In the Ozark tradition of folk healing, or at least as I’ve learned it, there are a few different “signs” that might be on a person, showing that they have the gift for healing or spirit work.

Many of these signs can be seen from birth. Children who are born with the “caul”, or a membrane that covers the baby’s head at birth, are a rare occurrence and can act as a sign of becoming a healer. Generally speaking, any odd coloration or markings at birth can point toward being a carrier of the gift.

Doctors often watch out for signs in the people around them. Staring, “spacing out”, or general aloofness are sometimes taken as signs that someone is half in this world and half in the spirit world. In the Southern Conjure tradition doctors are sometimes called two-heads or two-headed doctors, on account of being split between worlds. Shaking or tremors are often signs of being able to receive spirits or the Spirit, depending on who you’re talking to.

Surviving a great disease or wounding can also mark a person to receive the gift. It’s thought that people who have gone through great struggles or have had a brush with death are perfect to become effective doctors. Folks who have had near death experiences often begin to show signs that they did not exhibit beforehand. A baby who is born at or near to the death of another family member is said to receive the gift from this crossing of the two worlds i.e. birth and death. I’ve even heard from certain healers that they received their gift directly when at the deathbed of another doctor.

Often the gift comes to a person with no signs at all, which is simply referred to as knowing. Doctors sometimes just seem to have an innate ability to do things, as they say, or to pick up and learn skills from other doctors.

Some verbal charms and healing practices can be passed from one person to another without any need of the gift. In the Ozarks these charms are said to only be passed between opposite sexes, from an older person to a younger person. Passing a charm along to someone of the same sex, or speaking the charm aloud, or sometimes even writing the charm down, is said to destroy the charm forever.