A collection of ConjureMan Ali's thoughts about magic, the occult, and spirituality.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Catholic Hoodoo

A colleague and friend of mine, Mister M, has joined the blogosphere with his new blog. What makes his new blog unique is that he has created a platform for information on a rather hard-to-find subject: Latin American magical folk practices, with emphasis on the practices of folk-Catholicism. Mister M, definitely knows his stuff and his blog offers a reliable resource on a subject that has a scarcity of valuble information available.

Mister M's blog brings up an interesting topic for discussion that seems to get a great deal of misinformation on the net these days: Catholic Hoodoo. There are some who claim they work in a historical Catholic Hoodoo tradition; such a thing does not exist. Through out history less than 8% of African Americans have ever been Catholic. In fact there has historically been more Muslims than Catholic African Americans. So claiming that hoodoo has significant Catholic roots seems quite unlikely.

This may seem at conflict with the fact that there is a prevelance of people either asking about saints or claiming to work with saints today. This however is a relatively new introduction into Hoodoo that began in the mid-twentieth century. The introduction of the saints into Hoodoo actually comes straight out of the Spiritualist Church Movement and was limited to areas like New Orleans. With the migration of African Americans to Chicago, Oakland, and New York the Spiritualist Church with their candle shops moved as well. It is in these metropolitan, where contact with Latin American populations helped to take saint-work into a larger demographic. The final wave came with the internet where people saw the saints as an approach for non-Christians to enter into Hoodoo and work with its Christian symbology and spirituality.

The influence of the Spiritualist Church has been omitted by people who've revised history by over-emphasizing the Catholic element. I am not saying Catholicism didn't have an influence on Hoodoo, but rather it has be grossly overexaggerated and in reality was nothing more than a small regional variation. Even in New Orleans most of the practices can be associated with the Spiritualist Church, not Catholicism. Evidence of the Spiritualist Church is found from the manner in which the saints are approached in hoodoo work: giving alcohol for saints, praying for things that may be seen as "non-Christian," and in the manner of "payment" or offerings given to those saints.

This proof is further illustrated by the very saints that have a history in these regions. Most of them are folk-saints or saints highly popular in the Spiritualist Church. On the other hand some of the major Catholic saints are missing from these regions. You don't see many conjure works in hoodoo that revolve around the Holy Virgin, Saint George, Saint Philomena, Saint Augustine, or other popular Catholic saints. Rather, there is a prevelance of saints that are "outside" the mainstream, but who have a strong presence in the Spiritualist Church.

The introduction of the Latin American traditions in areas like New York, the Tex-Mex border, and California have brought a new element to working with saints and as such resources like Mister M's blog are invaluable. It is this mingling of Latin Amerian traditions with Hoodoo that has brought saints that are seen more commonly in Catholicism.

It is important to note that I am not saying Catholicism didn't have a place in Hoodoo, but rather the role that its portrayed as having by today's "Catholic Hoodoos" is simply not accurate. The idea of Catholic hoodoo as a large tradition within conjure is simply incorrect. Rather what we see is a small regional influence of Spiritualist Churches that introduced saints to come hoodoos.


Balthazar said...

There is also possibly the (in my opinion) underrated influence of Santeria, and other Afro-Cuban elements in the tradition - which could be another contact point for the catholic saints. Jeffrey Anderson discusses this to some extent in his book on African Amercian conjure. But we see some more of that reflected in author's such as Draja Mickaharic's works. He covers white baths; feeding the head and other similar Yoruba derived concepts which I find interesting. Though his work is more of a synthesis, I would imagine, because he also incorporates astrological symbolism and stuff like that. Thanks for the recommendation of Mister Ms blog - always loved his stuff. You are spot-on about the spiritualist church.

ConjureMan Ali said...

You definitely right. Santeria/Lukumi took off in popularity in mid-twentieth century and with that we find that hoodoo, especially in urban areas, began to have contact with the faith. This definitely indicates to points of contact, espeically in areas like New York and Los Angeles.

In support of this, we find that with the contact between hoodoo and the Afro-Cuban traditions we have the increase in the popularity in vigil candles. Similarly just as candles for Saint Barabara, for example were appearing in candle shops so too were candles for Shango. So you are definitely correct that Santeria does have a role to play in the current introduction of saints.

Just so long as we don't mistake saintwork as something that is indicative of a Catholic strain of hoodoo that was old and widespread.