In spite of the fact that she is recognized for her work as an anthropologist and an ethnographer, it is difficult to determine the exact effect that her influence that this work had on her and on her writings. Given that she was coming from an environment that was somewhat similar to the hoodoo-related communities that she dealt with, it only seems normal for her to put across biased concepts at times. Her association with the Harlem Renaissance however makes her different from the people that she interviewed. Given her upbringing in the Harlem community and the fact that she was experienced in inter-human relations, her perspective in regard to hoodoo and magic practitioners must have been rather objective. To a certain degree, she was advantaged in communicating with African-Americans in the rural South as a result of her childhood experiences in the Eatonville community (“Zora Neale Hurston 1891-1960,” 2000).
As emphasized by Hurston, while most Europeans think about “Veaudeau” or voodoo when they come across hoodoo practitioners, the African-American practitioner’s “own name for his practices is hoodoo” (Hurston, 1931, p. 22). Part of her studies as an anthropologist was focused on analyzing folk culture from the American South. In order to do so, she interacted with hoodoo doctors and with practically everything related to the African-American rural South (Hurston, 1931, p. 22).
The hoodoo tradition had a deep impact on her, influencing her in writing about people and practices involved in performing hoodoo magic. Even with the fact that many people were at the time reluctant to come into contact with hoodoo-related matters and individuals, she did not hesitate to learn more about the hoodoo culture by listening sermons and songs and to understand the hoodoo dialect (“Zora Neale Hurston 1891-1960,” 2000).
In spite of the fact that it can be considered to be pagan by some individuals, hoodoo actually borrowed many elements from foreign cultures and even from Christianity. Hoodoo practitioners are accustomed to using crosses, incenses, and candles during their rituals. Certain concepts in hoodoo are however very different from how they are in Christianity. Hoodoo supporters do not believe that God and the devil opposite forces, as they actually believe that the two are equivalent. “This is African. Elegbara (or Legba), the trickster god of crossroads, who is the closest African counterpart to the Christian devil, is more a reconciler of good and bad than an embodiment of pure evil”(Shafton, 2002, p. 141). In spite of the differences between Christianity and Hoodoo, there are also Christian hoodoo practitioners, this standing as proof that one does not necessarily have to abandon Christian convictions in order to perform hoodoo (Shafton, 2002, p. 141).
When comparing voodoo and hoodoo, it appears that the former is focused on promoting a culture’s positive religious traditions whereas the latter is mainly concerned with the respective culture’s mystic and magical properties. One of the reasons for which the general public is better acquainted with practices performed by hoodooists is the fact that the custom has grown to be a commercial tradition. Many people ignore some of the most important values of hoodoo in order to deal with its magic and with the opportunity of exploiting it for their personal interests. Hurston expressed particular concern about changing people’s opinion in regard to hoodoo, as she knew that the general public was inclined to discriminate it (Hill, 1996, p. 135).
Even though she also came across stories that would have been immediately disregarded by someone else, she did not express distrust in hoodoo supporters and actually tried to understand them, just as she wanted her readers to leave their prejudice behind. In spite of her association with the urban community, Hurston was rapidly accepted into the Hoodoo community. “In New Orleans, Hurston was initiated into the secret society of practitioners by Luke Turner, who told her he was a nephew of Leveau, allegedly the last great priestess” (Hill, 1996, p. 135).
Hill, Lynda Marion Social Rituals and the Verbal Art of Zora Neale Hurston (Washington, D.C.: Howard University Press, 1996)
Hurston, Zora. Hoodoo in America. The Journal of American Folklore. Vol. 44, No.…