Start a conversation about the definition of hoodoo and it invariably elicits responses from many folks centered around African American folk magic. African American folk magic with all sorts of influences, from Native American, European and a more recent pseudotheory regarding its Irish roots. As an academic, I am not one to weigh in heavily on pseudoscience and internet chatter, which is largely regurgitated pseudoscience at best; rather, I look to the elders of the traditions and to the scholarly literature. I look for a balance of these two sources, combined with my own personal experiences as someone indigenous to the traditions and to my own painstaking research from which to draw my own conclusions.
But just for shits and giggles, let's do take a look at what comes up on a Google search for the question: "What is hoodoo?" I wonder, as of today, who dominates the narrative? For someone wanting to know more about this system of empowerment, what will they learn when they turn to Google for answers? Most people will not look beyond the first page of results when searching and will lend credence to any website that looks authoritative enough to the untrained eye or, big enough so a to imply authority.
To get a sound sample based on Google results alone, we would need a good 45 or more random results. Then, we would take these results and observe themes, and then narrow these themes down to a sound conclusion. Then, we would need to weigh the authority of the website/author. Is there a commercial agenda? Is the website simply informative? What are the credentials of the author? Practitioner? Scholar? Practitioner-scholar? Commercial marketeer or enterprise?
Since I am not doing a formal research project here, I am going to limit my results to the first 20. So off to Google I go to type in the research question: "What is hoodoo?"
What follows is each result in the order in which they occurred today, November 22, 2014, where the website author attempts to answer the question with "Hoodoo is..." In most cases, only two sentences are included. Then, the authoritative indicators of the website author are listed as: P (Practitioner), S (Scholar), A (Author), CE (Commercial Enterprise), B (Blogger), IS (Information Site), NS (News Site). Obviously, not all of these indicators will be accurate; but, they will be based solely on what is listed on the author's biography, which means if there is something the reader thinks they know about the website author and it is not noted, then transparency could be an issue, or ease of access to the information.
What is Hoodoo? Results
1. "Hoodoo, also known as "conjure", "rootworking", "root doctoring" or "working the root" and sometimes confused with "voodoo", is a traditional African American folk spirituality that developed from a number of West African, Native American and European spiritual traditions. Hoodoo has some spiritual principles and practices similar to spiritual folkways in Haitian, Cuban, Jamaican and New Orleans traditions."
Authority weight: IS
2. "Southern hoodoo, conjure and rootwork are living, African-derived mystical, medicinal and spiritual systems of personal and psychological empowerment. Each system involves the specialized use of botanical, zoological and mineral material medica such as herbs, roots, stones, bones and animal parts that are prepared in a medicinal or ritualistic manner for practical purposes such as protection, defense, justice, healing, love or wealth. "
Authority weight: P, S, A, B, IS
3. "Hoodoo, Conjure, Rootwork, and similar terms refer to the practice of African American folk magic. Hoodoo is an American term, originating in the 19th century or earlier. One of its meanings refers to African-American folk magic."
Authority weight: P, A, CE, IS
4. "In general, Hoodoo refers to a form of folk magic and rootwork that evolved from African practices and beliefs. Cat Yronwoode of Luckymojo adds that modern Hoodoo also includes some Native American botanical knowledge as well as European folklore."
Authority weight: B, IS
5. "Hoodoo (also known as rootwork) is Southern folk magic grounded in centuries of African American heritage within the southern United States. Hoodoo is often known by other names including: conjure, rootwork, root doctoring, laying tricks, working roots or “doing the work."
Authority weight: P, CE, B
6. "Conjure/Hoodoo is a form of folk magick and spiritual practice that comes from African American culture. This form of spiritual practice revolves around the natural power of the earth and its spirits and like America itself draws its influence from a wide-range of cultures."
Authority weight: P, S, CE, B, A
7. "Hoodoo is an African American type of folk magic with its roots in African, Native American, and European traditions. Also called conjure or conjuration, it developed in the American Southeast and spread mostly through word of mouth."
Authority weight: S, IS
8. "Perhaps the best way to define Hoodoo is to do so as broadly as possible, with terms that contemporary Hoodoo insiders themselves might use: Hoodoo is an African American-based tradition that makes use of natural and supernatural elements in order to create and effect change in the human experience."
Authority weight: S, IS, A
9. "The word "Hoodoo" is a term commonly used by the African diaspora to refer to various forms of African-based systems of magic, spiritual and medicinal healing and "hexing," via the use of primarily roots and herbs. It originally was one of several pejorative labels used by whites to refer to all African Traditional Religions originating out of Africa; particularly the ancient ancestral Vodoun traditions of the West Coastal Africans."
Authority weight: P, S, IS
10. " Hoodoo is an African American folk magic tradition that was developed over several centuries in the Southern United States from the cultural convergence of African, Native American, European, and Near Eastern spiritual and magical practices. It is known by various regional names like "conjure," "rootwork," "root doctoring," "working roots," "tricking," "helping yourself," "using that stuff," and "doing the work."
Authority weight: CE, IS
11. "Hoodoo is a form of traditional African-American folk magic that developed from a combination of beliefs of a number of separate African cultures after they came to the United States during the slave trade, Hazzard-Donald explains in her book, Mojo Workin’: The Old African-American Hoodoo System (University of Illinois Press, 2012). It is not to be confused with Voodoo or Vodoun, a West African religion, although Hoodoo began as a religion and lost its religious status after the 1880s."
Authority weight: S, IS
12. "Hoodoo is nothing more than Southern Folk Magic. Hoodoo uses the magical techniques of the Congo people of Africa without any of the religion." Source: http://santeriachurch.org/what-is-the-difference-between-voodoo-hoodoo-and-santeria/
Authority weight: B, CE
13. "Hoodoo is neither a religion, nor a denomination of a religion—it is a form of folk magic that originated in West Africa and is mainly practiced today in the Southern United States. Hoodoo, known as “Ggbo” in West Africa, is African-American folk magic."
Authority weight: B, IS
14. "Hoodoo 1. a. Magic healing and control, especially in African-based folk medicine in the United States and the Caribbean. Also called conjure. b. A practitioner of hoodoo."
Authority weight: IS
15. "Hoodoo, meanwhile, has come to be the practice of superstition in which the gris-gris magic is invested in the object (a doll, a potion, a candle etc.) or invocation alone, without the force or even the knowledge of the spirits. Therefore, Voodoo is the spiritual practice that uses gris-gris, while Hoodoo is a superstition in the gris-gris alone."
Authority weight: IS, CE
16. "Scholars say rootworks, or Hoodoo, is an African-American folk religion involving herbs, spells and readings to conjure or influence the dead. The traditions have turned up on shows like the Louisana-based vampire drama "True Blood" on HBO and "Supernatural" on CW."
Authority weight: NS
17. " Hoodoo 1 : a body of practices of sympathetic magic traditional especially among blacks in the southern United States 2 : a natural column of rock in western North America often in fantastic form."
Authority weight: IS
18. "First and foremost Hoodoo is based on Christianity. The Psalm, the Bible, the love songs from Songs of Solomon all come from the Bible! These prayers and verses along with herbs, roots, and curios make up Hoodoo. If you remove these things then what you are doing AIN'T HOODOO!"
Authority weight: P, A, CE
19. "Hoodoo is a set of magickal practices originating in Africa which, through the process of syncretism, has absorbed some beliefs and practices from other cultures such as Native American spirituality and European Ceremonial Magick."
Authority weight: A, P, B, IS
20. "Hoodoo is a practice of folk beliefs that is derived from the Southern US and has its roots from the Congo region of Africa. Other African tribes such as the Ashanti and Senegalese have greatly influenced Hoodoo & RootWork-Conjure Sorcery. Many folks, such as Dr. John, a Senegelese trained Occult practitioner came to New Orleans and established his own doctoring practice."
Authority weight: P, IS, CE, A
In another blog, we will take a look at each of the definitions and identify themes. For now, the reader is encouraged to look at the source of the information and determine what constitutes authority. Does it matter? This is not something I wish to do for the reader; though, I admittedly have my own opinions. For me, authority in its traditional sense as a sort of institutionalized power or position that functions to dictate something to others - especially in the realm of spirituality, religion and culture - is highly problematic. Yet, in some instances, it is helpful and even necessary. For now, I will leave you with a quote from the new book Dr. John Montanee: A New Orleans Voodoo Grimoire by Dr. Louie Martinie where he addresses contradictions and reductionist traps in spiritual traditions. Though the quote is in reference to New Orleans conjure doctor and gris gris man Dr. John, it is equally applicable to to topic of this blog post and the question, "What is hoodoo?"
It is my hope that portions of the explorations and experiments contradict one another. It is so easy to fall into the reductionist trap of “one true interpretation.” This is the small arena of the One True God and the infallible words of His great profits, be they power over others or money. This can be particularly insidious in the case of our explorations and experiments when the information flows from a direct contact with Dr. John Montanee. Direct revelation is as open to question as any other way of knowing. Perhaps “He said...” is better phrased as “He told me...” or “I was told he spoke through me and said...” The “me” in the statements is an important step back from infallible revelation.
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