Using Hoodoo to Assist a Dying Loved One*
That idea that “death is supposed to energize the living” is a familiar concept to African and Afro-Diasporic spiritual societies, everywhere you may find us.
Acknowledging the (super)natural cycles of birth and death is foundational for those of us who practice all forms of traditional African/Indigenous religion. It is unanimously recognized that those whose legacies energize the lives of their survivors for generations to come, are considered elevated Ancestors. Reaching this uplifted standard is the main long-term goal of any ATR practitioner worth a damn.
Because of this, us Hoodoo folk plan way ahead for our Ancestor-hood, choosing to take complete responsibility for the gifts (or the mess) we leave behind for our descendants to enjoy (or drown in) after we inevitably die. With our own behaviors, works, and impacts, we alone decide whether we will be revered by our future descendants, or discarded as regrettable by the people we were supposed to love and cultivate while on Earth.
Accepting this responsibility requires being close to the concept and experience of death (and as y’all know, the graveyard, gravediggers, and morticians have a special place in Conjure).
As some of you know, I had the relatively rare honor of being present during the recent transitioning of my grandfather from Elderhood, into Ancestorhood (his death).
His passing didn’t come as much of a shock or surprise to the family; fortunately we had weeks of watching his physical body give-in to old age, and thus had the opportunity to prepare our hearts and minds for his peaceful transition. He was surrounded by everyone who loved him until his final breaths; the final breaths that only my Grammaw (his wife) and myself were privy to. That was a whole metaphysical experience in itself (and a blog for another post-grief time).
Every religion (African or otherwise) has specific rites for assisting the passage of someone into death. So as an ordained minister in the midst of the passing of this 90 year-old christian Arkansas man, I took survey of the various African/Afro-diasporic funerary traditions –from Kemet to modern day Baptist rites (we black folk in America calls em’ “Homegoing” celebrations, affectionately). I found lots of information about what we did during burials and post-death celebrations, and saw that the plans being made for my Grandfather’s passing had their origins in pre-colonial African religious practice.
I also had the opportunity to pick my very secretive Granny’s brain about what old time syncretized Mississippi Hoodoo practitioners did, specifically, to assist the soul of a loved one on their way out of this world. This is what came up.
SIDENOTE: I must say, this is not by all means a comprehensive list. With that, I implore you to deeply consider the needs of your loved one (not yourself), before implementing any of these practices. Call a professional Rootworker or Priest and/or get a divination if you are unsure of what is appropriate in this time.
HEAD AND FOOT “WARSHINGS”
Spiritual cleansing via immersion in water is not only common to black Baptists in the Souf, but also practically all African religious groups adjacent to a coastline or body of water. But when you can’t get the dying elder to the ocean, you can bring the “ocean” to them via a foot or a head washing.
Traditional Foot Washing:
Yes, many of us have heard the story of who they call Jesus (yeshua) using his own waist-towel to wipe the raggedy feet of his disciples. Some of us have also been to those New Year’s black-church services where congregation members wash each-others’ feet in preparation to step into a fresh year. Did you guess it? You was right. Issa Hoodoo, boo.
These are practices that Rootworkers and Conjurers have utilized to wash away the “old road” behind the transitioning person and help them figuratively “step” into their new role as inhabitants of the Ancestral realm.
Often, the feet of the transitioning beloved are washed in a clay or metal basin, containing either blessed (prayed-over) water, saltwater, flowers, or an herbal decoction of Hyssop, Rue, Frankincense, Myrrh, and/or Camphor (all biblical botanicals). Sometimes other additives are included depending on the situation and needs of the dying (liquor, vinegar, ammonia, blueing, etc). If the feet can’t be lowered into the basin (my granddaddy was laying in bed), a wetted towel can be used and the feet dried afterwards (difficult but doable). Unlike other spiritual baths, tepid water can be used here as opposed to cold as fuck.
Prayers and words of power are usually said during the application process, and it is in these private ritual processes that the spiritual power is made effective. I won’t share details openly because lurking culture vultures can’t have evvverything, right? But I will say, after the ritual, the difference is FELT. And you’ve gotta do something specific with the after-water.
The “warshing” is usually followed-up with an application of blessed olive oil (“olive oil brang peace”), castor oil (for it’s anti-inflammatory properties), ash, powdered eggshells, and/or white socks.
Foot washings are specifically effective for helping a troubled, “bogged down” individual release energetic shackles and elevate with less effort into the next life. It also cleanses the beloved of any lingering “foot track” work that they may have shuffled through knowingly or unknowingly in their lives.
Also, I just gotta say; it takes a special kind of worker to humble themselves enough to take care of the stankyfoots of other people. If you ain’t bout that life, call in the help of a non-bougie spiritually-potent Hoodoo professional (Ya’ Girl does house-calls in the Los Angeles Area if interested).
Traditional Head Washing:
The concept of head-washing is similar to the warshing of the feet, but is historically more ancient, and used even more widely by practitioners of ATR’s outside of Hoodoo (the Lave Tet “wash head” ceremony of Haitian Vodou for example).
Application generally includes the dousing of one’s forehead, head, and hair with either a botanical mixture or a bless-ed water, with temperature ranging from tepid to cold as all fucking hell. Sometimes a condition soap is used, sometimes not. Blessed oil is applied post-wash. According to G-mama, the ceremony must at least include running or cascading water, and something specific must be done with the after-water.
I’a be the first one to tell ya, it ain’t no type’a head-cleanser like a bucket of cole’ ass water right upside the dome. You have no choice but to get your entire mental shit together.
For someone who is passing away, this ceremony may be logistically tricky, but can be done with a wetted towel. This work is excellent for someone who has maintained a cloudy head during their walking-life, has had “influence/head work” done on them, entertains negative thoughts, is hotheaded, needs to get the demons out, suffered from mental illness, or is having fears about their transition.
This work can be very effective for the beloved if done over multiple days, and a wearing a white head-wrap or turban is highly highly highly suggested for post-ritual wear. She says any hair that comes out should be brown-bagged and burned.
THE LAYING ON OF HANDS
Although I somehow ended up becoming a trained “Reiki Master” with the ability to attune and teach students about affecting the electromagnetic grid for healing, the “Laying on of Hands” is close to my heart and is in the tradition of my own immediate Ancestors.
Don’t nobody need nothing but a prayer and a “good hand to pray thew”, to offer effective energetic support to a transitioning loved one. Any bonafide Prayer warrior can tell you, there’s nothing some words of power and a touch can’t do. I also embrace hair prayer-braiding and hair-stroking as a form of “laying hands”.
In addition to providing warmth and reassurance to the beloved, laying a praying hand on someone as they transition can help cycle energy through their system, offering peace, comfort, and very importantly, empowerment. Just make sure your head, throat, heart, and hands are functioning with proper spiritual and physical hygiene before touching someone who is already halfway between the veils.
SIDENOTE: I, personally, wish a dirty-hearted dirty-fingered futhamucka WOULD try and touch me as I transition out this bih. Ol’ pig-pen lookin’ ahh bwoy. Have some respect and cleanse your own hands in saltwater at least, before moving forward.
In conclusion, if you find a transitioning loved on their way up yonder with clipped wings, these 3 methods are excellent tools to keep in your back pocket to assist them in pre-passing elevation, ESPECIALLY if you are a descendant of the African Ancestral pool that arrived at the southern shores of North America during the Ma’afa (Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade).
If you are in the Los Angeles area, I offer traditional foot-washings, head-washings, divinations, home cleansings, business protections, and other spiritual services.
And of course, Rest in power to “Grendad”. May your passing energize our lives for generations to come. I love you.
*This post is for black people.