The Candle and the Crossroads: A Book of Appalachian Conjure and Southern Root-Work, by Orion Foxwood
Weiser Books, 9781578635085, 234 pp., 2012
At first glance, I was expecting another introductory magic book with a bit of southern flair. On this front Orion Foxwood’s book does not disappoint, as it does provide a number of important basics in a clear, easily understood, and practical way. However, what really makes this book compelling is that in addition to the basics of Conjure, there are a few other interesting strands in the fabric of this book. These include auto-biographical elements, auto-ethnographical elements, and a sense of spirituality that goes beyond the use of magic as a simply occult means to practical ends.
Biographically, Foxwood opens a window onto his life growing up in the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia, and his later move to Maryland. He tells us about conversations with his mother and mother’s midwife, both practitioners of Conjure. His lived experience is an effective vehicle to introduce us to both Conjure and the culture it comes from.
Ethnographically, we are introduced to the magical side of southern culture in an engaging and accessible way. We see a world where African, European, and Native folk magic have come together to make a uniquely American, and uniquely southern system of magic. It is syncretic and eclectic, yet coherent and profoundly grounded in the land and the history of the people who live there.
On the ‘how to’ side of things, The Candle and the Crossroads is not over-stuffed with dozens of recipes tailored to various ends. You will not find formulas and spells for love, money, luck, or cursing. Instead, it emphasises some very important basics, which are important not only for beginners but serve as a foundation for an effective practice. Foxwood emphasises the need for cleansing and clearing, both ritually and in how one lives. He looks at techniques for working via prayer, with fire and candles, with the river, with the crossroads, with the cemetery and the ancestors. And, yes there is some discussion of various roots and other magical substances, but this is not the primary focus of the book. Don’t get me wrong, there is enough here for the experimentally minded among us to dip into the practice of Conjure, but in many ways this book is more about preparing the practitioner than detailing all the minutia of the practice itself. That said, there are some very clear descriptions of how to cultivate a powerful and empowering prayer life, how to get and use grave yard dirt, how to engage the Rider at the Crossroad, and more.
At its heart, this book is about a way of engaging the world – magical and self-empowering, to be sure – but it is the actual call to connection that is most important in this book. Foxwood calls us to connect with the living, with the dead, with plants and place, with the past, with a certain culture, and with the divine. He describes a form of magic grounded in building relationship with the spirits, both for your own personal development and making the world around you a better place. “The conjurer conjures from the spirit, for the spirit, and through the spirit. No exceptions ever!”1 The most important ‘root’ in ‘root work,’ the most valuable spirit in ‘spirit work’ is your own Spirit, which must be cleansed and nourished and firmly grounded in who you are, where you come from, and why you are here.
In the end, this book attempts to convey not only a basic knowledge of Conjure, but the foundational wisdom of Conjure. And while neither wisdom nor acculturation can be gained through a book, I think that Foxwood points the way as well as can be done within the bounds of the printed word.
- p. 73 [↩]