|My makeup for opening ritual at last week's Hoodoo Fest to invite in the Ancestors.|
But I still consider myself a spiritual person, because I do hold beliefs in things that aren't directly observable, things that haven't been explained (or accepted) by science. I believe there is a truth to energy manipulation. There is truth in being able to sense and respond to energy that is outside of your own. Energies that belong to the air and the soil and the plants, ponds, rivers, lightning, stones, the moon, animals, the dead. I believe that land spirits are a real thing, they are unique to their own ecosystems, and that we can learn about them by spending time in our environments, paying attention to what we feel when we're there. And I think it's because that I believe in these things that I don't need the religion anymore.
Probably the biggest influence on this personal change entered my life two years ago, when my church began its West Kentucky Hoodoo Rootworker Heritage Festival. Our third consecutive Hoodoo Fest just ended last week and each time I attend, I learn and become even more confident in leaving religion behind to pursue a craft-like approach to spirituality that is rooted in the practices of energy manipulation (magic) and ancestor reverence. And these practices also have a different quality that captivates me more than any others ever have: they're American.
One of the biggest things I've been struggling with for the last decade is that I don't know how to practice something that is so culturally-involved when I myself am not a part of that culture. Yes, my ancestors came from Ireland and England and Prussia, but I didn't. Even having lived in Europe, attending a British school, studying abroad in England, visiting Ireland, hanging out in Germany every weekend, I'm not Irish or English or German. I am American, and before I knew what hoodoo was, it seemed like there was no practice of which that I was ever going to feel truly a part. I might not be a native of the Carolinas or grew up in a household with a grandma who sprinkled brick dust and had superstitions about how to store a broom, but I don't think that matters. Since I've began my own personal research and practice, and since I've been attending hoodoo-focused workshops every year at my church, I've enjoyed success and improvement in my spiritual life that I feel I was always missing out on before. When I dress candles and write petition papers and create sachets, I feel like I'm participating in something that works and enriches my life, rather than something frustrating and discouraging.
I'm even shying away from what I called European witchcraft. There is a feeling of so much freedom in Hoodoo when my materials are just yarn, salt, paper, herbs (among other very easy to find or make ingredients). No need for wands and athamés and censers and grand gestures. Hoodoo is the kind of craft that I can practice sitting on my deck listening to the birds, wrapping string around a little piece of paper. I don't have to be chanting and raising my arms and dancing around an altar at midnight. It's a relief.
And it's also relieving to understand and come to terms with how my beliefs are evolving. I think there's a lot of pressure in the Pagan community to be a polytheist, and to adhere to a karmic worldview, and to never harm anyone or anything, even in self defense. There's a stark dichotomy between "black/dark" and "white" witchcraft that frankly, I hate. It's always been my opinion that overall, Neo-Paganism should draw its spiritual inspiration from nature and it just drives me crazy when Pagans devise all these ethical constructs and fantastic beliefs that have nothing connecting them to the natural world. Hoodoo seems so different in the still early stages of my practice because it is directly connected to the land and the community in which I live. The rainwater I collect comes from my backyard. My petition paper comes from local thrift store packaging that wraps the many jars I also purchase there. The more I learn about this craft, the more I try to use materials that I can walk outside of my house and find right in my yard. I want to personally make my materials as much as I can, like when I made my own Florida Water. Next, I'd like to make my own rose water, and try my hand at my own candles and oils.
Hoodoo to me represents a practice of self-accountability, responsibility, and creativity. It provides so many opportunities for an individual to experience self-growth through trial and error and learning at one's own pace, along with practicing traditional methods. Specifically to me, it allows me to figure out my own ethics and beliefs without the requirement of belief in gods and karma and all the other things that hang me up about other spiritual/religious systems. But it's flexible enough that many practitioners of it (at least most of the people I've met), do approach it from a religious point of view. Some even identify as Christian or at least work the magic within a Christian context, using psalms, calling on Mary and Jesus. It's that flexibility that really makes hoodoo a true craft to me, not just a spiritual activity. From all I've learned and done so far, it's not a meditate-y, prayerful, fluffy bunny, unconditional love and peace type of spirituality. And I need that because nature and life and my own experience are sometimes rarely those things. I need a practice that is grounded in the type of reality that I'm looking at everyday. I don't want a religion or a spirituality for which I have to set time aside, or get into the right (somewhat altered) mindset to participate, or ignore my education as a scientist, or any other ways of removing myself from this world. I'm looking for a spirituality that isn't supernatural, but is still mysterious, with concepts and skills to learn throughout my life.
I believe ultimately that spirituality should be about enriching one's life in the present. I also believe that the enrichment should be driven by oneself, through study, active practice, learning from mistakes and remembering successes for next time. The practice of hoodoo allows these things to happen for the individual, for me, and it's because of that that I don't think I'll be looking back at much of anything else as I move forward. The deeper I go into the study and practice of hoodoo, the farther away these inner conflicts about gods and religion and fitting in with other Neo-Pagans become. This system of American folk magic makes me feel like I know what home is. And home to me is not worshipping deities and drawing down the moon and turning the other cheek until there's nothing left because performing a curse is "wrong." Home is reading and coffee and little red bags filled with lodestones and herbs, enjoying a breeze, sitting with friends, sprinkling salt in the corners of the house, cooking and beer and laughter. Religion or spirituality should not be separated from everyday life, and it just feels right to finally be experiencing them together.