Friday, April 27, 2012

The Hoodoo Truth: More On The Origin Of The Word 'Hoodoo'

I've blogged on this several times. The word 'hoodoo' is not African. It's Scott-Irish. If you go to google and then click on news and type in 'hoodoo' you will get all kinds of European uses of the word which has nothing to do with the Southern, magical-spiritual tradition of conjure work.

The word hoodoo means "cursed, unlucky". In the original use of the word if something or someone is a hoodoo then than person is believed to be cursed or unlucky. Anything can be a hoodoo. So if Sally down the block is rumored to be a hoodoo that did not originally mean that she was a conjure worker. Instead, it meant that she had the reputation of being cursed and that people avoid her for that reason. You don't want to board a ship, plane, or train with someone is known to be a hoodoo for fear of having a wreck for example.

The word hoodoo first popped up in the U.S. in the late 1800s. Now some authors online will claim that the word hoodoo comes from the term, "Palo Judio", as pronounced by Spanish speaking people (hoo-dee-o), which evolved into the modern word 'hoodoo'. The problem with this theory is that if this was the case then the word would have been used far before the late 1800s. This also leads doubt that the word is African in origin as it also would have been used far longer. We know the slaves were practicing this tradition since about day one of their arrival. What we do know is that the word hoodoo popped up around the same time as a wave of Irish immigrants who fled to the U.S. due to a potato famine. These people had a rich tradition of folklore and folkmagic. They brought Halloween to the U.S. The Scott-Irish people, and Scott-Irish is slang for people of Scottish, Irish, and English heritage, had a huge impact on the tradition. For example, the following words/terms are from the Scott-Irish people and are not African or completely African.

-Black Man At The Crossroads (Why would a black person say "black man at the crossroads". This phrase was used heavily by the Scott-Irish and in their folklore "the Black Man", the man dressed in black, is the devil.) It is possible that the slaves retained their belief in the crossroads spirit. Or it could be that "the Black Man" is entirely Scott-Irish in origin. A mixture of the two is also possible.

-"Haint" - The word "haint", meaning spirit, ghost, is Scott-Irish. You will read black person after black person use the term "haint" in older written accounts of the tradition. There is a reason they are using haint and not "ghost" (Germaan = "geist", as in "poltergeist")

-Crossroads - Like Africans, the Scott-Irish had a rich tradition of the importance of the crossroads in their folklore and folkmagic.

-Black Cats - The superstition of the black cats is European in origin. It has been somewhat twisted and give new meaning in the tradition.

-Jack-O'-Lantern - Like with the word "haint", in written accounts black people are using the term, "Jack-O'-Lantern" far more frequently than similar terms such as "Fox Fire" or "Will-O'-The Wisp". All three terms are of European origin and not African but the term "Jack-O'-Lantern" comes specifically from the Irish. Before it was identified with the pumpkin the Jack-O'-Lanterns was the mysterious balls of light one may encounter on dark nights near swampy areas. They were believed to be the work of spirits and were considered dangerous. The term "Jack-O'-Lantern" specifically refers to the Irish legend of "Stingy Jack" who was too bad for heaven and too good for hell. When he tricked the devil he was made to wander the earth until Doomsday carrying a lump of hell-coal in a hollowed out turnip as his only light.

The reason why the Scott-Irish played such a greater role in the formation of conjure work is because the wave of immigrants in the late 1800s were dirt poor and lived and worked side-by-side with black people. They two cultures began to mix and share stories and tricks.

So somewhere along the way the Scott-Irish term of 'hoodoo', as a cursed or unlucky object or person, was taken up as a name for the tradition and for practitioners of that tradition. However, older folks still retain the older meaning of the word. For many older folks the term hoodoo is a synonym for 'witchcraft'. Even if an older person is a worker or practitioner they will often deny they that they practice 'hoodoo'.

32 comments:

  1. The Jewish Palo is totally wrong and for good reason. This expression is used to refer to those in the Palo Mayombe are served from evil spirits to do evil. It used the word "Jewish Palo" by anti-Semitism that exists in some Christian circles that influenced the first Cuban drainers. But this has nothing to do with hoodoo, I am very surprised that it has related!

    ReplyDelete
  2. @ Geomante,

    I'm not an expert on Palo. From what I've read Palo was "divided up" into two camps, the camp that incorporated Christianity and the camp that did not. The camp that did not was referred to as "Palo Judio", with the reference to the Jews.

    Yes, I've read online where some claim that the word "hoodoo" stems from the misunderstanding of the Spannish pronunciation of "Judio"(hoo-de-o), but I discount such theory simply because if true then the word hoodoo would have been around a lot longer than just the late 1800s. It's obvious that the word comes from the Scott-Irish people who still continue to use the word to this day.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Yes, in part and erroneously, because the Regla de Palo is only one. The Palo Mayombe was mixed up with other faiths, Christianity and the cult of orixas what gave birth to Rule Kimbiza. Although in truth there is nothing like Christian Palo, there is only Mayombe mixed or Regla del Cristo del Buen Viaje or Kimbiza.
    Sometimes one speaks of Jewish Palo when appointing the witches of religion.
    This is due to crossings they had between the slaves and the faiths of the whites, the paleros also salute as Muslims, although mispronounced Arabic and most do not even know what is saying.

    ReplyDelete
  4. @ Geomante,

    You seem more of an expert on Palo than I am. So I would agree with you. So the term "Palo Judio" was in fact a reference to witches, as the Jews were often demonized?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "Witches" is a way of saying, in the Mayombe are called "Bandoki" eaters of souls those who handle the demons "Nkonde".
      The idea that the Christian is the good and the Jew is the villain was a double idea, on the one hand some people who think the Mayombe must be Christianized and therefore purely African Mayombe is seen as evil (how Jewish) and the other the idea that the "Bandoki" are like the Jews, bad.
      Therefore, Jewish Palo, can be both the Palo Mayombe pure, ie not Christianized or Palo used for evil.
      Of course there is really no such thing as Jewish or Christian Palo, so there is Palo purely Bantu or mixed with Christian elements, Yoruba and spiritists. And Palo used for good or used for evil.

      Delete
    2. @ Geomante,

      Very interesting. If you don't mind me asking, how do you know so much about Palo?

      Delete
    3. I learned something with a Cuban who has the highest rank in the Mayombe (Nfumu Mbuta), and was made in Angola. Although possessing the degree of Tata Nkise of Cuba. I am also initiated in other African traditions. And I'd like to show a bandoki in a video, it's unfortunate that is in Spanish.

      Delete
    4. @ Geomante,

      Very interesting. I was almost initiated into IFA but decided it was not for me. The language barrier was too great and I didn't just want to be like so many other people who pick up on how to repeat the words but not actually understand them. Plus I didn't really like the idea of changing religions nor was I 100% comfortable with animal sacrifice. I understand it in it's context but the thought of me possibly doing it or being involved in a ritual sort of disturbed me. Go ahead and post the vide. Most of the videos on Palo are indeed in Spanish as I've tried looking too.

      Delete
    5. I think it's great you've decided to follow the path that suits you and you want because that's your way. In all spiritual traditions is the idea that trying to follow the path that is not yours brings many problems, not to mention the impossibility of spiritual development. What you do is right, I totally secure and the most important thing is that you are.
      Here send the url of the video, I do not know how to upload it if possible. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0wcRdgD6-_U
      The man with the straw hat is called "Juanito" Johnny, and is a bandoki, Johnny lives very bad, and the only thing that matters is the rum and adolescents. It's the black sheep of his family and a family member taught me some things. The family totem is the crocodile. It is unfortunate because it is a man who knows a lot.
      Initially seen as a release a person of a dead man making him a funeral service. From the minute 6:23 begins the interview with Johnny. Previously shown a good palero.

      Delete
  5. I think the black man at the crossroads is a uniquely American mix from African, Irish and native American beliefs. He fits with the Irish siog (sorry, I don't know how to put the accent over the "o") who can only be seen from an in-between place and when displeased will cut off someone's shadow-- in my mind that makes meeting one at night somewhat safer. The native Americans on the East coast often pictured the devil as being dressed like early white settlers (whom they accused of witchcraft due to large numbers of their people dying due to the diseases the white settlers brought with them.)And the Africans contributed the crossroads (as opposed to what the Irish consider an in-between place such as a gateway or doorway.)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. @ Wendy,

      I would agree that the Black Man at the Crossroads may be a mixture of things. However, the phrase, "The Black Man at the Crossroads" is Scott-Irish. All across Scottland, Ireland, and England the term, "The Black Man" (the man dressed in black), was a reference to the Devil. You could meet the Black Man in the forest, at the crossroads, or at other places. Sometimes he rode a horse. In lore it is he whom witches made pacts with, signing his book in blood and it is he that gave the ability for a man to turn into a werewolf, often with a salve or magic wolf hair belt. I did a few blogs on him over at my other blog.

      Delete
  6. Ahh. That sounds more like what my grandmother called the Spaniard-- who is indeed a devil.

    ReplyDelete
  7. @ Wendy,

    Never heard that term before. Do share.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Exactly what you described, the Spaniard was one of Grandma's favorite threats. The Spanish brought Christianity into Ireland and the sailors that came with the monks settled, that's where the term black-irish comes from. I guess not everyone liked them.

    ReplyDelete
  9. @ Wendy,

    I thought it was St. Patrick? I also though "Black Irish", like "Black Dutch", is the term for "mutt" of white people, being a mix of various cultures. I'll have to dig around and see if I can find any info on "the Spaniard". Sounds like an interesting bit of folklore.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Black-irish refers to the Spanish-Irish descendants, I guess loosely it could refer to any Irish of mixed heritage.

      Don't quote me on any of this because I come from heathens and don't know the actual history that well but I believe St. Patrick and St. Kevin came way before the Spanish, and established abbeys, but people in more remote regions in Ireland didn't live under a strictly enforced Christian doctrine until after the Spanish.

      Side note: The Spaniard was one my grandmother's favorite tongue and cheek threats-- if we were bad enough she was going to trade us to him for sugar and tea.

      Delete
  10. @Doc @ Wendy,

    Just want to say that you are both right. I have been practising Catholic folk magic in Ireland for over twenty years. I learned from my granny. As an Irishman, I am very aware of the influence of the Scots-Irish on Hoodoo. The Irish for the devil is "An Fear Dubh",which literally means "The Black Man". Crossroads are very important in Irish folklore, as they are the places where the spirit world interacts with our world, and you can meet the devil, faeries and many others at them.

    Saint Patrick did bring Christianity to Ireland. And it was then spread by Saints Brigid, Coluncille, Kevin and so on.

    Wendy is right about the black Irish. On the west coast of Ireland, there are many people who look very Spanish (dark hair, dark eyes, sallow skin etc.) and they are descended from the Spanish who were shipwrecked in Ireland after the Spanish Armada failed. They brought a very European style of Catholicism with them.

    I love your blog, keep up the good work. You are the real deal!

    ReplyDelete
  11. I know this is bad practice, but I thought you might enjoy reading a blog I have recently written on this very same topic.

    http://doctorstcrouix.blogspot.com/2013/06/the-threefold-cord-of-conjure-part-one.html

    I think we could have much collaboration here.

    ReplyDelete
  12. From: http://cassidyslangscam.wordpress.com/tag/hoodoo/

    Hoodoo

    According to Cassidy, the term ‘hoodoo’ derives from an Irish expression uath dubh, which according to Cassidy means:

    Uath Dubh, (pron. h-úŏ doo): dark specter, evil phantom, a malevolent thing; horror, dread; a dark, spiky, evil-looking thing. Uath, n., a form or shape; a spectre or phantom; dread, terror, hate. Old Gaelic name for the hawthorn. Dubh, (pron. doo, duv), adj., dark; black; malevolent, evil; wicked; angry, sinister; gloomy, melancholy; strange, unknown.

    (O’Donaill, 457, 1294; Dineen, 374, 1287; De Bhaldraithe, English-Irish Dictionary, 755; Dwelly, 988)

    Looking at this list of dictionaries, you would think that Cassidy had actually found the phrase uath dubh recorded in one or all of them. In fact, no dictionary records the phrase uath dubh. Uath is in Ó Dónaill’s dictionary, where it is described as a literary term meaning fear or horror (for literary, read ‘old-fashioned’ or ‘not in current use.’) It is also given in Dineen, where it is defined as:

    A form or shape, a spectre or phantom; dread, terror; hate.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have no idea about any of that. All I know is that the word "hoodoo" has been used for a very long time by the Scott-Irish both in the past and in the present. For examples, go to Google news and type in "Hoodoo" to see all kinds of news articles where the word is still used.

      Delete
  13. I doubt this very much. Hoodoo is an African American tradition largely derived from African slaves (African religions) and Jewish traditions. But just because I doubt it doesn't mean what you're saying is not true, of course. I think there may have possibly been some crossover influence with the Scott-Irish/Celtic traditions, but I doubt these words you mention come from them. I would very much like to see concrete references (unbiased history books on conjure, etc., for example) if you have them. Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. (I forgot to mention Christian based as well.)

      Delete
    2. You can doubt all you want but it's true. Even Cat Yronwode updated her website with this. The word "Hoodoo" didn't come around until the late 1800s. The word "conjure" is the oldest term, dating back to at least the 17th century. It was the Scott-Irish who brought the term "Hoodoo" over when they immigrated in the latter 1800s (potato famine). They also brought halloween. We know there is a strong influence of Scott-Irish on the Southern blacks because the Scott-Irish were in the same boat, so to speak. The Scott-Irish were dirt poor, were discriminated against, and had to work side-by-side with blacks. It was this environment that provided a "mixing pot".

      I think the problem you have is that you still are under the assumption that Hoodoo is a remnant of African religions. It's not. It's not connected to any African religion at all. If anything the influence would be African medicine men, not any religion. I would say there is an African element and that most practitioners were black. However, to deny the Scott-Irish influence is to admit bias. The Scott-Irish influence in hoodoo is extremely strong and obvious.

      Delete
  14. Oh, I wasn't denying it. Just wanting sources for my own learning. Like I said, just because I doubt it doesn't mean it's not true. I have to read up on that section on Cat's site, I'm sure it's excellent as is the rest of LM.

    It's true, I probably do have a bit of a bias. As an African American I'm used to people trying to claim things from us and then systematically shutting us out of the equation. I wasn't implying that you were doing that, but I wondered about the sources of your information, and if there could be any race bias there (I just read another post you had about this where you talk about how many of the White people of Scott-Irish descent you talked to were offended by hoodoo's association with Black people).

    I have interest in a number of things and respect the various cultures they come from. For instance, I would just as readily question a claim of African influence on what have been largely and traditionally known as Celtic traditions. While in the states, and with how global most things are now there's no doubt going to be blending of traditions, but I don't think it's fair for any culture to claim things came from their culture if they didn't. If it's legitimate, though, then it is.

    I do have a question about the Black Man at the Crossroads, though. It's my understanding that in Scottish traditions, black or dark has favorable connotations - for instance, at New Year's the first person to cross the threshold in a Scottish home should be dark or "black" because that is a sign of good luck. This came about because of the conflicts with the lighter skinned blond British way back when. It's my understanding that the Black Man as Africans / Black Americans at the time would have seen it came from, I think, Papa Legba, perhaps? I have to look it up as to which. But as slaves were influenced by Christianity and generations forgot old religions, then it would have evolved to symbolizing the devil or demons. This is what I've learned anyway. While of course hoodoo itself is not religion, I thought much of it was derived from forgotten/cobbled pieces of African religions, traditions (like you mentioned, medicine men) and then influenced by Christianity and Judaism (which is why the use of psalms and/or the 6th and 7th books of Moses).

    (And as an example of what I meant earlier, it would be like saying Samhain/Halloween was really an African tradition if it wasn't). However, while it is true that Scott-Irish also had a difficult time of things as immigrants initially, it wasn't as if the majority saw themselves as being in the same boat or even that they were. Scott-Irish could escape indentured servitude by dying their hair and changing their names, which the often did. Blacks had no such option. And since hoodoo arose during slavery, which went back well before the 1800s, I wonder when and how these influences came about. Also, if a few words is the only influence, I'm not sure that's "extremely strong". By your wording in your last paragraph it's almost like you're trying to discount Blacks in the equation, saying that the African element is that Blacks practiced it. Clearly, it is way more than that.

    That being said, I think it's interesting to see how different cultures are influenced by each other, and I'm interested in the history because it helps to know the roots (haha) of things. I think because of the history of racism in this country, it can be at times difficult for people not to be sensitive about cultural origins of things, on any side. But if the facts are there, they're there - it's just equally important to know the sources and the sources motivations.

    Thank you so much for the food for thought, and the info on Cat's site. I'll look that up soon.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The Black Man at the Crossroad is the Devil. The Black Man at the Crossroads is not Papa Legba. The key word here is "black man". The "black man" being referenced is not black as in dark skin. It is black clothing. The Black Man is Satan. If you study the European witchcraft trials you will see there is a long history of accused witches claiming they met a "black mam" in the woods, at the crossroads, or in some out of the way place who offered them magical powers in exchange for them selling their soul. It's the same way with the werewolf crazy of the middle ages. Accused werewolves claimed they met a "black man", again "dressed in black clothing" and not black skin. This "black man" would then give the person a magic salve or else a magic fur belt that would transform them into a wolf in exchange for their soul. If you have read or seen the movie version of "The Scarlet Letter" you will hear about witches dancing with the black man in the forest. What did actual black people say the Black Man at the Crossroads was? They said he was the Devil. I think it's clear they got this belief from Europeans, primarily the Scott-Irish.

      I think the problem you are having is the assumption that Hoodoo is the survival of an African religion. It's not. The African aspect of hoodoo would be the shamans and medicine men, not priests. Hoodoo is magic, not a religion. In Africa if you wanted a spell you went to the shaman or medicine man, a.k.a "witch doctor". That's the same with hoodoo. It's not the survival of a religion.

      The Scott-Irish had a long history of profession "spell casters". They too were just like the witch doctors in Africa. People came to a practitioner and paid them for their service. So it's quite obvious how easily these two systems merged to create hoodoo in the South.

      Delete
  15. Also, looking it up online, several sources indicate the word hoodoo is derived from the word hudu used by the Ewe of Togoland and a Southern mispronunciation of the word Voodoo (used by the Benin people of West Africa, Benin). The name similarities would make sense since Togoland and Benin are close location wise and there may have been trade and influence amongst the cultures. Once slaves from the regions were brought to the states, later generations may have mispronounced the word Voodoo and those believing the religion was the same as hoodoo (magic?) would not have made a distinction. It is possible the word was not classified, if it wasn't by Euro-descendant historians until Scott-Irish immigrants arrived because Blacks and the cultures were not seen as relevant then. There would likely be no written records of the use of the words in the states by Blacks since slaves were not allowed to read and write, even if they could, since those activities were often punishable by beatings, loss of limbs, or even death.

    But maybe there are other cultural influences. There's no doubt the Scott-Irish Americans have their own rich magical traditions stemming from Scotland and Ireland.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The belief that the word "Hoodoo" is African simply does not fly. The word Hoodoo has been used by Europeans for centuries and is still in use today. In fact, you can go to Google News and search "Hoodoo" and it will bring up dozes if not hundreds of examples of hoodoo being used today in Europe.

      Also, the term "hoodoo" as applied to the magical tradition of the Southern U.S. did not arise until the latter 1800s and occurred at the same time as a wave of Irish immigrants came into the country. If the word hoodoo was African then surely it would have been used here as far back as the 1600s, with the arrival of the first slaves. It was not and thus that is a clear sign that the word Hoodoo is not African in origin.

      Delete
  16. Just saw your other comment. While you're right that hoodoo itself is not a religion (which I never said it was) it is influenced by other religions. Unfortunately, I believe we're just going to have to agree to disagree on that, as what I've learned over the years from historical sources and most recent research seems to provide a great deal of evidence that hoodoo in part was influenced by the various religions of the African slaves.

    As for the Black Man at the Crossroads, historically Satan was viewed as a red demon, stemming from the color being associated with lust, passion, anger and blood. The connotation of Black came later, with racial implications of Black being evil (as well as night due to dangers in untamed wilderness). Of course, different cultures had different associations.

    To Africans, Black was primarily a color, though it carried other meanings as well. Legba or other African crossroads deities of black color were not seen as evil.

    But Cat has a great page on this, and she delves into it far better than I could. She shows how every culture has an association with crossroads demons, and how one culture using it does not necessarily mean that they derived the use from another culture.

    http://www.luckymojo.com/crossroads.html

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. No you are quite mistaken. Satan was not historically viewed as a red demon. The colors attributed to Satan from the birth of Christianity on down have been black and dark blue, not red. The belief in a "red devil" is relatively modern.

      The Black Man of the Crossroads is Satan. There is no question or doubt. The African Americans people who told Hyatt about the Black Man at the Crossroads said he was the Devil.

      Hoodoo is not influenced by African religions. And as before you brought up Papa Legba, which is Voodoo. Hoodoo has no ties to Voodoo.

      Look, I'm not denying the African component of hoodoo. However, there is this small group of primarily African Americans who deny the white component of hoodoo. I'm afraid that your posts here indicate that you might be part of this group and that bothers me. I don't want to pursue this any further.

      Delete
  17. Okay, that's a shame you view me that way. I've said several times that I don't deny a probability of White influence on hoodoo. To label me as such - really, reading between the lines you called me a bigot, which is funny to me and probably would be to you if you knew me, indicates to me that you simply have a problem having a reasonable discussion with someone who doubts your claims. To me, the difference between doubt and deny is the difference between an Atheist and an Agnostic. An atheist denies the existence of God regardless, whereas an agnostic doubts but is open to the possibility and discussion.

    I simply asked for concrete references. It seems there aren't any.

    As for other influences though, I was going to ask about Appalachian traditions and if there was possibly some connection there. I know there's a whole lot of hoopla in magical communities over this and that, because people don't like to be disagreed with. I, frankly, don't care about any of that. My only concern in regards to practices is learning, truth and proof, and what works, what doesn't and why.

    And in all that, I managed to not insult you by assuming things about you, like calling you a racist, without further proof.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I didn't call you a bigot and the fact that you are implying I did is indicative of your approach to this topic.

      There is nothing to discuss. Most of your claims simply do not stand up to scrutiny. There is an African component of hoodoo, no doubt. But the word hoodoo is not African in origin and hoodoo itself has no connection to any African religion. What happened is not African priests becoming enslaved and creating a system in the new world. Instead, it's African shamans, medicine men and witch doctors adapting to the new world and then later mixing with the influence of Native Americans and Europeans (primarily Scott-Irish).

      FYI: Appalachian traditions, as well as Ozark traditions, are Scott-Irish based. If you want a good book to read, try the following:

      http://www.amazon.com/Ozark-Magic-Folklore-Vance-Randolph/dp/0486211819

      The book is a great resource as it was written prior to the rise of Wicca and documents the real beliefs and practices of the people. You will find much of the same stuff from hoodoo in this book. Even the "poisoning through he feet" is found within it's pages and even though these people had little to no contact with black people, unlike the Scott-Irish who settled in the South who were discriminated against and forced to live and work side by side with African Americans.

      Delete
  18. Irish bond servenys in the Caribbean were treated as slaves I have read.

    ReplyDelete