Reiki Master, Founder of Rhode Island Temple of Divine Spirit, Root worker, Psychic, and owner of Mother Mystic Spiritual Apothecary (179 Dean Street, Providence, Rhode Island) sat down with me to discuss the basics of Hoodoo and her work as a root worker.
NNG: What is your definition of Hoodoo?
MM: It’s the actual work that got separated from the Vodou religion that came to New Orleans. What they call New Orleans Voodoo is a combination of Catholicism, Voodoo, and Hoodoo…because it’s all magic.
NNG: Um, can you use an analogy? I still don’t get it.
MM: So, when you take the “work,” the magic itself, you’re taking away the Voodoo part of it. You’re not calling upon any specific deity, although many Hoodoo practitioners are Christians and they do use Psalms (biblical Psalms). In New Orleans, they use Saints. Some of them also synchronize different Loas. But, if you’re talking straight, bare-bones Hoodoo, there is really no prayers or psalms that you need to use.
NNG: Oh ,really? I did not know that.
MM: Yes, it’s really your intention that matters.
NNG: So, you can be an agnostic and practice Hoodoo?
MM: Yes. Even going into the psalms, different people use psalms, they won’t say the whole psalms. They’ll pick a particular phrase or line from the psalms that are significant to the work they are doing and only recite those or only use those on their petition paper. This is part of the spell.
NNG: What about the Hoodoo of the Carolinas? Is it the same Hoodoo work (as New Orleans)? I read an article regarding them back in February. It’s my understanding that their belief system and work is totally different, for their away from the Haitian migrant population of New Orleans that brought Vodou (Voodoo in New Orleans).
MM: Do you mean the Gullah, Geechee, people off the coast of the Carolinas?
MM: The Gullahs are a very secretive group in regards to Hoodoo. It’s a really different system and secretive. For those people have stayed on the islands, basically since slavery; and they’ve kept within their “own” families. So they’ve not been “contaminated” by outside influences. And, by the other side of the coin, they’ve not spread their teachings, either. They also do a lot of herbal healing. So, it’s more than just “magic” to them, but a way of life.
NNG: Totally appreciate that. It’s like that with me in regards of Haitian Vodou. It’s a way of life vs. a religion. How long have you been practicing Hoodoo?
MM: Um, about 2005-2006.
NNG: Oh, so recently? How did you stumble upon Hoodoo?
MM: In my search for Voodoo, I stumbled upon Hoodoo. And when I did, it made a lot of sense to me. I did have a grandmother who read tarot cards and French “work.” She did all kind of unique things. And she used to get all the old catalogs from the old magical supply houses. I recognized some of the stuff (Hoodoo) from when she used to do it, like the Adam and Eve roots. Of course, she did it (grandmother) for she was a gambler (we’re both giggling). So, she would do it to win bingo, win big, or whatever she was gambling on. So, when I stumbled upon Hoodoo, I recognized a lot of stuff. You really can’t learn from books and the internet (with regards to Hoodoo). You really need to meet people and learn in person.
NNG: Interesting, for with Vodou, I really did not need to meet other people. Of course, I was “born into it.” Nevertheless, a lot of things “came to me.” For me, those who are not born into it, it is really “exotic” and foreign to me.
MM: Well, there are a lot of people who are born into Hoodoo. Yet, you really can’t pick up a book and read everything to know about it. I don’t think there is really one person who knows everything that there is to know about it. Even though you don’t need to call upon deities, you don’t need to be a Christian or Muslim or whatever. You really need to have a good relationship with “spirit”, as I call it… something that’s going to infuse your work.
NNG: Okay, similar to how I view Vodou as a lifetime lesson, which I call “a way of life.” Nobody knows all there is to know… until the very the end of one’s life. Even then, you may “go” without knowing all that is.
MM: Yes. A lot of these spells go back way to the 1800’s (known spells). Some of them are really secretive so there is no “right way” of doing things.
NNG: No, never. So, I agree. Hence, my indifference with spell books (that are on market). For the spell has the intention of the writer, and energy. If you don’t share the same intention or energy, that spell may not work for you. The spell books are not a “tell all, end all.”
MM: With these books, you don’t have anyone to bounce ideas from, unlike the internet, for instance. You have this case when a man comes in who is madly in love with a woman. He desires the woman. Well, what many of these books do not tell you is “Did you do a reading on him?” What is your reading of the situation and should you even be working for this client?
NNG: So, you have declined clients?
MM: Oh, absolutely! I’ve turned a lot of people away because the reading will tell me that it’s not going to work. This is not meant to happen. I’ve told people to “feel free to seek someone else who may rip you off financially.” I’m just not touching it with a 10-foot pole. That is why I like to meet different people, bounce off ideas, and ask how would they handle it. Or, how have you handled similar situations in the past?
I asked him if he knew how she placed it on (girlfriend).
He said, “Yeah. She placed something in my drink.” He told me when he woke up, she placed a fishhook piercing in every hole that he had in his ear. There were magnets in his nose and other body parts. He says, “I don’t know what was going on, for I was out of it.” I was a bit apprehensive to his psychological well-being, so I turned him away.
Maybe a year later, I met this root worker from Texas. She has been doing this (Hoodoo) all her life; she was born into it. I told her about this particular situation and she told me, “Well, that’s a spell that is usually done on a doll. For complete domination.”
NNG: Wow. A human doll.
(MM nods her head.)
NNG: So, I guess that “story” explains the importance of meeting “like-minded” individuals to bounce off ideas, learn spells, and expand knowledge of spell work. Anyway, back to Hoodoo (we’re giggling). Hoodoo is basically found only in the Americas?
MM: Hoodoo is a conglomeration of African-American folk magic, Native American folk magic, and the influence of the witch magic that is brought over here by Europeans who interacted with all of these folks. It’s called “Magic that is born out of Need” because it was practiced by poor people, using what was available to them. That is why many Hoodoo practitioners are called “Root Workers” because you’re working with roots and/or herbs-whatever you can get your hands on.
NNG: Okay, that is what I need to explain. When people hear the word “roots,” more so, African-Americans, they do think of the historical side magic-the folklore of our ancestors in the Diaspora. When, really, “root work” is the plant, the herbs, the spell itself.
MM: Yes, it’s the “Angelica Root,” “John the Conquer Root,” “The Queen Elizabeth Root.” There is a lot of lore collected by Henry Hyatt, who went around the South and the Midwest. He would go to different towns and “hook up” with confidents who would show and tell him about native roots to that region. All on his wax recording, this tells you how old this is. I have his volumes (books) 3, 4, and 5. The last time I saw his volume 1 and 2, were on EBay for a thousand dollars. I wouldn’t say all of the information is reliable for I am sure there were those who “blew smoke” to get paid. Yet, others you can recognize their bones. They are similar to other magic spells.
NNG: What is sad is that we all hear of the African and Native American root works and they’re very well documented. Yet, we don’t hear, as you mentioned, the European “work.” I’m sure they are told, but blended into the African lore.
MM: Absolutely. There were Europeans that came here as slaves, too, and shared “works” with the Africans within the community. No, there is no documentation of the “white slaves’” point of view that is told.
NNG: Yet, they are present in the work. Just nameless, faceless, even.
MM: Going back to New Orleans, the Arcadians who were ejected from Canada and from basically what you can grab and get onto these ships. Some of them went to the islands, like Haiti. There were Arcadians who went to New Orleans and their magic is also in the work there. They are all in that nice melting pot of Hoodoo, too.
NNG: The only “main” source of information that I’ve come across that speaks about Hoodoo is Lucky Mojo. Are there any other sources out there for those who are interested in Hoodoo? I prefer to have multiple sources to just one.
MM: I would recommend “Old Style Conjure” run by a woman named Star Cases. I’ve learned quite a bit from her. She self-publishes her own book. The spells in her book are genuine. She is the woman I was speaking about earlier, the one from Texas who told me about the fishhook spells. The spell is also in her book. She is also born into this. Her mother was a worker and she started to do this work at age 15.
NNG: Last question. Define “gris gris” for our readers (grey-grey).
MM: Gris-Gris is similar to a mojo bag. It’s a spell, containing herbs in an amulet, or bag, that is kept on your person. You can wear it around your neck, in your pocket, around your wrist. Gris-Gris travel with you all time. Unless it’s at the airport. It’s tough to go through the airport with them.
MM: Oh, yes! I had clients who had troubles at the airport. I just tell them to put it in your check-baggage. They (TSA) will open it and rip it apart. Once someone touches it, the spell is broken. It’s no good any more. Even if you try to explain it to them, they want you take it off and open it.
NNG: Well, that is good to know.
* The photos of magical supplies are taken at Mother Mystic’s shop (Facebook page link: http://www.facebook.com/home.php#!/pages/Mother-Mystic-Spiritual-Apothecary/245420545049 ). The first photo is of myself and Mother Mystic.