Black Magic: Religion and the African American Conjuring Tradition

Black Magic: Religion and the African American Conjuring Tradition

Black Magic: Religion and the African American Conjuring Tradition

Black Magic: Religion and the African American Conjuring Tradition

Synopsis

"Chireau has written a marvelous text on an important dimension of African-American religious culture. Expanding beyond the usual focus of scholarship on Christianity, she describes and analyzes the world of magical-medical-religious practice, challenging hallowed distinctions among "religion" and "magic." Anyone interested in African-American religion will need to reckon seriously with Chireau's text on conjure."--Albert J. Raboteau, Princeton University

"Deprived of their own traditions and defined as chattel, enslaved Africans formed a new orientation in America. Conjuring--operating alongside of and within both the remnants of African culture and the acquired traditions of North America--served as a theoretical and practical mode of deciphering and divining within this, enabling them to create an alternate meaning of life in the New World. Chireau's is the first full-scale treatment of this important dimension of African American culture and religion. A wonderful book!"--Charles H. Long, Professor of History of Religions University of California, Santa Barbara and author of "Significations: Signs, Symbols and Images in the Interpretation of Religion

Excerpt

A remarkable moment occurs in the climax of the 1992 film Daughters of the Dust. the setting is a sheltered key, hidden within a cluster of islands off the coasts of Georgia and South Carolina. the time is a few years past the turn of the twentieth century. the scene opens on a golden afternoon. a family is gathering to say good-bye, for on this day some of them will travel North, to better jobs, new schools, greater opportunities. Those who depart will leave behind a community they have been a part of for generations. They will also leave behind the elderly matriarch of their clan, Nana Peazant. Nana beckons her children to join in a communion ceremony, for she wants to give them “a part of herself” to take with them. She clutches a leather pouch that is tightly wound with string and attached to a Bible. It contains personal keepsakes, such as a twist of her mother's hair and her own, some dried flowers, and various roots and herbs. Nana calls it a hand. Like herself, it embodies the spirits of the “Old Souls, ” those enslaved Africans who touched down more than a century earlier on the backwater jetty known as Ibo landing. Offering the hand to her kin, Nana calls them to pay homage before embarking on their journey. She believes that their collective memory—and the power of her charm—will sustain them as

Facing page illustration: advertisement from an eighteenth-century newspaper for an escaped slave, described as “a fortuneteller and Conjurer. ” Hall's Wilmington Gazette (North Carolina), October 1798.

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