Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Did Robert Johnson Sell His Soul to Satan?

Tarot card illustration of Robert Johnson and the Devil by Philip Cheaney

This article for the Paranormal Corner was written by Jose Prado.

We've all heard the story of the famous Blues musician Robert Johnson, and how he supposedly sold his soul to Satan on the Crossroads in order to learn how to play the guitar. But the truth is far from it. Robert Johnson wasn't the one who made the pact on the Crossroads; it was another musician, a friend of his named Tommy Johnson who made the legendary deal on the Crossroads. And Tommy never claimed it was 'the devil' he made the pact to. He always told people even in interviews, that he made the deal with Papa Legba, the Vodoun God of the Crossroads, the one who opens and closes doors to things. To gain favor from a Deity or spirit of Doorways and Roads whether it be Legba, Hekate, or Ganesh will lead to prosperity and fame. But somehow they twisted the legend to say he sold his soul to Satan, is an outright lie.*

To further the lie they then confused Robert Johnson with his friend Tommy Johnson. Why would American historians confuse them? And why would they say either one of them sold their souls to the Devil? These are the reasons why.

1) America has a long history of racism and ignorance of other ethnic groups and cultures and more than likely white Americans in the 1920’s couldn't tell the difference between one black musician named Johnson and another.

2) Both Johnsons were Vodusants, that is to say, Voodooists, their religion was Voodoo, they believed in different spirit forces that ruled all things. [1]

But to white society in 1920's America it was all 'pagan' blasphemy mixed in with 'devil worship', they couldn't tell the difference. 

3) They were both Hoodoomen (Conjuremen, Conjure workers, Hoodooists, Rootworkers etc) they both practiced Hoodoo, the witchcraft of the Voodoo religion.

Contrary to popular belief, not all people who believe in Voodoo are witches. A Voodoo witch practices Hoodoo and is referred to by the above names. Voodoo is the religion, the stories of the Spirits/Gods/Divinities the prayers etc...Just as not all Catholics are priests or can bless things. Or not all Wiccans are witches. There is a clear line between a regular Vodusant and a Rootworker. But to white supremacist America, no one saw the difference. [2]

Many today still view it as Satanism. But these men, back then both openly admitted to practicing witchcraft. The controversy they stirred up must have been enough to have white Americans talking about ‘demons’ stirred up by blacks under every corner. Or then again, it may not have been that controversial since many white Americans already had such racist notions to begin with. If anything all it did was solidify those notions.
With Tommy Johnson openly speaking of his pact to a Pagan God or Spirit? It was propaganda that racist America could use to spread to one another about the ‘heathen’ blacks. To them it was clear: a black blues musician sold his soul to Satan. Clearly to them a spirit or God from another religion is 'evil' and of Hell. And since Robert died of seemingly un-natural causes[3], it was said his death was due to the Faustian deal with Old Scratch (nickname for the Devil in New England and Pre-civil war America) who had come for his due.

4) Both Tommy and Robert were known Hoodoomen. In fact you'll even find Occult messages in Robert's lyrics about how his lover used Hoodoo to cheat at Gambling along with other hidden messages.

And since he wrote a song about Hell Hounds, to them it was proof he was consorting with Satan. Of course for all anyone knows, the song was a reference to something else. We know his song Crossroads was about hitch hiking on the Crossroads. But most people think it was referencing his non-existent 'deal'.

5) Both Tommy and Robert were friends, and both were Vodusants and Hoodoomen. So when one person talked about one of them it was probably inevitable the other would come up in conversation. So that may have started the confusion for white historians in the first place.

But despite popular legends and confusion, the facts are these:

* Robert Johnson did not make any deal on the Crossroads (that we know about, it would not have been odd for any Vodusant to make one with a spirit there)

* The one who made the deal was Tommy Johnson his friend.

* Tommy did not sell his soul to any spirit, let alone to Satan.

* Tommy Johnson made a pact (an unbreakable promise to a divine being) with the Vodoun Crossroads spirit (Or God as I believe him to be) Papa Legba to learn how to play the guitar.

* What he promised is unknown to us; pacts are sometimes secret and are between the spirit or Deity and the human.

* Whatever he promised, we can be sure of one thing: it was not his soul he gave away. Legba is a benevolent Divinity. Good spirits or Deities do not do things like that.

* Pacts could be promises of leaving offerings to a spirit or God when you have money, paying them tribute on special days like their feast day, wearing special colors, beads, or amulets or other things to signify your allegiance to them etc...
Pacts are also not exclusive to non-christian religions. Plenty of pacts can be found in the Bible. Noah’s pact with God (Genesis 9:11-17) or God’s pact with Abraham (Genesis 15:1-4). Vows of chastity made by Christians are pacts with God. A pact is a solemn promise to a Deity or spirit that in exchange for a gift they will bestow upon you, you will reward them with something in return. A gift for a gift in other words.

But when people hear the word ‘pact’ they usually think of pacts with demons or the Devil. It is important for everyone to realize that it is not always so. In fact, infernal pacts are rare and nearly non-existent. In my work as a Pagan priest and exorcist I have only come across two such cases. So remember folks, next time you see a black shadow or apparition on the Crossroads at midnight don't be so quick to say its 'Satan' it could be anybody.

* Note: In some beliefs and stories it is Satan who is summoned on the Crossroads. So it's not impossible. I have met Hoodoo men/women who perverted the teachings of Hoodoo and summoned demons under Satan, and they did go to Crossroads or Cemeteries to make deals with them. But they do these things "under the table" or in secret. So don't expect people to openly say they are doing these things. Because they would be shunned as blasphemers by the rest of the community. No one would be dumb enough to openly admit they were doing that.

[1]  In Voodoo, a believer can either be Pagan and believe that some spirits are Gods like me, or a believer can be a Monotheist and view the spirits as messengers like the Angels in Christianity, doing God's work. Whether or not Robert and Tommy Johnson were Polytheist or Monotheist is not known
[2]  Some of us are divided on the issue, some believe you can not be a Vodusant without being a witch, others make a distinction. It's not racist to believe they are one and the same. It is racist to lump all other religions into one category for not being Christian
[3]  No one knows how Robert Johnson died. The stories range from demons having come for his soul to having been poisoned by the jealous husband of a woman with a beer bottle laced with strychnine. The next morning he is said to have been found convulsing on the floor.

Bartkowski, J. P. (1998). Claims-Making and Typifications of Voodoo as a Deviant Religion: Hex, Lies, and Videotape. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion .

Day, A. (2010). Satan Whispers: Bob Dylan and Paradise Lost. Cambridge Quarterly .

Haskins, J. (1990). Voodoo & hoodoo: Their tradition and craft as revealed by actual practitioners.

Hays, T. (2012, October Friday). Robert Johnson: Murder or Bad Whiskey? Retrieved from Criminal Element.com: http://www.criminalelement.com/blogs/2012/10/robert-johnson-murder-or-bad-whiskey-tony-hays-true-crime-historical-bottoms-up-music

Hurston, Z. (1931). Hoodoo in America. The Journal of American Folklore .
Kloc, J. (2010, June 21). Fact-checking the Life and Death of Bluesman Robert Johnson. Retrieved from Mother Jones.com: http://www.motherjones.com/riff/2010/06/music-monday-blues-robert-johnson-honeyboy-edwards

Lynn, J. (n.d.). Voodoo Spells. Powerful Papa Legba Crossroads Voodoo Spell Retrieved from Voodoo-Spell.Org: http://www.voodoo-spell.org/2012/05/powerful-papa-legba-crossroads-voodoo.html

Maximilian, J. R. (1921). Devil Stories : An Anthology.

Pascoe, P. (1996). Miscegenation Law, Court Cases, and Ideologies of “Race” in Twentieth-Century America. The Journal of American History .

Yronwode, C. (1995-2010). The Crossroads in Hoodoo Magic and The ritual of selling yourself to the Devil. Retrieved from Lucky Mojo.com: http://www.luckymojo.com/crossroads.html


  1. You have too assume racism don't you. Honestly, I don't know the difference between Beyonce and Rihana, not racism, I just don't care.

  2. Fascinating read!!! And to 'anonymous' (my oh my, live long enough and you'll see irony everywhere) anyone who picked up a history book or common sense could tell you that they mismatched two COMPLETELY different men who didn't even look the same due to racism. Would you confuse Will Smith with Colin Powell? No right? But back then they couldn't tell one black guy from another. Hell we STILL can't seem to tell the difference as we can see from the racist ' law' system that has falsely imprisoned black men because white rape victims couldn't tell the difference! Or will you argue with me about that too? Ignorance of some people. Jeez!

    1. Come on...you lose all credibility when you cherry pick or selectively choose to highlight one racist group over another. (Race isn't the only card the media elites use...there's also religion, ethnicity, socioeconomic groups, and anything else that divides people...(they depend on fools who fall for this to then regurgitate this bs. Stop falling for it. You're part of the problem!)
      There are plenty of black racists, latino racists.... every known race on this planet has racists among them to go along with your white racist. When you decide one is relevant while another is not you essentially deem one person worthy of sympathy and respect while another isn't. I can't take anyone like you seriously because you're intellectually dishonest. You have the right to your opinion but it seems a lot of people (in my experience mostly leftists, socialist, marxists) think they can invent facts...as long as it supports their agenda/ideology they'll white-wash and sugar coat any and all events that attempt to shine a light on any corruption that undermines the progressive ideology. It's not a coincidence that msnbc is sinking faster than the titanic (their ratings are atrocious, not my opinion, look it up) ,because they're afraid of reporting factual news and most of the time use distortions, deceit and yellow journalism as the basis for their "news". Your comment is yet more proof that people cannot become informed or gain any valuable knowledge as long as their are those who accept being lied to and don't mind being used as tools for propaganda....you're clearly someone who has subscribed to this nonsense. You're not helping yourself or future generations by falling for the nonsense spread by the mass media.

  3. A very informative article. I enjoyed reading it very much. I am a wiccan and have had some dealings with Papa Legba myself down in New Orleans. He was quite benevolent and I have never had cause to regret me interaction with him. Its interesting how many people with negative comments always hide behind anonymous ather than give their names. Lynn W.

  4. I've been researching Johnson for 40+ years and have a biography (the definitive one I hope) coming out this year... there are a LOT of errors in your article:

    1) What evidence do you have that both Tommy and Robert were Vodusants or Hoodoomen? I know Julio Finn has conjectured that Robert could not have made the specific references to hoodoo that he does without having had direct exposure to them and perhaps even apprenticing with a conjure doctor, but there is NO ACTUAL EVIDENCE to prove that either Johnson ever did this.

    2) There is NO EVIDENCE that Robert Johnson knew Tommy Johnson. They may have run into each other, but that's purely conjecture.

    3) Yes, we DO know how Robert died and even know the undertaker who took care of his body.

    Perhaps we should all be a bit more cautious in making claims we can't prove.

    1. You make many interesting posits my friend except you forget that history is fluid, it's theory based on what little facts we can find.

      What we view to be fact today is tommorow disproven. Wasn't it a 'fact' just a few years ago (at least held by some people) that he died from strychnine poisoning? Now that's no longer the case.

      That they were both Vodusants and Conjuremen is nothing new. They both were known (thus far) to have used such Occult objects as Mojo hands and at least in Robert's case, Occult references were all over his music.

      They both were indeed friends and in one song he mentioned his lover using a Charmed bag to cheat at Gambling.

      Even if in the future it was disproven that he and Tommy were Conjuremen, that they knew Vodoun even if not as official initiates can not disputed by any means, they knew it well and used the sorcery whenever convient.

      Now if all my days of pain staking research is not enough for you, perhaps you should go to the Crossroads and Pow Wow with Papa Legba to see if he can Conjure H.G. Wells for you so you can borrow his time machine and go meet them both yourself and then we can interview you for our blog so you can tell us all the un-biased tru- oh......provided you actually reveal your name to us this time rather than simply state your name as ' anonymous' .

      May the Gods and Goddesses bless you ;)

    2. To Anonymous,
      All your info is great but none has disproven with actual sources we can check that this article is wrong. Far from it.

      All you've done is make a few statements and tried to pass them off as facts. That's it, no source citation, no nothing.
      Plus shamelously promoting your book and then talking about all this work you've done etc... while coming here not to teach but to degrade.

      He does have work cited to check things. And they all seem to support his work. Maybe You should becareful in attacking people online for no reason.

  5. Faustian Myth because the book Faust by Goethe.