An Issue Revisited: Is Hoodoo Still Hoodoo Without the Bible?I have gotten quite a bit of flack for putting forth the question, Is Hoodoo still Hoodoo without the Bible? The flack comes from folks who are of the mindset that they "know" the true rootwork and Hoodoo tradition and that it MUST include the Bible in order to be "real" rootwork/conjure/Hoodoo. I reject that notion. I have always rejected that notion and I reject it more today than ever.
My point is that Africans did not come to these shores with Bibles in their hands. They came with their crude wooden fetishes, their gris gris, their bilongo. Some came with the Koran. A minority may have been converted to Christianity while still in Africa, but was the conversion natural? I mean, were Africans willing and wanting to convert from their traditional religions? Or were they, as the man in the clip below states, "converted at the end of a whip?"
Now, hear me clearly - this is my opinion based on the research I have done and based on growing up in the Hoodoo capital of the world. Hoodoo came to these shores from Africa as part of traditional religions. As a result of colonization, the practical magical aspects became separated from the religions and evolved to include cultural influences present here in the United States. In New Orleans - and this will get my haters going but that's okay cause I got a lot more where this comes from to hate on so just be patient - Hoodoo and Voodoo did not completely separate as it has in other areas of the country. That likely explains, at least in part, the origin of the colloquial terms "Hoodoo Voodoo" and "Voodoo Hoodoo" that are used to describe what it is in New Orleans and Louisiana. Contrary to what my haters will have you think, I did NOT make up that term and for those who seem to consider the Hyatt texts gospel, some of the informants from New Orleans in that work also used those terms to describe our tradition. So I guess they aren't really from New Orleans either and I guess they also don't know what they were talking about.
Recently, there was a person subscribed to the Crossroads University email list who quit that list because she interpreted my stance as being antiChristian. This is the text from the Crossroads University website from which an email was excerpted that offended the individual:
"Our curriculum does not focus on Christian aspects of Hoodoo and conjure; rather, we focus on the spiritual and healing technologies of our ancestors as they were prior to Christian influences. Christianity is explored in its appropriate cultural context as a mechanism of colonization and cultural genocide. The adaptation of Christian precepts to Southern conjure is a phenomenon that occurred as a direct result of colonization, a process deserving of much needed attention...To teach indigenous spiritual and healing technologies without examining the historical contexts in which they are situated, however, is tantamount to cultural appropriation, evidence of ongoing colonial institutionalization and the perpetuation of a current narrative that is defined by nonindigenous and non African-descended people. We reject the notion that Hoodoo is not Hoodoo without the Bible. On the contrary, it is much, much more."
You can read more of our philosophy on our website.
This person, no doubt a Christian, was offended, apparently. Okay, that's fine, they are entitled to their feelings. I am also however, entitled to speak the truth based on historical facts and if history offends you, then well it should.
Stating the facts is not being antiChristian. It is bringing to light the historical truth. The truth is that there is an ugly history with regards to Christianity and Hoodoo and my point is that if you want to learn from Crossroads University, you will also learn about this history. Those of you who are students know that we do not bad mouth the Bible or Christianity in any of our courses and in fact, we teach about the Saints and the psalms and Catholic elements quite a bit because Catholicism is deeply intertwined with Voodoo and Hoodoo in New Orleans. A direct result of the Black Code ( a perfect example of institutionalized colonization); but deeply connected nonetheless. And yes, as a student you will also see that we explore Protestant characteristics and the presence of the prophets in present day Hoodoo as well.
Over time, many folks adapted and adopted Christian concepts to the original indigenous beliefs and practices. Many...but not all. I have mixed feelings about this; on the one hand, it speaks to the resiliency of Africans and Native Americans (who suffered similarly) which I completely honor and respect. On the other hand, it makes me very sad to know that my ancestors were forced to practice a religion they did not want to practice and many suffered and died as a result.
Ninety-eight percent of the people online who are the most vocal about the absolute role of Christianity in Hoodoo are White. Since when did White folks get the front seat on the narrative of an indigenous tradition? Well, since the advent of colonization...that's how it goes. Back then, our ancestors didn't have a choice - they had no voice. Today is different. We have a voice and it is our responsibility to give voice to our ancestors.
Some of you reading this may think I am coming across as a bit racist. I am not racist. There is the issue of race in our history and its time we talked about it since everyone and their brother is selling our tradition and taking license to redefine it for us. Some of you will no doubt say color doesn't matter, that Hoodoo is a multicultural and multiracial tradition. Tell that to the young black man walking down the street in a hoodie nowadays. Tell that to the Native American whose sacrament is still considered illegal in many respects and possession of it is considered a crime. Color does matter; why do we take great pains to describe Hoodoo as multicultural if it doesn't?
It is out of respect that I bring this discussion to the forefront yet again. I do not deny the role of Christianity in Hoodoo and rootwork as we know it today. It's time for others to quit denying the ugly truth of the historical evolution of the tradition as well.
A few months ago I saw a clip from a new documentary "Ancestral Voices" that really resonated with me. Here is a clip from that documentary that I will be reviewing in an upcoming issue of Hoodoo and Conjure Magazine that speaks to the ideas I present in this article.