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“He walked up to the entrance of the graveyard and acknowledged the gates. The man reached into his pocket and pulled out a few coins. Holding the coins in his hand, he displayed them to the directions–East, West, North and South–made a small prayer, and then dropped them at the graveyard gates. Holding his lit cigar and his bottle of whiskey, he entered and made his way to the crossroads within the graveyard. Once there, he began his work.” —Hoodoo Sen Moise, Working Conjure A Guide to Hoodoo Folk Magic
To understand hoodoo, (not to be mistaken for “Voodoo” or Vodou) conjure and the art of these practices (which are used interchangeably but are essentially the same thing), we’d have to go back to the very beginning: The Transatlantic slave trade.
“Hoodoo is a form of traditional African-American folk magic that developed from a combination of beliefs of a number of separate African cultures after they came to the United States during the slave trade”, Hazzard-Donald explains in her book, Mojo Workin’: The Old African-American Hoodoo System (University of Illinois Press, 2012).
In short, the practice was born of necessity.
Upon arriving in the New World, slaves were forced to abandon their own religion and practices and convert to Christianity….or so the slave masters thought. To be caught practicing any religion other than what you were told you could worship, or participating in Vodou ceremonies meant beatings, starvation and in many cases, death.
And so the mixture of various African religious practices created by the enslaved was practiced and kept secret from white slave owners. Understand that in these times, there were no Occult shops, fancy candles or other magical paraphernalia. They used what was readily available to them, including herbs and spices, roots and barks and even animals. If you wanted to punish a slave owner for beating your son, these items were your go-to. After the Great Migration, the practice of Hoodoo spread throughout the United States and has been adopted and embraced by Caucasian people, giving us the term, Conjure.
To understand Conjure and Hoodoo, you must first understand that Conjure/Hoodooo and Vodou are not the same thing. Conjure comes from the Congo and Vodou comes from the country, Benin. “While there are influences of Vodou in Conjure, Conjure and Hoodoo are not a complete spiritual path”, says Sen Moise. “Conjure and Hoodoo is a practice and there is no worship involved. Work is”.
The practice of Conjure became necessary to overcome oppression and rebel against the slave owners. When slaves were captured and brought to the U.S., all they had with them were the spirits of their ancestors and their roots. It was a necessary answer to forced oppression.
Sen Moise has been working conjure for over 35 years and is a Hougan Asogwe (High Priest) in Hatian Vodou and a Tata Nganga (High Priest) in Palo Mayombe.
“I am a priest and servant to the spirits first before anything else” he once said to me as we walked down Dumane Street in the French Quarter of New Orleans (also the street where he is the co-owner of the shop, Conjure New Orleans). He is probably the most dedicated priests of his traditions that I have ever known.
Admittedly, he did not choose either of the religions. They, he says, chose him. “I didn’t seek them out. I knew people in the Vodou but then I had spirits coming to me and I’d ask the folks I knew, ‘Who is this?” In those traditions he says, you get chosen, you don’t choose to practice.
In this way, among others, Vodou is different from witchcraft where in witchcraft, someone can just decide one day that they’re going to be a witch and learn everything they can about the practice. This isn’t so with Vodou or Palo, or any ATR traditions, really.
“Those spirits choose you, not the other way around.” He added of Vodou. He said that when he first started getting involved in the religion, he knew nothing about it and when those spirits started coming to him he began asking questions to those friends who were initiated in it. Since initiating into the religion in Haiti, he has become a respected leader in spiritual community.
Where conjure and hoodoo are concerned, it was in the mountains of Georgia where as a child, his grandfather first introduced him to the practice, which he talks about in his book. It was these times spent with the elder man that Sen Moise realized that in the realm of spiritual or magical work, hoodoo/conjure “Has a tremendous influence in creating change that may not be so likely to occur otherwise”.
In writing the book he says that despite his own resistance to do so, he was asked by others over the years to put his knowledge on paper. The decision to write Working Conjure, A Guide to Hoodoo Folk Magic was made when he realized how much misinformation was out in the world (and on the web) about the practice. He said, “The only way that can be changed is if you write the narrative”.
People will often turn to a conjure worker in times of need and sometimes, out of desperation after all practical methods have been exhausted. Whether it be for lost love or new love, money, removing curses and hexes, victory in court cases or any number of other things this journey called life throws our way, it is the conjure worker who is sought out.
Unlike the belief in karmic retribution so prevalent in modern witchcraft, (I blame neo-Wicca for this) justice work, as he calls it, is his favorite type of magical work to do. He points out, however, that before he goes into a working, he makes sure that what he is about to do is justified, and that everything is balanced. In other words, you wouldn’t throw at someone who cut you off in traffic (Ok, maybe I would because I’m a complete jerk in the car with my road rage. I’m not sure what happens to me once I get behind that wheel lol).
Conjure is about working with both hands. Balance. Sometimes, you must first do harm to bring about the good. Handling the abuser in a domestic abuse situation would be a good example of this. Having something unfortunate happen to a woman just because you want her man would not be considered justified magic….just so’s you know.
When asked what or who inspires him, Sen Moise says, “My first inspiration was my grandfather. He was the only man I ever loved.”
But his primary source of inspiration, he says, are his own spirits. “Always begin with your ancestors,” he says. “Your ancestors are the foundation of everything else you do. If you don’t have a strong foundation, you’ll never last in this work. The foundation is what makes you strong and enables you to effectively do the work”.
Hoodoo and Conjure is more than just Voodoo dolls and Hot Foot Powder (although, he does have a wicked recipe for his Hot Foot Powder in the book, or, if you’re the lazy type, you can grab some up, here).
The reviews of his book, Working Conjure, A Guide to Hoodoo Folk Magic have been nothing short of glowing. It was released by Redwheel/Weiser in Sept 2018 and since then, it seems almost daily that someone in my social media feed has discovered his book for the first time.
He skips over much of the esoteric brah–ha you find in other books on not only the subject of witchcraft but on hoodoo and conjure, and gets right to the meaty, how-to’s.
In my years in the magical community, I can confidently say that this is one of the few books that doesn’t caress the ego of the author. Instead, he focuses on giving the reader and student a solid understanding of what the practice of Conjure is, and, how to do it.
**The Great Migration, sometimes known as the Great Northward Migration, was the movement of six million African-Americans out of the rural Southern United States to the urban Northeast, Midwest, and West that occurred between 1916 and 1970. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Migration_(African_American)