So, you’re visiting relatives in a small southern town and you awake with a severe headache. The morning sunlight feels like glass shards in your brain. As you search for the bathroom to get some Tylenol, you mistakenly turn left instead of right. When you look into one doorway you see your 80-year-old Aunt Minnie kneeling on the floor and chanting in front of a table. On the table are old family pictures, mementos, a lit candle, flowers, and a bowl of water. What also gets your attention is that she is grinding plants and powder in a bowl on the floor. What’s up with Auntie?
A: She is practicing Voodoo. You look around the room for dolls with pins in them. Hopefully, there isn’t one that resembles you.
B: The leather pouch she always wears around her neck proves she’s in a cult. Your headache is the least of your worries.
C: Your aunt is practicing medicine without a license. You should call the health department immediately.
D: Auntie is a witch! She’s concocting a spell against her eternally nosy neighbor who questioned you when you arrived late last night.
A: Aunt Minnie is not practicing Voodoo. Voodoo is an integration of African spirituality and Catholicism. This happened in South America, the Caribbean, and the US gulf states (particularly New Orleans). This is because Catholicism was the dominant religion in those regions when enslaved Africans were brought to the Americas. There are no signs of Catholicism in the room such as images of saints. And, Voodoo dolls are not made for evil purposes. In African religions, they allow communication with the spirit world. Sticking them with a pin to harm someone is a distortion of their true purpose.
B: Auntie’s leather pouch has many names. Examples include mojo bag, juju bag, and, or gris-gris. The pouch is considered a protective amulet or totem. It contains items that link the wearer to his or her ancestral home, ancestors, and the spiritual world. Your aunt is practicing an African-based religion known as Hoodoo. Hoodoo is NOT the same as Voodoo, although both have roots in African spirituality.
C: Your aunt has a distrust of modern medicine. She likely has an encyclopedic knowledge of the healing properties of plants. I’ll bet she is concocting a remedy for your headache. Today this is known as Herbal Medicine, but in the early history of this country it was called rootwork or conjure. Rootwork is probably the most well known component of Hoodoo.
D: Aunt Minnie might act like a witch if you scratch her hardwood floors, but there’s no evidence of witchcraft here. She is using the table as a Hoodoo altar. The fact that she was chanting while grinding the plant material speaks to the African based belief that the spiritual and the medicinal are linked. The fact that she can still kneel on the floor by herself at 80, means she is doing something right. You should sit down and watch. You will learn something. And your headache will be taken care of.