepare for their freedom in an upcoming war. The High John the Conqueror root used by African Americans prevented whippings from slaveholders and provided freedom from chattel slavery. The root given to Frederick Douglass was a High John root that prevented Douglass from being whipped and beaten by a slave-breaker. Former slave Henry Bibb used the High John root to protect himself by chewing and spitting the root towards his enslaver.[174][175][176]

Spirits[edit]

A spirit that torments the living is known as a Boo Hag.[4] Spirits are conjured to cure or kill people, and predict the future.[177] Spirits can also help people find things. One slave narrative from South Carolina mentioned a pastor who spoke to spirits to help him find some hidden money. This record from a slave narrative revealed how Hoodoo and the Black church was intertwined.[178] Another slave narrative from Indiana mentioned a location that the African American population refused to enter because "it was haunted by the spirits of black people who were beaten to death." This location was so feared by the blacks in the area that they placed a fence around it.[179] Also wearing a silver dime worn around the ankle or neck can protect someone from evil spirits and conjure.[180] Another method to protect from evil spirits was to carry a small bag filled with salt and charcoal.[181]

Communication with spirits and the dead (ancestors) is a continued practice in Hoodoo that originated from West and Central Africa. Nature spirits in Hoodoo called Simbi originates from West-Central Africa, and Simbi spirits are associated with water and magic in Africa and in Hoodoo.[182] Simbi singular, and Bisimbi plural, are African water spirits. This belief in water spirits was brought to the United States during the transatlantic slave trade and continues in the African American community in the practice of Hoodoo and Voodoo. The Bisimbi are water spirits that reside in gullies, streams, fresh water, and outdoor water features (fountains).[183] Academic research on the Pooshee Plantation and Woodboo Plantation in South Carolina, showed a continued belief of African water spirits among enslaved African Americans. Both plantations are "now under the waters of Lake Moultrie."[184]

West African water-spirit figure (MIA)

The earliest known record of simbi spirits was recorded in the nineteenth century by Edmund Ruffin who was a wealthy slaveholder from Virginia, and traveled to South Carolina "to keep the slave economic system viable through agricultural reform." In Ruffin's records he spelled simbi, cymbee, because he did not know the original spelling of the word. In Ruffin's records, he recorded a few conversations he had with some of the enslaved people. One enslaved boy said he saw a cymbee spirit running around a fountain one night when he was trying to get a drink of water. Another enslaved man said he saw a cymbee spirit sitting on a plank when he was a boy before it glided into the water. The Simbi (cymbee) spirits can help with healing, fertility, and prosperity. Baptismal services are done by rivers to invoke the blessings of the Simbi spirits to bring healing, fertility, and prosperity to people. West Africans and African Americans wear white clothing to invoke the water spirits during water ceremonies.[185] There is a significant amount of Kongo culture that continues today in the African American community, because 40 percentage of Africans taken during the transatlantic slave trade came from Central Africa's Congo Basin.[186][187]

It is believed one's soul returns to God after death, however their spirit may still remain on Earth. Spirits can interact with the world by providing good fortune or bringing bad deeds. Other spirits revered in Hoodoo are the ancestors. In Hoodoo, the ancestors are important spirits that intercede in people's lives. Ancestors can intercede in the lives of people by providing guidance and protection.[188] The practice of ancestral veneration in Hoodoo originated from African practices. However, if ancestors are not venerated they can cause trouble in their families lives. Ancestors are venerated through prayers and offerings. In Hoodoo, ancestors can appear in people's dream to provide information and guidance.[189]

Pouring of libation in West Africa is also practiced in Hoodoo.

To have a strong connection with the ancestors in Hoodoo, graveyard dirt is sometimes used. Graveyard dirt from the grave of an ancestor provides protection. Graveyard dirt taken from the grave of a person who is not an ancestor is used to harm an enemy or for protection. However, before taking graveyard dirt one must pay for it with three pennies or some other form of payment. Graveyard dirt is another primary ingredient used in goofer dust. Graveyard dirt is placed inside mojo bags (conjure bags) to carry a spirit or spirits with you, if they are an ancestor or other spirits. Dirt from graveyards provides a way to have connections to spirits of the dead. To calm the spirits of ancestors, African Americans leave the last objects used by their family members and lay them on top of their grave as way to acknowledge them and it has the last essence or spirit of the person before they died.[190][191][192] The cemetery is seen as a final resting place for the dead and as a doorway to the realm of the spirits. In hoodoo, the spirits of the dead can be petitioned or conjured to carry out certain tasks for the conjurer that are positive or negative.[193] This practice of ancestral reverence, using graveyard dirt, working with spirits of the dead, and decorating graves of family members and giving food offerings to dead relatives so they will not haunt the family, originated from Central Africa's Kongo region that was brought to the United States during the transatlantic slave trade.[194] Also, the West African practice of pouring libations continues in the practice of Hoodoo. Libations are given in Hoodoo as an offering to honor and acknowledge the ancestors.[195]

Practices[edit]

"Seeking" process[edit]

Coffin Point Praise House

In a process known as "seeking" a Hoodoo practitioner will ask for salvation of a person's soul in order for a Gullah church to accept them. A spiritual leader will assist in the process and after believing the follower is ready they will announce it to the church. A ceremony will commence with much singing, and the practice of a ring shout.[4] The word "shout" derived from the West African Muslim word saut, meaning "dancing or moving around the Kaaba." The ring shout in Black churches (African American churches) originates from African styles of dance. Counterclockwise circle dancing is practiced in West and Central Africa to invoke the spirits of the ancestors and for spirit possession. The ring shout and shouting looks similar to African spirit possession. In Hoodoo, African Americans perform the ring shout to become touched or possessed by the Holy Spirit and to communicate with the spirits of dead ancestors. African Americans replaced African spirits with the Christian God (Holy Spirit) during possession. In African American churches this is called "catching the spirit." African Americans use music, clapping, and singing during the ring shout and in modern-day shouting in Black churches to bring down the spirit. The singing during the ring shout has Christian meaning using biblical references.[196][197] During slavery enslaved Africans were forced to become Christian which resulted in a blend of African and Christian spiritual practices that shaped Hoodoo. As a result, Hoodoo was and continues to be practiced in some Black churches in the United States.[198][199] In the Gullah/Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor[200] area, praise houses[201] are places where African Americans gather to have church and perform healing rituals and the ring shout.[202] The ring shout in Hoodoo has its origins in the Kongo region of Africa with the Kongo cosmogram. During the ring shout African Americans shuffle their feet on the floor or ground without removing their feet from the floor in order to create static electricity from the earth to connect with the spiritual energy of the earth. By connecting with the spiritual energy of the earth they are also connecting with the spirit of the creator because God created the earth; this is bringing down the spirit. Also, this is done to connect with ancestral spirits. This practice includes singing and clapping. The spiritual energy intensifies until someone is pulled into the center of the ring shout by the spirit that was brought down. This is done to allow spirit to enter and govern the ring.[203][204] Researchers noticed the African American ring shout look similar to counterclockwise circle dances in West Africa. In West Africa during a funeral, a counterclockwise circle dance is performed to send the soul to the ancestral realm (land of the dead), because energy and souls travel in a circle. This practice in West Africa continued in the Gullah Geechee Nation where African Americans perform a ring shout over a person's grave to send their soul to the ancestral realm. In addition, the ring shout is performed for other special occasions not associated with death.[205] The ring shout continues today in Georgia with the McIntosh County Shouters. In 2016, Vice News went to St. Helena Island, South Carolina and interviewed African Americans in the Gullah Geechee Nation and recorded some of their spiritual traditions and cultural practices. Their recordings showed African cultural and spiritual practices that survived in the Gullah Nation in South Carolina. The video showed a ring shout, singing, and other traditions. In addition, African Americans in South Carolina are fighting to keep their traditions alive despite gentrification of some of their communities.[206] In 2017, the Smithsonian Institution interviewed African Americans and recorded the ring shout tradition practiced in the Gullah Geechee Nation in Georgia. The songs sung during the ring shout and in shouting originated from their ancestors from Africa who replaced African songs and chants with Christian songs and biblical references.[207][208]

Hoodoo initiations[edit]

This seeking process in Hoodoo accompanied with the ring shout is also an initiation into Hoodoo. African Americans in the Sea Islands (Gullah Geechee people) performed initiations of community members by combining West African initiation practices with Christian practices called "Seeking Jesus." Young people spent time in nature "seeking Jesus," and received guidance from Black religious leaders. The spiritual mothers of the African American community provided prophetic guidance to those "seeking." After their initiation, initiates were accepted into the religious black community.[209][196] Zora Neale Hurston wrote about her initiation into Hoodoo in her book Mules and Men published in 1935. Hurston explained her initiation into Hoodoo included wrapped snakeskins around her body, and lying on a couch (sofa) for three days nude so she could have a vision and acceptance from the spirits.[210] In addition to lying on a couch nude wrapped in snakeskins for her initiation, Hurston had to drink the blood of the Hoodoo doctors who initiated her from a wine glass cup.[211] There are other ways people become a Hoodoo doctor. One is through a mentor under an apprenticeship or they were born into a family of practitioners. Initiations are not required to become a Hoodoo doctor or rootworker.[212]

Bottle tree[edit]

A bottle tree

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. The use of blue bottles is linked to the "haint blue" spirit specifically. Glass bottle trees have become a popular garden decoration throughout the South and Southwest.[213] According to academic research, the origins of bottle trees practiced by African Americans has its origins from the Kongo region. The bottle tree practice was found in the Kongo region in Central Africa and in the Caribbean practiced by Blacks. African descended people in the African Diaspora decorated trees with bottles, plates, pieces of broken pots, and other items to drive away evil. This practice was brought to the United States during the transatlantic slave trade. The purpose of bottle trees is to protect a home or a location from evil spirits by trapping evil spirits inside the bottles.[214] How bottle trees worked was that spirits would be attracted to the sunlight that is seen flickering inside the bottle as the sunlight passes through it trapping the spirit in the bottle and banishing the spirit with sunlight. Sometimes items such as stones or graveyard dirt is placed inside the bottle to further attract the spirit to the bottle in order to trap it.[215]

Personal concerns[edit]

In Hoodoo, personal concerns are used such as, hair, nail-clippings, blood, bones, and other bodily fluids are mixed with ingredients for either a positive or a negative effect. These items are placed inside conjure bags or jars and mixed with roots, herbs, animal parts, and graveyard dirt from a murderer's grave and sometimes ground into a powder. The cursed items are buried under a person's steps to cause misfortune. To prevent from being "fixed" (cursed) it is considered a good idea to burn loose hairs, combed or fallen from the head, so a conjurer cannot make a cursing powder from a person's hair. Placing personal concerns in containers and burying them to cause harm was found in West African countries of Nigeria and Benin.[216][217]

Spirit mediation[edit]

The purpose of Hoodoo was to allow people 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, candles, colored candles, incense, and other spiritual tools are used in Hoodoo to bring healing, protection, love and luck.[218] For example, to prevent separation of a husband and wife couples relied on rootwork and conjure. One example documented in a slave narrative was to take a rabbit's forefoot, a loadstone, take nine hairs from the top of the head, and place all ingredients in a red flannel bag and bury it under the steps at the front door. To protect from conjure, a hole was punched through a dime and a string was inserted inside the hole and the dime was tied to the left ankle.[219]

How Hoodoo magic works is by working with the spirits of roots, herbs, insects, calling ancestors, and other spirits to activate the work for manifestation. 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.[220][221]

Offerings[edit]

The West and Central African practice of leaving food offerings for deceased relatives and to feed the spirits either ancestors or petition other spirits that are not ancestors by giving them offerings of food, water, or rum (whiskey) continues in the practice of Hoodoo. Providing spirits offerings of libation empowers the spirits because it feeds them. Also it honors the spirits by acknowledging their existence. These offerings of food and liquids and the pouring of libations are left at gravesites or at a tree. This practice of offerings and libations is practiced in the Central African country of Gabon and other parts of Africa and was brought to the United States during the transatlantic slave trade.[222][223][224]

Animal sacrifice[edit]

Animal sacrifice is a traditional practice in Africa. It is done as an offering to the spirits, and also to ask a spirit to provide protection, healing, and other requests. When Africans were enslaved in the United States the practice continued in Voodoo and Hoodoo. The animals that are sacrificed are chickens. In West Africa among the Yoruba, blood sacrifices are left for Eshu-Elegba at the crossroads. The crossroads is a spiritual door way to the spiritual realm where Eshu-Elegba resides. This practice was brought to the United States during the transatlantic slave trade, and African Americans into the twentieth century performed animal blood sacrifices at the crossroads. Eshu-Elegba became the crossroads spirit or the man of the crossroads in Hoodoo.[225][226][227] In Hoodoo, animal sacrifice has become a rare practice in the African American community. However, animal sacrifice was documented in Hoodoo even into the late nineteenth century and into mid-twentieth century. For example, in Hoodoo, animal sacrifices are sometimes done at the crossroads as an offering to the crossroad spirit and to ask the spirit or spirits for a request. At Stagville Plantation located in Durham County, North Carolina, enslaved Africans performed animal sacrifice to call forth spirits for assistance in the slave community.[228] In 1883 in Alabama, a rootworker used a chicken to leave a blood offering to the spirits to remove a spiritual work (spell).[229] An African American man in North Carolina sacrificed a chicken at a crossroads "asking salvation from an epidemic" from a disease that killed off his farm animals.[230][231] Zora Neale Hurston recorded in her book Mules and Men an animal sacrifice of nine black chickens in the twentieth century. A Hoodoo man named Turner in New Orleans, Louisiana performed an animal sacrifice for a client who wanted her brother in-law to leave her alone. Turner sat at his snake altar and meditated on his clients situation, and afterwards told Hurston to purchase nine black chickens and some Four Thieves Vinegar. Turner and Hurston performed a ritual including the nine black chickens and Four Thieves Vinegar at night to ask the spirits and the spirits of the chickens sacrificed for his clients brother in-law to stop bothering her. The ritual included Turner dancing in a circle swirling the chickens in his hand, and killed them by taking off their heads, and Hurston continued to beat the ground with a stick in order to produce a rhythmic sound in sync with Turner's dancing. Where the ritual took place Four Thieves Vinegar was poured onto the ground.[232] In some African American Spiritual churches, the sacrifice of live chickens to heal church members was practiced in a Spiritual church in New Orleans by Mother Catherine Seals in the early to mid-twentieth century.[233]

Divination[edit]

The use of divination in Hoodoo originated from African practices. In West and Central Africa, divination was (and is) used to determine what measures an individual or a community should know that is important for survival and spiritual balance. Just like in Africa and in Hoodoo, people turn to divination seeking guidance about major changes in their life. People seek an elder or a skilled diviner. This practice was brought to the United States during the transatlantic slave trade.[234][235] There are several forms of divination traditionally used in Hoodoo.[236]

Cleromancy[edit]

A bone reading

Cleromancy is the practice of casting small objects such as shells, bones, stalks, coins, nuts, stones, dice, and sticks for an answer from spirit. The use of bones, sticks, shells and other items is a form of divination used in Africa and in Hoodoo in the United States.[237][238]

Cartomancy[edit]

Cartomancy is the practice of using Tarot and poker playing cards to receive messages from spirit. The use of divining with cards was added later in Hoodoo, such as Tarot and poker playing cards. There are some Hoodoo practitioners that use both.[239]

Natural or Judicial Astrology[edit]

Natural and Judicial Astrology is the study of the positions and motions of celestial bodies and how planets have an influence over nature and human affairs.[240] Nat Turner took the sign of an eclipse of the sun as a sign from God to start his slave revolt in Southampton County, Virginia in 1831.[170]

Augury[edit]

The practice of Augury is deciphering phenomena (omens) that are believed to foretell the future, often signifying the advent of change. Before his rebellion, Nat Turner had visions and omens from spirit to free the enslaved through armed resistance.[241] In African American communities a child born with a caul over their face is believed to have psychic gifts to see spirits and see into the future. This belief in the caul on a baby's face brings psychic gifts was found in West Africa in Benin (Dahomey). After the baby is born, the caul is taken off the baby's face and is preserved and used to drive away (or banish) ghosts. African American folklore and belief in divination was influenced by West African traditions brought over during the slave trade.[242][243]

Oneiromancy[edit]

Oneiromancy is a form of divination based upon dreams. Former slaves talked about receiving messages from ancestors and spirits about impending danger or advice about how to save money.[244][245]

Walking boy[edit]

The walking boy was a traditional form of divination practiced by African Americans on slave plantations, and the practiced continued after chattel slavery. A conjurer would take a bottle and tie a string to it and place a bug inside the bottle. The conjurer pulled the bottle as the bug moved. What ever direction the bug moved inside the bottle the conjurer knew where a spell bottle was buried that caused misfortune or where the person lived who buried the bottle.[246]

In the history of Hoodoo, Aunt Caroline Dye was a Hoodoo woman born enslaved in Spartanburg, South Carolina, and moved to Arkansas in her adult life. Aunt Caroline Dye was known for her psychic abilities, and used a deck of cards and provided spiritual readings for blacks and whites.[247] Aunt Caroline Dye's psychic abilities were so well known that several blues songs were written about her by African American blues musicians.[248]

History[edit]

Antebellum era[edit]

Many Hoodoo practices were hidden in Black churches during and after slavery for African Americans to protect themselves.[249]

Hoodoo developed as a primarily Central and West African retention. From Central Africa, Hoodoo has Bakongo magical influence incorporating the Kongo cosmogram, water spirits called Simbi, and some Nkisi and Minkisi practices.[250] The West African influence is Vodun from the Fon and Ewe people in Benin and Togo and some elements from the Yoruba religion. After their contact with European slave traders, Africans were forced to become Christian which resulted in a blend of African spiritual beliefs with the Christian faith. Enslaved and free Africans also learned some regional indigenous botanical knowledge after they arrived to the United States.[251] The extent to which Hoodoo could be practiced varied by region and the temperament of the slave owners. For example, the Gullah people of the coastal Southeast experienced an isolation and relative freedom that allowed retention of various traditional West African cultural practices; whereas rootwork in the Mississippi Delta, where the concentration of enslaved African-Americans was dense, was practiced under a large cover of secrecy.[252][253] The reason for secrecy among enslaved and free African Americans was that slave codes prohibited large gatherings of enslaved and free blacks. Slaveholders experienced how slave religion ignited slave revolts among enslaved and free blacks, and some leaders of slave insurrections were black ministers or conjure doctors.[254] The Code Noir in French colonial Louisiana, prohibited and made it illegal for enslaved Africans to practice their traditional religions. Article III in the Code Noir states: "We forbid any public exercise of any religion other than Catholic."[255] The Code Noir and other slave laws resulted in enslaved and free African Americans to conduct their spiritual practices in secluded areas such as woods, churches, and other places.[256] Enslaved people created methods to decrease their noise when they practiced their spirituality. In a slave narrative from Arkansas, enslaved people prayed under pots to decrease their noise to prevent nearby whites from hearing them have church. A former slave in Arkansas named John Hunter said the slaves went to a secret house only they knew and turn the iron pots face up and their slaveholder could not hear them. Enslaved people also placed sticks under wash pots about a foot from the ground to decrease their noise as the sound they made during their rituals went into the pots.[257] Former slave and abolitionist William Wells Brown, wrote in his book, My southern home, or, The South and its people published in 1880, discussed the life of enslaved people in the American South. Brown recorded a secret Voudoo ceremony at midnight in St. Louis, Missouri. Enslaved people circled around a cauldron, and a Voudoo queen had a magic wand, and snakes, lizards, frogs, and other animal parts were thrown into the cauldron. During the ceremony spirit possession took place. Brown also recorded other conjure (Hoodoo) practices among the enslaved population.[258] Enslaved Africans in America held on to their African culture. Scholars assert that Christianity did not have much of an influence on some of the enslaved Africans as they continued to practice their traditional spiritual practices, and that Hoodoo was a form of resistance against slavery whereby enslaved Africans hid their traditions using the Christian religion against their slaveholders.[259][260]

Known hoodoo spells date back to the era of slavery in the colonial history of the United States. A slave revolt broke out in 1712 in colonial New York, with enslaved Africans revolting and set fire to buildings in the downtown area. The leader of the revolt was a free African conjurer named Peter the Doctor who made a magical powder for the slaves to be rubbed on the body and clothes for their protection and empowerment. The Africans that revolted were Akan people from Ghana. Historians suggests the powder made by Peter the Doctor probably included some cemetery dirt to conjure the ancestors to provide spiritual militaristic support from ancestral spirits as help during the slave revolt. The Bakongo people in Central Africa incorporate cemetery dirt into minkisi conjuring bags to activate it with ancestral spirits, and during the slave trade Bakongo people were brought to colonial New York. The New York slave revolt of 1712 and others in the United States, showed a blending of West and Central African spiritual practices among enslaved and free blacks.[261][262] Conjure bags, also called mojo bags, were used as a form of resistance against slavery. William Webb helped enslaved people on a plantation in Kentucky resist their oppressors with the use of mojo bags. Webb told the slaves to gather some roots and put them in bags and "march around the cabins several times and point the bags toward the master's house every morning." After the slaves did what they were instructed by Webb, the slaveholder treated his slaves better.[263] Another enslaved African named Dinkie, known by the slaves as Dinkie King of Voudoos and the Goopher King, on a plantation in the American south, used goofer dust to resist a cruel overseer (a person who is an overseer of slaves). Dinkie was an enslaved man on a plantation who never worked like the other slaves. He was feared and respected by blacks and whites. Dinkie was known to carry a dried snakeskin, frog and lizard, and sprinkled goofer dust on himself and spoke to the spirit of the snake to wake up its spirit against the overseer.[264] Henry Clay Bruce who was a black abolitionist and writer, recorded his experience of enslaved people on a plantation in Virginia hired a conjurer to prevent slaveholders from selling them to plantations in the Deep South. Louis Hughes, an enslaved man who lived on plantations in Tennessee and Mississippi, had a mojo bag that he carried to prevent slaveholders from whipping him. The mojo bag Hughes carried on him was called a "voodoo bag," by the slaves in the area.[265] Former slave and abolitionist Henry Bibb wrote in his autobiography Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Henry Bibb, An American Slave, Written by Himself that he sought the help of several conjurers when he was enslaved. Bibb went to the conjurers (Hoodoo doctors) and hoped the charms provided to him from the conjure doctors would prevent slaveholders from whipping and beating him. The conjurers provided Bibb with conjure powders to sprinkle around the bed of the slaveholder, put conjure powders in the slaveholder's shoes, and carry a bitter root and other charms on him for his protection against slaveholders.[266]

Frederick Douglass, who was a former slave, and an abolitionist and author, wrote in his autobiography that he sought spiritual assistance from an enslaved conjurer named Sandy Jenkins. Sandy told Douglass to follow him into the woods where they found a root that Sandy told Douglass to carry in his right pocket to prevent any white man from whipping him. Douglass carried the root on his right side instructed by Sandy and hoped the root would work when he returned to the plantation. The cruel slave-breaker Mr. Covey told Douglass to do some work, but as Mr. Covey approached Douglass, Douglass had the strength and courage to resist Mr. Covey and defeated him after they fought. Covey never bothered Douglass again. In his autobiography, Douglass believed the root given to him by Sandy prevented him from being whipped by Mr. Covey.[267] Hoodoo or conjure for African Americans is a form of resistance against white domination.[268][269] African American conjurers were seen as a threat by white Americans because enslaved people went to free and enslaved conjurers to receive charms for protection and revenge against their slaveholders.[270]

Paschal Beverly Randolph

During the era of slavery, occultist Paschal Beverly Randolph began studying the occult and traveled and learned spiritual practices in Africa and Europe. Randolph was a mixed race free black man who wrote several books on the occult. In addition, Randolph was an abolitionist and spoke out against the practice of slavery in the South. After the American Civil War, Randolph educated freedmen in schools for former slaves called Freedmen's Bureau Schools in New Orleans, Louisiana, where he studied Louisiana Voodoo and Hoodoo in African American communities, documenting his findings in his book, Seership, The Magnetic Mirror. In 1874, Randolph organized a spiritual organization called Brotherhood of Eulis in Tennessee.[271][272] Through his travels, Randolph documented the continued African traditions in Hoodoo practiced by African Americans in the South. Randolph documented two African American men of Kongo origin that used Kongo conjure practices against each other. The two conjure men came from a slave ship that docked in Mobile Bay in 1860 or 1861. According to Randolph, the words Hoodoo and Voodoo are African dialects, and the practices of Hoodoo and Voodoo are similar to Obi (Obeah) in the Caribbean.[273][274]

Post-emancipation[edit]

The term "Hoodoo" was first documented in American English in 1875 as a noun (the practice of hoodoo) or as a transitive verb, as in "I hoodoo you," an action carried out by varying means. The hoodoo could be manifest in a healing potion, or in the exercise of a parapsychological power, or as the cause of harm which befalls the targeted victim.[275][276] In African-American Vernacular English (AAVE), Hoodoo is often used to refer to a paranormal consciousness or spiritual hypnosis, or a spell, but Hoodoo may also be used as an adjective in reference to a practitioner, such as "Hoodoo man." According to Paschal Berverly Randolph, the word Hoodoo is an African dialect.[277] The origin of the word hoodoo comes from the word Hudu which comes from the Ewe language spoken in the West African countries of Ghana and Togo. The word Hudu means spirit work. According to scholars, the origin of the word hoodoo and other words associated with the practice were traced to the Bight of Benin and Senegambia. Other words used in hoodoo that can be traced to West Africa is the word gris-gris (a conjure bag) is a Mande word. The word wanga (another word for mojo bag) comes from the Kikongo language.[278]

The mobility of Black people from the rural South to more urban areas in the North is characterized by the items used in Hoodoo. White pharmacists opened their shops in African American communities and began to offer items both asked for by their customers, as well as things they themselves felt would be of use.[279] Examples of the adoption of occultism and mysticism may be seen in the colored wax candles in glass jars that are often labeled for specific purposes such as "Fast Luck" or "Love Drawing." There were some African Americans that sold Hoodoo products in the black community. An African American woman, Mattie Sampson, worked as a sales person in an active mail order business selling hoodoo products to her neighbors in Georgia.[280] Since the opening of Botanicas, Hoodoo practitioners purchase their spiritual supplies of novena candles, incense, herbs, conjure oils and other items from spiritual shops that service practitioners of Vodou, Santeria, and other African Traditional Religions.[281]

Black Herman magician

Hoodoo spread throughout the United States as African-Americans left the delta during the Great Migration. As African Americans left the South during the Great Migration, they took the practice of Hoodoo to other black communities in the North. Benjamin Rucker, also known as Black Herman, provided Hoodoo services for African Americans in the North and the South when he traveled as a stage magician. Benjamin Rucker was born in Virginia in 1892. Rucker learned stage magic and conjure from an African American named Prince Herman (Alonzo Moore). After Prince Herman's death, Rucker changed his name in honor of his teacher to Black Herman. Black Herman traveled between the North and South and provided conjure services in black communities, such as card readings, crafting health tonics, and other services. However, Jim Crow laws pushed Black Herman to Harlem, New York's black community where he operated his own hoodoo business and provided rootwork services to his clients.[282] For some African Americans that practiced rootwork, providing hoodoo services in the black community for African Americans to obtain love, money, employment, and protection from the police was a way to help black people during the Jim Crow era in the United States so blacks can gain employment to support their families, and for their protection against the law.[283][284]

The Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses is a grimoire that was made popular by European immigrants. Purportedly based on Jewish Kabbalah, it contains numerous signs, seals, and passages in Hebrew related to the prophet Moses' ability to work wonders. Though its authorship is attributed to Moses, the oldest manuscript dates to the mid-19th century.[285][286]

However, the Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses is not traditional in Hoodoo. White Americans marketed Hoodoo to African Americans for their own personal profit which was not planned to maintain the African traditions in Hoodoo. The incorporation of European grimoires into Hoodoo began in the twentieth century during the Great Migration as African Americans left the South to live and work in Northern cities living near European immigrants. However, the Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses has become a part of modern Hoodoo, because African Americans connected to the story of Moses freeing the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt, and Moses' magical powers against the Egyptians. Also, African Americans practiced Hoodoo centuries before the introduction of European grimoires. Hoodoo developed on slave plantations in the United States, and enslaved and free blacks used conjure as a form of resistance against slavery. Conjure practices in the slave community and among free blacks remained Central and West African in origin which Hoodoo practices included the ring shout, dream divination, Bible conjure, spiritual use of herbs, conjure powders, conjure bags (mojo bags), and drawing Kongo cosmogram engravings (an X) on floors to protect themselves from a harsh slaveholder.[287][288] For example, Gullah Jack was an African from Angola who brought a conjure bag onto a slave vessel leaving Angola going to the United States for his spiritual protection against slavery.[289] "Blacks utilized conjure as a form of resistance, revenge, and self-dense."[290]

Protesters with signs in Ferguson

After the American Civil War into the present day with the Black Lives Matter movement, Hoodoo practices in the African American community also focus on spiritual protection from police brutality.[291][292] Today, Hoodoo and other forms of African Traditional Religions are present in the Black Lives Matter movement as one of many methods against police brutality and racism in the black community. Black American keynote speakers that are practitioners of Hoodoo spoke at an event at The Department of Arts and Humanities at California State University about the importance of Hoodoo and other African spiritual traditions practiced in social justice movements to liberate black people from oppression.[293]

Hoodoo and the Spiritual church movement[edit]

The Spiritual church movement in the United States began in the mid-nineteenth century. The African American community was a part of this movement beginning in the early twentieth century, and several spiritual churches were in African American communities. Some African Americans started independent spiritual churches as a way for them to hide their African practices from whites by synchronizing African traditions with the Christian faith. Some Black Spiritual churches incorporated some elements of Hoodoo and Voodoo practices. There were some spiritual churches documented by Zora Neale Hurston that incorporated Hoodoo practices. A spiritual church in New Orleans led by an African American woman named Mother Catherine Seals performed Hoodoo to heal her clients. Mother Catherine Seals healed a church member sacrificing a chicken by slitting it live and tied it to a person's leg for two days. This is a continued African tradition of using chickens to heal and conjure protection.[294][295] Other African Diaspora practices Mother Catherine Seals incorporated into her Spiritual church was noted by Zora Neale Hurston was Seals reverence to a Haitian Vodou snake loa spirit Damballa. A snake design was painted on a wall at Mother Seals church. Another African American Spiritual church leader had a plastic snake on his altar. Snake reverence among African Americans in Voodoo and Hoodoo originates from West Africa. An African American named Washington "Doc" Harris founded the Saint Paul Spiritual Holy Temple in Memphis, Tennessee. The Spiritual church was nicknamed by the blacks in the area as "Voodoo Village." Although no actual Voodoo took place inside his Spiritual church; however, Hoodoo was practiced in the church. Doc Harris was known to make mojo bags that looked similar to the Kongo-based minkisi bundles, and he removed curses from people using Hoodoo. Doc Harris built his church in a secluded area in the black community so he and his family can practice their traditions in private.[296] African Americans in Spiritual churches blended African spiritual traditions and African spirits with Christianity creating a uniquely African-American religion.[297] African American Hoodoo religious and spiritual leaders in Spiritual churches did not refer to themselves as rootworkers or Hoodoo doctors, but as "spiritual advisors," to avoid negative attention from their community and the local authorities. Hiding Hoodoo practices inside Black churches was necessary for African Americans because some people were lynched for practicing Hoodoo. In September 1901 the newspaper, the Chicago Tribune, reported two people were lynched for practicing hoodooism.[298][299] Despite these circumstances, African American spiritual churches provided food and other services for the black community.[300][301][302]

Hoodoo and the Sanctified church[edit]

Another spiritual institution African Americans hid their Hoodoo practices was in the Sanctified Church. Bishop Charles Harrison Mason and other African American ministers founded the Church of God in Christ in the early twentieth century which has a predominantly African American membership. Author Zora Neal Hurston wrote in her book The Sanctified Church, the spiritual beliefs and conjure practices of the Black congregation in Sanctified Churches. African Americans talked about nailing a horse shoe over the door to ward off evil and making conjure balls to remove diseases. As white spiritual merchants exploited Hoodoo and turned it into just tricks and spells, African Americans moved more of the traditional Hoodoo practices of animal sacrifice, incorporating animal parts in spiritual work, Holy Ghost shouting, the ring shout, and other practices were synchronized with Christianity which took the Hoodoo practiced by African Americans underground. Some Sanctified Churches in African American communities still incorporate Hoodoo.[303][304] African American religious institutions are not just places of worship and spirituality, but are also places to discuss injustices in their communities and how to unite to bring about political and spiritual transformations for African Americans.[305]

Hoodoo In literature[edit]

Zora Neale Hurston's first book published about African American folklore and Hoodoo was Mules and Men. Hurston published Tell My Horse a book about the practice of Obeah in Jamaica and the practice of Vodou in Haiti.[306] (Image Library of Congress)

Zora Neale Hurston often employs Hoodoo imagery and references into her literature. In Sweat, the protagonist Delia is a washwoman with a fear of snakes. Her cruel husband, Sykes, is a devotee of Li Grande Zombi and uses her ophidiophobia against her to establish dominance. Delia learns Voodoo and Hoodoo and manages to hex Sykes. Another book by Zora Neale Hurston features hoodoo hexes and spells as well as a Hoodoo doctor.[307] Zora Neale Hurston's professional career was an anthropologist and a writer. Hurston documented African American folklore and spiritual practices in Black communities in the United States and the Caribbean. Hurston traveled to Eatonville, Florida and New Orleans, Louisiana and wrote about the spiritual practices of Blacks publishing her findings in books and articles providing readers knowledge of African American spirituality.[308][309]

Charles Waddell Chestnust was a mixed race African American author who wrote African American folklore in his literature using fiction to reference the culture of Hoodoo is his writings. In 1899, Chestnut published The Conjure Woman that tells the story of African Americans after the Civil War and how they used conjure to fix their everyday problems. In addition, Chestnut does not portray the African American characters in the book as racially inferior to whites. The African Americans in the book use their wit and intelligence combining hoodoo practices to solve their problems. The style of writing is phonetic. Chestnut wrote the book how African Americans in the South spoke during his time. This allows readers an example of African American Vernacular and culture. Also, the book discusses the North's economic opportunist exploitation of the South during the Reconstruction Era and how African Americans navigated through this process in their communities.[310][311]

Another writer who focused on African American spirituality in their literature is Ishmael Reed. Ishmael Reed criticizes the erasure of the African American from the American frontier narrative, as well as exposing the racist context of the American dream and the cultural evolution of the military-industrial complex. He explores the role of Hoodoo in the forging of a uniquely African-American culture. Reed writes about the Neo-hoo-doo aesthetic in aspects of African American culture such as dance, poetry and quilting. His book Mumbo Jumbo has many references to hoodoo. Mumbo Jumbo has been considered as representing the relationship between the westernized African American narrative and the demands of the western literary canon, and the African tradition at the heart of hoodoo that has defied assimilation. In his book Yellow Back Radio Broke-Down, the protagonist the Loop Garoo kid acts as an American frontier travelling with the hoodoo church and cursing 'Drag Gibson' the monocultural white American landowner.[312]

In Mama Day by Gloria Naylor, Mama day is a conjure woman with an encyclopedic knowledge of plants and the ability to contact her ancestors. The book focuses on benevolent aspects of Hoodoo as a means of elders helping the community and carrying on a tradition, with her saving Bernice's fertility.[313] Sassafrass, Cypress & Indigo also explores the deep connection between community empowerment and Hoodoo, in the story, Indigo has healing abilities and makes hoodoo dolls.[314]

Novelist Toni Morrison makes references to African American spirituality in her literature. In her fictional book, Song of Solomon published in 1977, tells the story of the character Milkman an African American in search of his African ancestors. Milkman lived in the North but returned to the South in search of his ancestry. By the end of the book Milkman learns he comes from a family of African medicine people and gained his ancestral powers and flew back to Africa. Morrison's idea of Milkman flying back to Africa was inspired by a historical event in Georgia that has become apart of African American folklore of flying Africans. In 1803, a slave ship landed on the coast of Georgia in St. Simons Island with captive Africans from Nigeria with a cargo of Igbo people. Some of the Igbo people chose suicide than a life time of slavery by walking into the swamp and drowning. This location became known as Igbo landing in Georgia. According to African American folklore, the Igbos that committed suicide their souls flew back to Africa.[315]

Slave Narratives[edit]

In the 1930s, the Federal Writers' Project part of the Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression, provided jobs for unemployed writers to write and collect the experiences of former slaves. Writers, black and white, documented the experiences of the last generation of African Americans that were born into slavery. Former African American slaves told writers about their slave experience which provided readers a glimpse into the lives of the enslaved. Slave narratives revealed the culture of African Americans during slavery. African American former slaves talked about conjure, rootwork, and Hoodoo. Former slaves talked about healing with herbs, removing curses using Hoodoo, talking to spirits, using graveyard dirt to curse people, divination with cards and a walking boy, Hoodoo in Black churches, hiding conjure practices from their enslavers, cursing their slaveholders using Hoodoo, animal sacrifice, and other conjure practices. Some of the African American former slaves told writers what region of Africa their family is from. These regions were the Kongo or regions in West Africa. Former slaves talked about their families culture came from a family member from Africa. Slave narratives are good sources to know how slavery impacted the lives of African Americans, and how Hoodoo was used by the enslaved to free themselves. The Library of Congress has 2,300 first-person accounts from former slaves in their digital archive.[316][317]

In slave narratives, African Americans revealed some of them were kidnapped directly from Africa and brought to America. These slave narratives coincide with the illegal slave trade. In 1807, the 9th United States Congress passed an act that prohibited the importation of slaves from Africa. However, this act did not stop illegal smuggling of enslaved Africans to the United States. The illegal slave trade continued into the 1860s, and sometimes resulted in a re-Africanization of African American culture with the importation of new Africans to the United States.[318][317] Some of these illegal slave trades were documented in American history. For example, the slave ship the Wanderer landed in Jekyll Island, Georgia in 1858 with a cargo of 409 Africans. The Wanderer departed near the Congo River in Central Africa.[319] In the 1930s, a local chapter of the Federal Writers' Project in Savannah, Georgia called the Georgia Writers' Project conducted interviews with former slaves and descendants of former slaves who either came directly from Africa on the slave ship the Wanderer or a family member came from Africa on the Wanderer and published their findings in a book called, "Drums and Shadows Survival Studies Among the Georgia Coastal Negroes."[320] The Georgia Writers' Project documented Hoodoo and conjure practices among African Americans in Georgia and traced the practices to West Africa and the Kongo region as some African Americans know what region in Africa a family member is from. One woman interviewed in St. Simons, Georgia said her father came from Africa on the slave ship the Wanderer. She thinks her father was Igbo and he talked about his life in Africa and the culture there and how it survived in her family. Other African Americans interviewed talked about the origins of their conjure practices came from the Ewe and Kongo people. For example, in West Africa graveyard dirt is placed inside conjure bags for protection against Juju. The West African practice of using graveyard dirt continues in the United States in black communities today in the African American tradition of Hoodoo.[321][322][323]

Africatown located north of Mobile, Alabama is another example of the illegal slave trade and African culture in the United States. In 2012, Africatown was placed on the National Register of Historic Places for its significance in African American history. On July 8, 1860, the slave ship Clotilda was the last slave ship to transport Africans to the United States. The Clotilda entered the Mississippi Sound in Alabama with 110 Africans. The Africans imported to Alabama illegally came from West Africa, and the ethnic groups coming from the region were Yoruba, Fon, Ewe, and Atakora. Each group brought their religions and languages. Some in the group practiced West African Vodun, Islam, and the Yoruba religion. Mobile, Alabama became the home for these diverse Africans where their religious and spiritual practices blended with Christianity. After the Civil War, a group of 32 Africans founded their own community calling it Africatown. In their community, they practiced African burial practices of their dead. African names were given to their children so they will know what region in Africa their ancestry is from. Zora Neale Hurston wrote a book about Africatown called, Barracoon: The Story of the Last "Black Cargo". Hurston interviewed Cudjoe Lewis one of the founders of Africatown and one of few who survived the last Middle Passage to the United States.[324][325][326]

Scholars estimate about 250,000 enslaved Africans were brought to the United States illegally between 1808 and 1859. This resulted in the further Africanization of African American spirituality in the coastal regions of the Southeast, because many of the North American slave ships landed in the coastal areas in the South.[327][328]

Hoodoo In Blues music[edit]

Bessie Smith's song Red Mountain Blues is about a woman who wants a man to love her. In the song, the woman sees a fortune teller and the fortune teller tells the woman to get two powerful roots, snakeroot and a High John the Conqueror root and chew them and place them in her boot and pocket and the man will love her. Smith has several songs that reference Hoodoo.[329]

Several African American blues singers and musicians composed songs about the culture of Hoodoo. They were W.C. Handy, Bessie Smith, Robert Johnson, Big Lucky Carter, Al Williams and others. African American blues performers was influenced by the culture of Hoodoo and wrote songs about mojo bags, love workings, and spirits. In 1957 the Muddy Waters song Got My Mojo Working spoke about the spiritual power of the mojo bag. Another blues musician in Hoodoo is Robert Johnson. Robert Johnson is known in the history of Hoodoo for his song about selling his soul to the devil (a black man with a cane) at the crossroads to become a better musician. Some authors suggests the origins of this practice in Hoodoo about crossroads spirits comes from Africa. According to Kail's conversations with a New Orleans Voudou priestess Papa Legba is a spirit that resides at crossroads and opens the doors to the spirit realm. He carries a cane and is a black man, just like in the story of Robert Johnson. However, Papa Legba is more associated with Haitian Vodou and not Hoodoo. Papa Legba's origins may come from the Yoruba West African trickster spirit Eshu-Elegba who also resides at crossroads. For many white Americans in the mid-twentieth century they were introduced to the practice of hoodoo by listening to African American blues musicians.[330][331][332][333][334]

Hoodoo vs. Marketeered Hoodoo[edit]

The culture of Hoodoo was created by African Americans. There are regional styles to this tradition, and as African Americans traveled the tradition of Hoodoo changes according to African Americans environment. Hoodoo includes reverence to ancestral spirits, African American quilt making, herbal healing, Bakongo and Igbo burial practices, Holy Ghost shouting, praise houses, snake reverence, African American churches, spirit possession, some Nkisi practices, Black Spiritual churches, black theology, the ring shout, the Kongo cosmogram, Simbi water spirits, graveyard conjure, the crossroads spirit, making conjure canes, incorporating animal parts, pouring of libations, bible conjure, and conjuring in the African American tradition. By the twentieth century, white drugstore owners and mail-order companies owned by white Americans changed the culture of Hoodoo. The Hoodoo that is practiced outside the African American community is not the Hoodoo that was created by African Americans. It is called "marketeered" Hoodoo. Other words for marketeered Hoodoo are commercialized or tourist Hoodoo. Hoodoo was modified by white merchants and replaced with fabricated practices and tools while some of the Hoodoo practices by African Americans in the twentieth century into the present day went underground. Marketeered Hoodoo spread further outside the African American community into other communities when Hoodoo was marketed on the internet. There are a plethora of videos on the internet of people fabricating spells calling them Hoodoo and others claiming to be experts on Hoodoo and offering paid classes and writing books. As a result, people outside of the African American community think that marketeered Hoodoo is authentic Hoodoo. Scholars are concerned about the number of people who are not from the African American community writing books on Hoodoo, because they have reduced Hoodoo to just spells and tricks. That Hoodoo is all about how to hex people and cast candle spells for love and money. This portrays Hoodoo negatively, and turned it materialistic.[335][336][337] For example, High John the Conqueror in African American folk stories is a black man from Africa enslaved in the United States whose spirit resides in a root that is used in Hoodoo. White American drugstore owners replaced conjure doctors in African American communities, and began putting an image of a white man on their High John the Conqueror product labels. As a result, some people do not know the African American folk hero High John the Conqueror is a black man.[338]

This is problematic, because it takes away from the voices of African Americans, and makes white spiritual merchants the authority on Hoodoo. The Hoodoo that is practiced by African Americans is defined by scholars as "Old Black Belt Hoodoo." Traditional Hoodoo of African American people went into hiding by the twentieth century into the present day. There is a spiritual philosophy in Hoodoo, and the tradition does have its own theology that is missing which was taken out by the spiritual merchants who wanted to profit from an African American spiritual tradition.[339] Charlatans used Hoodoo to make money, and changed the tradition as a form of selfish magic that is all about spells for love, money, and hexes in order to sale candles, oils, and trinkets. This kind of Hoodoo presented by charlatans not from the black community is the Hoodoo that most people know. The Spiritual church, the Sanctified church, and praise houses in black communities is where traditional Hoodoo continues to be practiced by African Americans.[340]

According to some scholars, the research and understanding of African American Hoodoo should be examined from the Black American experience, and not from the interpretation of marketeers and exploiters that is found in books and online published by people who are not African American. White Americans want to appropriate Black culture and claim it as their own for profit, and to say they created or taught African Americans their culture.[341][342]

Differences from voodoo religions[edit]

Exhibit showcases endangered culture embraced by African Americans in US South

Hoodoo shows evident links to the practices and beliefs of Fon and Ewe Vodun spiritual folkways. In the 1930s, the Georgia Writers' Project interviewed African Americans in Georgia who are one generation removed from the Ewe people and have found West African origins of the practice of Hoodoo. African Americans in Georgia told writers that a relative either their father, mother, or a grandparent came from West Africa. African Americans conjure practices in Georgia are similar to the Ewe people in West Africa. For example, how to make conjure bags (mojo bags), using graveyard dirt in conjure bags, how to conjure spirits, making conjure powders using animal parts with herbs and roots, and other conjure practices.[343][344] 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, Vodú of Cuba, and the Vudú of the Dominican Republic are related more to Vodun than to Hoodoo.[345]

See also[edit]

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