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READERS, ROOT WORKERS,
and
BLACK GYPSIES

How to Tell Genuine Psychic Readers and Rootworkers
in the Hoodo and Conjure Tradition from Scammers and
How to Identify and Avoid Falling Prey to
"Free Psychic Tarot" Frauds, Fraudulent Spirit Mediums,
Phony Wicca High Priests and Priestesses,
Fake Santeria Madrinas and Padrinos, Bogus Palero Tatas,
and Spurious Vodoo or Vodou Mambos and Houngans

I am often asked -- especially by people who have grown up outside the cultural traditions of African American hoodoo and cojure -- how to find an authentic psychic reader, tarot card reader, conjure doctor, or root worker. In addition, many people tell me that they hope to locate such a person through the internet.

Sadly, as a reader and root doctor myself, i am all-too-frequently approached by clients who have been scammed by readers into believing false scenarios and dramatic stories designed to keep the client returning to the reader for long periods of time, as well as by clients who have been taken for hundreds or even thousands of dollars by spurious spell-casters who did nothing for them.

I cannot change the past for those who have been ripped off or victimized, but i can change the future, if you take the time to read this page and learn how to tell the real, sincere, and compassionate fortune tellers and conjure workers from the false and parasitic ones.

Finding a good psychic reader, card reader, or root doctor can be a hit-or-miss proposition on the net. One reason for this is that ads for fraudulent psychic tarot readers appear everywehere and it's difficult to decide who is honest and who is not just by looking at their web sites. Another rerason is that at the present time some of the best root workers are older people in rural areas who are not online. But no matter how you locate a prospective root worker, psychic reader, or tarot card reader, there are a few basic concepts you need to understand in order to separate authentic diviners and traditional conjure doctors from the economic predators posing as seers and root workers:

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Note: Illustrations on this web page of Harry Roseland's paintings of African American Fortune Tellers are displayed here courtesy of The Mystic Tea Room web site, where the entire gallery of such images is located.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN A PSYCHIC READER, ROOT WORKER, OR CONJURE DOCTOR

It is not necessary for a root doctor to be a psychic reader, but the better ones usually are. So the first things to ask are:

Is the Conjure Doctor Also a Reader -- And If So, What Kind?

There are several kinds of readers in the African-American community, so next, you might wish to know what kind of reading will be perfomred. Here are some of the most popular forms:

GIFTED READERS

"Gifted" readers -- usually those born with a veil or caul -- just read you. They may ask to touch your hand first or hold an item of yours in their hands, but on the whole, they do not use any tools to aid their prescience. In the early 20th century, female readers of this type were also known as "fortune telling women" -- and many of them were also members of the Spiritual Church movement. One of the most famous of the old time fortune telling women was Aunt Caroline Dye.

BONE READERS

Reading the bones was once common in Hoodoo, but there are only a few who do it these days. There are several styles and moths. You may read about them in my book "Throwing the Bones: How to Foretell the Future with Bones, Shells, and Nuts" which has its own Bone Reading web page.

READING CHICKEN BONES

The first style uses chicken bones, and each bone has a special meaning -- the wing bone for travel, the breast bone for love, and so forth. The bones are thrown on a table and they are read much as tea-leaves are, by the pattern made and by the directions they point.

READING POSSUM BONES

A second way of reading the bones uses possum bones cast into a circle in the dirt or only a mat. This is fairly common in the South.

READING BONES OF MINGLED SPECIES

A third way of reading the bones uses the bones of a number of species, each one being read for meanings based on the species of the animal and the part of the body from which the bone comes.

CARD READERS

Card readers come in two types: card cutters, who cut the cards and read the results, and regular card readers, who do layouts to obtain their divinations.

CARD CUTTING

Card cutters are considered a little old-fashioned these days, although some readers still like to start a reading by having their clients cut the deck and thus give them strong first impressions.

Card cutting itself usually involves having the client cut a card deck three times, using the left hand (the hand that is closest to the heart)). The top card on each stack is then turned and the cards are read as "Past," "Present," and "Future" on the query.

PLAYING CARD READING, TAROT CARD READING, ORACLE CARD READING

Card readers usually employ regular playing cards and work according to one of the 19th century French or German methods of symbolism (such as Lenormand's system of cartomancy), but the use of tarot is growing rapidly among African-Americans. Hoodoo card readers should not be confused with so-called Free Psychic Tarot Readers, who may or may not be authentic.

TEA LEAF READERS AND COFFEE GROUND READERS

Some African-American readers get their divinatory impressions through tea leaves or coffee grounds. The picture at the top of this page, painted by Harry Roseland around 1905, shows an older black woman reading tea leaves for her young white client.

Tea leaf reading is an art that is particularly well known and practiced by Scottish, irish, and English people. It probably entered hoodoo during the 19th century, as a result of social contacts and intermarriage between African Americans and Anglo-Celtic Americans.

PALM READERS AND HAND READERS

Several forms of physical body reading -- such as by moles, freckles, birth-marks, head shape, and facial features -- are primarily performed for the purpose of character analysis, but palm reading, also known as palmistry, can be used either character analysis and for predicting the future.

Palmistry is equally popular among African American psychic readers and those of European or Asian descent. Both groups traditionally ascribe the origin of this art to the Gypsies -- that is, Rom or Romany people whose original homeland was in India, many centuries ago -- and such may well be the case. However, no matter where the art originated, by the end of the 19th century, it was practiced by people of almost all ethnic groups.

Among African American spiritual workers and clients, palmistry is more commonly known as "hand reading" than "palm reading," as evidenced in a number of old blues song lyrics, including "Hand Reader" by Washboard Sam, recorded in Aurora, IL in 1938, and "Hand Reader Blues" by Bill Jazz Gillum, recorded in Chicago in 1947.

SCRYERS AND CRYSTAL BALL READERS

Reading the future through the use of scrying mirrors, obsidian palm-stones, or the crystal ball developed independently among many cultures around the world -- wherever obsidian stone, rock crystal, lead-crystal glass, or mirrors can be found. These methods of divination are found among European-American psychic readers as well as practitioners of hoodoo.

One of the most famous root doctors of the early to mid 20th century, Dr. Jim Jordan of Como, North Carolina, was particularly known for the crystal ball with which he read his clients.

Seemingly unique to African-American reading is the employment of naturally marked rocks. These may be some sort of conglomerate stone, a flowered obsidian, or a matrix containing multiple small fossil inclusions -- anything marked with dark and light areas in which images can be seen. They are used much like a scrying mirror or crystal ball.

ASTROLOGERS, NUMEROLOGISTS, and FENG SHUI PRACTITIONERS

One of the earliest 20th century black astrologers who also worked in the hoodoo tradition was Edward Lowe of Chicago, Illinois, whose "Spiritualistic Dream Book" was first published during the 1920s, and who also sold conjure oils.

Although astrology, numerology, and feng shui have never been very prominent among African American psychic readers, they continue to gain wide acceptance among black clients, who may seek out white or Asian psychic readers for these services.

You can read more about black astrologers in the article "Astrology for Rootworkers" in The Black Folder: Personal Communications on the Mastery of Hoodoo

If the Conjure Doctor or Root Worker Is a Reader, Will You Get a Free Preliminary Reading?

Gifted psychic readers and tarot card readers who are also two-headed doctors are the ones most likely to give a new client a free reading -- however, you cannot expect to get a free reading. Instead, the reading may be bundled in a package deal that includes a preliminary reading, the rootwork, and a follow-up reading.

If you are offered a free preliminary reading, ask yourself: Is it accurate or is it a canned cold reading? (For more on canned cold readings and the Gypsy fortune telling scam, see below.)

If the First Reading Is Not Free, What Does It Cost -- Is It Fair or High Priced?

Prices range from $30.00 to $100.00 for a half-hour pre-scheduled reading and from $60.00 to $200.00 for a one-hour pre-scheduled reading, depending on the region of the country and the reputation of the psychic reader. If the reader is very popular, you may need to schedule in advance, and some readers may be booked up to three months ahead. If you cannot wait and you want an "instant" reading through a psychic phone line service, you will expect to pay more, anywhere from $3.00 to $6.00 per minute, which translates to $180.00 to $360.00 per hour for an "instant" reading. However, the instant reading is by the minute, so you can say goodbye as soon as you get your answer; you do not need to stay on the line for a full hour!

Can your reader become your rootworker?

Before you move from hiring a person as a reader to hiring them as a conjure doctor or spell caster, take a moment to evaluate how appropriate the reading was and what you got out of it.

Also, consider that readers who perform spell-casting are not under obligation to take everyone on as rootworking clients. Of those people who do perform spell-work on behalf of clients, some will only perform certain types of jobs, while others will be able to handle almost any situation -- and some may be over-booked for rootwork and unable to fit you in to their schedules.

Because rootwork is far more costly than fortune telling, now is the time to ask yourself another couple of questions:

WAS THE WORKER'S READING A DIVINATION OR A CHARACTER ANALYSIS?

A good reader will bring you answers to specific questions and will not stop you from asking further questions about your present situation. A lazy reader will not care much about your present situation, but will offer you generalizations that refer to your future life in a vague way. A really bad reader will give you what amounts to nothing more than a character analysis, telling you who you are but not telling you anything about the situation that brought you to the reader in the first place.

If you didn't like the reading, you probably won't like the rootwork.

WILL THE ROOT DOCTOR PERFORM THE KIND OF WORK YOU WANT?

The ways in which hoodoo doctors chose to limit their practice are idiosyncratic, to say the least.

Many root workers flatly refuse to do "bad work" or destructive spells against the client's enemies. They will only perform positive and helpful spells, such as love drawing, enhancing gambling luck, or bringing about a client's personal success. One hoodoo i know limits his practice to uncrossing, healing, and blessing, but -- perhaps because he has so much sympathy for men -- he won't work on behalf of women who want to dominate their husbands or charm them into remaining sexually faithful. Such workers are sometimes called "lady hearted," because of their morality.

Even those conjure doctors who "work both sides" (good and evil) may only take jobs that relate to certain areas of human life. For instance, they may specialize in love and sex spells of all kinds, from bringing about reconciliations and helping clients find quick sex, to granting women domination over their men and working on a client's behalf to destroy love through a messy break up -- but they will not make mojo hands for gambling. Other root doctors, equally proficient, may specialize in money-drawing and business prosperity spells and also offer lucky charms for gambling -- but steer clear of working love and sex spells. Such self-imposed limits to any given doctor's repertoire are partially a matter of what the individual worker is gifted for and partially a matter of what he or she feels most comfortable providing to clients.

What kind of job will be performed?

Finding the right conjure doctor for you is not only a matter of locating someone who is honest and fair, but also a matter of matching your needs to the doctor's specialties.

Generally speaking, there are three types of work that a conjure doctor will perform on behalf of a client: setting lights (burning candles), making up a mojo bag, and laying tricks (performing spell-work). Some workers do only one or two of these things, others do all three.

SETTING LIGHTS:

How much is the cost and how is it determined?

I know workers who set lights for prices ranging from the cost of candles and dressing oil (free service) on up to 10 dollars per dressed 7-day vigil candle -- anything more would strike me as high.

Many good root workers will set lights as a free service, just for their cost of supplies, but they will charge for spell work. -- and this is especially true of those who are Spiritualists. In fact, some Spiritual workers keep an altar with lights set up at all times and charge nothing -- not even the cost of a candle -- to add your name and petition to the prayers they are making.

Beware Gypsy fortune tellers who start you off with a 10 dollar candle and then tell you it didn't work and you will need a "special" 50 dollar candle.

For more on canned cold readings and the Gypsy fortune telling scam, see below.

MAKING UP A MOJO OR TOBY:

How will it be made and how fair is the cost?

If you meet face-to-face with the root worker who is going to make you a mojo or conjure hand, you will probably be asked for something personal of yours or to write something on paper. If you are not asked for such items, it is possible that the root worker is simply selling pre-made mojos purchased in bulk from a supplier.

If you do not meet face-to-face with the root worker who is going to make you a mojo or conjure hand, you should receive full instructions on what personal items and written-upon papers to place in the bag as you fix it up at home.

Mojo hands generally come in two degrees of power -- regular and triple strength. Average prices around the country run from $10.00 to $30.00 for regular and from $25.00 to $60.00 for triple strength. Anything higher than that ought to justified on the basis of containing rare ingredients -- but could run up to $200.00.

SPELL WORK:

How will it be done and how fair is the cost?

The conventional way in which root doctors create a magical link between the client and the job to be done -- either when they meet face-to-face or when the client lives in a distant place -- is to ask for the client's (or the target's) personal concerns, name papers, and/or petitions. Next, it is customary to give or send the client some spiritual supplies (such as crystal salts to bathe in or a floor wash for the house or an herbal tea to drink) with instructions for their use. While the client uses these things, the actual job is being done. Finally, the worker reports back to the client on how the job went and when results can be expected. This sort of long-distance hoodoo is not new; i have catalogues from the 1920s in which such services are offered through the mail. Clients often say of such long-distance work, "He had me to start the job and he did the balance."

If a conjure doctor asks nothing personal from you or sends nothing to you to work with, i would openly question how -- and whether -- the job is actually being done.

Prices for root work can range from $100.00 to $1,000.00 or more per job, depending on how complex or difficult the job is or how long-standing the condition is. An average range is $150.00 to $300.00.

In asking you to pose the above questions, i am NOT trying to reduce finding a conjure to a matter of cost guidelines, but merely hoping to remove some of the mystery and confusion surrounding having hoodoo work done by a practitioner in another region, someone you do not know and more or less have to trust.

Additionally, you should know that although not all root doctors will make contracts with clients, if you are contemplating paying more than one or two day's wages for root doctoring, you can make it a point to select a spiritual worker who will write such a contract with you. Conjure contracts do NOT include guarantees of success in the outcome of the work in your favour, but they may include a guarantee of photographs of altar work; the sending to you of spiritual supplies such as teas, baths, oils, powders, or candles with which you will "back up the work" at your end; the promise of a certain number of follow-up contacts by phone, text, or email; and a time-limit after which the job will be finished and a new job may be negotiated.

PSYCHIC READING FRAUDS: THE SO-CALLED "GYPSY" FORTUNE TELLING SCAM

Those who work the "Gypsy fortune telling scam" are not always ethnically Romany (Gypsy) people, although many of them are. Rather, the word "Gypsy" here refers to the profession of being a "Gypsy fortune teller," a career that is mostly practiced by women and which mostly preys upon female clients.

Other terms for people who work the Gypsy fortune teller scam are psychic fraud, fake psychic reader, and 900-number psychic line con artist. If the person falsely claims to contact the dead on your behalf, he or she is called a fraudulent medium. If the person falsely promises to cast magic spells, he or she is a fraudulent root doctor, fraudulent witch, or fraudulent witch doctor.

There are two parts to the Gypsy fortune telling scam -- the canned cold reading and the candle scam. In addition, a confidence game may be worked, as described below.

The Canned Cold Reading

The canned cold reading is called "cold" because the person being read for is a "cold" prospect or a stranger. It is called "canned" because it follows a predetermined script -- a particular piece of patter that consists of generalizations that will be true for most people, or which most people will agree are true about themselves.

The Gypsy psychic reader may use cards, a crystal ball, or palmistry as a prop, but these are only added for their decorative and "authentic" appearance. The reading may be conducted in person or over the telephone. In either case, the reading itself is canned and could just as well be spoken by a robot, regardless of what is revealed in the cards, the ball, or the client's hands.

Among the phrases you will hear in a canned cold reading are the following:

"You are a good, kind person, always helping others -- but you never seem to get any help in return"

"I sense that you are searching for true love but you have not yet found that special person."

"You have always tried to do what is right -- and sometimes that has gotten you into trouble."

"You have had financial ups and downs in your life and you could use more money now. But don't worry -- there will be a change in your financial situation within a year, and it will be for the better"

The Canned Reading That Turns Dark

If you are receiving a canned cold reading and you are told unsettling things like, "There is a dark spirit hovering over you..." or "there is a dark cloud over your left shoulder..." it is generally a good idea to relax, listen, and enjoy the show. Because that's what it is, a show.

Popular variations of this routine include: "You have a dark aura," "You were born with negative energy," "There are dark vibrations around you," "You were born with bad karma," "There are negative vibrations associated with your name," "Dark forces attended your birth," "You have a black hole in your aura," "Your chakras are in a negative condition," "You were born with bad energy," or "I sense some very dark spirits swirling around you."

Some, but not all, African-American Gypsies (Black Gypsies) modify these phrases and mention "crossed conditions," just like a real root worker would. European-style Gypsy psychic readers may instead say that you are "cursed" or "bewitched."

The key adjectives are generally "negative," "dark," and "bad." The key locations are usually "at birth," "around you," or "over your left shoulder." If you have any tendency toward self-doubt or depression, false readers will use these phrases to feed into your fears.

Generally speaking, the negative suggestion of the "dark spirit" or "dark cloud" or "bad energy" or "negative vibration" is introduced during a client's first cold reading in an attempt to select out repeat customers for the candle scam.

The Candle Scam

Once you have been introduced to the "dark spirit" that threatens your happiness, the Gypsy offers to burn a blessed candle on your behalf to relieve the condition. The charge is typically 10 to 20 dollars per candle, paid in advance. Generally, no other forms of conjure will be offered at the first reading, but the Gypsy will make an appointment for you to return for a report on how the candle-burning went.

When you return, you will be told that the condition was worse than anticipated and that four (or more) candles were burned. You will be presented with a corresponding bill. Sometimes a burned-out glass-encased candle will be doctored to make it sooty and this will be shown to you as "proof" of the bad situation.

At this point in the scam, you can either walk out -- or you can pay the extra fee. If you pay the additional charges, the Gypsy will promise to do more candle burning for you -- and this will continue until you run out of patience or money, or both. A full program can cost from 40 to 900 dollars before the Gypsy turns you loose. And, needless to say, you have only the Gypsy's word for it that ANY candles were burned on your behalf at all.

The Confidence Game

If a client is perceived as unintelligent and the Gypsy is a serious criminal, the candle scam can lead to true confidence game work, such as a special Gypsy variant of the pigeon drop, in which the client is told to close out her bank account and bring the cash money in to be "blessed" or to have "the curse removed." As with the regular pigeon drop, the envelopes are switched, leaving the client with a wad of cut-up newspaper.

"I Reunite Lost Lovers -- Guaranteed"

Some Gypsy scam artists pose as spiritual doctors, spell casters, root workers, hexenmeisters, witch doctors, wizards, magicians, or witches. Those who follow this trade tend to advertise that they specialize in "reuniting lost lovers" and may claim they can "bring back your lover in 24 hours." They may even say that their spells are "absolutely guaranteed."

However, if you engage their services, you will notice that all they will offer to do is burn a candle for you. They do not ask you meaningful questions that a real root worker or conjure doctor would ask, such as, "Do you have anything personal of your lost lover, such as a hair, that i can use as a link in casting a spell?" They don't ask this because they really have no intention of casting a magic spell -- and they may not even be planning to actually burn a candle on your behalf.

Typically, fakes who promise to reunite lovers with a candle spell will soon tell the client that the loved one has another lover and that a simple candle won't work after all. At this point they substitute the more costly goal of promising to drive off the other lover's influences. They can claim that this will take time, and in this way they can string out clients who have suffered a love or marriage break-up for between $400.00 and $900.00 in candle-burning charges.

The Online Frauds

I wish i did not have to warn folks about this, but there are quite a few fraudulent web sites advertising the services of so-called gifted psychics, astrologers, tarot card readers and / or root doctors, spell-casters, witches, sorcerors, and fake Santeria, Palo, or Voodoo priests or priestesses that exist for no purpose other than to rip off guillible clients. Keeping track of these scam sites is next to impossible, as they change their domain names regularly to avoid prosecution.

NO CONTACT INFORMATION OR NAME; JUST A PAYPAL BUTTON

Be on the look-out for sites which require payment via Paypal only, which give no street address or telephone number for contact, which show no pictures of a shop or reading room. They usually show no picture of the person you are conacting, either. At these scam sites, if the owners claim to be initiates in an African diasporic tradition, they do not present their lineage or the name of their house, the way legitimate prietsts and priestses in these services do. Some of these fraud psychic reading sites do not even give you an email address for contact purposes -- you can only reach them via a blind form-mail online.

Beware: Scam sites like these are little more than black holes down which you can pour your money.

PLAGIARIZED "POWERFUL FREE LOVE SPELLS" AS A COME-ON

Some fake psychic readeing sites may contain "free spells" or "free powerful love spells" as a come-on, but upon investigation, many of those spells will be illegal plagiarisms stolen from reputable sites or publsihed books on witchcraft, hoodoo, or conjure. (One reason the psychic fraud sites get shut down so often is that plagiarism on this scale is a copyright violation and as such it is both against the law and against the terms of service of most internet providers.)

Beware: The free spells at these sites may be stolen from legitimaye sites, but the work these fraudsters will for you is usually all hot air or smoke and mirrors.

FAKE SANTEROS, PALEROS, AND VOOODOO PRIESTS AND PRIESTESSES

Another kind of internet fakery is found on sites where a reader or spell-caster claims to be a "Santeria priest," "Sateria priestess," "Voodoo mambo," "Vodou priest," or "Palero."

Santeria, Voodoo (Vodoun), and Palo are initiatic religions. Joining these religions involves service to a pantheon of deities during regular religious rites. Being a Santero, Palero, or Vodoun hounsi or mambo is a life-time committment to a specific religion. It is not a code-term for reading tarot cards or casting spells for the public.

Fortunately, telling the fakes from the real practitioners is fairly simple in these cases, As members of initiatic religions, all true Santeria, Palo, and Voodoo adherents should be willing and able to tell you who their godparents (initiators) were, and what casa, house, or peristyle (local group) they are affiliated with. If a psychic reader or rootworker posing as a priest or priestess in one of these religions cannot or will not give you that information, they are not really Santeros, Paleros, or Vodouissants.

Beware: If a member of an initiatic religion will not disclose his or her lineage, you are dealing with a fake.

Educate Yourself About Psychic Reader Fraud

Believe it or not, there ARE real, sincere, and honest psychic readers and root workers in the world. Few, if any, promise "guaranteed results," though, and most will offer to do a lot more than merely burn candles on your behalf. In order to learn to recognize the cold readers, the psychic line fakes, and the candle scam Gypsies from the genuine spiritual workers, you may wish to study a little more deeply.

Some good material has been published on the fake Gypsy psychic reader phenomenon, e.g. "The 'Gypsy' Fortune-Telling Scam" by Nelson and Anne White and "The Gypsy Fortune Teller and the Sucker" by Frank Armstrong. I suggest, though, that if this subject interests you, then rather than seeking out published sources, you simply learn fake Gypsy fortune telling -- or at least the entire 30-minute cold-reading patter -- by investing a few bucks in a small tape recorder and the cost of a series of readings.

For the past 50 years, i have paid to see the Gypsy fortune telling routine "performed" in New York City. Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, and smaller cities throughout the nation, by actual Gypsies as well as by Latinos and African-Americans posing as Gypsies -- and the wording of the patter has been remarkably uniform regardless of era or place. My investment in this piece of personal research so far has been less than 100 dollars all told, because i go in for the introductory reading when it is on a half-priced special, i never ask for a love-reunion, and i bail before the candle-burning kicks in.

SPELLCASTING FRAUDS: THE "PSYCHIC PROTECTION RACKET"

The psychic protection racket scam is practiced by fraudulent spellcasters. Like the old Sicilian Mafia protection racket, it is built around an implicit threat that only the client's "protector" can fend off. However, instead of the threat of a robbery, as in the Mafia version, the threat is a spiritual attack.

For those unfamiliar with the psychic protection scam, some of it concepts are as follows:

"You Are Under Attack"

"Things will go very badly for you if you don't pay me money right now to protect you against a future threat against your happiness that i predict is coming your way and will be sent against you by an unnamed and unknown spellcaster who has been hired by an unnamed and unknown enemy of yours."

The unnamed and unknown enemy (who has hired the unnamed and unknown spellcaster) is usually identified as a person connected in some peripheral way to your already troubled family or your already fragile love life.

This is NOT to say that fortold psychic attacks cannot happen -- people do hire rootworkers all the time to cast harmful spells to break up families and love relationships -- but if an UNKNOWN enemy is proposed (that is, if you are told that your spouse is cheating but you have NO EVIDENCE OF THIS) and then you are told that this UNKNOWN ENEMY has hired an UNKNOWN SPELLCASTER who can only be defended against or defeated by paying the spellcaster you are consulting, please be conscious that you may be walking into a well-known long-term financial drain. What begins with you paying for "protection" and "cleansings" can easily escalate to stories about repeated immanent "attacks" that must be warded off (and paid for), and eventually, if you keep paying, your scam spell-caster will arrive the "right moment" to perform a very expensive ceremony to "defeat the enemy once and for all." And during this entire time, you will have never seen proof or evidence that there even WAS an enemy.

"The Other Woman Has Hired a Powerful Evil Witch"

Now, let's say that your psychic spellcaster tells you that your boyfriend is cheating. It is not the psychic's obligation to provide proof that your man has another woman -- but if the scenario starts to depart into realms in which you go from being cheated on to being "under attack" and your attacker is a said to be an evil spellcaster or "powerful witch" hired by the person your boyfriend is cheating with, you have to stop and ask yourself -- what evidence do i have?"

I mean, in a real cheating situation, where your boyfriend is cheating and you KNOW it through phone or credit card records or gas mileage or other means, you have some evidence to back up your fears. If you hire a spellcaster to help you out in a situation like that, where you have some evidence, then by all means, try to find out who the other woman is -- and TELL your rootworker -- because in real, true, honest, down-home folk magic, the spell-caster or magical coach you hire will want that NAME and even a PICTURE or, if possible, a PHYSICAL LINK, token, trace, or personal concern of that enemy. Yes, good rootwork can be done without a token or trace, but still, the authentic root doctor will ASK for it.

Set yourself a time limit on your work. Hire a trustworthy rootworker with full faith and sincerity, or book a few short appointments with a magical coach to help you with spells you can cast yourself as needed.

When your time limit arrives, you and your spiritual advisor will know whether you won or lost, and you will be satisfied.

"My Spell-Caster Died!"

The end-game for the psychic protection racket scam can be quite dramatic. In order to escape police scrutiny after ripping off a large number of victims, such a scammer generally runs a bunch of these scenarios at once, times them all to end around the same month, then claims that the effort has rendered a fatal blow to his or her spirit. The scammer actually claims to be dying, and may ask for financial help to cover medical expenses. Ultimately, the reader closes up shop and literally DISAPPEARS from town ... opening quietly under another name elsewhere.

Since the internet had done away with the need for brick-and-mortar store-fronts, however, modern psychic protection-racket scammers have a much easier time of it -- they are running a dozen of these scenarios at a time, with web sites going up and down on a monthly basis.

BLACK GYPSIES: AN AFRICAN-AMERICAN PHENOMENON

Black Gypsies -- people of either mixed Romany and African ethnicity or African Americans dressing as Gypsies -- were known in America from before the time of the Civil War. Many of them were gifted root workers. An eye-witness account of such an ante-bellum practitioner who was called a "Voodoo Woman" but was described as a "light mulatress" and dressed in what seems to have been Middle Eastern or Romany style costume, can be found in Sallie M. Parks' article "Voodooism in Tennessee," originally published in 1889.

While most African American readers and rootworkers -- such as the woman depicted repeatedly in Harry Roseland's many paintings of a 19th and early 20th century black fortune Teller in New York which are used to illustrate this page -- were genuine and well-respected seers and conjure workers, it is true that scammers also could, and still can be found in the African American community and online.

During the 1920s, the entire Gypsy cold-reading patter, including the "dark spirit hovering over you" portion (the introduction to the candle scam proper), was transmitted verbatim to urban African-Americans by contact with Gypsy fortune tellers. Hoodoo workers who adopted this routine -- in those days at least -- also tended to dress themselves in some of the then-typical Gypsy garb, such as hoop earrings and head scarves. They called themselves "Black Gypsies."

Acoustic rural blues songs from the period prior to the Second World War often contain references to hoodoo that shed light on how it was practiced in earlier times. In "Black Gypsy Blues" by Walter "Furry" Lewis, recorded at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee, on September 22, 1929, the singer compares his difficult but seemingly omniscient lover to a Black Gypsy psychic reader (and also manages to include two once-popular dances -- the Eagle Rock and the Sally Long -- and a railroad line -- the New York Central -- in his grab-bag of imagery). It is interesting to note that Furry Lewis' use of the negative term "Black Gypsy" for his soon-to-be-ex-lover is almost exactly contemporaneous with Will Shade's use of the highly positive term "fortune telling woman" in The Memphis Jug Band's 1930 recording of a blues about the well-respected Spiritualist reader Aunt Caroline Dye.

BLACK GYPSY BLUES
by Furry Lewis

My woman must be a Black Gypsy, she knows every place i go
Woman must be a Black Gypsy, she knows every place i go
She met me this mornin' with a brand new .44

When you used to my Gypsy, done just so and so
When you used to my Gypsy, you done just so and so
Now i got another baby, can't use you no mo'

Eagle Rock me, Baby, Sally Long me too
Eagle Rock me, Mama, Sally Long me too
Ain't nobody in town can Eagle Rock like you

My woman got a mouth like a lighthouse in the sea
Woman got a mouth like a lighthouse in the sea
Every time she smiles, she shine her light on me

Had the blues all of '28, started again in '29
Had the blues all of '28, and started in '29
They tell me, "New York Central's the Nickel Plated Line"

Lord, i asked for cabbage, she brought me turnip greens
Lord, i asked for cabbage, she brought me turnip greens
I asked her for water and she brought me gasoline

Another song called "Black Gipsy Blues" was recorded by Curtis Jones in 1938. Although lyrically more coherent than the earlier song, it too concerns a jealous female lover who seems to have clairvoyant knowledge of the singer's doings, and is thus compared to a Black Gypsy.

An entirely different "Black Gypsy Blues" was recorded by Merline Johnson in Chicago on May 2nd, 1940, for Vocalion Records. Johnson's Black Gypsy boasts of her powers, uses the slightly exotic name "Rosa Lee," and subtly hints that she engages in prostitution as a sideline, her clients being "all the men in town" who are "lonesome." Merline Johnson was a more sophisticated and polished performer than Furry Lewis, and her "Black Gypsy Blues" reflects a comparatively greater familiarity with the urban Black Gypsy phenomenon.

BLACK GYPSY BLUES
by Merline Johnson

I'm the Black Gypsy, don't you want your fortune told?
I'm the Black Gypsy, don't you want your fortune told?
I will start from the first, and end up on your soul.

When you get lonesome, and begin to feelin' blue,
When you get lonesome, and begin to feelin' blue,
Go to see a Black Gypsy, she will tell you what to do.

I'm the Black Gypsy, and they call me Rosa Lee,
I'm the Black Gypsy, and they call me Rosa Lee,
When you get lonesome, call around to see me.

All the men in town, comes to see poor me,
All the men in town, comes to see poor me,
Because I know what to do, to ease your misery.

Yes, I'm the Black Gypsy, and all my work's by trade,
Yes, I'm the Black Gypsy, and all my work's by trade,
And the man I can't ease his misery, has never been made.

While Gypsy fortune telling is not a terribly common scam among African-American practitioners, i have run across it in urban areas where Gypsy palm readers have passed their techniques along to unscrupulous African-American readers. Basically, if a psychic reader calls herself a "gifted Southern hoodoo worker" but spouts the Gypsy fortune telling patter at your first reading, she is a "Black Gypsy" and not a real root doctor.

Sadly, to the extent that African-American conjures pick up the Gypsy fortune-telling patter and become Black Gypsies, they also tend to lose their contact with traditional African-diaspora root doctoring skills. Like all the Caucasian, Romany, and Latino Gypsies, they usually cannot make a mojo or perform actual hoodoo root work. They will not perform actual love spells or money spells; all they will do it burn candles -- if that. Today, among my Southern clients, there is a tacit understanding that "readers" come in two types -- "readers who work for you" and "readers who just take your money for candles."

Let the client beware.


Acknowledgements:
Thanks to Eoghan Ballard (eballard@sas.upenn.edu) for the information on Bantu bone-reading. Thanks to John Irving (john.i@mediaone.net) and Eliot Williams (williams@medicine.wisc.edu) for helping me to locate a picture of Furry Lewis and pin down the discographical data on his recording. Thanks to Chris Smith (chris@skerries.demon.co.uk) for the transcription and discographical information on the Merline Johnson song. Thanks also to Claudio Caponi (ccaponi@bluewin.ch) for the lyrics of the 1938 Curtis Jones song "Black Gipsy Blues."



AIRR: ASSOCIATION OF INDEPNDENT
READERS AND ROOTWORKERS:

A non-profit membership organization of accredited professional Spiritual Practioners, Readers, Diviners, Rootworkers, Hoodoo Doctors, and Conjures offering free information and service referrals to the public.

AIRR offers a useful series of tips on how to tell genuine readers and rootworkers from fakes at the page called Questions to Ask Your Reader, Rootworker, or Conjure Doctor. Check it out and before you spend any (more) money, see if your reader or rootworker will answer the questions stated. A genuine conjure doctor will do so -- the fakes will either act "insulted" that you asked or they will hem and haw and not be able to tell you the truth.

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