Monday, November 26, 2012

What Came First, the Indian Chicken or the Hoodoo Egg? Exploring Native American Influences on Southern Conjure




A long time ago the Cherokees went to war against a giant monster. They killed him, brought his head home in triumph, and placed it upon the top of a cedar pole in front of the townhouse. The blood trickling down along the trunk colored the pole red and so the wood of the cedar is red to this day.


In traditional Native American medicine, there are four primary herbs found across most tribes: cedar, sage, sweetgrass and tobacco. If these were the only herbs you had access to, it is more than enough. However, in the context of Hoodoo and rootwork, there are numerous plants, roots and herbs utilized that are believed to be the result of the cross-pollination of African and indigenous cultures. Native American tribes such as the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Seminole, Houma, and Choctaw were in close proximity to African slaves and as a result, the natural blending of traditions occurred.

In addition, both Native Americans and African cultures routinely used animal parts—teeth, feet, tails, skins, innards—in both medicine and conjure. It comes as no surprise that some of the local Indian uses of animal parts became incorporated into Hoodoo, acquiring a broader meaning and purpose as a result. In the Native way, if you want to know the meaning of a particular animal part, look to the animal’s nature and you will find your answer.

Both African American and Native American folk medicine and magic relied heavily on the laws of similarity to guide the use of their medzin/medicine. James Mooney, a famous anthropologist noted for his work among the Cherokee observed this phenomenon and likened it to the idea of fetichism:

Cherokee medicine is an empiric development of the fetich idea. For a disease caused by the rabbit the antidote must be a plant called “rabbit’s food,” “rabbit’s ear,” or “rabbit’s tail;” for snake dreams the plant used is “snake’s tooth;” for worms a plant resembling a worm in appearance, and for inflamed eyes a flower having the appearance and name of “deer’s eye.” A yellow root must be good when the patient vomits yellow bile, and a black one when dark circles come about his eyes, and in each case the disease and the plant alike are named from the color. A decoction of burs must be a cure for forgetfulness, for there is nothing else that will stick like a bur; and a decoction of the wiry roots of the “devil’s shoestrings” must be an efficacious wash to toughen the ballplayer’s muscles, for they are almost strong enough to stop the plowshare in the furrow. It must be evident that under such a system the failures must far outnumber the cures, yet it is not so long since half our own medical practice was based upon the same idea of correspondences, for the mediæval physicians taught that and have we not all heard that “the hair of the dog will cure the bite?” ~ James Mooney, 1891

To the Native American, every living thing is a source of spiritual power and as such should be revered. This is similar to the African concept of aché. From the native worldview, however, all living things are also our relations—our relatives—aunt, uncle, sister, brother, and cousin. We look to our plant, animal and mineral relations as Bird people or Winged Ones, Fish people, Snake people, Four-leggeds, Animal people, and Tree people. The rocks and minerals are our grandfathers and grandmothers. The elements Lightening and Thunder, Wind and Rain, Earthquake and Fire—all are powers of nature with the ability to transform and teach, as well as to destroy and put us, the two-leggeds, in our place when necessary.

There are many supernatural meanings associated with the various animals and plants from the native worldview. Some of the meanings remain consistent in the context of Hoodoo and others have changed. Some animals play a significant role in a person’s life and make a regular appearance in a variety of situations, including the dreamtime. When one specific animal seems to figure  prominently through a person’s entire lifetime, it is often considered an animal totem or spirit guide. Animal totems bring messages as well as medicine. In fact, whenever a person encounters an animal, the Indian will consider the medicine it brings with it. The medicine of these animals is reflected in the animals’ nature and skills, calling to mind the concept of fetichism as described by Mooney (1891).

The French settlers in Louisiana respected the herbal knowledge and healing skills of the Native peoples, who freely shared their techniques. The Indians made poultices, baths, teas, compounded herbs, and used steam and smoke in a curative fashion. Not surprisingly, the reputation of “Indian as healer” reached its height in popularity in the nineteenth century. Out of this popularity emerged the white Indian doctor, who claimed to have learned botanical curative powers from the local Indians. Some claimed to have acquired the knowledge while held captive. Many of these white Indian doctors took out ads in newspapers to advertise their healing abilities and expertise and as a result, this class of practitioner became known nationwide.

As Native American beliefs and traditions blended with African and European beliefs and traditions, they naturally changed. With the added influence of Christianity, the blend of cultures emerged as a unique system of folk magic and medicine that retained elements of all three cultures but also took on new meanings. Hoodoo continues to evolve and change to adapt to the needs of the people who practice it. That is its nature as a practical, simple, and utilitarian tradition.
Following is a short list of animals, herbs and curios posited to have roots in Indian cultures. By no means exhaustive, it will give you a good idea of how the various materia medica are used in Indian medicine and culture, how they have been adapted to African American folk magic, and how they have evolved within the context of folk magic in contemporary society. 

Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis)

The alligator is an animal of great significance to both Native Americans and traditional African cultures. Hoodoo revolves around veneration of water spirits, and in Louisiana, Papa Gator carries with him the essence of rootwork, and is the keeper of ancient wisdom.

Alligator Foot (Alligator mississippiensis)

Alligator feet have their place in folk magic, particularly of the swamp variety. A small alligator foot can be a powerful protective talisman. On a key chain, it can draw luck for gamblers. To protect money: Place a piece of pyrite and a gold Sacagawea coin in the palm of the gator foot and wrap with green flannel and wear around the neck to keep your money safe and close to you. In the absence of a Sacagawea coin, a buffalo nickel or Indian head penny can be used. For fertility: Make a charm by placing Adam and Eve root in the palm of the alligator foot and wrap with red string. Wear about the waist to boost fertility. 

Arrowheads

Interestingly, the historical and archaeological evidence suggests African Americans used Native American artifacts for magical and ritual purposes. This theory is based on ethnographic studies of objects such as arrowheads found on the Oakley Plantation in West Feliciana, Louisiana, a tenant house in South Carolina (see Orser, 1985), King’s Bay Plantations in Georgia (see Adams, 1987), and other locations. Indian arrowheads are considered to be lucky charms. Although they are called Indian arrowheads, they are believed to have been made by the Creator. This belief can be traced back to the Akan-speaking people from the African Gold Coast who believed prehistoric stone projectile points had magic powers. They called arrowheads nyame akuma (God’s axes) and believed they formed from lightning bolts that hit the earth (Alvarado, Dean and Pustanio, 2012).
  

Bearberry (Arctostaphylos Uva-Ursi)

Also called Uva-Ursi and Kinnikinnick, this plant is one of the most widely used among Native tribes. Bearberries are three species of small shrubs with evergreen leaves largely found in the Northern hemisphere. Only the dried leaves are used in medicine. In consequence of the powerful astringency of the leaves, Uva-Ursi has a place not only in all the old herbals, but also in the modern Pharmacopoeias (Grieve, 1931). Indigenous peoples have been reported to use bearberry as an anticonvulsant, to stimulate appetite, and to treat anemia, hemorrhage, tuberculosis, stomach disorders, heart troubles, respiratory infections, earaches, sinus infection and congestion, and other ailments (Moerman 1998). Native Americans still use it as spiritual smoke, used as a psychic and spiritual incense and tea. It is often mixed with other herbs and tobacco. I was taught it is mixed with red willow bark and smoked as Kinnikinnick. The Blackfoot used the plant as a dermatological aid. Infusion of the plant, mixed with grease & boiled hoof was applied as a salve to itching and peeling scalp and to rashes and skin sores. An infusion was also used as a wash for babies’ heads. Infusion of the plant has been used as a mouthwash for cankers and sore gums (Hellson, 1974).  Leaves were placed on a piece of wood, roasted to a powder and placed on a cut for rapid healing, and leaves pounded into a paste were applied to boils and pimples (Hocking, 1949). The Cherokee used the plant for kidney disease and urinary problems (Hamel and Chiltoskey, 1975). The Cheyenne  made an infusion of stems, leaves and berries for sprained backs (Grinnel, 1972) and the berries were used as an ingredient in medicinal mixtures (Hart, 1981). The Cheyenne make a sacred tobacco by combining it with red willow bark (Grinnel). In fact, many tribes, including the Cree, Clallam, Ojibwa, Inuit, Great Basin Indians, Hesquiot, Hoh, Jemez and Lakota, use bearberry either alone or in combination with other herbs as a sacred tobacco. The Chippewa used bearberry as an analgesic. They pulverized the dried leaves and compounded and smoked for headaches (Densmore, 1928). Among the Kwakiutl and Ojibwa the leaves are smoked as a narcotic (Reagan, 1928; Turner and Bell, 1973). The Black Foot mix the leaves with tobacco, dried cambium or red osier dogwood and use it in religious bundles. The Black Foot also used the dried berries in ceremonial rattles and strung them on necklaces for jewelry (Hellson, 1974). The Ojibwa smoked the roots as a hunting charm to attract game (Densmore). To repel evil: the leaves can be burned to drive away bad spirits for people who are going crazy.

Black Snakeroot (Aristolochia serpentaria)

Also known as Virginia Snakeroot, Virginia Dutchmanspipe, and Virginia Serpentary. A perennial with somewhat heart-shaped leaves and small white flowers in branched clusters.  Blooms July to October. The dried rhizome is a popular herbal tonic. Some old Cherokee Indian remedies consists of a decoction of black snakeroot blown upon patient for fever and feverish headache, and drunk for coughs; root chewed and spit upon wound to cure snake bites; bruised root placed in hollow tooth for toothache, and held against nose made sore by constant blowing in colds (Mooney, 1891). As a tea, “Blacksnake root is good tuh nuse [use] in de homes fo' heart trouble, nerves, broken down systems an' any bad feet dat chew have tuh de body” (Hyatt #3, p. 2195). To keep away thieves and undesirables: Make a powder from dried, pulverized snakeroot and spread about the home to keep undesirables and thieves away. For courage: Chewing a piece of snakeroot is said to give a man courage (Hyatt, #3). To keep a man: Add a piece of black snake root, gunpowder and powdered sugar to a mojo hand and carry it with you to keep the man you desire.

Cedar

Cedar in its many varieties is one of the most widely used and versatile plants among Native people. Cedar is found to be used as cordage, as fiber for making mats, rugs, blankets, clothing, canoes, boats, decorations, bows and other hunting and fishing items, For example, paper birch and cedar form the two most sacred trees of the Ojibwe (Smith, 1932). Among the Bella Coola, the inner bark of the tree is used as a fiber for weaving mats, blankets and capes (Turner & Bell, 1973). Among the Haisla, the inner bark fiber is used to make clothing for the nobility (Gottesfeld, 1992), and among the Haisla and Hanaksiala, the wood is used to make racing paddles for canoes and boat ribs, while the inner bark is used to make loin cloths (Compton, 1993).  Among the Hesquiat, cedar wood is used for making ornamental dishes and headdresses and the bark is softened with special oil for weaving capes and other clothing of head chiefs (Turner and Efrat, 1982).
  
In certain Native American traditions, cedar is used to carry prayers to the Creator. It is used toconnect heaven and earth. Cedar is burned to banish negative energies from a person and their environment; thus, opening the door for good spirits and energies to enter. It can be used as loose leaf  or as a smudge stick and burned in an abalone shell. Cedar is often used in the sweat lodge ceremony (inipi) to bless the lodge and prepare the space for the Spirits to enter. A small amount is thrown onto the red-hot rocks we call Elders which immediately sparks a red glow. This releases the fresh aroma (medicine), and often makes crackling and popping sounds that are said to be the voices of our Ancestors. In folk magic, cedar is used for healing, purification, money and protection. To keep business flowing and to keep renters from skipping out on rent: Wear oil of cedar and place on doorknobs where people pass through and you will always have renters and always have customers. For business success: Get 6 red onions, some garlic and oil of cedar and boil together. Make a broom from cedar branches and mop the floor with the solution for business success. For gambling luck: Rub hands with oil of cedar before gambling for good luck. For purification and blessings: Burn dried cedar leaves and waft the smoke over yourself or any item in need of blessings and purification. Use the smoke to fumigate a room to purify it.

Lightening Struck Wood 

Lightning struck wood can be added to any work to increase its power. It is particularly good for commanding spells, sex spells, and spells of destruction, which draw on its fire energy to destroy. Fire also has a dual nature to transform; hence its ability to be used in positive works as well. Add to mojo bags and gris gris to provide a serious boost in power. To use in candle magic: One way to use lightning struck wood in candle magic is to take some splinters and stick it into the candle wax. Another way is to grind some of it down to a powder, and sprinkle the tops of glass encased candles or roll candles in the powder. To enhance sexual nature: Combine with 2 round High John the Conqueror roots and a pair of lodestones in a mojo bag and carry it with you.

Water

According to Gene Thin Elk, a Lakota spiritual leader, the first medicine for Indian people is the sacred water or mni wakan (G. Thin Elk, personal communication, 1994). Indeed, the healing powers of water are reflected in many Native American stories and legends. According to the Kiowa, healing powers come from deep underwater and are a gift of the Spirit (Baines, 1993). Seawater has been used by the Tlingits to purge impurities from inside one’s body, and many tribes use water to carry the healing properties of certain plants into the body in the form of teas. Water also plays a crucial role in many ceremonies, most notably, the sweat lodge ceremony. Additionally, some medicine people have the ability to instill healing powers into an ordinary glass of water through prayer, and the patient is healed by drinking the blessed water. 

Likewise, water is an integral component of the medzin in the African traditions.  Pouring libations is an ancestral tradition, just as pouring water is an ancestral tradition in the Native American experience. There are differences between cultures, of course. For example, in the African traditions libations can consist of alcohol, as well as water. When and what to pour is determined by an experienced elder in concert with the purpose of the offering. Water is for cooling and healing, while alcohol is for rousing and igniting, or more commonly referred to as firing up in southern conjure.

In Hoodoo, taking spiritual baths to remove hexes, unblock obstacles, remove and transform illness and grief are just some of the conditions for which water is used as a removing agent. For example, a common means of disposing specific types of works is to toss a work or the remaining elements of a work into a moving body of water. A similar practice is found among the Meskwaki. When a medicine person wishes to use water to remove illness from a person, they will go to a running stream or river and scoop up some water, dipping with the current, thereby capturing water that holds the necessary properties of making the illness run freely from the person (Harrington, 1915).

Wolf Tooth

Wolf teeth are carried for protection and function as a buffer between a person and harsh words. In addition, they are believed to assist in discovering the identity of thieves.  According to John George Hohman’s Pow Wow or Long Lost Friend, if a person carries a wolf tooth along with a sunflower collected in August, and wrapped with a laurel leaf  “will never be addressed harshly by anyone, but all will speak to him kindly and peaceably. And if anything has been stolen from you put this under your head during the night, and you will surely see the whole figure of the thief. This has been found true” (Hohman, 1819, p. 15). Wolf teeth are also carried for fostering family loyalty.


References

Alvarado, D., Dean, C. and Pustanio, A. (2012). The Hoodoo Almanac 2012. Prescott Valley, AZ: Creole Moon Publications.

Compton, B. D. (1993). Upper North Wakashan and Southern Tsimshian Ethnobotany: The Knowledge and Usage of Plants. Ph.D. Dissertation, University of British Columbia.  
   
Densmore, F. (1928). Uses of Plants by the Chippewa Indians. SI-BAE Annual Report #44:273-379.
Gottesfeld, L. M. J. (1992). The Importance of Bark Products in the Aboriginal Economies of Northwestern British Columbia, Canada. Economic Botany 46(2):148-15. 

Grieve, M. (1931). A Modern Herbal:  The Medicinal, Culinary, Cosmetic and Economic Properties, Cultivation and Folk-Lore of Herbs, Grasses, Fungi, Shrubs & Trees with their Modern Scientific Uses.  Harcourt, Brace & Company. 

Grinnell, G. B. (1972). The Cheyenne Indians - Their History and Ways of Life Vol.2. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

Hamel, P. B. and Chiltoskey, M. U. (1975). Cherokee Plants and Their Uses -- A 400 Year History. Sylva, N.C. Herald Publishing Co.
    
Hart, J. A. (1981). The Ethnobotany of the Northern Cheyenne Indians of Montana. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 4:1-55 (p. 25)
    
Hellson, J. C. (1974). Ethnobotany of the Blackfoot Indians. Ottawa. National Museums of Canada. Mercury Series.

Hohman, J. G. (1856). Pow Wows or the Long Lost Friend. Harrisburg, Pa.: T.F. Scheffer.  
Hyatt, H. M. (1970-78).  Hoodoo-Conjuration-Witchcraft-Rootwork, 5 vols. Hannibal, MO: Western Publishing. 
Moerman, D. E. (1998). Native American Ethnobotany. Timber Press, Portland.
  
Mooney, J. (1891). Sacred Formulas of the Cherokees. 7th Annual report, Bureau of American Ethnology.

Smith, H. H. (1932).  Ethnobotany of the Ojibwe Indians. Bulletin of the Public Museum of Milwaukee 4:327-525 
  
Turner, N. C. and Bell, M. A. (1973). The Ethnobotany of the Southern Kwakiutl Indians of British Columbia. Economic Botany 27:257-310

Turner, N. J. and Efrat, B. S.  (1982). Ethnobotany of the Hesquiat Indians of Vancouver Island. Victoria. British Columbia Provincial Museum.

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Keywords:  Black Hawk, Native American, Indian, Indian Spirit Guide, Indian Spirit Hoodoo, Denise Alvarado, medicine, native American medicine, African Americans, James Mooney, alligator foot, arrowheads, kinnikinnick, bearberry, black snakeroot, cedar, lightning struck wood, wolf tooth
Denise Alvarado www.planetvoodoo.com, www.crossroadsuniversity.com, 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.

_________________________________________________________________


Conjuring Black Hawk




Since Mother Leafy Anderson brought him to New Orleans with her Spiritualist Church in the early twentieth century, Black Hawk has played a central and symbolic role in the fight against oppression and discrimination among devotees...Black Hawk is venerated as an ancestral spirit among the Mardi Gras Indians, New Orleans Voudouists, as well as rootworkers and conjure doctors. Native Americans consider him a hero, African Americans view him as defender and liberator, and European Americans admire him as the noble savage who despite defeat, fought the good fight. While most of what is written about Black Hawk has either been from a historical perspective or from the perspective of the Spiritualist Church, Black Hawk cannot be confined to a single context. It has become more than evident that he has been adopted by people from many different spiritual traditions as a powerful Indian Spirit to whom devotees believe they can turn to for help and guidance when needed.

There are many mysteries surrounding this legendary figure who has a permanent place in the sacred spiritual environs of New Orleans.

Never before has a book been written about Father Black Hawk from the perspective of a Creole Native who has walked inside the longhouses, sat in the sweat lodges, cried on a hill for a vision, and received the mysteries through a variety of traditional and intertribal Native American ceremonies. The information contained in these pages will blow your mind, burst apart the stereotypes, and give Father Black Hawk the final say in how he should be honored and served. The reader should set aside all expectations for what they think they know and be ready for a true and authentic cultural smorgasbord of Southern Conjure Indian medicine with Black Hawk seated at the top of the Sacred Circle.

This is a preorder. Conjuring Black Hawk is scheduled for release in June 2016. People who preorder the book will be invited to join the Conjuring Black Hawk membership site where you will have access to archived images and articles about Black Hawk and other members-only exclusives.

Preorder your copy of the long-awaited Conjuring Black Hawk today!

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 www.planetvoodoo.com, www.crossroadsuniversity.com, 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 Examiner.com 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.







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