Thursday, November 22, 2012

To Fire Up or Not to Fire Up, That is the Question

Working with Indian Spirit Guides is an ancestral tradition more than anything else. As such, respect for our ancestors is paramount. This means listening to them, not only in our hearts, but also with our minds and our eyes. We are lucky to have the words of Black Hawk, Red Cloud, Sitting Bull, Geronimo and others transcribed in written form and preserved for us to draw from and learn. They tell us who they are and what they like—we don't have to guess. For example, the popular practice of giving Black Hawk alcohol to “fire him up” is completely contrary to both Native American spiritual traditions, as well as Black Hawk’s belief system (not to mention horribly stereotypical). He tells us how much he hated alcohol because of what it did (and continues to do) to his people. Consider the following passages from his biography where Black Hawk states in no uncertain terms exactly how he feels about alcohol: 

“Why did the Great Spirit ever send the whites to this island to drive us from our homes and introduce among us poisonous liquors, disease and death?”

”I found several barrels of whiskey on the captured boat, knocked in the heads and emptied the bad medicine into the river.”

“Our people got more liquor from the small traders than customary. I used all my influence to prevent drunkenness, but without effect. As the settlements progressed towards us, we became worse off and unhappy.”

Perhaps, this passage from his autobiography is the best example for not offering Black Hawk alcohol:

"The white people brought whiskey to our village, made our people drink, and cheated them out of their homes, guns and traps. This fraudulent system was carried to such an extent that I anticipated serious difficulties might occur, unless a stop was put to it. Consequently I visited all the whites and begged them not to sell my people whiskey. One of them continued the practice openly; I took a party of my young men, went to his house, took out his barrel, broke in the head and poured out the whiskey. I did this for fear some of the whites might get killed by my people when they were drunk."

So, in the above passage, he refers to those who brought the alcohol as fraudulent. Knowing how strongly he felt about alcohol, why would we give it to him? Do you want to be a fraud in his eyes? He doesn’t want it and he doesn’t need it. In fact, it is likely to piss him right off and not fight for you at all; but, fight against you. He is a warrior spirit—warriors do not need alcohol to fight their battles. While giving spirits alcohol as an offering is commonplace in Hoodoo, it is not a blanket practice. Not everyone gets rum and whiskey. So the inevitable argument that alcohol is an appropriate offering to Black Hawk in the conjure tradition is an irresponsible and disrespectful excuse on the part of the rootworker, especially in the context of ancestor reverence.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Uncle Monday

Uncle Monday was a medicine man from Africa, brought over with the slave trade to South Carolina where he escaped and went to Florida to live among the Seminoles and maroons. He brought his crocodile medicine with him. We know the Seminoles hold the alligator very sacred as well and like Uncle Monday’s crocodile medicine, they have their alligator medicine.

Legend says that Uncle Monday refused to surrender to the whites, even though he said the spirits told him resistance was futile. But he swore he would never submit to slavery or death at the hands of whites and said he would change himself into an alligator until the wars were over. Then he would come forth from the waters in peace.

So the Seminoles held a ceremony for his transformation. As he danced to the drum beats, his legs began to become shorter and his face longer, his skin became scaly and his voice changed to thunder. He began to bellow, and in response hundreds of gators bellowed and came up from the swamp…thousands of gators actually, so the story goes. They lined up in two lines leaving a space between them.

Uncle Monday turned into the biggest gator of them all and he sauntered in between the two rows of gators and slid right into the water. As he let out the loudest bellow, all of the other gators slid into the water after him.
And that's how Uncle Monday changed himself into an alligator. They say he still lives in the swamps and every now and again he comes from the water and changes back into a man, walking among the living casting all sorts of spells—good and bad.

Now, there was this old lady name Judy Bronson, she went around bragging that Uncle Monday was no better a hoodoo doctor than she was. She said she could not only undo any spell he cast, but she could throw it right back at him.

Uncle Monday heard about her bragging and said "The foolishness of tongues is higher than mountains!"
One day, Judy wanted to go fishing at Blue Sink, which is the lake where Uncle Monday had been seen and was believed to live. Folks warned her about going there because they say Blue Sink is bottomless and a dangerous place. But, being the arrogant old lady she was, she insisted on going. So, she got to Blue Sink at sundown and tossed in her baited pole. No sooner did it hit the water than did she feel a pull on it. A BIG pull. So BIG she was scared as a cat in a dog pound and paralyzed with fear.

Old Judy's biggest fears were the dark and the water—and there she was at sundown, near the water, being pulled in by a force she couldn’t resist. She couldn't move - her legs were frozen. Somehow she found the strength to scream and as she did, a bright beam of light shone upon her. At this point, you may think that the light helped others find her and rescue her…BUT… No such luck.

Old Judy looked up and as she did, she saw Uncle Monday walking across the water like Jesus, dressed in flowing robes and marching right towards her with an army of gators behind him. He walked up to her and said "I brought you here, and here you will stay until you get off your high horse and admit that you can't do no such magic as me."

Soon, the light faded and it was black as night. Uncle Monday and his army of gators slid back into the water, leaving one gator behind to stand guard with Judy. He edged right up to her so she could feel his scaly skin. She couldn't help but touch him with every breath she took.

Old Judy hated more than anything—even more than the dark and the water at this point—to give in to Uncle Monday's challenge. But she was too scared to let her pride get in the way. So, first she admitted to herself that she was not as big and bad a hoodoo doctor as Uncle Monday. Then, she shouted it out loud: “I AIN’T AS BIG AND BAD A HOODOO DOCTOR AS UNCLE MONDAY!”

As soon as she said it out loud, the gator that was on guard quickly swam off into the darkness and that’s when Old Judy heard her grandma calling for her. Within a few minutes, some of the locals found her and lifted her out of the water and carried her home. The people tried to tell her that she fell and had a stroke; but, Old Judy, she knew differently, of course.

Well, after that swamp scrape Old Judy threw away all of her Voodoo and hoodoo stuff. From them on she said she had Uncle Monday to thank for being able to walk again.

Uncle Monday still walks through the countryside as a man, but he always changes back to a gator and swims in the waters, keeping an eye on things, especially arrogant folks.

When he goes back into the waters, all of the other gators start to bellowing and carrying on... and when the people hear that, they know Uncle Monday has returned to the waters and they can breathe a sigh of relief again.

~Oral tradition
Copyright 2010-2012 Denise Alvarado, All rights reserved worldwide. Please ask if you would like to repost this article.
Denise Alvarado,, published author, Educated, artist, internet. I`ll endeavor to remove any and all negative comments I`ve made about her and her businesses or work. The truth is that I do admire Denise`s artistic talents, and I`ve always found her to be an intelligent and congenial person. I do not want to feel this kind of anger or pain any longer, and I don`t want to block Denise`s ability to make a living. And so I would urge others to go ahead and order from her. I regret this whole experience and I will do whatever I can to heal the hurt of it. 

Copyright 2012, Denise Alvarado, All rights reserved worldwide.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Liquid Love Gris Gris

The gris gris tradition first arrived in New Orleans in the 1720s with the arrival of the first Senegambian slaves. It is a unique characteristic of New Orleans Voodoo and an interesting and important facet of New Orleans' cultural history. The knowledge of making charms, amulets, wangas, and poisons - all part of New Orleans gris gris - was brought to New Orleans by the Muslim marabouts and by traditional Africans from Central Africa.

Gris gris is mostly known as akin to a mojo bag, but as I have written about in Hoodoo and Conjure Quarterly, on my various blogs and column and in the Voodoo Hoodoo Spellbook, it comes in many forms. "Gris gris" can be a noun and a verb just like the word "hoodoo". Gris gris can consist of animal parts, powdered insects and herbs, can be placed in a bag or a toby and can be deployed in foot track magic. It can smeared on door knobs, sprinkled on floors, sheets, and clothing, and blown in the face to be inhaled by some unfortunate target. Gris gris can be made and used as a tool using the principles of sympathetic and contagious magic, and it can be made to house a spirit. As such it is alive upon the completion of its creation. Gris gris can be used for positive works such as healing and relationships, drawing money and self empowerment, and it can be used for more nefarious purposes like revenge and harm. It even has a history as being used as a weapon of war (see Diouf, 1998; Hall, 1992; and Walter & Friedman, 2004 for more historical discussion about gris gris used defensively).

 One form gris gris takes that is never written about is its use in liquid form. In the past, when gris gris was used as a means of self defense against cruel slave masters, or as a weapon of war, it was made into a potion or liquid. One formula included snake venom  mixed with copper and clay into which talons of birds of prey were dipped and used as a weapon. Another way consisted of writing words of power onto a smooth surface and then washing them off with water into a cup and clandestinely given to a target. Its use as a poison is no longer practiced but there are documented cases of its use in such a fashion dating as far back as the early 1720s (Superior Council, 1729).

I love this liquid means of deployment - how ingenious! I  like it so much I have adapted the method for putting the gris gris on a lover who consents to it. Check it out.

Liquid Gris Gris

This gris gris should only be done with the express consent of the target person. It can be used in a lover's pact to profess one's commitment to the relationship, for example.

First, you have to make an edible ink. To do this, use a cup of the juice of blackberries or pomegranates and cook it down on the stove on low heat with a bit of sugar. Place the liquid in a saucepan and cover it, cook on medium heat and slowly bring to a boil. Then, simmer it and stir the liquid uncovered for 15 to 20 minutes, or until it reduces down to approximately 2 tablespoons of a syrupy consistency. This takes quite some time to do so be patient...but it also gives you time to pray your intention over the ink and to focus. If your partner is present when you are making the ink, which I highly recommend  - both parties should be part of the process - take turns stirring the potion and speaking kind and loving words to each other, and speak of the improvements in your relationship you would like to make.

Once the potion is of a thick consistency take a chopstick and dip it into the ink and write on a mirror an agreed upon pact, such as "forever faithful, honest and supportive". This pact can be written in Theban (the Witch's Alphabet) to enhance the magical quality of the work. In the past, passages from the Koran would be used, or the words would be written in Arabic, or in symbols of the particular African tradition. In New Orleans, this has been replaced by some practitioners with the use of the Theban Alphabet. Allow the pact to harden.

Using the juice of a pomegranate or red wine, gently wash the words off of the mirror into a glass. Take turns sipping from the love gris gris you have just made together. The pact has been internalized both spiritually and physically and will have a profoundly positive psychological effect on the relationship as a result.

Copyright 2010-2012 Denise Alvarado, All rights reserved worldwide. Please ask if you would like to repost this article.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

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.

Copyright 2010-2012 Denise Alvarado, All rights reserved worldwide. Please ask if you would like to repost this article.



Friday, March 9, 2012

Hoodoo Charms against Evil and Negativity

To some, the belief in charms is a curious affair. But the widespread and persistent faith in the supernatural is a human tendency – it is a means of explaining the inexplicable as well as a means of organizing our experiences in the world in a way that is meaningful. As long as humans have had the ability for abstract thought they have attributed mystical powers to simple objects, transforming the most insignificant rock into a never-failing amulet.

It is a human experience we all share – being confronted with negative people, places and things. Naturally, we seek to prevent such confrontations and exposures, but nothing short of living in a bubble would alleviate the risks. The making of charms, amulets and talismans as objects of protection is not limited to the uneducated – their use can be found across cultures and across socioeconomic lines. Our grandmothers held the utmost confidence in talismans and fetishes as much as they believed in the tried and true efficacy of their home remedies.

Here are a few Hoodoo charms that have been reported to be effective wards against evil and negativity:

  • A Marie Laveaux charm to ward off bad luck consisted of a rabbit’s foot, gold ore (probably pyrite) and a magnet wrapped in a piece of chamois cloth and tied shut. This was carried on the person for protection and repelling negativity.

  • A pocket Bible or Book of Psalms held in the bra or a front shirt pocket is said to ward off negativity and evil spirits.

  • A bottle fix to repel evil and negativity consists of coarse white sand, large red ants, and 9 nails and pins placed in a bottle and covered with a bit of urine from everyone in the home and placed under the front steps is believed to be effective.

  • A knife, bow and arrow, and hatchet placed above the door are said to cut evil.

  • To remove a conjure, place 9 needles, 9 brass pins, 9 hairs from the head of the afflicted into a bottle or jar, cover with their urine and close. Set it behind the fireplace and when the bottle bursts, the conjure will be broken.

  • White mustard seeds wrapped in a red flannel bag and attached to the back of the front door are believed to prevent negative energy from entering the home.

  • Planting holly in the front garden is said to discourage evil spirits from entering the home.

  • Spreading red brick dust across thresholds (i.e. doors and windows) is said to prevent evil and negativity from entering.

  • Sprinkling grits on the front porch is said to keep bad spirits away.

  • Take a sack of salt and draw a cross on it while saying “In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost”. Place the sack under the front porch for an effective ward. Pour some out in the form of a cross on your front porch and moisten with Holy Water for an effective ward.

  • Black salt sprinkled on the front steps and then swept away is said to cause any negative energy to likewise be swept away.

And as a little bit of lagniappe, here are a couple of simple works to prevent and reverse curse and negative conjury.

Dragon’s Blood Floor Wash
This floor wash is used to drive away negative energy, banish evil spirits, and eliminate anger directed at you. It also creates a barrier of protection.

1 cup dragon’s blood powder
1 cup High John the Conqueror root
1 cup quinta maldicion herb
1 cup kosher rock salt
1 cup espanta muerto herb
Florida Water 

Start by scrubbing the back of the house, making your way out to the front step to drive away evil spirits, anger, or general negative energy. It is best to start before dawn. Throw the remaining water to the east at or before sunrise.

Curse Reversal Spell
Set a black and white double action reversal candle on a mirror, white side down (butt the white side and carve the black to a point, revealing the wick). Make a circle of powdered crab shells going counterclockwise around the candle. Recite Psalm 48. It is said that your enemy will be seized with fear, terror, and anxiety and will never attempt to harm you again. Place the ritual remains in a brown paper bag and leave at a crossroads.


Alvarado, D. (2011). The Voodoo Hoodoo Spellbook. Weiser Books: San Fransisco.

Morgan, D.L.. (1886) Charms and Charm-Medicines. Catholic World, pp. 322-336.

Copyright 2010-2012 Denise Alvarado, All rights reserved worldwide. Please ask if you would like to repost this article.