Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Hoodoo Truth: Harry Middleton Hyatt

I will plan to write a more thorough entry here on my blog for Harry Middleton Hyatt. This particular blog will simply address some things that are not being properly taught or communicated when it comes to his writings.

Harry Middleton Hyatt was an Anglican minister and folklorist who travelled much of the South in the latter 1930s and 1940s in an attempt to preserve hoodoo folklore and practices. Hyatt was a human being and as such he was flawed. However, Hyatt should be commended on his attempt and the work he was able the record. This said there are problems that are not being communicated to people when they come across his work. Those problems include:

1.) A focus primarily on the "black thread" of the tapestry that is hoodoo. In his volumes, "Hoodoo-Conjuration-Witchcraft-Rootwork", he seems to completely ignore any white or Native America influences. In fact he is told by some of his African-American informants that there are a good number of white workers and this seems to go right over Hyatt's head. This should have been a major hint to Hyatt that his belief in a "pure black" tradition was wrong. However, Hyatt only focused on the African-American practices and as such he missed the big-picture and was not able to see the "tapestry" that is hoodoo. I am firmly convinced that if Hyatt would have had that stoke of genius to be able to "see" hoodoo for what it truly is, a mix of African-American, Scott-Irish, and Native American practices it would have blown his mind and it would have taken his documentation and recording of the practice into a brand new direction. Unfortunately that didn't happen and Hyatt didn't have the genius to recognize what exactly hoodoo was and as such only focused on the "black thread" of the tapestry.

2.) Hyatt's black informants were of a mix of people who had good knowledge, people who had questionable knowledge, people who didn't know a thing, and people who lied and invented stories. Hyatt didn't separate or make distinctions between these different peoples. If you start reading his works then you will find some very amusing and entertaining stories that have no basis in reality. In fact, I was often left with the feeling that many of his black informants should have become writers because they told some really good fictional tales! I mean there are elaborate tales of "hoodoo initiation rites" (no such thing), hoodoo balls/parties (no such thing), hoodoo schools similar to our understanding of the Hogwarts of the Harry Potter fame (no such thing), hoodoo covens (no such thing), and the appearance of Lucifer at "hoodoo rituals" (never happened). I just hope readers who come across Hyatt's work have the intelligence to realize when one of the informants was being honest and when they were spinning tales.

3.) This is just my personal opinion and I have no evidence to back it up, but I am convinced from reading Hyatt's work that some of the informants deliberately lied, not just spun tales, but deliberately lied to Hyatt for whatever reason.

4.) Hyatt believed that the "golden age" of hoodoo had passed and believed that the marketers, the non-practicing white and Jewish manufacturers, had destroyed the tradition. He was wrong. The practice wasn't dead it just went underground and became more secretive. Also it needs to be stressed once again that Hyatt was only focusing on African-American practices and ignored the Scott-Irish and Native-American influences.

People today with no family history of hoodoo/rootwork/conjure are using Hyatt's work as if it is the "hoodoo bible" and most of what they know, or think they know, comes from Hyatt's work. Hyatt's work is good, however it is nowhere near strong enough to be used as a foundation for knowledge on hoodoo/rootwork/conjure.

So these are just some things to know about Hyatt. In the future I will expand on the topic.


Anonymous said...

So what would you recommend people read to get the basic foundations of Hoodoo if Hyatt's material is not "legit" enough?

DocConjure said...

@ Anonymous,

Hyatt's material has it's place. I'm not saying it's not "legit", rather, I'm saying that its a bunch of things mixed together whithout any explanation provided to the readers.

For example, there is legitimate hoodoo in the material. Then there's witchcraft (evil stuff). Then there's fantasy tales his informants made up. Finally, there are occassions where I am convinced that the informant was deliberately lying. Case in point, one informant tells Hyatt to put graveyard dirt on his head if he can't sleep. LOL I'm sorry but that would be like crossing yourself up!

Now, I'm going to be completely honest here. I have searched online for years and have only found one old-school worker online. Her name is Momma Starr. I recently read one of her books and I can assure you she is old-school, the kind of stuff that if you went to an old-school worker in your community would teach you.

Everyone else online is either nont-tradition, and in my opinion theres no such thing as "non-traditional" conjure workers. I believe they are just doing their own thing and slapping a hoodoo label on it.

I recently read one of Momma Starr's books. Before reading this I was convinced that nobody could learn hoodoo from books. Now I think there's hope.

However, I need to caution you. Hoodoo uses the bible and prays to the Christian God. We do not work with pagan gods. If this is a problem for you then hoodoo may not be for you. In order to do authentic hoodoo workers must use the bible and pray to the Christian God. If you are not a Christian then you need to keep conjure work separate from your religious beliefs. Meaning, when you are doing hoodoo then you pray to God and use the bible, then do what you want on the side. Again, if you can't do this then hoodoo is not for you.

I would advise you to check out Momma Starr's blogtalkradio show below, as well as her website. Listen to her shows. You won't be disappointed.

Old Style Conjure Blogtalkradio Show (Start at the beginning show, on page 3)

Old Style Conjure

Now, about her books. You will find info in her books that is found nowhere else. There's a huge difference between what one may find online vs. real life old-school workers. Most of the stuff online is simply not old-school, but rather stuff that is more aptly called "urban hoodoo", which was created by manafacturers in order to sell their products.

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