"ANCIENT BELIEFS STILL ALIVE IN GEORGIA"
by DON SCHANCHE JR.
from The Macon [GA] Telegraph, circa 2000
I want to thank Jon Hughett for bringing
this article to my attention. It describes hoodoo rootwork
in and around Macon, Georgia, circa 2000.
The tone of this article varies from the skeptical to the respectful,
depending on who is being interviewed. I have interjected as few comments as
possible, to let the piece speak for itself; as always, all
explanatory notes have been added
More herb lore can be found in
"Hoodoo Herb and Root
Magic" by catherine yronwode.
Due to the lack of an archiving protocol of the
publisher (see below), a copy (or "vertical file clipping")
is being hosted here, for the convenience of future
researchers. Copyright remains with the original copyright holder.
ANCIENT BELIEFS STILL ALIVE IN GEORGIA
Practitioners claim to offer supernatural help,
but often at steep prices
[The emphasis on
the cost of spiritual supplies in the sub-head belies the
actual thrust of the article, which is primarily about
belief and customs among contemporary root workers in
Georgia. This tactic of ridicule is common among anti-magical or
anti-hoodoo writers who do not think to consider that all goods
sold in the market, including religious and spiritual goods, must
have a price. ]
By DON SCHANCHE JR.
The Macon Telegraph
When drug agents kicked in the door of Minnie Pearl Thomas'
trailer at 5 a.m. on 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when modern technology has superseded the old ways and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 [the] space above the ceiling.
[In hoodoo practices, both red pepper and black pepper, often in conjunction with salt, are used to keep away intruders to a home.]
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.
[Law Stay Away and Law Keep Away are popular formulas for anointing oils, sachet powders, incense, candles, bath crystals, and floor wash.]
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
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. Video
cameras 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
But apparently her roots weren't strong enough to head off
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 US Penitentiary
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."
[Tricking or conjuring people through their food or drink
is a common practice. Biscuits, dumplings, and other amorphous dough products are
always suspect, as are dark-coloured
drinks like coffee, tea, or soda.]
THE ROOTS OF ROOT WORK
The agents never identified Thomas' root doctor, but
suspected it was someone operating in Toomsboro or
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 what follows, the reporter, Don Schanche Jr., has apparently been misled by antiquated and outdated
academic theories that define rootwork, conjure, or hoodoo as derivative of "West African" religio-magical customs.
More recent research has brought to light the fact that most hoodoo in the USA derives from Central African (Congo, Bantu) beliefs
and customs and is not related to West African Voodoo (the state religion of the nation of Benin in Africa, whose people are members
of the Fon / Ewe lamguage group and culture.)]
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
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
[Professor Persico, the person sought for his
background knowledge of rootwork, sadly led the reporter astray. Voodoo truly
has little or nothing to do with Congo-derived Southern US rootwork. For more on this,
see the "Hoodoo History"
page in my online book
"Hoodoo in Theory and Practice."]
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
[This is far off-track. Yoruba culture and religion,
from the area in African now known as Nigeria, played even less of a role in the formation of US
hoodoo than Benin Voodoo did. Captive Africans from the Congo did not need to "come through
the Caribbean" to "develop a cosmology in which Yoruba gods took on
the identities of Catholic saints" -- because most
of them were from the Congo in Central (not West) Africa and they already
had their own Congo gods, the Nkisi. Furthermore, upon arrival in the USA, most of them
were converted to Protestant -- not Catholic -- Christianity, and thus had no knowledge of or
interest in Catholic saints. Apparently the author's source, Mr. Persico, has conflated
Nigerian Lucumi and Cuban Santeria / Ocha with Benin Voodoo and Haitian Voodoo --
and decided that these
two very different religious traditions are the basis of Congo-derived
US Christian rootwork. I hope that as time goes by, fewer
of these fundamental errors will appear in print, but for now, all i can say is that
as i write this annotation in 2005,
these are common misconceptions. ]
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.
Voodoo is most commonly found in Haiti.
Syntheses between African Traditional Religions (ATRs) and Catholicism exist only where
Catholicism is the dominant form of Christianity. The nature of each
ATR (and its original culture) remains distinct even
while mingled with Catholicism or Protestantism in the diaspora.
The Congo religion is not West African Voodoo.
Also, it is important to note that Congo practices, which form
the backdrop for rootwork in the USA and obeah in Jamaica, primarily mingled with
Protestant Christianity (not Catholicism) in the United States and Jamaica,
except in the few regions of the USA where Catholicism was the dominant
form of Christianity.]
But on the Georgia-Carolina coast, where Protestant European
settlers took control, the religion took a slightly
a serious problem here in that the author, or his
academic source, erroneously postulate that there
is but one African "religion" -- when in fact
there are hundreds, and the one they think the captive
slaves brought with them (Benin Voodoo) was a distinct minority
religion among captives transported to the USA, most of whom were from the
Congo and did not practice a religion called Voodoo -- or much like Voodoo.
In fact, not only did the Bantu-culture Congolese have
their own Nkisi-worship religion, the Kingdom of the Congo
had officially converted to Christianity in the 15th
century, so many early African captives in the USA were Congolese
Christians when they arrived. ]
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.
[The Native American contribution to rootwork was primarily in terms
of supplying a new materia medica and materia magica to replace the lost African herbs and roots the captive
Africans could not obtain in the New world.]
"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.
[The name Gullah is related to the modern
geographic term Angola and indicates that these people were from the Congo, not West Africa.]
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,"
ROOT MEDICINE'S POWER
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
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
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
"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
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
"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
"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
"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
"We all have strange things in the back of our minds at a
subconscious level," he said.
A DOLL AND A CURSE
Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills has had such a curse put
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
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
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
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
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
Because the term "doctor" comes up in root work, some might
ask whether root doctors ever run afoul of state medical
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
Nor are authorities aware of root doctors being prosecuted
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
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
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."
VOODOO AT THE COURTHOUSE
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
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
[Dressing a courtroom or putting down roots for the judge to touch is common.
See the page on
Court Case work and magic spells in my online book
"Hoodoo in Theory and Practice."]
ADVISERS TAKE TO THE AIR
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 Worshipers, 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.
[She probably is
saying that she is a Spiritualist with a capital S, that is, a
member of a Spiritual Church or someone
affiliated with the Spiritual Church Movement. Most
Spiritualists acknowledge the existence of rootwork.
Some adherents abjure the practice completely, but
many perform typical conjure rites of cleansing, blessing,
and setting lights under the term
"spiritual work," although they usually will not practice it for harm.]
counseling, mostly on drugs, alcohol and money, kind of like
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
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
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
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
"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 one another'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
Reggie Smith, station manager at WVKX, said the sisters are
"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
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.'"
BUYING A MOJO
The commercial end of supernatural practices isn't hard to
find in the Macon area.
Voodoo dolls, bundles of yellow roots and Tarot cards are
among the items for sale at the Candle Store, owned by a
Southern Baptist, in the Cherokee Shopping Center in Macon.
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
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.
[For more information on
these lottery dream books and others like them, read the pages on the
"Pick'Em Dream Book" by Rajah Rabo,
"Rajah Rabo's 5-Star Mutuel Dream Book," and
"Aunt Sally's Policy Players Dream Book"
in my online book
"Hoodoo in Theory and Practice."]
"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?"
'I COULD BE A MILLIONAIRE'
But quite willing to be interviewed was store owner Don
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
"I called the druggist in Jackson. He directed me to one of
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
"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
He has only two stores, the one in Griffin and the one in
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
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
"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."
RESPECT FOR ANCIENT BELIEFS
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
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
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
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
A nurse explained, "Somebody put roots on her, and she's
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
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
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
"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
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
Katner said it taps into an ancient sense of the universe's
order, a primordial impulse to pay tribute to the moon and
"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."
The Macon Telegraph does not have this article archived
online; however, i am presuming that the article is
Copyright ©, 2000, The Macon Telegraph, All Rights
Reserved. The raw text of this copy was acquired from
a Christian web site called demonbuster.com, under
the direction of Stan and Elizabeth Madrak, End-Time
Deliverance Ministry, Post Office Box
720375, Byram, Mississippi 39272 USA.