Stephanie Rose Bird : Interview
The Interview :
(7 December 2004 : SRB indicates Stephanie Rose Bird, Q indicates question posed by Avalonia)
Q : Sticks, Stones, Roots & Bones is a wonderfully evocative name for a book. What inspired you to write this book?
SRB : Those items: sticks, stones, roots and bones are the essential tools of the Hoodoo.
Q : You grew up with the tradition of Hoodoo, was there a defining moment that made you realise that this is a path you would continue to follow in your own life?
SRB : I was born with the veil–a strong intuitive ability. I have always been drawn to nature and to the spiritual realm. I cannot think of a particular moment in this life time that was a defining moment. It was with me when I came here, it has played a greater or lesser role at different parts of my life. I think my path was decided in my past lives and by my ancestors, I have little to do with it.
Q : One of the things that I found very useful about this book is the practical advice you offer throughout. Are these traditional or devised from your own experiences working with herbs?
SRB : A mixture of both. I have been a professor for many years. Mentoring and guiding is sort of second nature. Much of the practical rootworking advise is derived from my experience working roots. I also share insights collected in my personal Book of Shadows as well as recipes I have developed as an herbalist, aromatherapist, soapmaker and craftsperson.
Q :You emphasise respect for plants and a responsible attitude towards nature, do you feel that this is something that is stressed enough in modern traditions of magick?
SRB : Tough question. In the areas of magickal tradition to which I am drawn, Wise Woman, Hoodoo, Green Witchcraft, Shamanism, respect for nature is implicit. The people whose work I admire represent a multicultural collage of ways various people across the seas respect nature including: West African, Malidoma Patrice Some (The Healing Wisdom of Africa), American, Susan Weed (Healing Wise), Jewish American, Judith Berger (Herbal Rituals) South African, Vusamazulu Credo Mutwa (Zulu Shaman) among many others.
I think my emphasis on respect for plants and a responsibility towards nature is geared towards newcomers; seekers, who may not be all the way in touch with that particular aspect of conjuration. Nature love was a part of my upbringing. Something I learned from my parents and grandparents, particularly, come to think of it, something I learned from my father. My father was someone who liked to live closely with nature; living with him it became something I too internalized and think others should be reminded about, particularly in our modern or urban society.
Q : I was at first confused by the use of the term “trick” in your book, can you explain to our visitors how this term is used?
SRB : Much of the vernacular of Hoodoo is derived from our past, I’d say late 1800s through the 1940s. Trick was used during that period the word ‘trick’ was used in relation to working with the unknown, magically, or working magick as we call it today. Tricks became a synonym for spells, charms, and the like and it just stuck with the tradition though the meaning of trick in contemporary usage is quite different. I go into more details about this in Sticks, Stones, Roots and Bones.
Q : In your book, you mention poppets and using sticks on them for sympathetic magick. Did you not feel that this might reinforce the stereotype image of a voodoo practitioner with poppet and pins?
SRB : I think to reinforce the stereotype I would need to do much more than mention the use of poppets. I hope to help people think outside the box, or stereotypes they have internalized by giving them alternative ways that were once used for poppets that go beyond the pop Voodoo Doll application. One of the only specific how-to segments in Sticks, Stones, Roots and Bones regarding poppets is how-to create a Love Fruit Pomander. As those of you reading this who are witches know poppets are stuffed dolls but much more as well. A poppet can be a fruit or vegetable as well. I also go into the traditional African sculpture that has a relation to poppets combined (interestingly) with metal magick–this is called Nkisi Nkondi. Nkisi Nkondi is a sculpted figure that nails are inserted into to bind its powers. Leaves and medicine combined with the elements are utilized in conjunction with the figure (rubbed on the outside of the figure and stuffed in a cavity of the belly). Rather than having a lot to do with “Voodoo Dolls” I believe this type of traditional figure paved the way for our mojo bags. I dedicate an entire chapter to mojo bags, their history, creation and contemporary applications.
Much of the book, including the references to poppets are designed to help the reader look beyond common usage. In Sticks, Stones, Roots and Bones I guide the seeker to look back at age-old traditions, to look forward for progressive applications of traditions and to look within for creative solutions to contemporary issues.
Q : You mention fairies and other spiritual beings in your book, how much of a role do such beings play in modern Hoodoo?
SRB : Traditionally nature spirits, ancestors, the elements (elementals) hants and other spirit beings were a primary concern to practitioners of many African Traditional Religions (ATR’s) and this was incorporated into Hoodoo. They remain important today.
Q : Most visitors to Avalonia have an interest in Wicca, do you think that Wicca has much in common with your own practices?
SRB : Yes, very much so. Hoodoo and Wicca are both steeped in pagan practice and what some refer to more broadly as Earth-based Spirituality. Wicca provides a seasonal framework that is workable for Hoodoos especially those of us seeking to have more of a pagan emphasis and less of the Christian one. Christianity became a cloak for ATR’s since our beliefs were legally banned during enslavement. Now that we are free to engage in our ATR’s if we so choose many of us observe seasonal changes as the Wiccans do, observing Yule, Samhain, Ostara, etc., though traditionalists still retain their strong link to Judeo-Christianity.
There are clear differences as well, for example Hoodoos are eclectics and it is not a religion. We do not have a unified code of conduct like the Wiccan Rede. Some Hoodoos work the dark side, others like me work the light, while still others work both. Personally, as a multiracial person of African descent, I gravitated towards Hoodoo because it retains elements of ATR’s, my Native American heritage and of course has European pagan influences–all of which reflects who I am. I could see myself, my people, my ancestors in Hoodoo whereas with some other paths I felt like an outsider looking in–a voyeur.
Hoodoo, and Sticks, Stones, Roots and Bones, are a good point of departure for seekers who visit Avalonia looking to broaden their spiritual or magickal practices to incorporate indigenous African and American practices. While much is explored (I wouldn’t go so far as say ‘known’) about indigenous American practices little is explored in-depth about African earth-based spirituality. People like me are working hard to change that lack of understanding. We are here to let people know we have traditions and beliefs that many can relate to and that have much in common with other types of pagan and indigenous practices.
My book is useful to those who are interested in comparative religion and cross-cultural studies because those are passions I share–drawing commonalties between seemingly disparate paths. For example, I see a great deal of similarity between Hoodoo and Asian folklore particularly beliefs from China and Japan; Feng Shui and even Australian Aboriginal practices since much of Hoodoo developed and was retained through storytelling and song. Sticks, Stones, Roots and Bones is designed to help us see what we have in common and to bring African descended people fully into the contemporary pagan conversation; some of us have felt excluded, isolated or ignored.
Q :Which is your own personal favourite herb to work with, and why?
SRB : Oh, really tough question! LOL. Frankincense I think. I have a wonderful collection of Frankincense from the Middle East and East Africa. Frankincense is great for both clearing and banishing. It enhances spiritual engagement, reflection, ritual, ceremony and prayer. Frankincense uplifts the mood, markedly, sometimes to the point of euphoria, so watch it! Particularly this time of year when we reflect on world peace and when we want to create a spiritually charged home environment Frankincense becomes the herb (resin) of choice. This is one herb that bridges worlds in many ways. It was revered in Ancient African cultures, it is enjoyed in contemporary African cultures, frankincense is beloved by Hoodoos and people of various paths utilize it as well. Frankincense is a good crossroad herb because it helps us communicate with the spiritual realm and various cultures.
Q : You speak about the distinction between Wilderness and Nature in African Magicks, do you feel that this is still an important distinction to make for people practising magick in an urban environment?
SRB : The discussion about ‘wilderness’ and ‘nature’ was to help readers understand the complex relationship West Africans and their descendants have for brooms and grasses very specifically. This conversation regarding notions of wilderness and nature shape most of the broom chapter of the book. Since brooms are still key magickal tools, yes, the distinction between wilderness and nature should be understood, at least on a conceptual basis if one wants to understand the African-based folklore around brooms.
Thank you to Stephanie Rose Bird for taking the time to share some of her views and ideas with us! This interview is (c) Avalonia & Stephanie Rose Bird. For permission to reproduce this please contact us first!
For those of you wanting to find out more about Stephanie’s writing and her art, you can visit her website http://www.stephanierosebird.womanmade.net
Want to know even more, visit http://www.llewellyn.com/bookstore/book.php?pn=J275 for her author website.
Avalonia interviewed Stephanie Rose Bird, author of Stick, Stones, Roots & Bones,which was published in 2004 by Llewellyn, about the book and her work in the Hoodoo tradition. The book is an excellent guide for people interested in African traditions of herbalism who like to be eclectic. In this book Stephanie Rose Bird blends the traditions of Africa with Native American and European healing and magick. The book has many ideas for charms and spells, and teaches you how to make a Hoodoo mojo (charm) bag. Its also an excellent read for anyone interested in magickal herbalism!