The Motown Witch talks upcoming Detroit Hoodoo Festival and the contradictory nature of magic | Culture | Detroit

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Nick Hagen

Yvette Wyatt at her shop, Motown Witch.

A distressed young woman approaches Detroit metaphysical shop Motown Witch with her hand on her head, a concerned look stuck on her face. She enters the shop, passing aisles of candles, incense, and herbs as she heads for the shelves furthest away from the cash register.

She’s in over her head, and needs to muster up the courage to ask what she’s actually come here for.

“I need something to get rid of a dark cloud of evil energy that’s following me,” she says after stalling for half an hour, finally approaching the register with hesitation. She isn’t ready for the answer shop owner Yvette Wyatt is about to give.

“Who told you that bullshit,” the 57-year-old shopkeeper asks in a decidedly no-bullshit tone.

Wyatt, who is a High Priestess of hoodoo, opened Motown Witch in 2021 after leaving her 30-year-long career as a legal secretary behind. Prior to opening Motown Witch, located at 16844 Schaefer Hwy., she sold candles and other spellwork supplies out of her husband’s capoeira gym.

The young woman is taken aback, and Wyatt asks her “bullshit” question again before the woman admits an internet psychic told her she was surrounded by darkness. She was instructed to purchase products for a cleanse that the mystery internet person would perform on her.

“Child please,” Wyatt responds. “There is no such thing. I can tell you right now that you got dark shit and you need to buy this, and this, and that, and now you gotta pay me extra money so I can do this work, but there’s nothing on you. You take in suggestions. A lot of subliminal stuff is bullshit. You just have to be aware of it.”

Wyatt tells the woman to go home, take a bath with a bit of salt and bleach, stop drinking pop, and remove toxic food from her diet. Also, she should watch who she hangs out with because toxic people have a way of rubbing off on you, as Wyatt says.

That’s the cure. No magic rituals or spells required. The woman ends up leaving with a bundle of sage, but not before trying to buy a “love candle,” which Wyatt dissuades her from.

“See this is when I’m a bad business owner because I don’t sell shit, I just tell people like it is,” Wyatt says. “The grandma comes out… This is how I am before I have my coffee.”

In 2021 Wyatt created Detroit’s first, and so far only, festival dedicated to hoodoo and witchcraft, the Detroit Hoodoo Festival. The annual festival’s second installment is scheduled for this weekend with a lineup of conjurers and Houngans (voodoo priests) teaching classes. There will also be tarot readers and around 25 vendors selling jewelry, herbs, crystals, and more.

The classes include topics like how to conjure spirits through various passages from the Bible, how to make “magical medicine” with both everyday and exotic ingredients, and graveyard work, which is “not to be undertaken by the uninformed or the faint of heart,” according to the festival’s website.

It sounds like pretty serious stuff, but Wyatt is literally one of the most chill people I’ve ever met. Well, chill with a splash of motherly love, a dash of crazy, and a healthy dollop of I-just-don’t-give-a-fuck. Just imagine a gothy woman with long locs who will tell it to you straight, because she actually cares about your well-being.

I visited Motown Witch and spent some time with Wyatt learning more about her hoodoo origins, the festival, and how cutting off toxic people is crucial — even if they’re your own parents.

click to enlarge Motown Witch owner says she often dissuades her customers from trying to solve their problems with spells and candles. “See this is when I’m a bad business owner because I don’t sell shit, I just tell people like it is,” Wyatt says. “The grandma comes out.” - RANDIAH CAMILLE GREEN

Randiah Camille Green

Motown Witch owner says she often dissuades her customers from trying to solve their problems with spells and candles. “See this is when I’m a bad business owner because I don’t sell shit, I just tell people like it is,” Wyatt says. “The grandma comes out.”

Hold up, what exactly is hoodoo?

According to Wyatt, hoodoo is an African-based folk magic system that enslaved Africans used to persevere through the horrors of slavery in the United States.

“Like when this young lady came in here earlier talking about the love candle, I’m trying to get people to understand that ‘low magic’ per se was done so that masa would not sell our loved ones away. It wasn’t to make Craig come back to you,” she explains in the store’s backroom as heavy metal plays in the background. “That’s why I tell people, it’s self-love sweetheart. People are exiting your life for a reason, so don’t try and manifest them to come back, ‘cause you gone manifest the same kind of asshole in another person ‘til you get your shit together.”

So hoodoo is not a religion. In fact, Wyatt says a lot of her customers are Christians — “old church ladies” coming in to buy candles for their superstitious practices.

“We’re flooded in here on Sunday afternoon (after church),” she says.

People often confuse hoodoo with voodoo, which is a Haitian religion that you have to be initiated into. Although there are some hoodoo circles in the South that require initiation, that’s beside the point. Adding more confusion to the mix, some presenters at the hoodoo festival are also voodoo practitioners.

The easiest way to differentiate between the two is to remember hoodoo is a type of magic practiced by people of various religions. Voodoo is a religion itself, with its own set of beliefs.

Wyatt has been a hoodoo practitioner pretty much her whole life. Growing up, she would watch her grandmother, who was a Southern Baptist, make herbal healing potions.

“My grandmother, if something was wrong, she either had a bath or a tea for you,” Wyatt says. “I remember my dog stepped on some glass and cut her paw… My grandma put some kinda solution in this cup and stuck the dog’s paw in it. That shit bubbled everywhere and turned brown. Ooze went everywhere, it was gross. The next day the dog was fine.”

It was normal for Wyatt, even though her mother was a “Jesus freak” (her words, not mine). Her father, on the other hand, was a hardcore atheist who didn’t want his daughter going to church. A match made in heaven, or hell, you could say.

Wyatt grew up living with her grandmother and father in Hamtramck in the 1970s, but she would often visit her great grandmother down in Alabama where she picked up more hoodoo traditions, except they didn’t call it hoodoo at the time.

“Growing up with no internet, no YouTube, and all this shit, there was no name for these things, it was just how people lived,” she says. “I just knew I was going to be blind because all my aunts would crowd around me and put some shit that they had mixed up in my eye when something stung me… [They] just knew to do these things.”

As she got older, Wyatt discovered Paganism, but quickly got turned off because “all the deities were white,” so she leaned more into her hoodoo roots. The lack of representation for people of color in Michigan’s Pagan communities is also what inspired Wyatt to make her shop focused on African-based spirituality. Apparently this “irritated a lot of people.”

“Some man made that part of his Facebook review,” she says, laughing. “He was like, ‘it’s a good store but if you’re looking for Hecate or something like that, you’re not going to find it, if you know what I mean.’”

In case you don’t know what that hater meant, Hecate is the Greek goddess of witchcraft and magic, who is commonly called upon by Pagan practitioners during rites.

At Motown Witch, however, you’ll find statues of Chango and Oshun, gods and goddesses from the traditional Yoruban belief system that originated in Nigeria. The shop also hosts a monthly meeting called “The Real Black Witches of Detroit,” which you could probably surmise is only open to women of color.

Wyatt started the group because she would often encounter Black women who were lost on their spiritual path and had questions they were uncomfortable asking elsewhere.

“We don’t have a place where we can just talk unfiltered and as someone who worked in the legal field where I was often the only Black person, I know what it’s like to have to filter and edit what you say around certain people,” she says. “I’ve had some white ladies tell me it’s racist, but it’s not. We have different issues and problems. When my son leaves the house and when your son leaves the house, we have different concerns.”

click to enlarge At Motown Witch, however, you’ll find statues of Chango and Oshun, gods and goddesses from the traditional Yoruban belief system that originated in Nigeria. - RANDIAH CAMILLE GREEN

Randiah Camille Green

At Motown Witch, however, you’ll find statues of Chango and Oshun, gods and goddesses from the traditional Yoruban belief system that originated in Nigeria.

Detroit Hoodoo Festival

So how did Wyatt end up starting the Detroit Hoodoo Festival? It’s kind of a complicated story. When Wyatt was trying to find her place in Michigan’s witchcraft community, she got involved with the Detroit Pagan Society. She was there in the 1990s for the group’s initial Michigan Witches Ball — back when it was called the Midwest Michigan Witches Ball — and she eventually started to help organize it.

That is until about 2018, anyway, when the event was passed onto new leadership.

“Back 25, 30 years ago I was generally the only person of color, and it did get more color over the years, but when they changed hands I knew that person was going to mess with the intention of the event,” Wyatt says. “The person they changed hands to didn’t want my assistance, so I left it alone and did not go.”

Instead, she created her own event, the Detroit Hoodoo Festival, with classes, vendors, and a dance party on the final day. It was the epitome of “if you want something done right, do it yourself.”

“People complained to me, so I just made my own,” she says. “A lot of my friends in Detroit don’t want to go on the other side of Eight Mile, so they would never go [to the Michigan Witches Ball] anyway. They had the preconceived notion that it was just a white people’s thing. They didn’t like the music, and just didn’t want to go.”

She adds that she didn’t intend to create any division in the community by starting her own event, she just wanted a place where people of color could participate after she was seemingly pushed aside.

“The person that the ball was turned over to created the division,” she says. “My thing is, we can both go to each other’s events. They’re not on the same day, so what’s the problem?”

The first Detroit Hoodoo Festival was supposed to be held in 2020 but, like most things, was postponed due to COVID-19 and kicked off in 2021 instead. Wyatt also started her own ball, the Detroit Witches Ball, the same year after the hoodoo festival went off without a hitch.

Interestingly enough, despite the racial tension, Wyatt says she doesn’t believe that hoodoo is only reserved for Black people, even though it has African origins. Several white Houngans have taught classes at the Detroit Hoodoo Festival and will do so this year as well.

Growing up in Hamtramck, which had lots of Polish and Bulgarian families at the time, Wyatt learned that different cultures have their own forms of folk magic. But in the end, the intentions are the same.

“It’s usually people who have been oppressed or that are poor and have to struggle that find different ways to make their shit work,” she says. “But now you have this big thing that rootwork can only be Black. My first husband was white. His grandmother gave me my first mojo bag. They were from Kentucky, from the hills. So when people give me that racial thing, I’m like, I beg to differ. That’s not how I was brought up. I was taught by everybody. I was taught by my whole community.”

A mojo bag is something like a lucky charm carried by hoodoo practitioners for things like protection and good luck. They can contain a range of things like herbs, stones, and incense powder sewed up in a pouch depending on what the person’s intention is.

Either way, Wyatt wants people to come to the festival with an open mind, whether they’re Christian or whatever else. It’s a place for people to learn more about hoodoo and discover techniques to deepen their own spiritual practice.

“I want people to walk away with a little more knowledge and a lot less spookism because hoodoo is everywhere, particularly in households of color,” she says. “It’s in those superstitions that you don’t have a name for. Well, now you know what it is.”

When asked how the misconception of hoodoo as something “spooky” came from, she didn’t have an answer.

“There’s a lot of witchcraft in the Bible,” she says. “Psalms is a spellbook. Those songs are spells. A lot of the roots and herbs and astrological rules and numbers, all that shit’s in the Bible. Somewhere in there with the whole church thing, it got lost in translation. They’ll tell you not to go to a (tarot) reader because that’s the devil, but at the same time, there’s a prophet in the church. I don’t understand.”

What makes magic work?

Throughout our long conversation, I can’t help but keep thinking about the young woman who came into the shop earlier. Wyatt all but turned her away, telling her she doesn’t need magic to solve her problems.

It’s because Wyatt doesn’t like when people try to use magic as a quick fix instead of addressing how their own behavior is causing their issues in the first place.

“You can complain that your husband won’t screw you, but you don’t cook, you don’t do anything to make him feel amorous towards you. So you come in here to get a dick candle and burn that thinking that’s gone make him screw you,” she explains. “All you had to do was just clean the house and take a bath before he comes home. This is the stuff I deal with, so then it’s like, OK, go ahead, get the candle. Carve his name in it. Whatever.”

She adds, “the hardest thing to do is face yourself. Too many people spend a lot of energy looking outside themselves. It’s like they think magic is gonna solve everything and you don’t have to work on yourself, you don’t have to change your diet, you don’t have to do anything.”

It’s true, the answer is often in the mirror, not in a candle or crystal. Still, Wyatt is selling the products in her shop that she’s telling potential customers not to buy. If it’s true that we don’t need magic then why practice hoodoo and have a metaphysical shop in the first place? Aren’t those things contradictory?

“They are,” Wyatt says simply. “But life is contradictory.”

The root of the issue, as Wyatt tells it, is that most people misconstrue how magic works. You don’t just light a candle, walk away, and think it will somehow make your dreams come true.

“It’s a continuous thing,” she explains. “You gotta continue to work on it, continue to put energy towards it. Whatever you put energy towards does manifest, and that’s what many people forget. They actually think the candle is a Band-Aid, but that’s not the case.”

She also cautions people to “be realistic” with their manifestations instead of thinking the magic isn’t working if they don’t get the exact outcome they were hoping for.

“You know those folks who think they’re going to do this and then hit the $5 million lotto,” she says, shaking her head. “Like I told somebody who did money work when she didn’t get what she was expecting, first of all, you have to start with gratitude and be grateful for what you did get. Secondly, it might not look how you think it’s going to look. You might not have someone hand you $500, but you might have somebody buy you a bag of groceries. You might have someone put gas in your car.”

Suddenly, Wyatt stops and starts sniffing the air. When she sees the confused look on my face, she says, “it smelled like burning oil. It was very strong for a minute. I’ve never smelled that before. I don’t know who that was, it might have been somebody for you.”

She means it was a spirit or an ancestor. I suppose it’s possible a deceased loved one was coming to deliver me a message, but I never noticed the smell. For a moment, she wonders if it was her deceased father “coming in the room,” but she says he’s usually more direct with his messages.

For instance, when Wyatt was diagnosed with colon cancer three years ago, her father came to her very clearly in a dream. It was three days before she was supposed to have surgery.

“I was really nervous, I was all down and mopey… and I had this dream,” she says. “I was at a movie theater and they had three or four different kinds of popcorn. I couldn’t afford the more expensive popcorn so I was going to just get the plain one. Then my dad appears and he goes, ‘which one do you want?’ I said it’s OK, I’ll just take the plain one, and he was like ‘no.’

“He did that thing that he would do. He would holler at me when I wasn’t paying attention. [He said] ‘Yvette!’” she yells her own name. “‘Which one do you want?’ And I just looked at him and he said, ‘I got you’ and he hugged me really tight. And I woke up and I’m like, I got this.”

Ironically, though she often communicates with her father in another realm, Wyatt doesn’t talk to her mother (who is still living) at all.

“My mother has told me my entire existence that I’m not shit, ain’t about to be shit, blah, blah, blah. I don’t talk to my mother, because that’s bullshit. There’s only so much negativity you can take,” she says. “There used to be a song called ‘Ain’t Nothing Gonna Break My Stride’ in the ’70s and I would walk around singing that song. That’s been my attitude my whole life.”

It goes back to what she was telling the young woman earlier. Protect your energy by being careful who you allow to occupy space in your life. Toxic people are not welcome, not even your mother.

The Detroit Hoodoo Festival is on Saturday, May 21 and Sunday, May 22 at the Hilton Garden Inn, 26000 American Dr., Southfield. Tickets range from $150 for one day to $400 for a VIP package that includes lunch and a private meet and greet with the presenters. A ticket is not required to just visit the vendor’s room. Classes are scheduled from 11 a.m. to about 5 p.m. each day. More information is available at detroithoodoofestival.com.

Motown Witch is located at 16844 Schaefer Hwy., Detroit; 313-757-0689; motownwitch.com.

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