African Americans are a colorful people, who claim some of the most phenomenal talents, elaborate philosophies, and eccentric belief systems. One thing about Black religion and spirituality is that we know how to have us some church.
From the dancing and singing to the worshiping and preaching, when we get down, we get down. It would almost be appropriate to say that in church, temple, mass, mosque and whatever other service you can think of, we always seem to welcome in the spirit of the Higher Being, the ancestors, or respective spirits.
While not every service and culture within the Black community is the same, generally speaking, few would argue that we are, what more conservative worshippers call, charismatic.
No matter how far we may think we stray from Africa and the spirit within our blood, it almost seems as if we never left the continent after all. One thing about Black fellowship is that it is not necessarily “normal” in the eyes of many White Americans.
If you can remember the reality series “Black. White.,” which followed a Black family and a White family as they were exposed to their counterpart’s world, one of the episode can attest to the differences.
When the White family went to the Black family’s church, their reactions were quite interesting to watch, to say the least. Afterwards, the husband and wife of the family commented on how the Black church was much like a big party.
The fact of the matter is, we still worship and praise like our ancestors and our brothers and sisters on the continent do–we conjure spirits.
Before you tense up and decide conjure means doing some witchcraft and hoodoo stuff, know that conjure simply means to summons, call forth, or produce something.
In the case of religion, many of us call on the name of Jesus, the Holy Spirit, Allah, Olodumare, Saint Paul, and a host of other spiritual figures. We often perform prayers of healing, laying of hands, prophesying, and believe in the manifestation of God in the spirit.
Conjuring is in our nature.
Before being brought to the United States, Black people practiced traditions of the ancestors, believed in a higher being, and entertained the terrestrial spirits with charms, songs, and praises.
After being indoctrinated with Westernized traditions, our ideas clashed and eventually merged as we formed our own versions of Christianity and other religious ideals.
Yvonne Chireau, author of “Black Magic: Religion and the African American Conjuring Tradition,” explains that during chattel slavery, some Black people were widely known among their peers and Whites to possess “magical powers” that could heal, curse, help, and even kill others.
These conjurers, those who possessed supernatural powers, often blended within the church and either worked with or as the leader of the congregation. These influential practitioners often used charms as a conduit of their powers and spells. Both men and women would prophesy, see visions, discern the truth, and dream dreams, much like the prophets, preachers, prayers, and visionaries many Black religious institutions honor today.
Post slavery, there were those who held onto more overt African traditions, while others adopted the oppressor’s form of spiritual living. Chireau noted, however, that within Black religious practices, there was/is an apparent resemblance to traditional African practices including conjuring.
In reference to “slave religion,” Chireau writes, “In the theological scheme of Christianity, salvation and morality were given priority and perhaps more so than individual security.
Chireau adds, “in contrast to the way that faith issues were conceived in Christianity, Conjure beliefs applied to an individual’s most pressing and immediate conditions such as physical well-being. Spiritually pragmatic, Black Americans were able to move between Conjure and Christianity because both were perceived as viable systems for accessing the supernatural world, and each met needs that the other did not.”
The author continued, “The relationship between Conjure and Christianity was fluid and constantly shifting. Supernatural practitioners often adopted symbols from Christian traditions for use in their own practices and rituals. Protective charms, for example, were endowed by specialists with spiritual potency ‘in the name of the Lord.’”
She added that while conjure traditions were more prominent among enslaved Africans, Black people often referred to the Bible as the “greatest Conjure book in the world” and revered Moses as the greatest Conjurer for the miracle workings he often performed in Exodus.
Conjuring is a multifaceted concept that has been explored by many researchers. Needless to say, when we look back at our ancestry and our enslavement history, our present practices often times reflect those of our forefathers and foremothers.