On a scrappy stretch of Lyons Avenue in Fifth Ward, you’ll find vacant lots, commercial warehouses, the St. Arnold Brewing complex and STANLEY DRUG COMPANY, a neighborhood fixture since 1938. Though the once-vibrant neighborhood has changed over time (and seems poised to take off again), the spiritual store’s potions, oils, roots, recipes and prayers have remained faithful to hoodoo traditions and practices. This is the last remaining hoodoo store in Texas, and this isn’t CVS.
Owner STEPHANIE MAY clears something up for me: We’re talking about hoodoo, not voodoo. “Voodoo is a religion, while hoodoo is a folk magic practice based on African slave traditions, Native American beliefs, Caribbean mysticism – a real mishmash that took hold in African-American communities throughout the South. People would visit the ‘root workers’ in their neighborhood for prescriptions for what ailed them – health problems, love problems, career advice,” she explains, “and the root worker – a cross between a spiritual advisor and a Jewish matchmaker – would write them up a recipe for their problems that they’d take to the hoodoo drugstore.”
While the popularity of root workers has waned over the years, people still come in for custom solutions to their problems. And like everyone today, they want solutions now! They’re not there to browse; they want results. And so May and her staff go to work on each customer’s specific problem, using authentic, organic ingredients that have been prescribed
for hundreds of years. The shop’s back rooms are filled to the rafters with jars of oils, fragrances, candles, powders and potions – all ready to be combined for peace of mind.
There’s also an altar room where the staff will burn your candle for you (say if you’re traveling but still want that problem resolved) and there’s also a room for having your cards read by the onsite psychic. If you do go to Stanley, be prepared to spend about an hour there – because it’s such a one-on-one experience, the staff takes their time with each customer to get the “prescription” right.
Though it might seem exotic and foreign, even strange to some, May assures me that hoodoo is all around us, if we open our eyes. “You know those ‘bottle trees’ you see where bottles cover the limbs? That’s not some cute Heights thing; it started as a practice to trap evil spirits from coming into your house. Or in Hispanic neighborhoods, you see blue paint around doors and windows? Same thing. Or people who keep a bowl of lemons by the front door to protect them. It’s not to make the house smell good, although it does. Hoodoo is everywhere.”
And now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a candle to light.
2718 Lyons Avenue, Houston, TX 77020 | 713.222.0800 | www.stanleydrug.com