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Mojo originated as a term with a specific meaning, but in the late 20th century became a very fluid term with many different meanings. It originated as a reference to a type of magic charm. The word traces its origins to Africa and entered English in the late 19th century or early 20th century through use by African-Americans. It reflects the belief, common in many cultures, that some people have the ability to influence others to their own advantage, by casting spells or hexes.

In African-American folk beliefs, especially in the rural U.S. South early in the 20th century, a mojo was a small bag worn by a person under the clothes (also known as a mojo hand). Such bags were thought to have supernatural powers, such as protecting from evil, bringing good luck, etc. The mojo bag usually contained a mix of herbs, powders, sometimes a coin, and other objects thought to promote supernatural action or protection. The use of mojo bags is a characteristic of the southern American magical tradition of hoodoo.

Other names for mojos, or specific types of mojos, include conjure bag, toby, and nation sack.

References to mojos are common in early & mid 20th century rural blues songs. Some of these were blues tunes covered by white rock & roll; bands in the 1960s. The tunes thus reached audiences unfamiliar with the rural African-American folk beliefs referred to in the lyrics of the songs. The exposure to uninformed audiences led to misunderstanding and additional uses of the word: usually, to refer to male libido or the penis. This misunderstanding was popularized by Jim Morrison of the Doors, who named himself 'Mr. Mojo Risin' --- an anagram of Jim Morrison --- in the song L.A. Woman. This understanding of the word was turned to comedy the 1999 film Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. Some other slang meanings of mojo in common use include: charm, charisma, karma, cocaine and thing (as in "Gimme that mojo!").

Mojo also refers to the rating system used in the Scoop collaborative media application. Mojo is based on the average rating applied to a user's recent comments and is not displayed to the user. Users with Mojo greater than a specific threshold can rate comments below 1 and view comments that have an average rating below 1.

Mojo is also a fictional character in various Marvel Comics; see Mojo (comics).

Mojo is also the name of a British music magazine.

Mojo is also the (abbreviated) name of several sauces; see Mojo (sauce).