Muddy Waters had his working. So did the Rolling Stones. And Austin Powers lost his, if only for a time. But for many who are not steeped in the crypto-mystical lore of the deep blues culture of the American South, the question remains: What is a “mojo?”
Prepare to be enlightened.
The concept of a mojo has its roots in West African culture. Simply defined, a “mojo” is a magical object that gives one power of some kind.
Almost any ambition can be aided by a mojo, but the most popular uses are to achieve financial gain, have power over or protection from enemies (including the Devil), attract the opposite sex or attain command of a craft. The latter can include everything from guitar playing to auto repair to being an international man of mystery.
Under the most rigid classic definition, a mojo is a bag, often made of flannel, containing a number of items with special significance — maybe a root, a dollar bill, bits of a loved one’s hair, a carved token and so on. These items fuel the magic.
A mojo is traditionally carried in the pocket or worn around the neck. When Dr. John refers to a “gris-gris,” as in his song “Gris-Gris Gumbo Ya Ya,” it’s this bag that’s on his mind. To make matters more confusing, these charm bags are also sometimes called “mojo hands,” due to their popularity among card-playing gamblers and because their contents are sometimes collectively called a “hand.” Much like the cards that accumulate in one’s mitts during a poker match, they are “played” to work their magic.
Speaking of the Night Tripper’s home state, many have considered the mojo or magic of Louisiana to be especially potent. Muddy Waters among them. Speaking about mojos with the late, brilliant musicologist Robert Palmer for the latter’s book Deep Blues, Waters said: “We all believed in mojo hands. You get a mojo, and if you’re gamblin’, it’ll take care of that; you win. If you’re after the girls, you can work that on the woman you want and win. Black people really believed in this hoodoo, and the black people in Louisiana was a little more up into that thing than the peoples in the Delta part, as far as makin’ things that would work.”
So when Muddy sings,” I’m goin’ down to Louisiana/And get me a mojo hand,” in “Louisiana Blues,” he’s referring to getting some powerful magic at its finest source.
Here’s how to make and use your own mojo.
• A bag or a square of cloth: If you can’t find a prefab bag, like the velvet drawstring variety that jewelry sometimes comes in or the leather ones that hippies sell at Phish concerts, you can make a container. Working with leather is a bit tough, and since color plays a role in effecting certain types of magic, you might want to go with traditional flannel. Cut a square of material large enough to be folded securely around the contents you want inside. Keep in mind that green material helps bring financial gain, red is the color of love, white brings blessings to babies and so on. Color symbolism is an important part of voodoo or hoodoo, the magical religion of the West Indies that was birthed in Africa.
• Contents: If you’re using a leather or velvet bag, you’ll want to get a bit of the appropriate color inside. So start with a dollar bill for profit or a piece of red cloth for love, and add whatever else you desire to build your mojo’s power. Earth, sand, drops of blood, animal bone, salt, crystals, herbs, roots and personal objects like photos, hair or nail trimmings are often found in mojo bags, depending on their magical aims.
• Seal the bag: Once you’ve got your contents in place, simply draw the stings of a prefab bag closed and do not reopen it until it is absolutely necessary, because that disturbs the magic. If you’ve used a square of cloth, fold it up with the contents secure inside and sew it closed.
• “Fix” the mojo: Once assembled and ready, breath on the mojo bag to bring it to life. Occasionally sprinkle the bag with water, alcohol, perfume, sweat or blood. That will feed the bag. Any living thing needs sustenance, right? This should be done outdoors in moonlight or indoors by candlelight.
• Wear the bag: Ideally a mojo should be concealed, lest your hand be tipped. It can be worn around the neck and concealed under clothing, or kept in a pocket. And never let it leave your possession or its power will be compromised.
• Maintain your mojo: Periodic adjustments to your mojo’s contents may be required, or the bag itself might need replacement. In such cases, be sure to do all the work yourself and follow the instructions for sealing and fixing and feeding the bag afterwards, as if you’d started from scratch.