Rootwork and the Prophetic Impulse
By Arthur Flowers
I am Flowers of the Delta Clan Flowers and
the Line of O Killens.
My mama had a stroke last Thanksgiving and
shes not doing too well and I tell you aint nothing like
watching your mama going down hard to put a little focus in your
legba, it is i, rickydoc rootdoctor,
that the gate be opened.
I once when I was a young hoodoo in training
had this Discipline where one day a month I would speak Absolute
Truth as I saw it. I soon abandoned that discipline because the
Absolute Truth is often more trouble than its worth. A little
fudging here and there keeps social life social but in my work,
my fiction and my webwork, I still try to speak Absolute Truth
as I see it.
And since Im in such a fey mood Ima tell you
something I probably do better to keep to myself. Basically what
I aspire to be is a Prophet of the Hoodoo Way.
When it first start manifesting itself in my
work and my performances, a certain cultural, even mythic
authority, what Ive come to call the prophetic voice, I
repressed it. It refused to be denied. It kept leaking through,
both work and performance. I should have known it was coming
from fact that my current novel-in-progress, Rest For The Weary,
(another riff on Highjohn the Conqueror mythwork) is about a
Memphis based hoodoo sorceror who would be a prophet. Boy a
pretty good sorceror, a questionable prophet.
But it wasnt until I was doing an
after-reading Q&A in Knoxville, a headtied woman asked me,
Do you consider yourself a prophet. I had never considered such
a thing and had no idea what I was saying when I said, Well, yes
I guess I do.
Some other reading or maybe that same one,
this brother was on my case, Well who chose you to save the
race, he kept asking me. I hem, haw and wiggle, mumble that I
got the training, the skills, the vision, the fire in the belly,
I can do this, I know I can. So I got to try. Yeah, but who
chose you to be the one, he kept pushing and finally I told him
Looking back Id have to say that was when I
started manifesting the prophetic mode. Around about the same
time, say about 10 years ago, Rest for the Weary started
concepting itself. Which eventually became a meditation on the
prophetic impulse. So Im researching for Rest, Im studying the
prophetic impulse, Im studying the classic prophets of history,
folk like Buddha and Jesus and LaoTze and Moses and Muhammad and
the Prophets of Israel. And the black diasporic prophets, Nat
and Gullah Jack, Boukman Dutty and Zumbi and Accompong and
Harriet and Rembe and the prophetic traditions of Africa. Martin
I note the dynamic between the person the
culture and the myth. Interesting.
I note the dynamic of the dialogues they establish with the
generations of their tradition. Interesting.
How to hook it up so that it is destinic and evolutionary and
grows with time - the prophets True Instrument. Interesting. Real interesting.
The more I study it the more interesting a
force I find it, this thing prophecy. I note that every
tradition has a system of renewal and regeneration - the
prophetic impulse - specially designated spiritual workers
operating outside of priestly hierarchies and vested interests
who are considered divinely guided to reform, renew and
regenerate stagnant traditions. Offer new and improved
Understanding of God.
I determine that a serious wouldbe prophet
must first develop the Prophetic Voice. The Dinka ran nhialics,
the Masters of the Fishing Spear, are defined by their power to
make a thing so just be saying it is so:
I Define So Shall It Be. Be I Then Worthy Of I Gift.
The wouldbe prophet then manifests through
Works designed to interface destinically with the human
condition, the human spirit and historical circumstances.
Works designed to evolve through time: a
manifestation of sacred literature: working the tribal soul: the
consciousness of a people, their communal soul as shaped and
reflected in their culture and their literature, their spiritual
traditions, their music and their art, their folklore, myths and
legends, the lives its people live, the communities they build,
their Way of Being.
It is the black psyche manifested through
culture. The hoodoo premise is that you take care of the tribal
soul and everything benefits. We call that Rootwork. If the soul
is healthy our lifestyles are healthy, our strategies and our
visions. If the soul is sick everything else is sick and
All cultures are simultaneously dynamic and
entropic, a constantly fluctuating blend of strengths and
weaknesses. African American culture has been as much
dysfunctional and entropic as it has been vibrant and
illuminated. So weak sometimes you wonder how we will ever
survive. Which shall it be. At best we are one of the most
powerful cultures on the planet. Witness the worldwide influence
of The Struggle. Witness the HipHop Nation.
The Question is will we or will we not be one
of the Definitive Cultures of the Future. Which shall it be.
Will we survive and prosper as a people and culture or will we
decline and wither. Disappear. For all the problems that come
with it I like being Black and I would rather we not disappear
as a distinct people and culture.
One cares for the tribal soul by monitoring
it through its cultural products, contributing what it needs to
balance out its weaknesses and emphasize its strengths.
Minimizing the dysfunctional components and emphasizing the
transformational. The battles over gangster rap and mercenary
literature are battles for the control of our cultural traits.
Of our Destiny. Our Fa.
As are issues and dialogues regarding the
shape and evolution of African Traditional Religion.
In the old days this was done primarily
through prophetic exhortation and exhortation still has it
place. But depending on exhortation alone in this age of Mass
Media and Internet Access would be foolish. Oxcart thinking.
My most important understanding came
relatively early. That the prophetic voice is more than a
Foreteller of the Future. True Prophecy is Prophecy that Guides
individual, social and destinic actions. Prophecy connects
current behavior w/future consequences in order to force social
change through divine sanction.
The wouldbe prophet uses the Prophetic Vision
to see as far into the future as possible and anticipate the
changes, the crises and opportunities the tribe will have to
overcome in its generations long struggle for survival and
prosperity. The aspiring prophet then determines what social
traits will be necessary to meet those challenges and tries to
program them into the cultural soul through ageold techs of
magical, prophetic and ideological orchestration.
Basing authority to do so on the deceptively
simple proclamation, God told me to.
your vision young hoodoo as far as you can see, determine the
challenges the tribe will face, prepare the tribal soul to meet
My biggest fear is, of course, that I am
further making a fool of myself. My work carries enough mystical
baggage as it is and true prophets are a once in an era thing.
Got to assume that most anybody claim to be a prophet is most
likely fooling themselves. Or trying to fool you.
Or maybe peddling escapist dreams that lead
to behavior not suitable to the Historical Moment. I note the
case of the Xhosa, a strong people who had fought the Boers to a
standstill. Makanna and Nonggause tell the Xhosa killing all
their cattle will bring back the ancestors to help them fight.
The Xhosa killed the cattle and the Xhosa starved. The survivors
were enslaved. A sincere but uninformed prophet is probably
worse than a false one.
The aspirant prophet must manifest through
selfless service and the fruit of their labor.
In traditional societies it is often a
diviner, such as Rembe of the Lugbara, who would, because of
their focus on the future and often in response to some cultural
crises, become known as prophets. What distinguishes the
traditional diviner from the prophet/diviner among the Nuer or
the laibons of the Masai, is the prophets concern with political
and social guidance, often through ceremony more public than the
private performance of the diviner.
It was Bob Law during an interview once asked
me, How does it feel to be part of the mythopoetic tradition of
the Delta. I had to think about it a moment, savor the concept,
Feels good, I told him, feels real good.
I have since been conscious of my own life as
a work - the mythmakers greatest myth. I want in my lifework to
play out that Returning Hero myth. Who comes whenever the people
are in need. If you can program it right, it constantly renews
itself throughout the generations. According to need.
For I am the Horse of Highjohn the Conqueror.
I am a Tricking Man. In the Line of Ishmael. And Baba John O
Killens. The Great Griot Master of Brooklyn.
So Im walking that thin private/public line.
Im struggling to be the prophet I know I can be. Im speaking out
on weak bullshit in the race no matter who it offend. Im Working
my texts, Im Working my cosmology, Im Working the tradition, Im
preparing the ground and Im planting my seeds, Im walking the
walk Im talking the talk.
Of course I'm walking blind, defining the
role as I go along. Dont think much of fundamentalist demagogues
and newage spiritual marketers. (I guess Im just a
traditionalist at heart, just trying to help the Tribe survive
another winter.) And I don't go around trying to convince nobody
of nothing. I just do my Work.
I Will Not Abide A Thief Of Souls.
My understanding of the prophetic impulse is
that it is in my own Tradition that I must be heard. That I must
be willing to challenge the weaknesses in my own Culture. The
actions of our enemies and competitors are not my primary
concern. My primary concern is the strength of the Blackrace.
Period. I have to forge a strong people that will meet any
Rising: Confessions of a 21st Century Conjureman, I propose an
African American Way. An Enlightened Way. A Highroad.
The Hoodoo Way.
For ultimately the battle for the survival of
our culture and generations will be one of Grace. Which is the
And if we are to be a Better Way we must
first clean our own House. Its so very easy to call out other
folks fanatics and fundamentalists. Its our own fundamentalists
that we are silent on. The wouldbe prophet must often challenge
the powers that be - be they Elites, Activists, Fellow Players,
Fundamentalists, or even The People - when trying to forge new
responses to cultural crises. Often the very people you want to
listen to you.
If your tradition of prophecy is one
respected by the tribe, you are given the Dispensation. I have
accepted the fact that it takes time to build a prophetic
reputation, time and patient service until I am awarded the
Sacred Asson by the will of the tribe. Trusted as a font of
spiritual and strategic advice. I will with my life define just
what it is that a Hoodoo Prophet do. I am what you might call a
And I hope I aint never scared to speak true.
I hope that I am always true hoodoo.
This is my understanding of Conjuration: You
must conduct yourself as you Aspire to be. And then you Are.
In the spirit of David Walker, strategic
analysis in Rootwork will conduct itself as if we were in truth
A Powerful People and True Players in the Course of Human
Brother Walker, walk with me.
Of course, always best if you serious about
what you do to maintain a Low Profile. To speak in code. Not
only is it embarrassing to flaunt such megolamaniac impulses, if
I was taken seriously Id be dangerous. Vulnerable. Im always gon
maintain a Low Profile. But this is the commitment I make to my
readership. Rickydoc Flowers gon speak Truth to the People. For
as long as I can sustain it Rootwork is where you come to hear
the best Truth I can give you.
And in honor of my new commitment to
significance and in my mothers name, Eloise Ross Flowers, a
racewoman from the oldschool, Im changing the title of my
webblog to Rootwork. My website is called Rootwork.com so I
didnt want to call my blog Rootwork too but this gon be where
the Action is.
I fear folk think I am a joke.
A failed novelist w/metafictional mindburn.
Emerge did an article awhile back on invisible black male
writers and I didnt even make the invisible list. Guess God dont
want me resting on my laurels. No sense having an attitude cause
folk dont see my Vision. Thats why they call it a Vision.
My Vision is a simple one: Blackfolk as a
Wise and Wondrous People: Humanities Guide and Guardian.
A Star Faring Race.
I would that the struggle for Black
Empowerment be synonmous with the struggle for Human Dignity. I
would wed these two tribes of mine, the black race and all
humanity. I would our generations survive and prosper.
I call for the Highroad, Blackpeople. It is a
Good Plan. It is A Luta Continua. It is Irie. It is Geas by
Rickydoc. To Regain our Legacy as Gods Holy Instrument and Reach
Our True Potential as a People we must Stand on Higher Ground.
I ask then that we strive always to be the
most Magnanimous, most Magnificent and most Beautiful People on
the Planet. I ask that we take Responsibility not only for our
own Destiny but for the Destiny and Wellbeing of all Peoples and
all Jah creature great and small.
I ask only that we be the Great and Glorious
People we were meant to be. The Illuminated Children of the Sun.
Humanities Living Ancestors. Gods True Chosen.
Im probably the slackest holyman ever been.
It cross my mind sometime that if I really am the hope of the
race we in bigger trouble than we thought. But what can I do. Im
in it now. Be damn if Ima let history say I had the power but I
didnt have the heart:
I will continue to conduct myself as I aspire
to be. A 21st Century Conjureman. A Prophet of the Hoodoo Way.
Your friendly neighborhood hoodooman doing I job best I know
how. Strategically implanting my Destinic Vision into the
Historical Record and Leaving a Message for Future Generations:
you need me
* * *
"Folks still thinking of mobilization 60s style, antiwar
marches, online petitions, teachins and so on, the makedo
strategies of the weak and powerless, but innovative infoworld
based approaches (such as the Black Radical Congress'
underutilized cyberorganizing initiative) possibly more
appropriate to the historical moment."
Rising: 5th Movement
* * * *
"A good empowerment
strategy should train us as a people in the skills that we need
to survive and prosper in the 21st Century. What do Reparations
train us to be. Better beggars. Pleasepleasemrwhitefolk,
pleasepleasemakeuswhole. I thought we dumped waiting for
whitefolk to save us round about 1975. How did we get back to
this as primary strategy. " A. Flowers
Flowers, a Memphis native, is the author of two novels,
De Mojo Blues and Another Good Loving Blues (Ballantine Books), and a children's story,
Cleveland Lee's Beale Street Band. He is a
Vietnam veteran, blues singer, co-founder of the New Renaissance
Writer's Guild. In addition, he is the webmaster of Rootsblog:
A Cyberhoodoo Webspace and a performance artist whose presentation, Delta Oracle: A Griot
Speaks in Tongues, keeps him busy and Professor of MFA Fiction at Syracuse University.
* * *
* * * * *
Black Americans in Congress, 1870-2007
By Matthew Wasniewski
Black Americans in Congress, 1870–2007—
beautifully prepared volume—is a
comprehensive history of the more than
120 African Americans who have served in
the United States Congress. Written for
a general audience, this book contains a
profile of each African-American Member,
including notables such as Hiram Revels,
Joseph Rainey, Oscar De Priest, Adam
Clayton Powell, Shirley Chisholm, Gus
Hawkins, and Barbara Jordan. Individual
profiles are introduced by contextual
essays that explain major events in
congressional and U.S. history.
Part I provides four chronologically
organized chapters under the heading
"Former Black Members of Congress." Each
chapter provides a lengthy biographical
sketch of the members who served during
the period addressed, along with a
narrative historical account of the era
and tables of information about the
Congress during that time. Part II
provides similar information about
current African-American members. There
are 10 appendixes providing tabular
information of a variety of sorts about
the service of Black members, including
such things as a summary list, service
on committees and in party leadership
posts, familial connections, and so
* * * *
Michelle Alexander: US Prisons, The New Jim Crow
Judge Mathis Weighs in on the execution of Troy Davis
The New Jim Crow
Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
mass incarceration of people of color through the War on
Drugs is a big part of the reason that a black child
born today is less likely to be raised by both parents
than a black child born during slavery. The absence of
black fathers from families across America is not simply
a function of laziness, immaturity, or too much time
watching Sports Center. Hundreds of thousands of black
men have disappeared into prisons and jails, locked away
for drug crimes that are largely ignored when committed
by whites. Most people seem to
imagine that the drug war—which has swept millions of
poor people of color behind bars—has been aimed at
rooting out drug kingpins or violent drug offenders.
Nothing could be further from the truth. This war
has been focused overwhelmingly on low-level drug
offenses, like marijuana possession—the very crimes
that happen with equal frequency in middle class
* * *
The Persistence of the Color Line
Racial Politics and the Obama Presidency
By Randall Kennedy
Among the best things about
The Persistence of the Color Line
is watching Mr. Kennedy hash through the
positions about Mr. Obama staked out by
black commentators on the left and
right, from Stanley Crouch and Cornel
West to Juan Williams and Tavis Smiley.
He can be pointed. Noting the way Mr.
Smiley consistently “voiced skepticism
regarding whether blacks should back
Obama” . . .
finest chapter in
The Persistence of the Color Line
is so resonant, and so personal, it
could nearly be the basis for a book of
its own. That chapter is titled
“Reverend Wright and My Father:
Reflections on Blacks and Patriotism.”
Recalling some of the criticisms of
America’s past made by Mr. Obama’s
former pastor, Mr. Kennedy writes with
feeling about his own father, who put
each of his three of his children
through Princeton but who “never forgave
American society for its racist
mistreatment of him and those whom he
His father distrusted the police, who had frequently
called him “boy,” and rejected patriotism. Mr. Kennedy’s father
“relished Muhammad Ali’s quip that the Vietcong had never called
him ‘nigger.’ ” The author places his father, and Mr. Wright, in
sympathetic historical light.
The Founding Fathers and the Dilemma of Black
By Roger W.
Jefferson's Pillow, Wilkins returns to
America's beginnings and the founding fathers who
preached and fought for freedom, even though they
owned other human beings and legally denied them
their humanity. He asserts that the mythic accounts
of the American Revolution have ignored slavery and
oversimplified history until the heroes, be they the
founders or the slaves in their service, are denied
any human complexity. Wilkins offers a thoughtful
analysis of this fundamental paradox through his
exploration of the lives of George Washington,
George Mason, James Madison, and of course Thomas
Jefferson. He discusses how class, education, and
personality allowed for the institution of slavery,
unravels how we as Americans tell different sides of
that story, and explores the confounding ability of
that narrative to limit who we are and who we can
become. An important intellectual history of
America's founding, Jefferson's Pillow will change
the way we view our nation and ourselves.
* * * * *
The White Masters of the
The World and Africa, 1965
By W. E. B. Du Bois
W. E. B. Du Bois’
Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization
* * *
Ancient African Nations
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If you like this page consider making a donation
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Negro Digest /
Browse all issues
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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan
The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll
Only a Pawn in Their Game
Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for
George Jackson /
* * *
The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg
Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804
January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of
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