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seeking info for term paper on rootwork

To: alt.religion.voodoo,alt.lucky.w,alt.religion.orisha
From: catherine yronwode 
Subject: Re: seeking info for term paper on rootwork
Date: Sun, 20 Apr 2003 18:54:33 GMT

Sandra ( wrote:
> I am in the process of writing a term paper on rootwork in my
> Psychology of Abnormal Behavior course.  As of 2000 when the APA's
> DSM-IV was published, "rootwork" has been considered a culture-bound
> syndrome, i.e., recurrent, locality-specific pattern of aberrant
> behavior and troubling experience.  

> Specifically, rootwork is
> described as 
>      "A set of cultural interpretations that ascribe
>      illness to hexing, witchcraft, sorcery, or the 
>      evil influence of another person.  

In my experience, "hexing" is never a term associated with rootwork
and its use here reflects the cultural limitations of the authors of
the DSM-IV. "Hexing" is a Germanic term and is found most often in the
Pennsylvania Dutch (German American) community, where the term
"Livergrown" is also used to specify a certain form of medical
condition brought on by witchcraft. 

>       Symptoms may include generalized anxiety and
>       gastrointestinal complaints, weakness, dizziness, 
>       the fear of being poisoned.  

The symptoms of rootwork given in the DSM-IV are neither complete nor
definitive. They fail to include poisoning through the feet, live
things in you, impotence, crawling on all fours and howling like a
dog, being confused in mind, and a variety of symptoms that seem to
echo the medical conditions of high blood pressure and diabetic neuropathy.

>       Roots, spells, or hexes can be placed on other 
>       persons, causing a variety of emotional and 
>       psychological problems." 
>       (quoted from the DSM-IV) 
> Rootwork is considered a culture-bound syndrome
> because it only occurs (according to the DSM) 
> in the southern United States among both African 
> American and European American populations
> and in Caribbean societies.

This is grossly untrue. Belief in rootwork -- under that specific name
or the alternative terms jinxing or crossing (a.k.a. crossed
conditions) -- is certainly not limited to the South! It occurs
throughout the entire United States among African Americans of all
economic classes. It is also found in European American communities
with close contacts to African Americans. 

Belief in hexing is, as i have noted, Germanic, but it too has spread
into the general population. 

Belief in what i call "generational curses" is typical of Eastern and
Northern European Americans. '

Belief in the Evil Eye and its deleterious effects on children is
endemic in American populations descended from immigrants who came
from Central Europe, the Mediterranean and Aegean regions, the Middle
East, Turkey, Greece, the Central Asian republics (the "Stans"), and

None of these beliefs are pathologies per se (any more than a belief
in a denominationally-defined God is pathology!), and they should not
be listed as such in the DSM. 

> I would appreciate any comments or information the members of this
> newsgroup might have regarding this topic - especially if any of you
> have experienced someone suffering from "rootwork" whose behavior
> could be considered pathological.

I have had numerous clients and customers in my store who experienced
rootwork in a NON-pathological way.

I have also had experience with people who felt that they had been
rootworked, but who did not actually fit the profile of people being
rootworked. Their symptoms corresponded to a variety of physical and
mental illnesses, including

   undiagnosed diabetes
   undiagnosed high blood pressure
   undiagnosed genetic auto-immune syndromes
   undiagnosed hormonal and perimenopausal migraine
   undiagnosed intestinal worms
   undiagnosed obsessive compulsive disorder 
   undiagnosed bipolar mood disorder
   undiagnosed severe clinical depression

Once those medical and psychological pathologies have been either
ruled out or addressed by referral to a doctor, a worker such as
myself is still left with many cases where the client is really, truly
being rootworked. 

I mean, if you come out of your job and go to your car in the parking
lot and someone has thrown yellow powders on it, you can be pretty
sure that you are not ding-dong crazy but rather that someone is
throwing powders for you. 

Likewise, if you are having a run of trouble and you find a bottle
full of Cayenne pepper, nails, pins, tacks, and needles under your
porch and your name is written on a piece of paper inside it, you are
not a candidate for the looney bin  you have been jinxed. 

By defining ALL belief in rootwork as pathological, the authors of the
DSM-IV are falsely stigmatizing a large section of the population as
mentally ill. 

> BTW, my position on this is that rootwork has been wrongly
> classified as an ethno psychosis and should be removed from the DSM.

I agree. I wish i had time to write a lengthier reply to your
interesting query, but i hope these brief points are of help, and if
you have further specific questions of me, i would be glad to write

Feel free to quote me in your paper, with attributions. 


cat yronwode 

Herb and Root Magic ---
Correspondence Course ------
Hoodoo in Theory and Practice --

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Southern Spirits: 19th and 20th century accounts of hoodoo, including slave narratives & interviews
Hoodoo in Theory and Practice by cat yronwode: an introduction to African-American rootwork
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