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Saturday, May 5, 2012

Ol' John Bear

Ol' John Bear and my Crossroads Keys
There are strong connections between roots and spirits in hoodoo. Though many herbs are revered for their strong mojo and the benefits derived from them, roots are often accorded a different sort of place entirely. It's not uncommon for a root doctor to speak to the herbs he works with, interacting with them as though they were their very own people, in some way (albeit somewhat simple-minded and focused ones).

Zora Neale Hurston talks about the legend of High John the Conquerer, a trickster figure in Southern African-American slave-lore named after the root (or for whom the root is named). In it, he promised to always come and lend aid when folks held that particular root.

Now, some conjurers will find a particular affinity with a given root, most often a High John the Conquerer root. This affinity usually develops into something of a working relationship: the root lends aid in conjure workings, adding it's own contributions of mojo to the trick, while the conjurer feeds and names the root, as is done with a toby.

Sometimes, though, that root worker will use something else entirely. A certain Louisiana conjure woman I knew had a room full of antique, porcelain-headed and -handed dolls. She would unstitch the backs of the dolls, and nestle that root into the doll's torso, and then stitch it back up. She liked to say that it "gave her a face to talk to," which is something I eventually came to understand as I worked with my own roots.

Once I started working conjure for real, I found myself one of those roots right fast. Truthfully, it was a root that was given to me by one of my beloved conjure mentors, Orion Foxwood when I first started bugging him about hoodoo and conjure.

As time went on, I found myself desiring a "face to talk to" for my own practice. Now, my root felt tough and grounded, no-nonsense in a way, and I thought about and discarded several possible vessels because they just didn't work. So, rather than forcing something that just wouldn't fly, I let it sit for a while.

A bit later, on another visit to Atlanta, Orion gave me a beautiful treasure: the skull of a black bear. This skull once sat on the northern altar of his coven's witchcraft Circle. It was lightly stained with green droplets here and there from the green candle used on that altar, and I immediately fell in love with him. It was a short jump from there to finding that my High John root actually fit perfectly into the little space in the back of the bear's skull where his spine was once attached to his head.

So, with that root sitting firmly in the place where brain and spine once met in that old bear, things changed. There was a distinct, wonderful earthy presence to the bear's skull that has melded over time with that High John root into my Ol' John Bear. I always anoint and feed him before I do any work, and I know he's going to lend a hand, conjure-wise, where it's needed. His presence is steady and comforting, and I know that if I'm not at my best, he'll be there to back me up.

And that's the story of my Ol' John Bear.


  1. The inclusion of the black bear's tooth on that ancestor necklace I gifted you, was inspired by Ol' John Bear. Just so ya' know.


  2. Oh, I remember. And I love it dearly, too. :)