african diasporic religions
conjure > witchcraft
“what is the racialization of witchcraft?”
Dr. Margarita Guillory
If you haven’t already, I strongly encourage you to check out the slideshow and podcast I posted to Canvas last time. My conversation with Dr. Fadeke Castor is especially useful in outlining the core characteristics of ADR.
What we’re reading/listening to
- Guillory, “African Diaspora Conjuring Practices,” on Shelf Love (podcast)
- Washington, “Introduction,” from Our Mothers, Our Powers, Our Texts
- Clark, “19th Century New Orleans Voudou,” in American Religion
- African Traditional Religions (ATR)
- African Diasporic Religions (ADR)
African Diasporic Religions
Again, please do watch the slideshow and listen to the podcast conversation with Dr. Castor if you can. But here are some basics it’s important to know for our discussion of ADRs.
- diaspora refers to the scattering of a once-concentrated population
- African Diasporic Religions are traditions that preserve or recreate practices carried by enslaved Indigenous African peoples (African Traditional Religions, or ATR) sto what’s now North, Central, and South America.
- To preserve these traditions, practitioners often blended ATR worldviews with their enslavers’ Christianity. This blending of traditions is known as hybridity. Many contemporary practitioners of ADRs, Conjure, etc. are also Christian.
- As we saw in Daughters of the Dust, ADRs emphasize connection with spirits and ancestors and often pass on history, morality, and survival strategies through storytelling.
Washington introduces us to the concept of Àjé in African Traditional Religions and African Diasporic Traditions.
“Àjé is the furtive force the Great Mother used to create life and ensure evolution…Àjé’s covert and resilient properties connected ancient Africa and the fractured but shining African Americas.” (Washington 2005, 4)
What does this mean? Why is Àjé an important concept in ATRs and ADRs? What work does Àjé do, especially when, as Washington says, concepts like “witch, witchcraft, and Wicca left me as isolated and marginalized as Eurocentric feminism” (ibid., 3)?
Guillory, “African Diaspora Conjuring Practices”
066. African Diaspora Conjuring Practices in Popular Culture
Dr. Margarita Guillory, associate professor of religion at BU, shares her knowledge about the history of African…
Dr. Guillory teaches right across town from us at Boston University, and is one of the biggest names in ADR scholarship. I especially love that such a respected scholar is sharing her work on a podcast about romance novels!
I really appreciate this interview, especially because I think Guillory helps us understand why ADR practitioners might not want to call themselves witches and how complex and nuanced ADRs like Voudou, Lucumí, and Candomblé are. (She also cites Dr. Yvonne Chireau, whom we’ll be reading next time!)
“Conjuring is… is making something out of nothing. What do I mean by that? That means that the individual practitioner has the ability to make things happen, that they have an inert power or they can manipulate materiality to make things happen.”
This sounds a lot like what Dr. Castor said, right? That ADRs “make a way out of no way.” What does this mean? How does Guillory help us understand why Black people in the 21st century might be drawn to ADRs or Conjure?
Racialization refers to the coding of certain practices, certain bodies, and certain ways of being in the world as inherent, essential, and unchanging/unchangeable. We’re talking about racialization a lot in my Cults & Sects class, if you want to learn more aabout this concept:
What do we think Guillory means by “the racialization of witchcraft?” How does popular culture contribute to the racialization of witchcraft, according to Guillory, and why does this racialization of witchcraft matter? How do we see Washington’s concerns about “witch, witchcraft, and Wicca” reflected in Guillory’s critique?
Clark, “19th Century New Orleans Voudou”
As Guillory points out, “American Horror Story: Coven” doesn’t accurately depict Voudou and perpetuates some racist stereotypes about its practitioners. This explainer they made about Voudou in New Orleans is a bit melodramatic, but it’s a decent overview of the tradition’s history and practices.
(You might have noticed that AHS: Coven and Clark use different spellings. Many practitioners associate “voodoo” with the kind of racist stereotypes Guillory is critiquing; Voudou or Vodou is usually the preferred spelling for this ADR.)
Dr. Clark tells us from the jump that she argues Voudou in New Orleans is
- American religion
So: why is New Orleans Voudou American? Why is it religion? Why is it American religion? And why do these designations matter? What can New Orleans Voudou teach us about the racialization of American religion?