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Mojo Workin'

Mojo Workin': The Old African American Hoodoo System

Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Mojo Workin'
    Book Description:

    Katrina Hazzard-Donald explores African Americans' experience and practice of the herbal, healing folk belief tradition known as Hoodoo. She examines Hoodoo culture and history by tracing its emergence from African traditions to religious practices in the Americas. Working against conventional scholarship, Hazzard-Donald argues that Hoodoo emerged first in three distinct regions she calls "regional Hoodoo clusters" and that after the turn of the nineteenth century, Hoodoo took on a national rather than regional profile. The spread came about through the mechanism of the "African Religion Complex," eight distinct cultural characteristics familiar to all the African ethnic groups in the United States. _x000B__x000B_The first interdisciplinary examination to incorporate a full glossary of Hoodoo culture, Mojo Workin': The Old African American Hoodoo System lays out the movement of Hoodoo against a series of watershed changes in the American cultural landscape. Hazzard-Donald examines Hoodoo material culture, particularly the "High John the Conquer" root, which practitioners employ for a variety of spiritual uses. She also examines other facets of Hoodoo, including rituals of divination such as the "walking boy" and the "Ring Shout," a sacred dance of Hoodoo tradition that bears its corollaries today in the American Baptist churches. Throughout, Hazzard-Donald distinguishes between "Old tradition Black Belt Hoodoo" and commercially marketed forms that have been controlled, modified, and often fabricated by outsiders; this study focuses on the hidden system operating almost exclusively among African Americans in the Black spiritual underground._x000B_

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09446-0
    Subjects: Sociology, Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. [Illustrations]
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. 1-18)

    On October 7, 1994, then nationally known talk show host Phil Donahue featured a segment highlighting a terrifying and bizarre incident that occurred in Dallas, Texas. The incident involved a young African American woman, a school teacher named Myra Obasi, who allegedly had been taken to a “hoodooist”¹ who had confirmed that she was possessed by an evil spirit. Obasi, two of her sisters, and five of their children had fled Arcadia, Louisiana, and ended up in Dallas at the church and home of Mattie Bradfield; there Obasi had been allegedly blinded by the removal of her eyeballs. She appeared...

    (pp. 19-33)

    Though some scholarship of the past four decades on African religion and culture has been fairer, broader, more objective, and more accurate in its examination and presentation than many earlier works, overall much traditional African and African-derived life and culture continue to be misinterpreted and misunderstood. Nowhere is the mischaracterization of West and Central West African tradition more discordant with reality than in numerous early portrayals and interpretations of African traditional religion. As both the product of and the producer of pejorative misrepresentations of African traditional cultural life, some of the materials that degrade and misinterpret the religious core of...

  7. 2 DISRUPTIVE INTERSECTION: Slavery and the African Background in the Making of Hoodoo
    (pp. 34-67)

    The improbability of precisely locating when and where Hoodoo emerged has not precluded this author from including this as a subtextual concern. Throughout this inquiry, this author questions the common and popular understanding that, like jazz, “Hoodoo came from New Orleans.” Although New Orleans has its significance, wherever there was a sizable African population, African naturalistic religious practices that would contribute to Hoodoo were there also. Something resembling Hoodoo undoubtedly developed among the first generation of culturally diverse Africans born in the North American colonies. Enslaved Africans undoubtedly manifest a range of responses to contact with both enslavement and Christian...

    (pp. 68-83)

    Early in the North American slave experience, the conditions of bondage circumscribed African slave life and transformed the remotest aspects of slave psyche, mythology, and behavior. In response to this, resistance behaviors appeared in the slave population; rebellions, mutinies, and poisonings, along with subtler dissembling, creating a legacy of hope and support while providing models for further resistance. Since New World enslavement exacted a high price from both the slave’s physical body and his spiritual apparatus, “hope” was indeed the tool that enabled the enslaved to salvage his own humanity. That vision of hope, resistance, rebellion, and triumph had no...

  9. 4 CRISIS AT THE CROSSROADS: Sustaining and Transforming Hoodoo’s Black Belt Tradition from Emancipation to World War II
    (pp. 84-115)

    The period following emancipation was transformative in every sense for African Americans. Both the physical and social boundaries of their cultural lives would be expanded and would develop a more prominent national profile. It was a period of fragmenting and recoalescing values and practices as the nation shifted gears between the Civil War and World War I. Black belt traditional Hoodoo would find itself approaching a critical crossroads in its identity and existence. Though emancipation would prefigure the forthcoming loss of certain traditions, freedom of movement would simultaneously provide the social backdrop from which regional cultural variations would cross-fertilize one...

  10. 5 THE DEMISE OF DR. BUZZARD: Black Belt Hoodoo between the Two World Wars
    (pp. 116-134)

    The period between World Wars I and II would play host to diversification in spiritual merchandising that contributed to an ever-strengthening subversion and undermining of Hoodoo’s traditional old black belt practice. Aspects of the black belt Hoodoo tradition that the snake-oil industry could not exploit would begin a slow transformative decline into increasing invisibility while the spiritual merchants would marketeer Hoodoo merchandise into a lucrative and full-blown industry. The all but complete domination of the Hoodoo marketplace by spiritual merchants and marketeers produced a transformation in Negro supernatural folk knowledge. But the marketeers were merely one active and essential element...

  11. 6 HEALIN’ DA SICK, RAISIN’ DA DAID: Hoodoo as Health Care, Root Doctors, Midwives, Treaters
    (pp. 135-155)

    The full dimensions of Hoodoo have been overlooked. Even recent scholarship on Hoodoo has not included a discussion of the medicinal aspect of the tradition. In addition, that scholarship has totally overlooked a discussion of traditional Hoodoo healers: treaters, midwives, and root doctors. Even African Americans who know anything of contemporary Hoodoo will usually not immediately associate it with medicinal herbalism. Hoodoo marketeers were neither interested in nor had access to this aspect of Hoodoo. While much of the magical aspect of Hoodoo would be discarded under the strict dictates of Christianity, science, and commercialism, much of Hoodoo’s medicinal herbalism...

    (pp. 156-178)

    The aftermath of World War II, particularly its benefits in the form of educational supports, jobs, pensions, and housing benefits from the GI bill to returning African American servicemen, would provide the black community with both incentives and opportunities for continuing migration northward. Increased income, though racially circumscribed in northern black communities, intensified the movement away from old black belt traditions. In some cases, the old Hoodoo continuum would experience internally generated redefinition, particularly through church-connected Hoodoo workers. But in the northern urban environment, marketeered Hoodoo would dominate in many black communities.

    Hoodoo’s first urban face, which appeared in the...

    (pp. 179-186)

    With the previous discussion considered, it appears that the future of old tradition Hoodoo is uncertain. The only era in which Hoodoo was universally used by African Americans, as a vehicle for liberation, was the era of enslavement. Hoodoo initially focused on the needs of the enslaved African American community. There it was universally used both to protect one against slave owners, patrollers, and punishment and to discover and redirect evil. It was also used as a means to address both physical and spiritual malady. Initially, Hoodoo was a spiritual system that, at its core, assumed a posture of spiritual...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 187-204)
  15. Glossary
    (pp. 205-210)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 211-226)
  17. Index
    (pp. 227-234)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 235-237)