As the Holiday celebrating Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is upon us, the thoughts of conjure practices in the struggle of the African American community and the place of its Magicians and Spiritual workers come to mind. Not everyone believed that the Spiritual world worked the same way. While the Black Church has long been the force for the struggle through Straight Religion, Liberation Theology, as well as Spiritual Succor, the role of the Rootworker and Two Head woman, along with their contributions to the community, have been downplayed.
"Liberation theology sees the Christian mission as bringing justice to oppressed people through political activism, solving their social and economic plight. In liberation theology they have divided the world into 2 groups, the oppressed and the oppressor. The poor are the oppressed and the rich are their oppressors."
And so as Dr. King led, a nation of millions followed. But not all followed in the same ways or with the same beliefs. The work that had to be done went beyond Christianity. It went beyond who was Pagan and who was a Saint in the Churches.
It went beyond the Muslim Conversion wildfire of the Nation of Islam, and the American Society of Muslims, bodies that were sparking the flames of the disenfranchised youth here in the City of Detroit. It went beyond the faith based works of the Moorish Science Temple of America's Nationality social program. It went beyond the young Marxists who were reading the Little Red Book and aspiring to make a new nation of Black Revolutionaries, Black Defense Leagues, and Civic Societies. The Black Panther Party for Self Defense was feeding children breakfast and securing the rights of a people. It was more than a movement, it was a Spiritual Event and Annointed Hour in this nation that everyone was a part of making happen.
Make no mistake. The Magickian in the community may not have been seen in the pulpit, may not have been covered by the cameras, and was definitely not invited to the debate table (officially), the Hands of the Unseen were at work every step of the way. While those prayers were offered up in incense, all those mouths were not speaking those words with the same intent or force from the same perspective.
The hands of the Conjurer that prayed, the legs that marched, and the eyes who were watching for wonders and freedom were also holding the safety and well beings of their people's lives. They gathered roots in the woods and made poultices for the families of those too poor to pay for the medicine from the clinic. They rubbed the deep wounds and drove out the parasites of the body. They laid Healing hands of the bruises of the beaten.
In this writer's family, there was no cognitive dissonance when they were praising the Good Master in Heaven and going to the Two Head woman down the street. Sit in protestors on the front lines, according to the oral traditions that were passed down in my Detroit neighborhood, often had Mojo bags in their pockets. Their families set oil lights. They did protection work to have those brutal forces of oppression "see and not see" their children when they were on the front lines.
In Vietnam, many families had four leaf clovers and other items, pressed between the pages of Bibles, Dictionaries, and other books at certain passages in order to keep their soldiers safe. Same as in the Korean Conflict. Same as in World War II. Same as now.
Chewing John was everywhere when they had to go to court. Devil's Shoe String and Policy Books were in top drawers, tucked between the linen handkerchiefs and the half slips. And many a night, when those who had missing members sat vigil, psalms were sung with as much conjuring as any other spell - though the use of Christianity was the adaptation used by the descendants of those who joined the Black Churches here in the states as a form of freedom. And while the term Witch was despised, the Root woman or man was not held as one of those. Hags and Workers were not the same in any way.
Card readers sat patiently as client after client asked after their daughters and sons going on those Freedom Rides. Dreams were carefully interpreted in the pages of the Kansas City Kitty for numbers to hit and omens to bide that could bring that extra money to the family now that Dad was laid off or fired for being in the marches. Powders and oils were made to add to the workplace to keep the sole provider working.
There were marchers in the streets, hand and hand, and singing hymns. Just as there were bones and tricks laid against the violators. The Conjurer's broke the ranks of their enemies with Power. They softened their hearts. They exacted payment and revenge, as well as healing. These were not the charlatans who prey upon the African American Diaspora and claim intellectual privilege to pilfer the Traditions of the Spirit Workers. These were the buttresses that held the community up and strong with the sense of Duty that comes with holding those ranks.
The Black Market economy of the Street Numbers kept people fed and in shoes while they marched. And who better to give that little extra luck with that, and with getting that raise from Mr. Charlie that the local Doctor. Paradise Valley smelled of Elizabeth root before it was destroyed. The grandchildren of those residents still smell of it today. Only now, they buy it in any part of town they choose.
Times have changed. There is an African American Commander-in-Chief sitting in the White House. There are internationally respected ambassadors, diplomats, and policy makers who help to shape the destiny of the Nation. And yet, there are still no large African American magickal publishing houses. There is still the gaping wound that represents the shortage of major symposiums of Traditional Conjure without Non-African American curio companies being the major sponsors.
And there is still the unabashed poaching and appropriation of the Culture of African American Conjure Traditions with impunity, enriching the coffers of those who have never worked a root or, worse yet, pollute what they have created with blending together Wiccan, Heathen, and other practices that have nothing to do with it. Book writers and tourists who dip go on adventures into the communities and profit from what they skim from the book stand behind the oil counter grow rich on the works of the descendants of the enslaved Root Worker, and the cycle continues.
But it is also a new day. There are those who, while writing on Conjure and Hoodoo, do not steal but seek to advocate and present the information to those who may not be aware that it exists. They come from different ethnic and racial backgrounds, but they are all for the same thing. They are for the preservation of the old ways. There are those who are this and the next generation of African American practitioner who are creating dialogues and being mindful of the contributions that those who have come before have made. To them, this author says, I will dance in your Ring Shout any day you ask.
So while we have come a long way, and have a long way to go, let us remember that as we take those steps, the Conjure man and woman is guarding our tracks. Let us take up our sticks and staves and pound out a rhythm that the Spirits will hear, and smile, upon together.