To stay within the law, conjure supplies were (and still are) sold as curios or novelties.

How does magical realism work?

I love this example, a passage from Sarah Addison Allen's Lost Lake:

"She used to draw tattoos of butterflies on her arms with Magic Markers. She would give them names, talk to them. carefully fill in the colors when they started to fade. When the time came that they wanted to be set free, she would blow on them and they would come to life, peeling away from her skin and flying away."

  1. This is set in the contemporary world.
  2. The character doesn't imagine the butterflies wanting to be set free and then flying around. She states that they do.
  3. There's nothing figurative here; the magical events are described as actual.
  4. In straight realism, one might say, "she imagined them flying away" or "after soap, water and time did their work, it was as though the butterflies had flown away."

Main Characters: Eulalie, my ancient conjure woman in the novella is modeled after the maid who worked for years at my best friend’s house, and I expect I learned more from her than my grade school teachers. Eulalie’s friend Willie Tate is modeled after an elderly Black gentleman who (like many) used a mule-drawn farm wagon for transportation. His family brought their produce to our door every week. Lena, the cat, has a lot in common with the multiple cats who've allowed me to live in their house over the years. None of my cats admits to being psychic.

Malcolm R. Campbell - Conjure Woman's Cat

paperback and e-book editions available at major online booksellers

Products such as these were distributed via Chicago's King Novelty Company catalogues from the 1920s through the 1950s.

Conjure Woman's Cat

Eulalie's Customers

Bill Carver brought oranges to trade for a break-up bottle spell because his long-time ace lover didn’t know it was time for her to leave. Elroy Marks brought cash money for a sweet jar spell to get him promotion at work. Georgia Gibson needed a good luck coin with horseshoes and four-leaf clovers on it because her baby was about due. She traded five pink baby blankets since she just knew it was a boy. Deloris Sutton traded five ears of sweet corn for thirteen stems of shame weed to stop her neighbor from spreading gossip. Martha Whetstone paid cash for a gallon jug of Florida Water for her bath. Eulalie reminded her not to use the whole jug all at once like she did last time.

Just before we put up the sleeping sign, Robert Alexander showed up in a panic for some jinx killer powder. Somebody crossed him up and stole all his luck.

“I’m a mistreated man,” Eulalie, “I sure enough am.”

“Maybe you’ve listened to the ‘Jinks Man Blues’ one to many times,” said Eulalie.

“I do like Buddy Moss. That don’t cover the problem, though. The problem is missing by usual good luck. Bad luck and no luck are making me feel tired and mistreated, like I said.”

Eulalie smiled and have him a packet of powder on the house to keep him from leaning against the porch post for an hour arguing again about the supposed high cost of hoodooing.

Book Review Site Recommendation

Author Zoe Brooks' "Magic Realism" site brings you weekly reviews of novels in this genre. She also has a book list for those who want to sample some of the best available.