These are some common questions asked about hoodoo. This is a brief description, not an end all be all thread. The sources used are my own personal opinion mixed with the further reading mentioned bellow. I am not an authority on the subject, and I do not claim to be one.
On a personal note: I believe many practices and ideas color our knowledge and personal practice, but understanding what comes where, what is and is not, is important. It gives respect to the practice and the community where it was formed. And remember the most important tools when studying any magic, historical or not: common sense and skepticism.
What is hoodoo?
Hoodoo is an African American folk magic practice. It contains practices very similar to witchcraft, but it grew under a different culture. Hoodoo took shape from the experiences of the African American community mostly in the south. Hoodoo does relate to a specific practice , so while witchcraft, Granny Magic, and other forms of folk magic look the same on the outside, it does not make them all hoodoo or the same thing.
Is hoodoo a Christian practice or Christian Folk Magic/Witchcraft?
Not necessarily. Hoodoo is a craft, like witchcraft. Anyone of any faith can practice hoodoo, but hoodoo is a folk practice. The folk were Christian, so Christian symbolism, and even some Jewish symbolism, engraved itself into the craft. Keep this in mind when studying the practice. Stripping away the Christian influence strips away a large part of the practice.
Can I practice Hoodoo without being Christian?
As stated in the previous question, yes. Being a Christian is not a requirement. But, there will be a large of amount of Christian ideas in the craft.
Largely, the use of scripture, such as Psalms, petitioning of catholic Saints, petitioning of Prophets, importance of prayer, numbers, days, correspondences, charms, and other folk lore all derive from this Christian influence.
Does Hoodoo work with spirits?
Yes and no.
Like I said, hoodoo is a craft. People from different religions practice hoodoo which would change their stance on petitioning certain spirits.
The petitioning of Saints and Prophets has been documented, and well known in the craft. Non-Christian spirits or folk saints include Big Mama (or La Madama), Blackhawk, White Eagle, Marie Laveau (New Orleans) and San Simon among others. Sometimes the man/spirit at the cross roads is petitioned, but is not known as a specific spirit with many names. While similar, please understand Papa Legba or Atibon Legba and Ellegua are different than the man at the cross roads.
Many workers will work with their ancestors the most as they were the ones which came before, furthering the tradition and keeping it alive. Ancestors can be called on for protection and divination or other works depending on the personal relationship you have with the spirit. In all spirit work, remember to build a relationship, not a give and take approach.
The spirit of the plant/herb or work (spell) itself comes up in the folk practice as well.
Who is Papa Legba?
Papa Lebga is another name for a specific Legba spirit anyone can work with from Vodou, usually the first spirit worked with because he opens the way.
Legba is actually a name for a family of spirits belonging to multiple nations of Lwa. All Legba are spirits of communication, road opening, and moving away blocks. While non-initiates can work with Legba, (usually Papa Legba/Atibon Legba) seeking out the clergy for advice is recommended. However, this is separate from hoodoo.
Further reading on Legba, Ellegua, and Exu spirits:
What is Vodou and Voodoo?
Voodoo and Vodou are religions, African Traditional Religions (ATRs) like Santeria and (depending on who you ask) Kemetic Orthodoxy, among others.
While it is true voodoo can sometimes be referring to hoodoo in some sources, this does not mean the two are the same.
FAQ on Vodou:
Can I bring non-traditional deities and spirits into the work and it still be hoodoo?
No, it would not be hoodoo. It would be working with another deity or spirit which is a good thing, but not hoodoo.
For example, galdr is working with the runes in song to invoke the rune. Instead of runes, say I want to use the Hebrew alphabet. Will this be similar to Galdr? Sure. Will it be traditional galdr? No.
Taking Aphrodite and petitioning her using a honey jar work is not traditional to hoodoo. So, its not hoodoo. Will it work? Well... that's between you and Aphrodite.
By the way, what is a honey jar?
A honey jar was a work which became very popular probably due to the simplicity of the actual work. Its writing out a petition, covering the petition with honey, and shaking the jar with intent and lighting a candle.
It is an example of a sweetening work (there are others, I repeat, there are others).
Sugar and syrup pour faster than honey, making the results happen quicker. So, honey is not the only substance used.
Honey is also not the only thing added to a honey jar. Spikenard, Saffron, and sometimes milk could be added. Ginger for a spicier love affair, and cinnamon for money work. Brown sugar, cloves, and all spice go great with money work. Magnets and lodestones are also added to draw in the desire, either money or love. Personal concerns are obvious. Also, scriptures, either as ash or whole pieces of paper. The list goes on and on because "every worker works different." ~ Starr Casas.
What is a mojo bag?
A conjure charm made for a specific purpose with the number of items usually being an odd number. Typically, the charm is fed with whiskey.
What is a Voodoo Doll?
A more proper term for those types of charms would be conjure dollies, doll(ies), or simply a poppet. Conjure dolls typically represent a person or animal intended to be the target of some working. No, sticking needles in the doll or moving the arm of the doll is not going to hurt or move the person. No, this is not a dangerous practice.
Do they always represent a person or animal intended to be the target? No. Sometimes they are purely decorative in origin to represent a working. Under the doll, there are other works (like smaller jar spells) hidden from sight.
Are there traditional recipes for oils, powders, and works?
Yes there are traditional recipes recorded in hoodoo. However, this does not come at a sacrifice to personal gnosis or community. One can craft their own recipes as long as the symbolism still makes sense in a hoodoo context. For example, adding rose oil to a hot foot oil makes no sense. When researching recipes claiming to be "traditional", keep this in mind.
Where can I read more?
Yvonne Chireau and Jeffery Anderson are a great place to start with the history of the work.
Starr Casas and Catherine Yronwode are examples of hoodoo being alive and well today. They have many books and also host radio shows. Folk magic festivals and workshops are also held, and they do offer online courses.
However, they are not the end all be all or represent all of hoodoo. Remember, this is a folk practice. Talk with family and other workers, try to pick a thing or two up.