Stories of Rootworkers and Hoodoo in the Mid-South, by Tony Kail

"Stories of Rootworkers and Hoodoo in the Mid-South," by Tony Kail, (History Press: Charleston, S.C.), $21.99 paperback.

If true mystery and fascinating cultures move you, you'll be thunderstruck by this book. Just look at a map. If you consider the mid-South roughly those regions along the Mississippi River Delta, you've found it.

Vast numbers of Africans were brought to this region in chains from their native lands, moved cross country from the Atlantic Coast, and inland from Jamaica, Haiti, and the Caribbean. They brought with them their religious and faith-healing practices. Tony Kail, cultural anthropologist and ethnographer, writer and lecturer, brings his nearly three decades of study of ancient faith-healing (hoodoo) and herbal beliefs to bear in this remarkable work.

African societies were utterly disordered by the triangle trade. Family, language, and culture were torn away. Only vaguely remembered practices of the old ways remained. And yet, the old cures, home remedies, and herbal treatments continued.

Along with these, secret curses and tribal spiritual aides remained, too. These often conflicting, contradictory, and easily confused practices were prevalent among poor African American farmers whose disrupted lives cried out for help to beyond. Mysterious practitioners of the secret arts remained known to a black community, but not to the officials of the white culture surrounding them. To get cures for all diseases the root workers, who knew all the treatments of the forests and fields, were consulted.

To place a curse, or be relieved on one, a distraught farmer could go to a hoodoo doctor. With time, and the advent of popular advertising, some practitioners even made their skills known. Many ads of variously described natural medicinal cures and potions became common in the black press. White seekers of healing found it of value also, often to this very day.

Of course, the law often saw it otherwise. Many "witch doctors" were arrested or fled counties when accused of fraud and charlatanism. Several unforgettable tales of chicanery and exploitation of the gullible are recounted, indeed were transcribed by Work Projects Authority government historians in the 1930s.

Dozens of awe-inducing ingredients of curative rituals, medicine bags, and helpful potions keep a reader not only intrigued but stunned. Where, you might ask, do you get frog extractions or John the Conqueror root? Oh, and there's even mention of stores where this is available, and online! So enjoy, be astounded, be perplexed. But read this book.

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