Pantheacon in San Jose, Ca was an intense and spectacular event, and PNC-MN will have several pieces coming up about that experience.
Most timely to publish is our pilgrimage, which took place after Pantheacon, to the Lucky Mojo Curio Company. The Proprietor, Cat Yronwode, is considered one of the foremost authorities on the one truly American folk magic, HooDoo. Timely because my wife, Mistress Judy (the motivating factor for our pilgrimage), and two upcoming national guests to the Twin Cities are all practitioners of the conjuring art of HooDoo. Orion Foxwood, offering his course in Faery Seership this weekend at Eye of Horus , John Michael Greer , honored guest at the upcoming Paganicon, and Judy are all also graduates of Cat’s HooDoo Rootwork course!
Hoodoo, also known as conjure or rootwork, is a form of predominantly African-American traditional folk magic that developed from the syncretism of a number of separate cultures and magical traditions.
Located north of San Francisco about an hour, The Lucky Mojo Curio Company is a jam-packed shop of everything Hoodoo. They have a thriving mail order and internet business employing ten people, and offer spiritual rootwork services to the public, and retail sales of supplies. Judy had contacted the shop in advance, and while open 365 days a year, we were treated to a visit with Cat, and a special interview and tour of the whole facility.
Besides every conceivable incense, charm, powder, oil, candle, herbs, root, and tool for magic, altars and Cat’s collectibles are displayed on every conceivable surface!
Cat showed us the main shop workspace:
“Here is are the main source oils and here they are mixed with carrier oils. We have base mixtures (large plastic pails), for powders, bath crystals, and incense. They are all precolored, but have no herbs and no scent in them. Then we make stage two products from these. We make the additions in a large enough batch to cover say a six month supply, and grind up the herbs and mix them. Then we put that out in the barn to age, then when we need the actual product, we go get enough to make a smaller batch. As you can see we are a small company, there is no factory, this is it! Behind here in these drawers are all the pre-printed labels. “
Are your employees all apprentices?
“ Yes, everyone here has taken my course and the apprenticeship. They all know how to do everything. Greg here, “Daddy Greg”, has taken the course and does rootwork. He is also a reader. This is an old 1880’s pharmacy cabinet, and here is where we store all the over stock, all filed alphabetically. Here is orders in progress, and new internet orders. Here we have what we call’ quick picks’, anything that we can fill just picking off the shelves. “
She showed us the tiny office, where the actual internet orders, email, and phone is answered. Sandwiched between tall shelves of overstock herb mixtures, was a tiny packing and shipping area, with stacked outgoing orders.
“When people say, “ So why did it take so long to get my order? “, well you can see we are a little jammed up here, without a lot of space. We are running this company, pretty much as a non-profit. We keep the prices low, because we are mostly selling to poor people. I don’t need to make a lot of money, and the employees all make a good wage, and that is about it. To do that we can’t really go into a factory or warehouse to do this. Besides that we would lose all our heart if we did that. Everything is hand-made right here, and its all hauled back here and put in boxes to ship out. ”
Two non-profit corporations are integrated in the grounds. There is the Missionary Independent Spiritual Church of Forestville, CA. , the World’s Smallest Spiritual Church (subject of a future story).
Also filling much of the balance of Cat’s main floor level is her office containing her massive collection of ethnological items related to Hoodoo. This is the head quarters of the YRONWODE INSTITUTION FOR THE PRESERVATION AND POPULARIZATION OF INDIGENOUS ETHNOMAGICOLOGY (YIPPIE).
“ These are the more rare tea cups for reading. There is more, stored away than I can possibly display. Here is the Lucky W Amulet Archive. It started right there (indicates corner) and spread around from there. These are all lucky charms from different countries, and of different types. There is a wealth of amulets here, all these drawers are full, many yet to be categorized. If it is lucky, and if it is from a culture it is here in these drawers. Some of these are things we sell, others not. I also collect fortune-telling statuary. Here is a piece from the nineteenth century that shows the gypsy palm reader, and here is a woman doing bird fortune-telling from Italy, and here is a tea leaf reader, and here a crystal ball reader. I also collect paintings and pictures of fortune tellers. These are called package amulets, these from Mexico and Guatemala, see all the seeds have been
glued down. They are made to show the different grains that grow locally and display nature’s bounty. They are often made by people, just literally in their back yards as lucky charms, to sell. This one from Mexico shows hands with money, see how it is just raining down. These are all palmistry hands, that I collect, and here Phrenology (fortune telling) heads. All the blue stuff you see is anti-evil eye.”
“The fact that most of what I sell in the store, is a kind of artifact of who wanted what. I have been collecting magical culture material since I was twelve. I was putting images of some of it on-line and people were asking to buy it. I said, “No you can’t buy my ancient Egyptian scarab, but I can get you a copy.” So I began to sell those sort of things. People asked, “Well do you know how to make John the Conqueror oil?” , and I said, “Of Course!” so then I branched out into that.”
Cat opened up another series of large drawers and showed us more source material:
“Because the material culture of Hoodoo has been somewhat difficult for people to understand and know, I have a rather large archive of original art from the older companies that used to make and sell this stuff. This is original art for products that were sold, including beauty and hair straightener products that were made for the African-American market. Also as curios, a lot of this was pasted over in lay up. This was from “Lucky dog.” Someone found them all in a warehouse, and I got them all. The artist who made a lot of these was an artist named Charles Dawson. This is from a page on how to use sachet powders, and this image was then stuck in with added type. He did all of the labeling for the products and packaging, and he did all the ads. He drew many images of beautiful women.”
Isn’t this where you got a lot of material for your product labels?
“Yes. I’ve been a graphic designer and label collector since I was a kid. So this is YIPPIE, this is where I do my work.”
Why would Pagans connect with Hoodoo?
“If they want to be multicultural, Hoodoo is totally American. It has an African base to it and is totally mixed up with Scotch-Irish, Germanic, Jewish and Native American practices. Those Native American practices are from mostly the tribes of the SE, like the Cherokee. The Scotch-Irish were often brought over as bond servants. The Jewish component comes from mail order companies and shop owners, like “Lady Dales” or the “Clover Horn”. A lot of Jewish pharmacists sold hoodoo supplies and herbs out of the side, as part of their line. If someone asked, ”How do you do this?”, well of course a Jewish pharmacist would tell you Jewish folk remedies, so that got mixed into Hoodoo. Many people in Hoodoo come from mixed cultural back grounds, like my husband, he is part Norwegian, part Scotch-Irish, part Cherokee, part Black, and also part Choctaw. Hoodoo is kind of the magic of his family, he calls himself a mutt or a mongrel, or ‘Heinz 57’. People of a mixed back ground often find Hoodoo resonates with them because it calls to part of their cultural back ground. It is a very vital, very American form of magic. I love it, I was born Jewish, and then joined the Baptist church and now am a spiritualist. I have always felt at home in Hoodoo. I would say that since the dawn of the internet age, there is more white people practicing it, but there always were. It has never been something that was exclusively Black, although black cultural nationalists have claimed so.”
“The first Doctor Buzzard was a white man, and there are others. Even so, it is not just a question of genetic back ground, black slaves that came from Africa couldn’t bring their herbs and cures with them. Even if they could have they would not have grown here. There was a lot of interchange between not just with the slave masters, who said make me ‘this’ for my cold. Or do ‘this’ for whatever. A lot of the Scotch-Irish bond servants came over with their own magical and medical practices. Who was there to ask, what do we use for our medicines? Well of course there was the Native Americans. There is a lot of use of Cherokee magic in Hoodoo as that was the dominant tribe in the SE. Nearly everyone has some connection to Hoodoo whether they know it or not. ”
“When I first started making these things back in the sixties, it was only for either hippies, or Black Americans. As time went on I found the internet, and when I put this online, I got a lot of resistance from Pagans, They said well this is Christian folk magic. There is no question Hoodoo is Christian, it is a Judeo-Christian form of magic. There is a lot of use of psalms. That came from those Jewish merchants. There is a whole lot of use of psalms in Jewish folk magic and how to pick what psalm to say is all passed down. But those psalm books were entered into Hoodoo even in the nineteenth century. There is a kind of overlap, but the medicine came before that. The Native American magic, and the African traditions, mostly from the Congo region. Even tribes in Nigeria, the Ibo, Bantu language groups. These groups go all the way down into South Africa and Swaziland. You will find strong Hoodoo parallels into these areas. ”
“The African stuff was distributed throughout central and south Africa. Cursing through the feet comes from Africa, where as Native Americans curse through the breath or the air, and the Jews and Arabs curse through the eyes, or the’ evil eye’. How curses of jealousy are transmitted in different cultures are all different but there are those who have absorbed all of those. When you talk to Pagans they say, “What is this thing about the feet?” . They likely don’t have very much Black in their family, but when they come from a family more mixed, they will say, “Oh, ya, ya, you can’t sweep someones feet with a broom, that is bad!”, so you see they have some of that ‘foot’ culture in their back ground, but they may not even know they are part Black! Likewise, people who say, “When you go to court, you are supposed to smoke a cigarette first.” They don’t even know why. It is because of the tobacco offering, but it has come down as a family tradition. They may just retain that little thing but they are white, and they not even know they may be part Cherokee. The idea of leaving offerings, or asking your ancestors for help. Many people who are of mixed culture or race will say, “ When you go to your Grandfathers grave you are supposed to poor his favorite whiskey on the grave. Well that is African. These things are all mixed up in people. A long answer to a short question!”
Each May Lucky Mojo hosts an incredible series of workshops. This year there will be one on Sangoma African bone reading. Mvanah Maloti went to Swaziland and learned it and was initiated in it. Dr. Christos Kioni, a fabulous rootworker from Florida will be out and do a Road Opening ceremony. He is an initiate in Palo, a Cuban form of Congo folk magic and religion. More of a religious form is involved. Valentina Burton, another graduate, is going to give a course in how to establish a successful practice of reading and rootworking. Robin Peterson will give a workshop on mirror boxes. Doctor E will be giving a course in ‘How to Make and trap a spirit in a Doll-baby, Voodoo Doll, or Poppet’. He is a Hoodoo practitioner, initiate in Palo, and priest of Shango.
This pilgrimage to Lucky Mojo after Pantheacon was well worth the extra day. It is a beautiful drive, the Armstrong Redwoods are right next door, and who knows, you might find some clues to your deepest magical roots!