Black Magic: Religion and the African American Conjuring Tradition


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AFRICAN AMERICAN FOLK MAGIC

Both conjure and Pentecostalism are united in the belief of a divine power that can affect this world. Advanced undergraduates, graduate students, and specialists in the field. Mamiya Vassar College. This item was reviewed in:. To find out how to look for other reviews, please see our guides to finding book reviews in the Sciences or Social Sciences and Humanities. Bowker Data Service Summary. This work looks at the origins, meaning and uses of Conjure - the African American tradition of healing and harming that evolved from African, European and American elements - from the slavery period to well into the 20th century.

Yvonne P. Chireau, Black Magic: Religion and the African American Conjuring Tradition - PhilPapers

The author rewrites the dichotomy between magic and religion. Black Magic looks at the origins, meaning, and uses of Conjure--the African American tradition of healing and harming that evolved from African, European, and American elements--from the slavery period to well into the twentieth century. Illuminating a world that is dimly understood by both scholars and the general public, Yvonne P. Chireau describes Conjure and other related traditions, such as Hoodoo and Rootworking, in a beautifully written, richly detailed history that presents the voices and experiences of African Americans and shows how magic has informed their culture.

Focusing on the relationship between Conjure and Christianity, Chireau shows how these seemingly contradictory traditions have worked together in a complex and complementary fashion to provide spiritual empowerment for African Americans, both slave and free, living in white America. As she explores the role of Conjure for African Americans and looks at the transformations of Conjure over time, Chireau also rewrites the dichotomy between magic and religion. With its groundbreaking analysis of an often misunderstood tradition, this book adds an important perspective to our understanding of the myriad dimensions of human spirituality.

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The University does not edit this information and merely includes it as a convenience for users. It does not warrant that reviews are accurate. As with any review users should approach reviews critically and where deemed necessary should consult multiple review sources. Silver turns black on exposure to sulphur. Sulphur a. Meanwhile, the moon looks silvery and is generally identified with the metal silver.

Silver turns black on exposure to sulphur -- hence, wearing silver warns of an infernal attack. This is chemistry applied to magic, it is the doctrine of signatures, and it is pan-cultural. The fact that coins are often made of silver explains why silver coins are used in magic more than, say, brass or copper or gold coins -- and why there is also a widespread tradition of silver "charms" or amulets in almost every culture. Antidotes for crossing and jinxing are called uncrossing and jinx-breaking respectively, and they may entail candle-burning , retaliatory curses, and the wearing of amulets.

Crossroads magic involves a set of beliefs about the acquisition of power and the disposition of magical items at a crossroads or place where two roads intersect. African-American crossroads magic is similar to European folk-magic involving crossroads , but arose independently and probably earlier in Africa, and reflects African religious beliefs. Hoodoo -- especially in the form called "rootwork" -- makes use of Native American botanical folklore, but usually for magical rather than medical purposes. American plant species like the John the Conqueror Root Ipomoea jalapa shown here have taken on great significance in hoodoo a significance that precisely parallels their usage among Native herb doctors.

The influence that Natives had on rootwork is openly acknowledged, for the concept of the "powerful Indian" or "Indian Spirit" is endemic in conjure and crops up again and again in the names given to hoodoo herbal formulas and magical curios. Many of the most famous rootwork practitioners of the 19th and 20th centuries came from mixed-race families and proudly spoke of learning about herbs from an "Indian Grandma.

Furthermore, since at least the early 20th century, most hoodoo and conjure practitioners have familiarized themselves with European-derived books of magic and Kabbalism such as the "Albertus Magnus Egyptian Secrets" compilation, "Pow-Wows or The Long-Lost Friend," "Secrets of the Psalms," "The Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses," and so forth. The use of Moon phases in spell-casting , astrological signs of the Zodiac in magical symbolism , and Planetary days of the week for timing of magic spells and recitation of Psalms, and Prayers -- derived from Jewish and Christian magical sources -- are all to be found in conjure, and moreso among practitioners who are urban or who have had access to books on those subjects.

However, although many African-American root doctors work with information about herbs and astrological magic derived from Mediaeval and modern European folklore, the typical hoodoo practitioner or conjure doctor does not place as much emphasis on European systems of word-magic gematria , number-magic numerology , or astronomical magic astrology as European-American practitioners do.

When it comes to divination systems, a few urban hoodoo and conjure readers use astrology and some read tea-leaves, palms, or cards -- but they are as likely to use a deck of 52 playing cards as a tarot set -- and they may call what they do "Gypsy fortune telling," a term that came into wide use in the black community around World War Two. The oldest form of hoodoo divination, "casting the bones" or "reading the bones," is a direct survival of a West African system of divination with bones. The American version, rarely encountered in urban conjure or hoodoo practice today, uses a variety of chicken bones or possum bones and maintains much the same form it had in Africa.

Another type of divination, in which a specially prepared mojo hand called a Jack-ball serves as a pendulum, is mainly consulted to determine whether one will have luck in gambling at a given time. Divination from dreams is an important part of hoodoo, too. Practitioners consult "dream books," alphabetical listings in which each dream image is accompanied by a short interpretation and a set of lucky numbers to use in gambling. In former times, the most popular numbers game in the African American community was an illegal lottery called Policy, and some of the older dream books, such as the perennially popular "Aunt Sally's Policy Players Dream Book" still carry that name in their title, although now they are used by folks who play state lotteries.

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The popularity of dream divination in the African-American community is testified to by the fact that in , one major supplier, King Novelty Co. Almost as many are still available today. Probably the one thing that most distinguishes hoodoo from other systems of folk magic is the centrality of the mojo bag or mojo hand, also called a conjure bag. This item, also known as a conjure hand, toby, trick bag, jomo , or nation sack , frequently takes the form of a flannel bag filled with roots, herbs, minerals, and other "curios.

There is a taboo against anyone who is not the owner touching it. While numerous other cultures also utilize personal magical bags -- the so-called "fetish" bags of Native Americans and the red woolen bags used by "witches" in Tuscany -- the mojo hand is essentially African; its closest cultural relatives are the Afro-Caribbean wanga or oanga bag used in Obeah magic and the pacquet used in Voodoo. Variant forms of hand include the luck ball , wound of yarn or string around a hidden object; the black hen's egg , which is blown out and then refilled with magical powders; and the Jack ball mentioned above, a luck-ball-cum-pendulum consulted in divination.

Like European magic, hoodoo makes use of ritual candles , incense , conjure oils , and sachet powders -- to which are added, due to the African emphasis on footprint magic and spiritual cleansing , floor washes and spiritual baths. Unlike European-derived magic, however, the hoodoo formulas for these products have no high-flown Mediaeval or New Age names such as "Astral Powder" or "Oil of Jupiter" or "Serenity Incense. These metaphysical problems are called "conditions.


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These names have led many Caucasians trained in European herb-magic to think that hoodoo is "fake magic," but when the formulae themselves are examined, one will find remarkable similarities between, for example, neo-pagan "Oil of Venus" and hoodoo "Love Me Oil. Hoodoo is not the name of a religion nor a denomination of a religion, although it incorporates elements from African and European religions in terms of its core beliefs. As you may guess by now, it is not at all correct to refer to African-American hoodoo as "Voodoo.

The word "Voodoo" derives from an African word meaning "spirit" or "God. This is why many 19th century accounts of hoodoo by white authors call it "Voodoo. As recent scholarship has uncovered, Congo African retentions more closely account for patterns of belief and practice found in American hoodoo than West African retentions do -- and this Congo emphasis also accords well with demographic reconstructions of the original homes of North American slaves.

In most of these religions, as practiced in the Americas, African deities are masked with Spanish, French, or Portuguese Catholicism, and the Yoruban, Fon, and Congolese spirits Orishas, Loas, and Nkisi are nominally replaced by proxy Catholic saints, sometimes called the Seven African Powers.

This is manifestly untrue, and can be demonstrated to be a fiction by anyone who cares to interview rootworkers outside of the Crescent City. Until the s, when there was a widespread American revival of interest in African religions, the only place Voodoo had been openly practiced in the United States was New Orleans, where Haitian slaves and their refugee masters had settled after the Haitian slave rebellion of However, these few boatloads of refugees from Haiti did not constitute the majority of African American slaves in New Orleans, many of whom had been transported directly from Africa, via Spanish-speaking Cuba, or were "sold down the river" from farther up the Mississippi Delta.

One hundred years after the Haitian slave rebellion, New Orleans did have a vibrant Creole culture, but -- and this is extremely important to understand -- by the s, when scholarly folkloric attention turned to the religions of New Orleans, Voodoo had become so debased in memory that even the African American folklorist Zora Neale Hurston found no trace of it. Voodoo in New Orleans had lost any claim to being a true religion, insofar as a religion can be distinguished by the presence of a clergy and a laity, a manner of recognizing fellow congregants, a regular meeting place for worship, and a liturgical order of services in veneration of a supra-human entity.

No congregation, peristyle, house, or community of worshippers in New Orleans was practicing Voodoo and whatever remained of Voodoo in New Orleans. There were no regular places of Voodoo worship, ordained or initiated clergy, or regular congregants. Instead of Voodoo, New Orleans was home to another thriving community of Christian folk-magic practitioners who called what they did hoodoo, and their brand of hoodoo was infused with concepts gleaned from the new religion of Spiritualism and the old religion of Catholicism. Spiritualism, a religion founded in the 19th century, had become popular in black communities all around the nation.

During segregationist times, the black Spiritualist denominations began to refer to themselves as part of the the Spiritual Church Movement, rather than Spiritualism, and their churches were called Spiritual Churches rather than Spiritualist Churches, to distinguish them from white-only or segregated Spiritualist Churches. New Orleans Voodoo is a newly constructed faux-religion which has no cultural, family, liturgical, or social roots in traditional African, African-American, or Haitian religions, but traces back to literary sources instead. Since the mid 20th century it has evolved under the hands of four major promoters, none of whom had direct lineage transmission from the previous ones and each of whom accreted a small following which took no part in the major social life of New Orleans.

Each of these promoters and their followers drew or draw upon a handful of 20th century anthropological and popular works describing Haitian Voodoo, which they use as source-books for their performances. At best the fabrications of these promoters can be said to be historical fantasy recreations in the style of the Renaissance Faire venues in the USA, and at worst they have been a means to part sincere seekers from their money under the guise of offering exotic initiations or ecstatic worship services that are spurious at their root.

Other, less well-known, promoters have included the author and publisher Raymond J. Born in Mississippi and trained a a rootworker, she joined the Spiritual Church Movement and married a man from Belize who brought to her his understanding of Afro-Caribbean practices. Her Voodoo Spiritual Temple takes the form of its name from an eclectic Spiritual Church, and she offers a wide variety of services in both Black American and Afro-Caribbean styles. Aside froom Priestess Miriam's ecelective Spiritualist church, New Orleans Voodoo has historically had no community membership base, in Louisiana other than as a source of employment for shop employees, dancers, authors, and publishers.

These faux-religionists write books, compose music, sell Voodoo-themed goods in their shops, hold Voodoo-themed festivals and workshops, and put on Voodoo-themed dance and drumming performances for tourists. Its wider range of participants are tourists and spiritual seekers; there is a notable and significant lack of community participation from the environs of New Orleans or Southern Lousisiana in general. None of its leaders or followers can demonstrate that its practices spring from a local community base.

More to the point, none of them can explain why hoodoo and rootwork are found without their Haitian trappings everywhere Black Americans can be found, from Clarksdale, Mississippi, to Detoit, Michigan, and from Atlanta, Georgia, to Compton, California. Having been repeatedly accused of fakery, some of the promoters of New Orleans Voodoo have belatedly sought initiations in Africa or Haiti to add gravitas to their literary mining expeditions through well-known works describing Haitian Voodoo.

Others have gone out of their way to acquire actual African artifacts to display in their museums, or to purchase Brazilian Quimbanda statuary to resell as spurious Voodoo goods. At least one made a point of importing Haitian art for sale -- some of which, it turned ut, was manufactured for her by a movie-prop maker in Hollywood California. And always among the expensive and exotic faux-Voodoo religious goods are salted a dizzying variety of small, cheap faux-Voodoo trinkets made in China, often decorated in Mardi Gras style, as if Mardi Gras were an alternative form of Voodoo.

And, of course, when they wish to promote "magick" or "spell-casting", they turn to traditional African American hoodoo, which they re-brand as Voodoo. It experienced rapid growth during the s when the Cultural Nationalist movement led many American-born blacks to investigate their African heritage and a sudden upswing of immigration from Cuba simultaneously brought an influx of Santeros to the United States. Santeria and Lucumi also spelled Lukumi, and sometimes allied with related terms such as Ifa and Ocha are now widespread and flourishing among immigrant and U.

Santeria worship features drumming and songs of praise in honour of the diety and an array of supra-human spiritual entities called the orishas. The orishas of santeria have been likened to demi-gods, nature spirits, angels, archangels, or Catholic saints, depending on whom you ask and it is not my intention here to determine the accuracy of those claims, merely to note them. In Santeria services, veneration is made and offerings are tendered to the orishas and to the ancestral dead, and participants may experience trance possession or "mounting" by the spirits.

Santeria offerings include blood sacrifices, and ceremonies may feature the killing of small domestic animals such as chickens, goats, and ducks and the licking of their blood, as well as offerings of rum, cigar smoke, fruit, and other foods. The veneer of Catholicism that Cuban Santeria acquired over the past few centuries is gradually being abandoned in the United States, especially by American Santeros who are actively interchanging information with Nigerians in an attempt to bridge the gap formed by years of diaspora.

Interestingly, one of the many Catholicized proxy images of Santeria --the so-called Seven African Powers , which consists of seven orishas disguised as Catholic saints -- did enter into hoodoo practice during the African Cultural Nationalist era of the late s and can be found in the form of candles , powders , incense , and the like.

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Its use in hoodoo is emblematic, however, and not religious; it refers to the African ancestors, generally speaking, and not to the orishas or to specific tribal groups of African people. In a sense, the "exoticism" of this image in hoodoo is a parallel to the older and stil contemporary employment of "Lucky Buddha" or "Moses" or "Indian Spirit Guide" images in hoodoo; it borrows and draws upon powerful pre-existing religio-magical imagery, without committing the user to leave Christianity or to participate in a religion about which the practitioner has only a general knowledge.

The Spanish name for this religion, which includes some Catholic imagery, is Palo, which means "stick" -- a reference to the use of herbs, barks, wood, and roots in the folk-magic of Africans and their descendants. As with Cuban Santeria, Palo has its own deity and its own lengthy lists of supra-human spiritual entities, the kimpungulu or mpungus, to whom veneration is made and offerings are tendered at ceremonies that ' feature drumming and trance possession.

These offerings include blood sacrifies, and ceremonies may feature the killing of small domestic animals such as chickens, goats, and ducks. Offerings of rum, cigar smoke, fruit and foods may be given as well. Just as Voodoo developed among African slaves in Haiti and Santeria-Lukumi and Palo developed among African slaves in Cuba, so did a variety of other African diasporic religions develop among African slaves in other nations along the eastern coast of Central and South America.

These religions -- Quimbanda, Umbanda, Candomble, 21 Divisiones -- feature trance possession by spirits and they developed independently of Voodoo, Santeria-Lukumi, or Palo in nations such as Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Belize, and Suriname. Insofar as immigrants from these nations have settled in the United States and American citizens have traveled to these nations, sought initiations into these religions, and brought their practices back to the United States, there are small, distinct groups of adherents to these religions in the United States.

None of these groups can be traced back farther than the s in New York City and most arrived after the s in Florida and California. None of these initiatic religions contributed to the development of hoodoo in the United States. Lubana is an image of a powerful woman with snakes in her hands, and its use by hoodoo practitioners borrows from and draws upon pre-existing religio-magical imagery, without committing the user to abandon Christianity or to participate in a religion about which he or she has little knowledge.

This one claimed that "hoodoo is a form of Appalachian folk magic" or that it is "a form of Appalachian Granny Magic. And of course, once a book existed, one thousand little copyists spread the word via social media: "hoodoo derives from Appalachian folk magic.


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Mostly, they met later in northern cities after the Great Northern Migration, in factory towns like Gary, Indiana. The mistake is that these johnny-come-latelies to African American culture think that Appalachian folk magic is a "root" source of hoodoo. It is not. It is, like hoodoo, actually a "branch. Hoodoo, which originated with African ways of working, also draws on Scottish-Irish traditions, but via contact with the descendants of English slave masters and their Scots-Irish bond servants in the South, not via contact with Appalachian farmers and fur trappers.

Furthermore, both were influenced by contact with Native Americans. In other words, hoodoo has more sources and is more comingled than Appalachian folk magic, but although Appalachian folk magic and hoodoo share one source Scots-Irish folk magic , hoodoo did not ever draw upon much less "draw heavily" from Appalachian customs and traditions. As for the idea that hoodoo "draws heavily" from French folk magic, that is simply a fantasy. Such an influence can be found in one limited region, rural Louisiana, where the traiteur tradition lingers -- but not French people settled into Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, or Texas to have made any impression at all upon the folk magic of black people in those regions.

If, in addition to their regular Sunday worship they also engage in folk-magic, what they are doing would in all probability be the African-European-American conflation called hoodoo, conjure, or rootwork. There are, of course, certain customs and beliefs which can be seen as more or less "Pan-African" ancestor veneration comes to mind as an example and these need not be linked to one African group or another -- for virtually every African captive would have shared these beliefs.

Likewise, certain food customs and recipes have either been retained from Africa or have been fairly uniformly adapted into European-American cuisine in such a way that these foods are as recognizably black American as the African folkways that are noted by anthropologists One thing i look out for when trying to determine the actuality of African retentions over the course of hundreds of years in the USA is their distribution pattern.

African captives themselves were distributed widely throughout the Americas, both North and South, in the Northeastern urbanized region as well as in the better-documented rural Southern "slave states. Not everyone will "believe" in them or use them, but they are a common heritage in the culture and will be encountered on a regular basis -- just the way you will see Irish Americans all over the USA talking about hanging horseshoes with the points up "or the luck will run out.

New Orleans is just a little part of everywhere. What is less well recognized is the evidence that hoodoo practice during the 20th century and arguably in the late 19th century as well , was greatly admixed with European folk-magic, Mediaeval conjuration, Jewish Kabbalism, Allan Kardecian Spiritism, and even a smattering of Hindu mysticism. What is incorporated into hoodoo from European grimoires does not go "by the book. This is because hoodoo incorporations of European grimoire material fall into four categories: 1 Employment of botanical, mineral, and zoological curios according to the "wonder book" tradition of Anglo-Germanic Europe e.

In some cases, to the surprise of those unfamiliar with the practice, it is Jewish, often as adapted by Christians from Jewish traditions. For example, let us consider the use of Hyssop in cleansing baths. See Psalms 51, and realize that any Jew or Christian will use Hyssop for cleansing. That includes white as well as black Jews and Christians.

Interestingly, the word translated into English as Hyssop in the King James Bible is not the herb called Hyssop in Europe or America -- that herb does not grow in the Middle East -- but the European Hyssop has been used as a satisfactory substitute for a millennium at least. Frankincense is another example: This resin incense has been sold by pharmacists, perfumers, and church supply companies since the invention of modern commerce.

Black people could order it as easily as whites. It is burned in black churches too, not just in white churches. The creation of ritual circles, robes, and tools and other strictly ceremonialist material in the grimoires -- and it is important to note that not all grimoires of European origin even do contain ceremonialist instructions regarding circles, consecrated swords, and the like in the first place -- has been elided in hoodoo. What are used are the words Psalms and Jewish kabbalist and pagan European power words and the pictures seals and sigils.

In practical terms, the seals are made into paper talismans and placed in mojo bags or other packets.

Black Magic - Religion and the African American Conjuring Tradition by

To understand the "gestalt" of hoodoo better, i urge students to focus on the development of urban hoodoo from rural hoodoo. In Stock. The Miracle Of Mindfulness. Camino A Journey of the Spirit. The Crossway. Secrets of the Lost Mode of Prayer. The Energy Of Prayer. Popular Searches books by rudolf steiner irresistible book by andy stanley hung by the tongue book australia siddhartha by hermann hesse dogmas and rituals of high magic.

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Black Magic: Religion and the African American Conjuring Tradition Black Magic: Religion and the African American Conjuring Tradition
Black Magic: Religion and the African American Conjuring Tradition Black Magic: Religion and the African American Conjuring Tradition
Black Magic: Religion and the African American Conjuring Tradition Black Magic: Religion and the African American Conjuring Tradition
Black Magic: Religion and the African American Conjuring Tradition Black Magic: Religion and the African American Conjuring Tradition
Black Magic: Religion and the African American Conjuring Tradition Black Magic: Religion and the African American Conjuring Tradition
Black Magic: Religion and the African American Conjuring Tradition Black Magic: Religion and the African American Conjuring Tradition
Black Magic: Religion and the African American Conjuring Tradition Black Magic: Religion and the African American Conjuring Tradition

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