The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005
An ancient synonym for witch, cunning person or wise person is root-worker, root doctor, or the gender specific root-woman or root-man. A root doctor may work with other parts of plants as well as many other genres of magic, however roots are special.
Although all parts of a plant possess their own enchantment, in general, roots are considered a plant’s most profound source of magic power. Roots are buried within Earth and so it’s believed that they absorb Earth’s secrets and hidden wisdom.
World famous wonder-working roots include:
Mandrake (Mandragora officinarum)
High John the Conqueror (Ipomoea jalapa), a species of Morning Glory
Ginseng (Panax quinquefoliusm or Panax schinseng)
Angelica (Angelica spp. especially archangelica), knowledge of this root was the gift of an archangel
Root-workers dig into Earth to gather supplies. Once upon a time, digging into the Earth Mother without permission was tantamount to rape. But how do you ask for permission, how do you know whether you’ve received it and what is the proper ritual for harvest? The root-worker knows. These eventually became professional secrets, transmitted orally.
It is not necessary to kill the plant in order to gather the root, although that is what is most frequently done today. A skilled gardener can carefully dig up a plant, remove part of the root and then replace the plant, also leaving payment for whatever was taken and for disturbing its peace. This takes care and time and precision.
Roots are used for magical, spiritual, and medicinal purposes. Roots serve as lucky charms. High John the Conqueror in your pocket allegedly serves as a draw for good fortune and bestows sexual magnetism on its bearers. Other roots promise fertility or love or protection or success.
Once upon a time, knowledge of roots, the type a root-worker possessed, also implied a certain knowledge of the female reproductive system. The Bible’s first command to people is to be fruitful and multiply. Ancient Jewish sacred texts discuss the contexts where it is permissible to break that commandment. Vague references are made to a “cup of roots” (a potion brewed from roots) that can permissibly terminate pregnancy in certain circumstances. Although the actual formula isn’t specified, it wouldn’t have to be: back then, the root-workers would know. This information was transmitted orally over generations; it may never have occurred to people that this basic, standard information could ever be entirely lost. Those formulas were lost, but the references to cups of roots survived. In medieval Europe, this lead to “roots” having an ominous reputation.
Many roots are treated as living beings—unlike other parts of the plant, which are almost uniformly treated as materials for use. Roots must be cared for so that in a reciprocal relationship they will care for you, too. Roots are “fed” on schedule, daily or weekly or otherwise, with sips of alcoholic beverages, sprinklings of powder, or dabs of enchanted oils. Hopes, dreams, and fears are whispered to them. They may be wrapped in silk or carried in charm bags, kept under one’s pillow or slipped into one’s bosom. Mandrake roots or those roots resembling them are carved to look like little people, making it even easier to talk to them and envision them as alive.
In the twenty-first century, this type of witchcraft is most commonly associated with African-derived magical systems, particularly hoodoo or conjure, because it was marketed and so was relatively public. However root-working is international and exists with variations virtually everywhere on Earth, although it may now be secret and almost forgotten.