Monday, May 3, 2010
Voodoo & Hoodoo
This morning I finished reading Voodoo & Hoodoo: Their Tradition and Craft as Revealed by Actual Practitioners (1978) by James Haskins.
This is a very interesting and entertaining book. In the first three chapters, Haskins traces the roots of Voodoo in the traditional religions of the people of West Africa, its transmission to the New World through the slaves, and its contemporary practice circa the 1970s.
Haskins tells of his upbringing in rural Alabama and hearing stories from his Grandma Hattie about the magic worked by "Root Doctors." He remembers being told not to eat at any strange person's house because they might poison your food. You should not even go to the bathroom at a strange person's house because they might be able to collect hairs or other bodily substances and use them against you in a conjure.
The chapter on the transmission of Voodoo to the New World is very interesting. Voodoo or Vodou refers to spirits. West African tribal religion believed in a supreme god but he is too powerful to pray to directly. Therefore, worshipers ask for help from spirits. Haskins details that slaves held by Catholics, the Spanish and the French, adapted well to Roman Catholicism since they related Catholic saints and the Blessed Virgin Mary with Voodoo spirits. Catholic slaves were also able to hide what they were doing from the masters by couching their voodoo practice in terms of Catholic worship.
In the English Protestant colonies, however, the masters sought to try to wipe out the native religion entirely. Haskins details how Protestant religion, being primarily book based, was something totally foreign to the slaves. The most popular Protestant group among slaves came to be the Baptists, because the slaves could relate full immersion baptism with the worship which had been given to the river spirits in Africa. Overall, though, the religious elements of spiritualism among Protestant slaves was driven underground and the resulting magical practice tended to be more occult and less Christian than among blacks who had adopted Catholicism.
Haskins then has chapters which give examples of recipes for conjure on a variety of subjects. Chapter headings are as follows: To Do Ill, To Do Good, In Matters of Law, and In Matters of Love.
These conjure recipes involve roots, powders, obtaining hairs and bodily substances from a victim or patient, killing animals, writing a persons name on eggs, breaking eggs and other practices. Some of them are disgusting and some are entertaining.
For instance: "To keep a man crazy about her and uninterested in wandering, a woman simply has to mix some of her menstrual blood into his food or drink." Or this spell which is supposed to freeze the mouths of witnesses against you in a court case: "Write the names of your opponent, his witnesses, and his lawyer on a piece of parchment paper. Place it between two bricks. On the day of the trial set a bucket full of ice on top of the bricks and your opponents will be unable to testify against you."
I have some personal experience with this subject. Being involved with the criminal justice system in South Georgia I have had a "Root Doctor" spell placed on me before. Chicken heads and eggs with the name of the judge and the lawyers written on them have been found on the courthouse lawn. That was almost twenty years ago. Haskins writes, circa 1978, that the traditional practice is declining as people become more educated and less isolated in rural areas.
This book is a great read for anyone who is interested in this subject. Although out of print for many years it does not appear that it is difficult to find a used copy on the Internet.
Peace and Love.