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Hoodoo Nights: What exactly is Hoodoo?

Hoodoo, Conjure, Rootwork… the very own mention of those three similar terms brings up all sort of images to one’s mind. I promise you, there is not much of Hollywood into it, but there is indeed a lot of fascinating history behind it.

I promised you that I would give you my definition of Hoodoo. So here it is, for me Hoodoo is the African magic of the people, or folk magic, but it is more than that. Hoodoo incorporates the knowledge of Native Americans as well as European folklore. Now, the origins of the term ‘Hoodoo’ itself are debatable, but its etymology is really not the center of this article. If you want to read more about how other people define Hoodoo, you can certainly do a bit of digging on line or in books. The same way that Hoodoo incorporates the knowledge of cultures found in the South of the United States, it carries a particular meaning for each of its practitioners. For my purposes, Hoodoo is a rich system of magic where the use of herbs for magical and medicinal purposes is greatly highlighted. This system has a particular allure for me as it does not require adherence to a system of religious devotion or to theology like Voodoo, Santería, Candomble, Palo Mayombe or other African derived practices in the Americas. Also, its knowledge does not conflict but rather coexist peacefully with my Santeria and Palo practices without interfering or having to mix them.

In order to be considered a Hoodoo practitioner, a Conjure men or woman, or simply a Root doctor what you need is to study under someone with considerable experience and to practice, practice, and practice. Of course, it helps to be gifted in the arts of divination. Most divination systems will be compatible with Hoodoo as there is no hard and fast rule as to which is best to use. The most popular are card reading, casting bones, reading tea leaves, using a glass ball, palmistry, etc. There is one more thing that can make a Hoodoo practitioner excel over others, that is to be able to work with spirits, as in spirit guides and as in learning how to obtain the help of willing spirits to empower certain workings.

Where does Hoodoo fit within the daily practices of a Santera / Palera? Magic and spirits are always all around us, be it that you are a Christian, a Jew, a Muslim, or, someone like me… The fact is that we either select to embrace it or ignore it. In my case, I made a conscious decision since early on in my life, childhood as a matter of fact, that the world of magic was one I wanted to embrace.

My mother tells me that I was under 5 years old when I did my very first successful herbal preparation to heal someone; that someone was her. I can’t remember all the details of that afternoon, but I trust her recollection. She says she had a high fever and was alone with me at home. She told me I went to the backyard and gathered a variety of plants from among her medicinal herbs and with them I made her a tea on the stove. She says that the tea cut down her fever pretty fast and she recuperated. There is no telling what went into that tea she drank but it worked!

I do remember being fascinated as I grew up with growing herbs, that love of the land and plants I learned from both parents, but particularly from my papa. My father, who is not a believer in the magical arts (but is a very ‘intuitive’ man), has two green thumbs. He knows medicinal plants very well and is always chatting about this or that application he learned or knows from so and so in the family. From him I learned a lot of my basics. Little he imagined that he was passing on knowledge to be applied in Hoodoo practices decades later!

In my day to day as an adult, I see opportunities for the use of magic almost every day, that does not mean I am pulling out tricks with the same frequency. However, there are times when a little bit of a push is required to balance situations or to bring issues to a conclusion that is favorable to a person or client—I cringe about using that word, but it is one used in Hoodoo quite often.

Why Hoodoo and not Santeria or Palo? Well it is not a matter of selecting one over the other. It is a matter of knowing how much force to apply to bend a situation to the desire will and what sort of force is required. Furthermore, why go to petition an Orisha or an Npungo for someone who is not interested either system when I can get results with one that would require no religious conviction from the individual?

For example, a friend of mine was facing issues with her boyfriend, he had stopped being as sweet and attentive as he was once. She confided me her situation and I offered her to prepare a little something for her to try on him. She agreed, got me the materials and I prepared her a bath and syrup to pour over a dessert. I made no promises as to the extent of results, but I did tell her that she could expect to have a rekindling of interest, particularly the sensual kind. She did as she was told and his attention was refocused on her, also their communications improved greatly. His work had kept him ‘blinded’ to her charms, she simply needed to sweeten him and make herself more ‘visible’ to him. The bath took care of the visibility part, spiritually. The syrup, well that was laced with a few spices known to stimulate men and create spark some lust…

In affairs of the heart, I don’t believe in forcing people to love or like, but I have no issues providing tricks to highlight attributes, spark interest and overall foster communications, and the boudoir my friends, is a perfect place for a friendly chat between lovers.

You see now, knowing a variety of magical avenues, tools and resources can enrich the way in which a Santera helps others. Like I said, I am not leaving my core practices behind. Just like many Santeros are Spiritists and Paleros or even practice Catholicism, I chose to practice Hoodoo as a magical art form for my benefit (knowledge) and for the benefit or others (results).

What are my favorite aspects of Hoodoo and who has influenced me to keep learning? How about a date for another cup of tea, pull up a comfy chair and share another chapter of this Hoodoo chat, say next Thursday night?

Omimelli, Oní Yemayá Achagbá

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