You can judge a good “hoodoo” store by the smell.
If you walk in and smell incense, herbs, and candles, you’re in the right place. This is especially true at Motown Witch, a metaphysical supply store that recently opened in a beautiful open space at 16844 Schaefer Hwy. on Detroit’s west side.
Painted a bright yellow, the store is spacious with a large display of herbs like jasmine, lavender, and hibiscus in glass jars behind the counter that immediately beckon to customers. Scents like Wild Berry incense permeate the air and seduce the senses.
High Priestess Yvette-Louise Wyatt, AKA The Motown Witch, remembers the first time she called herself a “witch.” She was ten years old.
The Motown Witch. Photo by Nick Hagen.
“I found an article from a Wiccan couple, and my grandmother let me send off a money order and take classes from them,” Yvette-Louise says. “I liked some parts of it, the herbs, for example. Other things didn’t appeal to me, like the deities. But, I learned early, you take what speaks to you and leave the rest.”
A former legal secretary, Yvette-Louise said that even in her former professional life, she always followed her path. She kept Florida water on her desk -- a popular “cologne” used to cleanse and protect personal spaces. She recalls working at one firm where her colleagues used to gather weekly to pray for her soul.
Even in her former life, she was a weekend vendor of spiritual supplies. But, as interest in her wares grew, she chose to open a standalone store. Her first location was on James Couzens Drive. The Schaefer location opened in January 2021 during the coronavirus pandemic because she felt that the supplies she sells are more crucial than ever.
Like many Detroiters, High Priestess Yvette-Louise says she has lost count of how many friends and family members she lost to the virus. Ancestral veneration has helped her manage her grief.
“I encourage others to give in to it,” she says of grief. “So often we expect there to be a time limit when it has to stop. I say sit with it, allow the hurt to come, and naturally go.”
“As Black women, we often have so much that we have to carry on our shoulders. We are expected to be extraordinarily strong. We also spend too much time worrying about what other people think,” she adds, with a smile: “That’s never been my problem.”
An article in Variety
late last year said that Hollywood has failed Black witches who practice cultural traditions rooted in an amalgamation of southern, Caribbean, and African cultures.
“Black witches are usually shown with evil tendencies and rarely get happy endings,” practitioner N’ganga Makhosi told Variety. She and others hope that the perception of witches of all nationalities can change.
People have long associated the word “witch” with evil. Movies and cartoons perpetuate images of a ghoulish, green-skinned older woman to be feared.
In Detroit, Rose Veres was a Hungarian immigrant who ran a boarding house during the Great Depression. When one of her tenants fell off a ladder outside the house and died, Veres — who spoke little English — was tried for his death. She was accused of witchcraft and even of being a serial killer. Journalist Karen Dybis detailed the story in her book, “The Witch of Delray: Rose Veres & Detroit’s Infamous 1930s Murder Mystery.”
The Motown Witch. Photo by Nick Hagen.
Dybis wrote Veres’ case was actually one of nativism, police incompetence, and political corruption that even years later has made her a legend in the city as a “witch” whose Woodmere Cemetery grave is still a tourist attraction.
Using the term “witch” in her business never worried Yvette-Louise. “I’m kind of an in-your-face kind of person,” she says.
She also leads a group called Real Black Witches of Detroit, who meet at the store every third Saturday, and they have a private Facebook group where women interested in witchcraft can ask questions and learn from one another.
Yvette-Louise advises those interested in learning more about various witch paths, or what she calls, “deeper ancestral knowledge,” to start by creating an ancestral altar in their home.
It can be “a small table in any corner, a glass of water, a white candle,” she says. “Sit and talk to your ancestors known and unknown. Then listen to the inklings you get. It all means something. We tend to dismiss things, the shadows we see, the tingle up your back. Sometimes there’s a greater message there.”
People interested in learning from experienced spiritual, metaphysical, and witchcraft practitioners will have a chance to do so in person and virtually at the Detroit Hoodoo Festival,
taking place on April 17 and 18 at the Hilton Inn Garden in Southfield. Workshops include basic spirituality, mental health, and sexual magic.
It will be the first time Yvette-Louise has held the festival in Detroit, but she has held it in other cities, both large and small. She recently conducted one in Omaha, Nebraska. “It’s called a festival, but it’s really a lot of hands-on work and opportunities to learn.”
At first, she didn’t think Detroiters would respond to the idea of the festival, but friends convinced her otherwise. She scheduled the first one last August, but canceled on account of the rise in COVID-19 cases. It’s now scheduled for this April, Yvette-Louise’s birthday weekend.
While she tries to educate others on wicca, hoodoo, vodou, or just magic, she says it might not be for everyone. The paths are rooted in nature and a self-confidence distinct from and often in contrast with traditional religions. Yvette-Louise proudly claims that she’s “been a heathen forever.”
But many of the practices have always been present, particularly in African American culture. “We used just to call it superstition,” she says. “Things like not sweeping a broom across someone’s feet or not putting your purse on the floor; that’s pretty common in our culture.”
A deeper exploration of Black “witchcraft” is somewhat rooted in African practices. However, Yvette-Louise cautions about the need to connect everything back to the “Motherland.”
“We’ve been here so long, and we have so much blood on this soil,” she says. “I don’t think we always have to go all the way back. We can connect to who we are and have been right here in this country.”
Tickets for the Detroit Hoodoo Festival are available on the official website