[Today, we sit down for an interview with folk Witch and author, Taren S. Here, she discusses her new book Conjuring Dirt, her personal spiritual practices, and her upcoming projects.]
ev0ke: How do you define your personal spiritual practice? Does it have a name or is it more intuitive or eclectic?
Taren S.: I consider myself to be a modern folk Witch celebrating the dirt I stand on. I view Divinity as a large stained-glass artwork, and we each are looking out a particular piece of it based on our own personal stories, connections, cultures, regions, and perspectives. For me it is about giving honor, reverence, and respect to all that.
ev0ke: Which Deities, powers, or other spirits do you honor in your tradition? Are there any particular sacred days or festivals set aside for them?
TS: All aspects and forms of Divinity are to be honored. I believe it is for each of us to develop personal relationships with Deities, powers, and other spirits. I personally have several altars to celebrate the Divine Feminine and an ancestral altar that I create during the season of the dead in Oct/Nov.
Within the House of Witchcraft organization, we do have several Goddess Feast days that we celebrate, we also honor the solstices and equinoxes. Folk practitioners typically have personal sacred calendars based on family tradition and regional influences.
ev0ke: You recently released Conjuring Dirt: Magic of Footprints, Crossroads, and Graveyards through Moon Books. First, congratulations! Second, how did this book come about? Why a book on the magical qualities and uses of footprints, crossroads, and graveyards?
TS: Thank you so much. Within Hoodoo and Southern Conjure the use of dirt in magickal workings has been documented for over 250 years. I grew up in this culture/knowledge living in North Carolina as a child and then moving to the Lowcountry (coastal region around Charleston) of South Carolina. Doing a magickal “something-something” is part of everyday culture here. Seems we are all taking a “special” dirt and doing a “little something-something”.
I started writing down the stories and recipes that I knew then began asking local magick folks what they knew. Before long it was a book about the magickal uses of dirt within American folk magick/Southern Conjure.
The three divisions naturally occurred as I was compiling recipes and retelling stories.
ev0ke: Did you approach Moon Books with the idea, or did they come to you?
TS: This is my second book with Moon Books. In 2019 they published my first book, Hoodoo in the Psalms, which I often describe as a love letter to my grandmother. She was a southern Baptist faith healer who first introduced me to the magickal workings in the Psalms.
This book, Conjuring Dirt, is a love letter to myself and the southern magickal culture. I sorta surprised my editor with this book as no one had any idea I was working on a project. It started as a story about Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah, Georgia and from there the notes just grew.
ev0ke: What sort of research went into Conjuring Dirt? Lots of personal experience? Conversations with other practitioners? Big stacks of books?
TS: This book is a result of my love of dead things for over forty years now and is based on lots of personal experiences, many hours in conversations/working with other practitioners, and yes, quite a few stacks of books.
I had spent several years working with the “Middleton journals*” as many practitioners refer to them. Using other sources and personal knowledge to compare the authenticity of many of the workings I had filled notebooks with magickal tidbits. Within the texts are many examples of magickal working using different types of dirts, and I started noticing that. What really struck me was the similarities of what I was seeing modern practitioners doing. From there the book took on its own journey.
*”Hoodoo – Conjuration – Witchcraft – Rootwork” (HCWR) is a 5-volume, 4766-page collection of folkloric material gathered by Harry Middleton Hyatt in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia between 1936 and 1940. Supplementary interviews were conducted in Florida in 1970.
The “Hoodoo” collection consists of 13,458 separate magic spells and folkloric beliefs, plus lengthy interviews with professional root doctors, conjures, and hoodoos.
ev0ke: Was there any historical or folkloric and magical element that you uncovered that you absolutely had to include? And was there anything that you unfortunately had to leave out, but might include in another book?
TS: The Lowcountry of South Carolina is a bioregion rich in magickal histories that have come from all over the world. Living here makes it hard sometimes to pick what to include. For me it was about telling what I knew firsthand. I just want folks to understand and celebrate this funky gumbo we call American Folk magick. That where you stand is magickal; you don’t have to go to faraway places. It is in the dirt under your feet.
Yes, I did decide to edit out some recipes and stories that may find their way to another book. Right now, I ain’t saying anything but I am saying ….
ev0ke: In the preface to Conjuring Dirt, you encourage readers to “look down at the dirt you stand upon and begin your own journey.” What’s a good way to start? How can I begin the process, the journey, of learning about the dirt in my yard, my neighborhood, my city?
TS: This is a great question. We are all a product of many convergences (ancestors, regional histories, personal experiences) creating a personal crossroad that only you stand upon. Start by learning more about family history/why they left or stayed in a particular region/their personal accomplishments, stories. Consider setting up an ancestral altar to celebrate this connection.
Next learn the history of the town you live in. Who and why was your town settled? What stories are there? Whose names should be honored? The founders of your town are great protector-type spirits.
Your backyard is your magickal shopping place. Learn what plants, animals, and spirits (genii loci) are there. Use them in your personal practice.
The art of conjure is at its finest about making something out of nothing. Look with fresh and creative eyes at the things that are around you.
ev0ke: Are there any graveyards that you especially recommend? Places that magical practitioners should do their best to visit?
TS: I would highly recommend the graveyard near you as a great first visit. Again, the opportunity to learn about the people who lived, dreamed, and died in your neighborhood. Read the names aloud, straighten up the place a bit, maybe leave an offering or two. Do what feels right for you.
Working with graveyard energies is highly personal (intuitive) and should always be done with honor, reverence, and respect. This is not play dirt. This is the essence of someone’s life, never forget that.
New Orleans is America’s funky magickal gumbo at our very best. Visit Congo Square on Sunday afternoon where they still drum just like Marie Laveau did in her day. Magick abounds on every corner of this city, but so do scammers (it was a pirate city after all). Enjoy yourself with caution and don’t forget to visit the cemeteries. They are grand.
ev0ke: Which festivals, fairs, conventions or other events do you hope to attend in the near future?
ev0ke: My partner and I just bought a 5-acre farm with a spectacular barn and Spanish moss draped Oak trees on the edge of John’s Island outside Charleston and are currently turning it into short term rentals and an event space. We are also using part of the property for farm animal rescues through a local agency.
So right now, I have no plans for the next year other than sneaking off to New Orleans sometime in July for a few weeks (low season, less tourists, but damn hot). I highly recommend the Olivier House Hotel in the French quarter. Witches and magickal folks have been staying there for over 150 years now. They also have a resident cat.
ev0ke: What other projects are you working on?
TS: Magickal gardens around the barn that use local plants is my newest passion. Also creating heritage vegetable gardens is something I have just started researching. I love working with and in the dirt.
I don’t really plan the books or have a writing process. I live my life the best I can and when I learn something I write it down. Maybe it will become a book or maybe it is just notes to self, so I don’t forget. Either way one day my granddaughter will have an insight into me and our world.
Biography: Taren S – is a proud Southern Conjuring Witch with over forty years’ experience in the magickal community. She is the founder of the House of Witchcraft, a tradition of honoring, respecting, and celebrating all paths of magick and expressions of Divinity. Her first book, Hoodoo in the Psalms, is a bestseller. Now she has written Conjuring Dirt: Magick of Footprints, Crossroads, and Graveyards.
She recently returned from visiting a foreign country (California) for the past seven years and lives near John’s Island, just outside Charleston, South Carolina on a small farm.