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Monday, March 7, 2011

Spirits of Conjure

While it has often been pointed out that Hoodoo is not a religion, but rather a system of magick, most practitioners adhere to some form of Christianity and approach it from within that context. Spiritual Practitioners that operate from within a Christian context generally fall into two categories. They are:

1. Catholic
2. Protestant

The roots of Catholicism can be found in Judaism. In fact Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all claim Abraham as a common ancestor; and Judaism and Christianity count the Old Testament among their holy writings. Christianity began as a sect of Judaism, lead by Jesus, that were considered radical, liberal Jews. Later, this sect broke away from Judaism becoming a separate religion with its own beliefs and practices that we know as Christianity today. Some of the main differences between Judaism and Christianity include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • God as a Trinity
  • Original Sin
  • Jesus as the Messiah
  • Concepts of Heaven and Hell
  • The Papacy

Practitioners of Hoodoo who are Catholic may direct their prayers and petitions to God, Jesus, the Virgin Mary, Angels, or even Saints. In those areas, such as New Orleans, where Catholicism was absorbed into the beliefs and practices of Voodoo a Catholic practitioner of Hoodoo may also petition those deities associated with the religion of Voodoo.

The Protestant Church broke away from the Catholic Church during the Reformation initiated by Martin Luthor, to protest the doctrines, rituals and ecclesiastical structure of the Catholic Church. Luthor and other reformers disagreed with the Churches stance on free will, purgatory, and the practice of indulgences. Also, in very general terms, Catholics believe that an intermediary (such as a priest) is needed between God and man, whereas Protestants believe that direct communication with God is possible without an intermediary.

Spiritual workers who were raised in any of the Protestant denominations usually direct their prayers and petitions to “The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost” or simply “in Jesus’ name.” In some instances where the biblical figure of Satan merged with the trickster-deity of the crossroads, these practitioners may direct certain types of prayers or petitions to the devil. However it should be noted that, in these instances, the devil and Satan are thought to be two completely different entities. In other cases, they may direct their petitions and build altars to spirits of the dead or even to spirits and/or deities outside their religion.

The Dead

Many Root-Workers start out working with spirits of the dead in the form of the Ancestors, the spirits of the dead connected to them by blood. It is believed that the dead don’t die, but rather ascend to another level of being, from which they can look on and assist us. From this higher level, the Ancestors can guide us in our daily lives, intercede with the Godhead on our behalf and protect us in times of need.

The process of working with the Ancestors begins with the construction of an Ancestral Altar. Before I go any further, I’d like to point out that many root-workers are Christian and adhere to God’s commandment in Exodus 20:3 to “have not other gods before me.” Therefore, root-workers do NOT worship the Ancestors inasmuch as they venerate them. The Ancestral altar is the place where this veneration ritually occurs. (See also The Ancestors)

In other instances, a practitioner may visit the graveyard to ritually collect dirt from a particular grave or graves for use in spells and rituals. There are many variables to consider when collecting graveyard dirt for spells and rituals. Some of these variables include:

  • Location of the grave
  • How the person died
  • Obtaining permission
  • Where to collect the dirt

In addition, graveyard dirt is not simply taken but rather paid for after negotiating with a suitable spirit. Some practitioners regard working with Saints and Folk-Saints as a form of working with the dead since Saints were once living human beings who also happen to have lived exceptionally virtuous lives. 

Working with Non-Christian Entities

Whereas Hoodoo is based on the beliefs and magickal practices of various traditions (but devoid of their religious dogma) in many ways it is still heavily influenced by Christianity as well as various African religions. The practice of conjure includes the veneration of one's ancestors, engaging the dead to work for you, the devil at the crossroads, powerful Saints, and non-Christian entities.

Some of these entities include the deities associated with non-christian religions. You will often find spiritual practitioners who build altars and direct that petitions to deities from Non-Christian pantheons including, but not limited to:

  • Hinduism
  • Voodoo
  • Palo
  • Yoruba
  • Santeria

For example, Ganesha is a popular non-Christian Deity that is found in the practice of Hoodoo. He is often petitioned to remove obstacles, open-the-way, bring good-luck, and confer prosperity upon petitioners.

Before petitioning a spirit or deity outside one's culture or religion, it is important to learn how that culture worships and/or venerates that deity, what offerings are appropriate, and the sphere of influence that deity holds in the world. For example, you wouldn't want to petition a deity known for granting lovers if your intent is to overcome an enemy. Educating yourself about these spirits/deities will allow you to approach them with your petition in a semi-traditional manner while being respectful to the beliefs and practices native to the culture from which that deity originates.

In addition to the spiritual powers listed above there exists a number of spirits that do not necessarily fit into any of the categories already mentioned. They include:

  • Familiar Spirits
  • Plant and Animal Spirits
  • Anthropomorphic Spirits

Familiar Spirits

While most people associate the term 'familiar spirit' with the shape-shifting entities which were believed to have served Medieval Witches; the term can also refer to one's genius, or a type of tutelary spirit. Other terms synonymous with familiar-spirit include Patron Saint, Guardian Angel, Daimon, Higher-Self. They function as a person's guardian and teacher often communicating with humans through dreams and intuition.

Plant and Animal Spirits

The use of herbs, minerals and animal parts in the practice of magick is not exclusive to Hoodoo. In fact, their use is virtually a world-wide phenomenon and modern medicine owes a great deal of credit to the ancient magicians for their discoveries. Animism, a belief that spirits inhabit non-human entities, plays a large role in the practice of Hoodoo. When a rootworker utilizes an herb or zoological curio, such as a rabbit's foot, they recognize the spirit dwelling within it and which can be called up to favor their petition.

Anthropomorphic Spirits

Anthropomorphism, or more commonly personification, is the practice of ascribing human-qualities to inanimate objects or abstract ideas. A popular example of an anthropomorphic spirit in Hoodoo is the Anima Sola, or lonely soul, which commonly depicts a woman wearing broken chains amidst the fires of purgatory. She is often invoked for release from suffering or to bring suffering to others. Other examples of an anthropomorphic spirit include Santo Muerte, the personification of death as a holy spirit; and High John the Conqueror, a folk-hero representing the qualities ascribed to the root of the same name.

Carolina Dean 


Anonymous said...

Okay, I just left a comment for you on another blog. I guess I somehow skipped this one.

In my other comment I wrote that the old school workers don't like Cat much. Well the reason is that she teaches wrong stuff.

Hoodoo has nothing to do with pagan gods. If you go talk to an old school worker and start talking about pagan gods they will kick your butt out the building. This is why I said not to take what Cat says as gold because on some things she doesn't know what she's talking about. And I meant what I wrote in the other comment. Cat only knows the very basics. After you graduate and take other courses from other teachers, you will discover that. And I'm being nice too. As I wrote before, old school workers don't like Cat at all.

Carolina Dean said...

If you feel so strongly about Cat, why don't you take it up with her instead of leaving anonymous comments on my blog.

BTW, I did take cat's course but my knowledge of Hoodoo does not begin and end with it.

Voodoo Mama said...

This is a very informative post that gives the reader some basic information about the religious associations with a "magickal tradition". Personally, I like to take it farther back and look at how hoodoo maintains aspects of the African Vodoun religion, something that is mostly overlooked in favor of the Christian religious associations popularized by contemporary writers.

In response to "Anonymous": I agree that Cat's course is one perspective of hoodoo but not the only perspective of hoodoo. Much of what I have read of her work is not consistent with what I learned as someone raised in the tradition in the "hoodoo capital of the world", as Zora Neale Hurston puts it. Cat is not stupid, she knows there are regional variations. She teaches what she knows. That said, as teachers, we should couch our lesson within the context of our tradition and experience, while acknowledging the existence and validity of regional variants.

Carolina Dean said...

Thanks Voodoo Mama and knowing that there are regional variations I wanted to write a very general overview on the subject and just touch upon some major themes.

I would also like to point out that this entry was copied into my blog from one of my sites ( on which I out and out state that "is not my intention to compete with commercial sites which cater to the Hoodoo community, nor do I intend to make this site a comprehensive source of information on the subject. This site will reflect Hoodoo as I KNOW IT and as I PRACTICE IT. "

I have never said that I was an expert on the subject and I always encourage my readers to do their own research and form their own opinions rather than solely relying on one source (even if that source is me.)

Carolina Dean

Voodoo Mama said...

You know, it amazes me how folks will just gloss over the qualifiers we carefully and intentionally state in our writings. Of course you write from your experience, perception and knowledge of the tradition. One of the things I like about your writing is how you present information that does not have the underlying dynamic of coercing the reader to agree. Still, there are the naysayers who naysay just for the sake of naysaying.

Carolina Dean said...

Thank You !