Roots, Hoodoo and Conjuration: The First African American Religion
Conjure, also known as Hoodoo or Root Workin, is often misunderstood. More often than not its described as African American “Folk Magic”, or completely stripped of its Africanity and referred to as “American”.
The point that seems to be overlooked or intentionally avoided is Conjure as the primary religion of enslaved Africans in the U.S. prior to the mass conversion to Christianity. I’ve heard people claim you cant Conjure without a bible, implying Conjure is an accessory to Christianity, which is untrue. I’ve also heard it described as a mix of European, Native American and African practices, conveniently stripping it of ownership, and “All Lives Mattering” a tradition which has been near exclusively practiced by Black people until roughly the last 100 years.
“Hoodoo Matters” -Juju Bae
Now that there is a resurgence of interest in African traditional religions and a mass exodus from the church there seem to be new misconceptions springing up. I think because of lack of definition, groups of people are now equating Papa Legba wth the Crossroads Man, claiming to practice Conjure while actually practicing some form of Orisha worship, and really asserting that any type of Witchcraft or general candle work is Hoodoo/Conjure. The conflation between Hoodoo, Vodou, Orisha worship and Witchcraft happening on Social media obscures the boundaries of our own tradition and leaves the door open to pretenders.
If every occult practice is Conjure, than nothing is Conjure. As African Americans, or descendants of Africans enslaved in the US, this is something we cannot allow to happen, both for the culture, and for the preservation of spiritual technology and liberation theology.
Conjure is a magico-religious tradition started and maintained by Africans enslaved primarily in what is now called the Southern US. It’s Congo-Bantu in origin, with significant contributions made by enslaved Senegambians and Eastern Nigerians(people from Bight of Biafra). Of the 46+ Ethnic groups that contribute to our bloodline, the Southern Congos(Angolans) who were sent to Virginia in 1619 are the beginning of what would become us. To be clear, these are not the first Africans enslaved ever in the Western hemisphere, nor were they the first Africans to set foot in North America, but these so often quoted “20 odd” Angolans would become the foundation for African American identity and culture wether we can name them or not. Bantus came earlier in the slave trade and in larger numbers than any other groups that contributed to our lineage and for those reasons, laid the cultural groundwork that all other enslaved Africans in the US would contribute to and become apart of.
When people migrate to a place, by force or other means, they bring their cosmologies with them. They bring their understanding of themselves, the earth, and the Universe with them.
Interestingly enough, I hear people (on Facebook mostly) lament that Hoodoo has been degraded and lost its Gods. Nothing could be further from the truth. In Conjure, like its Congo-Bantu cousins Palo Mayombe, Muerterismo, Makaya and Kumina, there is the Dead of which there are many classes, the Supreme Creator, and forces of nature. Not the Goddess of the River, but the River itself. Not the God of the forest but the Forest itself, and the multitude of the spirits (typically dead people) that reside in each space.
Bantu religious practices are too often labeled witchcraft and kept out of the conversation around African Diaspora Religions because they don’t follow the accepted “Classical” models of pre-xtian religion you see among the Yoruba, Dahomey and Akan
This lack of reverence and respect allows for imposters to claim authority in traditions that they did not inherit and have no genuine access to. The multitude of books available on Conjure are typically written by White authors claiming some semblance of authority in this tradition. In order to make those claims they have to rip it into pieces and create delusions and fantasies about its origin and beliefs to fit themselves into it. In order to sell books, oils, crystals and tarot card decks they have to diminish it to fortune telling and semi-effective superstition so that their claims of importance sound valid and real.
They do not have the dead to capably work anything resembling Conjure. They didn’t inherit our pre-existing pacts with specific plants, Cymbee, the Conjuresses of Old, nor are they descendants of any Maroon populations that did much of the preservation work in this tradition. They can buy a million and one High John the Conqueror roots, they can haphazardly slap together cloth sacks and call it Mojo or Grisgris, they can chew and spit Galanagal and say a psalm, but it will never move the same or with an equivalent efficacy, if it moves at all. The target of the work cannot also teach the work.
Recognizing the innate consciousness in plants, minerals, dirt, rocks, herbs, humans and animals, and utilizing the natural forces, and the dead in a Bantu based African American cosmology to create precise and specific outcomes to liberate ones self from the violence and oppression of White hegemonic terrorism, is Conjure.
Understanding that you are an African, that The Creator made you a free person and that you have a right to defend that freedom with force and violence, both spiritual and physical, is the foundation of this Religion.
And this is a Religion.
Collage by Romare Bearden - The Calabash 1970