October 02, 2020
Amongst practitioners of hoodoo, the Bible is often referred to as the most powerful conjure book in existence. For traditional rootworkers and conjure men, the scriptures contained in the Bible are considered powerful spells that are able to cause good or bad circumstances in one’s life, but the Bible’s power doesn’t stop at its written word. The physical book itself can be used as a charm to cause protection or turn away gossip. For many of those who are new to conjure, the use of the Bible can seem contradictory and cause confusion as to how it fits into the magical tradition of hoodoo. Allow me to shed some light on the matter.
When enslaved Africans arrived in American due to the transatlantic slave trade, they held on to the core of their ingenious practices. Despite their beliefs, life in captivity would eventually shape and mold their faith into a new worldview through a process known as syncretism. The syncretism of their original faith systems and their new exposure to the Protestant and Catholic religions served to weave both into something new, a faith system that allowed the old and the new to exist simultaneously and without conflict. Instead of rejecting the Bible and its tenants, the Bible was absorbed and respected as a Holy book.
While the majority had faith in the words of the Bible, their understanding of its scripture was organically filtered through their understanding of the natural world and their place in it. Before becoming enslaved and forced to live in the new world, The spiritual practice held by those captured people was diverse and colorful. There were and still are many spiritual traditions practiced in Africa, but all of these various traditions did share several central beliefs. Those central beliefs included the understanding of anamis, which teaches that every living thing has a spirit and a type of consciousness. The practice of ancestor veneration, which teaches that our ancestors still play an active role in the lives of the living. And the understanding of supernatural forces that could be wielded by those who were aware of it or born with a gift to manipulate it.
The magical and spiritual beliefs the slaves shared were superimposed onto the stories found in the bible giving new light to the moral lessons contained within its pages. The understanding of the bible that developed for a slave expanded into the perspective of the characters of the bible, most notedly Moses as a powerful conjure man and the miracles he performed as incredible spells. This new cosmology saw God as the supreme creator who blessed a chosen few with the ability to conjure and it gave the precise direction on how to perform these conjurations. As slaves were shipped across America, their understanding of the bible came with them and it was passed on in certain households from generation to generation.
Even today the majority of African Americans who practice hoodoo would consider themselves Christians, but their perspective of their religion is heavily influenced by West African spiritual traditions. Both magic and religion can live harmoniously side by side because of the conjure person there is no separation between the two. Over time the African American culture was exposed to other cultures that found magical power in the words of the bible, the most prominent being Jewish mysticism. The 6th and 7th books of Moses became available to African American communities and quickly became a staple in hoodoo practice. The bible remains a central text to the practice of hoodoo because of the integral role in the development of the tradition.
It is not necessary to be Christian to practice hoodoo, and there is a desire in the younger generation of workers to distance themselves from the oppressive history of slavery including Christianity. While you do not have to take the bible literally or have faith in its tenants, the bible remains a cornerstone in the work. What I like to say is that regardless of your relationship to the bible or to Christianity, our ancestors most likely placed great value in it, and for that reason alone it is useful to use and understand. The bible is like a puzzle, within its pages are contained a map hidden in stories and prose. When you truly understand these interlocking pieces, an interesting picture of magical practice emerges which is valuable to any student of the occult.