From black sorcerers' client-based practices in the antebellum South to the postmodern revival of hoodoo and its tandem spiritual supply stores, the supernatural has been a key component of the African American experience. Jeffrey E. Anderson unfolds a fascinating story as he traces the origins and evolution of conjuring practices across the centuries. What began as a mixture of African, European, and Native American influences within slave communities finds expression today in a multi-million-dollar business.
Though some may see the study of conjure as a perpetuation of old stereotypes that depict blacks as slaves to superstition, the truth, Anderson notes, is far more complex. Drawing on folklore, fiction and nonfiction, music, art, and oral interviews, he explores various portrayals of the conjurerbackward buffoon, rebel against authority, and symbol of racial pride. He also examines the actual work performed by conjurers, including the use of pharmacologically active herbs to treat illness, psychology to ease mental ailments, fear to bring about the death of enemies and acquittals at trials, and advice to encourage clients to succeed on their own.
Conjure's ability to merge supernaturalism and religionalong with a widespread belief in, fear of, or respect for conjure's effectivenesshas made it a force across generations, Anderson shows, and not only among blacks. New Age spiritualism, Afro-Caribbean syncretic faiths, and modern psychological understandings of magic have all contributed to a recent revival of conjure.
By critically examining the many influences that have shaped conjure over time, Anderson effectively redefines magic as a cultural power, one that has profoundly touched the arts, black Christianity, and American society overall.