Hoodoo, Rootwork, and Folk Magic: Olde Tales of the South
We often hear tales of vengeful women sticking dolls with pins to exact revenge on her enemies. When we hear the words New Orleans, visions of bonfires, rum and cigars, tombstones, skeleton keys, and dark storefronts fill our minds. We will hear that New Orleans, Louisiana was the birthplace of Voodoo in the United States. But what we don’t hear is that Voodoo is actually a religion, while the magical practice often confused for Voodoo is correctly termed Hoodoo or Southern rootwork.
Hoodoo Was Brought Here
When the African Americans were brought here as slaves by the white man, they brought with them a whole variety of religious and magical practices from the Old World…from their homes in Africa. In this article, we will explore those magical practices known as hoodoo and rootwork, that were brought from Africa and used in the Deep South to gain success, love, and smite one’s enemies. Come with me on a trip to a place where the moss hangs from the old oak trees, where graveyards are scary but sacred, and where roots of trees and bones of animals are used in what modern day society calls “spells”.
Hoodoo History: Aunt Caroline Dye
You’ve probably heard of the Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau, but have you heard of Aunt Caroline Dye? Aunt Caroline Dye was a very famous name in Hoodoo in the early 1900’s. She lived in Arkansas but was born into slavery in Spartanburg, South Carolina in the late 1800’s. Caroline Dye was a very powerful woman. She had the gifts of her ancestors. Businessmen came from far and wide to ask Aunt Caroline Dye her advice.
We don’t know the rootwork practices that Caroline Dye used, but we can assume she utilized accessible natural tools like roots, bones, sticks, stones, plants, dirt, etc. Some say Aunt Caroline Dye used only a simple deck of cards to do her readings. She would never advise in the matters of love or war, but she readily gave readings on financial and prosperity concerns. Her name grew so big, some said she was more famous than President Woodrow Wilson.
The Voodoo Queen: Marie Laveau
You may have heard of the Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau. Did you know that she a voodoo-isant AND a hoodoo practitioner? There is a legend of Marie Laveau praying with three ghost peppers under her tongue for a matter of 3 days, pleading with the saints to resolve a legal issue for a local politician. Today this would be considered a Hoodoo practice.
Marie Laveau lived and worked in New Orleans in the nineteenth century and made a name for herself. She was a very powerful woman and magician, and helped whoever came to her with problems of love, power, money, and more. She was a hairdresser to the high class folks, and so she made connections easily. She was intelligent and had a deep connection with the Supreme Being and with the saints and spirits of New Orleans. She is also known for holding large Voodoo meetings in Congo Square that on many occasions were attempted to be shut down by police…to no avail.
One form of Hoodoo is called foot track magic. Foot track magic was exactly as it sounds…magic in the form of using footprints for a specific purpose. Let’s say you had an enemy. A neighbor that was coming onto your property and stealing your belongings or food. Foot track magic was used to send that neighbor away.
There are different kinds of foot track magic. A powerful powder called Hot Foot Powder sends the person away for good. Hot Foot Powder consists of black pepper, cayenne pepper, salt, and sulfur. Sometimes other ingredients are added to give it an extra punch, i.e. graveyard dirt, gunpowder, or other herbs. This Hot Foot Powder was mixed up and either sprinkled in the person’s footprints or put directly into their socks or shoes to send them away.
In addition to using powders, hoodoo practitioners also use different kinds of “waters“. Simply put these waters are herbal infusions or perfumes used for various purposes. One of the most popular is called Florida Water. Here is a list of some of the Hoodoo waters and their descriptions:
- Florida Water – a blend of floral essential oils in an alcohol-water base as sort of a perfume/cologne used in Hoodoo to bless/cleanse a home or worn to draw in a particular need or desire
- War Water – iron rust suspended in water used in foot track magic to poison the victim or throw them into quarrels with their family, etc. Sometimes spanish moss and other herbs were mixed in to pack an extra punch.
- Kananga Water – a blend of ylang ylang essential oil in an alcohol-water base used in ritual and cosmetic purposes to draw love and prosperity to the user. This type of water was also used in offering bowls to the spirits, etc.
These waters were used in various ways, for both good and bad purposes. Another water or cologne is Hoyt’s cologne and is specifically powerful for gambling purposes. Along with waters used in Hoodoo, there were also various oils, floor washes, cleansers, and herbal baths.
Hoodoo Nation Sacks
We have all heard of the voodoo doll, but what about a mojo bag or nation sack? A nation sack is used mostly by female hoodoo practitioners in matters of the home, love, and success. Often woman who created the nation sack won’t tell another about it, as it would give away the nation sack’s power. A nation sack is a bag that contains things like herbs, roots, stones, sticks, bones, oils, and more.
A Mojo bag is similar to a nation sack but usually smaller in size and are made of red flannel. Mojo bags were also known as root bags or gris gris bags, depending on the person and region. A main part of the process of working “mojo” is to “feed” the spirits inside of the bag. So they would feed the plants and items inside of the mojo bags with oils and other things to feed its power.
The Good Lord Made Dirt, and Dirt Can Hurt?
Different dirts have different powers. Also, where the soil is gathered matters. Graveyard dirt is gathered and often used in foot track magic to send an enemy away, and it was also used along with other ingredients in a bottle to cause harm to an enemy. The process of gathering graveyard dirt is important. If you were to gather the dirt from over the top of an actual grave, you would have to be careful over which body part you were gathering the dirt. This type of dirt could also be used in ancestral protection (if gathered from an ancestor’s grave) and also in love spells when mixed with other roots and such.
Other forms of dirt used in Hoodoo and rootwork are crossroads dirt, churchyard, courtyard, and dirt from an enemy or lover’s yard. Each has their own special power.
Roots and Bones, Sticks and Stones
Now that we’ve explored the world of Hoodoo practices with herbs, oils, washes, dirt, mojo bags and more, you might be surprised to know that we’ve only scraped the surface of all of the items used in Hoodoo.
Here is a brief list of other Hoodoo ingredients used back then and today:
- roots – john the conquerer root, queen elizabeth, black snake root, mandrake, and more.
- bones and animal parts – ‘coon dongs, alligator claws, rabbit’s feet, snakeskins, crab shell powder, chicken/hen eggs, cat and dog hair, badger teeth, etc.
- sticks, leaves, seed pods, flowers, nuts
- stones and minerals – pyrite, sulphur, rusty nails, coffin nails, salt of various kinds, railroad nails, lodestone, blue balls
- human parts – teeth, hair, sweat, body fluids, nail clippings, etc.
- household items – bottles, jars, jugs, vinegar, honey, sugar, ice, brooms, hats, pennies/coins, pipes, buttons, and more.
Hoodoo practitioners use whatever they get their hands on. Everything around us has power…power that can be harnessed. Aunt Caroline Dye and Marie Laveau knew this.