Need a Job? Losing Your House? Who Says Hoodoo Can’t Help?

Cameron McWhirter, Wall Street Journal, December 28, 2010

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For decades, hoodoo shops appeared to be dying off. But the Internet, and troubled times, have given rituals once performed only in backwoods cabins or shabby urban shops a new life. Hoodoo practitioners and retailers say sales are booming as people from across the country turn to them for help slashing debt, preventing foreclosures or finding jobs.

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Hoodoo is thought to have evolved on southern plantations as an amalgam of African religions. Influences from European folk practices and Native American beliefs were mixed in. Black people across the South fashioned charms from everyday items, local herbs and animal parts to protect themselves or to hurt others. Many rituals revolved around increasing or restoring one’s “mojo”–energy, power and sexual prowess.

While the line between hoodoo and the better-known Voodoo often blurs in popular culture, the two belief systems have different, if similar, origins. Hoodoo arose among slaves in English-speaking American colonies. Voodoo developed among slaves in French-speaking Haiti and Louisiana as its own religion, incorporating African gods and Catholicism.

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.

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The backlash isn’t stopping retailers like LuckyMojo.com. One of the largest Internet sources of hoodoo products, booklets and online courses, the site has 23,000 customers in its database and more than 3,000 people registered on a community forum, says owner Catherine Yronwode.

Ms. Yronwode, a 63 year-old one-time hippie who stumbled upon hoodoo when it was mentioned in old Blues lyrics, says LuckyMojo has tapped into a renewed interest in “the old ways.”

“I listened to your grandmother when you didn’t,” Ms. Yronwode, who is white, says to her black customers. Her site, which she runs from her farm in northern California, offers hundreds of spells and potions, including “attraction powder” to draw a loved one, and “goofer” dust, made with dead spiders, to make an enemy sick–or worse. She sells packets of graveyard dirt. {snip}

Tammie, a 40-year-old white insurance agent in Florida, who asked that her last name not be used, says she found hoodoo last year when she suffered health and financial problems. She has spent about $500 so far on items from LuckyMojo, including candles to give her protection to oils for attracting money. Both her health and her financial situation have improved, she says.

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