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Hoodoo and Kabbalah

From: catherine yronwode 
Subject: Hoodoo and Kabbalah
Date: Mon, 29 May 2000 18:12:09 GMT wrote:
> Greetings Cat:
> (smile) were you serious about it [the marketing of spiritual supplies 
> to the black community in America] being a "Jew thing?". (smile)  

Yes. That's just historical fact. It has roots in cultural issues that
are no longer as stong as they once were, but which most elders will
recall still. Before the racial separation and hostility engendered in
the late 1960s and early 1970s when many African-Americans became
Muslims and bought into the race-hating program of Elijah Muhammend and
the Nation of Islam, there was a certain closeness between Jews and
blacks that ... well, either you're old enough know what i'm talking
about or you aren't. 

If you don't know what i'm talking about, i can explain: a core belief
of that era, now past, could be summed up in something one of my older
internet customers told me over the phone recently: "Well, i always
thought that Jews are some kind of Negro -- they just light enough to
pass, that's all." 

Obviously this belief worked both ways, with many Jews believing that
black poeople were "some kind of Jew" -- witness the large number of
Jews who marry black people -- and who did so even in the past, at a
time when that was illegal in some states.  

In any case, there was a closeness between those two groups that
resulted in mutual friendliness and cooperation. Also, i think that some
Jews liked the idea of working with custimers who were looking for
magical, non-Christian articles -- Judaism has a long history of magical
practice, obviously, and although it monotheistic, the large rankings of
angels and demons found in older Jewish texts cause it to take on the
operartive qualities of a de facto polytheistic practice, more similar
to African tibal religions than to the severe monotheism of most
Protestants and many Catholics (exempting the Latin American xatholics
who preserve vestiges of their own indigenous plytheistic religions, of
course). . 

> I read your
> biography and it's probably only a "1/2 Jew thing" (smile).  

(smile) Well, the funny thing about Jews is that they only count your
mother's lineage and there are no "halfway Jews." In other words, if
your mother was a Jew, you're a Jew, no matter who your father was. But
if your father was a Jew and  your mother was not, you're not a Jew.
It's just an old traditon, 3,000 uyears old or so. And by that rule, i
am a Jew. Also, my father walked out on the family when i was 4 years
old, so i had little exposure to my Sicilian family. 

> Why this
> particular group, why not Catholic Germans or French Jews or Chinese
> Protestants, or some other religio-ethnic group?    

Ah, that's easy to explain! In the 19th century, many if not most of the
pharmacies and labs developing new drugs, chemicals, and beauty products
were owned and operated by Germans. The state of chemistry in Germany at
the time was the highest in the world.  The invention of rayon, clear
pohenol plastics, aniline dyes, and much more came out of German, Swiss
and Austrian labs. Many big pharamaceutical comapnaies are still owned
or heavily influenced by that era -- multi-national otufits like Bayer
(aspirin), Hoffman (LSD), and  Pfizer (viagra) have roots in the
German-Swiss-Austrian chemistry industry of the 1800s. In those days,
when pharmacists did most of their own compounding of formulas,
druggists were all trained as chemists, too, so the stereotype of the
German-owned drug-store as a RELIABLE drug store was something with
which all Americans of that time period were familiar. 

Before World War Two, German Jews were very assimilated into German
culture (my mom's family was, for instance) and that included being
integrated into the German chemical industry as a profession. In my own
family, my mom's uncle left Germany to work for the US branch of the
comapny that developed rayon and my mom's cousin studied to be a
chemist, an unusual occupation for a woman at that ime

Jews were usually on the lower end of the German hierarchy, however, 
so when they came to America in that late 19th century, they were not
usually wealthy enough to set up as pharmacists or chemists to the white
elite, and set up in the black community instead. There they worked out
formulas for specifically black beauty-care products -- and when asked
to, they prepared spiritual supplies for their root-working customers. A
few years ago i interviewd an 85 year old man named Larue Marx whose
German-Jewish father had kept a pharmacy in the black district of
Memphis from the 1890s through the 1940s. La Rue Marx had in turn
trained as a lab chemist and by the 1930s he had landed a job at the
Lucky Heart company (owned by the Jewish Shapiro family) formulating and
manufacturing skin bleaches, hair straighteners, dark-tone face powders
-- and asupervising the packing of curio boxes containing roots and
herbs for the hoodoo trade. 

When the Nazis got too stong in Germany during the 1930s, a second large
wave of German Jewish chemists also entered the US. For example, my
mother's cousin Liesel the chemist, came to New York City in the 1930s
to escape from Hitler's regime, and went to work for a German
(non-Jewish) pharmacist because although he was born in the US he could
understand German and he helped to teach her English. One of her first
experiences in this pharmacy was making up "Lucky Floorwash" for the
black customers. She had never been exposed to this sort of product
before and found it very strange indeed. This pharmacy also sold roots
and special perfumres for luck, which she compounded. When she acquired
enough English to get along in a better job, she left the pharmacy and
went back to work as a lab bench chemist. 

Sorry if that was too much of a personal digression, but as i said, it's
kind of funny that this stuff runs in my family. 

> by the way I've been trying to get my hands on a copy of the 
> "practical Kabballah", the spells and incantations/prayers of the old 
> Jewish mystical tradition.   

There are a number of different books that give various portions of this
knowledge. Certainly Selig's "Secrets of the Psalms" is a great place to
start, as the Psalms are well known enough, bu the Jewish magical system
adds some special syllables (derived from gematric principles) to
potentiate them, much in the way that Hiundu prayers contain bija (seed)
mantra syllables that encapsulate their essense. 

Maybe someone else can recommend a few good books on kabbalistic magic. 

I hope you don't mind that i posted this letter to usenet, where our
conversation began -- these are subjects i'd like to see opened up for
discussion, if any others have an interest, plus i don't handle too much
email well. Okay? 

cat yronwode 

Hoodoo in Theory and Practice --
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