The coins above my front door are always a conversation piece for visitors. When asked about their purpose, I nonchalantly explain the superstitious significance and change the subject, ignoring the sometimes strange looks of my guests. My father says it’s “just something” his mother used to do for good luck, so he continued the tradition by placing money above the front door of every home in which he lived and encouraged me to do the same. The small bag of coins, or black-eyed-peas as my Creole grandmother used to call it, represents good fortune and financial well-being.
Ironically, I don’t remember my grandmother being superstitious at all, as she was a devout church-goer who strictly believed in the Word. Anything that went against her Jesus was blasphemy, and talk about anything dealing with luck, astrology or the supernatural was a quick way to get soap in the mouth. Perhaps the combination of being loosely tied to a single church growing up, not having very religious parents, and my own questioning and wonder as an adult lead me to stumble into the now widely used, more accepted, often deemed generic “spiritual but not religious” faith—I can just taste the bitter ivory on my tongue—which affords me the freedom to find my own personal meaning and delve deeper beyond the surface of whimsy “just something” traditions.
While I still have no clue where exactly the idea of coins above the door came from, I’m just as clueless as to why superstition has been seemingly swept under the rug and condemned by many religious, Christian African-Americans like my grandmother. For African-Americans, why is there such ambivalence to things like astrology, magic and the supernatural despite our deep rooted connection to it?
Supernatural and magical rituals have been a part of the African Diaspora for centuries, and many African rooted traditions and religions carried over into the United States during American slavery. Voodoo, for example, arose among slaves in French-speaking Louisiana as its own religion, amalgamating Catholicism and the ancient West African Vodoun religion. Hoodoo is often, albeit wrongly, used synonymously with Voodoo; it is not a religion but rather magical practices and beliefs that also have links to African rituals and was widely practiced throughout the South. Hoodoo allows for people to tap into supernatural forces and improve their daily lives in various areas, such as love, fortune, luck and health. Some may argue that Voodoo and Hoodoo are simply devil worship, but the vast majority of practitioners from the late nineteenth-century onward described themselves as Christians. In fact, the prominent worldview of Hoodoo is dominantly Christian, where in which the Bible was used as a source for spells.
These religions, beliefs or whatever else they became, dwindled away in the African-American community, probably because magic was no longer useful or needed. The end of slavery and dilatory advancement of blacks in America had to have influenced the lack of ritual usage as more African-Americans assimilated into a free America, thus even perhaps aiming to become less African. However, to say that the magic has vanished entirely is inaccurate. Literary works by Zora Neale Hurston, Alice Walker and Toni Morrison, to name a few, document and preserve the black seated connection to African slave rituals. Modern films like Eve’s Bayou and The Skeleton Key depict some of the folklore and ritualistic traditions passed on throughout the Deep South. Additionally, places like New Orleans still maintain an authentic, strong, presence of superstition and the supernatural.
With such historical influence for African-Americans, it’s almost disheartening how much this type of ritualism has disappeared. The hokey-pokey witch doctors and fortune tellers will always be a deterrent for me, but there’s still something nostalgic about reflecting upon and even learning about traditions and customs that were once our own.
What do Clutch readers think about superstition? Do you believe in magic or follow any rituals?