feminist studies, history, history of africa, history of magic, history of the united states, History of the US, religious studies, spirituality, Uncategorized, world history

Book Review: Chireau, Yvonne P., Black Magic:Religion and the African American Conjuring Tradition (Berkley/Los Angels/London: University of California Press, 2006), Pp. 222.

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Coalescing religiosity and cultural tradition is an ever present reality in the history of  conjure tradition and practice of African Americans. Although Conjure practices are not relegated to African Americans, historians have located a direct lineage to the genealogical origin of conjure tradition and practice in Africa. The displacement of Africans, by way of the slave trade, opens up an aperture to discuss the mobility of  “slave religious tradition”(41).  Within this framework conjure was not only shaped by the slave trade but also was transformed by the diaspora of Africans in the United States. Chireau’s thesis states, “I have argued that African American Supernatural traditions, as dynamic products of black spirituality, are best understood within their actual social contexts”(151).  The author does an excellent job at contextualizing time, space, and social constructs that shape religious practices and legacy of tradition. Chireau also defines terminology in this book. For example Chireau defines conjure as, “A magical tradition in which spiritual power is invoked for various purposes, such as healing, protection, and self defense” (12). This is essential in understanding what the main point is of her book but also sets up the reader to read on and not have to stop to define terminology.

Chireau historicizes this subject by using wold history to propel her reader into a deeper understanding of how conjure’s tradition grew and shifted by region. The very nature of supernatural beliefs was as much apart of the Old World structure of African life as it was now for the New World that they had come into by force (33). Thus, the interweaving of history and culture is a fundamental aspect of conjuring history, practices and traditions. We cannot leave out the synthesis of Christian influence on African American spirituality that the author provides. Chireau identifies the early twentieth-century  and the “Eternal Life Spiritualist Church, founded in 1913 in Chicago,” as the  revival of the Spiritualist practices (114). These practices become apparent again in the late twentieth into the twenty-first century (139-140).

Interestingly, Chireau chronicles women within the conjure practice and traditional lineage as much as the men in this movement. Although there is a robust amount of women’s participation and representation the  question of why, women’s presence is so important, is neot addressed. The conclusion that can be made of these accounts are influenced by the statistics on slavery and the oppression that was felt by both women and men. As stated by Chireau, “the activities of such enslaved Conjure men and women have been well documented” (15). What the author does provide clearly is a clear picture of the female Conjure stating, “black female supernatural specialists were represented in a gamut of gender stereotypes in fiction and folklore, from the sinister, decrepit hag to the dangerous, bewitching mulatta. African American Conjure women inherited a legacy of powerful spiritual roles that had been instituted by their foremothers” (22).  Again, as for the specifics such as the “how” and the “why” of these women’s presence/practices, the reader may be left wanting more. I would recommend this to any reader that is interested in the movement of spiritual practices and black magic from Africa to the US. I would also recommend this to historians, women studies enthusiasts, and religious studies academics.

10/10

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Book Review: Cassandra Larsen, Wicca: A Beginner’s Guide to Witchcraft, Spells, Rituals, and Magick (2015), Pp. 88.

 

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Wicca: A Beginner’s Guide to Witchcraft, Spells, Rituals, and Magick (Simple Witchcraft Series Book 1)

For a beginner, excited by the possibility of magic and ritual, this is a wonderful booklet to start with! Cassandra Larsen’s short booklet is more of a hands-on manual. It guides the reader in understanding the key concepts that traditional Wiccan spirituality practice. The booklet becomes interactive in nature by inviting the reader to begin on a journey of practicing Wicca for themselves. Larsen notes, “This guide will teach you the basics of Wiccan beliefs, along with meditation and visualization exercises designed to open your mind and expand your consciousness” (5). The author is able to accomplish this by breaking the book down by each chapter. Even though this a short booklet it is productive that there are chapters. The organization helps the reader to enjoy and also start to practice this new spiritual reality. Another productive feature of this booklet is that each chapter builds on each other. What is really nice is Larsen doesn’t assume you know anything, she is your guide, and that is what makes this booklet all the more enjoyable.

The first chapter is dedicated to introducing you to key concepts and quickly moves into the second chapter. Chapter two creates space for the practice of meditation, visualization, and energy work to be explored by the reader (13-21). Larsen then provides a handy third chapter on a glossary of tools and what they do. Larsen then takes the reader into a more practitioner’s position by discussing how to do “Circle Casting.” Larsen states, “Casting a circle is a way to create sacred space, preparing the area for magick…my purpose in this book is to teach easy, practical rituals and spells, I will outline a simple ritual for circle casting” (33).  The author moves on to chapter five and discusses the holidays or sabbat for each season. Discussing each sabbat and its meaning and ways you can practice celebrating these days. Lastly, chapter six was one of my favorite chapters in terms of how Larsen takes a list of days, moon phases, colors, stones, and different herbs and discusses what they provoke and how we can embody their energies and magick!

I would recommend this booklet to anyone who is interested in practicing Wicca.  I should mention there were times I had to stop reading and look some of the concepts up. I needed a little more insight than what was provided. I was left wanting a little bit more. One thing that might have taken this booklet to the next level would have been illustrations. I think not providing pictures was a missed opportunity by Larsen. Finally, I believe the author met her goal in this booklet. Larsen set out to create an accessible narrative on Wiccan tradition and practice and she accomplished that goal. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this booklet and will probably read it again– I liked it that much!

10/10

 

american feminist literature, american literature, feminist studies, feminist theory, herstory, history, history of africa, history of europe, history of india, history of magic, history of the united states, literature, political theory, postcolonial theory, religious studies, science and technology, short story, subaltern studies, Uncategorized, witchcraft, world history

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