I am currently creating a new site for Hoodoo, specifically aimed at the South African folk, but not solely of course. This is the article that is going up on the site about what Hoodoo is.
With its main roots in Africa, Hoodoo became a mixture of various religious and spiritual practices, and yet it remains non-religious itself. Bringing together Christianity, Kabbalah, European Paganism and even Native American practice, Hoodoo, although labeled as African-American folk magic, has been and still is, practiced by both black and white folk alike.
Nobody is certain as to the origins of the word "Hoodoo", although there is a good argument on the Lucky Mojo site (very much worth checking out) that it originated from the Spanish word for “Jewish”. In Palo (a Cuban practice of Central African Mkisi-worship) there are two major groups, Palo Cristiano (Christian Palo) and Palo Judio (Jewish Palo). Although this does not refer to the practice of the Jewish faith, it does refer to the idea of not giving themselves over to Christianity. However, Judio is pronounced hoo-dyoh.
Hoodoo itself is a very practical and straightforward Art that incorporates the combination of herbs, roots, oils, and various other things, including sigils and seals found in various Grimoires to make up powders that can be laid as a trick, oils to anoint, mojo bags or gris gris (pronounced gree-gree) to carry with you, or various bath salts, waters, colognes and floor scrubs to cleanse and protect yourself or your home and business. The list of what can be done with Hoodoo is exhaustive, so this very short list is just that, very short.
There is some confusion as to whether Hoodoo is Voodoo, and I have to agree with others, no it is not. Although some practitioners may incorporate the Orisha and Loa of Vodou, it is not Vodou itself. In some cases, especially the New Orleans practitioners, they may use the words interchangeably or refer to "Voodoo Hoodoo", however the practice of Hoodoo itself does not use religion, whereas Voodoo does. If a Hoodoo, Root Doctor or Conjurer is going to petition the aid of any spirit, it will be the "Black Man" of the Crossroads, the Saints and a small variety of deceased people who were considered to be powerful in their practice such as Black Hawk, but there is no worship involved in the practice of Hoodoo unless, as I mentioned above, the practitioner is also incorporating Voodoo and giving specific reverence to the Orisha and Loa.
However, in the practice of "New Orleans Voodoo Hoodoo", the actual practice of Haitian Vodou is not as fierce. There is no need to go through initiation ceremonies such as Kanzo and so they do not necessarily become mambos and houngans. It tends to be more focused on Creole Voodoo in this respect.
As for myself, coming from a European background and being born in England, I tend to stick more closely to the more common Hoodoo practices and do not refer to it as Voodoo in any way. I am also a Kabbalist and Traditional Witch, and so I find the old Hebrew sigils and seals from the Grimoires of Solomon and Co. to be more useful, and will work with the Saints and the Psalms. If I am to call any spirits outside the standard mainframe of Hoodoo, then it will either be the Celtic Gods and sometimes I will bring myself into the presence of the Loa for the simple reason that I live in Africa. Some may feel that this is a mix and match scenario which is not a good thing to do, but if you look into the Voodoo Hoodoo way, then you will notice that this has already been done. The Loa themselves have been associated with various Saints. This was mostly done during the times of the slave trades when Catholicism was being forced upon them. They found similar attributes between their Loa and the Catholic Saints, and therefore used the names of the Saints. If one looks at the Loa we also find cognates between them and the Celtic Gods, in fact, I remember having some very informative conversations with an old Zulu friend of mine where we compared the practices of the Zulus to that of the Celts, and the similarities are astounding. I am sure that spread through Africa, especially considering the wide spread of the Zulu people over the ages. There are many bridges that can be found between all spiritual practices and religions if we are willing to take the time to find them.
To give you an example, Chango, one of the Seven African Powers, is a Warrior and the Orisha of lightning, dance and passion and his best known symbol is the oshe, a double bladed axe. Does Thor ring any bells? Of course when we start finding Black Hawk, who was Native American, and various Mexican deities in the general Hoodoo mix, we can see that it is very eclectic in approach anyway.
The manner in which Hoodoo Tricks work, although a simple practice, is quite complex. There is a level of Sympathetic and Contagious Magic involved, whereby you either represent your intent through the act of creating a symbolic similarity to the outcome you desire, or through causing the magic to spread from the trick into the person. However, I have found it more complex than that. Having studied various traditions and practices from a variety of Paths, I tend to get a little analytical at times. Some may say that the herbs, roots, and all other items used in the blends contain their own energy which does the work, and although this is true, there is still more to it. When a blend is being prepared, the intent of the Root Worker or Conjurer also infuses into the remedy. I find this probably the most important aspect. I tend to go off into spontaneous song with words and sounds coming out of my mouth that I don't recognise from any language I have ever heard, and it instills a mild trance whilst grinding and mixing the remedies. This spontaneous singing seems to imbue the blend with Power which is synonymous with the intent that it holds. Other practitioners may recite prayers or chant Power Names whilst preparing their blends, but the main thing is the outcome. As the saying goes, the proof is in the pudding, and I have had enough proof of the effects of my blends to know that they work. If you go to the Services page you will see a photo of the first love spell I did for someone. Have a look at how the flames begin to twist around each other. They were literally dancing together in a loving embrace.
There is a great deal that can be said about Hoodoo and the variety of traditions that are incorporated in its practice, but instead of making this a very lengthy page, I will attempt to cover as much as possible in the associative pages.