Magic is like music in many ways. It’s filled with fans and aficionados that delight in knowing more about something than everyone else or knowing about it first. This leads to some pretty puerile behaviour that can make beginners feel most unwelcome.
Nowhere is this more evident than with Voodoo. There is a dizzying variety of claims about when you can practice, who should practice and the things you have to do before you even think about picking up that snake rattle.
This upsets me because Voodoo magic is actually a pretty simple and inviting system. It’s a rich system and no mistake… But don’t confuse richness with undue complexity.
So here are four pitfalls that I have personally run afoul of and continue to see others run afoul of.
1. Are you an elitist?
I cannot think of a more preposterous magical belief system to be snobbish about. Born in a culture of desperation and slavery, built by people who literally had nothing as a means of survival in a harsh world. Do you honestly think the Siete Potencias Africanas would turn someone away who hasn’t been initiated or who can’t instantly identify different veve like flashcards in a mental hospital?
Spare me. This is the magic of the desperate and hopeless. This is the magic of someone who is at the end of their rope but refuses to give up. It is kitchen magic. It is grandmother magic. Nobody is checking ID at the door. All are welcome.
Related to this: The difference between Hoodoo and Voodoo is only of interest to academics. If your mother is sick and you can’t afford medicine then you’ll call it Fujitsu if you think it will help.
2. Do you cook from the book?
I live in London. Before that, I lived in New Zealand and before that I lived in Sydney. These places are not exactly known for their bayous. Jalap root and alligator teeth are quite difficult to procure in any of them. (Presumably alligator teeth are difficult to procure at the best of times.)
But in Australia I had access to shark eggs (some of our local sharks lay eggs that wash up on the shore) and in New Zealand I had easy access to volcanic rocks. (I lived on the side of a volcano. Yes, yes… Make a Lord of The Rings joke.) Neither of these things are found in a bayou.
The point is you don’t need to be a princess about ingredients. Think about how Voodoo actually formed. Those recently-arrived West Africans were looking for New World replacements for their traditional ingredients, anyway. Voodoo has always been about making do with what you have at hand.
Note that this doesn’t mean you should be lazy with your magical ingredients. It actually means the exact opposite: You need to think harder about what the component parts of a spell actually represent so that you can find a more appropriate local substitute.
If you don’t like this idea then feel free to explain to me exactly the chemical difference between High John the Conqueror root and acacia pods and how this difference will impact my magic.
3. Are you staging an arena spectacular?
Don’t get me wrong. I like a high camp ritual just as much as the next guy… It’s one of the things that got me into magic in the first place. Nothing quite like playing with antique candlesticks and mirrors and embroidered cloth and sharp knives in a darkened, smoky room. That’s my idea of a good time.
And Voodoo certainly offers some kickass ritual potential. The trouble is -especially if you’re a solo act- you tend to take on too much of this and you lose the mission. Over the years I have tried:
- Opening with drumming: No good. I suck at drumming.
- Playing recordings of drums: The tracks never last as long as the rituals and the ‘repeat’ button is jarring.
- Voodoo music on my iPod: Those stupid white cables get everywhere!
- Drawing ornate veve with cornflour: It never looks right and always blows away.
- Rum and cigars: Smoking and drinking for two is never conducive to good magic in my experience.
- Arts and crafts in a magic circle: So many spells involve quite intricate sewing, tying, drawing, writing, painting. The ritual chamber is just not the right place for this. (It’s too fucking dark, for one!)
My point is, there is a tendency -especially when first starting out- to just throw absolutely everything you have learned about Voodoo into each and every ritual. It can get in the way and if there was ever a Path to embrace minimalism then this is it. It doesn’t have to be mardi gras every night.
Again, you have to think back to Voodoo’s origins and purpose. It’s not like those plantations were within walking distance of Costco. The more simple I made my spells, the more right they felt.
I do my best Voodoo in the kitchen or at the crossroads. These are Holy Places.
4. Are you being racist?
Sure Voodoo is pretty black. And the Kaballah is Jewish. And runes are Nordic. And Hecate is Southern European. And mantras are Hindu. Your point being?
Avoiding Voodoo for fear of being ‘culturally insensitive’ is just middle class white guilt. Voodoo is not rap music. You’re allowed in if you want. Treating it differently because it’s pretty black is a little bit racist, don’t you think?
(Just don’t dress or talk like a rap star. But that advice is good for all areas of your life.)
5. Have you got out your credit card yet?
Ever tried googling for Voodoo spell formulas? It’s always the same.
Voodoo Love Spell:
- One Voodoo Love Spell Pouch
- Two candles
And the site you find it on just happens to sell Voodoo Love Spell Pouches. Well, how fucking convenient.
As I believe I have already mentioned, you don’t need fancy-ass ingredients and you certainly don’t need anyone ‘official’ to perform your spell.
I’m not knocking people who do this, but they’re not providing a service in the same way a doctor does… it’s more like what a hairdresser does. Sure, it’s nice and a bit of an indulgence to pay someone to focus on you. It is certainly not, however, required. (I chose hairdresser rather than whore but the principle is the same.)
Again; you don’t have to spend money in Voodoo. It would be inadvisable to be a cheapskate before the Loa if you really can afford nice things but you do not need to pay to go on this ride.
The Last Word
Sure, I’m talking about practical magic, here. Voodoo can also be a lifelong spiritual path with initiations, temples… The whole nine yards.
My problem is that there is a risk that people will be turned off just because this complex spiritual system exists for those who want it. But you don’t have to be a Cardinal to be Catholic. The same goes here.
What do you think? Have you made any of these mistakes? Have a missed one you think is important? Get in touch by comment or email.