It is probably this Kongo belief in Mkisi (incarnations of powerful spirits that quicken or bring to life an object or artifact) that has so shaped Hoodoo. This emphasis on roots as spiritually, supernaturally and physically powerful objects is peculiar to Hoodoo. Hoodoo however, is not defined by its ingredients rather by its way of perceiving the world. A way coalesced by the slaves. Hoodoo is not made up of ingredients alone. It is our belief in and perception of the ingredients that make Hoodoo. We use Calamus most often as a controlling ingredient. While in England it was used a roof thatch, and while interesting, that fact had no influence on the slaves perception of its use. Medicinally, Calamus aka Sweet Flag, is a sedative. The slaves perceived this sedative effect and it fit into their spiritual pharmacopeia as controlling when used against someone else. Making the target pliable, clouded, and easily manoeuvred ....or.... sedated. The fact that Calamus is among the most frequetly used herbs among the Chipewyan tribe, may have given opportunity for observation of its medical use, but the idea that this sedative would act spiritually the way it does, is purely Hoodoo. As mentioned earlier, Calamus was used also as roof thatch. And yet, it is not perceived as protective/ strengthening in Hoodoo. The reason the Chipewyan use for Calamus was the enduring influence rather than the English use is down to the slaves perception. This perception is Hoodoo.
There are many herbs in Hoodoo that have different or even the same usage in other cultures. Though the temptation to tailor it is strong, Hoodoo is a finished article. By Antebellum times Hoodoo had long set into what we practice today. The slaves perceived things based on their collective knowledge and experiences. When I am confronted with a new ingredient I am weighing and judging it by the already complete, though extant, folk magic belief system of Hoodoo. Ingredients can be added and or substituted, but that does not change the "pure" status of Hoodoo. As a belief system Hoodoo is in fact fully formed and pure and beautiful.
Hoodoo is an African-American form of folk magic. It is a mix of beliefs, lore, medicine, spirituality, religion, necessity, and common sense brought over with enslaved Africans. Aspects of it gleaned from the earlier established inhabitants of their new home. Among these established cultures, Native Americans, Europeans, (particularly the Slavers) contributed many traceable, identifiable aspects to Hoodoo. Making Hoodoo a sort of amalgamation of African, Native American, and European cultural practices and folk beliefs.
The American Folklore Society defines folklore as, "...the traditional art, literature, knowledge, and practice that is disseminated largely through oral communication and behavioural example. " Every cultural group has these folk traditions/beliefs -the things that people traditionally believe or perceive such as planting methods, village traditions, and other elements that shape worldview, do like dance, sing, craft their stories, know as how to build an animal enclosure, how to treat illnesses, how to fish, make say baskets, statues jewellery, and say such as funny stories, riddles, songs
Folklore and indeed Hoodoo can be further defined by splitting its Folklore into three sub-divisions. Shared history, material culture, and customs/beliefs (the latter two will be covered in future articles.) The 'shared' history of African Americans is of course the history of slavery. And as such I believe, slavery cannot be excluded from an accurate understanding of Hoodoo. Indeed, the story of Hoodoo begins with the enslaved Africans; with their former homeland beliefs, followed by a harrowing journey, enforced 'settlement' in foreign lands and nothing left of their past but what they kept in their memories to accompany them. In the Africa from which the slaves were taken, slavery was rife. Tribes fought amongst themselves and as in all great civilizations, to the victor went the spoils. In this case slaves. So the idea of slavery was not something introduced by Europeans. Slavery was already there. Saying that, African slavery differed from what became the Atlantic slave trade.
Slaves in Africa at that time maintained their beliefs as they were enslaved by and "absorbed" into the tribes of their enemies. This was somewhat easily done because many African nations shared basic, fundemental beliefs. That's not to say this was a seemless transition for the individual but as a whole, and comparitively speaking, known gods were supplanted, at least in name, by different ones without any major problems. The Gods and/or Spirits an African enslaved African worshiped were substatively the same throughout their pre and post slavery lives, only they were known by the local name, whatever that was at the time. This cultural attribute would come in handy when these Africans were sold into slavery and deposited in the New World. Forming one of the essential threads in the tapestry that expressed their spirituality and became Hoodoo.
An essential belief which forms the very basis of Hoodoo came by way of Africa. Kongo legends relate the kinship between local divinities and anomalies within nature. A patron spirit called Funza, also known as the "creator of charms" was believed to be incarnated in all deformity including abnormal children, oddly shaped animals, insects, stones, and contorted plant formations. Other regional spirits in Kongo were believed to appear on the earth as "unusual, bizzarre, or twisted natural objects". John the conqueror root is perhaps hoodoo's most well known example of these extant spirits.