An Interview with Maman Lee

“Louie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” Rick, Casablanca 

More a fan of conjuration than “conjure” in my youth, it wasn’t until about ’08 and Mama Lisa that I started taking Houdoo a little more seriously. Previously, my head was too full of Charles Chestnut and Brer Rabbit. Now I realize that Chestnut was right-on and that B’Rabby is more like my own Mvskogee Rabbit than he is like Walt Disney.

This is where my highfalutin scholarly education ties my shoelaces together and then stands back and laughs from time to time.

Bertie and I have been chatting a good deal lately and she, knowing that I was late to jump on board the rootwork boat under her tutelage, has been egging me on to “study more.”

I have been.

But as much as I like books, there are some things they just can’t teach. These things require mentors. And my preference is always a well-seasoned august woman with the ability to put me in my place with a simple snap of her eyeballs.

This is why my biggest complaint about finding a mentor remains that there are a lot of silly-arsed charlatans trying to mentor folks. This is as true for Hoodoo as it is for any other tradition. That’s not to say that there are no good root doctors, but to say that the loudest and most visible are showboats without a solid foundation beneath them.[1] This is too bad, because Houdoo, I am learning, is one of the most magnificent traditions around.[2]

After letting me toss my own net and letting me come up short, like a good patron, Bertie (re)introduced me to Maman Lee, a rootworker I had met when I lived up North; she had come to the university to speak at a number of colloquia and to guest lecture in classes. Bertie hoped Maman Lee would make a suitable substitute teacher for my late friend, Mama Lisa. However, unlike Mama Lisa, I can understand every word Maman Lee says the first time around, I can reference scholarship without worrying about being misperceived as condescending (and can expect to have “intellectual-stuff” lobbed back at me without a pause), and I can make urban points of reference since Maman Lee is also from The Windy City. Unfortunately, unlike Mama Lisa, pushing a century of Louisiana bayou living with a siege engine, Maman Lee is only about four years my senior: half Mama Lisa’s age. Blech.

I asked her if when we Skype she would mind wearing age makeup since I’m more comfortable with older women. She said, “No problem. As long as when we Skype, you try to be a young black girl since I am more comfortable teaching my sisters’ children.”

This is my place and I have been put firmly in it.

The Bad Witch and Maman Lee have had a little Skype exchange about the nature of “rebound” and, with Maman Lee’s express permission, I’m about to share some of it with you. How’s that?[3]

It all started when Maman Lee asked:

ML:     What’s your favorite thing Bertie ever taught you?

TBW:  I guess the most useful thing she taught me was how to clean up and reclaim my energy. You know? Like when you cast energy out and maybe misfire a bit, you need to keep that shite from becoming a bad boomerang joke. Or when someone is blowing psychic smoke out of their arse at you; you can’t keep their flatulence from coming, but you can make it smell a bit better. Or when you’ve done someone a kindness only to be met with a knife in the back; you want your energy back, I mean, you lent it to them but, in the end, it’s your energy and you want it back. But you want it back without all of their poop on it.

ML:     Bertie taught you how to do that?

TBW:  One of the first things, sure.

ML:     How?

TBW:  Um, I’d have to check with Bertie before . . .

ML:     Naw, hon. We are going to get along just fine.

TBW:  Right. I see what you did there. Did I pass?

ML:     Ha, yes, of course. Don’t be offended. Can you tell me when and how this works if not how to do it? I just want to have a touchstone with you.

TBW:  I’ll try. Say for instance someone has a bee in their bonnet and wants to fling some sludge your way, there’s a way to put up a sort of filter. The sludge is neutralized and incorporated as best as it can be. Say, someone unduly curses your car. The curse falls on you, but it happens on the best possible day in the best possible circumstances and with the best possible outcome. Hell, if you’re real good, you could even get a new car out of the deal. Same goes for your own energy. If you cast for someone – you know, on their behalf, at their request – and they turn out to be a real pill, then you can reclaim what’s rightly yours. This is funny because it usually leaves them standing with an empty basket going, “Heeeyy? Where’s my apples?” Truth is, they were my apples and I took them back. Can this serve as a touchstone between what I’m talking about and justified Hoodoo?

. . . .

ML:     So you see, the difference between Work[4] that is justified and Work that is not is a matter of degree. It’s like you were saying, if it’s your energy, you will get it back. But whether or not it has poop on it is a matter of equality.

TBW:  So, I have seen a lot of people try to define what is justified and what is not justified when cursing or jinxing or – hey, help me with the lexicon here, what’s your preferred term?

ML:     Working.

TBW: OK, Working. But I’ve never gotten a clear cut answer on where the line lies.

ML:     That’s what I’m trying to say, there’s no black-and-white. And it’s not about intent. You can intend to harm and have it be justified. You can intend to do no harm and it would be unjustified. Didn’t you say that you didn’t think it was acceptable to cast a spell to bind someone to you, even if it was done in love or for the intent to protect?

TBW: Right. I see.

ML:     We on the same page yet?

TBW:  I think so. I mean, I’ve never been one to shy away from solid protection or reversal Magic. As a matter of fact, I’m damned good at it. But this is not exactly the same, is it?

ML:     This is not just Magic or even reversal Magic, it’s enemyWork. We aren’t talking about sending someone’s bad energy back to them three-times-over. That’s all well and good and it works like a charm as they say. But we are talking about initiating the energy based on what someone has done in the physical world. And we aren’t talking about Work done on or for nice people either. We are talking about Work done on enemies. We like to think we can all just get along, but in this big world, there are bad people. And we are obligated to ourselves and to our families to protect ourselves from bad people. And in some parts of the world, there is no justice system. And there are those of us for whom the justice system simply does not work. So we use our God-given powers to exact justice. And we know that if we are morally and ethically in the right, we can perform the Work without fear of repercussions; when the energy comes back – because it is going to come back – it won’t have poop on it because we Worked within an ethic.

TBW: Even when cursing.

ML:   Sure, even when cursing. Look, it’s like this. A woman who curses her rapist. He made the first move. He broke the first rule. And it’s not just like he hurt her feelings, that’s something she can control, right? We control our own feelings, yes? You can’t Work on someone just because they called you a bad name or because they hurt your feelings or looked at you sideways. It has to be more than that. It has to be a real infraction. Therefore, the rape victim is justified because the degree of the rapist’s infraction was as great if not greater than her revenge. In this case, I’d be hard pressed to find a revenge that exceeds the harm done by rape. Plus, if she crafts her Work properly, she will make the punishment fit the crime. She might make his penis fall off. Either literally or figuratively. If a parent were to goofer – you know “goofer,” right?

TBW:  It’s severe. Goofer dust is meant to kill, right?

ML:     Possibly. Not always. Sometimes you can cause a fate worse than death. Know what I mean?

TBW:  Right.

. . . .

ML:     So if a father were to goofer the man who murdered his child, or if a woman were to Work on the person who abuses her or her child, or if a spouse were to Work on the person their partner is fooling-around with, or if there is a stalker or a vandal or a thief, these things are justified. You see? But the trick is that the severity of the Work has to meet the risk or damage or pain caused. You can’t exceed the situation dealt by the other party. It’s really an eye for an eye in this case.

TBW:  So, the punishment has to fit the crime. Hurt feelings are no reason to justify enemyWork. Got it. And enemyWork is justified if the offending party poses an ongoing threat or if they have evaded other forms of justice.

ML:     Hey, even if a rapist or murderer goes to prison, I see enemyWork as justified.

TBW:  What about more banal stuff? I mean people do bad things that aren’t rape and murder. This is where I get hung up. The example I always use is the one where I have no problem staking a pedophile out over a metaphorical fire ant hill, but there are issues that are less extreme. What then? What if somebody owes you money or something less harmful, yet significant?

ML:     Any threat of violence. Any attempt on your livelihood. Any – got it? Anything that will hamper with your work environment or your reputation at work. Unless of course, you earned it. If you are embezzling, you can’t Work on a whistleblower. I mean, you can, but it isn’t justified. Any damage to your property or pets or children. This includes intangible damage. Say someone is trying to get you evicted or trying to ruin your ability to lease or purchase. Like I said, if you don’t pay your rent you can be evicted, so this has to be damage done to you out of meanness. If someone is trying to run you out of town just because they don’t like you or because they are afraid of you, that’s what I’m talking about. Character assassination, harassment, stalking, bullying, or repeatedly spreading lies about you. Especially if this causes harm to your work environment or home environment. This is all justified Work. Situations where someone has hampered with your personal safety, your finances in any way, your ability to earn an income or succeed in your line of employment – whether or not you earn money from it – see where I’m going with this?

TBW:  Boy-howdy. One-hundred percent.

ML:     Someone hampers with your marriage, your home, your career, your reputation, and especially your children and animals? Then you are justified in performing enemyWork so long as you don’t exceed the damage they did.

TBW:  What happens if it’s not justified? Or if you go overboard with revenge?

ML:     First, you can cross yourself. It will all backfire. Here’s a specific thing I see happen, ghosts.

TBW:  Ghosts?

ML:     Suddenly you might have specters in your house. My mother calls them “haints.” You get a sense of paranoia and see darkness everywhere, no matter how you try to overcome it. Then a run of bad luck. Real bad depending on what you did. Ha, and who you did it to. You could also get crossed just by trying to Work against somebody who is especially charmed. When the spirits have a favorite, they will take up for him or her. You go after a favorite and you better make sure it’s justified. So ghosts, then bad luck. Then, you could – I’ve seen it happen – lose all of your mojo. I’ve seen talented rootWorkers take the wrong job and Work on somebody and it turn out not to have been justified. They just didn’t do the right readings ahead of time, you know? And then? Nothing. Not a thing in the world works for them. All their magic is just gone. What we do is a gift. And it can and will be taken away if we misuse it.

TBW:  Wow. I never thought of it like that. That’s a big difference between Hoodoo and Magic or Sorcery.

ML:     Yea, Hoodoo is not about formulas or the order of the universe. . . . I’ve seen people get crossed based on Working on suspicion. Once there was a man who thought his wife had cursed him so he asked a rootWorker to get revenge for him. . . . The wife had done no such thing and so the curse hit her and him both. And the rootWorker. He didn’t check to make sure it was the wife who had cursed his client. People are often so quick to jump to conclusions about who cursed them. Really, most of the time, in my experience, it’s just bad people reaping their own bad juju.

TBW:  Bad juju. Right. Got it. So, to recap – aside from the clearly illegal stuff like theft, murder, rape, assault, and so on. It is not justified to Work against someone who simply doesn’t agree with you or someone who expresses a distaste for you. It is justified to Work against someone who undermines your reputation or lies about you or tries to run you out of town or make your business fail or make you lose income or customers or whatever. It is not justified to Work against someone who hurts your feelings, because your feelings are your control. But it is justified to Work against someone who continually harasses you or your family. And the best bet is to make the punishment fit the crime. Like if someone wants to ruin your reputation, it’s best to Work against their reputation rather than, say, their dog or their car or their whatever. . . . And it has to be kept to the same degree, right? So a size 2T infraction does not justify a size 6X enemyWork.

ML:     True. But, this is sometimes out of your hands. You can Work for something that is the same size as the initial infraction, but sometimes it gets bigger than you Worked for and this is out of your hands and not on your mojo. Sometimes the spirits get a little ticked off when they see people doing the same thing over and again and they take it into their own hands to meet justice.

TBW:  And always confirm that you are Working against the right party.[5]

ML:     Always. Double check. Triple check. Check until you are sure. . . . And do not let your personal feelings get in the way. If you are too emotionally tied to the situation, let someone else read for you.

. . . .

Maman Lee also gave me a rundown of times when justified Work requires a warning-fire of some sort. Like when someone is too goofy to realize that they’ve stepped on the wrong toes – if it’s not too big a deal. (If it’s a big enough deal, no warning is necessary.) Then we should give the dolt a heads-up that if they don’t make complete recompense by, say, two-weeks from Tuesday, then we will begin such-and-such enemyWork. She says that unfortunately if they are too hardheaded to know what they’ve done in the first place, chances are they will be too hardheaded to make recompense. But it’s in our best interest to work with this ethic.

Good advice from my new(ish) friend. Thanks M. Lee!

[1] Recently, I had an exchange with one who disallowed any comprehension that Witchcraft, Wicca, and Sorcery were all very different concepts. I made an attempt to explain but inevitably had to throw my hands up and walk away from that one. Some folks are steadfast in their refusal to be informed.

[2] And again, I don’t mean New Orleans tourist fakery, I mean genuine American Houdoo.

[3] Lots of times I agreed or expressed comprehension. I won’t transcribe those “uh-huh”s and echoes.

[4] I had gotten an email from her before and she capitalized Work. Now when I hear her say it, it’s capital W: “Work.” I kept it that way for stylistic reasons in enemyWork and rootWork. And, as indicated by ellipsis, I edited out some reinforcing conversation. Hopefully I faithfully kept all context.

[5] I kept thinking about the case of The Evil Bitch.