Psychosomalisation of beliefs: the Rootwork Syndrome

The Rootwork Syndrome is a belief linked to Caribbean culture, treated with magic rituals and alternative medicines whose real effects on health are unknown and which may be ineffective or harmful

Rootwork syndrome is not a disease but a belief, magic, witchcraft or curse linked to Caribbean and African-American culture

It uses elements of nature such as herbs and stones to ‘heal’ but also to make ‘spells’.

A person affected by Rootwork (from ‘root’) may experience anxiety, gastrointestinal disturbances such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea, weakness, dizziness and fear of being poisoned or killed (so-called voodoo death).

The belief holds that the spell cast on them must be removed by a healer called a ‘root doctor’ (traditional healer), with the help of herbs and sometimes even by putting a spell on an enemy.

It is absolutely inadvisable to follow the alternative medical practices indicated by this and similar beliefs, for two reasons: one does not know the effects of herbs and natural substances on people’s health (effects that can also be very harmful), while one risks neglecting or aggravating an illness that could be cured by scientific criteria.

Rootwork is also called ‘puesto mal’ or ‘brujería’ in Spanish-speaking communities

In traditional black American medicine, Rootwork is traced back to the slave period, a time when it also served a practical purpose; all blacks in South America had to be familiar with healing techniques based on the use of herbs, as actual health care was considered too expensive for slaves.

Later, as standard medical care became more available, fewer people began to need the ‘root doctors’ – called Root Doctors or Rootworkers – for treatment.

However, many continued to consult them to perform divinations, spells and counterspells.

In general, in fact, Rootwork can be defined as a set of cultural interpretations – certainly devoid of any rationality and without any scientific basis – that attribute illness to spells, witchcraft, or the malevolent influence of some other person.

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Bambino Gesù

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