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The Llewellyn Encyclopedia

Hoodoo

This article was written by John Michael Greer on January 20, 2014
posted under Hoodoo

The traditional folk magic of African-American culture, also known as conjure magic and rootwork. (The origin of the word "hoodoo" itself is uncertain, although it may derive from a West African source.) Hoodoo is to occultism what the blues are to music: rooted in African culture, transformed and reshaped through the long ordeal of slavery and segregation, drawing freely on a wide range of cultural influences but with a distinctive flavor of its own.

Hoodoo practices can be traced nearly as far back as the African presence in North America itself. Court records and other sources from the American colonies show that many of the basic practices of nineteenth- and twentieth-century hoodoo were already in existence well before the American Revolution. By around 1760, despite the brutal realities of slavery, Africans and African-Americans in the colonies had begun to adapt the magical heritage of their homeland to the New World, borrowing elements of folk Christianity, European magic, and Native American tradition in the process. The result was hoodoo.

Like most traditions of folk magic, hoodoo directs its workings primarily toward success in everyday life. Spells for drawing money, winning at gambling, attracting a mate or keeping one from straying, avoiding legal troubles, or winning court cases play a substantial role in the hoodoo repertoire. Methods for cursing or "crossing" another person are also an important part of the tradition, and there is a correspondingly rich lore of spells for "uncrossing" or countering curses, either by preventing hostile magic from being used in the first place by nullifying spells that have already been set in motion, or by "turning the trick" (that is, sending the spell back on its originator).


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