Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Book Review: Mountain Conjure and Southern Root Work by Orion Foxwood

book review, conjure, witchcraft, granny magic, folk magic, root work, rootwork, pagan, neopagan, witch

Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

The last two months I haven't done a lot of reading. This is partially due to the stress of a new semester with new challenges. In the ever-changing COVID world, it's all I, or anyone for that matter, can do to keep up! However, I have recently been able to sit down and start reading some of the books that have been piling up precariously on my nightstand. Seriously...the stack is getting out of control, but I can't say no to books! My latest read is Mountain Conjure and Southern Root Work by Orion Foxwood

I have always been interested in conjure and root work, but seeing as it's not a family tradition I have left it alone. Conjure arose from the need to fight oppression, especially among the poor and disenfranchised. As poor as many of my family was historically, conjure never found its way into our traditions, but the tomtee and other faerie folk sure did. Needless to say, when Weiser/Red Wheel sent me a lovely Yule package that contained Mountain Conjure and Southern Root Work I placed the book at the top of my stack. Foxwood is a native of Virginia and the Appalachian Mountains. Mountain conjure or "granny magic" has many similarities to the variety of conjure practices found in other parts of the United States, especially Louisiana. Like other forms of conjure, it is passed down within families and towns and used as a way to get ahead in life when the entire system is rigged against you. Foxwood was born into the tradition of mountain conjure and spent the rest of his life honing his practice, not just in conjure but in multiple forms of magic, including Alexandrian Wicca and faery magic. His life experiences and diversity in the Craft offer a unique take on Southern conjure and makes him an expert in his field. As someone who is relatively unfamiliar with conjure outside of one or two books and an abundance of highly inaccurate TV shows and movies, I appreciate learning about the topic from someone who was raised in the tradition.

Foxwood covers a variety of topics regarding Southern conjure, including his personal experiences, the origins of conjure, how to grow your spirit, and work with spirits. For obvious reasons, the sections on working with spirits were my favorite chapters and I will likely return to them again and again over the years. When documenting his personal journey, Foxwood mentions that mountain conjure is a combination of traditions from multiple cultures, including BIPOC cultures. I am adamantly opposed to cultural appropriation but recognize all forms of conjure arose from a need within the community, no matter your background. Conjure is, by definition, a hodgepodge of African, Native American, and European traditions wrapped up into one powerful magical practice. When the Europeans came over and soon after brought the first African slaves, the cultures of the oppressed collided to provide a magical outlet to fight the oppressors. It helped the slaves revolt, the Native Americans survive, and the poor white folk overcome economic disparities in the Appalachian Mountains. I appreciate Foxwood calling attention to the history of conjure and where the practices came from while making it abundantly clear that respect of its history and where the practices originate from is a must. However, I found it problematic that Foxwood encourages smudging as a cleansing practice.

I loved how Foxwood related the parts of the Otherworld to the physical features of the Appalachian Mountains and the American foothills. I always encourage witches, new and old alike, to build a local practice and what better way than to traverse the Otherworld using the terrain you are most familiar with? While I find traveling a tree to be easiest, there is something to be said for seeing the Otherworld in your own backyard. Foxwood also includes incredible guides for working with the dead and Death himself, honoring your ancestors, collecting graveyard dirt (truly this one of my favorite sections of the entire book and I will be adding his suggestions to my Grimoire in the future), and how to enter the Otherworld from a conjure perspective. As a hedgewitch, I found Foxwood's interpretation of spirit work intriguing and his perspective offered fresh insight into how I view my own practice. Needless to say, I was left with something to chew on and some possible new techniques to use in the future.

Overall I greatly enjoyed the book, but I definitely went back and forth while reading it. I mentioned on more than one occasion to my partner that I wasn't sure how I really felt about the book and I think this largely lies in the focus on God as the Spirit. I fully recognize that conjure incorporates Christian practices and the Bible. In fact, most who practice conjure also go to church every Sunday and would probably knock you upside the head if you suggested they were not God-fearing Christians. It was a struggle for me to separate Foxwood's God from my vision of the Universe as the source. I had to keep reminding myself that we are simply giving a different name to the same source of energy that created all there is. I have a lot of negative associations with God and Christianity which has left a very sour taste in my mouth. If you are the same way, I encourage you to replace the word and apply it to your religious or atheistic views. The knowledge Foxwood has to share is valuable and worth understanding.

While looking past the Christian undertones (or overtone?) of the book was a challenge for me at times, what really bothered me about the book was a brief mention that your soul chooses your parents prior to being born. This seems to be a growing belief among many practitioners of magic and it is one that has always bothered me. There are so many of us that are born into absolutely horrid situations fraught with abuse and trauma. When we say that your soul chose this path, it's victim-blaming and spiritually bypassing very real problems. Usually, when I find this in books and articles it's accompanied with a brief history of the author and their loving relationship with their parents. Those without loving and supporting parents often do not believe their soul chose to live such a life. When I read about children being purposely beaten and killed by their parents, locked in a hot car, or sexually abused, I can't for a moment believe their soul chose that path.

Sorry, I got a little dark there at the end, but I needed to get it off my chest. Whether you are interested in mountain conjure, looking for fresh insights into magical practices, or wishing to grow your spirit work practice, Mountain Conjure and Southern Root Work by Orion Foxwood is a great place to start. It was a refreshing read, especially with the growing number of books on Wicca hitting the market on what seems like a daily basis. The book left with me, as a more traditional European hedgewitch, a lot to think about and will likely be a book I return to in the future. You can purchase Mountain Conjure and Southern Root Work by Orion Foxwood now!

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  1. I always appreciate your book reviews, as I feel they are thorough and fair. This is definitely a practice I know next to nothing about, and it's interesting to hear about different beliefs and views.

    1. Thank you! These are some of my favorite posts to write. There are so many books on the market and book reviews definitely help people sort through what is worth spending the money on and what isn't.

  2. Thank you for this excellent review. I truly appreciate how honest, fair, and inclusive your posts (book centered and otherwise) are, Willow.

    While it is virtually impossible to know for sure, I too raise a healthily skeptical eyebrow at the concept that our souls/spirits/universal energies chose our parents before birth. Is it impossible? No, of course not, but given how many truly difficult (if not hellish) childhoods have been experienced over the course of time, I tend to doubt most souls would knowingly subject themselves to such brutal treatment.

    On a less sombre note. I hope that your have a sunny, serene, and very safe March, my dear friend.

    Autumn Zenith 🧡 Witchcrafted Life

    1. Thank you, Autumn! I hope you and yours enjoy a lovely March as well. Hopefully the snow is leaving you behind so you can get outside more!


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