A collection of ConjureMan Ali's thoughts about magic, the occult, and spirituality.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Hoodoo at the Crossroads: The Third Stream of Conjure and The Future

I have been a conjure doctor for many years; it is a tradition that is near and dear to my heart, but I am many things. I am an astrologer, a hermetic magician, a goetic conjurer, a Bardonian hermetic, a djinn conjurer, but at heart I shall always remain a conjure doctor. Given that, I have a vested interest in what I view the future of conjure and hoodoo. My "public" work is in academia where I am a university historian and so by nature I examine things slightly differently from the average person. Tonight, I feel like musing about conjure: a little about how it has been past down, but more importantly where it is headed.

Historically conjure has coalesced and been passed down in two ways. The first way was via family traditions and the second method was through instruction. Family traditions represent the passing down of conjure lore from generation to generation within the line of families. Here is where grandparents taught their grand-kids not to lend out Salt, how to drink Life-everlasting to live a long life, or even how to feed your man some of your stuff to get him to stay with you. This tied conjure directly into the people who practiced it--who lived it. Conjure was not only a way of working magick, but a spiritual outlook and way of life. But as the elders passed, the younger generations forgot what it was they were told to do about white powders found on their doorstep, or simply ignored the advice and let it be buried with those who lived this path.

The second stream of conjure involved the learning and passing along of knowledge from teacher to student. Those interested in learning this powerful craft would apprentice themselves to teachers and like sponges soak up all the elders had to offer them. The student was the spiritual heir and when the teacher passed on the student then carried on their practice and their tradition--it was now their turn to be the bastion of conjure knowledge. This form of learning was how I was taught. I was adopted into the tradition, taught hands-on by a conjure woman who passed her knowledge on to me and whose practice I took over when she passed.

During the 20th century with the rise of urban hoodoo and the mail-order supply shops the instruction of conjure often took place not in the home of the conjure doctor, but through correspondence, or even at the shop itself. You would go into the store looking to buy a money candle and an old man may be sitting by the counter who would instruct you on how to properly work the trick. These shop owners and elders would act as both proprietor and spiritual counselor. Often times they wouldn't let you buy certain products because they felt they had a responsibility to their art. So if you had a problem you went into their store told them what was going on and these folk would direct you to the right product and tell you how to use it. This method of transmission was how such monumental figures like catherine yronwode learned. She was taught this tradition by actual folk, she sought them out, she studied with them, she collected lore, and in turn became the shop owner who now passes on the knowledge to others just as it was done to her.

But catherine yronwode represents more than a bastion of tradition, she represents the third and new stream of conjure: the internet. Miss cat took what she learned and began to compose thousands of articles that were put online for all to read and learn about in this tradition. This act did something immensly transformative: it preserved conjure's tradition. It saved it from dying out.

With the previous two streams of transmission the key figure was the "elder." However, though the elders passed down their knowledge their students didn't always take up where their teacher left off. Sometimes these elders didn't pass on their information because there was no one to sit at their feet and listen to the old stories. So as these old folk were passing so too was conjure. While there was always going to be the abused woman seeking the powder she could put in her husbands foot powder to make him treat her better and they'd always be the man looking for his John the Conqueror to give him that swagger, the actual art was in danger. When Miss cat put her knowledge online she addressed this immediate concern. She ensured that as the elders passed their knowledge would remain, that it would reach a wider audience, and that the tradition I love would carry on strong.

But this new stream of transmission and learning comes with its own pitfalls. The internet generation is a generation of instant gratification; it is a generation with little love of history, the roots of something, or tradition. This is a generation that feels entitled to take what they want from where ever they choose and make it their own. This is the danger conjure faces. A woman desperate to have her lover back will jump online click her manicured nails away on the keys find a beautiful spell involving the magnetic power of Lodestones that symbolize all things she seeks: union, love, passion, and committment. She orders her products and within a week she's set up an altar with red candles, fragrant sachet powders, and has her incense putting up puffs of sweet-smelling smoke. But she doesn't like this whole magnetic sand bit, why doesn't she have to "feed" a bunch of rocks? Song of Solomon from the Bible? Yuck! Instead she grabs her athame and traces a Circle while invoking the Goddess to bring back her man.

Where did the conjure go? Lost, in this person's arrogance. Of course this same person will then wonder why her spell produced such medicore results, Missing the beauty and elegance of working with a spirit of magnetism that builds through a symbiotic relationship. As you feed the spirit, it fights and works for you.

A few states over from our caster of love spells we have a man who wonders why on earth he needs to actually lay powders where his target is going to walk. Can't he just visualize that he's laying those powders out and instead put it on a candle? Where did that immensly pragmatic way of conjuring go where contact was emphasized?

Conjure's third stream has ensured its future, but now it is up to us to make sure that the tradition is not taken apart by zealous individuals who merely want to have their spiritual buffet. Whether we are professional conjure doctors, whether we are born into this tradition or adopted, or whether we found it online it is our job to ensure the tradition remains true and that we take in the beauty of the tradition that is presented to us. Don't just pick and choose spells, learn the traditions, the stories that are told and related by figures like catherine yronwode, take her class, sit at the feet of elders like Starr Casas and learn what it means to conjure.


Unknown said...

whoa whoa whoa, Djinn conjurer? I want to know about this.

ConjureMan Ali said...

I often deal with conjuring Djinn, taming them and restraining them, and exorcisms.