Brief History of Hoodoo

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A description of hoodoo by former coven member docvoodoo.

Hoodoo, Conjure, Rootwork, and similar terms refer to the practice of African American folk magic.

Hoodoo is an North American term, originating in the 19th century roughly. One of its meanings refers to African-American folk magic.
Hoodoo consists of a large body of African folkloric practices and beliefs with a considerable mixture of Native American botanical knowledge and European folklore. Although most of its adherents are black, contrary to popular opinion, it has always been practiced by both whites and blacks in America. Other regionally popular names for hoodoo in the black community include "conjuration," "conjure," "witchcraft," "rootwork," and "tricking." The first three are simply English words; the fourth is a recognition of the pre-eminence that dried roots play in the making of charms and the casting of spells, and the fifth is a special meaning for a common English word.

Hoodoo is used to name both the system of magic ("He used hoodoo on her") and its practitioners ("Doctor Buzzard was a great hoodoo in his day"). In the 1930s, some practitioners used the noun "hoodooism" (analogous with "occultism") to describe their work, but that term lost its popularity. Hoodoo is also an adjective ("he layed a hoodoo trick for her") and a verb ("she hoodooed that man until he couldn't love no one but her"). The verb "to hoodoo" appears in collections of early pre-blues folk-songs. For instance, in Dorothy Scarborough's book "On the Trail of Negro Folk-Songs," (Harvard University Press, 1925), a field-collected version of the old dance-song "Cotton-Eyed Joe" tells of a man who "hoodooed" a woman.

A professional consultant who practices hoodoo on behalf of clients may be referred to as a "hoodoo doctor" or "hoodoo man" if male and a "hoodoo woman" or "hoodoo lady" if female. A typical early reference occurs in Samuel C. Taylor's diary for 1891, in which he describes and illustrates meeting with a "Hoodoo Doctor" while on a train. Taylor, a white man, recounts that the word "hoodoo" was taught to him by the black Pullman porter on the train. The "doctor" he describes was both an herbalist and folk-magician.

here is the words to a famous song about hoodoo:

"HOODOO LADY BLUES"
Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup

Believe I'll drop down in Louisiana, just to see a dear old friend of mine
Believe I'll drop down in Louisiana, just to see a dear old friend of mine
You know, maybe she can help me, durn my hard, hard time.

You know they tell me in Louisiana, there's hoodoos all over there
You know they tell me in Louisiana, there's hoodoos all over there
You know they'll do anything for the money, man, in the world, I declare.

Spoken: Yeah, man, play it for me [followed by guitar solo]

"Now, Miss Hoodoo Lady, please give me a hoodoo hand;
"Now, Miss Hoodoo Lady, please give me a hoodoo hand;
"I wanna hoodoo this woman of mine, I believe she's got another man."

Now, she squabbles all night long, she won't let me sleep.
Lord, I wonder what in the world this woman done done to me.

"Now, Miss Hoodoo Lady, please give me a hoodoo hand;
"Now, Miss Hoodoo Lady, please give me a hoodoo hand;
"I wanna hoodoo this woman of mine, I believe she's got another man."

 

Unlike the word "conjure," the origin of the word "hoodoo" is not known with certainty. It has for the most part been assumed to be African, and some have claimed that it derives from a word in the Hausa language for bad luck. its earliest usage in America is connected with Irish sailors, not African slaves. in the mid 19th century, ships that had suffered a series of ill-fated voyages and mishaps were called hoodoo ships or were said to have been hoodoo'd. In some accounts the problems onboard these vessels were attributed to an evil spirit or presence.

Those who attribute the word hoodoo to Irish seamen say that is is a phonetic transliteration of the Irish-Gaelic words Uath Dubh (pronounnced hooh dooh), which means dark phantom, evil entity, or spiky ghost. (It is "spiky" because Uath -- hooh -- is, the Gaelic name for the spiky Hawthorn or May tree.) An Irish origin for the word hoodoo would also explain why a certain type of eerie geological rock formation across the Americas is similarly called a hoodoo -- Irish trappers and traders saw these weird objects as personified demons. many others just saw a strange rock formation, or object.

An Irish origin for the word hoodoo does, believe it or not, make sense in terms of African American history, for a large percentage of American sailors during the 19th century, especially before the Civil War, were African Americans, and they mingled freely with Irish sailors in the Atlantic shipping trade and in seaports from New York to New Orleans.

Eoghan Ballard has made an interesting argument that the word hoodoo derives from the Spanish word for "Jewish." Although this sounds unlikely on the face of it, there is some precedent for the idea: Among Cuban practitioners of Central African Mkisi-worship -- which is called Palo ("Sticks") in Spanish, due to its use of woods, roots, and herbs -- there are two major groups, those who practice Palo Cristiano (Christian Palo) and those who practice Palo Judio (Jewish Palo). In this context, the word Judio (pronounced hoo-dyoh) does not refer to Judaism per se; it refers to the fact that the adherents of this subset of Palo are unconverted to Christianity -- they retain African symbolism in their practice and, like the Jews, they have refused to give themselves over to Christianity. It is Eoghan's theory that the word hoodoo may derive from the special sense in which this Afro-Caribbean Spanish term Judio is used in Palo -- and would thus refer to African slaves who refused to renounce African customs and practices.

Some writers have said that "hoodoo" is a corruption of "Voodoo," but that seems highly unlikely. In the first place, Voodoo is a West African religion that was transplanted to Haiti (see below) and hoodoo is a system of primarily Central African magical belief and practice. Furthermore, the word "hoodoo" appears everywhere in the black community, but the word "Voodoo" co-exists with the word "hoodoo" primarily in the state of Louisiana (where it was brought by Haitian immigrants in the early 19th century) -- and even there the two terms refer to different things entirely. Finally, in other parts of the South, the word "Voodoo" is not encountered at all except in the writings of uninformed white people, and the terms "hoodoo," "rootwork," "conjure" and "witchcraft" are variously applied to the system of African-American folk-magic.

A long discussion of the regional distribution of these terms can be found in Harry Middleton Hyatt's "Hoodoo - Conjuration - Witchcraft - Rootwork," a 5-volume, 4,766-page collection of material (consisting of 13,458 separate magic spells and folkloric beliefs) gathered by Hyatt from 1,600 informants in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia between 1936 and 1940. It is worth noting that in all the interviews Hyatt recorded, rootwork practitioners, even in New Orleans, spoke only of hoodoo, never of Voodoo. In fact, the only conspicuous use of the word Voodoo occurs in a typed letter sent to Hyatt by an educated black hoodoo doctor who encouraged him to make an appointment to interview him. This root worker was fully aware that he was writing to a white man and it is quite clear from the context of the letter that he was tailoring his speech to fit what he believed to be the white folklorist's preconceptions.


this is another online presentation of
Hodoo in Theory and Practice by catherine yronwode

 

if you want to read more on this visit http://www.luckymojo.com/hoodoohistory.html#hoodoo

Information courtesy of former coven member docvoodoo and http://www.luckymojo.com/hoodoohistory.html#hoodoo .

 

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Added to on Apr 11, 2016
Last edited on Sep 22, 2019
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