A conjure doctor is the name given to a person who works roots for the purpose of healing or harming and manipulating people, places and things for a specific purpose. The conjure doctor holds near and dear the belief in conjuration and magic stemming from the ancestral knowledge of his or her forebears. Seemingly strange beliefs in the power of herbs, roots, bones, graveyard dirt and a variety of curios – both natural and human made – fill the conjure doctors’ trick bag.
Conjure doctors also go by the names hoodoo doctor, spiritual doctor, hoodoo root doctor, root worker, conjure worker, hoodoo practitioner and conjure man or conjure woman.
Conjure doctors can be male or female and are found in every rural community where their supernatural powers are implicitly believed in. The source of their power varies from conjure doctor to conjure doctor and is often attributed to things such as being born with a caul over one’s head, being born the seventh son or daughter of a seventh son or daughter, having learned from an elder, often well-known, conjurer, having had a divine revelation from God or having received special powers from the Spirits. Nowadays, many people learn from teachers on or off the internet; though gaining knowledge in this manner does not guarantee the person has any supernatural powers as was implied in the past by virtue of holding the title of “conjure doctor” or “root doctor."
Sometimes, folks did not see being born with the gift as something desirable and there were things that could be done to remove the gift of sight, especially if the individual begins to have disturbing visions. For example, "Uncle Henry" Barnes, who says he was born in 1358, near Suggsville, Clarke County, Alabama shared the following in the Alabama ex slave narratives: "My mammy said I was borned wid a 'zernin' (discerning) eye to see sperits, an' I seed sump'n lak a cow wid no haid. So mammy made me stir de fresh lard when dey was rendin' hit, 'caze dat cyures you of seein' de sperits. Atter I stirred de lard, I didn't see 'em no mo'."
Documenting conjure doctors and spiritual mothers is a work in progress. I have included healers, faith healers, granny women, voodoo priests and priestesses, midwives, spiritual doctors, reverends and reverend mothers and all form of healers who utilized various forms of conjure in their work. Check out the profiles below for their stories.
Mississippi Conjure Doctor, 1926. "One conjure-doctor is pictured as having the remarkable gift of turning as green as grass most, and when he was just as black as a man could well be; and his hair covered his neck and around his neck he had a string, and he had lizards tied on it. He carried a crooked cane. He'd throw it down and he would pick it up and say something, and throw it down, and it would wiggle like a snake, and he would pick it up and it would be as stiff as any other cane." (FSN)
Jean Montenee, also called Doctor John or Jean Bayou, was an African native enslaved to Cuba where he purchased his freedom and became a ship’s cook. Settled in New Orleans, on Bayou Road, sometime before 1845. A fortune teller, healer and gris-gris doctor, he died in 1885 at the age of 70. Doctor John is considered the Father of New Orleans Voudou. Read more about Dr. John Montenet, including information about the brand new Dr. John Grimoire and talismans to be used in conjure works. Read more about Dr. John.
Black Herman: (1892-1934); Another name for Benjamin Herman Rucker, a magician and illusionist born in Amherst, Virginia. Black Herman was the most prominent African American magician of his time, well-known for his street and close-up magic. Herman professed to be the author of Secrets of Magic, Mystery, and Legerdemain, a book published in 1925 that contained a variety of African American Hoodoo practices as well as advice on astrology and lucky numbers, his semi-fictionalized autobiography, and directions for performing simple illusions. While the book was sold at his performances, it has since been determined that he was not the author. Read more...
Harriett Tubman (1820-1913); An African-American abolitionist, humanitarian, and Union spy during the American Civil War. After escaping from slavery into which she was born, she made thirteen missions to rescue more than 70 slaves using the network of antislavery activists and safe houses known as the Underground Railroad. She later helped John Brown recruit men for his raid on Harpers Ferry, and in the post-war era struggled for women's suffrage (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harriet_Tubman).
Ella Dunn, Granny Doctor from the Ozarks who lived to be 104 years old "learned about medicinal herbs from her father. However, some of the herbs he prepared and used, such as digitalis known as foxglove, Ella did not use because these herbs became readily available already prepared in the drugstore. "Even though my husband had heart trouble," she said, "I never used digitalis. I don't even know how my father prepared it because we could buy it already prepared." But many other herbs became fever and cold remedies, spring tonics and salves and ointments." Granny Ella wrote her own biography, The Granny Woman of the Hills. Read Ella's story here