Hoodoo in Savannah

The Geechee culture is a remnant from what was once a society of black slaves. The area they call home stretches from Savannah southward to an area just below the Ogeechee River, from which they draw their name. Often times this culture is mistakenly called ‘Gullah’, but in actuality the Gullah people exist in an area to the north of Savannah, between Daufuskie Island and Charleston, South Carolina. The two peoples are similar, but not interchangeable: both are rooted in slavery, but the Geechee people have a history and tradition all their own.

Freed after the Civil War, these Island people would often group near the coast where both fishing and farming was plentiful. The community developed their own dialect. In addition to what amounted to their own language (also called ‘Geechee’), this culture also had an elaborate belief system through their African descent. These beliefs are centered on a deep spirituality, believing in both ghosts and in a type of magic cast by charms, potions and amulets.

This magical ability to cast spells is called ‘conjuring’, or ‘casting roots’. A magic spell itself is called a ‘conjure’. The spell is often cast by burying a bag or bundle on the property of the unsuspecting victim. There are also ways of conjuring involving secret potions to drink, powders, nail clippings, and that most powerful of talismans—graveyard dirt. Someone skilled in the art of casting spells is called a root doctor, or a witch doctor. They can be employed if you feel that magic is being used against you.

A witch doctor is very different from a witch, which is often called a ‘boo-hag’. Not to be confused with the Hollywood version, witches in this tradition look no different from regular people. Witches are more akin to vampires, because the belief is that they steal the breath and life-force or essence of the victim. To have your essence stolen by a witch is known as ‘being rid’ or ‘ridden’. If someone looks poor or sickly, the assumption is that a boo-hag stole that person’s energy in the middle of the night; they are being “rid by a witch.”

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