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.

Making Space for Faith in Feminism

michael-headshot A reflection by Michael Jalloh-Jamboria, Women’s Center student staff member

Saturday, February 12th was the 59th Grammy awards show. The show featured many musical performances and winners, most notably,Beyoncé. At the time of her performance, not only was she pregnant, but she delivered a kickass performance, defied gravity, all the while channeling some major West African, Latin American, and Christian spiritual imagery during her performance. 

In both Santeria and West African spirituality, the Goddess Oshun is the goddess of sweet waters–the embodiment of love, fertility, and sensuality. Her love and guidance were instrumental to the creation of the world, so much so that other Orisha (gods and goddesses) were unable to complete their work on earth without Oshun.  After Beyonce’s amazing performance, Twitter was going wild with the comparisons between Beyoncé and the goddess Oshun.

child-of-oshun

Beyoncé’s performance, her golden outfit, the fact that she was very pregnant, and the influx of Twitter comparisons reminded me of an earlier blog post I had written about my journey of religion and its intersections with my identities. Growing up, my parents loved to tell me stories of the Orisha, or gods and goddesses, and how they created the earth. While I was raised Muslim, my parents never separated our West African spirituality from our Muslim religion. Beyoncé’s performance got me thinking about how different my religion is from my spirituality. While it can be a strange balance, both my religion and my spirituality are important aspects of my identity. But I realized, within the social spaces I occupy, I don’t really talk about those parts of my identity. From there, I began to think about whether or not religion has a place in feminism. Continue reading

Let’s Get in Formation: Beyoncé and Black Hair

MJ Profile PicA reflection written by Women’s Center staff member, MJ Jalloh Jamboria

Beyoncé’s newest hit, “Formation” has been the topic of conversation everywhere. If you missed the video, here it is!

Since her Super Bowl performance on February 7th, Beyoncé has received mountains of praise and criticism for her performance and newest video. (Also, take a second to watch the Super Bowl performance here if you haven’t already. Ready? OK!)

While surfing Twitter during the Super Bowl performance (obviously not as Bey was singing), I came across a tweet that angered me to my very core. In efforts to find the original tweet, I came up empty handed, so instead I’ll summarize. The author of the tweet expressed anger at the hairstyle Beyoncé chose to rock for her Super Bowl performance, specifically the color and texture of her weave.

bey

Credit: Getty Images

Their ire was grounded in the fact that Beyoncé’s weave wasn’t aligned with the pro-blackness and importance of self-identity portrayed within her video.

Trying to isolate my frustration with the tweet, I found myself asking (and later dissecting) the following questions:

  • Why are people focusing on her hair style?
  • Why is wavy, blonde hair considered anti-black and indicative of self-hate?? 

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Black Trauma + Mental Health Resources Round-Up

A resource round-up provided by Women’s Center staff member, Meagé Clements

In case you missed yesterday’s roundtable on Black Trauma and Mental Health (or if you were there and want to keep the conversation going), I thought it might be useful to share some resources that have helped me, as a Black woman, deal with my own experiences of Black trauma. It’s hard to summarize everything that was discussed; however much of the discussion revolved around the problematic “Strong Black Woman” stereotype. We also discussed the experiences of tokenization, involuntary (or feeling it necessary to have to be the) spokesperson in class, and microagressions. Black trauma isn’t just one kind of experience, and certainly isn’t only what is captured by the media. Rather it is a daily and ongoing experience – much like a death by a 1000 cuts. Below are just a few resources I’ve found helpful in learning that I, too, can be strong AND vulnerable.

The poem Dr. Jasmine Abrams shared: The Strong Black Woman is Dead

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Dr. Abrams kicked off the discussion by asking us to close our eyes as she read the poem, “The Strong Black Woman is Dead”

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