Friday, November 14, 2008

Throwin A Fix: Hoodoo And The American Spirit



The first episode of Disinformation: World News is up, the first to feature a segment of The Invisible College! Our segment only marginally touched on the subject of Hoodoo, but it set me to thinking a great deal about that oft-neglected and deeply misunderstood American magickal tradition.

Magick has always enjoyed a curious place in American history. The Salem Witch Trials stand as one of the world's most commonly referenced examples of the suffering that can be brought about by the ignorance and superstition of common people and authorities alike, yet the attitudes of the Puritans regarding the nature and power of the occult are almost indistinguishable from the attitudes expressed to this day in some of the more conservative Protestant and Baptist congregations. Since it is rather doubtful that there was much more going on than a few old-world folk traditions, if even that, the hysteria of the witch hunts is regarded in the popular conception as an evil only because so many victims were 'misidentified' as witches, as if the eradication of an actual coven of crones would have been perfectly justified.

For better or for worse, Freemasonic and Rosicrucian orders have boasted members at all echelons of political power since the birth of the nation, and Illuminist ideology forms the invisible backbone of our country's most fundamental principles. But despite its pervasiveness, these influences remain a part of the secret history of America, as historians continue to idly ponder whether we were conceived as a christian nation or a republic of secular humanism.

Hoodoo's place in history suffers even worse than many other magickal practices: its value (or even existence!) is widely ignored by occultists and mainstream historians alike. As a young magician coming to my power in the States, I consider this a terrible shame. It is a sad fact that the vast majority of occult knowledge available to the modern student of the Mysteries comes to us from the pens of dead white englishmen. The libraries of even the Invisible College woefully underrepresent anything but old english twats writing about the magickal systems of older english twats, unless you're in the Comparative Literature section, in which case we get to read hamhanded attempts to explain magickal systems from the exotic Orient to old english twats. I'm sure this situation would be less of a personal problem if I was standing on a fog-swept moor or whatever the hell enlgish magicians do for fun, but there is a certain incongruity in reciting a ritual that resorts to 'Thee and Thouing" as I stand on a hill overlooking a dirt road and powerlines, traintracks, red clay, bait shack, shoggoth of kudzu winding its way over old farm equipment.

All Faulknerian romanticism aside, what I'm talking about here is the idea of a genius loci, the spirits of a place, and the class of spirits that linger around my neck of the woods are of a very distinctive character. Sure, there are the familiar angels and demons of the great western canon here, but down here the Devil's less likely to show up in your Triangle of Manifestation than he is to show up at the crossroads and teach you to play the blues. There are spirits in the dry riverbeds and poplar trees and honeysuckle that remember a time not so long ago when a Conjureman would call on them to take the wart off a child, to bewitch a lover, to send an opponent off in style, to fix a mojo hand, or to hex someone good. And I'll tell you what they're not impressed by: bossy white folk with entitlement issues. You just can't talk to these guys like you do the same old pile of Solomonic lapdogs that we're all so used to reading about.

I'm ranting at this point, so let me bring it back a bit. Hoodoo is an amalgam of Central-African traditions, Native American herbal lore, Pennsylvanian Dutch hexmeistery, and European folk remedies. But it is more than the mere sum of these parts. It is a robust magickal tradition whose focus is on intensely practical, effective, and applicable methods of achieveing worldly power. It's not a religion, nor does it pretend to be, and many of its methods are shockingly amoral. It's sorcery, pure and simple, and for a long time it was one of the only avenues of power at all for enslaved blacks in the American South. After Abolition, poor blacks and whites alike used the conjurer's Arts to rise quickly to heights of power that they could not hope to reach by conventional means. It's messy, and confusing, and sometimes involves getting your hands a good deal dirtier than many of us cerebral wizard-types are used to. But it is also immediate, and vital, empowering, free.

Let's add to the painfully short list of great American magickians Doctor Buzzard, Doctor Jim Jordan, Aunt Caroline Dye, the Seven Sisters, and all the rootworkers and conjuremen whose names are lost to history, but who warded off an overseer's whip, or threw a fix, or who gave his community hope out of his bag of tricks.


For more information and resources check out www.luckymojo.com, and visit their ongoing project on Hoodoo in Theory and Practice.


SEVEN SISTERS BLUES
J. T. "Funny Paper" Smith, 1931

They tell me Seven Sisters in New Orleans
that can really fix a man up right
They tell me Seven Sisters in New Orleans
that can really fix a man up right
And I'm headed for New Orleans, Louisiana,
I'm travelin' both day and night.

I hear them say the oldest Sister
look just like she's 21
I hear them say the oldest Sister
look just like she's 21
And said she can look right in your eyes
and tell you just exactly what you want done.

They tell me they've been hung,
been bled, and been crucified
They tell me they've been hung,
been bled, and been crucified
But I just want enough help
to stand on the water and rule the tide.

It's bound to be Seven Sisters,
'cause I've heard it by everybody else
It's bound to be Seven Sisters,
I've heard it by everybody else
Course, I'd love to take their word,
but I'd rather go and see for myself.

When I leave the Seven Sisters,
I'll pile stones all around
When I leave the Seven Sisters,
I'll pile stones all around
And go to my baby and tell her,
"There's another Seven Sister man in town."

Good morning, Seven Sisters,
just thought I'd come down and see
Good morning, Seven Sisters,
I thought I'd come down to see
Will you build me up where I'm torn down,
and make me strong where I'm weak?

I went to New Orleans, Louisiana,
just on account of something I heard
I went to New Orleans, Louisiana,
just on account of something I heard
The Seven Sisters told me everything I wanted to know,
and they wouldn't let me speak a word.

Now, it's Sarah, Minnie, Bertha,
Holly, Dolly, Betty and Jane
Sarah, Minnie, Bertha,
Holly, Dolly, Betty and Jane
You can't know them Sisters apart,
because they all looks just the same.

The Seven Sisters sent me away happy,
'round the corner I met another little girl
Seven Sisters sent me 'way happy,
'round the corner I met another little girl
She looked at me and smiled, and said,
"Go, Devil, and destroy the world."

I'm gonna destroy it, too.

I'm all right now.

Seven times a year
the Seven Sisters will visit me in my sleep
Seven times a year
the Seven Sisters will visit me all in my sleep
And they said I won't have no trouble,
and said I'll live twelve days in a week.

Wanna go down in Louisiana,
and get the hell right out of your bein'
Wanna go down in Louisiana,
and get right out of your bein'
These Seven Sisters can do anything in Louisiana,
but you'll have to go to New Orleans.

5 comments:

Terance of Athens said...

I like the idea of genius loci, it makes a lot of sense that magic would work best where it was created. It seems that using the local magic would be taking advantage of grooves that have already been laid down.

Good job on the overview, I remember your presentation on this topic a year or two ago.

St. Gandy said...

Who's presentation now, Terance?

Min Self said...

Whence came that illustration you're using in the article?

StormJewel said...

Hi there, got here as you left a comment on my Voodoo and Hoodoo article on before it's news. This was an interesting article even if as an english woman 'english twats' is kind of rude :o) (do you know the full meaning of the word?!)

But actually I don't read any of the old english stuff either, most of my magick I do intuitively, seems the best way for me! How about you

Austin Gandy said...

@StormJewel: I'll have to take some accountability on that point. I like my language a bit salty, and realize that our colloquial use of 'twat' to indicate an inept or moronic individual by suggesting that said individual is a vulva may be more controversial in other regions. The intention is not to offend, but to provoke, but that doesn't always come off right.
Thanks for the feedback. I'm enjoying the 'Before It's News' segment, and look forward to seeing more.

In response to your question, I'd say I work a pretty heavy mix of intuitive practice and in-depth study. Ora, lege, lege, lege, relege, labora et invenies .