Conjure, also known as Hoodoo or Rootwork, is an old, powerful, and increasingly popular system of North American folk magic. Conjure's roots derive primarily from West and Central African spiritual traditions, but it has also been influenced by Christianity, Jewish mysticism, and Native American practices.
Hoodoo Sen Moise has been studying this tradition and working with Conjure for over 35 years. Here in Working Conjure, he explores Conjure's history, principles, fundamentals, and ethics, while simultaneously providing a practical how-to guide to actually "working" Conjure and making Conjure work for you.
- Explores the primary materials of Conjure
- Features spells, rituals, and workings for various purposes
- Guides readers to learn how to bring this profound school of magic to life
|Product dimensions:||5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.60(d)|
About the Author
Hoodoo Sen Moise (pronounced mo-eez) was raised in Southern Conjure and Hoodoo. As a child, he was taught by his grandfather to speak with the ancestors and, by the age of four, was able to see the spirits and had learned to open the door to power, wisdom, and service. He is now among the foremost authorities on the topic and also an initiated practitioner of several African Diaspora traditions. Hoodoo Sen Moise resides in New Orleans, where he is co-owner of the shop Conjure New Orleans with author Starr Casas. He teaches in New Orleans, Salem, and elsewhere in the United States. Working Conjure is his first book.
Read an Excerpt
WHAT IS CONJURE/HOODOO?
In many places in America, particularly the South, you will hear terms such as Hoodoo, Conjure, rootwork, or work used to describe a magical practice that is intended to bring about change in one way or another. These terms have become synonymous with one another and are used to describe the same thing. From here on out, we will use the word Conjure to refer to this magical practice.
So then, what is Conjure? The short answer would be that Conjure is an African American-based magical practice that contains influences from African spiritual practices, Christianity, Jewish mysticism, and Native American practices, as well as European folk magic. However, the primary influence derives from the spiritual beliefs of Central and West Africa.
During the transatlantic slave trades, many Africans were forced from their homes, their families, their spirituality, and all they had known, and taken to the Caribbean, and then to the Americas. These slaves hailed primarily from the western and central regions — places such as the Congo, Benin, and Nigeria. Their varying religious and spiritual beliefs became a great influence in the Caribbean and the Americas. In the United States, the atrocity of the slave trade offically continued until 1808, when importation of slaves from Africa was outlawed. Of course, this is not to say that the smuggling of slaves did not occur afterward.
The Church, both Catholic and Protestant denominations, saw African religions, spiritualities, and belief systems as evil, immoral, and even murderous. It was assumed that things like devil worship, human sacrifice, and a variety of other unethical acts were a part of their practices and so, these magnificent people, the enslaved Africans, were prevented from honoring their spirits and worshiping in the ways of their culture. Instead, Christianity was forced upon them in order to encourage or increase the slave master's control. You see, if they worshipped the god of the slave master, then the slave master would have tighter reins and, thus, there would be fewer attempts at flight or revolt.
Under these circumstances, you might see how this sad state of affairs would create feelings of despair and hopelessness. However, some of the enslaved did find ways to overcome. Some continued their practices in secret, which was dangerous, as, if caught, repercussions included beatings, whippings, murder, rape, physical harm to loved ones who were also slaves, as well as taking away the little food they were given. It was primarily the fear of those repercussions that kept them from rebelling against their horrible circumstances.
Others, however, were more innovative — they encouraged slave masters to believe they were worshiping the Christian way when in reality they were just using it as a mask to continue, as best they could, the practices of their own people. They would hold fast the spiritual beliefs of their culture and overcome the oppression that continually dealt an almost unbearable burden. It is from this that we find Christianity making its way into the practice we know today as Conjure.
Conjure was born in the united States out of the absolute need to overcome oppression, to create opportunity, and to provide the ability to magically stick up the middle finger to their oppressors. It was a way to counter the deeds of the slave masters and execute works of rebellion against those who would enslave and commit atrocities against them. This work was desperately needed, and it was the spirits of these slaves and their ancestors that evolved into Conjure — one of the most potent spiritual and magical practices.
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The working side of Conjure was greatly influenced by the religious beliefs of the Congo region. They were one of its primary roots. The idea that spirits reside in the trees, the leaves, the roots, and the earth, and that they hold power to facilitate change became an important staple in the fabric of what we know as Conjure today.
The meaning of change, as used here, is an appearance of one realm or world into the other. We do work to create a new reality. The reality that you need a job or healing, for example, is apparent in the physical but perhaps not yet seen in the spirit. The spirits of the roots work between both worlds so the reflection is seen on both sides. In this case, the healing you are looking for or the job you need is not only open to you, but also the fruit of the work you have done to acquire these things is made known in this world by the physical evidence. When the spirit and physical worlds are mirroring one another, you get the job and the sickness you had is no longer plaguing you. Simply put, it is the outward manifestation of the inner work as well as the inner manifestation of the outward work. The balance of both sides, both worlds, and both realities.
The altering of reality is effected by means of doing work with these spirits or essences that assist you in reaching the desired goal. It is using these natural and primal powers of the roots that were given to us by God that allows for our own edification, forward movement, and evolution to make our daily lives better.
The power of the root is one of primal beginnings. The spirits of the roots provide a touch of the divine, and these spirits work in conjunction with us to make things happen that will, ultimately, create change in one way or another. For example, let's say that everywhere you turn the roads seem blocked, like nothing is, in the language of Conjure, "opened up for you." It could be that the crossroads, the place of opportunity and open doors, is closed to you.
Why the crossroads? Well, the crossroads is a place of power, where the realm of the physical meets the realm of the spirit. It is the place where our paths are laid before us and, if it has been closed to us, we will absolutely see blockages all around. So, you would want to take some offerings to the crossroads and do a work to open it up.
You might take a coconut, place some of your hair, fingernail, or toenail clippings, together with a photo, some red palm oil, and some sugar inside, and take it to the crossroads. There you might give the crossroads offerings of whiskey or rum as well as smoke while you ask the spirits who reside there — and there are many — to open the way. All the while you are digging a hole in which to bury your work. Once that has been done, the crossroads, your paths, will open up for you again. This is just one of many works that can be done for a circumstance such as this, but the point I am making here is that these roots, dirts, leaves, and such hold power to create manifestations in both the spirit and the physical realms. This fundamental tenet is one we rootworkers hold to in order to effectively work Conjure.
Influences in Conjure
Conjure varies from region to region, as well as from family to family. Why is that? Well, to put it simply, some regions had more of one influence than another. Other regions had certain roots that were more easily accessible. You also have the influence of the families that lived in those regions whose own folk practices became incorporated into Conjure.
In the South, you will find folks who sweep their houses from back to front, not only to clean the floor, but also to begin a cleansing on their home. You will find others will put a railroad spike in the corner of their property to protect it. The reason for the spike is because it nails down or fortifies your home, preventing negativity or evil from being able to enter the property.
When I was a kid, we used to keep a glass of water, with evil eye beads inside, by the door. Once a week, a candle would be lit and set next to the glass, as it was believed that the evil eye could not survive under the water. If someone was trying to give you the evil eye, the glass by the door would take the hit. You see, these magical practices are very much intertwined in the stories that have been passed down by families and have become a big part of the Conjure works you see today.
Conjure is not a religion or spiritual path, per se, but rather magic/spiritual work that is done to bring about change in a situation. Whether that situation is a relationship, money, a job, revenge, healing, or cleansing, the fundamental tenet of Conjure is to do work that changes the circumstance.
Now, the work of Conjure can be, and is in some areas, largely used in conjunction with regional spiritual practices. In New Orleans, for example, the population of the city is largely Roman Catholic. The Catholic church makes up a large part of the city's spiritual beliefs. Many rootworkers are in attendance at the weekly masses. Likewise, you will find that the working of Conjure in conjunction with the Catholic saints is very common in New Orleans. Take St. Expedite, also known as Saint Expeditus, for example. In life, Expedite was a Roman soldier who, it is said, converted to Christianity and was beheaded in 303 C.E. He had a reputation for getting things accomplished with haste. Because of this he is typically a saint that folks go to when they need fast results due to time constraints or other urgencies. He is greatly loved and worked with, both inside and outside of the Catholic faith. Catholic rootworkers will go to him, give offerings, and leave work so that things happen swiftly and the favors are answered quickly.
Usually, with St. Expedite, you make a deal with him. The deal is that you will give him offerings once he grants the petition you make. So, for example, if you are looking to get some money in a hurry to pay bills, you would make your prayers to him and tell him that if he grants the petition in a hurry, you will give him offerings, such as pound cake, water, candles (red, white, or yellow), and flowers. Now, it is very important that you honor that promise. When you tell a spirit, saint, or whomever that you are going to do something, you need to do it. Remember, if they grant something for you they can easily take it away. And they would be completely justified in doing so because you didn't hold up your end of the bargain.
A few years ago, I was looking around in a Catholic church in New Orleans. I saw the beautiful statues, stained glass, and altar pieces and was in awe of how the place looked. I happened to come upon the area where prayer candles could be lit for people. It was a touching sight, for sure. There were all these candles lit for various prayers and petitions, all seated in a beautiful stand.
While I was admiring the stand and the lights that had been set, I noticed something underneath the candle stand, behind one of the iron legs. It was a mojo hand — a little charm bag — that had a St. Expedite prayer card wrapped around it. It had been placed under all of the lights that had been set in the church for whatever work the Conjure person was doing. I did not, of course, touch the work being done. That would just be rude. I did, however, greatly respect the work that was being done with the two paths together. It was Conjure and Catholicism working in conjunction with one another — faith and work coming together to achieve the desired goal. The power of the roots working in tandem with the power of the saint. It was a beautiful example of how the inner work of faith moves with the outer work of Conjure.
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In areas where Protestant Christianity is dominant, you will find its signature on the rootworker's work as well. Remember, Conjure in and of itself is a powerful relationship with the root that is used in tandem with the faiths or spiritual paths that have influenced and expanded upon it by combining inner faith with outer work. The Old Testament, for example, is very widely used in working Conjure.
Whether or not this pleases people, there is a profound Christian influence on Conjure. Genesis, Psalms, Proverbs, and other books of the Bible, for example, hold keys of power in them. The keys of power in these books are made up of several things. There are spells or workings — spiritual principles of power to create magical change and potent spiritual work that will manifest in a physical way — actually contained in the Bible that we use quite frequently.
When I say books of the Bible, I am referring to just that. For example, Genesis, Psalms, Proverbs, and Isaiah are all smaller books that make up the larger book. Now, is it only Christian influence that is the foundation of what we know as Conjure today? Absolutely not. The African root of Conjure is still the primary root.
The influences of the Kongo, Yoruba, and Fon people dominate how work is done within the realm of this potent practice. The African spiritual practices that were, and still are, nature and ancestral based hold extreme significance in the power of the work.
Let's take, for example, the doll baby, also known as a dollie or Voodoo doll. The doll is made from items typically available in the rootworker's region. Dolls might be made from sticks and Spanish moss with a fabric wrapped around them to form the body. They can also be made with twine and cotton. There are many ways to create a doll baby that have been and are still being used to this day.
One of the purposes of the doll baby is to do work on an individual, whether positive or negative, by way of a link established through an individual's personal items: hair, blood, fingernail clippings, and the like. A doll baby may also be used to house a spirit that work is done with, often on a contractual basis, as a way of having the spirit work through the vessel of the doll.
In the Congo, there are large wooden statues called Nkisi. These statues typically have a hollowed-out area, usually in the stomach or behind the head, in which special roots, bones, and powders are placed for the working spirit that will inhabit it. Nails are then driven into it to activate the statue — or large wooden doll, if you will. The purpose of driving the nails into the Nkisi is to wake up the inhabiting spirit and give them an assignment to carry out. Here, we find a strong commonality with the American version of the Voodoo doll, and we can also see parallels between the nails hammered into the Nkisi and the pins stuck in the doll.
When enslaved Kongolese were transported to the Americas, they could not make Nkisi statues for several reasons. First of all, they lacked the materials needed to carve them. Second, the appearance and massive size of the statues made them extremely visible, which would have brought about some of those horrible repercussions mentioned earlier. An alternative was needed. And so, here comes a doll that is smaller, easier to hide, and yet still effective.
So as you can see, the spiritual influences of several cultures have played a part in the evolution of Conjure today. It is a practice that has its hands in many houses, so to speak.
A Rootworker's Explanation of Conjure
When we think about Conjure, several things come to mind. Terms such as "putting a root" on someone or "laying a trick" often follow in those thoughts. These terms are fantastic to explain the very practical side and nature of Conjure work.
Conjure is a relationship established with the roots, through which work can be effectively accomplished. A relationship with the root? Yes. You see, a tenet of rootwork is that God has put every plant and animal on Earth for the use and benefit of humanity — and not only for food purposes, but also for magical work. Each root possesses a spirit that holds a connection to the earth and has a predisposition to do certain kinds of work.
Here are two quotes from the Bible regarding the plants and animals. The first comes from Psalm 104:
104 BLESS THE LORD, O MY SOUL. O LORD MY GOD, THOU ART VERY GREAT; THOU ART CLOTHED WITH HONOUR AND MAJESTY.
2 WHO COVEREST THYSELF WITH LIGHT AS WITH A GARMENT: WHO STRETCHEST OUT THE HEAVENS LIKE A CURTAIN:
3 WHO LAYETH THE BEAMS OF HIS CHAMBERS IN THE WATERS: WHO MAKETH THE CLOUDS HIS CHARIOT: WHO WALKETH UPON THE WINGS OF THE WIND:
4 WHO MAKETH HIS ANGELS SPIRITS; HIS MINISTERS A FLAMING FIRE:
5 WHO LAID THE FOUNDATIONS OF THE EARTH, THAT IT SHOULD NOT BE REMOVED FOR EVER.
6 THOU COVEREDST IT WITH THE DEEP AS WITH A GARMENT: THE WATERS STOOD ABOVE THE MOUNTAINS.
7 AT THY REBUKE THEY FLED; AT THE VOICE OF THY THUNDER THEY HASTED AWAY.
8 THEY GO UP BY THE MOUNTAINS; THEY GO DOWN BY THE VALLEYS UNTO THE PLACE WHICH THOU HAST FOUNDED FOR THEM.
9 THOU HAST SET A BOUND THAT THEY MAY NOT PASS OVER; THAT THEY TURN NOT AGAIN TO COVER THE EARTH.
10 HE SENDETH THE SPRINGS INTO THE VALLEYS, WHICH RUN AMONG THE HILLS.
11 THEY GIVE DRINK TO EVERY BEAST OF THE FIELD: THE WILD ASSES QUENCH THEIR THIRST.
12 BY THEM SHALL THE FOWLS OF THE HEAVEN HAVE THEIR HABITATION, WHICH SING AMONG THE BRANCHES.
13 HE WATERETH THE HILLS FROM HIS CHAMBERS: THE EARTH IS SATISFIED WITH THE FRUIT OF THY WORKS.
14 HE CAUSETH THE GRASS TO GROW FOR THE CATTLE, AND HERB FOR THE SERVICE OF MAN: THAT HE MAY BRING FORTH FOOD OUT OF THE EARTH;(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Working Conjure"
Copyright © 2018 Hoodoo Sen Moise.
Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
1 What Is Conjure/Hoodoo? 1
2 Principles of Conjure 15
3 The Foundation Laid before Us (The Ancestors) 21
4 The Power of the Root 33
5 The Power of the Dirt 47
6 Balance in Working Conjure 61
7 The Right and Left Hand of Conjure 69
8 The Spirit of Place 81
9 Conjure in the Graveyard 89
10 Workingsfor Both Hands 113