I’ve decided to join a host of other bloggers doing the Pagan Blog Project for 2014.
“What’s Paganism?” you ask? “Pagan” is an umbrella term used in the Western world (the United States, especially) for those whose spiritual practices are Earth-based – especially those practitioners who are practicing a neo- or revivalist form of European spiritual practice. From the Latin root paganus (meaning “person who lives in a rural area”), it is a contested term that takes into consideration various notions of ethnic origin, geography, and continuity of practice relating both to the type of Earth-based spiritual technology being utilized and the practitioner themselves. Generally speaking, the term Pagan would not be used to denote the practices of an indigenous or African-diasporic Traditional Religion (i.e. – Vodou, Santeria, Quimbanda) though the spiritual technologies used (i.e. – Earth-based magick, ritual, ceremony, etc.) may be similar to those traditions who more accurately fall under the Pagan umbrella (i.e. – Wicca, Asatru, Heathenry, Eclectic Witchcraft, etc.). It is most often used by those who consider themselves to be reclaiming an Earth-based spiritual practice or identity in the sociopolitical sense of the word (rather than those from cultures or societies that never abandoned magical practices in the first place). One may consider themselves to be Pagan while indeed incorporating practices from indigenous or diasporic traditions wholeheartedly or in part – personal preference matters a great deal here, too.
So – is Hoodoo Pagan? Technically, no, though it is gaining a great deal of popularity in the Pagan community due to it being a practical and direct form of Earth-based magical technology with a quite broad yet succinct sense of correspondence in the use of materia magica. Congolese (indigenous African) traditions form the basis of Hoodoo and the form of Protestant Christianity practiced by Blacks in the Southern United States have guided both its survival and evolution over the past 400 years on Western soil. During this time, American Indian, Dutch-Germanic, Jewish Kabbalistic, and East Asian technologies have entered Hoodoo as diverse populations interacted throughout the nation, but its primary practitioners – who may call it “rootwork,” “workin’ roots,” “conjure,” “work,” “that stuff,” or even “goodness” – have always been Black American Protestant Christians.
Hoodoo is an Earth-based magical tradition grounded in the Black Protestant tradition of the Southern United States.
But more and more Pagans are practicing Hoodoo as its emphasis on practical magic (rather than spiritual devotion, relationship with a particular pantheon, or general spiritual enlightenment) is sorely needed in a world that is, well, practical. People need money, love, luck, success, and want to make their desires manifest. They also need concrete techniques for unraveling nasty curses, increasing their own psychic and intuitive skills, and working with the dead. Though many Pagan traditions espouse spellwork toward these goals, attaining them is not their focus, and the farther a Neo-Pagan tradition is from its original source material, the less likely it is to have an intact materia magica to draw on and, frankly, people just start making up plant correspondences or start drawing from (and virulently defending) dubious sources. Hoodoo’s embedded history of cross-cultural influences also lends it a malleability not found in Pagan traditions grounded in a specific religious cosmology – because Hoodoo isn’t a religion. It’s magick. Workin’ roots. Clean and simple.
Unfortunately, as Hoodoo becomes more popular outside of its culture-bearing demographic, it is quickly having its story rewritten in favor of a long-held insidiously subconscious political agenda that affects us all in the United States toward shunning the non-White origins of things that are considered to be of value. Teachers are writing whole books about Hoodoo that leave out the fact that it is a living magical tradition grounded in the experience of Black U.S. Americans and rootwork business proprietors’ “About” pages conveniently leave this fact out even though it in no way disenfranchises them from practicing or being successful at this craft. It’s simply about giving credit where credit is due – to the resilience of a people who arrived in this country in chains and whose descendants survived centuries of oppression, partly due to their ability to hold a pluralistic worldview combining the fervor and faith of their ancestors with the theology of their oppressors. That’s no easy task and we should be grateful to these folks for ensuring that the wisdom of this powerful tradition survived into the 21st century. Let’s not take more away from them than has already been taken.
As for me, I didn’t grow up practicing Hoodoo. Raised in urban New York City, my family is of the kind that had pretty much given up folk practices at least a few generations back. My introduction to magick and the world of the spirits was through Neo-Pagan traditions like Wicca and the Reclaiming Tradition which gave me a window through which I could understand my burgeoning spiritual gifts during my adolescence and a cosmology through which I could participate in the Earth’s cycles and perform faith-based actions at the intersection of ecology, social justice, and cultural myth utilizing my newfound understanding of the aliveness of the Earth and the reality of the Unseen World.
Books like Starhawk’s The Spiral Dance and Margot Adler’s Drawing Down the Moon were integral to my growth as a spiritual adult and ignited a fire within me to replace that which I had lost in my decision to walk away from more mainstream religious traditions. I went on to lead numerous Sabbat rituals and to teach Neo-Pagan tenets in college. My participation in the broader American Pagan community continues to this day because I’m passionate about counterculture, I love being engaged with people who are living bold and creative lives, I believe in the reclamation of that which has been forgotten, and because the gods and spirits are real and it is time for us all to re-member the web. Though we come from lineages broken, intact, rewoven, and newly invented, we are all headed in the same direction and are writing the New Story together.
I look forward to posting weekly this year starting this Friday and to your comments and questions posted directly to this blog or e-mailed to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll be staying engaged with the other participants and look forward to having a productive dialogue on magical techniques, spiritual growth, and the beauty of Earth-based traditions as we’ve come to understand, craft, and further them.
Happy New Year!