Q&A Part II – Voodoo and Hoodoo

To pick up where I left off with The Road Less Traveled’s set of intricate questions, I will actually end up mirroring the methodology of the post which I submitted yesterday. I love writing about this kind of stuff and my noodle is brimming with commentary about the more intellectual aspects of Paganism, so this is all perfectly timed. Plus, taking many pages of commentary and boiling them down to three or so pages forces me to concentrate on the real crux of the issue. I just hope y’all enjoy eavesdropping on my answers to TRLT as much as I enjoy composing them. I think I’ve exhausted the portion that asks, “What is the main difference between” Witchcraft(s). Here I will look at the variation among Voodoo(s) so that I can also address Hoodoo later in this post. Sorcery will have to wait.

Just as across Europe there are sets of non-homogenous “versions” of Witchcraft, some falling under neoPagan Gardnerian paradigms, some not, there are many, many ATR-based[1] (African Traditional Religions) religions. Voodoo itself, like Witchcraft, is not a uniform system. In several countries Voodoo is practiced with varying traditions, purposes, and structures.

Bear in mind that my information regarding Voodoo and all other ATR-based religions is derived from a scholarly perspective only; I am an outsider of these traditions.

We are most familiar with Haitian Voodoo,[2] which is likely the most visible of the Voodoo traditions. Since the decline of Duvalierism, Voodoo has been instituted as a national religion with official status. This makes a big difference when you compare it to South American Voodoo. (Yes, I mean South American Voodoo – not Santeria. I’ll get to Santeria in a minute.) Consider the freedoms granted in a religion that is sanctioned by the government versus one that must operate in clandestine modes. In Venezuela, for instance, the accepted religion is Catholicism, however, folks practice Voodoo as a regular course. We are familiar with the syncretic correspondences made between Catholic saints and Voodoo loa (and Santarian orisha) and understand that this arose out of the need to veil the practices from the eyes of officials. In Venezuela, as I understand it, Voodoo practices are not outlawed, yet citizens “identify” themselves as Catholic. So it seems to me that Voodoo could be envisioned as either a systematic religion in toto (as in Haiti) or a limited practice with a syncretic relationship to Catholicism (as in Venezuela, Cuba, and other locales). Both must be, in my opinion, deemed valid; however we should be cautious to identify what we mean when we refer to “Voodoo” since there is such variance across cultures.

I know you didn’t ask this part, but I’d like to offer the information since I have it on hand. There are many other ATR-based religions that are alive and well in the 20th Century. Across the Caribbean and into South America, there are as many variations that stem back to African religions as there are Witchcraft traditions (as there are Christian denominations, for that matter). Just to name a few, consider Umbanda of Brazil, Candomble of Uruguay, and Cuban Santeria.

At this point, I’d like to jump ahead to one of your latter questions that I will answer in full later. You asked if a non-black could practice Voodoo. Based on what I’ve just said, the answer *must* be “yes.” Of course, one cannot be a Haitian Voodooist (or Voodooisant) unless one is, in fact, Haitian. (I’ll discuss New Orleans Haitian Voodoo soon.) The connection between the people of Haiti, its historical politics, its government and local officials, and its religion is strong.[3] Nonetheless, given the variety of Voodoo sects, we have to acknowledge that not all of their adherents are the same race.

Hoodoo, the way I have come to understand it, is not a religion per se. As a matter of fact, most hoodoos are Christian and regularly incorporate Biblical passages into Workings. Rather, hoodoo is a set of practices based on folk magics from many cultures. These cultures include: multiple ATRs, multiple Southeastern NATP (Native American Tribal Practices) – especially Cherokee –and (believe it or not) white European traditions like those brought over with the Pennsylvania Dutch hexmeisters, Scots-Irish herbalists and midwives, and Germanic occult practices. If you want more information, I recommend Hoodoo in Theory and Practice: An Introduction to African-American Rootwork by Catherine Yronwode,[4] the most recognized author in American Hoodoo. Part of her work explains:

Hoodoo consists of a large body of African folkloric practices and beliefs with a considerable admixture of American Indian botanical knowledge and European folklore. Although most of its adherents are black, contrary to popular opinion, it has always been practiced by both whites and blacks in America. (“Hoodoo, Conjure, and Rootwork: Definition of Terms”)

This makes sense the more I learn. For instance, The Bad Witch loves etymology. The origin of a word can tell you everything you need to know about a concept; or it can point you away from long-held misunderstandings about a concept. The etymology of hoodoo surprised me. Of course, hoodoo can be used as a verb, a noun referring to the practice, a noun referring to the practitioner, or an adjective. But while most dictionaries link hoodoo to voodoo, I found that the word hoodoo enters the American language in 1875, just before conjure comes to be used as a synonym for hoodoo in 1889.[5] So a connection between hoodoo and voodoo doesn’t make any sense, and is likely why the connection is disregarded by linguistic researchers. For example, Daniel Cassidy, author of How the Irish Invented Slang: The Secret Language of the Crossroads (CounterPunch Books and AK Press. July 2007), hoodoo is actually connected more clearly to the Gaelic, Uath Dubh, which is pronounced hoo doo.[6] So, it sounds to me that hoodoo is intended for anyone at all – but seems to have originated in Appalachia.[7] Hoodoo is also directly connected with and alternately referred to as “conjuration.” To conjure is both to summon and to influence. In the form of influencing, this is nothing more than basic Witchcraft. In the form of summoning, this is a little more like Sorcery. In my next post, I’ll talk about the difference between Goetia and Theurgy. This will, I hope, flesh in issues of Hoodoo conjure.

Also, as I understand it, hoodoo is non-hierarchical and non-initiatory. Whereas Haitian Voodoo adheres to a strict code of initiation, “couche,” and formal training (again, see Filan for the politics of the situation), hoodoo does not. This is likely where Louisiana or New Orleans Voodoo comes in. NOLA Voodoo is formally initiatory and prospective hoguns and mambos are expected to go to Haiti or Africa for initiation. I met one man in NOLA who claimed to be an authentically initiated Voodoo hogun; he was white. So it seems that whites can, in fact be Haitian initiated Voodooists. But, I have also heard that there are scammers in NOLA who claim to be trained or initiated in Africa, but are not. And I have heard that there are scammers in Africa who charge exorbitant amounts to conduct initiations for Americans, initiations that are not officially recognized by native practitioners. The lineage of white Voodoo “leaders” is often suspect – whether this suspicion is founded or not.

Most of the scholarship I look at argues that because Voodoo was a way for African-Americans to have a measure of influence over whites, they would have never conferred legitimate power on someone without any African lineage. But, this contradicts what I know: Mambo Sallie Ann Glassman is Jewish/Ukrainian, right? And only three (?) of the Mambos on the Haunted New Orleans “top ten” list (however valid that is) are black.

I am, admittedly befuddled on this subject. And we can’t really take anecdotal evidence here, considering the possibility of scams, now can we? Can anyone offer clarification?

To address your question of the origins of power, my understanding is that hoodoo attributes magical acts to personal power and to the natural properties of herbs, roots, minerals, etc.[8] As for a pantheon? Because hoodoos tend to be Christian and not Pagan, I would imagine that Jehovah is a viable supreme God; but because hoodoo is not a religion, but a practice, it seems to me that you should be able to Work within any religion that did not contradict hoodoo. There is also at least one commonly recognized African deity; known as Legba (aka Nbumba, Nzila, Ellegua, and Eshu), he is the “dark man” one can meet at the crossroads. As the keeper of the gate between life and death, a trickster, he seems to be more like the Pagan Devil than Biblical Satan. Where hoodoo connects the idea of “sin” and “evil” is beyond me at the moment. I do get the impression that death and hell are not nearly as terrifying as they are in many other Christian systems. And it also seems to me that it is not necessary to be a Christian to practice hoodoo.

The same goes for sorcery – which I’ll address tomorrow!

Thanks for hanging in there!


[1] And when I say “ATR-based,” it is with the realization that “Voudon” is historically (whether accurately or not, I haven’t checked the sources) to Nigeria and Dahomey. Yorùbá comes from, well, Yoruba. Both of these are the more recognized stem-religions from which most ATR-based traditions, like Palo, Congo, and Bantu, branch.

[2] And if you are not, there are two films I recommend: The Divine Horseman: The Living Gods of Haiti, based on Maya Deren’s work between 1947 and 1954 – so long as you promise to take it in a historical context – and Buying the Spirit, by Journeyman Pictures (2003).

[3] If you are interested in this topic, I *highly* recommend The Haitian Vodou Handbook: Protocols for Riding with the Lwa by Kenaz Filan (Destiny Books, 2006).

[4] I have been instructed to read it in its entirety by Maman Lee. It’s truly fascinating. Yronwode explains the admixtures of of not only ATR, NATP, and European occult practices as mentioned above, but she also discusses Middle-Eastern (Kabbalist and Judeo-Christian) and Eastern (Hindu and Taoist/Buddhist) influences on Hoodoo. Some really cool and well-documented stuff.

[5] Oxford English Dictionary. “Hoodoo,” n and adj , 1; “Conjure,” n, 3.

[6] Uath Dubh means:

Dark specter, evil phantom, a malevolent thing; horror, dread; a dark, spiky, evil-looking thing. Uath, (pron. voo) n., a form or shape; a spectre or phantom; dread, terror, hate. . . . Dubh, (pron. doo), adj., dark; black; malevolent, evil; wicked; angry, sinister; gloomy, melancholy; strange, unknown. (O’Donaill, Niall and Patrick Stephen Dinneen. Focloir Gaeilge-Bearla/Irish-English Dictionary. de Bhaldraithe, Tomás. English-Irish Dictionary. Dwelly, Edward. Faclair Gàidhlig gu Beurla le Dealbhan/The Illustrated [Scottish] Gaelic- English Dictionary)

[7] By the way, there is a newfound interest in a thing referred to as “Granny Magic.” I was very keen on the concept, but the more I read the more I think it is misrepresented. Maybe I’ll tackle that later. Maybe in answer to the new question you posed!

[8] This doesn’t contradict my earlier statement that I believe power comes from the Creator. In panetheistic views, the Creator is always already immanent in all of Creation. So, cool.

Q&A With The Road Less Traveled: Part I

This one is for The Road Less Traveled who posed some questions after my “Interview With Maman Lee.” I’m going to have to break this down a bit since no one really wants to read an article length blog post! Plus, I rekon having this in my scholarly voice instead of the Badness you’ve all grown to know and love, will make the ride a little different road.

Let me take a minute up front to thank you for the intricately detailed and elegant set of questions you’ve posed for me. I have been modestly berating myself for working more on “fun” projects then getting to the framework of my research (I have over 27,000 words of the “innards” but none of the (sometimes tedious to develop) super-structure. Thanks to your prod in the right direction, I have churned out these posts and about 30 more pages of a much-needed exoskeleton, thereby freeing me up to dedicate the weekend to research. Being encouraged by this headway has renewed my attentiveness to the project. So, thanks.

Bear in mind that I am not Haitian, nor am I descended from Haitians; I am not a Voodooist (initiated or otherwise). I make no claims to proficiency, expertise, or secret knowledge. But I will do my best to make a response based in logic and research. Also bear in mind that in our fields there are varying opinions, to say the least. The only reason I venture to address these topics is because I was asked to, not because I feel a need to create some sort of standardization among those opinions. What follows is simply my scholarly “take” on the questions at hand.

For instance, some folks lump Witchcraft and Wicca together and have good reasons for doing so. Ethan Doyle White, for one, argues that because of “common use,” we should not differentiate between initiates of Traditional Wicca and eclectic practitioners who refer to their practices as “Wiccan” (“The Meaning of “Wicca”: A Study in Etymology, History and Pagan Politics”. The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies 12 (2): Feb. 2011, 185–207). I happen to disagree. This does not diminish White’s claims or his argument. It simply means that, as a scholar, I can accept his argument as valuable while still holding to my own rationale.

Like my daddy says, “Just ‘cuz them beans give me gas don’t mean no one should eat’em.”

OK, maybe it’s not just like that but still.

This segues well into the first set of questions.

The first half of the first question TRLT asks is:

What exactly is the main difference between European Witchcraft, sorcery, and Hoodoo? Aren’t they all different forms of magic? Is there difference simply the way people who practice these different systems do things?

This is laden with many questions so let me parse them out as best I can. (I’ll address the second half of that question and questions 2-3 as we go along this week. Maybe even ending on a PBP post – what is it this week? Still R?)

As for the difference between European Witchcraft, Sorcery, and Hoodoo, there is a basic difference in cultural development. First, I must address the multifold differences in European Witchcraft alone. Not only are there differences in folk-ways across the continent, there is a distinct difference between folk magics and Wiccan-based crafts. European Witchcraft is not a homogenous model. In itself, the multifaceted set of traditions contains a number of divergent cultures. Both Norway and Italy are in Europe, yet the Vǫlur’s practice of seiðr, in the form or galdr and other shamanic practices is very different from the folk magics of, say, Sardinia. Further, today’s vala and gyda will have very different practices (based on access, technology, laws, and cultural necessity) than their ancient ancestors. What’s more, practices in Italy itself can vary greatly from the mainland to the islands.

As for the variances of traditions based on Wicca, consider Stregheria (Italy). While I have not studied Grimassi’s tradition[1] (1970s) in detail, I know that it is founded on Gardnarian paradigms. Though  Leo Martello was the first recognized author to claim an Italian “family tradition” of Witchcraft (Witchcraft: The Old Religion. 1970), Grimassi popularized the “Aradian Tradition,” inspired by English author, Charles Leland’s,  Aradia, Gospel of the Witches (1899), a literary translation of Italian folklore combined with Leland’s characteristic narrative style. Here, Leland blends Roman mythoi with Middle-Eastern apologues to create a foundation for Mediterranean system – which was then adopted as a Celtic underpinning.

Likewise Buckland’s reimagination of Pictish Craft.[2] Because we have little or nothing left of the insulated Pictish people, subjects of cultural absorption and genocide and without an extensive written culture, we have no way of authenticating the recovery of their craft. However, I am of the mind that there is no historical evidence to believe that PectiWita and Gardnerian Wicca (considering the relentless Roman invasions and ensuing cultural changes) would have anything in common at all.

The opinion one has about “European Witchcraft,” it seems to me, hinges upon one’s opinion of Gardnerian British Traditional Witchcraft and the ensuing conglomeration of neo-Pagan Reconstruction movements. Those who agree that Gardnerian Wicca, and those that emulated it, are derived from uninterrupted (or even authentically recovered) customs, methods, and mythologies reaching back to antiquity will be of a mind that is very different from the opinion of those who believe that Gardner borrowed  heavily from Crowley and The Golden Dawn to recreate a manufactured tradition (perhaps driven by his desire to have extramarital sex). Of course, I don’t want to represent a falsehood here – there are opinions in between.[3]

Like mine.

I’ve mentioned a few in these posts: (“It Must Be. . .Wikipedia,” “ Dead Horses . . .,” and “Wannabethans” – likely others as well).

And then again, there is a sizable difference between Wicca as an initiatory system and Wicca as an eclectic set of practices. Initiatory Wicca, limited to a select number of vetted lineages, is not even the same as Wicca which does not have its foundation in one of these lines. Also see here.

It’s a lot like apostolic succession for the Papacy.

Of course, we should recognize solitaries and eclectics who choose to refer to their practice as “Wiccan” as legitimate. Some do not. It’s a matter of personal politics. The Bad Witch doesn’t have a dog in that fight.

Of course, there’s the possibility that there is a tradition surviving in Europe that has nothing to do with mainstream “Traditional Witchcraft.” If they exist aside from Teutonic Shamanism, I don’t know anything about them and cannot give you any information.

Being The Bad Gydia, I can tell you that the rituals of seiðr have little or nothing in common with Wicca when it comes to ritual. What is common among them is repetition (of musical chanting of a sort and drumming) to achieve the states of altered consciousness wherein Magic is performed. Other than that, most of the things practiced in contemporary Heathenism are derived from Wicca in effort to be “friendly,” not because they are authentic to Germanic practices.

My opinions regarding these concessions is beside the point.

So to answer whether the “difference [is] simply [in] the way people who practice these different systems do things,” I would say, “yes” and “no.”

The way things are done is certainly different; but nothing I would call simple. The way things are done speaks not just to a practical difference, but to a difference in philosophy.

For instance, in Wicca (and Western European Sorcery) the wand and the athame are decidedly phallic. In many Western Esoteric traditions, the phallus is venerated as the source of creative power.[4] The “wand-carrier” or völva is, by definition, a woman. As a matter of fact, it was expressly forbidden for Norsemen to “assume” female magical powers. This is not to say that they could not practice magic at all, which eventually became the case after the influx of Christianity (it’s very complicated), but that men were forbidden to perform magic. For this reason, I have to believe that the “imagination” of the “source of power for their workings” is different.

In my panentheistic belief system, all power comes from “God” or “The Almighty” or “The Creator” or whatever one calls the supreme and eternal animating force of the cosmos. The issue remains that, even if we all believe this tenet, we may all define this divine presence differently. Exactly where the source of power is derived is above my pay grade.

Alas, I am only qualified to speak to my own belief.

There’s so much more to come.

B, Q, 93 for now – TBW

[1] Grimassi, Raven. The Book of the Holy Strega (1981) and Italian Witchcraft: The Old Religion of Southern Europe, previously titled Ways of the Strega (1994). Consider also Stregheria.com – “The Home of Authentic Italian Witchcraft.”

[2] Buckland, Raymond. Scottish Witchcraft: The History & Magick of the Picts. Llewellyn Worldwide, 1991.

[3] If you are interested in more information, you might look at this one that argues that all of Gardner’s credentials are fabricated. Or this one that offers around 80 (I quit counting) other articles that criticize Wicca, Gardner, and Wiccan Witches – accompanied by  the claim that too many Wiccan initiates censor any and all criticism of their movement. And then there’s this guy (who, I openly admit, I did not watch yet but plan to) who has a four part YouTube criticism of Wicca. While most of the reviewers use unnecessarily crude language, I do not suggest we throw the baby out with the bathwater.

[4] It happens to be one of my main projects to use Norse traditions to recover a system of female power not based in phallic influence (or the “lack” thereof).

Mommafied Deep Hurt Fix Dust

Per my last post: Y’all tell me how this works for ya.

Mommafied Deep Hurt Fix Dust

I can’t give you the ingredient list, sorry.

Take des here and put in a grinder what ain’t a’ready been groun’ up. Gotsa crush ‘em bones an’ teeth fois’. Then puts ‘em in a bottle and shake it up real good like.

Now, dis’s special. . . . . Shite, can’t tell you that neither.

Whatcho gwin do is dis. You gwin take the fix dust and put it where people’s gwin touch it or step cross’n it. Cain’t do dis wid pichers o’footprints. Dey gotsa come in contact wid it fo it t’werk right.

But when it werk right, you gwin know. And you goin’ be skeered a’fois. But as long as you know you done right by puttin’ the fix, it’s gwin be a’right.

Now, if’n you fix some’ don’t need fixin, you gotsa pro’lem. You gotsa take the fix back. Like it or not, it’s comin’ back, may’s well take it. You gotsa do a Virginia Wash[*] of everything you got. Then when the fix come back, it lessen the blow. It gwin getch you, but it won’t be so bad ‘cuz you done buffered the blow.

[*] She didn’t tell me what this is but said that if I mix Fiery Wall of Protection and Unhexing “it should work OK.”

I should let you know that ML had a few teeth gone when we met in 07. I rekon there were more gone by now. Sounded like “Voigineea Wash,” but it was pointed out to me that it could be “Virgin Wash,” though I am unfamiliar with that too. God, I hope it’s not some other kind of V wash . . . Hmmmm, reckon I might should go look in a French dictionary. Witches’ “Duh.”

Also, it always cracked me up that Mama would go on and on all country-like and say something like “buffered.” She had style and she talked to a lot of people from a lot of places. Mama said words even TBW had to look up.

To Drawl or Not To Drawl?

Don’t you love it when everything collides – in a good way? It’s like the fellas[1] at CERN must have felt when they found God with a 5-sigma level certainty.[2] I don’t live in a super-collider, so I have to take my tiny glimpses of God as they come.

I have been trying to think of a witty way to tell you about the mail I received last week: that funny little cassette tape and the oddly cryptic sticky note. But, I can’t find a way to be witty about it, so I’ll just tell you.

Are you ready to tee-tee your pants just a little?

Mama Lisa, in the last days of her life (apparently knowing this), could not type very well and couldn’t hold a pencil hardly at all. It must have been agony to scrawl my address and “More to come.” She grabbed a tape recorder and a cassette and talked me a lesson. Given that I do not have a tape recorder (a fact that still puzzles me), I sat in my car, on a day when the sun beat down 106 degrees, with the AC blasting and Mama Lisa’s voice spilling from my speakers. Now, Mama Lisa has never been my mentor in the formal sense of the word. She has guided me and advised me and taught me plenty, but she has never been my ceremonial trainer. A Louisiana Voodooisant to the core, she and I walked parallel roads that were, nevertheless, different roads.

In what I will call the “epilogue” to the cassette, Mama Lisa explained that her grand-nephew was her appointed executor and that she was leaving her “earthly belongings” to her kin (obvs) but that she wanted to impart some knowledge to a few of us who “meant something” to her.[3] She explained that her daughters had passed on before her (I had not known this) and that her sons had chosen the path of Christian Pastoring (I had known this). Her late sister’s grandson, Wade, was the only kin she had who remained sympathetic to her practices. For this reason, she needed to know that her “know-how” would live on beyond her.

The rest of the cassette was full of recipes and exercises and methods of conjuration. Now, you might romanticize this and hear Papa Justified’s voice and cadence from Skeleton Key. But, somehow, the soft-crackling under-nuanced simplicity of her voice was more powerful. Or maybe that’s just what admiration does to one’s perception.

In the end, she told me that I had permission to “write it all down” and do “what [I had] to with it.” It seems Wade will be sending me some sort of release . . . someday. Until then, I have a problem to discuss with y’all.

Here’s where the collision happens.

As I have become fond of the dialectic between bloggers, I will tell you that today I read a post from fellow blogger. The main gist seems to be the structuralist thought that when we label something, we diminish intuitive meaning in that we confine it to language. She applies this to Pagan practices and to a little incident in our town.

To recap/paraphrase-to-near-non-recognition that story – but not to co-opt it (on accoun’o’ its part of my story too):

Once upon a time there was a Pagan teacher. She kept her nose clean at work and didn’t tell nobody she was a Witch. Then one day a student stumbled onto her Witchy blog and snitched. As if it was a bad thing. Said teacher got her pointy-hat proverbially handed to her. And, “even though others in her department had been a bit more, um, ‘out there,’ . . . a whole passel of angry townsfolk show up at her career door. . . ” (emphasis added). This makes me down-rightly defensive on said teacher’s behalf.

On accoun’o’ – I wear a (visible) pentagram to work every day, I openly discuss religion and even assign it as a topic in my Cultural Diversity classes. I’ve told y’all. On occasion, I have shared my blog with very particular students when they press me hard enough. I am the faculty advisor of the Pagan Student Organization. I’m whatcha call “out there.” But I guess I don’t look “native” enough to get pegged. Strange, no?

I’m off every radar; I was even called a “prude” by a Wiccan once.

In the past, I have been accused of not being “A Real Southerner.” But when my kin have been on Alabama soil since before the Revolution, some since time unknown, I don’t know what else that makes me. Sure, I was raised partly in Chicago (during the school years) and learned not to speak with a drawl or to call folks “Cracker” in public and what really goes on a hot dawg and that pizza should be big enough for a knife and fork, but does that negate the fact that my Momma taught me how to make biscuits and sausage gravy, pickles, and Muscadine jelly, that standardized spelling and grammar were never really my friends, that shoes ain’t been worn ‘less they got red clay in the treads, or that I know a fire ant from a chigger from a seed tick? Donna Harraway might call me a Cyborg.

Just because I wear shoes when I’m outside doesn’t make me anything less than a generation removed from Appalachia.[6] But are flip-flops really shoes when it’s January? But if it don’t quack with a drawl, is it really a Southern duck? Darn-tootin’. Quack, quack.

But here’s a kick in the head: A drawl can be faked. And as we all know, sadly, a High Priestess status can be faked too. I’ve seen it happen. So do our signifiers truly signify? Judith Butler calls it performance. When is it performance and when is it lying?[7]

Ah, but here’s a kick to the other side of the head. A drawl can also be suppressed: it’s presumed to be not just OK, but preferred for a “hick” to adopt standardized speech patterns and aesthetics. Folks get buggy if we twist it the other way around and suggest that Southernisms have a value worth emulating. And one’s religion can likewise be suppressed: it’s presumed to be not just OK, but preferred for a Pagan to “hide” behind Atheism or Agnosticism. Folks get buggy if . . . you see what I mean?

Is it more of an insult to emulate non-standardness or to be expected deny one’s non-standardness?[8]

This brings me back to point A of my collision.

Mama Lisa’s speech patterns are, um, distinctive. We’ll go with distinctive. My first impulse is to type out her words in my PhD-totin’ voice. Then it occurred to me that I should try to remain true to her voice rather than overlaying it with my own voice, and that I should transcribe her words exactly. But then it occurred to me that I might be creating a caricature of a revered figure by producing dialect. Then it occurred to me that this is stoopid, why would a dialect take away any of the reverence I have for her (and that everyone should have for her). Then it occurred to me that folks can be arses and that dialect often (mistakenly) equals to pigeonholing[9] and that a little white chicka writing in the voice of a substantial black woman from the bayous of Louisiana might perceived as black-face.[10]

So. What’s a Witch to do?

Do I:

A) Write Mama Lisa’s brainchild in Standard English thereby losing some things that just don’t translate. Do I translate “You gotsa do it like dis fo it t’werk right” into “Follow this practice for best success”? Though the meaning translates, it just sounds – what’s the word I’m looking for? – pompous. “Pompous” will do. Mama Lisa was never pompous a day in her long life.

B) Do I “clean up” the phraseology while still remaining colloquial? This is what the gospellers did (for the most part, ‘cept John). They took what was undoubtedly said in Aramaic and wrote it in Greek, Hebrew, and Latin. Sure it made Jesus seem educated and accessible to a Romanized audience, but it took away his Quack. But then again, I am in love with Mama Lisa’s voice and want to represent her well, but have you ever read The Color Purple? The dialect can be cumbersome.

C) Or do I “Go Native” and run the risk of overdoing the parlance? I am, after all, a little white girl from the Shoals + Chicargo.

All advice will be gratefully accepted.

B, Q, 93,


[1] Girls can be fellas. Don’t razz me about this one. I have bigger balls than most of the men I know.

[2] If you’ve been under a rock: read this.  And to be sure, henceforth, The Bad Witch will be using the term “5-Sigma” to apply to all measurable levels of things.

[3] I was bawling by this point.

. . .

[6] Actually been arguing with my Bad Sister this week over genealogy. While Momma and Daddy are related only by marriage, I know clear-well that they are both related to themselves a dozen times over. What I didn’t know was that some of their brothers and sisters married kin as late as the 1960s – maybe later. My sister refuses to be inbred. I’ve decided to find it chaaaaaming.

[7] A:         When the performance is truthier than the “truth.” (I think I’m supposed to cite Stephen Colbert here.)

[8] This is not a jibe at those who chose to remain private about life-choices, religion included. It’s a smack-down aimed at those who think “that’s the way it oughtta be.” Just pretend to be straight/white/Christian/conservative/whatever-else-you’re-not-that-might-make-us-uncomfortable. And being unwillingly “outed” in any way, shape, or form (especially at a private function) is downright ugly.

[9] A co-worker once made the mistake of telling me that we teach students to read “great literature” so that they can have souls. I asked him if my illiterate auntie who feeds the invalids of North Alabama or my (much older) Native cousins who live on a reservation in Oklahoma and chose not to attend English school but who practice Earth Healing (and now run a lucrative casino – but not at the time) were soulless. He stammered. Like the time he commented on the inappropriateness of “Lower Stratum” studies before learning that I had just published a paper on Rabelaisian Carnival and 20th Century adult-themed animation. <Faceplant.> See, I don’t look like a redneck so folks feel free to show me their bigotry. Quack. Like the time I left the all-white (all-boarder-states-at-best) department “band” because when they selected their music, they chose the most grossly racist versions of “real Alabamian” music to play at a local festival and then tittered about it. Quack, quack.

[10] Now that I think of it, I met Mama Lisa while in NOLA at an academic conference geared toward American Humor Studies; the primary subject was Mark Twain and “minstrelsy.” Not a collision at all.

There’s More To Come

It’s been like that, y’all.

On my desktop, I have a syllabus that needs finishing, another that needs starting, a poem that has a comma that’s not sitting well with me, a short story (solicited for an anthology with an impending due date) with a great ending and a hot beginning but a fuzzy middle part, several articles that I got half-way through reading before life pulled me away, a spell that needs casting (waiting for the moon), and a picture of what I want The Bad Husband’s new pergola to look like in the yard that I may be selling in less than six months. Ah, well. In time.

I also have five unfinished posts sitting on my desktop.

  • One on “Withholding.” You know the abusive, controlling type? Like that friend who swears undying love in private but then won’t hold your hand in public? Or the momma that says, “You’re like the daughter I never had,” in front of her biological offspring. That kinda badness has magical consequences when  the perpetrator happens to also be a Witch. And I’ve been watching it unfold before my eyes. Hold on to your butts. This will be a File for the books.
  • One on magic in the Bible. I told you I would write that up, and I keep my promises.
  • One on The Good Witch/Bad Witch dichotomy.
  • One on Keridwen – I still never finished that one. Had to let the feathers settle, I guess.
  • One on Iambic Pentameter. No, really. It’s very witchy.

So, just give me a couple of weeks and I’ll try polishing everything off. In the meantime, let me tell you what pulls me away today.


It seems that my beautiful Mama Lisa had a package set aside for me when she crossed the road. Her grand-nephew (who is becoming a friend, so I haven’t really lost anything, have I?) found it while going through her things.

I went to today’s mail hoping to find the first disk of the 1980s TV show, Friday the 13th, to show the kids. I had a bit of a surprise instead. A a bubble-wrap-lined manila envelope with my name and address in what I assume is Mama Lisa’s scrawl. Inside was a note from Grand-Nephew: “She had this ready to send. Best Regards — ” And a pink “sticky” note from Mama Lisa: ” —- There is more to come” (she was never long on words, especially in writing), affixed to a cassette tape.

The cassette, a standard grade Maxell XLII Gold 90 minute cassette with no other markings, seemed familiar enough in the hands of a woman who’d been the recipient of many a mix-tape. But now I sit staring at the booger thinking, “What am I going to play this on?”

And it hit me.

The Bad Witch will be spending some time sitting in her car, in temperatures in excess of 100 degrees (or a rainstorm, please let it rain here), listening to whatever Mama Lisa had in store for me. And finding out what “more’ is “to come.”

I’m a little freaked out by “ooooohhhh, voices from beyond, boo-ga-da-boo-ga-da” ideas (and the cryptic sticky note, I’m not gonna lie – it’s a little weird), a little giddy that she thought so much of me to send me anything at all – whatever it is, and simultaneously a little nervous that I’ll be disappointed – I mean, what if it’s nothing more than a bad copy of Foreigner?

I’ll keep you in the loop. Apparently, “There is more to come.”

“Best Regards,”

The Bad Witch


Well, damn.

The Bad Witch just opened an email. You know the kind? The kind that makes you unable to answer the phone or work or do anything real for a few hours.

Well, here I sit. A few unproductive hours later with a couple of phone calls to return.

My sometimes protectress, often teacher, and always kick-ass Voodoo-Mama-friend, “Mama Lisa,” crossed over on Saturday at the age of 98.

That’s a good run, I have to say. But it’s also kinda hot on the heals of having lost another spiritual guide, Brother Preacherman.

I’m jes feelin’ a little . . . at the crossroads.

Sanghyang, Ghost Dance, and Riding a Horse

You may already know, but we are horse-girls in The Bad Witch’s family. I received a beautiful four-year-old Tovero as my graduation present. She’s all grown up now and quite a pretty “packer” – which my daughter enjoys far more than I get to. But that’s not the horse and rider combination I want to discuss.

If you don’t know much about Voodoo rituals, often a Loa (a Voudoun deity or divine archetype), possesses a devotee temporarily. This possession is sometimes referred to as a “dance in the head” of the devotee, but more often the expression is that the Loa “rides” the devotee’s head. The devotee is, therefore, regarded as the “horse.”

Just last week, my friend introduced me to Balinese “spiritchasers,” a beautiful traditional art of hand carved and painted vaguely-anthropomorphic creatures which hang from the ceiling and chase away the bogies. Not unlike a dreamcatcher, the spirits which are embodied by these artifacts are inclined to make their owners’ evenings more peaceful.

Said friend sent me a group of emails that led me to unravel some research of my own. I found some cool stuff. (Unlike my typical post, this one contains no argument. I’m just sharing something I found kinda groovy.)

Turns out Javanese and Balinese Hinduism are not exactly the same as other Hindu traditions. It seems the Balinese traditionalists are far more concerned with with the aesthetics of art and ritual than with dogma, “scripture,” and theology. There is also less emphasis on cycles of life, death, and rebirth; rather, Balinese Hindus are more interested in honoring “hyangs.” These are spirits of our direct relatives and spirits associated with place – local spirits and ancestral spirits.[1] They can be divine or can be the spirits of former living beings.

The people of Bali are typically known to value restrained behavior. However, one element of ceremonial custom is the ritualized loss of self-control. One specific example is the Sanghyang, a  sacred dance. (There are special versions for young boys and young girls.) Like the dance of the Loa and its horse, the hyang enters the body of an enthralled devotee.

This reminded me of more than just Voodoo, however. I also thought of the Ghost Dance.[2] In an attempt to bring back their (self-defined) Edenic pre-Columbian way of life, first the Paiute then the Sioux incorporated an ecstatic circle dance into their religio-political resistance.

This reminded me of the anathema of places like those involved in the Keigh-tugh-gua[3] curse.

Curses as political resistance.

In a different thread of thought, I remembered Chinese guishen. Among other things, I have a personal interest in the translation of global film to the American screen such as Låt den rätte komma in/Let the Right One In (2008) released in the U.S. as Let Me In (Matt Reeves). But for the most part, I am intrigued by the J-Horror genre.[4] A few years back I looked at some popular films as a reinvention of and interpretation of various Asian guisin stories. If you think about Ju-On/The Grudge, Ringu/The Ring, Honogurai mizu no soko kara/Dark Water, and Garasu no nô/Sleeping Bride the spirits are confined to a place as in a haunting by a particular hun soul – or spirit of a formerly living person.

I was first introduced to this concept by my daughter’s (then 10-year-old) Korean friend. It was her first “American” sleepover and she wanted to know

“Of Real Korean Ghosts and Ghost Stories”

what the traditions are. I suggested ghost stories and proceeded to tell one that somehow prompted the term “boogy-man.” This took a minute to translate. Once the concept sank in, the girl took her long straight hair out of the pony tail and covered her face with it, put her arms out like a zombie, and made a “gargle and clack” noise. “Yes! I know boogy-man! It’s a guisan!” she exclaimed as I shriveled back into the sofa recalling Samira as she crawled out of the TV set. Her idea of the boogy-man. She then explained that the most iconic version of this being was a girl in a white dress with her long hair strewn in her face. Bear in mind that this was just as these images started appearing in the US. I was hooked.

The intersection of Voodoo, Hindu, Buddhist, and Native American concepts of spirit chasing and confining is suddenly very fascinating to me in terms of exorcism.

I’ll let you know what I find out.

For now, Imma talk my kid into watching Arang with me (before I have to go prepare to teach the Captivity Narrative of Mary Rowlandson).

[1] As these things happen, I just picked up Jason Miller’s Protection and Reversal Magick (Beyond 101) for a friend having a hard time. I like Inominandum as a general rule, but I always read books before I tell folks they contain good information. Under “Sources of Attack” Miller mentions “offended spirits” and “ambiance” from “places of power.” (He also mentions “broken vows” and “attacking practitioners” as sources of astral goo.) I like Miller’s frank discussion of “place spirits.”

[2] Maybe because I taught an overall oversimplification of Native American spirituality in a secular survey course today. Only so much we can do in a 5 week course.

[3] This translates roughly to “Cornstalk.”

[4] For instance, I find the work of Hideo Nakata terrifying. I prefer the original films to their American counterparts. Especially when I have The Bad Husband to giggle at me when I jump out of my skin. Janghwa, Hongryeon/‘Rose Flower, Red Lotus or A Tale of Two Sisters, released in the US as The Uninvited is soooooo creepy.