Hyatt Spells
From Harry Middleton Hyatt Collection

There are NO experts in Hoodoo, RootWork-Conjure or any folk religion. This is because the material is generated by word-of-mouth from one person to another and scant little of the people sharing it were barely literate let alone educated. The recognized experts today are nothing more than people who've learned what they know about Hoodoo from book sources. None of these people have gone so far as to go into the world of the poor black Americans and make real contacts with the old time conjure workers. And one cannot presume that the old time conjure worker himself is confident enough to use a computer so it's highly doubtful that any real conjure worker from the by-gone era is online.

Harry M. Hyatt was an Anglican minister who fancied himself as a folklorist. He was born in Quincy, Illinois & went on to obtain his Doctorate of Divinity at Oxford University.

As an amateur folklorist and let's stress the "amateur" here, Rev. Hyatt began to collect folklore in his own home-town & then moved on to collect magical folklore & spells thru out the southern United States. Two works that he contributed were Folklore From Adams County Illinois (Published in 1935) and Hoodoo-Conjuration-Witchcraft-Rootwork (Published in 1970). Also, Hyatt tried his hand at genealogy & published a couple of books about his own family & they were The Millers of Millersburg Kentucky (Published in 1929) & Descendents of John Walton of Baltimore Co. Maryland and Harrison Co. Kentucky (Published in 1950).

Hoodoo, Conjuration, Witchcraft, Rootwork is in 5 volumes. It totals an amazing 4,766 pages filled with a monumental collection of folklore gathered by Rev. Hyatt from places such as Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia and all between the years of 1936 to 1940. He even conducted supplementary interviews in the Florida region around 1970.

This collection has 13,458 separate magic spells & related beliefs, along with lengthy interviews of professional RootWorkers. All but one of Rev. Hyatt's 1,600 informants were black Americans or so Rev. Hyatt claimed.

Rev. Hyatt also recorded some of the material often without the knowledge of the informants. He’d transcribe and annotate this material for publication. Occasionally his equipment failed or wasn’t available and he took notes by hand instead. Sadly, his recordings done in the 1930s were destroyed, with the exception of a few 78 rpm records. Thankfully, his interviews from 1970 in the Florida region were recorded on cassette tapes & these still exist.

Earlier I mentioned that he was amateur and by that I mean his material is haphazardly put together without much rhyme or reason as well as his notes are interspersed into the explanations. Further there are times that Hyatt shows his ignorance of African-American culture. What some folklorists do is to take time to research the origins of much of this culture because with background information, this allows one to more fully understand why the informants in the book explained things as they understood it.

UCLA claims to hold the copywrites to Hyatt's material and they're not releasing them to be reprinted. This isn't due to money needs but rather for academia's sake. The library at UCLA isn't hurting for money so there's no reason for them to want to release the copywrites.

For those who have strong interest in the Hyatt material, there are some discussion about it on various Yahoo Groups but the one that focuses strictly on JUST the Hyatt material, go to:

HyattSpell List