Episode 79 – Pow-wow with Rob Phoenix

Episode 79 – Pow-wow with Rob Phoenix


This episode focuses on the Pennsylvania Dutch system of folk healing and magic known as Pow-wow (among many other names). We look at the cultural history, the religious contexts, and the actual practice of the system itself. Author and Pow-wow practitioner Rob Phoenix brings his extensive knowledge to the table to give us a well-rounded portrait of this culturally rich and still living tradition.



Download: Episode 79 – Pow-wow with Robert Phoenix



You should most certainly check out our guest, Rob Phoenix, and his website.

There are many phenomenal resources on this subject.  Here are some of the books I like:

And, of course, Pow-wows; or The Long Lost Friend, by John George Hohman (modern translation by Daniel Harms) (an older version is also available free at sacred-texts.com).

To find out more on the culture surrounding pow-wowing, you should seek out:

Additionally, I’d recommend these takes for modern revivalist approaches to the practice within a Teutonic context:

Some books which are interesting and informative, but which need augmentation through additional sources, include:

Be sure to check out the upcoming film, “Hex Hollow,” which will feature several of our previous guests and favorite authors, including Rob, Chris Bilardi, and Thomas White.

Upcoming Appearances

Cory will be at two upcoming events, and will likely be holding talks/discussions at both of them, which you might find interesting:

If you have feedback you’d like to share, email us or leave a comment. We’d love to hear from you!

Don’t forget to follow us at Twitter! And check out our Facebook page! For those who are interested, we also now have a page on Pinterest you might like, called “The Olde Broom.”


Promos & Music

Title music:  “Homebound,” by Jag, from Cypress Grove Blues.  From Magnatune.

Incidental music by So I’m an Islander (“Quiet Storm Surge”), Elias Liljestrom (“Bach’s ‘Jesus Bleibet Meine Freunde”), Trinity Choir (“Bach Rehearsal”), and Vantala (“Unser Vater”), used through Creative Commons license on SoundCloud.

My podcast recommendation for this episode is the Lore Podcast, which features spooky folktales presented with historical and literary interpretations (which I found through Betwixt & Between).

Blog Post 193 – Book Review: Strange Experience, by Lee R. Gandee

Strange Experience: The Autobiography of a Hexenmeister—Personal Encounters with Hauntings, Magic and Mysticism (Prentice-Hall: New Jersey, 1971). 355pp. Illustrations.


Let me begin by saying I have wanted to review this book for a long time. Primarily, that is because I have wanted to read this book for a long time, at least in something beyond excerpted form, which is the best I’d been able to do. The book itself seems to be out-of-print, and runs upwards of seventy-five dollars on the second-hand market, and I have always just told myself that when I find a copy for less than fifty, I’ll grab it then. Thankfully, my friend Atticus Hob did a sort of book exchange with me, and let me borrow his copy, and so I have finally been able to dive fully inot Gandee’s text and join him on his meandering journey through his mystically charged coming-of-age tale of sexual awakening, spirit contact, and magic.

I knew of this book for a long time before I read it, largely because one of the people whom I consider a teacher and friend, Jack Montgomery, studied with Gandee during the seventies. Jack included stories of his experiences in his own work, American Shamans, which has already been mentioned before (and we interviewed Montgomery in an earlier episode, too). What I knew the most about was Gandee as an adult, living a hexenmeister’s life and dispensing his perspective for an eager grad student. Strange Experience lives up to its title, showing that Gandee’s youth and development—both magically and personally—were extremely unusual, yet not at all unfamiliar to anyone who has struggled with identity at some point in his or her life.

The book is broken into nineteen chapters and an introduction, with titles such as “A Dead Man’s Treasure” and “The Strangest Prayers are Painted.” Each chapter is introduced with a hex sign—a Pennsylvania German art design frequently seen on barns in Lancaster and Berks Counties. Some of the signs are essentially reproductions of old barn signs, but a number of them are Gandee originals, and all have short explanations about their significance and attributed powers (such as “perpetual watchful protection and guidance” or “man’s power to create through mental and spiritual action”) (pp. 27, 115). He begins with his childhood, which launched on a turbulent evening and never seems to have settled down much. He regularly saw his mother in his tender years, but was largely raised by other relatives, mostly his grandmother. The book explains that Lee’s childhood was full of demons, ghosts, hauntings, and apparitions, but that most people he knew simply accepted those as part of the world in which they lived.

Gandee quickly shifts gears into a bit of a sweet if emotionally confounded romance with a boy named Stud, whom Gandee clearly regards as the love of his life, although he goes to great lengths to account for this love as something other than homosexual. The struggle for sexual identity dominates the book, at least as much as any aspect of magic or regional culture, and Gandee eventually recounts a past life in which he was a sort of sacred prostitute named Zaida, and Stud was a sailor with whom she fell in love. The romance was doomed by jealousy in the past, and in their reincarnated state the two boys don’t fare much better.

Much of the book recounts the simply mind-boggling spiritual world of Gandee, which ranges from the native hexenmeister-craft he practices (including the aforementioned chapter on painting prayers through hex signs) to working with Christian Science methods and encountering ferocious ghosts in Mexico (in the chapter “Ni; Uari! Go!; Die!”). Gandee runs a group of spiritual mediums in college, helps find lost things, manifest desires for his friends and neighbors through art, and studies the powers of animal magnetism and hypnosis along the way. He generally tries to rationalize what he experiences in a blithe, worldly tone, although in many spots he is clearly as swept away by circumstances and wonder as any reader might be.

The information on hexerei and Pennsylvania Dutch magic is incredibly interesting, and shows a tremendously syncretic, vibrant faith-based practice. A student of the pow-wow/braucherei culture would gain a great deal from a close study of the many charms and stories shared by the author, and a student of folk magic generally might see some of the potential inner workings of well-known spells in the book, too. When reading Strange Experience, however, any reader would do well to remember that the experiences are only those of Gandee, and do not speak for a larger culture generally. Gandee was certainly a distinct individual, and the things he writes about are connected to very old practices and traditions, but he quite openly acknowledges the changes he has made over time as well.

Because of the paucity of good, first-hand accounts of this sort of folk magic, Gandee’s book stands out in its field. It hardly reads as a dissection of Pennsylvania German religious or magical culture, and Gandee himself is hard to pin down at times (which is largely the point of his text). I feel that the questions about magical ethics, regional distinction, and social dynamics for sorcerors and their communities all make for good intellectual fodder, even if Lee’s conclusions about such things seem, well, strange. I do hope that others will read this book as well and that Gandee’s place in the pantheon of American magicians might receive a restoration of sorts. What he manages to accomplish in this book is far different than any magical how-to manual, because Strange Experience highlights the humanity of a man with feet in two worlds, belonging to none.

Thanks for reading,

Podcast 68 – Magical Pennsylvania


This episode centers on Cory’s new home, Pennsylvania, and its magical/mystical lore. We have interviews, stories, conversations, and songs to help get a glimpse at the enchantment of the Keystone State.


Download: New World Witchery – Episode 68

Websites, Guests, & Visitors:

  1. Philadelphia Pagan Pride Day – Where we recorded a number of this show’s interviews.
  2. Great folks I met (and in some cases, recorded) at PPD Philly: Jowzeph (Old Gods & Indoor Plumbing) and Anne (The Gods Are Bored).
  3. The Witches of Pennsylvania Facebook Group – The best place to contact our interviewee, Thomas White
  4. Chris Orapello was a lovely addition to our conversation (my apologies that the sound quality during his interview was a bit wonky). See his promo link below, too.
  5. Distelfink Sippschaft – Where you can find out more about Urglaawe and its lore


  1. Witches of Pennsylvania: Occult History & Lore, by Thomas White (also see his author page for more titles)
  2. The First Book of Urglaawe Myths, by Robert L. Schreiwer (see our previous Pow-wow episode for an interview with him)
  3. Spooky Pennsylvania, by S. E. Schlosser
  4. Weird Pennsylvania, by Matt Lake

Please send in contest entries to compassandkey@gmail.com! We are giving away a copy of 54 Devils (my book, in either digital or print form, whichever you prefer) and a digital copy of Carolina Gonzalez’s book on reading the Spanish cards as well. All you have to do is send us your weirdest or most unique piece of personal holiday lore, along with a name we can read on-air and a general location (‘Illinois’ or ‘the Midwest,’ for example).

If you have feedback you’d like to share, email us or leave a comment. We’d love to hear from you!

Don’t forget to follow us at Twitter! And check out our Facebook page!

Promos & Music
Title music:  “Homebound,” by Jag, from Cypress Grove Blues.  From Magnatune.

Incidental music The Happy Dutchmen, from Archive.org. Songs include “The Pennsylvania Polka,” “The Beer Barrel Polka,” and “Eidelweiss,” among others.

1. Down at the Crossroads

Quick Update – Contest Ending This Weekend!

Hi everyone!

First of all, sorry for the long silence on both the podcasting and blogging fronts. I’ve had a busy couple of weeks covering an extra workload while my boss is out on maternity leave and I’ve had writing for school that I had to finish up as well. I’ve got several things in the works, including a new episode of the show and some new material for the blog, but I may have to beg your indulgence and patience for a little longer, so please bear with us.

I have NOT, however, forgotten about our current contest, and I hope you haven’t either! We’ve received a number of excellent contest entries so far, but there’s still time to get your name in the hat! You can read the complete contest description at Blog Post 169 – A New Year, A New Contest, but in brief we’re looking for your magical folklore. It can be on any number of topics: love, money, luck, etc. We are asking that you submit the lore using a specific format, like this:

[Name – preferably one we can use in the show, but let us know if you’d rather us keep it anonymous]
[Region/Location – as localized as possible; we don’t need an address, but “Southern Illinois” or “Foothills of the Rockies” would be lovely]
[Ethnic/Cultural Association – if applicable; such as “Italian-American” or “based on something my Lakota Sioux grandmother told me”]
[Type of Lore – love, luck, money, etc.]
[Your bit of lore]

You can send in as many pieces of lore as you like, and each piece gets your name entered in the hat. So if you send in ten pieces of lore, you’ve got your name in our kitty ten times and your odds improve.

We do have a few rules, of course:

  • You can only win one prize.
  • No entering under multiple names/emails.
  • While we are looking primarily for North American lore, we welcome lore from around the world as well.

And I’m sure you remember the prizes:

  1. The Braucher Basket – featuring a copy of Hex & Spellwork by Karl Herr, a copy of the new translation of The Long Lost Friend by Daniel Harms, a small folio of hand-written/painted charms, and a few other little goodies.
  2. Granny’s Gunny-Sack – featuring a copy of Ozark Magic & Folklore, by Vance Randolph, a copy of The Candle & the Crossroads by Orion Foxwood, and a little sack full of curios, herbs, and magical charms from the Appalachians.
  3. The Hoodoo Hamper – featuring Hoodoo Herb & Root Magic by Catherine Yronwode, The Master Book of Candle Burning by Henri Gamache, a candle or two, a lucky rabbit’s foot, and a selection of oils from our Compass & Key Apothecary.

So if you haven’t entered (or heck, if you have and want to up your chances of winning), send us your folklore and get yourself in the mix for these lovely prize packages!

We’re closing the contest at midnight on Sunday, March 31st, 2013. Entries received after that time won’t count. We’ll be drawing names on the next episode recorded after that date (sometime in mid-April, though prize winners may be notified earlier for addresses).
Here’s wishing you good luck! Thanks for all your entries so far, and best wishes to you all!


Podcast 49 – Powwow and Braucherei


Today we’re taking a brief look at the folk magical system of the Pennsylvania German (or “Dutch”) community, known as Powwow or Braucherei. We’ve got an interview with braucher Robert Schreiwer, several readings on the topic, and some charms, spells, and songs, too.


Download: Episode 49 – Powwow and Braucherei

Books mentioned within the show

  1. Discovering American Folklife: Essays on Folk Culture & the Pennsylvania Dutch, by Don Yoder
  2. The Long Lost Friend, or The Pow-wow Book, by John George Hohman
  3. American Shamans: Journeys with Traditional Healers, by Jack Montgomery
  4. The Red Church, or The Art of Pennsylvania German Braucherei, by Chris Bilardi
  5. Hex and Spellwork, by Karl Herr
  6. Buying the Wind, by Richard Dorson
  7. Strange Experience: The Autobiography of a Hexenmeister, by Lee R. Gandee

Additional Sources

  1. Signs, Cures, & Witchery, by Gerald C. Milne
  2. Ozark Magic & Folklore, by Vance Randolph (section: “Power Doctors”)
  3. Powwowing Among the Pennsylvania Dutch, David W. Kriebel
  4. Hex Signs: Pennsylvania Dutch Barn Symbols, by Don Yoder
  5. New World Witchery Podcast 29 featured an interview with author Jack Montgomery, who presented some good information on powwowing


  1. Urglaawe – Braucher Rob Schreiwer’s site on Heathen braucherei
  2. Three Sisters Center for the Healing Arts – A place to learn more about braucherei & associated practices
  3. Braucher.webs – Braucher Rob Chapman’s site for powwow and braucherei
  4. New World Witchery posts on Braucherei: Intro Part I, Part II, and Part III (also see our page Resources:  Magical Systems, under the heading “Braucherei, Hexenmeisters, & Pow-wow”)
  5. We have a great written interview with braucher Chris Bilardi here: Part I & Part II
  6. An online essay on Powwow by David W. Kreibel is available here

If you have feedback you’d like to share, email us or leave a comment. We’d love to hear from you!

Don’t forget to follow us at Twitter!

 Promos & Music

Title music:  “Homebound,” by Jag, from Cypress Grove Blues.  From Magnatune.

German folk songs came from the site Mamalisa.com. The songs played in this episode were:

  1. Winter, Ade!
  2. Taler, Taler du musst wander
  3. Meine Hande sind verschwunden
  4. Rolle, Rolle, Rolle
  5. Handewaschen
  6. Guten Morgen ruft die Sonne

Incidental music was Johannes Brahams, Symphony No. 4, found at Archive.org

Promo 1- Lamplighter Blues

Podcast 48 – Healing Magic


In this episode we’re discussing magic, medicine, & healing. We’ll look at holistic therapies as well as why Laine & Cory don’t grab a spellbook or a pill bottle when they get a headache.


Download: Episode 48 – Healing Magic


  • Cory mentions Hands of Light by Barbara Ann Brennan, and while he doesn’t mention it, there’s a sequel called Light Emerging as well.
  • Make sure to visit our post about our current contest! You could win one of three amazing prizes!

If you have feedback you’d like to share, email us or leave a comment. We’d love to hear from you!

Don’t forget to follow us at Twitter!

 Promos & Music

Title music:  “Homebound,” by Jag, from Cypress Grove Blues.  From Magnatune.

Promo 1- Cosmophilia
Promo 2 – Between the Earth & Stars

Blog Post 168 – New World Witchery Cartulary No. 2

Today we’re rounding up another group of links that readers of this blog might find interesting or enjoyable and sending them out into the world. I’ve not had as much time to write for the blog or record for the show as I’m knee-deep in the process of thesis-writing and researching places for PhD research, but I do continually find myself reading new posts, articles, and information that pertain to the various branches of folk lore, folk magic, and folk belief. Here’s a brief list that will hopefully give you some things to peruse while you’re waiting upon tenterhooks for the next riveting New World Witchery post or show.

I’ll start today in the realm of Pennsylvania-Dutch magic. There’s a brand new edition of the pow-wow classic The Long Lost Friend available from Llewellyn, edited and annotated by Daniel Harms.  Hohman’s text is presented here in several formats, including the original 1820 edition (with the German language version) and in an expanded 1856 English translation. Many of the spells are pulled from a third edition, the 1837 “Skippacksville” version. It’s a surprisingly stuffed text with a tremendous amount of folkloric value, and if you have any interest in American folk magic at all I highly recommend getting it.

In the same vein, if you enjoy braucherei, hexerei, and pow-wow, but want to explore it in a Pagan/Heathen context, I cannot recommend enough that you hurry over to Urglaawe. This is Rob Schreiwer & Co.’s site which helps collect—in English and PA-German—the vast stores of Germanic magic which exist on both sides of the Atlantic (with a heavy emphasis on the beliefs and practices of the Pennsylvania-Dutch in America). Schreiwer will be part of an upcoming episode of the show, and he’s a brilliant mind with a tremendous amount of information in his head, so please take a look at the work he’s doing. If you’re a schuler of things Deitsch, you won’t regret it.

In a final nod to the Germanic cultures of America, I was recently introduced by SilverShadow and Dr. Hob to the fascinating phenomenon of courting candles. These little spiral-shaped candle holders would be lit and adjusted to provide light for suitors to visit their sweethearts. When the candle burned out, the beau had to leave. If a father liked a suitor, he’d adjust the candle to provide more time in the light; if not, he’d move the little key to make the candle burn out more quickly. I’m always fascinated by things like this, as I can see plenty of ways they can be used magically in addition to their more mundane applications.

Speaking of Dr. Hob, he’s been very active on his own website lately, Pennies for the Boneyard, with phenomenal posts on topics ranging from his relationship with Christianity and conjure work to a review of ConjureMan Ali’s Santisma Muerte book to a rather flattering and kindly review of our own cartomancy guide. If you’ve not come across his blog before, give it a visit and tell him we sent you.

You should also check out the fun and informative show he and SilverShadow are doing together, called Lamplighter Blues.

I’m reading Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil for the first time as part of a book club, and if you haven’t read it, it’s worth the time. The story gives you a wonderful portrait of the strange, beautiful, and eerie city of Savannah, Georgia, as well as a specific murder trial that occurred there in the 1980s. A major portion of the story takes place in cemeteries, and a conjure woman whom the author names “Minerva” becomes somewhat crucial in the narrative. This is essentially a non-fiction book, though, and Minerva is actually Valerie Fennel Boles, widow to one of the Dr. Buzzards of Beaufort, South Carolina. Boles carried on Buzzard’s conjure work until her death in 2009, and the portrayals of her practice in the book—despite the appellate of “voodoo” which author John Berendt uses to describe what she does—are incredibly vivid and authentic.  You can read more about Dr. Buzzard in Jack Montgomery’s American Shamans, too, which we’ve mentioned here before.

If you haven’t seen it yet, Sarah Lawless’ latest venture has gone live. Go take a peek at the Poisoner’s Apothecary, and check out some of the projects she’s working on. I’m particularly excited about the range of pipes she’s carving for smoking rituals.

I think that will just about do it for today. If you enjoy these links, let them know who sent you and let us know what you like best in the comments section. And feel free to share what you’re reading/writing/learning these days, too!

Thanks for reading!


Blog Post 163 – New World Witchery Cartulary No. 1

Hi all!

Today I thought I’d devote a post to, well, other posts. I’m frequently reading, communicating with, or learning from other folk magicians, scholars, storytellers, and various members of the folkloric community. While much of what you find here on New World Witchery focuses on research into history, I don’t want to ever lose sight of the vibrancy and currency of many expressions of folk spirituality and magical living which surround us today. We live in an enchanted world, or at least I like to think so, and I want to share the things that are enchanting me from time to time.

So I’m going to try to start periodically posting brief annotated link rolls (the “cartulary” in this post’s title) which might be of interest to readers of this site. Some will be as simple as podcast recommendations or interesting fiction I’ve come across, and others will be more academic in nature, focused on recent research or discoveries in folklore, fairy tales, or magic in general.  And some may simply have a nice, witchy feel to them. So let’s get started!

I only recently found out that Denise Alvarado and her publishing group put out a neat little almanac last spring called The Hoodoo Almanac, which includes bits of folk magic, lunar astrology, and other almanac-y things. I don’t know if they’ll do one for 2013 or not, but here’s hoping! Alvarado and several other root workers have also started a program for learning folk magic which involves taking several online courses and apprenticing with a live root worker in your area, called Crossroads University. This seems like a great way to learn this particular branch of folk magic. Similar courses can be taken through Lucky Mojo and Starr Casas (a very knowledgeable rootworker and friend to us here at NWW).

Speaking of books and learning, I recently read a review in the Journal of American Folklore (JAF) for a 2006 book on the infamous Pied Piper of Hamelin. The Pied Piper: A Handbook, by Wolfgang Mieder, looks like exactly the kind of in-depth, thorough investigation of the story behind the fairy tale that I love. This is the sort of book I can sink into and lose a few months of my life, so it’s already on my holiday wish list, and the JAF review gave it glowing praise as well.

I’ve very recently been made aware of the delightful blog Roman and Minnie’s Satanic Cocktail Hour, which assumes the personas of two characters from Rosemary’s Baby, then proceeds to imagine their lifestyle as hip 70s witches and pseudo-Satanists. There’s a schlock value to the site, and it’s definitely not safe for work (lots of naked folks), but they also have neat little gems of folklore occasionally, as with their most recent post on Ozark witchcraft from a Time magazine story in the 1939. Special thanks to

Arrowclaire, over at her lovely blog Wandering Arrow, always puts up interesting posts. She had one on dealing with death omens recently that I greatly appreciated, because it puts into perspective the idea of living an omen-driven life without necessarily becoming fearful or overly superstitious.

Rue of Rue & Hyssop had a beautiful post welcoming the autumnal season in. Check out the rather gorgeous PDF (but high-gloss) Pagan Living Magazine in her sidebar, too!

Speaking of great and stunning periodicals, the absolutely amazing Hex Magazine: Old Ways for a New Day is very worthy of your time. It focuses very heavily on Northern European and Teutonic folkways, but also includes a good bit of New World lore, too.

To get you in the mood for a spooky October, go take a peek at the great post Peter from New England Folklore has done on “Kidnapped Witches in Plymouth.” (Storytelling is an October tradition at NWW, so this should get you ready for next month nicely).

That’s my cartulary for today! Happy reading, everyone!


Podcast Special – Magical Saints


In our only June 2012 episode (sorry! I’ll be back from school soon!) Cory tells a few tales of magical saints. The saints range from canonical choices to folk tales to at least one very American folk saint.


Download:  Special Episode – Magical Saints


The sources today come mostly from the following books:

Promos & Music
“Grifos Muertos” by Jeffery Luck Lucas, from his album What We Whisper, on Magnatune.com

All incidental music comes from the group Zephyrus, on Magnatune (except for one incidental bumper which I sampled from YouTube)

(also, I used Audacity instead of GarageBand for this episode, so the sound may be a bit different)

Blog Post 149 – Witch Wars

The term “witch wars” comes up frequently in discussions about neo-Pagan community infighting, as shorthand for the feuding and vitriolic verbal sparring that happens periodically between rival groups. Such wars, however, have not always been barbs exchanged over message boards or smear campaigns between unfriendly covens. The nature of magical practice has almost guaranteed that so long as one witch could cast a spell, another could undo it.

So how do witches fight witches? With magic, of course, but so many of these tales involve what seems to be a battle of wills between two equally gifted magical workers. Strangely, while a witch might attack a person or family, when the witch-doctor enters the picture and counter-attacks the witch, the witch-doctor is seldom targeted back during the battle. Most of the witch-doctor’s services are more geared towards revealing the identity of a witch and providing victims a way to remediate their own problems. This is true in both New World and Old, as scholar Owen Davies demonstrates in his seminal text on English cunning folk, Popular Magic:

“The cure of witchcraft could be effected in three main ways: by going straight to the source and tackling the witch either physically or through the law courts; by breakin the spell at a distance via magical rituals; or by using a mix of herbs and charms to expel the witchcraft from the patient’s body. Cunning-folk were instrumental in facilitating all these methods,and they sometimes employed a combination of all three…the client saw what they wanted to see; in other words, the person they already suspected. The process was one of confirmation rather than detection…” (Popular Magic, Davies, 106-7)

The biggest step in fighting a witch was determining who he or she was. Then, a magical remedy would be applied to disrupt the spell which was affecting the victim. This might involve scalding milk from a bewitched churn, shooting an image of the witch with a silver bullet, etc. Then, in a critical step, the witch would attempt to come to the property of the victim and either enter the home or take something from the house. There seems to be a uniform understanding that such an act must be prevented, or else the witch’s power would remain or perhaps grow stronger over the victim. Davies gives one such example from England:

“In 1682 the parents of a bewitched girl named Mary Farmer were advised by ‘Dr Bourn’ to burn her clothes. He assured them ‘that then the witch which had done her the hurt, would come in.’ The parents testified in court that, having done this, a neighbor, Joan Butts entered their house, ‘and tumbled down, wallowing on the ground, making a fearful and dismal noise.’” (Davies, 109)

In this case, further magical action must be taken, including smoking a cow’s heart in the chimney, to break the witch’s spell.

The magical battles took place between malevolent witches and the community-sanctioned (or at least tolerated) ‘white witches’ or ‘witch-doctors’ indicate that those who could fight a curse were usually fairly well known to their community. A story from Hubert J. Davis’ The Silver Bullet tells of one such struggle, which occurred when a family sought to alleviate its suffering and bewitchment by calling in a man gifted at ‘overlooking’ or breaking curses. To break the curse placed on the family’s child, Tim and Ada consult with this ‘Quaker doctor’ (most likely a Pow-wow/braucher), who provides them with a stoppered bottle into which the family’s nail parings, hair, etc. are gathered, then left under the burning embers of the fire. Adding in some prayers, including a candle burning which ends with the traditional “In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost” (further indication of Pennsylvania Dutch magical practice), the “tall, stinguished looking man with thick white hair and a well-trimmed moustache [and] kindly blue eyes” forbids them from letting anyone into their house for three days. Sure enough, an old woman by the name of Old Betty Orts attempts to come in, revealing her as the witch. At that point, the father strikes her head, drawing blood (which immediately saps the power of a witch), and the curse is broken (“The Quaker Doctor and His Magic Bottle,” Davis, 56-8).  The pattern of curse, diagnosis, prescription, attempted incursion, and final defeat of the witch is maintained.

In another account of Appalachian witch warring, an interesting and somewhat unusual battle occurs between two men (in most of these tales at least one of the magicians is female). Patrick W. Gainer recounts the battle between Uncle Johnnie and Uncle Jimmie Webb which took place over the use of a butterchurn. Uncle Johnnie, when denied use of the churn—and here it should be pointed out that the woman he wished to borrow from had two churns available, thus demonstrating the lack of social hospitality mentioned in my earlier post on the Witch’s Ire—enchants it so that he may steal her butter. Uncle Jimmie then helps the churn’s owner, Eliza Morris, to break the spell by whipping it with switches while churning with his left hand. This, in turn, causes Uncle Johnnie to suffer welts and undoes the enchantment (“Uncle Johnnie Bewitches the Cows,” Witches Ghosts & Signs, Gainer, 142-4).

This is not, of course, a wholly good vs. evil phenomenon. Scholar Emma Wilby notes that magical folk in England often employed their magic as the situation dictated, being neither entirely helpful nor entirely harmful:

“Although some cunning folk had a reputation for being wholly good, a large proportion of them were considered ambivalent, that is, they could employ their magical powers to both help and harm…The trial records of East Lothian cunning woman Beigis Tod, who was accused of witchcraft in 1608, echo this popular perception when they claim that Beigis was known to be skilled in both ‘on-laying and af-taiking of seiknes’. [Wilbiy’s italics, short for “laying on and taking off of sickness”].” (Cunning Folk & Familiar Spirits, Wilby, 54)

These mixed talents were often set against each other, with one magical practitioner putting a spell on a person, place, or group of people, and another showing up to take it off. Sometimes this un-bewitching was done for free, but frequently a fee would be charged, which led some to suspect that the ‘bad’ witches and the ‘good’ witches were in league with each other and splitting the profits. One such example is the tale of “Mont and Duck” from Hubert J. Davis, in which an old couple moves into an area which suddenly begins experiencing oubreaks of illness. The community blames the newcomers, of course, but the response is interesting:

“[O]ne of their neighbors accused Mont and Duck of having cast a spell on their sick cow. Old Mont awed his accuser by readily admitting that his wife, Duck, had the power of evil, and that he could break the spells. Shortly after this, he began to offer to cure ailing animals by removing the spells on them in return for a bushel of potatoes or some other vegetables, or even a piece of meat” (“Mont and Duck,” The Silver Bullet, Davis, 214).

One family that refuses to pay for relief from magical attack experiences a death in this story, and the entire community takes their powers quite seriously. Mont is valued, but feared, for his powers as a witch-doctor, and the racket they have established continues for quite a while without any repercussion from the locals.

Yet there are certainly accounts of magical battles in which the side of ‘good’ seems to be operating from a mostly altruistic stance. Arguably one of the most famous magical battles in American lore is the account of sorcerous combat between Sherrif James E. McTeer and Dr. Buzzard (presented here in quoted abbreviated form from Low Country Voodoo, by Terrance Zepke, and also found in American Shamans by Jack Montgomery):

“One person who remained unimpressed with the root doctor [Dr. Buzzard, aka Stephaney Robinson] was Sheriff J.E. McTeer. He was elected in 1926 and saw many stgrange things that were attributed to Dr. Buzzard, such as people getting sick and dying or witnesses having seizure in the middle of testifying in court…The sheriff…began a lifelong study of conjuring so he could better understand it. In time he, he became known as a ‘white root doctor.’ …McTeer felt strongly that he was the one who could stop Dr. Buzzard once and for all…[he] issued a warning that if the witch doctor didn’t stop, he would eventually bring him to justice.

The infamous root doctor was not used to being threatened. To the contrary—most folks feared or respected him too much to even think about it. The sheriff’s warning mae him so mad that the witch doctor set out to ruin him. The spiritual warfare came to a halt after Dr. Buzzard’s son was killed in a car crash. The conjurer believed the wreck was was the High Sheriff’s doing and went to see his adversary. The root doctor told th sheriff that he respected his mantle and would leave him alone if McTeer would do the same. McTeer agreed, on the condition that Dr. Buzzard quit practicing sorcery. The conjurer thought about it for several seconds before nodding his head in agreement” (Low Country Voodoo, Zepke, 82-4)

In this fighting-fire-with-fire version of the witch war, ‘good’ triumphs in the form of McTeer, though Dr. Buzzard would eventually return to his old ways with diminished success.

So, in conclusion, the witch war has not always been the genteel affair that it is today. When sharp tongues trade barbs, it can be unpleasant, but thankfully no one is stealing anyone else’s butter, drawing blood from anyone else’s forehead, or causing the death of someone else’s child to prove a point. Or at least, I hope they’re not. I think I’ll go and recharge my house protection spells now…

Thanks for reading!


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