Posted in Abandoned, African American, Black, Christianity, Conjure, Control, Culture, Divination, faith, forgotten, God, History, Hoodoo, magical, origin, Prayer, Readings, Religion and Spirituality, Rootwork, spell, Spirituality

You Simply Were Not Paying Attention

People are always asking about “learning Rootwork the ‘Old School’ way” from someone who grew up in the tradition. You are going to be hard pressed to find those people. The problem is that our generation (I am 47.) missed out because of the abundance of Black people who became hard core Christians. These people were primarily in the generation before us. The early Black church was full of Rootwork/Conjure in the North and South, but when the Great Migration occurred, you saw Black people abandon the “Old Ways” which were considered country.

One way to really tap into the history and the culture is to read narratives, folk tales, almanacs, and believe it or not, works of fiction/literature (e.g. Charles Chestnut’s “The Conjure Woman” and “The Book of Negro Folklore” by Langston Hughes and Arna Bontemps.) They were collecting stories when people were still actively practicing and only a generation out of slavery. My masters degree is in literature with a concentration in Black Literature. None of the works I studied (with the exception of Hurston) dwell on the word “Hoodoo.” Instead, they present Rootwork as a way of LIFE. Gloria Naylor’s “Mama Day” is a prime example. So, finding someone who learned old school is a challenge, but reading the works of our own artists and historians is not. They will lead you to information that you never imagined, and Spirit will do the rest.

That is another thing, from the people who grew up in Rootwork, it was not something that was “taught.” For example, I throw down in the kitchen, but nobody ever “taught” me to cook. I watched my grandmother and mother, and I eventually assisted them in the kitchen. From the people I speak to who’ve grown up in the tradition, it was the same way for them when they learned Rootwork.

Rootwork was part of LIFE, and it should be if you are a worker today. You learned through observation. Remember, in the old days, children should be “seen and not heard,” so we picked up a lot of things by observation. My grandmother was not a worker, but she went to one. I sat quietly while she got readings and things to take home with her. Other than a candle or some incense, I never saw what she did with the things she was given by her worker, and I knew better than to ask about them. One thing is for sure, my grandparents NEVER went to church.

I had a client bring her mother for a reading. The mother and I got to chatting, and she knew about EVERYTHING I was talking to her about. (I felt kinda good too because she did not have to correct me about any of it.) Her daughter asked, “how come you didn’t teach me any of this?”

The mother said, “you simply were not paying attention.”

Posted in Card, Conjure, Culture, Divination, Hoodoo, magical, Readings, Religion and Spirituality, Reversed, Spirituality, system, Tarot, teach

Tarot Card of the Day: The Magician

Note: I’ve been a busy, but I am going to try to feature a card more often.

The Magician
Image retrieved from http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/d/de/RWS_Tarot_01_Magician.jpg

This Tarot card, in all of its splendor, shows a magician with a single cup. Above him is the sign of infinity. This card was pulled at the right time in my life when I needed some direction. It is a card of creativity. With his right hand, he holds a wand pointed towards heaven, and his left hand pointed towards Earth, he stands here by himself. His cloak is red and represents wisdom and experience. He stands in roses and white lilies. This symbolizes that sometimes results will be good, and others with be difficult and painful. It is a card that speaks to me because it is all about living up to your potential and achieving your goals. It tells me that everything between Heaven and Earth is attainable if I reach for it!

Many of us fail to realize all of the untapped power we hold within ourselves. We are missing out on so much in life because we often underestimate what we are capable of, and how all of us have it in us to achieve our goals. I have several Conjure projects going on right now (one of the reasons why you have not seen a blog post from me in a bit). For me, it is telling me that I am going in the right direction. That if I just stay committed, I can achieve all of my goals and live life to its fullest. We all have the ability to create and achieve new things. The question is, are you doing those things, or are you going to just thinking about them? I am always full of new ideas, but sometimes these ideas do not see the light of day because I am not actively pursuing their competition.

This card is a reminder of my abilities. How often are we swayed from doing what we really want to do because we lack the faith and/or dedication to make things happen in our lives? I find that the more I tell myself that I can do something, rather than when I tell myself I cannot, I can accomplish my goals. People often say to me that I am a renaissance woman, and they ask me is there anything I cannot do. It always makes me think when they say something like that to me. I’ve always been a big believer that I can do whatever I put my mind to it. If I do not accomplish my goals, it is because of limitations that I’ve put on myself.

If this card is reversed in a reading, it is highly likely that you are in a situation where you are being lied to, or quite possibly, you are lying to yourself. It could indicate that you have the lack of ability to follow through with your plans. Often people come to me for readings, and they refuse to take into account their own culpability for their problems. Divination is not mumbo-jumbo. It is used to give clients practical insight to their concerns and often provides productive next steps to resolve a particular issue.

It could also mean that there are spiritual gifts that you have not tapped into. It’s taken me a few weeks to bring this simple blog post to completion. (I started it on October 24th.) The cards are usually very on the money with what is going on in life. I know I pulled this card at a time when I was overwhelmed with work, and not getting to the Conjure projects I know are going to take me to the next level. So, I set this post aside for a bit, and I started working on getting things done. In the online world, I found myself spending more time debating the issues in Hoodoo than participating in the Work itself. I realized I had to step back. In order to be a better worker, I realized that I needed to disconnect and get to my own spiritual development. It’s been working wonderfully, and I am completing things I need to finish. I encourage others to do it as well.

In keeping with the theme of the card, I am posting this, moving on, and working to complete my projects. More posts about the cards will come, but maybe not a card every day. I am finding that other things need my attention, and I plan to follow the advice of this card.

Posted in Abandoned, African American, Black, Christianity, Conjure, Control, Culture, faith, fluffies, Folks, forgotten, God, History, Hoodoo, magical, observe, origin, Prayer, Religion and Spirituality, Rootwork, Spirituality, system, teach, traditional, work, yronwode

In Defense of Tradition

We’ve had a crazy week in the Conjure world. If you don’t know what I am talking about, and you are online to read this blog, then you are probably not part most of the online Conjure/Hoodoo or NOLA Voodoo communities. (And no, Haitian Vodou is not these things and has nothing to do at all with this post.)

If you are unaware, this might just be a good thing because the disenchantment I felt this week was similar to the way I felt when I realized I could never go to my church again. You see people you hold in high esteem (and not so high esteem) have words (some very old words) about what constitutes Traditional African American Magic, who is legitimate, and who is not.

It’s kind of hard to watch, but it is not without reason. I have taken the heat recently for my assertions about what is, and is not, Traditional Conjure.

Wow, all of these names for the same thing. Something that really has not had a name for most Black people. It was just “what we do.” I didn’t know why my aunt did not want me to wash my hands in the kitchen sink – over dishes that were going to be washed with soap and water. At best, I thought it was because of a sanitation issue. All I have to say is, the more you study, the more you find out.

I’m an admin of a group that is dedicated to preserve this important part of Black culture in this country. I am happy that this group is comprised of people of all races from all over the world. Traditional Conjure is Christian based, and even though we don’t see it often from the people who claim they are the most Christian, we are supposed to be open, welcoming, and forgiving. From my experience talking to many, many Black folks, most just want to really want to forgive and move on. We just want the madness to stop. If you don’t see it, you most likely are not Black, and it is an unexplainable phenomena.

But it takes no genius to see that Black folks in America have been in crisis mode since we got here. Contrary to what many people may think, the core of us is rotting. Just when you think we should be doing better these centuries after slavery, it seems the curse of violence (because for a long time here it was all we knew) gets deeper the longer and longer we are here. Conjure was created as a way to preserve our ways of faith and worship, and help us sort through the madness, but the more “Christian” we got, the more we got away from our belief systems. We thought we evolved through assimilation, but we keep leaving really important pieces behind. We don’t even know who we are anymore. It is an identity crisis that is hard to describe. This is why I call myself Black. Biologically and culturally, I am so far away from Africa; I find it almost laughable nonsense to be called an African American. I plan to research more it one day, but I really don’t know all of where I come from. I cannot get past my daddy’s parents before I hit a brick wall in his side of the family tree.

With integration brought educational and economical improvements, we lost a lot. Another strange phenomenon is that like what happened with the Blues and Jazz, white people have helped us preserve Traditional Conjure. When I first found out, I was quizzical at first, and then just glad they preserved the tradition. Hyatt, and the work yronwode has done, really gave access to people who had none before. I am not saying that there are no other, accurate works, but most people I talk to say those were the game changers.

It has changed the lives of so many people. I am one of those people. It was like coming back into myself; what I feel I need to know about myself. Now there will be a lot of Black folks that will never embrace Conjure, and that is fine too. Conjure is not for everyone. That’s why Conjure workers have clients that come to them. In that vein, people of all races saw that Traditional Conjure was worth saving. The primary rule of any spiritual practice, and the dogma of MOST religions, is that there is a STRUCTURE. THERE ARE RULES.  There is some to, “don’t hate the player, hate the game.” If you don’t like what a tradition does, why are you so stuck on trying to be part of tradition?

I wrote a blog about what Hoodoo is, and what it is not, but I was further inspired to share a link that Bozanfè Bon Oungan shared with his group. I think that lots of people think of these options as a hardline approach, but I encourage you to read yronwode’s article below. (Please read it ALL before continuing.)

HOODOO, CONJURE, and ROOTWORK

Just in case you chose to skip this link, I need to inform you that I am not going to quote the whole article here (that’s what the link is for), but she makes some valid points. The most important one being is that you cannot say you are cooking Italian food when you aren’t. She gave many examples of things that would stop traditional Italian Food from being TRADITIONAL ITALIAN FOOD.

Seriously, here we have many scholars TELLING you what the tradition is, have historical records to back it up, and you still have people protecting their homes with Goofer Dust because they read it somewhere and did not examine a number of sources to see if that is what they advise. I asked my mentor, Docteur Cæli D’Anto, the best way to know if something is legit, and he reminded me of consistent scholarship. And fluffies may scoff at this if you will, but then that just simply means you are not following the tradition. And that is COOL for YOU. I have no problem with you not following the same traditions as I do. This diversity keeps the world interesting. What kills me, and defies logic, is then someone says what they are doing is TRADITIONAL CONJURE, and get mad and have fits online when we tell them that it is not.

The really sad thing is, many of us who want to uphold our tradition 1) have some of their own personal practices that fall outside the tradition, and 2) don’t care what you do in your private practice, but just have a distaste for people sharing those ideas and selling products in the name of the tradition when nothing can be further from the truth about said tradition. I simply do. not. get. it.

I never will say whether one religion/practice is real or not. All I know what is real to ME and others like me. You cannot make the Bible and the Qur’an trade places between religions (that are also parts of different traditions). No one is trying to, and for the world of me, I wonder why people get so mad when we are telling them what they are doing is not within the tradition; when we are telling them that they are not respecting the tradition. Why must people insist on putting a square peg in a round hole? There are so many other traditions out there that might suit their needs. Why don’t they find them? It’s as ridiculous as me continuing to attend that church when I no longer wanted to follow what the church was telling me was the right thing for me to do.

So, I will leave everyone to what their tradition is. I promise not to come into an ATR, other religion or practice, and try to be a vanguard and mix things up within the tradition. I am going to continue the lifelong study of what makes me me, and I will keep up that exploration until the day my mind no longer functions properly. I don’t want to see Black folks lose everything about our culture when we have already lost so much, and I would love if more people of every race embraced its traditional form. Maybe if more people tapped into (or helped others) their spiritual strengths, the world, especially for Black people, would be a better place.

But, no, people who are devoted to Traditional Conjure, its Black roots, steeped in the Black Christian Church, are not going to take very kindly to people trying to change it. If I see someone that is purporting a divergence (not a regional difference) from tradition, I am going to make sure what I am talking about and ask them questions. Asking these questions is more research to help me solidify my assertions. This is the way you keep a tradition intact.

Different people have different motivations for trying to stir things up. Don’t get disenchanted. Remember, these are mere humans we are dealing with. Just because they are part of the magical community, they are not shielded to the flaws we all have. What we all must pay attention to is that those people really don’t matter. Our faith is not in men or women is it? What matters is your relationship to God, your knowledge and application of Traditional Conjure, believing in is what is just, and depending on our God to order our steps.

In this section of yronwode’s article the following statement struck a chord with me,

 In my opinion, any practitioner of conjure who did not grow up within African American culture is either a guest and should have the good manners of a guest, or has joined into the culture in some way and to some extent and should therefore be ready to defend African American culture, including hoodoo, against the redefinitions, reworkings, and appropriations that outsiders continually seek to inflict upon it.

In other words, if you cannot respect hoodoo as it is and for what it is, then please, do not mess with it at all.

Posted in Abandoned, African American, Black, cassas, Central African, Chaos, Christianity, Conjure, Culture, Divination, Doctrine of Signatures, faith, Folks, forgotten, History, Hoodoo, Law of Contagion, magical, observe, origin, Rootwork, spell, Spirituality, system, teach, traditional, West African, work, yronwode

Traditional Conjure – What it IS and what it is NOT

What is Traditional Conjure?

The Merriam Webster dictionary defines Hoodoo (henceforth in this document referred to as Traditional Conjure) as,

A body of practices of sympathetic magic traditional especially among blacks in the southern United States.1

The first and foremost thing to understand about Traditional Conjure is that it is an African American magical system in its origin, and over time it has been influenced by Native American and European practices and folklore. However, it is important to restate that it is an African American traditional magic practice.

catherine yronwode writes that the actual term Hoodoo came into use possibly in “the 19th century or earlier.” 2 It is important to note that Traditional Conjure is a direct descendent of Western and Central African magical practices brought to the United States with the slave trade (several hundred years prior). Often, my enslaved ancestors had to keep these practices secret or risk death. We were forced to convert to Christianity upon our arrival in the United States, and when finally allowed to make religious choices, many of us stayed in the Christian faith. Some of us continued the magical practices of our African ancestors in conjunction with Christianity. As a result, Traditional Conjure goes hand in hand with the Christian faith.

This is not to say that non-Christians cannot practice Traditional Conjure, but understand that the spell work (henceforth referred to as “work”), the use of the Psalms and the rest of the Bible, the Saints (introduced by Catholic practitioners), the prayers, and even many of the roots/herbs are based in the Christian religion. If you are using other sacred texts, prayers, and God(s) in your work, please keep in mind that while your work may be influenced by Traditional Conjure, you cannot really call it Traditional Conjure.3

That being said, there has been a lot of appropriation in Traditional Conjure. People who have not been properly informed, or choose not to take heed when informed, tend to do what they want to do as “the Spirit(s) lead them.” That is a personal choice, but it is to be understood that Traditional Conjure is NOT Wicca, Pagan, Witchcraft, Santeria, Haitian Vodou, New Orleans Voodoo (although NOLA Voodoo practitioners incorporate many elements of Traditional Conjure in their work), any New Age Religion, etc. Traditional Conjure is a practice within the African American Christian tradition. It is important that people understand that before diving into this work too deeply. It is often a deciding factor as to whether or not to pursue this path, and it is an extremely personal decision.

In my community (the Black community), the word “Hoodoo” is rarely used. Often Traditional Conjure is just something that we “do.” If we refer to it at all, they discuss “throwing a root” on someone, or simply refer to it as “throwing.” In the past, it was not taught in classroom or online. Often, you observed your elders practicing it in the home to remedy life’s situations. You were (especially if you were a child) to quietly observe and learn the practice. Often, the elders would figure you would pick it up by watching. Following a reading, one my clients expressed her dismay to her mother because she did not “teach” her how to do The Work. Her mother’s reply? “Well you were there watching me, weren’t you?”

As more people were more formally educated, they did not see this informal observance as teaching, and many Blacks lost the lessons of Conjure and how it relates to everyday Black life. As Starr Cassas has often said, “it was just what my mama did. We did not know it was Conjure.” She has also advised that it is a way of life. Once you are familiar with the rituals in the practice, you will see that Conjure finds its way into your housekeeping, cooking, how you treat illness, deal with relationships, and entertain people in your home.

Before the days of websites and online groups, there was Traditional Conjure. Most people heard about local workers via word of mouth, and if you employed the services of a worker, it was deeply personal and kept private. It is not a surprise that within the tradition, workings are not put on public display, and if they are, their meanings are not freely discussed. It has been so integrated into the lives of my people so much, that it was assimilated into the culture, whether we are consciously practicing Traditional Conjure or not. Many Blacks still do not know that there is scholarly study devoted to the subject and online groups and classes devoted to practice. This is not to say that Traditional Conjure was/is not practiced by non-Blacks. That is simply not true. It has been, and always will be a practice that is open to anyone that believes in the power of God’s Roots.  

The following sections provide the two basic magical principles that guide the practice of Traditional Conjure.

The Law of Contagion

“The law of contagion is a folk belief described axiom found in magical thinking which suggests that once two people or objects have been in contact, that a magical link persists between unless or until a formal exorcism or other act of banishing breaks the non-material bond.” 4

In Traditional Conjure, you see this in the use of Personal Concerns in the work. When you have something like a person’s hair, fingernails, spit, dirt from foot tracks, name, picture, etc. employed and included in work, your spell for or against them is much more powerful. It may happen faster, last longer, or have more intense effects on the subject. There is a hierarchy in The Law of Contagion. A working with someone’s hair is most likely to be more powerful than a working with simply a person’s name. The work becomes an extension of the person who is the rightful owner of their personal concern. This, while most likely the case, is not always the case. Remember the workers faith and magical abilities AND the faith and execution of the person requesting the work are also highly influential in the results. Based on this principle, work is practiced on a person, it takes uncrossing magic to undo the work.

The Doctrine of Signatures

The doctrine of signatures is a philosophy shared by herbalists from the time of Dioscurides and Galen. This doctrine states that herbs that resemble various parts of the body can be used to treat ailments of that part of the body. Although the doctrine of signatures was formalized in early modern times, the theme of natural objects’ shapes having significance is a very old one and is not confined to Western thought.5

That’s the basic definition of The Doctrine of Signatures, but it goes a bit deeper in Traditional Conjure. It stems from the belief system that every root/herb has a spirit and a purpose. It may be the way the root/herb looks, smells, tastes, or the traditional use of it (e.g., roses for love, salt for cleansing) that creates its definition for use in Traditional Conjure. This practice also is not limited to roots/herbs. There are many curios used in Traditional Conjure that remain in the practice that are not roots/herbs, and some have even found their way into popular culture (e.g. the lucky rabbit’s foot or penny).

The common names (or Latin translations) of the root/herb also have a big influence on how The Doctrine of Signatures was applied and implemented in Traditional Conjure. Often the names of the root had something to do with the smell or appearance root/herb. It is not hard to see how Wormwood, Devil’s Dung, Vandal Root are often used in jinxing workings in Traditional Conjure. It is VERY important that you apply The Doctrine of Signatures in your workings. You want to avoid using roots, herbs, and curios in ways in which they were NOT INTENDED in the practice.

For example, Van Van conditioning oil is used for luck and blessings. Many people use it in candle work, mojo hands/bags, and floor washes. It’s most important herb in Van Van Oil is Lemongrass. Lemongrass is used for cleansing. You should NOT add something like Black Dog’s Hair (used in jinxing) to Van Van Oil. If things unrelated with luck and blessings are added, it is no longer Van Van Oil. Without Lemongrass, it is not Van Van Oil. This is not to say that another practice may not find these examples useful for blessing, but this is not so in Traditional Conjure.

What you will find is that this makes Traditional Conjure easy to understand at its simplest level. As you delve into spiritual work, you will find that it gets a bit more complicated. That is why it is called work. Some baths take days and days. Some rituals require you to do things at sunrise or midnight. You may have to go to the graveyard to work with an ancestor. When you work with Ancestors and Saints, you will be setting up altars. There are many things about Traditional Conjure that cannot be condensed into a simple definition, but it is being Soon I will be creating a Getting Started Reading List to help you find more resources for Traditional Conjure.

Works Cited

1 www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/hoodoo

2 http://www.luckymojo.com/hoodoohistory.html

3 http://www.oldstyleconjure.com/what-is-hoodoo-conjure-rootwork.php

4 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Law_of_contagion

5 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doctrine_of_signatures

Posted in Abandoned, Black, Conjure, Culture, Folks, History, Hoodoo, Rootwork, Spirituality

Rootwork: Where have all the Black Folks Gone?

As I considered topics for my inaugural blog post, a topic presented itself today in a Rootworking group I belong to. The poster, being white himself, wondered about why many of the big names in Rootworking/Hoodoo (two terms I that I will use interchangeably in my blog) appeared to be almost exclusively white. He was wondering about the lack of Black practitioners in the public eye and was concerned about Hoodoo “loosing it’s connection to its origins.” This was my reply.

Unfortunately there are a few things going on here. The first problem is the commercialization of Hoodoo. There is money to be made, and money is and remains “the root of all evil” and corruption. Hoodoo is no exception. In this country, the scale of financial resources to commercialize something has, and has always been, in favor of white men. So that is why you are seeing the proliferation of it online. Secondly, many Blacks have forgotten their own history. In the rush to assimilate into mainstream culture, many subscribed to the idea that “white is right,” and anything associated with Africa was wicked and against God. I witnessed it in my own family.

My mother’s generation was the last generation that even spoke of the old ways, and they ignored many of the things my grandmother (pictured) tried to tell them. They either believed in the evangelical practices of their churches that told them that Rootwork was “evil,” or they gave up on the concepts of God and spirituality entirely. As a result, I learned very little from my grandmother and nothing from my mother. My mother’s generation paid the price for it dearly. You cannot un-know who you are. This can also be seen in almost EVERY aspect of Black culture. White people own the Jazz and Blues clubs. Most of our children cannot even name a Blues artist if you asked them too. We’ve avoided all things considered “country,” and unsophisticated and pray to a white God who tells us the very fiber of our being is wrong. It’s gonna take a hell of a lot to undo that.

The last part of this equation is that more Black folks practice Hoodoo than most people think. Even when they have tried so hard to distance themselves from the old ways, I’ve seen my very “saved” relatives cuss you out if you put your purse on the floor. They still live in fear of being “crossed up.” I heard about “throwing a root” on a man by putting menstrual blood in his spaghetti long before I knew what Hoodoo really was. My friend is taking Papa Matt’s class with me. When she and her mother came to me for a reading, she discussed just how much her mother knew. She asked her, “why didn’t you teach me?” her mother replied, “teach you? You were RIGHT THERE WITH ME. You should have PAID attention!”

You see, Black folks do not shout their involvement with magic from the rooftops. It was mostly because they would be condemned by their churches. Black folks respected the practice so much, that it was advertised ONLY word of mouth, least people learn the secrets of our culture that we hold dear. Why did they want to keep them secret? For the very reasons we are seeing today. People are doing all kinds of things in the name of Hoodoo, and most of them are not good. Trust me, I feel some kind of way about websites, groups and associations that put all of our “business,” (so to say) in the streets. Old school Black people never would put anyone’s personal business on front street for any reason. Those types of things were reserved for personal conversations in whispers. You can see it when Black people refuse speak ill of politicians (Obama), leaders (Jessie Jackson) and celebrities (OJ Simpson). We all know they are less than stellar individuals, but I will deny that I ever said that in public. Travis Smiley and Cornell West have been largely ostracized by Black folks because of the hateraid and venom they shoot Obama’s way. LOL! We all know OJ’s ass was guilty. It was not about that. It was the fact that a Black man beat the system of oppression. Right? No. Reality? Yes.

But then white scholars came in and found out our traditions. Now it is out there. And as with everything, people are trying to bastardize it and make it what it is not. For Black people who know the history of the tradition, it is not really an issue what color you are, as long as you honor the tradition and not try to make shit up as you go along. That may be permissible when there is no documented research on a practice. Such is not the case with Rootwork. Valid, historically backed information is there. As a Black woman, I feel it is my birthright to practice. Can I say that it is not for other races/cultures/religions? No I cannot. But what I can say is that ALL people of all races owe the tradition the responsibility to keep it going and properly teach it.

More Black folks are coming “out of the shadows” and reclaiming their traditions. To practice Rootwork,  no matter who you are, it should be done in the proper manner in which it has been documented. There is enough consensus, even with all of the denominational variations, to have certain universal rules and elements that separate it from other traditions/paths and define what Rootwork/Hoodoo is and what it is not. It is now up to ANYONE, but especially Black people, to defend it against people who try to make it what it is not.