Posted in [witchy reviews]

[Witchy Review] “Old Style Conjure” by Starr Casas

Full Title: Old Style Conjure: Hoodoo, Rootwork & Folk Magic
Author: Starr Casas
Published: September 2017 by Weiser Books
Genres: Nonfiction, Magic Studies, Tribal & Ethnic Religious Practices, Occultism, Spirituality, Folklore, Witchcraft
Edition Details: 256 pages, trade paperback
Source: Purchased
Rating: {3/5 stars}

First Glance

As a witch, I’ve researched and explored many different kinds of magic. Somehow I’ve managed not to end up looking into Conjure at all, by no purposeful attempt to avoid it. That said, we visited a local witchy store on my birthday earlier this year, and apparently it was time for me to learn. There was a large display of Conjure books and implements that kept drawing me back, and I knew I had to look into it. I spoke with a gentleman there who works Conjure as part of his personal practices, and he suggested a couple of books to get started. This was one of them.

Positive Bits

One of the allures of Conjure is how practical and natural its works are. Having spent over a decade in the South, I can attest to some of the practices Casas describes as “just what you do”. There are plenty of practices you do because you’re supposed to, without having any real explanation as to why. Folk magic is often passed along in this subtle way, and through “old wives’ tales” or other stories used as instruction.

The works involved in Conjure are largely built to be easily done around others without being noticed. This comes from the roots of Conjure (and its related practices of rootwork and hoodoo), where slaves had to work around those oppressing them without getting caught. With that history in mind, Casas makes an important point about power: “Folks need to remember that anything that has blood shed on it is powerful.” Being simple or easy doesn’t make Conjure any less powerful than bells-and-whistles rituals in witchcraft.

I appreciated the description of crafting your petitions, as it reflects a similar attitude found in other paths I’ve studied (and my own practices). In general, the idea is that simplicity is key, but so is specificity. You get what you ask for, how you ask for it. If you’re not specific about the how, you can’t complain about the methods used to fulfill your requests.

Less Enjoyable Bits

This is not a book I would’ve recommended to anyone new to witchcraft in general or Conjure in particular. With my background knowledge, the various works Casas shares with you make some sense; after all, if you know the magical associations often given to certain herbs, you can make some educated guesses as to the reasons for each item involved in a work. But for the most part, you’re left to follow directions blindly, a thought that makes me cringe and opposes all of the lessons I’ve experienced in using magic.

I didn’t grow up going to church. My dad’s an atheist, and my mom’s an agnostic. I have no innate familiarity (or comfort) with Christianity as a religion, and my main experiences with Christianity haven’t been positive (witch + LGBTQ + woman = trouble in the South). Perhaps others may speak differently, but Casas made it abundantly clear that the constant Christianity within Conjure is required. While changes can be made to works in order to fit modern issues and legalities, changes to the use of biblical verses are sacrilege.

While I respect the reason why Christianity was used in Conjure’s origination (i.e. slavery and adaptation), I don’t understand the insistence that the folk magic aspects cannot be used without the Bible and still be Conjure, yet Conjure isn’t a religion and doesn’t require you to be a Christian. Why couldn’t someone worship the ancestors in a non-Christian format and use Conjure works without the Bible? Wouldn’t that still honor the history of the works? Why is it okay not to follow through on one part of a work (throwing a war water jar at someone’s door) but not another (praying to God for your petition instead of, say, Zeus)? I will always struggle with anything that fails to explain the why.

Tidbits Worth Repeating

What is an altar? The altar is nothing more than a home for Spirit to sit. It’s the place between places where this world meets the spirit world. – page 35

An offering can be as simple or as elaborate as you want it to be. An offering can be a stone you found somewhere and felt drawn to bring home, or maybe a bird’s nest that had fallen out of a tree, or just a simple glass of cool water. – page 41

Words are power, and Spirit listens to our prayers and petitions. – page 181

Is it worth the coin?

No – unless you’re a Christian, in which case this book might be a bridge toward using magic in a context that is comfortable and compatible with your personal path. Without that base knowledge and worship, I’m not sure how to connect to the magics offered in this book.

Author:

bookdragon, poet, witch

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