CHICAGO READER

“The Straight Dope” Q&A column
6/22/73


What is the "John the Conqueroo" made famous by blues singers?

Dear Cecil:
Ever since I heard the Willie Dixon tune Hootchie Coochie Man with the lyrics:
I've got a black cat's bone
I've got a mojo tooth
I've got a John the Conqueroo
I'm gonna mess with you

... I've been obsessed with a craving for a John the Conqueroo. Where can I get one?
--Wesley R., Chicago

Dear Wesley:
A "John the Conqueroo," also known as a "High John de Conquer," is the root of the St. John's-wort plant. In southern American black folklore, this root is used to cast or break evil spells – thus all the references to "root rubbing" in blues songs.

Where do you get one? Look around – the St. John's-wort (Hypericum majus, Hypericum kalimanum, or any of the 23 other Hypericum species) is common to the Northern Hemisphere. Look for an herb with yellow, flesh-colored, or purplish flowers; there are usually five petals on each flower. Hypericum shrubs generally have cylindrical seeds and clustered stamens.

By the way, if someone casts an evil spell on you with a John the Conqueroo, you might be able to counteract the spell with a Jack, a red cloth shaped in a cylinder and filled with dirt, coal dust, and a silver dime.

--CECIL ADAMS


FROM ANOTHER SOURCE:

"John The Conqueror Root" refers to the woody tuber of Ipomoea jalapa , a relative of the common sweet potato, indigenous to Louisiana, Florida, and Mexico. Believed to possess certain magical powers.

In the practice of hoodoo, a piece of the root may be carried in one's pocket or in a mojo bag in order to bring financial prosperity, improve luck in gambling, or enhance personal sexual power.

From the WIKIPEDIA article on John the Conqueror Root

The root known as High John the Conqueror is (supposed to be) the root of Ipomoea jalapa , an Ipomoea species related to the morning glory and the sweet potato. The plant is known in some areas as bindweed or jalap root. It has a pleasant, earthy odor, but it is a strong laxative if taken internally. It is not used for this purpose in folk magic; it is instead used as one of the parts of a mojo bag. It is typically used in sexual spells of various sorts and it is also considered lucky for gambling. It is likely that the root acquired its sexual magical reputation because, when dried, it resembles the testicles of a dark skinned man. Because of this, when it is employed as an amulet, it is important that the root used be whole and unblemished. Dried pieces and chips of the root are used in formulating oils and washes that are used in other sorts of spells. Cecil Adams has claimed that John the Conquer root is the root of St. John's wort; however, according to cat yronwode, Cecil Adams is mistaken. St. John's wort root is thin and thread-like root, while John the Conquer root is a tuber. As the blues lyrics below make clear, John the Conquer root is carried by the user, and the spell is cast by rubbing the root, which could not be done with fine root-hairs.

 

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