Intro to Hoodoo

Nandi is a Junior English Major and a student staff member in the Women’s Center.

Content Note: This blog is written from an African-American woman’s experience and somewhat limited knowledge of the subject.

Hoodoo is an African American folk magic tradition that is based in West African religious beliefs and practices. Much of the history of the practice has been documented through oral histories transcribed by Black historians.

Zora Neale Hurston’s article, “Hoodoo in America” (1931) recounted what she learned on a months long anthropological journey in New Orleans, which was one of the first of its kind. To stay in contact with the deities, traditions, and Africanisms that the slave trade and colonialism worked hard to systematically erase, slaves from West Africa merged a great deal of their traditions and mixed them in with the Christianity taught to them by their captors.

Zora Neale Hurston

Practitioners are called Hoodoos, spells are called roots (pronounced ruht), and the strength of the root is in the mojo of the hoodoo. Those who were born directly into the craft, like the famed Marie Laveau of New Orleans, are known to have the strongest mojo. Mojo, or interchangeably, juju, runs through families like a particular nose shape might. Those African-American communities that are more isolated, like the Gullah/Geechee people of South Carolina, are better able to pass on mojo and conjure traditions.

Hoodoo Spell Jars

In our community, intergenerational wealth is hard to come by, so the practices that get passed down through time act as a different sort of currency to support us through life. Knowledge of, and connections to, ancestors and folkloric spirits form a safety net of divinity that stretches everywhere that Black heads lay down to rest. The guardians and preservers of this wealth are mostly women, of course. Hoodoo and mojo aren’t restricted by gender in any way, but across cultures women are diligent stewards that pass down traditions as part of their assigned roles as caretakers.

The designation of “witchcraft” and the social, legal troubles that go along with practicing religions outside of Christianity (and really just the Christianity du jour) have consistently plagued non-men due to the compounding nature of Eurocentric prejudices. In short, we are seen as evil and scapegoated anyway, so to focus on us in this particular form of deviance is just the path of least resistance. But this is part burden, part responsibility, part honor because being the keepers of the keys to rituals that can harm, heal, protect, and cleanse is a more powerful position to hold than colonizing forces could ever fathom.

Witch-burning in the county Reinstein (Regenstein, Saxony-Anhalt, Germany) in 1555. Woodcut engraving after an original of a leaflet in the Collections of the Germanisches Nationalmusem in Nuremberg, published in 1881.

I decided to get into Hoodoo because of the mystic, spiritual motifs that have been ever-present in my family life. My mother and my aunties spitting on brooms, throwing salt over shoulders, never placing bags on the floor, and having premonition dreams seeped into my brain to make me want to go back to the source. The superstitions, belief in luck and omens, that I used to take for granted are everyday expressions of culture and our connections to a divine presence.

I decided on Hoodoo because my family is from the Carolinas, by way of slavery, and that’s where it was developed. The religion was created by and for displaced Africans and their descendents in the Americas. To practice Hoodoo without having any such connection is extremely inadvisable (play with slave spirits if you want to, but you probably won’t like the results 😐 ) .

Daughters of the Dust (1991)

As I connect with it I find comfort in the knowledge that I am held by my ancestors, always. I am more challenged by my beliefs than I have been in a long time. In entering a realm that I know very little about I constantly need to humble myself and proceed with humility to truly learn what I can offer. I am OK with making things up as I go along, too. I feel more autonomous, protected, and grounded. Most importantly, I feel like I deserve this because I was born into it.

FEMINIST KILLJOY ALERT: Stop Making Fun of Black and Brown Girls

Nandi is a Junior, English major, student staff at the Women’s Center, and member of the Retriever Poets slam poetry team

(Still from Girlhood (2014))

  Picture this: It is 7:25AM in your high school. You are a student there again (I know, bare with me). You are barely awake, as is the natural order of things. Then, from the stupor of the morning a voice rings out clear as the lunch bell, “GIRL BYE, YOU PLAY TOO MUCH. SEE YOU, BESTIE”. She strolls into homeroom, late like every day, in pajama pants with an Arizona iced tea firmly in hand. You wonder how she can muster up the will to socialize outside of polite grunts at this hour, and you decide that you’ll just never get it. She is extremely friendly with the teacher while she expertly swoops her baby hairs into little parabolas. Everyone in the room seems on edge. She is so outside of the norm that nobody quite knows how to handle her, so most just settle on annoyance. But really, what makes her so different? Perhaps it is the fact that on a girl who already operates at about a 7-9, darker skin just seems to turn everything up to 11. 

     Navigating the school system as Black and Brown girls is no easy task. Especially at a predominantly white institution (PWI) that seldom gives you the space to express yourself fully. Seizing the little opportunities that you get to be yourself is so crucial to staying afloat in a system that, due to varying forms of segregation in most places, was built specifically to exclude you. For a lot of girls, and women, that may look like having your favorite snack in your bag, doing beauty rituals every day, or laughing as loud as you possibly can whenever the mood strikes. But again, you are at a PWI so how is all of this being filtered through the white gaze? 

     Recently on Tik-Tok, the latest video format social media app, teens have been making a barrage of memes about the “Hot Cheeto Girls” at their schools. The jokes range from harmless self-roasts reliant on the Hot Cheeto Girl as a framing device, to downright racist depictions by white teens. Now, memes are memes, but examining the origins of our humor opens us up to exploring our internal biases and unspoken beliefs. The beliefs presented here are somewhat obvious and representative of known implicit biases in the school system. People feel that Hot Cheeto Girls are extraordinarily loud, which is underscored by the belief that these young women should be quiet. Classmates find them mean and abrasive, and we know that Black and Brown women are consistently seen as far more aggressive than their white counterparts. Hot Cheeto Girls are stereotyped as “ghetto”, which places them right in the cross-hairs of ALL the violent discrimination that the term evokes. 

     Being up against all of this racism, misogyny, and misogynoir and still choosing to be your authentic self takes a lot of confidence. The double-edged sword here is the fact that expressing this confidence daily renders these young women hypervisible. Hypervisibility is the way that people of color are subjected to higher levels of surveillance and judgement, which results in more focus on their shortcomings and failures. Constantly being under the microscope in this way is damaging because it carries over into other areas of life. Being conditioned by the school system and their peers to see themselves as too loud, too disruptive, too aggressive, and deviant just by way of existing in their bodies contributes to lower self-esteem overall. In short, it just isn’t fair to be the butt of everyone’s joke. 

(from @whorati0 on TikTok)

     I think that there should be more jokes in praise of the Hot Cheeto Girl. I think that we should recognize their inherent joy and infectious laughter. I think that working to cultivate more genuine self-expression in schools at every level is something that we should do more. This world, so wrapped up in oppressive, normative fallacies, would be far more equitable and inclusive if people took the time to challenge their biases before making fun of what is strange to them. Recognizing women of color’s voices, especially when they are loud and excitable, as valuable and vibrant is a small step that all of us in academia can take to realize this goal.