Monday, January 9, 2012

The Hoodoo Truth: Altars

In a previous blog I covered altars in hoodoo. In this blog I want to stress some points because I feel a lot of practitioners have some incorrect ideas or may not know about how things were done back in the day.

When it comes to hoodoo altars, many people have an incorrect understanding. The overwhelming majority of practitioners did not keep altars. This is true from the days in slavery all the way up to modern times when things began changing. Instead of an altar workers had workstations or work spaces. This is just a certain location that practitioners did their work. It could be anything and anywhere, such as the top of a dresser, a table in the corner, the kitchen table, etc. For example, if a worker used candles or lamps there was a specific place they tended to burn them. The people who tended to have or keep altars were the professional workers who took on paying clients. Even some of the professional workers didn't keep altars but instead had a room in the house where they met with clients.

Now as far as altars go, I think most people have the wrong idea. I think most people have this idea of altars that comes from Louisiana Voodoo, where the altars contain bones, animal parts, voodoo dolls, skulls, Spanish moss and other spooky things. That's not a hoodoo altar. Hoodoo altars are simple, so simple in fact that if someone happened to see it they may not even recognize it as being hoodoo but would probably just think that the person is very religious. As far as looks go, a basic hoodoo altar is going to have like either white linen or doilies for an altar cloth, though often the color red is used, a bible, candles or lamps, an incense burner, a cross, religious pictures or statues (especially if the worker is Catholic), and possibly a bowl of water. If the worker is Catholic they may also have holy water and a rosary. That's about it. So a traditional hoodoo altar is far different than this notion of the "spooky" altars that people have.

Currently, there is a trend of people teaching or instructing other people to build multiple altars for things such as money, love, luck, protection, and even revenge. That simply did not happen in the past, it is not traditional, and is something that occult shop owners created and passed on to others. Other than a traditional spiritual altar that I described above, the only other altar workers might have in their house is for the ancestors and/or the blessed dead. This usually includes a white linen cloth or doilies, pictures of the deceased, flowers, candles, and a glass of water. Many people kept these and didnt' even realize they functioned as an altar. For example, it was quite common to walk into a house and find a certain space in a prominent position that the person kept pictures of their deceased loved ones on. They usually decorated it with a white cloth and flowers, even if they were artificial. This practice spans all colors and races and it should be recognized for what it is, an ancestor altar. They may not have given food or glasses of water but most kept that area well cleaned!

So just to recap:

- The overwhelming number of practitioners did not keep altars.
- Most practitioners had workstations or work spaces that could be either clean or dirty, cluttered or neat, depending on the worker.
- The people most likely to keep an altar were professional workers who took on paying clients.
- Altars were simple and clean, not dark, cluttered and spooky.
- The only other altar people were likely to keep were ancestor altars or altars to the blessed dead. In fact, more people had an ancestor altar than a spiritual altar.

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