Southern Spirits: Ghostly Voices from Dixie Land
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VOODOOISM IN PHILADELPHIA
by STEWART CULIN (and DR. H. N. BRYAN)

from "The Journal of American Folklore" Apr. - Jun., 1889

This is the entirety of a short note by Stewart Culin that appeared in "The Journal of American Folklore" in 1889 in which he paraphrases a letter from or conversation with one Dr. H. N. Bryan of Philadelphia. At the time, the term "Voodooism" was in common use among white outsiders trying to describe African American conjure, rootwork, or hoodoo, the "ism" suffix indicating that what was being described was not, strictly speaking, Haitian or African Voodoo or Vodun) .

Dr. H. N. Bryan of Philadelphia informs me in regard to my inquiries in reference to Voodooism that he had just written the death certificate of a negro man who died of consumption.

The deceased had been a janitor in a large building. and belonged to the "reputable" class. Some time before his death his brother visited the doctor and asked to be told the cause of the sick man's illness. Upon being informed, the brother replied, "No! He is bewitched. He has had a spell put upon him. He is getting old, his family are tired of him, and are trying to put him out of the way. They have bewitched him. They did it once before, and if I had not gone to another Voodoo doctor, and paid him to remove the spell, he would have died." The doctor tried to reassure the man, but he went away unsatisfied. This brother was an industrious and comparatively intelligent man. His family were well educated, and after the father's visit the children called and told the doctor not to mind what their father had said.

At my request Dr. Bryan made inquiries of the negroes about the Voodoo sorcerers, and was told they held meetings in Philadelphia, at which they performed horrid rites, and that they were able to make themselves known to each other by secret signs.

-- Stewart Culin, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

This material is reprinted from

The Journal of American Folklore

Vol. 2, No. 5,
Apr. - Jun., 1889.
pp. 233-234.

[My sincere gratitude to Eoghan Craig Ballard of the University of Pennsylvania for supplying this transcription.]

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