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African American lodge-oriented magic

To: alt.magick,alt.pagan.magick,alt.lucky.w,alt.religion.orisha,alt.wiccan,alt.magick.tyagi,alt.magick.folk
From: catherine yronwode 
Subject: Re: African American lodge-oriented magic
Date: Tue, 27 May 1997 17:11:11 -0800

Hillel wrote:
> 
> Stephen C. Wehmeyer wrote:
> >
> > brz@u.washington.edu (R Brzustowicz) writes:
> >
> > >I'd like to raise a question that has
> > >circulated from time to time --
> >
> > >It is clear that there have been mutual influences between 
> > >African and European magico-religious traditions -- and 
> > >fraternal traditions as well.
> >
> > >Does anyone know of (and of sources for the history of) African-> > >American uses of lodge-style magic?  To put it schematically,
> >
> > >    Anglo-American UGL Freemasonry is to the Golden Dawn
> > >                         as
> > >    Prince Hall Freemasonry is to _____________________ ?
> > 
> > In fact, a recently published encyclopedic work dealing with the 
> > history of the HBL seems to sew up most of the loose ends vis a 
> > vis the order's relationship to the modern American Spiritualist 
> > movement.  Unfortunately... the title and authors are not at the 
> > moment on the tip of my tongue.
> 
> The book in question is "The Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor: 
> Initiatic and Historical Documents of an Order of Practical 
> Occultism." The authors are Joscelyn Godwin, Christian Chanel, &  
> John P. Deveney.

I have been giving this question some thought since it was first posed
by R Brzustowicz -- i wish i knew the answer off the top of my head, but
i don't. However, i do have a few ideas. 

First, to go back to what started this: Black Herman, the black stage
magicician-cum-occultist of the early 20th century, seems to have been a
PH Mason, although i have not done the research that would bear this
out, merely gathered the impression from some of his phraseology. What i
mean to say is that in some ways his wrting is similar to the
non-Masonic writings of Rudyard Kipling or A. E Waite or Hargrave
Jennings. (Masons will know what i am talking about -- little snippets
of code, as it were...) Again, please understand that i have no proof
here, just a notion. But i would call it strionger than a hunch. 

If one man like Black Herman straddled the worlds of PH Masonry and
occultism, it stands to reason that others did as well. Who might these
others be? What orders might they have founded or self-guided paths of
study might they have trod? 

Here is where my research is again "indicative," but not truly
informative. Let me consider the case of Henri Gamache. This man was a
popular author on the subject of folk-magic during the 1930s. His books
are comprised of gleanings from the works of others (often credited,
sometimes not) and deal with the cultural practices of Africans and
African-Americans indiscrimately -- and he also rings in ancient Greek
and Roman customs as well.Because almost no one writing at the time
would quote with equal facility from the works of Pliny and from the
pages of the Kingston (Jamaica) Gleaner newspaper, i am left with the
impression that (a) Gamache was probably Creole, not purely French, (b)
he had come to the USA as an immigrant, (c) his interest in the magic of
John Dee was as consuming as his interwest in the magic of the Congo. If
i KNEW who Henri Gamache was, beyond just knowing his name and what he
chose to write about, i think i would be closer to answering the
question of occultism in black America in the early part of the 20th
century. 

All of Gamache's books are still in print, by the way, and although
snooty white occultists consider him a fake because he refers to things
such as "Magnetic Drawing Oil," they do not realize that in doing so he
is not making up stupid low-class buffoon-fakery based on European High
Magic(k), he is writing openly about hoodoo, which was the magic being
practiced by most of his readers, who were African-Americans. In fact,
Gamache's unqiue facility with both systems of magic is astounding to me
and the way he continually relates one to the other (and throws in
handfuls of Hindu folk-magic for good measure) is, if i dare say it,
closer to my own appraoch to the subject than that of any other author i
have encountered. 

However, i have never really researched Gaache's race. Perhaps he was
not black, but white. Perhaps he was not Creole but French. In that
case, i am left marvelling at his casual description of hoodoo magic --
which would have seemed both highly exotic and lowly "superstitious" to
most whites at that time. How could he even have KNOWN about it other
than first hand? In many cases, his descriptions are the first given in
print for certain practices -- and we all know how racially segregated
America was at the time he was working. 

Then there is the case of Lewis de Claremont. This author was Gamache's
near contemporary -- perhaps a little older for he began earlier and
stopped publishing before Gamache did. He concentrates on European
ceremonial magic (again of what i call "the John Dee schoool of
thought") and also adds a liberal dose of self-help advice similar to
what could have been found in "New Thought" tracts of the time. Yet,
like Gamache, de Claremont, in his frustrating book "Legends of Herbs,
Oils, and Incense," also openly discusses hoodoo practices. Was he white
and French...or yet another Creole? I do not know. Like Gamache (and
with more reason, for he is not a great author), de Clarmont is
considered a popular fake by devotees of the European Ceremonial
Magic(k) tradition. But again, i think the terms may need to be
redefined: he may have been a black man trying to straddle the line
between hoodoo and High Magic(k). 

I suggest further research into the lives of these two authors. I may
undertake it myself, if anyone can give me a lead as to where to start. 

Meanwhile, i have been informed that a biography of Black Herman has
been privately published and i shall be acquiring a copy from the author
as soon as i can. 

Look for more on the subject of African-American occultism as i learn
more...


catherine yronwode
The Lucky Mojo Curio Co.: http://www.luckymojo.com

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