Monday, August 25, 2014

Is Hoodoo Scottish?

A few months ago, I was quite bewildered to have Google autofill in for me the phrase "Is Hoodoo Scottish?" whilst I was searching for something else about hoodoo that started with an S.

It seemed like such a totally bizarre idea that I could not imagine the origin of the question, but I brushed it off as just one of those weird Google Autocomplete moments, and more or less went about my business.

Recently, while looking for something else, I happened upon the explanation for it! EK's Star Log makes the argument that hoodoo is actually Scottish.

FACT: The word Hoodoo originates from Pictish Scotland. Hoodoo by translation means “haunted, paranormal, or supernatural”. It dates back to around 300BC-300AD and was used by the Picts of Scotland.
I don't at all agree with this person's reasoning -- anyone who seriously studies word origins knows it's pretty rare for a word to appear in 300 BC, then go undocumented for over 2,000 years before suddenly popping up again circa 1870. There may indeed be an old Pictish word that sounds like hoodoo (though since their language is very poorly documented I'd be skeptical even of the reliability of that... no source is given for where this word was supposed to be documented) but it's probably not linguistically related to the modern English word, any more than the Chinese word Go is related to the English word. The only time a word gets revived in that way is by rediscovery of a dead language, not by a word used continually. Take for example, an Early Latin inscription from about the same time as the Picts, which begins HONCE LOVCOM whereas modern Italian would say QUESTO BOSCHETTO. Not even similar. English language from its earliest version versus the modern form is no better. Languages change A LOT in just a few hundred years, and it's very unusual for a word to stay preserved in common language over such a span of time.

I will agree that hoodoo magic is not, strictly, African in origin. In fact, the references to similarity of Scottish magic probably aren't coincidence, but it came about from the way that hoodoo evolved from a mixture of various African, European and American Indian practices during the 18th and 19th centuries. EelKat acts like it was special for Scots to use poppet magic, but in fact spells using such figures go all the way back to Ancient Greece if not earlier.

But EelKat goes on...
How do they explain “hoodoo mountain”, “hoodoo gorge”, “hoodoo rock”, “hoodoo valley”, and the hundreds of other places in Wales and Scotland, which have used those names close to 2,000 years?
How, indeed? Maybe by way of these places not existing at all? I've actually lived in Scotland and never came across anyplace called a hoodoo, or any locals using hoodoo as a descriptive term. The only geological features I know of by this term are in the US, and the word in that sense seems to be 20th century. The Oxford English Dictionary doesn't even mention the word outside its US definition relating to magic. The oldest I can find to hoodoo as a word for a geologic feature is circa 1904 where it was apparently the name of a mine, alongside Jupiter, Dakota Maid and Union Hill. Most references to Hoodoo Rocks/Mountains seem to come from the 1920s, and always on the North American continent.

I kind of wonder if EelKat's strange theory is really just making fun of Catherine Yronwode (to the credit of Yronwode, she does use many sources other than Hyatt.) Yronwode is very paranoid about copyright, to the point that she is alleged to sometimes report made-up info as historical fact, in order to trap people who "steal" the info from her. Is EelKat doing the same?

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