Gerald Boullion is a traiteur, a Catholic faith healer popular within the Cajun culture of southern Louisiana for hundreds of years. Like the Native Americans, the Protestant Christians of the Appalachians, and countless other remote populations for whom doctors were scarce or nonexistent, the Cajuns used their faith as medicine.
Like so many of the more mystical aspects of Catholicism, this tradition seems to be fading with time. But the Catechism of the Catholic Church has this to say about healing by faith:
(1508) The Holy Spirit gives to some a special charism of healing so as to make manifest the power of the grace of the risen Lord. But even the most intense prayers do not always obtain the healing of all illnesses. Thus St. Paul must learn from the Lord that “my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness,” and that the sufferings to be endured can mean that “in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his Body, that is, the Church.”
The irony of sitting in a wheelchair, listening while a faith healer speaks of curing warts and sunburns, isn’t lost on me. I’ve bathed in the uncomfortably cold waters of Lourdes, France, and I’ve visited healers throughout the country, expecting a miracle. A life of depositing faith made the withdrawal of a miracle expected. Quid pro quo. But I’ve come to believe that relying on God to provide prosperity is selfish and simplistic and, frankly, it doesn’t work. I’m still excited to bring you this particular dose of Catholic mysticism.
ML: So, what is a traiteur?
GB: A traiteur is somebody that basically says prayers over a person to help heal ailments, or if they burn themselves, like sunburn, or they can help to stop the bleeding. They have different treatments for different ailments. I don’t know all of them; I just know some of them.
ML: And is it specifically within the Catholic culture?
GB: The old French people handed it down from generation to generation to help heal themselves, because doctors were often rare in the old days, the settling of the Acadiana area. These prayers were handed down from generation to generation. Was this actually part of the Catholic religion? I’m not really sure, but it’s been around for ages.
ML: You said it’s a part of Acadian-French culture. Is it only among them?
GB: No, from my understanding, they have “faith healers” or “healers,” as they call themselves, in the hills of Kentucky and Tennessee. They have “healers,” and in French, it’s “traiteurs.” It’s someone who treats ailments.
ML: Is this line of traiteurs distinctly within your family?
GB: Yes. It was passed onto me from my great uncle. He taught me how to treat people with warts. And my grandmother taught me how to stop the bleeding and to treat burns, sunburns, sunstroke – that’s what my grandmother taught me.
ML: So they were two distinct types of traiteurs?
ML: So you have the power of two?
GB: Yes, I was fortunate enough to learn from both of them.
ML: Do you know anything about the origin of your grandmother’s and your uncle’s gifts?
GB: The only thing I know is it was handed down to them from someone in the family. Whether it was taught to them by my great-grandfather, or my great-great-grandfather, I’m not sure. My grandmother taught my father and me. My father has since passed on, so to my knowledge no one in my family knows it except me. And I can only tell two people before I die, and they have to be younger than me. Preferably someone in the family, but if it’s someone I trust not to give away the treatment, even if they’re not in the family, then I can teach them if I so wish.
ML: Does it put pressure on you to practice that healing, since it’s getting rarer and rarer these days?
GB: It doesn’t put any pressure on me, as a matter of fact. If I can help someone, it feels good. The only drawback to it, is if someone has a sunstroke and I treat them, I’ll actually feel when it goes away because I’ll start getting a severe headache.
ML: Wow. So you take it on, is that what you’re saying?
GB: It was never explained to me – so whether I’m taking it on, or whether I’m just concentrating so hard, I don’t know. But whenever I treat someone for sunstroke, I can tell when it goes away. I can call that person when I get that intense headache and say, “It’s gone?” And they’ll tell me, “Yeah.”
ML: So it doesn’t even need to happen while you’re in the room?
GB: No. The only thing is there can’t be a body of running water between us.
GB: It works better if they’re in the room with me, but… like, the other day my grandson called me up. He had burnt his fingers in some hot grease. He called me and he said, “Pawpaw, can you treat me?” And I treated him over the phone.
ML: That’s incredible. Where was he?
GB: He was about five miles away from my house.
ML: And it worked?
GB: It worked; it worked for him. One time, my father and I were building a shed by his outdoor kitchen, and we went to the neighbor’s house so he could weld a piece of metal for us. While he was welding, the slag fell off on the side. My father without thinking grabbed the piece of metal, and then immediately turned it loose because it was hot. And I didn’t tell him anything, but I treated him, and he said, “Oh, look, it didn’t even blister.” So if I’m close enough to you to treat you as it happens, a lot of times it won’t even blister.
ML: Ah, so it’s not a physical touch kind of thing?
GB: No, it’s prayers.
ML: I really like what you said about the running water, that rule in there, because this whole process seems mystical or totally spiritual, but the fact that it has physical rules makes it seem more realistic.
GB: My grandmother used to have chickens, and skunks and possums would kill the them, so we butchered the chickens for meat. She got some sheep to keep the grass out where the chicken yard used to be. Well, when the lambs are born, they have long tails. So you cut the tail off, so that you don’t have as much problem with feces sticking to the wool and worm larvae, etc. My father and I, we cut the tail off of one of them really close, too close actually. And the blood was spurting out like we cut into an artery. And, unbeknownst to me, my grandmother was in the yard as we were cutting the sheep. I treated the lamb, and so did she at the same time. I didn’t know she was treating it; she didn’t know I was treating it. And it was like turning a water faucet off. The bleeding just stopped *snaps* immediately.
ML: That’s so cool. So it was like a double whammy?…Before I close, we Sick Pilgrims are focusing on the mystical and magical side of the Catholic faith, and how that seems to be getting rarer and rarer. Talking to you and hearing about this practice is exciting to me. I want to ask you, how does this affect your faith?
GB: I’m a devout Catholic, a practicing Catholic. I’m divorced, so right when I got divorced I couldn’t get communion, but I still went to church. My ex-wife and I got an annulment, so that I could continue going to Communion and practicing my faith. So it has no effects on my religious beliefs, it’s not like a devil-worship or Satan-worship or anything, it’s prayers. That’s all it is.
ML: I would think it might have a strong effect, because you – more than me, at least – can see the immediate results of your prayer.
GB: Right. Exactly, exactly. And they have some people that “treat,” that I know of, and they don’t charge to do it, but they ask for a donation. But I refuse to take donations. I don’t take anything.
ML: How long have you been doing this?
GB: I’ve been doing this since I was about 21-22 years old and I’m 64 right now.
ML: And how many healings have you seen?
GB: Oh geez, numerous. I couldn’t tell you. Years back, this lady knocked on my door. I had no idea who she was. She told me that a mutual friend told her I treated for warts, and she asked for me to treat her. I said, “All right, where are the warts at? I need you to show me.” She said, “I can’t show you; they’re on my legs and my pants are too tight.” I said, “I’m sorry; I have to physically see them in order to treat them.” She says, “I’ll be back.” She left and she came back in a dress. Her legs were covered with warts. She had to wear pants, ‘cause she was ashamed to be seen with a dress on. It probably took me a good two hours to treat her, hoping that I hadn’t missed any. I told her, “Give it about a month, and if they didn’t go away just come back and I’ll do it again.” And I didn’t know this, but she was planning to leave town right after our meeting. She moved to Oklahoma, and about three months later, I got a note in the mail from her, saying that they were all gone. She didn’t have one left. So, it works. It works.
ML: Thank you for taking the time to talk with me. Do you have anything to say to other Catholics who may be interested in hearing about this type of thing?
GB: If you get the opportunity to learn it, I would say learn it and embrace it. My father at one point didn’t believe in it, but before he died he really believed. He actually became a traiteur. So it’s not a fairy tale or anything. I’ve seen it work and it does work.