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Hoodoo is a traditional folk magic which originated in Central African cultures and migrated to the United States during the slave trade. The major African cultural contribution to hoodoo in the United States came from people of the Bantu language group.

Hoodoo is used as a noun to describe a magic spell or potion, as a descriptor for a practitioner (hoodoo doctor, hoodoo man or hoodoo woman), or as an adjective or verb depending upon context. The word can be dated at least as early as 1891. Some practitioners prefer the term hoodooism, but this has mostly fallen out of use. Synonyms include conjuration, conjure, witchcraft, or rootwork. The latter demonstrates the importance of various roots in the making of charms and casting spells. An amulet characteristic of hoodoo is the mojo, often called a mojo bag, mojo hand, conjure bag, trick bag, or toby; this is a small sack filled with herbs, roots, coins, sometimes a lodestone, and various other objects of magical power.

Spirit-based natural magic

Hoodoo is an informal system of folkloric practice, largely based on African beliefs, though it draws significantly from Native American folklore, especially in its use of herbs and other botanical ingredients. Over the years, due to cultural intermingling, elements of various Jewish, Christian, and European folk religious and magical practices have also found their way into hoodoo.

Most practitioners of hoodoo are African American, but Caucasians and Native Americans also use hoodoo, and it shares some commonalities with Pennsylvania Dutch pow-wow magic. Traditional knowledge is passed person to person; there is no evidence of a structured hierarchy today.

The goal of hoodoo is to allow people access to supernatural forces to improve their daily lives by gaining power in many areas of life, including gambling, love, divination, cursing one's enemies, treatment of disease, employment, and necromancy. As in many other folk religious, magical, and medical practices, extensive use is made of herbs, minerals, parts of animals' bodies, an individual's possessions, and bodily fluids, especially menstrual blood, urine and semen. Contact with ancestors or other spirits of the dead is an important practice within the conjure tradition, and the recitation of Psalms from the Bible is also considered magically effective in hoodoo. Due to hoodoo's great emphasis on an individual's magical power, its basic principles of working are easily adapted for use based on one's desires, inclination and habits.

Home-made potions and charms form the basis of much old-time rural hoodoo, but there are also many successful commercial companies selling various hoodoo components to urban and rural practitioners. These are generally called spiritual supplies, and they include herbs, roots, minerals, candles, incense, oils, floor washes, sachet powders, bath crystals, and colognes. Many patent medicines, cosmetics, and household cleaning supplies have been also aimed at hoodoo practitioners and have found dual usage as conventional and spiritual remedies.

Differences between Voodoo and Hoodoo

Hoodoo and Voodoo are often mistaken for one another, but although some believe that the terms may have a common etymology, the latter probably did not influence the former to any great degree. The terms actually refer to different beliefs and practices and, despite what many people assert, there are virtually no elements of Haitian Vodou worship in American hoodoo.

Voodoo is an established religion with its roots in the West African region now known as Benin and Dahomey and it developed among members of the Fon and Ewe language group. In Haiti it is practiced in a form that has been greatly modified by contact with the Catholic church.

Hoodoo is not a religion -- that is, it is spiritual and magical in nature, but it does not have an established theology, clergy, laity, or order of liturgical services. Hoodoo shows obvious and evident links to the practices and beliefs of Central Africa, specifically, the area that is now known as the Congo and Angola. As such, hoodoo is closely allied to the the Congo-derived Cuban religion known as Palo and to the Congo-derived Jamaican folk magic called obeah.

Originally drawing upon concepts found in the indigenous Nkisi worship of the Congo, and influenced by contact with the Catholic Portuguese since the 1400s, hoodoo did not assume its current form until it was brought to the United States, where conjure workers were greatly influenced by Protestantism and Southern Evangelicalism, with elements of the Spiritual Church Movement included as well. Many (and perhaps most) conjure folk in the USA identify themselves as members of one of the several Baptist denominations.

References in other media


Zora Neale Hurston recorded many hoodoo practices and tales. Other authors on the subject include Harry M. Hyatt, Newbell Niles Puckett, Jim Haskins, and catherine yronwode.


Since 2004, Dr. Christos Kioni, a conjure doctor from Florida, has co-hosted and produced a weekly hour-long radio show and podcast on the subject of hoodoo called "The Lucky Mojo Hoodoo Rootwork Hour."


The Skeleton Key, a film released in 2005, centers on the practice of hoodoo.


Many blues musicians have referred to hoodoo in their songs, and such elements have become important to the music. In addition to the expected terms hoodoo and mojo, other conjure words to look for in such songs include jinx, goofer dust, nation sack, black cat bone, graveyard dirt, and black spider dumplings.


In English, Australian, and New Zealand sports journalism, the word hoodoo refers to a team's series of losses, as in "Manchester United breaks ten-game hoodoo." This usage derives from the false notion that hoodoo magic consists only, or primarily, of curses.

Military history

The first battleship of the United States Navy, the USS Texas, commissioned in 1895, was referred to by nickname as the "Old Hoodoo" due to a series of incidents that occurred after she was commissioned that gave her a reputation as an unlucky ship. The code letter "H" that was assigned to the Texas at that time may have also contributed to the inspiration. At the battle of Santiago, Cuba, on July 3, 1898, the "Old Hoodoo", in the words of a contemporary New York Sun article published shortly after the battle, became the "Old Hero".

See also

External links