I Died, Met God, and Came Back as a Roots Healer
The first-person story of Bishop Dickerson, one of the last roots workers in Mississippi.
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.
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.
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.
Candles are the same way. I make them for different situations where someone might have put something on you. Had a young lady come here just this morning, she drives around collecting money for an insurance company. One of the customers she collects from is an older woman who took a disliking to her. That old woman knows the roots and has a spirit she works with. She put the spirit on that girl when she handed her the collection money one day. Handed the money to her in a funny way. Twisted the bills so the faces on the money were towards her. Now all that money that is supposed to go to that girl flows to the old woman instead. That young lady came in here this morning telling me she is having money problems. She can’t make or hold onto nothing.
I made her a road opening candle. Took a tall pillar candle and pushed three holes all the way to the bottom of the glass with my screwdriver. Then I poured in three different oils. She is gonna light that at midnight and let it burn until it’s out. She’ll be all straightened out after that. Send that spirit right back where it came from.
A lot of the baths are for protection, so no one can put it on you in the first place. You take the plant mixture, boil it in a pot on the stove, and then you pour that in your bathwater. We had one woman come in who had a bad spirit on her. Her husband had a girlfriend that she got in a fist fight with. The girlfriend ran back toward the front porch with a glass of liquid and threw it on the woman’s face. The spirit in that potion turned the lady’s skin all over her body as ugly as a lizard. We made her a special bath. Took a few times, but she broke that spirit and all that demon skin came off right in the bathtub. Floating in the tub like a snake shedding.
I started laying hands, by that I mean praying on people, when I was 14 years old. I’m 83 now. I've been doing public work since I was eight years of age. They would send me in the woods with the other boys to cut wood for paper and put it on the train boxcar. When I made ten years old, I was in charge of throwing the scrap wood off the slab run into the fire pit. That fire was bigger around than this entire room. I worked a lot of different jobs with the wood mill. I did muscle jobs because I felt I was supposed to, but all this time, voices were coming down asking me, “How long are you gonna run from the gift that God gave you?” I already knew the medicine from my mother. She was a healer in our community and a hard-praying woman. You couldn’t change her from believing in God no kind of way. People started coming to me because they knew I could lay hands like my mother did.
Once I got a little older, the boss man would always ask me about the medicine. Then he would go to his white church and tell them what I said. Then he started asking me to come to his church and teach those folks about the medicine. I didn’t want to do that. At the time, I was running around all over, so I didn’t really have time. Part of me kept running from the call. I kept running until I died. Yes, indeed, it took dying to get me on my proper track in life.
I was driving a truck with a ton of steel in the back. Driving down a curvy road and took the curve too hard and crashed into a tree. All that steel shot into the cab, breaking 67 of my bones and busting my liver. It wedged me. It crushed me. It was a bad wreck. Only a divine God can do something like that. Right before I crashed, I called out, “Lord save me.”
An angel grabbed my spirit from the body and took me to a high mountain. Everything there was crystal clear. There was a round ball there. The angel went up top and just stood there.
“Walk up under my right wing," he said. "I am gonna show you where Jesus is."
If you could hear this angel’s voice, it would have shook you to death. He took me to the 12 foundations. It was kind of like 12 floors of a building, but they were open so you could see inside. Little small angels were in these squares, and there were bigger angels teaching the little ones. My angel had me stand on the ball with him, and pushed me up in the air with a big gust from those wings. I went past all the 12 floors. He sent me up to what I call the 13th floor.
And there was Jesus. He was facing a large arched door. He was speaking words, and they were falling out of his mouth. The words became rolling balls of fire going right out through the door. I could see through his skin and instead of blood in his veins like we have, he had fire coursing through his arms and legs. And that belly of his didn’t have guts or nothing; it was a stomach filled with fire. I looked down to see who he was ministering to. You look down and you couldn’t even see the Earth. I just saw lighting striking in the darkness. That lightning from Jesus’s fire was moving all around the world.
I hollered at him, “Lord Jesus, please don’t send me back.” He told me I had to go back and do what I was supposed to do. I have a brother who grew up and became a bluesman. Me, I stayed in Mississippi and became a roots man.
I still lay hands on people. They come here when the doctor can’t fix the problem. They come when they have no other hope.
Every spirit wants to ascend to heaven, or whatever we call it. They want to reach that next foundation. If they lived with that evil, when they die then they just hang around with nowhere to go. These are bad spirits that living people deal with. They will send them after someone they don’t like. They are gonna infect you with that spirit through some bad food or a drink or something else that you touch. That demon is gonna be in your body growing like a baby in your belly. You are gonna get sicker and weaker and when that demon is ready to be born, that’s when you die and the spirit comes out and does it again to someone else. I pulled out a lot of demons. People get so high off the spirit it looks like the skeleton might pull right through the victim’s skin, but we get it out. It's like driving nails with a hammer.
Some people see the demon when it comes out and others don’t. You are better off not seeing it. These demons are about the most God-awful looking things you can imagine. When I pull a demon out, they see me and think I am one of them and want me to come with them and teach them. I had people brought to me hours after death. God told me what to do and how to do it. I pray so hard that when I put my hands on that cold body it jumps with electricity. I have a daughter who has the same gift. She is gonna keep this tradition going. People are still practicing these things I do, but they do it differently now. But if you don’t believe in the old ways, the same power isn’t there.
It’s certainly not something to play with. There are a lot of bad spirits in the world with nothing to do. If you go to the crossroads and make a deal, they might help you for awhile, but after seven years, they want you to work for them. And you’ll never be able to do what they ask you to do. Then they are going to kill you, and you won’t be able to ascend nowhere. You’ll be just like them. Stuck.
Playing with bad potions is always gonna come back to you. It’s better to live in the light.
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