Separating “mojo” fact from fiction
Any fan of blues music would recognize the word “mojo” instantly.
Blues great Muddy Waters sang, “I got my mojo workin’, but it just won’t work on you.” In another song, he sang, “I got a black cat bone, I got a mojo too, I got the Johnny Conkeroo, I’m gonna mess with you.” The Doors sang, “Mr. Mojo risin’,” which was a jumble of all the letters of lead singer Jim Morrison’s name.
But what exactly is a mojo?
If your only knowledge of the word comes from an Austin Powers film, in which the nerdy international man of mystery tries to regain his confidence after his “mojo” was stolen from him, you might be a bit surprised.
When Africans were brought to this country as slaves, they brought along their customs and beliefs, and one such belief was the power of a mojo.
A mojo was a small bag or pouch worn directly against the skin that was reputed to give its bearer certain powers. Depending on what the owner placed inside the bag, he might be able to cause another person to fall in love with him or he might acquire wealth or maybe find good luck in games of chance. It might even protect him from harm or from spells cast by another person’s mojo.
While each person’s mojo bag was personalized to his own needs, certain items were nearly universal. One such item might be the tooth of a dangerous animal, such as a crocodile. Another might be a semi-precious stone or the hair of a loved one or an enemy.
But the two most common and powerful items in a mojo were the ones mentioned by Muddy Waters in the song cited earlier: a black cat bone and “Johnny Conkeroo.”
Just as a black cat crossing your path is reputed to bring bad luck, a bone from a black cat in your mojo bag is intended to bring good luck. It’s not clear why. Maybe the ability to get a bone from a black cat simply means that there is one fewer black cat in the world.
Depending on the region in Africa, traditions regarding black cat bones varied. According to some tribes, a black cat bone could render the bearer invisible. But then, it couldn’t be just any black cat bone. Only one very special bone would do the trick, and to find it, you had to throw a whole cat’s worth of bones into a north-flowing river. The magic bone would be the one flowing south, against the current.
“Johnny Conkeroo” was a plant which, when dried and stuffed into your mojo bag, would restore your personality if it had been cursed by someone else’s spell.
Ridiculous, right? It’s easy for modern-day Americans to smile at the absurdity of primitive notions like a mojo bag, but hold on—are they really as absurd as they sound?
Consider the plant Johnny Conkeroo, which is reputed to restore your personality. The name is actually a simplified version of the plant’s more common name, John the Conqueror root.
Or, as it is known in health food stores, St. John’s Wort.
If you read the research touting the beneficial effects of St. John’s Wort, you’ll find that it is used primarily in the treatment of depression. It has also shown promise as a partial cure for alcoholism, Parkinson’s disease, and PMS.
In other words, if any of those conditions have robbed you of your normally happy disposition, you might restore your personality by using St. John’s Wort.
Further research shows that, though usually taken orally, many herbs may enter the bloodstream through external means—especially if the herb is placed in a bag or pouch and worn directly against the skin, as a mojo bag would be.
So if, in Africa, a man cursed with depression or a woman suffering from PMS suddenly feels better when they pack their mojo with Johnny Conkeroo, who are we to laugh at their “primitive” notions?
In the meantime, hang onto those black cat bones and crocodile teeth when you do your spring-cleaning.