Hard Times? Not for Hoodoo

People enter hoodoo through the door of suffering, to borrow a phrase from the Umbandistas.

The Wall Street Journal reports an uptick in the magic sector: “Need a Job? Losing your House? Who Says Hoodoo Can’t Help?”

In the early 20th century, white pharmacists in black neighborhoods began marketing hoodoo items through mail order after noticing they were fielding a lot of questions from their black customers about roots, herbs and potions. Their shops fell on hard times in the 1970s, in part because many African-Americans began to view hoodoo, also known as rootwork or conjure, as backward, say scholars who study the practice. “As African-Americans came more in the mainstream and more affluent, they were embarrassed by this stuff,” says Carolyn Morrow Long, author of  Spiritual Merchants,  a book about hoodoo stores.

Today’s hoodoo revival is again being driven primarily by white retailers, and that has some blacks criticizing the commercialization of ancient rituals for a quick profit. “Hoodoo is not just oh-help-me-bring-my-baby-back, help-me-get-my-man-back stuff,” says Katrina Hazzard-Donald, a Rutgers University sociology professor who is black and was taught hoodoo as a child. She says hoodoo stores are corrupting the spiritual belief system by selling inferior, nonsacred products and focusing on alleged quick fixes to problems. “What is so pathetic about it is they don’t even know the origins of all this stuff,” Ms. Hazzard-Donald says of online hoodoo vendors.

Among the businesses features is the Forestville, Calif.-based Lucky Mojo Curio Co., which also figured in a recent journalistic book on magic in America. “I listened to your grandmother when you didn’t,” owner Catherine Yronwode tells her black customers—and, I suspect, Prof. Hazzard-Donald.

1 thought on “Hard Times? Not for Hoodoo

  1. Hoodoo lore and practice has influenced some aspects of Neo-Pagan magical activity in at least some regions of the USA. Probably from early on, since, if somebody went looking for magic supplies and information during the mid-20th Century, Hoodoo supplies and pamphlets would probably turn up.

    Old Blues sang about Hoodoo. In ethnically diverse cities and towns, old-timey Hoodoo practitioners might be doing stuff in the neighborhood. Head shops might stock a few Hoodoo items along with other esoteric and psychedelic gear and inspirational curiousa. Plus, some Craft Trads made some claims of Hoodoo influences or Hoodoo legacies.

    Later, magic-focused shops might stock Hoodoo items and makings as part of their overall inventory. And might incorporate Hoodoo workings as elements of their service.

    Lucky Mojo is the Hoodoo revival outfit that I know best. Their supplies and Cat’s teaching Hoodoo to Pagan practitioners have certainly established Hoodoo in the context of today’s Pagan practice and lore.

    I find that I am ambivalent about the likes of The Wall Street Journal reporting about topics like Hoodoo. Maybe because I look at Hoodoo and other such magical approaches as preserving some grassroots qualities that ought not to be lost in some New Agey venture capitalist transformation into Hoodoo, Inc.

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