Hoodoo: The Hope of the Slave

“Where there are preachers, there are also conjurers; where there are conversions, there are dreams and visions and where there is faith, there is and ever continues to be magic”

Yvonne P. Chireau

As a child, I was taught to be black and proud. I was encouraged to learn my history and to be proud of my roots; the slave quarters of the Alabama backwoods and the low country region inhabited by the Geechee. I was warned to have an innate mistrust of any and everything white, and to stand up to any outside force that would seek to keep me bound. Ironically, I was also raised in the church. I was in church at least 4 times a week. I was equally exposed to the Holiness movement, and everything it encompassed; the hand clapping, foot stomping, speaking in tongues, spirit filled dances, faints and the laying on of hands that resulted in unexplainable miracles. None of this seemed odd or strange to me. Ever… My great- grandmother, grandmothers, and great-aunt had gardens, visons, dreams, and the power to manifest healing, protection and money with fasting and prayer. They banished negative energy with brooms, healed wounds with spider webs and conjured love in the dishes they cooked. All these seemingly incompatible facets; black power, the black church, and black magic, are all part and parcel of black life in America and comprise the inimitable spiritual and supernatural tradition of the black slave; Hoodoo.

What is Hoodoo?

Hoodoo, also referred to as Conjure or Rootwork is African American folk magic. It is the cultural treasure of our people. It is not a religion, but rather it is the spiritual and supernatural tradition birthed in the belly of slavery by our enslaved black ancestors who refused to go down without a fight.  It is the legacy of a people that tapped into the inherent power within their DNA and the power within the tress, animals, roots, herbs, ancestors and cosmos to retain power and control over their lives in the face of the greatest atrocity inflicted upon mankind; MAAFA or the Black Holocaust.

Hoodoo is self-determination, self-mastery and personal power. It is protection, healing, luck in money and love, and revenge on oppressors. Yvonne P. Chireau explains, “Conjure is a magical tradition in which spiritual power is invoked for various purposes such as healing, protection and self-defense”.   Again, Hoodoo is not a religion. There is no God or gods to worship, pray to or serve. It is a solitary practice, invoking the ever present power in the supernatural realm. In fact, Hoodoo is almost always practiced within a religious context, beginning first in the slave church and then moving into the Pentecostal and Baptist denominations. Hoodoo is not witchcraft or associated with anything demonic or satanic. Hoodoo encompassed personal power in a time where one’s life was not one’s own. Hoodoo was the declaration that there was no massa or missus that would ever have complete control over one’s life. Hoodoo was resistance and rebellion against white supremacy, poverty, lack and the hopelessness that one could easily drown in.  Ishmael Reed explains, “Hoodoo is the forgotten faith of African American people”.

How Did Our Enslaved Ancestors Use Hoodoo?

On the slave plantations, there were Hoodoos, Rootworkers and Conjure practitioners. They were deemed to be some of the most powerful and meaningful individuals on the plantation. The threat of whippings, separation from loved ones, and the risks involved with escaping were constant thoughts in the minds of our ancestors. Hoodoo was utilized to combat the anxiety, fear, danger and depression of life on the plantation. Yvonne Chireau says, “Black Americans utilized conjuring traditions not only because they saw them as a valuable resource for resistance, but because they believed that the supernatural realm offered alternative possibilities for empowerment”. Conjure was used to protect, heal, and destroy. It was the dignity of rebellion. This was accomplished  through ancestral knowledge of roots and herbs, and ancient African spiritual traditions that survived the Middle Passage. Maintaining a relationship with one’s ancestors, divination from dreams, and the use of mojo bags or hands are the central figures of Hoodoo. Hoodoo was used to prevent a family member from being sold, avoid a whipping, poison or kill a slave master and escape the plantation unnoticed. Some of our most famous freedom fighters, including Nat Turner, Harriet Tubman, Denmark Vesey and Gabriel Prosser all utilized Hoodoo. Hoodoo was also used to navigate personal matters in love and money in the slave quarters.

Getting Back to Our Spiritual Roots

We have completely strayed from our spiritual roots, solely depending on the religious doctrines and dogma given to us by those who benefit from our continued spiritual powerlessness. The Christianity of today; the white- washed, evangelical, turn the other cheek, pray for your enemies Christianity is indeed the white man’s religion. There is no personal power, no self-determination and absolutely no magic. They have demonized our remaining remnants from Mama Africa; our spiritual power. Yvonne Chireau states, “Cultural reformers, including blacks and whites from the northern states called for the repudiation of conjure and other slave traditions, identifying them with degradation, ignorance and the demoralizing experience of bondage”. When slavery ended, missionaires redirected funds reserved for mission trips in foreign countries to the American south in an effort to proselytize the newly freed slaves for fear that conjure would become more and more popular.  We can no longer allow others to keep us spiritually weak and ignorant. Believing that our only hope is in heaven, after barely surviving the oppression, subjugation and dehumanization of white society. This cannot be our legacy, this cannot be the narrative we pass to the next generation. Conjure is our power and Hoodoo has always been and will continue to be our hope.

As part of this series on African Holistic Spiritual health, the next two articles will discuss dreams and dream interpretations and how to set up an ancestor altar. Please stay tuned.

*This article is by no means an exhaustive discussion of Hoodoo. For more information, here are a few books I highly recommend*

Black Magic by Yvonne P. Chireau

Sticks, Stones, Roots & Bones by Stephanie Rose Bird

Jambalaya by Luisah Tiesh

Kathleen, “The Nutritional Truth Teller” is a Certified Holistic Nutritionist, Certified Nutrition and Wellness Consultant, and a Certified Vaginal Steam Facilitator. She is the owner of Beauty In A Barbell Nutrition, whose sole mission is to optimize the physical, mental, and spiritual health of the Black community through African Holistic Health. She carries with her the ancestral knowledge and wisdom of the medicine men, women, healers and warriors she lovingly calls her ancestors.