Root doctors are hoodoo workers. They follow the way of conjure (magic). They divine the future, concoct medicines, cast spells, work witchcraft, give advice and make charms to deter evil, attract love, return lovers and attract good luck.
The art of the root doctor is passed from teacher to pupil. Once the teacher feels his or her pupil has qualified, the pupil will often set up their own practice. This is what happened to me, having been taught the art of conjure by Trinidadian voodoo doctor Earl Marlowe, as chronicled in my Doktor Snake’s Voodoo Spellbook.
Being a root doctor, however, is not for the fainthearted. Why? Because, as one writer put it, “the spirits are a risky set to deal with.”
In the USA, root doctors were called by lots of names, including wood doctor, festisher, two-facer, witchcraft woman, hootchie cootchie, wangateur, priestess, papa, obi and goofer-doctor.
The way of the root doctor is vividly described in Melville Herskovits’ The Myth of the Negro Past (1941):
The first way [of becoming a root doctor] … is to be especially endowed with supernatural power. This most often takes the form of seizures similar to cataleptic ones. This, as it is explained, comes ‘like a thunderbolt from a clear sky’ … By whatever means the message comes it instantly makes the recipient qualified for the task, and he possess all the techniques of the craft. These healers so strongly believe in their ability to perform cures that they not only become deeply insulted when one expresses disbelief in the method of diagnosis and treatment, but may say that this disbeliever can expect to be chastened by the supernatural power … Human selection by personal initiative is another means. In such cases a novitiate is apprenticed to a practitioner. An older doctor takes this novice under his care and gives him guidance, and in this way he learns by clinical contact with actual cases … Many practitioners state that in occasional crises they receive direct help from a voice which gives directions and tells of remedies that bring marvelous results which gain for the practitioner distinction and fame.