Ask A Witch

Ask A Witch: How To Survive The Holidays With Hoodoo Magic

Hoodoo magic for a healing holiday season.

by Napaquetzalli Martinez
Originally Published: 

This is Ask A Witch, NYLON’s column with Indigenous healer and herbalist Napaquetzalli Martinez that answers your questions on the esoteric, the spiritual, and so much more.

The winter holiday season is often a time of travel, a time to visit home to celebrate and reconnect with our relatives — and potentially a time rife with stress. But for Halicue Hanna, a tarot and hoodoo practitioner, it’s also a time to reclaim ancestral practices and incorporate magic into our seasonal family rituals. As a host of the New Hoodoo podcast, she and her sister share powerful and accessible information for those beginning their magic practices. Hanna’s work focuses on releasing respectability politics and proudly claiming her Southern hoodoo heritage within her own family lineage as a way to heal generational trauma — which is how this type of spirituality has always been practiced.

The term hoodoo covers a wide range of African American spiritual practices stemming from the Southern United States and incorporating a variety of influences including religious practices of Native American, European, Christian and African origin. Some might refer to hoodoo as folk magic, but for many practitioners it is interwoven with their religious beliefs. Hanna describes hoodoo as “an African American folk art and spiritual practice” that is still practiced today as a way of “talking to ancestors to heal trauma from enslavement and oppression.” For her, it's a form of “generational healing for our family, and almost always done for family or friends and within our family structure”.

“[For example], say you’re witnessing an abusive relationship or you see abuse taking place within your family. How do we protect our spirits and be at peace?” It developed as a means of retaining spiritual connection in the face of brutal conditions. Hanna explained that African Traditional Religions changed “as we got dropped off and were changed, especially because we were so oppressed in the United States, specifically. We weren’t even allowed to drum.”

People from different cultural backgrounds and different religions, like Yoruba people from Nigeria, or Vodun from Benin and Ghana, retained and reimagined their practices in different ways across the diaspora in the Americas and Caribbean. In the South, these spiritual practices had to be kept hidden and closed, which is why their forms of magic became syncretized with the Southern Christian church. “Some say you can’t practice one without the other,” says Hanna, “For example, we use the oppressor’s Book of Psalms as a spell book.”

Despite extreme suppression, these practices have survived and been passed on till this day. Hoodoo has always been a way for people to use the tools they have access to as a means of creating change and claiming agency over their realities, under any circumstances.

Use your sweetness

Hanna believes deeply in channeling your divine feminine energy as a source of strength and power: the power of charm. In magical terms, we call this sweetening work. We might have to deal with certain people and situations that can be tricky to navigate, which is where this comes in handy. “In hoodoo, in order to protect ourselves and survive, we often banish through blessing,” she explains.

Honey or sweetening jars are an old magical practice where herbs, prayers, and intentions are infused into different types of sweeteners, which can then be used ritually or even in cooking. Different sweeteners are used by different cultures, and each has their unique effect. For example, brown or white sugar usually yields “fast results,” while honey and even molasses might be used to create longer lasting positive outcomes. As you’re making your sweetening jar, remember to infuse it with your utmost positive intentions: Use your “active voice” and say out loud your intentions for harmony and balance. Hanna explains that she uses these practices as a way to “shut off the nasty toxic talk,” and that potential conflict can be avoided by using a little enchanted sugar or honey when you’re making some sweet tea or baking a cake for guests. This use of charm and sweetness can also be done through gift-giving. “The giving of gifts holds potent magic. Give certain crystals as gifts with the properties you think might help that person.”

Find a safe space

Spend time each morning somewhere quiet and alone, if at all possible. Hanna stresses the importance of daily meditation and introspection: “As spiritual people, we need to meditate. We need quiet time because that’s how you hear your ancestors. Find that space where you’re going to go and be quiet. It could be by a river, in a closet, by the woods. Your spirits are with you wherever you go but it’s important to bring something to create that space for yourself.”

Bring any elements that may be helpful to create a mini altar or mediation space. For most spirit workers, all that is needed is a candle, incense, and a cup of water, and maybe a favorite crystal. These elements are simple and invoke the energy of all four elements: earth, fire, air, and water. (“Anywhere the four elements are,” says Hanna. “Spirits is there off top!”) She also expressed the importance of divination and consulting the ancestors before taking any actions, magical or otherwise. Not sure if you should go home for the holidays, or what specific tools might be supportive for you? “Divine before anything,” she recommends. “Ask the ancestors, Is it the right time or the worst time? You can use tarot or playing cards and see what intuitive messages come through.”

Work on an ancestor project

Hanna emphasized that there's always an ancestor project to do, whether that’s photocopying old pictures or recording stories and recipes. Cherish the time you do have with your loved ones on the physical plane, and take time to record memories that will otherwise be forgotten.

“You’re going home to where your ancestors are. It could trigger a lot of emotions, and bring back those feelings of distress and chaos from when our souls were first snatched as children,” Hanna explains. “When you’re at home and things get crazy, remember that your ancestors are there. They want us to talk to them. You can always escape to them.”

You can follow and learn more from Halicue Hanna at and on the New Hoodoo podcast.

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