So recently I've been attacked by people who identify as practitioners of "New Orleans Voodoo" because I'm not afraid to speak out and call it what it is, a sham. One individual even went as far as stalking me on other forums. Then either the same individual or another one began to post all kinds of comments on my blog. One of the things that this person mentioned, among calling me a fraud, was that anyone who practiced what is called "urban hoodoo" (this person didn't know the actual term), is a fraud as well. So I thought I would take the time to discuss this subject.
Urban hoodoo, as a label, references the use of spiritual products such as candles, condition oils, incense, powders, waters and other supplies that have been bought from companies that cater to the magical community. Primarily they were bought from mail order companies and local hoodoo drugstores and candle shops. Urban hoodoo arose to prominence after WWII and became popular likely because of it's convenience.
As I listed above, the three great sources for spiritual supplies for urban hoodoo were the mail order companies, the hoodoo drugstores and the candle shops. Mail order companies advertised their goods through catalogs and advertisements in primarily African-American printed media. Some companies also had door-to-door sales men as well. Mail order companies offered anonymity which was very comforting to practitioners who just happen to be living in the Bible Belt. Customers didn't have to risk being seen out in public visiting hoodoo drugstores or candle shops and could instead have their spiritual supplies delivered to their door in discreet packaging.
Hoodoo drugstores began as traditional corner pharmacies. Such businesses often would have a shelf or two in which they stocked candles, oils, incense and powders. So these pharmacies that carried a supply of spiritual products began to be called hoodoo drugstores. Eventually, some owners realized that their spiritual supplies were out-selling their normal health products and so they converted to selling spiritual products full-time. This would eventually give rise to the candle shops, stores that only sold spiritual supplies and which carried a wide range of candles. Both hoodoo drugstores and candle shops are still around though the overwhelming majority of them began to close in the 1980s and usually due to the death of the owners. Upon their closing, a vacuum was created in which Wiccan/Metaphysical stores and Botanicas swept in to fill. At this time hoodoo began to decline, never going extinct but declining no-less, until it's revival circa 1994 with the creation of the Lucky Mojo website.
In the video below a hoodoo drugstore in Charleston, South Carolina, is featured in the 1985 episode of Arthur C. Clarke's World of Strange Powers, titled, The Roots of Evil. Forward to 6 minutes 28 seconds to view or just watch the entire thing as it's a good episode!
The older, traditional form of hoodoo, which I call "old school hoodoo", primarily uses what can be found in nature, around the home, or which can be easily obtained in local, non-magical stores, primarily grocery stores, craft/fabric stores, hardware stores and pharmacies.
So is urban hoodoo fake? Well, like most things in reality the answer is not black and white or cut and dry. Urban hoodoo can be fake. It can also be legit. The answer will depend on the manufacturers of the spiritual products as well as the clients who patron them.
Back in the day perfumes and fragrances, and condition oils evolved from perfumed oils, were mostly created with real essential oils and natural ingredients. They had no choice but to use natural ingredients. This is because there was no alternative. With the rise of synthetic or artificial fragrances spiritual supply manufacturers naturally began to replace their real essential oils with their artificial alternatives. (FYI: The belief that spiritual products must contain actual herbs and roots is modern. In the past just essential oils were used. Those products that contained a piece of root or mineral, such as lodestone, were marketed as say, "root in oil", or "with live lodestone", or something similar. However, most products just contained essential oils.) Combine this with the fact that most manufacturers and/or owners were not practitioners of the tradition and you get a hot mess where bottles of sweet-smelling chemicals with fancy labels are being sold to consumers who were predominately unaware of this bait and switch.
Another "problem" stemming from the manufacturers/marketers/owners was the introduction of elements that were never part of hoodoo prior. Many of the "exotic" elements relating to Egyptian, Jewish, Asian, Muslim cultures, and the like were introduced at this time. Additionally, marketers began to confuse hoodoo with European notions of witchcraft and thus began to market European grimoires and such. However, the biggest change in my opinion was the introduction of the concept of recipes. Traditional, old-school hoodoo lacked recipes. Even today you will find people online asking for recipes or treating the name of a spiritual product such as, "Come to Me", as if it was traditional and somehow represented a category of "spells" within hoodoo when in fact it was simply created by a manufacturer. (FYI: Each manufacturer tended to invent their own names. So one person may call an oil Fast Luck while another may sell their version as Luck In A Hurry.)
So now we are firmly at the question that inspired this blog entry. Is urban hoodoo fake? Here is my opinion. If the practitioner has zero knowledge of traditional, "old school hoodoo" and is 100% dependent upon purchasing spiritual supplies, more specifically spiritual supplies that are artificial or synthetic in nature and does not even incorporate any herbs, roots, or natural items in their practice then such people are not practicing hoodoo in my opinion. It would be magic, no-less, but not authentic hoodoo. I'm not saying such people can't see results, just that it's not traditional hoodoo. However, and please do not misinterpret my words here, if a practitioner who is knowledgeable of the traditional, old-school hoodoo and chooses to incorporate spiritual products into their work, whether or not the are real or artificial, then such people are practicing hoodoo as long as they incorporate real roots, herbs and items into their work. Let me give you some examples.
1. Jill needs to do a spell. A spell to Jill involves going to the Wiccan store, buying a candle and artificially fragranced oil and incense. Jill fixes the candle and dresses it with the oil and burns it and the incense. Jill does not know anything about traditional, old-school hoodoo and for her this is all that a "spell" is or encompasses.
2. John needs to do a spell. John goes to the nearest Wiccan store and buys a candle and artificially fragranced oil and incense. He then fixes his candle, dresses it with the oil and then rolls it in a mixture of spices he has taken from his cabinet. He then mixes the same spices into his incense and burn that as well.
3. Bill needs to do a "spell", but Bill doesn't use the word spell but rather calls it a job or work. Bill goes out into the woods behind his home and then gathers items from around his house to use. Bill was taught old-school hoodoo from his family.
In the above examples, John and Bill are practicing hoodoo. Bill is strictly old-school, traditional hoodoo while John is more modern and incorporates spiritual products into his practice. Jill is not practicing traditional hoodoo and is just performing magic.
If you take the stance that all urban hoodoo is fake then you by fault are taking the position that anyone who uses spiritual products are fake, including entire generations of people before us. I found a bottle of 7 Sisters Holy oil in my great grandmother's dresser. Was my great grandmother a fake? Nope. Because I know she worked with lamps. Unfortunately she passed away when I was 9 and so I wasn't old enough to learn anything from her but I know she wasn't fake. I've also used 7 Sisters oils before and I'm not fake. I'm not fake because I know that I don't need it. My very first teacher used Anna Riva oils. I'm old enough to remember when Anna Riva was alive and advertising her oils in the back of gossip magazines you buy at the supermarket. If you purchased a set amount of product you would receive a free gold chain necklace from her. (Anna Riva promoted the notion that gold protected people from evil and negativity.)
So in a nutshell I'm not the type of person that will wag my finger at someone who uses 7 Sisters, Indio, or Anna Riva oils because they don't contain real ingredients. Likewise, I don't promote Lucky Mojo oils or any oils of her devotees as being legit just because they do contain real items, either. Because none of them are necessary. It doesn't matter one bit if your oil, incense or powder contains real items. If you are incorporating real items into your work then that's all that's necessary. You don't need any commercially bought spiritual products to practice hoodoo. However, if you choose to incorporate them into your practice then as long as you are also using real roots, herbs and natural items then you are indeed practicing real hoodoo.