Hoodoo Still Practiced After 100 Years
Witch doctors and their mojo spells aren’t just products of Hollywood imagination—for over a century, the practice of Hoodoo has been an integral part of the culture in countries all around the world, including the United States.
By Mark Hoerrner
Stemming from African tribal magic, Hoodoo is currently practiced primarily in the Southern U.S., Haiti and West Africa. Brought to America during the African Diaspora fueled by American slave trade, the “white magic” of Hoodoo was a welcome counter to the Voodoo practitioners who also originated from Africa and spilled onto Haiti and other Southern Atlantic islands. Much like Voodoo, the quasi-religion was a mix of nature magic and spirit calling that would eventually mingle with the predominantly Catholic religions of the busy city of New Orleans and subsequent Catholic expatriates have propagated the mixture of Hoodoo and Christianity in Haiti as well.
It should be noted that practitioners will quickly tell you that the practice of Hoodoo is spiritual in nature but it is not a religion. There is no established formal practice other than spells and incantations passed down in written form and no clergy to speak of. Nor does there exist a hierarchy among practitioners. Each Hoodoo “witch” or “witch doctor” is completely autonomous, as is common among many of the botano-spiritual offshoots from Africa.
Common terms like “mojo,” “mojo bag” and similar terms are often used interchangeably with Voodoo practitioners and refer to material goods supposedly ensorcelled to give the user a specific benefit. Hoodoo, in fact, is meant to empower the individual, granting fiscal and physical prosperity, luck in love and gambling and similar self-interests.
Hoodoo derives, however, from a complex system of magic, according to spiritualist Mama Zgobe.
“For example, in the West African & Diaspora Mami Wata Vodoun tradition,” she says in a web interview on Hoodoo, “the forest spirits, known as ‘Azzizas,’ were the most evolved guardians of the forest, who first presented themselves to the African hunters, and planters. They taught them the esoteric, medicinal (ahame) use and alchemical properties inherent in the abundance of herbs, trees, roots, minerals and life forms thriving in their mists.
“It was the Azzizas who also taught the African how to make poisons, potions, medicines, and Gbo, ‘ebo’ and ‘boicho/bo.’ Joined with the Azzizas, was the divinity later to be identified as “Legba,” the great messenger of the gods, who also taught the Africans the use of Gbo and transported their prepared requests to the respective divinities.
“The first practical and most extensive use of herbs, amulets and talismans in the forest was for protection from accidents & tropical disease, dangerous animals, repairing injuries, as well as to assure success in their hunt. However, their esoteric use was mainly for protection from jealously, envy, and death by other hunters, as well as protection from the angry spirits of those animals which were killed for food, or by accident during the course of the hunt. From these primary ancestors, eventually evolved a group of specialized priests and priestess known in Dahomey as Bokonons, (geomancers), Azondoto, Zokas, Garbara, Akpases (socerers), and Botonons.”
Other practitioners come from less of an African influence but still promote the strength of the practice. Martha White – yes, like the baked goods – says that she was indoctrinated into the world of Hoodoo by her great grandmother and subsequently by her grandmother.
“At first, it was something to tell friends about,” she says, a rolling creole accent carrying every word. “But later, I began to notice that other people had faith in what my grandmother was doing. They altered their lives based on her charms and spells. It was not long after that the spirits came to me.”
Spirits, she says, of wild areas, of deceased persons, of wild animals, all assisting her in her practice of magic. Through her enchanting, she claims to have made couples fall in love, to have made cheating spouses fidelity and children do better in school.
“Some people call me a witch,” she says, fitting the part in a long flowing green gown. “But I’m not a witch. I’m not sure what you’d call me, but I’m not a witch. My broom is just for sweeping.”