LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - They could be your neighbors, your checker at the grocery store, even an 18-wheeler truck driver. Traiteurs, or faith healers, come in all shapes and sizes in south Louisiana.
In the Cajun community, folks know Helene Boudreaux as an award-winning singer/songwriter. But this mother of eight and former "lady trucker" has another talent, or gift from God as she calls it, that has her shining even when the spotlight is off.
Boudreaux is a traiteur, a faith healer, who uses old chants and prayers passed down from an Indian healer 200 years ago to her family - all for healing the sick. "I have two different prayers for bleeding, I have two different prayers for warts, I have two or three different prayers for allergies," says Boudreaux, "and you can mix all of these prayers that I'm talking about."
There's no casting of spells, just a direct line between God and the healing hands of the traiteur, as Boudreaux explains. "Traiteurs were here before doctors were and that's how people survived," she says, "by the healing hands and the spirit."
University of Louisiana-Lafayette Cajun historian, Dr. Barry Ancelet, says this rural tradition thrived before the times when doctors were accessible. Now, he says faith healing is used in conjunction with modern medicine. "It wasn't an either/or situation," says Ancelet, "and sometimes it was actually an 'and' situation - you go to the doctor for this thing and then head your bet by going to a traiteur as well...now you've got everything working on your behalf."
While the cultural aspects of faith healing continue to evolve, one of the biggest changes that the healers have seen is that they might not actually see who they're healing - they could be on the other side of the phone. "I can pray for somebody over the phone," says Boudreaux, "I can pray for somebody direct and if somebody cannot come to me, somebody can bring me a lock of their hair."
Technology has certainly changed the way traiteurs share their gifts, but Ancelet says this shift is not jeopardizing the longevity of faith healing. "It may change the way it operates, the way it makes contact, the way it's available," he says, "but I can't imagine it disappearing, because it has a value - as long as it has a perceived value, I think it will be around."
The biggest challenge for Boudreaux is finding someone receptive to taking on the role of traiteur when she's not around any longer, but her ancient prayers still linger. "We need to keep the prayers going," says Boudreaux, "I would gladly teach these prayers to anybody...I would gladly do that."
As she helps fill the void between medicine and healing with a little faith.
*The internet has also opened up a new outlet for traiteurs to connect with the sick online.
**To hear more from Helene Boudreaux about actual encounters with the sick and to listen to Barry Ancelet's personal healing experience, click on the video labeled "Cajun Faith Healing Web Extra" on kplctv.com.