Hoodoo Is a Spiritual Practice with Its Own History

Donyae Coles
·5 mins read
Photo credit: Getty/Katie Buckleitner
Photo credit: Getty/Katie Buckleitner

From Cosmopolitan

After dabbling in various spiritual practices, I discovered Hoodoo and it changed my life. It provided a connection to my spiritual self that I hadn't found in mainstream witchcraft and gave me the tools to directly handle the issues that come up in my life—money, relationship stress, even landlords. Hoodoo doesn't have the barriers that many magical practices have; there's just the work, and how you use it is up to you. Hoodoo grounds me and helps me find peace in troubling times. And when have times been more troubling than 2020?

Hoodoo isn't new, nor is it a catch-all term for a variety of practices—which is how pop culture tends to portray it. Surprise! Hoodoo is actually its own practice with its own rules and history. In fact, the practice isn’t even called “spells,” but “work” or “chores.” It’s also been appropriated by many people—so a lot of misinformation is floating around online.

Hoodoo is, at its core, is an African American tradition. It was created by enslaved people from various spiritual practices that they adapted to the land they found themselves in. Hoodoo is also known by other names, mainly conjure or rootwork. People who practice Hoodoo work with a number of tools, such as candles, curios, and of course, roots and herbs. Ancestor veneration is particularly important. Movies often show Hoodoo as dark and harmful, but most of the work we do is concerned with healing and protection.

Hoodoo Isn't Voodoo

There's a lot of confusion about Hoodoo and Voodoo. If you think they're the same, you're not alone, but it's time to unlearn that! Hoodoo and Voodoo are very different. Voodoo, which is also spelled Vodou, Voudou, or Voudun, is an actual religion that originated in Haiti.

As a religion, Voodoo has specific practices, some of which you have to be ordained to perform. It has religious leaders, known as Mambos, who oversee these practices. It has a set of deities that are worshiped and respected.

Hoodoo, by contrast, does not have these things. There are no gods; you are free to worship any gods (or not) that you want. There is no organized hierarchy. This isn't to say there are no rules to working with roots—there are, but it lacks the structure of religion.

Hoodoo Isn't for Everyone

Hoodoo is based in the African diaspora and as such, it should only be practiced by Black people. The work was developed to protect and heal us from the traumas of enslavement. We can see this in the roots used for traveling safely and the container works used for protecting the home against physical violence, winning a court case, or being overlooked by the law.

America has been dangerous to Black people since we were brought here, and Hoodoo is a way for us to protect ourselves. It's 2020, and these works remain incredibly relevant.

In order to practice Hoodoo, you have to be able to engage with its history. As much as it may sting to hear, white people can't practice Hoodoo because you can't call on the ancestors of oppressors of Black people to engage in Black magical traditions.

How To Get Started in Hoodoo

I started with a honey jar. I wasn't looking for anything in particular when I stumbled upon a short article by Stephanie Rose Bird in an almanac. She outlined how to make a small honey jar—a jar filled with honey, curios, and herbs meant to “sweeten” a situation or person—and work it. (I use honey jars for creative work, but people also make them for their home, relationships, or just to promote self-love and self-care). I wasn't expecting anything, but I sat down and wrote my intentions, and over a few days, I slowly gathered the bits and pieces for my personal jar.

When I had everything I needed, I put it together and lit my first candle. To my surprise, I felt at peace and oddly accomplished. I hadn't done much, but engaging in the process produced a connection and reaction that I was not expecting. I was hooked, and I sought out more. Before I knew it, I had an altar set up and candles in various colors just waiting for use.

I learned, quickly, that there are many fraudulent people who call themselves rootworkers and conjure doctors. In fact, some of the names that first come up in a Google search for “Hoodoo” are those of white people who are often accused of cultural appropriation and are not trusted by the community.

I had to really look to find teachers and resources I could trust. My search led me to more work by Bird, like her book Sticks, Stones, Roots & Bones, as well as historical texts like Zora Neale Hurston’s Hoodoo in America. I also found a number of closed, online groups where people could share information and filter out any false pieces that found their way to them. If you prefer a different approach, reputable classes such as those by Big Liz Conjure can help you learn the basics.

You don't have to begin your practice with a jar or any focused intention. There are plenty of works that are for general causes, such as safety or healing. Some say that the best way to begin is to get in touch with your ancestors through an altar.

How you engage with Hoodoo is really up to you. Sit with it, find your comfort zone, and do the work.

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