June 18, 2024

Jo Mai Asian Culture

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Mama Rue on Hoodoo Heritage Month and our familial spiritual traditions

7 min read

Many Black families hold traditions that have been passed down for generations. Maybe it’s making sure the house is clean before New Year’s Day, otherwise bad luck will follow you into the new year or spitting on the ground when someone sweeps your feet. Or perhaps you have a saved and sanctified grandmother who the Lord is always speaking to in the form of premonitions. Clairvoyance. But she won’t call it that exactly. Instead, she might assert it is a gift bestowed on her by God.

Our traditions that consist of old wives’ tales, spiritual prophecies and a certain oneness with the natural world are sacred. But like most things, white supremacy has cast a shadow over the old ways of our ancestors. Hoodoo, a Black Indigenous spiritual practice deeply intertwined with nature and ancestral reverence, is seen by many within our own community as “demonic and evil.” But this is all by design. Hoodoo was born out of the survival, resistance and lived experiences of Africans who were enslaved in the United States. It is a sacred practice and a way of life that has spanned generations of Black American families.

In the last few years, Hoodoo has gained more visibility in popular culture. Young people, many of whom have left the church, are beginning to reclaim the tradition. They are talking with elders, building altars and reconnecting with the natural world. The reclamation of Hoodoo has become a path towards freedom, in body, mind and spirit for so many of us. So much so, we now have an entire month dedicated to celebrating its rich heritage.

Founded in 2019 by spiritual advisor and pre-elder, Mama Rue and the Walking the Dikenga Collective, Hoodoo Heritage Month aims to resist the misrepresentation of Hoodoo and honor the richness of the tradition and the legacy of our ancestors. I had the distinct pleasure of speaking with Mama Rue about why this celebration is important, how the movement has grown since 2019 and what her hope is for its future.

Can you talk a little bit about what called you to create Hoodoo Heritage Month?

Well, it wasn’t a planned thing. I happened to be noodling around on Facebook one day, back when I was active on Facebook, and I shared a post that someone else had made. And I really can’t remember exactly what that post was, but it was just so powerful and beautiful and I re-shared it and I put my caption on it and I said, Happy Hoodoo Heritage Day. Because whatever that post was, it had something to do with us and our lineage and our tradition. So, the comments were like, let’s just make it Hoodoo Heritage Week. And then someone else said, let’s just do a month. I was a part of my group Walking the Dikenga on Facebook, we were bantering about it and we came to a conclusion, let’s make it October. And it just kicked off from there.

The whole premise was to push back on the false narrative that was basically saying that Hoodoo is a folk magic tradition with European, Native American and African American influences. And that always was false to me. My spirits told me that that was not true. My family told me that was not true. I did my own investigation. And found all the information, all the receipts to show me that the way that these outsiders are capitalizing and profiteering off of our spiritual tradition was just based on a bunch of lies. So, Hoodoo Heritage Month is basically to inform us about the richness of our tradition, about our bloodline legacy, about the practices of our ancestors here in this land, as well as information that they brought from their homeland.

It is a wakeup call or a beacon for African Americans to look at the richness of things that we have…so if we can go back and take the things that were beaten away from our ancestors, take the things that made them walk in shame and fear about their own bloodline tradition. If we can take that and break it away, remove all the colonial aspects, remove the white supremacy, remove the capitalism, the misogyny, the homophobia, on and on and on, only then can we truly be the best parts of ourselves. The things that our ancestors prayed for us. That moment is here and the time is now.

There’s always something going on in the world, but since 2019 so much has changed, especially with the onset of what became a global pandemic. Not to mention the ways it disproportionately impacted Black folks. Have you observed any shifts in how people are engaging with Hoodoo since then?

Well, yeah, off the top, there are a lot of conversations happening both online and offline and some are very good and some are very bad. Some are well-intentioned, some are not. And several people ask me, what do I think about a lot of the misinformation that even our younger people are putting out there in these internet streets? I don’t get upset about it. I don’t get mad about it. At least they’re talking, even if what they’re saying isn’t based on any truth that I’m familiar with.

And then I’m asked about the people that just woke up one day and decided, “Oh, let me make a Hoodoo name for myself on Instagram and sell people my $50 oils” and that still doesn’t bother me. I might not buy their product, but at the same time, it doesn’t bother me. I’m glad that people are talking. I’m glad that people, more importantly, are actually doing. Yes, there are people out here who haven’t done the work. And my hope for them is that at some point, maybe this will lead them to a more meaningful relationship with their spirituality.

For people who may not have grown up with much awareness of the tradition, but want to genuinely learn more, where should they start?

My advice is always to look to your own family. Because Hoodoo is in there somewhere, and I always advise people, maybe don’t start a conversation like, “So grandmama, what did y’all do with Hoodoo back in the day?” Don’t do that because a lot of our older generations, including my own mother, despise that word. And they will shut you down. Because Hoodoo had been ostracized so hard from so many different directions. So even though a lot of practitioners still did the work, they had the semantics thing going on. You couldn’t call it that, but you could call it the Lord’s work.

I would also advise people just to talk to the elders or the oldest members of their family [and] have a conversation. Ask them, “So, was anybody in our family born with a midwife outside of a hospital? What kinds of things did we do when the babies got sick and we couldn’t afford to go to the clinic or see a doctor? What kinds of things do people do to make their luck better?” Conversations like that tend to be more successful when you do it in that sort of roundabout way. And then once they get that information, they are basically holding treasure, things that they can keep because those are the foundations of their own Hoodoo lineage. And it must be protected at all costs.

What is your hope for the long-term impact of Hoodoo Heritage Month?

Long term, I would just like to see the conversation shift from the actual conversation and just shift more into building tradition within our own families, then spreading out and building tradition within communities. And being Hoodoo-minded first and foremost, just living your life with that, because we already do things that we don’t really explain. It’s just how we move in this world, and hoodoo is at the basis of how we move in this world. It’s our seasoning, it’s our flavor, it’s our swag, it’s just our rhythm. So, sometimes it’s not really necessary to kind of package and compartmentalize things of spirit.

Everybody doesn’t have to be a priest. Everybody doesn’t have to be a supplier or a diviner or any of those things. It’s not everybody’s calling to do all those things, but let’s just recognize those that are called to be the workers, the root doctors. The spiritual diviners, the prophets, the healers, the midwives. The conjurer and the people that work with spiritual sicknesses. There’s different levels to it. I believe that Hoodoo should be a part of everybody’s lifestyle. It doesn’t necessarily mean they have to do it outside of their own circle of family and friends. And for those that are that gifted to work, yes, you should be out in the community doing the work for your community. So I’m at this point now where I’d like to see people actually doing the things versus just talking about the thing.


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