Folk Belief and Healing: Introductory Remarks on this Issue

By Carolyn Ware


Volume 18 of the Louisiana Folklore Miscellany (2008) is a special issue on folk healing and belief. It comes close on the heels of Volume 16/17 for 2007, a double issue on the effects of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita edited by John Laudun. These two volumes reflect the efforts of the Louisiana Folklore Society's Executive Board to resume an annual publication schedule. Volume 18 also marks a transition in editorship, as the Miscellany moves to a new home at Louisiana State University. John Laudun has stepped down as editor to fulfill other professional obligations, and the Society is indebted to him for his generous service. John's many contributions include creating new formatting templates and obtaining an ISSN number for the journal.

The current volume grew out of the Louisiana Folklore Society's 2005 annual meeting at McNeese State University, where Keagan LeJeune organized a memorable program around the themes of folk belief and sense of place. Keynote Speaker David Hufford set the tone for the meeting with a talk titled "Folk Medicine Comes of Age," followed the next day by presentations exploring various aspects of vernacular healing and belief systems. Three of these papers, in expanded form, are included in this volume. Keagan deserves a great deal of credit for conceptualizing this issue and soliciting submissions, as does Ray Brassieur for suggesting a special Miscellany issue on folk medicine a few years ago. Editorial Assistant Corrie Kiesel, a doctoral student at LSU, has played a major role in preparing this volume for publication. We are grateful for her considerable editing skills and for the Department of English's generous support. Above all, we thank our patient subscribers and authors.

Over the last four decades, the Miscellany has published numerous articles on belief, religion, and healing practices among Louisiana's various ethnic and regional groups. Most recently, a 2000 special issue was devoted to the topic of folk Catholicism. All of these fieldwork-based contributions have created an exceptionally rich body of knowledge about customary folklore in Louisiana; authors have addressed river baptisms, St. Joseph altars, folk cures for humans and animals, baseball superstitions, midwifery, witch riding, the evil eye, loup garous, hoodoo, and folk saints, among other things.

The five essays in this volume build on this wealth, introducing readers to a couple of less familiar belief systems, and giving us new insights into traditions such as treating and folk religious pilgrimages. They reveal the influence of contemporary folklore scholarship on belief and medicine, particularly the work of Don Yoder, David Hufford, and Bonnie O'Connor, all of whom approach the study of folk belief with "the same accuracy, thoroughness, and rigor of description as the study of any other aspects of culture" (O'Connor 1995: 51. See for example Yoder 1972; Hufford 1982, 1988, and 1992; and O'Connor and Hufford 2001). In the process, they have set examples for describing and interpreting folk belief "as it actually exists on the cultural landscape: thoroughly enmeshed in entire ways of life, in complex worldviews, and in systems of thought and values touching upon all aspects of life" (O'Connor 1995:51)

Following this lead, the essays in this issue approach belief and folk medicine as coherent and dynamic systems based on their own logics, systems which constantly "interact with the other systems of belief present in North American culture" (Hufford 1988: 253). Solimar Otero discusses the centrality of ritual cleansing in the Latin American/Cuban religion santería, and how these rites shape and reinforce vernacular concepts of health and illness. Maida Owens writes of the community of labyrinth facilitators in Baton Rouge, many of whom feel a spiritual calling to share the labyrinth with others. Their personal experience narratives express their beliefs about the labyrinth's healing potential. Wendy Whelan-Stewart's article explores the relationship between an apparition of the Virgin shared beliefs and values. Julia Swett examines the relationship between religious orthodoxy and vernacular healing practices in her account of Louisiana French treating (including a description of her own traitement). And Patricia Gaitely's essay draws on James Lee Burke's best-selling Dave Robicheaux novels to consider literary representations of traiteurs and other aspects of Cajun and Creole folk belief. We hope that you enjoy this issue and look forward to sending you Volume 19 before very long.


Hufford, David J. 1982. The Terror That Comes in the Night: An Experience-Centered Study of Supernatural Traditions. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press.

--------. 1988. Contemporary Folk Medicine. In Other Healers: Unorthodox Medicine in America, ed. Norman Gevitz. Baltimore, MD: The John Hopkins University Press.

--------. 1992. Folk Medicine in Contemporary Medicine. In Herbal and Magical Medicine: Traditional Healing Today, ed. James Kirkland, Holly F. Matthews, C.W. Sullivan, and Karen Baldwin. Durham: Duke University Press.

O'Connor, Bonnie Blair. 1995. Healing Traditions: Alternative Medicine and the Health Professions. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press.

O'Connor, Bonnie, and David Hufford. 2001. Understanding Folk Medicine. In Healing Logics: Culture And Medicine in Modern Belief Systems, ed. Erika Brady. Logan, UT: Utah State University.

Yoder, Don. 1972. Folk Religion. In Folklore and Folklife: An Introduction, ed. Richard Dorson, 191-215. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Carolyn Ware is a folklorist at Louisiana State University, Department of English. This article was originally published in the Louisiana Folklore Miscellany, Volume 18 in 2008.