What is a Witch Doctor?

The Ancient Art Of Being A Witch Doctor

The term "witch doctor" is used for a person who is said to heal through the use of witchcraft or magic. This is a term that has been circulating for centuries. In numerous instances, potions were crafted out of herbs which provided medicinal value. There are historians who state that such early physicians, as well as their potions, likely were what led to our modern medicine. Through early African literature, the matter of what are witch doctors was written about fairly frequently. However, this reference could very well be towards worldwide practitioners of early folk medicine. In different areas of the world, the terms "shaman", "healer", and "wise men/wise women" were used for early medical practitioners.

In ancient times, witch doctors were usually available when no other practitioners were. This was mainly the case in villages and small towns. They typically assisted with medical emergencies, extraction of teeth,  and with childbirth. The failures of the witch doctors usually were blamed on the nature of the patient or displeasure of the gods. This ensured that they could maintain their status, although their treatments were unsuccessful often enough.

Sacrifices often were required by the patients or their families. This could take the form of a slaughtered animal. Payments such as food, weapons, and other items also were accepted. The type of illness the patient had determined the value that was required of the sacrifice. For example, a sacrifice of a small animal was sufficient for a minor ailment, while a deer or other large animal would be sacrificed when it came to serious illnesses.

The role of a witch doctor usually was passed along in the family. Witch doctors would all share lineage in many villages. Training to become a witch doctor started at an early age, and each would choose their own successor. An apprenticeship would be forged, with the apprentice becoming witch doctor when the current one could no longer carry out his or her duties. The role of a witch doctor in the societies led villagers to look after him or her until the death of time.

This role steadily diminished as medicine advanced. In the rural areas of Asia and Africa, there are still members who are thought to act as witch doctors. Most of the time, their position is not so much practical as it is honorary.

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