What Is Appalachian Folk Magic?
Appalachian Folk Magic is a lineage of practices passed down in families and having roots in a multitude of cultures such as the Cherokee, Choctaw, British, Irish, Scottish, Ulster-Scots, Germans, Italians, and African Americans with a bit of Romani magic thrown into the mix.
Practices vary in degrees based on family and location. However, they continued along certain folk ideals that persisted in all charms and cures in these hills.
Many families had one or two people who healed with roots, charmed blood, dowsed for water, etc. The Granny Witch was often concerned with healing patients by the power of roots and herbs, but often utilized spells and charms. Their biggest occupation was acting as midwives for these mountains and their communities who had no immediate access to western medicine. One would have to travel for days before finding a doctor.
The practioners of these charms and cures where both men and women who were either born with the gift or given it upon the death of a previous performer. Other times, god bestoWed the gift on folks through dreams or near death experiences. The condit around how or when the gift or cure could be transfered to another depended on regional Traditions. One blood charmer in one part says they can give it at anytime but if they do, they wont be able to Use the power again; while twent miles down, over a mountain or two, another says they can only Give it to a non-relative person of the opposite sex, but the reciever cannot successfully use it until the Living holder dies.
Although Granny Witch is a purely modern term, there were names used historically for these odd birds in the community: Yarb Doctor, Power Doctor, Rootworker, Faith Healer, Conjure man, Witch-doctor, Two-Faced healer (meaning they work the body and the spirit), and a Two Handed Doctor (they cure and curse).
Many doctors would often have one work or cure they succeeded in such as Love, cleansing, broken bones, sickness etc. They were shown kindness by the community as most believed their gift to be of God. However, others were Deemed witches, as it was believed they consorted with demons and rode the devil on moonless night in graveyards.
Although, the Witch could be found doing the same work as the Yarb Doctor, healing people. Likewise, the Yarb man could be found making a curse much like the Witch does. This didn’t matter because it was all about the community and their perception about the worker.
Appalachian Folk Magic was practiced by many people who didn’t do it for the community. They’d help themselves by tricks they’d picked up here and there. While Appalachian Folk Magic is not totally closed-off or set for certain people, there is a widely held belief that one must have the Gift to do this work, either through birth or through another elder healer. This work is Also very much land-based, demanding herbs and plants only native to southern appalachia.
The Gift is spoken of often. It is dreaming true and seeing things unseen, but at God’s convenience. It cannot be controlled, but it can be trusted on and worked with. Every woman on my mother’s side dreamed true and saw things. It ended with my sister who suppressed it, asked God to take it away.
My mother’s father, a Baptist preacher for the Freewill Baptist Church in Johnson City, he had the Sight too. Always knew things being done before and while they were happening. It’s believed only women can possess the Sight as i was taught growing uP; my papaw is the only man i have ever meT who had it.
my papaw was a good man. He knew things, dreamed things, and spoke things we believed were from the Spirits. Nine months before he passed he began getting ready. Signing papers, making preparations. We nagged at him to quit, but he just knew that he wasn’t gonna be here come that year’s Christmas. And he wasn’t. He passed December 17th.
The Gift is not a psychic ability you are born with. It is exclusively bestowed to you by the Spirits or God, usually by being stillborn and returning, being “born blue,” or with a caul over the face at birth. This is where God marks the person for the Sight and the Gift to see things and witch things.
Regardless of this, this magic isn’t gender exclusive, only the Sight was thought to be. While I do not posses the great abilities my grandfather or grandmothers had, I have dreamed true. While I’ve only had a couple of spurts with the Sight, I dream true often; I know when someone’s plotting me, when someone’s blabbing about me, when something will happen etc.
In Appalachia, our magic is rustic at best. By biscuits and roots, wind chimes and pawpaw trees we work and pray to puts things in our favor and use this magic to figure those things that are problematic for our people. Appalachia has been hugely affected by poverty for a large Portion of its history. We have rampant drug issues currently, mostly meth, and our elders now sit with paid strangers, alone, in nursing homes. Or they’re simply forgotten about and left to fend for themselves.
Appalachian culture is struggling to remain alive amidst the advances swooping in from the rest of the world into our isolated mountains. Smart phones and smart cars have replaced breaking beans and riding bikes. Unexpected visits from family and far come friends is proceeded by scheduled luncheons and text messages telling you they’re coming.
Our food is being replaced by McDonald’s, Burger King, and fancy restaurants that only those doctors, lawyers, and professionals can even think about buying. Big lawns are now apartment parking lots and balconies. No one grows with the earth.
Well shit, here I am rambling. Anywho, Appalachian Folk Magic is a unique tradition of American Folk Magic. It is the mother tradion of the Folk Magic in the Ozarks and Sister to the Pennsylvania Powwow tradition which is largely influenced by german folklore. Our nearest cousin is the folk healing and magic in the low country, and next to that the hoodoo of the deep south.
Many people today try to broadcast it as something entirely different. We don’t use crystals, we traditionally didn’t burn incense much (the old folks had allergies, but today’s folks use it often). We don’t worship foreign gods such as Demeter, Jack Frost etc. so get that out of your head. Appalachian Magic brewed in a Baptist and Penecostal region. Many workers, even today, are still Baptists or some other denomination. We work and pray to The Most High and the Holy Trinity. We read bones and playing cards, we speak with the river and watch the heavens for signs.
We are a simple folk, easy to know, but hard to learn from.
We do things in a not so normal way compared to other regions of the country. We hold our beliefs and family closer than anything, and we guard our culture from outsiders. You will not learn anything tradional from an Appalachian doctor unless they believe you’re worthy. Even then he may not share all his secrets. When we share our formulas with other people they begin to lose their power, because it’s thought that by telling another about it, the worker is splitting the power in two, or dilutIng it.
In my course I will share some secrets, but I never tell my whole trick. A good Witch never does ya know. If you go off telling folks how to do for themselves you’d be out of a business. No longer needed.
I do however share tidbits of information, those I have received from others and what I’ve learned from family. So stroll through this site and maybe hop over to my blog to learn more about the twisted roots and greasy pans we frequent our magic with.
You can learn much more in my up coming book with weiser publishing Spring 2019, currently being called “Backwoods Witchcraft: The hoodoos of Appalachia.”
Holy Stones & Iron Bones
Magic and Witchcraft in Appalachia
Magic and Witchcraft in Appalachia