Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Hoodoo? You do. Do what? Annoy me.

The local Pagans about lost their damn minds when they found out some Houston-area churches were offering Praise Moves classes. Although billed as "the Christian alternative to yoga," Praise Moves is basically just yoga, with all the troublesome Hindu terminology removed. This way, the good, God-fearin' folk can get in shape and improve their flexibility without going to Hell.

Personally, I found the whole thing hilarious and futile: a downward-facing dog by any other name and all that. But the rest of the community was deeply affronted, and spent an unduly amount of time blazing up the message boards, ranting about how the Church constantly steals Pagan practices and repurposes them to Christian ends.

"To be fair," I replied, "NeoPagans do the same thing. Except we call it reclaiming."

I got a lot of squawks over that comment, but the fact is, it's true. I don't know if it's because we're not aware of how deeply entrenched we are in the belief systems from which we claim to have seceded, or because too many of us are just assholes. But regardless of why, NeoPagans have a very bad habit of co-opting and strip-mining the occult practices of other religious cultures. And while there's nothing wrong with curiosity and/or exploration, you've simply got to be respectful, without a sense of entitlement.

We're not good at that.

The big NeoPagan trend right now is Hoodoo--that is, Southern, African-American conjure and rootwork, as heavily influenced by European and Native-American folklore. It's a fascinating field, and I think Pagans could get a lot out of it... if only they could perceive it as something not open for their selective harvesting.

With that in mind, I've prepared a handy list of Hoodoo FAQs, culled from various discussions in which I've been embroiled:

I'm a Real Witch, and I'm really into in Hoodoo. But I’ve noticed that when it comes to spellwork, there are all these references to saints and psalms and the Bible. How do rootworkers reconcile the Christian elements of Hoodoo with their Pagan beliefs?

They don’t. The majority of Hoodoo practitioners are Christian.

What?! But Christians can’t practice magick!*

Actually, yes, they can. And do. And have done so for quite some time. If you look at the ancient Coptic texts...

I’m just going to stick my fingers in my ears and go “la la la” until you say something compatible with my personal worldview.

Fair enough.

So if all these rootworkers are Christian, why are there so many Hoodoo spells for causing injury and manipulating other people?

Well, just because you know how to do something doesn’t mean you’re actually going to do it. A physician has to know what effects a particular poison has on the human body in order to accurately diagnose a case of poisoning, but that doesn’t make him or her a poisoner.

Why would Christians be poisoning each other?

Um... try looking at it this way. As a Pagan, would you cast a spell that caused physical injury or manipulated another person?

Harm none! Harm none!!! La la la...

Okay. So it’s safe to assume that Christians probably aren’t casting those spells on each other, either.

Then why do those spells exist?

Because Hoodoo draws from a variety of sources and cultures, and because different magical practitioners have their own ethics.

But that’s wrong! All magickal practitioners have the same ethics! Karma! Threefold Law! Blessed Be!”

No, dear, they don't. Regardless of the type of magic being practiced, the only across-the-board requirement is that the magician be willing and able to take responsibility for his or her metaphysical actions. Any related ethical considerations are personal and subjective.

Oh. So then Hoodoo is whatever I want it to be, right?

I’m just going to stick my fingers in my ears and go “la la la” until you say something less inane.


And so on.

More and more traditional rootworkers are slamming their doors in the faces of invading Pagans, determined to protect their practices from (not my word, but applicable here) "Wiccanization." And of course, the Pagans in question are deeply affronted, not understanding that slapping a Pagan label on everyone and everything is not universally accepted as a compliment.

As this situation plays out, I'm going to do some stretches and brush up on my Praise Moves. Yes, the very idea of Christian yoga is horrifying. But at least the Fundamentalist who came up with it had the courtesy to say, "Here's what yoga is, here's what I've done with it, and here's how I understand the difference between the actual system and my interpretation."

Pagans could learn a lesson.

*I do not ascribe to the notion that magic needs to be differentiated from stage magic by calling magic "magick," or "majik," or "mah-jique." One can easily differentiate magic from stage magic by calling stage magic "stage magic."


Bobby Warren said...

You know, the funny thing is that my (Lutheran) church offers yoga classes (NOT Praise Moves) every Saturday. And I've never heard anyone give grief over any religious aspects of yoga.

Oh, well.

Evn said...

Lutheran isn't Low Protestant enough to deal in Praise Moves.

Pitch313 said...

In the SF Bay Area, Neopagans taking advantage of some Hoodoo lore and practices has gone on for many years. And they co-existed with more dedicated Hoodoo practioners without any problems.

Nobody made any claims to special authenticity or "real" Pagan t-shirts or any of that for doing Hoodoo.

Hoodoo was just one more approach to Neopagan practice, if that's where you got guided.

I can't figure out why so many of us Neopagans feel so insecure in our practices that we keep looking and looking for the 'real' thing that nobody else does or knows.

Livia Indica said...

Hey there Evn. I've been a neopagan only about twice as long as I've been a student of hoodoo. And, while perusing the vast amounts of information at Lucky Mojo (the biggest, best hoodoo site ever) I've come across several references to what you refer to as "Wiccanization". It's a funny phenomenon that I can't quite explain. Some of it undoubtedly stems from the earthiness of hoodoo, specifically the use of unpleasant things like: graveyard dirt, urine, blood, etc. But you're right about about "stealing" sometimes being the same thing as "reclaiming". As a non-Wiccan witch I've even found myself occasionally considering changing something to fit my personal sensibilities. Perhaps it's a knee-jerk reaction from the restrictions of a birth religions.

Yewtree said...

Talking of stealing, MetaPagan has been plagiarised by some scumbag. I'm very angry.

Just cos it's labelled as a blog aggregator doesn't give her the right to rip off the content and pretend that she wrote it.

Evn said...

Yvonne, for what it's worth, she apparently doesn't read the posts her feeds steal for her: Your plagiarism post is now prominently displayed on her site.

A nice boost to her credibility, no?

Never Moon said...

One of the wisest men I ever had the fortune to hear speak said "you need to look at what Jesus and Buddha did from a macro, not micro, level. On a micro level, if you all do exactly what they did, you should be enlightened, right? But you're not. What they did was took their religion and found their own path to enlightenment through it. That's how you'll get there."

I have no problems with reclaiming, wiccanizing, christianizing, whatever. All religions have been founded on theft of other religions. Whatever works, works.

Never Moon said...

I guess what I am attempting to say is that I have no issue with "siobhan-izing" any old piece of anything I want that rings true for me. But I promise to be utterly shameless about it and give credit to wherever it came from.

Evn said...

But I promise to be utterly shameless about it and give credit to wherever it came from.

That's the best way to do it. ;)

To clarify, I have no issue with anyone incorporating new concepts into their personal practice--as you said, a Witch uses what works. It's the "taker" mentality that gets problematic, i.e., "This is mine now, not yours anymore."

Evn said...

Livia, I'm a huge fan of Lucky Mojo, too. You may also want to check out New Orleans Mistic. I haven't tried any of their products yet, but there's a lot of good information on their site.

Never Moon said...

It's the "taker" mentality that gets problematic, i.e., "This is mine now, not yours anymore."

My fave is the retroactive justification: "This is mine now, and I am going to dig up horribly shaky non-credible evidence to point out that it was never yours in the first place."

To which I respond "who cares? have you transformed into a being of pure light yet? No? then you have no incontrovertible hold on truth, wot?"

And to emphasize the truthiness of my claim, my verification word is "veridu."

Evn said...

"This is mine now, and I am going to dig up horribly shaky non-credible evidence to point out that it was never yours in the first place."

AARRRGH, Druid Sticks!

[twitch twitch twitch]

Too long to explain here. I'll write a post about it and credit you. And Veridu.

Terence said...

I'm afraid I'm guilty of stumbling without a license, here. Before I read the find print I added this post to StumbleUpon . . . but one of the tags with "magic with a K."

You have to believe me when I tell you that the K stands for "Kallisti."

Terence said...

Okay, now for my serious comment.

I was just making reference to the tendency of religions to borrow from one another in my post on Pagan tithing. It didn't occur to me until reading yours, though, that some people like to pretend that they had the ideas themselves.

How on Earth could we come up with anything new if we didn't start with an already good idea? Silly Pagans.

Megan said...

As I see it, you cannot 'steal' intangible things - ideas, practices, symbols. The people who originally had them, still have them when you're done. What you can do, and what 'stealing' intangibles really amounts to, is lie. You can lie about where you got your material, you can lie about what form the original took or what it originally meant, and you can lie about the extent to which you have modified it. Those are the things that actually provoke people to complain.

The best thing about information (says the librarian) is that by using it, you never use it up. An infinite number of people can share a fact or idea, without it being stretched thin. The worst thing about information, however, is that you can't easily subject it to a paternity test. What 'belongs to me' means in the context of information is 'carries a label that says it belongs to me', and such labels can be removed, modified, or replaced with ease.

Evn said...

Terence, no worries about the "magic-with-a-k" thing. It's when people start coming up with the more outrageous spellings that the veins pop out on my forehead.

Megan, I completely agree... although I have to admit it's fun to watch the sputtering when the lies are brought to light.

knottybynature said...

People with 'mainstream' leanings generally say they're 'agnostic'.

Oddly, I find that when someone in the 'pagan' community can't clamp down on a specific study or practice, they call themselves 'eclectic'.

Just an observation.

I suppose I'd rather call myself pagan and admit that I shamelessly delve into a wide variety of cultures to explore their ideas of spirituality.

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