Readers, please enjoy this guest blog post by Cory Thomas Hutcheson, author of the new New World Witchery.

For those who take an interest in North American folk magic, it is impossible to learn for long without realizing very quickly just how much all of American folk magic owes to its legacy of Black practitioners. This includes not just the practice of the African American folk magical system commonly called “Hoodoo,” but also the broader history of magic in America as well. Folk magic is largely alive and well because of the contributions of Black Americans, and yet I often see that while people recognize the presence of Black practices, they sometimes don’t know much about historical Black practitioners of magic. That’s a shame, because the rich legacy of Black folk magic in America has a number of stories to be told.

Today I want to put forward a pair of individuals I think that every student of American folk magic should know about, because their contributions are absolutely essential and should be celebrated by all American folk magicians.

Firstly, if you’ve never heard of Black Herman, I highly recommend you do yourself a favor and go look him up. Born Benjamin Rucker, Herman was best known as a stage magician—an escapist on par with performers like Harry Houdini. However, what distinguished him was his showmanship in his touring magical act and the way he would bring in elements of African American folklore as well, such as tying his magical knowledge to Moses, who was often portrayed as a powerful, sometimes magical Black figure among African Americans. He tied his performances to African history and ancestry as well, explicitly stating that his escape act was designed to provide “secret knowledge” so that Black people wouldn’t be held captive again. He was also inducted into secret societies like the Freemasons and even offered mail-order magical training to help others learn the trade. He did performances to help uplift Black businesses and even did benefit performances with the money going to Black churches.

While Black Herman was a showman, Paschal Beverly Randolph took a more esoteric approach to magic and spiritual power. He was a practicing medical doctor, but became deeply involved in Spiritualism and trance mediumship, penning a number of works on things like “animal magnetism,” clairvoyance, and even sex magic. He was a free Black man who made a name and a career for himself in New York long before Emancipation, and he traveled abroad extensively, incorporating lessons of Eastern and Middle Eastern mysticism into his own work. Like Herman, Randolph also belonged to an esoteric order, the Rosicrucians, and had an outsized impact on other occult groups like the Theosophists and the Brotherhood of Luxor.

These two figures are only a tiny fragment of the much grander history of Black folk magical influence in American life and culture. I have written several other posts over at my own website about other highly important Black people in the American folk magical scene, both historical and literary (as well as some contemporary folks I think you should know, too). I hope that readers of this site will be encouraged to seek out more information on the many, many contributions made by African Americans to folk magic in North America. Black lives and Black spirituality matter, and the more we can do to learn about and uplift these figures, the richer and fuller our collective enchanted history and worldview becomes.

Thanks for reading!

—Cory


Our thanks to Cory for his guest post! For more from Cory Thomas Hutcheson, read his article “How to Use Everyday Objects for Folk Fortunetelling.”

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Written by Anna
Anna is the Senior Consumer & Online Marketing Specialist, responsible for Llewellyn's New Worlds of Body, Mind & Spirit, the Llewellyn Journal, Llewellyn's monthly email newsletters, and more. In her free time, Anna enjoys reading an absurd number of books; doing crossword puzzles; watching ...