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introduction | 19th century hoodoo | 20th century hoodoo | 21st century hoodoo

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PUTTING A HEX ON VOODOO
by Ronald Sullivan

from The Emporia [KS] Gazette, Friday, November 16, 1962

This article came to me from the Emporia Gazette, published in Emporia, Kansas, but at the end of the article, one finds the cutline "-- In the New York Times Magazine" and the author, Ronald Sullivan, was a New York Times reporter who "specialized in health matters" and who married Patricia Molino, "a freelance medical and science writer" in February 1985, as reported in the New York Times.

I have to lead off this reprint with a comment on this story: IT IS NOT ABOUT VOODOO. The reporter dutifully looked up Alfred Metraux's book on Voodoo, because the then New York City Commissioner of Markets, Anthony S. Pacetta, called hoodoo "voodoo," as so many White folks did (and still do) -- but everything described in the article is a hoodoo product. Note that there is no mention of the Voodoo pantheon of lwa (loas) and no French or Kreyol terminology. It goes without saying that Black American conjure terms like "jinx removing" and "money drawing" have nothing to do with the Francophone religion of Voodoo.

In the article there is mention of Negroes (which at that time meant American-born Black people whose ancestors were formerly enslaved in the United States) and also of people from the "West Indies" -- but the latter were not Haitians, given their use of American magical products. They seem to have been Anglophone Jamaicans, Bahamians, and Trinidadians, who were practicing some variety of Obeah, the Caribbean folk magic that is most like hoodoo. Those mentioned as living in Spanish Harlem were probably Puerto Ricans. To this day, Christian West Indians in America use hoodoo products very readily and adeptly, because the Afro-Anglophone magical systems are so similar.

As a side-note, the Ineeda Incense Company mentioned herein was a straight-up hoodoo outfit, started by Max Spitalnick, the brother of Joseph "Joe Kay" Spitalnick, a long-time hoodoo book publisher and the inheritor of the formulas of "The Mysterious Mr. Young" of the Oracle Products Company from the 1930s. Ineeda never had anything to do with Voodoo and i am sure the Spitalnicks were not involved in the veneration of Haitian deities. Shown here is an advertisement for Ineeda's line of Astral Incense, comprised of loose incense powders for each Zodiac sign, circa 1962, the era of this article.

Finally, you will notice that the title of the piece, "Putting a Hex on Voodoo" is clunky, but if it had been "Putting a Hex on Hoodoo," it would have been catchy and cool. I wonder if some tone-deaf editor decided to change it.

PUTTING A HEX ON VOODOO

by Ronald Sullivan

The Emporia [KS] Gazette, Friday, November 16, 1962, Page 2

A long pin cut deep through the limp figure, impaling it to the roof of Spanish Harlem tenement.

The menacing shadow of a woman, barely discernible in the autumn moonlight, hovered over the form -- a rag doll -- then thrust another pin through its body. Attached to the doll's chest was a photograph of the New York City Commissioner of Markets, Anthony S. Pacetta. The woman practiced voodoo. Commissioner Pacetta opposed it. He was getting stuck for his efforts.

Recently Mr. Pacetta discovered to his astonishment that retail markets owned by the city, which provide housing for small fruit, meat, and dry goods dealers, housed a growing number of voodoo vendors as well. Among the legitimate religious articles sold by these vendors his inspectors found jinx-chasing sprays, all-purpose hex candles, money-drawing and Love incenses, bat's blood and graveyard dust to throw on enemies.

A cautious man, the commissioner crossed his fingers, threw salt over his shoulder, and then ordered the banishment of what he called "voodoo objects" from the nine retail markets under his control, on the grounds that the vendors were breaking the law, which bars misleading advertising on city property.

Few words have a more chilling effect than voodoo. For most people it conjures up visions of mysterious deaths, evil incantations and spells, zombies, and secret rites. But, according to the French anthropologist, Alfred Metraux, voodoo is not all that morbid or horrifying. A Negro religion originating on the West Coast of Africa, voodoo came to the Western Hemisphere in the latter half of the 17th century with the arrival of slaves in Haiti, then a French possession. Basically it is a form of fetish worship in which gods or sacred spirits are embodied in animals and objects. In practice it embraces magic and sorcery -- the belief that the course of natural events can be altered for good or bad with the help of the spirits. When appeal is made to the evil spirits -- with the intention of causing injury or harm to one's enemies -- then voodoo takes on the sinister aspect with which most people are familiar.

In the early days slaves used this aspect of voodoo in revenge for brutality at the hands of slaveowners. Many found that sticking pins into dolls made to resemble cruel masters helped -- psychologically. Others found that placing a hex on slave-owning families did wonders -- in bolstering their own morale and destroying that of their overseers. Alarmed by the power of voodoo and its rebellious effect, French authorities in St. Dominique in 1704 tried to wipe it out. But their action only served to establish voodoo more firmly. Eventually, the practice of voodoo in one form or another spread from island to island in the West Indies.

It was brought to the United States first by slaves and most recently by Haitian, Puerto Rican and other West Indian immigrants.

VOODOO SHOPS OPEN

Today, there are about 100 private voodoo shops in New York. Nearly all are situated in Negro or Spanish-speaking neighborhoods -- in Spanish Harlem, in the Bronx, on the Lower East Side, and in Brooklyn and Queens. All vendors avoid the term "voodoo," and most refuse even to admit it exists. They call their shops "botanical gardens"; but the plants, herbs and flowers are merely a sideline. A walk on Madison and Park Avenues between 112th and 116th Streets uncovers nearly a dozen "gardens." Some are no more than shabby little rooms. Others are bright, spacious and air-conditioned. Most are somewhere in between. All peddle the same stuff.

In one shop, a side wall was filled with West Indian shrubbery and garish religious objects. Another wall had shelves cluttered with voodoo products. Most had "alleged" or "so-called"- microscopically printed on their labels. The candle section was impressive. A big seller was an eight-inch high "Death Unto My Enemies" hexing candle. It was made of black wax with a "Prayer of Hate" and a Spanish curse inscribed on it. There were others. A green candle signified "Good Luck" and boasted of "Money-Drawing" power. A red one meant "Lucky in Love." A yellow one promised substantial winnings from games of chance. Each cost 75 cents. For a dollar, there was a multi-colored, all-purpose candle, taller than the others, that guaranteed everything.

Lined up below the candles were hundreds of small voodoo perfume bottles. A golden-colored essence was "Jinx Removing." A brown bottle provided -- if you could stand the smell -- "Peace at Home." A pink shade promised lovers an "Easy Time." Among the oils, a vial of "Bat's Blood" with a large, bloodshot eye on its label spoke of "occult power." For those in a hurry, a bottle of green oil produced "Fast Luck."

A shop a block away specialized in incense. Scrawled on one container was: "Black Art incense will evoke the power of darkness," with a note that it had to be supplemented by a burning Hex candle. A "Money-Drawing" incense was to be burned while thinking about clouds of bank notes floating your way through the smoke. The directions added that "smart Orientals" had "found this particular incense rewarding." "Dragon's Blood Love Incense vowed to spare lovers the fate suffered by Romeo and Juliet.

Almost hidden at the end of one shelf was a bright red shaker of "Rattlesnake Incense." It was said to hold just the right combination of "Graveyard Dust, Dragon's Blood and Rattlesnake Dung." This happy mixture "canceled debts" and "weakened enemies."

One vendor driven from a city market by Commissioner Pacetta's order has opened a shop two doors away. His collection showed evidence of modern technological know-how. One product came in an aerosol can and was described by the manufacturer, the Ineeda Incense Co., as a "powerful Jinx-Chaser." Oddly enough, the spray's jinx-chasing properties were listed under the can's inert ingredients.

In his downtown office Commissioner Pacetta declared: "Going after voodoo is like trying to break a butterfly. If they want to believe in this stuff, that's okay. But when honest people get misled, I get upset. I have no exact figure but there must be millions of dollars involved in the manufacture and sale of this junk. Why, the very day we decided to crack down, we received double the normal number of applications to open stands in the markets."

Shrugging off what appeared to be a sharp pin prick near his heart, Pacetta added that space in the markets was desirable because of the large numbers of shoppers who passed through, especially poor people whom the voodoo vendors wanted to reach.

One vendor, a slight, elderly man closed down by Pacetta and now selling herbs and spices, explained: "Business is business. The customers wanted to be hexed. Rich people go to psychiatrists. The ones here turn to voodoo. By kicking us out, the city is only driving voodoo to private shops where prices are higher."

-- In the New York Times Magazine

This material is reprinted from

The Emporia Kansas Gazette
Friday, November 16, 1962
Page 2

For more on the author, see:

http://www.nytimes.com/1985/02/17/style/ronald-sullivan-is-married-to-patricia-molino-writer.html

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