World History Connected Home    
Home List journal issues Table of contents
Printer-friendly format          

Book Review


Chireau, Yvonne P. Black Magic: Religion and The African American Conjuring Tradition (University of California Press, 2003). 231 pp, $34.95.

Yvonne P. Chireau, associate professor of religion at Swarthmore College and coeditor of Black Zion, has written a wonderful book on conjure, "the African American tradition of healing and harming that evolved from African, European, and American elements." The book is a descriptive exploration of African-American supernatural culture. On her website, Chireau states that she became a professor of religion because "religion was an unparalleled vehicle for making sense of just about all aspects of the human experience." 1
     Chireau's Black Magic shows how the African-American religious experience is a testimony of the human experience. Chireau focuses on the tradition of conjure which had its roots in Africa and became fully developed in the southern United States during and after slavery. The conjure tradition changed over time as African-Americans came into contact with people of other cultures and migrated from the South to the North. 2
     African-Americans used conjure and Christianity to suit their needs. Conjurers created magic by using charms, herbs or other devices. Magic was an acceptable aspect of African-American religion. Conjuring was serious business and African-Americans believed that conjure could be used to help as well as harm. Chireau argues that while magic may seem to be the opposite of religion, in the world of African-Americans it may in fact have been its mirror image. Christianity was therefore not the only morality teaching that African-Americans used on a daily basis. Although not all African-Americans accepted conjure as a valid practice, many of them did. 3
     The most interesting chapter of the book is titled "We All Believed in Hoodoo" which traces conjure tradition in popular culture. Chireau gives excellent examples of how elements of conjure can be seen in the African-American blues and folk literature traditions. Throughout the book, Chireau refers to the works of several prominent writers who have written on conjure such as Zora Neale Hurston. 4
     Chireau analyzes how the conjuring tradition is worthy of scholarly study. Her work is extremely important because conjure has often been overlooked and seen negatively within the African-American community and worldwide. In African-American communities today conjure practice is becoming more popular and appreciated. 5
      Chireau's book includes excellent illustrations of a magic manual, charms, conjurers, and newspaper advertisements. This book, which is a revised doctoral dissertation, is suitable for graduate students in a course on American religion or African-American history. Scholars will also find this book to be a very valuable resource. Chireau's excellent, exhaustive notes provide the reader with more information and sources for further study. World history teachers at the undergraduate or high school level might read this book to prepare for a lecture on religion. 6
Claudette L. Tolson
Harold Washington College

Home | List Journal Issues | Table of Contents
© 2008 by the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois
Content in World History Connected is intended for personal, noncommercial use only. You may not reproduce, publish, distribute, transmit, participate in the transfer or sale of, modify, create derivative works from, display, or in any way exploit the World History Connected database in whole or in part without the written permission of the copyright holder.

Terms and Conditions of Use