Southern Conjure is …. lots of fancy words about describing a moment and a place. It’s about the dirt; the history, the bones, and the stories. Oppression, opposition, rebellion, and triumph are the themes; like many histories found around the world. Ultimately it is about knowing who you are, speaking your authentic voice and celebrating it.
I am part of the dirt of the South. That muddled funky gumbo of a place where history and lore freely intermingle. Where superstitions are oftentimes treated as facts. A region that is open and friendly to outsiders, yet still full of secrets, magick, and back door invites on a need-to-know basis.
The best definition I can give of Southern Conjure is that it is folk magick of the Southeastern part of the United States that is influenced outside of the Hoodoo African dysphoria magick. Now this does not mean that Southern Conjure is not influenced by Hoodoo. Depending upon the region would determine the amount of influence.
The conjure of my dirt, the Lowcountry of South Carolina, is deeply influenced by wisdom shared in a grand oral tradition (we love sittin’ on the porch and chatting). In the dark days of slavery, Africans outnumbered white folks by at least 5:1 in this region. The atmosphere was charged with their magick, their struggles, and their joy, their food ways (also magickal)-and it still is. The conjure you’d find up in the foothills and Appalachians would not have been as influenced by African presence, but rather more so by the regional magicks of the Old World: that of the Dutch, Irish, and German.
Folk and natural magick practices and practitioners are part of bioregionalism. Regions are not neatly drawn lines created on a map for mundane reasons. The climate, landforms, and features that are unique and distinctive to that place, is what we can define as a region. The local flora and fauna, the old folks’ traditions and wisdoms, what they put in their food and how they prepare it further define and give a region a real sense of place.
As the geography of a region defines the qualities of its peoples’ accents and rate of speech, so too does the geography and the regionally specific lifeforms shape its’ magick. A Conjure woman in the Lowcountry might burn sea grass and pine needles to clear her house of haints and hags. A Conjure man in the western united states might accomplish that same goal with cedar smoke to dispel the evil local spirits that are/have become part of the region.
Two pioneers of bioregionalism, Peter Berg & Raymond Dasmann explain that bioregions exist as bio-cultural regions that are “a geographical terrain and a terrain of consciousness—to a place and the ideas that have developed about how to live in that place” with unique attributes of flora, fauna, water, climate, soils, and landforms, and by the “human settlements and cultures those attributes have given rise to.”
Bioregionalism stresses that the determination of a bioregion is also a cultural phenomenon, and emphasizes local populations, knowledge, and solutions. It is both societal, but also deeply personal. As such, those ways to thrive in their totality (be they economic, cultural, spiritual, magickal or political) will be distinctive in some capacity as being a product of their bioregional environment.
Bioregionalism interprets the world through a variety of regional value systems which reflect the influence of the regions from which they are born. Bioregions are the natural countries of the planet, containing within them many nations, inhabitants, watersheds, and ecosystems. This combination creates the culture and magick of that place.
Words have a way of getting tangled when trying to explain the folk magicks that developed and exist side by side, synchronistic, concurrent and at the same time in different parts of America. Oftentimes we get lost in the complexity of it and lose who we are when trying to find who we are. What is real? What is authentic? And what is mine to embrace?
We are all a product of a place we call home. We all stand on the dirt of those who came before us. I’m reminded of well-respected Hoodoo woman whose name is Miss Alma. Her words resonate with me to this day; “It’s your dirt to tend now.” Now there is some plain and simple truth right there. It is our dirt to tend now, we are the next generation. The question is, “What next and how do I do it?”
Bioregionalism recognizes, nurtures, sustains, and celebrates our local connections with:
Plants and Animals
Springs, Rivers, Lakes, Groundwater, & Oceans
Families, Friends, Neighbors
Native Traditions, Ways of Living & Sovereignty
Circular and Place Based Systems of Production & Trade
Celebrating the diversity of each place
Conjure magick in its purest form is about “conjuring up the spirits”. We often say it is about creating something out of nothing, learning to use what you have when you need it. This is about you learning to embrace and use the dirt you are standing on.
This is both on a societal level, and a personal one. It starts with developing a sense of place. It is about rooting ourselves in history, the things that make each region special – the plants, the animals, the types of soils, the mountains, rivers, and local culture and magick that is unique to that place. It is at its core, about fully establishing yourself in each area-physically, mentally, and spiritually.
Where you live is special. There is no other place like it in the world. Now is the time to see, feel, experience that. Your dirt, town, family are full of the magick of before time. You are a part of humankind, a history of thousands if not millions of years old. Through you are the stories of our collective past, that great genetic memory lives on and guides you in your practice and your life. Your job is to learn it and then conjure a future for all of us.
Here are some ways to help you learn to “conjure up” on your dirt.
Learn the history of your town, city, village.
Honor the indigenous folk of that land.
Visit the local cemetery.
Honor the geni loci (spirits of place).
Learn and use local plants and other items unique to that region.
Learn what your special local resources are.
Break down global issues to a local level.
Research alternative frameworks based on natural borders and boundaries that are more representative of people, inhabitant, and place.
Deconstruct colonial and non-representative frameworks.
Plan how to best protect and use those natural and cultural resources.
Enrich future generations with local and planetary knowledge.
Through these connections you will find the magick of your region and learn how to wield it wisely. As magickal practitioners we are one of the hopes of the land. We are the keepers of the universe. It is for us to create and help guide the next generation.
[Taren S – is a proud Southern Conjuring Witch with over 40 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 has recently returned from visiting a foreign country (California) for the past 7 years and lives near John’s Island, just outside Charleston, South Carolina on a small farm.]