Introduction to Root Work

African faith is seldom discussed above whispered tones in the southeastern United states.  Most of what is done out in the open is imported from Louisiana, direct from African immigrants, or from people who come from the islands.  However, there is a distinctly southeastern style that is a mixture of African, Native American, and Celtic faith and lore.

It doesn’t exactly fit into any of the commonly known categories.  It’s not quite Voodoo, and not quite Hoodoo either.  It’s something quite unique.  We usually call it “Roots”.

Most practitioners are non Catholic Christians.  I’d guess that most are Baptist or Methodist, though quite a few are likely non denominational.  Most I’ve encountered wouldn’t call what they do magic or roots work unless they’re doing it with the left hand.  For certain, wherever you see an Ellegua/Legba figure near or behind a door, that  individual is or has seen a Roots worker, or remembers something of African traditions.

One thing that is tragic, but does make secrets easier to keep is that many Roots practices come from Native American tribes or clans that were too small or wiped out.  Part of the reason for the extreme intolerance is the passing down through the generations of fear and ethnic shame.  The more westernized one was, and the more Christian one was, the more acceptable they were.  Roots was a threat to this idea, and still is.

The Celtic injection comes from those who lived and worked with, and often owned African and Native Americans.  Racial division was a problem in the south, it’s true, but the lines between ethnicities wasn’t always perfectly clear.  There was quite a bit of mixing of both genes and traditions.

Because of religious intolerance, most Roots workers do so as solitaries in total secrecy.  When they do tell others, it usually stays in the family or between a few select family members.  There are rules in some families about who can be taught, and traits that are said to mean that one has the gift.

If someone in the family pops up with an unusual trait that previous generations of Roots adept people had, then they were watched carefully both sides.  The extreme Christians would work extra hard to keep them away from anything remotely resembling “witchcraft”, and the less extreme would look forward to their first visions.

The systems of detection and initiation weren’t usually as elaborate as others.  Most just sort of grow into their practice.  Means of expression were in tandem with church or modern ceremonies and events.  A Roots worker may not have the organization around her/him to arrange for a group dancing ceremony, but they can have a house party during which most people there being drunk or high would cover the fact that they are actually in a trance state, and the existential and mystical talk is more than just intoxicated ramblings.

…and that a game of dominoes isn’t just a game of dominoes.

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