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.