John the Conqueror
High John the Conqueror root is one of the staples of African-American folk magic. Its use in mojo hands is as ubiquitous as its qualities are varied, and its very name signifies power and prosperity to many.
Who was John the Conqueror and what is the root named after him? Ethnographers, especially those influenced by Zora Neale Hurston, say that he was a black slave whose life -- perhaps a real life that was embellished in the telling, perhaps a fictional life entirely imagined -- was an inspiration to slaves who wanted to rebel against their masters but could not do so openly. John, said to be the son of an African king, was in captivity, but he never became subservient, and his cleverness at tricking his master supplied many a story with a pointed moral. If he was a real being, he soon acquired some of the characteristics of mythical trickster figures like the Native American Coyote, the African-American Bre'r Rabbit, and the West African deity known variously as Elegua, Legba, and Eshu. He gave -- only to take away. He bet -- and never lost. He played dumb -- but he was never outsmarted. The reputation of High John is so great that, as recorded by the folklorist Harry Middleton Hyatt in the 1930s, just reciting the words "John over John" and "John the Conqueror" is a powerful spell of magical protection against being hoodooed.
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