foundation of conjure

Book Excerpt: Old Style Conjure- Hoodoo, Rootwork, & Folk Magic by Starr Casas

September, 2017


Despite all the information out there on Conjure, no one to my knowledge has ever written about its foundation. You see plenty of works, or “spells” as outsiders call the work, but there is no mention of the foundation of this work. Is it because folks don’t think it’s important? Is it because they really don’t know? Or is it something else? It really is food for thought. It is one of the first lessons I learned as a young worker and one of the most important.

I have found in today’s conjure world that it isn’t enough for folks to know the work; they want to “own” the knowledge. They seem to want to claim it when it isn’t theirs to claim. This work is borrowed, because it belongs to someone else. Are you wondering what I am talking about? Like my elder Mr. Robert used to say, “Let me break it down for you.”

Are you thinking that the foundation of the work is the ingredients that go into the work? If so, you’re wrong. The foundation of this work is the ancestors who brought the work over on the slave ships! Conjure didn’t exist over here until the slaves were transported here. That’s one of the reasons Conjure is part of the South. The ships docked in the South, and all the Southern states were “slave” states! The ancestors’ beliefs became part of the Southern culture. The only thing the kidnapped ancestors had was their knowledge. They didn’t have a backpack filled with roots, herbs, and remedies; all that information was in their heads. They only had the clothes that were on their backs. They suffered untold miseries in the bottom of slave ships being taken halfway around the world to an unknown place. Then they were off the ship and on the slave block being sold like ani­mals, but they still had their knowledge and their pride. Can you imagine how much willpower it took to stand docile while in chains and having folks poke and prod you? Or how about never being able to lift your head in pride or to be able to look a white person in the face?

This work—Conjure—came out of their misery and suffer­ing; it came from their blood being spilled. It came from their deaths. The work was done and passed on to help protect the family. The law stay away work was done to keep the slave patrols from finding the runaways. Dollies were made to bind or influence the slave master or overseer. Justice work was done to try and bring justice to an unjust situation. These works came alive from the need to survive.

The blood, suffering, and deaths of the ancestors ensure that this work belongs to them. They should be honored and remembered for their great gift. They are truly the foundation of Conjure, and we must all remember without them there would be no Conjure, Hoodoo, or Rootwork, or whatever name you wish to call the work.

Honoring the ancestors of this work will empower your work. I know this topic makes folks uncomfortable, but it must be discussed in order to give the ancestors their due, which is so sorely lacking. Some folks might not like what I am saying, but that is not my problem. It is theirs. The ancestors of this work deserve to be honored and uplifted for all that they gave. With more folks getting DNA testing done and finding out family histories, questions can arise. Here are some questions that I have been asked over the years by some of my students.

Q. Do you have to be of African descent to practice Conjure?

A. No, but you must honor and acknowledge the ancestors of this work.


Q. I did an ancestry search and I found out genera­tions back my folks were slavers; can I still be a conjure worker?

A. Yes. What better way to right a wrong than to uplift and honor the ancestors of this work?


Q. My family is racist; do I have the right to do conjure work?

A. Respect and honor go hand in hand. We are not responsible for what others do. We are only responsible for our own actions. If something within you is calling you to this work, then I would say as long as you uplift the ances­tors of this work and honor them, then there is no reason why you can’t.


Q. What do you mean when you say to honor and uplift the ancestors of Conjure?

A. We are all guests in this work; it doesn’t belong to any of us. When I say “honor,” I mean for you to maintain a small space for these ancestors, a place where you can offer a cool drink or say a prayer for them. By doing this you are not only showing them respect, but you are feeding their spirits and uplifting them.


I have been asked these four questions many times by new students. The important thing is to understand that we don’t have the right to just take this work without giving the ances­tors their due. Set up a small altar and dedicate it to the ances­tors of Conjure. I have a large altar in my home and the whole family burns lights on it when the need arises, but I am the keeper of the altar.

**Adapted, and reprinted with permission from Weiser an imprint of Red Wheel/Weiser, OLD STYLE CONJURE  by Starr Casas is available wherever books and ebooks are sold or directly from the publisher at or 800-423-7087.


Author Bio:

Starr Casas, a veteran rootworker and traditional conjure woman, has been helping people for over 35 years through her ancestral art of old style conjure. She is one of the preeminent modern masters of this southern American style of folk magic, and she maintains an active teaching schedule. Starr is also among the organizers of the annual New Orleans Folk Magic Festival.