A reoccurring them I seem to be realizing through many of the Pagan books I’m reading is the tendency to take traditional Hoodoo formulas and then relabel them as a generic “magickal” formula. Lets dig deep into this, for those of you who are confused.
Hoodoo, also called rootworking, is an African American spiritual practice that came into being via slaves brought over from Africa into the Americas. By mixing not only each other’s beliefs, but also those of Native Americans and Europeans, the system of “Hoodoo” was created. Let me repeat: although Hoodoo is a spiritual practice that anyone can practice, it is an African American one. I have seen many books that seem to feel uncomfortable with this fact and will often drop the African American part and simply address it as a spiritual practice that anyone can do of apparently mysterious origins. Recognize the system as what it is- a system rooted in African American culture.
This is problematic because the common trend in modern, eclectic Paganism where said Pagans will decide that they enjoy/want a particular aspect of a culture and will take from it without doing further research, by attempting to sever this new system/practice from it’s traditional structure and repackage it as if it never belonged to a system to begin with (i.e.- chakras, yoga, the Elder Futhark) because it suits their need to incorporate an element into their personal practice without having to sacrifice the work, effort, and energy to study said system in it’s original context, feeling that their own interpretations are good enough to suffice for authenticity.
Hoodoo is a very specific system- it is not just general “magick” or magickal herbalism- it is unique in that not only herbs and stones are used, but also animal parts, soil, body fluids, and the like. The individual meanings and how each element is incorporated into a trick or working is specific to Hoodoo- when you redefine the meanings of formulas,candle colors, or herbs, it is no longer hoodoo.
Also there is the tendency for some to look down at Hoodoo because unlike other modern magical systems, hexes and curses, called crossing, are also used as a part of the system. While many individual root workers may choose not to practice such things, favoring other practices instead, there is often a break in history where people forget why they were used in the first place.
It is because African Americans in the past faced (and yes, still do, although in a much different, non-institutionalized form) oppression and racism that was constant threat to not only their well-being, but the well-being of their loved ones and communities as a whole.
When having an enemy can mean danger to your family, or when racist cops are quick to find offenses to get you in trouble over, you don’t give a shit as to whether or not your actions are harming someone else. Your concern is the safety of your own- your family, your community, and your people.
You’re not concerned over whether or not the white man at work whose sexually harassing you is harmed, or whether or not your nosy, snitch neighbor develops a disease and moves away- as long as he’s gone and your shit is safe, that’s all that matters.
Hoodoo is a practice born out of desperation of a people with the desire to live and prosper under horrifying circumstances-not some gentle, herbal practice that those with no appreciation for the it can just go buy on Etsy without even understanding the circumstances of it’s creation.
This is not to say that no rootworker-then or now -has ever used it for unjustified malicious purposes- because yes, it was common at one point in time.
What I’m saying is that many Pagans today have no or little understanding of what it means to be truly desperate.
There is also a long standing history of whites appropriating from black culture while giving no credit to the culture they appropriated from. Keep this in mind when traditional (black) rootworkers become offensed over your taking of their shit.
If you want to work or practice Hoodoo- do some research. Until then, quit stealing our formulas because the idea of having tons of magical formulas entices you, or because you like the way the packaging looks, or because it’s so versatile, or whatever bullshit excuses you’ll try to give for being too lazy to learn shit about the culture you’re stealing from.
The versatile, Earth-based practices of Hoodoo- floor washes, Mojo hands, powders,incense, bath crystals, handwashes, candles, and perfumes make it an easy target for those who are interested in new ways to incorporate herbs into their practice, but who could care less about the oppressive history of African American culture and spiritual practices, it’s apparent “lack” of ethics, and it’s lexicon of new words.
That will be all.