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Thursday, May 13, 2010


Although most "Southern Style" conjure bags are made of red flannel, some root doctors favour the colour-symbolism employed in hoodoo style candle-burning magic and thus use green flannel for a money mojo, white flannel for a baby-blessing mojo, red flannel for a love mojo, pale blue flannel for a peaceful home mojo, and so forth. Leather bags are also seen, but far less frequently than flannel; they are associated with West Indian obeah, another form of folk magic closely related to African-American hoodoo.

And what is contained in the mojo hand? Well, that varies a lot, based on what the wearer hopes to accomplish by carrying the amulet and what the maker finds effective or customary to use in preparing it.

A mojo carried for love-drawing will contain different ingredients than one for gambling luck or magical protection.

The objects most commonly found in mojo bags are roots and herbs, minerals, petition papers, name papers, plus a variety of animal parts such as hair, fingernails, bones, or dyed feathers -- green for money, red for love, orange for change or warning, blue for spiritual peace -- rattlesnake rattles, dried frogs, swallow hearts, and bat wings. (Modern urban practitioners may substitute a toy plastic bat for the latter). Coins, metal lucky charms, crystals, good luck tokens, and carved stone amulets may also be added for extra power or for their symbolic value.

Generally there are at least three items in a mojo hand. Many root doctors try to ensure that the total number of ingredients comes to an odd number -- usually 3, 7, or 9, but sometimes 5, 11, or 13. On the other hand, just as many root doctors don't bother counting the items at all; they just compile the traditional items they like to work with, according to the situations, conditions, and needs of their clients.

Some conjure workers who do like to count out 3 ingredients will make sure each item is singular and distinct -- say, one root, one personal item, and one mineral. To other, equally proficient workers, the count of 3 may include one personal item, one petition paper, and two paired minerals counted as one; or one animal curio, one petition paper, and half a handful of mixed herbs and seeds, in which case, no matter how many varieties there are in the mixture, the mix itself is counted as one item.

Some root doctors are known for their use of favourite or "trade mark" ingredients -- one man i knew, for instance, put tobacco snuff in every bag he made; another was famed for his "Good Luck Herb Mixture" and used it in almost every bag i bought from him, as well as selling it in the form of incense and baths; a third man was known to me for his consistent and otherwise unexplained inclusion of a coin -- usually a modern penny -- in every bag he made. But the use of such "trademarks" is not too common, in my experience; most makers vary the contents of their bags quite a bit, depending on the case at hand.

Some root workers top off their mojo bags with parchments upon which are printed medieval European seals and sigils of talismanic import, particularly the seals from the Greater Key of Solomon and The 6th and 7th Books of Moses, both of which are sold as sets of seals printed on parchment paper, and are used without reference to the rituals given in the texts of the books.

These last items surprise many Caucasians, who are unaware that a strong vein of Germanic folklore runs through traditional African-American hoodoo. Still, however strange it may seem to cultural anthropologists in search of "African survivals" in hoodoo practice, it is a fact that John George Hohman's "Pow-Wows or the Long Lost Friend" -- first published in America in 1820 and translated into English in 1856 -- has long been a staple source of inspiration for conjure-workers in both the African-American and European-American Appalachian traditions, and many a black hoodoo practitioner can cite chapter and verse of "Albertus Magnus," "The Black Pullet," "Secrets of the Psalms," "The 6th and 7th Books of Moses," "8th, 9th, and 10th Books of Moses," and other occult books of European origin.