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Southern Spirits Web Site Updates and News

News stories and historical documents relating to the practice of conjure. Brought to you by our sister-site, Southern-Spirits.com
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Southern Spirits Web Site Updates and News

Unread post by catherineyronwode » Thu Sep 28, 2006 11:34 am

I have annotated and uploaded a new page at
Southern Spirits. This one deals with
hoodoo and conjure practices in South-Western
Tennessee, circa 1850-1863, as related circa
1939 by the ex-slave Julius Jones. There is
a great deal of interest in his interview in
addition to Nr Jones' mentions of conjure -- he
tells us of the old bush arbor Baptist churches,
of the Reconstructionist Mississippi governor
James Lusk Alcorn, and of the hardships of life
as a slave on a large plantation.

The URL is

http://www.southern-spirits.com/jones-h ... essee.html


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Re: Southern Spirits Web Site Updates and News

Unread post by Auntie Sindy Todo » Thu Sep 28, 2006 3:36 pm

Thanks, Cat that's a nice little read. -Sindy Todo

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Re: Southern Spirits Web Site Updates and News

Unread post by tokharian » Thu Sep 28, 2006 4:06 pm

This makes, I think, the second
time I've heard it described that
"hoodoo didn't work on whites."
I believe the first time I read that, it
was in Robert Talant's Voodoo in New
Orleans. Yet, I've seen many
testimonials to the contrary here.
I wonder about how widely that was
believed. They certainly kept trying
hoodoo on whites, all the same.

Barbara Griffith

(There are many, many more slave narrative accounts of conjure working on white slave owners than not working on them -- see some of the other entries at Southern Spirits. First, i think the comment Mr. Jones made here is more along the lines of rueful or self-deprecating humour than it is a factual belief, something like, "Prayer don't stop the tax-man, neither." Second, if the interviewer was White, he statement might have been a way of mollifying him or her. Third, as long as folks were enslaved, they still were not coming into their own, no matter how much cojure they used -- yet you will find accounts by slaves who successfully used conjure to avert punishments, to get revenge on a cruel owner, to aid in escape from slavery, and so forth. --cat)

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Re: Southern Spirits Web Site Updates and News

Unread post by Julia » Fri Sep 29, 2006 12:16 pm

So enjoyed! I'm at work and could only skim through it, but I can't
wait to get home, get the kids to sleep and give it more attention.


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Southern Spirits Web Site Updates and News

Unread post by catherineyronwode » Tue Dec 21, 2010 9:35 pm

Southern Spirits is a web site i have created to contain historical and documentary material about hoodoo from the 19th and 20th centuries. Among the many articles are a number of accounts of hoodoo by ex-slaves, as well as newspaper articles from the past, and interviews with people who mentioned their use of rootwork.

New pages at Southern Spirits this week include:

An illustrated documentary article on hoodoo in a Baptist Church in New Jersey in 1900:
http://www.southern-spirits.com/anon-ba ... rt-nj.html

An account of which hoodoo supplies were being sold in Brooklyn, New York in 1925:
http://www.southern-spirits.com/anon-vo ... lyn-2.html

The obituary of a Louisiana French Creole root doctor and traiteur (healer) from 1965:
http://www.southern-spirits.com/fonteno ... tuary.html

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Re: Southern Spirits Web Site Updates and News

Unread post by jwmcclin » Wed Dec 22, 2010 5:30 pm

Thanks cat, this is very good information.
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Re: Southern Spirits Web Site Updates and News

Unread post by Miss Tammie Lee » Wed Dec 22, 2010 6:41 pm

These were wonderful reading Miss Cat, and I really liked reading about Dr. Jack!
Thank you.
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Re: Southern Spirits Web Site Updates and News

Unread post by shaitan » Wed Jan 19, 2011 1:52 pm

yes I agree very good info thanks cat

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Re: Southern Spirits Web Site Updates and News

Unread post by Joseph Magnuson » Thu Jan 20, 2011 7:50 am

I am thrilled at the new additions to the Southern Spirits site! I can;t wait to get home from work and read those up! Thank you for the heads-up, Cat!

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Re: Southern Spirits Web Site Updates and News

Unread post by Zarzamora » Sat Apr 02, 2011 9:28 am

Exciting :)

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Re: Southern Spirits Web Site Updates and News

Unread post by AnddieUS » Mon Aug 08, 2011 8:56 am

Thanks for this Ms. Cat! Great information!
Thank you Ancestors, St. Martha, St. Barbara and San Simon for all that you do on my behalf.

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Re: Southern Spirits Web Site Updates and News

Unread post by candlemagician » Tue Jan 24, 2012 3:54 pm

It is so helpful to read and understand in context the background , while we also study and work through the correspondence course. This is great even for those not taking the course.

Thanks Ms. Cat!

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Re: Southern Spirits Web Site Updates and News

Unread post by catherineyronwode » Fri Jan 04, 2013 11:10 pm

I have added some new genealogical information about the Bichon family to the already extant Southern Spirits page that describes the Bichon Drug Store, a.k.a. Bichon's Pharmacy in Houston, formerly one of the best hoodoo shops in the country. If any of you have photos of the Bichon Drug Store, please let me know:

Here is the (so far pictureless) web page URL:

Bichon's Drug Store
by Sig Byrd
http://www.southern-spirits.com/byrd-bi ... uston.html

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Re: Southern Spirits Web Site Updates and News

Unread post by Cali_mojogirl » Mon Nov 04, 2013 8:33 pm

Man, what a place! I can just hear the jook joint roaring in the background somewhere. And I love Syd Byrd's snappy writing --sounds like the introduction to a great movie (narrated by Morgan Freeman, of course lol).

I bet the original labels for the Bichon's proprietary hoodoo formulations would be quite the collector's items now. Wonder what they looked like.

Thank you Miss Cat for the intriguing research. Perhaps descendants of the Bichon's (lucky ;) ) 7 children will step forward with pics of the old family shop, and/or other memorabilia. That would be great.


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Re: Southern Spirits Web Site Updates and News

Unread post by catherineyronwode » Mon Nov 04, 2013 11:06 pm

You're welcome. It is worth noting that although i quoted some material about the 400 block of Milan street, which Sig Syrd described as "biracial," Bichon's Pharmacy itself was located in the 300 block (312, to be exact) in the area known as Milamstrasse. Strasse is German (and Yiddish) for street, and probably referred to an area where Jewish shopkeepers served a black clientele.

Also note that Sig Byrd, despite being a white journalist, quite accurately described Bichon's as selling hoodoo goods, but that a later reminiscence by an outsider who remembered the place, which i also printed on the page, called it a "voodoo" shop. This is typical of white people -- calling hoodoo Voodoo. Sig Byrd knew better.

I also find this piece of interest when countering the latest internet meme, propagated by white pagans since around 2010, that "it was never called hoodoo." Yeah, right. In Houston, Texas, it was definitely called hoodoo.

And, by the way, the article now has four pictures -- alas, none yet of the drugstore or of the Bichon family, but at least some of their gravestones.

Bichon's Drug Store
by Sig Byrd
http://www.southern-spirits.com/byrd-bi ... uston.html
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Re: Southern Spirits Web Site Updates and News

Unread post by Joseph Magnuson » Fri Nov 08, 2013 8:09 am

Thank you for the updates, Cat. It is great to be notified in these forums so I can go straight over and read the added articles. Keep it up!
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Re: Southern Spirits Web Site Updates and News

Unread post by catherineyronwode » Fri Jan 03, 2014 9:28 pm

I have just finished the commentary on a new Southern Spirits web page. Check it out -- conjuration and goophering in Missouri, circa 1840, as narrated by the ex-slave William Wells Brown. Read all about Dinkie the Goopher King in

by William Wells Brown, 1880,
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Re: Southern Spirits Web Site Updates and News

Unread post by Darrinwow » Sun Apr 20, 2014 6:01 am

Hello All....

I'm a new member to this forum, but not new to the teachings of miss cat. I have to say that I was one of the folks that believed Appalachian Folk Magic influenced Hoodoo, and luckily after researching the information via HOODOO IN THEORY AND PRACTICE, I see that is historically not the case.

I live in Northern Arkansas, and of course Ozark Folk Magic was established here many years ago, it seems to have since faded into history.

A question to the forum, would Ozark Folk Magic also be influenced by Hoodoo practices, and not the opposite like some believe?

My great-grandfather, James Chadwick, used the Bible to heal folks, and stop bleeding. I'm wondering if he learned other workings from the African American folks that worked the cotton fields, as they were all based in the eastern flat land region of Arkansas. His wife was also 1/2 Cherokee so there is some influence there as well. He died and never passed on his knowledge to any of the family. They are all pretty much right-wing Bible folks and they like to keep his "workings" under the table. ;)

Funny how much we learn if we actually research the History, yes?

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Re: Southern Spirits Web Site Updates and News

Unread post by catherineyronwode » Sat Aug 16, 2014 9:32 pm


Stopping bleeding wth a Bible verse, a rhymed enchantment, or a spoken formula is a fairly European class of work, found in Norse trolldom, Germanic folk magic, etc. I would consider it one of the instances in which back Americans incorporated white folk magic rather than the other way around.

I think the real problem wit those who claim that Appalachians / Irish-Americans / Scots-Irish Americans / Ozark folks "influenced hoodoo" or, as some have claimed, "originated hoodoo," is that they really do not know what hoodoo is and how different it is, on the whole, from European folk magic. They see a couple of similarities and assume that hoodoo is just that. Hoodoo is a different way of working, a black American way of working. Hoodoo root doctors have indeed incorporated a number of European and Jewish concepts and spell-families into their work, but the opposite is rarely the case. You will not find very many white Americans actually practicing hoodoo, despite their claims on the internet.

For instance, chewing hot spicy roots and seeds and then either holding them in your mouth or under your tongue while talking (which anthropologists would call a form of ordeal-magic) or spitting out your hot-spicy saliva after chewing them for a target to step in (which anthropologists would call a form of foot-track magic) is not a big deal in Appalachian folk magic, but it is in African American folk magic. Today a person came to this forum and asked about putting Cardamom Seeds in a doll baby. I was non-plussed. You chew them. Cardamom is in the Ginger family, like Little John to Chew and Grains of Paradise Seeds, all of which are also chewed in hoodoo. The querent had no grasp on the larger context of how hoodoo works, and just wanted to use Cardamom Seeds to stuff a love-doll, working in the European tradition. There's nothing wrong with that, but the topic here is hoodoo, and there are other forums where European and European-American folk magic are the central focus of discussion.
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Re: Southern Spirits Web Site Updates and News

Unread post by catherineyronwode » Mon Nov 04, 2019 12:24 pm

I just completed the coding and uploading for a new page at my Southern-Spirits site, documenting 19th, 20th, and 21st century hoodoo through old newspapers and periodicals.

This story concerns a rootworker named Dr. Rabo of Palm Beach, Florida, in 1942, and it comes with the unlikely title --

"Diamond Brooch is Sold for 75 Cents in Negro District."
http://www.southern-spirits.com/anon-ro ... orida.html
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Re: Southern Spirits Web Site Updates and News

Unread post by catherineyronwode » Thu Nov 07, 2019 12:25 pm

I just coded and uploaded a new page at my Southern Spirits archive, documenting 19th, 20th, and 21st century hoodoo through old newspapers and periodicals. This is the second interview about hoodoo given by the famed New Orleans jazz pianist Jelly Roll Morton. The first part, concerning hoodoo in New Orleans around 1910, has been online at the site for a while, so they make a nice pair now.

Ferdinand "Jelly Roll" Morton:
Hoodoo in New York, 1935: Jealous Rival, Cursing Powders, and Madame Elise,
Interview conducted by Alan Lomax for the Library of Congress, 1938.
http://www.southern-spirits.com/morton- ... -york.html

This brings the number of articles at the site to 37 as of today. See the index here:

Introduction to the Southern-Spirits archive

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Re: Southern Spirits Web Site Updates and News

Unread post by whitestar » Sun Oct 18, 2020 5:08 pm

In reading the articles, I got to "Ancient Beliefs Still Alive In Georgia" ( http://www.southern-spirits.com/schanch ... twork.html) and noticed that you hadn't managed to find the original Macon Telegraph article.

Well, I spent some time spent picking at the puzzle and it's resulted in success. I thought I should let you know, so you can have the original article and correct attribution rather than a second-hand source. The 'real name' of the article in the Macon Telegraph is "Voodoo Roots" from August 20, 2000, printed on page 1-A. There do appear to be some small differences between the Telegraph article and the second-hand one.

Additionally, there appears that the article was one of a pair of articles. The other one is "Seeking the Root of Knowledge" from August 21, 2000 on page 1-A.

How would you like me to share these with you? Just paste them into a post?
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Re: Southern Spirits Web Site Updates and News

Unread post by catherineyronwode » Mon Oct 19, 2020 1:25 am

Thank you so much for the research -- and paste them in, please!
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Re: Southern Spirits Web Site Updates and News

Unread post by whitestar » Mon Oct 19, 2020 2:44 am

Macon Telegraph, The (GA)
August 20, 2000
Section: A
Edition: HOME
Page: 1

Don Schanche Jr., The Macon Telegraph

When drug agents kicked in the door of Minnie Pearl Thomas' trailer at 5 a.m. March 12, 1999, in the tiny community of Allentown, they walked into an eerie scene.

On the dresser in her dimly lit bedroom they found an altar. On the altar burned several candles. And on the candles were fastened written notes, asking for the spirits' help with love, money and protection from the law.

The agents were not surprised. They knew that Thomas had been to a root doctor.

It was root work. Since the earliest days of settlers and slaves in this country, the practice, which is akin to voodoo, has flourished in the South. Even in the year 2000, when modern technology has superseded the old ways and Southern culture is becoming more homogenized, root work still thrives out of view from mainstream society.

The candles were not the only root work in Thomas' house.

Peppers were scattered in space above the ceiling.

Powder was sprinkled around the door.

As they rousted the sleepy Thomas and arrested her for trafficking in crack cocaine, they learned about the powder.

"She said it was Law Stay Away powder," said Wilkinson County Sheriff Richard Chatman.

But even that was not the end of the root work.

From wiretaps and other investigative techniques, the agents knew that Thomas had buried a dead chicken on her property to protect her from harm.

"Minnie Pearl believed in it so much, she hid her dope outside where everyone could see it," Chatman said. "The people (nearby) believed in it, too. They wouldn't mess with her stuff."

The Ocmulgee Drug Task Force agents in Operation Four Corners had had cause to wonder whether Thomas' root work might have some hidden potency.

"Some of the things we tried to do didn't work. The mojo was on us," said Jeff Duncan, a Milledgeville police officer attached to the task force.

Wilkinson County sheriff's investigator Heath Bache explained that mysterious glitches nearly derailed the investigation. Batteries died in two-way radios. Videocameras quit working. While doing surveillance one day on a drug deal across usually deserted train tracks, the agents got a surprise.

"A train came through right in the middle of a deal," Bache said. "Working that case, it had me wondering. Because everything that could go wrong did go wrong. She was a strange bird."

But apparently her roots weren't strong enough to head off trouble.

Thomas, 44, also known as The Queen Pin, was a longtime drug dealer, responsible for moving four or five ounces of crack each week through the little town where Wilkinson, Twiggs, Bleckley and Laurens counties come together, said Wesley Nunn, a GBI agent who coordinates the task force. Thomas was convicted last month in U.S. District Court in Macon and sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Among the others sentenced in the case was a 35-year-old ex-preacher named Sam Rozier from Dublin. After pleading guilty in May to assisting Thomas in her drug trade, Rozier is now serving an 18-month sentence at the U.S. Penitentiary in Atlanta.

Rozier had met Thomas in 1998 and moved in with her not long afterward. He told drug agents she must have put roots on him to make him join her drug scheme.

"If he'd had his way, the roots would have been his defense," Bache said. "He really, really believed that's what happened to him."

Rozier told the agents her spell entered him through the food she fed him.

Full of remorse and shame, he told Bache: "I should-a left those biscuits alone."


The agents never identified Thomas' root doctor, but suspected it was someone operating in Toomsboro or Hawkinsville.

It could have been one of many root doctors. Experts say practitioners of the ancient tradition are still scattered throughout the South.

The root doctors offer to help their clients in supernatural ways --- often at steep prices.

Root work is a blend of West African religion, herbal folklore and Christian beliefs mingled together to make a uniquely Southern stew. In its most sincere form, root work taps into an ancient belief that everything in creation --- every rock and every blade of grass --- is filled with with spiritual significance. A practitioner with knowledge of the spirit world can tap into its power.

It's like voodoo, but different, too.

"What is commonly called voodoo is a blend of traditional West African religion with Christianity," said professor Richard Persico, a social anthropologist at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro. Persico specializes in rural Georgia and has interviewed several root doctors in his field work.

Voodoo, he said, is a corruption of an African word, Voudun, the word for "spirit." The voodoo practice came to America in chains, as slaves from different tribes were forced together, mixing their own beliefs with those of the slave masters. Those who came through the Caribbean developed a cosmology in which Yoruba gods took on the identities of Catholic saints.

That strain of voodoo, as well as others with a Catholic flavor, are more prevalent along the Caribbean coasts and as far south as Brazil, Persico said.

But on the Georgia-Carolina coast, where Protestant European settlers took control, the religion took a slightly different flavor. It became known as root work, a reference perhaps to the importance of herbal medicine in folklore.

"There's a lot of blend of Native American and African religion and herbalism, as Indians and Africans were enslaved together," Persico said. "Religion, magic and healing were all part of the same package.
"What they all have in common is the notion that supernatural power can be invested in things."
In Georgia and South Carolina, Persico said, root work is still strongest in the coastal islands where the isolated Gullah people maintained closer ties to African tradition than did most African-Americans further inland.

But all over the South, where whites and blacks shared a common culture and developed a kind of intimacy even through the days of slavery and segregation, traces of root tradition spread. Even today, many native Georgians, white and black, can recall having warts "conjured" off their skin when they were children.

Persico said the tradition waned in white society as prosperity paid for better access to modern health care. But in many black communities, where prosperity was a long time coming, the only doctor to be found was the root doctor.

"It remained a much livelier tradition in the African-American community, and especially on the Georgia coast, but it's pretty much wherever African-Americans are," Persico said.


Persico has seen for himself the power of root medicine.

"I had a student interning in a public health facility around here," Persico said. "Three patients were brought in with a diagnosis of schizophrenia. They said they had roots on them."

When the third patient came in with the same story, the intern suggested that the doctors call Persico for advice.

"I told them, 'If she says she has roots on her, that doesn't mean she's crazy. It's an African-American religious system. Whether or not you or I believe in it, she believes in it. If she thinks it's a problem, it's going to affect her."

Persico suggested they bring in someone to lift the roots.

"They took her to a root doctor and got him to take the roots off her," he said. "She got better. At that point, she believed the medicine was going to work."

It was root work for a benevolent purpose. And that benevolence, Persico suggested, gets lost in the sinister aura that usually surrounds the mention of voodoo or root work.

"That's a little bit of Hollywood, and probably a good dose of racism," he said. "I'd say it's no more sinister than anything else."

Persico said the root tradition has two sides.

"The same person who can help you can also attack you," he said. But he noted that the same can be said of modern Western medicine.

"The same opium product that will ease your pain will also make you a drug addict," he said. "There's a parallel with roots. They can help and hurt."

Some historians believe that the evil connotation attached to voodoo originated in white slave owners' fear of an alien religion that seemed to imbue the slaves with power, dignity and confidence.
"The last thing that slave owners wanted was slaves that had any self-respect, any self-reliance," he said.

As a university professor, Persico maintains a scholarly distance from his subject, discussing it dispassionately. But he admitted that he had a gut-level response to root work, too.

"I believe I would have enough subconscious doubts that, if a root doctor put a curse on me, I would worry a bit," he said. Persico suspects he might have a psychosomatic reaction triggered by the mind's ability to influence the body.

"We all have strange things in the back of our minds at a subconscious level," he said.


Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills has had such a curse put on him.

In 1994, while investigating the murder of 28-year-old Adletic Glenn, Sills searched the home of her ex-husband.

"When we did a search warrant on his house, back in the bedroom he was staying in, behind the curtain, was hanging a black doll."

It was a voodoo doll. Strips of cotton cloth, dyed black, were hand-wrapped around some kind of stuffing. It was punctured by more than four dozen pins. Pinned to the doll were several names, including Sills'.

The list of names, written on a scrap of brown grocery sack paper, also contained a note: "To whom it may concern is holding him. Hang. Cut him a-loose. Or have all kind of trouble, worries yourself to death until you turn him loose."

Sills believes it was a "death root."

"We clearly knew that someone in his family had gone and paid the root doctor to get a root," Sills said. "They were not able to put a successful death root on me, 'cause here I am."

However, the suspect in the case, 30-year-old Lumpkin Glenn III, was acquitted at trial.

"Maybe it did work," Sills mused.

During that trial, the judge let Sills testify as an expert witness on root work, based on his encounters with the tradition throughout his life. Raised on his grandparents' farm, Sills recalls seeing old people with root bags and having warts conjured off his leg by an old woman. In his work as a law officer throughout Georgia, he used to see more signs of root work than he does today. It could be something as simple as three sticks set on the floor in a deliberate pattern of alignment, or a trail of powder scattered on the ground.

"We're not seeing much of it anymore," Sills said. "And the average police officer seldom recognizes it when he sees it."
In Sills' opinion, "the root doctors are pure con men. What goes into it is whatever the 'right' ingredients are at that time. There is no consistency.... It's whatever the 'physician' prescribes at the moment for the person he's getting ready to take the money from. There is not a Merck manual you can go to look up 'Getting your husband to do right and not go see other women' and fill the prescription."

Because the term "doctor" comes up in root work, some might ask whether root doctors ever run afoul of state medical licensing authorities.

Under state law, anyone who "holds himself out to the public as being engaged in the diagnosis or treatment of disease or injuries of human beings" without a license is committing a felony and can be subject to a $1,000 fine and two to five years in prison.

But it appears that Georgia's root doctors are operating beneath the radar screen of the medical establishment.
Gary Cox, planning director for Georgia's Composite Board of Medical Examiners, said, "To our knowledge, no one is really aware of the medical board going after a traditional root doctor."

Nor are authorities aware of root doctors being prosecuted for fraud.

The secrecy in which they operate may be one reason why.

"Most root doctors won't talk about it because it is a con," Sills said. "Is it a con that someone willingly goes into? Obviously. The stock in trade is mystery and persuasion....

"While I don't believe in voodoo, the mind is a powerful thing," Sills said. "If you believe in it, whether or not it's real, it has an effect."

He recalled a striking encounter with root work that demonstrated its ineffectiveness ... but also left a shred of doubt.
More than a dozen years ago, when he was a police detective in DeKalb County, Sills said he participated in a mass raid on the old numbers racket called "the bug." He and another officer went to serve a warrant on a woman at an East Atlanta apartment.

After knocking unsuccessfully, "finally I rared back and kicked that door," he said.

Inside the apartment, they found their suspect sitting on the bed. Two or three candles were burning. A trail of white powder encircled the bed.

Confronting the officers, the woman warned, "Stop! You can come no further. I am protected."

Apparently she was not protected quite well enough.

"She went to jail," Sills said. But he added another detail suggesting the woman's protectors might have been able to harass if not completely thwart the law:

"I cut my leg real bad, kicking through the door."


Although Sills isn't seeing much root work in Putnam County, it's popping up in other communities not far away.
In June, the McDuffie County Commission took official action to ban root work from the courthouse.

"The courthouse had been voodooed several times," said County Clerk Annette Findley. The problem started about two years ago. Just as each new term of court was about to begin, Findley said, someone would leave a peculiar calling card at the courthouse door.

"They would always use some kind of brown substance," she said. "To me it looked like coffee grounds. People said it was some kind of spice. The people would break three eggs on top of it. It was gooey, messy."

Along with the glop, the visitor or visitors left a trail that looked like sparkling glitter up to the courtroom.

"Once they even put it on the judge's bench," Findley said. "It got to the point where employees started getting nervous, and one even threatened to quit. Something had to be done."

A County Commission's ordinance, passed June 7, makes no mention of root work, only vandalism. And the commission's minutes refer only to "the recent incidents at the courthouse." But everyone knew the commission, in its proper, procedural manner, was attempting to perform a kind of exorcism.


Perhaps coincidentally, McDuffie County is home to a "spiritual adviser" named the Rev. Sister Joyce.

Her radio advertisements on WVKX, Love 103.7 in Irwinton, consist of a personal testimonial delivered in urgent tones by a woman named Teresa.

"I was sick and suffering," Teresa says in the radio spot. She says she visited doctors who could not cure her.

"People who I thought were my friends were my enemies," she says. "Devil worshippers, they were working evil voodoo curses and spells, trying to destroy me and my family." They were trying, she says, to force her into an "insane asylum."

Then she went to see the Rev. Sister Joyce.

"When I did, I was healed that very hour."

The Rev. Sister Joyce is one of at least three spiritual advisers whose ads air on WVKX. Its morning gospel programming and afternoon hip-hop target a primarily black audience in east central Georgia.

In a telephone interview, the Rev. Sister Joyce said her full name is Joyce Adams. And she hastened to correct any misimpression her ads might have left.

"I'm not a psychic. I'm a spiritualist," she said. "I do counseling, mostly on drugs, alcohol and money, kind of like a psychiatrist."

She said she doesn't put "roots" on people, nor does she take them off.

"A lot of people believe they have roots on them," she said. "I do counseling to help them believe there's no such thing."

She repeated, "There's no such thing."

Adams said she knows of some spiritual advisers who charge exorbitant fees up front, but she is not one of them. She said she charges a flat fee of $25 per hour.

"Most sessions go into two hours," she said.

Adams said she is a licensed marriage and family therapist.

As for the claims in her ad, she said, "It's just my advertisement. It's spiritual counseling. I am a full-blooded Christian. Everything I do is strictly through Jesus Christ."

The Secretary of State's Office of Examining Boards has a record of three Joyce Adamses in Georgia. Two are registered nurses; one is a cosmetologist. None of the three is a marriage and family therapist or is listed as operating in Thomson.

Others who advertise spiritual advice on WVKX include Sister Nina in Milledgeville and Sister Maria in Sandersville. They were not as forthcoming.

Sister Maria, contacted by phone in Sandersville, said she would have to check with her husband before granting an interview.

"I can't do anything without my husband," she said.

A day later, when she called back, her husband, Freddie, came on the line. He declined an interview.

"I don't think we'd be interested in something like that," he said. He explained that spiritual advisers formed a kind of union in the past five or six years and agreed not to advertise in each other's territory. An interview with The Telegraph would infringe on spiritualists in the Macon area, he said. But he saw no conflict in advertising on a radio station that reaches well into Macon.

Efforts to reach Sister Nina were unsuccessful. A man who answered her phone said she would not be available for several days.

Reggie Smith, station manager at WVKX, said the sisters are good customers.

"They pay cash up front and they monitor their commercials religiously," he said.

But business aside, Smith takes a dim view of their work.

"They're targeting the unfortunates of society who are looking for some sort of brass ring, some sort of hope," he said. "They target their wares to the disadvantaged."

He said he heard of one spiritual advisor who bilked an elderly, senile man for thousands of dollars. His family didn't find out until after he died, and they discovered the checks he had written to her.

Smith doesn't discount the spiritual advisers entirely.

"It's like car dealers," he said. "You've got some good and some bad. You've got some in it for faith and some in it for profits."

And he noted that even mainstream religion has its hucksters and charlatans who swindle their followers.

"Personally, I believe God will work for you if you accept Jesus Christ as your lord and savior," he said. "That's hard to discuss with someone if they're going to someone who says, 'For $5,000 I will raise the dead.'"


The commercial end of supernatural practices isn't hard to find in the Macon area.

In the middle of downtown, Colors on Cherry sells a variety of candles and other paraphernalia associated with magic. So does a sister store, A Touch of Magic in Warner Robins.

Kacy Baughier, co-owner of both stores, said her clientele comes from several different traditions: The New Age practitioners, into crystals and the like; older people following the European tradition of Wicca; and root work followers, who are mostly African American.

"I think rather than going away, it's getting more prevalent," she said. Concerning root doctors, she said, "I'd say there are quite a few out there. Mostly what you're going to find is an elder who has lived in a community and built up a reputation."

She added, "On the voodoo thing, we stock a lot of 'Come to Me Oil' or 'Money Oil.'" She also sells John the Conqueror oil and roots, plus a few herbs. And she is not above selling some graveyard dirt or coffin nails.

Her customers, she said, "may be superstitious enough that they won't go get it. I will."

"All of it," she said, "is dressing to focus your energy. If you believe it works, it works for you."

But to find the mother lode of root work supplies in Macon, one must visit The Candle Store in the Cherokee Shopping Center on Pio Nono.

Behind an ordinary-looking exterior in a tiny strip of shops, a customer finds a cascade of candles, oils, powders, incense, mojos, kits and literature centered in the arcane world of roots and voodoo.

All manner of candles are lined up like a wax army, displayed in unsophisticated style in cardboard boxes labeled with photocopied block letters: Cross of Calvary, Orunla, Black Cat, Peaceful Home, Come To Me, Go Away Evil, Guardian Angel, Make A Wish and Road Opener, just to name a few.

Cardboard tubes of powdered incense are lined up, row after row: John the Conqueror, Witchcraft Killer, Victory Over Evil and Grandma's French Love Incense."

And then there are the bottles of oil: Keep Away Enemies, Do As I Say, Domination, Seven Holy Spirits and Stay At Home.

Plus there are do-it-yourself kits. The Go To Court Kit sells for $15. The Break-Up Kit ("Very Powerful --- Everything You Need") goes for $16.99.

The kit for "The Lady Who Cannot Keep Men Friends," also $16.99, has these ingredients:

1 Special Oil No. 20
1 Swallow's Heart
1 John the Conqueror Incense
1 French Love Powder
1 pink candle
1 incense burner.

On a recent afternoon, The Candle Store was doing a brisk business. Two clerks were on duty waiting on three customers. While one man examined the green candles --- green to draw fast luck and money --- another looked over the selection of oils. An older woman was shopping for dream books --- the keys from Professor E.Z. Hitts, Rajah Rabo and Aunt Sally that predict what number to play in the lottery, based on a person's dreams.

"I just work here --- I don't believe in the stuff," one clerk said in reply to a request for an interview.

A customer was likewise skittish about being interviewed for an article on root work.

"No, I couldn't help you with that," he said, explaining that he had come to the shop only to pick up some olive oil for his church. A few minutes earlier he had been discussing the finer points of dream books with one of the clerks, and bought nearly $50 worth of miscellaneous merchandise.

He added, with an innocent tone, "You reckon they got a roots thing going on in there?"


But quite willing to be interviewed was store owner Don Haywood.

The Griffin businessman is the face behind products such as the "Rev. Dr. Zachariah's Special Herbal Powder," and other brand-name oils and incense mixes like Grandma's, St. Michael's and King Solomon's. He mixes them up in the back room of his shop in Griffin.

Haywood, a 66-year-old, white Southern Baptist, looks more like a conventional church deacon than some kind of voodoo man, in his pleated pants, white jogging shoes and semi-pompadour mane of gray hair.

And indeed, his own beliefs are about as far from his clients' as east from west.

"I don't embrace this stuff myself. I sell it," he said. "It's a legitimate business."

Until 15 years ago, he had a few general retail outlets on the same corner in Griffin where his store now stands. From time to time, customers would ask for the special candles they needed for ceremonies.

He had no idea what they were talking about.

Then, by a stroke of good fortune, he happened to read a newspaper article about a drugstore in Jackson, Miss., that specialized in the candles and oils used in Southern backwoods mysticism.

"I called the druggist in Jackson. He directed me to one of the suppliers."

It was the beginning of a new calling for Haywood.

At first, he bought a little at a time.

"I didn't know what I was buying," he said.

Gradually he built up his stock, and it kept selling.

About 12 years ago, through another serendipitous contact, he met a man who manufactured the stuff. As it happened, the man's personal life was in chaos, and his business was running into the ground. But he didn't mind if Haywood looked around to see how things were done.

"I was able to ramble in the back room and learn formulas and supplies and secrets that you can't buy," Haywood said. The knowledge enabled him to begin mixing his own oils and powders.

"Once you understand the basics of it, you can improvise and mix up and use your imagination," he said.
But you have to know a few things.

For instance, the color black is used to cast off evil and remove jinxes. Blue brings peace in the home. Gold is to hold money, luck, and success. Red is for love, magnetic power, sex, strength and energy.

"If you mixed the wrong color oil, it would just sit on the shelf for months," Haywood said.

Haywood credits the power of positive thinking with the results his clients say they get from the products he sells.

"You wouldn't believe the number of times people come in and say, 'You know that so-and-so you sold me? It worked.'

"If you believe something strongly enough, you're gonna make it happen. That's what happens with a lot of these people."

While Haywood does not put his faith in candles, oils and incense, he does not belittle his customers who do.
"People have a right to believe what they want," he said.

But he added, "We don't pretend to be some kind of reader or soothsayer or prophet or anything. We're in the business of selling products."

He has only two stores, the one in Griffin and the one in Macon.

But he said the market has vast potential.

"We're not even tapping the surface. I could take you to just about any major city and put up a candle store and be a success from Day 1. The potential to expand is unlimited. If I was 20 years younger, I'd be a millionaire from this thing. That's one of the beauties of this business. There is no competition. They're not going to Wal-Mart or Kmart to buy this stuff."

He added, "It's the most fascinating thing I've ever done, and by far the most lucrative."

As it stands, he has his hands full just keeping track of the two stores.

Haywood said he has been trying to sell the Macon store, but when people see its seedy appearance, they can't believe it's making money.

Haywood said the appearance is deliberate.

"You get too upscale, it runs 'em away," he said.

Haywood said most of his clientele is black, although there are a few whites and a growing number of Hispanics.

Most, he said, have one thing in common: "The majority of people who believe this are undereducated people."

While he has no qualms selling the items in his store, he hates to see his clients defrauded in bigger ways.

"There are a lot of scoundrels that come in here and buy this stuff and call themselves prophets or seers or whatever. They just rip these people off like you wouldn't believe. They don't care anything about telling these people, 'Bring me $1,000 and I'll take your case. I'll get your boyfriend out of prison or help you win the lottery or get your girlfriend back.' It's sad that people fall for that."

He draws the line at selling medical goods.

"I don't sell nothing for ailments," he said. "I tell 'em, 'You need to go see a doctor.'"

Haywood said he's on the verge of setting up a mail-order catalog, which will further add to the profits and workload. Other mail-order suppliers, he said, sell the candles and oils at double what he charges.

"I'm cheaper than anyone in the Southeast," he said.

Haywood said his family isn't thrilled about his line of work.

"I'm strictly a Southern Baptist and very involved in it. My wife is very uncomfortable with me doing this, and has been for a long time."

But he harbors no fears about fooling with products that may represent spiritual forces.

"I know what's in most of it," he said. "There's nothing that can hurt you. This is kind of like a kid walking through a graveyard. If you let your mind run away, you can hurt yourself. But there's nothing in walking through a graveyard that will hurt you."


If businessman Don Haywood sees the root work tradition strictly as a business opportunity, Macon physician Harold Katner sees something deeper.

Katner, nationally known for his work treating AIDS patients in Middle Georgia, said he has great respect for the cultural belief system that underlies traditional herbal and spiritual practices bound up in root work.
"I've even incorporated it in my practice with people who believe that sort of thing," he said.

Katner, whose background is in anthropology, studied a mixture of European folk medicine and West African beliefs while at school in New Orleans.

He has seen some memorable encounters connected with root work.

One was an honest root doctor.

His name was Dallas Moore. Now deceased, Moore once operated out of Donalsonville in Seminole County, close to the Georgia-Florida line.

By many accounts, Moore was one of the most famous Georgia root doctors in recent times. He reportedly drew a national following to see him.

Katner said Moore once referred a patient to him.

"The patient had lupus," Katner said. "She had been to several root doctors. They had charged her an arm and a leg. (Moore) recognized that she was severely ill. He said, 'You've got something that I can't fix.' Apparently, he was quite honest."

Katner's most touching experience with root work, he said, came through a Georgia woman who had AIDS. Although she would come to the hospital, she wouldn't come to him for treatment.

A nurse explained, "Somebody put roots on her, and she's afraid."

Compounding her tragic circumstances, she was being beaten regularly by her husband, who believed she had infected him.

"I hear you got roots on you," he said. "I can take 'em off."

Katner said he performed a ceremony with her and gave her a blessed candle to burn if anyone messed with her.

Her husband called Katner later and asked, "What did you do to my wife?"

Katner recalls telling him, "Somebody put roots on her, and I took 'em off. And I told her to call me back if anybody hurt her."

When the woman lay dying of AIDS, Katner went to pay a house call as he customarily does. The family treated him with overflowing, exuberant gratitude. He found it puzzling --- after all, despite his best efforts, she was dying.

A relative explained, "Ever since you took the roots off her, her husband never beat her up again."

Katner was stunned.

"The son of a gun was so afraid of me, he wouldn't touch her," he recalled.

It also gave him a deeper appreciation of the root tradition.

"The beauty of this social system is that it gave women a lot of power," he said. "A woman could go to the root doctor and be protected. There's a reason why these belief systems existed."

He said there is a simple chant that sometimes goes with a Louisiana ceremony to conjure away warts. The petitioner asks the moon, "As you get big in the sky, make my wart go away."

Katner said it taps into an ancient sense of the universe's order, a primordial impulse to pay tribute to the moon and stars.

"What you're listening to is something so ancient and awesome and the belief is so strong," he said. "It's a truly awesome belief system."

To contact Don Schanche Jr., call 912-986-7414 or e-mail Schanche@accucomm.net.

Illustration:Photo (3) by Karen Sparacio/The Macon Telegraph

–Betty Borders checks and restocks the shelves at The Candle Store, which specializes in products used in the practice of root medicine.
--Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills holds a voodoo doll that he thinks was a 'death root' directed at him.
--Voodoo dolls, bundles of yellow roots and Tarot cards are among the items for sale at The Candle Store in the Cherokee Shopping Center in Macon, owned by a Southern Baptist.

Copyright (c) 2000 The Macon Telegraph
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Macon Telegraph, The (GA)
August 21, 2000
Section: A
Edition: HOME
Page: 1

Don Schanche Jr., The Macon Telegraph

It is 6:15 on a hot August evening.

In a small patch of woods not far from Shurling Drive in northeast Macon, a slender man is making his way among the trees, shrubs and weeds.

Dressed in green work pants, a red-and-white-plaid cotton shirt and bright, multi-colored beret, he carries a light mattock and scans the ground.

He is a root doctor.

Monroe Jackson, sometimes known as Dr. I. Root, is searching for the plants whose names and uses he learned some 60 years ago.

Maneuvering his wiry frame easily among the undergrowth, he casts his gaze back and forth quickly and with a purpose.

"Now let's see can we find some Devil's Shoestring, some John the Conqueror Root and some sarsaparilla," he mutters.

Before an hour has elapsed --- and just before a rumbling thunderstorm unleashes a torrent on the neighborhood --- he finds two of the three, plus a half dozen other plants he uses in his work.

He works as a healer, a diviner of knowledge and a remover of evil influences.

In that work, he makes use of plants both for their herbal and spiritual properties.

In the world of Dr. I. Root, there is no distinction between the two.

All things are imbued with spirit.

In fact, he pauses from time to time to say he is aware of a spirit's presence.

"You don't see no spirits, you feel 'em," he said. "I feel 'em now. It can help you or hinder you. It can stop you from finding whatever you're looking for or help you."

At age 69, Jackson possesses knowledge almost forgotten today. In his memory is a lore of native plants handed down by tradition. He buys no store-bought mojo. He makes his own with ingredients he pulls from the ground.

Harriett Whipple, a biology professor at Georgia College & State University in Milledgeville, has gone through the woods with Jackson and confirmed he has extensive, if somewhat unorthodox, field knowledge.

"He calls them by different names, but he knows them, and he has used them," she said.

Jackson learned much of what he knows from his Aunt Azalene --- a woman, he said, who "was 90 percent Indian." She raised him from the age of 9.

It was 1940, the year his father died, and his mother was unable to care for all four of her children.

"Back then, a wife loses her husband, raising four children was hard. My auntie had to come and raise me and my brother."

They lived, he said, "on the far back side of Unionville." In those days it was all woods and fields. The boy and his root-wise aunt would ramble the woods west of Macon. She taught him all she knew.

"She would carry me and show me all these herbs and things," he recalled. "She would say, 'Sonny, go get me three or four of those leaves back there.' " Then she would mash them up and make a poultice for whatever ailment needed treating.

He knew his calling from an early age.

The first sign came when Aunt Azalene took him to see an old woman up near Forsyth.

"Back then, they didn't call 'em root workers. They called 'em conjures," Jackson said. "She put her hand on my head and said, 'This is a blessed child.'"

He believes it was a laying on of hands, a kind of apostolic recognition of the gift within him.

"I've been at this since a child," he said. "I've felt this is something I must honor."


Monroe Jackson is a friendly man with a striking appearance.

His long, gray hair is gathered into a shock of dreads that he ties behind his head. Two long braids extend from his temples. Wisps of moustache grace his upper lip. Beneath his chin cling a few tufts of beard.
In some ways, he is a very conventional man.

He is a Korean War veteran and worked for years repairing gun turrets on B-52s at Robins Air Force Base. He likes to play golf in his spare time. (He does not claim to be particularly good at it.)

When his wife, Alice, works in the Vacation Bible School at her Baptist church, he helps out by teaching arts and crafts.

He likes to build wood models and make African-style masks out of leather.

But he is significantly unconventional, as well.

He said he can look at a gambler's hands and gauge his luck. Or tell a person how to burn a green candle to bring prosperity. Or aid in determining what number to play in the lottery.

His clients, he said, "have been doing pretty well getting their numbers from me."

He wears a necklace of beads, holding a carved pendant in the shape of a head. "Everything on my necklace would relate to something on earth," he said. The colors red and black on his necklace are for Ellegua, a spirit that opens and closes doors. "If he opens a door, no one can close it," he said.

Yellow and green are for Orunla, a spirit of peace, happiness and long life.

Jackson is an open man with a serious demeanor and a warm smile. His openness comes as a surprise in a field where the masters are reputed to be closed-mouthed.

"It's no longer a secret if I know it," he said. "Once you begin to get the knowledge, you can share it. If a person comes seeking the truth, I'll share it."

For instance, he said, "If you want to get something from an oak tree, bring something yellow." Always, to receive, one must give.

He mentions that hog foot is for treating a cold, fatback draws out poison, garlic keeps away evil spirits and an egg isn't fresh if it comes from the grocery store --- it must be fresh out from under the hen.

And this: "Some things must be done after dark or at a crossroads."

But here he deliberately becomes a bit vague. His openness has its limits.

The specifics, he said, "are something you don't give out. It's like a trade secret."

By way of example, he noted that, "You take a nail and drive it into the ground on a rainy night, it's like a seed. But a man must have knowledge. That same nail can be put in the ground for many different reasons. It's all about knowing the right ingredients and when to use the ingredients and how to use the ingredients."

On one point he was unequivocal: "Voodoo is real. Ain't no ifs, ands or buts about it."

He acknowledges that many people regard it as superstition.

"That don't make it not true," he said. "They got a right to their opinion. I'm not saying I'm right 100 percent, but I believe I'm right 98 percent, and I know 101 percent that the Almighty controls it all. We know that something is going on that is more powerful than human men."

And, he said, belief in root work is widespread. He said his clientele includes people of all races.

"I'd say it's much more (prevalent) than peoples think," he said. "A lot of 'em are in it unknown to others. The women in church have some kind of root bag in their pocketbooks. The men have twisted cords. A lot of people don't want their friends to know.

"People are kind of funny about this. They like to keep it a secret. That's the power of it. If people say 'root man,' they think you're doing something crooked. ..."

He acknowledged that in many instances, people have good reason to think so.

Jackson does not associate with other root doctors.

"The world is so crooked, people will draw you up in something and make you responsible," he said.
Nor does he have any regard for the "spiritual advisers" whose signs pop up along two-lane Georgia country roadsides.

"They're just out there trying to make money," he said with a grimace. "If you ain't got that money, they ain't gonna take your case." He said frauds are the reason that so many people don't believe.

Jackson also said people who mess with roots must understand there is a good and an evil side to them.
"When you boil it all down, it comes down to good and evil," he said. "It's just which one you want to control you. You can be the good person or you can be the evil person.

"Wicked, low-down things can be did," he added. "A person can put worms in you. You can take an egg and destroy a person's life with it ... I know how to do that dirty, low-down stuff, but you get no reward."
For himself, he said, "I believe in walking down the paths of righteousness. You're gonna be protected. I believe that good follows good and bad follows bad."

His own work often involves removing evil influences from others. "People that somebody put something on, that's when I really go to work," he said.

Jackson's daughter, Yolanda Lattimore, a 26-year-old poet with several years of college education, is following in his footsteps, having learned from him the lore of plants and spirits.

"His fundamental principles are what I take with me out in the world," she said. "It doesn't leave you." It's a legacy from her father. People have begun to consult with her, as they do with her father.

Jackson said he is widely known, but he makes no effort to drum up business.

"I don't advertise no kind of way," he said. "I don't pass out no cards."

Nor, he said, does he charge money up front for his services.

"Most people comes to see me," he said. "They find a path that leads to my door. I feel if they're not meant to find it, they won't find it no way."

To contact Don Schanche Jr., call 912-453-8308 or e-mail schanche@accucomm.net

Illustration: Photo(2) by Nick Oza/The Macon Telegraph

–Monroe Jackson, also known as Dr. I. Root, searches for plants such as Devil's Shoestring and John the Conqueror Root in the woods near Shurling Drive in East Macon.
--Monroe Jackson displays an herb that he says can purify blood.
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