Most times, when anyone is referring to the concept of magick, the following types of imagery may come to mind: Hocus Pocus, Harry Potter, the Addams Family, black cats, spellbooks, potions, sorcery, folklore, and witches. While all these representations are not completely inaccurate, magick’s true source remains secluded to the peoples of African descent. Much of what is represented in mainstream media is actually an appropriation of Haitian vodou, not to be confused with Hoodoo, which derives from African Traditional Religions (ATR). Veaudeau is the European term for African magical practices and beliefs which explains how white privilege began to colonize the tradition.
The month of October is not only the time in which many Americans celebrate Halloween and El Dia de los Muertos, it is also Hoodoo Heritage Month. During this season, the veil between the physical and metaphysical realm is the thinnest, inviting the dead to coexist, especially with, and for, Black Americans. This timeframe encourages more to express gratitude and practice fellowship with ancestors, strengthening the connection to original roots before North American chattel slavery, but let’s be frank here: all magick belongs to the melanated.
New age is NOT magic
The New Age spirituality movement began to spread in the ’70s and ’80s by way of occult and metaphysical religious communities such as Wicca, Satanism, Gnosticism, Scientology, certain areas of Buddhism, and many other unnamed spiritual identities. These practitioners tend to be esoteric followers, which describes the quality of having exclusivity and secret meaning that is internally interpreted. According to the Ancient Greek School of Pythagoras, eso (within) represents the initiated and exo (without) represents those who, respectively, were not. Africans have had well-established forms of esotericism all across the continent for thousands of years.
Without an African ancestral link, the practice becomes diluted, and ultimately something else. Blackness is disproportionately isolated from mainstream representation. I, personally, like it this way, because, in reality, people of European descent have no business downright stealing what belongs to the originators who still walk this Earth from creation’s conception, simply for performative theatrics.
Historically, Europeans do not refer to the practice of magick prior to Western colonization. When contact was made with Indigenous communities, the practice was stolen and used in vain against the natives to commit genocide, land theft, and hegemonic terrorism. Clearly, the historical mainstream often represents ignorance and oppression. Therefore, white people could never handle African rootwork anyway. Undoubtedly, there is common ground for the spiritual diversity of this country’s and this continent’s deepest roots; such as honoring the dead, expressing gratitude through sacrifice and prayer, and harvest. But, New Age and Hoodoo are not the same.
The history of Hoodoo
The origins of Hoodoo reach back much farther than North American colonialism. Over 388,000 African people who were shipped to North America and Turtle Island alone including, Malagasy, Kongo, Igbo, Maghrebis, Akan, Mande, Hausa, Fulbe, and many others, ultimately leading to the millions of blurred Black American identities of today. In Hoodoo in America, Zora Neale Hurston discusses Hoodoo as folk medicine that uses herbs, altars, candles, and holy water. She references Marie Laveau, an American pioneer of both Hoodoo and voodoo, who passed down rituals and teachings, emphasizing the reclamation of Black power against white supremacy. She was revered for her protective power and often feared by law enforcement for her resistance against their persistent attacks.
One common misconception between New Age spirituality and Hoodoo is that each is inherently “superstitious” or “demonic.” Many American folklore traditions involve deity worship, whereas hoodoo mostly focuses on ancestral veneration. Historically, the religions and traditions that do not appeal to mainstream confines are labeled superstitious. This is a direct undermining of the power and history of this natural form of healing. Enslaved African-Americans often used Hoodoo as a source of protection and practicality, coincidentally, being demonized by their white masters for their reclamations.
Hoodoo Tarot, authored by Tayannah Lee McQuillar, doubles as a prominent piece of historical literature describing the origins of hoodoo as well as a guidebook for using this specially designed tarot card deck. McQuillar discusses an error made in her previous publication, Rootwork: The Folk Magic of Black America.
“This error was the description of Hoodoo as ‘folk magic’ in an attempt to assimilate the topic to academic language and standards. But, Hoodoo wasn’t folk magic when it started being described as such by social scientists, nor is it folk magic now. Hoodoo is a culture, an inheritance, with distinct lineage in North America,” McQuillar said.
Hoodoo divination can include, but is not limited to cartomancy, cleromancy, natural/judicial astrology, augury, and oneiromancy. Hoodoo is the product of protection from terrorism, a body of botanical and esoteric knowledge, as well as a rebellion against absolute mental and spiritual domination by Europeans. McQuillar goes as far as to provide six reasons disproving the theory of Hoodoo as African retention with Native American and European influences.
“Some may say that Hoodoo is North America’s only totally unrestricted repository of esoteric knowledge.”
Being American can mean one thing, being Black is always another; and then there is being African and/or African-American. This all depends on the journey of the individual, but melanated North Americans have proven influential melting pot skills through the development of hoodooism.
“Shreds of hoodoo beliefs and practices are found wherever any number of Negroes are found in America, but conjure has had its highest development along the Gulf Coast.”
Southern areas such as Louisiana, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida attracted Haitian settlers after the overthrow of French power by L’Overture, which drove thousands to the nearest French refuge in New Orleans. These refugees maintained their hoodoo rituals that had been slightly modified by contact with European Catholicism. The transplanting of Hoodoo in America allowed these ancient practices to take characteristics of the immediate vicinity’s prevailing religions. Hoodoo, also called conjure and rootwork, blends an intricate system of magic, herbalism, divination, and witchcraft with the intention of honoring the ancestors that handed down these traditions for contemporary practice.
Black women + Black femmes only
I had the opportunity to ask two present-day Hoodoo practitioners about their introduction to the practice and their views of the recent mainstream resurgence.
Dr. TaMara Rose carries many titles. This includes being a certified clinical sexologist, sex therapist, sacred womb healing ordained minister, women’s healing arts teacher, author, and speaker of Atlanta, GA. In my conversation with her, she talks about being introduced about 10-15 years, stating that “it found her.”
She was raised in a traditional Baptist church on the south side of Flint, MI, and [witchcraft] was considered “devil worship.” She describes her experience as “a divorcing of religion” for lack of resonance with Christianity. She said that the hidden tradition had always been there through spirit-sightings and prayer but was shunned by her elders. Dr. Rose suggests Queen Afua’s Sacred Woman and her own publication WOMB as helpful resources for true practitioners or anyone seeking more information on womb wellness and healing of the Divine Feminine energy. These references are reminders to honor Black mothers and femme practitioners as the backbone for all magick, especially Hoodoo.
I also spoke with Taylor Amari Little (Tay), a Muslim gender-variant diviner, Conjurewoman, and a protector for the Unborn. She is centered in Detroit and has been destroying anti-Black spaces by way of Hoodoo, education, and community engagement. Tay had first intentionally come to the African Traditional Religious community in adolescence, around 13 or 14 years old.
“My favorite series were by L.Divine and Nnedi Okorafor. There was always some type of interest that I had in our ability to not only intimately work with our spirits, but also understand ATR theologies, magics, and the wild, magical a** experiences of the Black young girls, women, and other non-men who do our type of work.”
She explains that she was always led by her spirits, exposing her to some of her first recognizable encounters with this specific style of magick. Tay talks about Hoodoo as a “living experience, fluid, but with firm foundations,” making it clear that this is not a practice for just anyone to pick up and try on. She highlights “dark-skinned queer and trans Hoodoos who are constantly going hard and living out the actual Indigenous roles of our peoples” as the appropriate representation of Hoodoo heritage.,
“When you learn from [Hoodoos of] marginalized genders, there’s just usually significantly less harm to unlearn in the end.”
Considering the number of alleged practitioners of both New Age and Hoodoo, it is important to question ancestry and intention for anyone claiming to do divination, spiritual and energetic healing, or ancestral veneration.
“Finding and trusting in those who are the center of Blackness and have the ability to imagine/channel far beyond white-recognized, or constructed realms, is not only the best, but the only way that I would recommend.” -Taylor Amari Little
Finally, Tay references Mama Rue, who is one of the key contributors towards cultivating this month toward Hoodoo heritage and reminds us “to set our standards appropriately, reminding our communities that are actively perceiving and treating Hoodoo as an esteemed religion of Blackness on this land is purely crucial.”
Tay is the creator of Tay in the Water podcast on all streaming platforms where ATRs and Hoodoo are discussed in greater detail. Each interviewee named water as a precious element of spiritual connection, as it is a conduit for spirits to cross into the physical realm. We honor these women as spiritual leaders and integral sources of American refuge away from false representations.
There is no separating Black history from Indigenous history. Hoodoo and many other African traditions follow Black people of the diaspora as a provision of spiritual protection and ancestral connection. It is vital that we see Hoodoo in contrast to the way it has been perceived and portrayed by the white mainstream. It is also vital that Black mothers and Black femme identities are at the forefront of mystical representation. Magick is not static; it is not a monolith, and is also certainly not for white practice or consumption.