Written by: Morton Otwell Gourdneck
Deep in the delta regions and many of the southern states, a power existed that was very much respected and sought after by many. Although visited privately or in a secretive night visit, the hoodoo doctor was feared and a comfort to many who had mystical troubles. They were not hard to find when needed, as their reputation was spread far and wide, throughout the farms, hills and muddy river banks of the south.
The hoodoo doctor (or root doctor) seemed to have the answer to any problem and a cure for it as well. They could cure what the common doctor could not, either with herbs or charms, which sometimes consisted of human fingers.
In 1851, a farmhand began to have severe stomach cramps and asked to be brought to a nearby hoodoo doctor, as he claimed the local doctors had been able to do nothing for him. The man went by the name of Johnson, to his friends and fellow workers and they all tried to convince him to see another doctor, but he refused.
Making their way through the woods, they eventually came upon a farm with an old tar paper shack. An elderly African-American man asked them to come inside and let him examine Johnson. With a few chants that only he could understand, the hoodoo doctor looked over Johnson’s stomach and shook his head. “Johnson?” He asked. “Did you by chance fall asleep in the woods recently?”
“Why yes I did doctor,” Johnson replied. “Just two days ago, I stopped in the woods and took a nap on the ground. I slept maybe about 30 minutes or so.”
“That’s what I thought,” the doctor said. “While you were sleeping, some snakes crawled inside of your mouth and they’re right down there now in your belly. That’s what’s hurting you so much. They’re biting at you and tearing up your insides.”
Johnson had a look of great fear but the hoodoo doctor calmed him down and assured him that the snakes were no match for his powers. He would only need a few minutes to go outside and prepare the herbs and medicine to get rid of them.
“Hurry, doctor,” Johnson said. “These snakes are killing me!”
Within 15 minutes, the hoodoo doctor returned with a large pot, filled with milk and a dark bottle full of some mixture. “Ok, Johnson, you drink this snake cure and everything’s going to be okay.”
Johnson opened the bottled and drank the potion quickly. It only took a few seconds before he began to feel very sick. The hoodoo doctor held the pot of milk in front of him as he vomited.
“Look down there in that milk,” the doctor said. “See them snakes swimming around?”
Johnson looked down into the pot of milk and saw several baby snakes in the milk. ‘
“Johnson, you had four of them inside of you. You’ve got to stop sleeping in the woods. You’ll be okay now.”
“You know, doctor,” Johnson said, “I do feel a lot better. I’m cured!”
Whether the potion worked or there was a slight of hand by the hoodoo doctor was unknown, but this sort of display took place many times in the south. Not always with snakes, sometimes, such things as turtles and mudpuppies were used to cure a patient.
In one instance, in 1887, a young Georgia man named Joshua Simms, sat in the local doctor’s office, complaining of a pain just above his knee. “I think there is a crawdad inside my knee,” Joshua explained. “He’s pinching the fire out of me, doc.”
The doctor chuckled and went on to explain that there was no possible way a crawdad could get inside a human body and the pain he was experiencing was only a muscle spasm that would clear up on its own.
Dissatisfied with the diagnosis, Joshua made his way to the local hoodoo doctor in town and told him the problem.
The hoodoo doctor assured him that a medical doctor could never understand the problem he was facing and he was certain that there was a crawdad living inside Joshua’s knee.
“He won’t give me any rest, doc,” Joshua said. “He’s pinching me day and night. I can’t get any sleep.”
The hoodoo doctor darkened the room of his office and told Joshua he would conjure the crawdad out of his knee. As he chanted and moved about in the four directions of the wind, he reached down and began to rub the spot just above Joshua’s knee. He rubbed so firmly, that Joshua didn’t know if he could stand the pain any longer. Suddenly, as the doctor’s hand tore away from the knee, he held up a fresh water crawdad and presented it to his patient.