Podcast 32 – Voodoo Hoodoo with Denise Alvarado


This episode looks at the particular practices of Voodoo and Hoodoo around New Orleans. We have an interview with spellbook author Denise Alvarado, several excerpts from folkloric and magical texts, and even some music.


Download:  New World Witchery – Episode 32

First, my apologies for the sudden cut-off in the interview. That was a technical difficulty on my end, but we still got almost a full 30 minutes of discussion with a stellar guest, so enjoy!

Mules & Men, by Zora Neale Hurston
Voodoo in New Orleans, by Robert Tallant
Black & White Magic of Marie Laveau, by NDP Bivens
All songs were taken from the Florida Folklife collection, and are available here: http://www.floridamemory.com/collections/folklife
The songs were “Crow Dance” and “Oh Mr. Brown,” both sung by Zora Neale Hurston, and “Sissy in the Barn,” sung by the children of Carver Elementary School in 1954.

Guest & Announcements
Denise Alvarado can be found at her website, Mystic Voodoo.

Please also check out her books, The Voodoo Hoodoo Spellbook (soon to be released in an expanded edition by Weiser Books), Voodoo Dolls in Magic & Ritual, and The Voodoo Doll Spellbook. You should also subscribe to her journal, Hoodoo & Conjure Quarterly.

Don’t forget about the Second Annual Pagan Podkin Supermoot in Salem, MA, on the weekend of Sept. 17th, 2011.  Find out more details about the event and opportunities to come meet us in person at the PPSM2 Website. [Laine respectfully asks that she not be in any photographs, due to privacy concerns—Cory will be happy to wear a wig and pretend to be Laine, however].

I’ll also be at the West KY Hoodoo Rootworker Heritage Festival (event site) teaching a course on “Biblical Magic & Sorcery.”

Promos & Music
Title music:  “Homebound,” by Jag, from Cypress Grove Blues.  From Magnatune.
Promo 1 – Conjure Doctor Magical Supplies
Promo 2 – Lakefront Pagan Voice
Promo 3 – Druidcast

6 thoughts on “Podcast 32 – Voodoo Hoodoo with Denise Alvarado”

  1. The term “Voodoo-Hoodoo” is a term almost exclusively used by outsiders to the practice. There is no such proper thing as “Voodoo-Hoodoo” or even “Hoodoo-Voodoo”. You may wish to avoid using that term in the future.

    Also, I must strongly disagree with Densie Alvarado. You cannot seperate Christianity from Hoodoo anymore than you can seperate the Goddess from Wicca. Sorry, but there is this notion that Hoodoo is “just” a magical practice. It’s not. It’s a magical practice that exists within a Christian framework. Sorry, but if anybody is claiming to practice Hoodoo but who is not a Christian and doesn’t work with the Bible or call upon Jesus & God, then you aren’t doing Hoodoo. Instead, you are doing “Hoodoo-esque” magic or “Faux Hoodoo”.

    1. Hello Demoniacal,

      Thank you for your comment. While I definitely disagree with you on your points, I’m glad you’ve brought up this perspective as it’s one I’ve come across a few times. Without getting too heavily enmeshed in the debate around Christian vs. non-Christian hoodoo, I would like to point out that most historical examples of hoodoo do not connect it particularly to religion. In slave narratives by Frederick Douglass, William Wells Brown, and Harriet Jacobs, the presence of conjure occurs without religious context or explicitly in opposition to religion (as in Jacobs’ narratives). P.B. Randolph refers to it as “black magic” and drew explicit ties to African tribal religion instead of Christianity. Hurston (admittedly not exactly the most detail-oriented hoodoo scholar, but still one of the keystone sources for hoodoo lore) also provides several non-religious examples of hoodoo or similar practices in her works.

      I am definitely a proponent of knowing hoodoo history if you want to practice it, and so I don’t think anyone can divorce Christianity’s influence on hoodoo from its historical narrative, but that does not mean that it belongs exclusively in a Christian context. In fact, many of the rootworkers and conjure folk we’ve spoken to have been non-Christian (including Cat Yronwode, Stephanie Palm, and Jack Montgomery–the latter of whom learned rootwork from Sheriff McTeer in Beaufort, SC). I’ve met plenty of marvelous rootworkers from multiple spiritual backgrounds, and it doesn’t seem to impact their ability to do the work at all.

      Again, with all that being said, I agree that Christianity has at least some place within the historical hoodoo tradition.

      As to your point about Ms. Alvarado, her use of Voodoo-Hoodoo as a descriptor fits within her specific practices. If you don’t like using it, please don’t. I don’t describe what I do that way, but I don’t mind others who do. Wrangling over terminology seems to be a waste of time to me, but some folks do get hung up on it. I’d rather be doing the work than worrying about what to call it, but that’s just me.

      At any rate, thank you for edifying me about your perspective and for your well-intentioned guidance on vocabulary. I appreciate the opportunity for educated debate.

      Thank you,

  2. Just an FYI: Cat Yronwode makes it very clear that the the overwhelming majority of Hoodoo practitioners are indeed Christian, mores specifically Baptist. I believe in her book she even wrote that all of the old workers she knew were Christian.

    The Christianity of Hoodoo is not “shove it down your throat”, but rather represents “folk relgiion”, just like it involves “folk magic”

    I stand by my former comment. Hoodoo, more commonly referred to as Conjure, is intrinsically linked to the Christian religion.

    1. Hi Demoniacal,

      I definitely agree with you about Cat’s perspective on hoodoo and Christianity, and also that Christian hoodoo presents an open-minded approach to the religious side of magical practice instead of force-feeding dogma to anyone. And I understand you sticking by your guns on the argument, and I very much respect that.

      I will also say that while I have immense respect for Cat Yronwode, though, she is not a final voice of authority on hoodoo (I’m not saying I am…far from it…I’m still trying to learn and have a long way to go). Based on the evidence presented in the above cited authors and accounts, I am led to think that religion is only tangential to the practice of hoodoo or conjure (which I do see as distinct flavors of the practice). That does not seem to be the case in a practice like Pow-wow, which twines Christian elements into almost all of the magic. In hoodoo, however, there are so many examples of practitioners doing work that has absolutely no religious connotation that I think the burden of proof to link Christianity and hoodoo under the same explicit yoke must lie with those who wish to see them so bound. Where, for example, is religion in Douglass’ account of the root which prevents his beating? Elsewhere he does make a case for religious conviction in a number of circumstances, but in that particular episode all mention of Christianity is absent. In Hyatt’s books, he lists many spells which are simply matters of practical operation, such as the following:

      Vol.2, pp.1638-9


      THE PEOPLE IN THAT HOME WILL FUSS AND FIGHT. (from the HyattSpells Yahoo! Group)

      Again, there is no explicit mention of anything religious, but rather a set of practical ingredients used to practical ends. There are plenty of good examples of hoodoo spells in those books which *do* use Christian prayers, psalms, etc., of course, but then most of the informants in those books are Christians, so that is hardly unusual.

      In the end, I reiterate that I generally agree that *most* historical and current rootworkers/conjurers/etc. have been or are Judeo-Christian, religiously speaking. Likewise *most* practitioners have been African American. But most is not all, and a tendency is not a rule. Just as there are white practitioners, there are non-Christian ones (or ones without a professed dogma of any kind). And anyone who tries to portray hoodoo as something which is historically divorced from Christianity or African American culture is probably selling something, yes, but as Cat said in our interview, she remembers one man (a Muslim, I believe) who sold “all the popular gods” through a spiritual supply company, so there seems to be room for a lot of faiths within hoodoo’s tent.

      Thank you again for a good discussion, and I wish you all the best,

  3. Cory,

    I think you may have misunderstood me. This is why I stressed “folk religion” in my previous reply because it’s not the form of Christianity that is “shove it down your throat”. It’s folk-religion, the type of people who may not even go to church but embrace Christianity and still maintain a faith in the Christian God but deviating greatly from formal religious teaching.

    The only reason I brought it up is because there are indeed people out there who are taking conjure, twisting it and then passing it off as the real deal. Mamma Starr has said a lot about this on her sites and on her show. She even turned away one student who wanted to work with Isis because Isis has nothing to do with conjure work.

    Does this mean that every single working involves the use of bringing God, Jesus, Holy Spirit, or the Saints into the picture, nope. But Christianity is the framework for which Hoodoo/Conjure developed. Take Christianity out of conjure and you no longer have authentic conjure. You can still do whatever you want and by all means people will continue to do just that.

    Also, just to throw that out there about the Muslim man, in the past the majority of people who sold occult or spiritual goods were not practitioners. There were many Jewish people for example who owned spiritual supply companies and who marketted to practitioners. This doesn’t mean that they were practitioners themselves. A more modern example would be Indio/Wisdom with the founder Marin Mayor who is not a believer or practitioner. These people were businessmen who were in it for the money. Going further most shops in the past that were owned by non-practtioners tended to hire at least one worker who was a worker or who knew what to prescribe for customers. The book Spiritual Merchants by Carolyn Morrow Long delves further into those not-so-pleasnat business practices. I could go further and write about how these non-practicing owners introduced non-Christian elements such as Buddha or Hindu statues, but these were not actually done for worship means but were sold for their exoticism. That’s a whole different topic though.

    So to end, my criticism is not really directed at you but rather the people that want to change conjure work. For exmaple there was a woman online who is telling Wiccans to substitute “God the Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit” with “Maiden, Mother, and Crone”, and then passig it off as genuine conjure. Not so. It’s still magic and is hoodoo-esque but not actual hoodoo/conjure.

    So keep the good podcasts coming. 🙂

    1. Hi Demoniacal,

      Ah, okay, I think you’re right…I may have misunderstood what you were saying. I do agree with you that if someone changes a traditional methodology or ingredient in a hoodoo formula without being explicit that they are doing so then we have a problem, especially since many of these traditions don’t get particularly well recorded or protected. I think we still come down on opposite sides of the “taking Christianity out of conjure” discussion–the evidence I see still indicates to me that Christianity is the graft onto a practice which is essentially non-religious and animistic, but that it is a vital part of hoodoo’s development in America over time. It’s not that it can’t be taken out of conjure, it’s that doing so can be disrespectful if not handled carefully.

      Morrow Long’s book is an excellent example of the development of mercantile hoodoo over the course of a couple of centuries, and certainly gives a good overview of the type of hoodoo Cat Yronwode teaches and sells. That is, of course, not the same type of hoodoo practiced everywhere (the variety taught in the Low Country has distinctly different emphases, for example, and you wouldn’t have found Chinese wash in any Southern rootworker’s cabinet prior to the development of California or mercantile conjure), and there are some who would deride folks like Cat or myself for even talking about hoodoo because they see it as a distinctly African tradition which white people corrupted by exploiting it with merchandising (Dr. Katrina Hazzard-Donald’s “old black belt” hoodoo is a prime example of this). In those cases, the religious elements of hoodoo are different–e.g. Christianity isn’t absent from Gullah history, but the psalms aren’t recited from the Bible as many people know it. Rather, there’s a distinct “folk bible” format which incorporates evolving language, songs, proverbs, and stories (Harold Courlander has a good compendium of folklore which looks at this, among other books).

      The example of the man selling the popular gods was less focused on him and more on the fact that those buying magical or spiritual supplies from him wanted non-Christian deities to work with. Even Cat sells a variety of Hindu candles and oils as well as East Asian supplies without making a solid distinction between those and her other more ‘traditional’ supplies, so my take on that is that religious flexibility *does* exist, if one knows what one is doing.

      Of course, all of that being said, I do agree with you that there are a lot of folks who will just change conjure practices willy-nilly to suit their whims, and then call their new mish-mash ‘traditional’ hoodoo, and that is aggravating. A person making a mojo bag who decides that a polished piece of amethyst is an appropriate addition, for example, is mixing two different things…it’s not that it won’t work, it’s that it is not solely a hoodoo working anymore. I recently had an email from someone on a topic like this who was questioning why they couldn’t just incorporate their European heritage through Wicca and their Southern heritage through hoodoo. My response was essentially that if a person cast a circle with an athame, called the quarters, cleansed everything with salt water, drew down the moon, and raised a cone of power and then called it a Sioux Sun Dance, they would be at best misguided and at worse culturally appropriating (not to mention they would probably offend some Native Americans in the process). So really, on the issue of preservation of tradition and knowing ‘how it was done,’ I think we probably are more or less in accord. Is that your take-away as well?

      This has been a really stimulating line of discussion, and I’m really enjoying it! Thank you so much for bringing all this up…it’s really challenging me to think and making me go back to the books to ponder things. Well done!

      And thanks on the podcasts, we appreciate that, too! All the best to you!

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