I am often telling my students that if they are really interested in the Feri tradition, then they need to expand their magical studies to include hoodoo. When I first came to Feri it was often described by initiates as being a “Left Hand Path”. I understand this to mean that it is a path that is primarily concerned with one’s material existence. Practitioners of this particular strain of magical work routinely perform magic in order to improve one’s “mundane” life in a practical way, such as working for increasing one’s wealth, health, love life, etc. To this we can add the obviously more disturbing (and popular) connotation of the LHP designation: it being a path of necromancy, and demonology, as well as of manipulation –such as controlling and compelling—binding, and even the more sinister art of hexes, jinxes, and curses. A “Right Hand Path”, comparatively, is one that focuses exclusively on the spiritual development/evolution of the practitioner, and usually shies away from magics concerned with the material, which it views as a distraction or even a detriment to one’s “higher” spiritual nature.
My personal experience has taught me that neither path is opposed to the other. Instead of having to choose one over the other it is perfectly possible (and I would argue, even more desirable) to practice both together in order to deepen one’s spiritual practice. Practical concerns are no less important or “spiritual” than any other, even of those other concerns are wholly of divine service. That one can scarcely enjoy the privilege of a spiritual practice were it not for the money necessary for food and shelter should be argument enough for those who would otherwise insist on demonizing money in a way most befitting their inevitably Christian upbringing. Were that not reason enough to advocate the use of spells there is another: the repeated use of spells and magic will increase your spiritual power and bring you closer to your own divinity. Where an extreme devotion to the Right Hand path can at times align one’s life so that mundane concerns seem to be taken care of, devotion to the Left likewise brings you into a more balanced space between them. Like Thomas the Rhymer of the old faery lore we find ourselves where many roads meet: From that which leads from the world of men we see the road that leads to Heaven and the road that leads to Hell… and the road that leads to Faery, fittingly, in between them.
While much of what has been published and publicly talked about the Feri tradition over the past decade has been centered around its movement toward the right (which I believe has been a necessary evolution of Feri tradition work and practice) one would be remiss to ignore the more practical side to our tradition. And if for no other reason than simply holism, one would be remiss not to include hoodoo along with their other magical studies.
But a well-rounded magical education is only one of the reasons that a Feri practitioner might be advised to study hoodoo. In fact it is a significant part of our magical and spiritual heritage.
While it is generally understood that our tradition has many roots, extending back into many different cultures, some of them tend to get forgotten when the histories are retold. While much emphasis has been placed on certain European and Celtic influences of our tradition (much of which centers around the Welsh/Irish/Scots stories and their customs and beliefs surrounding the faery beings and races) our spiritual and magical lineage follows a split and parallel path. The late Victor Anderson (1917-2001) often taught that the origins of Feri go back to Africa and from there branched out into various cultures and traditions worldwide. While both of these paths originate from Africa and culminate in the United States (one directly to North America, and another indirectly via Irish immigrants) it is where these two paths reunite that is of particular interest to us here. In the hotbed of oppression that was the American south during times of the slave trade, African slaves, Native American peoples, and Irish immigrants found themselves thrust together, each practicing their own cultural style of folk magic to ease their suffering and maintain a relationship with the “supernatural”. What emerged from this cultural sharing was a unique and powerful form of syncretic magic that in the early 19th century came to be known as ‘conjure’ or ‘hoodoo’.
It should not surprise us that the Celtic folk customs and beliefs surrounding the magical use of herbs and charms were and remain to be remarkably similar to their African counterparts. After all, many of these practices originated in Africa, as that continent is known to be the cradle of civilization. From this cultural origin point a journey began that spanned the globe, leading through Europe and beyond, informing the spiritual traditions of Ireland, Wales, and Scotland, to name a few, this last a major area of interest for Feri as it is often taught that the tradition comes to us via the low lands of Scotland. From there it immigrated to the United States where it eventually travelled through the south and to the west coast. Victor claimed that he was initiated as a child by a “small dark woman” from the Congo. Later he worked with the Harpy coven in southern Oregon who practiced a syncretic form of witchcraft that involved devotional practices and altered states of awareness. It is from the convergence of these streams of lore and power that our tradition comes to us, authentic and very much alive.
As if this weren’t enough reason to familiarize oneself with hoodoo as a practice, there is one more reason that I stress the importance of the practice to my Feri students: it works.
Witchcraft as a magical practice has long been about getting results. Whether the goal is to put food on the table or to achieve a higher level of consciousness, witchcraft offers some time honored and effective means to obtain ones’ desires. While some neo-pagan practitioners might be put off by the Christian overtones that often surround hoodoo, it is entirely possible to have a full and rich hoodoo practice without so much as cracking open a Bible. (With this in mind, however, I am reminded that Victor himself thought that more Pagans should study the Bible in order to learn more about their own magic.) Hoodoo itself is not a religion, but can draw upon the spiritual currents of the various religious or spiritual practices of its practitioners to the end of charging the magic with power. Hoodoo draws just as easily from the spiritual currents of Christianity for a follower of Christ, as it does for followers of Voodoo, Judiasm, or witchcraft. The spiritual connection is the required component for the conjurer to be able to cast a spell or “work a trick”, but a specific religion (or even religion itself) is not required.
Modern witchcraft (even outside of Feri) owes much to the development and practices of hoodoo, though much of it is often ignored or miscatagorized. For example, the common practice of dressing and burning candles of various colors for magical purposes is directly from hoodoo, having entered into the magical toolkit of European practitioners only after the cultural syncretism that took place in the American south.
So… we can see that hoodoo played a role in the development of Feri craft and that it offers some unique practices and lore to which we are heir. Where do we go from here? What follows is a brief list of specific areas in hoodoo tradition that the Feri practitioner should familiarize themselves in order to deepen their Feri practice.
1. Rootwork, Spells and Conjure. The use of roots, herbs and other natural objects in magic stems back hundreds of thousands of years. By entering into energetic communion with a particular plant spirit we can better direct those energies into our spell so as to maximize our chances of obtaining the desired result. Usually there are two major schools of thought on this. In Western Occultism it is usually thought that the power resides in the practitioner and that the herbs or objects used in a spell are mere symbolic triggers to allow us deeper access to our own magical and divine potential. In hoodoo I was taught that the power resides in the plant or object itself and that the practitioner must be someone who has the gift of bringing out the spiritual properties of the objects in question. My opinion is that there is truth in both approaches. While true that in the tradition of conjure it is usually taught that the practitioner must be born with the gift, it is my experience that it is possible for this gift to be bestowed later in life, or learned by way of another magical or energetic practice such as ritual magic, shamanism, Chi Gong, or even Reiki. The practitioner, skilled at the cultivation and direction of life-force in its many forms, may then use this skill to enter into spiritual communion with the herbs, roots, or objects in question, and thus be able to direct their power in the ways necessary to bring the magic spell to fruition.
2. Necromancy, or working with spirits. Hoodoo has a long and rich tradition of working with the spirits of the dead in order to cause change in the world of the living. Reverence for ones ancestors plays a central role in both Celtic and African cultural and magic. Both cultures developed an extensive technology for consulting the dead and obtaining their assistance to both bless and to curse alike.
3. Crossroads magic and the power of liminal spaces. In hoodoo much is written about the infamous crossroads rite, in addition to stressing the importance of these places as being prime locations for prayer and magical work. In addition to the crossroads, other spaces of liminality (where two worlds meet and intersect) include seashores, bridges, and graveyards, as well as certain times, such as dawn, dusk, and true midnight.
4. Sex magic. Both Feri and hoodoo recognize the primal power of sex and its use in magic. Where hoodoo teaches how to increase and harness one’s sexual power or “nature”, Feri explores how to better direct that power, as both communion and celebration of the divine presence within corporeal pleasure.
5. Divination. Cards, stones, candles, bones… in witchcraft as well as conjure the art of reading signs, omens, and symbols is an integral part of magical practice. In most cases readings are done prior to any magical working to ensure the best course of action. While individual disciplines offer much in the ways of preparing a student for their particular method of divinatory skill, hoodoo, being open to any and all forms divination and psychicism offers some unique perspectives on the process. Everything is read in hoodoo; cards, tea leaves, the drippings of a candle… conjurework, like witchcraft, encourages the cultivation of a “magical awareness”, a state of mind in which the current of events, energies, and possibilities can be partially glimpsed so as to better inform the individual.
6. Attitude (Binding, Reversing, Hexing, Jinxing, and Cursing). Both hoodoo and Feri tend toward the amoral, leaving the development of personal ethics to the persons involved. That said, both make no qualms about doing whatever is necessary for self defense. Sometimes your best defense is a good offense, and you may need to kick some ass in order to protect you and yours. Whatever your personal take on the practice, the art of cursing is something that every witch and warlock should be familiar, if for nothing else than to be prepared in the event we find ourselves on the receiving end of one. The simple and straightforward approach to hexing found in hoodoo is amongst the most potent and reliable if put into practice.
Whether for academic curiosity, cultural exploration, or personal development, I hope this brief examination may serve as a means to inspire others to seek out the rich, beautiful, and potent magical practices espoused in hoodoo and the traditions of conjure and be able to draw further inspiration from the supportive resonances these seemingly different paths share. For more information about hoodoo and the practices of conjure I heartily recommend you explore the resources of Lucky Mojo http://www.luckymojo.com where you will find the writings of cat yronewode. Her correspondence course in rootwork and hoodoo magic is unparalleled and if nothing else will serve as a means to strengthen whatever sorcery work you may be practicing. For more information about Feri tradition, please visit http://www.FeriTradition.com.
©2010 Storm Faerywolf