The Voodoo Times: This Episode:

The Training of Norman Gerald


by Terence L. Johnson

Former Professor, African and African American History

Former Field Archivist

United States


Link for Citation Purposes:


Author's Note: The following story is based on the experience of African Americans in Florida, Georgia, and New Orleans as well as the life and work of the now deceased Metaphysician and Yoruba priest Dr. James Moye as experienced by the author of this story. Some of the activities of Dr. James Moye are featured in the book “Company of Prophets.” Some scenes in this story have been dramatized with fictional accounts.  Whenever possible, every attempt has been made to maintain the integrity of the events as they occurred.  


It was May 1, 1920, and the root man’s home was generally very dark.  That was the first thing I noticed when I walked into his three-room shack.  From where I stood, I could first only see the man in shadow and strange colored candles burning a few feet away.


“Well son, I know your mother told me she would send someone.  Do you have it?” he inquired.


I took out a long envelope in my pocket and gave it to the man in the shadows.  I could see how he quickly ripped over the contents of the envelope and let them fall on his wooden floor. I did not know the denomination, but I thought it to be quite a few dollars with the image of George Washington.


As I started to walk further into the room, the second thing I noticed, when the old man decided to light another multicolored candle was the fact that books, jars, and boxes littered nearly every section of his floor; this included his living room, that had only one window and on a chair, a kitchen which had an old wood stove and a small table with two seats.  One room that had a mud and straw floor was empty of the root man’s mess, save a long table, skins, skulls of bats and birds, hides of cats, bones from chickens, dangling by leather straps in the ceiling and mounted on walls.


Suddenly the root man blew a cloud of white dust into my face and shouted,


“Do not enter the hallowed place, you imposters!  Do not enter this hallowed place you reptiles, you who have forked tongues! Do not enter this hallowed place you low beings with huge dark eyes! Do not enter this hallowed place you serpent servants of doom and darkness! Because God is my protector at all hours of the day and night.”


I fell down and looked up that the image of the man cloaked in the shadows.


White dust fell on my head and face.


The root man said to me in a soft voice, “Do not be afraid, Gerard. I released you from the demons that clung to your soul.”


The term root man was a word that we Negroes gave to men and women who had supernatural powers.


I stood up. My legs trembled and my heart grew ever noisy in my chest.


I said to the old man, “How?  How do you…”


Wearing a 19th-century frock coat and some childish-looking knickers or pants as we now call them, the strange looking man said, “I can see everything about you, Gerard.”


The man’s eyeballs were large and black.  As the man looked at me, his eyes seemed to penetrate through my very being.   Suddenly, I could smell the musty, dank, suffocating smell of sulfur as it burned from a tray on the man’s table.


“Gerald, you know what it is.   You have smelt it before.”


The more mysterious the man sounded, the more I seem to know that he had the ability to know what I had done in the past.


“Come my boy.  Come young man. Come to my prayer room.”


He seemed to know why I came to him without me ever mentioning a word.  I did as he commanded.  I came to the room that had the strange dead animal skins dangling from his ceiling.


I sat at one end of the table and the overly dressed root man sat at the other end.  Between the two of us what appeared to me as a metal vase.  And in the metal vase shot out in a spiraling fashion black fumes.


The root man began to laugh.


“You see young man, this is the sulphur.”


“But why are you burning the poison?” I questioned.


The man’s eyes and stare grew ever intimidating.


“Why do any of your neighbors burn it?” Returned his question.


I scratched my head.


“I do not know sir!” I said.


The root man looked in the corner of the room as if to listen to someone who was giving him directions.  But there was nothing in the corner of the room, then he grew angry, but got up and put on the table another metal vase.  He went into the main entrance to his house and returned with a white candle and a small bottle.  He then set the white candle in a disk and reached beneath the table and took out a small glass containing some oil.  The strange man then rubbed the oil onto the candle and set the candle on a tray.  The candle’s wick then delivered a bright red orange color.  Then he took the small bottle and poured a white powder into the second vase on the table.  After the old man lit the powder in the vase a burst of white smoke shot up and provided his entire home with what smelled like fresh baked goods.


“This is frankincense,” the man said.  “It is one of the things that was given to the Christ Child.”


Swirls of the frankincense smoke entered my nostrils, replacing the wretched smell of sulfur.


“I am not sure what you mean?” I said,


My knowledge of the Bible was scant to none.  As a child, I did everything I could to avoid long stretches in the Sanctified Church.  I did not enjoy their hooping and hollering like savage Africans. Many of the members of my mother’s congregation claimed to be speaking in some strange tongues or languages.


Now I was in the home of the type of man who might be found in such a church hoping and hollering.


The old man strained his eyes on me and said,  


“The Christ child was given this.  And when they came into the cave, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh. That’s from Matthew, second chapter eleventh verse.  Now you have some idea what good would the frankincense and myrrh can do.”


The old root man got up grabbed the two vases and brought them over to me. Then he sat them down.


”Smell this one young man.”


I did as I was told.  I sniffed and began coughing.


“You are having a reaction to it.”


I nodded, cleared my throat, and said, “Yes sir!”


He snapped back “Young man, call me Dr. Jenkins.”


“Yes, Dr. Jenkins,” I returned.


I didn’t know much about these root men, but I knew that they often claimed to have a doctor’s degree, but had never been trained in that profession.  Still, the old root man seemed confident in his use of the term and I did not desire him to suddenly show his rage.


“Now I have much to tell you about the ways of things,” said Dr. Jenkins, as he smiled.


“Like what?” I questioned.


“Well, first, I want to tell you about Metaphysics.”


“Metaphysics?” came my question.  “Is that a being a Baptist group?


Incense startled the hair in my nose as Dr. Jenkins continued his instruction.


“Metaphysics is not a religion you can just pick up off the street. It is not a religion you just talk about to anyone.  It can be found in many traditions.  Many religions.  Many ways of thinking.”


“How did it all start? How did you learn all of this?


The old man smiled.


“I don’t know it all. Don’t know how it starts. I do know that if you are chosen, someone will come and ask you to learn from them.  Then if and when you find the right one, you teach them what you know.”


“Why?” I questioned.


“Some people are naturally spiritually gifted.  I don’t know why it is that way.  Their talents must be used for good against those demonic forces of darkness.”


“Darkness?” I questioned.


“Like the darkness that has affected your family.”


He smiled.


“Now boy, this sulphur incense is very dangerous.  You got to be trained to know how much and when to use it.  The frankincense is another part of the craft.  It was meant for a specific purpose before and even after the death of Jesus Christ.  But the training, well that is the thing.”


I became a bit confused, I had come to the man’s house because my mother asked me to come and see him.  I was not clear on what type of training a person needed or who he desired to train.


“Yes, son, it is you.  You are the one that I need to train.  I need someone to take my place.  The spirit has shown me that you are the one who was meant to come.”


I started to laugh.


Then the man who called himself Dr. Jenkin put the two metal vases on the table and put his hand on my temple.  When he did that, I experienced so much pain in my chest, that I collapsed from my chair and fell onto his muddy floor.


“This is no laughing matter, because soon, I am going to die and you young man will offer what you know to people in need. There are demons all about, wrecking lives.”


I stopped my laugh.


The man limped back to the further end of the table and sat down.  Before that time, I did not observe a limp in the old man’s stride.  I then recognized that he was not well in his limbs.


Now follow me into my kitchen.  I did what he commanded.  I went to his kitchen and watched as he placed a large black metal pot and fired up his black-sooted wood stove.  Then he said to me,


“This pot is made of steel, but you could also use a pot made of tin.  But never use a pot made of aluminum.”


I then asked him, “Why?”


He ignored my question.


He picked up a large bowl of water and poured it into the large pot.


As he was pouring the water, he said to me, “Your entire family is in great danger. 

You need to follow the steps that I will be giving you with no hint of hesitation.”


He sprinkled a few leaves from a bag into the water. He then poured what appeared to be salt into the decoction of water. 


“I do not understand,” I said.


Then he looked up at me with large dark penetrating eyes and said, “Young man, I can read you so easy.  I know that you intend to do what you want with this batch of brew.”


He stirred up the decoction with a long spoon.


“But let me assure you, Gerald, that if you do not follow my instructions to the letter, your two brothers, your mother, your sister, and your father will be dead within ten days.”


I started to tremble because I seem to understand the stakes for my family’s well-being. I answered him back saying, “Dr. Jenkins, I will do it.”


Suddenly the brew that the old root man stirred grew with an unpleasant and nauseating odor.


Dr. Jenkins then said to me, “Well, it may not smell so good, but it will work.”


“What will it do Dr. Jenkins?” I questioned.


Dr. Jenkins stirred the brew vigorously.  I could not help but think about this overdressed man in his 19th-century clothing and the scene from Macbeth and three witches hovering over a black cauldron.


Dr. Jenkins said to me,


“It will cure the sickness in your family house. It will stop the affliction from even touching you.”


The affliction that had attacked my brothers, my sister, my father, and mother had forced them all to lie in bed.  It seemed to have paralyzed them but brought on shooting pains in their limbs.  I shivered to think that this illness might, one day, be rained on me as well.


“Now sit down in that seat near the kitchen table.”


I did as he said.  Then he stopped stirring the strange witches’ brew and took from a box on his floor, a long sheet of parchment paper and a fountain pen.  Then Dr. Jenkins limped to a small shelf in his living room area and grabbed bundles of dried herbs.  He took the herbs and tossed a handful of them into his brew as he prayed in what I thought to be some strange primitive language.


“Now young man, write down the following instructions.  You will go to a store and buy for your family one article of each item.  You will buy for them and yourself including new underwear, a pair of pants and a shirt, but for your mother and sister new dresses and stocks.  For each member of your family, you will purchase hats and a sweater or coat.”


I quickly asked, “Then what?”


Dr. Jenkins seem to become cross with me and came behind as I sat and said,


“Young man, you need to talk less and write down what I tell you.”


Then as soon as he seem to have his temper tantrum, he limped back to the stove and continued to stir the brew and continued his dictation.


“Now I also want you to take all the clothing in your family’s house and burn them in the backyard.  The spirit is telling me that someone put some powder on the clothing when your mother put them on the line to dry.  When you all put on the clothes, that is when the stuff hurts you. It hurts your bones, gives you headaches, weakens your body and spirit.”


Then I made the mistake of asking another question.


“Our clothes cost money, why don’t we just wash that out of the clothes and then keep our clothing?” At that moment after I asked my question, He threw a large gold quarter at me and hit me in my head. A little blood came out.  Somewhat shocked, I sat there in his chair silent and somewhat afraid.


“No!” he shouted. “Young man, do you want to be the doctor?  Do you want to be one’s gums or are you going to let me tell you something?”


I held my head down and said,


“I will let you.”


The man began to laugh.


“Well boy, the decoction is finished. We will let it cool and the poor it a large bottle.”


Then he told me what was next in saving my family.  We were to fill a large tub with water and wash in this herbal water and while we were to do this he made me write down the following on the parchment paper.


“Boy, when you all bathe in the water, I want you to say, the Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.  That is the twenty-third psalm. You will do all of this for seven days and before the sun comes up from the eastern horizon.”


“Yes sir.”


Dr. Jenkins took a large gallon bottle and put a funnel over its mouth.  He took the large pot and poured the nasty-smelling liquid into the bottle.  Then he corked it up.


“Is there more that you desire my family to do?”


He smiled and said, “Young man, we have to fight a lot of jealous Negroes in our state of Kentucky.  Some of these Negroes have been beat down. Their esteem is low. Many wake up and do good. But some have a jealous nature to do evil.  It is not different than the deeds of some white men. When you have done what I have told you, then you will come back to my home and live and train with me for many years.”


So I did all that Dr. Jenkins told me.  My family took our baths and prayed to the lord and rose from their beds lived to ripe old ages. Then I, Gerard Norman, spent five years under the apprenticeship of Dr. Jenkins.


I learned how to use roots and make potions to save people from all evil.  I did not know it at the time, but I later learned that I was being trained to fight the army of darkness.




Publisher's Note: By special arrangement with the Author, all reader-remitted Membership Fees resulting from the story above, less processing expenses if any, will be forwarded to the Author as means of remuneration. -JP


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