How does one keep the practice of hoodoo accessible, simple, yet powerful? Hoodoo practitioner and author Sherry Shone shares.
Sherry Shone (aka That Hoodoo Lady) is proud of her Black, White, and First Native heritages and honors them using hoodoo work. She has two books on the subject, the most recent of which is Hoodoo For Everyone. As a professional hoodoo practitioner, she witnesses the power of Spirit in her practice as a licensed minister.
She has given classes in hoodoo, conjure, and rootwork traditions for several years and the culmination of this knowledge is gratefully shared in all of her works. When not writing, she is gardening, researching haunted spots across North America, and keeping in touch with her readers.
Sherry's latest book, Hoodoo For Everyone, is reviewed in the July/August 2022 issue of Spirituality & Health.
What was the moment you fully embodied your role as hoodoo practitioner and guide?
I think it became very clear only in the past 10 years. I was leading tarot events, learning astrology, numerology, creative visualizations—you know those things. With a good friend I started a meetup called “Metaphysics with a Twist” and everything that was said and presented from practitioners and healers made sense but didn’t speak to me. It was like the words were there but I wasn’t being spiritually fed.
I started a path of self-discovery. Reaching out to my roots and speaking more to my ancestors. My dad’s family was from Texas, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and as one of my favorite movies, Angel Heart, says, “they ain’t all Baptists down there.”
My dad was the most powerful hoodoo worker I knew. We didn’t call it hoodoo—we just knew he had something that my mom’s family was afraid of. He had the sight. He had a gift. He was blessed with the ability to vision. My great grandma (his mom) was blessed with the dream interpretative gift and was a powerful healer, too. Learning their stories brought me closer to my gift and the more I learned and communed with them in their death state, the more my abilities grew. It is amazing to look back.
There’s a song by Mahalia Jackson that says, “How I got over / you know my soul look back and wonder / how it made it over.” It’s like that. Whenever I needed deliverance, it’s always been there. It's been a feeling. A sixth sense (as corny or repetitious as that may sound) but it’s truth. The sight is a gift. Hoodoo is a gift.
It isn’t restrictive to just a certain culture or background but it does come from people that need deliverance and have been through something. Pain, trauma, tragedy, shame, ridicule, poverty. These are the things that build up our character and help us reach out, in faith, intention, and direction for something that can get us out. I needed a way out and hoodoo was my way.
You write with such generosity about inclusiveness. What is it about hoodoo that lends itself to embracing those from diverse backgrounds, experience, or stages of life?
My family is diverse. Really—if you met us at a Red Robin or a BBQ you wouldn’t really be able to pick us out by trying to see who looks like each other. We’re White, Black, Latin, Asian, Indigenous, and everything in between. We are able bodies and have disabilities, married and single, religious, atheist, undecided. Gay, poly, straight. Just everyone in the spectrum is covered.
I have always believed as a person of faith that there is room enough for everyone at the table. Why? Because I have been given grace and deliverance without prejudice. When I need something, then people from every walk of life just pop up out of nowhere to help. If help was only for certain people then I think we would all be doomed. There is no right race, right gender, right sexual orientation, right way of life. We’re all others because we’re all unique. What makes us unique is that we’re all the same.
Neil deGrasse Tyson said in an interview on Hot Ones with Sean Evans, “We’re all made of four basic elements: hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon. The universe and all of the plants are made of four basic elements: hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon. We are unique because we are so alike. We are all made of the same things and need the same things.” None of us can live without these elements.
Even in my own house of origin. My mom was lesbian, my dad bisexual. They were married for several years and then divorced. My brother and sister are straight. I’m lesbian. My family roots go all the way back to the 1800s. Like I said, our lives have been helped and touched by a village of people that believed, like we did, that if you wanted help and asked, you would get it and should get it from those around you. To this day, I think that my goal in life—in any healer's life—is to use my gifts to help others.
Does that mean it’s always light and love? Nope. Some of the time it means protecting a wife and her children from an abusive spouse with magic and the law. It could mean helping someone get someone else’s partner if that’s meant to be. It can mean getting some spirit out of someone’s house. Getting a client the career or schooling they want.
A common thread in Hoodoo for Everyone is liberation through creativity. It’s reflected in how you adapt Bible verses to fit a situation or a client, as well as how the ancestors used the materials that were available to them. How does this style of creativity show itself in your writing life and teaching?
Honey, I am creative. I’ve always been able to make something out of nothing. Probably why that’s one of my favorite songs from the Foo Fighters, “Something From Nothing.” A Black lesbian from a really poor family that were enslaved in Mississippi 400 years ago would become a writer in the same country as her race’s tormentors? Preposterous, but it’s true.
In our family we believe that we are here because we are survivors. We survived being sold into captivity. We survived being outlawed in the country that we helped to build, and our brain power is used and profited off of to this day. It can be difficult to be forgiving and loving when you are still feeling (in some ways) that you are hunted, disrespected, and eliminated. However, there is liberation in being able to take back the control. That is the deepest part of hoodoo.
The knowledge from reading and learning from ancestors—enslaved persons—who became the winning beings that we have in our community leaders, musicians, athletes, scholars, physicians, healers, and so much more. We are as valued and necessary in this space as any other race. This creativity is in my blood (and I believe in the blood of all of us). Because we are all made of similar components—we are flesh, blood, water, bone. We all have oral and written traditions that began around a campfire. We have all had a shared understanding of being violated or hurt and wanting deliverance from that pain.
It is universal because it is a common thread we all have within us and our stories. As I write and teach, I bring forth that familiarity. I want you to know who I am and where I came from. I want you to know the enslaved ancestry that we all have before you begin the path of hoodoo because it is required to pay homage to those that made this folklore history if you are to truly be a part of it. How I express myself creatively is also reflective of that.
The Bible figures prominently in hoodoo: spell book, oracle, and source of comfort. In Hoodoo for Everyone, you propose many other sources of literature as equally powerful (poetry, hip hop lyrics, and others). What must be at the core of a successful hoodoo spell or incantation?
In both The Hoodoo Guide to the Bible (my first book) and Hoodoo for Everyone, I stress the importance of my tenets of hoodoo. The core of any successful hoodoo spell is intention, faith, and direction. You need to have a laser focus on what you want, the belief you will get it, and where you want the deliverance request to go. That could be as simple as up, down, away, near, far, here, there. These three things are necessary.
The tools used to make this happen are simple but they have to come from the heart. If you have been too traumatized by the Bible and are not ready to make it a source of spells then I want you to reach out to something you do have faith in. Maybe that’s faith in the power of plants, science, music, art, food, sex, animals, or even just love. The way you achieve deliverance and the intention, faith, and direction are the things that make hoodoo what it is. You connect with your guide or Spirit of your belief system (which requires faith), you ask for guidance (and they can provide the direction), and you state your deliverance need (which creates your intention).
But I want anyone reading or hearing my words to know that you can use other forms of divination in addition to hoodoo, too. Here’s an example: When I need help with, say, studying for an important exam, I will do a few things. I’ll make sure I have a clean body. I will put down my intention on paper. I will reach out through prayer and meditation to my spirit guide and deity and ask for their guidance, direction, and blessing of my request.
Then I listen—yes, listen—for as long as it takes until I get direction. Once I get direction, then I go about what they asked me to do. After all of that, and after I’ve successfully received deliverance, I must go back and pay offering. It can be as simple as a “thank you” to the ones that helped me. It can be sweets I bring to an altar. It can mean watering plant life on a hike. It can be volunteering for a community or helping a person who needs help. The gift requires an action.
Your matchbox altar is a miniature, portable way to sanctify a space. What other essential items or practices do you recommend for keeping hoodoo simple?
I try to keep everything very simple because hoodoo is so portable. I was on a very fast flight from Oklahoma City to Dallas. It’s really a quick flight, about 40 minutes in total, so you spend more time landing and taking off than in the air. Anyway, I was on this flight and had to sit in the back of the plane. I hate sitting back there because it's where I feel the turbulence the most. The flight crew was also back there (that’s where they typically are) and we were sharing stories about how amazing it is to be in this space and how grateful we are.
A person there with us shared that he was not supposed to be on this flight with us. He told us that he received a phone call, just about two hours before, that his daughter was in Dallas in the emergency room with his grandbaby. His grandbaby was in an accident and needed critical care. He booked the flight—not even packing—and made it just in time for this flight. We listened to his need.
I asked him if he would let me speak words of comfort and prayer for his daughter and granddaughter. He was grateful. We held hands, prayed, I spoke Bible verses that I keep in my memory, and asked my guides to help him with his guides to watch over this child that I’ve never met. Why? Because I was meant to be on that plane to help.
The other passengers that were back there with us also joined in. The energy of healing was overwhelming. There were tears. There was hope. There was faith, intention, and direction. “Keep this person that we just met, in the care of (whatever each one of us believed in), so that he can make it safely to his daughter and grandchild. Watch over them, heal the child and deliver them from this situation. Wrap the daughter in the arms of love and support. Let her heart know that we are all behind her, with her, pleading on her behalf, that she will be delivered and that her child will be OK. Watch over and safely guide the hands of the medical crew. Safely get us to our destination and safely get this person to their destination. We ask this in (whatever we believe in).”
Then we ended the prayer. By the time we stopped praying, the flight crew had quietly left us alone because they had to prepare for arrival.
If hoodoo required tools and ceremonies, I wouldn’t have been ready for this person that needed help and needed hearts to hear the need and help intercede on his behalf. It's just that simple. If you are open to it, acknowledge that it is bigger than you, and are sincere, then that is what is essential.
I would say prayer, a clean body and request, intention, faith, and direction. The rest is all just for our ego and psychological need to have something to channel or funnel our energy into. Tarot cards, playing cards, ink on pen and paper, roots, herbs, personal concerns, chants, speaking in tongues, possession, all of those things come after you make that true connection. You keep that line of communication ready and open. As we’ve heard others say, “If you stay ready you don’t have to get ready.” In hoodoo, it’s important that you stay ready.
You must encounter many people who hesitate to practice hoodoo because it is not part of their cultural heritage. How do you encourage them? What is the essence of practicing hoodoo with respect?
This is exactly the meat of the book Hoodoo for Everyone. How to practice appropriately and respectfully. In the book I offer several ways to do this but a very boiled-down approach would be: Give the ancestors, enslaved beings, and guides the respect they deserve first. Learn from them and about them. Learn the enslaved experience first. Work through anything that you may try to rationalize away and be ready to deal with your bias.
Without this knowledge of self and understanding of the Black experience, it isn’t possible to practice hoodoo. I say that in the book. However, if you are drawn to the hoodoo tradition, have exposed and learned and healed your bias, and are not fetishizing or escaping your own culture to embrace another (out of fear, jealousy, or the need to eradicate or appropriate) then you are good.
I cannot speak for my entire race, gender, or identity, but I can speak for what my guides tell me is true. They have told me that I do not have the right or ability to restrict anyone from learning about hoodoo. For me, it is my role as a healer to teach those that come to me. That doesn’t mean that I will share everything, because I worked very hard for the secrets that have been shared with me from my guides.
If you want to be a hoodoo worker, you will need to experience this for yourself and be willing to find and work with your guides. It isn’t a hand-held experience unless you are being held by your guide, ancestor, or spirit. Not another person giving you step-by-step instructions. It is deep, emotional, spiritual, psychological, physical, and life-changing. It isn’t for anyone that doesn’t want to devote themselves fully to being present and being used as a healer when they are called.
It also isn’t about intimidation, control, manipulation, and hatred. It's about deliverance, and if you need to apply a shift in energy that makes that happen—no judgement—but if you are doing the work in direct opposition with your guides and deity and ancestors’ blessing, then good luck with that.
You meet yourself from 20 years ago. What does she ask you? What advice do you share with her?
I have seen myself several years from now in spirit and physical form. I’ve never spoken to her, only seen her. I know that she’s near water (that’s where she lives) and I know what she does. To satisfy this answer I will say this: I will tell her that she has done enough. That she should be very proud of everything she did to touch lives in honesty and with openness.
I would look over our life and see how far we’ve come. She would ask me what I learned and what I want to take with me in the summers I have remaining. She asks me, was all of the hurt, love, joy, understanding, and memories worth it? And I will throw my head back and say “YAAASSSS!”
Things I want to share with her are to thank her for coming to me in dream state and showing me that when I was my most afraid and full of doubt, that she was right there. Showing me the way and helping me find little breadcrumbs she left. I want her to know I found as many as I could. I would thank her for the books I was able to publish, those that were able to read and listen to them, those that were helped and those that maybe I pissed off—all of it's energy, and it was meant to be.
I also would ask her if some of my questions that I’ve asked her personally were answered how I think they were. I would want to see if there is anything or anyone remaining that I should reach out to to help. If I could have more time to keep enjoying being here, and if the Blue Lady could come back and get me when she’s ready. This time when she asks me, I’ll say “yes” to coming with her.
Read our review of Hoodoo For Everyone from the July/August 2022 issue.