The Folk Magic of the African Diaspora Interview with Chief Hounon-Amengansie, Mama Zogbe hosted by Cultural Guide Tammy Todd Tammy Todd:

What, exactly is Hoodoo?

Mama Zogbé :

Briefly, "Hoodoo" is an Afro-derived mystical system of personal and psychological empowerment, via the specialized use of roots, herbs & minerals in a beneficent or maleficent manner to obtain a desired result, e.g., protection, healing, wealth, justice, victory over enemies, etc.,. Its extensive body of esoteric knowledge, ethos, native customs, and universal folk beliefs, are traditionally passed down [usually in families] from generation to generation.

Is Hoodoo a type of magic?

Mama Zogbé :

No. Not how the term "magic" is defined and perceived in Western culture. However, "Hoodoo" is indeed an African mystical tradition, known by various names, that is practiced all over Africa, and has been for thousands of years. It is perhaps the first tangible application of the supernatural, based upon the Africans intimate relationship with the phenomena of Spirits who taught and assisted them in surviving the powerfully rich, but yet untamed environment in which they found themselves.

For example, in the West African & Diaspora Mami Wata Vodoun tradition, the forest spirits, known as "Azzizas," were the most evolved guardians of the forest, who first presented themselves to the African hunters, and planters. They taught them the esoteric, medicinal (ahame) use and alchemical properties inherent in the abundance of herbs, trees, roots, minerals and life forms thriving in their mists.

It was the Azzizas who also taught the African how to make poisons, potions, medicines, and Gbo, "ebo"" and "boicho/bo."( known today as "mojo, amulets, talisman, ouangas"). Joined with the Azzizas, was the divinity later to be identified as "Legba," the great messenger of the gods, who also taught the Africans the use of Gbo and transported their prepared requests to the respective divinities.

The first practical and most extensive use of herbs, amulets and talismans in the forest was for protection from accidents & tropical disease, dangerous animals, repairing injuries, as well as to assure success in their hunt. However, their esoteric use was mainly for protection from jealously, envy, and death by other hunters, as well as protection from the angry spirits of those animals which were killed for food, or by accident during the course of the hunt. From these primary ancestors, eventually evolved a group of specialized priests and priestess known in Dahomey as Bokonons, (geomancers), Azondoto, Zokas, Garbara, Akpases (socerers), and Botonons.

It was this knowledge that the Africans brought to the New World with them, and later incorporated and adapted with the indigenous Indian, and some European folklore, which came to be known as "Hoodoo". This is just from Dahomey. The above does not even cover the Congo traditions which are also heavily incorporated into the Hoodoo tradition here in America

Herskovits, in his book "Dahomean Narrative: A Cross-Cultural Analysis; Melville J Herskovits & Frances S. Herskovits. 1998, Northwestern University Press." offers-up a rich body of folk-lore, and regional beliefs of the Hunter Stories and their relationship with these forest spirits in Dahomean culture.

How is Hoodoo different from the African Diaspora faiths such as Vodoun or Santeria?

Mama Zogbé :

Vodoun and Santeria (Ocha), are Afro-spiritual traditions, based upon the worship and veneration of specialized divinities (or Orishas in Santeria) and Ancestors, in which its liturgical, ritual, and moral structure would classify them as "religions" by Western definition. Whereas, the practice of "Hoodoo" is simply a magico-botanical, mystical art in which aspects of its practice may be incorporated into the ritual functions of the priesthood, but can also be practiced as a separate secular art by anyone. To practice Hoodoo as it is practiced in the West, also requires no formal initiations, or consecration to any divinity. It is largely "folklore magic."

How does Hoodoo relate to the traditional beliefs of Africa?

Mama Zogbé :

In West Africa, the Azzizas & Legba are the guardian spirits who first taught this art and its accompanying laws to the first family of Africans. The use of "Gbo" (talismans, amulets), for both offensive and protective "magic" was widespread and taken as a rite of survival in Dahomean culture. It was Legba who taught this art to the first consecrated body of priest/ess in African mystical and religious practice. Extensive knowledge of herbs, minerals, roots, and their specialized use in healing, initiations, ritual ceremony, "folk-magic" and medicine, is integral to our professional development and competency as priests.

Would Hoodoo still be recognizable to a member of an African Traditional religion?

Mama Zogbé :

Absolutely. Of course, with some cultural variations, and with more emphasis on conjuration and medicine. "Hoodoo" was passed down from our oldest Ancestors [thru direct family lineages], and it is they who still today possess the most extensive esoteric knowledge, which distinguishes them from the general "folk" practitioners [especially in the U.S.] who learn their art primarily from books, and its benefits are largely contingent upon their own level of "ase" (spirit development).

How is Hoodoo viewed in the modern African American community?

Mama Zogbé :

In America, there was [and still is] pervasive discrimination and bias against all African religions and ritual practices, which were greatly feared by the Europeans. This was so because "conjuration" (a more potent form of this system) was heavily emphasized and used as a passive-aggressive weapon against slavery and the brutality of many enslavers against our African foremothers and fathers. Laws were enacted to stop all forms of Afro-religious practices, via an often violent campaign to discredit its priesthoods and debase its wholistic practices. The "jungle-bone-in-nose-witch doctor" and the "jive-talking-miss-Cleo-sorceress" are the most infamous of these belittling images.

Nonetheless, many southern, African-Americans, and those who migrated from the rural south to the urban cities continued to practice their folk traditions, and many either hid, or did away with them completely. Ironically, today, many aspects of Hoodoo is now being packaged as "Wicca, New Age" and "Alternative Medicine and Healing," with no credit given to its indigenous African roots.

Do you think that the removal of the spiritual aspect of Hoodoo has

degraded the practice? Is it still in harmony with the Gods?

Mama Zogbé :

It is not the nature of Hoodoo that is "out of harmony with God," but rather the nature of the inherent weaknesses in the human character, which has caused its maleficent practices to manifest in the first place.

The majority of what is now called "Hoodoo" was practiced in Africa largely for defensive purposes. That is to say, it was universally commissioned to proctect one from the "evil eye", (jealously, envy) revenge, and the hatred of others, and from sorcerers. Outside of my normal functions, a significant part of my work is removing what many believe is "Hoodoo" having been done to them from other people.

Conversely, Hoodoo, though a part of the ritual practices in ATRs was never viewed as a "spiritual tradition." What caused the rift in which Vodoun practitioners looked down upon the "Hoodooist," was due to the ignorance of the public in not being able to differentiate between the two traditions. This ignorance resulted in all ATRs being lumped into the same category as "Hoodoo."

This worked to the advantage of many Hoodooists, who began to pass themselves off as "Voodoo priest." This would be equivalent to a chiropractor passing herself off as an orthopedic surgeon. It was this professional and moral intrusion that angered many ATR practitioners. Unfortunately, what passess for African cosmology/religion today is viewed as "Hoodoo" and the majority of what passes for "Voodoo" by Hollywood, and popular culture actually is African folk magic, or "Hoodoo." Many so-called famous "Voodoo" priest/ess are actually "Hoodooist," but this distinction is obvious to us and others who understand our traditions. This ignorance especially worked well for Christian evangelicals, laced with eurocentic racism, who would make us think that the African spiritual intellect never rose above "maleficent magic and superstition."

You make a distinction between traditional healing (rootwork) and conjuring. How can someone recognize rootwork from conjuring?

Mama Zogbé :

"Rootwork," (rootman/woman) is merely someone who uses roots primarily in procuring medicines, poultices, and other healing applications for physical as oppose to spiritual illnesses. Conjuration, on the other hand, is something entirely different. Conjuration is closer to how Hoodoo is practiced in Africa, and requires a more specialized knowledge and power that cannot be discussed in this forum.

Many people associate conjuring with black or evil magic. How does Hoodoo relate to evil?

Mama Zogbé :

Since the beginning of time, Africans have always believed in a high god, and through the agency of their Ancestors, and their divinities, have always incorporated moral teachings in its social and philosophical structure. However, African philosophy and theology does not view "evil" as extreme and as definitive as the Westerner. In Africa "evil" is a relative term, and relates mostly to how an act or action affects an individual, their family, village and nation. It is not the *means*, but rather the *results* and its aftermath that determines what is "evil."

One of the most visible forms of Hoodoo for white America are the products marketed to the African American community, such as the various oils and incenses found in some areas. Do you think that these products are a part of the Hoodoo tradition?

Mama Zogbé :

As stated above, the African in their new environment utilized whatever natural resources to both shield their traditions (which were constantly under attack), as well as to incorporate their traditional mystical practices into their new life in North America. This they did by obtaining from a variety of sources not indigenous to Africa (i.e., Native American, and European). Again, these were merely local adaptations incorporated into an already fully developed and powerful, esoteric African system. They knew what roots and herbs would best serve as substitutes, and utilized them. The popular myth that they were taught these practices by Whites, and Native Americans is not supported by neither history nor the research. In fact, history reveals that it was African ritual and botanical practices which heavily influenced the latter.

For example, I have a photo of my own great-grandfather on my Hoodoo page, in which he is wearing a modified bakakari jacket. A jacket laced with amulets (multi-pockets) for protection against sorcery. Here his jacket is a Western styled design, but modified for an entirely different purpose. He did not need the Western style jacket, but the traditional animal skin that is used was not available. Merely, one example of their ingenious ability to adapt to their environment.

This same concept applies when one carefully examines the poplar New Age myth that Diaspora Vodou was created by  syncretizing with Christianity. That is to say, that it somehow needed elements of Christianity in order to be complete. In truth, the Vodoun religion used Christianity as it is known in the West, as a protective shield against the on-going persecution the Africans were experiencing. They did so in order to practice and preserve the religion from cultural destruction.  One can remove all traces of Christianity from the Vodou and still have a whole fully functioning tradition as it has been for thousands of years. It simply isn’t needed to meet any of the cultural, theological and ritual objections of the Vodou deities nor of the ancestors.

If you could send one message about the practice of Hoodoo to the general public what would it be?

Mama Zogbé :

I consider Hoodoo, like Jazz, and the Blues to be an Afro-American spiritual art, and gift to the New World. It is laced with many hidden mysteries, which reflect the epitome of what our Ancestors endured and survived during Slavery, Reconstruction, Jim Crow and presently. It is a precious gift to the world, and those who choose to take the time to study, and learn its truths, and honor (as oppose to merely profit from) our ancestors, who sacrificed greatly to bring this sacred knowledge to us, will be immensely reward by it. I hope to someday see African Spiritual practice honored, and properly credited to its African sources, and taught in school the same way all other traditions are.


Traditional ritual “fetish” market in Togo. The practice of folk magic known as Hudu or “Hoodoo” by the enslaved Africans in the Diaspora is  as old as Africa herself.  



|SPIRITUAL SERVICES| GUEST BOOK| ABOUT MAMA ZOGBE| BOOKSTORE interview with Mama Zogbé:Vodoun:  An African Diaspora Tradition interview with Mama Zogbé:  Hoodoo: The Magic of the Afro-Diaspora

West African/Diaspora Vodoun:

The World's Oldest Earth Religion Comes Alive in the West

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