In the Ozarks region of the United States, power doctors are backwoods healers who use charms, Amulets, incantations and Magic to cure illness. They are similar to the powwowers of the Pennsylvania Dutch in function, performing services without charging fees but accepting “gifts” and “voluntary offerings” instead (see powwowIng). Unlike the powwowers, power doctors must learn their craft from a person of the opposite sex who is not a blood relative. They believe that they may in turn teach two or three others, but to spread the word to more than that means losing their ability.
Power doctors are called upon to “charm off” warts, sores and boils and to cure various minor maladies, such as colds, headaches and body aches. Hundreds of recipes exist for charming off warts. One method calls for killing a Toad and rubbing its intestines on the offending growth. Another and more exotic formula requires killing a black CAt and taking it to a graveyard at night, where it must be placed on the grave of a person who has been buried the same day. If a person led a “wicked life,” the wart will disappear that much quicker. most power-doctor cures prescribe similar measures, all of which must be carried out in secrecy lest the cure will not take effect. Charms must also not be mentioned to others for the same reason.
Each power doctor has his or her own favoured charms, methods and incantations. many incantations come from the Bible or are loosely adapted from it—they are called “old sayin’s”—while other incantations are nonsense, such as “bozz bozzer mozz mozzer kozz kozzer.” There is no formal handbook.
Blood stopping is a service performed by power doctors. Persons who suffer deep cuts and wounds from hunting accidents or from knives and axes used in farm labor are rushed to a power doctor to stop the heavy bleeding.
Rabies may be stopped with “madstones,” a treatment once common in many parts of the United States. The stones resemble porous volcanic ash, but the hill folk claim they are taken from the entrails of a deer. They are passed down from father to son, never sold, but often lent to someone who is bitten by a rabid animal. The stone is applied to the wound and supposedly draws out the poison. When it falls off, it is immersed in warm milk, which turns green. The stone is applied to the wound repeatedly and immersed in milk until the milk no longer turns green. At that point, the rabies is supposed to be cured.
Some power doctors claim to be able to cure serious disease and illness, such as cancer. In addition to mum
bled charms and prescriptions for knots, burned mole feet, pricked beetles and other strange ingredients, the power doctors may practice a laying on of hands. Their faith healing is considered different from that of religious faith healers.
- Randolph, Vance. Ozark Magic and Folklore. 1947. reprint, New York: Dover Publications, 1964.