I got my mojo word in

Is your mojo working?

If all is going well, you are confident and you achieve things effortlessly, you might say that your mojo is working. If you are musically inclined you might even sing about it.

Where does mojo come from?

Mojo is a word that has found its way into English from African via the American slave trade. The word became popular from blues songs which came out of the south of the US. It probably derives from the Western African, Fula language word moco’o, meaning a medicine man. The African word is the probable ancestor of  moco, meaning witchcraft or magic, used in the Gullah language of parts of southern US (South Carolina and Georgia). Gullah is creole meaning a language made up of elements of other languages – in this case English and Western African words and grammar.

What is a mojo?

A mojo is a charm made of a cloth bag tied with a drawstring that contains roots, herbs, animal parts or other objects associated with magic. It is often worn under clothing, sometimes between the legs and is sometimes sown into the shape of a hand. It was also known as a conjure bag or a prayer in a bag.

The charm is part of hoodoo, North American folk magic (with some things in common with voodoo) that combines African and Native American beliefs with European magic and Christian beliefs.

What does mojo do?

When your mojo is working your lucky charm is delivering its spell. Mojo is often used to refer to a man’s success with women but this is only one of its spells.

Traditional hoodoo like most folk magic uses magic potions and charms to influence people’s luck. Their success in love, their success with money (particularly in gambling) their health or to change other important aspects of their everyday lives.

Gamblers were particular users of the charm and their bags contained ingredients such as lucky hand root and five-finger grass to help the fingers work well.

Who sang about mojo?

The great Mississippi bluesman, Robert Johnson, first used mojo in a lyric of his song, Little Queen of Spades, recorded in 1937.

He is attracted to the Little Queen of Spades, a gambling woman who has her own money due to her gambling prowess and mojo:

Well, a man don’t need a woman
hoo, fair brown, that he got to give all his money to

Everybody say she got a mojo
now, she’s been usin’ that stuff …

… Ooo hoo eee, since I am the King
baby, and you is a queen

Let’s put our heads together
hoo, fair brown, then we can make our money green

Mojo became more famous with a later bluesman’s standard: Muddy Waters released Got My Mojo Workin’ in 1957. He is often wrongly credited with authorship of the tune. It was written by Preston Foster and first recorded by Ann Cole (Muddy Waters had heard the song from Ann Cole while they were touring together and wrote his own version, similar enough to result in a copyright case, which he lost).

Here is an abbreviation of the Foster version:

Got my Mojo working but it just won’t work on you
Got my Mojo working but it just won’t work on you
I want to love you so ’til I don’t know what to do

I got my black cat bones all cured and dry
I got my four leaf clover all hanging high
I got my mojo workin’ but it just won’t work on you
I want to love you so ’til I don’t know what to do…

I got my hoodoo ashes all around your bed
I got my black snake roots underneath your head
I got my mojo workin’ …

I got a gypsy woman givin’ me advice
I got some red-hot tips I have to keep on ice
I got my mojo workin’ …

I got my rabbit foot I know it’s working right
I got this strand of hair I keep day and night
I got my Mojo workin’ …

The original song lyrics give a catalogue of the ingredients of a mojo love charm. It is obviously a good luck charm with a four-leaf clover and a rabbit’s foot, it also contains black cat bones, hoodoo ashes, black snake roots and a strand of the lover’s hair. Muddy Water’s version has the same chorus but his verses are different and without the mojo recipe:

I’m going down to Louisiana, to get me a mojo hand
I’m going down to Louisiana, to get me a mojo hand
I’m gonna have all you women, get you under my command

Water’s charm is a mojo hand. His charm has a different purpose than Cole’s, his is a charm to make him attractive to women whereas hers is a love potion to make her lover fall for her.

Jim Morrison, lead singer of The Doors, was a fan of the Water’s song. He never recorded it but his alter-ego, Mr Mojo Risin’, an anagram on his name, appeared in the song LA Woman. It has been suggested that Mr Mojo Risin’ was a phallic reference but, even if it is, Morrison, always fascinated by the myths and magic of native Americans, would have understood its true hoodoo meaning.

Got My Mojo Workin’ has continued its life as a blues standard. It has been covered by many mainstream artists including the Grateful Dead, JJ Cale and Manfred Mann; even Elvis Presley had his own version.

This century, mojo has gone on to find its own mojo, developing a prominent place in the vocabulary of modern music.