Amazon asked me why I have an easy time with America-Southern magic, which is a v. good question. It made me think about all the bits and bots of pieces that make up my spiritual practice and that I should reflect on them and how they’ve changed. Naturally, since I’m a blogger, there is no “inside voice” in my head. I start thinking about anything too long and I want to immediately write it down and tell a bunch of strangers. I guess that’s an author thing too? (The word is still weird in reference to myself. Author. Author. Weird) And before the internet there were letters so someone was always spilling their guts to someone else.
Before I get too deep in, I think it’s important to discuss the sticky issue of Cultural Appropriation. Gordon thoughtfully discussed the issue three years ago, essentially saying that if you’re not claiming anything that a layperson of the culture couldn’t claim then you’re good. (THREE YEARS AGO? So weird! It feels like just yesterday I was forcing you into blogosphere marriage, PEH!) Andrew picked up the discussion a few days ago, in regard to his own practice, contemplating where the line is for himself. Then Jow picked up the thread and contemplated how perhaps gods aren’t static and are influenced by where they live. People aren’t, why should they be? For the full trip of localized gods, I agree with Jow (soak it up, husband) that one should really read Neil Gaiman’s American Gods.
I don’t claim to be an initiated expert in anything except St. Germain (and I aggressively recruit to that cult) and Pretty Little Liars. I’m a worker (hey, maybe that’s my word!) with a personal practice and I’m not too into labels right now (which Beth and Sarah also discuss in their respective blogs. Maybe the hivemind is working again, blogosphere!) because I’m not any one thing and neither of you. We need some words so that know where-ish we are – Do we do magic? Do we believe in more than one god? I am a white middle class suburban chick with a degree in Women’s Studies. I know I come from a place of privilege and I try to be mindful of it. I’m not perfect, but I try to learn and be thoughtful.
This One Time? In Mexico?
So, did you know that your gods may not always pick up the phone? It’s true. If you’re visiting a place that has a strong local pantheon of its own, your call may not be connected. Especially if your god/dess/es have no local connection and you’re not connecting with the land/spirits you’re visiting. I love Mexico! Especially around the Mayan Rivera. The ocean is so beautiful, the food is delish, tequila lives there and the area has this fun, boho vibe. Do I personally connect with any Mayan or Aztec gods? Noooooooo. Are they interested in me, a soft squishy girl from Jersey who must seem entitled and spoiled? Um, no. But I’m by an ocean! Surely Yemaya can just buzz right up to me? If I lived there, maybe? If I lived there, I could establish a better connection to the land and the local spirits and have my altar with its strong connection to my gods. But I don’t and She’s not a locally worshipped goddess unless you go way of Mary which for me is a dicey connection.
Does that mean that when I go on vacation that my gods stop loving me, listening to me, protecting me? Of course not. My mom still did all of those things while I went on walkabout in Europe after college. Could she rush right to Scotland in a day if I was feeling sad? No, she was in New Jersey. I could call her maybe, but there was a time difference and a vague understanding about how to make international calls so who knows if she would pick up?
But Why Doesn’t He Love Meeeeeeeeeeeeeeee?
I think a lot of times people mistake god/dess/es for gumball machine who can’t wait to give you candy instead of Beings with their own thoughts, feelings and agendas. This means sometimes They Are Just Not That Into You. Take St. Expedite. Most Hoodoo practitioners swear by him. He gets shit done! Fast! He likes rum and pound cake, sounds like a party guy! When Jow and I first learned about him from Jason, we were so excited. He’s quick and motivated! Other friends of ours like him and he likes them! We got out our little shrine to him and made him offerings and put on our best New Friend Smiles and poured him Our Best Rum. We gave compliments! We didn’t ask for anything, just tried to make a connection.
We tried calling again. Maybe he didn’t get our message! That happens, New Friend! We understand! Call us!
And. . .nothing. He didn’t want anything to do with us. We were indignant. How could New Friend not like us? We are incredibly likable! We were polite! And nice! We tried to talk about crap that New Friend would be interested in! New Friend likes our other friends, how could New Friend not like us? WE WOULD BE SUPER AWESOME FRIENDS, NEW FRIEND. We don’t really know why still, just like how at a cocktail party you don’t really know why someone won’t warm up to you. We weren’t desperate per se. We weren’t asking for anything, we weren’t in dire straits. We just wanted New Friend to be pals with us. Not everyone’s going to like you in this life or in the spiritual life. C’est la vie!
It’s Not You, It’s Me
Sometimes, the opposite happens. I was asked to invoke Saraswati for a ritual once. I didn’t have a personal relationship with Her, but I gave her a ring and She picked up so I agreed to invoke Her. I thought, we could be ritual pals. And then we started working together. It quickly became apparent that any Lady MacBeth overachieving qualities I have ever been accused of having would be incredibly exacerbated if we became New Friends. I knew I would become (more) unbearable to live with and oh, if I was a pusher before, Cady . . . My mentor, N. quickly confirmed that Saraswati would run me into the ground if I let Her. But how to break things off with a goddess? N. told me that I would need to be as boring as possible to Her for the next few weeks and keep my head down and my mouth shut. That meant no writing, no spinning, nothing creative, nothing interesting. Just lie on the couch and watch a batrillion episodes of Real Housewives in my sweats eating wholesome, bland food. Done and done! And it worked.
France, American Style
It was love at first sight. For me anyway. At nineteen years old, I knew immediately that She was everything I aspired to be. Vaguely French, wearing a corset and a scarf, into obscure jazz. She’s an amazing cook, know all the best places to shop, club, drink and eat at any time of the day. She drinks endless cups of coffee, ate beignets at 2a and always sucked the head on a crawfish. She tossed beads at college students off the top of the bar after drinking frat boys under the table, laughing the whole time. She got her cards read weekly at Jackson Square before going to the noon mass at St. Louis and then sits by herself silently at her family’s cemetery for hours. She knows all the shop keepers in her area and plays hopscotch with the neighborhood kids. She slides of the back door of the shot gun house of her latest lover before anyone even notices She’s missing. She is impossibly cool, incredibly complicated, glitteringly happy and shatteringly sad. I would never be able to be everything that She is, my mortal body, spirit, mind and heart couldn’t handle it. But goddamn if I didn’t spend my twenties trying. I still think about Her, almost every day. Especially right now, knowing how inexpensive it would be to visit Her.
I don’t think She noticed me too much, no matter when I visited Her. The first time with my mom and sister when I would swoon at noon in the summer and have to sleep the afternoon away before we would set out again, trying to learn everything about Her that we could. The second time when I took my on-again/off-again high school sweetheart’s virginity and we drank illicit Hurricanes while I got pelted with beads on the street. The third time when I took the triumverte to see Her in all Her glory, wearing corsets and dancing on tables, kissing strangers. I didn’t care, I just wanted to be near Her. I still do.
And I would do anything to help Her. I volunteered to go and help Her, even though I was terrified of being called and what I would see if I was called. I was never called, but I still slip Her a little money whenever I can.
Spit, Blood and Bone
You can’t pick who will like you and where you’ll naturally plug in. I think that with enough time, effort and energy you could probably plug in just about anywhere and I guess get someone to like you (or they get a restraining order, whichev comes first!). I don’t know why this is the way it is. Someone else who is way more into washer machine diagnosis than I am probably has some theories. For the more intellectual side of our blogosphere hive mind, feel free to take a stab at it.
I always punch out when things get too theoretical. I was so into college at the 101 and 201 levels and then when we got to the 300 level theory classes, that’s when you’d find me grabbing either R. or J. and throwing them in my convertible to skip class to roll down hills at the Rutgers Gardens or watching a matinee. My claim to fame in the Women’s Studies department was an insistence on writing about sex work whenever possible in whatever way just to break up the boredom of theory and a point in a particular 300 level class that I happened to show up for where the professor was trying to be provocative and said, “Does anyone feel like this level of theory is mental masturbation?” My hand immediately shot up and I saw I was alone. I didn’t care! I said, “Jesus Christ, when are we going to stop talking about the ramifications about what others have done and the ramifications of what we could possibly do and just fucking do something?” But, I did get to take my senior seminar with Helen Caldicott (she won a Nobel Peace Prize and she was the only one to ever get a standing ovation for our freshman year Shaping a Life course which was mandatory and thus hated and she got another standing o. at our commencement. She hugged me at commencement and whispered in my ear, I know you’ll do great things, Deborah). I loved Dr. Caldicott so needless to say, I always showed up for her classes.
Hoodoo works for me because there’s not a lot of theoretical conversation. Your work either works or it doesn’t. There are herbs, curios, candles and other bits and bots which I like because I’m a component junkie. Everything is supposed to do a specific thing but if you don’t have a particular item, there’s a long list of potential substitutions that can be found reasonably easily if you’re in a bind. There are a lot of specific rituals you can do for specific thing but there are an equal number of ad hoc rituals that work equally well. There’s not a lot of across the board YOU MUST NEVER or YOU MUST ALWAYS or THIS IS ALWAYS WRONG or THIS IS ALWAYS RIGHT. Life is subjective, so is Hoodoo.
While Hoodoo draws the majority of its roots in the African diaspora and is practiced primarily by African-Americans, it comes from a lot of different cultures that came over here (or already lived here) and went through hard times in the South – like the Germans, the Native Nations, the Creole, etc., etc. It was passed from worker to worker, primarily through oral tradition which is how I learn best magically. I love listening to Momma Starr‘s podcasts and bothering my mentors N. and S. with an endless barrage of questions. Really, any time I meet anyone who’s into something that I don’t know much about or can’t understand, as soon as it’s politely possible, I ask a million questions about why something is the way it is and then carry on with a batrillion follow up questions. I attempt to not try the other person’s patience with varying degrees of success.
I will never understand the struggle of being an African-American on a viseral level, I will never understand all the culture of Southern tradition and how complicated it truly is, no matter how many books I read or how many ex-pat Southerners I bother incessantly or how many African-American studies classes I took. Hoodoo itself doesn’t have a pantheon (unlike Voudou) so there’s strong Christian overlaps because Christianity has always been A Thing down South in a way that it’s not up North.
That being said, Hoodoo is an American folk magic system that can be (carefully and thoughtfully) worked with a lot of pantheons. It works here in America really well because we’ve been borrowing culture from each other with varying degrees of success and offensiveness since people started to want to live here on purpose. I think it works really well for me because I come from a middle class family whose working class family came over here only two generations ago and neither side (Italian, Irish) were particularly welcome or wanted. Neither my mom’s side or my dad’s side had a lot of money. My mother’s mother worked at the Ideal toy factory and my mother’s father was a social worker. When he first came over here, he sold vegetables off a truck. We’ve never really had much of a pot to piss in and neither side of my family has ever been in any kind of position of power or wealth that anyone can recall until we got to America with my parents’ generation and even the richest of us are still just rich, not wealthy. So I don’t exactly have a lot of ancestral guilt since we have a long history of being poor peasants.
Hoodoo works for me because I like that it’s not a very strict system. I like all the components. I can relate to not having a whole lot. It’s a magical system that was born in the country I was born in. Its (arguable) seat is in New Orleans, a place I love dearly. It addresses concerns that I have. Most of all, it just works for me. I plug into it very easily, probably because my personality is a good match to it and honestly, I think that whatever magic works easier for you is based more on personality than anything else like nationality. And that’s all the washer machine theory you’ll get from me for today.