The Last Mississippi Root Man

Bishop Dickerson is an 83-year-old healer living in Osyka, Mississippi. As owner of the Spiritual Candle Shop, he creates amulets and other talismanic items using roots, oils, candles, herbs, and various curios that are part of the African American folk magic pantheon. These are his own words, as told to Justin Fornal over a series of interviews.

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I’ve been healing people out of this here shop since 1997. Long before that, folks would come over to my home to get their medicine. Sure, there are a lot of local people, but I’ve had patients come all the way from China to get some particular kind of work done. My main line of business is in healing. This isn’t voodoo; this is roots work. Folks come here to get something bad off of them, not to put something bad on someone else.

I make spiritual baths, candles, and different kinds of mojo bags. I make the products here in this shop, and then we ship them up to botanicas and candle shops throughout the country. You can find my baths in New York, Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles—a lot of those cities. There are people in New York I have been doing business with for 40 years, and we have never even met. Over the years, companies have wanted to team up with me and expand into a larger market. I always thought about it, but the larger producers want you to cut your product and cheapen it with fillers. I can’t do that. Same goes for folks who have tried to remake my personal recipes. I inherited a gift from my mother. That gift goes into each product, so it doesn’t matter if you know my process or have my recipes. If you weren’t born with the gift, it won’t matter much when you put your hands on the product.

Most days start by opening the shop and getting ready for consultations. Folks who are feeling bad come in and sit down in the waiting area in one of the chairs or on the couch. They can sit wherever they want, except for the chair that has a sign on it that says, “Do not sit in this chair.” My guardian spirit is sitting there watching over the shop.

One by one I call them into the back room for a reading. People might come down for a hundred different reasons. A lady might want her man to stop running around. Or maybe he is a bad person, and she wants him out of her life. The right medicine is gonna either keep him at home or push him on down the road. I just help situations. I don’t hurt them. We’ve done six consultations this morning, and it isn’t 10 AM.

A lot people don’t have any particular problem; they just want to enhance themselves. They want better luck with money, love, or just want to give their spirit a stronger presence. They walk in the room and you think to yourself, Hmm, this person has something extra. That’s what the mojo bag does. You can use plant roots for that. High John the Conqueror is an old root—that’s the root they sing about in a lot of the older blues songs. I have always sold them, even during years they were hard to get. Some other roots men would sell Little John to Chew and try to pass it off as High John. That’s not right. You’re gonna ruin your reputation for a short dollar.

The first time I ever heard the name of High John spoken out loud, I was a little boy. On Saturdays, all the men would gather under the big shade tree and talk while the women were in one of the houses cooking food. Children would just sit and listen. I remember one of the real old gentlemen talking about how all he needed to straighten his life out was a High John the Conqueror root. If he could just get his hands on one, he would spark some fresh ginger across that root, like flint against steel. Eating that ginger would give him all the power he needed to really get his situation straight. Yes indeed, I am sure it would have, too.

If you’re gonna hold onto a root and have it work for you, you need to take care of it. Once you wake up that spirit, you need to give it a name and take care of it like any other living thing. Once a week, you need to dress it. When I say dress, I mean you need to anoint it with the oils. I make different oils for different purposes. You are what you eat, and your root is the same way. You feed it love oil, it is gonna work for love. You dress it with money oil, it is gonna work to bring you money. If you don’t truly believe and dress that root, it is not gonna work at all.

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When we make a bag, I put a few roots in there that work together. Cover the whole bunch in magnetic sand, and they’ll be are stronger at attracting what you want. People also come here for those fresh buckeye nuts I get from my own tree and dry out here in the shop. Buckeyes have been used as amulets since the Native Americans were the only ones occupying this land. It looks like the eye of a deer, that’s why it’s called a buckeye.

Different roots, different color bags, it all makes for different results. For the first week, you need to keep the root next to your skin so it becomes part of you, and then keep it in your left front pocket. The color of the bag is what you go by. Red is love, but pink out-draws the red. I have found that the combination of colors is more powerful. My spirit will tell me if I missed any ingredients. When you start carrying these roots and the love of your life comes along out of nowhere, you gonna be happy you made the investment.

Read the full article at Vice