There are a few different definitions of the word conjure, but my favorites are the ones considered purely magical.
To conjure something is to create it, as if out of nothing, whether it be something tangible — like a ring, or abstract — like a story.
To make something happen [as if] by magic.
The older definitions, rendered obsolete by those outside of the magical realm, include words like: to command, to invoke, or as it’s most often used — to work folk magic according to a particularly American system.
Conjure as a magical system is a blend of traditions originating in culture and folk magic from the areas of Appalachian America — northern Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi, parts of Tennessee and the Carolinas, Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia, Ohio, and eastern Pennsylvania. The tools and items used in Conjure are typically simple: roots, herbs, oils, plants and flowers… but it doesn’t shy away from, and is perhaps best known for (for better or worse) its use of personals— things like spit, urine, hair, fingernails, sexual fluids, and even blood.
The deep roots of of this culture turn up in lots of songs, especially old jazz and mountain standards going back generations. Here are just a few examples:
“Crossroads” by Robert Johnson
“These Old Bones” by Dolly Parton
Conjure is very much a form of sympathetic magic — a type of magic where one thing stands in for another. This thing may take the form of a poppet or doll, a candle, or a small cloth pouch stuffed with ingredients, variously known as a gris-gris, mojo bag, or toby. The item is used to represent the focus or target of the conjuring — such as a working for healing– or as a focal point for the magic being worked if not aimed at a particular person — like working to bring money or luck to yourself.
Having personal family roots in the Ohio Valley through my mother’s ancestry, I fell into working Conjure with the ease of slipping into a favorite, comfy pair of shoes. Some of my family (mainly the womenfolk) were doing magical things without ever truly considering them as such, simply because that’s how it had always been done and I love implementing these small bits of family and folk tradition into my own practices — things like, “moving the broom” when you have a house guest who just doesn’t want to leave, and “don’t throw out old bread” because that’s inviting debt and loss into your life, are rooted into my core. I think that’s what Conjure is like, really. It’s natural for those who learn it and wish to work it and when it fits, you’ll always have it with you.
Conjure is also typically associated with the term Hoodoo, and I use them almost interchangeably. Hoodoo brings elements of African American culture and folk traditions to Conjure. One thing Hoodoo is not totally interchangeable with, despite sounding similar to, is Voodoo.
Voodoo– or more correctly Voudun/Voodoun/Vodun — is a magical religion rooted in the traditions of West Africa and brought to the Americas by black slaves. There are a few variances depending on if you’re looking at Haitian Voudou, New Orleans Voodoo, or some similar styles like Obeah, Ifa, and Santeria and Candomble. People who practice these religions may also incorporate the magical practices of Hoodoo, but Hoodoo itself is not religious. There are plenty of Hoodoo spells and rites that involve Christian prayers and psalms from the bible, because it’s a magical system and not a religious one. I’ve used this syncretism when working magic for Christian friends or clients** who are uncomfortable with other systems and practices.
Conjure employs a lot of baths, washes, scented oils, and candles. These are some of my favorite things about working it. Basically, you work with things most people have in their kitchen. Conjure is a folk magic practice, with its history in being simple and earthy. Other forms of magic often call for specific tools and items, lots of ceremony, and to be honest — money spent. Conjure can be done with the cinnamon, pepper, and olive oil in your pantry, a stone from your back yard, an old shirt you don’t wear anymore, and a candle.
At its most basic, I’ve done Conjure with a handful of wildflowers and a stick of chalk.
I have a previous blog post here of my personal recipe for Four Thieves Vinegar — one of my favorite ingredients in Conjure magic.
I want to go more in-depth on this topic, so I’ll come back to it again in the future in more detail. But I hope this summary and explanation of Conjure has been interesting for you.
**I’m not going to engage in any sort of religious/theological arguments about “How Christians wouldn’t consult a Witch or ask for magic to be done.” Because, in almost 30 years of personal experience and practice, I can tell you — Yes… Yes, they most certainly do. A LOT. I don’t judge them for this; it’s an individual’s prerogative, but it shouldn’t be denied that it happens.