Language of the Blues: MOJO

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This is the latest installment of our weekly series, The Language of the Blues, in which Debra Devi explores the meaning of a word or phrase found in the blues.

Grab a signed copy of Devi’s award-winning blues glossary The Language of the Blues: From Alcorub to ZuZu (Foreword by Dr. John) at Bluescentric.com.

LOTB_MojoBagA mojo is a hoodoo charm, a “prayer in a bag.” The mojo is an ineffectual bundle of twigs, nail clippings, and other junk, however, until a conjurer traps a spirit inside it. The mojo is the vital spark within the medicine–the spirit of an ancestor, or a spirit-god captured by a root doctor.

Over time, mojo has come to mean an individual’s magnetism and sexual vitality.

The word “mojo” is probably related to mojuba, which means “a prayer of praise” and comes from the Yoruba emi (I) and ajuba (salute). Each act of propitiation to the gods must begin with a libation (such as spit, alcohol, or water) and a prayer.

Mojo is also likely connected to the Fula word moca, which means to cast or activate a magic spell by spitting. In the Gullah dialect of the Georgia Sea Islands, moco means witchcraft or magic. In Jamaican English, majoe is a plant with medicinal powers.

Many blues songs tell of mojos that fix (tie or bind) a lover to be faithful. Mississippi Fred McDowell described this in “Louisiana Blues”:

Lord I’m going down to Louisiana to buy me a mojo hand
I’m going to fix my baby so she won’t have no other man

A mojo may bind not only the emotions, but also the sexual organs of the lover. If a woman who has been tied attempts to make love with another man, she may find herself defecating or menstruating during intercourse. A tied man will lose his erection if he attempts to be unfaithful.

As Blind Willie McTell explained to a willing woman in “Talking to Myself”:

Well I’d like to love you, baby
But your good man got me barred

What goes inside the mojo bag varies with the purpose of the mojo and the practices of the hoodoo practitioner who is preparing it. The mojo almost always includes something secretly collected from the body of the person being hoodoo’ed, such as a lock of hair, some pubic hair, fingernail clippings, or a piece of skin.

The mojo maker combines the personal item with something that will have the desired effect on the person’s behavior or will fulfill the desire of the person who plans to wear the bag. The most common ingredients are roots, such as pieces of John the Conqueror, and herbs. Other ingredients range from ash, bone, and insect parts to snakeskin or feathers, or symbolic items such as dice, a length of chain, or coins.

Once the conjurer has lured a spirit into the mojo, the mojo is anointed or “dressed” with oil. A bag may also be fed with whiskey, perfume, or bodily fluids such as spit, urine, or semen. This seals the spirit inside the mojo.

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Songs
“Little Queen of Spades”- Robert Johnson
“I Got My Mojo Working”- Muddy Waters (McKinley Morganfield)
“Mojo Hand”- Lightnin’ Hopkins (Sam Hopkins)
“Low Down Mojo”- Blind Lemon Jefferson

Video
“I Got My Mojo Working”- Muddy Waters (McKinley Morganfield)