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Tuesday, May 8, 2012

High John the Conquerer

High John the Conquerer Roots
High John the Conquerer is an important part of my conjure practice. It isn't uncommon to find roots used in hoodoo to great effect, but few have quite the same sort of reverence and mojo backing them up.

Zora Neale Hurston writes a little about High John the Conquerer, saying
High John de Conquer came to be a man, and a mighty man at that. But he was not a natural man in the beginning. First off, he was a whisper, a will to hope, a wish to find something worthy of laughter and song. Then the whisper put on flesh.
She goes on to paint a picture of a sort of trickster messiah, who came to African slaves with songs of a new world, since they'd left their old songs behind in Africa (using the term "songs" to clearly mean something other than music, but more like "attunement with the magic of a land").



He is a laughing figure, playing tricks on "Ol' Massa" and teaching the slaves how to laugh again. He also teaches them to steal away, leaving their bodies working or resting while they go off to Heaven or to Hell, to come away with the songs they find there. He teaches them to find love by joy, to find riches by trickery and to seize luck with both hands. Laughter and song are his gifts, and the themes of his presence, and he kept up his wandering, until freedom came. Of this, she says:

So after a while, freedom came. Therefore High John de Conquer has not walked the winds of America for seventy-five years now. His people had their freedom, their laugh and their song. They have traded it to the other Americans for things they could use like education and property, and acceptance. High John knew that that was the way it would be, so he could retire with his secret smile into the soil of the South and wait.

The thousands upon thousands of humble people who still believe in him, that is, in the power of love and laughter to win by their subtle power, do John reverence by getting the root of the plant in which he has taken up his secret dwelling, and "dressing" it with perfume, and keeping it on their person, or in their houses in a secret place. It is there to help them overcome things they feel that they could not beat otherwise, and to bring them the laugh of the day. John will never forsake the weak and the helpless, nor fail to bring hope to the hopeless.
The image of this beautiful figure, the unfortunate's tricker messiah, there to bring laughter and hope back into the world and to give poor folks that little advantage they need in a rich man's world. Is it any wonder that the High John root has such a highly-regarded place in hoodoo, which was so often the last resort of poor folks who couldn't afford the well-educated specialists of the world? Is it any wonder that conjure has magical work to take the place of the priest in passing down blessings, the doctor in giving succor, the lawyer in giving power over the law and the court?

And at the center of it, reclining until he's needed, is Ol' John the Conquerer, a smile on his face. Take up that ol' root, dress it nice and tell him what you need.

You might be surprised how well he listens.



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