You might have heard about this little anthology I’ve got coming out that I co-created and co-edited with Emily Lavin Leverett, call The Big Bad II. All month I’ll be hosting guest blog posts from authors in the anthology talking about the Evolution of Evil – how they came up with their story for The Big Bad. This is Eden Royce’s take.
But no, I don’t go out spellcasting…anymore. I’ve got a decent job and no criminal record and it’s gonna stay that way.
I’ve read a great deal about voodoo in short stories and novels, and have watched even more movies that use it. For the most part, authors and filmmakers tend to take one path when portraying conjure magic: It’s evil and must be destroyed. The same goes for the practitioners. Oh, and they’re usually old. Or ugly. Or both.
In these tales, voodoo is practiced in tiny hovels in the backwoods of “insert Podunk town name here”, Louisiana or on the dusty, impoverished streets of the Haitian mainland. Spells are directed at seemingly blameless people out of spite or for some nebulous reason only the truly evil mind could understand. And the practitioners are either hideous crones, or beautiful, yet demented women who dance partially clothed in the swamps at midnight, slashing the necks of flailing chickens.
I wanted to change that perception.
And with that, the confusion between conjure magics. What movies show as voodoo is usually not. Many people now know, unlike some of the writers of books and movies from the last century, voodoo, or Vodoun, is a religion practiced alongside Catholicism, which itself is ritual heavy. Yet the stereotype of it being steeped in evildoing and the love of destruction persists.
Hoodoo and other conjure magics are typically not as flagrant in their applications as the many iterations of Vodoun. Who wants to get caught sprinkling brink dust in someone’s yard? Ooooh, scary…
Authors and filmmakers understandably focus on the dark side of conjure magic. Blood and ritual is always alluring in horror circles. The unknown, the unusual can be most frightening—and fascinating. Conjure can be cool and/or creepy to someone unfamiliar with it, but what if it’s the norm?
My great aunt was a practioner of root, the Carolina’s term for hoodoo and conjure. Most of the time, people came to her for helpful spells, not things to hurt other people. (I’m not sure she would have done a negative spell.) My great aunt was scraping six feet tall and her frame filled most of a doorway. She drove a late model Cadillac and always told the best stories, punctuated by her table-slapping laugh. The ones I remember were hilarious—from people asking to win big in the local number-running racket to people that wanted to get their boss off their back.
My cousin went to her for a potion so she could marry before she was thirty. I’m not saying it was because of the spell, but she got married the week before she turned thirty. I was in the wedding, but I wish I asked for a spell to make her pick another bridesmaid’s dress. *Shudders*
Anyway, I wanted my story to reflect what I grew up with in regard to root. The side where women are strong and powerful, but with an elegance and grace under fire. Women who helped each other and worked their magic for the greater good, even if that meant breaking a few heads. Uh, I mean eggs. My Big Bad story is a world where these women are compensated well for their talents. Where workers of hoodoo, conjure, root—whatever term you want to use—were normal people who held jobs, paid taxes, and raised families. But cross them and you would find your death served to you on a silver platter. With a slice of pound cake.
I set the story back in time just a bit. I stepped back into turn of the twentieth century Charleston, where you showed manners to those you despised, and what others thought of you mattered. Here the racial dividing line was thick, but for the right reason, people were willing to step over it.
Where did the title come from? From my early attempts to explain root magic to people outside of the family:
Root is conjure magic.
Have you heard of hoodoo?
No. Is that like voodoo?
Not exactly, but it’s Voodooesque.