(this is my july oya nsoro article, be up there in a couple of days)
A Downhome Hoodooman Blues
I would like to begin this piece by thanking Iya Aboyade for inviting me to do this column. She knew I wanted to more closely align the hoodoo way with the rest of the ATR family and offered me this platform for engaging it in dialogue.
It has been a challenging experience for me. I feel deeply the responsibility of trying to be a hoodoo voice in the ATR community. Im still searching for a tone with this column. One that is provocative yet open to correction and enlightenment. I try to be humble and not get to huffing and puffing and preaching at folk as I am inclined to do. I do get to wailing sometime and get carried away but its strictly a need to know and understand that drives me. I really want to know all that I dont know about the multitudinous afrospiritual traditions of the world. And I really want hoodoo to be included in the ATR dialogues.
But I have no intention of giving up my hoodoo legacy in order to do this. Neither hoodoo nor I are supplicants.
I had a conversation recently with this ATR brother. He had done some work that I really respected and I was hoping we could have an exchange of views, a little crosspollination. But he came to me all haughty and all knowing, lecturing and preaching at me. Talking down to me like I was one of his godchildren. Like I needed to be saved. A poor confused hoodooman in need of direction and enlightenment.
First he told me very solicitously to be careful because ‘real’ hoodoos would object to my questionable brand of hoodoo.
And in the same breath (well, same email) told me I should come to my senses and follow a more ‘authentically African’ path. Quit wasting your time and good intentions, Ricky. (He was calling me Ricky by the end of the email, not quite Rickydoc but I think I got the point.)
Started talking about how inauthentic any tradition is that doesn’t have initiatory lineages and communal ceremony.
Now, this might be the case. I am always open to some enlightenment and I wonder when ATR folk come to me like that if they are commenting on my personal inadequacies of knowledge and wisdom or are they judging hoodoo as inferior to the initiatory traditions.
Generally its a little bit of both. This brother made it explicit by first questioning my personal interpretation of hoodoo and then questioning hoodoo as a tradition. Not much I can do about what he thinks about my hoodoo skilz but hoodoo as tradition thats another matter.
I told the brother, somewhat frostily, that I been practicing hoodoo for almost 30 years now. I started off doing what he calling “real hoodoo”. I was a conventional hoodooman for a good 10 years before I started evolving in the direction Ive taken.
And ‘real’ hoodoos have not had any restraint about expressing their opinions on my positions thank you very much. In my efforts to empower hoodoo I have had to open dialogues with four constituencies - the hoodoo community, the ATR community, the worldwide black community and the worldwide spiritual community - all of which have resisted my interpretation of the hoodoo way.
But I have found a select few in agreement with me about hoodoos evolution as an instrument of spiritual and political redemption. Its abiding concern with the care and feeding of the tribal soul and destiny. And thats all I need.
Thats all Im looking for. Get in touch w/me if you feeling this.
Folk want to practice that folkmagic hoodoo I aint got no problems with that. I understand the power of that. I wouldn’t be a hoodoo in the firstplace if I wasn’t a traditionalist, but that strictly folkmagic thing just aint for me. I aspire to be a prophet of the hoodoo way and my abiding concern is the future of hoodoo. Its Destiny. Its Fa.
And I got a news flash for everybody. The future of hoodoo will not be restricted to folkmagic practices.
When we were a rural folk people, folk magic was sufficient but we are a modern urban people now, a 21st century people, and our indigenous tradition should reflect that. Im not saying dump folkmagic, Im just saying there is more to magic than that. I ask only that we push the boundaries of the knowledge, let us see what this thing magic can really do.
I told him hoodoo has always been an eclectic system, shaped to the nature of the practitioner. Anymethod Anytime. I got no problems with other folks practice. But when folk try to tell me my culturally based practice is not authentic I tell them tell that to Gullah Jack. For an outsider to try to tell me what hoodoo will and will not allow is a joke.
Caring for the tribal soul and destiny has always been a hoodoo concern. But that sense of stewardship once limited to your particular community now encompasses all of human destiny. You got all these folk practicing this wicca flavored hoodoo now and totally unconcerned with the cultural core of hoodoo. Totally unconcerned with its responsibility for taking care of the tribal soul and destiny. But for me thats hoodoos most important responsibility. Its most profound power. That responsibility requires additional skilz than those traditionally ascribed to hoodoo practice and Im going to make sure the hoodoos of the future have them.
If the traditionalists want to come along for the ride thats fine with me. And if they dont thats fine too. Theres room for all of us in the hoodoo way. But Rickydoc want to ride on the cutting edge. And anytime you trying to move a tradition you accept the fundamentalist tribulation that entail. This is not something I can or can not do. This something Im called to do. And Im gon do this. I dont care what nobody got to say. Ima do this.
Legba walks w/me.
I told the brother Im very comfortable with hoodoo as my spiritual home and I dont need to be proselytized or saved. I don’t need uninformed lectures on the necessity of communal practice. Hoodoo is not a congregational system. Never has been.
And I don’t need lectures about being bound by initiatory lineages. Hoodoo is not an initiatory system. Never has been. I told the brother I come from a long family line of hoodoos and thats lineage enough for me. Part of the reason Ima hoodooman instead of a something else is because I dont feel like being initiated. I dont feel like bowing my head to nobody. I am not comfortable with systems that bind people to you. Hoodoo has always been an individualistic practice and Hoodoo Hands very loosely organized secret societies.
Unlike the other ATR paths, hoodoo is not a religion and I am not going to be bound by religious strictures. I am not going to be told what other folk think I can and cannot do as a hoodooman.
I want to learn as much as I can about ATR practice. Hoodoo has always been an adaptive system. Adopting and adapting whatever it can use. And as the African American community has engaged ATR so too will hoodoo. But it will not change hoodoos basic nature. Hoodoo is a magical system, not a religious system. And we like being a magical system. At least I do.
There are many hoodoos who are also initiated followers of various ATR paths. Most of my closest hoodoo associates are. And then there are folk like me who are exclusively hoodoo and any ATR studies I do are strictly designed to strengthen and empower the hoodoo tradition. Just as hoodoo has always done.
And please spare me lectures about the value of ‘authentically African’ systems over hoodoo. I told him hoodoo is authentically African American. Which is what I am. And Im very comfortable with that. Im very comfortable being representative of a culture that at its best is second to none.
I told him Im very comfortable with hoodoo as my spiritual home. I do not feel a need to go elsewhere for my spiritual validity. Not even African elsewheres. I got no problems with folk that do, but dont come to me with that holier than thou attitude. I aint interested.
As much as I crave ATR enlightenment I prefer it on something other than a holier than thou plate. And if all you got for me is uninformed advice and Pronouncements From On High, you can keep it to yourself. That aint dialogue.
The fact that he could in one breath restrict hoodoo to a narrowly defined authenticity and in another breath declare that narrowly defined hoodoo an inferior path is indicative of the problem
We pretty much agreed that we didnt have much to say to each other and the email exchange stopped.
Much as I want to engage hoodoo in ATR dialogue, I consider it a dialogue of equals. Hoodoo is not a supplicant. Hoodoo is not looking to be saved by superior paths. And neither am I.
What I didnt tell him is that Ima hoodoo elder. If you cant come to me with respect dont come at all