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What is Witchcraft in Hoodoo?

By Papa Pimenta

This article originally appeared in a journal that has ceased publication. I am the sole owner of this content and have edited and updated it from the original content.


In this article, I will outline the topic of witchcraft from a Hoodoo and rootwork perspective. The subject of magical self defense is an interesting topic with many layers. In order to understand how to protect yourself, it is necessary to understand what is meant by the terms “negative work” and “witchcraft.” Witchcraft as understood by many African Diaspora traditions has an undoubtedly negative or “application of force” connotation.

A negative work in Hoodoo is one designed to dominate, control, bind, hurt, befuddle or sicken the target. Many methods are used, but there seems to be some similarity in the tools and trappings. Often times the dead or other spirits are used to harass the target. Common ingredients utilized include grave dirt, personal concerns, foot track soil, peppers, ordure, vinegar, urine, and a variety of other unpleasant or energetically “hot” substances.

Many African cultures devoted much time to the discovery and remediation of witchcraft. For example, the Azande believe witches have an innate natural ability to harm others even at a distance by the “soul of witchcraft” known as mbisimo mangu. The Azande see misfortune as having originated in witchcraft. They have many methods of divining for witchcraft and people who detect and fight witches with their own magic as a deep part of their culture. Ironically many of these witchdoctors possess both mangu and ngua, that is, natural witchcraft and learned magic. They can both cure and kill.

There are other parallels in African derived traditions such as Kimbanda. People with the “old blood” are considered witches, and Kimbandieros are also witches of a sort. Witchcraft exists in a huge variety of cultural reference points of view all over the planet. There are Gypsy witches, Slavic witches, Strega from Italy, African witches, Celt witches, German witches, Russian witches… you name it. Witchcraft seems to be an almost universal truth.

In our modern times and culture things are seen differently. Indeed, witchcraft has an entirely different meaning and is not seen as necessarily “bad.” Practitioners of many earth-based religions and traditions identify as witches and do not commonly use negative magic or sorcery. In fact many of them are ardently opposed to those sorts of magical workings. “Do no harm” and other such sayings illustrate this set of beliefs.

Occasionally as a diviner I hear from clients that they feel they have been cursed. Cursings may not be exactly what is happening with the person in question. On one hand, often folk think they are a victim of a “curse” and are not. Sometimes the cause is a health or mental issue, or just plain dumb luck. On the other hand, negative witchcraft and curses do happen. This is more likely if you work with or around people who move in those circles. If you don’t hang out with spell workers who are angry with you, you are not likely to get cursed. This is a simple but true fact.

In Hoodoo and Rootwork, the term “Witchcraft” is generally negative. If you take time to listen to the old folks whenever they refer to witchcraft they almost always mean negative spell work or intent. There are a plethora of formulae designed to repel, clear, or destroy witchcraft. The negative connotation of the word is a likely hold-over from the African sense of the term. Hoodoo contains some amount of absorbed Native American lore, and in those cultures witchcraft is also usually seen as negative. It is certainly seen that way by my own Cherokee ancestors.

There are quite a few methods of simple defense against witchcraft and negative spell work from the hoodoo perspective. One my personal favorites is the mercury-dime anklet. Traditionally a leap year mercury dime worn on a white cotton or natural fiber string and anointed with a variety of condition oils it effectively repels negativity. The dime will turn black if one steps in powders laid down for you. Interestingly enough, many crossing powders contain sulfur which does indeed turn silver black.

Other forms include wearing black pepper in one’s shoes with salt or cayenne, washing regularly with laundry bluing, having camphor in one’s living quarters, smudging with a variety of herbs and incenses such as sage, tobacco, copal, Palo Santo, frankincense, and cloves. Salt is seen as a valiant protector and dispeller of evil. Florida water cologne can be sprayed around a person, place or thing to help keep negativity away. Broom straws, devil’s shoestring root, iron, scissors, gunpowder and many other things are imbued with witchcraft-repellant abilities in the tradition.

One of my personal favorite protection items is the crossbones amulet. This is usually constructed from the long leg bones from a chicken. The bones are boiled or left on an ant hill to be cleaned. They are tied together with red cord or string and blessed with oils appropriate for protection type work. Typically they are hung somewhere in a person’s house to absorb and deflect evil directed at the person or household.

In conclusion, witchcraft is seen as a very real condition in many of the African Diaspora traditions including Hoodoo and Rootwork. It is always better to keep your guard high if you are a practitioner or dabbler. Although sometimes left-hand works are justified, it is always best to be sure via divination first if you intend to do such a thing. “Wasinga kanda ukisingidi”- “If you curse the community, you curse yourself.”-Kimbwandende Kia Bunseki Fu-Kiau.

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