Hoodoo, Voodoo, and Conjure: A Handbook

Hoodoo, Voodoo, and Conjure: A Handbook

Hoodoo, Voodoo, and Conjure: A Handbook

Hoodoo, Voodoo, and Conjure: A Handbook

Synopsis

James Orchard Halliwell-Phillipps (1820–1889) was a Shakespeare scholar, archaeologist and controversialist with wide antiquarian interests. In 1842, while Librarian of Jesus College, Cambridge, he published The Jokes of the Cambridge Coffee-Houses in the Seventeenth Century, which he described as a collection of early anecdotes 'selected from various Jest Books' which 'serve to show the state of this class of literature during that period'. In this volume it is paired with a pamphlet, The Fresher's Don'ts, written by 'A Sympathiser (B. A.)', (probably A. J. Storey) and first published in the 1890s. This edition was printed in 1913 by Redin and Co. of Trinity Street (with advertisements for Redin's and other Cambridge firms' goods and services at the beginning and the end). This light-hearted guide to student etiquette before the cataclysm of the First World War gives insights into a way of life which was about to vanish forever.

Excerpt

References to hoodoo, Voodoo, and conjure seem to be everywhere these days. They appear in works by prominent authors, including some by Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, and Ishmael Reed—to name but the most prominent. Articles on the doings of Voodoo practitioners are common in newspapers and magazines. Marie Laveau, the “Voodoo Queen of New Orleans,” has become a celebrated figure in scholarly circles. Three different Laveau biographies have hit the shelves in recent years. Several movies, most notably The Skeleton Key, have introduced African American magic to an even broader audience. One prominent hoodoo practitioner, Catherine Yronwode, now offers an e-mail- or paperbased correspondence course for aspiring practitioners through her business, the Lucky Mojo Curio Company (Pryse and Hortense).

The only problem with all the attention hoodoo and related practices have garnered from the media is that the average American does not have much context in which to situate references to African American magic. It is doubtful that most could give straightforward definitions of hoodoo, Voodoo, or conjure or explain why hoodoo and Voodoo are not quite synonymous. Even less expected is that more than a handful could properly situate these systems of belief within African American history, folklore, and everyday life.

Just as important to Americans’ cloudy ideas of hoodoo, conjure, and Voodoo are the stereotypes that surround supernaturalism. Magic, especially the variety introduced into America by Africans, has long been associated with superstition, ignorance, or downright devil worship. These stereotypes have been present since the days when New Englanders were hanging witches, as evidenced by the fact that at least one of the accused was a believer in and possible practitioner of Voodoo. True, the number of executions of accused magic workers has significantly declined over the centuries, but African American believers and practitioners still . . .

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