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Obeah and Wanga

To: alt.religion.orisha,alt.lucky.w,alt.magick.folk,alt.paranormal.spells.hexes.magic,alt.magic.tyagi,alt.magick
From: catherine yronwode 
Subject: Re: Obeah and Wanga (was Re: magick specifically)
Date: Tue, 15 Feb 2000 23:54:54 GMT

> > >  (Obeah/Wanga.)  Hmmmm...I wonder what Encyclopedia Britannica 
> > >  would have on this...

> > Like most terms in the voudoun tradition, it has developed cognate 
> > but split meanings on different sides of the Atlantic. As I recall 
> > obeah is originally an Ashanti term. I may have the tribe 
> > wrong. It refers to the Cosmic Power, but also can refer to 
> > localized Beings or Powers. In the Caribbean, it is a synonym for 
> > magick, and in the Anglophone traditions of African Diasporic 
> > beliefs, is the term for the tradition as it evolved in places 
> > like Jamaica and obeah on Jamaica is the equivalent 
> > of what is called voudoun on Haiti.

Obeah is a Jamaican term. It generally refers to folk-magic, not to a
religion, in the sense that Vodoun does. Hoodoo and obeah are equivalent
-- for confirmation, see the writings of Henri Gamache, whom i believe
(having reached the limits of my research without finding conclusive
birth-death data) was a West Indian creole folklorist and occultist who
lived and wrote in New York City during the 1940s. In a number of books,
Gamache documented many overlaps between the two systems and identified
each with the other. His familiarity with both systems seems genuine and
to have been based in authentic personal expereince. 

> > I gather that a wanga 

Also sometimes spelled oanga...

> is what is generally called a fetish in anthropology,

Well, fetish is a Portugese word and it is seen as a rather
disrespectful term in some quarters, but that doesn't stop some
anthropologists and occultists from using it. 

> > and the loan word became wangol in New Orleans terminology, 

I have never run across this in old books, but due to the recent
reintricution of African "roots" into African-Americvan rootwork, i am
not surprised to hear of it now. Can you cite an early (pre-1950)
instance of the word "wangol" in New Orleans? 

> > and is akin to a mojo, except that I get the impression when I see 
> > it  used that it refers more specifically to an object having 
> > inherent  magical power, rather than a constructed charm like a 
> > mojo bag.
> That's something of my understanding of 'wanga' too.  viz. it has  
> 'inherent' magical power but also can be charged and hold a charge.

Likewise a mojo (also called jomo, conjure bag, toby, nation sack, etc.)
has INHERENT power (comprised of the power of the curios it contains). I
think there is no substantive difference between the mojo and the oanga
bag in terms of differentiating them by their "inherent" power versus
"charged" power. I further believe that the *assumed* dfference between
the mojo and the oanga that the writer refers to above has arisen only
recently (within the past 10 ears or so, as far as i have seen it) and
that it arose specifically when newage and ceremonial/wiccan style
authors appropriated "exotic" (to them) African-American working styles
and then made a BIG MISTAKE. 

These authors misunderstood the "personalization" of the mojo bag (that
is, the inclusion within it of specific bodily concerns (hair, semen,
etc.) and/or papers (e.g. written wishes, names, seals & sigils, etc.)
and the "dressing" of it (with urine, essential oils, perfume, and/or
alcohol) with rites of "consecrating" and/or "charging" according to
THEIR traditional usage. Thus, in their writings -- and they borrow
heavily from one another, rarely going back to primary sources or even
speaking to black folks at all! -- these writers have *added* a step
("charging" or "consecrating") to the making of a mojo. They have thus
made the mojo appear to be quite different from the oanga, which it is

As anyone who works with hoodoo can tell you, "charging" and/or
"consecrating" are NOT part of the tradition in the African-American
culture. "Personalizing" and "dressing" are, however. 

"Personalization" is a different process than "consecrating" and is akin
to what Aleister Crowley called "the magical link." 

"Dressing" is different than "charging" in that the mojo is *already*
magical; the oil, whiskey, or urine applied to it does not MAKE it
magical or render it capable of holding an energetic "charge" -- but the
liquid is itself of magical virtue and it sets the mojo to "working." 

WICCANS, NEWAGERS, OR THELEMITES. I cannot stress this often enough. If
you want to know what's up, go back to AFRICAN-AMERICAN sources, e.g.
Harry M. Hyatt's 4,900 page collection of oral histories of 1,600 root
workers collected during the 1930s.  

For much, much more on the mojo bag and its relational derivatives in
American hoodoo, such as the Nation Sack, go to my web pages
     Nation Sack:
     Harry M. Hyatt:


cat yronwode 

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